Krishna Kripa travels around the world doing harinama. He takes videos of the harinamas, and he’s been showing them to me here. I enjoy them very much. I watched a small harinama group led by Rama Raya in a subway station in Brooklyn. Rama was wearing woolen gloves with the fingers cut off so he could play the harmonium and yet keep warm. They were out singing just a few days after New Year’s, and they had sparkling lights set up around the Hare Krsna mantra. They had small books they were distributing. Another video was taken on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville. Just a few devotees were out, but it was very lively, playing on different drums. I saw a video of Sacinandana Swami at a kirtana-mela in New Mayapur, France. He was leading a large group of men and women who were all dancing. Another video taken at the Balarama Festival in France was led by Agnideva, who they say is living in France. I saw a video of Kaliya Damana in Tallahassee, Florida. He too was dancing back and forth in a temple room playing a drum. He is growing older, but he hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for chanting Hare Krsna and being Krsna conscious. Krishna Kripa is doing a good service by filming these harinamas from exotic places. I feel like I’m there in the kirtana. Krishna Kripa’s harinama videos get millions of hits of people watching it on their computers. So I don’t see him often on the harinama—I know he’s the one behind the camera.
The first one we saw was in Edinburgh, Scotland. The devotees were holding kirtana in the road in front of a restaurant/bar. The people in the bar were happy to see the devotees, and they clapped their hands. Out on the road with the devotees, a few local people joined. A girl with a yellow miniskirt jumped up and down joyously in tune with the harinama. A few men came out of the bar in a friendly mood and danced with the devotees in exaggerated movements. Mahavishnu Swami was there wearing an outlandish big hat with a “Changing Bodies” diorama on the brim and other Krsna conscious paraphernalia on his body. This video had three million hits. (The way they get so many hits is that someone who is already popular puts a link to it on his page, and it expands from there exponentially.) This one went viral! The men were playing mrdangas and drums, and Mahavishnu was playing an accordion which was wrapped under an American flag.
The other video we watched today was from Tallahassee, Florida. The devotees marched and danced in a procession, pulling a Ratha-yatra cart which had a big sign in front of it: “We are family.” People lined the sidewalks watching the devotees. About a dozen devotee women waved fans in two hands and danced in choreographed movements, which many not have been so polished but were full of enthusiasm. A bearded man with a visible sikha led the singing, and his harmonium was amplified by a microphone. This video had 1.8 million hits. The devotees were out in full force, with Jagannatha murtis behind them. The devotees were so enthusiastic and ecstatic that they continued their kirtana even when the procession was over, and they were walking back to their car. It was a parade with many floats, and people have commented that the devotees’ presentation was the best.
Amith was here today, and he set up the audio from the 2022 Govardhana Retreat held this month. Now I can hear Bhurijana Prabhu, Sacinandana Swami, Madhavananda, and Jagattarini devi dasi. There’s not enough time in the day to do all the things I want to do, like working on the Journal, hearing the lectures of the devotees and Srila Prabhupada, taking part in our two and a half hour out-loud reading every day, proofreading manuscripts and answering mail.
This year, January 2022, the Govardhana Retreat seminar was done virtually, with the participants remaining in their different countries, and through technology speaking different turns about Vrndavana. I finally got to hear the first talks. I heard Sacinandana Swami, Bhurijana Prabhu and Jagattarini Mataji. (Madhavananda was just coming up when I finished listening today.) Bhurijana spoke from the Caitanya-caritamrta about Sanatana Gosvami being tested by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. In his beginning talk, he described how Sanatana Gosvami was taught by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu for a period of a month in Varanasi, and then he went back to Vrndavana to write books under the direction of the Lord. He described how Lord Caitanya used to speak in Puri to Sanatana Gosvami and Haridasa Thakura. He imagined what it would be like if he were present for those talks. He said he couldn’t dare think that he joined in their talks, but just that he listened to them, perhaps as a bug on the wall. He also read some verses by Rupa Gosvami about Lord Kesava coming back from the pasturing ground in the afternoon. Sacinandana Maharaja then introduced the topic of his seminar. He said it would be about Rupa Gosvami and one of his later works. Then Jagattarini Mataji spoke on what her topic would be: “Vrndavana Is a Dangerous Place.” They are just beginning to get into their topics, but I am very interested to hear them. I will report back to you when I have actually heard some more substance from their talks.
There are four nutshell verses of the Bhagavatam which occur in the Second Canto, Chapter 9, Verses 33-36. The Bhagavatam has eighteen thousand verses, but these nutshell verses sum up the entire work. They are spoken by Lord Krsna to Lord Brahma. In the first verse, Lord Krsna says to Lord Brahma:
“Brahma, it is I, the Personality of Godhead, who was existing before the creation, when there was nothing but Myself. Nor was there the material nature, the cause of this creation. That which you see is also I, the Personality of Godhead, and after annihilation what remains will also be I, the Personality of Godhead.”
These four verses are misinterpreted by the impersonalists, but to do so, to screw out an impersonal meaning from them, they have to obscure the actual clarity of the verses. Krsna uses the word “I” three times, and three times refers to Himself as “the Personality of Godhead.” So how do the impersonalists arrive at an impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth? It is simply their word jugglery. The verses have a clear, transparent meaning, and they assert that Krsna was present in the beginning when there was nothing else, that He exists in the present, and that after annihilation, only He will exist. These verses are clear proof that the Absolute is sentient and not impersonal. As Prabhupada wrote in his poem on his guru’s Vyasa-puja day, “Absolute is sentient Thou hast proved, impersonal calamity Thou hast removed.” We had a guest for lunch, and it was nice that our entire out-loud reading group was able to read such superexcellent verses as the four nutshell slokas of the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Hari Dasa from Guyana came to do service. He changed the outfits of the large neem Gaura-Nitai and Krsna dasi’s smaller Gaura-Nitai. He cleaned the pujari room and the temple room. He brought prasadam for our lunch. He presented jackfruit sabji, dal roti, a cauliflower sabji, and pine tarts for dessert. It’s nice when a devotee comes, as Hari Dasa tries to come weekly, and helps out with our skeletal crew. He even keeps a set of clothes here in case he has to fill in on an emergency basis, a nice attitude. Next week Hari Dasa has to appear in court in Guyana on business matters, so he won’t be here. But he’ll be coming back as soon as he can.
Today we had a Zoom meeting of the book production team, Krsna Bhajana, who does editing, proofreading and research; his wife, Satyasara devi dasi, who is a typist; and Lal Krishna, who does design, layout and beautiful covers for the books. (John Endler had an engagement with his church and couldn’t make it.) Progress was a little slower. Krsna Bhajana has been working intensely for the Bhaktivedanta Institute researching what Prabhupada has written on the subject of time. He says he has a deadline, and soon he will be finished with it and can continue to concentrate on our project—reprinting all the books I wrote about Prabhupada.
Some progress was made since our last monthly meeting. Satyasara dasi typed two books. John Endler has volunteered to help out in the typing of Prabhupada Meditations, Volumes Five and Six, but his heart is really into transcribing books that will be published in 2023, such as California Search for Gold. John also has favorites he wants to work on, like Love and Hate, New, Newer and Newest, and other things that he’s excited about, such as books mixing prose and poetry from never-published volumes of Every Day, Just Write. We’ll have another Zoom meeting on February 26.
Krishna Kripa lost a vital part of our nebulizer. I’ve been using it to inhale albuterol, which is good for keeping my breathing passages clear. It’s been doing me some good; I take it three times a day. What he lost was from the spray mechanism. He admitted he had been inattentive. He asked Baladeva to see if he could fish it out after it had washed down the sink. Baladeva took the trap of the sink apart, but the part had passed through and was irretrievable. It’s a great loss. My servants have been handling the nebulizer for months with no mishaps. KK has been here for two days, and he crashed a valuable piece of equipment. He has a reputation for this kind of thing. KK very generously sacrificed his time from going out on harinama with Rama Raya’s party in New York City just to assist me in the desperate, understaffed situation we have at Viraha Bhavan. The next man scheduled to come here is not for four weeks, but KK agreed to sacrifice harinama to help us with our skeletal crew. So we try to see the bright side. But he’s created such a blunder within two days that we’re a little afraid this might not be the last mistake he makes over the four weeks he’s volunteered to stay. KK has searched on the computer and found a company who can deliver the replacement part as early as tomorrow! Let’s see what happens.
I’ve been living with a very loose upper denture for several weeks. I talk on the Zoom to fifteen devotees twice a day, and when I talk I have to take out my upper denture or it will fall out while talking. The devotees are my disciples, but it’s embarrassing. So I finally got an appointment with our dentist. He quickly put two new pieces of hardware in the denture with the help of an assistant. He handed it to me and said, “This should do it.” He said he could make it even tighter, but then I might not be able to get my denture out. So I put it in, and it felt firm. I was satisfied, and I thanked him. However, it doesn’t feel perfectly comfortable. It’s not going to fall out now, but I’m aware of its presence in my mouth. I feel more comfortable without my dentures and go that way for most of the day. But now when I talk to a person or an audience, I know my denture is not going to fall out. So that’s a relief. I am dictating this “rabbit” with my upper denture out. That’s how I like to go. So many babajis in India have no teeth, and they’re satisfied with that. As a Westerner, I demand a better appearance. I have to talk to the devotees twice a day on Zoom, and I’ve been doing it without my upper teeth. But now it’s much better to have them in and look presentable.
John Endler is most enthusiastic to read my books. He likes to visit me every week, but he hasn’t come since before Christmas because COVID struck the workers at his church, and he was left “the only man standing.” He said he finds his anchor in reading my books. He finds in them the source and inspirations for his sermons. I’ve been quoting in my Journal from A Poor Man Reads the Bhagavatam, and he says that especially gives him source material. He also read me one of my poems and said it was a prelude to another sermon. So even though he wasn’t able to visit me for some weeks, he felt a strong connection just by reading my books. He finds my writing always brings him to Vrndavana, to bhauma Vrndavana on earth, and then from there he’s connected to the spiritual world in Goloka Vrndavana. He said just show him any piece of writing by me and he’ll tell you how it’s about Vrndavana. He’s transcribing from my books about Prabhupada to take part in the marathon we’re undergoing to print all the material about Prabhupada before next year’s Vyasa-puja. But then he wants to get back to books I’ve written about recovery from my health condition, and books written in the 1990s and 2000s. He’s really the most enthusiastic. I can just picture him speaking to a group of my readers and enthusing them with his great understanding of my writing. He spoke so euphorically I asked him to write about it, and he said he would.
Baladeva got caught up talking to John Endler, and then he received a phone call from a person he’s been trying to reach for two weeks about an important matter. As a result, our out-loud reading program started over half an hour late. That shortened the time for our reading, but we went ahead anyway. The reading group was so enthusiastic that they waited a half an hour for us to start.
Baladeva hasn’t been making his famous chocolate chip cookie prasadam for months. He says the real reason he hasn’t been making them is simply that he’s in maya. They’ve been his great preaching outlet. He now has many people who are willing to take the cookies, and to this date ask for them and beg for them when he meets them. This means the secretaries and doctors in medical offices, the garbage man, the propane man, the oil man, the banks, insurance man, social services, etc. They’re all hooked on his cookies. The COVID pandemic has dampened the preaching somewhat. Some offices have policies not to take anything from the outside. But still he has people asking him for cookies. So he now has enough frozen rolls ready to be sliced and baked into 240 cookies. He spent the whole morning making dough today because he’s a little rusty at it. It usually takes only an hour and a half, but he’s been out of practice. We all wish him well in his coming out of maya and returning to be the cookie-preacher of upstate New York.
Our precious tulasi collection at Viraha Bhavan is under attack by spider mites. The regular counter-remedy is neem oil, but this year neem oil doesn’t seem to be too effective. It only holds off the mites for a week, and then they’re back again. As the plants get weaker, they become more susceptible. So they’re in a downward spiral. One of our grow light lamps broke, and that’s a casualty too. It’s a trip getting a new lamp and replacing it for the plants. We still have a few tulasis that are healthy, but the majority are under siege. When neem oil is ineffective, the next effective step is to use a more deadly poison. You either kill the bugs or they kill Tulasi, so you have to go to the stronger poison. We have to pick tulasis and dry them before we put on the heavier poison. We really shouldn’t use this poison, but it’s a dire situation. Our ashram is famous for its tulasis, and we’ll keep going on fighting the bugs.
“I had a plan to
invite everyone to tea,
Mad Hatter and Alice
and Worm Badger Mouse,
Kenneth Graham, Hans Andersen,
Soren Kierkegaard, Henry Miller and
even Mickey Mouse.
(Mickey Mantle, rest in peace.)
“But you can’t mix company, the editor says. You either attend to sages meeting in the forest, or go to the silly meeting in your head.
“Sheets of water freeze
this page receives strokes
of ink. I use the same right arm
to carry logs, hug them in
my left arm too
while the water pot boils and
overflows, pff! pff!
steaming onto the hot iron stove.
“Swami met us when we were young and said kindly (he wasn’t yet our boss), ‘This music is nonsense because it’s sense gratification.’
“Sense gratification? What’s that?
“‘It means you get pleasure from it, but it’s not connected to Lord Krsna in devotional service.’
“That’s it. Argument ended. Who wants to commit sense grat and be left out on a limb with no connection to Lord Krsna? No one in his right mind would do that. No one who has read Easy Journey to Other Planets and received a glimpse of transcendental eternity.
For I love you, O eternity
and I want to please the Swami and
be a fixed-up devotee
chanting my red beads.
“It’s a problem. You chant in a rut. You walk up the hill taking small steps lest you slide and fall on the white ice-snow. Little steps up and little steps down, always seeking firm earth, tripping on ruts fixed firmly in mud, chanting your rounds, forcing yourself, facing yourself. I intend to break through one day.
on ice-air sheet.”
“Again and again pass the boundaries of skepticism. A brother said, ‘people may not think of me as a doubting person, but it is my nature to doubt everything.’ He made it sound as if he had undergone doubt thoroughly and given it up. Sounded healthy.
“For me, I live with twinges of doubt like the twinges of pain behind my right eye. I’ll probably never be rid of them in this lifetime. I told Madhu this morning that whenever I exert myself physically, such as in the final back stretch of a surya- namaskara, I tend to feel a twinge behind my right eye. This indicates to me that the headache weakness, like my crippled ankle, will never be ‘cured.’ It’s the aging body, and it has its limits. He agreed, referring to ‘our late stage of life.’ I am like an old car with patched tires. The only way to fix them now is to get new ones. Nature Cure’s Laksman Sharma challenged Srila Prabhupada at a Bombay pandal in 1977 (when Prabhupada had to be carried on stage): ‘What about health?’
“Srila Prabhupada blasted back: ‘What health? You’re going to die. Where is there any question of health?’
“Twinges, but they are not overriding. They don’t define me. I grew up in this culture and it clings to me like a handicap. I take some medicine occasionally for my behind-the-eye pain. Is there such a thing as a doubt- killing pill? No, I have to live with it.”
“I remember I wanted to be a devotee, and I wrote a poem about separation. A girl in the welfare office liked it. I remember that too. We remember ourselves in so many ways, our lives. Do you remember that feeling of returning to your gross body, when you decided to get married? Swamiji decided it. Better if it had not happened, but no, everything was meant to be.
“I heard a tape today where Srila Prabhupada said, ‘Krsna, July 1969’ and I remembered that it was August, after Janmastami, that the thugs attacked the temple in Allston. I thought, ‘Oh, I could be back there in July 1969 and have to live through that attack again.’
“I remember when I wasn’t a devotee.
“Better not to remember it. Remember good things. I remember the Bhagavatam. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the overlapping millenniums.
“Swamiji came to the storefront. I remember him looking cross in Vrndavana the year the Krsna-Balarama temple opened. He said, ‘Why aren’t my books being published? You are 17 volumes behind.’ It was the most important thing. His kurta buttons were brass or gold studs and he wasn’t wearing them, his shirt open. I was afraid of his anger. I said, ‘Why don’t you go to Hawaii? You can write there.’ But I had misunderstood. Brahmananda corrected me, ‘That’s not the point. Srila Prabhupada asked why he should write. He’s not enthusiastic because we are not publishing the books.’
“I remember crying when he reprimanded me. That was a brilliant day. I wish I could live for him always in that mood.
“I remember Krsna and bring my mind back to the holy name.
“I remember death. I hope I remember to go to Vrndavana
and to write fast and to publish what’s best.
“Remember Krsna, Krsna, Krsna
Gopala Guru Swami statue in Puri,
hotels there, surf,
and the happiness I felt.”
“Yugas and millenniums. Sit up and read. Be a student, a scholar. Explain things as best you can. Certainly I become overwhelmed by the technical details sometimes. They don’t always seem relevant either to me or my audience. But we are destined to explain the ways of God to man, as John Milton put it. Whatever Prabhupada wants us to understand, we accept.
“The Mahabharata tells us that Vyasadeva wore matted hair and deerskin clothing. So many books are attributed to him that some scholars don’t even believe he exists. They have decided that many writers compiled the Vedas over the centuries. But they’re wrong. Vyasadeva compiled them all. He is inconceivable.
“Vyasa, old Vedavyasa, bearded Vyasa, perfect Vyasa, you are wisdom personified, and you tasted the nectar of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. You are Sukadeva’s father, empowered by Krsna, and through the slokas you have given us, you enter our blood and minds. I want to live by your words. When Srila Prabhupada was asked what he thought of Rabindranath Tagore, he said, ‘We are interested in a poet like Vyasadeva.’ Please, Vyasadeva, allow me to share your vision.
“I like to think of Srila Prabhupada thrilling to the beauty of Vyasadeva’s compositions. He said that even in terms of literary quality, every word was perfect. He expressed his appreciation once while reciting the verse, samasrita ye pada-pallava-plavam, mahat-padam punya-yaso murareh/ bhavambudhir vatsa-padam param padam, padam padam yad vipadam na tesam: ‘For those who have accepted the boat of the lotus feet of the Lord, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Murari, the enemy of the Mura demon, the ocean of the material world is like the water contained in a calf’s hoofprint. Their goal is param padam, Vaikuntha, the place where there are no material miseries, not the place where there is danger at every step.’ (Bhag. 10.14.58) Musical poetry, rhythmic, metered, full of assonance and metaphor.
“His Tenth Canto verses excel even further:
phani-phanarpitam te padambujam
krnu kucesu nah krndhi hrc-chayam
“Your lotus feet destroy the past sins of all embodied souls who surrender to them. Those feet follow after the cows in the pastures and are the eternal abode of the goddess of fortune. Since You once put those feet on the hoods of the great serpent Kaliya, please place them upon our breasts and tear away the lust in our hearts. (Bhag. 10.31.7)
Or this one:
tava kathamrtam tapta-jivanam
kavibhir iditam kalmasapaham
sravana-mangalam srimad atatam
bhuvi grnanti ye bhuri-da janah (SB 10.31.9)
“Vyasa’s Sanskrit is beyond an ignorant fool like me. I know only American English. I even like my mother tongue and am proud to use it because English is such a flexible language, allowing more inventiveness than languages with ponderous grammatical structures.
“Unfortunately, English is also filled with the consciousness of meat-eaters and thieves. Its theistic terminology is Christian and not broad-based. Anyway, we use it the best we can. Fortunately, Srila Prabhupada preached in English, so it has become the language of modern-day Krsna consciousness, even more than Sanskrit. Or we say that Sanskrit and English are combined for divine expression. (That has actually become true of anyone’s mother tongue, by Prabhupada’s grace, because the Vedas are sruti, not Sanskriti.)
“A writer has to take the language he knows by heart, from birth, the language of his learning and his love and hate, and use it to express Krsna consciousness. His struggle to attain Krsna consciousness is best evoked in his own tongue. Therefore, I seek purity, artistry, and release through the English language.
“But words are things too. We have to use them in Kona’s service or use them in the service of maya. Words can free us or entangle us further. Maya has illusioned almost all world writers. They are captured by words, languages, structures, poeticisms. They become vain creatures who love the sound of their own voices. Or they become bewildered by their own creativity, claiming ownership over it. We have to be careful.
“Words—long useless talks about nothing. Prajalpa. Egoistic talks. A man tries to attract a woman or to win votes with his words. He speculates, fantasizes, talks endlessly to no account. I wish to be free from those traps.
“I do believe in evoking Krsna consciousness through words. Words can evoke mental and emotional states, and not only in the egotistical sense. They can describe experience and thereby link people together by the common thread that runs through all our lives. Krsna says He is the sound in ether. When we perceive His existence and express it with our words, we feel the wonder of that statement. Language becomes a way to evoke Krsna. ‘Krsna, Krsna, Krsna.’ Samasrita ye pada pallava-plavam, mahat-padam punya-yaso murareh. . . .
“O big log, you may be too big
to catch fire in my fireplace
and the critics of the world
may pounce upon me and my poems.
“In Krackow is Trivikrama Swami, yeah, and he says it’s sweet preaching there and he doesn’t intend to leave. I imagine him enjoying being guru and preaching on behalf of Prabhupada to all those
innocent, dumb people with fair
faces. Good, good. As for me,
I wrote him in note last summer when I was
at the Polish farm—he didn’t come to
see me there, but wrote a note from Krackow
I wrote to him, as for me, I am wandering
in the ISKCON temples without a base and occasionally writing for BTG and I
am satisfied as you are satisfied. Next time I come to Poland I’ll stop and see you.
Well, Trivikrama Maharaja, it’s not true that I occasionally write. I write all the time.
And I didn’t tell you but I
take frequent retreats.
Another swami Godbrother announced at a formal meeting where 100 devotees gathered—it was a preview for the Navadvipa parikrama he said we are fortunate to have the association of Satsvarupa Maharaja
which is rare nowadays
due to the fact that he takes retreats.
I was surprised he said such a thing,
as he is supposed to be my friend.
He also said other things .. .
So, sing alone, don’t be gay
don’t be sad, be in between, be transcendental and happy in Krsna consciousness.
Your throat chokes with the words you cannot say. Your happiness abounds
in a quiet place. You are not a rebel but there is immense freedom in Krsna consciousness, as known to Narada. At the same time, there is strict duty, you cannot deviate even an inch or you’ll be burned and cut. Between these extremes, I can’t
it out. But I too am strict, no
nonsense, no sex play, not goofing or anything.
And yet I play with words in
field of words and yet I walk
a narrow path in bog meadow.
Please be kind to me,
please be kind
and bring me to You
in the best way, suitable for
a sweet eater,
a bypass jokester, one who lives
to write and so You have allowed me but if it’s really not right,
then call an end to my playing with sand castles on the beach and call me
home and if that involves some strict measures that I haven’t anticipated,
so be it.
“After all, I am yours.”
“The snow is coming down slowly.
Big flakes and slow.
I’m starting this page with a sigh.
I see the sun, 4:30 P.M.,
high in the trees.
And the snow.
Some of your letters are unopened
the rest I have already discharged
said what came to mind and any
appropriate quote from sastra.
One of the truest things I said—
was it to Dhirodatta in Miami?—is you
have to take care of yourself.
“Prabhupada used to say, ‘I am
your friend in this sense—
that I tell you Krsna is your best friend.’
Someone said, ‘You are lenient,’ and I said,
‘Who can force you?’
But I’m thinking about this alone,
while the precious snow falls.’”
“I remember the shock I felt when I heard Prabhupada was going to San Francisco for the first time. We never thought Krsna consciousness would go beyond the Lower East Side. Of course, that wasn’t meant to be.
“I still think fondly of Prabhupada’s days with us in New York City. I felt like we were living in a small family. We wanted to preach for him, but we had no vision beyond New York.
“In those days I had my job at the welfare department and I also had my own apartment a few blocks from the storefront. My apartment soon became an annex to the storefront. We did everything under his direction—Sundays in Tompkins Square Park, making a record, Sunday Love Feasts—at least a few devotees had joined. He began to teach us Caitanya-caritamrta in the morning, because ‘now you are a little mature.’ We were disappointed to hear that he was going to San Francisco.
“I was among those who thought it wasn’t a good idea. I remember discussing it with Raya Rama. How could we let our Swamiji go to San Francisco just because someone had arranged for a ‘mantra rock dance’? Our Swamiji shouldn’t be treated like that—it’s not respectful. And anyway, Back to Godhead magazine is in New York.
“I dared suggest to Prabhupada that he shouldn’t go, but I could tell immediately that he wasn’t even open to hearing my suggestion. He was determined to preach and to spread Krsna consciousness. But he didn’t abandon us. He left us with something special: his instructions and the mood of service in separation.
“He wrote us a letter from San Francisco explaining that serving the guru’s order was more important than serving his physical presence. I remember feeling excited to carry on in Krsna consciousness, even though his room was empty and I felt such an ache of emptiness. We knew we had something even the San Francisco devotees didn’t have: service in separation.”
“Srila Prabhupada, when you first went to Sydney, Australia, in 1971, a reporter greeted you at the airport. He asked you why you had come. You said you were like a salesman. Just as a traveling salesman goes everywhere to find customers, you were trying to find people intelligent enough to accept the holy name.
“When I first saw this remark by you I didn’t think there was anything further I could say about it in the class I was going to give on your life. Someone could even take it as a mundane statement. But when I consider it closer, this comparison of yourself to a salesman is transcendental and revealing. It reminds us that Lord Caitanya also called Himself a seller of wares:
“‘“I have come here to sell My emotional ecstatic sentiments in the city of Kasi, but I cannot find any customers. If they are not sold, I must take them back home. I have brought a heavy load to sell in the city. To take it back again is a very difficult job; therefore if I get but a fraction of the price, I shall sell it here in this city of Kasi.”’ (Cc., Madhya 17.144-45)
“In your purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada, you compare yourself to Lord Caitanya, at least in terms of selling the maha-mantra. You said that you invited people to the storefront in 1966, but really never expected that the maha-mantra would be accepted. ‘. . . Fortunately, young people became Krsna conscious. Although this mission was started with insignificant capital, it is now going nicely.’ Your conclusion was that the uneducated young people of America were more purified than the offensive Mayavadis or ascetic impersonalists of Kasi.”
“Don’ t keep saying Krsna is far away or that you have no attraction for Him. It sounds too negative and offensive. Why write, ‘I don’t love You’? It’s too painful.
But I have to tell the truth. Maybe it’s better to beg for mercy: ‘Krsna, please help me become attached to Your lotus feet. I want to go on hearing of Your pastimes with Your devotees and how You are like a maddened bumblebee. I want to hear how You lifted Govardhana Hill and how today, Your dear devotees go to Govardhana, circumambulate the hill, and worship the rocks. I want to reside again in Vrndavana, if Your Srimati Radharani will allow me.’
“Krsna, there is no need for me to be so negative and declare, ‘I don’t love You.’ I do love You.”
“Srila Prabhupada, when I say I want to know the truth and yet I am fearful, what does this mean? I know I don’t like to admit weakness, but I have to. It will help me to remember how dependent I am on you. It’s not that you helped me only in the beginning, but you are always with me. I had bad karma, not ‘pretty good’ karma as I recently wrote. I was misspending my good karma in illicit acts and heading for hell. I believe it.
“I am asking for a miraculous vision of all that I was and all that I am. I am asking you to let me be honest, to write truthfully, and to love you. Let people see that a Kali-yuga victim can become a devotee.
“Krsna, You know everything and You possess everything. They say, ‘Ask and ye shall receive. Knock and it shall be opened to you.’ So I ask You for nama-rasa, for sraddha, for whatever I need. I am afraid of severe trials, but I will accept them if they are what I need to attain You. I don’t want to live in safety just to keep my good reputation intact. I want to get rid of anarthas and attain Your lotus feet. This is my service to my spiritual master.
“Please do with me as You see best. Give me the strength to endure trials. Srila Prabhupada wrote on my letter to him (in Bombay 1974), ‘You are pure. May Krsna protect you from calamities.’ He cared for me and wished me well. He also knew there would be spiritual and material calamities. He has blessed me to be protected by You.”
“Grhasthas sometimes ask if it is all right to develop friendly relationships with workers who are not Krsna conscious devotees. The answer should be, ‘Yes.’ Even if it is not possible to speak directly about Krsna to a fellow worker, one can at least set a good example by being friendly and conscientious on the job. This indirect method of representing Krsna is often more effective in making a good impression than showy religious displays.
“There is a limit, however, in how freely a devotee will want to mix with those who have no interest in Krsna consciousness or in following religious principles. Perhaps you cannot be the hit of the office party because you do not drink liquor, smoke, or chase after women. If refraining from licentious behavior means that one does not become intimate with the boss, then that is the price one has to pay. But gradually, fellow workers will see the devotee as a person of reliable character, and they will admire him, even if they do not practice the higher principles themselves. A supervisor of a counseling agency regularly turned to the Krsna devotee among his counselors whenever difficult cases arose. He said, ‘You have a special peacefulness within you. You can deal with these cases.’”
“Forty rounds bragging. I am happy about it.
“Another week comes to an end. ‘Surprising’ conclusion thus far: I can’t do anything at all on my own! I focus to pay attention to the sounds I make. I can’t claim I will put the emotion or prayer into it, but I am willing to revive my attempts at prayer in this lonely place.
“Harer nama is cintamani (touchstone), but I’m not touching it with attention. So that which I can’t do, I pray for. ‘Please bring me love of God. Please let me serve you and be pleasing to you.’ These prayers are included in the prayer to be faithful to japa. Harer nama will teach me everything.
“If I can leave this retreat with a little more understanding of how to pay attention in japa, then that is something I can take with me beyond the rarefied atmosphere of this farmhouse in Italy. Imagine being wherever you are and being able to focus on the transcendental sound vibration of the holy name. That would be a great gain.”
“Thank you for giving us Prabhupada’s books. He is the perfect one to translate and give purports for this age. He has made You accessible in complete sets of the most important Vedic literatures. You trained his disciples to complete his work on Srimad-Bhagavatam and to go on to do Brhad-bhagavatamrta and other vital books. They will be in Prabhupada’s parampara. Generations of seekers will come to these books and get the right understanding of You and Radharani.
“I have read all his books several times, but I have not read them again recently. Please bring me back to regularly reading Prabhupada’s books. They give me the exact balance I need in understanding You, and they create loyalty in understanding Srila Prabhupada. Hearing about You in these books is the primary practice of devotional service, along with chanting the Hare Krsna mantra. Sravanam kirtanam visnu-smaranam . . . Prahlada Maharaja has stated these as the first three of the nine principles of devotional service, and Rupa Gosvami has elaborated on them in his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu. Prabhupada once said every home should have a Krsna book. Actually, every home and every public library and university library should have a full set of all of his books published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
“When we regularly and attentively read his books, we come to know You as certain reality. Prabhupada said he did not write his books himself, but that You wrote the books through him. So they are Your books, they are literary incarnations translated into most of the major languages of the world. The distribution of these books continues to be a major service to Prabhupada and a topmost welfare service to the people of the world.
“Sukadeva Gosvami has proclaimed that You appear in the pages of Srimad-Bhagavatam, and whoever hears them associates with You directly. In Bhagavad-gita, we get to hear Your direct words, spoken from Your own mouth. The illustrations in Prabhupada’s books, executed by his disciples, are ‘windows to the spiritual world.’ And we can see Krsna, Radha, and Your various incarnations with our own eyes, even before we reach the liberated state.
“Let me return to the regular practice of reading from and speaking from Prabhupada’s books for my own benefit and for the benefit of people who can hear me. Let me write my own books, influenced by his books, so they may qualify as ‘literature in pursuance of the Vedic version.’ You’ve asked me to write, and the way to do so is in parampara, following Your lead.
“I remember the golden years when Your books were first coming out, and we eagerly opened the boxes and took out the books to read for the first time. Please keep us as enthusiastic as we were then, to sit somewhere and read the precious instructions, narrations, and prayers in the new cantos and the exciting adventure of reading all the lila and instructions of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. It is all Your priceless gift to us, a gift we can’t repay. But we can dedicate ourselves to practice reading with devotion and showing our gratitude for what You have given. Thank you, Lord Krsna, for giving us Prabhupada’s books, which he says You have actually written. May we always enjoy them and remain keen students of their contents.”
A hypocritical act that is easy to fall into is to think that because one is on the path of Krsna consciousness, he is therefore automatically better than every devotee of every other sampradaya. We are very fortunate to be on the best path, the path of bhakti-yoga, but how far have we traversed the path? Does Lord Caitanya’s trnad api mood call for a pride that ‘I am better than others’? A manifestation of this mistake is to compare the ideal of Krsna consciousness with the realities of other religions. When we do this, we consider other religionists as hypocrites who do not follow the commandments of their own scriptures and who have no genuine love of God. But not all religionists are at that lowest level.
“To claim that all members of the Krsna consciousness movement are free of taint and hypocrisy is another kind of dishonesty. The Krsna consciousness membership has its ‘dirty laundry’ (leaders and members who deviate, a high percentage of marriages that break up, and so on). We do not need to advertise our mistakes, but neither should we lie about them. And neither do we need to enthuse ourselves by unfair comparisons or cover-ups. With conviction (nistha) that devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the highest goal, we may go forward with becoming confused by other sampradayas—but without stooping to the tactic of comparing our scriptural ideals with others’ sordid realities.”
“Japa requires attention. You can’t go on careening off into sleepiness and still count it as chanting. You must be aware of what you are doing. Drowsiness is due to not enough sleep. It’s not a cardinal sin. It’s something you have to get out of, the way Krsna got out of the coils of the Kaliya serpent. But I’m not Krsna. I’m a struggling jiva trying to get his rounds done nicely. I just need a few more rounds to make it a respectable showing. I think I’ll take a ten minute power nap and bounce back. . .
“There are many obstacles in the path of devotional service, and sometimes we succumb to them. But if we stay rightly resolved as Your devotee, You forgive us and clear our path. By re-engaging in devotional service, our offenses are automatically removed without separate atonement. The road of devotional service is the safest and easiest way to attain You. Prominent in the practices is the chanting of Your holy names. You have stated that Your holy names are even more merciful than Your form, and that You are completely present in the chanting of the names.
“I praise You for giving us the maha-mantra, the great chant for deliverance. By practicing the chanting of Your names in japa and kirtana, especially in the present age of Kali, a devotee can attain love of Godhead and free himself of all unwanted habits. The chanting alone can qualify a person to go back to Godhead to join You in Your eternal lilas.
“The main devotional activity for this age (yuga-dharma) is the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, and I must pledge myself to constant chanting. The Brhan-naradiya Purana declares harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam/ kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha: ‘In the age of Kali, the only means of God realization is the chanting of the holy names. There is no other alternative, there is no other alternative, there is no other alternative.’ It is stated three times for emphasis. I began this prayer by saying, ‘I pray that You will stay by me and protect me and save me.’ The best way for me to assure myself of Your company and protection is to chant Your names. I ask You to please remind me to regularly chant and to do so in a humble state of mind, keeping myself lower than a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree, and ready to offer all respect to others without expecting any honor for myself. In such a state of mind, I can constantly chant Your names and achieve my cherished goals.
“I remember Prahladananda Swami’s three tips on chanting: (1) hear the syllables carefully; (2) have faith you are reciprocating with the Divine Couple; and (3) enjoy the chanting. I enjoy the accomplishment of numerical strength and try to chant with faith and attention. Srila Prabhupada writes,
“‘This transcendental inspiration is called brahma-maya because when one is thus inspired, the sound he produces exactly corresponds to the sound vibration of the Vedas. This is not the ordinary sound vibration of this material world. Therefore the sound vibration of the Hare Krsna mantra, although presented in the ordinary alphabet, should not be taken as mundane or material.’ (SB 4.9.4, purport)
“But Bhaktivinoda Thakura states that if, when chanting, one is thoughtlessly going through the motions, it is the outer covering of the mantra and not actually the transcendental sound vibration. All I know is that if your chanting is offensive, the antidote is to go on chanting. Determined chanting will bring one to the stage of nama-bhasa (shadow of the holy name) and finally to the clearing stage. Srila Prabhupada states that we should not artificially impose the form of the Lord on our chanting meditation but that the day will come when He will spontaneously manifest.”
“I feel some special potency. Hope it lasts. Whatever you think of seems spiritual. A hope that no matter what happens, you’ll see the spiritual side of it.
“Thinking to make some increase in daily japa quota; maybe just up to twenty.
“We all sang Damodarastakam in the temple room here at New Vraja-mandala. Madhu led with the harmonium. We beheld Radha-Govinda Chandra. She looks like a young, innocent girl, and He is very syama, blackish, transcendental Lord.
“So, it was a nice way to start my own Karttika. I’m sorry we didn’t plan in advance to be settled in one place for Karttika. It just rushed upon us, and suddenly I realized it is special. For five days we will travel and try to keep the mood of Karttika and anticipate our arrival at the place in the North. But that also will not be Vrndavana. Srila Prabhupada writes in The Nectar of Devotion,
“‘Even unserious persons who execute devotional service according to the regulative principles during the month of Karttika, and within the jurisdiction of Mathura in India are very easily awarded the Lord’ personal service.’
“Dhanurdhara Swami says he will be as close to Vrndavana-Mathura as possible by staying at Gita-nagari. He’s setting an example that Western devotees, most of whom cannot go every year to Vrndavana at Karttika, should come to the dhama at Gita-nagari and to the spirit of Karttika practices. We will also try in our own way with a small group and the blessings of solitude.
“This is an opportunity to write. In half an hour, I’ll begin the Prabhupada puja, and after that, it will be straight movement until our ETA, 3 P.M. So write. You have not written for more than twenty-thirty minutes at a stretch for quite a few months. Let the arrival in the Karttika house be a time to increase that. Nowadays, you say what’s quick on your mind, and that seems sufficient anyway. But there is more. Don’t think the world is tired of hearing from me, I have nothing more to say, etc. Write on through your process to reach many things ahead. Even if it’s ‘The End,’ you want to reach that having fully expressed yourself.
“Prabhupada with a dark pink and purple flowered garland. He’s ready to go. Our outer life. Don’t worry, sir, about Institutional figures catching you on a retreat hideout. If they ask, if they find out, then say I am here to prepare for a VIHE seminar and also to write some Centennial BTG articles and a book on Caitanya-caritamrta. Take a writing retreat, that’s what I do once in a while, not often.
“The last full one was in May.
“So, I am building an expectancy. Waiting out the days from Sunday until we are supposed to arrive before noon on Thursday after many kilometers in the aging van, and two ferry sea crossings and two border crossings.
“Hare Krsna. The flies are dying against the windowpane in October. A few are spending their last hours on the ceiling. Radha-carana dasi is baking thin biscuits for our road trip. No sweets to go. Eighteen rounds done so far.
“A devotee was basking his face in sunlight in the courtyard here. He’s one of the pujaris, an older, good-looking man, brahmacari. Taking shelter in ISKCON and doing his bit. Wanting to receive the mercy of Srila Prabhupada and Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and not something else, Catholic or business or family or whatever. Who knows why people, such a few, join in each nation? They come forward, as I did, and hear from the Swami and it all makes sense, it’s what they always wanted.
“Spoke to a Marcello from Porto, Portugal. He has my book From Imperfection in his hand. I glance at it and think, ‘Yes, that was a good one; maybe I’ll get to write another like that—a deep-themed sastric commentary and diary of the road—all within one directed free-writing.’ Marcello wants initiation. I write him a letter, not me.
“So, Karttika is here
leaves turning brilliant orange
and yellow from green
in the heartland of Spain,
get off the country roads
and head north to a port.
How is this observing Karttika
in Vrndavana or like Vraja?
Not the Tuscarora,
It’s okay, man, I’ve got
my desire to serve Srila Prabhupada
in a deep way in his books.
Don’t forget to read even
at some foreign language pit stop
in a spare fifteen minutes, the
opening verses. May that
son of Sacimata appear in
the inner core of your heart.
This is not merely transit,
this is life too,
good as a retreat house if
you can just feel the pulse
and pray Hare, Hare Krsna,
Radha-Krsna, taking the photo
with you of
and everyone’s kind wishes,
go with God”
“(16 minutes, October 8, New Vraja-mandala)
“While eating lunch prasadam, I realized that there wasn’t going to be any dessert, no sweet. It occurred to me that perhaps I put so much into anticipating and tasting the sweet foods that it’s a taste that could be invested in something else, such as the chanting of the holy names. So, I tried to think, since I was being denied a food-sweet, if there was any other sweet I was taking today. I recalled the morning in the temple when we were surprised to hear that they were going to have the song to Damodara and the offering of the ghee wick flame to the Deities. They had asked Madhumangala to sing, and there he was, sitting before the harmonium, singing Damodarastakam, and there we all were sitting before the beautiful Deities of Radha-Govinda Chandra and Gaura-Nitai, getting Their full darsana, and then going up to the altar and offering our flame. Yes, that was definitely a sweet.
“You are telling a story which is not false, yet it’s a story – of traveling during the first week of Karttika and wanting to reach a haven. Up front in the van cabin with the driver, hot sunlight, deserted Spanish land, the asphalt ribbon of road, craggy mountains and plenty of sky bigger than Texas. Don’t desert this place while you are here.
“We listen to the bhajana tape of our Radhastami in Belfast with the room full of Irish devotees. An hour passes that way. Maybe I should not sit up here with the sunlight, but you get hypnotized by the road and it’s lonely in the back with your mind.
“Still riding up front. Talked about people in the letters I receive, about Jesus, how women need to get married…the land is so deserted there is no place to stop for the night. Big black bull sign on the horizon on a hill. Stork nest in a bale of hay in a deserted church steeple. Maniac on a high-speed motorcycle passes us and veers at a sharp angle low to the ground. City of Burgos ahead. M. says that if we can’t find a safe spot out here, we can go into Burgos and find – what? A supermarket lot? Wherever we go will be alone and deserted by 10 P.M., maybe investigated by police or robbers. Other countries have places where trucks park on the highway, but not here.
“Stopped for the night, I hope. A little while ago, a motorcycle policeman waved us down on the highway. He wanted to check our papers and ask a few questions, and finally asked (at least I think that’s what he asked) why we look the way we do, haircuts and so on. Madhu said, ‘Religiosos, Hare Krsna.’ The cop told us to put on our seatbelts, and he let us go.
“A little later, we stopped to check out a gas station with an accompanying hotel. Madhu was willing to park in the parking lot of the hotel, but I thought it was too outrageous. So, we went on, but I said, ‘If you show me a place like this for a second time, I’ll take it.’ A little further down, we finally saw a ‘P’ sign, an actual place for people to stop alongside the road. It’s just a small one, and there’s a hotel nearby, but it looks like a bona fide place for a traveler to stay for the night, no questions asked. So, we’re stopped, and Madhu has immediately gone out to make a phone call for his ongoing saga of trying to purchase an American van and so on.
“You could be chanting last japa, extra, before taking rest. I am doing that. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare. Cars and trucks go by you. It’s Spain, but not the secure tower sannyasi’s room in Hare Krsna’s estate. Just you and M. out in the world of the road. We depend on Krsna and the safety of the government?
“You are alert to the simple life. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna. He went into the bar to make a phone call. Said it’s the same scene in there as in bars all over the world. The bartender slow to recognize you, checks you out. Two guys playing tough at one end, another two tough guys at another end. One looks M. up and down. He said he ignored him, looked through him to another guy. ‘I’m glad I’m not part of that anymore!’ He used to know it well.
‘I get more upset if someone looks me up and down? I’m ready eventually to depend on Krsna, take my position as a devotee. All these years part of the unloved cult. What do you want, to be a mainstream, a Catholic in Spain? You’d be unloved there too. Be glad and grateful that you can visit places like Nuevo Vraja-mandala where some well-wishers gather around the van as you leave.
‘I said to Sucandra, ‘Are you going back to Jalon (where he lives with his family in an isolated rural place with other nearby devotee families)?’ ‘Yes.’
‘‘Be happy there,’ I say.
“As I write, M. starts up the engine and slowly moves the van to a more bona fide spot. We were too near the hotel parking which is for customers only. He moves slowly as I write, the pens and clock and other things all out on the desk…
“Thank you, Lord, for this first day of Karttika in Your shelter. You don’t reveal Yourself to a carper like me, but even I was allowed to sit in Your temple and sing, and I led the singing of mangala-arati and gave the Bhagavatam class. I can do that anywhere in the world in ISKCON. I’m afraid that if I lose my passport, I have no other good piece of ID that I’m a U.S. citizen, and my standing in my home nation is hardly traceable (no home, family, job, records, accounts, etc.). But in ISKCON, I can go anywhere by my name, face, reputation, uniform. My home, better believe it, the international society of devotees created by Swamiji.”
Writing Sessions at Castlegregory, Ireland, 1993Start slowly, start fastly, offer your obeisances to your spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. You just drew his picture with your pencils. He appears carved out of wood…
I found I had hit a stride in my search for theme in writing, then began to feel the structure limiting me. After all, I had given myself precious time to write full-time; I wanted to enter the experience as fully as possible. For me, this means free-writing—writing sessions with no predetermined shape, theme, or topic…
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.