We are preparing to observe Gaura-purnima in our ashram. We expect eight people will be invited to attend. From across the street, we expect Ravindra Svarupa, Saudamani and Sraddha to come. We hope Lalita-kaisori and her husband Atindra will also attend. Haridasa is trying to arrange that our Gaura-purnima talks and kirtanas can be projected on Zoom.
Sunday, March 28
11:15 AM (EDT) Bhajans
12:00-12:45 (EDT) Talks by Senior Devotees (SDG and Ravindra Svarupa)
12:45-1:00 (EDT) PM Arati-Bhajana
Meeting ID: 617 108 1206
All are welcome!
In preparation for my talk, I read from Caitanya-caritamrta where the author describes Lord Caitanya and hopes that the reader will take the Lord into the core of his heart. He says Lord Caitanya gave what no incarnation before Him gave, the mellow of conjugal love. He also states that Radha and Krsna are one. They were eternally separated, but now They have come together as one as Lord Caitanya. Lord Caitanya appeared in the mood of Radharani and assumed a resplendent golden color.
I also listened to a videotaped lecture Radhanatha Swami gave on Gaura-purnima in 2017. He spoke, mostly from Caitanya-bhagavata, many, many pastimes of Lord Caitanya and His associates. He spoke about the nocturnal kirtanas at Srivas Thakura’s home with Lord Caitanya’s confidential associates. When Lord Caitanya went to Jagannatha Puri, He held the same all-night kirtanas. They were very ecstatic performances, and Lord Caitanya led the chanting and dancing.
He told of a man who blasphemed Srivas Thakura by attempting to expose him as a Shakta devotee of goddess Kali. For this offense the man contacted painful leprosy. He approached Lord Caitanya and asked forgiveness, but the Lord angrily said he would only get more punishment. The only way he could be relieved from his sin was if he went to Srivas Thakura and surrendered to him. The offender did so, and Srivas Thakura embraced him and cured his leprosy and his bad mentality.
Gadadhara Pandita was a very close associate of Lord Caitanya. He always stayed close to Him and worshiped His lotus feet. The devotees were amazed at the intimacy between Lord Caitanya and Gadadhara Pandit.
One of my favorite sections in Cc. is when Lord Caitanya returns to Jagannatha Puri from His tour of South India and many devotees come to join Him and take up service. Svarupa Damodara comes and surrenders to the Lord and becomes His personal secretary. Lord Caitanya accepts him and makes it a rule that any dramas or poems the devotees write should be first scrutinized by Svarupa Damodara before they can be brought to the Lord to hear or read.
Lord Caitanya’s Godbrother Govinda comes to join Him. He says that their spiritual master Isvara Puri told him on his deathbed that he should go to Lord Caitanya and take up service as His personal servant. The Lord is at first hesitant to accept His Godbrother as a servant, and He puts the question to His trusted friend and follower Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya. The Bhattacarya says that the order of the spiritual master is very strong, so He should accept Govinda as a servant as ordered by Isvara Puri.
Bhavananda Raya and four of his sons come to be with Lord Caitanya in Puri. Lord Caitanya says that Bhavananda Raya is very fortunate to have a son like Ramananda Raya, whom Lord Caitanya met and spoke with intimately on His southern Indian tour. The Lord says that the five sons of Bhavananda Raya are like the Pandavas. He tells Bhavananda Raya that He has ordered Ramananda Raya to retire from government service and join Him as a close companion in Jagannatha Puri. Bhavananda Raya leaves another son, Vaninatha Pattanyaka, to stay and be a servant of Lord Caitanya.
We are making progress in this time of COVID isolation. Most of our inmates have received two vaccinations, and so we will soon be able to allow visitors to come and perform seva. Just yesterday three devotees came to the house and helped out. Jananivasa rented a steamroller and compacted the asphalt that had been delivered yesterday for the driveway. It’s now professionally finished. Lalita-kaisori came by and helped clean the pujari room and temple downstairs. This week is Gaura-purnima, and we want to have the ashram spring-cleaned and festive. Amit from Albany also came by. Two new vacuums were bought for the house: Amit bought a small compact unit, and Atindra and Lalita-kaisori bought a big, powerful unit. With the coming Gaura-purnima, my disciple Brahma Sampradaya mailed a package full of carefully chosen paraphernalia for Radha-Govinda and the other small Deities. Krsna dasi was thrilled at how well this package was put together. Muktavandya also came by from Boston. He brought a large collection of flowers, chopped all the stems and put them back into water in the flower room. Haridasa from Guyana is coming soon, and we hope he will stay long-term. He’s an excellent housecleaner, pujari and cook. He’ll be an extra man around the house while Bala is gone in Trinidad.
Baladeva’s older sister Kathi will arrive the morning of Gaura-purnima. She wants to do service for at least a week and is also an excellent housecleaner.
My disciple Haridasa has arrived from Guyana. He is much welcome and is helping out very much in taking up seva with our understaffed crew. He is a submissive devotee and is willing to clean and cook. He makes a very good kichari. I have asked him to commit himself to staying in our ashram until Bala returns from Trinidad, and he agreed. He says he has always wanted to do personal service for me but hasn’t had the opportunity. He quarantined for ten days and then took and passed the test for COVID. So he is safe to be around. But he still wears a mask in the house until he gets his vaccinations.
A devotee read in a volume of my autobiography about my two decades of chronic migraines. He sympathized and asked some questions. He inquired whether they ever went away for some periods. No, for twenty solid years they never went away. There was no respite, despite taking different medical regimens.
He asked me if there was any silver lining to the painful disease. Taking part in the annual GBC meetings and GBC management quickly brought on migraines. In 1986 it became unbearable, and I handed in my resignation to the GBC. They accepted it by a narrow margin, and I was now free of all management. This wasn’t appreciated by everyone, but there was nothing I could do to satisfy their opinions. I traveled in an RV vehicle with a group of brahmacaris and gave lectures at temples while spending a good deal of time outside of them, avoiding the temple regimen which brought on headaches. This freedom to be alone allowed me to write. I took up personal writing and felt great satisfaction from it. I finally got relief from the migraines. My personal doctor and disciple, Nitai Gaurasundara, said he could diagnose my malady just by reading my books. He diagnosed my illness as due to “anticipatory anxiety.” I would fall into anxiety about the next headache that would come, and that triggered one. My doctor at first increased the intake of my allopathic medicine until it controlled the pain behind the right eye, and then he titrated the medicine by reducing the amount I took, and this gradually brought about a complete cessation of the chronic migraines. It has been years since I have had any migraines at all.
On March 24, 1968, Prabhupada visited Morningstar Ranch in San Francisco. It was a wild place inhabited by hippies who tended a farm, some of whom lived in trees and went unclothed. Prabhupada was not put off by their appearance but saw them as sincere seekers and gave two of them initiation. Both of these devotees would have prominent roles in the sankirtana movement after becoming initiated disciples of Srila Prabhupada. In a profound and moving initiation, Srila Prabhupada cautioned all of the devotees present, whether new initiates or already-committed disciples:
“So these initiation formalities are there. You are instructed, you are guided, but you have to act. Unless you act, then the same thing that is in India—the so-called brahmanas and ksatriyas are degraded. You have to stick to the brahminical qualities and at the same time, work, brahma-karma. So you have to engage yourself; brahma-karma means Krsna consciousness, and exhibit your quality—that you are truthful, that you are controlling the senses, control over the mind, and you are simple and you are tolerant. Because as soon as you take up spiritual life, the whole class conducted by maya, they will be against you. That is maya’s influence.”
I am re-reading my book Forgetting the Audience. I came upon a passage in the book that is as pertinent today as it was when I wrote it in 1993:
“‘I’ve said enough,’ some part of me says. ‘You can’t expect me to just turn on and come up with fresh, vital issues. It’s getting late in the day. I am not in a mood to agitate myself just because it’s time for a Writing Session. After all, it’s not that I have to produce a certain amount of pages or force myself to keep writing if I don’t want to and if I prefer to do something else.’
“‘I agree. Yet when you haven’t finished your thirty-two rounds you keep going, don’t you, even if you don’t feel like it?’ ‘True.’
“If I don’t write during a Writing Session, I wind up feeling guilty. But I see a certain point where it is counterproductive to keep pushing myself if I’m not prepared to surrender to writing.”
For the first time I read Dhanurdhara Swami’s Monday essay. It had been recommended to me as very thoughtful. The essay I read was titled “The Fault Is Not the Whole Person!” He turns to Bhagavad-gita Verse 9.30, which states that even if one commits an abominable act, if he is resolutely fixed in devotional service, he should be accepted as a sadhu. One should not find fault with a devotee because of an accidental falldown. Dhanurdhara recommends that one read Prabhupada’s purport to 9.30, and also the purports to Bhurijana’s Surrender Unto Me, and Swami B.V. Tripurari in his book Bhagavad-gita: Its Feeling and Philosophy. He quotes from Srila Prabhupada’s purport: “On the other hand, one should not misunderstand that a devotee in transcendental devotional service can act in all kinds of abominable ways; this verse only refers to an accident due to the strong power of material connection.” Devotees are warned not to condemn a person who has an accidental falldown but is resolutely committed to devotional service.
I will look forward to regularly reading Dhanurdhara Swami’s Monday essays.
Krsna told Arjuna that the message of Bhagavad-gita had been lost in time, but now He would speak it again to Arjuna, who was His friend and devotee. Lord Caitanya and the Six Gosvamis also heard it in this way. So did Visvanatha Cakravarti and the faithful devotees in parampara. Whoever hears an interpretation of the Bhagavad-gita from one who is not a devotee of Krsna is like one who drinks milk that has been touched by the poisonous fangs of a serpent.
In our out-loud reading, seven individuals took part while others read silently from the section in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The annihilation of the universe is described, and by the potent glance of Lord Krsna a new creation is brought about. The first reason for His appearance within the creation is that the Lord reciprocates with His pure devotees who are hankering in separation from Him. The secondary reason for His appearance is to annihilate the upstart asuras and to stop the nonsense of atheistic propaganda by less intelligent persons. In the chapter “Remembrance of Lord Krsna,” the great devotee Uddhava was asked by Vidura to speak on messages of the dearest, Lord Krsna. Uddhava was unable to answer immediately, due to excessive anxiety at remembrance of the Lord. For a moment, Uddhava remained dead silent, and his body did not move. He became absorbed in the nectar of remembering the Lord’s lotus feet in ecstasy, and he appeared to be going deeper into that ecstasy. The great devotee Uddhava soon came back from the abode of the Lord to the human plane, and wiping his eyes, he awakened his reminiscence of the past and spoke to Vidura in a pleasing mood.
In our out-loud reading we were hearing how Vidura inquired from Uddhava. But then Uddhava left for Badarikasrama and told Vidura to go and inquire at the Ganges from Maitreya Muni. Maitreya was much older than Uddhava and so, although Uddhava was a pure devotee and capable of speaking confidential knowledge, he followed the etiquette of giving deference and honor to the elderly devotee. Besides, Maitreya had been present when Krsna was talking to Uddhava just before Krsna left the world. So Maitreya heard the confidential reasons of the Lord’s activities. Vidura met Maitreya, and at first he asked him some basic questions for the benefit of all humankind.
“Vidura asked Maitreya some common questions, which was not originally his intention. Uddhava asked Vidura to approach Maitreya Muni and inquire into all the truths concerning the Lord, His name, fame, qualities, form, pastimes, entourage, etc. And thus when Vidura approached Maitreya, he should have asked only about the Lord. But out of a natural humility he did not immediately ask about the Lord but inquired into a subject which would be of great importance to the common man.” (Bhag. 3.5.2, purport)
Our group out-loud reading has upgraded to Zoom. Now we have the capacity for fifty persons to hear the reading, and more can take part in actually reading. Hearing is the foremost practice in bhakti-yoga. We get to hear from the topmost acaryas in Srimad-Bhagavatam. We get to hear Srila Prabhupada in his purports and translations. I take a turn now in reading each day, and that is appreciated by my disciples. Currently we have just finished the chapter “Creation of the Universal Form.” Now Vidura asks a number of questions, and Maitreya at first appears agitated by the questions, but then he continues answering them with a cool head. Vidura asked how the misidentification of the living entity with his body can be cleared up. Maitreya replies, “That misconception of self-identity can be diminished gradually by the mercy of the Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva, through the process of devotional service to the Lord in the mode of detachment.”
I receive letters from devotees who tell me their dreams. Often they tell me of dreams about Srila Prabhupada. Sometimes they say it’s the most important contact they’ve ever had with Prabhupada. I think it’s nice that his followers dream of His Divine Grace. But they shouldn’t take it as direct instructions for action in their lives. There is plenty of direction given in his books and lectures, which we receive in the conscious, awake state. As for myself, I went through a period where I took my dreams seriously. I used to keep a ‘dream notebook’ and write them down as soon as I woke up. Many of the dreams were not Krsna conscious, and often they were filled with anxiety. I read books about how to analyze your dreams and to take them seriously. But I don’t do that anymore. The dreams began to seem irrelevant to me and I stopped recording them. I still keep a Dictaphone tape recorder beside my pillow in case I have a dream about Srila Prabhupada. Those, I think, are worth keeping, and they give me more connection with my spiritual master. In the Vedic scriptures there are many accounts of devotees having dreams. Sometimes they dream of Krsna or a great spiritual personality, and they take it seriously in their life. Krsnadasa Kaviraja tells us in Caitanya-caritamrta how he had a dream in which Lord Nityananda appeared and told him to go to Vrndavana because there he would achieve all things. There are many dreams in Caitanya-caritamrta where the devotees are directed how to act, and they obey the instruction. Prabhupada said most dreaming is not to be taken seriously. But when very advanced devotees dream, their dreams can be taken as spiritual and their message can be understood spiritually.
“Dreamt I was obliged to go for counseling. Long waits in office. No apparent benefit, yet I was considered handicapped. Dined with the woman who was my counselor although she’d been on the job only three weeks. I went to the cashier but couldn’t remember what I’d eaten. I began to cry and hoped they would see that I was absorbed in higher thoughts, and that’s why I forgot what I’d ordered. Still, the incident proved I was in need of help. (The counselor had asked, ‘Are you feeling pain?’ ‘No, not today.’) After this I was told I’d be dropped off at the Philadelphia Airport. I looked forward to spending the night in the Mt. Airy ISKCON temple, even though it was snowing, snug in the family of devotees.
“I’ve said I would go once a week to visit Radha-Govinda in the afternoon. Today is the disappearance day of Gaurakisora dasa Babaji and tomorrow is Ekadasi. I ought to go on one of these days and write notes while there.
“Mundane poets—can they help? It seems to help me to read a poem and then springboard off it into writing one of my own, but lately I haven’t had the interest to discipline myself into writing separate poems.
pennants, cold days
winter comin’ in.
Be here now—your body
can’t last: Everyone dies.
Don’t think you are
better than someone who has died.
We who are here now will be swept away by Time
like peas on a plate.
Krsna! Krsna! Please save me.”
“I am about to close out Volume One of this journal. I don’t need anything but life, little life, life of sastra, the fact of my service relationship with the Supreme Lord and His Divine Grace, Srila Prabhupada.
“I told the devotees today to be peaceful and yet berate their complacency. In that way, they will eventually find the balance. I said so many things, but who am I to speak? I don’t know. I defend ISKCON and have faith that we are gradually becoming pure. I glorify Krsna. I don’t need to analyze that or attempt to measure Krsna’s mercy on me. I simply have to love Him and serve Him even when I’m dull or my head is in a vise.
“The two swans on the lake remind me of the Supersoul and the individual soul. Krsna, You remain with us always. The lake is this world, or the world of our hearts.
“O Krsna, please allow me to give out Srimad-Bhagavatam truths through the gut, through the grinder, in words. As kids we used to mock, ‘Truer words were never spoken through falser teeth.’ As if a toothless person were the epitome of the despicable, the object of laughter. Well, now I have no teeth, and it hasn’t budged me from my conviction to speak out in praise of guru and Krsna.
“‘A pure devotee is constantly engaged. Sometimes he chants, sometimes he hears or reads books about Krsna, or sometimes he cooks prasadam or goes to the marketplace to purchase something for Krsna, or sometimes he washes the temple or the dishes—whatever he does, he does not let a single moment pass without devoting his activities to Krsna. Such action is in full samadhi.’ (Bg. 12.2, purport)
“He makes it sound so easy. Just live in the temple, be a full-time devotee, and by virtue of your assignment you’ll always be able to serve Krsna. If you do it sincerely and mindfully, then you’ll be in the ‘presence of God.’ Is it really ‘too simple’?
“Thank You, Lord Krsna, for giving us this easy process of bhakti-yoga. Maybe it doesn’t always feel as easy as falling off a log, but it’s certainly not as hard as the impersonal practice. ‘Often there is much penance involved before one fully surrenders to Him.’ Please let me do the needful.”
“Teresa speaks of the importance of walking in self-knowledge all the days of our life. The commentator writes, ‘An important point about Teresian self-knowledge is that it is not introspective or centered in the incomplete self; rather it is God- and Christ-centered.’ One Godbrother wrote me, ‘Don’t think about yourself so much in your books. It’s a drag to read it; we want to hear the glories of Krsna. If you did that you’d be more saintly. Sure, we all have faults and we don’t progress, but we don’t want to keep hearing that you slopped up your gayatris again.’
“Well, then what else can I say? ‘All glories to the gayatri mantra’? Yes, I know it comes from Krsna’s flute and enters Lord Brahma’s eight ears, then comes out his mouth (I think) as the Sanskrit slokas that we recite. The gayatris are the kama-bija mantras for perfect persons. They have deep meanings. I know that. But I’m not just a religious academic who wants to repeat the facts. I want to discuss my experience and to overcome complacency.
“I know my writing has a sharp edge of self-accusation, but I am too easy on myself. I’m a squirrel running a treadmill. Please help.
“Last Sunday it snowed, but we went to the island anyway. It’s warmer this Sunday. I have my margin pencil notes written into the Cc., and I’m ready to speak about Lord Caitanya as the ideal sannyasi. Lord Caitanya didn’t like to hear others call Him God, but Lord Nityananda didn’t like Him to be seen as ordinary. Sometimes a devotee’s feelings are in conflict with the Lord’s.
“Do I have anything relevant to say? Maybe I can tell the mothers that taking care of their children is devotional service. What about the fact that everyone should take sannyasa? And we should all love this Person, Lord Caitanya. We can get close to Him by reading the Cc.
“Pulling through rounds—it’s hour after hour chanting. Madhu drives hour after hour in heavy traffic, and I usually sit in the back hour after hour. Jet pilots fly hour after hour over the ocean on their way to the Middle East or India. I chant hour after hour, trying to face the Name head-on.
“Krsna, please help us. There’s still time.”
“I too could do 244 choruses like ‘Mexico City Blues,’ only mine would be Krsna conscious blues, brahmacari blues by Hayagriva gone. He asked me in his last months to visit him at his bedside in New Vrndavana, but I couldn’t get through the wall of those days. But I wrote him a letter saying I loved him.
“Now I could write 244 choruses, but the jazzman-blowing image which Kerouac uses is something unbefitting a Krsna conscious person. I could give 244 Srimad-Bhagavatam lectures, but that would be too long.
“I am to give out gayatri mantras to a devotee today. Better to give them to myself too, those blessed mantras in conjugal rasa that I don’t deserve to chant but that have been given to me anyway. The flute sound enters Lord Brahma’s ear and comes out as kama-gayatri. I don’t deserve it, so at least don’t sully it.
“I want to gain courage by hearing straight from guru, sastra and sadhu. I read one psychologist who said that all organized religion is invalid and that when the charismatic leaders leave, religion becomes a dry and cynical business; that’s the history of organized religion. Maybe, but Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila stayed within the fold, and Srila Prabhupada too, and so will I.
“Krsna, Krsna—chant an extra round. My body continues to eat and consume and assimilate and digest, even while Krsna dives into the Yamuna and out again. We have to tread the holy path carefully and soberly if we want to stay in touch with Krsna’s pastimes. Peace. God is a person, but not a generic one. Therefore, chant the holy names. Kerouac didn’t know the holy names and never had the opportunity to meet Srila Prabhupada. Ginsberg met him and that’s to his credit, but he wasn’t pious enough—or was too self-conscious—to give up the things you have to give up in order to chant. He thought Krsna consciousness was dogmatic. He wanted something universal, but not a Krsna conscious version of it. He missed it because he preferred to run free in lust and false ego and the kind of Buddhism that allows you to do what you want and still end up at zero.”
“There is only one small light on down at the boathouse. I could write many choruses too, rhyming and chiming. As Kerouac gives out his half-baked Buddhism, could I give out my baked-twice KC? Krsna consciousness is the pinnacle. Only devotees can understand it.
“Just a small light on at the boathouse. I could say ‘Krsna, Krsna’ and be proud I chanted an extra round. Oh, for the day when many poets and writers, many thousands of intelligentsia, politicians, and athletes will chant Hare Krsna. When will that day come when we will spread out like a vast oak or banyan tree under the sky? Kirtana played with the musical instruments of every country.
“Of course we wish for such a thing, but Soren Kierkegaard said that when Christianity became the state relivion, it ceased to exist. He said that there was a day when the apostles made a huge number of converts, and that signaled doom to pure religion. Lord Caitanya doesn’t say things like that. Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Prabhupada don’t say those things either. But it does seem to imply the risk of watering down as the movement grows and spreads. How will we keep our simple purity?”
“As soon as I lay down to rest at 7 P.M., I started hearing explosive thuds every one or two minutes. I couldn’t sleep. Madhu had left me alone in the van to go make phone calls inside the temple. Twice the explosions were so near that it sounded as if something had hit the van. I began to fantasize about the noises and became anxious. I didn’t like being alone. I dressed and went to get Madhu. It turned out that kids were throwing fireworks over the wall. The temple president phoned the police but said, ‘They aren’t helpful.’ Around 8:45 P.M., a firecracker (or explosive) hit the van with such force that it set off our alarm. Madhu dressed and went outside, but couldn’t find the culprit. During this time, I again began to think of returning to Geaglum. I’m not fit for all the risk and irregularity. A headache fog began, but the neighborhood finally quieted down. At 1:15 A.M. I took a pill and got up at 2:15 A.M. to chant.
“During the night, I also thought of today’s Bhagavatam verse. Vidura tells Dhrtarastra not to stay home but to get out. Take the risk to save yourself. I was prepared to tell the devotees that we have to tolerate and not compromise our lives in favor of material comfort. This is especially relevant right now as I try to decide whether or not to continue with our tour. Why has Krsna given me this verse just when I’m thinking of ‘staying home’? To push ahead and travel is becoming a symbol of sacrifice. Still, I’m not completely convinced that it’s the best thing I can do in Krsna consciousness or that my travel is so important.”
SERVING KRSNA FOR HIS PLEASURE
“Another of the gopis’ excellent qualities is that they have no tinge of sense gratification in their service to Krsna. They think only of satisfying Krsna’s desires, not their own.
“‘O dearly beloved! Your lotus feet are so soft that we place them gently on our breasts, fearing that Your feet will be hurt. Our life rests only in You. Our minds, therefore, are filled with anxiety that Your tender feet might be wounded by pebbles as You roam about on the forest path.’ (Bhag. 10.31.19)
“Although this verse describes an intimate conjugal relationship, Prabhupada used to speak on it in a simple way even to large public audiences. He said that the gopis were such great lovers of Krsna that they always used to think of Him and feel anxious for His welfare. This is just the opposite of the worshiper who thinks of God as the order supplier. The gopis think of Krsna roaming barefoot in the forest and worry that His feet might be hurt by the sharp pebbles on the paths, and thinking like this, they cry.
“In Caitanya-caritamrta, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami describes the gopis’ love as pure and spotless. He defines prema (love of God) and kama (material lust), and shows that they are as different as gold and iron. ‘The desire to gratify one’s own senses is kama [lust], but the desire to please the senses of Lord Krsna is prema [love].” (Adi 4.165)
“Lord Krsna felt that the gopis’ love was so pure and total that they made Him break His promise, which was to reciprocate fully with devotees in proportion to their surrender to Him. He told the gopis, ‘I am not able to repay My debt. Please be satisfied with your own service.’
“Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami says that the gopis have no inclination for their own enjoyment, yet their joy increases. This appears to be a contradiction. ‘For this contradiction I see only one solution: the joy of the gopis lies in the joy of their beloved Krsna.’ (Adi 4.189) When Krsna sees the gopis, His joy increases. When they see Krsna’s happiness, then their joy increases. This produces a competition in which no one acknowledges defeat.’”
“I pray to You to inquire, ‘What is the best way to act to save all the sinful souls on the planet?’ Vasudeva Datta, a great devotee of Lord Caitanya, once approached Caitanya Mahaprabhu and asked that the karma of all sinful persons be placed on his own head so that they could be liberated. In his purport to that section of Caitanya-caritamrta, Prabhupada quotes Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati as saying that Vasudeva Datta’s desire for personal sacrifice was even greater then Jesus Christ’s, who died to save all those who would believe in him. Vasudeva Datta’s desire was to accept the karma of all souls, regardless of their beliefs. Lord Caitanya was very appreciative of Vasudeva Datta’s proposal, but He told him that even if He liberated all souls from the universe, the universe would be immediately refilled with new sinful souls. And so He did not place the karma of all sinful souls upon the head of Vasudeva Datta.
“In recent years, a great disciple of Srila Prabhupada’s, His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami, acted in the mood of Vasudeva Datta. Bhakti Tirtha Swami was doing very influential and vigorous preaching, but he felt personally disappointed that he was not purified enough to deliver more souls. He made a prayer to Krsna that he could be radically purified and also to take the karma for all conditions souls in the world. Shortly after making his prayer, Bhakti Tirtha Swami came down with terminal cancer and died within a year. His actions in preaching during the last year of his life were widely regarded in Prabhupada’s movement as saintly and powerfully self-sacrificing, and many people converted to becoming his followers.
“How did Srila Prabhupada act to intercede for all the sinful people on the planet? I do not know his private mood and whether he made personal prayers to Krsna for the intercession of all souls, although he occasionally made comments that he was acting and desiring with this in mind. But his personal example was mostly to work as an active missionary at the head of ISKCON, the movement he humbly began in 1966, which within 11 years became a worldwide religious movement. At the advanced age of 81, he personally pushed to travel around the world, inspiring his followers and public audiences with a message of Krsna consciousness. And he tirelessly worked on writing his books, which he considered his most important contribution. He pushed his disciples to work hard like him to reach people with a message of Krsna consciousness and to distribute books and maintain centers and build temples, especially in India. Prabhupada’s movement continues to act under his orders in the missionary spirit.
“So it appears You respond both to intercessionary prayer as well as direct action for saving souls who are on the path of godlessness and sinful activities. Please inspire me to continue to work in Prabhupada’s movement and to also pray to You for the conversion of sinners. The Krsna consciousness movement is very small in comparison to other world religions, so it appears that both personal prayer and group action in the missionary spirit are ways that You appreciate. Please use me in both ways.”
“The Bretons wrote in armchairs and at Parisian café tables. I write at a desk in the Vrndavana Guesthouse. Peacocks not calling right now; main sound is the noise of the electric heater. Be at peace.
“I’m aware that I’m not in touch with the earth here, or the extreme forms of physical austerity and poverty that many sadhus practice. Srila Prabhupada indicated that it was all right to live with amenities—cars, sewn cloth, comfortable buildings, Dictaphones, and typewriters. He knew we are Westerners. He wanted us strong and enlivened to work in spreading Krsna consciousness. I don’t have to feel guilty that I’m not barefoot in winter or that I’m wearing a sweater. I am doing what I can.
“And I am not inclined to walk barefoot into the villages. Why not? Don’t want your feet to get sore? It seems that instead of my mind and senses becoming peaceful by such outings, they become distracted. O haribol. Does it mean that whatever I write of Vrndavana comes from the strange and limited perceptions of the false ego? No, I write to represent a truth.
“Vrndavana calls the devotees to respond. You make a trip to Radha-kunda in the cold and people expect you to say something intimate, but you are frozen inside. You are extremely conscious of your present state of mind, your fastidious diet and minute-to-minute schedule. Just the thought of the bus ride . . . How can I benefit with a mood like that?
“O Lord, O Energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your service.”
“If we love Prabhupada, we have to follow the letter and the spirit of his most essential teachings. In the light of this, what rights do those in a position of authority have over others? In a sense, a leader‘s power is concentrated in his ability to give guidance to other devotees. He is not in a position to force, cajole, or otherwise manipulate other devotees into obeying his instructions. He is there to represent Prabhupada, not to replace him. A leader has to inspire others by his own example of dedication to sadhana and hard work. In that sense, he has no more rights over others than what others are willing to give him, and this will depend on his purity in exemplifying and presenting Prabhupada’s teachings.
“There is a saying that ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ But this does not have to apply to those who are truly representing parampara as authorities. There is always a danger of becoming contaminated by prestige, but one who is striving to purely apply Prabhupada’s instructions in his own life first does not have to become a victim of this offense.
“We have to find a balance between attention to our own personal following and our willingness to help maintain the standards that Prabhupada taught. On the one hand, we cannot become overbearing in our presentation of Prabhupada’s instructions, forcing them down the throats of others. On the other hand, we cannot be afraid to stand up and assert what is right and in parampara. We have to have faith that Prabhupada’s authority will stand on its own without our attempting to filter it through ourselves. And we have to be loving in our dealings, as Prabhupada was loving with us.
“We should also take the responsibility upon ourselves to know what Prabhupada said. There is really no excuse for anyone to be unsure about his teachings. His maha-vakya teachings are present in his books. If we are unacquainted with them, we will either have the tendency to concoct in our preaching to ourselves and others, or we will become victims of someone else’s misuse of Prabhupada’s authority. Part of our pure following of Prabhupada is to ensure that his parampara message is properly transmitted.”
“By the time I took the Naval cruise, I had become sensitive to the point of preciosity. Bringing Malte Laurids Brigge as my companion and shelter only made me more aware that I was different and more refined than the rest. I got a double dose of misery. The cruise itself dished out one kind of misery, and existentialism served up another.
“I remember a schoolteacher once commenting that ‘sensitive persons’ are usually only sensitive about their own concerns, but they are not compassionate for the needs of others. When I heard it, I felt defensive, but I had to admit that it might be true. On board the Navy ship, I felt consistently sorry for my own plight, but I didn’t think much of the others who were also victims of various kinds of distress, even though they may not have expressed it like Ranier Maria Rilke.
“A true transcendentalist would not have recoiled in disgust when in the midst of animalistic men. Prahlada Maharaja did not reject the children of demons. He cheerfully tried to give them Krsna consciousness. But I had nothing to share except angst, and even that was vague to me. I did not have much courage in my convictions, but was searching alone, drawn to the company of the alienated Malte Laurids Brigge.”
“My years’ experiment in Bohemian living was exciting to me, but I had also learned some bitter disappointments. As my father remarked sarcastically, ‘You’re trying to act like a big cat in the jungle, but you’re just a pussycat.’ What he said seemed true, and it hurt. But at least I wasn’t like him, selling out to ‘the System.’
“I was so uneasy that night that I didn’t eat much at the supper table, although I was hungry. My mother must have known, and so while I was up in my room—the same boy’s room I had lived in as a child and adolescent—my mother came and brought me another plate of food, “Just in case you’re hungry.” I thanked her, and she left me alone.
“I was about to eat the warm, wholesome meal when I became overwhelmed with anger and grief. The meal represented my parents’ false idea of happiness. I revolted at the idea of eating it, and at the same time I very much wanted it. I was starving, but I couldn’t eat. I wanted food and I wanted love, but I couldn’t get it. Who could help me? I had already rejected a personal God along with my faith in family and nation. So it was too late to turn to ‘Him.’ In a violent mood I took the plate and threw it in the garbage pail. Then I knelt, gnashing my teeth and crying bitter tears. I faced a dead end.
“By the grace of Srila Prabhupada, I will never have to go through that again.”
“What is needed is for everyone to find a place in this movement to work. Be satisfied with simple preaching work. Distribute the knowledge of Krsna consciousness in whatever ways are open to you. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Maharaja said, ‘When you go to preach, even if no one attends, you can speak to the walls.’ You can speak to the four directions and to the moon and the sun. Tell everyone you meet about Krsna.
“But to do this we must be hearing. Otherwise, it becomes a farce. Hear and desire to hear, and then, one day, Krsna may appear within us an over-whelming truth—the only Truth. There are already so many books written in pure Krsna consciousness—why read anything else? Make Him your sole truth.
“A devotee confessed to me, ‘I have been working for Krsna for ten years, but I have no realization at all of His personal existence.’ I know what that’s like. Twenty-five years of no realization? We mean very little realization. We do mean emptiness void of love. When we look within, we see pictures from television, billboards, material stuff. We don’t see Krsna, and it makes us sorry. But we go on serving anyway. We are afraid that if Krsna would storm our hearts, we would become so proud that we would ruin it in a minute. We are not fit for love of Krsna. This devotee who confessed said, ‘I think I need to practice more austerity.’”
“Srila Prabhupada told us many things about his relationship with his spiritual master. One time, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura reprimanded him when it appeared that Srila Prabhupada had diverted his attention from his guru maharaja’s lecture. When they first met, Srila Prabhupada debated with Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati about India’s independence. Prabhupada told us, ‘I liked being defeated by my spiritual master.’ He dreamt of his spiritual master too, mostly that same serious dream in which Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati told Srila Prabhupada to take sannyasa.
“His spiritual master praised him highly on a number of occasions for his attentive hearing and for his poetry and prose writings. He said, ‘Whatever he writes, publish it.’ When Srila Prabhupada’s Godbrothers asked Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati to make Srila Prabhupada the president of the Bombay temple, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura said, ‘It is better that he lives outside your company. He will do everything himself. You do not have to recommend him.’
“After their first meeting, Srila Prabhupada had to travel away on business, but he often thought very fondly of his spiritual master. Of course, they had some personal meetings in which important things were conveyed to our Srila Prabhupada, especially his guru maharaja’s order, ‘If you ever get money, print books.’ Then near the end of his guru maharaja’s life, they exchanged letters. Srila Prabhupada asked, ‘How may I serve you?’ and his spiritual master replied, ‘You can explain in English our thoughts and arguments. This will do much good to yourself as well as to your audience. I have every hope that you can turn yourself into a very good English preacher if you serve the mission.’
“How do these things apply to my relationship with Srila Prabhupada? I am happy to note the similarities: how his guru wanted him to be a writer in English, how he wanted him to express the age-old Vedic teachings in a new way, and how stress should be put on book publication. I also note that Prabhupada was given a lot of freedom by his spiritual master to develop in his own way. But the best example I can take from these anecdotes is that Srila Prabhupada molded his whole life to serve his guru’s mission. Srila Prabhupada gave all he had. In return, he was empowered by his guru’s blessings and the mercy of Lord Caitanya. Prabhupada was given the sakti to convince the fallen Westerners to become devotees and chanters of the holy name. Although I can take examples from his life with his spiritual master, I can’t, of course, imitate it. The point is, how to give ourselves to his order just as he gave himself to Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s order?”
“I’d like to go to Potomac in strong body and mind, rally the devotees from whatever depression has followed the falldown of their sannyasi leader there, and encourage them to continue with our plans for expansion. Maybe we can’t get two million dollars’ worth of granite, but we can build a temple. In Washington there is tremendous book distribution already going on, and in Philadelphia there are many plans, including one for a brahminical school run by Ravindra-svarupa. Mahanidhi Swami’s plans in Baltimore are very promising, and just his presence in our zone is a source of encouragement for all of us. ISKCON Boston is always an inspiration with their book distribution and preaching programs. The whole Caribbean is ripe, and Ireland is ecstatically expanding with Prthu’s restaurants, temples, and islands . . . But I can’t go more than fifteen minutes in any direction without being checked by the ‘STOP sign’ of this body. That is why I speak of cardinals, groundhogs, green grasses and the creek. I must speak of my world, and that is my world.”
“A Fear of Surrender
“Japa and prayer are potent, and sometimes we shy away from them thinking, ‘They will bring me too quickly into Krsna’s presence, and He will force me to surrender.’
“On the surface, this fear seems laughable, but for some it is quite real. I already like the service I am doing for Krsna; in fact, I love it. But what if He wants me to change and do something else? If I pray to Krsna to teach me His way, I may be forced to renounce more than I want to. In fact, Lord Krsna states that if a devotee serves Him sincerely but still retains material ambitions, Krsna’s first mercy on him is to crush him, ‘and thus the wretched fellow has no one to turn to but Me.’ (SB 10.88.8) A statement like this may enforce the fears of surrendering to surrender as something too harsh. But Lord Krsna further states that He will replace the material attachments with ‘the taste of My lotus feet.’ In other words, Krsna will make us supremely happy if we surrender to Him, even if in the beginning we are a bit panicky about losing our material attachments.
“Our actual predicament in material life is already fearful, surrounded as we are by dangers and miseries of birth, death, disease, and old age. Prayer doesn’t increase our fears but gives us shelter in the Supreme. As for surrendering to the Supreme, Krsna will, give us the strength to do that as we serve and pray, ‘Please give me the strength the serve You.’”
“In one class I noted that Prabhupada writes, ‘All impediments will be cut to pieces. Sex desire may be the permanent disease of the Western people, but we are not “Western people,” we are Hare Krsna people.’ Don’t resent the position we are in due to past karma. You cannot avoid it, but go on with your duties and don’t come back again in such a situation.
“‘A liberated soul—who realizes he’s not this body—disregards past activities in such a way that they produce no reactions.’ The soul can’t be known materially; it has to be accepted on authority. In the same way, one cannot see his father as proof that such-and-such man is his father. He has to hear from his mother, the authority.
“On the soul in Bhagavad-gita 2.29: ‘Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all.’
“More and more we hear modern psychologists and scientists want to discount the soul. ‘Soul’ was a concept for the self used thousands of years ago; now there is so-called new information. But still they cannot explain life. They cannot combine the elements of life. ‘In the future’ they say they will do so.
“‘Perhaps one has no idea that one must think of the soul, and also make a solution of the material miseries.’ Or they attempt to learn, but are misguided, and they accept the Supreme and the individual soul as one.
“They don’t know that the goal of life can’t be reached as long as one takes the body as the self.”
“This is not supposed to be a diary? Why not?
“Just reading essays by Richard Hugo. He’s honest. Expresses his feelings, sticks up for the soft heart.
“So, we are here at Jaya Gaurasundara’s. M. doesn’t have a good filing system and loses papers and therefore can’t make the phone calls he’s supposed to make. I don’t want to get on his case. I keep telling him in a nice way how to file papers, but he doesn’t do it. He just places papers in different sites in a messy room. Now he has to call ITV and find the phone number of Siddhanta dasa. He has to do many things. He’s interested in things connected with the van and does them well, but he is not so good with some other things.
“Stop about talking about him. Can’t talk about anyone except yourself. I wrote a poem about how I started two fires as kid and how the fire department came. Decided not to publish them. I didn’t express much remorse for those acts. Not enough Krsna conscious expression to justify publishing it in a book to be read by devotees.
“Manu comments on my writing, that I am trying to express truths and exploring how to do so. How to discover the self, and yet I do this while in a position of spiritual master who is not supposed to have faults.
“Thud, thud of an electric bass from the next-door house. I think they have a live band. I don’t think they will keep it up long. Peaceful suburbs of Catonsville. Next few days mostly to myself. Don’t push M. He’ll do what he can at a reasonable speed.
“I ask for news.
“J.G. blows a conch to signal the end of arati.
“Richard Hugo was a bombardier in World War II. He never saw the enemy from five miles up. Germans shot flak at him. Flak. Cowards. Real guys. What else? He remembered a lot. He was bombing in Italy in 1944 and went back there in 1963. I hadn’t met Srila Prabhupada yet.
“I looked through his book. Now, I am done with it. I don’t care for his poems. Better to write straightforward in poems or prose.
“You are writing your way through life. I hit one home run in the baseball game. It wasn’t even a game with nine men on each side. Just a scrimmage, or whatever you call it, a sandlot. A low line drive that somehow kept going and went over the low wooden picket fence. I trotted around the bases. Hugo writes about students who aren’t good writers but get helped by creative writing teachers to write one good poem or story in their life. He compares it, ‘Just once the kid with fat eyes hit a home run in an obscure sandlot game.’ I like the bravery or whatever it is that comes in his next sentence: ‘You may ridicule the affectionate way he takes that day through a life enough to need it, but please stay the hell away from me.’
“‘Stay the hell away from me.’ I don’t want to associate with a killer of fine emotions. One would take away a sentiment that matters. Matters. Weak words. If I write more, I might be able to express myself better.
“They outwardly assert that ISKCON must become more organized in fundraising and learn secrets of good organization from Covey, etc. I don’t want to grow like that. Let the organization earn more money and be better organized; good, then I will be able to write and they won’t bother. But please stay away from me.
“I want to be, okay, a writer of prose and my own kind of poems, even if they aren’t expertly written with assonance and enjambment, near rhyme, etc., etc. I don’t need that. Write my own way more and more. I respond to the gift of God by writing as much as possible as far as I can in the direction of honesty. And we try to publish the best.
“You owe it to your reader…Want to stop this? Eat more. You weigh one hundred and thirty. Keep going. Stuff yourself. Get up to a hundred and forty if you can.
“Manu says he likes to read the free-writing and finds it much harder to read straight books like Canakya–slokas or The Qualities of Sri Krsna. I agree. I said I have conservative readers who like the straight books. Some for them. A Poor Man Reads the Bhagavatam is a combination of both.
“Pare away the unnecessary. Print the bare best.
“Now I’ll end. I answered many letters today. The granddaughter is crying in the other room. I have no family. Not really hungry, but I’ll try to nibble at something. And rise early tomorrow to read and write. (You could throw the drink down the drain).
“(25 minutes, JG’s house, Baltimore, Sunday, May 12, 1996)”
“So, you want to try to write and the typewriter is quiet. The baby is crying on the floor below, but not as loud for me as for the mother. I am free of that. I wanted to get up at midnight, but I am out of practice and slept until 1:00. I’m also out of practice reading the scriptures and so could not get through it. That’s a serious lacking. I don’t want to bash myself for it but carefully, tenderly, build up interest in it. Some part of me says I already know what’s being discussed, truths about God and so on, and don’t need to or want to read it again. I don’t relish it. But I want to. I know there is depth in the descriptions. I want to enter it and to be able to enjoy it. It is an important part of the identity I’m trying to cut out for myself, that although I am not a manager, I am a sannyasi who likes to read and write. If I don’t like to read but only write, then what is that? Not good. I want to be a devotee of Krsna. If I write but I am not a devotee . . .
“I’d like to be attracted to the Lord and talking about Him. In a way that would bring people’s interest into it. Not artificial for me. I’ll be speaking four nights here, and I have to prepare for that. Shall I read some sections from the Caitanya-caritamrta? But what if I myself am not interested in what I am saying? Shall I then bluff it? You have to consider this. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna.
The North American managers’ meeting will be going on in Alachua, and I’ll be here in Baltimore and then we will go to Boston. Lecturing here and there.
“I grind out the japa, counting my rounds. But it is very important for me. I don’t measure it by my taste, which I get very little of. I think of it in terms of its importance to me. I must do it. I know that an important development of a devotee’s life lies in his chanting career. Perhaps I will always talk somewhere about japa. I could do it in one meeting here in Baltimore. They come to hear from me. I should not think that it’s me but it’s Krsna they are coming to hear from. Give them a good dose of it. We come together to discuss Krsna consciousness, not that we come together to discuss Satsvarupa. If I do talk of myself, it’s part of the expression of a devotee’s life, as if I were talking Zen.
“Sri Krsna Caitanya Prabhu Nityananda. Now you are on sabbatical from your A Poor Man Reads the Bhagavatam, but I want that poor man to come again to reading. Maybe I could take to writing while reading again. That was a form to express yourself and yet go back to the text. Your system for taking notes for Caitanya-caritamrta is more rigid and doesn’t allow you to reach that sort of thing. I could do it throughout the day in installments. I could drop this “May Apples” writing session format and put together reading while writing. Or do some of both. Think about it.
“Hare Krsna. I promised a poem every day and will oblige. If your writing could serve to get you to read, even when you find that you are not interested in reading…and if the reading could also help you to write…and allow you to do free-writing…that would be a boon.”
“(Less than fifteen minutes, Baltimore, Monday, May 13, 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.