Graham Schweig (Garuda dasa) has written a substantial obituary on Tom Hopkins and distributed it widely to the academic community. I may add a few anecdotes of my own relationship with Professor Hopkins. He taught religion at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania. This college is close to ISKCON’s Gita-nagari farm community, and Professor Hopkins used to bring classes of his students to Gita-nagari on a yearly basis. I had met many professors of Indian religions in my work with ISKCON’s Library Party, but Tom was the most favorable and friendly of all. He accepted Prabhupada’s writings as authoritative in the line of disciplic succession from the great Vaisnava acaryas.
During those years I attended several meetings of the American Academy for Religious Studies, held annually in the United States. One year, in the 1970s, when the anti-cult movement was going strong, I attended to collect petitions from the professors stating that they accepted ISKCON as a bona-fide religious movement. Tom Hopkins helped me very much in gathering signatures from his colleagues. The year I collected signatures, I was also invited to join an informal meeting of professors who taught Hinduism held in a hotel room. I brought a big pot of Krsna prasadam consisting of mixed vegetables. I remember Tom Hopkins so much enjoying the prasadam that he had three helpings, whereas the other professors limited themselves to one helping.
Another time I met with Tom at Subhananda dasa’s apartment, where Subhananda’s wife served us pizza. It was 1972, I was a newly initiated sannyasi, and I was strict about controlling my tongue. So I limited myself to one slice of pizza. But Tom ate three full slices and commented how much he liked it. He was really fond of Krsna prasadam!
After Prabhupada’s disappearance, when I was installed with ten others as an initiating guru, Tom asked me how did I feel now that I was “supreme.” I told him that I felt pretty much the same. He chuckled and said he thought I would say that. I met with him on a number of occasions, and I always enjoyed his company. I think his very favorable attitude toward Prabhupada and support of ISKCON assures Tom Hopkins of a higher birth.
In the history of ISKCON there have been many controversies. In Vedic culture there is debate among brahmanas which is conducted in the mode of goodness. Even Lord Caitanya, as a scholar, would argue in favor of a point of view, dismantle it and establish the opposite point of view. But He did not descend to the mode of passion. Debates that become passionate are emotional and offensive. They usually end up with two sides hopelessly opposed to one another. An example of this is the strong feelings ISKCON devotees have regarding two editions of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is. I also became involved in controversy when I wrote a criticism of President Trump and received emotional counterarguments. I do not wish to be a part of these fights. The GBC has the responsibility to deal with issues that have different opinions. I have heard that over the years the GBC has become more brahminical about handling these issues and not breaking down into inimical fights, harsh words and offenses. Now we have looming a new controversy, whether it is better to refrain from taking the vaccine for COVID-19. It should be a matter of personal choice rather than force.
I heard a lecture by Giriraja Maharaja on the power of the holy name. He quoted a verse:
“Oh, how glorious are they whose tongues are chanting Your holy name! Even if born in the families of dog-eaters, such persons are worshipable. Persons who chant the holy name of Your Lordship must have executed all kinds of austerities and fire sacrifices and achieved all the good manners of the Aryans. To be chanting the holy name of Your Lordship, they must have bathed at holy places of pilgrimage, studied the Vedas and fulfilled everything required.” (SB 3.33.7)
Those who chant the holy names with the tip of their tongue become free from all anarthas and are gradually elevated to the stage of love of God. Regular chanters of the Hare Krsna mantra should never be criticized; one should not find fault in them. That is the offense known as sadhu-ninda, offending a saintly person. Giriraja Maharaja referred to Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who said that if one chants attentively he is freed from all the other offenses to chanting, and who said that one who chants inattentively is chanting with offenses. Proper chanting and hearing (sravanam kirtanam) are the first two principles to be practiced in devotional service.
Giriraja Maharaja also emphasized the importance of associating with devotees. When Lord Caitanya asked Ramananda Raya what was the worst possible situation, Ramananda Raya said, “The worst possible thing was to live without any devotee association.” When you live with the devotees, you regularly hear Lord Krsna’s pastimes, teachings, and you hear constantly about His dear devotees. Practicing Krsna consciousness without the association of devotees is a hallucination. Staying with the devotees through thick and thin is pleasing to Krsna and is the highest goal.
I heard a lecture by Giriraja Swami about the struggle to get the land in Bombay and the permission to build a temple. The landlord, Mr. Nair, tried to cheat Prabhupada and the devotees in so many ways. He physically threatened them and told them they were trespassers and they should leave the land. Mr. Nair had a private discussion with Prabhupada and didn’t allow any disciples to be present. Nair was visibly angry and told Prabhupada that he would break the Radha-Krsna Deities. A few days after this Giriraja was walking in downtown Bombay and he glanced at a newspaper headline: “Mr. Nair is dead.” Giriraja’s first response was to be joyful—he felt like dancing! But then he wondered if this was the appropriate behavior for a Vaisnava. Later he heard how Prabhupada responded when he heard the news of Mr. Nair’s death. Prabhupada folded his hands and said thank you to Krsna. He said, “This demon has been giving us so much trouble, and now Krsna has taken him away.”
But the struggle wasn’t over then. When the devotees applied to the police for a “No Objection Certificate” for building on the land, they were refused. The police commissioner wrote a letter to ISKCON that denied them permission because their bhajanas “were a nuisance.” Prabhupada was very disturbed by this remark. Mr. Nair’s widow carried on the fight. She called for a demolition party to go and dismantle the makeshift temple. A crew arrived and started to actually tear down the building. Just before the roof was torn down, the devotees reached a top Hindu leader who called off the demolition party, and the destruction was stopped. There were many other twists and turns before ISKCON finally got its permission to build. Tamal Krsna Maharaja said to Prabhupada that, “You are always victorious.” Prabhupada said that this was a great struggle, and a book should be written about it—it is history. This book has now been written by Giriraja Maharaja and published by the BBT.
I heard Bhurijana lecturing expertly on the Bhagavad-gita As It Is. He quoted the verse where Arjuna asks Krsna, “How could You have spoken years ago this Bhagavad-gita to the sun god? You and I are contemporaries.” Krsna replied, “Many, many births both you and I have taken. I can remember them but you cannot.” The difference is that when Krsna comes to this world He doesn’t change bodies. He comes in His eternal spiritual form. And He remembers everything. Arjuna accompanies Krsna when He descends, but he changes his bodies and so he forgets his different identities and his pastimes with Krsna.
Then Bhurijana spoke on why Krsna comes to this material world. It’s to protect the devotees and annihilate the miscreants. Krsna, of course, doesn’t have to kill the demons personally. He can send an agent who’ll kill them by the material energy. But Bhurijana said there are some demons that Krsna wants to kill personally. He does this because the demon is killed by Krsna Himself, then he gets liberation. For example, Putana acted as a mother towards Krsna when she gave Him her breast to suck. So she was given the position of a nurse in Vaikuntha. Krsna also liberated the demons Aghasura and Sisupala in this way. When He killed them, everyone present saw their souls leave their bodies and enter into the body of Krsna. Krsna also descends to relieve his dear devotees who are suffering in separation from Krsna. This painful separation is another type of devotional ecstasy, but it is nevertheless a kind of intense suffering. So Krsna comes to relieve that separation and live with the devotees and enliven them.
After his lecture, Bhurijana Prabhu informally spoke to the devotees. He asked them individually about their performance of japa. I couldn’t hear clearly what the devotees said, but I could hear Bhurijana’s response. He said one devotee remarked that her chanting was “good.” He pressed her on that and asked, “What do you mean by ‘good?’” They had to think deeply about their estimations of their japa. Another devotee said he had trouble controlling his mind. Bhurijana replied that wherever the mind wanders in japa, you have to bring it back under control of the self. These informal, individual exchanges were very considerate and made the devotees have to think honestly and clearly about their chanting of the holy name. Bhurijana didn’t let them go with just a cliché remark like, “good,” or “I couldn’t control my mind.” He wanted to know exactly what they meant by their estimation of their chanting—what they meant by good or what they meant by not being able to control their mind. I thought it was a very personal and useful kind of exchange.
John Endler called with a fervent plea and proposal from three devotees, himself, Lal Krishna and Krishna Bhajana. They all very much want to print a low run of my free writing from the 1990s. They admit they are greedy fellows and thought it came under the category of spiritual laulyam. They want to print only 40 copies of different books of free writing that I did at the height of my powers in that genre. The books would also come out on Amazon and be available to the public at large. I surrendered to their enthusiastic proposal. I too like the free writing sessions, and the idea of publishing them in low runs is appealing.
Lalita-kaisori visited and helped do Bala’s duties while he’s away in Trinidad tending to his mother, who is in her last days. Lalita made new garlands for the small Deities, and she made rose garlands for the big Gaura-Nitai from the roses brought by Muktavandya, who keeps our ashram filled with flowers so it’s not a mere house but a place of worship. Lalita also watered tulasi and picked manjaris. She also cleaned the altar and the floor, giving everything a good scrubbing. This left Krsna dasi free to dress Jagannatha and Radha-Gopinatha and arrange the flowers in fresh vases. Together they cleaned up the kitchen after breakfast and lunch.
Narada Muni practiced meditation and saw a personal vision of Krsna. But then the Lord disappeared. Narada next heard Krsna speaking from the sky. The Lord said, “You will not see Me again in this lifetime. One has to be free from all taints before he can see Me.” At the time of death, Narada experienced a change, like lightening and light. He immediately transformed to a spiritual body to be with Krsna. Now he travels everywhere in the spiritual and material worlds glorifying the Lord on his vina and making conditioned souls into pure devotees of Krsna.
In our out-loud reading, we heard Queen Kunti’s prayers. In one outstanding verse, she says, “I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again, so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated birth and death.” (Bhag. 1.8.25) In the purport Prabhupada writes that “Generally the distressed, the needy, the intelligent and the inquisitive, who have performed some pious activities, worship or begin to worship the Lord. Others, who are thriving on misdeeds only, regardless of status, cannot approach the Supreme, being misled by the illusory energy. Therefore for a pious person, if there is some calamity, there is no alternative than to take shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord.”
Bhisma was on the side fighting against Krsna and Arjuna at the Battle of Kuruksetra. But Bhisma was a pure devotee of the Lord. He adored seeing Krsna in His bellicose demeanor, holding the bridle in one hand and a whip in the other. He was face to face with Krsna and thus had a more advantageous vision of the Lord than did Arjuna. Bhismadeva was shooting arrows at the Lord’s body, but Krsna’s form is spiritual, and so He sustained no wounds or was not bloodied. Visvanatha Cakravarti comments that the piercing arrows of Bhisma was like a lover’s biting of his beloved in passionate amorous exchange, which is only pleasurable to both parties. Bhisma saw Krsna face to face in His four-armed form, and he attained the Lord’s abode.
Bhisma was pierced with many arrows on the battlefield, but he had the power to give up his life by his own will. Krsna came with the Pandavas to see Bhisma in his last hours. King Yudhisthira was severely lamenting over the massacre of thousands of soldiers on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra, which he felt guilty for instigating in order to put himself on the throne. Wise counselors, including even Krsna Himself, tried to pacify Yudhisthira, but they failed to do so.
Krsna had a plan in mind. He wanted Yudhisthira to hear personally from Bhismadeva and be pacified by him. So they went and sat around the dying General. Bhisma said to Yudhisthira that he should not feel guilty over the loss of lives in the battle. He said it was all due to kala, or Krsna’s inconceivable plans. Bhisma said King Yudhisthira should not even inquire into it. He said great sages had tried to understand the will of the Lord, but it was inconceivable to them. Yudhisthira should not lament but should actively take up the duties of rulership of the empire. He should not blame himself for the killing of the soldiers.
Bhismadeva was very pleased to see Krsna, his ishta-devata, in His four-armed form. He meditated on Him with deep peace and satisfaction. Bhismadeva was also greatly pleased to see King Yudhisthira enthroned as the ruler of the empire. Bhismadeva spoke at length to Yudhisthira about destiny and the rules of the universe. He spoke with such wisdom and breadth of knowledge that Yudhisthira was overwhelmed and gave up his feeling of personal guilt.
The sun set, and Bhismadeva took this as the time for his departure. With the entrance of the night, all the sages present became silent like birds who quiet at the coming of night. The demigods showered down flowers at the departure of the great soul and his entrance into Vaikuntha.
“Hearing Srila Prabhupada speak in Paris. I was in the other room. One guy, very aggressive and unsubmissive, was speaking of ‘The Light.’ Probably a Guru Maharaj-Ji follower. Prabhupada said, ‘Go away! You’re wasting my time. You know everything!’ The devotees had to ask him to leave. He readily agreed, but I know that if he hadn’t, the devotees would have thrown him out—Bhagavan, Pusta Krsna, and the others.
“Prabhupada was always exposing himself to such people as this guest. The night before that he had spoken at the French concert hall La Salle Pleyel, and a riot had almost broken out. Someone had even come with spray paint.
“Srila Prabhupada, please let me worship you unhindered by doubts such as, ‘Did you know that the Lord Buddha we speak of in the Bhagavatam is not the Gautama Buddha who formed that world religion?’ I plague myself with these things unnecessarily. When the guy asked you, ‘What do you think of the Hebraic Kabala?’, you said, ‘I have not read it, nor do I know of it.’ That was the perfect reply for me. I do not need you to know everything. You need only know devotion to Krsna, which gives you understanding of everything else. Yasmin vijnate sarvam evam vijnatam bhavati.
“I can spare myself the plague and the offense if I become simple and have full trust in you as I used to have. It’s hard. So many Gaudiya Math teachers and gurus have come and taught a little differently than you, emphasizing something else. Some of your followers go to them for the ‘extra,’ or the difference. That’s a strain sometimes. And of course there is the strain of the falldowns. I too am full of shortcomings. Just see how I write and don’t know what to write.
“I pray for guidance. I would like to write something straight from my heart in Krsna consciousness. I don’t want to be like that guy in Paris who said he felt the Light ‘right here,’ and ‘that’s all I know.’ I want to surrender even though I fail to do so. Please keep me on course gently, as is my nature, and allow me to read your holy books with faith. Please excuse me and make me more learned, more simple, more pure. Lord of my heart, I pray for this.”
“Like a cat sitting in the sunshine, I sat on the windowsill for over an hour chanting japa.
“Now what? Report how it was? Yes, don’t make fun—it may be helpful. The rounds were inattentive.
“Any redeeming factors?
“Yes, of course, because it’s the holy name, it’s always a good thing to chant. But because it can be so much more—and because you are playing your own part so poorly—you think you failed. Unremitting, no change in the solid wall. But even the most solid walls (like the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain) all come down with time. Srila Prabhupada speaks of a caterpillar who becomes a butterfly simply by thinking about it.
“But for now, a wall.”
“Although his demeanor was always humble, and he always gave credit to his spiritual master for his accomplishments, Srila Prabhupada could also be very fiery, asserting his own position as jagad-guru and always working to defeat the ‘opposing swamis, yogis, impersonalists, scientists, philosophers and other mental speculators . . .’
“Sometimes persons with an immature grasp of Srila Prabhupada as a person see this as a sign of pride and think that he made these statements out of personal vanity. But Prabhupada always spoke according to guru, sastra and sadhu, and he always spoke with the voice of a preacher. If he claimed to be jagad-guru, he also behaved as such. If he claimed to be able to defeat all nonsense philosophies, he actually did it. Neither did he do so separately from his attitude of complete submission to Krsna and guru. Srila Prabhupada embodied a service attitude; he was what he was for the pleasure of his spiritual master and Krsna.
“Srila Prabhupada asserted his bona-fide credentials as a kind of protection for his movement. It was necessary for us to have confidence in his credentials as a pure devotee so that we could accept him as the leader of this movement. It also protects us from those who would criticize his position, such as his Godbrothers who claimed he should not have the name Prabhupada. And who else would do it? Srila Prabhupada was the teacher. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura states that it may appear arrogant of him to sit on the vyasasana and teach his disciples to chant, ‘Jaya Gurudeva, Jaya Gurudeva.’ ‘But when I do that, should I be hit on the head with shoes? No, it is my duty, even if it appears arrogant.’ This was Prabhupada’s attitude also.”
“I once sat in Great Kills station and smoked a cigarette for the first time (thirteen, fourteen years old). L&M and Marlboros were just coming out. Winstons, Chesterfields and Kools were already popular. Then years later I sat and was identified as a devotee with the rest. I don’t know what to tell you. I worked entirely on the things that had to be done and never on my inner life. Everything had to have an immediate purpose for the sankirtana movement, for the temple preaching, or I wouldn’t express it. In terms of writing, I was either editing for the Swami or writing for Back to Godhead. I wouldn’t be caught dead writing an extensive diary (or even a single word) like this. What if my wife found it and called it? Jaya? ‘What would Prabhupada say? What would your Godbrothers say? ‘This is maya! You are idle. You are speculating. You should do mor e active preaching. This is the mind. We are meant to do preaching like pure devotees. What if I told Prabhupada you were doing this?’ Thus I would be chastised.
“Now I give into it, the urge to tell what I am, what I am doing. I have broken free from the mooring. I am lost in the wet, blowy air. I seek to find my bearings and to tie the boat to the right dock. This is what I mean to do.”
“My dear Lord Krsna, please let me cry to You for mercy. I read the purport aloud (Bg. 10.12-13) how You are the Supreme. It struck me, and I felt the dirty, unclear things in my heart move about. Let me write to reach You. Let me do everything I can to reach You. And to save myself. Prabhupada says we must become akincana, free of all material desire for sense enjoyment. I have to earn the right—we have to earn the right—to cry for pure Krsna consciousness by recognizing our lack of it.
“Krsna can be known only by devotional service. Let that information penetrate. Only then will we automatically want to distribute it, this secret of all secrets. When I go to the shed, I pray by reading-crying aloud from Krsna’s words, Bhagavad-gita: ‘Please tell me in detail of Your divine opulences by which You pervade all these worlds.’ (Bg. 10.16)
“Then tell us of the lake chill, the water bucket, and give us words, and more words while Madhu backs the van into its winter shelter. Practice bhajana throughout the day and don’t waste time.
“‘O Krsna, O supreme mystic, how shall I constantly think of You, and how shall I know You? In what various forms are You to be remembered, O Supreme Personality of Godhead?’ (Bg. 10.17)”
“Krsna, this day is Yours. I was reading in a collection of writing sessions I did last summer one that discussed our faith in spreading Krsna consciousness. I said that sometimes it gets depleted and smothered by rhetoric. Then I wrote this: ‘That’s why, more than anything, I seek to free my own language from rhetoric. That’s why writing sessions are important.’
“I’m feeling convinced that the more I write, the more the process will work to bring me to new discoveries of truth. And books will also come from it. To confirm this, I saw in these writing sessions I wrote last summer how Memories was gradually building and taking shape. It started with giving lectures about Vyasa asking Narada to speak about his life. I said that we all know a life into which we should inquire; that is, our own. In the writing session I wrote, ‘What I couldn’t say, what was really on my mind and heart, is that we ought to tell our confession, our real story, we ought to know who we are and that it is part of Krsna consciousness.’ That lecture was a harbinger for the Memories project, but no one in the audience—and not I myself either—could know that at the time. Let me have the faith and hope that right now I’m on a wave of good things to come. Even when it seems I’m not going anywhere, Krsna sees. He’s the ultimate mover behind the process.”
“My dear Lord Krishna . . .
“I pray to always stay on Your side. I have a choice to be on the side of Mayadevi or with You in the internal energy. Sometimes I have made mistakes and chose to go with Mayadevi. But You know I always want to be on Your side. I need You to give me the intelligence and strength to choose Your side. This means following the four prohibitive principles given by Prabhupada: no illicit sex, no meat eating, no intoxication, and no gambling. This means choosing always against all forms of sinful activity. It means not sitting on the fence in crucial decisions but actively siding with You and Your desires. Like other conditions souls in this world, I am engaged in warfare against the forces of evil. The Christians call this warring against the personified evil one, Satan.
“Mayadevi is Your servant in this world, and she is the superintendent of the material modes of nature—goodness, passion and ignorance. According to our psychophysical nature, we are tempted by happiness in the spirit of preyas enjoyment. Preyas means immediate sense enjoyment, and sreyas means the ultimate goal. When we act for sreyas we control the mind and senses and act for going back to Godhead. This is acting on Your side, and our own side. When we act for immediate pleasure (preyas), we please the senses with no consideration of how it affects our long-term happiness. Therefore we consider liquor, drugs, or sex with an illicit partner just because it feels good and satisfies the immediate itching of the senses.
“I think acting for Your side means allowing conception of a child in the womb to take place instead of committing abortion, which is against Your law and the law of nature. Acting for You means always taking part in the nine principles of devotional service: hearing, chanting, remembering You, serving Your lotus feet, offering You prayers, worshiping You, becoming Your servant, becoming Your friend and offering our very selves to You (atma-nivedanam).
“Acting on Your side means accepting a bona-fide spiritual master and following his instructions. The opposite of this is to be rudderless, without a guide from You and to act according to our whims, or to follow a person who is not coming in Your disciplic succession.
“Acting on Your side means praying to You for strength to avoid all temptations and to follow the spiritual master. The opposite of this is to have no prayer life, to not take time to be alone with You and make petitions, praises, and feelings of gratitude for all You have given us.
“To act on Your side means to keep vows made unto You. Draw a line in the sand and don’t allow the darkness of maya to cross over. We have that power by virtue of our minute amount of free will.
“Acting on Your side means becoming detached from material desires and becoming attracted to the pastimes of Radha and You. I pray for Your assistance in bringing me entirely to Your side and opposed to the attractions and entanglements of maya. Please bring me to Your side in the spiritual world forever.”
“‘Please, therefore, being blessed with many years, explain to us, in an easily understandable way, what you have ascertained to be the absolute and ultimate good for the people in general.’
“The sages describes Suta as blessed with many years. They ask him the first of their questions: “What is the absolute and ultimate good for everyone?’ This question indicates the sages’ concerned not only for themselves as fortunate elite, but for the entire population. The answer has to come from the Vedas because material well-being can come only from spiritual well-being.
“Neither the sages nor Suta Gosvami is interested in introducing political or material welfare programs. There are already so many people working for political upliftment, cessation of poverty, and conservation of the planet’s dwindling resources. All of these people can argue that their cause is the most urgent, or even that it is a spiritual program. But those causes aren’t the most urgent. Only those practicing Krsna consciousness can be confident that their work is purely spiritual and that it is for the absolute and ultimate good of all people.
“Unless people come to understand that they are spirit souls, servants of the Supreme Soul, and that they must perform sacrifice to please God, then no relative cause can save them. Therefore, to educate and enlighten people about their constitutional nature is the most urgent work; education can save them from ruin at death.
“Spiritual knowledge is difficult to attain, however. The Vedas contain volumes of detailed information. How can an average person go through the Vedas and arrive at the right conclusion? These are the thoughts that prompted Saunaka’s question: ‘Blessed Suta, give us a summary, the essence – – the ekantatah sreyah, the singlemost best practice which people can actually hope to follow.’
“Ekanta means ‘absolutely.’ This word also has been translated as ‘singleminded.’ We are reminded of Krsna’s language in the Bhagavad-gita when He says, mam ekam saranam vraja, “Surrender onto me alone.’ Arjuna also asked Krsna, ekam vada, ‘Which one would You prefer?’ Then he asked Krsna whether it is better to work or to cultivate jnana. Therefore we should seek out the one, very best absolute activity. We should try to understand the one source, the one activity, the one purpose which will benefit everyone, including ourselves. Is there actually such a panacea? Is there one act that will accomplish all good for everyone? This is what the sages are asking, and this is what we should want to understand.
“It is impressive that the sages have formulated such a question and that Suta is prepared to answer it with confidence. This indicates the great power and learning on the part of speaker and hearer. People often claim cheaply to know the best thing or to have the most important information, although they actually don’t know anything at all. Recently, I saw an ad for a New Age book which claimed to teach the knowledge ‘most worth learning,’ and that this knowledge was derived from the author’s family. The sages of Naimisaranya would never accept such an audacious claim— a claim based on whimsy and bluff. Their question is all-encompassing, but they can be confident that Suta Gosvami, who is not only mature in age but blessed by his spiritual masters, can give authorized knowledge.
“It will take time to sort things out. There’s no point being impatient. Suta gives everything immediately, but at the same time, he gives it gradually. It unfolds with our lives. We hear and then live and then hear again and then apply what we have heard. The answer to all their questions is, of course, bhakti. That is the theme of the Bhagavatam, how to understand bhakti-yoga. Suta will now explain how to engage in bhakti-yoga by engaging in hearing, chanting, remembering the lotus feet of the Lord, etc. All of these practices are contained in the Hare Krsna mantra— Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare/Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare—because chanting God’s names is the yuga-dharma.
“Now that I have said all that, we will have to assimilate it. We don’t just say, ‘Class is over’ and go home. We have to hear repeatedly, and at length, to occupy our minds with Suta‘s teachings. We have to then assimilate those teachings according to our backgrounds, culture, and knowledge. If I tell everyone to chant Hare Krsna, how will they take it seriously? Perhaps they’ll have questions.
“It’s also true however, that Prabhupada wanted everyone to begin chanting despite their questions. In 1966, Swamiji started us off at once with his drum rhythms and powerful kirtanas. Soon he was handing out our karatalas and teaching us how to keep the beat. We clashed and sang along happily. Then immediately he gave philosophy to sustain us. The philosophy flowed through the hard rocks of our hearts, the dirty chunks of coal, the long habits of unclear and abusive thinking. ‘This is going on.’ Both instantly and gradually, he revealed the Absolute Truth.”
“Mail may not come, it could even be lost—all those people who wrote me. In any case, I can read the Gita and finish that Cc. chapter where Sarva is happy and Gopinatha Acarya is happy and they are dancing and laughing and clapping, celebrating that Sarva has become a pure Vaisnava. Yes, because of his relationship with Gopinatha Acarya, who is dear to Lord Caitanya, Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya has received drops of mercy from the ocean of love of God. He is ecstatic. Vairagya-vidya-nija-bhakti-yoga. Pray for that to happen to you.
“Prabhupada assures us that we can be with Krsna and the spiritual master by sound. Don’t stress exclusively seeing. Krsna is with us in the chanting of Hare Krsna and in His teachings in Bhagavad-gita. I read this in Lilamrta tonight to four devotees gathered for the Karttika candle lighting. I was impressed to hear it. Suddenly I remembered how I heard Bill Clinton give his acceptance speech earlier this month. I was in Italy and picked it up on short-wave radio. In the same way, spiritually, we can be with Krsna by the ‘radio’ of our chanting and hearing. It’s not just us chanting, but Krsna is with us if we want Him. Serve by chanting.”
“One could ask, ‘Is there a danger of relativizing the words of the acarya by printing his letters?’ Yes, there is a risk to print a tremendous amount of material available on Srila Prabhupada in candid settings, letters and conversations, etc. This contrasts, for example, with the small amount available on Jesus Christ or Lord Buddha. But Srila Prabhupada is so transcendental that his reputation and character hold up wonderfully, despite the great exposure he received by having everything he said recorded.
“The letters teach devotees how to surrender to Prabhupada in a more complete way. Because they exemplify his unedited voice, we can follow Prabhupada around the world of ISKCON and feel his desire to spread Krsna consciousness. We can see the successes and mistakes of his disciples, and we can see how Prabhupada tried to mold them for the service of Lord Caitanya. We see boldness and compassion in preaching again and again. We see a kind of open determination, which may be more like a covered flame, in the purports of his books. If we actually worship Srila Prabhupada in this presence we find in his letters, we will not have a tendency to relativize his instructions contained in the letters. The instructions are absolute in that they are Prabhupada’s words; they are relative in terms of how they can be directly applied. But the letters are Prabhupada’s, and so we have to accept them with complete faith. In discussing the Vedic tradition we can give examples from smrti, the scriptures themselves, or sruti, the recorded words of the acaryas.
An advanced devotee does not disrespect either of them or think that one is less absolute. He accepts both as the direction of Krsna.”
“To the people who live on Brislin Road,
“In my morning walks past your houses, I see your children lining up to catch the school bus. You go outside to dote on them as I come by. Sometimes you eye me strangely because I’m something new on your block and because I’m not going off to work or school like everybody else. What do I actually do when I turn the corner and walk into the woods every morning?
“Normally I love to sing as I walk—the ‘Gurvastakam’ prayers or the Hare Krsna mantra. But when I walk by your houses I fall silent. I guess I feel a little uneasy about the fact that I’m so different from you.
“Once I reach the woods, I’m able to sing. And sometimes I talk out loud to myself, making plans for books I want to write or how to improve my chanting. I know this is no concern to you in your houses, but I wanted to tell you that I’m a happy man.
“What makes me happy? The fact that I sing Hare Krsna and I’m a devotee in Krsna consciousness.
“The happiness I feel comes in being cleansed in heart by the giving up of sinful activities. To become free from sin, you first have to get knowledge, and that comes by associating with knowledgeable persons. They are rare in this world. By God’s grace, I met a pure devotee of Krsna, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He taught me that love of God is the source of true happiness. He transformed my life for the better. This makes me so happy that I like to sing about it.”
“My plan to write this book grew out of encouragement from professors in whose classes I taught while touring as a lecturer for the Los Angeles Center for Vedic Studies. In November, 1973, Dr. Alton Becker invited me to speak before the faculty and students of the Center for South and Southeastern Studies at the University of Michigan. My paper proposed a fresh attitude toward Vedic studies: an attempt to appreciate the Vedic knowledge on its own merits, as it exists apart from the interpretations of empirical Western scholarship. Dr. Becker found the viewpoint enlivening and advised me to develop it further. From conversations with college students who knew only the current Vedic textbooks, I became convinced that students of Vedic literature would be more enthusiastic if they could believe that the literature they were studying was not merely a hodgepodge of myths but could actually give them a new and coherent view of life. My travels led me to meet with Vedic scholars such as Dr. Edward Dimock (University of Chicago), Dr. Thomas Hopkins (Franklin and Marshall College), and Dr. Joseph O’Connell (University of Toronto). All of these gentlemen saw my outline, and they confirmed that this book would be useful as a foundation for Vedic studies.
“My own interest in the Vedic tradition began in 1966. In that year I met His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who in the previous year had arrived in the United States to teach Vedic culture. I had received a B.A. in. English literature from Brooklyn College, and I was doing graduate work toward a career as a writer. But I decided instead to devote my life to studying the Vedas, and in September, 1966, Srila Prabhupada accepted me as his sisya (disciple). I have been a personal secretary to Srila Prabhupada since 1970, and in 1972 I received the sannyasa order of life (awarded for scholarship and renunciation). Overall, for the last ten years I have been studying the Vedic literature, writing articles about it, and lecturing in United States colleges on behalf of the Center for Vedic Studies.
“The attempt herein is to present a Vedic textbook and anthology for undergraduates that allows them to hear a great tradition speak for itself.”
“Shed windows frosted over. It’s getting too cold here for a morning visit. Aniruddha said that he and Manu could arrange for a gas heater which would take the fumes out of the room. When Madhu is away (or when he’s here, I thought this morning), I shouldn’t demand too many things for myself. Ladies have to give up a morning to cook for me. I shouldn’t ask for things I don’t need. My hands are cold.
Oh man, I want to see Krsna in Christmas, in wood knots, in men and women working hard to confront karma on the street, ‘Please take a book.’
“The end. Has he written his last? I don’t believe it for a moment. He won’t give up.
“Here’s a story he wrote:
“‘Once there was a mouse and a monster. One was a devotee, the other was innocent. The mouse told the story that once the monster received a Krsna conscious book and was going to eat it, but he decided to read a page of it first. The page was on the immortality of the soul. It opened his eyes, blew his mind. ‘I believe,’ he said. The monster decided to drop out of the Monster Flying Academy, but he couldn’t because he had signed a contract.
“The monster said, ‘I must always chant Hare Krsna and eat vegetarian prasadam,’ and he began singing loudly. They thought of smacking him on both ears and jailing him, but decided to kick him out of the Academy. He joined a local temple whose devotees didn’t like him being a monster.
“‘But I’m not this body. Don’t think of me as a monster.’
“‘Gee, you’re right there,’ they said, but in their minds they retained their prejudice.
“O monster, hang in there. The Lord loves you.
Your soul is bright and pure
and you are the gentle servant
of the true monists who love God.
You’ll soon get awarded your svarupa and
that will be lovely and joyful forever.
My God it’s cold. Matra-sparsas.
Fingertips sting, the body chills.
Of rulers I am Yama
of Devarsis, Narada
of Daityas, saintly Prahlada
of yajna, Hare Krsna mantra japa.”
“Talks with Hridayananda dasa Goswami were wonderful. He helped me solve the very thing I was struggling with (how to deal with disciples in temples where I am not GBC). Don’t think in a stereotyped way that I have to have a certain affectionate, intimate, all-in-all relationship. It is a fact that ISKCON shares the responsibility for them. The process itself works by itself, and they are certainly linked to me by the initiation process, even if they are doing well on their own without being obviously dependent on me every day at every step.
“He said that even more important than being guru is to strive to be internally pure and to think of Krsna, to chant Hare Krsna, and to write. Then, we may come to external consciousness and deal with the disciple. As a father, if the disciple is doing well, that is encouraging; not that he has to be reduced to dependence all the time. He writes them when they write him. This is very helpful.
“Chant and meditate on Krsna. Not so much management, don’t make material demands on disciples, but be a kind father asking them to follow the four rules and to chant sixteen rounds.
“Admit that there are other devotees in our disciples’ lives. There must be love, but it cannot be a jealous type of love. There are millions of pure devotees in the spiritual world. Disciples want faith in Krsna as God. We have to give them this. We can’t be the one to push them too hard. (These notes require a special reading or they may be misunderstood.)
“Again and again I think, ‘So many devotees are depending on me. Please, Lord, protect me from falldown. As I pray they be saved, so let me be saved for the benefit of my disciples.’ Simply, blindly dependent in faith on Srila Prabhupada’s will.”
“When you read that this body contains foul-smelling feces, urine, pus, etc., and the skin keeps it from being horrible to look at and a feast for flies, what do you think?
“It’s absolutely true whether you like it or not. Still, it’s the duty of a bhagavata speaker to be satyam bruyat, to speak the truth in a palatable way. I didn’t do that last night when I said, ‘Licit or illicit, sex is the same. The Swami spoke many strong things against marriage.’ I shrugged my shoulders after and took no responsibility for my casual words condemning people. I left it dangling like that, me a tough, uncaring sannyasi, as if I myself can bite the bullet of austerity, which I usually can’t. Just raise the temperature a few degrees on a summer afternoon and I can’t function. I am also not above sex desire, anger, and cowardice. Why, then, did I put down householders? Something hypocritical here? I bob along from temple to temple with these messages . . .
“I mean to be a better person, but you see how much I feel conflicting motives and emotions. I want to be accepted, to be entertaining, to show that I accept the absolute words of guru and sastra even when they are beyond me. I want to say them without embarrassment or showing myself superior to them. Dare to speak what he said and leave it at that. Conflicting emotions as I want them to like me and want me to return and speak again. I don’t want to burn out temples so that they don’t care if I ever return. Please, Lord, let me speak better.”
“Radha-kunda—Just say it simply: I offer my obeisances to Srila Prabhupada. He is my sole connection. Only by his permission do I come here. I have no knowledge of or taste for Radha-Krsna’s pastimes. I am just a fool in a body. But I have this pranama-mantra engraved in my heart. I chant it as my heart’s prayer again and again at Radha-kunda.
Nama om visnu-padaya krsna-presthaya bhu-tale
srimate bhaktivedanta-svamin iti namine
namas te sarasvate deve gaura-vani-pracarine
“They are begging for rupees. We are drying off, wringing out our gamchas. It is immediately hot again. Something nice happened here.
“Submerge yourself in the water. Hold onto the chain because the steps are slippery. I see what my brother does and I do it too. He cups his hands, dips them into the water, and then lifts them up to splash water on his head. It is delightful. I want to stay longer, but I don’t like the turtles. They surface and look in my direction, and I hurry to finish my gayatri. Even I have to laugh at what a superficial person I am, but it is all mercy.
“Devotees from Italy, America, and India sit for a short while together on a wall. We reapply our tilaka while a girl tries to sell us grey Radha-kunda candana. As I apply my tilaka, a boy watches. Then he exclaims, ‘Gaudiya Math! Caitanya Mahaprabhu!’ This is India. In America, even the most clever boy could know only, ‘Oh, a Hare Krsna.’ This boy sees the thin lines of our Visnu tilaka marks, the conservative, concise ‘arrow’ point over the nose, and happily concludes which sampradaya we belong to. Yes, we are followers of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Gaudiya-sampradaya Mahaprabhu. Prabhupada.”
“Traveled to NYC, Queens, to P.B.M.’s apartment. Here I am in one piece. I can give two lectures in two nights. ‘Give’ means to repeat Krsna consciousness as I’ve heard it. Play the lecture excerpts of His Divine Grace. Without this Krsna consciousness we have no intelligence.
“New York Yankees. We drove past Yankee Stadium and I said aloud, ‘There’s Yankee Stadium.’ I thought it would have some meaning to Madhu. Rested for the first time in the back of the new van. It’s too early to make a judgment.
“What is true in me? I don’t even want to know some scary hollowness, cowardice, lack of spiritual realization. I want a cozy, comfortable existence. You can’t have what you want. But as a result of my time and service I get some reward, material conveniences. We move from place to place. Stay out of reach of the directional arm of the GBC.
“I don’t know who I am. By chanting Hare Krsna one can control the mind.
“May apples are a sojourn. There’s no country lane. Calm down, man. You don’t want a woman. You don’t want worship fuss. You do like it when they edit and publish your writings. You don’t like a headache.
“In this room are Srimad Bhagavatams and Caitanya-caritamrtas. Candles in glasses because they know I use them. Bare wood floor, feels cold. It was thirty-two degrees when left Stroudsburg. Sign for ‘East Stroudsburg University.’ Small-time place. One wants prestige in a place of education he attends. Wants money, sex, security, longevity. But if you strive for those and don’t advance your spiritual cause, you’re no better than an animal.
“Chant, chant. Road in the back of the van. No curtain over the windows yet. Could sleep, that would be nice.
“May apples in a secluded lane. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna. Airplane scratching the sky. Delta guarantees a seat on the shuttle. Advertisement of a video camera shows three photos of your daughter from childhood to her marriage in a white bridal gown. It says, ‘Going…going…gone!’ Before you know it, your daughter will grow up and get married and leave your home – and if you don’t capture her activities on video it will be lost forever. Get in there and take pictures.
“‘Detroit tonight: 7:35’ sign at Yankee Stadium. Who will win the game?
“Write a little longer, but if you want to doze it’s all right. They will leave you alone here. Box of mail caught up with us.
“I don’t feel a deep urge to preach, but when I start, I can do it. I’d just like to be left alone. I am not someone special. I don’t…trust.
“The rumba. Let’s take a break, man. Write me three more minutes. It’s a tough town, a chaos of karma, hell. The rich get richer, and you see if I lived here as a nondevotee I’d have to get a job and my horizons limited to the daily grind and seeking relief in it. Fears of crime, assaults, attempts at happiness. Foolish attempts. We are transcendental to that. I could lecture on some of that. But have paltry realization. Hare Krsna.
“(15 minutes, P.B.M.’s and Rasaraja’s apartment, Queens, NYC, May 7, 1996, just arrived. A book on wildflowers here, but no May apples)”
“I don’t want this to be a mere exercise racing by the clock. I feel something that I’m reluctant to preach. I’d rather go deep inside myself and know something. Does that sound bad?
“You don’t understand (dear reader) what I’m trying to say. I’ve said this before? It sounds familiar? Sounds like when I was in the Pyrenees trying to decide whether to live in a house in remote Ireland for prayer? No, it’s not like that. ‘Prayer’ isn’t happening like that with me, with heavy Christian influence. Neither am I under Narayana Maharaja or other Gaudiya Math influences or ‘rasika.’ Or – nondevotee writers or listening to jazz. Or even thinking life means to write nonstop.
“But something is happening, some tickling sensation inside tells me – if you do need to change for your betterment, then be open to it. If I lecture in temples maybe I’ll get more taste for that. But I’m in the extreme position of not meeting with people. Someone might therefore say, ‘He doesn’t preach much. Not like he used to. Although he does preach through his books.’
“I’m on course as usual. Just wanted to mention there is a tickle of something inside and I wanted to be aware of it.
“We all want direction from Krsna. But we can’t expect the Lord of Vrndavana to come and dance for us and play His flute as if He’s our servant. You hear of Him and you serve Him – that’s the way.
“Names of flowers in this room, one a weedy yellow-and-purple, a little bit like a daisy – real American wildflowers. I want you to say as many poems as you can. Rasaraja’s band, 108, has a new CD and single – angry lyrics. Feel the void in yourself. I’m sick of society and the slaughtering they do to our minds. And fools, I’m not going to hide it anymore, etc.
“I am hanging around in this apartment doing a little puja for Srila Prabhupada and answering some letters. Not a very active man.
“Hey, he’s not an active man.
“Doesn’t like to stay up past 7 P.M. Ever heard of such a thing? He likes to get up at midnight and read and write and chant his rounds then.
“Won’t condemn himself for being a non-devout, non-emotional, non-living chanter. Got a cut on his thumbprint from rubbing the beads, and another on his long finger, but that doesn’t mean you are chanting with love.
“Hare Krsna Hare Krsna. The Lord is the topmost Person. I was in tune with His Srimad-Bhagavatam and now I seem to have stopped it for the time being.
“Say Krsna. Do you want to be a devotee? Do you want to pay the price?
“This is a fairly quiet street in Queens. Apartments are two stories high. Rent. Diverse, multi-racial. Cars parked at all spots. I told you Our Lady is out front.
“So, P.B.M. is going to 26 Second Avenue tonight but we will stay back. A devotee named Agni is coming and offering to give a Shiatsu massage. I agreed to it. Good health for this aging body. Get on it, man. Don’t play too old before your time.
“I tell you, Gentle Power is what we are calling our poetry book. Krsna consciousness and gentle power.
“It was not a mouse, just a shadow.
“If you write only fifteen minutes, it may not be enough. I started this one mainly to express an inkling of change. Don’t say I didn’t mention it. If it comes again, I’ll note it. It starts with the recognition that I am not so eager to preach. That I ask myself, why. I don’t have a clear answer, but it is related to honesty, to admitting I don’t have realization or taste for Krsna in Goloka. My spiritual ambitions seem tired out. Bogged down with realities of this world, the institution, the physical issues of raising money, etc., disagreements among people…how to apply the teachings. If I don’t realize Krsna consciousness deeply, then when I preach – I feel the credulity gap between where I am and the perfection of the state described in the scriptures.
“When I read rightly it helps, but I can’t sustain that. And all of these letters coming in and more requests that I give lectures – or demands from my writer self to write something – so, I can’t follow up this inkling. Maybe there is something different I could do. That’s what I wanted to say. But don’t forget that you are in the world like everyone else, so it is not likely you’ll discover a way out of it that is so different from what everyone of us is dealing with.”
(21 minutes, Queens apartment, May 7, 1996)
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.