DEAR DEVOTEES: A MESSAGE FROM SATSVARUPA MAHARAJA.
“I was very disappointed that our July gathering and then our December in-person Vyasa-puja was canceled.
But I earnestly ask my disciples to order Kaleidoscope and Seeking New Land. The price is $10 for the former and $12 for the latter.
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:
Seeking New Land represents a bold new step in the writing of Satsvarupa dasa Goswami and is the sixth volume in the ongoing retrospective of his literary series, Every Day, Just Write. Seeking New Land may be considered a narrative poem and the reader follows the journey of an itinerant monk who pursues new means of self-expression as part of a larger journey to discern a renewed vocation within his religious tradition and the institution which he serves. This book is characterized by a literary complexity and existential subtleties which are the hallmarks of the author’s artistic and theological vision. A volume that is challenging and profound, the reader is invited to discover his or her own spiritual pilgrimage within these pages.as the author pushes every literary boundary to boldly create something wholly new and inspiring.
2020 has been a bad year. Other years have also been bad, but this time it was coronavirus which hit the world, causing much sickness and death. Populations are restricted from gathering but are warned to stay at home, isolated. The temples have been restricted or closed to darsana of the Deities. Congregations can’t gather and donations are low. The beloved leader His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami succumbed to coronavirus, and other devotees also contracted the disease or passed away. Widespread book distribution was hampered, but the distributors tried novel ways to sell books by Internet. It was difficult. This year on New Year’s Eve the government will restrict the mass gathering at Times Square, and devotees won’t go out there for harinama as they usually do.
Businesses and social intercourse have slowed down, but devotees have taken shelter of Krsna, and virtual relationships with each other. A silver lining has been the extensive use of electronic Zoom presentations where many devotees give seminars and lectures which are eagerly being followed by devotees living in isolation. Here in our ashram we have cut back severely on visitors and festivals. I miss my biannual big gatherings of disciples in the summer and on Vyasa-puja day in December.
We started up our group out-loud readings at mealtimes. By electronic hookup, devotees joined us in reading Krsna conscious books and sharing the readings. This has been a great treat. Seeking New Land, a new book, has been published just at the end of the year. It’s the last of the four books promised for 2020. It’s available by mail-order by sending $10.00 and your home address to John Endler. Seeking New Land is an avant-garde story of a Krsna conscious swami who opens a new ISKCON center in the remote country of Greenland. It has mixed poetry and prose, and a definite storyline about Hemanta Swami’s quest and gradual success in starting Krsna consciousness in yet a new place in the world. I very much like Seeking New Land, and I know I have favorable readers who will be eager to share it with their friends.
Today is Moksada Ekadasi, the date of my Vyasa-puja according to the lunar calendar. It is also the appearance of the Bhagavad-gita, spoken by Sri Krsna on this date some 5,000 years ago. Our usual COVID-restricted guests will join us: Atindra, his wife Lalita-kaisori and our Hindu friend from Albany, Bhakta Amit. The four permanent inmates in our ashram will also attend in a Christmas spirit. After lunch we will exchange Christmas presents, which are wrapped and stacked beneath our tall, live, lit-up Christmas tree.
On Christmas Eve I spoke to John Endler on Zoom, and we made plans for publishing future books in 2021. Krsna-Bhajana’s wife Satyasara has typed up Forgetting the Audience, and I have finally approved it. They made a cover for it composed of several pictures I drew of my Prabhupada murti. We’re also planning to publish The Best I Could Do. This is a collection of free write sessions done in Ireland. For the cover, I’m using an original cover we already used when we published it twenty years ago. It’s a self-portrait I drew in ink of a somewhat younger but worried (with lots of lines in his face) SDG. We’re also planning to publish a one-volume book called Collected Haiku that will contain a complete collection of haikus from Under the Banyan Tree and The Dust of Vrndavana. We’ll ask Lal Krsna if he can come up with a cover for that. Our first publication of a haiku book is out of print and none are available. It hasn’t been available for 25 years. We want to make this one simple and economical. So we like the idea of making a low-priced one-volume collection.
We had a merry Christmas. In the morning I talked with Jaya Govinda and his family on Zoom. We have a loving bond. Three COVID-free guests came for lunch and exchanged gifts. I received a warm, heavy Carhartt hoodie, excellent for very cold weather, and my favorite gift was several refurbished Dictaphones to use in my composing of the Journal and dictating letters. (The model is Sony ICD-PX820.) I also received from Saudamani dasi and Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu a helping of cherry tapioca pudding, with a homemade card. Atindra and his wife Lalita-kaisori gave me stacks of coated Post-its and my boxes of my favorite pen, the Pilot “Precise” V5 Extra-fine Black. They gave Baladeva a very practical coat that can be used when temperatures drop below zero. Baladeva will look more civilized when he wears that coat to our doctors’ appointments. Our Radha-Govinda received a gift card to the store “Jo-Ann,” where Krsna dasi buys paraphernalia for making jewelry. Everyone was satisfied with the appropriate gifts they were given. Our Christmas tree is a live Alberta spruce. Now it’s decorated with lights and cotton “snow,” but it can be replanted outdoors again in the spring, and it will grow nicely in this temperature zone. It is four feet tall, with the capacity to grow up to six feet.
After the Christmas exchange, I was exhausted and had to “chill” for three hours.
Srila Prabhupada strongly asserted that Jesus was the savior, the son of God. But he also said Krsna has many incarnations, as numerous as the waves in a river; not just one son. Many pseudo-Christians claim Jesus will save them just by their saying they believe in him, but they disobey all his commandments. At a Franciscan seminary, a monk asked Prabhupada what he thought of St. Francis’ teachings where he addressed the moon as Brother Moon and the sun as Brother Sun and was kind to all animals. Prabhupada’s eyes widened, and he replied, ‘That is real God-consciousness.’ In a Bhagavad-gita-As-It-Is purport, Prabhupada writes that ‘It is not only on Indian soil that an incarnation appears.’ When Prabhupada praised great saintly persons, he said that Jesus Christ was ‘a favorite example.’ He praised him for preaching God consciousness, and yet the people were so cruel that they crucified him. Christ and Krsna faced similar risks of death by the authoritarian rulers of their lands. Both rulers heard omens that the avatara would kill them. Both Jesus and Krsna fled from their homes and tried to live incognito. But the Roman ruler Herod made a proclamation that all babies born within the same time period as Jesus should be killed. The Vedic king Kamsa found out Krsna’s whereabouts through spies, and he sent powerful demons to Krsna’s new home, where they attempted to kill Him. But Krsna killed them easily. Jesus was born a Jew, and when he began preaching the Jewish priests considered him blasphemous for his claims. They turned him over to the Roman rulers of the country, and it was they who crucified him. When He was sixteen years old, Krsna was brought to Kamsa’s capital, Mathura, and Krsna killed a demon there. But there were many other demons Krsna had to contend with during the rest of His life, and He dispatched them all because He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In Goloka there are one hundred eight gopis who are most prominent in Krsna’s love affairs. These gopis each have innumerable gopi-manjaris, confidential servitors who take part in the eternal pastimes of Radha and Krsna. (According to the Gaura-Ganoddesa Dipika, Srila Rupa Gosvami’s spiritual name is Rupa-manjari.) Prabhupada said that the gopi-manjaris should not interfere with the pastimes of Radha and Krsna; rather, they should enhance them. So the gopi–manjaris’ services are enhancing the bringing of the Divine Couple together more intimately by providing garlands, mixing sandalwood with camphor and saffron and other nice scents such as aguru. There is no envy in the spiritual world, so the devotees there are glad to see the manjaris’ intimacy with the Divine Couple, and they enthuse them thinking, “How fortunate this gopi is!”
Jayadvaita Maharaja explained how there was no envy in the spiritual world, and that even the non-gopi devotees are pleased to see the confidential gopis serving Radha and Krsna. The trees play a part, because without trees how could there be a rasa dance and a tulasi plant? Hearing that Radha and Krsna are going to have union, all the residents of Krsnaloka take part and form a festival. The flute plays its part. Everyone takes part in the pastimes of Radha and Krsna. The birds stop singing and honor the singing of the bumblebees. And when these pastimes take place, Krsna sees that everyone takes part and has a role, and he or she joins in the rasa dance with Radha and Krsna.
On January 1st I’m scheduled for my second COVID test in preparation for my second cataract surgery, this time in the left eye. On the first COVID test in preparation for the right eye surgery, we drove through in a line with other cars. It was warm enough so that the nurses rushed out of the building and came to our waiting cars, where they gave us the test. They told us if there were no issues we would not hear from them, and we did not. Now the winter has come and the system has changed. We will have to wait in our parked car and phone their office. They will tell us when to come in the building for the test. The test involves a swab in the sinuses, and it is slightly painful. The new winter system of waiting in the car is more inconvenient. But I am fairly confident that the test will go all right. Hopefully it won’t be snowing on that day.
We haven’t had many quiet days in the last month. The surgeon’s procedure for my cataract was only ten minutes, but the preliminary work in the hospital bed and the whole day there took four hours from our door to theirs and back. We also had a test for COVID. I had five doctors’ appointments associated with a single ten-minute surgery spread over two months. Always going out and coming back. I also did Zoom meetings with individual disciples as arranged by Bala. They ran overtime to 45 minutes instead of half an hour. Bala wants me to do more, but I have temporarily canceled them out of exhaustion. I also had Zoom meetings with John Endler which lasted over an hour. We had a Christmas festival with three guests and an exchange of presents. Included in there was my Vyasa-puja ceremony on December 5th, at which several prominent Godbrothers spoke homages and my disciples also. I gave a short lecture and read some poems. I had to prepare myself for that and it took a lot of time, selecting the poems, etc.
An actual quiet day is having the out-loud reading during breakfast, in which devotees participate by reading and hearing over the Whatsapp. Then at lunch we do it again. We’re reading from the Caitanya-caritamrta, and three or four devotees take part (and sometimes six or seven from different cities and countries). I don’t read out loud but simply listen to the others. It’s no strain for me. Then in the afternoon on a quiet day, I listen to a lecture by Prabhupada and then a lecture by one of my Godbrothers. This is a quiet day, when I don’t have to go out for medical appointments or be part of other meetings.
As part of a quiet day, I read manuscripts, reviewing them for use in the Free Write Journal and also for books for publication. Even on a quiet day I often don’t get my exercises done. But I’m pretty regular on receiving a half-hour massage in the afternoon.
Radha-Govinda have just changed Their dress. Their outfit is a blue background with yellow pattern. They have only worn it once before. I am very fortunate. The Deities’ outfits are changed every three days. Krsna dasi, as usual, has made an excellent turban (green) for Govinda. In my darsana I cannot see Them too well because of my limited vision, but just to be in Their presence is a great solace.
Every day Their altar is covered with new flowers, either donated by Muktavandhya or purchased from a store. This is real opulence. Their flowers look like forest flowers as would be offered by the gopis in Vrndavana. All Their outfits are made in the Vraja style.
Krsna Kumari d.d. gifted me with a small art calendar for 2021 from the BBT. The paintings are from the early years of ISKCON. The artists were new to their task, and the paintings are somewhat clumsy and primitive. But they have a unique devotional charm to them. They are clearly painted by devotees of the Lord. Our ashram also received two large calendars donated by Rama Raya from Krsna-Balarama Mandir in Vrndavana. They contain dazzling photographs of the Deities—Gaura-Nitai, Krsna-Balarama and Radha-Syamasundara. To my taste the Deities are dressed a little too fancy, but I admit They are very beautiful. A calendar is very important in a devotee’s life. In addition to the artwork, the dates contain important information of Ekadasis and the appearance and disappearance days of the avataras and great devotees. It is crucial for a devotee’s life to follow the year with a genuine Vaisnava calendar.
In our out-loud reading we have just heard Lord Caitanya’s intense feelings of separation from Krsna at the end of His life. Krsnadasa Kaviraja puts this near the beginning of his book in synopsis form because he does not know whether he will live long enough to tell it in detail at the end of his book. He wants the readers of the world to hear these confidential pastimes. This is similar to Srila Prabhupada’s writing the Krsna book early in his career because he did not know if he would live long enough to reach this section of the Tenth Canto in his usual method of taking a verse and purport at a time and going through the nine cantos. He did finish the Krsna book, and we are very grateful for that. In the Adi-lila, Krsnadasa Kaviraja tells in synopsis form Krsna Caitanya’s feelings of madness in separation. He shares them with two confidential devotees, Ramananda Raya and Svarupa Damodara. He speaks them in the Gambhira room at Jagannatha Puri. He speaks in madness, and Svarupa Damodara sings appropriate songs to augment the Lord’s ecstasy. Ramananda Raya reads verses that do the same. Krsna Caitanya spoke in the words of Radharani: “By nature, loving affairs are very crooked. They are not entered with sufficient knowledge, nor do they consider whether a place is suitable or not, nor do they look forward to the results. By the ropes of His good qualities, Krsna, who is so unkind, has bound my neck and hands, and I am unable to get relief.” (Cc. Madhya 2.21)
My disciple wrote to me from Russia telling me of her experience with her son in ISKCON. When he was very young, she neglected him in favor of pioneering by distributing Prabhupada’s books in the sankirtana movement. She put her son in the gurukula, but there they pulled him up to attend mangala-arati, and if he did not want to go, they would pour cold water on him. He said he hated those who did this to him. Later his mother regretted her behavior and gave her son her love and attention. But his distaste for ISKCON grew deep. For a while he was an aspiring devotee, but then he became materialistic. Now he has contracted coronavirus and is seriously ill in a Russian hospital.
My disciple regrets the sacrifice she made but realizes it was for a great cause. Her experience of austerity in the pioneering years of ISKCON is typical. We gave up our families and all material comforts in exchange for serving the mission. We were enthusiastic to do it. Some devotees, in hindsight, may regret their austerities in the ashram, but some simultaneously consider them the best years of their devotional lives. All the pioneers knew was that Prabhupada was pleased with them and the movement was spreading like wildfire. The movement was fueled by Prabhupada’s inspiration and the devotees’ youthful enthusiasm. We could see the blissful results: blissful spiritual advancement in the spreading of the worldwide movement.
The author Rupa Vilasa Prabhu has invited me to write a short review of the new edition of his book on Bhaktivinoda Thakura, The Seventh Gosvami. He says it has lots of new material in it, and it’s going to be published by the BBT. I’ll have to tell him that I’m willing to do it, but I’m in the midst of two cataract surgeries in both eyes, and reading is very difficult for me. On January 6th I undergo my second surgery, this time in my left eye. Immediately after that, I can expect that my vision will be severely limited. I have to undergo a surgery post-op by Dr. McPherson on January 7th, a one-week followup by her on January 13, and then on January 27 I have a final follow-up. Not until January 28 do I go to the optometrist Dr. Goodrich for a new prescription. Finally, after approximately the first week in February, I get my new prescription eyeglasses and can see with normal vision. So Rupa Vilasa will have to consider his own priorities with deadlines and decide whether he can wait for me to write a book review of The Seventh Gosvami.
Today at 8:00 A.M. we go to the biannual blood test that precedes my biannual physical exam by a week. Brenda is the bloodletter. She is expert at it and doesn’t cause unnecessary pain. She collects the blood in vials. It is mainly to check on my diabetes, but for other purposes also. I have to fast from midnight and go in early. It seems to me that I am getting bloodwork done too frequently, but that’s what they ask for.
“You took sannyasa
and at Radha-Damodara you began
Reside and write in Vrndavana
Collect and print in Delhi—
three volumes you published that way.
In Vrndavana, ISKCON was created
from the desires of the acaryas
and from your personal will
to deliver Krsna to the West.
But so much were you attached to Vrndavana’s dust
that when you journeyed on the Jaladuta,
you thought yourself
the son and messenger of Vraja:
‘I am feeling separation
from Sri Vrndavana and my Lords
Sri Govinda, Gopinatha, Radha-Damodara.
“And in Manhattan’s winter
‘My heart is always hankering
after that Vrndavana . . . .’
when you became very ill,
you desired to return—
to recuperate or to pass away.
I’m feeling too much
to return to Vrndavana
to the lotus feet
Your disciples were anxious:
‘What if Krsna keeps Swamiji
in Vrndavana. What if
he never returns?’
It sounded to them
like you were transferring directly
to the spiritual abode
‘where once going
one never returns to this world.’
You encouraged them,
‘When you see Vrndavana
you will not be able to understand
how I could have left that place
to come here. It is so nice . . . .
There everyone is always
chanting Hare Krsna. And there
are thousands of temples.’
“Last year I published a book called The Wild Garden. The title of that book came from a different metaphor—from the kind of overgrown, untended garden that grows in anybody’s backyard in the country when he or she doesn’t mow the weeds down. That garden is full of weeds. Weeds? But what are those weeds? If you look at them, you’ll see that they are really just different kinds of wildflowers. They usually have their own unsung beauty, and in some cases, their own unsung poisons, but most of them are filled with life and individuality and usefulness. Once you look at them, you realize their value. They can even give you solace—some of those rye grasses. My free-writing is comparable to a wild garden because it also produces varieties of living, and we hope useful, things.
“Now I am thinking of the churning process. Of course, we know that churning milk gives us butter. That would be an example of a good result from churning. In the Bhagavatam pastime, however, churning produced both poison and nectar. This is an intriguing concept when I apply it to my own writing. Often when I am writing, which, after all, is not so different from churning, the first thing to come up might be an old memory from my pre-Krsna conscious life or some other undesirable thought. I don’t reject it: ‘Okay, this is on your mind. You want to get it off your chest? Go ahead, write about it.’ This is the poison.
“We also know that in that lila, many beautiful things were produced. The demigods and demons didn’t know what to expect when they were churning. They had a goal in mind—the nectar of immortality—but they didn’t know what to expect before they were successful. Sometimes good things resulted, and sometimes bad things. There’s an attitude or a way to deal with the things that come up, which is advised by Krsna in that pastime.
“. . . . Back to my own use of this pastime as a metaphor for my writing. This pastime comes about because of strife between the devotees and the demons. I can compare this to my creative process in that my writing is an imperfect person’s attempt to serve Krsna. Imperfect means that the devotee in me is still battling with the demon in me. We are spirit souls and pure devotees, but our perfection is covered up almost entirely, especially during Kali-yuga. Prabhupada said that in this age, the demons are almost all within our hearts. Still, no one is by constitutional nature a demon. Everyone is pure spirit soul. Of course, some people are so stubborn and hard-core that they will not even try to uncover their spiritual nature for many lifetimes. Neither will Krsna reveal Himself to such a person.”
“‘Great Gordon’s Gin!’ she exclaimed, thinking,
‘What a pious absorbed little soul we have
here, intent on keeping himself
drawn within himself like
the tortoise whose limbs are in the shell.
He uses them only for his own purposes,
as in evening kirtanas with the Swami
or if someone is willing to hear hari-katha.’
Let her laugh, mama supervisor
at the Welfare office.
This white-shirted man is working for God
by bringing his paycheck to the Swami.
Greater love no man hath than the
pure devotee’s compassion for
the jivas and his devotion to
the one Supreme Person, Sri Krsna.
I wish to serve Him
and not the Welfare office or
“‘Great Gordon’s Gin!’ You said it, Ma’am,
‘cause your God is booze.
What can I say? I will
remain silent and work with you—
‘What you say is all right’—
while I chant within the mind
mantra to preserve my focus
and do my little true service which
is ordered by my spiritual master.
Let the wise not disturb
the minds of the ignorant
but perform duty to set an example.
“Those were good days, those post-1966 days when I knew the Swami at 26 Second Avenue. I was one hundred percent certain I was doing what was right. I didn’t have the presence of mind to write everything down as I do now, but I was certainly fixed in proper action, at least externally. My father was present to tell me what to do. Now I have to act on his orders by my own will.
“And I do, Lord, I do for Your sake.
“Robert Bly writes in a poem about relief from talking and socializing:
“‘How many failures we hide, talking, when
I am too public,
I am a wind-chime, ringing to cheer up the black
angel Moroni, and feed him . . .
Talking, we do not say what we are! Sensing what
used to hiding from our parents, talking,
not saying what we want . . . ‘
“Mauna is better? But a devotee speaks for Krsna and does not waste his time in nonsense prancing or evasion in speech. We are encouraged to speak enthusiastically, to be a chatterbox for Krsna, to deliver the message to others.”
“I hear Prabhupada via tape talking to devotees on a morning walk in Germany. He says something my brain finds hard to logically accept. He says there is no objection to transmigration. He asks you what ‘they’ say. You speak up for the agnostics, but you know they will never be satisfied by whatever sastra or guru says. Therefore, you can’t play devil’s advocate for long. Your own brain is the devil, but you just want to accept whatever guru and sastra says.
“. . . I said, ‘Transmigration is not proved by Krsna’s example that as a boy grows into a youth and a youth grows into a man, so the self reappears in the next body. It is only an analogy, and analogies don’t prove truth.’
“‘Why don’t you accept?’ Prabhupada asked.
“‘Because a person can perceive that he’s growing old, but he can’t perceive that he takes another body. We have no memory or perception of dying and being reborn.’
“Srila Prabhupada replied with another analogy. (‘Yes,’ I hear that voice in my head start up: ‘Indian philosophy loves analogies.’):
“‘In a dream you think you are in a different body and you perceive fear. Sometimes you are so afraid that you wake up. Is this not proof that you have perception of the body changing?’
“Prabhupada spoke with emotion, and I felt myself dropping the role of skeptic and becoming submissive. ‘Yes, he is right.’
“But my mind didn’t drop out entirely. Did I actually think he proved one analogy by giving another? The dream perception is certainly an experience and does add to the Lord’s argument, but it is still not proof that we die and are reborn with the same self. It is only proof that when we sleep, the same self accepts different subtle identities for awhile. The dream state does not prove transmigration. Prabhupada seemed to say that it was enough.
“It doesn’t matter, though, because I do accept it. I accept it because he said it, and not because of the example itself.
“ . . . . On those walks we got befuddled at our half-playing, half-being skeptics, and half (yes, three halves) submitting to guru. We simply wanted to please him because we loved him. We wanted his grace.”
“ . . . .The abiding principle is faith and not logical proof. We want the conviction and faith and experience that Krsna is truth personified, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
“I first decided I wanted to write an autobiography some years ago. I started to recall my childhood memories so they would not be forgotten forever. But I hesitated because I wanted it to be Krsna conscious. Then I discovered a technique for writing autobiography that Mark Twain used. He started each writing session at whatever period of life occurred to him; he kept writing on that until the inspiration stopped coming. Then, at the next writing session, he wrote from whatever part of his life freely occurred to him. He also mixed in diary with autobiography. I was happy to adopt this process, because it allowed me to immediately write about my relationship with Srila Prabhupada. I followed this with the details of my birth in 1939 and my first boyhood memories. Then, I reverted back to a memory of 1966 at 26 Second Avenue. Then, I switched back to childhood memories in Queens, New York. In this way I wrote chapters about Krsna consciousness, alternating with chapters that contained memories from before I came in contact with Krsna consciousness. It made for a good read. I proceeded this way for hundreds of pages. Then, I started writing about more ISKCON memories and about devotees I knew. Then, I started writing about the books I have written.
“I remember buying ice cream from the Bungalow Bar truck that drove through the streets of Queens when I was not yet eight years old. When the ice cream man opened the back door, the “smoke” of dry ice poured out. He reached in and pulled out a fudgesicle with nut flakes on it. He made change with a chrome gadget attached to his belt. I remember being afraid of dogs and tough kids. I remember reading comic books, swapping them with other kids as we sat on the front stoop of one of our houses. I remember my father being proud of his abilities as a handyman and the fact that he was a fireman.
“I remember my mother Catherine, whose maiden name was Sullivan, the daughter of an Irish mother and father. She was born in Yorktown, in New York City. We called her ‘Midge’ because she was short. ‘She’s too good to be true,’ my father said.
“ . . . She always sided with him in any argument against my sister and me. You couldn’t expect her to sympathize with you over ‘Daddy.’ He said she had shapely legs in her high heels and nylon stockings, which she wore to work at the Chase Manhattan Bank in Manhattan.
“I remember rosy apples. You stuck pennies into them. Your blood was rosy also. It oozed out of the back of your hand when your father accidentally cut you with a knife that fell from his worktable to where you were sitting on the floor. He wrapped you up in bandages. We heard voices from the Campisis. Mr. Campisi was afraid of his daughter. He would say, ‘She’s going to throw a cup at me. Rose, she hit me with a cup!’ We joked about it. Mrs. Mulligan was a red-haired teacher – Math and English at P.S. 8 in Great Kills. She had two teenage sons and a teenage daughter and no husband at home. She was tough and didn’t tolerate misbehavior in her class. You wanted to please her and get a good grade, because she championed doing right and being decent.
“What I will miss when I die: going to bed around 7:20 p.m. and getting up at 1:30 a.m.; shuffling to the bathroom to do my ablutions; starting to chant japa at 2:00 a.m.; trying to write poems at 3:00 a.m.; then back to chanting until 4:00 a.m., when my caretaker comes up to dress the Deities.
“This weekend, two men on a four-man library party said that they couldn’t go out any more. They are worn out from trying to distribute books to professors. They said they wanted to ‘preach’ more and distribute prasadam. It’s quite a blow our U.S. library party of standing orders, text orders, etc. Srila Prabhupada regards this as the most important.
“One of the men asked me why I left that book distribution. I admitted it was difficult, but when faced with the downfall of the party, I volunteered to go out myself. But could I last at it, with my timid, non-determined attitude? Anyway, I had to try. Then they both reconsidered and said they would go out. I spoke to Ramesvara Maharaja when I thought I was getting ready to go out, and he thought it was a great example.
“Now I was not required. Next week two of the bhakti-yoga clubs have their first meetings—at Yale and University of Connecticut. I’ll go and try that. If they are not good successes, I can reconsider going out with the library party.
“Aside from whether I personally go out to sell the books, I am responsible to maintain the men and the party, and that itself is more important than staying in one place for two solid months to do the yoga clubs. They need me, even if only on the weekends. At least I have to be with them; I can’t abandon them.
“Last night only three people attended our Yale bhakti-yoga club. This morning I woke in the motel and could not at first remember what I had to do today. I had been preparing myself mentally to see the professors and sell books. I woke thinking of it as my duty. It was a sense of a heavy burden, but then I thought, ‘Spiritual life doesn’t mean to wake up and think, ‘Today is a holiday, so I shall enjoy myself today.’ This sense of the pressure of difficult engagement to please the spiritual master is tapasya, and that is the heart of spiritual progress. Now the success is when the heart is light despite the difficulty, when the mind is calm and transcendentally situated despite the difficult challenge of the service.
“I take it as auspicious—an increase in my service at a time when it is necessary to personally strengthen the library party, not with inspirational words or with the weekend, but going out myself and facing it. Facing what they are facing, facing what I am asking them to face.
“I look forward also to personally backing up the others and preventing them from falling into lax habits and nonsense talk.
“And if there is any reluctance to executing such a stern order . . . that reluctance should be thrown off. (Bg. 3.30, purport)
“I am writing this letter to you, Srila Prabhupada, after the Radhastami celebrations. Radhastami is special for the devotees and Vrndavana is the most special place to observe it. I have a personal attachment to Radhastami because it was the day you awarded me hari-nama initiation in September, 1966. Thank you, Prabhupada.
“I’m in a different place now, moving toward the end of my life in this body. I was a young, foolish boy at my initiation, not at all prepared for the grave responsibility of lifetime vows. You gave me your mercy anyway and allowed me to chant your pranama-mantra. You chanted it first and I repeated it line by line: nama om visnu-padaya krsna-presthaya bhu-tale . . . You also gave me my red beads after you had chanted on them in your room at 26 Second Avenue.
“That night I was your simple disciple. I admitted that I knew nothing and was solely dependent on you. Now I pray to always stay in that mood. Srila Prabhupada, I don’t know anything and I am still solely dependent on you. You are my eternal spiritual master.”
“Last day. A bird repeating a cry, but it’s too early for dawn. His voice sounds like a hoarse whippoorwill. Maybe he’s crying because it’s so cold, but who knows? This is the land of Srimati Radhika. He could be crying for any reason.
“Why do I cry? I am hungry to make advancement. Please don’t take Vrndavana for granted. I blocked out the night noises with earplugs, but now I hear an ashram broadcast and peackocks off in the distance. Certainly when I leave here, it will be impossible to hear these things. Then I will experience a shadow (abhasa) of separation from Vrndavana. Maybe I will appreciate it even more than I do at present.
“Why am I afraid of the crunch of loving emotions? I always try to prepare myself to soften the blow. I try to think what it will be like sitting in the airport waiting room in Delhi, thinking about Vrndavana, feeling bereft. Then when I enter the Western world of material efficiency, I will wonder where my Vrndavana life is, my quiet, homespun bhajana. Will it be washed off? Is this what will happen? How can I live with that?
I won’t be wearing a bundi in the West. I won’t be walking the sandy lane spotted with the dung of animals. I won’t be seeing the darkness lit by the light atop the temple dome. I won’t be seeing the gorgeous architecture of Srila Prabhupada’s samadhi mandira.
“I will be preaching. I will be serving my spiritual master. I will also be remembering Vrndavana. But I won’t be hearing the temple bell on the hour and on the half-hour, although if I’m lucky, I will hear it inside my head.
“When I get back, I will start the process of looking at the calendar all over again, wondering if I will ever return from the world of calamity and war—whether that world will prevent me from getting back to Vrndavana. Or whether my body will completely break down. Whether I will be dependent on what I have stocked up so far . . . .
“Therefore I wrote in Vrndavana. For later, just in case.
“I can remember golden Srila Prabhupada in his gray cadar wherever I am. I will be able to visualize the stout marble pillars and ornate ceiling work of the noble Samadhi Mandir and a band of devotees standing at the open Deity doors. The whole terrain will be so familiar to me that I will be able to remember it in my mind or in my sleep. After the arati kirtana, while on your knees, take one last look at Srila Prabhupada. Then start for the door, not speaking, even though surrounded by devotees. Put on your sandals, go carefully down the steps—and watch out you don’t trip on the low-lying pole. Hear the almost eerie sound of the all-night harmonium being played in the temple and the voice of the one man singing there. Bow down to Srila Prabhupada again, on the rug. Go forward and touch his foot. Take your place. Wait for the big doors to open, conches to blow.
“You are so distracted you catch only a fraction of it every day. That’s why there is value in the accumulated experience of attending the programs daily. Even a little devotional service will never suffer loss or diminution, and it can save you from the greatest fear.”
“The Prague devotees are all young boys and girls, a new ISKCON generation. As I got out of the van and walked into the temple room and the welcoming kirtana, devotees crowded in after me through the doorway and out in the passage. I suddenly got the feeling that I had a very small body. I don’t know exactly how to express this. It wasn’t like I thought I was shrinking like Alice did when she folded up like a telescope, but I saw myself as a small man with narrow shoulders. I wonder how I look to them. As the evening went on, it became a source of amusement to me, the disparity between how I usually see myself and the actual truth. I even looked down at my pink cotton socks and then at the danda I held in my hand. The smaller I got, the freer I felt. Yes, that’s it. I began to feel free.
“The men form a ring,
facing the center with their arms
around each other’s shoulders
and in the center a small boy
hits the mrdanga.
When they sing, they end the line
with a shout, ‘Krsna!’
One man stands holding
the wooden altar so that
Gaura-Nitai don’t jump off.”
“I know nothing of classical music. Therefore, I have to create a fantasy, an imagination, that my free-writes are composed and then played on harpsichord and violin. Can you hear it?
He doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Oh, give us Lord Caitanya, give us brhad-mrdanga,
Prabhupada and Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s lenient
mercy. On the cover of
Madhya-lila 1, which is in
the center of our magic circle,
Lord Caitanya is dancing and walking on
the road imagined by
Nrsimhananda Brahmacari in his meditation.
Flowers on both sides, the Lord
is very pleased to walk along it
and Nrsimhananda, eyes closed, hands in prayer, is meditating to build the
road at every step, to provide
the Lord’s happy way from Puri to Bengal to Vrndavana—or for as long
as the Lord agrees
to walk upon it.”
“I’d like to make this as spiritual and as truthful as possible. Oscar Wilde said that the first duty in life is to strike a pose, and no one has yet figured out what the second duty is. That’s Wilde’s cynicism—I don’t accept it. I believe there’s sincerity under pose, although it’s true that it’s hard to find.
Another worldly pundit said, ‘Anyone who is afraid of corruption is afraid of life.’ I reject that statement too. Or, I’ll admit that I’m afraid of hellish life. Therefore I seek the straight path (which sometimes winds) of bhakti. I’ll admit my corruption and not be afraid of it. Neither will I indulge in it. Lord Krsna says, ‘After attaining Me, the great souls who are yogis in devotion never return to this temporary world which is full of miseries because they have attained the highest perfection.’ (Bg. 8.15)”
“I put on the light and got up from bed about 1:00 A.M. Wrote this note: 40‘1) Headache routine all night long, no good sleep.
2) Overall, many things…going downhill fast.
3) Feel sincere here like I’m seventy years old, very delicate old man. (Reminds of the weakness that comes from fasting in Nature Cure.)’
“Then I tried to get news of the election on my radio. It has a middle wave frequency which indicates a BBC station. A voice in me was warning me not to do it, but another said, ‘Go ahead, it’s harmless.’ I lifted up the antenna and put on my earphones and tried. Right away I heard a British woman’s voice say, ‘This election confirms’ but then she went under the waves and I couldn’t hear again. Then it was only Italians and music. Since I couldn’t get the desired result easily, I decided to quit within two minutes.
“My radio also has a short-wave band. I tried it and picked up a telephone call-in show beaming from the U.S. and receiving calls from Europe. There I learned that the election results were still being counted.
“I decided not to show Madhu the note on overall weakness, feeling like a seventy-year-old man. Why make such a bad case of it?
“I listened to the radio a third time and heard that the loser would probably concede defeat within an hour. The Republicans maintained their majority in the Senate. Results of the congressional elections are still coming in. Now I shouldn’t have to listen anymore.
“Reading Srimad-Bhagavatam. Soma, god of the moon, is requesting the Pracetas to give up their anger by which they are burning down all the trees. Certainly, the people gathering now at the Republican and Democratic headquarters in Washington, D.C. would regard all of this as a myth. But I may regard them as myth too. Prabhupada writes in one purport, ‘The modern democratic system cannot be exalted in this way because elected leaders strive only for power and have no sense responsibility.’ It’s all so much jockeying for power in this house or that house or this administration. None of those leaders know about atma, spirit soul and the Supreme. So, I should keep distant from that atmosphere to be able to read in Srimad-Bhagavatam, to range into it, to maintain and cherish its principles and details. This is the sufficient purpose for my life. I say I’m going downhill fast physically and can’t be expected to plunge into active confrontational preaching in ISKCON, and so on. But I can read Srimad-Bhagavatam, and I can go to where devotees are and tell them what I’m reading and advise them to do it too. And write about it.
“‘By engaging one in devotional service, the Krsna consciousness movement keeps one always transcendental to anger, greed, lust, envy, and so forth. One must perform devotional service because otherwise one will become victimized by the modes of material nature.’ (Bhag. 6.4.14, purport)
“Quite by accident I turned in just as Al Gore was giving his speech introducing President Clinton as the victor of the election. At first, I thought Gore was a comedian doing a satire. He was painting this glorious picture of America, whose scientists are always inventing wonderful new things to make life better, who is cleaning up all of the pollution of the earth and making it a wonderful place to live, and so on, and so forth. But then I realized he actually meant it. I was shocked at how much emotionalism they put into the speech-making. I had forgotten about love of country – America! ‘Our best days are still ahead. America always wins.’
Then Clinton started speaking. It’s an art. He meant it too, shouting sincerely, thanking everybody for the victory bestowed on him. This was held in his home state, Arkansas, and after every few minutes he would pause as the shouts and loving ovations welled up. He thanked the ministers of God who prayed with him in bad times and good times. He thanked just about everybody and gave special thanks for his opponent Bob Dole.
“It was as if you could come really close to him at that time just by hearing him. Your friend, the President of your country who was saying that you all have a part to play. ‘Get involved!’ Gore shouted, especially addressed to the young people of the country. He said they had as much a part in the country as anybody else. ‘I want to thank my wonderful wife of twenty-one years . . .” Hearing their voices filled with emotion, I couldn’t help but feel emotional myself although it felt silly. Am I happy that Bill loves Hillary? Do I believe that America is as he says, ‘The greatest country in the history of the human race?’ Do I believe as he says that he is the most gifted of all Americans and also the most humble of all Americans? He said it.
“I felt that as these politicians evoked so much excitement and emotion for improving the great country, and how they urged everyone to work together and make it better and better, so I ought to have some of that for preaching Krsna consciousness. If we say that Clinton is sincere and people like him, and they really do want to improve relations of all people, then how much more the preacher should feel this, should speak with choked emotions, and should work hard and urge everyone, ‘Surrender to Krsna. Understand you’re not this body. Read Bhagavad-gita.’ Then I realized I’m not a politician or a ksatriya or a person to go out there like that even for a religious cause. I thought of the hermit, of Merton’s claims for the thought of the hermit as doing important work for the nation also, through prayer and example. You don’t get to taste the excitement of victory late at night on election day before the cheering supporters, and you don’t get to taste something similar at a Gaura Purnima festival as perhaps you’re awarded the Centennial prize and described glowingly, ‘His Holiness Satsvarupa Goswami!’ before thousands of cheering Russians, Bengalis, and others – but you know something else, the certainty of being in touch with Prabhupada’s books because you invest early hours in them, and other things quiet but true. Everybody wants the same thing, right? We want to reach the millennium. And go beyond it. We want to reach the goal, and that’s back to Godhead.
“Prajapati Daksa praying on the mountaintop. We can’t see the unlimited God, but pray to Him. He’s not elected for four years. He’s the eternal Master. He’s master by His own force. His vision is undeterred. We can’t see Him or know Him even though He is in our hearts. We offer Him obeisances.
“All glories to the Lord of the universe.
“Bread, broom, hair dryers hold on, I don’t want bad words.
“I can only write a little more here, then quit. The freed lines. Bread lines. The poor digestive tract, Watchtower tract. Racetrack super America of many roads and crime thugs thud-thud in cities but Gore says it’s great – let’s make a bridge to the new millennium – ‘I’m ready if you are.’ Blah, blah. Get back to work.
“Prajapati Daksa writing on the mountaintop. Satsva and his new limited concept of a day and what he can do in it. These precious fleeting years. (Did Clinton write his own speech? – ‘Born during a summer storm in the southwest of this state to a widowed mother’?)
“Why should the day be shrunk up? Well, that’s what happens. Find value in it. So many days.
“The living entity is the residence of the Supersoul. If you kill any living creature, even a plant, you dissatisfy the Supersoul. So, I’ll behave around mosquitoes, up to a point. We will give you some space, a place to write and recoup, make art, ease down, pray to God for – you know what.
“Weeow, lie down and ask M. to read Caitanya-caritamrta. Or don’t ask, just lie in bed propped with three pillows and cool it because the first flutter of ‘right eye pain’ is fluttering, cool it, no wet rag, just close your eyes and this poem (no chemical drug) sending you to bed, you urge it along, and possibly by writing you increase toward a headache but a guy’s
and when you rest
I’d sure like to pray
“The Lord causes two sides in a philosophical debate to take up different arguments. All views are ultimately Him, the absolute truth, seen from different perspectives. Read this around 1975 and took purport notes while traveling with the library party. I also read some Hume and tried to refute it, made a little essay about it.
“Click, click, objects clicking on the table. I look and test until I find what it is – the Tombo against the scissors. M. fasting and chanting extra, Bhakti-rasa is reading Churning the Milk Ocean. He and I are speaking on it each morning for a half-hour. Now let the furor of Clinton’s speech and his surging election returns subside. It’s not my world. I live without it. No excuse now for touching the radio switch on my tape recorder.
“Sat in the backyard, squeezed out two extra rounds. It’s hard. Srila Prabhupada says it’s not hard:
“‘A devotee, however, simply by chanting the holy names of the Lord, avoids such laborious speculations and realizes the existence of the Lord very easily.’ (Bhag. 6.4.28, purport)
“We’re comin’ around 4:30 P.M. and soon gather a threesome at the table. Read Caitanya-caritamrta, please. He reads, I listen, Bhakti-rasa listens. Maybe I’ll think of something to say. You don’t have to, it’s Ekadasi. O Lord. Until late autumn dawn, it’s Ekadasi. Good to be in such a quiet and restful place.
“They put sticks in holes in the ground. Next, they will put plant saplings and tie them to the sticks. Upkeep. We will be gone in six days.
“So delicate a head, you live with it.
“Krsna Krsna, Krsna Krsna. Don’t argue. Just accept. Why Krsna and not Visnu or Jehovah or Christ or void or Willie and Joe? Or why not salami and hamburgers? Why milk? Why your Swami? Boy, Hare Krsna’s got very little constituency, just some Indian doctors here and there, and even they go broke. Oh, the building is run down, the movement suffers from infighting and blotted self-defense: “The only reason for any lingering cynicism is ignorance.”
“All suffering due to ignorance, Gurudeva, said the grown-up disciple. That includes your own pains. It’s reaction to ignorance in past lives or this.
“But son, I thought the Guru was sarva deva maya, and so his suffering isn’t ignorance except maybe the disciples’ . . .
“Oh. Oh. Keep chanting to sixty-four today, I hear him and admire. I’ve lost my taste. Read a little more.”
“Heart beating, your head was fogging and somewhat stuffed during the night and still is, but not as bad as the previous three days. You thought you had already entered a stage of feeling in advanced old age, and thought it was premature. M. told you fifty-seven to sixty years old can be old age, certainly the age of retirement. It’s an individual thing. Some get old and die of old age earlier than others. Canakya says travel brings old age. He didn’t live in the time of travel in jet plane cabins which makes it even worse.
“Maybe the fact that the body (carriage of the soul) is more rickety, and now the slightest stress brings on a headache. If it’s true, live better with it. Don’t be intimidated by it or by people who may not understand what you have to put up with. ‘More tolerant than a tree.’
“Blue ink flow. The reduced day. Instead of five hours of sleep at night and up at midnight to write (ten pages in an hour), I stay in bed seven hours and don’t feel restless. At 1 A.M. I get up but could stay longer. That leaves me little time to read or write. But my appetite for sravanam-kirtanam is now for small installments, no more. Capacity has decreased. Is this a temporary thing, have I willed it to happen? In any case I can’t seem to change it now, so live within it.
“God exists. Bhakti accepts this and also accepts that atheists are within Brahman. The atheists are focused on the Supreme Lord and discussing Him, although they deny Him. Bhaktas concentrate on His form. No controversy or so-called contradiction (apani-pado javano grahita) disturbs them. He can only be known by devotional service. I accept it. I want to bathe more in the rays of the transcendental message and feel confident, learned and able to argue against atheistic doubts.
“See me Lord, unable to go out and travel and speak long and frequently for Your cause. Allow me to do what I can. If You want to give me a late burst of improved health, let me see it and use it to help others. Until then, let me stay with You by the process of frequent small installments of sravanam-kirtanam.
“Atheists say God has no form, no activities and no name. Krsna appears in His original form and teaches Bhagavad-gita. ‘He works so gloriously that no one else can perform such uncommon acts. Although He appeared as a human being, He married 16,108 wives, which is impossible for the human being to do. The Lord performs such activities to show people how great He is, how affectionate He is and how merciful He is. Although His original name is Krsna (krsnas tu bhagavan svayam), He acts in unlimited ways, and therefore according to His work He has many, many thousands of names.’ (Bhag. 6.4.33, purport)
“When you’re feeling pressure you think, I don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to write, don’t have to hear a recorded lecture by Srila Prabhupada, and you certainly don’t have to go out or meet anyone, and so on.
“Sit within your reduced day. Close it in around you. Be content with it. In fact, feel a little inner bubbling of optimism too. Make travel plans. Chant your sixteen rounds.
“Perhaps I used to think that the most important things for me were writing and reading. They are the things I like to do, so the assumption is that your will prevails. But nowadays I’m seeing that prakrti (the material body, especially its pains) rules even over your will. Extraordinary persons manage ‘mind over matter.’ I get pulled down.
“On days when I can’t write or read, I can still make an exertion of will within the limits enforced by prakrti. If I can’t write, if I can’t read, if I can’t chant on beads, there are still ways to be Krsna conscious. That’s the most important thing. I’m not about to elaborate on this right now (prakrti is pressing me). But I also need to develop it, so that within a small area I can make the will for Krsna remembrance, Krsna practices.
“I’m a devotee, devotee, devotee
of pure devotee made it
up the ranks to titular
titles, names and positions.
Now gliding down, will I
reach virtues of
honesty, humility, grace?
“I’m a devotee, true, true
don’t forget, pick any year
from 1966 to 1996 and I’ll tell
you an ISKCON story – like
1976 during the height of anti-cult
scare I went to St. Louis academic
conversation and collected petition names
of profs and fed them in their
hotel. That’s just the bare bones
of it. I didn’t get headaches in
those days, all of us ever-
young and not even able to
fully appreciate it.
“I’m a devotee, signing my letters,
signing off, sounding depressed,
feeling the pressure in my skull,
white man, brown man poem,
American gone to India many visits,
and back, ISKCON. Just ask
let me tell you (in the
brahma-muhurta hour after nine japa rounds,
before any headache) let me tell you
something nice about Krsna.
I can do it
and you can record it.”