I no longer have a working connection with the GBC. My attention is turned to the press workers who serve with my books. There’s John Endler, who compiles material from my vintage manuscripts, and Krsna Bhajana and his wife Satyasara, who type up manuscripts and do proofreading. Krishna Kripa is a solid proofreader, and so is Guru dasa. Lal Krishna produces artistic covers, does the layout, and communicates with the printer. Jaya Govinda and Ananda Kisore scheme to come up with ways to distribute the books using the website. Ishvara Govinda keeps everything available on his website sdglegacy.com. I am able to work with these devotees closely and quickly because of the speed of communications. Formerly it took a long time for me to see typed versions of what I had written, and layout and covers were slow in coming. Now it’s a kind of competition between myself as the author and press workers who produce the books. As yet we have not been too much successful in mass distribution of the books, but we’re always thinking of ways to do it. All of my disciples could take part in distribution, but so far not many have done so.
I received a letter from a disciple whose initiation japa mala wore out and cracked. She writes, “They have lived a long and happy life and needed to be strung twice during their lifetime, which may have made them more delicate over time. They almost reached the twenty-year mark.” She wrote to me humbly requesting that I chant on a new set of beads. She is willing to send me new mala by FedEx if I give my blessing to do so. When Prabhupada was presented with this situation, he said, “Once chanted on by the spiritual master, the blessing is eternal, and one doesn’t need to ask him to chant on a new set of beads.” But occasionally he may have made the exception and chanted on someone’s new set of beads. I am willing to chant on this devotee’s new set of beads, since they are so upset about the broken ones and want to start over with new ones. So I am willing to do it, especially since in this case the beads lasted almost twenty years. Obviously they were taken care of nicely, not that they were asking me for new beads every year.
“Rupa Vilasa dasa’s vastly revised edition of The Seventh Goswami (a biography of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura) comes to us published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust after the first edition which was published by Rupa Vilasa some thirty years ago. Although the first edition was well-received by scholars of Lord Caitanya’s Gaudiya Vaishnavism and by the followers of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder-Acharya of The International Society for Krsna Consciousness (ISKCON), Rupa Vilasa never ceased research into the life of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in books written about him and articles about him, and by studying the 200 books written by Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
“The title ‘the seventh Goswami’ was given to the Thakura by a religious journalist, a contemporary of Bhaktivinoda, comparing him favorably to the six famous Gosvamis of Vrindavana who were direct disciples of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Lord Caitanya ordered them to live in Vrindavana, the birthplace of Lord Krsna. Lord Caitanya asked them to write many books establishing Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and to excavate the lost places of Krsna’s pastimes, and to ask people to construct temples for worship of Krsna.
“Rupa Vilasa reveals that Bhaktivinoda Thakura was a Vaisnava scholar and devotee of the highest order. But the book is also an exciting page-turner. The Thakura confronted many nondevotional teachers and outright frauds, and he defeated them with fearless logic and scriptural evidence. For years he was the magistrate in charge of the Jagannatha temple of Puri in Orissa, and he introduced many reforms to the temple worship and protected its purity from ill motivated persons. After hearing legal cases in the day the Thakura would go home and sleep by 7 PM. After a few hours he would awake and ecstatically write his many books. Rupa Vilasa’s many years of research and reason, and his wonderful flair for writing about Vaisnava acharyas, makes the 2021 edition of The Seventh Goswami a monumental and enduring contribution to Vaishnavism.”
I received a letter from a devotee who wrote, “I don’t like to criticize, but I hear people speaking with a tone of knowledge and expertise when I am trying to cultivate an honest sense of my ignorance. I don’t want to ‘preach’ anything that I don’t know for sure to be true.” Being honest about our lack of understanding and realization is good, but we must have faith that every word in the Srimad-Bhagavatam is true. Therefore we can go ahead and preach what’s in the Bhagavatam slokas and Prabhupada’s purports. Anyone can begin at once repeating the message of the Bhagavatam with faith that it is the absolute truth. We are speaking in parampara, disciplic succession, from what the previous acaryas have written, and we must not be afraid to accept the Bhagavatam verbatim. The stronger a devotee’s faith is, the more he or she can present the Bhagavatam with confidence. The faith is not just theoretical book knowledge, but it is devotional service, expressing the message of the Bhagavatam as a way of life.
I received a letter from Nitai Sacinandana dasa, who is living almost alone in the Belfast Temple. He has been there for many years and is steady despite his many health issues. I told him he should take care of his health as a first priority. Prabhupada once wrote down on a piece of paper the priority of activities for a person with health issues. He wrote: 1) health 2) chanting rounds and 3) reading his books, in that order. Health care is the top priority.
“So you take care of your health in that way. It is good that you say by careful attention to your health program you are doing quite well, and the elements are under control.
“I see in your letter that two Indian devotees are living with you in the temple. One of them will be going back to India soon, but the other will stay with you for two years. I am glad that you get along well with them.
“Continue to keep in touch with me. I publish a weekly journal on the Internet. Do you have access to that? It has a wide readership, and you can keep a bond with me by reading it. You can ask one of the devotees like Manu dasa about how to hook into my journal. Please continue to tell me your schedule of activities. This is very important to me in keeping a close relationship.
“Thinking of you with affection,
Satsvarupa dasa Goswami”
I am receiving letters from a disciple who is going through pains because of his family attachments. I wrote him back that I read his letter about his situation with great empathy. But I also see how he is in great pain because of his attachments.
“At present (just as you are reading about Maharaja Citraketu), our group is reading about Maharaja Pariksit being cursed to die in seven days. He is described as taking the news of his oncoming death in an ideal way. He immediately renounces his worldwide kingdom, his wife and children and all his royal responsibilities. He goes to the bank of the Yamuna and inquires from the great sage Sukadeva Gosvami as to what should be his duty at the time of death. She rejected you in the worst way, in the way you are most vulnerable, but if you make her persona non grata, you will be better off. This is an instruction not just for you but for anyone in your situation of being overattached.
“As for your son, he is a source of great pain and may continue to be so in the future unless you become detached. Like Pariksit Maharaja, you have to develop some detachment from your son. That is what Citraketu did when his dead son came back to life and spoke to Citraketu and the others about the illusion of the temporary body and the eternality of the soul. You are keeping yourself in a traumatized condition. Your son has allowed himself to share his love equally with his mother and father. He shall have to live with this as his karma. As his intelligence matures, he may stay with you—or he may bond more with his peer friends and not be so attached to his mother or his father—but he is just a baby and is malleable. You have to accept him as he is.
“Although you have been swallowed up in the trauma of the situation, don’t allow that woman to hurt you anymore. You would be better to let go of your excessive attachment to your son. Live in a way that is more detached from this family embroilment. I know that what I am saying is hard for you to hear. But I think it is the best way for you to keep your sanity in Krsna consciousness. At the end of the day all you have is your Krsna consciousness. Like Maharaja Pariksit, everything else is taken away, but you can spend your time while sitting down at the Yamuna and hearing from Sukadeva Gosvami.”
A group of devotees in Mayapura, mostly Prabhupada’s disciples, are taking turns reading out loud from the Prabhupada-lilamrta. They broadcast it for all the devotees to hear. When Jananivasa spoke, he went over his assigned nine minutes and spoke on some additional nectar. The sponsor has written to me and invited me to take some turns in reading selections from the book. I agreed to it provisionally, and I am trying to find out what is the best way for me to record it so that it is compatible with their needs. I am happy that devotees are taking the time to read the full unabridged edition of the Prabhupada-lilamrta. The condensed version of the biography has been very good for book distribution in public. They have sold many, many, many volumes, and people have become attracted to Prabhupada, people who don’t have the endurance to read the whole thing. But the condensed version has taken out much of the actual nectar of Prabhupada’s pastimes as found in the full Prabhupada-lilamrta.
With the new system on Zoom, more devotees are just tuned in listening without taking part in reading. Some of them are too shy to read, or their English isn’t good enough. But I’m taking a turn now daily to read some verses and purports, which the devotees encourage me to do.
We just began reading the Third Canto. It tells how Vidura spoke to Dhrtarastra and told him to disassociate himself with his envious son Duryodhana. Duryodhana became furious and said that Vidura should be thrown out of the palace, leaving him with only his breath. Before anything could actually be done, Vidura quit the palace, leaving his bow on the door. He traveled to many holy places and bathed in the holy rivers and sought out the holy men living there. As he traveled widely, he came to meet Uddhava on the bank of the Yamuna. Vidura was older than Uddhava, so Uddhava made his obeisances to Vidura while the latter embraced him. Vidura asked about the welfare of his friends, and he specifically asked about the Kurus and the Yadus. He already knew that they had been vanquished by killing each other in fratricidal war, but his question was more psychological than practical because he was so traumatized by the news.
After lunch, after we have finished our out-loud reading, we stay at the kitchen table and do “liming.” This is a word that comes from Trinidad. Up north we call it “shooting the breeze” or “hanging out.” The conversation has no particular agenda, but we talk relaxedly, enjoying each other’s company. Yesterday, we read statements on the websites of Indradyumna Maharaja and B.B. Govinda Maharaja stating why they decided to take anti-COVID vaccinations. Indradyumna Maharaja wrote that he has been saved several times in his life by learned doctors. He’s been treated three times for cancer and twice for sepsis—both deadly diseases—and been saved. B.B. Govinda Maharaja said he has received vaccinations ever since he was a small boy. He received shots for meningitis, smallpox, polio and other deadly diseases, and therefore never contacted the illnesses. Other contemporary friends of his who didn’t take the shots died or were disabled for life. He said to take a shot or not is each individual’s decision. He didn’t want his own decision, as announced, to become a matter of controversy on his Facebook page. He gave the analogy that a single stick can be easily broken, but many sticks bunched together cannot be easily broken. So if 75% of the world receives vaccinations, the COVID-19 would be eliminated. There have been big changes from the authorities. The governor of New York, who was strict about controlling COVID, has now announced that any people who have received two vaccine shots can now gather together, without masks, as a family and associate together. It is still recommended that you wear a mask when you go out in public.
Every day we have a new liming subject to talk about. Some days it is more valuable than others, and on some days it’s close to prajalpa and we realize that and cut the talk short.
We slept comfortably after our shot. Some people we know suffered from fevers, headaches, and other flu-like symptoms for several days. The most common reaction people feel is fatigue, and they have to take bed rest. The biggest breakthrough for us is that by the end of the month people who have had their two vaccinations can come and visit us at our ashram, help out with services and take part in the mealtime out-loud readings of the Bhagavatam. If they get their two shots, they will be able to meet with us face to face in our ashram.
I spoke on FaceTime with Stitha-dhi-muni. He lives in Alachua, Florida, in a trailer right in the heart of that big devotee community. He likes that there are so many generations of devotees living there, and he gets plenty of association and access to the temple. He said it is like an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn. I told him I was embarrassed to speak to him because I was his spiritual master but I didn’t understand much about Vedic cosmology, which is his field of service. He replied that he didn’t know much about it either, and he leaves the details up to others. He has a PhD in the history of science and teaches that and other historical subjects at two different colleges, the University of Florida and another school. He likes the college teaching and feels it keeps him in shape. Stitha-dhi worked his way through college by operating a newspaper delivery route by car. Now he’s turned the job over to another devotee who needs the money more than he does. But he still works it one or two days a week to give the other man a break.
He is a follower of the scientific genius Sadaputa dasa (Richard Thompson), and has written works based on Richard Thompson’s archives. When I told him I wasn’t a good conversationalist about Vedic cosmology, he told me not to worry—he would do most of the talking. I told him he was “a good man,” and he took it humbly. In the pre-COVID days, he always attended my disciples meetings in the summer and at Vyasa-puja Day, flying all the way from Florida just to be with me and the devotees. He reads my weekly Free Write Journal and my books, and he appreciates that I am a “cultural weapon” doing what is authentic for me in Krsna consciousness.
I heard a lecture by Bhurijana in which he did an overview of Cantos Five, Six and Seven of Srimad-Bhagavatam. He began by asking who stands out as the beginning personality in the Fifth Canto. A devotee looked it up on her mobile phone and said that it was King Priyavrata. Bhurijana said, “You can’t expect to always have your mobile phone to give you the answers.” He then went on to speak of the instructions of King Rsabhadeva to His one hundred sons in the Fifth Canto. The leading son was Maharaja Bharata. Bhurijana asked his class how Rsabhadeva began His teachings. A devotee quoted the verse that says a human being should not waste his life in the activities of the animals but should practice tapasya: nayam deho deha-bhajam nrlokekastan kaman arhate viḍ-bhujam ye—and should engage his life this way and experience brahma sokyam tvanantam, spiritual bliss which lasts forever. Bhurijana moved quickly over the topics and said unless he did so they would be there all day trying to cover the several chapters. This was an overview of material which he had written on at length and spoken on at length at other times. Bhurijana spoke on the different births of Maharaja Bharata and came to describe Jada Bharata, who acted deaf and dumb but finally revealed himself as a great sage to King Rahugana, who heard him submissively. Bhurijana spoke on the great power of the holy name in the Sixth Canto, where the narration is given of how the great sinner Ajamila was saved at death by calling on the name of his son Narayana. Although he was calling on his son and not the Lord, the Visnudutas came to save him from the clutches of the Yamadutas, who had also come with the intention to drag off the great sinner Ajamila to their master, Yamaraja, who punishes the sinful living entities. In the Seventh Canto Bhurijana reviewed how the Lord is not partial but equal to everyone, yet He chose to appear in a delightful transcendental form as Nrsimhadeva just to protect His pure devotee Prahlada Maharaja and end the demonic reign of Hiranyakasipu.
The overview covered the material a little too fast for me, but I like it when he covers the ground more slowly and in detail.
I listened to Bhurijana speaking to devotees in a very relaxed, informal way. I think perhaps they were his disciples in Perth. Jagattarini Mataji was also there and took part in the discussions. It was not the usual monologue by a lecturer, but Bhurijana had the devotees speak up and interact. He was so relaxed, he induced the devotees into much laughter. But he spoke seriously on the verses of Bhagavad-gita. He just drew the devotees out to speak their candid realizations. I would like to hear more classes like that—it drew my attention. Bhurijana is a close enough friend that I was able to take part with his devotees and share the special moments. I’m going to write to Bhurijana and ask him if he has someone recording that type of informal session. I would like to have them for my own listening. This was so much out of character from his usual academic presentation with the overview method and the connecting of verses and chapters in a systematic way.
“No winter here—or at least no snow. In snow you move indoors
and slow down. Oxen draw carts over the frozen earth, and Japanese
haiku priests walk in blinding snow, but all hearts at the hearthside.
“Icicles drop from the eaves, and Christmas approaches
where people try to overlook bad feelings
in the world
while devotees run out on book distribution
in heavy coats, music,
Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’ playing
over the radio,
reminding people of heavy blankets, coats, a scholar’s solitude, the Lord of Heaven.
Vivaldi’s second movement—yes, I remember ice skating
with the tune in my head
hearty and healthy
swooning swooning then hot chocolate with puff of
Icy slopes and fire, the world’s music meant to dissuade us
from suicide, to wile away our time otherwise,
In winter people rub hands together in prayer,
the monks in stone-cold monasteries warmed by the flames of love.
It’s cold in Vraja—no heat available.
Cling only to beads and master’s words,
Deities warm in blankets
and stylish quilts.
Allegro—rain on green and brown. Can’t repent. I belong
to the world but have retired until they draft me again and pull me
out of solitude. Prabhupada says that a preacher’s life is not easy-going.
He has to face obstacles and sometimes pain inflicted by mudhas.
Oh, I did that when I was younger. Give me days now to write to
the Lords of the Boston Common and to the new, almost-born bhaktas
and bhaktins who may wander to this island or get one of my books in
the shadow of oaks near Pretoria or in Wisconsin or down some back
street while sitting on a wooden back porch in Czech Republic or China
or the streets of Tokyo. May I give them what my master gave me: love
and capatis, bread balls and chaunced dal, and may they eat it with the
whole self by the mercy of God as I both fail and succeed.”
“Prabhupada said that his duty was to draw us to him in love. He lectured in Vrndavana and told us that in Vraja, all entities are individual but have one common purpose: to satisfy Krsna. He said it dramatically, as an orator, in the outdoor kirtana hall, until the bell rang nine. At the end, he said, ‘The guru should not cheat his disciples. Gurur na sa syat.’
“Later, I heard him lecturing on Rsabhadeva entering a forest fire created by the wind. He said it was just like we sing each day in ‘Gurvastakam,’ samsara-davanala. As he lectured on that, I thought, ‘When I have to lecture, I can remember these techniques and ways to shift to vital topics regardless of the topic of the verse.’ He said he saw a fire high on a hill in some station in India. No one wanted it to start, and no one could put it out until the ‘mercy rainfall’ came.
“My words, my . . . firecrackers. Finger burnt off words that lose control. Now preach and lecture and tell us, dogmatic saint, what you really mean. I mean to be in favor of Krsna consciousness and never against it, but we speak honestly and sometimes you may think I’m putting down ISKCON or worse, our master, when really, I can’t do that. I’m only trying to dig under the official surface. Sometimes worms squeeze out or roaches escape, or even mice or rats have been known to . . . And I want to return to safety, singing, ‘krsna he . . . raksa mam, pahi mam’—please save me and protect me. Ten minutes per round; ‘Please accept me’ is all we pray.”
“It’s quiet. I have nothing much to say because my energy is low today after the headache yesterday. Anticipating travel with the new year. O Lord of lords, fierce of form, I don’t know Your mission, Arjuna said.
“Fierce of form—thighs, mouths, bellies, soldiers entering the mouths of Krsna’s visvarupa. The demigods see it and are afraid, offer prayers, cry out, ‘Peace!’
Peace, the sunrise
coming through frets of trees
pouring like colored music,
the sun-eye of God.
“In cold November the atmosphere is miles high, those woolly, breaking apart, ever-changing clouds. They seem to influence the nature of the water, now cold and calm. The weeds on the shore are frozen stiff and frosted white.
I scratch this pen
with amends and
ready to chant after hearing
that there is repetition in some of Arjuna’s statements about the universal form. It’s typical for someone in ecstasy to repeat himself: ‘Oh! Oh!’
“Pain control books recommend self-hypnosis (which never worked for me. They tell you to imagine the pain to be a red ball getting smaller and turning softer in color, a mellow pink) and relaxation. They say not to be negative and recommend other strategies, such as taking hot baths and listening to Brahms.
“I feel the pain and look out the window at the ever-changing portrait of the lake and island and marsh. Today five rowers in five canoes and four swans all together.
“I go by circadian body rhythms. Peak times and ebbs are individual. I do get tired around 4:00-6:00 A.M., after rising at midnight and doing my bhajana, then showering, etc. They also say that old people tend to sleep light and be restless at night—wake about five times during the night. Yeah, that’s me. ‘Over fifty-five’—that’s me too. I’m pure spirit soul and never grow old. That’s me too.
“Arjuna prays to the Lord. Krsna is all things. As Time, He devours those brahmanas and ksatriyas instantly. They are already dead. Kalo ‘smi, Time I am, He says, and Arjuna stood in wonder.
“I say ‘Krsna’ and stand by it. I am faithful sticking here to ISKCON even though a guy says why don’t you leave if you are right and the GBC is wrong. For what? To join him down the block?
“I’m here in December, World Enlightenment Day. I’m here on my birthday and Christ’s and the disappearance of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. I’m here until the end of the year.
“Blessings come down on those who read in peace. I don’t seem to be getting better at prayer, but maybe I am. Don’t say ‘maybe’ or
‘I guess’ the pain management book
says. Assert yourself.
Okay, there’s no pain, and I
breathe deep from the diaphragm and chase
the blues away. The pain
moves on, diminishing.”
“Dattatreya brought me published diaries, some with a mixture of prose and poems. If I read them all I would be ruined. At a glance, so many blasphemies. ‘We live in a world where no one, neither God nor Caesar, is in charge’ . . . ‘Mozart’s life and work express a pure and more efficacious benevolence to humankind than the life and work of God.’ Smug, atheistic, mad, demoniac (or at least speculative), ignorant . . . why bother to read them, even in small doses? Erotic, wordy, powerful, enchanting, boring, time-consuming—everything but pure devotional service. Why bother with them? Talent beyond me, completely mundane, obscure, wrong, foolish, mad—I would waste time and gain nothing. I look at them for their use of language, and because they are diaries, or so I tell myself. But do I need so much evidence that someone else has written a combination of prose and poetry or that a journal can be interesting literature? But I already know that. I should be careful.
“Sastric references about seeing God: ‘Every place, every space, and everything belongs to Visnu, but where He personally lives is tad dhama paramam, His supreme abode. One has to make one’s destination the supreme abode of the Lord.’ (Bhag. 3.32.26, purport)”
“Walking halfway up the hill, I stopped to read from Bhagavad-gita. While standing reading, I noticed it was getting darker. A storm was brewing. I packed away the book and trudged up the hill, but not before it began to hail. The wind blew me forward and the shower of stones rattled on my raincoat. Somehow it proved an ideal situation to get closer to the earth and to speak my secret ambitions to Lord Krsna. This was what I wanted—the time and place alone to come out before the Lord unashamed.
“When I remember our early kirtanas with Swamiji, I mostly recall the bliss, but there was also pain. Life is painful. In order to experience happiness, you have to break through the suffering. Some musical forms, like blues music, express the suffering in a melodious way. The kirtana has some of that too, at least when it is sung in this world by conditioned souls who cry over material unhappiness even while they are transcending it. We want to get out of this place—out of the hell—right now, by singing. Kirtana works like that. We feel relief, but we also experience the pain. Our feet stay in this world while we aspire to go up.
“When a pure devotee like Srila Prabhupada looks out at the conditioned souls, he sees Krsna’s mercy and compassion showering over them. The pure devotee conducts the kirtana for them. When he hears them singing in the kirtana chorus, he also hears their joy mixed with the material modes, although he can see the kirtana is lifting them out of the material realm all together. Swamiji was not touched by the modes—that was obvious to us from the beginning—but he stayed with us. He came close to us. Only a devotee who is pure like Prabhupada can understand what he really felt toward the fallen souls. No one else can understand it.”
“LOOKING BACK AT THE TEMPLE
In that look back at the temple,
in that sad look, you gave yourself.
You were from the spiritual world,
dignified and liberated;
you were beyond all merely human motivation—
you manifested real love.
Better than anyone else, you could see
your storefront was small and homely—
you knew the great temples of India.
But you also knew that those temples
were mostly abandoned,
with scarcely a trace of preaching.
Your storefront was alive.
This was your own work,
given by your spiritual master.
You had started alone with nothing,
and others had predicted you could not
make devotees out of hippies.
But you had done it—
in New York and now in San Francisco.
and when you looked back one last time
to the scene of many disturbances,
the scene of the Jagannath installation,
the place where you had turned animal-like couples
the place of chantings and ecstasies,
the site of discussions of Gita and Lord Caitanya—
when you looked back,
you felt love
for the infant life of ISKCON,
for the sweetness of the new branch
of the Lord Caitanya tree,
love for your Guru Maharaj,
who had personally empowered you,
and love for his order.
Your new branch was admired
by devotees of the spiritual world
because they knew the truth
was not a rented building
but the activities of the devotees
you had rescued and revived.
You yourself were captivated
by the miracle of Krsna.”
“(We stride in past a group of Indian visitors. They watch us bow down and take our seats in the rear of the Samadhi. We know our purpose in coming here. They don’t make full dandavats to your golden form, but we do. Yet how deep does it go? Is my striding in and out of your Mandir just a show? I pray you’ll accept me as sincere.
“What do you think of the Samadhi Mandir, Srila Prabhupada? In your last days, you asked only that the hole be dug and the proper ceremonies and procedures take place. I don’t think you gave any instructions as to what kind of a memorial building should be made. The devotees decided to do it in grand style, but it bogged down over a decade of delayed construction. Now it is almost completed. I think you like it when many devotees gather here as they did this morning, and when visitors come and go during the day. You did not want people to worship you; you wanted people to worship Krsna. If you could serve the Supreme Lord as His representative and collect ‘taxes’ as the king’s viceroy, you were willing to do that. Thus you have written in your purports to convince us of the topmost position of the Founder-Acarya of this Krsna consciousness movement.
“When you left us in New York City in January 1967, we felt keen separation. You wrote back from San Francisco that the main association with the spiritual master is by hearing and following his vani. You said that if we felt too much separation, we could put your picture on your sitting places. Those days gave us the first indication of what we now experience all the time.
“Then, your separation was only for a few months; now it’s much longer.”
“Why not see everyone and everything appreciating Krsna and celebrating His presence? After all, Krsna is behind all things. If there is a rosy tint in the morning clouds, that’s Krsna. The material enjoyers cannot understand it, but what is Krsna’s is always Krsna’s. If a devotee walks in a scenic and solitary place and savors the silence, it’s not an ordinary silence. It’s not a vacuum. It’s not an absence of sound. A devotee listens for the chanting. He hears a breeze in the pines and appreciates that no people are up and that nothing seems to be stirring. He looks around in anticipation, finally, to hear the chanting. Is the bubbling creek chanting? Are the delicate weed tassels dancing in kirtana? Certainly the blue sky is Krsna-blue.
“I should probably keep these thoughts to myself, but I would rather think like this than condemn myself as a nature lover, as if it’s doomed to be mundane. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare/Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare.”
“I am praying for the right balance between remorse and confidence of forgiveness. The dictionary defines remorse as ‘a sense of deep regret, a guilt for some misdeed.’ The Christians use the word ‘compunction’ as a general feeling of regret, not just for one isolated act, but for our whole sinful attitude and neglect of devotion to God. They believe compunction is a requirement of a good Christian. It is similar to the Sanskrit word dainya, or ‘feelings of unworthiness,’ which are also recommended for an aspiring Vaisnava. I don’t want to fail to have these feelings for my specific and general offenses to You, my Lord. You and Srila Prabhupada have taught me the difference between right and wrong, and I have sometimes defied You and have chosen to do wrong. My conscience bites me for these choices, for the misuse of my tiny amount of free will. At certain moments, I recall them, and I am overwhelmed with sorrow and regret. I have been wounded by my wrongs, and sometimes the wounds open again and I feel pain. If I did not feel this remorse, I would be guilty of hardheartedness and have no chance of redemption. So I do not resent the unhappy recollections of sadness over my wrongs. They are personal insults to You, Lord, and therefore I have acted like a demon and not a loving devotee.
“But You are very kind, especially to Your aspiring devotees , and You are inclined to accept their sincere remorse an to forgive them. I need to be aware of this and not consider myself forever doomed for offenses. The scriptures state that You wipe away the offenses of devotees if they are resolute in their determination to serve You. In the Bhagavad–gita, You state, ‘Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service, he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination.’ (Bg. 9.30) In his purport to this verse, Prabhupada says that it is a warning to the nondevotee ‘that because of an accidental falldown, a devotee should not be derided; he should still be considered saintly even if he has accidentally fallen down. If one does not follow this rule and derides a devotee for his accidental falldown, then one is disobeying the Supreme Lord. The qualification of a devotee is to be unflinchingly and exclusively engaged in devotional service.’ Prabhupada, however, further warns that, ‘No one should take advantage of this verse and commit nonsense and think he is still a devotee.’
“Therefore, I say I am trying to find a balance. I want to feel that You have forgiven me for my wrongs, but I don’t want to let myself off easily. It appears that the main criterion for my salvation is not to commit any more wrongs and to be very strict in my behavior. I should also remain remorseful over the sins I have already committed. In the section of the Sixth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, where Ajamila is rescued by the Visnudutas, Prabhupada states that we should always remember what we were and what we have become now, by Krsna’s grace. We should not forget our past mistakes or stop feeling sorry for them.
“So I am praying to You, Krsna, for protection from any further offenses. Maya is very powerful, and even an advanced devotee may be victimized. Some of the greatest mistakes are offenses against devotees and attraction to women. There are many other obstacles on the path of devotional service, and I do not think I am above succumbing to them. If I can keep active in preaching Krsna consciousness, I can purify myself from mediocrity and poor performance of duties. I know I am lacking in this area and need to be more daring. When one is fully engaged, there is no room for maya to enter and cause falldown.
“My dear Lord Krsna, please give me a push to be fully occupied in Your service and free from the causes of entanglement by maya. Then I will not have to feel new causes for remorse.”
“If we are to love Prabhupada, we have to actually care about his interests as much as we care about our own. What does he want? He wants us to become Krsna conscious. He wants us to cooperate with his other disciples, to maintain his movement and expand it by preaching. Loving Srila Prabhupada means carrying out these aims even at the expense of some of our more personal aims. There is room for us to develop our interests in serving him. But our own aims should not be separate from his expressed desires; they have to fall within the parameters of his teachings.
“This is at least a working definition of love for Srila Prabhupada. One will be ready to forgo one’s own conveniences, to invest one’s own time, and even to risk one’s own security to promote the desires of Srila Prabhupada. Our love is not just a feeling, but feelings translated into action. Feelings are fickle. Sometimes they are deep and at other times they are distracted. It is the constant sacrifice for the sake of love that makes those feelings profound and steady.
“It is impossible to love all the different people in our lives with equal intensity. The spiritual master has a special place and he is given special love. Srila Prabhupada said, ‘To be everyone’s servant means you are no one’s servant.’ We give him more respect, more credence, more attention than anyone else we may have love for.”
I was in many, many photos with you . . .
I sat before you young and fumbling.
Took my place as a yajnic priest with your permission.
I strode beside you through the corridor
of Logan Airport with dozens of your beaming disciples
escorting you to the departure gate.
You are always venerable in these pictures,
and the undisputed leader. Not ‘old’
in any bad sense.
There’s a photo of you on Juhu Beach
where a gentleman blocks your path
so he can touch your feet.
You laugh and touch his head.
There is one picture where you look at me
I thought of keeping it but put it back
in the storage trunk.
Maybe I had made some Mayavadi
argument and you were
cutting it down, not that you were
disgusted with me personally.
I thought the picture might not be cheerful enough
for when I will flip through them
while traveling in our van.
“It’s not a small thing to have your spiritual master
displeased with you,
but it happens. Even Lord Brahma
displeased Lord Krsna.
Brahma begged, ‘You know I’m Your servant
so please overlook my arrogance.
As the mother is not offended
by the baby’s moving in her womb.
Please don’t be angry with me,
Your eternal offspring.’
So many nice connections come to mind
when I review these photos
and so I want to keep them, even
that disgusted one.
If you were annoyed with me
it was another sign of your love.”
“I want to define prayer. It is when you turn to Krsna and Prabhupada with whatever you are right now at different times of the day—and you talk with them. You may assume that such an inner life is there by your other activities, but in prayer you actually turn and talk with them. It’s almost as if everything else is a play on stage, but in prayer you suddenly turn to them and actually speak. However, it doesn’t mean that when you turn to Krsna, you are there with as deep or as open a self as you’d like to be. Still, you do it anyway. I hope in the future by prayer to be able to turn to Krsna. I don’t want to just remember to take time out to face those I serve in a candid way, but to actually face them in a deeper way, to face them and to see myself as they see me in my fallen nature. That may make me cry or feel repentant, aware of their greatness and my nothingness. That kind of turning has yet to come for me. At least I am taking time to turn, and it seems so important! It seems more important than anything else; everything else is waiting for that. That is the higher consciousness, the self in connection with the Supreme in a real sense—I mean a real existential sense as to who I actually am.”
“Lord Caitanya personally instructed Sanatana Gosvami about Krsna’s identity, His conjugal love, and His personal opulences. He also instructed him in the mellows of devotional service.
‘Putting a straw in his mouth and bowing down, Sanatana Gosvami clasped the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and humbly spoke as follows: nica jati, nica-sangi, patita adhama/ kuvisaya-kupe padi gonainu janama. Sanatana Gosvami said, ‘I was born in a low family, and my associates are all low-class men. I myself am fallen and am the lowest of men. Indeed, I have passed my whole life fallen in the well of sinful materialism.’ (Madhya 20.99)
“Sanatana Gosvami is speaking out of intense humility. This verse is a description of an ideal disciple’s attitude in approaching his spiritual master. The disciple needs the spiritual master’s mercy. Therefore, he must give up all prestige and self-misconceptions and surrender at his guru’s feet. Sanatana Gosvami continues, ‘I do not know what is beneficial for me and what is detrimental. Nonetheless, in ordinary dealings people consider me a learned scholar, and I am also thinking of myself as such.’
“Srila Prabhupada would usually quote these two verses together. Often he would give a brief description of Sanatana Gosvami’s credentials—he was fluent in several languages, including Arabic and Sanskrit, he was born in a Sarasvata brahmana family, and he had been a highly placed government official. Therefore, people would praise him for his learning, and he would feel their praise was justified. When he surrendered to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s feet, however, he asked, ‘Ke ami?’ Who am I? Why am I suffering? ‘If I do not know this, how can I be benefited?’
“Srila Prabhupada said that this question is the most important philosophical question that any human being can raise: ‘Who am I?’ It takes intelligence to ask these questions, and it takes intelligence to accept the answers when they come to us.”
“It is interesting how Srila Rupa Gosvami links up enthusiasm with patience. We have to be patient, even if we don’t seem to make great strides in our daily bhajana. The cowherd boys had to execute ‘heaps of pious activities’ before they could play with Krsna as an equal friend. Haridasa Thakura retained his fervor for completing his japa even when the beautiful prostitute came to seduce him. His patience conquered her (convinced her?) to become a great Vaisnava. When Mukunda Datta offended Lord Caitanya by listening to Mayavada philosophy, the Lord say he would not see him for millions of years. Mukunda became joyful on hearing that the day would come in the future when the Lord would accept him again. Lord Caitanya became so pleased with Mukunda Datta’s patience that He asked to see him at once. We should be confident that our chanting and hearing will accumulate like a bank balance and that the practice is never in vain. Prabhupada used to say, ‘Don’t be discouraged.’”
“This will be a real quickie. It’s morning and we have to leave the Queens apartment in a few minutes. I just want to say that the wonderful thing about Prabhupada at 26 Second Avenue is that he got us committed for a lifetime basis to things that were very foreign to us. Namely, that Krsna is God and that we should chant the Hare Krsna mantra over and over again. Of course, from this there are also many details of the commitment. But it is astounding that he so boldly and yet gently presented this to us, and it is astounding that we took it up. Just consider: Krsna was completely unheard of to us, and yet Prabhupada asserted that He was the one God for all creation and the Supreme all-attractive Person. And the way to reach Him is to do this repetitive out-loud chanting again and again and again and again and again, as much as possible. What a wonderful mission Prabhupada undertook, and it was successful!
“I don’t like to rub it in and criticize his Godbrothers, but since they deny Prabhupada the use of the word ‘Prabhupada, we have to assert it. That he did what no one else could do.
“It’s exciting to be traveling this morning out of the metropolis and down to another metropolis for lunch with a Godbrother. A fax came in last night from a GBC man and I had to answer it. I don’t like to be chased by such things. It’s excitement in the mode of passion, which I used to be used to.
“I’m looking forward to returning to writing A Poor Man Reads the Bhagavatam and, in the meantime, I am happy to be doing these May apples. I just received some information about the May apples, and I’ll try to put some of it into this narrative as we go along.
“One thing to note is that the American May apple, which is also called mandrake, is not to be confused with the European mandrake. The European mandrake has forked roots like in the shape of a man, and gets its name in that way. It’s got a history of being connected with witchcraft. In the time of the Inquisition and witch hunts, people could be killed just for possessing these mandrakes. They have psychedelic and hallucinogenic properties. Not so of the American May apple, although oddly the European version is also called May apple.
“It is also known as a suicide plant in America. Native Americans used to eat fresh shoots when they wanted to commit suicide. But later, when the fruit comes, it’s edible and has strong medicinal properties. Sounds pretty dangerous to play around with, in any case. I’ll get back to you with more about that. It’s somehow a symbol for my journey these weeks in May and the fact that I’m denied seeing May apples in the backwoods roads of the woods and forests where they grow. As they are hiding, so they are hiding from me and I can’t see spring. I see mostly asphalt and billboards as we race by in our car or as we enter the next temple.
“Okay, time is up, say goodbye now to your hosts and go into the car and lie down in the back and think of many things you could write. Hare Krsna.”
“(five minutes, Queens apartment, May 10, 1996)”
“At Haryasva’s place, South Street. Plethora of details and incidents, too much for me to report. Maybe just give a list:
“1. Weekend marathon in temples to sell flowers for Mother’s Day. Going well, nice weather.
“2. Gave class on Arjuna’s cutting of hair and the jewel on the head of Asvatthama. Thus, he passed the test by Krsna (pariksita dharmam). Usual questions and discussion.
“3. After, I talked with two GBC men, while waiting for the Deity greeting. They batted topics back and forth on high-level management. I took part for awhile trying to keep up. Then realized it was out of my league. Besides, I was getting a headache. S.R. was there, and I asked him for a cup of water so I could take a pill. We then discussed the medicine I am taking. Another devotee eavesdropped on us. Oh, well.
“4. Finished all that I will read of Richard Hugo’s advice on poetry writing in Triggering Towns. Too demanding about rewriting and about music over meaning. I am an amateur. But I liked his advice to write what comes, not sticking to big topics but little ones. I just the add the ‘one,’ Krsna consciousness, to the zeros.
“Now I was able to write May Apples all day yesterday. Go see the azaleas, his mother said. Hugo says in writing poetry you owe reality nothing and you owe everything to your own feelings (what you want to say). Call a yellow grain elevator black if it feels right and the words are right.
“I upheld Krsna conscious siddhanta in front of friendly Godbrothers. Agreed to help in their fundraising for Radha-Damodara’s temple. He said Krsna consciousness will have to become a professional outfit in terms of fundraising, accountability of funds, etc. He thinks it will be rich in ten years.
“You go from one day to another. Instead of writing this, I could be preparing a lecture. I’d like to speak tonight on hari-nama, chanting. Although I haven’t achieved what I want in chanting, I believe in sastric statements as to the effect it brings.
“Youth, youth, I see it in the temple. People I don’t know. His disciples. Mine are mostly older.
“He wants the list, to phone them or ask for money for a good cause. I mentioned one name. ‘But does he have money’
“Somebody has to do this sort of collecting.
“South Street building inside of Arts Bank. It’s quieter this year than last, at least right now at 10:30 A.M., this Saturday. Hare Krsna.
“Bring your money.
“Doves and pigeons and azaleas. Hugo, don’t be ashamed to repeat your obsessive words. Even Yeats kept using the ‘gyre’ or one may use the word ‘gray,’ or ‘rock,’ or whatever.
“Eschew liberation – words. I always use words that come to me. This is the way to go back to Godhead, to chant the holy names. Read some categories from the Namamrta compilation.
“Write a little more, but I have to stop to do the puja to Srila Prabhupada. Tomorrow a three-hour ride to Baltimore. They asked me how things are going. Sri Krsna Caitanya. I said, ‘Okay. I take some medicine nowadays and gain control.’
“But if you talk of hari-nama, how will it help anyone’s heart? Don’t plan to tug at their hearts as if thinking it’s in your power. Change is always small in increments, and if someone improves in chanting from lectures, he or she may later lapse anyway.
“So, what’s the use?
“What’s the use?
“He said Bhagavad-gita As It Is recommends worship of Visnu forms including Rama, but later it says only Krsna. How come? I said this is more confidential knowledge. Then she asked what about Murari Gupta’s decision to worship Lord Rama even though Lord Caitanya taught to chant Krsna. I said that is his rasa.
“He said, ‘Are you planning to continue to live as you are doing, in exile, cunning and silence?’
“I said, ‘What?’
“He said that was a statement by James Joyce. I said, ‘I am none of those things, except maybe in exile.’
“You don’t know owe ordinary reality anything. Make it up. Write true to your feelings using any word.
“Definitely a sabbatical from A Poor Man Reads the Bhagavatam. We’ll see where I want to go in writing when I go to Ireland, if we get there. Stop now and do Srila Prabhupada puja.
“Car alarm (or ambulance) sounding on the street, far from the woods and lanes where May apples grow. Today is a big boon for all freelance and professional florists – honor your mother (Vedas).”
“(20 minutes, South Street place, Philly, May 11, 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.