We had a small gathering of guests for Gaura Purnima at our ashram. It was a smaller gathering than we expected. Five people who said they would come didn’t show up. Kamini dasi, Baladeva, Sraddha-dasi prepared the feast, and Krsna dasi did all the pujari services, decorating of the altar and arati. She also bathed and dressed Radha-Govinda and the small Gaura-Nitai. She also made big rose garlands for our large Gaura-Nitai and lily bouquets for the altar. Although there were not many of us, we stuck to the schedule—speakers at 12:00-12:45 P.M., then arati and kirtana. Kirtan Rasa said it was good that not many people were packed up in a room because “It’s still COVID.” The feast was very good, with Gauranga potatoes, spinach and panir, kofta balls, ricc, samosas, pakoras with chutney and a nectar drink (strawberry lemonade). There was a dessert of blueberry halava, sandesa and Sraddha’s cupcakes, colored like gaura. Plates were made up for some devotees who couldn’t make it in attendance.
I read from the Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila, Chapter Thirteen, “The Advent of Lord Caitanya.” I said it was appropriate for Gaura-Purnima. I read that Lord Caitanya appeared from the womb of Saci in the year 1486. I mentioned that this was close to the year that Columbus discovered the New World, and quoted a rhyme we learned in history class: “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two/ Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” While outward events in the material energy were developing in the West, Lord Caitanya delivered sankirtana-yajna in the East, delivering the fallen souls by chanting Hare Krsna mantra. Some devotees mentioned other worldly events around the time of Lord Caitanya’s appearance such as the reformation of Martin Luther and other historical events. I read that Advaitacarya’s wife, Sita Thakurani, with her husband’s permission, traveled from Santipura to Navadvipa to offer presents to the baby. She was amazed that except for a change of color, He looked just like Krsna in Gokula. She offered Him many valuable presents, and she gave Him the name “Nimai” to offset the dangers of witches because these witches cannot enter where a neem tree is, and Lord Caitanya was also born under a neem tree. He became known as Nimai Pandita, although His actual name was Visvambhara.
Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu gave a more extended talk. He spoke on the Siksastakam, which he is deeply studying in preparation for writing a book. He referred to the Siksastakam as “the grammar of transcendence.” He spoke many things about the Siksastakam and pointed out that the last chapter of Caitanya-caritamrta is titled “Siksastakam,” and there Krsnadasa Kaviraja gives all the verses in consecutive order and has Lord Caitanya comment on them.
Krsna dasi arrived a few days ago, completing her long-awaited return from Trinidad. She was accompanied by her Trinidadian friend Hema-mukhi, who lives in Queens near the airport. Amit went and picked them up in Queens and brought them to Viraha Bhavan. I met with Krsna dasi last night, and then today she and Hema-mukhi made a nice lunch of eggplant choka with capatis. Baladeva got a break from making lunch and took a long nap. Now the ladies are cleaning up Krsna dasi’s house. There had been remodeling in the house, in the bathroom, and there was dust everywhere. Tomorrow she’s going to clean and change the dress of Radha-Govinda and change the dress of Gaura-Nitai and clean and dress her little Gaura-Nitai. It’s good to have her back. Hemamukhi will stay with her a few days, and then Krsna dasi will be joined by her daughter, Rasesvari.
There was hardly any snowfall while she was in Trinidad, but upon her arrival it snowed all day. And the word at the post office is that on Saturday, we’ll get another eight inches.
Krsna dasi cleaned and changed Radha-Govinda for the first time in months (since she was away in Trinidad). In her absence, other devotees took turns changing the dresses, but it wasn’t the same. For the first time in months, Govinda has a turban which is up to my standard of satisfaction. They are dressed in white, silver and red, Ekadasi dresses, and They are very beautiful. I still have trouble seeing Radha-Govinda at the distance of four feet away because my eyeglasses don’t make Them out clearly (although I can read books). My mid-range prescription has changed. We’re going to get new glasses in April. But in this last change by Krsna dasi on Ekadasi, I am somehow able to see Them clearer. She is changing Their dress every third day and posting Their photo on Facebook. Many devotees are appreciating, especially because Radha-Govinda have so many changes of dress, and now Krsna dasi is making excellent turbans.
Sankirtana sent us a photo enlargement, 24 x 36 inches, of Sri-Sri Radha-Kalachandji in red dress with white dots. It may be another Ekadasi dress. But at first there was a mixup at the framing store. Baladeva brought the tube in which the picture was wrapped without my first seeing it. When he opened it at the framing store, he thought the picture was cropped too much and part of Radharani’s hand and part of Kalachandji’s hand were cut off. But I looked again at Their picture again on the computer in small size, and I decided that it was all right, that we should go ahead and frame Them. So Baladeva is calling back the frame shop and telling them to use the picture he brought in. They said it will take three weeks to get it done. I am anxiously awaiting for the job to be finished. I chant all of my rounds before one picture of Radha-Kalachandji taken in the early years, where They’re wearing light-green night outfits, and it helps my japa meditation. Now I’m getting another large picture of the same Deities, and I’ll line it up under the one we already have. My japa will be supercharged. I have a long relationship with Radha-Kalachandji from Their early days in the 1970s. They say He is a 500-year-old Deity, and He’s very strong-looking. Radharani is petite and lovely. I thank Sankirtana for his research and service in this matter.
After lunch Baladeva, myself, Bhakti Rasa, Krsna dasi and Hema-mukhi and talked liming. (In Trinidad jargon, liming means relaxing and making loose talk.) Krsna dasi bragged about how she grows big, buttery avocadoes, and there are plenty of pineapples in Trinidad too. Krsna dasi’s yard also has a Julie mango tree. These are the best mango trees grown. Krsna dasi also bragged that she had deepened her tan several colors brown from so much walking on the beach. The devotees asked if Prabhupada ate pineapples, and I said he mostly took coconuts (dobs). In Bombay especially, in Juhu Hare Krsna Land, there were many coconut trees, and he enjoyed coconut water every day. Krsna dasi also talked about a souvenir available on the beach. It shows lots of people sitting in leisure in beach chairs on the beach, and the caption, “Workin’ ha’d in Trinidad.” We spoke of mangoes in Trinidad, and then talk got around to my giving Prabhupada a mango every day at 26 Second Avenue. I told once again the day I brought a mango and Prabhupada said, “Very good boy,” the way he would talk to an eight-year-old child. The devotee young men all burst out laughing, but Prabhupada said, “No. This is love. This is Krsna consciousness.”
So we had a good liming session, and they expect more of the same.
Baladeva asked the people at each place what was their favorite cookie, because sometimes when he didn’t have the chocolate chips he would give out something else (laddus, peanut butter cookies, macaroons, etc.). But ninety percent of the places said they wanted more chocolate chip cookies. They say there’s something special about those cookies. So he’s been back in the production of making the old favorite, and they’re being well-received. The people say, “I was wondering when he was going to make those chocolate chip cookies again,” and they’re grateful when he shows up with a bag.
Prabhupada wrote in a purport that nowadays prasadam distribution is better than distribution of money in charity. After his lectures in Bombay, Prabhupada used to give out halava from his hand to the urchins who crowded around him. In Gainesville, Florida, the devotees have been giving out full lunch plates to the students for a modest fee, and many students have gone through their school years depending on the prasadam program and grateful to it, even as they went out and graduated and entered their careers. Prabhupada has said no Vedic yajna is complete without distribution of prasadam to all the classes of people. Jayadvaita Swami has criticized the distribution of mass prasadam without any chanting of Hare Krsna.
It’s snowing heavily on Wednesday, March 9th. We think this may be the last one. It’s 32° F. (O° C.) at 8:38 A.M., and it’s supposed to continue all day. Sometimes the temperature rises to 36° or so, and sometimes even rain. The plow trucks haven’t even been out yet. The municipal plow trucks do a good job on our road because it’s a main link between the two minor highways in the area. The road is used by a lot of big agricultural equipment. Unfortunately the big plow trucks leave 150 feet of frontage impacted with snow, and it’s very difficult for the homeowners to plow out or shovel out. But we grind through it with our trusty new snowblower that the devotees donated to us last year. The snowblower saves Baladeva’s back, because there are no more saintly kids who come by and shovel your front for a modest fee (or even an exorbitant fee). They’re staying indoors with their computers. We’re tired of snow and waiting to see the spring flowers popping up.
The forecasters have now said that tomorrow, Saturday, we’ll get an eight-inch snowfall. Today the stores were packed with people buying emergency supplies. It was madness. They all live in New York, so they know that the big plow trucks will clear away the snow in one day. Why are they so panicky? It’s not icy cold, so even if the power goes out, the pipes aren’t going to freeze. There are long lines in the stores. People are cranky and all talking about how crazy it was and yet they are on the line. The lady at the checkout said it’s been like that all day long. Every time there’s a forecast for heavy snow, they turn out like this—fear of the unknown. They’re looking for the worst thing that can happen. Devotees take it more in stride, especially those who live up north and know what to expect.
Today is Saturday, and it’s windy. These factors mean the municipal plow trucks are not coming by. Nobody has to go to work, and if they plow the roads, the wind just blows the snow back onto the road. Plus it’s coming down strong. It will be a serious accumulation by nighttime. Maybe the last one of the year.
Krsna dasi, the tropical bird, stayed indoors at home for most of the morning. But now she’s here at Viraha Bhavan working in the pujari room, straightening out the jewelry after so many temporary pujaris changed it around. Yesterday she dressed Radha-Govinda and did fresh flowers on Their altar. It is a great relief to have her back and having Radha-Govinda look so first-class. We’re safe at Viraha Bhavan from the storm. Even if the power goes out we have a good generator. Baladeva will go out in the afternoon with a snowblower, and depending on the accumulation, he may have to go out again in the morning tomorrow.
John Endler loves The Yellow Submarine and urged me to read it. It’s an old manuscript written while I was still in Delaware some fourteen years ago. We are in no rush to print it or post it or serialize. But John urges me to read it, and he loves the writing. I read some and was hesitant because there was so much reference to jazz. I have closed the chapter of writing to jazz for quite a few years now, and I’m reluctant to give it to new readers. I could excuse myself ahead of time and print it anyway. It might be a little embarrassing, but it’s real history. It was a large part of my life for years, and when I wrote to it, I tried to make it Krsna conscious.
John pointed out a paragraph to me that we both liked very much:
“‘Yesterdays.’ This is a ballad, Charlie Mingus bows deeply on his bass, thinking of yesterdays. The reminiscence of what it was like. You think it was very sad, and you were very poor, and there was no happiness. But maybe it wasn’t like that. You can’t exactly recall yesterdays. They’re gone. But they are there in somehow tender memories, bittersweet. All that water under the bridge. You used to take walks in Ireland, gingerly stepping along the paths, stopping by the bridge and looking down into the waterfalls on the rapid rivers. It was so wonderful. It’s all over now. And your close friendships with the friends there. They encouraged you in your free writing, said it was the best thing. You liked to give lectures on Sundays, and prepared for it and gave good lectures. I don’t remember now what it was like exactly, but I know it’s not here, now. It was yesterday. Yesterdays. The yesterdays are kept steady on the beat of Charlie Mingus’ double bass. Thump-thump-thump-thump. It’s like seeing the movie again, but it’s new, it’s kept alive by his beat. Oh yes, now I remember that part. I recall that scene. It was all yesterday. Please help me to remember more of it, because I think it’s important that you be who you used to be. It can never come back. It’s lost in time. You were younger. You really can’t remember. All that time in the past. Little flashes continue still. Sometimes in dreams, it comes mixed up with other pasts, all the yesterdays accumulated. You used to love me. You used to. I think you still do, and I still love you. There’s that bowing of the bass again, so mournful because it’s gone now. And that the feeling is still alive, the love is still present, except everything is changed. Yesterdays are gone for good. You play a mournful horn to recollect something like it. Not exactly a memory, but a feeling of how you’d like it to be. And how you wish it was. It’s melancholic because it’s gone, but it’s sweet too, because you actually lived it and you can taste it still. Some of those yesterdays were very hard, very hard times. But some of them were happy, the happiest days of your life. And where are you now? You’re in the present, so put the yesterdays aside.”
Vidvan brought over spices and herbs last night. He has different cheeses and tomatoes. He has a multilayered pizza—first the crust, then a layer of sauce, then a layer of cheese, then a layer of fresh marinated tomato slices, and then all the vegetables, and then a little more cheese to hold it together. Some of the varieties are too spicy and exotic for me. He’s got a Trinidadian pizza, and all the pies are varieties of Trinidadian styles. But I’ll be having just cheese, or cheese with olives. He’ll make the offering downstairs to the large neem Gaura-Nitai, with mantras. A separate place will be offered upstairs too in my bhajana kutir, to Radha-Govinda, Laksmi-Nrsimha, Srila Prabhupada, and Lord Caitanya. And then we servants at Viraha Bhavan can take prasadam to our full satisfaction “and glorify Their Lordships Sri-Sri Radha and Krsna, and in love call upon Lord Caitanya and Prabhu Nityananda to please help us.” In an hour there will be a competition to see whose pizza is best, Vidvan’s or Baladeva’s. Baladeva admits his is a frozen uncooked crust, but it comes out very thin and crispy, just the way I like it.
There was a big pizza competition, as Vidvan said he made the best pizza. Baladeva said that his sauce was the best, but Vidvan said, “No, you haven’t had my sauce.” So Vidvan cooked many varieties of pizzas. It was a frenzy in the kitchen—three and a half hours of cooking, stirring, cutting, grinding fresh herbs. He was very pleased when I said the pizza was good. But by evening I had indigestion and an upset stomach. I drank Mylanta, but the indigestion didn’t go away. Later in the night, after I had slept for a while, I called Baladeva to give me more Mylanta, and still it was there the next morning—heavy indigestion and a touch of nausea.
The much advertised and awaited snowstorm turned out to be a “putz.” They predicted eight inches, but only about three inches fell, and it blew around in the wind. Even the snowblower couldn’t control it because the wind just blew the snow back in place. The wind was so strong that some places were swept clean and others had six inches of drifted snow. Between the pizza indigestion and the putzed snowstorm, the day was a flop.
“If only I can serve my guru till I die.
You know the sort of thing I’m talking about.
It’s all right.
I don’t even know what’s right or wrong at heart.
I simply move along
satisfied to be free of pain
for the time being,
remembering the past
when I did what I could
although I felt no deep love
and never knew any.
I can’t expect it. I’m not attentive
enough, devoted enough in prayer
in chanting the Lord’s holy names.
But satisfied to be here.
You know what I mean.
“Satisfaction takes discipline and acceptance. Prabhupada said we should accept whatever prasadam we receive, and we accept our lodgings. We don’t need more.
“But that has to be true. We can’t just say it and not mean it, or else the unconscious will demand more. Satisfaction comes from the spiritual plane, not from material satiation. I think that’s obvious.
“Now a chorus, a solo, by one who lives his best in saying, ‘I surrender to you.’
He means it. He wakes and writes stories—never satisfied with reality (whatever that is). It was satisfaction that brought back the cat. But so it ends, life never completed.
“(Play the sad piano.)”
“Vyasadeva is examining himself to find the cause of his dissatisfaction. On taking inventory, he finds that he has been well-behaved. It’s not that he has done something sinful which would cause him to feel dissatisfied. His conscience is not pricked by thorns. He has followed his vows strictly and worshiped the Vedas without pretense. If he had been merely a showbottle follower, his self-scrutiny would have exposed that. No, he is an honest spiritualist. Furthermore, he has been concerned for others’ welfare. Considering these points, Vyasa remains bewildered about his mental disturbance. He cannot find the clue.
“We too may sometimes search within ourselves and still remain uncertain. We wonder why we cannot enter the magical circle of love for Krsna despite our desire to do so. Even when we strictly follow the rules and regulations, our state of mind does not become wholly purified. Why not?
“Vyasadeva committed no wrongs, and therefore his self-scrutiny did not include searching his faults. We have a different experience with self-scrutiny. Still, although we whip ourselves for our wrongs and feel genuine remorse, we cannot always feel the certainty of Krsna’s shelter or the assurance that we have attained more love for God. Sometimes we haven’t. The only way to discover the root cause of our shortcomings is to approach guru and Krsna. We do not always have the power to discern the root cause ourselves.
“‘What’s wrong with me?’ The sage’s human cry. He is conscientious. Even though he is an incarnation of God, he holds himself accountable. Still, he shows us that self-scrutiny isn’t always enough. At least while we examine the conscience, we have to continue to take shelter of Krsna. It is Krsna who reveals the self. And while we are waiting for His mercy, we should continue to cleanse the heart by chanting the holy names: Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare.
“Another point to note is that when our good works apparently fail, we should not abandon duty. Devotional service is based on duty in the early stages. If we don’t feel like rising early in the morning or doing our service because we feel dissatisfied at heart, we should rise early and do our service anyway. Dissatisfaction implies a lack of spontaneous desire to serve. Therefore, the guru assigns sadhana to keep us moving forward. At the neophyte stage, a lack of spontaneous love for Krsna is expected. Our first duty is to chant the holy name. Lord Caitanya considered it the yuga-dharma, and He supported His claim by citing scriptural references from the Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad and other sources.
“For us, we can begin our self-scrutiny by studying the state of our japa. Do we faithfully chant all our rounds?”
“And what about our attention to krsna-katha? Do we hear from sastra on a regular basis? There is no other way to promote love of God. Prosecuting these duties is like churning milk to produce butter or rubbing wood to produce fire. Love of God is our inherent nature; by ‘rubbing’ our wooden hearts with chanting and hearing, bhakti will appear.
“We should never feel doubtful about this process no matter how long it takes. We can imagine someone hearing about Vyasadeva’s dissatisfaction and disdaining the whole process. ‘Your Vyasadeva worked so hard to give people knowledge, but he’s still not satisfied. I don’t worry about helping other people, but at least I’m happy.’ A materialist cannot even touch the depth of Vyasadeva’s realization, either of his happiness or his dissatisfaction. People who care nothing for others may seem satisfied with their selfish activities, but everything is tested by time. Although Vyasadeva’s welfare activities were not sufficient in themselves to satisfy him, we would never criticize them. He is about to discover the greatest secret and his life’s purpose, both of which rise above all selfish concerns. Real satisfaction comes from an unfathomable depth within the self. Even a sage like Vyasadeva was unable to know the depth and nature of satisfaction, what to speak of a materialist who calls temporary relief from suffering happiness.
“One last point: when we feel dissatisfied, we should not ask Krsna to protect us from that feeling. Rather, we should ask Krsna to protect us from the superficial satisfaction which often distracts us from the deeper levels of self. Please, Krsna, although I want to be happy, don’t allow my mind and heart to rest until they have taken full shelter of You. Please let me serve You in some way.”
“‘I am feeling incomplete, though I myself am fully equipped with everything required by the Vedas.’
“Vyasadeva is restating the problem. Is he doubting the Krsna conscious process? A mature devotee would never doubt sadhana. Rather, he would look to himself for faulty execution of sadhana. He knows that mishaps on the bhakti path are due to ‘pilot error,’ not the malfunctioning of the perfect aircraft.
“Still, a neophyte may ask, ‘If Vyasadeva is equipped with everything required by the Vedas and is still not happy, then it seems logical to conclude that the Vedic process cannot make us happy. Why, then, do we advertise, “Chant Hare Krsna and your life will be sublime”? And why should we shut out all other attempts to achieve happiness?’
“Narada Muni will soon answer this doubt. Even before knowing the answer, however, sincere devotees are patient. Sincere means they do not doubt the process even if they question how to execute it perfectly. In his short purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada only hints that something else is required beyond studying the Vedas and following their regulations. By following prescribed duties we can become purified from material identity, ‘but the ultimate achievement is different.’
“In other words, even if we become free of sin, we will still feel the shortcoming. Even if we neutralize all our past karma and are technically eligible for liberation, our hearts may feel empty. By Vyasadeva’s pressing the point, he intensifies our own desire to want to know why we are not happy. A pious and determined student will hang on for the answer. Only a fool or a cheater will bolt from the classroom at this point and run for material happiness instead. Vyasadeva is relating an incident in his life when he appeared to be confused. He will cross the hurdle, and we can too, by guru and Krsna’s grace.
“Prabhupada writes that ‘it’ must be attained; otherwise, despite Vedic learning, we will not be in our normal transcendental position. Vyasadeva appears to have lost the clue. But what is ‘it’?”
“‘This may be because I did not specifically point out the devotional service of the Lord, which is dear both to perfect beings and to the infallible Lord.’
“Vyasa expresses in his own words why he is not satisfied. It is a lack of specific devotional service to Lord Krsna. The translation states that this may be the problem. He is aware of the defect, but perhaps not certain. This thought occurs to Vyasa-deva immediately before Narada appears. Narada will complete the diagnosis and prescribe the treatment, but he already hit upon the main defect in himself.
“Srila Prabhupada mentions that devotional service is the normal condition of the living being. This is similar to physical health, in which normal life constitutes health, and disease is an abnormality. Devotional service is not an extraordinary state of psyche and heart, implying that few may attain it. It is the constitutional position of every living entity. We are meant to be happy in connection with Krsna by performing voluntary devotional service. When we step away from that state, we are crazy and troubled. If only one or two souls out of millions remember this, it means that the rest are diseased.
“Prabhupada expresses this as the central teaching of Krsna consciousness. One time I wrote to Srila Prabhupada to ask if there were any special articles I should write or solicit for Back to Godhead magazine. Prabhupada replied, ‘There is nothing “special.” Krsna is the Supreme Person and we are all His servants. This philosophy we have to present in different ways. One cannot be happy without this understanding of his constitutional position.’
“Another metaphor used to describe the natural state of Krsna consciousness is how branches are all attached to a living tree. The attached branches, twigs, and leaves receive nourishment as the tree is watered and finds sunlight. If a branch becomes detached, then it will not thrive; it is doomed to die. Similarly, no one can live detached from the life-sustaining devotional service to the Supreme. Even if in madness we think we have no connection with God, we are still dependent on Him for everything. It is the delusion of our separateness, however, that causes sickness and misery. The hand has to serve the body. It cannot eat and digest food on its own. The hand is happy only in its serving capacity. If a hand cannot respond to the brain’s message to bring the food to the mouth, then we consider the hand par-alyzed, useless. These examples show the harmonious relationship of the part to the whole.
“As we may suffer from a disease without realizing it, so we may suffer from our lack of conscious connection with Krsna and not know how to diagnose it. A diseased person may know that something is wrong, but he usually doesn’t know what. He has to go for medical testing. In material life, often the disease is not detected immediately. Still, the patient feels weak or ill.
“Finally the disease manifests. The expert doctor will find the root and destroy it. Similarly, the spiritual master will find the disease and uproot it before it develops into intense suffering and death.
“Vyasadeva’s deficiency is actually the deficiency of all living beings. It is extraordinary in that it happened to such a great sage, but in one way or another, all unhappiness is caused, by a lack of Krsna consciousness. A learned person understands this. As Bg. 6.32 states, ‘He is a perfect yogi who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and their distress, O Arjuna.’ In his purport to this verse Prabhupada writes, ‘One who is Krsna conscious is a perfect yogi; he is aware of everyone’s happiness and distress by dint of his own personal experience. The cause of the distress of a living entity is forgetfulness of his relationship with God. And the cause of happiness is knowing Krsna . . .’
“We may wonder, however, how a person can ascertain his normal condition if all he can remember is his diseased condition. Even while in a defective state, we may get access to higher knowledge. Even to understand that it is the living entity’s nature to be happy (ananda-mayo ‘bhyasat) is a beginning. Then if we can become attached to a self-realized soul and follow his instructions, we can gradually regain a normal state. Vyasadeva set the example that we should both scrutinize our hearts and inquire from the spiritual master. It is not possible for us to become free on our own power. Every conditioned soul needs the guru’s grace.
“Vyasadeva states that devotional service is dear to perfect beings and also to the infallible Lord. The self-interest of the individual soul is not separate from Krsna’s interest. Although Krsna is atmarama, He is not fully happy unless all the living entities return to their normal state. Srila Prabhupada writes in the purport: ‘Unless one is fixed in the normal condition of service, neither the Lord nor the living being can become fully satisfied.’ An agnostic may try to use this as an argument against God, saying that God should not be dependent on a living being for His own happiness, but we are thrilled to hear that the Supreme Lord, although independent, simultaneously and inconceivably feels something missing because some of His parts and parcels are suffering in the material world. I find this inspiring. It also reminds me that my anarthas are not pleasing to Krsna because they keep me from approaching Him. I then want to improve for His pleasure. That is Krsna’s magnanimity.
“That Krsna depends on the jivas’ love and devotion implies that devotional service is greater than Krsna. Unless devotion is flourishing, even the Supreme Lord is not satisfied. Of course, bhakti is Krsna’s internal energy. Bhakti is love of God, and Krsna bestows it on His parts and parcels.
“The highest representation of devotional service is found in Srimati Radharani, Krsna’s dearmost devotee. It is actually She who bestows love of God on the living beings, and She who especially wants to see them return to their normal loving relationship with Krsna. The spiritual master is Srimati Radharani’s representative. He teaches that bhakti is greater than Krsna, or more accurately, that bhakti is the highest manifestation of Krsna and Krsna consciousness. God rules in all realms, but of His own free will He becomes submissive to bhakti and to His bhaktas. That is His greatest glory, that He become submissive to the love of His devotees.
“The Swami had authority. It was not like the authority of an organization, the Catholic Church or some rich Hindu mission. He was something better, a saintly person in the timeless tradition of Vaisnava parampara. His authority went back millions of years and was represented in the Vedic scriptures. Through him we could feel the timeless and authoritative instructions of the sastras.
“On his authority, we chanted in the temple in such a free way. He saw us shake our heads, close our eyes and grimace, as we threw off demons and had fun. When Bob Lefkowitz got up to dance, I thought, ‘This is egoism,’ but Swamiji said, ‘He looks just like Lord Caitanya.’ Swamiji was permissive, but not irresponsible. He heard about LSD and said, ‘No more of that, and no more wine. But when you chant Hare Krsna, then you will feel bliss and dance in ecstasy.’
“The Swami was like our spiritual coach, and we were his team. The coach accepts his boys as they are, but he trains them. They come to him as juvenile delinquents, but as they work out on the basketball court, they become something better. Similarly, Swamiji let us work out our unruly feelings without inhibition, as he brought us together in the maha-mantra.
“After the game is over, the boys are shiny with sweat, drinking Cokes in the locker room, joking adolescents. The coach allows it, but he is in control. We too were sweating and excited after the kirtana performance. We were wild, and Prabhupada allowed it. He let Gargamuni say, ‘Swamiji, I was in so much ecstasy I thought I would cry!’ He watched as Umapati cracked a joke to Hayagriva, but then spoke things that quieted us. We listened to him and relaxed.
“We never expected Swamiji to act like a hippie-guru. He never spoke our jargon, and yet he was hip in his own way. He was totally present with us, and we gave ourselves to him.”
“A writing retreat—I meant to say a japa retreat—means you ask why you can’t feel love of God. I don’t want my critics’ answer to that. I want my own answer, if I know. Being alone gives me a better chance to hear my own answer. It’s not just a written reply. I live alone and increase chanting and I notice the answer quietly unfolding. I’m being gentle with myself But by writing as much as possible, I’m trying to confront myself. Not ‘gentle’ in the sense of letting myself get away with murder.
“In fifteen minutes I turn to japa. There’s room in japa for asking this question, ‘Why don’t I love?’ Or, ‘May I, Lord, be allowed to love and serve Your name? Please give me clarity and devotion; I don’t want to remain only a counter of beads, like a Chinese laundryman using an abacus to calculate how much money you owe him for cleaning two shirts. I count beads, but I want to feel devotion. I want to praise You and recall Your guna-lila-nama-rupa in Vraja.’”
“Prabhupada is wearing a soft scarf and saffron cadar because it is January in Honolulu, and the morning is a bit chilly. He peacefully chants his japa. He is seventy-nine years old, but he is not ill. He is a jet-age parivrajakacarya, or jet-age maha-bhagavata. He has recently flown from Los Angeles, and he is on his way soon to India via eastern stops at Tokyo and Hong Kong. He travels to see his disciples and check the progress of the centers. He keeps things alive in the Hare Krsna movement. But wherever he goes he takes a morning walk. The walk in Hawaii is particularly pleasant, with soft breezes and a park and beach to stroll through. Not many devotees walk with him, and he prefers to chant his private japa. It is dawn and he has already been up for hours, working on his Srimad-Bhagavatam translation and purports. He’s about to receive news of a crisis in leadership in his Los Angeles temple. Devotees will travel from there to see him and get direction. He told his secretary that dealing with the management gives him a headache, but if he did not deal with it, it would give him another kind of headache. While in Hawaii he received a letter from a GBC man in India who said he was resigning because the sannyasis were bullying him. Prabhupada wrote back that there was no question of resigning. Prabhupada cannot simply travel and lecture and write his books. He has to constantly manage his institution, deal with leaders falling down and others threatening resignation. He has to hold it together by his personal presence and his strong preaching to his disciples to keep their responsibilities. Yet every morning he takes his peaceful walk.
“His chanting, as recorded, is very deep. But clearly enunciated and quickly done. He taught his disciples, ‘Of all the instructions of the spiritual master, the instruction to chant sixteen rounds is essential.’ Once, in Hyderabad, after a morning walk in which he discussed many things, a disciple finally asked what was the position of a disciple who didn’t chant sixteen rounds. Prabhupada bluntly answered, ‘He’s an animal.’”
“I always find things when I read that I don’t remember reading before. Some of them express the philosophy in a way that I don’t remember hearing and it strikes me. Some of them I find vital to my present attempts at Krsna consciousness. Some of them discuss things that I am weak in, so I mark it to remind myself.
“It’s hard to say exactly what it is I am looking for, but I could boil it down to this: I’m looking for a state of ecstasy, and I’m looking to get beyond dryness and lack of love. Anything that looks like it will help, I underline.
“It’s possible I could become feverish in my looking, or start looking only for stimulating passages. I try to remind myself that reading is a quiet occupation. I want to serve Prabhupada’s books and savor his words without thinking I have found a new way to get high. Spiritual sense gratification is, after all, another kind of selfishness. I want to please Krsna. To do that, I have to hear about Him.
“Having stated that caution, I do admit that I am looking for an inner thrill—nothing cheap—but the thrill of falling in love with Prabhupada’s teachings. I would like to live my whole life absorbed in Krsna consciousness by reading Prabhupada’s books. I would like reading to be more of a joy to me than the simple daily joys of eating and sleeping. ‘When, oh when, will that day be mine?’”
“The exchange reminds me of Prabhupada’s request that the artists produce one painting a day. As our organization’s leader, Prabhupada had many creative ideas, and because he was our spiritual master, we naturally wanted to respond to his requests. Still, Prabhupada often invited response from those who were helping him with the work. Prabhupada didn’t surround himself with yes-men but with people he hoped would apply their intelligence and experience to his cause. Even if the practical reality was that we couldn’t fulfill his quota, we kept his order in our hearts and aspired to fulfill it. In this way, he set goals for us to achieve, and we continued to feel confident that we had a lifelong service as we strove to meet them. Although many of his quotas and goals felt impossible, we knew that they must be attainable or he would not have asked us to meet them.
“The spiritual master’s pressure on the submissive disciple is both tangible and energizing. Who could have said to Prabhupada, ‘Please don’t dictate one tape per day. They will simply accumulate. We can’t possibly handle that much work.’ Rather, Prabhupada’s disciples begged him to write as much as possible. To the extent that we were unable to help him publish his books, however, our begging was sentiment. Prabhupada knew that and sometimes discouraged us from uttering such sentiments cheaply.
“This is a lesson to be learned in serving the spiritual master: a disciple must respond to the guru’s enthusiasm with practical, intelligent service. When Prabhupada writes, ‘I will do one tape a day,’ we must respond by saying, ‘Yes, Prabhupada, we can keep up with you.’
“The entire world benefits from the service exchange between guru and disciple. In Prabhupada’s case, our willingness to respond as disciples and his willingness to engage us in service resulted in a stream of printed books.”
“Madhu is trying to put extra locks on our van so that it can be parked on city streets and we can sleep in it at highway P-stops with more security. Thus he plans for the continuation of our roaming van life. I am planning on these travels to keep a notebook where I’ll mix travelogue with all other thoughts, stories, and krsna-katha, reading notes from the Bhagavatam, etc.
“Travel is often an odd time. I usually can’t do writing sessions while driving, and to sit and write a story seems beyond me. Yet there is energy and adventure in travel. There’s always the story of what happened as we drove through the countryside or bypassed the city, and sometimes we get clear realizations that come only when we travel.
“Travel means emotionally and psychologically breaking away from places where we stay for a period of time. When we stop traveling even for a few days, we tend to adjust our schedules and find time for reading and prayer and writing. Travel disrupts all that. This time, we’re on our way to Radhadesh, Belgium.
“We expect big packs of forwarded mail and manuscripts to reach us there. Between dealing with that and the temple program, I’ll have enough to do. After that, we go to Brescia, Italy, where the dentist says he needs me for ten days or so. During that time we’ll visit the Medolago temple and go to Matsya-avatara Prabhu’s house.”
“Keep going, trust the subconscious. We read some Eriksonian stories. In one, he tells how when he was very young it snowed in November in Wisconsin and he thought, ‘I wonder how long I’ll remember this?’ I have a similar memory of walking towards P.S.8 on an October 31 while a heavy snowfall was in progress. I thought it was just great that snow had occurred on such an early date. I was only about ten years old. I remember it still. The mind can come up with these things from the past, the unconscious. But what do you do with it? Mr. Subconscious, please chew something that happened to me, and please use it to manage my pain and make me more Krsna conscious. But one of my memories is not going to suddenly bring down Krsna’s causeless mercy, is it? That’s up to Him, He is independent. Maybe He will see me doing or thinking something that will move Him. My attitude should be that whatever He does is fine. But in the meantime, what do I do? I can’t just sit here blank. Neither can I always be thinking of Him. It just doesn’t work for me, not yet. So I tell stories, write these improvised chapters.”
“Krsna-ized writing exercise: Tell what is your anchor, what you trust and come home to and what keeps you writing:
“I come back to writing itself. I can always do writing sessions and just let the hand keep moving, without thinking, putting down first thoughts that come to mind. And as I do that it occurs to me to steer to Krsna, so I make it directed free-writing with something about Krsna consciousness. I can say I love Radha and Krsna, but I haven’t actually realized this in krsna-prema. I can write about my worship of the arca-vigraha of Radha-Govinda and how They bring me close. I can return home to write about chanting the holy names of God. I can write about my being in the intermediate state and not being able to enter suddha-nama. I can pray like Bhaktivinoda Thakura: ‘When will the day come? When, my offenses ceasing, taste for the holy names increasing—when will that day be mine?’ I could come back to some remembrance of Srila Prabhupada, my personal exchanges with him and historical perspectives on his life, as in Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta. I can come home to writing about my little life, my old age, my headaches, my exchanges with caretakers in this house and this neighborhood in Stuyvesant Falls. (Today I take my yoga lesson.) I can write about my life of reading Prabhupada’s books or about my books of poetry. I can come back to memories of my life before I became a devotee. I can always come home to these topics and others too, like eating and literature and art and ISKCON in the past, present, and future.”
“Sitting in this room
I don’t like the chair, and
I need fresh air,
but it seems too much to suit up
and go out there, the boots
the coat and then I might meet
a mama and her kids or the dying cows.
‘Is Bach a nondevotee?’ someone might ask.
Yes, definitely. Anyone who doesn’t know
Lord Caitanya or cry ‘He Gauranga!’ can’t
help me. And you, are you a nondevotee?
That’s a good question.
We say, ‘I’m aspiring.’ It’s
a quaint ISKCON word, as in
‘I’m aspiring to take initiation from
so-and-so Maharaja.’ I am aspiring.
It means I can’t do anything I like
such as play the recorder and
claim this is for Krsna unless it actually is.
It means my private life is private
just me and the Lord in my heart.
Then why do you tell us all this
stuff? Why do you bend our ears so?
We have given you so much time,
do you think it’s right?
I don’t know. That’s up to you.
I just have to write it,
right it, Krsna Krsna Krsna.”
“Others didn’t know Prabhupada
but saw him walk past on his route—
Columbus Avenue to Westside Drive.
They saw a swami of 70 years
with white pointy shoes and wrapped in a grey shawl
pass by their window at a brisk pace.
The word spread Downtown
to the health-and-occultish Paradox
that a swami Uptown in a little room
had a far-out chant and
whoever went could see him.
In 1960s fashion, Bill Epstein went
bringing brown rice and a handshake:
‘We are doing our thing to make reform,
and so are you. So dig the scene.’
Prabhupada received them each.
He was a deep reservoir of devotion,
yet always a person
as real and ready to deal
as any one of them.
He regarded even the ant as worthy of respect
and shared an hour with whomever inquired.
His social service
was to give them Krishna.
He was a real person
from the spiritual world.
but no one knew.
They mostly saw a swami of 70
in pointy shoes and a grey shawl
quickly passing by their window.
And even if they received his mantra
it was not as sisya.
The mad eclectics moved on,
searching for another experience,
unfortunate lives of short duration,
lazy, cheated, and always disturbed.
The flotsam and jetsam jivas
could not, in their downstream rush,
halt to take shelter on the shore of Srila Prabhupada.
He humbly offered them prasadam
and gave of himself,
but they could not see the value
as they careened by.”
“We called him Swamiji. Two years later he admitted to us that Swamiji was a third class way to address the spiritual master. Generally a pure devotee is addressed as Guru Maharaj, Gurudeva, Visnupada or Prabhupada. His secretary Govinda dasi asked, ‘May we call you Prabhupada?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ But in the beginning when we were calling him Swamiji, it was sweet. There was nothing third-class about our affection for him. Swamiji was accessible. He sat in his room, but you could go in and see him and talk to him. On nights when there were no lectures, a whole roomful might stay with him upstairs and hear him speak Krsna consciousness and about ordinary things too. We would ask him about his childhood and his life in India, and he would tell stories. He would smile and laugh. At first we didn’t have much idea that we were supposed to render service to the guru. He cooked lunch and served a dozen men, and soon one girl, in his room. Then after lunch the crowd would leave and he would be left to clean the dishes. But soon they caught on. He taught Keith how to cook, and Keith taught Chuck. The devotees cleaned up after lunch. He gave me the service of typing manuscripts because I was the only one who knew how to type or the only one who volunteered. I loved typing for him. Howard was an English professor and he edited the Swami’s manuscripts, which the Swami had typed himself in India—the Second and Third Cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Then I would type the edited manuscripts.”
“I have memorized the Fourth Chapter
of Bhagavad-gita about the appearance
of the Lord and Krsna book on the
advent of Krsna. I hope I will be able
to regurgitate to an audience at 4:00 P.M.
I love talking of krsna-katha.
Jayadvaita Swami is arriving late
and I may have to start my
lecture without him. Arundhati
is coming to lead the kirtana while
Damodara from Boston will
decorate the altar and perform
the abhiseka. It is an
Baladeva is in a ‘mania’ mood
of constant activity, mowing the lawns,
cooking late, and arranging for the other cooks.
He has yet to shave his two-week beard.
He is in the thick of organization for
the Janmastami–Vyasa-puja and his
energy is contagious. Guru dasa and
Baladeva from Trinidad are here to help.
I offer my Janmastami music to Radha-Govinda.
They are small but prominent in my heart.
We shall worship Saci‘s larger Deities in the temple.
I play music to spur me on in
praise of Them. It makes for lively
worship. The horn is rapid and
the rhythmic like the shenais of India
that play at Vedic ceremonies. Krsna
welcomes melodic accompaniment to His
pastimes and dancing apsaras on the
higher planets. I write from the earth
and use musicians of the modern era.
I am sincere in my desire to
present Radha-Krsna a poem from
my little life and scripture. May
all the devotees enjoy these sacred
holidays of Krsna‘s appearance and
“You are telling us. You are speaking to an audience. Telling us the terrain for future remembrance. Describe the house. Backyard. Rain all day when we arrived. Took rest by 6 P.M., head fatigued. It seems auspicious. Beginning of a retreat in earnest.
“Now, what else? I write, therefore I write. The words that drift to you like persimmons. (Does that indicate you want to read poems of Shiki, who liked persimmons? Haiku masters can teach you the essence of poetry, which is to observe the best moments.)
“Mister, absurd isn’t your style. Yellow pages. You’ve done it before. Don’t rev me up, though. I’m calm and limited, old physical frame. Can’t accelerate, but flow. Flow ink prose.
“Grand mountains I’ve seen. You are still fit for progressing, pushing on, therefore M. is working to get another van. I sometimes watch him and think, ‘Doesn’t he know that this is all dependent on whether I am physically (and mentally) fit to keep traveling?’ Yes, you have to take risks. That’s how we work in the world. I told Srila Prabhupada in 1974 that people in the U.S.A. were profoundly intimidated by the Bomb and thought life is not worth living, raising children to be incinerated, etc. He said we don’t stay home and cry because of the threat. We go on living. We also live to avert the disaster. Or we prepare ourselves to transcend any and all material upheavals. So, my writing is like that.
“Another viewpoint is that we need to render devotional service to Krsna. That’s our eternal dharma. Do it now and if tomorrow we are cut off, still we have to serve today. Yes, if we knew that today is our last full day, then we wouldn’t try to sell and purchase a van. But we don’t know the future.
“Centennial plans are fine. Someone will live to carry them out. One thousand and eight sacred waters to pour on His Divine Grace. All powers to them who do so, and fine also is Satsvarupa’s One Hundred Prabhupada Poems and his other book sales. The year to remember, and move on to 1997.
“1996 – the year we plan to get another van and use the tunnel from England to France. The year in which I intend to travel as usual, until stopped. And we may write many books.
“Karttika to develop your devotion. Don’t rev, but flow. Flaw.
“Flaw! Stop the process! I saw a flaw! Digression! Stop and get back on the track. No, Junior, that’s our method.
“Super stress. Steel girders holding up the building. In Ireland, they haven’t bothered to build a good road system, but they get by. Billboard: ‘The Big Irish Softie just got softer,’ shows a man with a cuddly, white kitten, an ad for tissues. I guess Irish Softie is also an expression that people here are aware of.
“A nation of fools. Hawks of America. Ship our van over by boat; not important cargo for them, just one empty Ford Econoline. Well, I better not be absorbed in this stuff so I can write a Karttika book.
“Karttika: a girl by that name plays electric guitar in a band called ‘Hanuman.’
“France, next year.
“Karttika in Europe, write what comes. Light candles.
“Car-tick (bad engine).
“Karttika in India, Vrindavan. Dumb fires. Mahanidhi Swami’s challenge to us, that you should live in Vrndavana. But the actual politics of ISKCON—the socializing the Centennial demands if I were to go to Vrndavana now.
“Krsna dons His hats.
“No sweets, it’s easy to do. But twenty rounds a day will be harder in this writing retreat. The importance of chanting.
“Don’t miss the opportunity to write and read the simple, in slippers you move about.
“Take the available opportunities.
“You need to concentrate and that means exclude. Don’t read many books or dabble in things like that just because you have free time. Your time is for Krsna. How best to serve Him.
“The song of Judea (or, for that matter, Egypt, Greece, American Indians, etc.) is not the song of Krsna in Vrndavana but only by extension-expansion is it also within Krsna consciousness. Why not stay in the magic circle for Karttika? You intend to stay mostly in this house and nearby grounds, yes? (They say better not to wear dhotis in rural Ireland, so M. and S. will wear Western clothes when they go to town. But I will be swami-priest in saffron.) So, why use the time except in pursuit of Krsna consciousness?
“Yes, but I may look at some writing books.
“You have no purpose yet. Winding down from travel. Adjusting to the new house and to Madhu’s declaration that all goods have to get out of the van and either go to India in a suitcase or into storage. So, I have to make decisions on all of my prized possessions. Let stuff go that has accumulated beyond what we need.
“Seek and ye shall find. I am not fit to touch the strap of his sandal, John said. I am a voice crying in the wilderness making straight the way of the Lord. It is the ‘perennially best-selling most popular story of a great saintly person as Savior.’ But when they claim he’s the only begotten son for all time, the only representative of God, we can’t accept that. We say he’s the only one for that time, place and people. If that is not acceptable to the Christians, then I’m sorry, but we are not one of them. Still, we can hear of and admire Christ. He’s ours, too. And mainly we want to hear the flute of Krishna. To achieve that takes a single-minded act of devotion for many lifetimes, vasudeva sarvam iti. Krsnas tu bhagavan svayam.
“Refer to Vedic literature.
“Here I am, flailing; no specific goal for the mind? The goal is to write and write more. But this morning so far
he’s an apple.
One thing at a time
he wanted greedy with an uncontrollable tongue. Before dawn is many hours nowadays.
“Learn to live in this house. It’s getting too warm.
“You learn what you need. It will take concentration but flow. You’d like to improve all the time, but you also will accept who you are now and what is happening. See that as beautiful.
“How to increase Vraja consciousness? You could read esoteric books. But just go ahead and say, ‘I will go to Vrndavana in the winter, in January, when it’s so cold because they have no heating in the houses.’ You could wear long-johns under the dhoti and layers of sweaters under a bundi, and a hat and gloves.
“Here’s a picture of Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami. Prabhupada is always in Vrndavana. In Vrndavana, he lectured against the scientists. It’s not that you have to talk of gopis to be in tune with Karttika in Vrndavana. Be Krsna conscious. Use, tell well. And best use is preaching. So, make yourself an all-around fit person, in a senior position (like it or not) to set a good, humble example in ISKCON.
“Think of Karttika like that.
“‘Mister, please take a book on Vedic science.’
“The best he could do at ten to two. He’s run out of steam.
“Remember, I haven’t written for long stretches in a long time. I’m just building up to it. I promise good times ahead.
“Geez, can’t you do better than that? And why show this to others? Listen, it’s all I could do. Accept it so that better can come with the beautiful picture you copied from it. At least I got to look at it carefully and admire the artistry and devotion, Gaudiya style. Your botch is your own self.
Now let’s go chant
whispered and louder
you’re in a safe place
Please go nicely and gentle but quickly recite
Hare Krsna mantra your master gave you,
you are authorized to chant.
Pray Lord, let me hear.
My tongue and ear are for that.
This opportunity now.”
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.
Read more »
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.