Krsna is my Lord.
I can see Him and Radha
as arca-vigraha on my
altar. They have changed
Their dress today.
his hairs don’t stand
on end, but he enjoys
a steady gaze. When
They are away from the
altar getting bathed
and dressed, it is
empty and “void.”
Now They are back
in a simple blue
outfit with flowers.
When I saw Them
I said, “Vrajavasis”
because They look like that, no jari
and an artfully-
no crowns and
a small candrika
for Radha. My
eyes cannot clearly make out Their features.
I’m too far away.
We are getting near the end of our reading of Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Prabhupada writes that the middle chapters are essential, but then he writes in the Fourteenth Chapter, “The Modes of Material Nature,” that this chapter is the best of all. I do not quite understand it.
Who can know the beauty
of Krsna consciousness? It takes a pure devotee,
free of material desires
and dedicated to devotional service.
My spiritual master knew that secret
because he was always working
to bring fallen souls to the
mission of Lord Caitanya.
Krsna is very pleased
when He sees someone coming
to Him, and that is
the beauty of devotional service.
My six-year-old hoodie is worn out, stained, and the zipper is broken. Baladeva bought me two gray hoodies on sale. We’ve dyed them a dull color, and they look nice. But they have the brand name “Adidas” printed prominently on the shoulder. It wasn’t possible to find a sweatshirt without the brand name. I will tolerate it, but some devotees may criticize and say I’m out of uniform.
John gave me Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. He thought I would find her a “kindred spirit.” I didn’t find it so. She speaks of much rewriting, discarding large portions of what you’ve done, and the whole endeavor being torturous and requiring drinking much black coffee and ten years to finish a book. I preferred N.G.’s Writing Down the Bones, where she invites us to do “writing practice,” with guidelines like “Keep the hand moving,” and “Don’t think.” I don’t strictly follow that either, but I like it better than Dillard’s revising/perfectionism. In this weekly Journal, I am inspired by my writer/disciple Narayana Kavaca. I corresponded with him when I was stuck with what to write and had even stopped posting and publishing. He advised me that I had already produced enough on Krsna conscious siddhanta, over two hundred books. He suggested that what my readers mostly wanted to hear was how I was doing, news of my activities, my current thoughts and interactions with devotees. I am attempting that, but it is not easy.
We are now in the Sixteenth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, “The Divine and Demoniac Natures.” There is a section about the position of women. Prabhupada writes that they are like children, and they should not be given independence. Manohara came to me and inquired about this. He said that fifty years ago, this may have been more acceptable, but nowadays people read it and want to have nothing to do with Krsna consciousness. He told me in recent editions of Prabhupada’s books in Italian, these statements have been softened by the translator. There is even a reference which is racist. Manohara asked me what I thought of making changes in these controversial passages. I agreed it should be done. I told Manohara that the GBC already resolved that the statement, “Women like a man who is expert at rape,” should be changed.
I didn’t mean to criticize Prabhupada’s writings. His heart is pure, and he speaks out against the anomalies of the age. We just want to protect him from being rejected by readers who find his statements to be anti-feminine or racist. The “racist” statements are rare and have been omitted in all editions except the Srimad-Bhagavatam published in India in the 1960s. But the statements minimizing women are more pervading, and in the 21st century they appear as male chauvinism. The followers of Srila Prabhupada have to live with this. They have to think deeply and find ways to explain Prabhupada in a broadminded way.
I have a towel over
my lap to prevent ink stains
from getting on my pants
while I am writing. But
it’s impossible to stop
the stains; all my pants
have streaks and spots.
I was going to write
about Krsna but
this is the occupational
hazard. In society
I am not presentable
or clean. Should
I just accept it
and be proud
of my self-inflicted “wounds”?
I don’t like Annie Dillard’s agonizing over the work and taking ten years to finish the book. I spent five years laboring over Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, a seven-volume opus. And I had researchers doing interviews, excerpts of which I used in the narrative. It was bliss writing an authorized biography of Srila Prabhupada, the pure devotee.
We are reading Chapter 17, “Divisions of Faith.” Arjuna asks Krsna, “What about those whose worship is not according to Vedic rules and regulations?” Some people worship ghosts. When they find that a ghost is living in a tree, they go there and offer rituals, asking for boons. During World War II, a man in Calcutta worshiped Hitler. He was able to amass much wealth dealing on the black market during the victories of the Nazis. Worship in the modes of ignorance and passion never bring liberation or spiritual peace. Only those who engage in devotional service to Visnu or Krsna get released from the cycle of birth and death.
We are up to Verse 40 in the Eighteenth Chapter. Prabhupada writes that the Gita is finished in seventeen chapters, and the eighteenth is a summary. But at the end of the last chapter are most wonderful climactic verses on surrender.
The four of us will have to vote for the next book to read. I want to make it a secret ballot because if I make my choice known, it may influence the others. I actually want to read Caitanya-caritamrta, but I’m willing to go along with another book by Srila Prabhupada.
Bala needs to use a comfortable chair to sit at the dinner table. We are going to have a feast on Thanksgiving Day, held at Ravindra Svarupa’s. It’s not a particularly spiritual or Vaisnava observance. Perhaps Ravindra Svarupa could give an impromptu talk on gratitude to Krsna for providing us with sufficient vegetarian prasadam. Beyond this, we are making Thanksgiving for the benediction to engage in devotional service to Radha-Krsna and Gaura-Nitai, to all the Vaisnavas and to all living beings. We all thank Srila Prabhupada, the Founder-Acarya of ISKCON, for transforming us into civilized human beings, free from sinful sense gratification and acting as aspiring servants of Krsna and humanity.
Unlike most Thanksgiving tables, we don’t thank God for allowing us to slaughter turkeys. Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita, “Whoever offers Me with devotion a leaf, a fruit, a flower or some water, I will accept it.” He doesn’t ask for flesh; He won’t accept it. Earlier in the Gita, Krsna says, “Whoever eats without making an offering to Me eats only sin.” We thank the Lord for telling us what to offer to Radha and Krsna.
The election is over regarding which book we will read next. I wrote the titles of three books on four pieces of paper and folded the papers for privacy. Then, with all four devotees gathered, we wrote our choices, put them in a hat and gave it to Krsna dasi. She unfolded the papers and read them out loud. There were two votes for Caitanya-caritamrta, one for The Nectar of Devotion, and one for Caitanya-bhagavata. So Caitanya-caritamrta is the book we will read. Later, Baladeva asked how I voted, but I said it was a secret. I was suspicious, so I asked him how he voted. He replied, “Caitanya-caritamrta,” and said he had heard me remark earlier that the next book I wanted us to read was Caitanya-caritamrta. Thus he supported me, and the “blind” purity of the voting process was compromised. It was rigged in favor of me and Baladeva. Bala and Krsna dasi shouldn’t think they were cheated. We all get to share the “Ph.D.” of Prabhupada’s literary contribution, Krsnadasa Kaviraja’s magisterial biography and teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, with Prabhupada’s personal ecstasies.
Manohara has to give a seminar on the first six chapters of Bhagavad-gita. He’s trying to get prepared. He mentioned Prabhupada’s sentence from the Introduction: “One has to at least theoretically accept Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead,” and how powerfully this had an effect on him. I said I knew several other devotees who said the same thing about that sentence. Prabhupada writes that the Gita contains subjects that are found in other scriptures, but it also contains things that are not found in other scriptures. I said an example of this is Krsna’s straightforward and clear statements on the immortality of the soul in the Second Chapter. I said it is hard for people to accept that Krsna is inciting Arjuna to kill in war. They prefer Arjuna’s unwillingness. I told Manohara to set the scene from Mahabharata, how Krsna and the Pandavas tried by all means to keep peace before they saw that war was inevitable. I mentioned the importance of Arjuna’s accepting Krsna as his spiritual master, and in the Fourth Chapter, Krsna teaching how the knowledge comes down in parampara. I said the most important verse in the chapter on yoga is Bg. 6.47, where Krsna says the highest yogi is the one who always thinks of Him in devotion. Manohara thanked me for helping him with his seminar. We agreed there was not enough time for him to cover all the verses in the Bhagavad-gita, but he should pick out the most prominent ones.
On the birthday of the spiritual master, disciples hold a ceremony called Vyasa-Puja. We have adjusted this to be as near to my birthday as possible, but on a Saturday, to make it convenient for devotees to attend. I think I have already explained in the Journal what I will speak on. I will set the stage for the disciples to speak homages without my becoming prideful. On Vyasa Puja day, he remains “as humble as a blade of grass.” He is like the Viceroy in the days of the British rule of India. The Viceroy could accept contributions from the people, but he couldn’t keep a single thing for himself. It all went into the royal treasury, as property of the king. Similarly, the spiritual master hears homages to himself, but he passes them on to the guru parampara.
I did my noon Gayatris, but they weren’t so good. I was interrupted by having to go to the bathroom. When I came back, I was inattentive. I couldn’t meditate on each mantra as I like to. It was mechanical. I’ll try to make it up in the evening. I don’t think I could say the noon Gayatris again right now, not nicely. And now I have a headache.
Lying in bed, drifting in and out of dreams at the end of my nap time. I deliberately get up early; I do not want to oversleep. Prabhupada writes that sleeping over six hours is in the mode of ignorance. My doctor tells me to get seven hours of uninterrupted sleep at night as protection against headaches. I can’t quite do it. So I take a nap during the day. I start to take rest at 7:00 P.M., and Baladeva’s alarm clock goes off at 2:00 A.M. But I have to pass urine once during the night, and I usually wake early. Srila Prabhupada would take rest starting around 10:00 P.M. and get up at 1:00 A.M. to work on his translations and purports. After finishing lunch, he would take a nap for about two hours. So he slept five hours out of twenty-four. He received a 45-minute massage in the morning and took a one-hour walk before breakfast. He said these two practices helped to keep his health. He lived 81 years. A doctor said his longevity was shortened by so much air travel, the burden of so many disciples, and his active involvement in the management of a worldwide Movement. By contrast, I do no travel, and I’m not stressed with management. Health experts say my longevity may be shortened by a sedentary lifestyle with minimum exercise.
We have begun our out-loud reading of Caitanya-caritamrta. We are on Adi-lila Chapter One, “The Spiritual Masters.” It is filled with vital information on the diksa and siksa gurus, and deep philosophical knowledge. But after many pages, I called out, “Where is Gauranga? Where is Gauranga? Where is Nitai?” We have to be patient. There is so much introductory information before we reach “The Advent of Lord Caitanya.” I must admit I am a little impatient, but I will listen attentively to what Krsnadasa Kaviraja and Srila Prabhupada have to say.
In the POEMS book, I quoted Thoreau as being “an inspector of snowstorms.” My proofreader changed snowstorms to “snowflakes.” I changed it again, but they put “snowflakes” back in again. The sentence is famous, and readers familiar with Thoreau will think we have made a mistake. Thoreau was a land surveyor, and we can imagine him studying snowdrifts and how they blocked the lanes, and other features of the snowfall. He could have inspected snowflakes, but he didn’t mention that as his vocation.
I have been to the Sunday Love Feast and then to my apartment to finish up some typing. Now I’m going back to the storefront to give Swamiji the typing. As I enter the storefront, I see that many guests have already left. Kirtanananda is sitting on the front shelf of the storefront window, talking with a guy and girl about Krsna consciousness. He’s speaking examples he’s heard from the Swami, and some of his own. His friend, Umapati, stands by. Someone mentions Buddhism, and Umapati says, “Buddhism is actually a kind of mysticism for atheists.”
On the left side of the front entrance is a shelf with ISKCON literature where Gargamuni has set up pamphlets (“Krsna, the Reservoir of Pleasure” and “Who Is Crazy?”). The first issue of BTG is there, and some incense in homemade packs. Gargamuni wears red japa beads around his neck, and he smooths his “Shakespearean locks” with his hands. He says, “You can burn this incense when you chant Hare Krsna.” He laughs, but he’s trying to make a sale. A man picks up a leaflet, “Is this free?” Gargamuni says, “We have to pay for the printing. You can give a little donation for it.’’ Gargamuni holds his fourth plate of feast prasadam, and he’s picking a little from it as he talks.
At the back of the room, where the dais is, there are big pots on the floor, and the devotees are giving out whatever prasadam is left. Acyutananda is serving out with a large spoon. Stryadhisa is sitting quietly, eating. Rupanuga and his wife and little child are sitting, having finished prasadam, and talking with Raya-Rama. Rupanuga says to Raya-Rama, “Something should be done to make the temple a cleaner place.” He says that he and his wife sometimes feel ashamed to come there because of the cockroaches and the dirt. There are even sweet-juice stains on the rug. Raya-Rama smiles and says, “Well, what can be done?” But Rupanuga is serious about it. He says it’s really bad, and he will tell the Swami about it. Jagannatha dasa (James Green) is also there, and he’s talking to a newly-initiated devotee named Dwarkadisa. Dwarkadisa is comparing Krsna consciousness to Western philosophy and saying that the arguments for the existence of God by Thomas Aquinas are very good.
A moody young man is playing the tamboura, but pressing the strings down as if it were a guitar. Bob Lefkowitz says to him, “Hey, that’s not the way you play a tamboura. You’ll break it. It’s just a drone instrument.” The man continues playing the tamboura by pressing the strings and finally Lefkowitz takes it from him.
I walk through this scene and out the side door into the courtyard. Paper plates are scattered around, and the janitor, Mr. Chuddy, is upset. “I told you this before,” he says, “This is not your place.” Brahmananda says, “We’re just like your sons. So tell us what to do and I’ll do it. I’ll clean up right away. It won’t happen again.” Brahmananda has heard from the Swamiji say we should approach Mr. Chuddy this way. Mr. Chuddy is pacified, but another tenant comes; they both complain again about the plates. “Did you get some prasadam?” asks Brahmananda of the tenant. “Yes, I got a plate. It was nice but that’s not the point.” Stryadhisa sits at the picnic table blinking, looking detached from everything.