I received another letter from a devotee who’s divorced. The premise of their marriage was that the nondevotee would become a devotee by the good example and preaching of the devotee—but it didn’t work out. Prabhupada tolerated divorce especially in the West, for it was so common; he continued to accept the service of both partners if they continued to practice Krsna consciousness. In the beginning Prabhupada used to participate in marrying devotee couples, but after some years, when he saw them divorce, he became disgusted and made himself aloof from marrying. In some sections the partners agree on how many times they’ll have sex in a month (beyond the strict order to do it only to raise Krsna conscious children), and they consider that compromise their vow of austerity. Some people consider this a small sin compared to going outside the marriage. For me, I prefer not to be dragged into bedroom politics. I prefer to just recommend Prabhupada’s original intentions.
New York City and Boston were hit with 24 inches of snow. Since there was no place for the plows to push the snow, they had to load it in trucks and drop it in the river. The governor declared a state of emergency; he told everyone to stay at home. All the trains were shut down. In our neighborhood in upstate New York, our neighbors volunteered, and with their plow trucks, cleared our driveways and entrances so that we could get out for emergencies like going to see doctors. In reciprocation, we gave the plow men loads of homemade bread, cookies, chocolate from Italy, and jam (which we get by trading with the local jam factory). It is a nice opportunity to distribute krsna-prasadam. In addition to the plow trucks, Bala and Baladeva had to do a lot of work manually with shovels, clearing the cars and pathways.
In the spiritual world there is snow, but I heard that “Prabhupada said” it is not cold. We don’t hear of laborious snow shoveling or plowing there.
Snowstorms are one of the material miseries known as adhidaivic, or caused by natural disturbances instigated by the demigods. Digging out from snowstorms and enduring the cold weather make us detached from living in the material world.
We finally cleaned up after the snowstorm. We are the only ones in our neighborhood who do not have a snowblower. Baladeva had to do all the work manually, clearing our walkways, paths and driveways heavily packed with snow from the big plow trucks on the roadfront. He says he is finished his shoveling career. He wants a snowblower for his next birthday present.
I received good news from Ananda Kisora and Jaya Govinda in Italy. They have obtained fifteen packets of the last four published books (a total of 60 books), that they intend to sell as sets. They have already distributed six sets of these books to various devotees. One set of books they distributed free to a traveling brahmacari party, which is a very enlivening example to me. This example can be followed by giving books to devotees who don’t have money, and to libraries, etc. I am happy that Ananda Kisora and Jaya Govinda have taken on this responsibility. The four books are Meditations and Poems, Daily Compositions, Kaleidoscope, and Seeking New Land.
I received a green light from Dr. McPherson, who performed the two surgeries for cataracts in both my eyes, to go ahead and get prescriptions for new eyeglasses from the optometrist, Mr. Goodrich. I went to see him yesterday, ordered new glasses and picked out the frames. He said I will end up with 20/20 vision in one eye and 20/30 vision in the other eye. He considers my procedures a success. Now I have to wait a week before actually getting new eyeglasses. In the meantime, I cannot use my old eyeglasses, and the reading glasses can only be used in a limited way, to read enlarged print up close. The whole process of getting surgery in two eyes and healing has been a ten-week saga. Fortunately, I won’t have to go through it again.
In our out-loud reading group, we finished Caitanya-caritamrta, including the “Concluding Words,” then voted for the next book. The vote came out two in favor of The Nectar of Devotion, one in favor of Brhad-Bhagavatamrta and one in favor of Srimad-Bhagavatam. So we began yesterday reading the Preface to NOD. In the Preface, Prabhupada writes that The Nectar of Devotion is intended for the members of the Krsna consciousness movement. And when it first came out the members were in ecstasy to receive this book. We had heard before, by word of mouth, about details of Deity worship and Vaisnava behavior, how Prabhupada had said that if he told us everything about Vaisnava behavior, we would “faint.” But with the publishing of NOD, we had the “faint book” in black and white. Prabhupada writes in the Preface that many organizations are speaking of love, but they’re missing the point. The central point of all love is Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Lord Caitanya personally taught Raghunatha dasa Gosvami that as a person in the renounced order he should not hanker after palatable dishes. But Lord Caitanya and His followers ate food cooked in ghee, and they ate up to the neck. This appears to be a contradiction. But if the food is lovingly offered to Krsna and we take the remnants, it is part of devotional service. In the Hari-bhakti-vilasa it is stated that the Deity should be fed food cooked sumptuously in ghee. Even on the higher planets, the society girl Urvasi agreed to marry an earthling, Pururaga, but on the condition that all her food would be cooked in ghee. In Viraha Bhavan we have many, many Deities, and we cook their preparations in ghee. Their remnants are eaten by the devotees in the ashram. This appears to be another contradiction from Lord Caitanya’s instructions to Raghunatha dasa Gosvami. Prabhupada advised us to take nice prasadam, but not too much. In the beginning, in 1966, Prabhupada told the newcomers to ,”Eat more, eat more!” and he allowed Stryadhisa to eat 18 chapatis. But as the years went by, he taught us to control our tongues. Prabhupada wrote in a purport to Lord Caitanya’s teachings to Raghunatha dasa that if one can’t control his tongue, then all the other senses will be agitated.
Ramacandra Puri was a disciple of Madhavendra Puri, but he was a latent impersonalist. He approached his spiritual master when Madhavendra Puri was lamenting with feelings of separation from Krsna. Ramacandra Puri admonished his guru and told him, “Why are you sad? You should be happy in impersonal Brahman.” When he said this, his spiritual master became very angry. He told Ramacandra Puri to get out of his sight. He didn’t want to die seeing the face of this offender. By contrast, Madhavendra’s disciple Isvara Puri was loyal and affectionate to his spiritual master up until the end. He cleaned up his guru’s stool and urine and encouraged him in his mood of separation. In reciprocation, Madhavendra Puri blessed Isvara Puri to be a great devotee.
By his criticism of his guru, Ramacandra Puri fell down. He came to Jagannatha Puri and began criticizing all the followers of Lord Caitanya. He even criticized the Lord Himself. He would induce the devotees to eat extra amounts, and then he would criticize them for overeating. He even did this to Lord Caitanya, although the Lord committed no offense of overeating. But the Lord took it seriously and reduced His eating to one half. The Lord’s associates felt as if a thunderbolt had hit their heads. Lord Caitanya had heard of Ramacandra Puri’s criticizing His associates, but then one day Ramacandra entered Lord Caitanya’s room and saw ants crawling around on the floor. He declared, “This sannyasi has been eating sweets here. He is breaking the principles of renunciation.” Everyone knows that ants run here and there, but Lord Caitanya took the criticism seriously and again reduced His eating to half the amount. The Lord’s followers then reduced their own eating. When Ramacandra Puri saw that the Lord and His associates had cut their eating to half, he then criticized them for unnecessary fasting. He said this was another fault in their practice.
“After some days Ramacandra Puri left Jagannatha Puri to tour other holy places. The devotees of Lord Caitanya became joyful again. The Lord resumed His normal eating, chanting and dancing. These incidences show Madhavendra Puri’s dealings with different disciples, and they also show Lord Caitanya’s different dealings. By criticizing his guru, Ramacandra Puri fell down, and by serving his guru faithfully, Isvara Puri was blessed to become an empowered devotee. Lord Caitanya sometimes treated Ramacandra Puri obediently because he was a disciple of Madhavendra Puri, but sometimes He treated him like a straw.
Lord Caitanya would not hear any poems or dramas about Krsna unless they were approved and authorized by His secretary Svarupa Damodara. Svarupa Damodara could detect whether any writings contained rasa-bhasa, or unfavorable overlapping mellows. Lord Caitanya liked to hear the poems of Vidyapati, Candidasa, Jayadeva’s Gita-govinda, and talks and answers by Ramananda Raya. He also liked to hear the Krsna-karnamrta by Bilvamangala Thakura. Hearing these gave Him great solace when He was in separation from Krsna. He heard them from His intimate devotees Svarupa Damodara and Ramananda Raya. He set the example for all devotees that we should not listen to unauthorized pastimes of Lord Caitanya. Vrndavana dasa Thakura’s Caitanya-bhagavata and Krsnadasa Kaviraja’s Caitanya-caritamrta are the topmost true biographies of the Lord. Although these two books are authorized, many academic scholars consider them mythology because they appear so fantastic. Krsnadasa Kaviraja says he doesn’t care for the opinions of the mundane scholars; he only writes what he has read in the diaries of Svarupa Damodara, and the discourses of Raghunatha dasa Gosvami. These two were both eyewitnesses to the pastimes of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Prabhupada personally handed me my danda from the vyasasana at the 1972 sannyasa initiation ceremony and said, “Preach! Preach! Preach!” I was proud and enthusiastic to carry it in the temples and on the streets. Then one year I was distributing Back to Godheads in front of a store in Tucson, Arizona. The storeowner became enraged and came running out calling me a commie, a fag, etc. He grabbed my big danda out of my hands and beat me on the head with it, breaking the danda in several pieces. I tried to stop a policeman to tell him I had been assaulted, but he wouldn’t help. After that, I became less enthusiastic to carry a danda in public. But I kept one with me, and carried it in the temples. Some years later I stopped carrying it. Now I have one danda “retired” in my room just to prove I am a sannyasi. But I’ve heard you’re supposed to carry the danda for ten years, and then after that you put it aside.
Our two permanent inmates, Bala dasa and his wife Krsna dasi, are from Trinidad. We call them tropical birds. In their home country they are known as “Trini to the bone.” They’re used to living in a tropical climate with plenty of mangoes and other fruits available. Most of the Trinidadians have a laid-back attitude. Our tropical birds have given up all their cultural comforts to come and live with their Guru Maharaja in upstate New York. Now it’s wintertime, very frigid, and is a considerable austerity for them. They wear extra-heavy winter clothes, and in the morning they warm the car up and then drive from their house (which Saci Suta gave them to use). They are doing their best to be upbeat in the land of no sun and zero-degree temperatures. They pretty much have a transcendental attitude towards it and are satisfied to live in their guru’s ashram. Krsna dasi is the head pujari, and she is fully occupied taking care of many Deities and sticking to a high standard of worship. Bala cooks every day. They have sacrificed their extended family social network, which they had in Trinidad, and even in Queens, where there are so many Trinidad devotees. They keep contact by many phone calls. On the whole, the four of us at Viraha Bhavan are content, and we’re eagerly looking forward to spring, which comes in a few months and will bring relief with warmer weather, open windows, chirping birds and flowers. And sunny days.
In our out-loud reading we read a purport about Haridasa Thakura. He told Lord Caitanya that he was ill and not able to chant his usual quota of 300,000 names a day. Prabhupada writes that if someone cannot keep up their quota they are in a diseased state. The devotees in ISKCON are given a minimum quota of only sixteen rounds, which everyone should have time to finish.
When we read this passage, the Trini devotees snickered at Baladeva because they know he fails to keep up his quota of rounds. Later Baladeva admonished them. He said he has to do all the shopping and errands, and he doesn’t have time to complete his sixteen rounds. He told them they had to help out and share some of the shopping and other household duties. I agree with Baladeva and empathize with the serious lacking he is undergoing in failing to do all his rounds. It’s the most important instruction of the spiritual master, and we should all cooperate to help him get time to finish his quota. So let’s see if the others can surrender and give him some relief to practice this basic sadhana.
Yesterday I heard a lecture by Prabhupada in 1972 in Los Angeles. The subject matter was very basic. One has to be alert and submissive not to think he is speaking on the same topics repeatedly. The danger is to think Prabhupada is speaking on the same old thing, and one wants to go outside of his teachings to hear a higher taste. Prabhupada deliberately hammered away at basic Krsna conscious topics because his devotees were so much in the Western mindset and needed to hear again and again. The arguments against the Mayavadis, the importance of following the four prohibitive rules against sin, the necessity to chant the glorious holy names, the need to hear from the pure devotee spiritual master, etc. Prabhupada also wrote about higher topics like Krsna, Radha and the gopis in the Caitanya-caritamrta and the Krsna book, but he was always cautious in how he presented it so no one would think these were material subject matters.
I heard a lecture by a devotee speaking about Vraja. He seemed to be speaking jana-pramana, “the truth of what the people say.” The story was that King Kamsa turned himself into a woman and entered Vrndavana, but once there he immediately felt so uncomfortable and out of place that he begged to be turned back into a man. He went to Srimati Radharani and asked Her to do him this favor. She said, “I can do it, but you must solemnly promise never try to come back to Vrndavana and never give any trouble to Krsna.” Kamsa, in the form of a woman, was desperate to return to being a male, and he agreed to Radharani’s conditions. The speaker of this lila told it in a lighthearted way, making jokes at Kamsa’s expense. Radharani told Kamsa to go to a certain kunda and wash his hands there. He did it and was transformed back into the body of a male. His horses neighed happily. He jumped onto the back of one and said, “Let’s get out of here!”
I don’t like to tell lila that is jana-pramana because it’s not strictly authentic or Vedic proof. But I must admit I enjoyed hearing the tale, although I would never speak it myself. When Lord Caitanya gave Jagadananda permission to visit Vrndavana, He told him not to associate with the residents of Vraja because they were on a different level from him. The residents of Vraja spoke all jana- pramana, and Lord Caitanya didn’t want His disciple Jagadananda to hear those kinds of pastimes.
“In his room in Mayapur: Srila Prabhupada, you could always tell me what to do, and I was satisfied to leave this room and carry it out. I am still that way. I felt so solidly assured when you gave me orders.
“Here is your old Grundig dictaphone. You played it for me one morning and I heard your purport here in this room.
“You are sitting here now. You wear no kurta, just your sannyasa top piece. You are the same Srila Prabhupada we surrendered to so long ago. Now you are in your India in 1974, and we are trying to catch up to you, trying not to be overwhelmed by peer pressure.
“Krsna book is open before you on your desk. When I entered the room tonight, a boy was pacing back and forth loudly chanting japa, oblivious to your presence. True, he had found a good, secluded place for chanting, but this is your room. I told him, ‘Be quiet here and feel Srila Prabhupada’s presence.’
“Here is the kerosene lamp we used to light when the electric lights went out. Jananivasa will soon be up with frankincense burning in a clay pot. He comes every evening.
“Srila Prabhupada, I used to come here many times, relatively speaking, and find you here. I squeezed in with my Godbrothers to hear you speak. You told me to take charge of BTG magazine, to take a GBC zone in one part of America, to distribute your books to the colleges. Here I witnessed the tense scene between Tamal Krsna Goswami’s bus party and the American grhasthas. This is your room, and you stayed here during the international festivals for four consecutive years.
“But things have changed. Now a boy can walk back and forth in front of your murti, chanting loudly, and you don’t tell him to stop.
“You are with us, Srila Prabhupada. I come and sit silently and put my question to you—I don’t even form it into words. I am here for you.
“A bell and voices are approaching. It is time to do the puja. I have heard it is to drive out ghosts. Maybe mine will get chased out too, and you will see me more clearly through the frankincense smoke.
“Was I actually your personal servant in 1974? Was I so fortunate? I stood at the rail outside, and Nanda-kumara advised me to never leave your service.
“I didn’t even notice, but you are facing the bas-relief wooden sculpture of Radha and Krsna. They are together in the wood. She holds His flute, His arm around Her. A fresh garland of flowers is carved around Them.”
“Up the incline we go, into the mountains. Gray rock outcroppings. Ah, there’s one of those old Spanish towns in a valley, buildings tightly grouped around the stone church, and all of the same earthen color. If I could look closer, I might see a stork’s nest on the steeple.
“La Concha del Barbera. Valleys. Any little patch of land and someone’s growing olives. Bright, silver towers carry the cables. Now we’re coasting down a long hill (good for saving diesel, of which we have little). The red-white wind bag is limp. Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna. No frankfurters for lunch like the rest of Spain. Thou shalt not kill.
“Lunch today was the same as yesterday, couscous with red sauce, zucchini, halava, and sweet rice—and all just as delicious as yesterday. While honoring the prasadam under Prabhupada’s gaze, I heard him speak to devotees in New Vrindaban in 1969: ‘For the Vaisnava there is one qualification, poetic. . . . Everyone should be poetic. . . . But that poetry, that poetry language, should be simply to glorify the Lord.’
“Read tonight in Transcendental Diary, Srila Prabhupada correcting a disciple who objected to the forceful methods of book distribution. Don’t be a better moralist than your spiritual master. ‘My order is to distribute books,’ Prabhupada asserted, and those who carry out that order are faithful. Those who become big moralists and don’t do book distribution are not in a better position.”
“I acknowledge that my japa is the ‘weak sister’ in my sadhana, and yet it is the most important. My writing tendency is strong, and my ability to read with concentration is not so bad when compared with my japa. I am proposing that I take three weeks out in Italy to improve my chanting of the holy names. Writing can help my japa. This is the inspiration behind keeping this notebook.
“This morning I was chanting japa with the usual inattention and lack of taste, but then suddenly I had a feeling of meeting the holy names for a few moments. I have always liked chanting japa. It has been a strong element in my sadhana. Or rather, I have always liked the idea of solitary nama-bhajana and the simplicity and beauty of this form of bhakti¬yoga.
“It is difficult to express exactly what my friendly meeting with harer-nama was like this morning, but it went something like this:
“Me: ‘My dear Harer Nama, we have known each other for many years. It will be a great shame if I don’t develop love for You and don’t allow You to pervade my life.’
“Harer-nama: ‘Learning to love Me means you have to pay specific attention. I am Krsna. My form, qualities, and pastimes are nondifferent from Me.”
“There was a little more to it than that—the moment eludes me now—but I felt like the holy name was inviting me to recognize that I have let my relationship with Him dwindle down to a poor state.
“So here I am, planning three weeks in Italy to simply try and re-establish a strong relationship with harer-nama. I plan to chant at least thirty-two rounds a day, to read relevant sastras on chanting, and to keep this journal. The Hare Krsna mantra is Radha and Krsna. I am meant to chant it in spontaneous love for Them rather than as a mechanical duty. I need the Name’s mercy: ‘Please grant me devotion to You.’
“I cannot write my way through this attempt at praying for devotion; the notebook is just a reminder, a helper, and a place to report and think out my japa life.”
Steel drawbridge like a closed curtain in a theater. It lowers. We see daylight. Enter Ireland. Passport control. The road. Gorse in full bloom. I realize that life in the front of the van is also life. It’s not just going somewhere and thinking of what you will be—it’s now, traveling, this life today, as good as tomorrow. In other words, today I promise to be more Krsna conscious and tomorrow I will try harder.
“I just saw Clare Island off Clew Bay.
That sight is an inconceivable glory of God.
Dawn comes over a peak as if
there were a big fire on the other side.”
“The amazing clutter of our possessions clouds my consciousness. Madhu brought over the seven steel trunks we had stored for two years at Baladeva’s house. We stored them at a time when we were still planning to spend a lot of time in Vrndavana. Since then, we have begun to live out of the van. Madhu suggests we clean out the trunks and get rid of what we don’t need. He put them on the porch for me to rummage through, and now my brain is cluttered.
“We had stored dozens of votive candles—I use them in the morning when I chant—but all that was left was a lump of wax. They seem to have melted during the summer heat. And so many pens! How could I possibly use them all? One doesn’t think of coming to Vrndavana to become absorbed in such an inventory. What can it possibly have to do with simple sadhu life? I can’t even use the porch now because the contents of the trunks have all been placed in jumbled piles—what we’re keeping, what we’re getting rid of.
O crows and parrots and
pigeons of Bhauma Vrndavana,
so-called sadhu yearns for
he wants to be simple.
“The old trees in Vrndavana and me out there in what we used to call Raman Reti. That small, sandy field is now walled in with bricks. It’s no longer a public thoroughfare or place to sit. I wonder who owns it?
“But how can anyone be said to own a piece of Vrndavana? Is this land just real estate?
“Painted sign on wall: ‘Sri Radha—Never Forget.’”
“I just read a verse praising Srila Prabhupada. It said that he preaches in the most populous cities and doesn’t hide in the countryside for his personal benefit. Another verse praised him as the inspiration for preachers, and another said Prabhupada is the life of those who quietly practice Krsna consciousness. He is for all of us; we have to please him.
“Just see that sentence, ‘We have to please him.’ It becomes a truism. Or it sounds devoid of joy or spontaneity. I don’t mean it that way, although I use that phrase often. Writers often expect others to know what they intend by their sometimes repetitive phrases. Unfortunately, whatever dullness I have comes through in my writing. We have to please him. I wouldn’t want that to be taken like those announcements made after mangala-arati, or like the pledge of allegiance to the United States. Am I perpetrating some of the same, Prabhupada allegiance truisms?
“Actually, sometimes I am tired, not in spirit, but somewhere beyond the body. It is the tiredness of a so-called sadhaka whose practice slips down into the modes of nature. I once called this ‘H.D. Disease’—half-dead disease.
“Life is what characterizes the pure devotees’ love for Krsna-intense life. You have to be vulnerable to Krsna’s hurting you, neglecting you. You have to love Him. Did you ever love anyone? Are you too bound up to love even God?
“The Vrajavasis are willing to be hurt. They give themselves completely. Rupa Gosvami warns us, ‘If you are not prepare to lose all taste and standing in material happiness, then do not go to see Govinda at Vamsivata.’ I state it here, afflicted by H.D. but desiring the cure. This is not a material disease. It is much worse.”
“What kind of Krsna do we want? Do we invite Him to our homes, tell Him where to sit, then serve Him what we want Him to eat? Do we expect Him to approve of our devotional service since we are following guru, sadhu, and sastra like good devotees and are working within the limits of our economic means and health? Will we remember to ask Him about Himself? What kind of Krsna do we want?
“So what happened when Krsna told the gopis to go home? Did they comply? Krsna told them that Krsna consciousness is not attained by physical proximity, but by chanting and hearing and doing their religious duties as wives at home. The gopis were astonished to hear Him speak like that. They thought, ‘We have given up all sense gratification to come to Him. We don’t want sense gratification. We love Him. We want to serve His lotus feet.’ The conjugal rasa is not sense gratification.
“The gopis cried. Then one of the bolder gopis began to argue with Krsna. Pure devotees in raga-bhakti don’t like to argue, but Krsna’s words were too much. She said, ‘You say we should go back to our husbands, but You are the supreme husband. You are the Supersoul of all jivas. There is nothing wrong if we come here and surrender to You.’
“Krsna tests the gopis, but they prove their love for Him again and again. We say Krsna is testing us too, but we are not in contact with Him. We are not even sure it is Krsna who is handling us roughly in His embrace. For most of us, ‘Krsna’s embrace’ is just a metaphor. We recite Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s beautiful verses and we believe it applies to Him. He is the one experiencing separation from Krsna. He is the one who will become broken-hearted if Krsna is not present before Him. But what about our empty, lonely lives? Are they connected with Krsna? We are not madly looking for Him, asking the trees and creepers, ‘Did the son of Nanda Maharaja pass by here?’ What does all this mean to us?
“And if Krsna invites us, will we even go?”
“It’s true, I’m afraid I may not please my spiritual master. Even the Gosvamis of Vrndavana were sometimes afraid that they were not pleasing Lord Caitanya. It was a sign of their humility and their great desire to satisfy Him. I write in a daring way despite the fear. I depend on Prabhupada’s mercy and leniency. And I listen to intuition. It feels right to do what I am doing, to write in this idiom although no previous Vaisnava (of Bengal or Orissa) wrote as I do.
“By idiom I mean pushing honesty and confession and admittance so that it appears that you are indulging in splayed attention rather than single-minded devotion to Krsna. The risk of making those admittances is great. I could miss the eternal spiritual world. Still, I know I can’t attain it by playing safe either. You have to give what you are to earn Goloka, not what you would be if you were ideal. Giving what you are means giving your love. Giving love is risky, and risk shakes your confidence.
“The sastras give guidelines on how to ride the razor’s edge: yayatma suprasidati. I feel satisfaction when I write honestly and then stumble upon genuine Krsna consciousness, even while candidly writing my imperfect thoughts. When candid feelings of attachment to Krsna come out, they are gems because they are real. Good writing and good living is not how it looks to others, but how it feels, how deep the actual surrender is.”
“The wrinkled gray cadar
strewn over Prabhupada’s body in the Samadhi Mandir.
Two sannyasis conversing,
their two dandas
are also meeting and talking. I hold back, glad to watch,
sing and move
in a shuffle-dance to keep warm.
Radha-Syama in white and pink,
I can’t see so well.
Lack of spiritual love
brings inability to focus the eyes
on the beloved object,
but I linger at Their altar.
“‘Whoever carefully recites the mysterious appearances of the Lord, with devotion in the morning and in the evening, gets relief from all miseries of life.’ (Srimad–Bhagavatam 1.3.29)
“On waking in the morning, you soon thought of something unpleasant. Your routine while attending college was to rise by 6 A.M. Go downstairs to the bathroom, brush your teeth, use the toilet. Then go to the kitchen and cook an egg. Mother, who went to work at the Chase Manhattan Bank, had already left to catch an earlier train. Father was sleeping. So eat, but hurry up and run to the train station for the 7:01 express.
“During the train ride, you read up on homework or looked at a newspaper. Your inner thoughts? A jumble, as the Staten Island Rapid Transit rattled through towns like New Dorp, Grant City, Stapleton, and many more until finally arriving at the St. George terminal. Then you flocked along with hundreds of commuters onto the ferry for another half-hour ride. Sat outside, weather permitting.
“I cannot remember most of it, but I can confidently say that I did not speak or hear about the Supreme Personality of Godhead in any of His forms. No one I met in the course of my morning, including myself, was interested in that subject.
“The middle and main part of the day was spent attending classes, trying to please, trying to become an intellectual, and looking for friends. At night, homework, supper, and talk with family, maybe some TV, and to bed by 10:00 or 11:00 in order to rise the next morning to resume the routine. Weekends were for fun and dissolution on Friday and Saturday nights, and for hanging around and wasting time during the day, with some time for homework. So during weekdays and nights as well as weekends, there was complete absence in my life of any speaking or hearing about the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“After college, another two years were spent in the Navy. Definitely no hearing there, except the names of God ‘in vain,’ as in ‘Jesus Christ, you goddamn fool!’ Then another two years were devoted to trying to be free and hip on the Lower East Side, where there was no talk of His mysterious appearances. We thought our own appearances were more important and contemplated the appearance of everything but God. In fact, we sometimes said, ‘I am God’ or ‘Everything is God.’ There was no need to mention Him separately from everything. And Krsna? ‘You mean Krsna, the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita? Yeah, the Gita is far out.’ But I didn’t know what I meant by that.
“ . . . Since the summer of 1966, has my life completely transformed? Do I constantly and carefully recite the pastimes of the Lord with devotion in the morning and evening, and have I attained relief from all miseries? I wish I could honestly say yes. True, there has been a revolution in my life, as there will be for anyone who accepts the mercy of the pure devotee of Krsna. I can at least say that I practice bhakti-yoga daily in obedience to my spiritual master, His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. But transformation is gradual.
“Srila Prabhupada writes, ‘They [the appearances of the Lord] are mysterious, and only by those who carefully try to go deep into the matter by spiritual devotion is the mystery discovered.’ To go deep into the matter means to do so with sincerity and devotion. A devotee who sincerely makes the most of his association with the spiritual master and the scriptures will gain insight into the birth and activities of the Supreme Lord.
“The essential advice for becoming a Krsna conscious devotee is to always associate with devotees and to avoid the association of nondevotees. This can be accomplished, even if one is not living nearby a community of Vaisnavas, by giving regular aural reception to the Vedic literature, guided by such commentaries as the Bhaktivedanta purports. God is a person (‘Absolute is sentient/Thou hast proved/ Impersonal calamity/Thou hast moved’), but one has to affirm this conviction with daily renewal. So morning and night, morning and night—speak and hear about the Supreme Lord.”
“Rain on roof of this van. Spotlight run by battery. When I feel raindrops, I’ll close the overhead vent. I explained to my Godbrother my open secret of reading in the very early morning. When I said midnight, he wanted to write it down, although he later said he couldn’t rise that early. I immediately said, ‘Of course not. You are a preacher and have evening engagements.’ But I am happy to give up those engagements so I can rise at 12. Midnight might not be auspicious by Vedic standards (Nanda Maharaja was arrested for going into the water too early), but Srila Prabhupada set the example, and I do it to follow him. Do I imitate? If so, it’s the child’s practice, another way of being with my master, I suppose.
“I told him that this early rising is part of my inner life. It’s not vague mysticism; I don’t get up and meditate silently and I don’t enter raganuga-bhajana, but I read for an hour (almost) in one of Srila Prabhupada’s books, then I write for an hour (almost), and then chant for an hour and a half. These are the big three activities that constitute inner life for me—reading, writing, and chanting.
“Someone may say that my description of inner life is external, and it can be seen that way. I am describing how I turn the pages of the book or write with a pen or finger my beads and enumerate mantras. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an inner spark. Why else would I do it? I don’t read just any book at this hour; I read Srila Prabhupada’s book. I don’t write just anything; I free-write and steer to Krsna consciousness (with or without gremlins along for the ride). I don’t chant ‘Coca-cola’ or ‘Mr. John;’ I chant ‘Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare.’ The inner is outer and the outer is inner, if you know what I mean.”
“Billboards hurt the eyes and sicken the human spirit. The poor eyeballs frantically search out the colorful forms and slogans, like fish jumping for bait. We have to drive through it, and there’s never escape. Although the highway sign declares ‘Don’t Mess with Texas, $400 for littering,’ the state encourages advertisers to mess with our minds.
“We left the campground under a night sky, Big and Little Dippers, etc. Before 7:00 A.M., the sky began to turn a faint blue, almost purple as it does on Juhu Beach. Now on the Texas horizon, all around, a faint red layer.
“The uninterrupted countryside gives way to La Grange, Texas, and another deluge of signs. ‘Major Muffler.’ ‘American Air-Conditioning.’ ‘All You Can Eat.’
“‘Catfish Special.’ ‘Country-Style Fried Chicken.’ ‘Radio Shack.’ The eyes rarely get a rest. ‘Lone Star Beer.’ Lord Krsna protects His devotees, or else we would all be drowned in this ocean of names. ‘Cajun Sausage.’ ‘Deer Processing.’ Except for the chanting of the holy names, we would be covered all over with signs.”
“I can write to keep warm or to keep my mind off the cold. Similarly, in japa time, I can chant quickly and alertly like a man outdoors intent on warming himself by a fire. He needs the fire to keep warm; I need Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare. That is the benefit of the cold—it drives me to take shelter.
“I am like a piece of kindling, a straw or small stick that has been drying out for years. It can catch fire if I can just hold it close to the fire for long enough. I want to draw close to that mystical source of my deliverance. I want to be aware of how obvious my need is and how easy it is to fulfill it.
“Walking back and forth to keep awake, to keep my circulation flowing easily, but I don’t go too far. Who would be so crazy as to light a fire on a cold night and then walk away from it? Who would be so foolish as to make a fire and then douse it with water, just when it’s doing its best?
This fire bodes no danger. If it were to spread and blaze out of control, what benefit there would be for the world! I chant in the darkness waiting for dawn, waiting for the sun of hari-nama to fully rise. When the sun of devotion begins to blaze, then I will see Krsna’s pastimes, qualities, and forms, and I will sing madly, not caring for what others think. When will that day be mine?”
“Reading Hari Sauri’s Diary and hearing Srila Prabhupada’s enthusiasm for the work of so many of his disciples, I feel insignificant. I’m not an outstanding worker. Okay, admitted. But the opportunity to come close to Srila Prabhupada by a road open to me, reading his books, seems a good thing. Surely he’ll recognize this. Not everyone will do it. It’s an open secret, an invitation, “Read my books.” He worked so hard to produce them, so read carefully; it’s a way to be with him. Good results in preaching, writing, behavior, etc. will follow automatically. Besides, not so many avenues to Srila Prabhupada are open to me. This one is wide open and it goes to his heart directly. It’s also one I have a tendency for, reading, literature. And it can be challenged into learning and writing which are my inclinations.
“Keep reading a little at a time. The sages preached to King Vena but he blasphemed Lord Visnu in return. So they killed him.
“This is a taste of what it will be like in the eighteen-day retreat. You’ll read gradually on and on. If you do this kind of writing, it doesn’t produce as much sheer writing practice. It’s more subdued. You read a lot and write less. In a full-fledged writing retreat, you would write more, working up to four, five hours a day, with not much time for study. I’m in favor of the reading yajna. But I want writing practice too. We’ll see how it goes.
“Reading also shouldn’t be merely quantity. The writing is meant to help, not to just tag along. Try to read with rapt attention.
“And keep going too. You can’t wait for perfect thoughts.
“Cars go by. ‘It’s gonna be all right,’ you tell yourself. Close your eyes and go to sleep. Why don’t you tell some images from your dreams? Give whatever you can here.
“This is the earliest I could get up. Now we’ll start reading and writing and mix the two. A starting premise is that you write in the pauses while you read. You write to accompany your reading and even to propel yourself forward in the Bhagavatam. Or to reason yourself along, to follow. Are you also writing to narrate a summary for readers later? For yourself as a study guide? Is it another way to remember Lord Krsna and approach samadhi?
“The sages wanted to produce a body in the seminal line from which Vena came, but not another demon. The line was from Dhruva and Anga. So they churned Vena’s thighs. ‘One should not think that it was impossible for another body to come out of the dead body of Maharaja Vena. This was performed by the skillful action of the sages.’
“I am awake with Srila Prabhupada when he produced this book. It was long ago, maybe 1968 or maybe later. He always wrote around this time. He wrote in India in the 1940s and 1950s and 1960s and then in his ISKCON, 1966-1977 as long as he was with us in the world. I am reading. I am also writing. There may be so many taints in my ‘being a writer.’ But it’s also my fate and a vocation I can use in his service. He recognized me as a writer. I am producing books with GN Press. I always think of producing books, ‘How are they being edited? When will they be printed and distributed?’ It’s not wrong. Gosh, it’s not a sign of disobedience or pretension. We are meant to follow our spiritual master and to spread Krsna consciousness. Srila Prabhupada said we should become gurus, but don’t speak nonsense. If you repeat the teachings of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, that Lord Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then you can function as a spiritual master. I do that and tell the struggle to become a devotee.”
“I’m reading in Hari Sauri’s Diary how Srila Prabhupada dictated so many digits on the Dictaphone of Srimad-Bhagavatam purports in Hawaii in 1976. At the same time, Prabhupada was having managerial headaches, such as the falldown of Madhudvisa. The increase in his writing made me think of my own. But I think perhaps what I’m doing is so insignificant that it’s not worth increasing. This is a certain doubt. Srila Prabhupada had no doubt about the value of Srimad-Bhagavatam and his purports. I may wonder whether my stories and writing sessions should be pursued at the cost of other duties. At least right now my tendency is to concentrate on reading Srimad-Bhagavatam and practice writing what comes in the pauses in between reading. That’s my announced intention for the 18 days. And for spice you can do a daily poem, a daily radio show. And the walks, reciting out loud and preaching something about it.
“Heading toward Bordeaux. I’ve been able to read Hari Sauri’s Diary while riding in the front seat. Hard instructions: everyone in temple must go on sankirtana, and for householder woman to take care of her children—that is not sufficient devotional service. They should turn over their children to the Society when the children are eight years old. Nowadays (1994), very few follow this standard. That doesn’t mean I should find fault with Srila Prabhupada for setting such a renounced preaching standard, nor should I criticize those who still strive to keep that standard. But I can try to encourage those who are sincere but can’t come up to that highest standard. Acknowledge also that the temples have not been able to provide nurseries, trustworthy boarding schools, etc.
“As I read Srila Prabhupada’s writing and printing, I ponder about my own service. I also read the history of politics and quarrel and falldown among the ISKCON leaders. What price for glory? Do what you actually can. And so I turn again to my practices of writing sessions, reading retreats, GN Press, my avoidance of management and mixing and my health. I weigh and consider how my practices measure up for pleasing Srila Prabhupada. I seem to come to my conclusion that I am who I am and can’t do something against my nature, so use my tendencies in service to Srila Prabhupada. I find support for this in statements that one can reach all perfection just by chanting and hearing.
“I have a place in ISKCON; people want my books. I am keeping myself pure and free from falldown by a simple life. Pray, Dear Lord Krsna, please protect me from the pitfalls of maya.
“You go to read. Head forward slumped. Asleep, you think, ‘This is also good for me.’ On the retreat you’ll gradually build up resistance to sleep when it is time to read.
“Maharaja Anga was the father of Vena, a bad son. Maharaja Anga reasoned that a bad son was better than a good one because a bad son creates a hellish home from which a man becomes naturally detached. How important it is for the grhasthas to get out of that very situation they are seeking to make nice. I am sobered in my encouragement to them. I tell the wives that their housework and child-raising is devotional service, but is it? We encourage them never to get a divorce and say the example of a good family unit is itself important preaching. All right, but in the end, family life is meant to be abandoned. But if home life is truly Vaisnava, then it is not a detriment to spiritual life.
“Reading is not going to be ultra-exciting and mystical at every step because of who I am. But I accept dutiful pages also in which I absorb important material about Vedic life. Be aware always and think, ‘What am I feeling? How can I stay faithful and worship Lord Krsna by hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam? Please let me do it nicely.’
“It wasn’t easy for the King to give up his wife, family, and royal kingdom, but by the blessings of the Supreme Lord, he did so. Consider what this means. Will I be asked to do something like this? Will I get the Lord’s blessings to give up all attachments? But we should not renounce ISKCON or the guru’s order. The followers of the King could not find him and they are compared to a less experienced mystic who searches but cannot find out the Supersoul within himself.
“(I am praying for myself. I wish myself well. I’d like to save myself, make progress, not fail in the mission of human life. Srila Prabhupada says the yogis may do this for themselves, but they don’t help others. A Vaisnava, however, is concerned with the welfare of others. He gave Jesus Christ as an example. We should preach. I hear this and then want to save myself in that way too. Don’t remain selfish. Real self-interest is to make yourself a preacher. I say I am preparing to do that. I am studying and then going to preach.)”
Stroudsburg, PA – Queens, NY – Philadelphia, PA (May 5-13, 1996)
“Writing after reading fifteen minutes or so in Caitanya-caritamrta and at least that long in Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s commentary on Upadesamrta. Good boy to be up answering your clock alarm and reading. A new schedule for the balance of May as we travel. And this writing.
“I’ve suspended A Poor Man Reads the Bhagavatam. But I intend to return to it. If it’s my only writing in life, that seems not right.
“It could be all-consuming. A formidable literature with regular addressing of substantial Bhagavatam themes. And free-writing. I still would not capture the wider audience of ISKCON including Godbrothers. Mostly the new generation reads me. And they like my more intimate, honest writing (which they also can get in Poor Man’s Bhagavatam).
I’ll be thinking of A Poor Man Reads the Bhagavatam even while I take a break from writing it. See where it fits into my life. See if I’m drawn back to it. And see, in temporary absence, what other kinds of writing I take up.
“Don’t rush. No preyas, useless endeavor, or jnana, or karma. Some bhakti endeavor is required. Atyaharah means you can do things for Krishna but not otherwise.
“Haribol. You’ll be speaking to groups in the coming days. Partly you feel it’s a presumption on your part, a strain on inner credulity, bordering on hypocrisy. If I don’t have deep taste for attentive chanting of the holy names and hearing krsna-katha, then how can I lecture to others? In general, one feels it’s better just to advise oneself. And also, lecturing is a performance. A natural, quiet sadhu’s contemplation is perhaps disturbed by the outgoing act of lecturing on perfection and advocating that we endeavor for perfection. You can do it honestly.
At least, as far as possible.
Don’t get on a high horse.
“Dreamt Rupanuga was a spiritual leader for a group of people. One practice was to go on the city streets and walk in a line. A bearded man with knives in his belt went first. Others followed, interesting folks of the congregation, which Rupanuga was cultivating. I was there too. I don’t recall that we chanted Hare Krishna but there was some kind of walking in a single file. Then later it was over and we went somewhere to eat and rest but it was sparse and austere. I was looking for a place to lie down.
“I woke from this dream impressed by Rupanuga’s natural role as a spiritual leader. The actual Rupanuga in Buffalo in 1969 was like that. I should honor the older devotees and see the good in all sincere devotees. Feeling of my place in that group.
“Now awake, rain dripping outside. I hear it at the window. Frogs chirping at 1:30 A.M.
“Last day here in the restful house. Two days in a row with no headaches. I look forward to leaving here. Test your capacity on the road in the northeast USA. There’s a chance to go on the streets for harinama on South Street in Philadelphia on Saturday. But on the same day I will give a morning and evening lecture. Don’t know if I can do it all. And then return at night to the Philly temple.
Sri Krishna Caitanya Prabhu Nityananda
try to get through these early morning hours.
“Expose yourself to ‘new’ realities. The reality beyond my own little world of writing and limits. Your conceptions come crashing down. Let it happen in a gentle way. You see others at work in life according to conceptions that are different from yours.
“Rain dripping. Florida Scott-Maxwell writes sensitively of old age. Some devotees I know complain, or are occupied fully with their bodily pains, and are not as personally reflective as Ms. Scott-Maxwell. But her thoughts are not Krishna conscious (although somewhat God-conscious). What is their ultimate value? At least she teaches me to be perceptive and honest and write even during extreme old age. She was in her eighties when she wrote The Measure of My Days. Hare Krishna.
“God is the center of life. I want it. Scott-Maxwell says it feels to her that God is the central meaning of life but, ‘We have tried so many ways and have let them become bigotry or tyranny or dreary pretense.’
“I am completely within a life of religion and spirituality as a sannyasi member of ISKCON. But I seek a genuine essence, not a bigotry or deadness to life and my own humanness.
“Want to be creative, etc. Many older ISKCON-ites, younger too, are also seeking that authenticity. It doesn’t come so easily just by carrying banners and beating drums or being hardline or soft-line.
“The poems you’d like to write are like these jottings, but they become some kind of separate pieces as songs. It’s the philosophy and it’s a feeling, but it’s also a unit as a song. How that happens is by practicing them.
‘Sri Krishna Caitanya Prabhu Nityananda.
“Will you draw your doodles as you travel? If I get time for it. Don’t make a big to-do over it in terms of art supplies and color. For now, it may be better to just use a black ink pen whenever you feel inclined. Express friendly figures or tension. Don’t think about what to do with it. Image-making version of free-writing. I’ll look for how to take it up easily. Maybe after such big collages I’d do better for awhile with a small sketchbook. Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare.
“Oh, now I’ll end this. Just a little longer.
“I’ll go now to chant. Getting my act together. In these twenty-five days I’ll tell you. But I can’t say if I will write the whole twenty-five days, so it’s a presumption to give the writing sessions that title. Yet you do want to start out with a title. How about a purely descriptive one? That would be, “Writing Sessions in May While Traveling in the Northeast USA.” But that’s more like a subtitle. Give it a poetic name. Uh, back to Writing Session. Measure of my days.
“Spring watch. But will watching spring be a major occupation? I don’t think so. Not in the cities.
“More like self-watch in May.
“In May. Weeks in May. Not watching spring. Myself a spring, a mechanism like a spring in a watch or car springs. Writing Sessions in spring. Oh, I can’t hit on the right title yet. But I will try to come up with one. Make a list.
“US Air, here we go. Okay, end this one. And dictate it so you won’t be late for japa. Be your friend. Death is not a tyrant over me. I still have life to live. Don’t be timid.
“Write on. Scott-Maxwell wrote at eighty. Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Srila Prabhupada.”
(30 minutes, at Samika Rsi’s house while it rains outside, May 6, 1996, Monday)
This volume is comprised of three parts: prose meditations, free-writes, and poems each of which will be discussed in turn. As an introduction, a brief essay by the author, On Genre, has also been included to provide contextual coordinates for the writing which follows…
A comprehensive retrospective of poetic achievement and prose meditations, using a new trajectory described as “free-writing”. This volume will offer to readers an experience of the creativity versatility which is a hallmark of this author’s writing.
Stream of consciousness poetry that moves with the shifting shapes and colors characteristic of a kaleidoscope itself around the themes of authenticity. This is a book will transport you to the far reaches of the author’s heart and soul in daring ways and will move you to experience your own inner kaleidoscope.
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A narrative poem. challenging and profound, about the journey of an itinerant monk who pursues new means of self-expression.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.