I received an email from Vanamali Pandit, the temple president of Boston. He has invited me to conduct a Zoom presentation for the 49th installation anniversary on July 19th. I have agreed to do it because Prabhupada sent me alone to Boston in 1967 to open a center. I stayed there for several years and watched it grow. I have a soft spot for Boston ISKCON. I will share my memories, including the several visits of Prabhupada to the Boston temple and his installation of the Deities Radha-Gopivallabha.
The speakers summarized the talks they gave for the year 2018. Jagattarini Mataji’s subject was krsna-lila, but the only recording I had was her introduction and her summary at the end. It was highly interesting and challenging to our purity of hearing. She read a quote from Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati that if one reads the rasa-lila, he will hate material sex relationships. Jagattarini is uncompromising in presenting what’s actually in the rasa-lila chapters. I found it the most interesting of the Govardhana Retreat talks. So I’m sorry all I heard recorded was the introduction and her summary at the end. (I’ll ask Ananda Kisora if he can find me some actual lectures that Jagattarini gave on the subject.) Jagattarini recommends we read the rasa-lila without any speculation but taking fully what Sukadeva Gosvami and Prabhupada give.
Bhurijana’s topic was the first chapters of the Tenth Canto. He emphasized that Krsna was gradually growing older, from three and a half years old (when He killed Putana) up to His dealings with the gopas and gopis. Sacinandana Swami continued speaking about Bilvamangala Thakura and Krsna-karnamrta. In the Karnamrta, Bilvamangala finally gets a face-to-face darsana with Krsna. Bilvamangala glorifies Krsna for His beauty and other transcendental qualities. Krsna is pleased with his praise and tells Bilvamangala that he will eventually come with Him to Krsnaloka, to live with Him forever.
A Godbrother wrote me and said he loved my free verse and free writing. I shouldn’t expect appreciations, but I have to admit his words gave me assurance, coming from a close Godbrother. The editor of a haiku magazine wrote me and told me a poet should not expect readers to write him fan letters. He should be satisfied with his own composition and put his love into his writing. People are generally too busy to write a “thank-you” to an author. That advice cheered me up, and I took it seriously. But I will treasure this single letter from one who likes my writing and who shares our mutual adoration of Prabhupada.
We were successful in our fundraising project, and had enough to print two books for the summer meeting on July 4th. But the Covid-19 pandemic hit us and has held things up. We received the shipment of one book for summer, Meditations and Poems. This contains prose reflections and many poems. The pandemic is holding up printing of the second summer book, Daily Compositions. They say we will get it “in July.” Then the problem is how to distribute them because we can’t have a group meeting at Stuyvesant Falls. John Endler has volunteered to mail out the books to readers if they’ll just send him their home addresses. We are only asking a donation to cover the cost of shipping.
In late August I’m scheduled to give a Zoom reading of my poetry from these two books. It will be nice if the readers have already received the books so they can read along with me and be trained in reading poetry while the author reads it. We are already preparing for the publication of two books on the occasion of my Vyasa-puja. One book is titled Kaleidoscope and features stream-of-consciousness poetry. The other book is Seeking New Land, which tells the story of Hemanta Swami, who seeks and discovers new land for a preaching base. There is free-writing but a solid story of how Hemanta finds his preaching base and begins promising operations. These books will be available by Vyasa-puja. I don’t know whether the pandemic will still be on and we won’t be able to gather. If so, we will conduct a program on Zoom. I will give a Vyasa-puja lecture and then read from my two books. By then we should have the books in hand and ready to distribute (if the readers just give us their house mailing address. ) 2020 has been a successful year for book production, and we won’t let the pandemic obstruct us but will distribute the books, if necessary, by mail.
I have received your anonymous letter from Russia which appeared on Facebook.
You complain that I don’t give regular records of my chanting sixteen rounds in the Journal. (I do, however, still give regular excerpts from my japa books.)
You ask me is it hard for me to chant my sixteen rounds now. You ask what awaits you if you live up to 80? I am 80½, and I have no problem in chanting my daily quota. I try to avoid the ten offenses. I may be chanting on the clearing stage. But I have not attained suddha-sattva or pure chanting in bhava—that still eludes me. I go on chanting with hope and enthusiasm, waiting for the day when I will fully taste the nectar of the Holy Name.
You should not worry that you will be unable to chant sixteen rounds if you grow to an old age. Rest assured, you’ll still be able to chant even as you grow aged. The chanting is such a simple method, and if you have been practicing steadily for years it will not be hard to keep up, even if you grow old. Prabhupada has given us a liberal concession to chant only sixteen rounds, and anyone can do it if they try.
The only thing that may hold you back is if you still chant while committing the ten offenses. So try your best to chant offenselessly while you are still able to chant in a healthy condition.
We are beginning to hear of the activities of Maharaja Rsabha. His father, Maharaja Nabhi, performed a great sacrifice with all his priests, with the intention of begetting a son as good as Lord Visnu. The sacrifice was so well-performed that Visnu was pleased, and He appeared in the sacrificial arena. The priests became ashamed that they were calling on Lord Visnu for a petty benediction of getting a son for King Nabhi. But the benediction was actually auspicious.
Rsabhadeva was an incarnation of the Supreme Lord. He was born with all auspicious markings on His body to indicate that He was the Supreme. King Nabhi was asking for a son just like Lord Visnu, but Visnu said, “That can’t be done, because I am Visnu Himself.” But Visnu said Nabhi’s son could be an avatara of the Lord born with all transcendental qualities. Rsabha was loved by all the people for His transcendental qualities. When He was old enough, Nabhi and his subjects conferred the empire on Rsabhadeva. Nabhi then went to the forest to perform austerities, leaving the kingdom to his excellent son. Rsabhadeva married and had one hundred sons, the most prominent being Bharata. Rsabhadeva taught His one hundred sons the teachings of Krsna consciousness. These instructions by Rsabhadeva are highly valuable and can be followed even today.
We are hearing about Lord Rsabhadeva and His sons, headed by Bharata. He teaches His 100 sons ideal instructions for becoming detached and practicing devotional service for going back to Godhead, back to home. He is not actually speaking to His one hundred sons, who already know the message of the path of perfection, but He is speaking to other sannyasis who have gathered, and He is enlightening them how to give up all material attachments and become paramahamsa servants of the Lord.
Maharaja Rsabha is an ideal leader for all the world, but at a certain point He gives up the empire and turns the rulership over to Bharata. Bharata divides it up among some of his brothers while Rsabhadeva retires to the forest to live a life of austerities in devotional service to Lord Visnu. He leads the life of an avadhuta, not caring for social conventions. Seeing Him acting as one deaf and dumb, the ordinary people misunderstand Him and mistreat Him, spitting on Him and abusing Him as He passes along. In order not to be disturbed by the common masses, Rsabhadeva stops traveling and lies down in one place like a cobra, accepting whatever food comes to Him without effort. He passes stool and urine and rubs it on Himself. But the wondrous thing is that His stool produces a marvelous pleasant aroma for miles around. King Rsabha wanders into a forest where there’s a forest fire, and His body is burnt up in it.
His son Bharata Maharaja takes control of the empire, and everyone is satisfied with him. After ruling for many years, he too retires and goes to a sacred place where he meditates on Visnu. He attains the ecstatic stage of bhava, just prior to the stage of prema, or pure love of the Lord. While Bharata Maharaja is meditating in the forest, he sees a deer who is pregnant and drinking water from the river just nearby. A lion suddenly gives out a great roar and the deer becomes so panicked that she jumps into the river, and her calf falls out of her body. The deer dies, but the baby deer floats on the water of the river. Bharata Maharaja feels great compassion for the helpless creature, and he picks her up out of the water and nurses her and protects her. He becomes attached to the baby deer and starts neglecting his spiritual practices. He becomes so infatuated that he gives all his attention to caring for the deer, and so he falls down from strict spiritual meditation on the Lord. One time the baby deer wanders away from his ashram, and Bharata Maharaja becomes completely distraught. He follows the deer in the mountains but falls down and dies as he is searching. Thinking of the deer at the time of his death, he is forced to take his next birth in the body of a deer, but because he was so saintly in his previous life, he remembers his sadhana even while living as a deer. He keeps to himself and finally passes away thinking of Krsna. In his next life, he is born into a brahmana family, but he vows not to fall again in any distraction or infatuation. Thus he leads the life of Jada Bharata, one who pretends he is deaf and dumb so that he doesn’t have to talk to anyone and can stay rapt in meditation on the Lord.
A little later we heard how Maharaja Rahugana threatened and chastised Jada Bharata for not carrying the palanquin properly. Jada Bharata was careful not to step on any ants, and this made him unable to stay in step with the other palanquin-bearers. The other bearers told the king that it was not their fault the palanquin was being carried improperly, but it was the new man (Jada Bharata) who was causing it to be shaky. The king then became very angry and addressed malicious, sarcastic words at Jada Bharata. This caused Jada Bharata to break his long silence, and he began to speak on the transcendental plane.
His words astonished King Rahugana, who realized that Jada Bharata was an elevated self-realized soul. Even though Jada Bharata was dressed in ragged clothes and wore a dirty brahmana thread, the king got down from his palanquin and made obeisances to the brahmana. The king said he was not afraid of Siva’s wrath, but he was afraid of offending a Vaisnava and the reaction that that would produce. In a frightened mood, the king made full dandavats before Jada Bharata and begged forgiveness. Jada Bharata began to speak further, telling the king he was in illusion to think he was a controller. Jada Bharata said Maharaja Rahugana may now be the king, but in the future all this could be changed and he could become the servant and Jada Bharata could be the master. King Rahugana was very submissive to the brahmana’s words, but he admitted he didn’t understand them all. The transcendental knowledge was elusive and seemed contradictory. Being compassionate, Jada Bharata explained the philosophy a second time, using simple, thorough language with analogies. The king finally became purified to understand Jada Bharata’s teachings.
“But what about the opinion that the West is spiritually dead? Does that apply to this forest place, this land and sky of Gita-nagari? It sounds awful to say, ‘You live in a dead place,’ like living in a cemetery. Is the Western world doomed to be dead? But I think it must depend on one’s consciousness, especially for a devotee engaged in a place like Gita-nagari. His particular involvement with the land—cultivating it, thinking of how to use it to serve Krsna and to spread Krsna consciousness—this gives the land spiritual life. And the temple and its compound, no matter where on earth they appear, are to be taken as cintamani, Vaikuntha dhama.
“Srimad-Bhagavatam describes beautiful, natural settings enjoyed by saints and sages as especially favorable for meditation. One such description is the holy Lake Bindu-sarovara, a pilgrimage place worshiped by great saints and sages, and the place where Kardama Muni had his hermitage.
“ . . . If one cannot see Krsna, then the most beautiful places in the world seem void. When Kapila left His mother, Queen Devahuti, the beauty of her palace with all its fragrant gardens would not interest her.
“And even if I am unqualified to live and write in Vrndavana, even if I am myself half-dead and living in the deadened West, I may yet be able to think of Krsna. If we can realize that indeed Krsna consciousness of the fullest kind can be experienced everywhere, even in nature, then that will be a considerable victory for all of us.
“Like every Krsna temple, Gita-nagari is special. It is a holy dhama, a spiritual abode in a condemned land. This particular location, rural Pennsylvania, is far-removed from the land of Lord Caitanya. He never walked here. The countryside freezes for months at a time, and the mlecchas use it for cow slaughter. It is a land suffering under the weight of Kali-yuga. Yet Srila Prabhupada came here and established this farm, thus giving a chance to those who would otherwise have no hope.”
“An Ayurvedic doctor is coming from South India. His specialty is oil massage therapy, and he will also see to it that I don’t exert myself. I met him briefly in Calcutta, and he smilingly remarked that I should refrain completely from reading or writing for 40 days. I could hardly believe that was possible, and so I just laughed.
“Baladeva wrote me a note:
“Perhaps this quiet time in your life can be taken as an ‘enforced’ samadhi. We are acting on the principle of ‘Work now, samadhi later.’ But your ‘work’ is all being taken away . . . Maybe you should not be afraid to completely enter a more meditative state for the next several months . . . Perhaps you could even practice the austerity of mauna-vrata [vow of silence] . . .”
“After thinking it over, I rejected the idea of mauna-vrata. It seems somehow artificial. I have already come to appreciate that spiritual life for me means management, travel, writing, and sadhana. At present I am receiving messages every day of the activities in my G.B.C. zone. I am also answering letters, and sometimes I speak on the telephone. I do not see a spiritual advantage in giving these things up. If the doctor insists I do so for medical reasons, that is a different thing, but so far he has not.
“I am not interested in spiritual recreation—‘samadhi’ or bhajanas—while recuperating. I am not that advanced in spiritual life. Krsna consciousness without reading and writing? Without devotees’ association and preaching in the temples? Even to consider the possibility of mauna-vrata and seclusion makes me more inclined to just the opposite—to return in full strength to the front lines where I belong. But it’s a fact that for now there is not much I can do.
“Baladeva’s note suggests a way to make the restrictions more spiritually interesting, but my plan is different. Although I am restricting myself and my day is mostly dedicated to physical recovery, I’m still plugged into the world of ISKCON. My interest in writing is also undying; I still aspire to sometimes catch and share a glimpse of Krsna consciousness.”
“Earlier as I sat here, I began to come under the spell of the moving water in the creek and the pleasing sounds of the rapids as they pass over the shallows. I spotted robins and woodpeckers, and other songbirds whose names I don’t know. Soft breezes added to the enchantment, and I considered entering a peaceful, lazy flow of oneness with the natural surroundings. For a while I even stopped chanting my japa and allowed myself to enter this mood. But I can see that such lulls are temporary. To think of such a mood as being some ultimate state is illusion. The slightest change in temperature and the breeze becomes chilling; or my ‘meditation’ is broken by the scurrying of a nearby squirrel or by an extra-loud squeak from the contending tree branches in the wind. These things remind me that I don’t belong in an impersonal oneness of material elements and that even if I attempt to enter here, it is not possible to be happy for long.
“And my hours and days in this lifetime are constantly diminishing. What is actually accomplished in this day? According to the Bhagavatam, all that happens between the rising and the setting of the sun is that we simply lose another day from our life’s duration, except for those who use their time in hearing the glories of the Lord.
“At least this woodland retreat is a soothing, healing place as I continue my slow battle to control my headache syndrome. Twice in the last three days I could not control my headaches. I expected that by now my body would have built up enough strength to endure occasional action, and so it is disappointing. So in times like this, the healing features of the creekside are a blessing and I don’t deny it, even while I cautiously note that such peaceful moods are just a temporary medicine.”
“Yesterday we had a potato-planting festival. All devotees took part, including the gurukula children. I went also. The fields had been ploughed in long deep furrows. Prabhanu supplied us with buckets of potatoes cut in half and showed us how to plant them—a foot apart, with the eye-sprout pointing upwards. It was blissful to see everyone, including the teenage boys and even the nursery-age children, working in the fields.
“The next day I received from the young boys’ ashram crayon drawings of the potato-planting. In each drawing I was depicted wearing my straw hat, sunglasses, and carrying a walking stick. One drawing I particularly like, and I’ve taped it onto my bathroom wall. My clothes are bright red, and my right hand looks like a large fist. It reminds me a little of Superman. Bursting with vitality, smiling, super-strong, a bright-red sannyasi planting a hundred potatoes a minute—what I want to be.”
“ . . . While sitting in the forest I suddenly heard a noise that sounded like the approach of a distant train. It was the wind moving through the leaves of the trees. It was not a particularly strong wind, but now that the trees are so filled with leaves, even a breeze produces much noise.
“Many seeds from the maple tree are falling and gathering on the ground and in the creek. This means that the tree has already flowered. We used to call these seeds ‘helicoptors’ because of the way they whirl and twist as they float to the ground. Where I grew up they were also known as ‘Polly-noses’ because we used to cut open the seed part and place it over our noses like a parrot’s beak.
“Today I heard big bass frogs croak for the first time. Prabhupada says that the frog is croaking very contentedly, but the predator snake hears that sound, so all mundaners who are proud of their bass croaks or their musical trills are simply calling upon death. Now we can expect to hear the bass frogs through spring and summer—another voice in nature’s orchestra, another living lesson.
“Bumping over the shale and puddles,
I know the inclines well, and the depressions.
Brace for them
and shift the gears.
“Past the boys school,
past the barn,
up the longest incline of the farm,
downhill out the gate,
left turn in the evening,
heading for the house with the barking dog.
“Riding with Narayana Kavaca,
making confidential plans
how to sell more books
while a bluebird flits across
past a grhastha’s house.
Puspavana is cutting grass
as we breeze by.
“‘Bike to Godhead,’ Suresvara jokes,
as we come rattling home. My dear Lord Krsna,
this ride is not a prayer
but count it please as something;
I am happy to ride for You.”
“Srila Prabhupada arrives at a temple and relaxes. He bathes and puts on new clothes. Devotees apply sandalwood paste to his forehead. He sits behind the low desk and leans against the back bolster, pulling his knee up. His hand rests on his knee as he listens to what his young disciples are saying.
“Prabhupada has his own inner feelings, and he doesn’t always express them. But everyone can see that he has come to give us Krsna consciousness. He sits in his room. Everyone tries to arrange things for his pleasure.”
“Prabhupada is at Bhaktivedanta Manor. He sits in his room facing a guest who wears a black suit and long hair like George Harrison. Prabhupada’s right elbow rests on the table, and his fingers are raised in jnana-mudra. I can tell you all the articles on his desk; I can tell you there’s a white sheet over the rug. It’s nothing you can’t see in the photo, but I want to take you on a tour of Srila Prabhupada’s moments. Don’t ask me why. No one asks the gardener why he grows more flowers—he will tell you, ‘I’m growing these for the Deities.’ I’ll tell you, ‘These Prabhupada moments are for the devotees.’”
“Srila Prabhupada is on a walk in London. He has stopped to look at a plaque cemented into a building. Subhaga dasa is behind him reading it aloud: ‘The Swedenborg Society/Reference and Lending Library.’ Srila Prabhupada’s head is slightly tilted, questioning, one hand in his beadbag, the other holding his bamboo cane. Everyone is interested in the plaque because he is. What will he say about Swedenborg?”
“While we were traveling in New England on a college lecture tour, a student allowed us to stay at his house. He lived on a small farm not far from the University of New Hampshire. This was during that wonderful time when Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavatams were issuing forth for the first time from the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. The Sixth Canto, Part I, had just arrived at the Boston temple, and we had ripped open a carton and secured a volume for ourselves.
“On the way up to New Hampshire, we took turns reading out loud in the car. We had to caution the driver not to be too rapt, so that he didn’t have an accident. Inattention to reading was not our problem. We had attained that priceless commodity, enthusiasm for the Bhagavatam. Maybe it had something to do with the novelty of a new book and the new stories. Just to touch the pages and to see the artwork and the pleasing contrast between the white paper and the black print were sensory delights. So we read and talked Krsna’s holy name and Ajamila as we drove to New Hampshire.
“I took notes, imbibed the nectar, and entered the personal presence of Prabhupada in an ideal way. Prabhupada was speaking the Bhagavatam, and I was listening. I stole away from temporal time and place.
“As I read, I was also aware that what I was reading was useful. I would need all this to speak to other devotees, and I could use it in my college classes. Each verse and purport, each example and analogy, was important. The examples which I had heard before brought new realizations.”
“Mathura dasa said that when he first read Japa Reform Notebook, he was struck by the sentences introducing my discussion of the ten offenses: ‘There are ten offenses in chanting Hare Krsna. They involve not only the time when we sit down to chant japa, but our whole devotional life. . . By the time you sit down to chant, it’s already determined by your service attitude—you’ve either already committed the offenses, or you haven’t. Both the offenseless chanting and the following are interdependent.’
“Mathura said it made sense that the whole devotional service is interconnected. ‘How can I be devotional, loving and humble, a servant of the holy name, if I express the opposite of those qualities during the day?’ He asked me to speak more on this theme.
“The disturbing picture still on my mind: I am sitting to chant, aided by a concentration produced by votive candles, while at the same time moths dive into the flames. I want to be offenseless in my chanting, but I commit violence to other living beings. So what if they are in a lower form of life and can’t chant Hare Krsna? They still have a right to live.
“Very, very few of us can spend our time in full-time chanting. Prabhupada says that constant chanting is the activity of a very mature—in fact, liberated—devotee. But we may feel that we’re not doing enough with only sixteen or twenty-five rounds. One way to feel better about this is to realize that all our activities can contribute to good japa. Be conscious of it, be deliberate. Understand that if you are cruel to someone, or if you find fault, or overeat, or are a nonsense in one way or another, it’s going to affect your japa. Everything you do contributes to or works against your chanting. It makes me think of the athletes who train for years to perform in the Olympics. Their actual performance is over in a few hours, but they train themselves for it and protect themselves from injury twenty-four hours a day. They make sure they get sufficient rest, eat the best foods and don’t do anything that could damage their chances of success. And they think positively.
“It’s also nice to think about saintliness in a general way. Certainly to intone or sing the holy name of Krsna is saintly life at its best. Especially in Kali-yuga, the sankirtana yajna is the life of saints. If we want to become more saintly, we have to behave properly and observe all the rules and regulations of Vaisnava life. Krsna consciousness is not something you just switch on and off—it’s a fulltime occupation.”
“I was just out walking. Suddenly, walking back toward the cabin in the rather cold October sunlight, my surroundings seemed unfamiliar and I experienced a discontinuity of thought, like the feeling you have when you suddenly wake up, especially in the middle of the day, and try to grab hold of an identity. Then I thought, ‘Yes, at this time especially, it is important that you are chanting Hare Krsna—when you do not know where you are, when nothing is familiar, even your body and the well-worn path to your house, and that is the working of inevitable time to bring you to death.’ At that time, when nothing can be grabbed onto and you have to leave your own mind’s thought, then you must be able to CHANT HARE KRSNA. If then instead you try to grab hold of that which no longer can save you, if you cry out to that which you are leaving, then that action becomes karma, and again you come back to the material world and play at being familiar and comfortable and ambitious and living, as if it were permanent. So I want to do all my duties and have normal consciousness, yes, but I want to become attached to this chanting, chanting deeply attached to the holy name.
“Do your duty but maintain an aloofness from whatever is not lasting. Attachment to chanting and hearing is the essence of Krsna conscious work in the Krsna consciousness movement. Don’t shirk the nitty-gritty work of ISKCON, and don’t become caught up in temporary anxiety or pleasure. The art is of being on the mark—Krsna conscious. The chanting and hearing is essence. Even when dealing with a practical problem, Srila Prabhupada was seeing it and soon speaking of it in absolute terms. Chanting especially promotes this: leave everything aside and chant the holy name. Then we can take up even our most demanding preaching duties in this world with vigor and endurance.”
“A sudden shower, even while the sunshine was out, caught me on the bench and soaked my page. I have run for shelter to the calf’s shed. Even one minute in that downpour has drenched my clothes. It’s so pleasant. Yamuna watched me as if it were a sport. She probably thought I was foolish to run inside. After all, it was just a quick shower, and she is accustomed to standing outside all day, even in heavy rain. Everything at once—dark clouds, sunshine, and rain! Good for the grass. Always something growing.
“This morning Uddhava asked me something about the relationship of work to favorable meditation on Krsna. (I was insistent on reading the scriptures. But he has this wonderful field of backyard activities where he can engage his family members in devotional service.) All I meant was that while working, in order to think of Krsna, we should have fresh subject matters in our minds, and those come from regular hearing.
“But I have to be aware of what others are doing before I tell them to do something else. Therefore all I said was, ‘Add sravanam-kirtanam. Who will not be attracted to the narrations of utthama-sloka except one who is a butcher, or one who is killing his own self?’ Someone has to remind us to read. That’s my job.”
“Srila Prabhupada, your spiritual master told you that you were qualified because you heard nicely. He didn’t recognize you because you gave donations to the Gaudiya Math or because you got involved in management. He recognized you for your attention to chanting and hearing. In this way, your spiritual master has forever emphasized the importance of these basic Krsna conscious practices. And you yourself told us that because you were good at sravanam, now you were good at kirtanam, preaching.
“Another point similar to this one is that you took your spiritual master’s instructions so seriously that later they became the basis of your life’s work. For example, he only mentioned that you should become a Western preacher twice—once when he first met you, and again in a letter he wrote you at the end of his life. He also told you during Karttika, 1935, at Radha-kunda, ‘If you ever get money, print books.’ You allowed his instructions to impress you deeply.
“We cannot imitate your dedication to his words, but it teaches us that following the spiritual master to the utmost depends on the disciple’s capacity to take seriously and absorb what his guru is saying.
“Also we have to follow our guru’s instructions, creatively. The guru may give us a seed instruction, a sutra-sized mention that gives us an indication of his desire. Then the disciple has to think carefully how to carry it out to the fullest.
“Srila Prabhupada, you had to think about so many things in order to carry out your Guru’s instructions, and yet you always did it in faith. Your faith was in the spirit of the instruction and was not always dependent on ‘the letter of the law.’ Neither did you wait for him to spell out the details of how you could carry out his order. You used your creative intelligence, and you were successful.
“You have left us with much more detailed instructions. Even within those details, there is room for creativity. Times have changed, and we have to learn how to adjust our approach in preaching. When you were here, the airports were open and big book distribution was going on full force. Now it is illegal to distribute books in many airports, so we have to think of another way. If we are following the spirit of your instructions, we will be creative in our following.”
“Krsna isn’t much pleased by the behavior of the human species. Even the religionists approach Him with their selfish motives and impossible desires to rectify the material world as a place ‘safe for Democracy,’ a place ‘peaceful’ for sense gratification. Krsna may reciprocate and give them what they want, but He is not pleased by their worship. Even the faithful loving service of the pure devotees in Vaikuntha doesn’t appeal to Krsna in His original Vrndavana form. It doesn’t even reach Him. But He is captured by the songs and gestures of the gopis, and by the loving attitudes of His parents and friends.
“Devotional service is tricky. The spiritual master wants us to work in the world, and we have to be aware of so many things. We have to talk with lawyers, communication experts, accountants, marketing people and with troubled devotees. Neither are their troubles all on the spiritual plane. Often they are based on ‘I need to get married,’ or ‘I can’t follow the regulative principles, what should I do?’ or ‘How can I get along with the other devotees?’ It drags me down as much as the whirlwind of my own mind and senses. The spiritual master wants us to practice pure nama bhajana. We have to recognize that we alone supply our own distractions. Srila Prabhupada gave us work in ISKCON. It is not detrimental to eternal life, but somehow or other, we have to remember Krsna.
“In his Srimad-Bhagavatam lecture, a devotee said that ‘Self-realization is attained by hearing about Krsna and serving Krsna. When we do that, then automatically we discover our own self.’ I wanted to question him but didn’t dare in front of a hundred people. I didn’t want to sound like a doubtful Westerner who goes to psychologists in search of self-realization. I wanted to ask a question I didn’t know even how to form—something like, ‘Don’t you have to keep striving to know yourself and understand yourself in order to best pursue the practice of hearing?’
“I was thinking of all the junk in ourselves that others see clearly but we are either blind to or unable to change. Do we have to do something to improve, or is everything—even the intermediate states of self-realization—attained by attending the Bhagavatam class?
“For me, self-realization takes place largely by allowing myself to write. Writing is a way for me to analyze myself, to offer prayers for improvement. It is a way I can come to a clear understanding of my motives and directions.
“Yesterday, I visited a brother and heard of his bhajana. He does 15 or 20 minutes of prayers thinking of the members of the parampara and the residents of eternal Navadvipa or Vrndavana. He mentioned that this year he had been planning to write a book. He decided instead to spend those three hours a day on internal improvement. I was swayed at first, thinking I should also follow his example, but then I asked myself, ‘How can I practice bhajana in writing?’”
“Nama-ruci, vaisnava seva, jiva daya—relish for chanting God’s names, service to His devotees, and compassion toward all living things—Lord Caitanya taught these three principles. One of my Godbrothers told me that when people talk about drafting a mission statement for ISKCON, he thinks of these three principles. He also told me I was doing good service in these areas.
“‘My taste for the Name increasing—when will that day come?’ I serve my disciples by writing books and traveling. Yes I should extend myself a little further and go to Guyana and other places, but I may not be able to go everywhere. That would be folly, especially because I don’t know what effect it would have on my health. I agreed we shouldn’t go to Puerto Rico because it would require another plane flight, or two, and a long car ride up, and later down, that winding hill. I just can’t do it. Or perhaps I can, but I’m holding back.”
“Distraction while trying to read Cc. I recorded my dreams during the night, re-entered them, captured key words, etc. Then I thought, ‘We learn by hearing from authority, not from dreams.’ Our time is limited and so is our mental attention and devotion. We cannot splay out our energy everywhere with equal effectiveness. What purpose does becoming a dabbler serve in our attempts to attain the highest goal?
“I want to attain samadhi, so I again find myself regretting that I have come here thinking about a dream. I believe there is truth in dreams somewhere, and certainly they are compelling stories, but I have to ask my dream-self to please excuse me from paying him too close attention. I would rather opt for serving my guides, guru, sastra and the sages. Please don’t divert my attention. These December weeks I want a quiet, determined homestretch of the year to read and write, pray to Prabhupada and learn. This is on my mind as I read Lord Caitanya’s talks to Vyenkatta-bhatta. Now the Lord has left for Sri Rangam. Pray, savor slowly, ruminate, and milk each phrase for mercy. I wish the Lord would pick me up into the narrative. Just see this brahmana devotee of Lord Ramacandra, how he’s in samadhi within the Ramayana pastime. Lord Caitanya was attracted to his mood and wanted to help him understand and rejoice in the actual meaning of the Ramayana. (Sita-devi was never kidnapped, only a false Sita was taken by Ravana.)
“Krsna will give us darsana if we keep trying for it. Do we want dreams? O Lord in heart who directs things, I can’t understand the many obscure dreams I experience. If You would like to instruct me in dreams, please do so, but please know that I especially need strength to surrender. I need to be convinced of the reality of the spiritual world of the Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrta. Let me dream of that, or at least how to approach it. Otherwise, I’ll sleep and wake and return to reading and writing Hare Krsna mantra and continue to live without success.”
“2:50 p.m., July 29, 1996
“Justifications for writing in this way as a form of devotional service; lots of use of the word “Krsna, Krsna”; breaking through; writing freely in devotional service even though it’s not always explicit.
“They advise you to sit down for your writing time even if you face a writing block. I like to think I don’t have what amounts to a block (and William Stafford agrees) because I subscribe to the write-what-comes school. There is always something to say. Be willing to sit even though the back of your neck gets stiff from the long time you put in and you might incur a headache. You want to do this work. A flash of optimism, that all things are good. At least I’m doing my work. I was about to say I am finishing my work. But maybe that’s too bold a claim. Whether I finish or how much I do depends on how much I please Krsna and guru.
“I sometimes use the word ‘guru’ lately instead of always saying Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada didn’t like it when they said, ‘Jaya Gurudeva.’ He said, ‘Who do you mean by Gurudeva?’ I mean him. When I say guru, I mean him. He often said with affection, ‘My Guru Maharaja’ and not the full-title name of his spiritual master. It is perhaps more honorific to say ‘Guru’ or ‘Gurudeva.’ But of course, ‘Srila Prabhupada’ is the name of honor and love we all use. I’m saving it because it almost gets overused, ‘Prabhupada says on…’ ‘Do you want to please Prabhupada?’ ‘Prabhupada Centennial,’ etc. I hope he knows what I mean and honors my ever-new attempts to approach and please him, my own spiritual master.
“Prabhupada with myself also present on a walk in Mayapur, in 1975. I was raising quite a few comments along with the others. He said at one point to me, ‘Your question is answered?’
“‘Yes,’ I said but then raised another objection from the objectors. He said that you don’t have a brain to understand. I had said that ‘they’ say the Vedic evidence of a logical explanation that there must be a father of all fathers, that example by itself doesn’t prove it. He said that I didn’t have a brain to understand. He didn’t mean me exactly but ‘me’ if I wished to actually identify with the aggressive agnostic. No, no, I backed off it. Later on that same walk, I said in support of what he was saying, ‘They want God under their own jurisdiction.’ I had been subdued. I didn’t want to stay in the camp of being against Srila Prabhupada even for the sake of an argument on a walk.
“Hare Krsna comes straight from Krsnaloka but with chanting I do have a connection, and optimism that the holy name is always doing wonders in mouth and life when I chant early in the morning. ‘O holy name!’ You hope it is effective in others’ lives and in your life, it is the cornerstone of the day. But so much time is spent in this writing.
“Krsna is the reservoir of all pleasure. He is teaching Sanatana Goswami about the expansions of God, Visnus and the pastimes incarnations. They all come from Krsna. Even if you study how the universes come about by the glance of the original Visnu, the purpose is to finally conclude that Krsna is the source of all. He works through the material nature. He throws the jivas into matter and they have to cycle life after life. Who knows these things? It is beyond our tiny capabilities. We become puffed-up with science and the manufacture of tires and tubes and steel machinations and abilities to bluff and put men in prison and torture… ‘We don’t wish to discuss,’ Srila Prabhupada used to say.
“Let us talk of Krsna the Supreme. It is better that way.
“Yes, no block, keep flowing. I said to M., ‘Please get the van ready by September.’ I will write another book of our activities in the temples. But will you be in the temples? Yes, I will be, starting with Inis Rath and then Belfast. The first week is taken up that way, and then you move down to the continent. It is another story. Oh, similar to last year and the year before? Yes, but always different. You please by trying to write better sentences, or sentences anyway in which you capture the action of Krsna consciousness in this time. Express it better, say what’s on your mind, what’s in the scriptures, what the devotees are experiencing, write in poems and songs.
“Can you prepare for it? . . . Just a romantic pop song, ‘These few precious days I’ll spend with you’ doesn’t really apply, does it? It’s not that you feel the dwindling down and the soft-and-yet-faint-bittersweet feeling of September—the summer is over, the year is being spent with the beloved before the rapid advance of winter and the rapid advance of old age. Maybe I felt like that more last year when I did use the lines from that song again and again in September Catchall. This is a different year. I may not want to . . .
“See what happens. For now, we are in this little garden house. It’s one room, very plain, just a roll of linoleum on the floor, a small area, looks like a prefab house with one desk, one lamp, that’s all. The garden outside is luxurious, but you don’t walk among it so much, mostly in here and back to the house. But this is your time to write of the inner life without bouncing off temple reports, travels, the temple programs and even what you are preparing for the lectures. Take the time to go within yourself and write the song of July and into August from the point of view of a free-writing …
“Free-writing, impoverished beggar, things you don’t mean but say anyway. What is that? We brought a typewriter ribbon thinking it was multi-use, but it turns out to be one that goes through only once. It doesn’t last more than twenty pages. Does this mean we were gypped? The customer is peed off. Wants some explanation. Wants a repair or fix. Send something in the mail.
“Sorry about that. Make our mistakes. Rousseau said, ‘They’re all against me. I tried my best to present an ideal state of love and I wanted to educate the world, but they rejected me and buried me alive.’ But he is only an imperfect man. His ideas were concocted, about solitude, society, education, religion – all concocted. No wonder the fickle people rejected him. It’s the nature of people and of his offering. Srila Prabhupada speaks of Gandhiji, who dedicated his life to his country and one of his countrymen shot him. But if you serve Krsna, He will never be ungrateful. He is grateful for whatever you do and it never suffers loss or diminution. Please have faith in the character of these dealings.
“And I ask you, writer, please make praises of your creator, your Lord, and hear from great devotees how they worship Him in Vrindavan—they’re the topmost, the Gosvamis—yes and my master and my brothers also. Know Krsna at least ‘officially’ as the Supreme Person, the cause of all causes. Then surrender to Him. Only when you do this first can you even consider being privy to the facts of His intimate dealings with the gopis. That means you also have to finish up your own foolish attempt to enjoy the gopis from the position of the enjoyer.
“I am renounced from that sort of sex. But I do seek other enjoyments, not contented to serving Krsna. Please accept this curved or crooked offering. See that I’m trying my best to overcome the material nature that lives in me still. I wish to be. But I can’t do it overnight. I’m speaking to you as I am a member of the sabara (pig race), the mleccha race in me, the stuff that clings to me, my misconceptions and so on. Still, the words Krsna, Krsna come from my pen, and that is a great wonder. I will go to Vrindavan, I plan to go to Puri and see the holy places. Plan a wonderful year of serving Krsna and writing in each place.
“The ocean of mercy appeared in this world as Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Lord Nityananda cut a channel to deliver that ocean to each door. By book distribution, devotees of Srila Prabhupada carry on that great tradition. My books selling on book tables and in the mail. Did you get the latest? Yes, you can write it. You can listen to Johnny Hartman at your own risk, but your September song is Krsna. Let me serve to my heart’s content in this lifetime. I am not blocked in being able to put words on the page. That the Lord is allowing me to do. But my heart is blocked from being able to surrender pure loving service. Even then I feel the ability to say ‘Krsna’ and that is a blessing on me. Don’t forget to say His name more and more in-between breaths, in- between bites and with each bite, thinking of Him.
“Everything was made by the Lord. Krsna teaches in the Bhagavad-gita. He says He is the highest truth. He blows the flute. His name, Hare Krsna, is all we need to know. But for preaching purposes there’s a lot more, the science of God to confront the many objections raised by the futile brains of nondevotees. I also don’t want to be confused by sectarian religionists. I will be firm and fixed, sraddha and nistha in the service of Lord Krsna as taught by His Divine Grace. Know Him officially as He speaks in Bhagavad-gita.
“Lord Caitanya taught the philosophy based on Vedanta to Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya and Prakasananda. But to Ramananda Raya He spoke the highest teachings about Radha and Krsna. This is in Prabhupada’s own writings. Think of him writing his books in Vrindavan. Think of him molding his life according to the instructions of his guru. I truly like the ‘romance’ of his writing in pen on page in places like Jhansi, and of course, in Chippiwada. Abhaya, the writer, I am with him, I can tell others about it. I think about it myself. I’m like a child imitating my father. I get up to write and write in the afternoon again. But whereas he writes sensible, logical essays convincing in the way of Krsna and the need to follow the Vedic conclusions, I write as his sisya but in this personal way, this free-write – don’t say ‘nonsense’ – but you know what I mean.
“There are people like me unhinged, and this is speaking to them. Sri Krsna. It is speaking to my own need, first of all, to let unhampered words of the self come out. You don’t know what you are doing, but Krsna, Krsna is coming in waves that can be traced on hospital machines, and this is one – it’s coming out in waves of self, words of Krsna, Krsna, the waves of relax and tense and the rhythm of ebb and flow and of literature we found and read all those years, looking for good prose and poems.
“More than halfway through. Feel the peace of this house, the rhythm. The shelter that this community is giving me. They may not know exactly how I am writing, but they trust me. I will reward that trust. I have already done a book called Pada-yatra, and it is wild but on the theme that can be called a book. This is a collection of ‘essays.’ How can you call them that? They are personal outpourings. Don’t pretend they are something else.
“The suspenders of Uncle (or Cousin) Ray. He was old enough to be an uncle. You were a mere child. His nifty wife was Fay. Fay and Ray. How was it he didn’t go to the war when all of the other eligible men were there? Never mind. At least you need a few good men around, huh? But Steve (father) was overseas, and so was Uncle Sal. That much we know. Don’t know much about Irv Doty, probably faking it. I seem to recall he was an Army man. They all went off to war. Saw a photo of Uncle Sal in his sailor uniform in Forest Hill Park, young Italian-American, and my old man a Petty Officer.
“Look up and see some sunlight glancing through the clouds. The cows are busy now, very busy eating in the same place where they sat earlier in the rain. Their tails are swishing away the flies. They are munching and munching at the freshly rained-on grass. Poor creatures.
“Use your human life to serve Govinda. You walked with His Divine Grace over the field in Mayapur and heard him argue against the speculation that there is no God. He defeated them. He gave the conclusion. We accepted it and still do. In many ways the army he spoke to has now broken up, and many generals dispersed from the fields. And what are you doing? In the lectures that he gave that year, he asked us all to spread the rays of the Lord’s rising moon. He said we were Hare Krsna people. He told us not to listen to the scientists, sahajiyas and Mayavadis. We cheered, ‘Jaya Prabhupada!’ but many deserted the fields after he left. I say I didn’t desert it. I am here by his grace. Yeah, but what are you doing?
“I recall Bhavananda saying about those who criticized the eleven gurus, ‘What have they done for Prabhupada?’ He asserted too boldly that he had done so much and was dear to His Divine Grace for the sacrifice he made. It was true, of course; he was dear to his master. But then abused that intimacy. He couldn’t give up the lust in his heart. That lust was very, very deep, eh? And it is in me too. So, be careful what you do. Better to write the simple ‘September Song’ of life in ISKCON on the road as it actually occurs and don’t need to spice it with the material- world songs. I went to the temple, I saw the abhiseka, I poured water on my own Prabhupada murti. Tell what happens and as much of it as you can, and also here.
“I go in and out of the house. I am building momentum, able to sit at the desk and write for an hour. That is the big achievement for now. You are like an office temporary worker. You put in your time. Three one-hour sessions and then a half-hour one, and then in the morning you write out first-drafts of a couple of poems—and that’s it, that’s it. Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna. I can’t seem to do more than that, but feeling good will come of this momentum.
“I am like Bud Powell playing fast on the piano with both of my hands and all of my fingers. I make tons of mistakes each line, my miserable typing and dictated for Ldd, to type right. Mistakes, mistakes, there is no end of it in this world.
“Yesterday, I told how the plant of devotion grows in this world and yet it reaches all the way to Goloka. That’s the teaching of Lord Caitanya. A neophyte doesn’t know how this is so. But the pure devotee thinks of Govinda while he seems to be rooted here in the mortal body. We too are both in this world and that world. We are in that world when we say, ‘Krsna Krsna,’ and give up concoctions of materialism. Give it up and take out the weeds. Build a wish to serve the Lord and ask Him to please accept me, although I am inferior in many ways. You are kind and I say Your name and hear of Your pastimes. I joke how I don’t love You. It’s a joke, what a midget I am and how You don’t let me advance. I have to laugh at it, see that I am half an atheist. I laugh rather than cry. I don’t accept seriously all the negativity I feel in myself. I don’t really believe; I also know however that I’m not a real or great devotee. So, it’s these mixed truths that I’m uttering. Is it the expression of a passionate creature? Do I love more than anything the ability to express? Am I like a mother who loves her child first and Krsna only a poor second? Am I like a businessman whose passion is first for work and then with a good heart he wants to give money to Krsna? (The merchant gave his one-year’s earnings to Sanatana for a temple of Madana-mohana. But the impression that we get is that in the next year he kept the profits for himself.) Am I like that, writing comes first and praise of Krsna, service to Krsna and Prabhupada comes second?
“If so, I know it is not right. I wish to put Krsna first in my life. He tells us the way to purify our activities. Don’t try to stop my desires, which is not possible, but purify them.
“This session seems like I am writing faster more pages. I still have twenty minutes to go. Well, let’s say something in our mixed expression. Now I am feeling tired and I will have to open the door.
“Don’t get puffed up. You’re not so much ahead of schedule but on schedule. You said things this morning that each page is like a japa round. You can spend the time with the Lord by serving His names or considering with your intelligence a verse or sloka.
“The cows’ tails are now wagging, and they’re all facing with their rear ends toward me. Odd, the ways of their grazing. They know what they’re doing. When the men come and shout and chase them it is not pleasant. Look down and do my own work.
“I may be like Lord Brahma in the mode of raja-guna. But I wish to be better. Is this the modern way of writing? I don’t think of it that way so much. True, I got initial ideas from the writing teachers in America, but I’m using it in my own way in KC. Call it just writing practice in between more ordered assignments. Jagadananda Pandita did that too, just wrote spontaneously his memories of Krsna.
“O.B.L. Kapoor was figuring out how long Sanatana and Rupa Goswami lived. One scholar said they lived until 1574. But that would mean that in the last thirty-seven years of their lives they didn’t write because their last book was written in 1554. (So, O.B.L. asks how it is possible that these persons who dedicated their whole lives to writing bhakti-sastras would spend the last thirty years or so of their lives not writing at all.) I really liked that when I heard it because I think I’m supposed to give up this writing when I get mature. Or maybe it will come out differently then. This process which leads to a more ordered type of writing but now
you write what comes
the happy sort of romps in Krsna Krsna Krsna
melodies eschewing the false prophets and
anything that’s not Krsna
not even worrying right now about my exact
relationship with ISKCON or what people may think
of me, away with so much consideration.
“Just write with clean and happy health in this
boxed garden house, given for your use,
break-free-happy words, Krsna, Krsna
I too can utter them from broken mind and
spirit, confused I who so often doubt my
own abilities and intentions, partly out
of fear I may go wrong but partly in
crippled sense of self and too sensitive
notion of my intention. Krsna, I love you.
“I am made to love You. If I say I love
You it is the sastric truth,
the constitutional position. I love You but forget it.
I love You but am covered over.
I love You but my words get in the way.
“And You love me as You love all living beings.
You seem far away and I seem to not know You
the abuses of carping doubts in God
and the sins I have committed. Yes, I have to go back
and remove the sins, I’ll be sorry for them. Do all
to remove the wrongs. I am sorry, Lord.
I confess all I have done
and will commit no fresh sins,
please, please I am sorry.
“You guys have to do your thing for Krsna and I am doing mine. Be strong in that assertion.
(To be continued)