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.
I am re-reading my unpublished collection Karttika Moon. The first time I read the third part, I thought I didn’t want to use it. But I was in a sour mood. The second and third times I read it I was more favorable and found the poems likeable and pleasant. They are free-write, but almost every poem has a reference to Krsna consciousness. Here is an example:
“You switched to God’s
track, turned Him in
the same pastimes were
running but could you hear anything clear?
“Need a clean heart,
brave disposition. Once upon
a time Varaha and
Prthu Maharaja once upon
“‘Too much the same!’
I plead and screamed and
ran out at the riff
I kept hearing on the left hand of that pianist.
“thus I never qualified to
be with God and His
pet servitor, the ones who go through hell for Him,
“Read all the cantos, not just the gopi Tenth Canto chapters or
you’ll come back next
life as an ordinary woman!
“Heaven, hell, in between,
baby comes out head-first
in bloody position and cries,
smack him welcome
the prayer is over
that he made
in the womb.”
I received a manuscript that was transcribed by Satyasara d.d. and Krsna-bhajana. It’s titled Last Days of the Year. I haven’t read it in twenty years, and I’m looking at it carefully to see if I approve of it for publishing.
Krsna-bhajana found the manuscript, read it, and became excited to ask his wife to type it up for me to look at. The title sounds poignant to me, the winding down of the year, writing in solitude, finding my way in free writing.
Here is what I wrote in my “Author’s Note”:
“Just the opposite of what I was looking for in Grand Metaphor is presented in this book, Last Days of the Year.
“The reader should understand that even when an author deliberately abandons theme and structure to allow in the chaos, words and themes continue to fall in patterns. We tend to be preoccupied in one way or another, no matter what else we are doing, and such preoccupations tend to emerge through even the most random approaches at writing and flavor of the free writing with thematic structure. I hope the reader will enjoy Last Days as a piece of high-energy free-writing done sincerely by a person who is trying to make his spiritual vocation the writing heart.”
We have a high standard of Deity worship at Viraha Bhavan. We have Deities on two floors. On the top floor is Radha-Govinda, Gauranga, Laksmi-Nrsimha and Prabhupada. Downstairs is large neem Gaura-Nitai and many other smaller Deities. We adorn their altars with fresh flowers, even in the wintertime when Muktavandya brings us flowers or Baladeva buys them from the florist. The big Gaura-Nitai have new garlands every day. We have a world-class pujari in Krsna dasi, who has been head pujari for 30 years in Trinidad and now here in Stuyvesant Falls. When anyone comes to the house, she engages them in service to the Deities: polishing their silver, taking care of tulasi, cleaning in the temple room. When we don’t have visitors to assist, Krsna dasi’s husband Bala is the world-class pujari assistant to keep the standard up in all respects. We have so many outfits made by Tapan that every third day we change Their dress. The Radha-Govinda Deities are so close to me that I spend much time every day looking at Them, and that is my main form of bhajana and the main way I participate with the other pujaris in their service to the arca-vigraha.
Today Radha-Govinda are wearing bright pink outfits with white pearl trim. They have just changed Their dress. There are many flowers on the altar purchased from the florist. Lord Caitanya has five carnations in front of Him, and the main altar has mainly little baby’s breath and more carnations in various colors like purple and red and white.
I cannot concentrate on Their darsana because I’m recovering from cataract surgery in both my eyes. When I chant japa from my bed I can only see Kalachandji’s feet and Radharani’s hand. With Radha-Govinda it is more blurry from my chair. I am patiently waiting some weeks before I can get a prescription for new glasses and return to normal vision. For now I look at the Deities but concentrate on my chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra. The ears are as good as the eyes when concentrating on Their Lordships. But I’m frustrated missing the darsana of my beloved arca-vigraha. I just wrote how Lord Caitanya described the opulence and beauty of Krsna to Sanatana Gosvami, and now I cannot see it. But soon I will again.
In May of 1969 Prabhupada visited Boston for the second time. We had many lectures lined up for him in the colleges and clubs. Most of them gave honorariums for the speaker. Yesterday I heard a lecture Prabhupada gave in May 1969 before the International Student Society. He told them there were many international societies, including the international United Nations, but all of them lacked a center. Prabhupada said the center could be found in Bhagavad-gita, where Krsna or God is the center of all things. One should make one’s offerings to God or Krsna, and that will satisfy the world. An “international” society without God in the center is not unified. Prabhupada gave the example of the United Nations, where they continually add flags but have no unity of purpose.
It was a fairly big audience, and Prabhupada gave ample time for questions and answers. “If service is rendered to material causes, it is incomplete and not accepted.” The audience may not have been submissive, but they were civil and accepted Prabhupada’s answers as dominant. They were impressed by him and his reliance on the Bhagavad-gita. It was a disappointment that at this time, May 1969, Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita first edition was not yet published by Macmillen Company. He spoke of the many bogus speculative interpretations on the Gita, but he had no Gita of his own to read from or sell. Soon that was rectified, and Prabhupada’s presentation of his words, along with his Bhagavad-gita As It Is, was doubly potent.
I enjoyed listening to Bhakti Caitanya Maharaja’s charming British accent. I listened to a lecture Maharaja gave where he spoke that being a devotee of a devotee of Krsna is better than being the direct devotee of Krsna. He quoted from various scriptures such as the Adi Purana, where Krsna says to Arjuna, “He is not My devotee who says he is My devotee, but one who is the servant of the servant is actually My devotee.” He spoke of the early days of ISKCON in 1970. He told of how the devotees in England were packed up together in a small temple space. They had to tolerate austere conditions such as cold showers and no one possessing his own clothes. The devotees had to just pick out their dhoti or kurta each day from a pile of laundry. And they usually could not find matching socks—they were advised not to be attached to matching socks. But despite the inconveniences they lived together in friendly intimacy, serving each other in Prabhupada’s movement.
He recited the 26 qualities of a devotee, and he said the most important one was to be attached to Krsna, but the way to do this in practice is to serve Krsna’s devotee. He told the story of a devotee who went to Prabhupada complaining about another devotee. He went on and on, saying how difficult this devotee was. But Prabhupada simply said, “You have to tolerate him.” The devotee persisted in saying how difficult it was to live with this devotee. Prabhupada said, “You have to tolerate him, just as I am tolerating you.”
I played a lecture by myself from years ago, when I had recently begun initiating. I began by saying I would not give a talk about the relationship of the guru and disciple, as one usually does on Vyasa-puja day. I would simply give a regular Bhagavatam class. I spoke about the meeting of Maharaja Pariksit and Sukadeva Gosvami. Maharaja Pariksit was cursed to die in seven days. He asked Sukadeva Gosvami, “What is the duty for all human beings, and especially for one who is about to die?” Prabhupada writes that of the two questions, the question that is about one who is about to die is more important. Because we are all about to die. Sukadeva Gosvami replies, that for one who is about to die, the most important thing is to chant and hear about Krsna. I spoke on this topic for 47 minutes. I was relaxed and quite familiar with the topic in the Bhagavatam. Then I invited other devotees to speak. My Godbrother Prahladapriya spoke about ten minutes. Then Kaulini Mataji spoke. I was enlivened to hear her because she was so dear to all of us. She said she always wanted to reside in a temple where I was also staying. Unfortunately, her talk was cut off after no more than eight minutes. But it sounded like a nice Vyasa-puja gathering.
After living two years packed up in triple bunks on the U.S.S. Saratoga in the Navy, it was with great relief that I got out and found an apartment on my own. I was living like that when I met Swamiji and the boys. For months I continued to keep my apartment and donated money to the temple. But then one day I told the devotees they could use my apartment to do their bathroom duties or to take a nap. This destroyed my life of solitude. The next day devotees came early in the morning to use the bathroom. Gaurasundara and his wife Govinda dasi took a shower together. The other men used the shower alone. During the daytime Hayagriva and a friend came over and crashed out on my mattress and slept. Raya Rama, the editor-in-chief of Back to Godhead, asked me if he could move in and be a permanent roommate. I agreed, and he took up the second room in my apartment, bringing in a big desk. I thought at the time that the trade—my solitude for the association of devotees—was a gain for me. Whatever inconvenience I felt was balanced out by seeing so much of Swami’s followers.
One time I used Raya Rama’s toothbrush to brush my own teeth. He discovered it and became very angry. He said I was “disgusting.” I took the reprimand quietly but thought to myself, “You’re lucky I’m giving you a place to live, so don’t go too far in criticizing me.” Previously the devotees had used Swamiji’s bathroom, and he sometimes had to wait in line, so this was a great relief for him, that my bathroom became the one used by everyone. The talk at my place became a mixture of prajalpa and Krsna consciousness. It stayed that way until the year ended and I was sent to Boston to open a new center there.
One time Lord Caitanya fell unconscious to the ground in a state of ecstasy. Just then, some Muslim Pathan soldiers rode up and saw the situation. They speculated that Lord Caitanya had been drugged by persons with Him who gave Him something called dhutura. The Pathans called the men who were with Lord Caitanya “rogues” and arrested them and said they would kill them. The two Bengalis who accompanied Lord Caitanya began to tremble in fear. But two of His associates were brave and courageous. One of them named Rajput Krsnadas spoke up and said that he had a hundred Turkish soldiers with cannons, and they were just nearby. If he called out to them they would come forward and kill the Pathan soldiers. Hearing this, the Muslims hesitated. At that moment, Lord Caitanya came to His external senses. He chanted Hare Krsna and explained Himself. He said the men with Him were not rogues but were His close companions. The Lord said that He had a disease like epilepsy and that He sometimes fell unconscious, and His companions helped Him. The Muslim soldiers were impressed by Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s bodily beauty, His speech and His aura. They bowed down to Him and asked to be excused. Lord Caitanya asked them to chant the names of Krsna, and when they did so they were transformed and developed symptoms of devotional ecstasy. The Lord converted them to Vaisnavas, and they fully surrendered to Him. He changed their names, and they became known as the Pathan Vaisnavas. They traveled as a group and spread the Name and teachings of Krsna like pure Vaisnavas. The Lord was very pleased with them and empowered them to preach.
In our out-loud reading we are hearing Lord Caitanya’s teachings to Sanatana Gosvami. Lord Caitanya wants to speak about the opulence and sweetness of Krsna, but He becomes lost in ecstasy and speaks of many things in a spontaneous way:
“Lord Krsna has many pastimes, of which His pastimes as a human being are best. His form as a human being is the supreme transcendental form. In this form He is a cowherd boy who carries a flute in His hand, and His youth is new. He is also an expert dancer. All this is just suitable for His pastimes as a human being. His form is manifested from Krsna’s eternal pastimes. The wonderful form of Krsna in His personal feature is so great that it attracts even Krsna to taste His own association. Indeed, Krsna becomes very eager to taste it. Ornaments caress that body, but the transcendental body of Krsna is so beautiful that it beautifies the ornaments He wears. Therefore Krsna’s body is said to be the ornament of ornaments. Enhancing the wonderful beauty of Krsna is His three-curved style of standing. Above all these beautiful features, Krsna’s eyes dance and move obliquely, acting like arrows to pierce the minds of Radharani and the gopis. When the arrows succeed in hitting their target, the gopis become agitated.
“Resuming His external consciousness, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu told Sanatana Gosvami, ‘I have not spoken of what I intended. Lord Krsna is very merciful to you, because by bewildering My mind He has revealed His personal opulence and sweetness. He has caused you to hear all these things for your understanding. Since I have become a madman, I am saying one thing instead of another. This is because I am becoming carried away by the waves of the nectarean ocean of Lord Krsna’s transcendental sweetness.’” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila Chapter 21, “The Opulence and Sweetness of Krsna”)
Thus Lord Caitanya immersed Sanatana in the ocean of opulence and sweetness of Krsna.
Prabhupada was very interested in having artwork in his books. He designed the cover of the first Bhagavatams he printed in India, with Krsna and Radha as the whorl of the lotus, and all the planets of the universe depicted on the covers. In India he also conceived of the book The Light of the Bhagavata, which was to be heavily illustrated with pictures of Krsna and His parisads accompanying the verses of the Bhagavatam. Then in America he commissioned his disciples to do many paintings for his Srimad-Bhagavatam. At first some of the paintings were not so polished, but gradually the artists began to turn out masterful paintings showing Krsna and His associates in all of the lilas described in the sastras like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. More than any other transcendental author, Prabhupada gave his readers many, many colored illustrations.
“I was thinking of Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata.’ Why am I remembering it? I was pondering what made great art. I was also looking for inspiration in my own attempts to make Krsna conscious art.
“We tend to think that classical Western art is great, but it has no Krsna conscious vibration to it. How can Beethoven’s music be beyond the music of a simple Bengali chant? Why, then, do we hanker for artistry? Is it possible to inject our Krsna conscious bhajana with more musicality?
“Thinking of Beethoven made me think of Gandharvas sawing expertly on the equivalent of violins and intoxicating demigod audiences with their art. Or of the Illustration depicting the beautiful Apsaras, accompanied by Gandharvas, who came to tempt Nara-Narayana. This type of music is designed to make us forget austerity and the spiritual path. That’s not the kind of music we want.
“We should be careful not to be naive and to walk into things when we don’t understand all the implications. For example, we might think that the ‘be here now’ mood of Zen is nice and then suddenly find ourselves wading through an ocean of nirvisesa-sunyavadi philosophy. We have to be careful not to walk into big areas of maya without realizing what we are doing. Maya will capture us again and our ignorance will prove no excuse. At the same time, is it possible to see great artistic expression and claim it as territory for Krsna? It’s difficult because sometimes we are trapped by our self-created stereotypes. We may have to explode more and enter our own honest expression.”
“The free-writing process is an attempt to cut through. We usually don’t cut through before we hit an obstacle, so we have to report that honestly.
“I prefer it, this chipping away at the coverings of the self, the coverings of the universe. I also like to analyze everything against perfect sastra, but not forget the actual person who is trying to speak Krsna consciousness and improve his predicament. That’s why writing is bhajana and prayer and sadhana.
“The bench is within reach of Yamuna on her rope. She is getting closer as I write. I will have to abandon this spot or she will lick me up. Her eyes are covered with flies. She is only a few feet away from me now, chewing grass and snorting—snip, snip, snip, snort. Even if she doesn’t come right up to me, she distracts me. Plenty of flies. I can’t tolerate them as she does.
“It is all distraction really, all obstacles. It is our reality as conditioned souls. We cannot meditate, most of us, because dependent calves are coming toward us and enemy flies are tormenting us. But we stab at it and sometimes, even in the face of adversity, we are suddenly able to say something Krsna conscious even better than we would have been able to sitting quietly like old philosophers in our rooms.
“But some comfort is needed, some distance—at least we try to arrange it that way. Therefore a sage lives in a bhajana–kutir, and even a preacher resides in a temple if he can to save time to hear and chant. Going into the world is only for Krsna’s purpose. The point is to remember Krsna and serve Him wherever we are.”
“Prabhupada, this morning I read your
purport to api cet su-duracaro. I
intended to read only the verse,
wanted a darsana with Lord Krsna.
(Thought it would be more mystical
and prayer-like to read only the verse.
But I read your purport and I’m glad.)
You’ve engaged the whole man, body,
mind, intellect and soul. I want
darsana of Krsna through you.
“You want us to keep our vision
in Goloka but our feet on the ground—
so we can answer people’s questions
subdue our own doubts.
It’s mystical too, the mercy of
Lord Krsna—when our intelligence
stays fixed and we follow you
in your purports.
As if for the first time I read
about conditional and constitutional natures—
and how Lord Krsna forgives the devotee
when he makes a mistake.
Who would miss these words?
‘No one should take advantage
of this verse and commit nonsense
and think he is still a devotee.’”
“Whenever people ask me, ‘Are you ever afraid of your spiritual master?’ I always admit that I am. Fearing Prabhupada is like fearing God. It has its place in the life of every disciple, as long as it isn’t overdone. Perhaps there is an advanced stage where one becomes friendly with the spiritual master and doesn’t fear his displeasure, but at this point, I know my relationship with him is so crucial to my spiritual life that if I harmed it in any way, or risked his kicking me away, it would be suicidal.
“Srila Prabhupada was not whimsical. His show of anger toward a disciple was always for correction and was never a sign of his rejection. He showed annoyance for the same reasons he voiced encouragement—simply to teach the disciple how to behave. Prabhupada’s sarcasm or gestures of displeasure always battered the false ego, but by accepting them, one became more closely aligned as his sisya.
“I know my fear of Prabhupada is exaggerated. It will gradually clear. The bottom line is obedience to his order. It’s just so hard to determine exactly what his order is for all situations, in all times, and for all people. To know that, we can only pray that he reveal himself to us and again give us his words of encouragement or his little gestures of disapproval. In that knowledge of what he wants from us, we can pass beyond fear.
“‘Don’t come back to this nonsense world. Go to Krsna.’ I remember the way he said it in his strong, assured voice. I also remember that voice as he wrote his books, dictating them into his Uher dictaphone.”
“I saw the newspapers. The political cartoons show us a planet staggering under burdens it can never relieve itself of. The picture is getting darker. ‘Children Who Kill—Crime By Kids.’ Rape and murder. Terrorism. Nuclear proliferation. One nation after another exposed as chaotic, scandal-torn, desperate. No one can help. Everything is complicated and there are no dramatic or easy solutions. Idealogies crash against each other head on.
“I read it and think I am ineffectual against it. How can I help the world’s problems? If ISKCON is the answer, then what about the fact that ISKCON has its own problems? I can’t even accommodate all the different viewpoints in ISKCON. I can’t assimilate all their material, can’t sympathize with all their projects. It’s I who am ineffectual.
“For example, the new BTG has an excerpt from a book, Forbidden Archeology. I can’t assimilate it. An essay from the Sat-sandarbha about the Supersoul—too much for me. A picture of one devotee distributing food to the mentally ill. I can’t take time to read and think about the details of what all these devotees are doing. Then beyond ISKCON, the Balkans, “Vietnam, The New Tiger?” A cartoon: the map of India shaped like a dagger stabbing a man who lies dead. What does it mean? What can I do?
“I am speaking honestly of my feelings after a brush with world events. ISKCON devotees don’t usually read much about world politics. It’s all maya. The world needs Krsna consciouness, so we employ ourselves as simple workers to distribute Prabhupada’s books. Some equip themselves to speak more eloquently, but basically, all devotees hold the view that the world is a place of misery and we should engage ourselves and others in devotional service. Our movement is a small force in this world, but we don’t feel oppressed by that fact. We are assured that Krsna is pleased when we make the effort to serve Him.
“In my own preaching, which is directed toward devotees, I repeat the essential teachings: the main limbs of bhakti, chanting Hare Krsna, hearing about Krsna, and remembering Him, should be our main business. I don’t really confront the problem in the Balkans, but this is our response to those problems. I am satisfied to speak to the relatively small group of devotees. I don’t feel irrelevant or out of touch. Getting involved in material problems on the material level won’t solve anything.”
“I’m used to the surface of Vrndavana. It doesn’t disturb me much. Last night we got stopped in traffic jams one after another. One was at the railroad crossing. We waited. People kept crossing with their scooters and on foot, ducking under the barrier until the last minute when the locomotive came wheezing by with its big headlight. They lifted the barriers, and cars came forward on both sides with no organization or control. Then we got caught in a wedding procession. People lit up dozens of long fluorescent bulbs, and carts were decorated with ornate flashing lights. We took to a side street, but we couldn’t get the cows to move. Then there was a bus that couldn’t move. I didn’t mind so much. We went on talking.
People on foot make fun of us. Let them. It’s mild. We don’t get upset by the people we see here. It’s better than you-know-where.
In India, many people treat us as sadhus, priests. Not in the West. Some brothers said it’s good to get out of India and that role of seeing yourself as an honorable, brahminically superior person. Who touches a sannyasi’s feet in America?”
“Madhu, Nanda-kisora and I decided to visit the small, stone church reconstructed by young Francis and later turned over to Clare, who lived there for forty-one years with her nuns. We have met an Indian student, who is attending the University of Perugia. His family live near Hare Krsna Land in Bombay. He and Madhu talk, but not in the mood of trying to enter the spirit of the place where St. Clare died, or the ancient dining hall with the 700-year-old wooden benches and the inscription on the wall, ‘Silentium.’ A brown-robed Italian Franciscan wants to talk with Nanda. I’m on my own for a few minutes on this cold, stone bench.
“Ah, Francis, how you endured your austerities. How you punished your body (‘Brother Ass’), and how you finally attained liberation from all bodily demands and fears, even while you lived in the body. You prayed to know Christ’s sufferings and compassion as fully as possible, and it was granted to you. The only thing you couldn’t gain was the satisfaction of seeing your movement grow as you wanted it to. It became too institutionalized, too intellectualized, and too soft, but you accepted it as God’s will. Finally, in the end, you laid down on the earth surrounded by your brothers.
“I come here just like any other struggling pilgrim. I do not assume that I am liberated or pure. I cannot bless a holy place. I seek an inkling of how to serve my spiritual master, Stila Prabhupdda. My path is different from yours, yet the universal truth of it is the same.
“I suddenly become aware that the Indian student is speaking to me. He wants to know if I personally met—he can’t pronounce his name—Prabhupada. Yes, I did. Om ajnana-timirandhasya jnanajana-salakaya/ caksur unmilitam yena tasmai sri-gurave namah.”
“I like to think that if I can learn more about myself, and if I can learn to love and accept myself, then that will help me in my relationship with Srila Prabhupada. I want to communicate openly with Srila Prabhupada; I want to be his surrendered servant.
“I cannot become a surrendered servant by pounding myself into the ground like a wooden peg. And neither can another person pound me into loving surrender. I have to meet my needs. I need to serve my spiritual master. And I need to do it with self-knowledge.
“I remember things that Srila Prabhupada said to me and to others which seem to touch on these issues. When I admitted to him that I took credit for achievements in the Boston center and this made me feel vain, he replied, ‘That feeling you have, that “I am somebody” is not wrong. But you have a wrong concept of self. You have to learn who you are—you are the servant of Krsna.’
“I haven’t realized the full import of that statement, although I have always appreciated it. Prabhupada was acknowledging self-esteem. I like being a devotee of Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krsna. I like being who I am. I’m happy, and there¬fore I can appear happy before Srila Prabhupada. He wanted us to be ‘happies,’ not ‘hippies.’
“When Srila Prabhupada said, ‘If you love me, then I will love you,’ he was speaking of the need for communication. I still haven’t learned this lesson. Here Is Srila Prabhupada is meant to help, me learn the secrets of loving exchange with Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krsna.
“Statisticians estimate that the average person accomplishes only ten percent of his promises, is open to only ten percent of his emotions, and his heart is only ten percent alive with love. It is frightening to consider that I will miss out on so much in life. I have the greatest fortune to be linked to the Supreme Lord and to His best devotees, but if I give only ten percent of my love, that is the greatest misfortune.
“Krsna consciousness is about love. It is the art and science of love, not just ordinary love, but supreme love—love of God. Krsna loves us and He wants us to love Him, ‘Offer Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit . . . ‘ But I am not immersed in love. Therefore, my relationship with Krsna takes place through my connection with my spiritual master. I need to learn how to love Srila Prabhupada. When I know how to love him, then he will teach me how to love Krsna. I am groping towards this end.”
“You were alone in the city
where no one knew Krsna.
Only a backward boy came,
but Krsna in your heart
was your direct companion.
You had kept your courage on the lonely Atlantic,
and now alone in the ocean of vices.
The Lord protected you,
just as He protects the sages in the forest.
Loitering in neighborhoods
thinking how they could be transformed
for Krsna’s mission.
But it seemed impossible,
and you went to Scindia’s man
to ask when a ship was returning.
Still you extended your stay again:
‘Let me try a little longer.’
“Subway trains rumbled beneath your feet,
steel-reinforced concrete soared to the sky,
carcasses hung in the deli windows.
The laws of the streets,
the laws of the traffic
—rush or get run over.
The false sense of ‘Uptown Civilization,’
dignity for two-legged animals.
But then why are you here?
‘Now, because it is my duty.
I have brought some message for you people
as ordered by my spiritual master.’
“Charms to soothe the savage beast—
that soft jingling and your deep voice.
They quieted to see
how you were alone with Krsna.
They sat and watched.
Not caring to flatter,
you gave them devotional songs,
singing of madhurya-lila
beyond the ken of the listeners.
Your eyes closed in ecstasy.
You didn’t tell them to join,
but by a nod of the head
it would be nice to sing,
Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna,
Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare,
Hare Rama, Hare Rama,
Rama, Rama, Hare Hare.
And a few persons
casually joined in chorus.”
“Rush of head pressure. I have now outlined three upcoming lectures. That’s enough. Now rest. But the door opens and there’s something new to see—he is carrying something—now alone again.
“Tell what it is like living in this temple for a weekend. You get good drinking water in bottles. One man living here is Italian, and he says the Swiss devotees are conservative, even skeptical, and he has few friends.
“When I lecture, there is a man behind glass, like in a recording studio, who quickly translates my lecture into German. Anyone who wants can hear it on the earphones. Maybe he changes some of the words. How would I know?
“Gaura-Nitai, Jagannatha. Their clothes this morning were rainbow. Gaura-Nitai have very attractive smiles. I can’t describe it in words. Kind. The Lord in a turban, the Lord from Gaudadesa. I thought, ‘If you were in India, you would be nearer the land where it all happened, but maybe you wouldn’t feel any nearer. This temple can be just as near if you are devotional. You need to chant and to see the Lord in His element, the dhama. Pray to Him. He can reveal Himself to you anywhere.’ For some of us, we may feel more at home in a Western country, but if we are devotionally-minded, we are not really living in that country but in Vaikuntha. Srila Prabhupada said that. Is it like that here? Yes.”
“ . . . . I am writing in a script that is mysterious to them. The two boys say ‘Hare Krsna’ to dislodge me. We happen to be sitting by a tree where pilgrims circumambulate. I could try to outlast the curious boys, but I think I’ll go now.
“Now we’re a little further down and have stopped again. There is a clearing off the road with a Siva-linga on a platform. Squirrels are running around. To climb up, I reached for a tree trunk, but it was a cactus and pierced my finger. The squirrels are coming close to check me out. They are a little like the boys, distracting. If there were no distractions, what would I write?
“Krsna, You are here in these sacred places. We have no guide; we can’t find You. We don’t know what pastimes You performed in this place. All of Vraja is filled with the places of Your lila. You walked and played here, no doubt. Now it’s covered over. We are walking and chanting Hare Krsna here, hoping that something will be conveyed to us by the earth, trees, air, animals, and temples, and even by the seemingly ordinary people riding by on their ox-drawn carts or on their bicycles.
“I’m nursing the wound I got from the thorn bush. Sitting in a writer’s asana. Yes, it would be nice to hear the Lord’s pastimes in Vraja. That’s what makes an outing a significant spiritual experience. But if you chant and walk and see even ordinary sights in a receptive mood—a peacock, a pilgrim, the parikrama trail—so much can be understood.”
“It’s not a strain to praise.
It doesn’t have to be loud drums.
And you know you’ll be interrupted
by questions and weather and someone
will drive up in a little white car.
But you will go on praising.
You have just heard the music of his childhood—
he rode on his bicycle
down Harrison road to the Maidan,
then back along the Hooghly River.
The music of his childhood ended
with the death of his mother
when he was only 16 years old, and his father told him
it has happened by Krsna’s will.
We listened with not much to say—
a Muslim chased young Abhay with a knife.
We listened in the quiet room.
“Now I’m on the porch facing rain,
the trees are used to it.
This present moment is somehow connected
to those Calcutta times a hundred years ago.
No T.V. here, no ruckus times,
but this nightly entertainment.
It’s not a strain to praise.”
“My dear Lord Krsna,
“ . . . I began this prayer, ‘Please let me gain in strength and happiness.’ I need more of these. I am basically rightly situated, but I want to be physically and spiritually stronger. I am happy with my quiet life, but I would like to be more spiritually advanced and blissful. I have come through bad times, and I am doing all right. But I would like to be better, that’s all. I would like to be free of daily headaches and more confident about my position. I’m content, but a devotee should be blissful. This will come when I get more taste from my japa and my satisfaction with preaching, writing books on the Internet and meeting with devotees. Please help me to grow strong and happy in my last years so that I will please You more before I have to leave this world.
“I keep petitioning You for the same things—more taste and discipline in japa, more compassion and energy in preaching, and so on. I wonder if You get tired of my pleas and think, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’ In fact there are five most potent practices in devotional service that are repeated and asked for by devotees: (1) chanting Hare Krsna; (2) reading Srimad-Bhagavatam; (3) associating with devotees; (4) residing at Mathura; and (5) worshiping the Deity. Do You mind that I repeatedly ask for Your grace in attaining strength in these practices? I think You want to help me become a better devotee, but You want to see me strive to attain devotional service. What is the balance between attaining Your causeless mercy and working for it?
“I think none of these things can be attained without Your mercy. But especially in the beginning stage of vaidhi bhakti, following the rules and regulations and obeying the spiritual master, our own will is prominent. There have been rare cases where devotees have been granted large amounts of Your mercy without working in devotional service, but they are exceptional. Kamsa and Hiranyakasipu were Your avowed enemies and tried to kill You, as did other demons, but they were personally killed by You and attained a kind of liberation. It is more common that You give a boost to sincere devotees who are striving to please You.
“I have a small degree of free will, and when You see that I am using it to engage in the five potent practices of bhakti, You will be inclined to help. Unless You help, we cannot attain prema by our own endeavor. And so the prayers and pleas for help are not out of order or are necessarily ill-motivated. They are not necessarily bargaining for cheap grace. What is the right balance? I believe it is an all-out endeavor accompanied by a feeling of helplessness. This is Rupa Gosvami’s famous Great Hope, or ‘hope against hope.’ I feel I am unqualified in so many ways, but I maintain a hope of achieving You, ‘and this hope is giving me great pain.’ Describing the mind of a sincere devotee, Prabhupada writes, ‘Because I am trying my best to follow the routine principles of devotional service, I am sure that I will go back to Godhead, back to home.’ (The Nectar of Devotion, 1970 edition, p. 137) This is the optimistic expression of the balance between hard work and Your mercy.
“And so I repeatedly ask for Your mercy and go on doing my duties without certainty of my outcome, but with hope. I don’t think You are annoyed by the repetition of my petitions as long as I continue to strive. And I ask You to help me to strive better and exercise my free will more fully in Your service.”
“Oh, I am much better than the flies. I may even be above kanistha-adhikari. I may be a madhyama-adhikari. I may be in the namabhasa stage of japa. I do have a bona fide spiritual master, and that’s much more than the flies have. They know only eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. And yet, as Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes in his commentary to the trnad api sunicena verse, grass and creatures like grass have a modest sense of ego whereas human beings are puffed-up way out of proportion. We tend to think we are the center of existence. Lord Caitanya advises us to be more like a blade of grass. Use human intelligence to become more modest and humble than the grass.
“Being puffed-up that I have a guru and the fly doesn’t is not good. It’s like the petty clerk who is abused by his supervisor in the office, so he comes home and kicks his cat. I’m surly because I can’t understand so many things. I am out here to write it out. But the flies plague me, so I write against them. We humans have tender skins.
“I have a hunch about my shortcomings. It is psychological—I simply can’t admit all my shortcomings at once and then take steps to rectify them. I can admit my wrongs, but no one else can tell me about them. I don’t want to hear about it from someone else. I’m proud.
“Sadhus speak words to cut us from our attachments. They are trying to save us from the pain of repeated birth and death, but they can only save those who submit to them. Their help may sometimes be painful and even appear violent, but their cutting is surgery. It requires expertise. These days, everyone tries to undergo surgery under anesthesia. They don’t want to feel anything. Anyway, best to take to prevention before it comes down to the knife.
“The acaryas are also encouraging. Srila Prabhupada said that they were eighty percent lenient. They beckon us forward. They offer the milk of Krsna’s sweetness and then urge us to come and partake. Their medicine is mostly sweet, but sometimes they offer us bitter Ayurvedic potions as well. A half-austerity, but not too much. Srila Prabhupada said, ‘If I told you everything at once [all the rules and practices required for vaidhi-bhakti], you would faint.’”
“We’ve paid for our ticket for the tunnel to England but have pulled over into a parking lot. Madhu wanted to sleep but he can’t. He’s out walking, looking into a shop just to exercise and keep awake. I was reading the book on nutrition, but I don’t want to push myself on that either. I know it would be better to read direct Krsna consciousness but I’m avoiding it.
“This is the time when I’m usually beginning the Prabhupada murti puja. I ask him to please excuse us, we can’t do it today due to travel. Otherwise we would be taking off his dress, giving him a massage. If I have enough presence of mind, I can think about doing it. He’ll accept it that way. Within a few minutes when Madhu comes back, we’ll approach our exit from France and our entry into England. I said to Madhu that if I feel it’s tedious, I can remember how in some places you risk your life to cross the border. He remarked that also in some countries they’re simply trying to shake you down for money at the border, where at least here there’s a sub-religious principle involved protecting the country from drug smuggling and so on.
“We are in merry old gray England. Stopped at ‘Welcome Break’ parking spot. The few scrawny trees are blowing in the wind, sprinkles of rain. Right now, Madhu’s in using the bathroom in their building. While our lunch is warming up, Prabhupada sits unstrapped after so many miles through France, where he had to stay tight. At least we’re able to offer him food and absolve ourselves from sin.
“The last hour I laid half-reclined on my back in the van in darkness. Letting thoughts gently flow as they came and went. Some were about what I would do when we get to Manu’s house. I was thinking, ‘Of course, I will be going to the temple and giving lectures, if Krsna desires.’ That will determine my pace. As for writing, I think I’ll just write. That is, a free-flowing diary with no obligations. The hope is that by doing it you will gradually slide down into deep concerns that come without being pressured by any performance, even the performance of ‘timed free-writing,’ or the pressure of art, and so on. It may be art, it may be free-writing, it may be whatever. Just write.
“While lying on my back I also chanted Hare Krsna.
“Enjoy these blessed days of life given to you. Pray to Krsna.
“I’ll be reading Srimad-Bhagavatam continuously from where I am in the Sixth Canto and figure a way to read Caitanya-caritamrta. Maybe devotees can come by from time to time and read out loud to me.
“Scene from back in France: After we purchased our ticket, we parked in a parking lot. Madhu was pasting on the front of the van a recently bought new light gadget. I was standing outside doing a few exercises but feeling a little too chilly. In the distance a laborer was pulling pieces of junk out of a metal bin. In the further distance was a big theater showing the film Le Jaguar. At that point it was a sunny day. A moment in time. Changing places . . .
“At Elf Petrol station. Video outside showing games you can play and Coke, Coca-Cola. No electric doors there. Sunglasses for a rainy day. Red-headed woman in black.
“Traffic a few yards away – whoosh, trucks, cars, I look down to this notepad.
“M. put washing-up liquid on the windshield because the van ran out of water which squirts onto windshield, and he didn’t know where to fill it.
“Weird video commercial for Yorkie candy bar – a guy pursued by cops. He hides in the body of a scarecrow. They chop the head off but he had ducked just below it. They leave and he pops up his head and bites from the candy bar. Subtitle: “Yorkie, to be continued.” Like a dream. Ingest it and you’ll have it on your mind. Better to think of Narada, chant Hare Krsna, look down at this grid notepad. Pick up your beads.
“Drive a few more hours today toward Liverpool. Trying to catch the 10 A.M. ferry tomorrow although we don’t have reservations. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare.
“What if you worked in there? M. is waiting to pay for petrol.
“Hare Krsna Hare Krsna. Same stuff on video every five minutes – I’ve seen the Yorkie ad twice and the ad for the mints and the kid playing the piano for another candy bar.
“The highway belt around the city of London is undergoing a process of widening for one more lane which is announced to cost ninety-four million pounds. It’s being done by the Balfour Beatty Construction crew. Many miles of workmen and huge trucks laboring, flashing lights, delaying the traffic. M. said when the belt around London first opened up it had two lanes and from the very first day it was a traffic jam. Years later they added another lane and now a fourth.
“I couldn’t take it any longer up front and have come back for refuge in the dark.
“We’ve stopped somewhere between Birmingham and south of Liverpool, at a petrol station. Madhu says we’ll stay here overnight. We’ve finished driving for the day. We started at 4 A.M., stopping at 4:45 P.M. I thank you, my dear body, for holding up nicely today and not getting a headache. I hope you’ll have a peaceful rest overnight and take one more of travel, then I promise I’ll give you ease and regularity at Manu’s house. Thank you for pulling along with us. I try to make you happy so you can serve Krsna.
“Don’t be selfish, serve others. Do it in the way you can.
“Be kind to others, starting with those around you and reach as far as you can.
“But you have to die just like everybody’s father and mother and like everybody who has died. Ahany ahani bhutani gacchantiha yamalayam.
“Using writing to pray and help yourself. We are parked. Noise: attendant banging on the van at 8:30 P.M., says we have to pay to stay all night. M. pays, doors slam. All night cars passing me by. Cold but I’m snug with a hot water bottle and sleeping bag zipped all the way up with hood and wearing warm clothes.
“Third day beginning with no headache, let’s see. Don’t be afraid of it if it comes. Let’s enter the life of chanting and hearing today and always. You could improve very much. You could or someone could change in consciousness and see everyone as non-offender. Don’t find fault with M. for not buying a parking space sticker in advance, don’t find fault with the attendant who knocked on the van, no ninda toward anyone in the world. That’s maha-bhagavata vision and can’t be imitated. The preacher sees differences. But ‘panditah sama darsanah.’
“Dear self, soul, please be inclined to Krsna consciousness. Let’s chant now. (What you write ahead, you don’t know. What’s ahead you don’t know. Please go into sastra, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Caitanya-caritamrta and Gita.)
“Stranraer, Scotland. We’re parked now at the dock waiting for our boat to come in. Departure schedule is in two and a half hours. Madhu talking with the man at the gate about the superiority of American Ford vans. The gate man includes the young lady in the conversation saying, ‘You could use one like this.’ She smirks coyly. I sit in my seat keeping a little apart from it all, but when the chit-chat is over, I join in with ‘Goodbye,’ while Madhu says, ‘God bless.’
“And so . . . one doesn’t have much to say. Tired, a little depressed at lack of Krsna consciousness, that’s maybe because of a lack of Krsna conscious intake recently, no daily reading.
“Departure now fifteen minutes late. Captain announced that a crane attached to the ferryboat is now stuck to a large container it was trying to lift. ‘Technicians are at work trying to free it. I hope this will not inconvenience you too much.’ We thought we were hunky-dory in our front row seats in the video-watching section. How long will the delay be? And when the crane gets unstuck, will everything else go okay on our journey?
“We’ll be late arriving at Manu’s house. Maybe a few devotees will be standing around waiting. Sorry. ‘Na’ a ba’ day, i’nt it?’ said a Stena worker to us when he took our tickets. The sea appears calm, sky partly blue.
“Now the captain says they’ve solved the problem, and we’ll be leaving twenty minutes late and in the unlikely event of emergency, this is what to do.
“Reminds me, I’d like to travel with a lifejacket in the rowboat across the channel to Inis Rath, but they might consider it silly if I ask for it.
“‘When you hear the signal, return immediately to your seat. Please remain calm at all times. If necessary, a life jacket . . . jackets for children . . . re-evacuation . . . thank you.’
“The dirty old seagull
sits watching ferry out of
side of his eye, the
clean gray-white seagull
he is, millions of species apart
from me, natural in his feet,
no headache complaints
or painkillers…but I’m in an advanced position to
Fie on you, human atheist,
I wish you’d change.
“I’m waiting to tell you, dear reader, that this Stena ferry has finally pushed off from the dock. I’ll write it down as soon as it occurs. The engine is rumbling. A woman’s voice is too low on the loudspeaker, saying something . . . low green hills of Scotland.
“ . . . Thank you.”
“Madhu is chanting rounds.
“Now the P.A. system is announcing the exact same videotape announcement they made about three minutes ago. It is several minutes long and tedious to hear again. ‘Please remain calm at all times’ is probably worth hearing again. “If you have any further questions…”
“Yes, we are going to Geaglum and plan to live there. Set Srila Prabhupada murti on a long, low table, these photos and Lord Jagannatha. Ferry engine rumblings. Every few seconds I look out the window to write, but still we are land-bound. The sea and sky are still calm. The captain said weather conditions were ‘excellent.’ And now we are moving, a half-hour late. No big deal.
“Muscle belly, don’t be nervous, read your book on nutrition.
“Krsna Krsna, I wish to see You, set up a routine at Geaglum to immerse in sastra.
“From Nourishing Wisdom – there is no perfect diet or perfect death (I mean no immortality). I say okay and let yourself do a little of what you want. Relax. He says you can release toxins by anxiety of repressing the desire to eat a ‘forbidden’ food. What about other things forbidden? Also, he says if you restrain out of fear, that’s no good. Allow yourself to experiment how much chocolate (or whatever) you want and find your own boundaries.
“I applied that to music listening. I have a small stash (periodically destroyed or rejected) of non-direct Krsna conscious music—now Bach is a favorite and one Paul Desmond tape. I listened to fifteen minutes of each. It was nice. I don’t want more. I don’t want to binge. But I can’t go without it entirely and be relaxed. I’m not perfect – that I have an entirely higher taste only for kirtanas. Also, I do hear ‘Krsna’ in the works of Bach.
“Boat ride of ninety minutes (plus a half-hour sitting in delay) goes by that way.
“Some guys were sitting behind us talking loudly and the video sound in front of us and the video game noise to the left, occasionally girls’ laughter – the chosen private music took me away from this immediate distraction.
“M. with his finger on verses in his book that he is memorizing. How dearly, valiantly he does his service, driving these long three days. You can say, ‘He can do it, he’s an ex-truck driver.” But he’s doing it for Krsna and I can do it too, write.
“Last lines of this little book now. May Supersoul take me to the next something, cruise along daily, day by day, no form or if He likes, some direct thing to teach devotees.
“Boat slow now in the channel.”
END OF MY PURPOSE AT ISOLA DI ALBARELLA