This is the 19th week of the Journal. On Vyasa-puja day I learned that many disciples don’t read it. In some cases they don’t know how to operate a computer, or they are too busy, or they never heard about it. An exiled devotee wrote me and said he appreciated the Journal, and I am satisfied with that.
I have finished dictating “thank you” letters to the disciples who wrote homages. All the guests have gone home, and we are down to a skeletal crew, with Baladeva covering all the services and Bala mostly recuperating from his operation. Yadunandana Swami is here editing his book on Narottama dasa Thakura and writing a diary. But today he is cooking Spanish tortillas.
I read in a newsmagazine that Russia is escalating its war against Ukraine. The story was something about Russia blocking a canal and not allowing Ukrainian ships safe passage. “Odessa” was mentioned as a place of conflict. Odessa is where my disciple Caitanya-candrodaya lives. I am writing to him asking if he is safe from Russian gunfire. I wrote him about a month ago asking if he could do the design and covers for a book I want to publish by early July–but I have received no response from him. He did a wonderful job on Viraha Bhavan Journal, which I just distributed on Vyasa-puja.
In our C.c. reading, we heard the branches of the Caitanya tree, which are innumerable and cannot all be mentioned. Next we heard the branches and sub-branches of Lord Nityananda. Now we are hearing the branches of Advaita Acarya and Gadadhara. In his purports, Prabhupada mentions how the descendants of these branch members were living at the time of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, and how some of these descendants are living even today. He tells where their places of residence are, and how some of them are in ruin or some are maintained in good management. Prabhupada writes how you can travel to these places, by “narrow-gauge railroad,” by “steamer,” etc. He tells how in the future there will be written accounts of devotees of Lord Caitanya. This is already going on to some extent. For example, I met with Satyaraja at the Vyasa-puja ceremony on December 1st.
He has already written biographies of Bhakti-Tirtha Maharaja, Brahmananda, and he is now working on the life of Jayapataka Maharaja. He is also writing about the thirteen ISKCON temples all within the city of New Delhi, managed under the direction of Gopal-Krsna Maharaja. ISKCON is certainly carrying the banner of Caitanya Mahaprabhu all over the world, and the credit is due to A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his followers.
Today is my birthday according to the Christian calendar. I was born December 6, 1939 at 5:30 P.M. in a hospital in Queens, New York. My disciple Radha-Ramana wrote me an homage in which he compared the names my parents gave me with the Sanskrit names Prabhupada gave me as his eternal servant. R.R. first examined my first name, Stephen. He said that Stephen was the first martyr in the early Church. The name means “crown” or honored one. R.R. said I am decorated with the ornaments of a sadhu: sadhu-bhusanam. For hari-nama diksa, Prabhupada gave me the name Satsvarupa dasa, which means “servant of the Truth personified.” For my surname, I was born into an Italian lineage. The name is Guarino. R.R. wrote that Guarino means “to guard” or protect. As a Prabhupada disciple, I am meant to guard and protect devotees on the bhakti-marga. I am glad that Srila Prabhupada changed my name from Stephen Guarino to Satsvarupa dasa, freeing me of material designations, such as family. The family name is finished with the end of the body, but the spiritual identity is eternal. This year, according to the lunar calendar, my birthday is December 21st, Moksada Ekadasi and Gita Jayanti. We thought this late date was too close to Christmas, when devotees have family obligations, and too far into winter, with the risk of a snowstorm. So we celebrated on a Saturday (a work holiday), December 1st–as close to my December 6th birthday as possible, and not so deep into winter.
I dreamt I was released from the Navy. I was eager to enjoy my freedom. I wanted to approach my parents and have a deep talk with them. I wanted them to financially support me so I could full-time pursue my vocation as a writer. I have many dreams with the same scenario. In actual life, I never asked my parents to support me. When I was discharged, I didn’t go to my family home, but I went straight to the Lower East Side and rented a slum apartment. I had several hundred dollars’ severance pay and didn’t have to work for a while. I had a thick, bound journal I had purchased in Italy, and I began writing diary notes to situate myself. I lived like an urban hermit. Occasionally I visited my ex-college friends (mostly to purchase marijuana and LSD), but mostly I kept to myself.
I don’t want to write more about that time in my life. I want to steer to Krsna. Fortunately after two years of loneliness and craziness, I noticed the little piece of paper taped to the window of 26 Second Avenue: Classes in Bhagavad-gita/M.W.F. 7:00 P.M. “Transcendental Sound Vibration”– and maybe the name, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, I can’t quite remember now. But I certainly remember going in and seeing the Swami and following his lead in singing Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare along with about ten young men. I kept coming to the meetings, and my life completely changed for the better. On off nights when there were no meetings, we went up to the Swami’s apartment and asked him questions and heard him speak. Gradually he began to recognize me and a relationship developed, as a student and teacher–disciple and spiritual master. “The spiritual master is receiving benediction from the ocean of mercy . . . . I offer my humble obeisances unto the lotus feet of such a spiritual master, who is an ocean of auspicious qualities.” (Sri Gurvastakam)
(In the mood of Satsvarupa dasa Brahmachary)
Swamiji, I’m with my new Godbrothers in ISKCON.
We all agree you are a “self-realized soul,”
although we don’t know exactly
what that means.
So we are going to ask you. I also want to ask you:
“What is Visnu?”
“How can I keep up a taste for Krsna consciousness?”
“How do you spell sanatan?”
“What is the difference between Brahma, Brahman and brahmana?”
“Should we take a cold shower?”
“What does my name mean?”
“When can we expect to become pure devotees, if ever?”
“How did the souls fall here? Where does it say so in scripture?”
“Can we read Bhaktivinoda Thakura?”
“What about The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna?”
“Should we remain brahmachary?”
Does it disturb you that we ask so many questions?
Like one night I told you some things
that I had read in a Gaudiya Math book
and asked you a few questions, and then you said,
“Go downstairs now and let me do my work.”
I’m sorry to pester you.
What I really want to know are things
I probably can’t know yet–
like the future, or advanced spiritual topics
and technical teachings too, like
“At the time of death, do we retain
consciousness into the next life?”
I think you answered that once
but I didn’t grasp it.
We have to wait for the answers, right?
Also, many of my questions get answered
during a time when you walk
from the side door of the storefront
up to the dais. I mean,
as soon as I see you, they are answered.
So mainly I have no questions except one
that I don’t even want to think of–
Will you stay with us?
Oh, and what about those four counter beads beside the 108?
Someone said every time we do sixteen rounds, we push one.
And are there more songs you could teach us?
“You cannot write. That is not possible.”
(Lecture by Srila Prabhupada on Bg. 1.20, 7/17/73)
It was a matter of fact that we were getting Krsna from the Swami. He conducted a school for Krsna consciousness at 26 Second Avenue. He gave regular lectures and gave us his books, although the subject matter was beyond academic understanding. The essence of this school was to associate with the pure devotee.
He gave us love of God, and we saw him practice love of God twenty-four hours a day. Even when the Swami was asleep, we could look through the window in the wall of his room and see him there. We got close to the sakti of his pure devotion and received his blessings. And despite our foolish ways, we understood the truth. We hung onto the pure gem that had come into our dirty lives–the gem of association with the Swami.
All religious cultures of the world advise you to receive God directly from the saint or pure devotee. If you didn’t meet a realized soul, then whatever you imbibe of religion is a bit academic, somewhat ritualistic, somewhat institutionalized, and definitely unrealized. Narottama dasa Thakura sings: “Whoever became liberated without the mercy of a Vaisnava?” Without the grace of the pure devotee, religion cannot become a major part of your life. It cannot enter your heart; it’s not so real. But when you meet a saint and when you are receptive to him, then everything changes. If you do menial service for the saint, then you receive God’s grace. In the case of Srila Prabhupada, the God-consciousness he was teaching was the most relishable, because the scriptures he taught from were “the most voluminous and exacting” science of God-consciousness due to the unbroken disciplic succession. From Swamiji we received the ultimate double treat of his all-valuable association and beginning the path of service to the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna.
We rejoiced in the fact that we were babies in spiritual life, learning everything from the beginning. We weren’t ashamed of it. Swamiji even compared sadhana-bhakti to a kindergarten. He said that just as the rambunctious youngsters are kept busy with constructive activities, so in bhakti-yoga we can engage all the senses and proclivities in the service of the Lord. In our spiritual kindergarten, we danced with our teacher and followed his lead in singing, while playing rhythm instruments. And he taught us like that, starting from the ABCs up to Radha-Krsna. Ever since he arrived, we were having a happy time.
By the time I met Prabhupada I had completed four years of college and had become somewhat crazy. I would only read books that held my attention and which I thought helped me in my writing, such as Naked Lunch, Howl, Death on the Installment Plan, A Thief’s Journal, and Last Exit Before Brooklyn. So where did the Swami’s Srimad-Bhagavatam fit in along with all these hip authors? In one sense, you might expect me to think, “This is some old-fashioned commentary on a religious book from India.” But I couldn’t reject it like that, even though it wasn’t written in the American fast-paced way. Just because it didn’t supply the gratification of jargon and speech didn’t mean I couldn’t look at it. So I made an exception to my usual policy to reject anything that didn’t move quickly in the most modern frame of reference. I had to slow down to read what the Swami had said. And I found that he was saying something that made me slow down. I calmed myself and started to appreciate without preconceptions. Besides, if I had any favoritism in religious reading, it was toward eastern religions, and so I liked that.
“Intelligent persons do cut off the interknot of the knot of reactionary work by remembrance of the Personality of Godhead; therefore, who will not give attention to this message?
“Purport: Contact of the spiritual spark living being with the material elements is the point of interknitting knot. . . . .”
(S.B. 1.2.15, verse and purport, 1962 edition)
After the squeaking of brakes and calming of mind, I tried to see what the Swami was saying in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Part One. There was nothing flashy in his mode of presentation. It was a book filled with misprints, from India. One could usually guess the intended meaning behind the misprints, such as when the book read, “The Supreme Lard . . .”, “One should surrender to the Lard . . . ” But there was something I liked about this, something attractive. I liked the physical object, the brick-colored book. And I began to like the misprints, “The Lard.” I transferred that in a harmless, dovetailing way into the Swami’s book. I thought, “This is far-out. This is mystical stuff! I’m going to get into this!” (As soon as my sister heard about it, she thought it was my usual syndrome of going too far into anything. “Oh no, Stevie,” she said, “not another trip.” I said, “Hey, no, this is good. I’m going to get into this!”) Reading Swamiji was true love, and it was a double treat–Krsna and the Swami. Sometimes Krsna would speak in the verse, and then Swamiji would speak in the purports. (Swamiji seemed to be speaking in the verses also.) You got Swamiji with all his personal traits, living with us, exotic and loveable–and Krsna, who is completely loveable, the all-attractive Personality of Godhead with His cows and friends in Vrndavana. They’re always together, Swamiji and Krsna.
I read the Bhagavatam from the beginning as he advised, but sometimes I would reach into it at random. I kept the book with me at work, in a left-hand lower drawer. To the left of my desk was our supervisor’s desk, then to my right were my coworkers like Miss Fennel, and a stocky, blond-haired man who the other workers called “Creeping Jesus.” Even though my supervisor was nearby, he couldn’t see over the deep drawer. So I would open the drawer, open the book, read a little and then close it. One phrase really struck me. Swamiji wrote that there are many realistic obstacles on the path of devotional service. I thought, “He knows. Swami and the sages know that there are many obstacles, and they are realistic about it. They know what we are going through.” By reading a few moments at the office and more at my apartment, I quickly (and superficially) went through the first volume. Then I started to read it again. There were things in the book that Swamiji wasn’t lecturing on. So by reading you gained supplementary knowledge to what you had heard in the classes? But in the beginning, hearing in classes was more impressive. It’s clear to me that if I had never met Swamiji, I don’t think there’s any way I could have become a devotee just by reading the book. The book was valuable because it was something of the Swami’s. But along with the book there was Swamiji himself–Swamiji in the kirtanas, Swamiji in his room. Now, since his disappearance, the book is of major importance, and we sometimes think it’s all we have. And there’s plenty in the book. But at least at my first reading, I could not read deeply. Nevertheless, I was soon attached to his book, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and I didn’t want any other books. Just as before, when I wouldn’t read any books except hip literature, now I didn’t want any books but Krsna’s.
Laura read in my book that I chant twelve rounds silently and four rounds vocally. I admitted to her that Prabhupada instructed us to chant loud enough so that we can hear it. Whenever I say that I chant silently, I usually add that if I chant out loud it provokes a headache. I don’t chant silently because I think it’s better; I do it with a sense of “handicapped” japa. But I’m able to do it with pretty decent attention to the holy names.
I’m writing this with a beginning sense of strain in my neck and head. I place the legal pad in my lap, and my neck is in an awkward position. We are trying to arrange something better, a little “desk” for my lap. It seems impossible to be completely comfortable in this body.
Shruti Singh just wrote me that she found a suitable Gujarati nanny for her two-month-old girl twins. Shruti said that the best thing about the nanny is that she greets the twins in the morning by calling out, “Govinda! Govinda! Radhe! Radhe!” and then the babies smile back at her. On the same day I received an email from Shruti’s younger sister, Manjari. She attended the Vyasa-puja ceremony along with her father, and she expressed her happiness at being able to associate with many devotees. I am closely bonded with all the members of the Singh family.
A new devotee has been sending me his poems. He says that he has low self-esteem and that he needs appreciation. I told him that he should not crave appreciation but make poems from the love of writing. (This reminded me of the relationship I had with the editor of the haiku magazine, Wind Chimes. He printed several of my devotional haikus in different editions of Wind Chimes. Then I wrote to him and asked how to deal with the Big Silence; that is, the fact that I never heard from the readers of my poems. He wrote back and said don’t expect to get any response to my haikus. People may read them and even enjoy them, but they are very busy and don’t find time to write letters of appreciation to authors. He went on to say I should find myself rewarded by the love of writing and be satisfied with that. I took his advice seriously.)
Now the new devotee/poet–let’s call him Aristaha–has written to me and asked if creative writing can be used as therapy. He listens to recordings of hypnotherapists every day who tell him not to place demands on himself which he doesn’t fulfill, but accept yourself as you are, “a really valuable entity.”
I will suggest to Aristaha not to write as therapy, as a psychiatrist might direct him to do. Writing is therapy, but it should not be used “to block negative thoughts,” or to “free oneself from unconscious desires.” Poems should celebrate life. Aristaha is a devotee of Krsna, so he can express his devotional service in aspiration to love the Supreme Personality of Godhead and all living entities. Prabhupada has stated that one should write to purify oneself: “It may be published or not.” But a devotee will find all his desires fulfilled if he or she just writes to purify oneself.
I have written two emails to Caitanya-candrodaya requesting him to do the design and covers of my POEMS book which I want to publish for the mid-year disciples meeting (early July), but I have not received a reply from CC. He is living in Odessa, which is in a war zone in Russia’s escalation of war against Ukraine. I hope he has received my emails and that he is safe. CC is very clever, and I don’t think he will stay in a place where there is Russian gunfire. But I am in anxiety over not hearing from him. I am dependent on him doing the work on the poetry book. He did such a great job on Viraha Bhavan Journal, which I distributed on my Vyasa-puja day.
I advised Aristaha not to use his poetry as therapy to solve his personal problems (as he is inclined to do). He is an aspiring devotee, so he can celebrate his relationship with Krsna and the devotees. But since he is a student of poetry, I recommended he read William Carlos Williams. Williams doesn’t use his poetry as a therapeutic tool. He writes poems about flowers, about the people he sees on the streets, and even about his patients as a medical doctor. He observes the world and writes in the American vernacular. I think he will be helpful to Aristaha.
Here are two poems by William Carlos Williams:
Among the rain
I saw the figure 5
on a red fire truck
to gong clangs
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city.
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
We are reading of Lord Caitanya’s childhood pastimes. Nilambara Cakravarti came to see the child, and he revealed that Nimai had all the thirty-two symptoms on His body that proved He was a great person. Yet He played with His friends like an ordinary boy. He was very mischievous. He would go down to the Ganges as the girls His age were making offerings to Lord Siva and praying to get a good husband. Nimai used to steal the girls’ offerings and eat them, or put the flower garlands around His own neck. He told them, “Lord Siva is My servant. If you worship Me, I will give you handsome, rich husbands who will give you ten sons.” The girls were angry with Nimai, but at the same time they were attracted to Him and His offered benedictions. When the girls did not heed Him and they ran away, Nimai called after them, “You will marry an old man as your husband, and you will have four co-wives!” Hearing this, the girls became frightened. They thought maybe Nimai knew something special and maybe He was empowered. Fearing the curse, they returned and sat beside Him, hoping to receive the favorable benedictions.
His naughty activities were carried out by entering the homes of others and stealing their butter and yogurt. Even at home, Nimai was restless and destructive. He would break all the pots and the doors. Then He would approach His mother and give her a quantity of gold. Saci was doubtful about the gold and took it to dealers to find out if it was authentic. When they assured her, Saci spent the gold to repair the house, and life went on as usual. He was certainly an extraordinary transcendental son.
One time His father, Jagannatha Misra, rebuked his son for His misbehavior. That night in a dream, a brahmana appeared to Jagannatha Misra and chastised him for rebuking Nimai. The brahmana said, “You do not know the exalted nature of your son; He does not need to receive lessons in morality from you.” But Jagannatha Misra remained fixed in his parental rasa. He told the brahmana, “Even if my son is Narayana, it is my duty as His father to correct His behavior.”