Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #39 – In Defense of Judgment

September 30th, 2019

“That’s a judgment!” I hear this too often. What a silly statement! How can one criticize a judgment itself? You can say it’s a bad judgement or that one is too judgmental, meaning one is making judgments unnecessarily, excessively, or with motive. That is, however, criticizing the quality or application of one’s judgement, not condemning discrimination in itself. Where did this crazy idea come from? Sounds like something that has seeped down either from some new age sentiment or postmodern thought where all knowledge is considered a relative judgment born of power. Either way, how absurd! That’s my judgment, and yes, I stand by it.

 

Does anyone really believe that knowledge, which is the standard of judgment, is relative? In other words, that there are no truths that can stand absolutely and independently of human evolution and cultural relativism. How about this one? It is wrong to abuse and torture women, or to orchestrate the genocide of a particular race or nationality. Does anyone actually believe that there was a time and place when this was not absolutely pernicious? A brute crushes an innocent baby’s skull with his boots. Do you really think a moral judgement in relation to such a deed is dependent on evolution and that only after the action served the survival of the fittest it became wrong? I will assume that honest and reasonable people, regardless of their world view, will admit that there are things that are wrong, transcendentally wrong, and to call one out simply for making a judgment, besides obviously being a judgment in itself, is an untenable conviction to say the least.

 

In summary, it is self-evident that there is transcendent truth, including objective morality, that exists eternally and independent of human opinion. To think or live, therefore, as if an appeal to objective standards is whimsical is an idea that no reasonable person will embrace. Let me bring this concept of “in defense of judgment” a little further by analyzing what the existence of objective truth means practically.

 

It means evolved seekers throughout the ages will search for that truth, and those fortunate enough to have found it will have realized it by applying it in their lives.

 

It also means that there will be souls who are compassionate, a foundational principle of that truth, who have encapsulated those truths in traditions of knowledge recorded in books for the benefit of others.

 

Finally, it means that sincere people, who in the future follow those traditions, understand that their relationship to transcendent truth is one of surrender. If surrendering to the truth is a frightening prospect, just reflect for a second on the following. Are not the people we most admire, people who rule their lives by certain noble principles beyond just what they want? Are we happy in relationship to those who rebel against values of humility, selflessness and compassion, and other universal truths, and live with no ideal higher than their own desires and opinions?

 

A quick word about how these truths are communicated in the tradition of bhakti: The universe is manifest from sound. The same sound that creates the universe gives knowledge of its utility, which is called the Vedas. There are spiritual lineages that know and realize the essence of the Vedas. By the sincere desire in the heart to seek and serve the truth, one will find a teacher who represents those teachings. By serving and inquiring from such a realized soul and surrendering to his or her teaching, one can also realize the truth.

 

A word of caution: Traditions of knowledge warn that hierarchical systems, especially in modernity, can be abused by unscrupulous or unqualified people. It is thus the duty of every seeker of the truth to test the relationship of mentorship with their teacher for some time before committing to discipleship. It is also the duty of a teacher to test the qualification of the student before fully accepting them.

 

In conclusion, there is universal truth manifest in different forms. We are incumbent to become men and women of character by realizing and surrendering to the truth.

 

“That’s a judgment!”

 

Yes, that’s my whole point.

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #38 – A Commentary on the Lakota Code of Ethics

September 23rd, 2019

True religion is not just a faith born at particular time within history that is confined to a geographical location and a culture. Rather it is the eternal nature of the soul within everyone to love God and the responsible choices in life that move us closer to such an awakening. We may have full trust in the authenticity of our faith and the depth of its presentation. I certainly do in mine. That’s fine, but to deny any manifestation of the same truths just because it is dressed in another culture is sectarian.

 

Recently Madhavananda dasa shared with me the Lakota Code of Ethics. Evidently, he saw some depth in it. I did also. The Code expertly encapsulates basic principles of behavior. More than the clarity and force of its presentation, what struck me is how it demonstrates the universality of truth. We say truth is veda, which means knowledge, but we don’t limit the manifestation of that truth to just within a book, no matter how comprehensive the presentation. Truth is embodied. It exists eternally and independently of human creation. The book just encapsulates it to communicate it appropriately according to the audience. Throughout the ages, and even occasionally in modernity, great thinkers have seen and realized aspects of that truth and have communicated it according to the language and capacity of the people of their time.

 

I often get feedback from my readers who appreciate that Monday Morning Greetings is sufficient in length to give substance, but not so long that working people won’t have time to read and digest it. That poses a problem here. After looking at the Lakota Code, I could write an article on each one listed. Therefore, I will just briefly comment on the first code and then just list the rest. The main thrust of this entry, therefore, is to use the Lakota Code to show the universality of truth. Before we begin, a definition is required of universal truth in the broadest terms (my own):

 

We are part of something greater than ourselves that we are meant to serve. If we want to be happy or satisfied our behavior should direct us towards that goal by developing selflessness and discouraging egoism.

 

 

Lakota Code of Ethics

 

  1. Rise with the sun to pray. Pray alone. Pray often. The Great Spirit will listen, if you only speak.

 

Commentary:

 

Rise with the sun to pray: According to Vedic calculations, the twenty-four hour day is better divided into thirty muhūrtās, or forty-eight minute periods that reflect the different effects that different parts of the day have on consciousness. The early morning around sunrise, especially the brahma-muhūrtā, the forty-eight minutes before sunrise, have by far the greatest impact on the mind for peace and concentration. Serious spiritual practitioners take avail of those hours to deepen their spiritual life.

 

Pray alone: For meditation we need a time and place reserved exclusively for Krishna where we sit alone separated from all of life’s other responsibility. That place is called our asana, literally a place to sit for exclusive concentration. When the mind does become focused, asana becomes upāsanā, which literally means “to sit near (upa)”. This conventionally implies worshiping, or serving, as one has to be present near the object of worship to do so, not just physically, but in the mind. Without that type of regulation where our worship can be exclusive, our mind will be divided between the object of worship and our responsibilities and attachments. Yoga or meditation will not take place.

 

Pray Often: To get true realization our thoughts need not only be concentrated and without interruption, but they have to be prolonged. “Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion over a prolonged period of time.” (Yoga Sūtras 1.14)

 

The Great Spirit will listen, if you only speak: “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)

 

  1. Be tolerant of those who are lost on their path. Ignorance, conceit, anger, jealousy — and greed stem from a lost soul. Pray that they will find guidance.

 

  1. Search for yourself, by yourself. Do not allow others to make your path for you. It is your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.[1]

 

  1. Treat the guests in your home with much consideration. Serve them the best food, give them the best bed and treat them with respect and honor.

 

  1. Do not take what is not yours whether from a person, a community, the wilderness or from a culture. It was not earned nor given. It is not yours.

 

  1. Respect all things that are placed upon this earth — whether it be people or plant.

 

  1. Honor other people’s thoughts, wishes and words. Never interrupt another or mock or rudely mimic them. Allow each person the right to personal expression.

 

  1. Never speak of others in a bad way. The negative energy that you put out into the universe will multiply when it returns to you.

 

  1. All persons make mistakes. And all mistakes can be forgiven.

 

  1. Bad thoughts cause illness of the mind, body and spirit. Practice optimism.

 

  1. Nature is not for us; it is a part of us. They are part of your worldly family.

 

  1. Children are the seeds of our future. Plant love in their hearts and water them with wisdom and life’s lessons. When they are grown, give them space to grow.

 

  1. Avoid hurting the hearts of others. The poison of your pain will return to you.

 

  1. Be truthful at all times. Honesty is the test of ones will within this universe.

 

  1. Keep yourself balanced. Your Mental self, Spiritual self, Emotional self, and Physical self — all need to be strong, pure and healthy. Work out the body to strengthen the mind. Grow rich in spirit to cure emotional ails.

 

  1. Make conscious decisions as to who you will be and how you will react. Be responsible for your own actions.

 

  1. Respect the privacy and personal space of others. Do not touch the personal property of others — especially sacred and religious objects. This is forbidden.

 

  1. Be true to yourself first. You cannot nurture and help others if you cannot nurture and help yourself first.

 

  1. Respect others religious beliefs. Do not force your belief on others.

 

  1. Share your good fortune with others.

 

 


[1] One of the main principles on the bhakti path is to follow in the footsteps of the previous ācāryas. This would be the truth of this principle in the bhakti tradition: “When flying an airplane, one cannot take care of other planes. Everyone has to take care of his own plane, and if there is any danger, no other plane can help another in that condition. Similarly, at the end of life, when one has to go back home, back to Godhead, everyone has to take care of himself without help rendered by another. The help is, however, offered on the ground before flying in space. Similarly, the spiritual master, the father, the mother, the relatives, the husband and others can all render help during one’s lifetime, but while crossing the sea one has to take care of himself and utilize the instructions formerly received.” (Bhāg. 1.15.50, Purport)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #37 – Can Destiny Be Changed? Part II

September 16th, 2019

After starting this entry, I discovered that it is the second one I am writing on this subject this year. It is a very important subject, so I will continue the article and just tackle the subject a little differently. Last time I broached the subject on how to change destiny in two ways: changing what happens and changing how one reacts. This time I will further divide those categories and then introduce a new one — how to completely eradicate karma by pure devotional service. First, a refresher of what destiny, or the law of karma, is.

 

What is destiny

Destiny is a universal moral force that functions to purify us of selfish desire. After witnessing our past exploitative deeds, Viṣṇu (the all-pervading Supreme Lord) manifests as time to create appropriate situations to help us overcome the egoism those deeds represent. In other words, karma is God’s system to make us selfless by teaching us needed lessons.

 

Changing destiny completely

The degree of selfishness fueling a past deed determines the severity of the reaction required to purify us. The only case, therefore, where we can avoid those reactions is when our selfishness is relatively negligible. A practical day to day example: When we accidentally offend one whom doesn’t even take offense, just regretting our mistake may be sufficient in itself to purify ourselves. For a more serious offense, however, to rectify ourselves we require a reaction such as suffering a loss of reputation or even a punishment. In conclusion, only in rare cases of negligible past offense can we completely nullify our destiny.

 

Changing destiny by partially counteracting the offense

There are rituals of atonement to inspire the universe to yield in its karmic punishment. For example, a man who abused a woman in a past life may have to suffer the reaction of a bad relationship with his mother in this life. To reduce the destined reaction one can offer white cloth in charity to widows on Monday, the day of the moon or the mother.[1] I won’t go into the details here, but I think you can get the general idea. According to the offense one has committed one can get the universe (time or karma) to somewhat relent by performing certain prescribed atonements specifically tailored to rectifying the consciousness that caused the offense in the first place.

 

Changing destiny by using destiny

One can also change their destiny by using it properly. A good example is Vidura from the Mahābhārata. He was thrown out of his life-long residence in the King’s palace by his envious nephew. Instead of trying to eradicate or modify what happened, Vidura simply matched his aspirations with his destiny. In other words, he just changed his goal to suit his present lot. He left on pilgrimage with the goal of increasing his love for God and to further his purification. In conclusion, by reasonably changing one’s goals to match one’s destiny, one can change one’s karma in the most important way — from misery to satisfaction.

 

Changing destiny by changing one’s perspective on life

One can also change destiny by simply changing one’s perspective on life. The cursing of Mahārāja Parīkṣit is a perfect example. He was cursed to die due to offending a forest sage, but rather than expend energy to counteract or modify it, he just accepted it as God’s blessing. By Krishna’s grace he was not only able see how his destiny was accelerating his detachment, but also how it was freeing him and his family from any further reactions. In conclusion, one can change one’s destiny by viewing it through the lens of knowledge as a chance for spiritual growth, instead of seeing it as a cause for despondency.

 

Changing destiny by eradicating all karma

God is not cruel. Destiny has purpose. It is His mechanism to make us selfless and pure. If we achieve the purpose of destiny by fully submitting out of devotion to God’s will, why would God still punish us whimsically? He wouldn’t. One who fully surrenders to Guru and Krishna is therefore free from karma.[2]

 

The question therefore arises as to why devotees still suffer along the lines of their destiny as demonstrated time and time again by seeing their astrological charts. The answer: Karma is God’s law directed at the impurities in our heart to free us from selfishness. Why would God not sanction His law to bring His devotee closer to Him, even for a surrendered devotee? In that case, destiny is no longer karma, an impersonal law, but Krishna’s direct care, and as the devotee is now directly under Krishna’s protection, Krishna can also certainly eradicate one’s karma completely, or at least reduce it to the degree one has been sufficiently purified by devotion.

 

There is a final point about bhakti and the eradication of karma: Our bodies run on karma. To be completely free from karma thus means death and consequent liberation. The problem is that our goal is not just liberation, but to attain prema-bhakti. Thus Krishna keeps the karma-run body going, with its apparent happiness and distresses, even after all karma has been eradicated so that the liberated devotee can continue to practice devotion and achieve prema.

 

I am happy that I elaborated further on this topic. The conclusion is exactly the same as the original article.

 

Can destiny be changed? In the most important way, yes. I will leave you with Rumi:

 

“When providence seems to be digging a hole to throw us in, it is actually planning to quench our thirst by drawing water from the ground.”

 

 


[1] I once took a young man with this problem to a reputed astrologer and this was his recommendation.

[2] There is here is a statement in the Brahma-saṁhitā: karmāṇi nirdahati kintu ca bhakti-bhājām (Bs. 5.54). Everyone is bound by his fruitive activities, but the devotees, because they work completely for the satisfaction of the Lord, suffer no reactions. Similarly, the gopīs’ attitude toward Krishna, although seemingly lusty, should not be considered to be like the lusty desires of ordinary women. (Kṛṣṇa, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Chapter 22)

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #36 – The Highest Scoring Spiritual Performance

September 9th, 2019

I was a fan of watching the Olympics when I was young. One thing that I found intriguing was that gymnastics and diving competitors wouldn’t be scored just for the quality of their performance, but the degree of difficulty of the routine or dive they were attempting. I had a thought today. Why not use that same lens to increase our appreciation of what Śrīla Prabhupāda achieved in his mission by briefly highlighting the degree of difficulty of the task he accomplished?

 

For those of you who may not know, Śrīla Prabhupāda crossed the ocean by steamship in 1965 at the age of seventy to start his world mission in New York. By the time he left the world twelve years later, he established over 108 centers worldwide with thousands of followers dedicated to the promotion of bhakti-yoga, primarily focused on kīrtana. He also personally translated, expounded upon, and published over eighty volumes of authentic Indian spiritual texts, which were then translated into over fifty languages. More than a half a billion of those books have since been distributed worldwide. There’s more, but let’s keep our focus on our subject: the difficulty of his task.

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda alights on shore of the New York Harbor with only eight dollars in his pocket and a trunk of his translated works. His mission is to spread bhakti and kīrtana in the western world and to transplant an ancient culture, which, for all practical purposes, has never before left the shores of India. He stands there as a lone man with no backing, followers, or resources directly facing his opposition to the west — the full force of the most powerful material civilization known to man. Perhaps an even greater challenge is where, by providence, he was directed to start his mission.

 

After a short while in America, he winds up living in the Bowery[1] sharing a loft with a young man he hopes to teach Sanskrit. One evening the young man suddenly loses his mind on LSD and Prabhupāda is forced onto the streets of the Bowery in the depth of night. With the help of some early followers, he soon settles in an apartment in the Lower East Side with use of a storefront for his lectures. The impediments he faces are unimaginable, especially for a man of his culture.

 

“Why have I come to this place? Why have I come to place?” he ponders while sitting in his storefront in the Lower East Side, the last place a devotional, learned, and cultured Bengali Vaiṣṇava gentlemen would retire to serve his own personal needs. He immediately answers his own audible reflection, “I was cent per cent faithful to the order of my spiritual master!” By force of that faith he continues with his calling.

 

He gradually collects a group of sincere young people to help him. It is by no means easy. His field of potential candidates is not of any noted culture or training, to say the least. He takes what comes and tries to train them. One story comes to mind:

 

A young lady from the Lower East Side joins the mission and is soon initiated by Śrīla Prabhupāda. To start his mission, he has no choice but to be extremely merciful. This young lady, however, hates men. After six months she requests to see Śrīla Prabhupāda. He grants her audience. “I have been chanted Hare Krishna for six months, but I just can’t stand worshipping that man Krishna!” Śrīla Prabhupāda, replies without losing a beat, “That’s OK, we worship Radha.”[2] It is hard to imagine a more insane place to try to transplant traditional Vaiṣṇava culture than the sex crazed, drugged out, hippy land of the Lower East Side. Another story comes to mind:

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s new disciples indiscriminately organize programs for him to share his message of devotion and culture. They arrange for him to speak at a rally of Louis Abolafia, the founder of the Naked Party. He is running for president of the United States with a catchy slogan: “What have I got to hide?” When Śrīla Prabhupāda enters the room, the supporters of Louis Abolafia are dressed as bananas and are wildly dancing, mostly naked.[3] Śrīla Prabhupāda remains sober, talks briefly, and leaves. Afterwards one of his disciples informs Śrīla Prabhupāda that Louis Abolafia couldn’t officially run for president because he didn’t meet the minimum age required. Śrīla Prabhupāda finds that hysterical and bursts into laughter. He certainly had a sense of humor and would sometimes chuckle or laugh, but the devotees never saw him laugh so hard. I can imagine what he was thinking: “As if his age was the reason he has not qualified!”[4]

 

It is hard to imagine that a person whose mission was to create a class of Vaiṣṇava brāhmaṇas[5] actually accomplished it within such a milieu of madness and at such an advanced age, with challenged health, I should add. He had suffered two heart attacks on his journey across the sea. Should not the score of his unprecedented accomplishments therefore be exponentially increased by the substantial challenges he faced? A final story:

 

It was the disappearance festival of Śrīla Prabhupāda in 1978. Several of the most distinguished scholars of Vṛndāvana were assembled to offer their respects. I remember the homage of one of them. “If Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, and Śrīla Prabhupāda were in the same room and Śrī Caitanya appeared, who would he go to first? I say Śrīla Prabhupāda! Who could be more attached to the holy name than that person who spread it around the world!” Of course, Śrīla Prabhupāda had just recently passed from this world and the talks were in the mood of eulogy, but considering what he accomplished and the degree of difficulty of his task, is it not possible that we have witnessed the highest scoring spiritual performance in the history of Vaiṣṇavism?

 

 


[1] When Śrīla Prabhupāda arrived in the United States the Bowery was one of the worst slums in New York City, known for its homeless drunken derelicts and flophouses.

[2] This story was told to me three years ago by Nayanabhiram dasa who joined at 26 Second Avenue and witnessed this happening.

[3] The cult of Louis Abolafia believed that you could get high from smoking dried banana peels, so the glory of bananas was part of their creed.

[4] This story was told to me two years ago by my revered neighbor in Upstate New York, Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, who was one of the first devotees to join at 26 Second Avenue and was there when all of this took place.

[5] A learned and cultured teacher of bhakti.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #35 – Brrr!

September 2nd, 2019

I have bad hot water karma. Last year in my place at Govardhana the hot water was finally fixed after four years. The local ashram tried many things year after year, but they just couldn’t get the shower to work. They finally figured out the problem. The water tank on my one-story dwelling couldn’t muster enough pressure to push the hot water through the geyser. Four years of cold showers in the late fall/early winter is a small price to stay in Govardhana, but this is not an isolated incident. It happens to me often. I am writing from our ashram in Colombia and lo and behold, like last year, despite all the best efforts no one can get the hot water in my bathroom to work.

 

What’s the message of all this “bad karma”? First, there is no bad karma, per se. You just have to use what Krishna gives you for the purpose He sends it. I am a monk, a renunciate. Perhaps I have begun to live a bit too cushy for my order. Did the Gosvamis of Vṛndāvana have hot water geysers? They didn’t die from the cold. Rather, this type of simple tolerance, called tapasya, is essential for spiritual life, and certainly mine.

 

The mind is like a river, but with a very unique feature — it runs in two opposite directions. It flows both outward towards the senses and inward towards the soul. Yoga is the means of redirecting the consciousness towards the soul from sensual contact and consequent bodily identification. It does this in two ways. The positive way is called abhyāsa, or spiritual practice. We do that by focusing on an object of meditation, which naturally draws the flow of the mind inward. The negative way is called vairāgya, where we forcefully redirect the mind back internally from its outward flow to the sense objects. Back to the yogic cold bath.

 

When there is natural discomfort in sensual contact in the course of one’s duty, such as a cold morning bath, the mind automatically abstracts itself from its outward flow to the sense objects in order to avoid distress. In contrast, living a cushy life, where we constantly attempt to readjust the environment to avoid natural austerity, conditions the mind to keep flowing outwardly to external sense objects. Such constant tuning to seek comfort and avoid distress thus only increases absorption and attachment to the bodily concept of life, which is the locus of all suffering.

 

In my residence in Upstate New York, the hot water works. By now, however, I have become inspired to take a cold shower anyway, which makes the same cold water a form of tapasya rather than just the imposition of my karma. Further realizations come:

 

The identification with the body is just a mental conception. Before you enter the cold shower the expectation of discomfort is always worse than what you actually experience. The mind also has an ability to abstract oneself from the sensations of the body just as when one takes a hot shower one has the ability to absorb oneself in the sensation. The sensations of the body, like pain and pleasure, are thus mental conceptions and thus ultimately relative. Sorry to be so morbid, but here’s the message:

 

Better to practice now some simple tolerance to abstract one from bodily identification, for the body is doomed in the future to old age, disease, and death. The only adjustment we can make to counteract those increasing difficulties is to strengthen our mind, which requires some voluntary tolerance of the dualities of heat and cold and happiness and distress.

 

Ok. Ready for my cold morning bath now: Brrr!

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #34 – Retreats! Retreats! You Need Retreats!

August 26th, 2019

I think most everyone who reads this – I know my audience – has spiritual aspirations. All, with perhaps a few exceptions, face the same problem to one degree or another. The world today is generally in opposition to that aspiration. It can wear one’s spiritual life down. The challenge is nothing new. What to do?

 

“Retreats, retreats, you need retreats!” I remember this sage-like advice from a mentor when a friend of mine described to him his insane schedule as a professional musician, which severely compromised his regulation and sādhana.

 

We just finished our 7th annual Bhakti Immersion Retreat.[1] The effect on people was profound. It inspired me to revisit the question, “Why retreats?”

 

Realization

To move forward in spiritual life you need faith. Faith is not theoretical or blind; it is a trust based on experience. What experience? An experience that confirms that the goal of our practice is indeed sublime. But how to get a sense of that? We need just a drop of that sublimity. How to get that realization? Realization only comes by practice, concentration without break over a period of time. Spiritual retreats afford that opportunity, a rare few days in immersion. If you are sincere and take advantage, it works. The sublimity one feels gives one hope to move forward in one’s practices while perhaps still in a less than conducive situation. “Retreats! retreats! You need retreats!”

 

Community

One of my main objectives in organizing retreats is to give the participants the feeling of community, a belonging to something greater than oneself that allows one to embrace a common interest over a selfish one. That is especially important for one on the path of devotion, for true bhakti only manifests in the heart of one who goes beyond self-centeredness. Only by such transcendence can we experience and expand our joy, like playing in a symphony where so many talented people sacrifice the spotlight to produce and relish something far greater than they can produce by themselves. Unfortunately, in today’s world, the experience of community is increasingly rare. Often, even our spiritual get-togethers become just crowds, not communities, a gathering of people of separate interests where, unfortunately, we are forced to remain guarded despite sharing a similar faith. Joining an inspiring retreat can therefore be life changing by fostering spiritual community, the place where bhakti easily seeps into the open hearts. “Retreats, retreats, you need retreats!”

 

Perspective

Living in the world has a kind of materialistic momentum where our selfish needs grow incrementally without us even realizing the subtle expansion of our entanglement. I therefore like to fast on ekādaśīs, which gives me a perspective on how little I actually need. In a similar way we need retreats to break the momentum of materialistic life and thwart the imperceptible snowballing of illusion.

Feeling stuck in your spiritual life and overwhelmed by day-to-day life? “Retreats, retreats, you need retreats!”

 

 


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CJF-7JL1ys

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

August 24th, 2019

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Greatest Glory

I gently bow my head to each tomb and meditate on the qualities of the various devotees that are honored there. I pray for those qualities to come to me. It is one of my favorite places in Vrindavan. I often visit the samādhi park at the ISKCON gośāla.

Moving clockwise, I first offer respect to the spot where Guṇagrahī Swami lies. I think of his humility and his attachment to preaching and kīrtan. The samādhi of Ananta Śānti, the first Russian devotee, is next. Vrindavan is flooded with Russian Vaiṣṇavas. I laud his sacrifice. Then where Vibhu Caitanya Prabhu rests, a self-effulgent Vaiṣṇava, universally recognized in the Vaiṣṇava community as an uttama bhakta for his deep devotion in even the simplest of services. The samādhi of Narmadā Goswami follows. He was an elderly and respected Indian gentleman who dedicated himself to the heart of Śrīla Prabhupāda, the BBT, for over 25 years. I next bow to Pūrṇacandra Goswami, a learned and Rasika Vaiṣṇava who beautifully sang songs of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa and was very strict in the line of Śrīla Prabhupāda. The noble samādhi of Yamunā devī follows. Her name alone is synonymous in ISKCON with bhāva bhakti, the deepest devotion. Need I say more? The final one is the biggest of all the samādhi structures. Brahmānanda Prabhu rests there. Perhaps the size of his tomb represents his heart for Śrīla Prabhupāda.

In Nectar of Devotion it describes that one of the main inspirations to develop a particular relationship with Krishna is to meditate on the devotees who love Krishna in the same relationship one aspires to attain. Thus, is not remembering the departed souls who have dedicated their lives to Śrīla Prabhupāda one of the main impetuses for developing our relationship with Śrīla Prabhupāda? And do not these same devotees represent his greatest glory, what he was able to give others of himself?

Today, in remembrance of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s accomplishments, I am inspired to highlight the many Vaiṣṇavas who have unfortunately passed from this world that Śrīla Prabhupāda inspired. My only regret is not being able to mention them all, especially the ones that I have known closely – great souls who have enhanced the appreciation of Śrīla Prabhupāda in the hearts of many. If Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mercy is all that we are made of, do not these souls embody his glories? I therefore pray to all of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s followers, those past, present, and even the millions yet to born who will carry his legacy and increase his glories. I stand in awe of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s greatest glory, the many he has inspired by the depth of his devotion, and the gift of his devotion that he keeps on giving.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #33 – The Agony, the Ecstasy, and the Holy Name

August 19th, 2019

In bhakti, agony can be ecstasy. An example:

 

“Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu spoke, ‘My dear beautiful friend, if one develops love of Godhead, love of Krishna, the son of Nanda Mahārāja, all the bitter and sweet influences of this love will manifest in one’s heart. Such love of Godhead acts in two ways. The poisonous effects of love of Godhead defeat the severe and fresh poison of the serpent. Yet there is simultaneously transcendental bliss, which pours down and defeats the pride of nectar and diminishes its value. In other words, love of Krishna is so powerful that it simultaneously defeats the poisonous effects of a snake, as well as the happiness derived from pouring nectar on one’s head. It is perceived as doubly effective, simultaneously poisonous and nectarean.’” (Cc. Antya-līlā 1.148)

 

This description of agony and ecstasy is quite an elevated topic, but also core to the general practice of bhakti, at least the correlation between discomfort and devotion. Here’s the agony/ecstasy principle made simple.

 

The highest happiness is selfless love or devotion. It doesn’t always come easy, but any struggle done out of selfless devotion is mixed with a counter-intuitive feeling of happiness, because devotion is happiness. Hopefully a few examples of this apparent dichotomy will help clarify this point.

 

The first of five saṁskāras (good impressions) required for one taking initiation (commitment on the path of bhakti) is tāpa, or regret. We must regret our previous selfish life and commit to a life of selfless service. Tāpa also means to burn. What can burn more for one attached to the ego than the acknowledgement and regret of their mistakes? At the same time, what can be more blissful than the humble position, for it is the only position where love is felt and flows?

 

This agony/ecstasy principle is especially relevant to the chanting of the holy name. The first effect of chanting the holy name according to the Śikṣāṣṭakam is that it cleanses the mirror of the heart[1] and gives us clarity of perception. By sincerely chanting the holy name one can see and feel the real self, which is the pure consciousness of selflessness and devotion. Even a glimpse of the soul exposes our egoistic pretensions in comparison. How embarrassing to see our charade as the enjoyer and controller separate from God! So, which is more blissful — the pain of diminished pride where we call the names of God in hopelessness and humility, or our blasé and inattentive chanting that avoids exposing the depth and pain of our forgetfulness of God?

 

A little more about ecstasy. Happiness is selfless love or devotion, and love is manifest only through a relationship with someone either as one’s master, friend, child or lover. Krishna has appeared in His holy name. To experience the ecstasy of the holy name we must therefore talk with the holy name and pray to understand our relationship with Him. If you offer your consciousness in devotion, will He not, like any worthy person, reciprocate and increasingly reveal Himself, including your relationship with Him? Chant with attention, but pray for a relationship with the holy name.

 

There is more to say, but I have to stop here. My yearly Bhakti Immersion Retreat starts tomorrow (Friday), so there isn’t time for anything more. I just wanted to share a simple message this week before I go:

 

Be attentive while chanting, cleanse your heart, see your folly, and, in humility, beg for a relationship with the holy name.

 

Ah, the agony and ecstasy of chanting the holy name!

 


[1] Śrī Caitanya wrote an eight-verse poem called the Śikṣāṣṭakam glorifying the potency of chanting the holy name. The first verse summarizes the eight progressive effects of chanting the holy name. The first effect is ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanaṁ — it cleanses the mirror of the heart.

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #32 – Taking Up Space

August 12th, 2019

I looked out at a sea of college students that filled the small auditorium. The professor, a friend, asked me to teach his “Introduction to Hinduism” class. Standing at the podium before them, I started with a joke to introduce myself and to warm the crowd. With a straight face I tell them:

 

“I haven’t been back in a university in almost forty years, when I was studying aeronautics.”

 

I paused for a minute to watch the puzzled audience try to digest the incongruence between what I had just said and who was standing in front of them in robes and a shaved head. I then quickly added: “I was taking up space.”

 

Get it? Taking up space… aeronautics. I heard a few chuckles, then a few more. Most got it.

 

The truth of the matter is that I studied philosophy in school, but what I said was basically true. I wasn’t a serious student, and I don’t remember even one thing I learned in class that has been useful in my life. I am not saying that because I became a Hare Krishna monk. It was the late Sixties. From all practical standpoints, most students were, in fact, just taking up space.

 

Of course, for many career choices a college degree is an essential prerequisite, and there are competent teachers in some fields of study that can share pearls of wisdom. Yes, there are also good reasons to attend college, and some elite schools work you hard, but even for most career directed majors what is too often important is not what he or she actually learned in school, but rather the graduation diploma needed as a prerequisite for a job or further education. I don’t suppose the whole college experience today is much different than it was fifty years ago, except for one big difference. This may come as a shock to you, but I paid $800 per semester for room, board, and tuition at a good school! When I graduated, I left debt free and was able to join the Hare Krishna movement — or do anything else — without being bound by debt to some useless job.

 

Now here’s a brief list of reasons why college, when not approached very thoughtfully, can be a big mistake.

 

The Financial Challenge

 

The cost of college today is exorbitant.[1] Most students have to take out huge loans to pay for their college education. Most are under the misconception that the responsibility for one’s loan begins after graduation. Not true. With many, or even most loans, you start accruing compounded interest the minute you start school. By the time you finish school and are obligated to start paying the loan back, you will be paying back only the interest you have accrued without having touched the initial principle, and this will go on for years. What’s even worse is that six out of ten students don’t even complete their degree in four years. They, or their poor parents, have basically just thrown their money to the wind.

 

To maintain a healthy life, according to the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, one must immediately get rid of three things: unwanted guests, disease, and debt. Modern psychological studies have significantly linked debt to depression, anxiety, stress, anger, fear, shame, low self-esteem, impaired cognitive ability, and mental illness. So, unless one pursues a syllabus aimed at a specific occupational goal that leads to sufficient economic remuneration, there is a chance that you will be borrowing money only to debilitate your general well-being, including enslaving yourself to a meaningless job to pay it back.

 

The Intellectual Challenge

 

Even if one does pursue a college major that trains one for a good job, is that the purpose of university — simply to get a job? Traditionally the university had a very solemn duty. It was invested with the responsibility to train the intellectual and leadership class of society to maintain and hone the foundational principles behind the various institutions and traditions within their society. How sad is it that today the university, at least in the United States, has increasingly become a social club or trade school, and a poor one at that?

 

A university is meant for intellectual rigor. Worse than becoming job training centers, too many disciplines in the universities have degraded into intellectual orthodoxies[2] where the gift of reason is not used to educate or find truth, but to confirm existing beliefs and indoctrinate students into many disciplines that, frankly, often pawn absurd ideas.[3]

 

The Education Challenge

 

Besides the lack of intellectual rigor, it seems that college is even failing to give the most basic lessons of the humanities that were once the hallmark of education. Here’s the insight of controversial Camille Paglia, an alum of my alma mater, on the deteriorating state of classic education:

 

“What has happened is these young people now getting to college have no sense of history — of any kind! No sense of history. No world geography. No sense of the violence and the barbarities of history. So, they think that the whole world has always been like this, a kind of nice, comfortable world where you can go to the store and get orange juice and milk, and you can turn on the water and the hot water comes out. They have no sense whatever of the destruction, of the great civilizations that rose and fell, and so on — and how arrogant people get when they’re in a comfortable civilization. They now have been taught to look around them to see defects in America — which is the freest country in the history of the world — and to feel that somehow America is the source of all evil in the universe, and it’s because they’ve never been exposed to the actual evil of the history of humanity. They know nothing!”[4]

 

 

The Character Challenge

 

More than anything else, the single aspect of one’s life that determines one’s success is the strength of one’s character. I can’t afford to waste precious words here arguing the obvious, which is that modern education is not geared to elevate one’s character. A few notable quotes should suffice.

 

“We are good at teaching technical skills, but when it comes to the most important things, like character, we have almost nothing to say. Modern society has created a giant apparatus for the cultivation of the hard skills. Children are coached on how to jump through a thousand scholastic hoops. We are good at talking about material incentives, but bad about talking about emotions and intuitions.” — David Brooks, New York Times columnist

 

“To educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” — Theodore Roosevelt, American adventurer and president

 

I will leave this section with some words on the spiritual vacuum of modern education from the very learned Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. He went for higher education in Calcutta, the seat of the British Raj and its best schools, over 150 years ago, but his insight into the spiritual vacuum of modern education is still relevant today.

 

“The result of modern education is that one becomes no better than an ass as one only becomes more enamored with the flickering nature of this world.” (Vidyāra Vilāse v. 3)

 

 

Buyers Beware Notice

 

My perspective in life is spiritual, and my Monday musings follow suit. Śrīla Prabhupāda taught us that it is difficult to separate one’s spiritual life from the way one lives in the world. I would not be faithful to my mission in writing without an occasional social comment. Too many young people who don’t belong are entering college and going into substantial debt without even getting a good education or a remunerative career. How much better it would be if they could be guided immediately to a suitable career rather than four costly years simply taking up space. [5]

 


[1] This article may be more relevant for people in the United States where colleges cost on the average at least $50,000 and are often outfitted like country clubs.

[2] https://heterodoxacademy.org

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVk9a5Jcd1k

[4] https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/paglia-dumbing-down-america-began-public-schools

[5] Some people ask me how I come up with a topic every week. It’s not easy. The above article was based on a YouTube video that someone sent me that I thought made a powerful point: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dETn6JVO-p4

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #31 – Chant and Be Bored

August 5th, 2019

Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī was not bored:

 

“I do not know how much nectar the two syllables ‘Kṛṣ-ṇa’ have produced. When the holy name of Krishna is chanted, it appears to dance within the mouth. We then desire many, many mouths. When that name enters the holes of the ears, we desire many millions of ears. And when the holy name dances in the courtyard of the heart, it conquers the activities of the mind, and therefore all the senses become inert.” (Vidagdha-mādhava 1.15)

 

Is this our experience? Do we sometimes, often, or even always get bored by the repeated recitation of the holy names?

 

Chanting the same syllables over and over again? How can something so monotonous not be boring?

 

Obviously, others have a different experience. Although they repeat the same syllables again and again, their chanting becomes more, not less, exciting. How can that be?

 

Friedrich Nietzsche was not a theist, but he said some things about boredom that I think are relevant to our discussion. He described boredom as the “unpleasant calm that precedes the creative storm”, and described that he who never fortifies himself against boredom “will never drink the most powerful elixir from his own innermost spring”.

 

I think what Nietzsche portrayed about tolerating periods of external dullness to reap the benefit of inner excitement is especially applicable to those struggling with meditation. In meditation, when one withdraws from external objects boredom may arise, especially today when we are so conditioned by the fast, intense, and changing stimuli of the world. When we resist moving towards those impulses, however, one’s consciousness automatically becomes redirected inward to the self, and the experience of meditation becomes dynamic. We then gain faith that our temporary struggle to focus was indeed only the entrance to something deeper and exciting.

 

In bhakti meditation there is something even more. The object of meditation is not just a prop to still the mind, but the holy names of God, which is a direct manifestation of the Divine in sound. As we have an innate relationship with God, and there is a natural energy called “love” between beings in relationship, when we meditate on the names of God, the energy of that relationship, which is the highest love called prema, gradually awakens.[1] The repeated recitation of the same words, which initially may have felt somewhat monotonous, then becomes an object of great attraction, and in time one surely drinks “the most powerful elixir from his own innermost spring”.

 

Boredom is, therefore, ultimately not what we are doing, but how we feel. We are thus never bored in deep devotion, regardless of how much we withdraw from external stimulation. Bhakti yogis have chanted the same names of God over and over again with increasing internal relish despite withdrawing their senses from the world. The example of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta, the guru of Śrīla Prabhupāda, immediately comes to mind. He took the vow of Nāmācārya Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura and sat in the jungles of Māyāpur for ten years chanting one billion names of God.[2] He certainly was never bored.

 

Now the real question: What does this have to do with us? We are speaking here not about an attainment, but rather a principle that is certainly applicable to us — to advance in meditation one must initially tolerate the withdrawal of one’s consciousness from external stimuli with the faith that shortly one will enter into something deeper. Even one who has achieved samādhi in his meditation never starts at the level of samādhi. They have to rev up the consciousness first through the preceding stages of dhāraṇa and dhyāna before again getting up to the level of samādhi. It is like a car that has potential for fifth gear, but every time needs to go through the other gears first to get there.

 

In other words, we don’t start any activity at our full potential, especially meditation. We may have to initially tolerate, as Nietzsche said, “the unpleasant storm before the creative force” to awaken some real interest or feeling for the mantra. Our daily potential is surely not samādhi, but if we concentrate for a set period of time every day without interruption, then even a sincere beginner will feel that energy of connection to the divine, an experience that should allow us to get over the initial challenge of chanting that at times may feel tedious. We can then chant and be happy, rather than chant and be bored.

 

“I am never bored; to be bored is an insult to one’s self.”
― Jules Renard

 

 


[1] Verse two of Nārada-bhakti-sūtra states sā tv asmin parama-prema-rūpā; that the highest form of love is to God.

[2] One billion names is 192 rounds a day for ten years.

 

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