Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #18 – The Happiest People in the World

May 3rd, 2021

“They are the happiest people in the world!” Well, maybe not the happiest, but that was my spontaneous thought when observing Ricardo, our gardener, and Mireya, the housekeeper. Their smiles reminded me of the type of smile Krishna wears called smita, a closed mouth smile without any external impetus that simply reflects one’s inner contentment. Why are there so many simple people here in Colombia who seem so content and joyful when they have so little, especially compared to the first world?

 

Before trying to unravel this query, let’s first settle on a standard measure of happiness to gauge my observation. There are several ways to define happiness. Let me choose one: Happiness is a mind of good thoughts. What are good thoughts? Good thoughts are attachment to the qualities that elevate one’s consciousness, like devotion and humility, and the activities that inspire those attitudes, and aversion to the qualities that degrade one’s consciousness, like pride and avarice. In other words, the more a person’s mind is imbued with healthy attachments and aversions, and the less it is imbued with unhealthy attachments and aversions, or bad thoughts, the happier a person is. Now let us look at the attitudes that are naturally invoked in a modest life that elevate one’s spirits.

 

Santosh (Contentment)

 

Happiness is contentment that is expressed in the good thought, “Enough!” It seems that people with a humble life seem much more content with the simple joys in life and their modest possessions, while those who live in excess of their needs are more imbued with the mode of passion and never feel that they have enough.

 

Assurance

 

There is certainly some truth in the Hebrew saying, “The more you have, the more worries you have.” One of those worries is the fear of losing any of the multitude of one’s attachments. All things being equal, people who live a modest life are less fearful.

 

Decisiveness

 

Studies have shown that the more choices one has, the more difficult it is to make decisions. Sociologists have called this the paradox of choice.[1] As society becomes more “affluent” and the choices in food, clothes, and travel increase, there is a greater likelihood that people waver on the plane of indecisiveness, increase their material expectations, and even become more dissatisfied with their choices, fearing they have made the wrong one. Modest people who have less, therefore, tend to be more resolute in the minimal choices they make and are in less anxiety.

 

Emotionally Stable

 

The single greatest factor for general well-being, including physical health, is the amount of quality relationships one has.[2] Affluence in the modern world gives one a mobility in occupation and residence, which makes it more difficult to maintain community and family relationships. Often, modest people have no choice where they live and work. To take birth, live, and die in the same place creates the maximum opportunity to have the meaningful relationships in life that fill the mind with thoughts of stability and support.

 

Gratefulness

 

The more you have, the greater your expectations are, and the less likely you will feel deep love and appreciation in exchanges with others. In contrast, simple people have modest expectations and are easy to please. In other words, people who live a humble life tend to have deeper thoughts of gratefulness and appreciation in their consciousness.

 

Devotion and Faith

 

Srila Prabhupada use to quote the British poet Cowper: “The city is made by man, and the country is made by God.” Modern civilization, in a myriad of ways, from the overdependence on technology to its postmodern view of education, tends to cover the Divine. By dint of the sheer simplicity of their lives, those who are more modest are less affected by the complexity of modern life and are therefore more likely to experience the beautiful impressions in the mind inspired by simple faith, a sense of the Lord’s protection, and the eternality of their existence.

 

Aristotle made the insightful observation that happiness is the goal, but it is never the means to anything else. You may counter his conclusion by offering some other goal, he challenged, but it would easily be rebutted by the simple observation that the goal proposed was simply the means to happiness.

 

So yes, happiness, is the goal, and we have a lot learn from Ricardo, Mireya, and the simple god-fearing people of Colombia.

 

 

 


[1] https://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_the_paradox_of_choice?language=en

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KkKuTCFvzI

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #17 – Unmasking the Truth

April 26th, 2021

I hope this will be the last COVID article I write, but I honestly have little choice what I write. It’s not easy to come up with something of substance to communicate every week. I have to just grab whatever realization comes by the time I have to start writing my next post and run with it. Sometimes my inspiration is a topical issue. Hopefully I have the empowerment to see those issues through the eyes of śāstra, and also to get the facts right about what I am commenting on. That’s the challenge.

 

Someone asked me if making a recommendation about wearing masks is śāstra. I didn’t make a recommendation about masks. I made a recommendation to be independently thoughtful in order to avoid letting ideological predispositions overly influence one’s opinions. For that purpose, to help test my readers’ objectivity, I presented what I thought was a reasonable study on masks that had challenged my own understanding. Before I sent it, I then checked the reasonableness of that study with people I highly trust. After it was published, most of the people I got feedback from thought my last article was fair. Two academics, one trained in the field of logic and another in rhetoric, however, independently questioned the fairness of my presentation. A spirited conversation ensued. One of the main points of my article was that we should be open-minded and detached, and follow where the facts lead, even if that forces us to turn around a previously held position. Those discussions convinced me that in order to balance my presentation, I should include the comprehensive and up-to-date study testing the efficacy of masks that one of them sent me. I have posted that below. [1] I am convinced that holding a forum where the expression of opposing opinions is welcome, even if we vigorously oppose them, is the best way to bring the most people to the healthiest consensus.

 

When I think about these discussions and the attempt to get to the bottom of any of these issues, it always brings me back to the title of my last article, which is also commensurate with the problem I saw when I started trying to deeply understand these issues: “Whom do you trust?” I think the conclusion of my last post still holds in relation to the quandary of the modern age, which is identifying reliable authority.

 

Now, “whom do I trust?” I’m not sure in these matters, but there is one thing I did learn from Śrīla Prabhupāda that can be applied in all endeavors to understand the truth—without sincerely wanting and praying for the truth, no matter whether that truth conforms to our desires or not, and in addition cultivating the detachment to accept that truth, we will always be susceptible to the false authority of cheaters and rogues.

 

So, my main topic is really not about masks. It’s about the need to be detached, thoughtful, and the willingness to consider points of view different from one’s own, and I hope this article reaffirms my commitment to that.

 

I think I have had my fill of topical commentary for a while. I pray that next week Krishna inspires me to write more directly about transcendence. And that is my final conclusion on unmasking the truth.

 

 

 


[1] A summary of 58 studies on the effectiveness of masks can be found in Table 3 of “A rapid review of the use of face mask in preventing the spread of COVID-19”, published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies Advances (Volume 3, 2021). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666142X20300126?via%3Dihub#tbl0003. The table can also be viewed on page 6 of the PDF version of the study.

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #16 – Whom Do You Trust?

April 19th, 2021

Whom Do You Trust?

 

I think that was the title of a quiz show in the late 1950s or early 1960s, hosted by Johnny Carson – if that means anything to my audience, most of whom were not even born yet. It is, however, the best title I could find for the subject I want to share today. I am concerned with how trust in our personal narratives is formed, and how difficult it is to change such trust even when what we previously believed is proven wrong. This is how my concerns arose.

 

I am not a big fan of masks. I generally avoid wearing them, but I have utilized them in certain situations for the simple fact that they protect one from airborne disease. I was then sent a video that said otherwise. I was not particularly attracted to the website where it came from, but the video itself seemed well-reasoned and authoritative. I am skeptical, however, about accepting anything on face value that I am not expert on. I thus shared it with a person whom I very much trust for his trained critical eye and objectivity. In several other instances where I have sent things to him, his response caused me to re-evaluate my initial judgment. His reply: “Sounds sensible and well supported. I’d be interested in seeing a reply. Otherwise: It does seem reasonable.”

 

As the conclusion was still puzzling when considering the overwhelming national consensus on wearing masks, for further confirmation I sent the video to another person whom I similarly trust for their intelligence and neutrality. It made sense to them especially considering “the size of the virus and the size of the natural gaps in even well-woven fabric?” They questioned, however, whether other factors were considered in terms of validating the utility of masks, such as “creating an automatic awareness of people’s space and staying safe and distanced enough, etc.”

 

Finally, I consulted an intelligent friend with a scientific background who thought that the video was not worth his time watching: “I made my decisions after reading at least 100 highly technical papers and attending 25 hours of Zoom discussion led by my own skeptical physician. Nothing I have read has convinced me otherwise other than saying more research is needed.”

 

I will summarize the finding below, include a link to the video[1], and then cite an opposing study. Finally, I will share what I learned about my own thinking from this endeavor at trying to figure out the truth here. A summary of the video:

 

Dr. Bostom is a respected professor of epidemiology and an experienced researcher on the science of medical intervention. He became skeptical about the use of masks after hearing Dr. Fauci dramatically change his previous declaration that masks are ineffective, a view also held at the time by the CDC and the NIH. What particularly disturbed Dr. Bostom was one of the reasons Dr. Fauci gave as a contributing factor to his previous statement about the ineffectiveness of masks—that he needed to discourage ordinary people from buying them at a time when there was a shortage for the health care workforce.[2] Dr. Bostom found that excuse quite strange for several reasons, but especially since cotton cloth is in abundance, can easily and quickly be mass produced, and even a makeshift one could be made in a few minutes. He therefore decided to study the published research on the matter. He was shocked by the findings:

 

Dr. Bostom explained that the “gold standard” of scientific testing is called random controlled trials (RCT), a type of scientific experiment that aims to reduce certain sources of bias when testing the effectiveness of a new treatment. He was quite surprised by the consistency of the studies. All the RCT studies, including those going back to a study during the Spanish flu, showed negative results. In other words, there is no benefit from masks in protecting one from airborne diseases. To confirm the conclusions of his research, Dr. Bostom even referenced a meta-analysis of all the major RCT studies on masks from The Journal of Emergency Infectious Disease, the CDC’s main inhouse journal. Again, the results were negative.

 

Finally, he referred to two recent studies, beginning with the Danmask-19 study, which was published in the peer reviewed Journal of Internal Medicine. The study was done in March 2020, where, of the 4900 people tested in Denmark, there was no significant difference in COVID-19 infection from those who used a mask and those who did not. Conclusion: “The answer was a nearly identical proportion – 42 of 2,393 people (1.8%) in the mask group and 53 of 2,470 (2.1%) in the no-mask group. The difference was not statistically significant.”[3] He also cited another RCT study about masking done with six thousand people visiting Mecca for the Haj. The results were exactly the same.

 

Although I couldn’t find any RCT study directly supporting the efficacy of masks to counter airborne disease, I did find a study in the respected Journal of Health Affairs[4] that found that states that mandated masks did better than states that didn’t, although the reasons why were not clear. [5]

 

Now let me share my thinking while reading these studies. Perhaps my readers can meditate on their own reaction.

 

I resisted claims that were against my previous opinions, almost as if I was a fan of my own opinions and against those that opposed it, rather than being a neutral umpire of the facts. I was surprised by just how difficult it is for me to change the direction I am moving on a particular ideological issue, which in many ways is what COVID has become[6], out of fear of being wrong and what that does to my ego’s thirst for superiority. Simply put, in so many ways I could see and feel the push to see the world according to my desire, rather than the way it is.

 

I could also see that by my practice of regularly writing on topical subjects, which forces me to look at issues objectively, how my mind has been trained a bit to resist the tendency to avoid facts that oppose my opinion and desires, although it is not easy.

 

It also dawned on me how our opinions are so dependent on which authority we accept, and how helpless we are in such material matters when, due to commercial interests and unbridled ego, all major public institutions have become substantially corrupted and untrustworthy.[7]

 

Now, “whom do I trust?” I’m not sure in these matters, but there is one thing I did learn from Śrīla Prabhupāda that can be applied in all endeavors to understand the truth—without sincerely wanting and praying for the truth, no matter whether that truth conforms to our desires or not, and in addition cultivating the detachment to accept that truth, we will always be susceptible to the false authority of cheaters and rogues.

 

 

Those who are addicted to unrestricted sense gratification can never be truthful, nor can they be trusted with any faith.” (Krishna Book, Ch. 1)

 

 

 


[1] https://www.lewrockwell.com/2021/03/no_author/dr-andrew-bostom-interview-with-naomi-wolf-on-studies-not-supporting-masking/

[2] https://www.bitchute.com/video/rJ3I74oEWvtq/

[3] https://www.medpagetoday.com/blogs/vinay-prasad/89778

[4] https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00818

[5] There is difference between being effective because they inoculate one from airborne diseases and being effective because they make one socially aware to socially distance and so on. I am also not a scientific researcher, so I can’t claim that my research is thorough.

[6] A bit of a disclaimer: While this video contains what some might consider explicit and implied vulgarity, it doesn’t change the relevance or importance of Maher’s message, which is the separation of politics and medicine: https://youtu.be/Qp3gy_CLXho

[7] The pharmaceutical industry has been sued and paid over 35 billion dollars in the last ten years for withholding, misrepresenting, or falsifying data that would impede their commercial interests, resulting in tens-of-thousands of deaths. Just one example: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-astrazeneca-texas-lawsuits-idUSKBN1KT0Q9

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #15 – Monday Morning Musings IV

April 12th, 2021

I travel every Sunday. That means an irregular schedule and diet. I feel it the next morning. My mind is more restless and my chanting less attentive. My solace: As long as I do my best, Krishna will see my heart and be pleased.

 

The mind offers millions of things to think of besides the holy name. Don’t fall for the bait. Have a time and place for chanting where there is absolutely no compromise with the mind. If our determination is resolute in that way, even if we sometimes fail, Krishna will see our effort and bless us with the holy name.

 

Krishna can appear whenever He wants, even in the restless mind. We would all fail controlling the mind if our success was dependent on our personal power born of a sattvic nature. I begged for mercy. It worked.

 

It doesn’t matter how much you chant the name, but rather how you chant the name. There is still strength in numbers if one uses that time to sincerely beg for the mercy of the holy name.

 

Concentration takes effort, which brings one to the point of realizing that our effort is not enough to be successful; We need mercy. Begging for the mercy of the holy name is the foundation of successful chanting.

 

A thought came while chanting about how much reading Krishna Book yesterday gave meaning and life to my mantra. I then remembered the instruction Vishal Prabhu told me he received from Śrīla Prabhupāda: “If you read Krishna Book every day, you will always be happy!”

 

Can you chant and think of Krishna’s pastimes at the same time without being inattentive? Yes, just like you can watch a movie and relish the background music at the same time. You must first, however, come to the platform of sattva by determined meditation.

 

Can you chant and think of Krishna at the same time without being inattentive? Yes! Words and names are spontaneously connected with their mental images, especially when we are attached to those objects.

 

Attachment to Krishna and His holy name comes by hearing His glories. Our practice of the chanting of the holy name is actually the practice of chanting and reading. You can’t separate the two.

 

Chanting is a competition for our attention between the name and everything else in the mind. For the holy name to win, we have to be more selective with what we put into our minds, especially through the channel of modern media.

 

Effort, mercy, focus. Then what? Hopefully we see our hearts and lament. What did I see today? I can’t sincerely call the holy name of Krishna because I don’t want Him. I want to be Him. It takes courage to go deeper and annihilate the false ego.

 

Chanting is a relationship with Krishna. He will tell you endless ways in which you can improve. The problem is that old habits die hard.

 

Good chanting is when sitting down to chant there is no other place in the world you would rather be.

 

The greatest blessing is when the things that are best for you are the things you most like to do. I pray for attachment to the holy name.

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #14 – COVID and the Cow in the Room

April 5th, 2021

There is much discussion about how best to deal with COVID-19. There is something, however, that few seem to be talking about, even those well versed in traditional Indian literature—that the ultimate cause and cure for the COVID-19 pandemic is beyond a virus.

 

The Cause (collective karma):

“Any country where people indulge in unnecessary killing of animals will have to suffer from wars and pestilence imposed by material nature.” (Bhag. 7.15.24, Purport)

 

Śrīla Prabhupāda was especially concerned with the result of the pervasive slaughter of the cow:

 

“Therefore they are sinful. They must have, there must be war, pestilence and famine.” (Lecture, London, 24 July 1973)

 

The word “pestilence” comes from the Latin “pestis”, meaning plague, and is defined in English as “a contagious or infectious epidemic disease that is virulent and devastating.” Sound familiar? What to do? To cure a particular disease, you have to first locate its cause and then reverse or eradicate it.

 

The Cure (pious leadership):

“As soon as there is complete eradication of sinful activities in the state, then there will be no more war, pestilence, famine or natural disturbances.” (Bhag. 4.20.14, Purport)

 

I am not being facetious. The śāstra is saying something here that should be at the forefront of our discussion. The ultimate cause of pestilence is collective karma. Therefore, a vaccine, even if efficacious, won’t solve the problem. If the hearts of people are not purified, and corrupt leaders and ignorant educators continue to mislead people and sanction trillions of animals to be killed world-wide, the collective reactions to such mass exploitation will continue in one form or another, even if everyone on the planet is vaccinated, immune, and this particular karmic reaction is paid.

 

Does that mean that I should not take a vaccine? That’s another discussion. We should always deal with the symptoms of any ailment, as they also cause harm. When one has a very high fever, one must be very vigilant to bring it down. One should not, however, foolishly think that subduing the fever has eradicated the disease. Similarly, in dealing with COVID-19, we should do whatever it takes to help eradicate the disease, but not lose focus on its ultimate cause. As long as unqualified leaders continue to support and sanction the mass killings of animals, especially the cow, the sin of exploitation will certainly manifest in continual calamities and society will be ravaged by one disease or another.

 

There is an English metaphorical idiom: “The elephant in the room.” It indicates that something as conspicuous as an elephant can be overlooked for various psychological reasons, including ignoring an obvious truth that we can’t hear because it challenges our attachments or worldview. I changed the metaphor for this article to “the cow in the room” to indicate something that is so glaring, but too often overlooked in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings—that if we don’t gravitate to a more self-sustainable and karmic-free life based on the land and cow protection, we all will be subject to the karmic reaction for using and thus supporting an exploitive society. The result will not be pretty:

 

“European and America civilization will be finished on account of this sinful activity of killing the cows.” (Śrīla Prabhupāda letter to Kīrtanānanda, 31 May 1975)

 

So why are we not talking of “COVID and the Cow in the Room”?

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #13 – God’s Problem: The Story of Sri Chaitanya

March 29th, 2021

God’s Problem: The Story of Sri Chaitanya [1]

 

God has a problem.

 

And it is the same problem that we have.

 

What’s the problem?

 

He is not a devotee.

 

What is a devotee?

 

A devotee is one who loves God.

 

And love means to have a particular relationship with God.

 

Why is that our problem?

 

Because in this sense we are trying to become devotees.

 

But why is that a problem for God?

 

It’s a problem because God doesn’t have love of God.

 

How does God lack that?

 

Love of God is in the heart of His devotees, not in God’s. God is the object of such love (the beloved), not the abode of such love (the lover of God, the devotee).

 

And why is that such a problem?

 

It’s a problem because to love is higher than to be loved. God is supposed to be the Supreme Enjoyer, but He lacks the highest pleasure—to love God—and to lack love (as the giver) is a problem.

 

What does God do about that? Surely, He can make a solution.

 

Yes, that is the story of Sri Chaitanya. God becomes His own devotee to become complete in His experience of love. And not only does He become a devotee, but He becomes His highest devotee, Sri Radha, at the height of Her love, in Her deepest feelings of love—Her moments of separation from Krishna.

 

Happy Gaura-purnima (The appearance of Sri Chaitanya)!

 

 

 


[1] Originally published on March 21, 2016

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #12 – Are You Bivaxual?

March 22nd, 2021

I love branding and coining new words. This one’s about vaccination. I’ve discovered that some people are pro-vaccination, some militantly anti-vax, and some could go either way—a stance I call “bivaxual.” Because I have some position of authority as a teacher, people are asking my opinion. I guess I see myself as bivaxual. I see whether or not to take the vaccines in terms of risk analysis—whether the greater risk is in taking or not taking it—and therefore a decision based on age and health, and perhaps practicality—like whether it will be required for work, service, or travel. I see it, therefore, as a decision best left to the individual and his or her family. If someone asks my personal opinion according to their situation, however, I may give it. But meditating on this issue for the last week in relation to whether or not I should get myself vaccinated has brought other issues that I think in many ways rest at the core of the debate.

 

When I began to consider the vaccine for my personal health and to discuss the matter with various people, it became apparent how polarized people’s views of the world are, and that healthy public discourse is dying, even in spiritual movements. I see mostly fundamentalism and orthodoxy, which manifests as people hearing only the view with which they already agree and dismissing opposing views by attacking the authors of references cited in opposition to their opinion. When I brought forth information that I wanted to better understand to some anti-vax people, it was dismissed as the ideas of sheep following the mainstream media. When I brought legitimate questions about the authority of big pharma and the NIAID[1] to some pro-vaxers, it was dismissed as coming from right-wing conspiracists. Of course, there were those on both sides who welcomed the dialogue and helped me hone my conceptions, but that was rarer than I expected. The courage to enter discussions to test one’s own viewpoint with the sole objective of honing the truth, which is the emblem of first-class discourse, seems no longer the standard. This was not always the case.

 

There is an Indian philosophy called Nyāya, the school of logic, where a standard for quality discourse was promoted. That standard was called vāda, where those with a particular conviction are encouraged to put forth their best arguments, not to seek victory over other ideas, but to do so with detachment and aimed only at discovering the truth.

 

Unfortunately, the debate I see going on today in practically all spheres—and certainly in this life-and-death matter of vaccination—is not a search for truth, but a focus on justifying one’s own strongly held beliefs, which are often based on one’s attachments. Discussion has therefore degraded to the two lower standards of public discourse that the school of Nyāya sought to discourage: jalpa, seeking victory even by resorting to fallacies and distortions; and vitaṇḍā, or the attempt to simply destroy one’s opposition without even bothering to offer a reasonable alternative. Perhaps we have become even worse, since these days we too often refuse to engage in discourse with those who oppose us and instead justify censoring others’ views.

 

Whom can we trust? How can we make educated decisions? That’s a problem. It seems the authority of all institutions for information and knowledge, from the government (including its medical establishment) to academia to the media, have been proven to be compromised. I can only share what I do. I listen to all sides of any issue with an open mind, clear my consciousness as much possible through meditation, and pray to Krishna to reveal His will for me beyond my personal attachments.

 

What is my decision?  I will keep that personal. But, I can say that in coming to a decision I am happy that I was bivaxual, for, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.”―John Stuart Mill

 


[1] National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #11 – The Fault is Not the Whole Person!

March 15th, 2021

One of the benefits of association with spiritually evolved souls is that sometimes their utterances in casual conversations are so profound that they can become a moral foundation for one’s life. About twenty-five years ago, I called Tamal Krishna Maharaja to ask for a small donation. A friend of ours and his wife were in dire straits, and I thought I should take up a small collection to help him. He quickly agreed to my request before I could give him the caveat, “Do you know what that person did?” When I did, however, he immediately responded, “Yes, but the fault is not the whole person. I love him!”

 

Like most of us, I can’t count the number of times people rubbed me the wrong way or even mistreated me. I also can’t count the number of times that that casual utterance, now imbedded within my moral compass, saved me from the degradation of resentment, especially when the person I was disturbed with was, by all accounts, a sincerely dedicated spiritual person.[1]

 

There are many examples of this principle of liberality in bhakti literature. One of the most prominent is the story of Kala Krishnadasa. Although he was trusted with the service of being Śrī Caitanya’s personal assistant during the Lord’s pilgrimage to South India, he was somehow allured by the beautiful women of the local Gypsy community. Śrī Caitanya, however, personally rescued him, but naturally relieved him of his service. Upon returning to Navadvipa, he took shelter of Lord Nityānanda. Not only did Nityānanda refuse to see Kala Krishnadasa only through the lens of his mistake, but recognizing his repentance, simplicity, and devotion Nityānanda immediately engaged him in very responsible service.

 

Whenever I think of this subject, I remember the story of an unmarried, elderly Indian businessman that I knew who retired to Vrindavan. He was kind and generous and substantially helped ISKCON. He even became close with Śrīla Prabhupāda. Some of the locals, however, caught him in some impropriety with a lady and maliciously broadcast it widely. I was struck, in contrast, with how compassionately his sādhu god-brothers from the Char Sampradāya dealt with him. They immediately came, and rather than harp on his faults and deal with him in a punitive way, they respected him for his otherwise notable career in devotion. With compassion, they invited him to live in their ashram where he could live in an environment more protected from his weaknesses for the rest of his life.

 

The successful practitioners of bhakti-yoga passionately embrace this vision of liberality out of fear of offense. A close friend of mine, who is adept in the practice of devotional meditation, often shares with me his personal spiritual practices. Before even picking up his beads to chant, he spends over an hour praying for the mercy of the great teachers in our lineage, including all the main associates of Śrī Caitanya and Śrī Krishna. He then proceeds to pray to over one hundred god-brothers and god-sisters, meditating on their unique qualities of service and devotion. What impressed me most was that he meditates on, in his own words, “Both those that are svapakṣa and vipakṣa,” or, in other words, those that are like-minded (sva-pakṣa) and share a similar mood with him, and those who hold a view opposing (vipakṣa) his more reclusive approach to devotion. His motive in meditating on even those with a mood seemingly opposed to his, he explained, was that he didn’t want to be obscured from recognizing their dedication to Krishna consciousness because focusing only on one’s differences with another devotee inevitably leads to vaiṣṇava-aparādha.

 

Not letting the faults of someone who worships Krishna with exclusive devotion obscure one’s vision of their devotion is such an important principle on the path of bhakti-yoga that in the Bhagavad-gītā (9.30) Krishna asks His devotees to embrace this principle to the extreme. He emphatically declares that even one who does something very bad, but who is generally a resolute devotee, can be seen as a sādhu or saintly person because of one’s core commitment to pure devotion.[2]

 

We live in the world of quarrel and confusion. If one is therefore not vigilant, even those who are dedicated spiritual practitioners can fall prey to vaiṣṇava-aparādha by allowing another’s mistakes, or even difference in viewpoint or personality, obscure their otherwise substantial devotional ideals. Beware: the fault is not the whole person!

 

 


[1] Of course, this doesn’t discount the many people I have disturbed. I also pray they can see beyond my frailties.

[2] Like many verses in Vaishnava literature the meaning goes deeper than a few sentences of explanation. What this verse does not support is bad character in the name of devotion. For a fuller explanation of this verse, I encourage you to read Śrīla Prabhupāda’s commentary and also the excellent commentaries on this verse from Bhurijana dasa in Surrender Unto Me and Swami B.V. Tripurari in Bhagavad Gita: Its Feeling and Philosophy. An excerpt from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s commentary: “On the other hand, one should not misunderstand that a devotee in transcendental devotional service can act in all kinds of abominable ways; this verse only refers to an accident due to the strong power of material connection.”

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #10 – What I Don’t Understand About Yoga Philosophy: Part Two

March 8th, 2021

I was sent an article written by a renown Vrindavan Vaishnava scholar and friend of many years. I was being asked for a clarification as the article didn’t seem to conform to what we have been taught about the nature of the soul. I greatly respect the scholarship of the person who wrote the article, but I could not understand in relationship to bhakti-yoga the view he seemed to advocate on Vedantic and Yogic grounds: the soul has no thoughts or will of its own. I concluded his view must certainly be more nuanced than what was expressed in a simple question and answer, or I simply misunderstood what he was saying. I responded to the person who sent their inquiry by sending her an article that I wrote many years ago contesting what seems to have been expressed in the article about the ātma. I have included my article below, but first an excerpt from the article in contention:

 

Question: From where does viveka or the faculty to choose between wrong and right come? Does it come from the buddhi or ātma? 

Answer: It comes from buddhi.

 

Question: Does the soul have intrinsic mind, intelligence, and ego? 

Answer: No, it doesn’t.

 

Question: Does the soul act only as a source of consciousness (e.g. battery power for a car), while always needing the external mind, intelligence and ego? Is this true even in the spiritual world? 

Answer: Yes.

 

What I Don’t Understand About Yoga Philosophy

 

July 11, 2016

About fifteen years ago I got my first copy of the Yoga Sutras when I was staying at Professor Edwin Bryant’s house in Princeton. He has been a friend since the time we stayed in the same ashram in Vrindavan in the early ’80s. At the time of this visit, he hadn’t yet published his lauded translation and commentary of the Yoga Sutras, but when I chanced upon a rough copy of his unpublished manuscript in the living room and started to thumb through it, Professor Bryant gifted me a copy. Reading it, I was enthralled.

 

The Yoga Sutras is a compilation of short aphorisms summing up the school of yoga, the school of mental discipline, or psychology—one of the six schools of philosophy gleaned from the ancient Vedas. I learned and applied to my meditation many things from the Sutras about the philosophy and practice of mental discipline that were consistent with the teachings of my own path, the path of bhakti, which also falls into one of the six schools of Vedic philosophy, Vedanta. There was one point, however, that I just couldn’t make sense of.

 

The Yoga Sutras clearly professes—at least the way I read it—that thoughts rest solely in the material mind and that, though possessing consciousness, the pure spirit soul is thus devoid of all thoughts.

 

Here’s what I don’t understand: If all thoughts are only in the mind, then what is the use of shastra, whose purpose is to give us good ideas that inspire proper thoughts and impel us to liberation? Some of those thoughts are determination, thoughtfulness, inspiration, good likings, and avoidance of bad habits.

 

Now, here’s the point. It’s a bit subtle, so please listen. If all these positive changes happen in the mind, and the soul, being devoid of thought, is just a third party to them, then our liberation and bondage is just a matter between God, who is moving the world, and our unconscious mind. In other words, if the soul lacks agency, the ability to institute change upon something (and it is hard to make sense of our notion of personal agency without thought, since how can we institute any change upon something unless we have a goal to achieve, an understanding of how to achieve it, and the will to execute it?), then our liberation and bondage has nothing to do with us. We remain just a hapless third-party witness who can never appropriately say yes, I like this, or no, I don’t, which are the choices (or thoughts) that are the precursor to liberation. What, then, is the use of shastra if the change in our mind is at another’s whim and not ours, when even the decision to read shastra has nothing to do with us?

 

And how can thoughts be only in the mind? The mind is inert. Inert matter doesn’t think. If one says, however, that the mind is like the reel of a movie and the soul illuminates and experiences it, then still how can you say that thoughts are not also in the soul? How can there be experience without thought?

 

And what about karma? If we are truly thoughtless, why should we suffer the reactions of our good and bad deeds? All action is preceded by thought, so how can we be truly responsible for our actions if we have no thoughts?

 

And suffering is also a thought. Don’t tell me it is all in the mind and I am not suffering. Of course, the cause of suffering is in the mind and I can ultimately transcend that, but how can one say that I am not feeling it now, that that feeling is someplace else, a place that is inert, the mind? Dead things don’t feel. In other words, I may or may not be in illusion about the cause of suffering, but it still hurts when I falsely identity with it. For example, I may dream of being eaten by a tiger and feel relieved when I awaken, but still was it, not I, the person awakened, who had the nightmare and was gripped with fear (a thought) due to illusion?

 

There is an argument against thought being in the soul, that the soul is eternal and things eternal must be changeless. Why? God has energies that create so many things, but by his inconceivable potency He is still changeless and eternal. And similarly, the soul can also have potency and be changeless, being a part of God. That seems to be the case.

 

I am not saying that Patanjali is wrong, but there must be something more to this. In this debate, I fall with Descartes:

 

“I think, therefore I am!”

 

 

 

Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #9 – Monday Morning Musings III

March 1st, 2021

Reflection One

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

 

 

Reflection Two

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

 

 

Reflection Three

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

 

 

Reflection Four

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

 

 

Reflection Five

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

 

 

Reflection Six

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

 

 

Reflection Seven

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

 

 

Reflection Eight

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

 

 

Reflection Nine

MVP (Most Valuable Post)

 

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

 

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

 

 


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

 

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