Tomorrow is Gaura-purnima and we are busy readying for the festival. We are cleaning the guestroom, putting up new curtains and cooking feast preparations that can be done in advance. We are working at special cleaning projects, such as the temple room, the kitchen and the bathrooms. The talks of Ravindra Svarupa and SDG will be projected on Zoom, and we hope numerous devotees will tune in. Because of COVID, we are inviting only a few friends and neighbors and those who have been twice-vaccinated. But by Zoom potentially fifty people can attend.
I am planning what I’ll speak on. First I’ll quote a couple of verses from Svarupa Damodara’s diary that occur at the beginning of Cc. Adi-lila. He prays that the Supreme Lord, known as the son of Srimati Sacidevi, will appear in the core of our hearts. “Resplendent with the radiance of molten gold, He has appeared in the Age of Kali to bestow what no other incarnation has ever offered before—the mellow of conjugal love.”(Adi-lila 1.4) Svarupa Damodara’s diary contains very confidential sutra-like revelations about the meaning of Lord Caitanya. I will read a couple of his verses, and then I will switch to a favorite section of mine: when Lord Caitanya returns from His tour of southern India and greets His devotees at Jagannatha Puri. They all come to Him like rivers flowing and entering the sea. Svarupa Damodara arrives and is described as a dearmost devotee of the Lord. Lord Caitanya gave him the service of private secretary. Svarupa would read any piece of poetry or drama which a devotee brought for Lord Caitanya to read. Svarupa Damodara had to first approve of the writing to see that there was no rasabhasa (overlapping mellows) before the writing could be shown to Lord Caitanya. Svarupa was also a wonderful singer of devotional songs, which pleased Caitanyadeva very much. Bhavananda Raya, the father of five sons headed by the seniormost, Ramananda Raya. Lord Caitanya praised him for being the father of such a jewel-like son as Ramananda Raya. Actually He said that Bhavananda Raya was like Pandu and that his five sons were representatives of the Pandavas. My talk will be broadcast on Zoom so that others may see it. The same is true for Ravindra Svarupa’s talk.
Gaura-purnima is here. Muktavandya has brought many flowers donated by the Boston suppliers. The women will decorate the altar downstairs, where the big neem Gaura-Nitai stand in splendor. They will make large garlands for Them. There has been last-minute shopping and early cooking for the feast. Baladeva’s sister Kathi is expected to arrive at 7:00 A.M., and Lalita-kaisori will arrive around 8:00 A.M. The atmosphere is festive for Lord Caitanya.
Haridasa will preach to about eight devotees in Schenectady, some of whom have been initiated. One of the ladies prepared many pine tarts. They are like a flaky samosa but filled with cooked-down fresh pineapple and spices. She also sent another Guyanese specialty: a fruitcake. These preparations will be offered to Lord Caitanya on His Appearance Day.
In our ashram we had eight devotees attending and about 40 more tuned in via Zoom. We began by individual kirtana groups singing for fifteen minutes each. A devotee based in Washington, D.C. was the first one to sing. Then in England Bhakti-rasa and his wife Kirtida danced spontaneously in their apartment and enlivened the Zoom audience. A group of grown-up children of devotees held kirtana from Guyana. Caitanya-candrodaya and a group from the Ukraine led a full-bodied kirtana.
Then it was time for the lectures. I spoke on some of my favorite sections from Caitanya-caritamrta. Ravindra Svarupa focused on a single one of the ten offenses in chanting: pramada (craziness, or inattention while chanting). He said Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote that inattention was the root of all offenses. It seemed very appropriate to talk about inattention while chanting on Gaura-purnima Day. Lord Caitanya came to teach that chanting Hare Krsna is the only sacrifice to perform in Kali-yuga. But if we chant inattentively, we cannot make much progress. It was a practical and relevant topic.
Then Krsna dasi performed an arati to Gaura-Nitai. They were dressed in beautiful new yellow outfits and wore rose garlands. Their turbans (not crowns) were elegant and tastefully done.
After that we sat for the feast. The cooking was headed up by Baladeva, with a group effort by his sister Kathi, Lalita-kaisori and Haridasa. Most appreciations were expressed for the hot samosas, the preparation of which was spearheaded by Krsna dasi, who rolled the dough and stuffed each one with cauliflower, peas and potatoes. We had date chutney on the side. The second most-talked-about preparation was Baladeva’s halava with blueberries and a puff of whipped cream. There were two sabjis, dhal and hot puris, and a nectar drink. Everyone took seconds, and there was much appreciation for the feast. Everyone was happy about the atmosphere. It was the first time in a year that we were able to gather together. Everyone had had their vaccinations against COVID, and they breathed a sigh of relief.
I received a letter today addressed to me as “Srila Gurupada.” I wrote the devotee back and told him I stopped using that title decades ago (1985). It was seen as inappropriate, competing with Srila Prabhupada as the few other ISKCON gurus also took special “supertitles.” Those were the zonal guru days, when we sat on vyasasanas as big as Prabhupada’s, and we didn’t allow Godbrothers to join us and become initiating gurus in ISKCON. So please don’t use this title, “Srila Gurupada.” My disciples use the name “Guru Maharaja,” which is a generic name for the spiritual master and does not compete with Srila Prabhupada. The disuse of the name “Gurupada” was introduced along with other reforms by the GBC in 1985. So please correct the use of my title. You can use the name “Satsvarupa Maharaja” or “Srila Satsvarupa Maharaja,” since you are not my disciple.
I wrote a letter to Prsni devi dasi in New Orleans in response to a letter from her. She is feeling great separation at not being able to go out and give people the holy name and get them to dance and chant. (This is because of the COVID pandemic.) But she is fortunate because she has service in the temple and makes Radha and Krsna Their garlands, and she receives Their darsana every day and takes part in prayers and classes.
I like it when devotees write me letters and tell me about their service, their feelings and thoughts, even their troubles. I don’t like it when they are silent and never write to me. Once when I did not write to Prabhupada for a while, he wrote me and said I should communicate with him: “Don’t keep me in the dark,” he wrote.
Ishana dasi from Moscow has presented me with a dilemma. I mentioned in my Journal something about my book Under Dark Stars. She picked up on it and asked permission to translate it into Russian. She even suggested a translator. I know the person she mentioned, and I think it would be very difficult for him—or any Russian—to translate the book. Under Dark Stars is an avant-garde American book with usages of language that would be unfamiliar to the Russians. Frankly, I don’t want to see the book translated, but Ishana is very enthusiastic to read it in Russian. I will have to persuade her not to go ahead with it. Ishana wants me to make an appeal to the Russian-speaking devotees to make donations to produce these books. But as a sannyasi, I usually don’t get involved in these money matters. But I would like to see Ishana produce books for the Russian website, which distributes the electronic books for free.
Sometimes while listening to a lecture by Prabhupada, I am not able to complete my hearing until the end of his talk. I may be compelled to move on in my schedule and do something else. I still make an attempt to hear a whole lecture every day. But on the days when I don’t complete the hearing of his talk, I don’t consider it a loss. It is said that one-eleventh of a second’s association with a pure devotee is enough to bring you back to Godhead. Prabhupada lectures spontaneously, pure krsna-katha, but sometimes digressing and not making a formal presentation with beginning, middle and end. It’s all nectar. Prabhupada repeats the same message, but when I listen closely I hear new things, and it occurs to me that what he is saying is also “over my head” and beyond my realization. His talks are expert and captivating. Even though I can’t remember all the topics after I’ve heard a lecture, I go back and hear another lecture with fresh eagerness. Just hearing the sound vibration gives me immeasurable benefit.
I very much admire the car of Kathi (Baladeva’s sister). It’s a hybrid, a Prius. This hybrid car gets 70 miles per gallon, which is fantastic, good mileage. It is slightly small and has fashionable design. An outstanding feature is the Maine license plate. It prominently bears a picture of a bird, the loon, which is a favorite bird of the state. Loons are known for their calls. They make an eerie, ethereal sound, calling to each other in the early morning. Kathi played a recording for me of the loon’s bird call. I was astonished by the almost-otherworldly quality of the call. Proud Maine residents boast that their state is the only one that has a loon featured on the license plate. Kathi loves driving in her Prius; she says it’s lots of fun.
We’d like to get the mileage that the Prius gives, but we need a bigger car. We have to pack a wheelchair, other paraphernalia and sometimes extra passengers.
In the spiritual world, the devotees travel in their selfsame bodies without any vehicle. Even in Siddha-loka, the residents can fly like that using just their bodies to travel. Neither do they need to pay insurance or show license plates. This is one of the great advantages of living in the spiritual planets.
Baladeva’s and Kathi’s parents asked that their ashes be placed during a whale-watch in Maine in the Bay of Fundy. Kathi obeyed their orders and threw ashes and flowers on the top of a whale that came very near the ship. But Baladeva took half of the ashes, brought them to India, and placed them in the Yamuna River. Although the parents didn’t request the ashes to be placed in the holy river, they probably got spiritual benefit by being placed there by their son. So many devotees place dear ones’ ashes in the Ganges or Yamuna. There must be some significance to it, a great benefit for the spirit soul who has departed.
“I say the predictable. When reading, I also feel, ‘Oh, here it is, the same thing I read not long ago’—where King Prataparudra inquired from Sarvabhauma about Lord Caitanya. Same old thing? I stop, sigh, pause, and then go forward with some effort—and awareness—that there is nectar here. I have to work at finding it. I certainly haven’t milked Prabhupada’s books dry.
“‘In this age of Kali there are no genuine religious principles other than those established by Vaisnava devotees and Vaisnava scriptures. This is the sum and substance of everything.
“‘The pastimes of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu are just like an unfathomable ocean. It is not possible for me to enter into them. Simply standing on the shore, I am but touching the water.
“‘The more one hears the pastimes of Sri Caitanya Malta-prabhu with faith, analytically studying them, the more one attains the ecstatic riches of love of Godhead.’ (Cc. Madhya 9.362-64)
“I complain, I read in cycles, I rejoice, I repeat, I do the loop-de-loop and pass through familiar country. It’s my poverty, but also my richness.
“It’s like where I’m living nowadays. I’m not traveling, so every day I see the same shed, the same path, wet leaves, lake, and island. I don’t grow tired of the view—especially at dawn—or the seasons (spring and early summer are especially nice). I know I can’t live here forever, so whatever I see and repeat has to become an act of devotion. Whatever I read, familiar as it seems, also has to become an act of devotion because I won’t be here forever. The reading experience can be transformed from restlessness to love of Krsna by such an attempt.”
“Manu sent me a note before he left to sell paintings for the week. He began reading Pada-yatra and said he was impressed by it. It seems to be an evolution in my process, he said, in that I’m in control more while doing the free-writing. He said I was able to take larger breaths to sing the melodies. I take it that free-writing needs to be developed. It may appear to be folly, but if I persist in it, I’ll get wise, get control, be more lucky to find those metaphors (serendipity) that can last for a whole book like the padayatra—writing is walking every day, or writing my memories.
“Every Day, Just Write is different because I take only the assignment each day to write what comes. Since I allow myself freedom from the need to present a formal metaphor by which to present my writing, then at least I have to keep writing. That’s the basic premise.
“Life at Geaglum is smooth sailing. I’m in a bubble of peaceful days and nights, living on devotee-owned land. There are no alien sounds and no alien faces. It’s a holy dhama. In January I’ll have to leave and meet the outside world. That doesn’t mean I have to pop the bubble now and seek to tune in to the world of controversy and danger in and out of ISKCON. Stay absorbed.”
“Krsna is part of my life. I usually don’t admit that. I say He’s my whole life, twenty-four hours a day—anyabhilasita sunyam. The fact is, however, that I have other interests. I take a break, a holiday from Krsna consciousness. It sounds awful, but maybe it does me good—I need it. My vacation doesn’t include stopping my sixteen rounds or breaking the regulative principles. It’s more like sleeping, eating, dreaming… In the dreams, the fact that my devotee-identity is often vague and the actions mostly not spiritual—doesn’t that say something about my stage of devotion? I could try to deny it, but it’s true.
“They say the body doesn’t lie. My body is not always interested in Krsna conscious pursuits. That’s because ‘I’m not this body’—that truth—is still theoretical to me. I feel hurt when my body is hurt. I’m not detached.
Wise guy, you should be
booted in the ass. Don’t you know you
can even get booted out of
Krsna consciousness and
into Army boot camp next life?
Then you’ll be sorry!”
“The Lord’s abode is self-effulgent. We should be captivated to hear of it and desire to extricate ourselves from the material cycle and go back to Godhead. Each soul is a living spark of eternal spirit, eternally individual (fragmental). We are expansions of Krsna. Wake up to it and return to Him.
“My prayer talk. Keep going, slow pen, but slow down. Meditate on Krsna’s abode. The sun and the general universal idea of God—that’s okay, but to be more specific in our meditation is better. See Krsna—His name, form, and lila. Want to go to that cintamani-dhama and beg Krsna, the beautiful cowherd boy, to take us. We are jiva-loke—jiva-bhutah sanatanah.
“We live between worlds. We are here and we want to be there, and sometimes we are there. The person moves because the soul is in the heart with Krsna. It stays long enough in one body and then moves on to another as long as it is not ready to resume its spiritual body. Praghosa explained that to the many BBC-TV viewers in the interview I saw on tape. He spoke with his hands, trying to illustrate his point. ‘Reincarnation,’ he said, ‘it’s simply this: the soul is eternal, the body is temporary. When the body dies, the soul has to get a new body. That’s all.’
the key for shed shines chrome in my mitt.
I desire to write 340 songs at a stretch.
Willims and mittens
the owl and pussycat rowed in a boat across the strait and sang by the light of the moon.
A kirtana of beats
a feast for Krsna, teach y’all how to cook for the Lord. Sneak a bhajana (govinda jaya jaya—radha-ramana hari) up to number one pop hit but without mentioning it’s Hare Krsna—but they’re finding out.
O angels of remorse
Dina, we’re sorry we didn’t get to talk with you and hear how you survived the crippling car accident, your side paralyzed by it. I heard you said you didn’t much want to live and that you didn’t attempt the painful physical therapy. Forgive us for not talking with you about it. We’ll have another chance.
I’m sorry, Mom. I’m not waiting for you to die. Don’t haunt me and don’t curse me. Know that Krsna protects me. When you die, I pray He’ll remember you as my mom—that makes you a Hare Krsna mom (like a Navy mom), even though you disown it. Say Jesus, say your prayers, and I wish you a safe and better passage.”
“The king wanted to see the Lord. Prabhupada comments on aradhanam sarvesam visnor aradhanam param. Usually this means that worship of Visnu’s devotees is even better than worship of Visnu, but Prabhupada takes it further in his purport: worship of devotees in madhurya-rasa is best. Lord Caitanya came to teach this.
“‘Anarpita-carim cirat karunayavatirnah kalau—Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu appeared in this age of Kali to exhibit the superexcellence of madhurya-rasa, a gift never previously bestowed by any acarya or incarnation. . . . It is He only who distributed love of Krsna while exhibiting the superexcellence of loving Krsna in the conjugal rasa.’ (Cc. Madhya 11.31, purport)
“We would like to further our Krsna consciousness, and it seems hard to work only out of duty. It just doesn’t seem right to remain on that platform. Then we wonder, ‘Should I do what I love and find a way to offer it to Krsna?’ What if we feel like doing something that isn’t totally Krsna conscious? If we indulge in it, even in the name of service, we soon lose our taste. As the sastra says, that happiness which is nectar in the beginning soon turns to poison. We taste the poison and feel the guilt for having been misled again.
“Modern psychologists don’t believe guilt is a healthy function of the psyche. They say it causes stress and stress isn’t good for us. What we really need to do is to find spontaneous pleasure in sastra, so much so that we don’t care for anything else. Even eating and sleeping become unattractive. We become ‘lost’ in the pleasure of transcendental ecstasy, of chanting and hearing.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t yet achieved that. We read a little and then stop. We chant and then interrupt our rounds for other things. And we live in fear that we are not pleasing guru and Krsna.
Fear comes from rebelliousness. Why do we have to follow authority (God and guru)? Where is our full heart’s commitment? Where is the joy?
“Drawing a picture of it: a strange face and form. A body moving, a face growing older, strained but smiling so people don’t feel disturbed to look at him. And I brand him with Vaisnava tilaka.
“This is my confession. Nevertheless, I submit to duty, acting for sreyas and in knowledge that in the long run, things have to get better.
“In my attempt to improve my spiritual life, and when my mind drifts to creative pursuits, I think of these two obligations: (1) to be Krsna conscious; (2) to find pleasure in my Krsna consciousness, creatively. The two are sometimes in conflict or they don’t pull the weight together, but I have to do both.”
“When I met a humble sannyasi Godbrother who sometimes writes books, I asked, ‘Are you writing?’ He replied, ‘I have no propensity. I am reading.’ I took that to mean, ‘I do not have the ability or desire to write in Krsna consciousness, so I am imbibing great masters of Vaisnava literature.’ It was a humble statement. It left me thinking, ‘Why, why do I insist on writing? What is this propensity?’
“The propensity is the need to communicate. Let it be purified in Krsna consciousness.”
“If we study the Bhagavatam prayers, we find that they contain standard elements and they achieve major purposes. Thus we find prayers expressing: 1. Praise; 2. Thanksgiving; 3. Prayers with requests by the devotees; 4. Prayers asking forgiveness.
“These are some of the major categories of prayer expression. We will find them also present in personal prayers which we ourselves make to the Supreme Lord. In order to identify them clearly, I will cite some examples from the scriptures.
“In the Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna offers prayers of praise to Lord Krsna in the Tenth Chapter and again in the Eleventh Chapter, in the height of his ecstasy.
“‘You are the original Personality of Godhead, the oldest, the ultimate sanctuary of this manifested cosmic world. You are the knower of everything, and You are all that is knowable. You are the supreme refuge, above the material modes. O limitless form! This whole cosmic manifestation is pervaded by You!
“‘You are air, and You are the supreme controller! You are fire, You are water, and You are the moon! You are Brahma, the first living creature, and You are the great-grandfather. I therefore offer my respectful obeisances unto You a thousand times, and again and yet again!
“‘Obeisances to You from the front, from behind and from all sides! O unbounded power, You are the master of limitless might! You are all-pervading, and thus You are everything!’ (Bg. 11.38-40)
Met with Sakuzo Takada, an eighty-year-old gentleman, and his wife. He wore a black kimono and advised that I write strictly five-seven-five syllables and include a season-word if I want to call my poems haiku. I asked him if there was a continuing tradition of poet-priests in Japan. He said everyone writes haiku, and so monks also, but he doesn’t like religion. He thinks poems without religion are ‘more pure.’ But he admitted it could be done—spiritual haiku, provided the five-seven-five and season-word was maintained.
“Mr. Takada and his wife wanted to give us tea, but we accepted grapefruit juice instead. We explained our rules and regulations, showed him a picture of Prabhupada, and gave him a Japanese Bhagavad-gita As It Is. He became very interested in it and quoted a little Sanskrit (dharma-ksetre kuru-ksetre) which he said he learned in his youth.
“I showed him my poem in Modern Haiku about red japa beads, and then showed my actual beads. This prompted Mrs. Takada to go into the other room and come back with several sets of artistically carved Buddhist beads. Mr. Takada laughed and said he’s not a good Buddhist and hardly ever goes to a temple.
“He and his wife became increasingly casual with us, joking about our sikhas and tilaka, which he said was like what hippies in America wear. He also laughed when we told of our restrictions: no meat-eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication. ‘How do you enjoy?’, he said, and, ‘This is why I don’t like religion!’ They were very pleasant and hospitable old folks, but it became long-drawn.
“We made an exchange of books, his haiku and translations of others’ haiku, for our Light of the Bhagavata and Back to Godhead magazines.
“On the way back, Phani-bhusana described how the Japanese are extremely materialistic, and how difficult it is to preach here.”
“‘If one hears the singing of the birds of Vrndavana, then what is the use to him of all the Vedas? If one recites the name of the trees and other living entities in Vrndavana, then what is the use to him of a host of prayers and mantras?’ (Vrndavana mahimamrta, Sataka 13.13)
“That blue-topped bird is back today at the end of the beam. I’m glad they like to perch here. He turns his head almost completely around like an owl, looking all around, his body and feathers trembling in the breeze. Even if it doesn’t rain, there is relief in the air.
“A squirrel is chirping loudly and running on the wall. What’s he afraid of? No one is chasing him, but he’s chirpin, like a bird. A dozen or so goats walk the path in the direction of ISKCON. Little ones run to catch up. Two boys in short pants, walk behind them. The goats are wandering out into the field, so the boys run after them and yell until they turn back.
“I don’t know what I desire. Na dhanam na janam na sundarim. I don’t want money or a beautiful wife or the pleasure of beautiful (mundane) poetry or followers. Then what do you want? Please don’t say, ‘I only want to say a few bold, fluffy, birds have arrived on the roof.’ Say, ‘I only want Your causeless devotional service life after life.’ Yet Prabodhananda Sarasvati says if I recite the birds’ names, it’s like praying. They peck at the ropes, they hop on the canvas roof. They are all over the place. A blue-headed rough-breast has been sitting on the same perch for twenty-five minutes.
“‘Fools think the moving and nonmoving creatures in blissful, spiritual Vrndavana are conditioned souls bound by the modes of nature. We say they are worshipable for everyone and they are the two sources of the nectar treasure of pure devotional service to Sri Radha-Muralidhara.’ (Vrndavana-mahimamrta, Sataka 13.22 )
“Are these verses exaggerated to enthuse neophytes? It would be offensive to think so. Are these statements understandable only to liberated souls? I don’t know. I want to think like the sadhus think, although I have no realization and there are no commentaries to unlock their inner meanings for me. I take them for what they are. If I can appreciate Vrndavana’s trees and creatures, it will be a great gain for me and an asset in approaching Radha-Krsna.
“‘Continually gazing at the intense sweetness of Vrndavana, Sri Sri Radha-Krsna smile and laugh with unrestrained happiness. . . . and They melodiously sing the names of Vrndavana, saying: “Beautiful Vrndavana,” “All glories to Vrndavana,” and “O Vrndavana!” What cannot be obtained by they whose tongues speak in this way?’ (Vrndavana-mahimamrta, Sataka 13.18).”
“I am a tiny person, a happy person, a village teacher, a streetsweeper, a bird in the woods. I am Satsvarupa dasa, New York born and raised, Brooklyn College literary magazine poet. I an, the Swami’s man. And I want to write to win people for him—like a conqueror. Call it proselytizing or evangelizing if you like. I do it as I can. And for this I will need to go as deeply as possible into Gaudiya Vaisnava realization of the soul’s relationship to Radha-Krsna. For this we have come to spiritual India.
“This is my aspiration, now let me demonstrate sincerely to Krsna that I want it. I don’t want to merely be a shadow representing a weak or mixed desire. I know I cannot immediately accomplish whatever I desire. There are always obstacles, and my mind gets distracted too quickly. But I pray to be fixed in determination. I seek inspiration from those with similar vocations to be Srila Prabhupada’s followers. Let us develop good qualities and inspire one another. Why should the devotees in other sampradayas have attractive qualities and not us? We must love one another. Ah, why do I say, ‘we’? I must . . . let me be the one to begin. Let me move to love. Let me, by myself. Let me accept others as they are—as they aspire to be, as they are at best. Let me help them to become better, but not by attempting to control them or overpower them or gain their worship for myself. Can there be a society of honest, submissive sadhus who permit each other space to live, and who can permit the creative urge? Yes, may we flourish.
“We want to be learned in Vaisnava siddhanta, to be realized with the unique twist of the followers of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, and Srila Prabhupada. We want the acaryas to be pleased with us. May we not only take what they have given, but develop it fully. We must beg them to reveal to us how to do this. I do not want to accuse or revile those who are not followers of my Guru Maharaja; instead let me appreciate the God consciousness they are trying to develop. I want to be strong enough to speak boldly when required (as befits a follower of Srila Prabhupada), and I want to do it with my own voice, not as an imitation of Srila Prabhupada. I want to be surrendered to him so that I am serving him with my self. In that way, I will be able to serve him wholeheartedly and develop an understanding of all that he teaches and represents.”
“Madhu is due to arrive with Bhurijana Prabhu from the airport at any moment. I made some notes in my notebook about what I hope to write in October, and I expressed some restlessness. I want to write something beyond travel data and my attempts to cope with health. Although that data is full of the action of my life, why aren’t I satisfied with it? Perhaps I should not look restlessly for new art forms. Maybe I should just write what comes out of who I am and what is. If I am about to enter a new phase, it will come of its own accord. Trust the process. Anyway, trust or not, I have no alternative.
“This morning I ran out of steam in my lecture after about fifteen minutes. Couldn’t think of anything else to say, so asked, ‘Are there any questions?’ There were, and that gave me a second wind. Similarly, I may feel that my little life on the road, although it is worth reporting, is not enough. Then do freer writing and get a second wind and more.
“Bhurijana, brother, you’ve kindly come here to see me. We both have hurts from ISKCON, but we both want to serve in ISKCON. I won’t write about what we talked about in confidence.
“I will write that we sat in chairs in the morning sunshine on the backyard lawn. The air was chilly, and vapor puffed with your breath. But you were dressed warmly enough and the sunshine was strong. Brown leaves on ground—the first I’ve noticed this year.”
“In the introduction to Krsna book Srila Prabhupada writes that before the next death comes, we have to be completely Krsna conscious. We have to become detached from matter by fully engaging in chanting and hearing.
“I have not gone to the Ganges this year, but like a prisoner I have kept myself in this room. When I do go out, whoever I meet makes my head hurt too much. At Mayapur you’re supposed to chalk out your year’s work. Mine: take the year to recover my health. An unglorious assignment, but what can I do?
“When I look over my shoulder I can see the Ganges River winding along its course. Around me the air fills with the sound of bicycle horns and, incongruously, the noise of a nearby lawnmower. I can hear the sound of shenai music playing. It is four days until Gaura-purnima. But I won’t be here. On that day I will probably be pent up in a London airport hotel.
“On my last night, as I sit under the revolving fan with the curtain pulled shut, I can find nothing significant to say. We generally don’t hear writers talking about their aches and pains, except perhaps in their private diaries. In their published works they transcend and write of ideas or of life beyond their own pains. Or they transform their pain into art, like the crippled saxophone player I once heard playing one night on the Lower East Side.
“The great Vaisnava writers speak directly to Lord Krsna, whereas I tend to complain about how badly I am getting on with others and with this body. Endless complaining. But a devotee is meant to be pure and fearless and tolerant. He accepts pain as he accepts the events of this world, which come and go like the seasons.
“I lament to be leaving Mayapur without seeing and touching the Ganges or seeing the terracotta artwork at Prabhupada’s Samadhi or visiting the ISKCON Sri Jagannatha Mandir. At least I saw Radha-Madhava and went to some meetings. But I did not attain pure bhakti. And my Godbrothers have now seen firsthand how ill I am. And they have seen my spiritual imperfection as well, judging from the contributions I made at the meetings. They forgive me, and I forgive me. But where is the great progress? If now I turn to chanting for solace, won’t it be the same, mediocre? But I’ll try, I’ll try again. It may improve, I hope.”
“Bad day for the fish. How many will be hooked today due to others’ uncontrolled tongues? As we rode past the bridge we saw two fishermen. One looked mean, moustached, tattooed, wearing denim. He had already caught about six carp. I waved, but he didn’t wave back. Later we saw two other men go by in a boat, one wearing a camouflage vest and sporting a beard.
“Fish are one of the last creatures spared. Ecologists and naturalists object to fishing only if an entire species is in danger of so-called extinction. Otherwise, who cares about the slimy, glassy-eyed, edible, ‘soul-less’ fish? It is difficult to make propaganda to save them. People will say, ‘What about the humans in Soviet-oppressed countries? What about the aborted babies in the womb?’ But everything is connected by an intricate and irremovable web of karma, and the fisherman himself suffers for the pain he causes to the hapless fish.
“Even when the karmi thinks he is acting peacefully, by habit he still acts horrendously. Sitting back quietly in a boat, smoking a cigarette, fishing—what’s wrong with that? Something even the President of the United States might do if he could get a day off.
“‘The doctor is coming Saturday,” said Baladeva.
“‘Which doctor?’ I asked.
“‘I think they’re both witch doctors,’ Baladeva joked.
“‘You mean the doctor from South India?’ I asked. Yes, finally he’s coming. This seems like my last big chance to be cured by medical science. Since I’ve tried most of the other methods, now a full course in Ayurvedic treatment.”
“I suddenly remembered something that happened two years ago. Walking down the long snaky mountain road in the Pyrenees to the telephone booth at the bottom. It takes half an hour to get there. We talk to Madhu on the phone. Madhu had gone to Ireland to purchase a small cottage for me so that I could live as a hermit, but I wanted to tell him not to get it; I had changed my mind. So Ganga and I walked down the mountainside to the phone booth and called Madhu: ‘Let’s talk about it some more before you purchase anything; that plan is too radical.’ Ganga is with me again, although I am not at any major crossroads this time. We’re both still trying to practice prayer, as we were learning to do in the Pyrenees two years ago. I’m still writing in a notebook to help myself, too.
“‘Do you remember?’ Ganga asked as we walked down a Wicklow hill. In the Pyrenees, he told me, ‘I know it’s very difficult to remain in an undecided state. It will be good if you can make up your mind.’ I was making pro and con cards for alternative plans. The balance swung when I read Srila Prabhupada’s purport saying that the times have changed. Sages should no longer live in cottages in seclusion but should go out and preach.
“Does writing this down enhance my connection with Prabhupada? Yes, I think that as I acknowledge life, that receptivity will lead to moments with Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krsna that I’ve overlooked. Practice to regard life in its moments as notable. I can tack on the Krsna conscious purport if I have to. In the beginning, it may have to be done like that, crudely adding the ‘moral of the story.’ But like anything, practice brings improvement. Please bear with me.”
“I remember the first time I read this chapter. It was the early 1970s, and the Adi-lila had just come out. I had two impressions. First, these topics amazed me; Srila Prabhupada had never discussed these things with us. Second, I was afraid that I wasn’t qualified to read them; they felt too intimate.
“We can still raise this question today: are we fit to hear these topics? Some devotees insist that we should not read the Caitanya-caritamrta until we have completed our studies of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. (It could be said that we shouldn’t read the Caitanya-caritamrta until we become liberated.) Others say that since Srila Prabhupada gave us the Caitanya-caritamrta, we can and should read it along with his other books.
“Both views can be supported. For example, Prabhupada says in one purport in Madhya 8 that unless one is on the liberated platform, he should not read these topics. Madhurya-rasa is not for conditioned souls. In other places, however, he expresses the opposite view. At the end of Chapter 32 of the Krsna book (“Description of the Rasa Dance”), he writes that hearing about the rasa dance will cleanse the heart of material lust.
“We can reconcile these two viewpoints by aspiring to understand these pastimes but not presuming that we are beyond our present level of practice and realization. We should not imagine that we are taking part in Radha and Krsna’s intimate pastimes, nor should we think that we have reached a stage where we are able to relish them with bhava. It is not, however, forbidden to see entrance into those pastimes as the goal or to reach out to them for inspiration.
“When Srila Prabhupada first published his Krsna book, he wanted it widely distributed. He once said that every home should have a Krsna book. Krsna book contains all of Krsna’s pastimes, including His pastimes performed in the conjugal rasa. Why, then, would he want every home to have Krsna book? Srila Prabhupada made Krsna book—and all of his other books—‘safe’ for us by accompanying the verses with elaborate purports. His purports enable us to read the confidential sections in his books even before we are liberated. If we are hearing from the right source, and if we are practicing Krsna consciousness, then we can read, protected by Prabhupada.
“In another purport in Chapter 8, Prabhupada criticizes materialists, mundane scholars and poets who approach these topics with abominable attitudes. He says they are forbidden to hear. But a practicing devotee who is hearing from the right source and following the rules and regulations is in a different category. Prabhupada writes,
“‘But above all these Vaikuntha planets is Goloka, or Krsnaloka, where the original Personality of Godhead, Krsna, fully manifests His pleasure potency in free loving affairs. Since the devotees in the material world know almost nothing about these affairs, the Lord desires to show these affairs to them.’ (Cc. Adi-lila 4.30, purport)
“This indicates that this information about Krsna is to be distributed. Then he writes, ‘The reason the Lord displays the rasa-lila is essentially to induce all the fallen souls to give up their diseased morality and religiosity, and to attract them to the kingdom of God to enjoy the reality. A person who actually understands what the rasa-lila is will certainly hate to indulge in mundane sex life.’
“From this purport, we can understand that the rasa-lila is not a forbidden topic. It is the most pure topic. But because we are conditioned, we have to hear of it carefully, protected by Srila Prabhupada’s purports. Prabhupada affirms in his purport to ‘Vibhavari-sesa’ that ‘These topics should be heard from pure devotees of the Lord; otherwise they should be avoided.’”
“Let His glories be known.
He deserves to be celebrated
by the Nobel prize by
a Krsna poet. He deserves
to be popular among the
pop singers and rock singers
and opera singers and bird
“Why should He be known
by only a few? Because
there is a qualification of submissive
hearing, a pure heart, and that
is rarely found.
“The age is bad, and
perhaps we can’t expect His song
will be number one in
the hit parade.
“Let the devotees chant kirtana and
make it popular among the yogis
and New Age.
“Let Krsna be praised! It doesn’t matter
if the world doesn’t know Krsna.
His glories are known
by the vast majority of souls
in the spiritual world.”
“Srila Prabhupada disappeared from our vision in 1977. In order to keep our connection with him alive, we have to learn how to serve him in separation. This is necessary, but as for disciples and grand-disciples, every devotee in ISKCON has an equal chance to please and serve the Founder-Acarya.
“The spiritual master instruct his disciples in two ways; through vapuh (physical association) and vani (sound vibration). Service and separation is more or less the same thing as associating with the vani of the spiritual master. Because the physical presence of the guru is sometimes available and sometimes not, the vani is considered more important because it continues to exist eternally. The Bhagavad-gita is the vani of Lord Krsna. “Although Krsna was personally present 5000 years ago and He is no longer physically present from the materialistic point of view, Bhagavad-gita continues.
“Often devotees ask, “How can I serve Srila Prabhupada in separation if I never had his personal association? Isn’t the vapuh needed to make the vani work?“ Not necessarily. Those who were fortunate to get the personal association of Srila Prabhupada can share their experiences by telling others about him; everyone can remember and serve him in parampara. There are many advanced devotees who worshiped and loved Lord Caitanya but never had His personal darsana. Krsnadasa Kaviraja wrote the Caitanya-caritamrta without ever having met Lord Caitanya.
“The same principle is true for Srila Prabhupada. Our philosophy is actually replete with examples of service in separation. The gopis served Krsna in separation after He left for the forest with His cowherd boyfriends:
“‘The gopis did not physically take part, but their hearts went with Him. And because their hearts went, they were able to enjoy His company through some strong feelings of separation. To acquire this strong feeling of separation is the teaching of Lord Caitanya and His direct disciples in disciplic succession, the Six Gosvamis. When we are not in physical contact with Krsna, we can associate with Him like the gopis through feelings of separation.’ (Krsna, ‘The Gopis’ Feelings of Separation,’ p. 289)”
“I seek assurance that what I am doing is important. I just read in the ISKCON World Review of devotees chanting in Sarajevo and being attacked by a gang with knives. Certainly the devotees think it’s important to chant and give out food there. In the same IWR I read of the important one-hour-long TV show put on by ISKCON scientists and how they sold many books and stirred controversies against Darwin’s theory. That is obviously important preaching, bolstered by quotes from Prabhupada who said the Bhaktivedanta Institute was most important. I know my books have some effect on readers. As for this bridge I start now, I can’t be sure. It may be just a little rope-bridge over a creek or it could turn out to be something longer, a life’s work (in Vrndavan, January, 1996) and I got it, A Poor Man Reads the Bhagavatam. After 1,400 pages, almost three volumes of that, I’m taking a break from it. Doing what comes to me. So far it has been a collection of sessions I called May Apples and then another diary, Basic Sketchbook. Each one lasts for not much more than a week. Now again I get restless and start off.
“The main thing is not to try to judge the importance in an external sense, but burrow as deeply into the process as you can. (Yes, like a mole in the earth, with his little nose and sharp teeth and claws, pushing aside the earth as fast as he can, a little bit at a time, in his subways.)
“To penetrate, to ask the questions, not to be afraid. To look for art and to sometimes throw off art. To make writing important in my own life. And then to realize that I can’t go back to Godhead by force of my pen. I need to read the books of His Divine Grace and call to Krsna as Prahlada Maharaja does, “When will You call me back to Your lotus feet?” Keep going, mole. You’ve got a couple of busy days here in Boston and you haven’t even finished your Basic Sketchbook. After that, you’ve got five days in Saratoga, New York and then there will be a big break in the mood as you go to New York and catch the British Airways flight that takes you to Ireland (and out of the summer of North American festivals).
“So, whatever I get going in Saratoga will probably be interrupted and I’ll have to start a new one in Ireland. That will be June. All of June to write there, an Ireland-based timed book of one who is writer-in-residence.
“Assurance that what I do is important. You have to pray. I just received a letter from a devotee here asking me to help her ‘concentrate and become more internal while doing book distribution.’ She says, ‘Certainly sankirtana cannot be done automatically.’ She wants to know how to pray, and not only when on sankirtana, ‘but at every step of my life, because it is essential to feel helpless and dependent on the Lord’s mercy.’
“How to pray? Does she think I know how to do it at every moment? Do I have a reputation for talking about that? Dear little sister, you do it like this, you interject the ‘Krsna prayer’ at every step, at every moment say Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna and when not out loud then in your mind. And when I write…
“You say you want assurance—it’s important. That might sound terribly puffed-up, but I don’t mean it that way. Make a humble offering, pray at every step that your offering is acceptable. Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna. You could pray always reciting the maha-mantra. Increase your rounds. Chant mentally. People are trying things like that. But if I decided to spend so much time writing then I must learn how to ‘chant Hare Krsna’ while other words come onto the page. I tried writing the mantra over and over, called it ‘japa with pen.’ But it felt mechanical. Someone said it looked like the punishment teachers gave kids in school, to write something over and over.
“I want to be aloof from strife, from problems. Run away from it? Paul Valery was criticized for writing poems in France during World War II. (Did they want him to engage in politics in the resistance movement?) In reply he said that he was certainly unhappy, but that he to go on in his duty of practicing art.
“I want to go alone upstate and write. But what will you write about if you’re tuned out from the latest news? I can write: ‘Dear Self, I have come to a room where there is a large dog barking next door and my secretary just said, “I have to pass on this information to you.” But in spite of it, I am writing – the search for the authentic self.’ What?
“To pursue the self for…to write the words that come. Play surreal games. Imitate poet-masters who are not devotees. Listen, friends, I say to you I have come upstate for five days to write and to read my master’s books. I want to read his books and reassure myself that I am satisfied here. To learn methods once again, each day of how to do it. In one book on the artists Bonnard and Matisse, the editor said they loved art but that they weren’t trying to achieve great paintings but to practice art everyday as a religious vocation. He said that art is ‘grim,’ something you have to face every day.
“‘Upstate’ (for want of a better title). It tells where I am externally. Away from the city. Out of touch with the center of the world, Manhattan?
“Now, in just a brief conversation with Madhu in the kitchen I may have found the method for solving my dilemma. Dilemma: A Poor Man Reads the Bhagavatam is a valuable work and should be continued. Its structure, however, makes me feel I am not able to stretch out in free-writing, exploring at more length (because you always have to soon bring yourself to the next verse and keep its themes in mind).
“So, why not do both kinds of writings? Do at least one PMRB a day, but when you have extra time, do writing outside of that project, not aimed at making the Product (and don’t worry about ‘completing’ the Bhagavatam).
“‘For the first time in his professional life he stopped worrying about results’ and as a consequence, the terms “success” and “failure” had suddenly lost their meaning for him. The true purpose of art was not to create beautiful objects, he discovered. It was a method of understanding, a way of penetrating the world and finding one’s place in it, and whatever aesthetic qualities an individual canvas might have were almost an incidental by-product of the effort to engage oneself in this struggle, to into enter into the thick of things…’ (from Fifty Days of Solitude, Doris Grumbach)
“I remember he wore a T-shirt and pants. I heard little boys playing basketball. The basketball is not even regulation size, smaller. They can’t dribble the ball well. Two or three of them practicing shots with the hoop and backboard in the front yard here in Saratoga Springs, NY. We’re on a dead-end street. K.R. has given us a house to ourselves for five days. (The residents just moved out, so he was able to rent it.) Ideal. A state park nearby to walk in. But only five days. Not much time.
I remember solace and words like that. I want to read Srila Prabhupada and Krsna. Take time for it but now let yourself range out, please.
There’s time to do what you want and to relax too.
“There’s no theme but important big or little things to say. Diving. Keep going, look at it later. Fuzzy ink on the page. Book lust. Book lust. Music, Handel, fruitive search for the lost ring.
“Maybe he said in another life I could hug and love a woman. But in this life, I see it for what it is. Don’t get entangled in that illusion.
“‘Philosopher is wise. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, but wise men never fall in love, so how are they to know?’ – sings someone like Johnny Mathis, another fool.
“Be a fool for Krsna.
“Fuzz your ink on the page for His cause.
“God, You don’t reveal Yourself to me, and thus You see me roaming in various areas like one who hasn’t received a higher taste. You are testing me, and perhaps I’m not passing the test so well. But I wish You to bring me to You. Prahlada prayed, ‘When will that moment come when You may call me to Your lotus feet?’ Once going to Krsnaloka, one never returns here. So, are you going to do it?
“It’s up to me, we say.
“So, it is.
“I didn’t make the baseball team. I didn’t become a guitarist, it was too hard. And algebra was too hard. I dropped the course. Listen, it’s up to me.
“But Krsna, Krsna, Krsna is the goal, and not this plethora of other objects. Here is A Directory of American Poetry Books with 950 poets listed as publishing books in the last two years. So many, and not one is a Krsna conscious poet. I’m not listed.
“Far gone days are gone, perhaps forever.
“Host didn’t like that I kept to myself. His little son should be able to walk into my room and find me friendly, like an older brother to all, a member of the family.
“You and your amenities.
“Poet of franchise. Branch Rickey figured Jackie Robinson could take the pressure, and so he became the first black man in major league baseball, the Brookes.
“He did fine.
I’m broadcasting a separate unit.
Do you think we will be all right?
Walking in Saratoga State Park. They say that the Native Americans regarded this place as sacred. Lots of flowing water. One spring is gushing out of a fountain and you can come and drink it but the sign says it has so much radium in it, it might not be good for your health if you drink it constantly. It’s still so cold that the fingers are tingling as we are walking fast. But heavenly green everywhere and not only evergreen trees but other varieties.
“So, why have you come here? To take a walk, exercise the body. I mean, why have you come upstate for a few days? To write, and now some of things I always do. I collect poetry books and the dubious habit like listening to jazz and then have to clear them away. I take on some weight and then I realize it’s not the best, and I throw it off. I look for Krsna everywhere and wish that Krsna would bring me to Him.
“But here we are and all these waters are flowing in Saratoga. I can’t just live in Vrndavana all the time, at least at this point in my life I am not fit for it, and everywhere I go in the institution, there’s undesirable socializing and controversies. So, I have to find my Vrndavana wherever I go. Anyway, I’m writing here. Words are my trade, words are our way of worship. You spread out and just say what comes and read it later, hope that it will purify you or make something clear and provide some interesting reading. But just give to the process please, more than the product.
“Saratoga Spa State Park. Hare Krsna.
“Again, and again Srila Prabhupada is making the point that Krsna’s body is spiritual and so are all the bodies of the gopis. Their sexual attraction for one another is purely spiritual. We make a great mistake when we think Krsna’s ‘lust’ is like ours. We are covered over by matter, in material bodies and false ego.
“We can’t know Krsna until we become purified, detached of all material desire.
“But do I want to write a lot and therefore extra space, more than permitted me in PMRB? Do I want to make a record of my five-day story in upstate New York? Why?
“You resort to your little life. Hear the basketball being bounced on the asphalt in the neighbor’s driveway.
“I was reading through Moment’s Notice, jazz and poetry and prose, as quickly as I could, so I could put it aside. Then I’ll not desire to hear the music. Or at least not enough desire to act on, and no further temptation. Clear the way so I can hear Krsna’s flute play kama-gayatri.
“The only obstacle to creative writing is lack of faith manifest as fear and self-judgment.
Fear that the world doesn’t need my diary and free-write.
“Walked in the woods from one pavilion to another. Finally wound up at the stadium for the performing arts. Everything was open for us to inspect alone at 6 A.M. No one on stage, no one at the ticket booth or merchandise stand or anywhere. Open but closed. We walked in chilly air. I prefer to see the world that way.
“No, at least you’re writing. This is not a free-write to accompany a verse. But Krsna, Krsna is in the heart. The names of jazz giants I’m reading again and again and letting it go, Charlie Parker, Benny Olson (made that up; I don’t owe reality), Clifford Brown, Bud Powell, Miles, Monk, ‘Trane, black blues . . . I let it go. Not the same as chanting Hare Krsna which you never tire of.
“So, the image of myself listening to jazz and the image of myself chanting Hare Krsna is not the same. I do have the image (dream) that I will chant and enter Krsna’s pastimes in my mind. That I want. Srila Prabhupada’s language, Srila Prabhupada’s man is I.”
(to be continued)
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.