Krsna-bhajana and Satyasara dasi (who are both here for two weeks at Viraha Bhavan) are working at a marathon pace typing essays I wrote many years ago, and they’re compiling them into three books. Some of the essays are from Back to Godhead magazine, such as “Notes from the Editor.” Some of the essays are from a periodical I produced in the 1990s, Among Friends. They are working against a heavy deadline because the BBT permission to use materials from Back to Godhead is granted until January 16, by which time we have to have published a book. Now there is a lot of proofreading and adding of diacritics. I have had to read the essays and record the introductions to three books.
Here is the Introduction to the collection of essays, “Notes from the Editor,” composed November 4th, 2022:
“I found the essays not outdated or immature. Indeed I found them relevant, and the debates were also up to date. The essays reminded me of a title I gave to a collection of travel writings, Passing Places, Eternal Truths. Here, “passing places,” are the voices of politicians, people who commit the four sinful activities (illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating and gambling), etc. And the “eternal truths” are the verses from the Bhagavad-gita and the teachings of my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Topics include antiwar protests, relationships between India and America, solving a food shortage, the philosophy of humanism, an article titled ‘How to Tell the Difference Between the Cheaters and the Teachers,’ an article called ‘Healer, Come Heal Thyself,’ and many others.”
I wrote the introduction on November 4th, 2022.
The book team has successfully published eight more books to be presented on my Vyasa-puja day, December 3. I have to pick out excerpts from the books to read them as part of my lecture for that day. I congratulate the book team, which is made up of Krsna-bhajana, Lal Krishna, Satyasara dasi, John Endler and proofreaders and typists spread all over the world. They’re giving me hope that my request that all my books be put back in print before I leave may actually happen. They are working so hard to please me. Just today I had to proofread two new books of essays, and tomorrow I’ll have to read a new manuscript, which is about five hundred pages. It’s making my eyes sore from reading so many manuscript pages, but I want to support Krsna-bhajana and Satyasara for the wonderful effort that they’re making.
After Lord Caitanya defeated Prakasananda Sarasvati by establishing the direct meaning of the Vedanta-sutra, Prakasananda Sarasvati and his disciples surrendered to Lord Caitanya. They joined Him in chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. Then Lord Caitanya gave last instructions to Prakasananda Sarasvati. He told him to always read the Srimad-Bhagavatam and then he would be able to understand the Vedanta-sutra, always discuss Srimad-Bhagavatam and chant the holy name of the Lord. “In this way you’ll be able to attain liberation very easily and you will be elevated to the enjoyment of love of Godhead.”
Then Lord Caitanya was asked to again explain the meanings of the atmarama verse. He did this, and this time He explained it in sixty-one ways. “Everyone there was struck with wonder, and they concluded that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was none other than Lord Krsna Himself.” When He was about to leave, all the people of Varanasi began chanting the Hare Krsna mantra in ecstatic love. “Sometimes they laughed, sometimes they cried, sometimes they chanted and sometimes they danced. Thus He turned the city of Varanasi into another Navadvipa.”
Among His confidential associates in Benares, Lord Caitanya laughingly said, “I came here to sell My emotional ecstatic love. Although I came to Varanasi to sell My goods, there were no customers. It appeared necessary for Me to carry them back to My own country. All of you are feeling unhappy that no one is purchasing My goods and I would have to carry them away. Therefore by your will only, I have distributed them without charging.” (Cc. Madhya 25.153, 163, 165, 167, 168-70)
I read to him from the introduction to a book we’re compiling of essays I wrote in Back to Godhead. All the essays were under the heading of “Notes from the Editor.” One of the essays was called, “The Philosophy of Humanism,” and this caught John’s interest. He said there was a lot of talk of humanism in his college days, and also in the Christian church, there is a lot of what he called “flirtation” with impersonalism and humanism. In humanism they say, “Man is the measure of all things.” they say “A great man or woman is more wonderful than the theological concept of God.” Humans like Socrates and Shakespeare, Mozart, and other stars in the filament are the real worshipable beings, and not some theoretical concept manufactured in theology as God. The humanists, however, can’t tell us where the great humans come from or who created them. There is a great creator behind all the great human beings who have come and made their temporary contribution to the world. John read to me from my books where I have championed personalism against impersonalism. That was the “theme” of his own conversation with me for this week.
Lalita-kisori has been helping out around the ashram lately. She’s visiting a friend across the street for several weeks. So we have the advantage of a good helper. She helps in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. She helps in the Deity department doing beading and necklaces for Gaura-Nitai. She goes and does shopping and the milk run. She helps picking flowers for the altar. With the fall cleanup, she’s been working with Baladeva raking leaves and bagging them to be sent away with the garbageman. She also helps distribute any leftover prasadam to the neighbor-devotees. We are grateful for her assistance and glad to see her when she’s able to come.
Baladeva has a habit of putting his unopened mail and not tending to it. In November he became aware that he had many things in that box that were time-sensitive and needed to be taken care of. Lalita=kisora is an expert bookkeeper, so she volunteered to go through the box and help organize it. She found things going back to April 2022 that hadn’t been opened. One of them was a tax document which had to be signed and sent back to the IRS by May 2022. Another thing was a letter calling him for jury duty. This notice said that if the person didn’t respond he’d be given a fine and jail time. Jury service is mandatory unless you fill out the paperwork for release. He also found that his driver license had expired. As well as other time-sensitive documents that will have worked on tomorrow. Secretarial work is not one of Baladeva’s strong points.
Anuradha dasi returned from Oxford, England. She had been away for four months. She’s here on a three month visa. I asked her while she is here, does she have any duties she has to do for the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies? She said no, she can completely devote herself while she’s here to Viraha Bhavan services. She is very competent, and we’re all glad she’s back. We talked about the long delay in getting her and Silavati dasi here as religious ministers with long-term visas, and how we just have to be patient and work with our lawyer and the U.S. Immigration department. For starters, we’re asking her to clean the basement completely after the construction workers [replaced our heating system], then put everything back in an orderly way. There’s a lot more space in the basement now because the furnace has been removed, and the new propane unit is half the size of the old. We also had to dismantle the art studio, which took up a third of the basement. Now that’s all gone. It’s not likely I’ll be painting again—it’s too difficult to get down there for me.
Anuradha described how easy it was coming into the United States. She said the man at immigration asked her why she was coming, and she said, “The same old thing. I’m going to serve my spiritual master in the ashram.” The man said, “No problem,” and let her in.
Last night the temperature went down to 28°F outside. Our new thermostat came on for the first time since the installation and blew a fuse due to faulty wiring. When we woke up, the house was cold and getting colder. Baladeva phoned the emergency repair service for the energy company that installed the furnace. Over the phone, for an hour and a half, he had Baladeva checking different wiring diagrams and different procedures to try to isolate the problem, so he would be saved from having to come out here, driving an hour. The emergency man made notes on his computer and passed it on to the next shift so that they had the proper fuses and a new thermostat. The man came out at 10:10 A.M., just as we were leaving to go to a dentist appointment. Baladeva showed the repairman the burnt fuse and where the thermostat was, and then we had to leave for the dentist and leave him to work it out. It was faulty wiring in the thermostat that blew the fuse, and while we were at the dentist, he replaced the thermostat.
At the dentist I received new hardware for my loose dentures, and they seemed to fit all right (they don’t hurt anymore).
Baladeva and I were working ou our weekly Journal, looking for rabbits, when we were interrupted by the phone ringing. Baladeva picked it up, and the voice at the other end said, “Is this Charles?” Then they said another sentence, that they were representing the New York State Police Fund. They were calling to ask help for police families in need. The voice said they were not connected to any political organization and they were not tax exempt. But they didn’t say what they were. It was quite suspicious, and based on the history of telemarketing scams that are always going on, and Baladeva recognized the voice from three previous calls and the phone number on the caller ID. So B. didn’t spend any time but just hung up. It’s irritating. They call at all different times of the day. They’re preying on senior citizens and slow people, and they’re obviously making money. There are also scams on the computer where you can get locked out and not be able to use your computer unless that you call their “technician.” They say for a fee they’ll turn your computer back on. Usually it’ll go away if you don’t use your computer for a day. Somehow or other they are able to lock you out and demand money. It’s a form of blackmail, the modern form of cheaters and cheated (if you fall for it).
We have put new snow tires on our cars in preparation for the winter. The main danger is other drivers who are not familiar with controlling the car in ice and snow. It’s better in a storm to just stay home. But for an emergency you have to have the car dug out and proper tires and a driver who knows what he’s doing.
Guru dasa has been doing the master of ceremonies for the out-loud reading group at 7:30 in the morning and 1:00 P.M. But he’s leaving for India on November 8th and won’t be back until the end of November. So I told him I don’t think he should try to attempt it while he’s in India. He has agreed to that, and I suggested that Haridasa dasa from Maryland can do the service in his place. But so far I haven’t been able to get in touch with Haridasa. So I’m waiting to hear from him whether he can volunteer to do the service. If Haridasa can’t do it, we’ll have to get someone else.
Guru dasa left today for India. He appeared just before he left at our out-loud reading at lunchtime. I wished him a safe journey. I told him to make his main priority while he’s in India the typing of my Journals. He should also purify himself in the holy dhama and take advantage of the association of devotees. He’s first going to the Bhaktivedanta Hospital in Mumbai. I told him not to take it as a casual checkup, but see if they can help him with some serious health issues that he’s dealing with. He hopes to stay connected with us through typing, and even appear sometimes on the out-loud reading by Zoom. He’ll be gone for a month, and I’ll miss him.
“O Srila Prabhupada, who pushed his disciples to work hard and who said, “this is guru-krpa” (guru’s mercy);
“O Prabhupada, who consoled his disciples when they became overwrought with work and worry, who assured them that he was not interested in results like money, buildings, and recruited members, but in practical engagement for his devotees, and who assured them that they should never be disturbed or lose their spiritual status, and who promised his followers that Sri Krsna had a special plan for them and would never allow them to suffer;
“O Prabhupada, whose instructions are quoted to disprove one view in favor of another at political meetings or ‘position papers,’ but whose truth can be arrived at best when we read not just to support a particular point of view, but to find the truth which is there.”
“O Srila Prabhupada, isn’t it true that you left your followers so that they could find themselves as disciples and discover for themselves how to cooperate without
simply leaning on you?
“O Prabhupada—but your followers need you! Mayadevi has scattered so many of them!
“Prabhupada, please bring them together in your institution, or make it known how they should proceed now in a different way but within the way of pure devotional service;
“O Prabhupada, is it true that you are always returning to your beloved followers, through your instructions in life and death, in the next life also and in the hearts and souls of everyone according to their devotion to you and their attainment of Krsna consciousness?
“O Prabhupada, it is not possible for your men and women to become strong all alone: please continue to stay with them and they clear the forms of sat-sanga that they can share and where they may go to find you.”
“O Prabhupada, who dances and chants Hare Krsna kirtana within the memories of his devotees, especially when they qualify for pure remembrance of those moments;
“O Prabhupada, who walked among us patiently giving his humbly composed yet exalted Bhaktivedanta purports; except when he traveled overnight or when his transcendental anxiety for his disciples and his movement grew too great to concentrate on a verse and purport, and even at those times who is agonizing and experiencing things which he would later share in his purports;
“O Prabhupada, who said, “In the beginning I could not understand what my spiritual master was speaking, but I wanted to hear him.” And who advised his own followers, “We should read and read again, and simply that vibration will help us. . . That will make us advanced, even if we do not understand everything.”
“O Prabhupada, whose pastimes and mission continue in this world, even though he has gone to rejoin the nitya-lila-pravista (eternal lila) of Lord Krsna;
“O Prabhupada, who lives on in this world and inspires new followers to distribute his books;
“O Srila Prabhupada, who continues to chant japa with his followers, and who continues to speak with his own style of delivery in Srimad-Bhagavatam lectures for future generations, may they carefully listen and understand you;
“O Srila Prabhupada, who always declaimed against demons, just as Sri Krsna did, who attacked the Mayavadis because Krsna wanted that, and who attacked karmis with the words of Krsna such as ‘mudha,’ ‘asses and cows,’ ‘no better than cats and dogs’;
“O Prabhupada, who said that out of the nine types of devotional service (beginning with sravanam kirtanam) one can practice a few of them or even one and still attain complete perfection in Krsna consciousness.”
“O Prabhupada, who wanted restaurants managed by devotees, college professors as devotees, politicians as devotees, artists as devotees, mothers and fathers as devotees, fighters and peacemakers, all as devotees, and who encouraged everyone according to their own inclination and inspiration, as long as they submit to Vaisnava behavior;
“O Prabhupada, who said, ‘I shall request even the drunkards to think of Krsna when they drink wine, because Krsna says He is the taste of liquid!
“O Prabhupada, who did the impossible to spread Lord Caitanya’s movement, but who sometimes felt overwhelmed by all the letters and complaints and fighting among devotees, and who then said, “What can be done?”
“O Prabhupada, who ordinary men misunderstand just as they cannot understand Krsna’s stealing butter or His dancing with the gopis;”
“O Prabhupada, who printed the first volume of Srimad-Bhagavatam with printing and grammar and spelling mistakes, who said he had to get it done somehow or other, just as a man cries out in any language to save people inside a burning house;
“O Prabhupada, who printed his first books despite errors and Indian misprinting, but who later insisted that not a single mistake should be made in the republishing of his books, and who, when he was asked by disciples whether they could also make mistakes in the translations of his books, replied, ‘You first spread the Krsna consciousness movement all over the world as I did, then you can do everything I did, such as print with mistakes,’ and who therefore ordered that no one should print his books with mistakes.”
“While attending the Janmastami festival at the ISKCON farm in Czechoslovakia, I was asked to give a lecture about the appearance of Lord Krsna. Afterward, I asked for questions, and an elderly, red-haired lady raised her hand. Since almost all the devotees here speak only Czech, I was surprised when she began to speak in English. She said, ‘Satsvarupa Goswami, could you tell us something about Prabhupada, because you knew him very well?’
“I started out by remembering Janmastami 1966 in the storefront. ‘The room we are in now reminds me of that storefront,’ I said. ‘It was about the same size. 1966 was the first year Prabhupada observed Janmastami in America. In 1965, he left India and observed Janmastami at sea a few days later. By 1966, ISKCON had just begun. So he asked the devotees to stay all day in the storefront and fast.
“‘His request seemed like a very difficult proposal. Some of us expressed doubt that we could do it, so Swamiji said, “If you get hungry or weak in the afternoon, you can take some fruit from our refrigerator.”
“‘When he said that, it gave us some hope, because it seemed almost impossible that a living being could go all day without eating. He wanted us to try for it, and yet it was not such a hard and fast rule, that we had to do it or die.
“‘Fasting was one problem, and another problem was what to do all day? How to control the mind? When Prabhupada stayed with us in the storefront, reading his manuscript from the Bhagavad-gita, then it was very enjoyable. But whenever he left us alone, our consciousness and conversation dropped way down. We began to complain, “I don’t think I can do this. How does he expect us to stay like this all day? This is like being in prison, you can’t even leave the temple.”
“‘Even while Prabhupada was present, one of the disciples who was later to be initiated as Janaki dasi said, “Swamiji, I am sorry but I have to leave. I have to go home and feed my cats.” Swamiji said, “No, do not do it. Stay here and you can take care of them later.” Janaki thought about it but then said, “I’m sorry, I have to go and take care of them.”
“‘The rest of us reluctantly surrendered and stayed there for a whole day, which very slowly turned into afternoon, and night. We sat against the wall drowsily and weakly, trying to chant on our new red beads.’”
“I’ve mostly been searching for my personal preaching program, but as GBC, sannyasi, and soon, initiating guru, my preaching is also to set up others in programs I would like to see. Send them where I would like to go but can’t go personally.
“The college recruiting a month at a time is always attrac tive. A leader like Mahabuddhi could go with a man or two who could work with him. I could visit such places periodically; the whole team together in some prime location like N.C., etc. Anyway, I should think like that, how men could preach under my direction. I would have to give real direction, however, not just ‘go out there.’
“I mentioned this, ‘Let me preach in different college towns by your going there and preaching’ to three members of the library party and they liked the idea, but they insisted that I get behind it, really into it, etc. Not that I had to always travel there personally, but give whatever support I can. I have no manpower or money at present, nor did I wish to subsidize it. They’d simply go there under my authority and preach and collect enough to support themselves and be in regular contact with me. Moreover, they would carry out a program whose outline I would give them. It would be: get an apartment, go on campus or into town, and chant for at least an hour a day. Give out fruit or prasadam at a table on campus, invite people to a Sunday feast and/ or cooking class, and do an hour door to door at night. Try to get people into chanting and reading and offering prasada and make full-fledged devotees. Try to get people meeting on a weekly Sunday basis. Speak on radio, at clubs, and at school engagements.
“Three men should go to each center, or two, and do not make an easy-going life. Try all ways to spread Krsna consciousness. They don’t have to be attached to the results but should endeavor exhaustively. Cook and distribute prasadam, make a nice apartment to welcome guests. Go out and preach and chant and do door to door and whatever. Try to penetrate the university to have a club there, etc.
“If they will assist me in this program, it will be good for us and for the conditioned souls as well.”
“All the devotees who became attracted to Swamiji held him in the highest awe and reverence. I remember informal talks among devotees in the cellar of our Boston storefront. We would share things that we had heard the Swami say to us; we repeated them faithfully as a way of worship. We never thought of him as an ordinary person. And thus in a spontaneous way, we followed the Vedic axiom that the guru is perfect. We were satisfied that Prabhupada tallied, in all respects with the definition of a pure Vaisnava.
“But I remember one day in New York, Raya-rama told me, ‘Hayagriva and I are close because we both have a very strong intellectual honesty.’ I asked Rayarama what he meant by that and he said that an honest person never denies the truth that occurs to him from his own senses and intelligence. If scriptures are against what one thinks and feels in his conscience, he still has to give credence to his own understanding. Rayarama saw this as a heroic stance, whereas following the scriptures was prone to dogmatism.
“His philosophy didn’t sound right, and so I said, ‘But in relation to Krsna and the Swami, I thought the whole point was that we have to give up our own convictions and accept the higher truth.’ On that occasion, I defended the process of hearing from authority. But I was naive in thinking that I myself had become completely free of all my cultural conditioning or that I had now become a full-fledged Vaisnava who could perceive his guru with perfect submission. I assumed too quickly a victory over the old self.
“It’s a fact that we do have to come to grips with intellectual honesty and not just accept things blindly. We also have to defeat the notion of intellectual honesty when it comes in direct conflict with brahma-sabda. We also have to face religious hypocrisy when it occurs within ourselves or within others and in the movement. All these things can be cleared up. As Krsna says, we have to arm ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and slash the doubts. When we are victorious we can look with childlike purity upon the Lord and His pure devotee.”
“Today I feel a limit to this question-and-answer process. Let’s walk together and chant. If you have something to say, go ahead and speak, but not until we have chanted for at least half an hour or so. And if what you say takes the form of a question, don’t mind if I just reply in a syllable or nod my head to indicate that I’m listening.
“But here’s one question I am willing to field. It’s from Atmanandi dasi. ‘I was wondering, if a devotee has taste for some devotional activity—Deity worship, gardening, writing, reading, preaching— and they do this with great enthusiasm, but chant their rounds only as duty, how should this be considered?’
“We shouldn’t indulge ourselves. It’s good to go with our enthusiasm, and in terms of hours spent per day, it’s obvious that we will give the greatest ratio to that which we love, which is our vocation. But chanting is the bedrock of devotional life. We have to know that. We should be wary of ‘marathons’ in which we go all out in our vocational projects and deliberately neglect our chanting. Our chanting is the most direct method for serving Krsna and attaining God consciousness. It’s what will save us at the time of death. Even now, although we may not be aware of it, it’s only because we have a chanting life that we are able to be enthusiastic in our other services. Because we sometimes chant with the prayer, ‘O Lord, O energy of the Lord, Please engage me in Your service,’ Krsna is therefore giving us things we like to do.
“Anyway, why shouldn’t we like chanting? Let’s not leave chanting in the category of a neglected child. I can’t think of anything more pleasant and spiritual to do than to take a walk just before dawn and to chant the holy names. I may fail to enter the potential of that rendezvous with the holy name, but I can’t fail to understand the holy name’s mercy. Just because I have a lot of work to do, I’m not going to forget my japa before the altar and—if I’m lucky enough to be in the right time and place—my morning japa walk. We who are workaholics, and who mostly associate with others who are similarly immersed in a vocation, might try to get association with devotees who have made chanting the purpose of their lives. Take a walk with one of them, or sit beside them in the temple room while you chant. Don’t neglect it. That’s my humble advice on a drizzly morning, advice I give to myself as well as others.”
“I was with Prabhupada as his secretary for two weeks in Bhuvanesvara. We were far away from any big group of devotees, so those who were with Prabhupada at this remote outpost were able to get his association frequently and personally. For morning walks, we went through the park. Prabhupada stopped to look at the flowers and said, ‘How can they say there is no God?’ We went through a zoo once, but mainly we walked in the park. The ground was unpaved, and the weather was warm, although it was January. Prabhupada looked beautiful in his saffron. He was beginning to have that illness which was an indication of his last days with us, and this was his last year. He was, nevertheless, in full spirits and alert consciousness. The illness hampered him only because he could not travel as much or do all the things he wanted to do.
“On one walk, Prabhupada was scoffing at the theory of chance as a basis for life and creation. Bhagavata dasa said, ‘Actually, Isaac Newton disproved that theory of chance.’ Hari-sauri mentioned a book that he had read, Life Has No Meaning. Prabhupada responded with a mere, ‘Humph.’
“Then Prabhupada said, ‘Does that mean life has no meaning, but the rascal’s words in the book do have meaning?’
“I took this as a cue to enter with some of my pet intellectual attachments.
‘Life has no meaning, but we have to give it meaning.’ I was trying to present the case of the atheist existentialists to Prabhupada. It was not that long ago that I was reading those books and believing in them. I was not presenting their case as something I though unimportant; it was something within my own psyche.
“I said, ‘That is the glory of man: he finds the meaning. He gives the meaning to the meaningless.’ When I said that, I felt a twinge of pride at my eloquence. I even thought that the other devotees could not really appreciate me because I was so intellectual and eloquent. I was not like others who might give Prabhupada crude, distorted things to think about—I was giving him some straight existentialism, relevant to the times in which Prabhupada was living.
“Prabhupada was not impressed with me though. He did not respond. Some of the other devotees repeated their lines about a book called Life Has No Meaning and how it had won the Nobel Prize.
“I spoke out again. This was unusual for me, but since there were so few of us on the walk, and since the devotees who were present were not heavy competitors, I felt more inclined to step forward and speak on behalf of the existentialists.
“I said, ‘They say you have to face up to that uncertainty of no meaning, and just live your life without taking meaning from the sastra.’
“‘Simply take from him,’ Prabhupada responded.
“‘Each person has to find within himself the meaning,’ I said. Existential atheism was usually the furthest thing from my mind. I was faithfully engaged in duties as Prabhupada’s secretary, typing his letters, massaging him, but now all these old attachments started bubbling up. Rather than be silenced by Prabhupada’s first rebukes, I persisted.
“‘Then why you are distributing the meaning?’ Prabhupada asked. This was his usual method, to address the person he was talking to by forcing him to identify with the person he was presenting. I was willing to play the role.
“‘Why are you anxious to give some meaning?’ Prabhupada repeated. With this remark, Prabhupada exposed the motivation of the preachers of ‘no meaning.’ If they believed in what they said, they should let people live their own lives without coming to take the Nobel Prize for being spokesman. This silenced me, and I fell into saying, ‘Ummm.’ Was it true that the ‘no meaning’ philosophers had such a low motivation? Prabhupada said that they simply should not speak.”
“After performing Prabhupada meditations for an uninterrupted month in the solitude at Saranagati, I resumed the normal duties of an ISKCON san-nyasi, traveling, preaching and mixing with devotees. But since I did not want to entirely abandon the regular practice of thinking of and writing about Prabhupada, I attempted to do it in the midst of a busy schedule. More often, I noticed that I was not doing it.
“On the first day that I returned to the city, I spent a few hours with a Godbrother. We took lunch together and drove in a car to several places. During the whole time neither of us talked about Prabhupada specifically, although everything we said was concerning devotional service and the Krsna consciousness mission. Only after we finished meeting did I note that we had not talked about Prabhupada personally. It occurred to me that this is generally the way one does things. I am not sure whether it is right or wrong. I know that to be actively absorbed in service to Prabhupada is pleasing to him. And so my doubt is not simply, ‘Why did not we think more about Prabhupada?’ but, ‘Should we think of him?’ My tendency in Prabhupada Meditations is to make thinking of him a deliberate, important service. But someone might say that this is taking time away from more important work to be done on his behalf.
“As I have written before in this book, it is certainly not wrong to want to think more of Prabhupada as a person and to reminisce back to the old days. There is a special taste in this that enlivens all devotees. By remembering Prabhupada we can break through the doldrums.
“When you don’t have time to sit and meditate, you try to catch a Prabhupdda meditation on the run. Sometimes it comes without your asking for it. It is just a matter of noticing, ‘Oh! I just had a Prabhupada meditation.’ Sometimes stressful or hurried situations enable you to see things you would not be able to see if you sat down in the most ideal circumstances for meditation. If you are alert, you will find lots of interesting moments happening. There’s an interesting word to describe this—serendipity—which the dictionary defines as, ‘The faculty to make fortunate discoveries by accident.’”
The lower depths of Manhattan
became his morning walking grounds.
Bums sleeping on his doorstep moved aside
as he stepped into the infamous streets.
To his refined taste,
every feature of the Bowery was repulsive.
The drunkard residents, the cold weather,
the lack of tropical fruits, the faces of atheists,
the constant rumble of trucks,
the blaring sinful life, the absence of Vaisnavas,
a roommate whom he soon found chemically hallucinating—
almost every feature
meant inconvenience and repulsion.
But Prabhupada smiled, enlivened.
Where should he have gone instead, some estate
in the hills far away from this madness?
The city was the ideal place
by the awful fact
that more tortured souls
and he had come to administer to them.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had once refused
a piece of land too far from teeming Bombay.
After 6 months of trying, Prabhupada had now begun
to gather listeners. Talking about Krsna,
he was blissful
in New York City.
Preaching here required being completely free—
not a pinch of desire.
It took willingness and satisfaction
to manage everything on his own
cooking and offering food to Him,
and being satisfied in devotion.
To transform the Bowery into Vaikuntha
took the sweet realization of service in separation,
assurance in living only for His Holy Name.
He would go down and sit on a bench
by the East River under the Brooklyn Bridge
and think again about returning to India,
‘Just a little longer,’ he would say to himself.
‘Let me see what Krsna desires.’
Three nights weekly he was holding tartan;
sometimes the room was almost filled.
It was becoming a city-happening,
to gather in the Swami’s loft
and hear the brass cymbals and watch him
lead chanting, hear him speak Bhagavad-gita,
adjuring them to take the truth of the soul.
He would hold his audience a few hours
and then talk with whomever stayed late.
Like restless children they would disperse—
no one sensed the need
“This is reporting a happy day. Several days a week I would have dark days with headaches. Sometimes after getting all the way to the end, one would come on and ruin my fun. But here I am reporting a bright moment.
“King Rahugana argued that the living entity is within the body, and that when the body is fatigued the living entity within must be suffering. But Jada Bharata says, no, “The living entity has nothing to do with bodily pain and pleasure. These are simply mental concoctions.” (Bhag. 5.12.5-6, purport) But simply reading or hearing these statements from a self-realized soul doesn’t make one self-realized. Jada Bharata was not troubled by carrying the palanquin or even when he was about to be killed by the dacoits’ chopper, but why are we astounded and admire his position, how can we assume the same? I plead weakness and inability.
“But I keep what he says in mind. Surely I can practice some form of tolerance, if only to test myself. I, the soul, just as the Supersoul, am always apart from the bodily pain. This, however, is not a mantra to be used as a painkiller, a self-hypnotic anesthesia. I don’t quite know what it is, but I honor it and believe it is a statement of the Absolute Truth.
“Dr. Kane told about visualizations. You can visualize your pain as an unpleasant metaphor, and then change it into a pleasant metaphor. In this way the pain was supposed to go away, but they never worked for me. Jada Bharata is so uncompromising; he doesn’t teach mental meditations but realization of the Absolute Truth. And he doesn’t accept Maharaja Rahugana’s compromising explanations that the soul is affected when the body is affected. He says these are all illusory things. His standard was beyond my attainment, but I was always inspired to read it. I believe such persons exist. Krsnadasa Kaviraja says that he is very old and that he is afflicted with many diseases, and he cannot even hold his hands properly, but it is a great wonder that he continues to write. So he is on the transcendental platform.
“I was actively practicing a kind of tolerance when I had migraines. But I couldn’t do concentrated work. I would let my mind relax and think easy thoughts. I would remain peaceful. But generally I couldn’t work. It was philosophical. It was spiritual. It was like Prabhupada said when I asked him in the hospital, after he had received a spinal injection, ‘Did it hurt?’ He replied, ‘We are tolerant.’ So I practiced tolerance.
My dark period went on for decades. I didn’t lose faith in the practice of tolerance. When in pain I looked forward to the cessation of it, when I could return to my devotional activities. I had to avoid thinking of it as wasted time or as lost time. But sometimes it was difficult.
“Think about how to act according to my own realizations, not artificially, yet to come up to the standards of Jada Bharata’s teachings. Mixing with him means not as equals, but I become his student. He can be a siksa-guru for me; Srila Prabhupada is bringing me to you with what he says, as sastra guru, a teacher within the great teachings of Srimad-Bhagavatam.”
“Some of Srila Prabhupada’s servants really relished Prabhupada’s company. Prabhupada said that about Brahmananda once. When I was with Prabhupada in 1974, I asked if I could transfer to another service. He asked me who I thought could take over my duties as his personal servant, and I suggested Brahmananda. Prabhupada assented, ‘Yes, he likes my company.’
“It hurt at the time to think that Prabhupada might doubt my own liking for his company. But I also recognized it as an affirmation for the person he spoke it about. ‘He likes my company.’ We should all like his company, even if our false ego is strained by the constant pressure Prabhupada puts on it.
“Prabhupada was the symbol of self-sacrifice. He was not overbearing, just pure. He had no desire to win respect for himself, he simply wanted people to recognize the supremacy of Krsna. This came out especially in Prabhupada’s writing. Walt Whitman said that everything one is will come out in one’s writing. If you are the kind of person who likes to have a servant stand behind you at the dinnertable, that will come out in your writing. If you are cruel to your wife, that will come out in your writing. Even if you try to avoid these topics in your writing, still, they find their way into your expressions. In Prabhupada’s case, we see every phrase saturated with his faithful desire to present Krsna’s message. His writing is not outstanding because he was a great Sanskrit scholar or because he used polished prose. These things are also true, but the outstanding feature is his presentation of Krsna as He is. This is very unusual for commentators of Bhagavad-gita. Most Gita commentators cannot resist using the Gita to propound their own philosophy.
“Being in the presence of someone who has no other desire than to serve guru and Krsna is intense. It puts a lot of pressure on you and your own wishy-washy surrender. You keep wondering where your own needs fit into the picture. You want to surrender, but you can’t fake it. Prabhupada demanded that surrender. You were the menial servant. Therefore, it is not a light statement for Prabhupada to say that someone likes his company. It means that that person was able to remain the menial servant of his guru. It means the disciple was able to take instruction and to be reprimanded. It means that the person was able to stand seeing the difference between his own false ego platform and Prabhupada’s pure one. All the servant’s demands for material comfort and sense gratification were exposed. Could you give up your precious sleep in order to serve Prabhupada? The willing¬ness to give up sleep—a whole book could be written on this sign of surrender. Prabhupada gave up his sleep; his servants were expected to do it also.
“Until each of us can honestly say we like Prabhupada’s company, how will Krsna bring us to Prabhupada in the next life? Krsna looks deep into our hearts at the time of death. As Supersoul, He fulfills our heartfelt desires. He also gives us what we deserve. We may say that we want to go to Prabhupada, but if we do not deserve it by our surrender and service, or if we do not really desire it, then Krsna will award us accordingly. Of course, Prabhupada will not forsake us and he will return in some form or other to awaken our Krsna consciousness and bring us back to his service. Our duty is to realize Prabhupada’s mercy on the heart level and then to serve the pure devotee. We cannot realize his mercy only philosophically. As we advance more, we will come to relish his company.”
“It is not easy to write to You. I want to be sincere. My thoughts are not always turned in Your direction. So often I think of myself and my body. But I have a desire to break through and speak to You, and I consider it a great personal achievement when I can do so. I accept You as the Lord of all existence and my own personal friend and protector. This is an amazing combination.
“I have received my faith in You through the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya, which recognizes You as Lord Krsna, the source of all the other expansions of Godhead known as Visnu. In Your original form, you dispense with the opulence and the formality of the Godhead, and You play with Your devotee as a cowherd boy of Vraja, in the topmost spiritual planet, Goloka Vrndavana. There You mix with Your most intimate devotees as their master, friend, child, and lover. These are the gems of the Vaisnava wisdom, as taught in the Vedic literature and the disciplic line of spiritual masters.
“I am in this line as a lowly but fortunate disciple of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to You, “having taken shelter of the lotus feet of the transcendental Lord.” My spiritual master is a servant of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, by whose guidance he spread the teachings of Caitanya Mahaprabhu all over the world in defiance of the doctrines of voidism and impersonalism. I have rendered service unto my spiritual master in many ways, and I continue to do so, thus connecting myself directly to Your worship, Sri Krsna, Sri Radha, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
“I beg to come closer to You and get to know You better. I wish to become a more worthy object of Your affection. I want to sacrifice my selfish interest for Yours. That is the nature of a genuine devotee; he acts to please You.
“One approaches You by chanting Your names and hearing of Your activities and by remembering them. One approaches by telling others about You and convincing them to worship You. The great devotees impress upon others the truths about You, which You yourself declare, and they make forgetful souls into aspirants for Your service. I want to help my spiritual master in his mission to do this. Only then can I act to pay back the invaluable debt I owe him from making me one of Your devotees and freeing me from a life of dead-end confusion and hopeless death.
“Yes, I am a devotee of Yours, Lord Krsna. I am a servant of Radha and Krsna, and I chant Your names daily a prescribed number of times, trying to avoid offenses in the chanting. I write of Your glories and post them so others will be reminded of Your paramount position.
“I am aware my service is feeble, but I cling to it as my purpose in life. I try to maintain it and improve it. Please grant me improvement, and accept my offering. Please let me recognize You as the player of the flute, the lover of Radharani. Let me gain in realization and practical application. In other words, let me work for You as a trusted servant. Your greatness and magnanimity overcome my weakness. Your leniency is my saving grace. I wish to embrace You now and especially at the time of my death. I want to join my spiritual master in the spiritual sky. Are these things possible for me? I know they are, but I must earn them. And You must be merciful to me.”
“At Haryasva’s place, South Street. Plethora of details and incidents, too much for me to report. Maybe just give a list:
“1. Weekend marathon in temples to sell flowers for Mother’s Day. Going well, nice weather.
“2. Gave class on Arjuna’s cutting hair and the jewel on the head of Asvatthama. Thus, he passed the test by Krsna (pariksita dharmam). Usual questions and discussion.
“3. After, I talked with two GBC men, while waiting for the Deity greeting. They batted topics back and forth on high level management. I took part for awhile trying to keep up. Then realized it was out of my league. Besides, I was getting a headache. S.R. was there and I asked him for a cup of water so I could take a pill. We then discussed the medicine I am taking. Another devotee eavesdropped on us. Oh, well.
“4. Finished all that I will read of Richard Hugo’s advice on poetry writing in Triggering Towns. Too demanding about rewriting and about music over meaning. I am an amateur. But I liked his advice to write what comes, not sticking to big topics but little ones. I just the add the “one” Krsna consciousness to the zeros.
“Now, I was able to write May Apples all day yesterday. Go see the azaleas, his mother said. Hugo says in writing poetry you owe reality nothing and you owe everything to your own feelings (what you want to say). Call a yellow grain elevator black if it feels right and the words are right.
“I upheld Krsna conscious siddhanta in front of friendly Godbrothers. Agreed to help in their fundraising for Radha-Damodara’s temple. He said Krsna consciousness will have to become a professional outfit in terms of fundraising, accountability of funds, etc. He thinks it will be rich in ten years.
“You go from one day to another. Instead of writing this, I could be preparing a lecture. I’d like to speak tonight on hari-nama, chanting. Although I haven’t achieved what I want in chanting, I believe in sastric statements as to the effect it brings.
“Youth, youth, I see it in the temple. People I don’t know. His disciples. Mine are mostly older.
“He wants the list, to phone them or ask for money for a good cause. I mentioned one name. ‘But does he have money?’
“Somebody has to do this sort of collecting.
“South Street building inside of ‘Arts Bank.’ It’s quieter this year than last, at least right now at 10:30 A.M., this Saturday. Hare Krishna.
“Bring your money.
“Doves and pigeons and azaleas. Hugo, don’t be ashamed to repeat your obsessive words. Even Yeats kept using the ‘gyre’ or one may use the word, gray or rock or whatever.
“Eschew liberation – words. I always use words that come to me. This is the way to go back to Godhead, to chant the holy names. Read some categories from the Namamrta compilation.
“Write a little more but I have to stop to do the puja to Srila Prabhupada. Tomorrow a three-hour ride to Baltimore. They asked me how things are going. Sri Krishna Caitanya. I said, “Okay, I take some medicine nowadays and gain control.”
“But if you talk of hari-nama, how will it help anyone’s heart? Don’t plan to tug at their hearts as if thinking it’s in your power. Change is always small in increments and if someone improves in chanting from lectures, he or she may later lapse anyway.
“So, what’s the use?
“What’s the use?
“He said Bhagavad-gita As It Is recommends worship of Vishnu forms including Rama, but later it says only Krsna. How come? I said this is more confidential knowledge. Then she asked what about Murari Gupta’s decision to worship Lord Rama even though Lord Caitanya taught to chant Krsna. I said that is his rasa.
“He said, ‘Are you planning to continue to live as you are doing, in exile, cunning and silence?’
“I said, ‘What?’
“He said that was a statement by James Joyce. I said, ‘I am none of those things except maybe in exile.’
“You don’t know owe ordinary reality anything. Make it up. Write true to your feelings using any word.
“Definitely a sabbatical for A Poor Man Reads the Bhagavatam. We’ll see where I want to go in writing when I go to Ireland, if we get there. Stop now and do Srila Prabhupada puja.
“Car alarm (or ambulance) sounding on the street, far from the woods and lanes where May apples grow. Today is a big boon for all freelance and professional florists – honor your mother (Vedas).
“(20 minutes, South Street place, Philly, May 11, 1996)”
“This is not supposed to be a diary? Why not?
“Just reading essays by Richard Hugo. He’s honest. Expresses his feelings, sticks up for the soft heart.
“So, we are here at Jaya Gaurasundara’s. M. doesn’t have a good filing system and loses papers, and therefore can’t make the phone calls he’s supposed to make. I don’t want to get on his case. I keep telling him in a nice way how to file papers, but he doesn’t do it. He just places papers in different sites in a messy room. Now, he has to call ITV and find the phone number of Siddhanta dasa. He has to do many things. He’s interested in things connected with the van and does them well, but he is not so good with some other things.
“Stop about talking about him. Can’t talk about anyone except yourself. I wrote a poem about how I started two fires as kid and how the fire department came. Decided not to publish them. I didn’t express much remorse for those acts. Not enough Krsna conscious expression to justify publishing it in a book to be read by devotees.
“Manu comments on my writing, that I am trying to express truths and exploring how to do so. How to discover the self and yet I do this while in a position of spiritual master who is not supposed to have faults.
“Thud, thud of an electric bass from the next-door house. I think they have a live band. I don’t think they will keep it up long. Peaceful suburbs of Catonsville. Next few days mostly to myself. Don’t push M. He’ll do what he can at a reasonable speed.
“I ask for news.
“J.G. blows a conch to signal the end of arati.
“Richard Hugo was a bombardier in World War II. He never saw the enemy from five miles up. Germans shot flak at him. Flak. Cowards. Real guys. What else? He remembered a lot. He was bombing in Italy in 1944 and went back there in 1963. I hadn’t met Srila Prabhupada yet.
“I looked through his book. Now, I am done with it. I don’t care for his poems. Better to write straightforward in poems or prose.
“You are writing your way through life. I hit one home run in the baseball game. It wasn’t even a game with nine men on each side. Just a scrimmage or whatever you call it, a sandlot. A low line-drive that somehow kept going and went over the low wooden picket fence. I trotted around the bases. Hugo writes about students who aren’t good writers but get helped by creative writing teachers to write one good poem or story in their life. He compares it, “Just once the kid with fat eyes hit a home run in an obscure sandlot game.” I like the bravery or whatever it is that comes in his next sentence: ‘You may ridicule the affectionate way he takes that day through a life enough to need it, but please stay the hell away from me.’
“Stay the hell away from me. I don’t want to associate with a killer of fine emotions. One would take away a sentiment that matters. Matters. Weak words. If I write more, I might be able to express myself better.
“They outwardly assert that ISKCON must become more organized in fundraising and learn secrets of good organization from Covey, etc. I don’t want to grow like that. Let the organization earn more money and be better organized; good, then I will be able to write and they won’t bother. But please stay away from me.
“I want to be okay, a writer of prose and my own kind of poems, even if they aren’t expertly rewritten with assonance and enjambement, near rhyme, etc., etc. I don’t need that. Ride my own way more and more. I respond to the gift of God by writing as much as possible as far as I can in the direction of honesty. And we try to publish the best.
“You owe it to your reader…Want to stop this? Eat more. You weigh one hundred and thirty. Keep going. Stuff yourself. Get up to a hundred and forty if you can.
“Manu says he likes to read the free-writing and finds it much harder to read straight books like Canakya slokas or The Qualities of Sri Krsna. I agree. I said I have conservative readers who like the straight books. Some for them. A Poor Man Reads the Bhagavatam is a combination of both.
“Pare away the unnecessary. Print the bare best.
“Now, I’ll end. I answered many letters today. The granddaughter is crying in the other room. I have no family. Not really hungry but I’ll try to nibble at something. And rise early tomorrow to read and write. (You could throw the drink down the drain).”
(25 minutes, JG’s house, Baltimore, Sunday, May 12, 1996)
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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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.