They are holding a three day festival in Trinidad for the installation of their Radha-Gopinatha Deity. I was the priest at that installation, and many devotees gathered. This year they’re making a big festival over it. On that day forty years ago they also installed a full-size Prabhupada murti. So on Monday the 19th they’re having a “Prabhupada Day,” and festivities will be centered around him. Then on the 20th the festival will be for Radha-Gopinatha. They will have another festival on the following Monday. I spoke with the temple president, Pancha Tattva devi dasi. She is renovating the temple altar and arrangements are being made for the men’s and women’s quarters, anticipating guests who will be arriving. The festival will be conducted on Zoom, and it will be broadcast to Tobago, Surinam, Panama, and New York City. I asked Pancha Tattva dasi to send me some information about that installation forty years ago because I can’t remember about it. She works very hard, dealing with contractors, working on the temple building and working with devotees. She says devotees ask her how she is able to do so much, and she says it’s all due to her Guru Maharaja. She is very dedicated to me, and I feel grateful for her attitude.
The first devotee I ever gave initiation to, in 1978, Hari Bhakti Vilasa dasa, is very ill in the hospital. He’s been there for two weeks, and now he’s in ICU (intensive care). Hari Bhakti Vilasa did not give any family member as a reference because he has no family, except a brother who lives in a small village in India. So the hospital won’t cooperate and let me talk to him. They did tell us that he’s on high oxygen, but going downhill. I asked them to let me talk on the phone to him as his priest and give him last rites while he can still hear (he’s hard of hearing). But his nurse just took the message and didn’t phone back. Even without more information, the symptoms make you suspect it’s COVID, and the next step for him would be to go into a ventilator. At that stage, his consciousness would be so low from all the medicines they give him to keep him from gagging that he wouldn’t be able to hear at all. I’ve had this experience before with a disciple who was on a ventilator. Hari Bhakti has always been a good, humble devotee, and he served me several years as a personal servant. Even recently he was taking part in our out-loud readings and reading from the Bhagavatam every day along with the others. We will miss him if he passes away, and we trust that Krsna will take care of him because he’s always been so faithful.
Hari Bhakti Vilasa has been moved to the ventilator in the intensive care unit, and his passing away is imminent. Today I spoke on Zoom and saw him in the hospital, and I also saw Zoom images of his relatives, numbering about six, and his ex-wife, Sudarsana devi dasi. One of his cousins led us in a round of japa. We could see her holding up her tulasi beads and fingering them as she very devoutly led us in chanting the mantras. I joined in the japa chanting and was seen on the Zoom. I met the relatives present online and was moved at how so many relatives had gathered and how the hospital allowed us to have these last moments with Hari Bhakti Vilasa.
After the chanting, I asked the devotees for permission to say something to Hari Bhakti directly for some minutes. A devotee near the hospital bed held the device close to his face. He didn’t respond to me—he couldn’t. I began speaking to my disciple of over 40 years:
“I have some instructions for you. You are at a critical hour. You should chant as [your cousin] was chanting, in your mind. Chant mental Hare Krsna mantras and pray to Srila Prabhupada that he protect you and take you back to Godhead. You have always been a humble disciple, and I love you very much. You have been my servant in California and in Ireland, and you served me very faithfully. I thank you very much for your service, and I praise your humility. You are a first-class devotee of Krsna, and it is so nice that your relatives have gathered to be with you in your last hours.
“So try to fix your mind on Krsna and pray to Him that you may serve Him eternally. In your next life you will get a better body to serve the Lord. You will not have any pains. You will get the association of exalted devotees. And you will worship Krsna.
“I love you very much, Hari Bhakti Vilasa. Please don’t waver in your thoughts.”
I think at the end I talked some to Sudarsana devi, his ex-wife, thanking her for arranging the Zoom meeting, and she praised Hari Bhakti’s family members for being there for him. I told Hari Bhakti’s family, “You are very fortunate to have a relationship with Hari Bhakti Vilasa. Pray with him in his last hours that he may remember Krsna at the time of his passing away.” There was a nice moment where I said to Sudarsana, “He was my first disciple,” and she said, “And he was the best!” They also showed a picture of Hari Bhakti Vilasa and Sudarsana when they were newly married and very young. He looked handsome, and she looked beautiful.
Yesterday was Groundhog Day. The legend is that the groundhog comes up on February 2nd, and if he sees his shadow, that means there will be six more weeks of winter weather. But if he doesn’t see his shadow, then the month will be mild weather. I didn’t hear for this year whether the groundhog saw his shadow. There’s a popular movie called “Groundhog Day,” about a man who is woken by his radio alarm on Groundhog Day morning. He gets up and goes to a place where they observe whether the groundhog has seen his shadow or not. The next morning, the exact same thing happens—the radio alarm clock goes off and announces that it’s Groundhog Day, and he meets people just like he met the previous day. And he goes to attend the groundhog ritual. This goes on day after day, a recurring perception of Groundhog Day happening again and again. He tries to convey it to his colleagues, but they think he’s nuts. He can’t break out of it—the same thing every day.
In a sense, I go through the same thing every day also. Our alarm clock goes off at 2:00 A.M. and Baladeva comes in my room and gives me elixirs and potions for my health, and a lower-leg massage. During this time I chant my rounds while looking at a picture of Sri-Sri Radha-Kalachandji taken in the early days after Their installation. Then I take a shower and sit down before my Radha-Govinda Deities to take darsana. I then read my mail and answer some of it, then eat the same breakfast every day, porridge with pieces of fruit. After breakfast, we have the out-loud reading of Srimad-Bhagavatam with a group of about sixteen devotees gathered electronically to take part in the reading. But my “Groundhog Day” is not a maddening of exactly the same thing every day. I experience my daily activities as new and fresh. It is not the same old thing. The maha-mantras are never satiating. Our out-loud reading is going rapidly through the Bhagavatam, we are now progressing through the Third Canto and have already finished the catur-sloki verses (the four nutshell verses of the Bhagavatam). So although I do the same thing every day, there is variety and changes, and no boredom. I am not like the man in “Groundhog Day.”
Kirtana Rasa sent me a big batch of quotations from famous people. Here are a few of them:
“Throughout the whole of life one must continue to learn to live, and what will amaze you even more, throughout life one must learn to die.”
“Remember, either you control your mind or it controls you.”
“The quality of your life will come down to the quality of your contribution.”
“Always do right. It will please some people and astonish the rest.”
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
“Live every day as if it were going to be your last. For one day you are sure to be right.”
—From the movie Breaker Morant
“Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
and whose shepherds mislead them.
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars,
whose sages are silenced,
and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
except to praise conquerors
and exclaim the bully as hero
and aims to woo the world
with force and by torture.
Pity the nation that knows
no other language but its own
and no other culture but its own.
Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well-fed.
Pity the nation—oh, pity the people
who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.
My country, tears of thee,
sweet land of liberty.
We have just rented a new, bigger storage unit for putting my books in. We want to accommodate the books that are coming from England, which will be shipped by boat by Bhakti-rasa dasa. Bhakti-rasa has 231 copies of Passing Places, Eternal Truths. Bhakti-rasa also has 219 Every Day, Just Write Volumes 1-3, the most beautiful book we ever published. He’s also got 111 A Poor Man Reads the Bhagavatam, mixed Volumes 1 & 2, and 160 copies of From Copper to Touchstone. All the books will be available for the cost of the shipping. They are excellent books, but very expensive to ship. Please help us to distribute them by covering the cost of the shipping.
John Endler visited and was excited to tell me of a discovery he made. He went online and found manuscripts I wrote while I was living in Delaware before coming to Viraha Bhavan. One manuscript is titled The Yellow Submarine. Another one I wrote when I first began living here in Stuyvesant Falls. It’s called The Healing House. In Delaware I also wrote two volumes of My Dear Lord Krsna: A Book of Prayers. I’m looking forward to reading again The Yellow Submarine.
John is doing his own writing, telling how much he appreciates my books. He says the word “appreciate” is too much of an underestimation. He says my books have saved him. He’s a good writer, and I’m anticipating reading his writing. He said he’ll show me the first installment next week.
We are trying to get all the books I’ve written about Prabhupada (except the Prabhupada-lilamrta) reprinted in time for next year’s Vyasa-puja. But I’m concerned. Our small production team won’t be able to do it, although they’re working somewhat in a marathon spirit. Yesterday John Endler suggested that we aim to produce the books and distribute them at two disciples’ meetings, one in the summer, and one at Vyasa-puja. That will also make it financially more feasible for the devotees and not expect that they can buy twelve books at one meeting. If we divide it into two meetings, it will be more financially feasible. And then there’s the shortage of typists. A week ago I made an announcement/plea in my Journal for disciples and friends to volunteer for typing. I received two responses to my request in the Journal. One woman who is not my disciple volunteered to help out with the typing, and a man who is my disciple volunteered to do an hour a day typing. So if this works out it will be helpful, but I still think we have to plan on finishing the books in two different installments, the summer meeting and the Vyasa-puja meeting.
We observed Ekadasi today. Krishna Kripa fasted from breakfast and chanted sixty-four rounds. But he feasted on the lunch prepared by Baladeva: baked pumpkin, broccoli with sour cream sauce, little round potatoes, broiled cauliflower with cheese. After lunch, Krishna Kripa showed me videos of harinama, one from Indradyumna Maharaja’s Poland festival, with many young people chanting and dancing with the devotees, and another of young people enthusiastically dancing and chanting with the devotees in Dublin, Ireland. He has a big collection of such harinama videos, and I’m pleased to watch them regularly.
Tulasi’s grow light is broken. There are eight bulbs in it, but only two are working. There’s some kind of short-circuit in the wires. The plants are getting weaker, and the spider mites are getting stronger. The spider mites are so aggressive that the preventative neem oil isn’t working, and we had to take it to a higher level, applying poisons. We were hoping Amit would come today, he’s an expert handyman. It takes two men to remove the grow light and replace the whole fixture. It’s four feet long and very hard to manage single-handed. Amit is expert at breaking down and cleaning up, but the sad news is he can’t make it today, and we don’t want it to go another week. They’ve already gone without light for two weeks. We had to order a whole new fixture online, and it just arrived two days ago, but now we have to install it. Maybe Krishna Kripa and Baladeva can do it together.
People may think we have enough help here, but it’s not true. Krsna dasi was taking a heavy load of service, but now she’s gone. Baladeva can’t do it all himself. We get part-time helpers here, but they have to be trained up. Some of them can’t cook or do the Deity worship service. Krsna dasi has some idea of someone who could come in February and help out. But that hasn’t been confirmed yet. Bhakti-rasa is coming when Krishna Kripa leaves in mid-February, but Bhakti-rasa has health issues. He’s limited in what he can do. Baladeva is unable to do all the services that are on his plate. He can’t cook every day and do all the errands. Some of the services just get undone.
I received an email from Jahnavi Sankla that her daughter and and her sister’s child were written up in ISKCON News. They distributed 1000 Bhagavad-gita As It Is’s during the month of December. She was very happy and praised me for my blessings on her family. Another letter came from a Catholic priest. He said he was on a different path, but he very much appreciated the good I am doing. He didn’t refer to any books I’ve written, but I thought that’s what he meant. I wrote back to Father Thomas and thanked him for his favorable ecumenical viewpoint. I said my own merit was derived from the blessings of my spiritual master, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I referred him to my weekly Free Write Journal and told him how he could find it on his computer. I received two letters from devotees who asked me to help them in editing. One man said he had written what he called “a clumsy article” for Back to Godhead magazine, which they didn’t accept. He asked me to be his editor and wanted to send me the article he has written. I wrote back and told him I am not an editor and cannot help him. I excused myself for not taking up the service he wanted. In another letter, a devotee who was involved in the French translation of the Bhagavad-gita wrote me about a particular phrase in the translation of a verse in the Twelfth Chapter. I couldn’t make much sense of it to help him, so I referred him to Jayadvaita Maharaja.
I wrote Sankirtana dasa in Dallas and asked if he could send me a recent picture of Radha-Kalachandji dressed in Their night outfits or Their mangala-arati outfits. I said the real thing that charms me about the early pictures is the beauty of Kalachandji and Radharani. I thought that although They are being dressed very differently now, Their real beauty would come through even in a recent picture, if They were not overdressed but seen in Their natural beauty. I could still relish the darsana of Them and appreciate the way I knew Them in the early days. This was my idea, and I’m waiting for him to reply. Kalachandji’s chubbiness and massive appearance, and Radharani’s feminine beauty, should come through even in a recent picture, as long as They were not overdressed under the recent regime of pujari worship. Let us see what he sends me.
but then ground myself
in Krsna’s domain.
I’m not a madman an
I am full of metaphors, blood
and have hands with bony veins.
This mystery man
descendant of Vyasa
in disciplic succession, a
writing with brahmana thread
looped over his torso. Am
No, I’m here, in the light
of a battery-run lamp, in a cabin,
in the snow, a piping hot jiva full of glee,
a flute player in the pit.
“I was listening to Srila Prabhupada dictating the Krsna book, Lord Brahma’s prayers, and I felt I wanted to say something in my own words. His words, of course, are better than anything I could express, but on hearing the tape I wasn’t able to feel my faith deeply enough. His words urged me to express myself, my actual feelings, my personal prayer. It’s not sastra, I know, but my self.
“I don’t think we should underestimate the power of our own words to help us. They are not a lesser form of bhakti if they are uttered in sincerity for Krsna’s pleasure or our own purification. It’s how we express smaranam: we reiterate our kirtanam or express our attempts to hear our broken-winged flight.
“Prabhupada was speaking as Lord Brahma, who prayed to be born in a future life as a devotee. Brahma saw that one could even be born as an animal or a blade of grass and still be an intimate devotee of Krsna if he was fortunate enough to become a Vrajavasi. Brahma prayed for such a birth rather than to be born again as a Brahma.
“What I liked about this section, however, was that Srila Prabhupada was speaking in his own words as if he were Lord Brahma. Swamiji in 1969, dictating the Krsna book. I listen now even as I pull out my Ayurvedic medicines and line them up for my morning ingestion.”
“Once upon a time he [Vyasadeva], as the sun rose, took his morning ablution in the waters of the Sarasvati and sat alone to concentrate.
“Suta Gosvami sets the scene. It’s sunrise at Badarikasrama. Vyasadeva has just bathed in the Sarasvati River and is now sitting alone ‘to concentrate.’ Prabhupada states that Vyasa still lives at Samyaprasa in the Himalayas. Further evidence to prove this is that Madhvacarya went to Badarikasrama in the 12th century and received direct instruction on Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam from Srila Vyasadeva. Thus in the disciplic succession we see Vyasadeva listed as Madhvacarya’s guru.
“For those who still doubt the truth of Prabhupada’s statement, Sadaputa Prabhu explains that there are many dimensions within this world, not all of them visible to our eyes. In other words, Vyasadeva can exist on the earth plane but not exactly within the context of ordinary time and space. Our senses can perceive only one or two dimensions. Vrndavana is the entire spiritual world manifest, but how much of it can we see?
“Pilgrims still go to Badarikasrama during the warmer seasons. In winter it is inaccessible due to snow and ice. There they take darsana of Srila Vyasadeva in his murti form according to their faith and realization. If the nondevotee or research scholar approaches the asrama, however, he will see only mountains and his own empty heart and flickering mind.”
“Anyone who has made the arduous pilgrim to Badarikasrama, or who has heard about it, can visualize this scene as we read it. It is high in the mountains where the air is cold and clear and pure water flows nearby. We can hear the wind and feel the cold, but we’re in a renounced mood, so we don’t feel the austerity of the place. We have to perform vairagya to approach Vyasadeva. How else will we hear the holy sounds of Vedic mantras being chanted by Vyasadeva and his disciples? Those holy sounds rise up from the valleys into the ethereal atmosphere of the snow-capped mountains. This feels like the heart of the universe, and there lives the great sage Vyasa, still meditating for the world’s welfare.
“It appears from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (as will be described in later chapters) that Vyasadeva completed his work on earth many years ago. He divided the Vedas into four, wrote Mahabharata, and finally, the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Why does he remain in this world? Only one who can enter the inner meaning of Vyasadeva’s teachings can answer that question. Vyasadeva remains to fulfill Krsna’s purpose, and his mission is confidential. Vyasadeva lives in the transcendental realm even while the mundane ‘reality’ of twenty-first century life continues.
“Badarikasrama is now agitated by Indian national politics. Western devotees are no longer allowed to visit Vyasadeva’s cave. The way is no longer guarded by forbidding mountains but by policemen and soldiers. Still, Vyasadeva meditates in the early morning when the sun is beginning to rise and the birds just beginning to sing. The atmosphere is still simple and time-honored. But what effect can this lonely hermit in his remote hermitage have on the sufferings and pleasures of the billions of people all over the world? What is the power of his prayer? Does it move the Lord to spare the foolish?
“Such asramas are the center of the world, and yes, prayer is powerful enough to evoke the Lord’s mercy. Thomas Merton used to say that his monastery in Kentucky was the heart of America, not Washington, D.C. or New York City. Bhagavad-gita says that wherever sincere devotees perform sankirtana and pray to Krsna, spiritual energy is generated and everyone benefits.
“Sometimes devotees equate ‘spiritual energy’ with the activity of going out and saving people. Here is another definition. Who can call Vyasadeva’s bhajana inactivity or consider his remote asrama inconsequential? Preaching is done on many different levels.”
“Of course, we’re talking about Vyasadeva, a powerful sage. What about us? If we perform private bhajana, will it have any effect? Prabhupada emphasized the gosthyanandi spirit over the bhajananandi. He sent his preachers to the cities. At the same time, he encouraged devotees to develop asramas in rural areas. There the quiet work of prayer and cow protection, agriculture and Deity worship, may be carried out. No action in this world is inconsequential. Each movement flows outward and affects others. Those acts that are done to please Krsna have a purifying effect on the ether. When Krsna is pleased, everyone is pleased.
Prabhupada once explained that in India an ideal combination is made of scenic places and spiritual acts. For example, a temple will be constructed in a beautiful mountainous area or some other scenic location. Thus nature’s bounty and the transcendental ediface combine to inspire us in God consciousness. Similarly, a devotee, who is like a temple of the Lord, may go to a tranquil setting, taking advantage of its peaceful environment, think of Krsna there, and pray to Krsna for the world’s deliverance. This is effected by the yuga-dharma, by chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra.
“For the most part, devotees in the Krsna consciousness movement prefer to chant japa and kirtana with other devotees in temple communities, which they usually locate in areas of dense population. Few of us are hermits; neither is it necessary or even recommended that we be. But in the exceptional cases where we see someone performing solitary bhajana, we shouldn’t be scornful or think that they are not preaching. Neither should we be afraid to take advantage of opportunities afforded us to make retreats in a natural setting. We are surrounded by Krsna’s natural beauty. He Himself advises us to see Him in the light of the sun, in the songs of birds and the fragrance of flowers. By allowing the waves of goodness to wash over us in such a setting, we can sometimes put aside our passion and reach deeper into our Krsna conscious meditation on the holy name and the sankirtana mission. We should take advantage of whatever impels our Krsna consciousness.”
“Of course, the best place to perform solitary bhajana is Vrndavana dhama. Although ordinary devotees visit Vrndavana and cannot taste the spiritual emotions being expressed there by the pure devotees, they are gradually purified by repeated respectful visits. Eventually we may all perceive Krsna’s presence and witness His pastimes as they are being performed at every moment. Unfortunately, as Kali-yuga progresses, the dhamas become less and less accessible. Still, by making a sincere pilgrimage, we can continue to feel Krsna’s presence even in our neophyte way. As Prabhupada writes,
“‘This feeling about Mathura and Vrndavana described by Rupa Gosvami can actually be felt even by nondevotees. . . . These statements by Rupa Gosvami are factually realized descriptions of Mathura and Vrndavana. All these qualities prove that Mathura and Vrndavana are situated transcendentally.
“‘Otherwise, there would be no possibility of invoking our transcendental sentiments in these places. Such transcendental feelings are aroused immediately and without fail after one arrives in Mathura or Vrndavana.’ (NOD, p. 111)
“Aside from making pilgrimage, we should live as if we are residing in the dhama at all times. Vyasadeva rose early, performed morning ablutions, and sat in meditation. Such practices allow us to contact the mode of goodness and eventually to gain access to the transcendental plane. We should never think the standards of cleanliness and the various pujas Srila Prabhupada recommended are ordinary. Bathing the body leads to bathing the mind. Regulation quiets the senses and helps us to avoid physical illness. Good health and quiet senses give us the strength and focus we need to keep the mind fixed on spiritual subject matter.
“Even if our lives require that we have to go out and raise money to support a family, or we have other demands upon our time, we should rise early, bathe the body with water, and bathe the mind with the holy name. This is the only way to avoid superficiality in our spiritual practices. We can draw our inspiration for quiet, alone meditation from Srila Vyasadeva.
“I have never been to Badarikasrama. I met some devotees in Vrndavana recently who had just returned from visiting the Himalayas. They were simple devotees from the Caribbean. Although they were forbidden by soldiers to visit Vyasadeva’s cave, they gently persisted and the pious soldiers finally allowed them to enter. But they didn’t feel anything. Nothing earth-shattering happened to them.”
“‘Once upon a time,’ Suta begins. That old fairy-tale line. Doesn’t that mean the storyteller is about to fabricate a story? I used to be embarrassed because Srila Prabhupada used that phrase in the Krsna book. How can we believe in something that begins, ‘Once upon a time’? But there’s nothing objectionable about the phrase itself, I guess. Just my Western conditioning.
“Once upon a time it was March 15, 1996, and I woke in the middle of the night and heard the rain. I thought, ‘Finally my headache is gone, but maybe I shouldn’t get up yet to study.’
“Once upon a time it was March 15, 1996, and I rose somewhat reluctantly and threw a few logs on the fire because it was chilly.
“Once upon a time I turned on the battery-run light, which made a small pool over my desk. I read the two-sentence purport describing Vyasadeva at Badarikakama and tried to conjure up an auspicious image to help the reader see.
“Once upon a time it was spring thaw at Saranagati. Devotees lived in houses scattered over hundreds of acres, coming together sometimes to discuss their gardens and how to push on with their devotional lives. They were convinced that rural living was an important contribution to the sankirtana movement. If they could sink roots into the soil here and practice self-sufficiency, their project would become an example for the whole world. After all, some predicted, the whole modern civilization is doomed to collapse in the very near future. People will be forced to live more simply, to grow their own food—or else they’ll die. If and when that happens, the devotees will be seen as brilliant social leaders. I wondered, ‘Will bands of ruffians roam the countryside, plundering the peaceful devotees’ homes?’
“Once upon a time, despite the tide of events, without thinking that it was futile, Satsvarupa dasa wrote his message to the world.”
“An unsolicited fax arrived from Delhi: ‘What are you doing for the 1996 Srila Prabhupada Centennial? Consider joining us in the International Office in Delhi and do liaison with centers around the world to engage them to do something big. You can edit a magazine.’
“When he read this, the Visiting Sannyasi reprimanded Narahari for sending a fax to Vrndavana which contained a return fax number.
“‘We don’t have to answer this,’ said Narahari. ‘We can pretend that it arrived after we had moved on.’
“‘No, we do have to answer it.’
“The Visiting Sannyasi devised this answer: ‘Committed to working in Europe and America. For the Centennial will be giving seminars on Srila Prabhupada’s life and teachings and writing a memoir about him.’
“Later in the day, a Fed-Ex pack arrived with three weeks worth of forwarded mail.
“Well, the day has gone, I had to answer letters instead of reading the Bhagavatam. Yes, their guru cares for his disciples and thinks of them while they’re away, just as much as the disciples care for him. It depends on the persons, right?
But most letters I rolled out
stock lines from false teeth,
like ‘I will be teaching a seminar
in Europe in August, be in the holy dhama by Karttika time.’ The same thing
in each letter. Slowly the stack diminished and by nighttime I had answered them all except a few—one twenty-pager from a Russian woman and a fanzine I could not quickly digest.
“Who am I writing for?
Why am I posing, dressing up? I don’t get it.
I don’t see why you’re not
able to write the truth. But I
do know why you can’t write
the absolute truth.
“‘Cuz you still have material desires. That’s what the Bhagavatam says.”
“Is it possible to be too humble? No, we should think of ourselves as lower than the straw on the street. We are tiny spirit souls and that is the only accurate analysis of ourselves. That does not mean, however, that our bodies are useless for devotional service. Therefore, it is possible to exaggerate our low condition and to engage in what the psychologists call low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is not healthy. We can judge by the result whether we are experiencing humility or low self-esteem.
“Humility brings enlivenment and dependence on Krsna; low self-esteem makes us feel so unqualified that we no longer perform service and we exclude ourselves from the society of devotees. Low self-esteem is a misconception about our actual position; it is a material estimation.
“For example, Sanatana Gosvami said that he will not be able to see Lord Jagannatha because he could not enter the temple. Although most ISKCON devotees cannot go into the Jagannatha temple at Puri, Prabhupada told us not to be disappointed. Sanatana says, ‘I have heard that the residential quarters of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu are near the temple of Jagannatha. But I shall not have the power to go near the temple.’ Not only did he have to avoid the temple, but he could not go near the temple in order to visit Lord Caitanya because ‘the servants of Lord Jagannatha generally move about tending to their duties, but if they touch me I shall be an offender.’ All his feelings are compounded by the fact that he has an obnoxious disease.”
“Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare. A man wrote to me and told me he chants a different mantra instead of Hare Krsna, a chant composed of the names of Lord Caitanya. I told him we should chant the Hare Krsna mantra because it’s recommended by the acaryas in the Gaudiya sampradaya. It’s the yugala-mantra, made of the names of Radha and Krsna, and it is the supreme mantra. We should chant the Hare Krsna mantra and not another. I like chanting Hare Krsna, and I’ve been doing it for forty years. I wouldn’t dream of chanting another mantra. So lay your head back and try your best, even on this bad day, to chant your favorite mantra and plead with Lord Caitanya to appear in His names.
“Hare Krsna mantra is the supreme
sound vibration. The acaryas say
it’s so. My spiritual master gave it
to me, and I’ve put it in my heart.
“Even on a low day, I embrace
it and rush through, chanting
Hare, Krsna, and Rama as the
thing to do.”
“A disappointed practitioner might complain, ‘Your explanation is philosophically correct, but you haven’t dealt with the nitty-gritty problem. How can we chant if we don’t have a taste?’ Many of us have heard pat philosophical explanations as to what is wrong with our chanting, but it does not change our hearts or move us into reform. We admit to our fallen state. It does not make us happy to put aside our chanting beads, to read Time magazine rather than Srimad-Bhagavatam. We wish that we could chant better, and we know that it is a main obstacle in our life. But we do not know how to overcome it.
“If we have lost a taste for chanting and hearing, it is unreasonable that we demand an immediate return of the taste before we try to improve ourselves. We have to go through a process in order to regain health. We cannot expect the ripened fruit of blissful chanting to suddenly drop from the sky, and we should not wait until material life gets so bad that we turn in hopeful desperation to the shelter of chanting and hearing. With whatever little abilities we have now, let us revive determination to follow the vows for chanting and hearing.
“I am speaking of the old virtues, faith and determination. Perhaps these virtues have worn thin for you because someone misled you in the name of faith and determination. Or maybe you are tired of trying without attaining a higher taste. If we chant and hear only because of duty, it will become routine and mechanical. And so we demand, ‘Where is the nectar?’ But for one who has not yet qualified for tasting bhakti-rasa, the duty of sadhana-bhakti should never be derided. Yes, in Goloka Vrndavana, there is no longer any duty. There everything is spontaneous; walking is dancing, speech is song, and the surabhi cows give endless milk. By contrast, the austerities of the sadhaka (the practitioner of devotional service) may strike us as demeaning. But experts in devotional service, such as Rupa Gosvami and Srila Prabhupada, encourage us, saying that the path to bhakti-rasa goes through the progressive stages of sadhana-bhakti.”
“In the summer of 1971, Indradyumna dasa accompanied Srila Prabhupada on his flight to London, where he was to attend the Ratha-yatra festival. On the flight, a film was shown—an old silent film of Charlie Chaplin.
“When the film began, Indradyumna dasa began reading the Bhagavad-gita, but he noticed that Srila Prabhupada, who was sitting two seats away, was watching the film and chuckling. Indradyumna felt a little confused, since he knew devotees were not supposed to watch movies, but seeing Prabhupada’s appreciation of the film, he stopped reading and laughed along with Prabhupada and his servant at Charlie Chaplin’s humor.
“When the film was over, Indradyumna met Pradyumna dasa at the back of the plane and asked why Srila Prabhupada was laughing during the film. Pradyumna said he would go and ask Prabhupada. He soon returned smiling and said, ‘Prabhupada said that Krsna is the original source of everything, and since Charlie Chaplin’s humor was original, he could appreciate Krsna there.’ Indradyumna returned to his seat, appreciating how Srila Prabhupada saw Krsna everywhere.”
“Prayer is not only personal but private. Prabhupada gave the analogy that we are each like pilots in a one-man plane. We can help each other with instructions on the ground, but finally, each has to fly his own plane. Sincere prayer means you do it on your own, facing your own weakness, surrendering your own will lovingly. And although God is one without a second (advaitam), we each address Him as ‘My dear Lord.’ So if I share with you what I do in my prayer sessions, it is still up to you to practice on your own. My prayers will not always be yours.
“Besides that, I am a neophyte at prayer. Some will say that I shouldn’t even write such things but just go on praying until I gain more realizations. But even the beginning discoveries in prayer are so valuable and exciting that I am impelled to share them.
“I start my prayer session as early in the morning as possible. Usually I rise by 2 A.M., and by 2:30 I am bathed and ready to go. I deliberately scheduled my personal prayer before beginning japa. I like to sit in a chair, before a desk if available. The night before, I’ve put my Bhagavad-gita on the desk and my collection of verses on cards. (I keep the cards in envelopes labeled with their category: ‘Morning Prayer Blueprint’; ‘Adoration of the Supreme Lord and Prabhupada’; ‘Bhagavad-gita verses for Morning Prayer Reading’; ‘Pray Constantly’; ‘Repentance’; ‘Prayers and Praise of Srimati Radharani’; ‘Evening Prayer Blueprint’—and my collection is growing.)
“Before sitting, I get down on the floor and make dandavats, reciting the pranama-mantras in Sanskrit to His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. When I sit, I first relax my body (it takes less than a minute) and lean forward slightly. No question of falling asleep.
“I usually utter my words subvocally, or if I think no one can possibly hear, I’ll say them softly audible. The first thing I say (slowly and as attentively as possible) is the English translation of Prabhupada’s pranama-mantras: ‘I offer my obeisances to His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to Krsna on this earth.’ Despite my repeated attempts I usually fail to ‘hear’ this prayer, but by the time I reach the end of the second one, I’m usually listening, if not actually praying:
‘My obeisances unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. You are so kindly teaching the message of Lord Caitanya and delivering these Western countries which are filled with voidism and impersonalism.’
“I want to be conscious that for me, everything is coming from Prabhupada. If my prayers don’t please him, they are useless. I beg him to accept me.”
“I am writing to You today to get to know You better. I’m asking You to reveal Yourself to me. You are so great that You are something fearful to me. You are so big, so powerful, You hold such complete judgment over me. Especially at the time of my death, You or Your appointed agents will place me in my next situation, my next body, my next person. That decision is entirely up to You. I can say, ‘I would like to join You in the eternal spiritual world,’ but that is such a tiny desire; it does not decide that I will actually join You. Where I go is up to You.
“I’d like to say I’ve made my peace with You, I surrender to You, and so wherever You send me, I accept. I’d like to say I’ve already fixed on wanting to join You and serve You eternally, so if You don’t bring me to Goloka Vrndavana in my next life, I’ll accept that and go on serving You in whatever body You give me. I hope I’m brave enough to take that position and not be crying and gnashing my teeth if You don’t take me at once to the spiritual world. It’s all so mysterious and unknown. I’ll have a new consciousness, and I’ll forget this present life, so I’ll just have to accept my new position with a fresh start. I won’t even be aware that I’ve missed going back to Godhead. I’ll just have to contend with my new situation and make the best of it.
“I pray that I can take up devotional service as soon as possible in my next life. Will I have to suffer by entering the womb of another human mother, being packed up in an embryo? Will I have to suffer years without awareness of You and the holy name? Or will I be born into a devotee family and be introduced to You even as a baby, when I’m not capable of appreciating You? All these things are unknown to me. I just want to be rightly situated as soon as possible. And I dread the idea of facing years of ignorance of You, years of suffering the buffets of life in Kali-yuga, where there is danger at every step. I dread the idea of being picked on by bullies in school or mistreated by parents or siblings at home. I had a phobia against dogs when I was a little boy. Will something like that happen again? Or will I have my present phobias against rodents, like mice and rats, and monkeys? Will I be born into a world of crises or disasters, like war or famine or torture? Will I fall into the hands of terrorists?
“Thinking of the next life can bring fears. But in Bhagavad-gita, You boldly state, ‘My devotee will never be vanquished.’ If I can be Your devotee, You will give me protection. When our dear Godsister and disciple Lalitamrta dasi was near death, she became afraid of the next life. I gave her consolation. I told her she would either go back to Godhead or be born in a family of devotees. I believed that advice because that is what the scriptures and Srila Prabhupada say. So I should give myself that advice for my own worries. I am situated sufficiently in Krsna consciousness that I don’t have to fear going to Yamaraja for hellish punishments. I’m chanting the holy names regularly, and that will protect me. I think and hope You will forgive me for the sinful activities I have committed since being initiated. I have been reinstated in Krsna consciousness since my fall.
“I am not acting as a completely surrendered soul with complete absorption in devotional service. You may not take me back to Godhead at the end of this life. I should pray as Lord Caitanya prayed in His Siksastakam: ‘I have no desire for wealth or fame or beautiful women. All I want in my life is Your causeless devotional service, life after life.” This is the highest desire of a devotee—to serve You and Radha in any condition of life, anywhere. But it is stated in a Srimad-Bhagavatam purport that despite the devotee’s desires, You take him or her back to Godhead. As I approach my final years in this body, I consider these things and seek Your mercy. Please deal with me as You will and give me what is best for me.”
“I think the wood is catching. Flames don’t jump that high from kindling, do they? I just read the chapter ‘Wild Mind.’ Let yourself go into the wild mind, the equivalent of the unconscious. NG says don’t allow that one dart of consciousness, which is your present conscious mind, to tell you that you can’t write. Just write as you want to.
“Dear Lord Krsna, I have an extra factor of which these writers are not aware, although it’s the most important one. It is that I want to please the Supreme by what I do. I don’t want to waste my human form of life, which should be used to serve You, and thus revive my original nature. There is more than staring into the void and stepping into ‘wild mind.’ There is devotional mind, there is standing before God with the mind in the heart, meditating on the lotus feet of Krsna and serving His pure devotees, what about that? How does that fit in with ‘the unconscious’? How does that fit in with writing what I want, these notes during the last days of the year?
“Ah, now that’s a nice fire. Stay with it while it lasts. Where was I? I was alone looking at the sheep in the distance, and the green, marshy fields. Now every day, whether it’s raining or not, the ground is badly packed with the imprints of sheep feet and cow prints, tractor tires and my own patient tramp.
“The mind coming back to the name, then going off again. Where is my heart? Don’t I know? They say it’s where my feelings are. The real question is, ‘Where are my feelings for Krsna?’ Take them and focus on them, O mind, but you fly off and think about this or that—how you will be in New York in a week and what you say to the devotees or what you have for real what you will say to the devotees, or what you were writing in that letter. Or feeling other things.
“Fire is better than a TV show, but similar in some ways—a heating abstraction, with enough glow and movement to draw the mind. I turn away from it and look out the window. How different that is—the hills and the blue-stained sheep. The fire is in the hand and draws me in, the other view drives me out. Here I am, in the middle of it, a jiva in a body.”
“We wanted to go with Krsna even before we knew Him. What?
Go back and find songs and say, ‘Krsna was here too.’
You can’t do that really. In the sordid school yard you were afraid and that’s it. At least you survived.
“As for ISKCON years, they also
you can’t improve once they are gone.
Can we learn from mistakes?
Yeah, but it’s still the present.
Is that your message?
“Some subtle crap–I just want Krsna in truth. I want you doing the
prescribed duties straight as an arrow. You can’t learn nothing from a
nondevotee except how
bad it is
so, stop consorting
Why don’t you love your
brothers and sisters more and the temples as halls of absolute truth and joy and sweat and tears? Why don’t you own a restaurant or brahmacari party, a piece of action zone? I don’t see you at the
places, you aren’t . . .
Don’t berate me I don’t care for
your high straight stuff
I know your number
I’m happy this way and will
tolerate the guff
I’ll sing the Hare Krsna song comes
to me and the past
and the nondevotees too have a
way of bringing home to me
for getting rid of morose maya.”
“Overnight wasn’t too cold. Was quiet, thanks to earplugs. The truck behind us. We slept and woke and slept, and at midnight didn’t get up. I got up fifteen minutes ago and read Caitanya-caritamrta’s opening verse.
“You want something. Maybe it’s here and maybe it’s there. You tell yourself, ‘Calm down and concentrate on your sampradaya.’ But you can’t help but listen to the stirrings of the heart. Things keep coming up.
“Travel now is the main thing. The drive, the ferry ahead. These big, external things. And internal life bubbles underneath. Travel keeps the internal pressure building. You wish to stop and study and write. You can’t immediately because you are in a moving van. But you are on your way directly to a retreat, so it’s good. The impatience is also good. In this building of pressure comes these stirrings of the heart.
“I read again the blessing of author Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami. I received in the mail a glossy photo of him (is it?), crouched and writing with a water pot beside him, in Vrndavana. (Also have a photo of a drawing of Rupa Goswami from a temple in Jaipur.) So? So, it has Sanskrit on it, but I don’t know what it means. He is writing. He lived.
“East and West, which am I, or neither? Hear your Swami, who came to you on the Lower East Side. It wasn’t long ago that a devotee asked me to tell again how I met him. Was it France? No, it was Jalon, Spain. I said I worked in a welfare office a few minutes from his storefront. A piece of paper taped to the store window, classes on Bhagavad-gita.
“That’s a real history too—of you, Steve. In those days, you were hankering for worship, and when he came with Krsna, Hare Krsna, you took it. Don’t forsake it. Follow it. Follow it.
“X. Swami, my Godbrother, had deep reservations about wrongs (and maybe also just the doldrums) in our Society, and he spoke to a few friends, myself included. I told him not to see it as so bad. Then on Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasa-puja day, he felt the murti said to him, ‘Bear the burden of the ISKCON mission’ – and something like, ‘I’ll be with you,’ or ‘You’ll be blessed.’ He wanted to do as Srila Prabhupada did, carry out the mission.
“Madhu will get up soon and we’ll drive off.
“Last night he was taking a photo after the sun had gone under the hills and the sky was radiating faint red. ‘I don’t know if the camera can catch this.’ Green trees, October but still delicate green leaves, seen from the highway, cars passing by with their delicate headlights on as night came, it all seemed a friendly place not that we could live here but we could at least stay a few hours overnight, grateful for it, grateful and comfortable in our self-contained tin-can Renault. A nice moment, thanks to God. This sublime life has been given to me by my Guru Maharaja.
“I will go to the retreat and seek myself as a person who can read Caitanya-caritamrta and write, exploring, praising, groping. Write it honest, man.
Karttika lights, little
candles of faith and hope.
“It’s like we say, unless we get some nectar of love/hope, how can we go on just doing our duty? Yes. Maharaja said, you need to at least hear of raganuga. So, we did. Then others came and said that’s forbidden, unchaste, premature. You’ll find the taste in preaching and in the holy name. So, we switched to that.
“But then other old things (unfinished business?) pop up, Jesus, and Mercury and Miles and geez, wait, expression, dreams.
“Go back to work, you say, this is all diversion.
“So, you light your candles wanting to be straight and honest.
“Don’t forget there’s a chapter on faith in the rabbi’s book. That may help. And a book on Salinger, the writer’s life, your poems, your drawings.
“Better light a candle and see your face-soul–the candle is your soul aspiring to…
“M. said he’s not on that trip (that we were on in 1966) where you say the candle burning is the soul.
“It’s not a symbol for body and soul, which is brief life burning down. It could be. Or take it as the flame of love. Burn up, flame, love God and sacrifice.
“Quite a spiritual meal here, yet confusing too, as if you were a young man deciding on a spiritual career. But you don’t want (and can’t find anyway) is some Big Brother bhakta leader to tell you, ‘Look here, straighten your head. Get rid of these ghosts. Get on the straight and narrow. Your dreams are of no account. There is no other way. Read Srimad-Bhagavatam and go out and collect money.’
“Now, the time moves to 1:24 and I ought to get ready to chant.
“The story of our travel is a precious few days. It’s a botheration austerity with uncertainties and fears of delay and breakdown. But also it’s a rare road time in which intimations come, not all to be followed and not all to be ignored.
“Almost a full moon. Trucker safe asleep behind us. Get out and do vigorous exercise, march in place up and down seventy-five times, you’re not so old and decrepit, little body; next, wave both arms around like a softball pitcher fifty times, then go in the opposite direction, little heart responds okay. See the full white moon without your eyeglasses, it’s just over the top of the van and spreads rays in all directions. Occasional car or truck goes by on the highway. Exercise a little longer, but you don’t belong out here. Someone could go by and you’d be alien and your fun over. So, twenty short push-ups, then bend down and bend back and get inside the snug van submarine outer space capsule, get ready for Karttika candles.
we parked at
dawn still dark
October. ‘I’ll get breakfast
ready as soon as possible
and then take a good rest.
We are only one and a half hours
from the port.’
“His mate in back drew a quick pic, changed batteries in the tape recorder and got ready to hear Srila Prabhupada lecture in 1966 on Bhagavad-gita 9.22, ananyas cintayanto mam. What would his master say? He pledged to listen keen even while eating.
“We are parked until after lunch, then go fill up on diesel. M. will phone America to talk with a devotee who owns a Ford Econoline to get his testimony. Then we’ll drive two more hours to reach the ferry port and get on queue. I’ve filled up a big shopping bag with things to take and use on the ferry. Seems like I’ve thought of everything. Toothbrush? When we are onboard whiling away the twenty-four hours, I’ll tell you what I use.
“How will it be different when we reach our month haven? You’ll be able to relax. Don’t have to move. Will probably feel more security in your surroundings and so, you can unwind more in reading and writing. Out here with only the small van to separate us from the chaos, meanness and foreignness of vikarma, one writes about the preservation of order and routine. One is occupied and aware that he wants first of all to survive, annamaya, pranamaya. Thus, I write, ‘We are now parked in a P-stop. The ferry company says they plan to leave on time. Now, we are scheduled to arrive in England by 7 P.M. tomorrow night. So far, so good.’
“Breathe in and out. You are the rider and M. is the pilot, but we share the purpose. Our service is to cooperate and get there. There, the haven, is the place for extended reading and writing.
“This morning at 5 A.M. we each lit a birthday candle. Mine was blue, his pink. Wax dropped onto the wooden desk. We held the flame toward the picture of Prabhupada and then Radha-Krsna. We sang in unison Srila Prabhupada’s pranamas, Panca-tattva mantra, and Hare Krsna mantras. Then prayers to Lord Nrsimhadeva. Instead of prema-dhvani prayers at the end, I said, ‘The wax dripped onto the desk.’
“No deeper. A devotee is supposed to live in Vrndavana. But either there or here, you have to do it with your mind. It’s where Krsna is and His pure devotees. Chant a few more rounds and attempt to pray. At least recall that point. This is a month where you do things to increase your devotion. Don’t get left behind by your peers in Vrndavana, India or Gita-nagari. From this P-stop and ferry crossing too, you can call out your prayer, ‘O Hari, O energy of the Lord, please let me chant Your holy names with devotion.’
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.