DEAR DEVOTEES: A MESSAGE FROM SATSVARUPA MAHARAJA.
“I was very disappointed that our July gathering was cancelled. But I earnestly ask my disciples to order Meditations and Poems and Daily Compositions.
The price is $10 for the former and $12 for the latter. Please be aware that Daily Compositions must be ordered from Amazon.
To order Meditations and Poems, please send your home address and a check for $10 made out to “GNP” to Baladeva Vidyabhusana dasa, PO Box 233, Stuyvesant Falls, NY 12174. John Endler will mail the book to you.
This will bring us close together as guru and disciples. These are new books and I expect a big response from my disciples to make up for the cancelled summer meeting. Please don’t disappoint me—order these books.”
From Rev. John Endler:
What a pleasure to be able to announce to you the arrival of Satsvarupa Maharaja’s third book of the year, Kaleidoscope. This book continues the Every Day, Just Write retrospective begun last year as part of a multi-volume effort to bring to readers the diversity and artistic complexity of a literary series that spanned the years 1996-2002. Kaleidoscope features the author’s daring stream of consciousness poetry that moves with the shifting shapes and colors characteristic of a kaleidoscope itself. The reader will be greeted with diverse poetic forms which circle around the themes that Satsvarupa Maharaja urgently pursues on every page: authenticity as an artist and as a devotee of Krsna. This is a book which will transport you to the far reaches of the author’s heart and soul in daring ways and the experience will move you to experience your own inner kaleidoscope, which is indeed part of the human condition.
This book is not yet on Amazon.
To order a copy of this book, please send a check for $10 made out to “GN Press” to:
Baladeva Vidhyabusana dasa
P.O. Box 233
Stuyvesant Falls, NY 12174
Please email me at [email protected] with your mailing address, and I will gladly ship this book to your doorstep.
My post-operation exam by Dr. McPherson went well, but we forgot to ask her when I can read again. At present I cannot read a book or long letter. Neither can I see Radha-Govinda for a clear darsana. I continue to do the Journal by having Baladeva read to me, and Guru dasa is helping too. The worst-case scenario is that I’ll have to wait until after January 6th and I get my new prescription glasses to suit my new level of vision. But the evidence of people who see and operate with only one eye contradicts this worst-case scenario. All I know is that at present I cannot read, and it’s very frustrating. It’s all up to Krsna, so I have to wait with patience.
I take many eye drops during the day in my right eye. I don’t know their effect, but they are ordered by the doctor. They produce a stinging effect at first, but then I calm down. At night, before I go to sleep, I put a plastic guard over my eye, held in place with tape. This is to prevent me from inadvertently scratching or rubbing my eye during the night while I’m sleeping.
Cleanliness is emphasized because the eye is such a delicate part of the body. Cataract surgery is considered a minor operation, but I am finding it a long, dragged-out process to get two eyes operated on. Since I cannot read, in the afternoon I increase my listening to lectures by Prabhupada and Jayadvaita Swami, and I chant extra rounds on my beads. These are worthwhile practices during this time of inconvenience.
With my right eye surgery completed, I’ve resumed taking a massage, which Bala gives me. He rubs real hard, which is good for circulation. In addition to Bala’s massage, I also receive an early-morning massage from Baladeva Vidyabhusana. He uses oils and rubs them into my feet and legs. I also do two light exercises. I can’t do more because of my weak legs. I walk laps pushing my carriage, and I do stand-ups from a sitting position in a chair. I lead a sedentary life, which is not the best, but at least these exercises are something.
Prabhupada took a daily massage for about 45 minutes, and then he went on a morning walk with his disciples for another 45 minutes. He said these two activities kept him alive and healthy.
Wednesday we had a full day of medical appointments. At 10:30 A.M. we had a meeting with Dr. Subudhi. He did a dilation of the urethra. He performed a process that was a little painful but resulted in relieving the pressure on my urinary tract. He gave me a prescription for a few days’ antibiotics and wants to see me again in four weeks.
Next we went to Walgreens drugstore to get the antibiotics, but Baladeva had to wait twenty-five minutes on line before he could get them, while I waited in the car. Then we rushed back to Viraha Bhavan and had a quick lunch with an abbreviated out-loud reading. Then it was off at 2:00 P.M. to the eye doctor. She gave a checkup after our last visit there a week ago. She said my eye was recovering nicely. But I told her I still couldn’t read a book with my eyeglasses because my right eye is out of focus with my regular glasses. She suggested for the time being I get “cheaters”—inexpensive reading glasses which would enable me to read book print. Then she told us to see a medical assistant for signatures and orientation for the next cataracts operation on the left eye in January. We had to wait almost half an hour to see him. It was more uncomfortable waiting in the midst of a busy office scene.
There were different opinions given as to how long I’ll have to wait before I can get new eyeglass prescriptions. Someone said it would be six weeks, but we are asking my personal physician Nitai-Gaurasundara to research it—six weeks seems like an awfully long time! But we followed Dr. McPherson’s advice and bought the reading glasses. (If I actually have to wait six weeks until I go to get my new glasses, then it won’t be until the last week in February—six weeks after operation number two—until I actually get them.) The labor of the long day, of forced walking and getting up on research tables made my legs extra weak. I had trouble getting up the stairs when we returned to our ashram, and I finally reached my comfortable chair at 4:30 P.M.
I heard a recording of Prabhupada lecturing in Bhuvanesvara in January 1977. After his talk, he fielded many questions. All of them were aggressive challenges. None of them were asked in the submissive spirit that a disciple inquires from the spiritual master. One man said God was invisible. Prabhupada said, “He may be invisible to you, but the pure devotee always sees Krsna.” And he quoted from Brahma-samhita that one who sees with the salve of love always sees Krsna. One said that it wasn’t necessary to wear sikha and neckbeads, etc. in order to be a devotee. Prabhupada said the uttama-adhikari can dispense with these symbols, but the madhyama-adhikari has to strictly keep them.” So he told this man not to imitate that he is uttama-adhikari. Repeatedly he told his challengers that they should enter the school of Krsna consciousness and learn like a disciple. Inquiries about Krsna cannot be finished in just a moment by standing up and challenging. It takes service and submissive inquiry. All the questioners continued in this way, rude, loud, and not really listening to Prabhupada’s answers. But he went on fielding their questions, like a lion chasing the jackals. It was embarrassing to hear the exchange, but one became proud of Prabhupada for so staunchly defending the Vaisnava parampara and the Bhagavad-gita as it is.
Listening every day to Prabhupada’s lectures is a great gift, and I am grateful for it. He said that his spoken sound vibration was as good as being with him personally. Hearing him increases my taste and devotion. It is nice when he goes through a whole section of the Bhagavatam, such as the prayers of Queen Kunti, the teachings of Kapiladeva and the section on Ajamila. Hearing from him is a nice way to slip into my afternoon bhajana. When you hear submissively, you realize the import of Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s verse: “He reasons ill who tells that Vaisnavas die/ When thou art living still in sound!/ The Vaisnavas die to live, and living try/ To spread the holy name around!” A collection of Prabhupada’s lectures is so voluminous that we could go on hearing him for years without repetition. When we hear him again and again, we do not tire out. The sonorous tones of his pure vani vibrate deep within. His empowered voice purifies our hearts, lifts and transports us. I am forever grateful to be linked in this way to Lord Sri Krsna by His eternal pure devotee. “Just hear.”
He emphasized the importance of the vanaprastha ashram. Maharaja said the couple has twenty-five years to work it out, if they live that long. It is flexible and accommodates different situations and individuals. This is in contrast to sannyasa, where the man just leaves his wife for good and that’s it. In vanaprastha, the husband and wife can go traveling together to pilgrimage places, or they can decide to live in a particular pilgrimage place. But the point is gradually attaining detachment. After a while, the wife returns home to live under the protection of her older sons. That is the Vedic process. Maharaja admitted that vanaprastha is not so organized or prominent in ISKCON. There is a phenomena of couples getting remarried at 50 or 6o years old, exactly the age when they should be entering vanaprastha. Vanaprastha is not easy; it is austere and can only succeed with surrender and the blessings of Krsna and the spiritual master.
This time Maharaja is speaking on the evil of governments which promote sinful activities. When Maharaja Pariksit ruled, as soon as he saw Kali personified wearing the dress of a king and beating a cow and a bull, he became angry and told the slaughterers that he would immediately kill them. Kali begged that his life be spared, and he surrendered at the lotus feet of the emperor. The emperor said to Kali, “Never in the kingdom of my forefathers has any sin like this been tolerated, and I will not tolerate it in my kingdom.” Pariksit Maharaja spared Kali’s life, but he told him he could not live anywhere in the Emperor’s kingdom. The fearful Kali said, ‘Nowhere in your kingdom is any vice allowed, so where can I live?’ Pariksit said that Kali could stay where gold was stored because wherever gold is accumulated, all the other sinful activities accumulate. So Prabhupada wrote that Kali became “gold-standardized.”
Lacking the power of Maharaja Pariksit, Jayadvaita Maharaja recommended his own remedy. He said that all advertising for sinful activities should immediately be stopped. There should absolutely no pictures of happy cows and chickens and pigs smiling and dancing as they enter the slaughterhouse or are served for dinner. The animals are dumb, but they are not that dumb that they enjoy the horrendous violence imposed upon them.
In our group reading we are hearing about “Lord Caitanya in Five Features.” Two of Lord Caitanya’s disciples living in Benares, Candrasekhara and Tapana Misra, were extremely distressed by the townfolk’s criticism of the Lord’s dancing and chanting, to the point where they threatened to give up their lives. As they told Mahaprabhu this, a brahmana came and approached Sri Krsna Caitanya, asking Him to accept a feast at his house, where many Mayavadi sannyasis would be in attendance. The Lord took the invitation as an auspicious way in which He could speak the truth of Vedanta–sutra and convince His followers to give up their ideas of suicide.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu washed His feet on entering their gathering and then sat down near that unclean place. The Lord manifested His brilliant brahma-tejas effulgence, and the Mayavada sannyasis were very impressed. They thought of Him as Narayana Himself, and they became submissive. Prakasananda asked Him why He was sitting in an unclean place, and he invited Him to speak on Vedanta-sutra. Lord Caitanya told him that His spiritual master called Him a fool and told Him not to study Vedanta but to always chant the Hare Krsna mantra. When He chanted, however, He experienced great bliss and transformations in His body. Lord Caitanya went to His spiritual master and asked him what was the cause of His ecstasies. Isvara Puri told the Lord that these were very auspicious symptoms and that He had attained love of God simply by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra.
Prakasananda Sarasvati asks Krsna Caitanya to speak on Vedanta-sutra. Mahaprabhu emphasizes the direct meaning of the Vedanta codes, whereas the Mayavadis go for the indirect meanings. In his purport, Prabhupada quotes Vaisnava stalwarts like Ramanuja and Jiva Gosvami as teaching the true meaning of Vedanta and defeating the impersonalists’ views.
Lord Caitanya emphasizes the importance of omkara as nondifferent than Krsna, whereas Sankara neglected omkara in favor of indirect slogans like tat tvam asi, which means “You are the same spiritual substance.” (It is odd that modern-day practitioners of yoga favor omkara. They wear it on their T-shirts and have signs of it on their walls, and it is this symbol upon which they meditate. The members of the Hare Krsna movement prefer to honor omkara but chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra as the highest, most personal mantra for deliverance.)
The Mayavadi sannyasis at Benares are very impressed with Lord Caitanya’s presentation, and they surrender to Him. They say they only follow Sankaracarya because it is the policy of their sect; they actually agree with Lord Caitanya’s presentation of the direct meanings of the Vedanta codes. Lord Caitanya has lunch with the Mayavadis, and their submission to Him becomes a celebrated incident in Benares. Hundreds of thousands of people come to seek the darsana of Lord Caitanya, and He becomes famous for His victory over the impersonalists.
I have read most of the Vyasa-puja homages for 2020. It is important that the devotees are obliged to write down their realizations about their relationship with their guru and express their respects. They quote sastra and express personal feelings. This keeps the relationship alive. It is nice that the disciples express their homages once a year, but they could do so more frequently and keep the relationship vital.
I received a letter from a disciple in Hungary who expressed his desire to come to New York for a couple of weeks at our ashram. I told him it might be too difficult to travel during the coronavirus pandemic, but I appreciated his eagerness to come and be with me.
“We used to imitate Swamiji in various ways, trying to act as spiritual persons, sometimes to show off to newcomers. One thing I began to imitate was a sound that Prabhupada made, an ecstatic utterance which sounded like “Mmmm.” Prabhupada would often do it, and we all took it as an ecstatic moment in his speech. He might be saying, ‘Krsna is very beautiful,’ and then he would pause and feel something and make that sound, ‘Mmmm.’ When I did it in imitation I was not feeling ecstasy, but I was Swamiji’s follower. It was something that I had picked up, and something that some of us did. It was the sakti of Swamiji. We had noted it and taken it up as our way.
“So one day a guest was eating prasadam with us in Swamiji’s apartment and he sat down next to me. He was a marijuana smoker, and was checking people out closely to see their mannerisms. When he sat down next to me there was a moment of silence and then I made that sound, ‘Mmmm.’ He immediately noticed it and appreciated, ‘Yeah, I dig you, man! I see what you’re into.’ My sound had proclaimed, ‘We are Swamiji’s followers and we’re not afraid of anything because we know Krsna.’ If I had said the same thing, it would have sounded arrogant or untrue. But by making that sound, the young hipster picked it up and appreciated. ‘Mmmm’ implied that we don’t die, we’re eternal souls, Krsna is full of bliss, He is within your heart.”
“We often think, ‘What would Prabhupada do or say in a situation like this?’ And as the Bhaktivedanta Archives supplies us with all of Srila Prabhupada’s spoken and written words, we can push a computer button and bring up what he has said on ‘walks in the woods,’ ‘when the body feels cold,’ ‘nail-biting’—almost anything. But even Prabhupada’s instructions have to be applied (as they were by him) according to time, place and person. We must ponder on the meaning. If Srila Prabhupada said that woodland walks are all right provided you think of Krsna, then should we justify spending all our time in the woods? If we find a statement by Prabhupada that woods-walking is useless, shall we give it up for all time? We have to think and feel what he meant—and what it means to us.
“We want to surrender to his order. That means becoming disciplined by him; don’t invent or interpret, accept the parampara: Krsnas tu bhagavan svayam. ‘If there’s no surrendering,’ Srila Prabhupada says, ‘then there’s no beginning even, what to speak of advancement. Disciple means . . . one who accepts discipline . . . . As soon as the discipline is broken, then everything is lost.’ (Conversation, Melbourne, July 1, 1974)
“But surrender also means love. You don’t deposit yourself like a ‘surrendered’ stone at your guru’s lotus feet—you grow as a person and live for him and his mission. You attain your maturity—you turn to Krsna within, you try your best—and it’s all offered to guru and Krsna. Your offering should be thoughtful, painstaking—a garland of handpicked wildflowers, an artistically arranged plate of fruits, an innovative way to preach. ‘Whatever you do, do it for Me.’ And as you work to make a thoughtful project on his behalf, you always stand ready to be told, ‘That’s wrong, do it over.’”
“Thinking of the kirtanas with his one-headed drum. That’s really the heart of association with Swamiji; he’s playing his drum, and we start playing the karatalas. It’s really nice, the making of spiritual music together, especially when you feel part of the group. Swamiji is leading the kirtana. First he sings some prayers and you just go with it and listen. It’s not only sound but the total kirtana, watching him and trying to get the bliss.
“When Swamiji sings you all sing together and your voices are merged. It’s musical and spiritual but it’s a kind of crying too—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare . . . .
“You start in; this is going to go for half an hour. It goes back and forward, he sings and then you sing. Swamiji is completely into it. He loves to do what he’s doing, chanting Hare Krsna.
“After a while the dancing started. Maybe Acyutananda or Jadurani, Kirtanananda, Brahmananda, and I would get up too. The dancing was walking in a circle or standing in your place and moving your feet. The circle goes slowly around in front of Swamiji on the dais. Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
“He keeps his eyes closed, and sometimes they open and he sees what’s going on. He looks around at the people, and then he closes his eyes again.
“After the kirtana there would be waves of quieting down and the devotees would be smiling to each other, ‘Wow, that was far-out, man. Boy, I really got off on that one.’ Then there would be calming down, getting your seat, getting ready to hear Prabhupada talk. Swamiji was getting himself t ready, he had his pocket watch, and he put that in its place, getting his book ready, and maybe he’d say, ‘Raymond, fix this light.’ Or, ‘Get water,’ while everyone’s rustling and trying to calm down.
“One wants to be with Swamiji again in those kirtanas. If it can be done, it will act as a vital tonic. The presence of the guru.
“Don’t deride the love which Prabhupada encouraged us to feel in the kirtanas. Now 54 years later, don’t patronize, ‘We were hippies, you know, and Prabhupada was permissive. He encouraged ecstasy in the kirtana and he led us to believe that we actually loved the Lord, but since then, we’ve discovered that we don’t love Lord Krsna so easily.’
“It may be said that I’ve overlooked a great secret—it was easy to love Lord Krsna when Srila Prabhupada was leading you in kirtana, and that’s still available. Meditate on being in kirtana with him as you go about your routine duties on his behalf. Don’t complain, ‘But now I have to be a guru,’ and ‘Everything is institutionalized’—but as you go about your bathing, eating, sleeping, etc., you can sing, and in your mind’s eye you are with him.”
“There are different levels of Prabhupada consciousness. Devotees have even spoken of ‘an illusory Prabhupada,’ meaning a Prabhupada whom they imagine. When one is deviating, one can rationalize that Prabhupada won’t mind—an illusory Prabhupada. And there is an official Prabhupada, and a superficially-worshiped Prabhupada, and so on. There’s a Prabhupada of the nectarean anecdotes whom the Western theologian would refer to as ‘the historical Prabhupada.’ And there’s the all-pervading Prabhupada. As Rupa Gosvami said about Sukadeva: ‘I offer my obeisances to my spiritual master, who enters into the heart of everyone.’ Similarly, Vyasadeva praised his spiritual master, Narada: ‘Like the sun, your goodness can travel everywhere in the three worlds, and like the air you can penetrate the internal region of everyone. As such, you are as good as the all-pervading Supersoul.’ (Bhag. 1.5.7)
“Unfortunately, one may live many years in contact with one of the lesser versions of Prabhupada. Also, one can bully others by a heavy-handed use of quotes from Prabhupada’s letters, and one can misuse Prabhupada’s authority in various ways. Therefore, it’s important to discover and remain aware of the most basic understanding one has of His Divine Grace. Remember that you promised him you would chant sixteen rounds every day and follow the four rules. Remember the day that you took the beads from him and made that vow in his presence? Feel the weight of it.
“(I remember in 1968 when my Godbrother, Pradyumna dasa, was hospitalized with a hernia. Prabhupada was visiting Boston at that time and he wanted to see his disciple. I went too, and I heard Pradyumna say to Prabhupada that during and after surgery he had not been able to chant Hare Krsna but he had thought about Prabhupada. Prabhupada approved that kind of meditation. So it may not always be composed of words, although if we’re conscious to recite the ‘mantra’ of his name, that is very nice. But just to turn to him loyally in a dependent mood, especially when in difficulty, is sufficient.)
“By Prabhupada’s grace, he lives within me. Our communication in separation depends on the purity of the disciple. But whether pure or impure, the favorable remembrance of him can bring us immediately to our constitutional position. I may sometimes think that I have to go on my own, taking help from other spiritual masters, or daring to go directly to Krsna, yet the Vedic scriptures remind me and bring me back to my senses. Only if I please the spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, will Krsna be pleased with me.”
“Were you pleased when I spoke
a lecture from your books
when I met with them
did I make mistakes?
Mostly I listened and agreed
with whomever I met.
And so it is late and only now I try
to speak directly to you.
The ladies asked me, ‘How could
he say that women are less intelligent
and that we only want bangles and saris?’
Prabhupada said many things.
We have to examine them all.
He said women are more religious than men.
‘Therefore in every religion the women
gather in greater numbers in the temples and churches.’
‘Do you think women have to be shy
and can’t read aloud or lead bhajanas
or give a lecture?
‘No! He has written letters
that women may lecture.’
And so I believe, although years ago
I believed in a different way.
And some disagree with me. We each follow Prabhupada as we see fit.
Hoping for dreams of you,
and now it is time to offer you
your evening milk, as I used to in Bombay, served hot in a silver cup
with sugar in a separate cup
please take it
hear my prayers.
I’ll eat and drink only your remnants.
‘You are so kindly teaching the message
of Lord Caitanya
and delivering these Western countries
which are filled with voidism and impersonalism.
Today was mostly failure, chances missed
but at least this.”
“I went to Brahmanda Ghat, where the Vraja-mandala devotees are 100 strong, gathered on their next-to-last day on parikrama. I spoke there from Prabhupada’s books. After the lecture the devotees discussed how rare it is to enter Vrndavana. One devotee related how Brahma and Uddhava and others prayed that in many, many lifetimes in the future they might take birth here so that they could associate with the dust of Vrndavana. I asked, ‘If it is so rare, how is it that we are able to enter?’ The devotees replied that the dust of Vrndavana shouldn’t be taken in an external sense; it means attaining service to the Vaisnavas, the associates of Krsna. In other words, entrance is not just physical entrance.
“Then Lokanatha Maharaja answered the question in another way: ‘We have access to Vrndavana, even though so many great souls don’t, by the mercy of Prabhupada.’ When he said that, several devotees said, ‘Jaya!’ It’s as if none of us had thought of that. We were speaking as if we don’t have entrance. But Lokanatha Maharaja reminded us that we do have access by Prabhupada’s grace. It was a nice moment of Prabhupada remembrance. Who else could have dragged us to Vrndavana from our Western backgrounds and mentalities? And even if we had come here on our own somehow, we would have seen only poor, rural backward India. But now we see flashes of krsna-lila and krsna-prema, and we appreciate the dust of Vrndavana by Prabhupada’s grace.”
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead does not receive education from any source. He is eternally all-knowing, the self-sufficient philosopher. But in His pastimes in this world, He appears within human society, accepts a mother and father, grows up and receives an education. When Krsna and Balarama went to Mathura, Vasudeva and Devaki sent Them both to the gurukula of Sandipani Muni, where They mastered all the departments of knowledge.
“Krsna and Balarama are extraordinary students, and ‘in sixty-four days and sixty-four nights, They learned all the necessary arts and sciences required in human society. During the daytime They took lessons on a subject from the teacher, and by nightfall They were expert in that department of knowledge.’ (Krsna book, Chapter 44, ‘Krsna Recovers the Son of His Teacher.’)
“When Their education was complete, They offered to award Their teacher anything he desired. Knowing Krsna and Balarama’s power, Sandipani Muni asked Them to return his dead son to him. So Krsna and Balarama retrieved the soul from Yamaraja’s kingdom and satisfied Their teacher and his wife.
“Sandipani Muni blessed Them and said, ‘ . . . Whatever You speak will remain as eternally fresh as the instruction of the Vedas. Your teachings will not only be honored within this universe or in this millennium, but in all places and ages, and will remain increasingly new and important.’ Srila Prabhupada states that due to this benediction from His teacher, Lord Krsna’s Bhagavad-gita is ever-fresh and renowned throughout the universes.”
“The boat is there to take us across. Neophytes can get so narrow-minded that they don’t stop to notice God’s natural composition of boat, sky and horizon. But why pick on them, those down-to-earth servants of the Lord? They act and work intent on His service. They are not vagrants like you artists who are always looking for scraps of beauty. After all, isn’t this the universal form? Aren’t we supposed to not appreciate it? Isn’t it impersonal?
“Voices, voices. God’s sheen on cold water, the reflection of the sun, tall sparse weeds on shore. The venerable boat pushes off from the shore and devotees jump in in time, just catching it as expertly as a fisherman catches his catch. We trail our hands through the cold water of Lough Erne and remember the Ganga.
“. . . The guru gripes as if he’s free from it all and that he actually meditates on what he says: ‘Krsna tried to take the gopis out in a boat, and in the middle of the lake, He’d threatened them.’
Don’t talk like that
of drowning or
Just let the pain of one’s heart
be subdued by the ride across
and today’s busy duties. We are
lucky it’s still calm. It can
rain at any moment.”
“I began the journey toward my present writing around 1977 when I read Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow. He taught ‘free-writing,’ something I later discovered was being taught by a whole generation of writing teachers. In 1977, despite its popularity among writing teachers, free-writing was still a challenged concept. Now it is taught across the writing school curriculum.
“‘Free-writing’ means writing whatever comes to mind within a certain time limit. As a method, it is meant to free a writer from writer’s block. Writer’s block paralyzes a writer when it makes him unable to write and stifles him when he gets stuck on the surface, writing with competence but no heart.
“Therefore, free-writing was intended as a warm-up to other writing. Elbow suggested a writer give himself a time limit and then write without concern for grammar, punctuation, spelling, or coherent communication. He said that the free- writer shouldn’t stop to think at all, but should write whatever comes to mind, even if that means writing repeatedly, ‘I can’t think of anything to say.’
“. . . . I remember when I first started free-writing, I was living in Los Angeles and working as editor-in-chief for Back to Godhead magazine. I was interested in the technique because I was trying to improve my own writing. At that time, I was trying to write a book on varnasrama to fulfill Prabhupada’s request that I write something called All Things Fail Without Krsna. At Peter Elbow’s advice, I started to use free-writing as my warm-up. But I didn’t find it satisfying. It seemed too roundabout and I couldn’t get to the point. I thought I couldn’t discover what it was I wanted to say simply by writing and writing and writing about it.
“Free-writing didn’t have a real impact on my writing until almost ten years later when I read Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones. Goldberg calls free-writing ‘writing practice,’ and she gives it rules: keep the hand moving, don’t think, go for the jugular (go for whatever is filled with energy), don’t be logical, use first thoughts. Her emphasis on how to be free of the internal editor, her dedication to writing practice as a way of life, and her definition of writing practice as something more than journal-writing were all helpful to me in my own writing.
“That’s when I coined the phrase ‘writing sessions’ for my free-writing. Not long after that, I wrote Shack Notes. (Shack Notes contains definitions of what writing practice is to me. If you would like to read those definitions, they’re gathered in the Introduction to that book.)
“Writing Shack Notes was exhilarating. I wanted to see whether expressing my feelings in a relaxed way throughout many sessions during a concentrated writing time would help me discover myself. I wanted to know whether the actual person I was was different from the person I knew I was supposed to be according to institutional expectations. It was one of the first times in my twenty-five years as a devotee that I allowed such release from the strictures and asked myself whether I wanted to be a devotee of Krsna.
“ . . . . I wrote the Shack Notes sessions at different times of the day, starting at one o’clock in the morning. I would write for more than an hour before stopping and then go on with my morning sadhana of hearing and chanting. Later, I would go out in the shack behind Samika Rsi’s house and write again, and then again in the afternoon. During that time, I was writing for about five and a half hours a day.
“When I first began free-writing in earnest, I spent a lot of time battling the inner censor and critic. These internal voices ordered me to stop free-writing, to stop writing at all. The censor tried to convince me I wasn’t writing devotionally enough. The critic had a slightly different angle. He said I wasn’t writing anything valuable. It took a lot of energy to fend these voices off. I dialogued with them, argued back and forth, and tried to kill them off for good, but they are still there, always ready to attack. I doubt I’ll ever be free of them forever, but I no longer mount such bloody, frontal attacks that consume entire writing sessions. Just by writing regardless of their opinion is triumph enough.”
“We rushed from our rooms to get here, not preparing our minds beforehand. Even as I stand in front of your golden form, I’m thinking of what Madhu said to the Guesthouse manager, and the cinema star is singing her song of “love.” Love, love. It’s on all the signboards and in the songs, but actually it’s all lust. Love is for Krsna and His representative.
“Man with a big, bushy, ksatriya mustache, fat belly behind a clean kurta and white pants. He stands surveying Prabhupada while his wife stands a few feet in front of him, closer to Prabhupada, and looks up. Well-dressed pilgrims. Young boy wearing a violet “Los Angeles” T-shirt. A younger one comes to stand in front of me, looking down into my notebook.
“‘Celo celo,’ the older brother tells him. I’m getting used to it.
“‘Prabhupadaji Maharaja,” one man tells his group. ‘Huh?’
“‘Prabhupadaji Maharaja.’ They look up at the ceiling. The paid man claps his hands to chase pigeons, but when they don’t dislodge he picks up his long bamboo pole and chases them. At least the place is not infested with nests and bird-turds. These things happen every day. Why am I seeing only the outer forms? His clap chased my inner mood and the Indians are interesting to watch.
“And maybe I have no deep inner purpose. The golden murti seems far away. His garland is of yellow marigolds and roses. At 4 A.M. tomorrow morning that garland will be shriveled. The pujari gives it to me, and I wear it for a few minutes and then give it to someone else.
“Prabhupada, I seek active guidance from you. I have a small murti of you in my room. I search the features of these murtis, looking for recognition within myself—‘That’s Prabhupada.’ It’s like searching for Krsna in separation, in Vrndavana. ‘Where is He? I saw Him this morning at Govardhana, but now He is gone.’ Sometimes I see you and sometimes I don’t.
“From here, out the side door, I see the Western mataji in the wooden bookstall selling your books. It’s her duty to be there every day. My work is to come here, then to your rooms, my room, searching for you in darsanas—writing, reading, and lecturing. And you told us to chant Hare Krsna.
“You lectured and explained to the devotees in South Africa that after public lectures, no one had questions because you had offended and torn down their sense gratification. You called them mudhas. If anyone did question you there, you said, they were challenging and not submissive.
“I pray to you, Prabhupada, to help me approach you in a friendly and honest way, full of genuine adoration. You are giving me Krsna, and that is the greatest thing. Please keep me true and appreciative and alive. I pray to Lord Balarama to please fix me in guru-nistha.
“During the war Abhay lived
in a small house in Calcutta,
building his pharmaceutical business,
but more than ever he turned
to sastra and preaching;
neighborhood men found him
interested only in that.
He saw bombs all night on Calcutta
and starvation in the streets,
created by the British, the Japanese,
and the rice sellers.
He began to speak out
in a journal.
Even if this war would end,
how would they prevent another?
Where was hope?
To the despair of wartime
he responded with a journal.
He had to fight
to get paper to print it,
and he did it all alone
from his front room.
“One person out of hundreds of millions in India,
one out of billions in the world—
what were his chances of being heard?
Another little voice,
a pure voice, but with no backing
of government or money or masses.
But he has Krishna and guru,
and that is everything.
He designed a logo:
lower right, people groping in darkness,
upper left, Lord Chaitanya extending His arms
and His golden light streaming
to the people.
And Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati,
looking up thoughtfully while writing.
The title: Back to Godhead.
This was the journal
that came out during the war,
in between explosions and deaths,
during starvations and political statements:
“There is no meaning in a fight where the parties do fight
only for the matter of different colored dresses.
There must be therefore an understanding of human relation
without any consideration of the bodily designation
or colored dresses. There is a great and urgent need . . .”
He had the solution to the war,
but they were too mad to hear
God and His devotee.
Yet he spoke out anyway.
He also wrote letters
to prominent leaders
including a letter to Mahatma Gandhi,
who didn’t read it
but who was killed a month later
as Prabhupada had predicted:
“I tell you as a sincere friend,
you must immediately retire
from active politics
if you do not desire to die
an inglorious death.”
He wrote to this man and that man
and sometimes they wrote back,
mere official replies.
Few took him seriously;
they weren’t about to change their ways
just because of a letter
from a pure devotee of Krsna.
. . . . Once in a while, someone was impressed,
‘I thoroughly appreciate . . . send me your scheme.’
But even the serious were not serious
about actual change.”
“In the first verse of Manah-siksa, Raghunatha dasa Gosvami bows down and pleads with his mind in a friendly way. He asks his mind to please develop intense love for those things that are really lovable: the Hare Krsna mantra, the devotees of Vrndavana, and service to Radha-Krsna. He does not declare war on the mind right away, but appeals to the mind’s higher nature. I want to pray like that.
“In his purport to this verse, Bhaktivinoda Thakura tells us that we have to give up all the pride based on our different designations. We should be anxious about this point and not think that these designations will just fall away from us by luck. He tells us to strive to lose these limited designations by serving our initiating and instructing spiritual masters. Bhaktivinoda Thakura says, ‘The higher type of devotee worships Krsna in Vrndavana in the Vraja spirit.’”
“A special detail was Prabhupada’s introduction of Ratha-yatra. The Nectar of Devotion states that Vaisnavas should observe festivals in glorification of the Lord. As a small child, Prabhupada had been attracted to this particular festival and had celebrated it with his parents and friends. He also knew that Lord Jagannatha was most merciful, and that by enacting His pastimes the Lord of the Universe would bless the Westerners, who had practically no chance of hearing Krsna conscious philosophy.
“In San Francisco, a devotee one day discovered small Jagannatha murtis at an import store. Prabhupada had Syamasundara dasa carve larger Deities, and he installed Them in New Jagannatha Puri, San Francisco. Looking out his window one day, Prabhupada saw a flatbed truck and asked the devotees to take the Deities on procession in the back of a truck and to distribute prasadam. After this first small Ratha-yatra, Prabhupada gradually introduced the festivals in most of the large cities of the world. Even in his purport to Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 13.9, Prabhupada mentions the newspaper article about the 1973 London Ratha-yatra: ‘ISKCON Ratha-yatra is rival to the Nelson Column in Trafalgar Square . . . . Just as the residents of Puri compare the Ratha-yatra cart to Mt. Sumeru, the residents of London consider the car rival to the Nelson monument.’
“Prabhupada did not invent the Ratha-yatra; it was already present in Vedic culture. But he successfully applied it to the Western setting. Ratha-yatra was a particularly wonderful idea. It was something Westerners could easily relate to—a parade, a festival, a feast—and Prabhupada knew that those who saw Lord Jagannatha on His cart would get great spiritual benefit.”
“Go ahead, ease in and write something. It doesn’t have to be an artistic Photo Preaching. It can say, ‘I opened the window and a mosquito came in. He is my enemy. But I didn’t kill him.’ Say, ‘I’m allowing more inner life.’ Yeah, but what happens when you draw a blank? Then figure it this way: Your Momma and Daddy (real ones) are eternal guru and Vedas. Your temporary glove is unraveling. Lord Krsna says – and you just read it again – ‘Dear Arjuna, while you are in this world, having come to this world, which is miserable and temporary, engage in devotional service’ – and go back to Godhead. That’s the way.
“Keep coming along, old-timer. No physical exercise today, no bicycle ride, just take it easy and recover yourself. Yeah, you’re okay, chant your little mantras (the mantras are infinite, but your devotion is small).
“I spoke with BR. I told him one Godbrother was criticized by a GBC for not associating enough with his Godbrothers. We agreed I do associate with devotees, in Srila Prabhupada’s books and I pass it on. I’m okay. Leave me alone. I’ve got a medical pass.
“‘The bearer of this medical card is a bona fide, aspiring devotee. He passes the test. He gets headaches. He’ll tell you when he’s got one. Believe him. At those times he should be left completely alone. He also does associate with Vaisnavas and with his Godbrothers enough to pass at least minimum requirements. We hereby affix the seal of approval for him to creep around or step bold-footed (in canvas and rubber deck shoes – although not indoor) and ply his trade, reveal his secrets, publish his books and in other ways take advantage of the bounty of ISKCON. He is more asset than harm. A straight guy. (Besides, he’s getting old and…)’
I’m here all lonesome.
I’m here with friends.
Send up sign to surveillance crews.
‘We thought he left for France-Spain.’
With October he’s gone.
The leaves were picked up by a little machine
that piled them in piles.
The cold is coming gradually.
He will fly when you are not watching.
Yesterday magpies were squawking.
M. said it was a gang fight –
I heard them twice when I
was in pain. Now I’m okay.
“Salute you in your subways,
put a love note for you in
your upload in-basket,
say hi to your folks because you
were not at home,
relay good intentions to Trinidad
gray-haired, fat-growing disciples
and me more withered each year
like da Carnival…
Hopes are in Hare Krsna’s
doctor. He says he’s focusing on
the Big Three: chanting, reading
and writing. Is that enough?
Bring him out, wheel him into
view for a lecture too. Ouch!
Was that a headache starting again?
Don’t mean to alarm you.
The gardeners may come twice or once
a week, don’t be alarmed.
We’ve all got to die.
Hope you do so in Vrndavana
and you won’t care what anybody
thinks. Just sink into it,
Yamuna-side ghat burning,
my soul to God
where it always was.
“I caught myself being garrulous in the company of Madhu and Bhakti-rasa, pouring out talk about many topics. As I walked upstairs afterwards, I felt I’d overdone it. It seems to be a craving that comes after intense days of headaches. Headaches put you in such a solitary state, unwillingly. It’s as if you want to reach out to humanity afterwards and get back into the human race. But during breakfast I heard Prabhupada in a welcome address delivered in Auckland, New Zealand, saying that we should be grave and not speak prajalpa. He mentioned mental speculation and politics. So, I feel foolish about my talk-cravings. But I think I know where it came from.
“Today is turning into another bad day for this body. Pain starting behind the right eye and continuing all morning and pains in the back of the neck. The “dreaded” headache once again. I live with it.
“Early this morning it seemed like I was going to have a completely clear day. Then I was optimistic about how much travel we could do. Madhu was suggesting that in 1997 we cut out going to the Caribbean, and I was thinking, ‘What’s the matter with him? Doesn’t he realize I have lots of disciples there?’ But now I would like someone to offer me solace that if I don’t feel well, if day after day I get headaches like this, I could go somewhere without having to leave, not for India, and not for the U.S.? In fact, not even for Spain?
“A solid headache wall, all night. I fell asleep and into dreams which ended with—surprise—the headache still there. By 1:30 A.M. there was a little break in the wall, so I dragged myself out of bed. I don’t have much hope of a clear day, but this is the time to try to get some halfway decent japa rounds in.
“In the shower I go three times from as hot as I can stand it to as cold as I can bear it. It’s a shock treatment to simulate blood circulation. While turning the lever from the satisfying deep warm towards cold, I coached my mind to not be afraid or revolted by the cold. Then it occurred to me that all of these states, enjoyment or enduring the difficult, are apart from the real purpose of a devotee. One should be always thinking of pleasing Krsna. How far away from that I am, I can’t even imagine.
“Half awake ‘visions.’
Japa until beads fall from
now write. I’ve been waiting for a chance clear of a headache but now that it’s here, I’m sleepy.
“Krsna King, please save me from the ‘need’ to be with women, please save me from fighting with Godbrothers or the institution –
save me from my own self and its wrong ways,
give me direction so I may be inspired. Yeah, that would be nice.
Strong voice, Captain Ahab on the deck in fog – thar she blows! – shouts the man in the crow’s nest.
“I turn to mulling my Krsna consciousness mental index, Dhruva, gopis, welfare words, today is election day. Is Clinton taking a sleep or last surge, fresh shirt and tie and go to polls big glad-hand wave –
“Save me from Timingila of America and France, and let me get on the highway, sound enough in body and mind to do my duty (happily).
“Hoping some day my life will become clearer like pieces of a puzzle coming together. But you can’t expect big changes like that frequently. Much has already been decided. I face limits all around – of my health, of the nature of ISKCON, my psychophysical nature. Lord Krsna is very merciful and He is all-intelligent. He could make me sing more clearly. Sometimes I feel an urge to dive back into ISKCON, get into a zone…But that’s not my way. I’d burn out fast. Get a headache in five minutes. So I’m something of an outsider. But my heart can be in ISKCON and taking part. Fulfill the role of guru and writer and devotee who tends to his sadhana (reading and japa). That’s already the course I’m on but recently it has been threatened with the thought, “Maybe I have to stop traveling.” It’s a test. Better to keep up the travels if you can.
And writing? Sometimes I feel an urge, “Maybe you should write straight Vaisnava instructions, not art, and not so much into self.” That’s possible. But I have to see things more clearly. The life of a writer, of one who speaks to devotees. Set a good example.
Be honest with yourself. Be a servant to the Lord’s servant.
“A pure devotee is one whose intelligence is clear; he is truly thoughtful because he engages in the service of the Lord – not as a matter of show, but with love, with his mind, words and body.” (Bhag. 6.3.26, purport)
“Bhakti-rasa asked me about honesty. I told him it’s like self-knowledge, self-awareness. It involves owning up to your psychophysical nature, admitting there are some things you can do for Krsna and some things you can’t do. As early as possible in your life you try to find a service, or a marital partner, a whole situation that is one you can handle, and within that you become purified and surrender gradually more and more.
“We could also say that honesty is like the attempt to remove big anarthas within oneself. First one has to know what they are. I said that one hopes that Krsna is also helping you to be honest. Krsna is in your heart and He can direct you how to come to Him.
“Bhakti-rasa said, ‘Without Krsna, honesty in a sense of self-examination, seems a little dry.’
“‘Yes, it all has to be directed to Krsna.’ Is mine? I feel a desire to pray to the Lord for direction. Although I’ve said this many times and I don’t seem to succeed at it as a practice, still here it is again. One would like to hear, to listen to what Krsna is saying. Then get the courage and inspiration to do His will.
“Theoretically I seem to be willing to question the various areas of my life, such as my writing service and other areas. Though I may doubt what I’m doing now – the voice of the inner gremlin is always active – I can never get a sure voice of Krsna to tell me one way or another. I can get a voice of a Godbrother just by writing to him or calling him up on the telephone. I could even get the voice of a committee and they’d tell me what to do and where to go. But that’s not the same. When we talk about honesty on the one hand, we say nobody can know but yourself. It’s also true that others can see things in you that you can’t see.
“Aside from this, I have my headache syndrome and that’s a reality. I’d like to see it as a Krsna-centered reality. In fact, every single day with a headache is another way that Krsna is trying to tell me something. This morning while chanting japa in the backyard I was thinking, ‘I would like to be more in awareness that I was pleasing Krsna by my activities.’
“When Thomas Merton was told by his religious authorities that they wanted him to write as a service to God, and he surrendered to it, from that point on it wasn’t just his ego consideration of whether to write or to give up writing – and so he wrote as service. Of course, the authorities saw that it was good preaching for their Church to have someone like Merton writing so intelligently. But writing also seems to be something that Merton had to do as a person. Yet we read in the life of Saint Therese of Lisieux, that she always aspired to give up whatever she liked as a sacrifice for Christ.
“Then we think of Govinda dasi crying and pleading to Prabhupada in the airport in Santa Fe, ‘Prabhupada, you know Krsna. What does Krsna want us to do?’
“Prabhupada replied, ‘Krsna wants to know what you want to do (to serve Him).’ You have to think and come up with your own sacrificial offering of love and service. Offer it with all humility, the best you can. And be confident that Krsna is accepting it, although the offering is defective in many ways.”