Satsvarupa dasa Goswami Maharaja
Spiritual Family Celebration
Saturday, July 1, 2023
Meeting of Disciples and friends of SDG
The Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall
845 Hudson Avenue
Stuyvesant Falls, New York 12173
[Plenty of parking near the Hall. The facility is just a few minutes’ walk from SDG’s home at 909 Albany Ave.]
10:00 – 10:30 A.M. Opening kirtana
10:30 – 11:00 A.M. Lecture by SDG
11:00 – 12:00 P.M. Opportunity to Purchase New Books
12:00 – 1:00 P.M. Arati and kirtana
1:00 — 2:00 P.M. Prasadam Feast
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami: “I request as many devotees as possible to attend so we can feel the family spirit strongly. I become very satisfied when we are all gathered together.”
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 20.124–125: “O great learned devotee, although there are many faults in this material world, there is one good opportunity—the association with devotees. Such association brings about great happiness. . . . .”
Srila Prabhupāda: “Therefore, our Society is association. If we keep good association, then we don’t touch the darkness. What is the association? There is a song, sat-saṅga chāḍi’ kainu asate vilāsa, te-kāraṇe lāgila mora karma-bandha-phāṅsa (Gaurā Pahū, verse 3). Sat-saṅga. Sat-saṅga means association with the devotees. So the one poet, Vaiṣṇava poet, is regretting that, “I did not keep association with the devotees, and I wanted to enjoy life with the nondevotees. Therefore I’m being entangled in the fruitive activities.” Karma bandha phāṅsa. Entanglement.”
[Conversation with David Wynne, July 9, 1973, London]
I would get an urge to service my body, but when I went to the bathroom I couldn’t go. This happened about two or three times a day until finally, maybe at night, I would be able to go. Finally we got an appointment with the urologist. The visit was very disappointing. The urologist decided, after viewing my samples and hearing the symptoms, he would perform a procedure in the office. But he said his number one nurse was home for the day, and the other nurse felt uncomfortable doing the procedure because she wasn’t experienced in it. He told us to come back in a few weeks, but the only opening was in five weeks! So now I have to put up with this continuing condition and maneuver myself, which is complicated by the Parkinson’s disease. Walking to and from the bathroom requires assistance, as well as maneuvering in the bathroom itself. I seem to be getting more and more reminders of the declining condition of the body, like it or not.
I received a visit from Nirakula dasi, accompanied by Kamesi, Gopala Campu and Sraddha. In 1973, I had been a sannyasi for a year and had formed a small group of brahmacaris. Our process was to go to what we considered a “hip” city where young people were open, and try to preach there for a month and find serious devotees. We thought Santa Cruz, New Mexico, was an ideal place to go. We rented an apartment in the hills of Santa Cruz and advertised that we had a program there. A few people came, but most outstanding was a small group of men and women who were very receptive. Especially a few of them were so open that I was able to lecture on all the different subjects of Krsna consciousness, especially telling stories from the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Usually as a sannyasi I was only able to get a one-time lecture at a college or home. One couldn’t expect to find serious devotees in a one-time lecture. But now we had a whole month, if we could draw listeners for that time. This small group was so receptive that they came for the whole month. I was able to speak on topics, not only elementary one-time classes about “We are not these bodies, we are spirit souls,” but I was able to tell all I knew from my years in Krsna consciousness, from hearing from Prabhupada and reading his books. I spoke on topics like Prahlada Maharaja and Nrsimhadeva, Dhruva Maharaja, Queen Kunti’s prayers, and numerous other topics. They asked many questions, and as I can only repeat, they were very receptive! This was in 1973. After a month we ended our program in Santa Cruz, and to our surprise, six of the devotees who had been chanting and hearing and feasting with us were willing to go with us to our next stop, the Los Angeles ISKCON temple. They simply picked up their bare hippie possessions and drove down with us in cars. Six of the devotees not only attended the feast, but they stayed there as aspirant devotees for a while. Some of them then departed, but others stayed. One of the most outstanding devotees who stayed was a devotee who later got initiated by Prabhupada with the name Nirakula devi dasi. She later married Vaisesikha Prabhu, the number one book distributor in America. But she always remembered me, would tell her husband about me, and wanted to see me again. But we didn’t meet up over the years. Finally, yesterday, June 14, 2023, after all the years since 1973, she accompanied another devotee that was visiting Krsna dasi at Viraha Bhavan after the New York Ratha-yatra. My meeting with her was very emotional, for her and me. I told her that my preaching to that group in Santa Cruz was the best preaching I had ever done. When I said this, tears came to my eyes. She gently said to me, “No, you have done so much other good preaching.” She told me of an incident that happened when we were both still in Santa Cruz. As she began to tell it, I remembered it myself. She and her group one night didn’t attend our lecture at a college but went to see another swami or yogi. They were driving in their car, and they approached the highway from a ramp. Suddenly they saw a big sign which said, “WRONG WAY.” Being hippies, they tended to take things mystically and symbolically. So they all decided in the car that by going to this swami’s program, they were going the wrong way. So they turned their car away and got there in time for our lecture at the college. At our meeting yesterday she repeatedly told me that I had saved her life. Nirakula dasi denied it when I said that time in Santa Cruz, and bringing the devotees to join in L.A., was the best thing I had ever done as a sannyasi. But as I said it yesterday, and my tears welled up, I really felt it was true.
We have many roses in our garden. They are all high quality and have a nice fragrance for offering to the Deities. But they are high-maintenance. So Damodara Priya, who lives across the street and is an expert on roses, came over. She is going on vacation for two weeks, and didn’t have time to take care of the roses before she went away on vacation. She spent forty-five minutes with Baladeva, giving him instructions on what to do next to keep the roses healthy and happy. So now Baladeva has to take care of them.
Damodara Priya works for a devotee-landscaper, and she said of all her different customers, our roses look the best, and they have the best aroma.
We paid a biannual visit to Ryan Marshall, the Nurse Practitioner who’s been monitoring our health for quite a few years. He is our primary care provider. When he saw me he said I looked good, better than when he last saw me in the winter. This is the second time he has said this, that I looked good and better than the last time he saw me. When he was out of the office, I joked to Baladeva that, “Today I didn’t have my dentures in, and nowadays I notice that my eyes are half-closed from old age. So how could I look good or better than the last time he saw me?” Ryan talked about my trouble in urinating, my backache, my voice cracking, my Parkinson’s disease. He took notes but didn’t have any immediate remedies. Baladeva gave him a bag of trail mix. He took some and said he liked it very much. He wanted us to come back in August; we had another appointment scheduled for that date. He then told us that we should at least get a blood workup now, or sometime before the appointment. So we had to wait to see the blood person. It’s really a hassle waiting in the medical offices, with the television going on, and the women behind their glass partitions, and people coming in and out dressed in casual summer clothes.
We finally got to see Brenda, who has been a “blood-letter” for us for thirteen years. She’s always been cheerful, and it’s been a simple, quick operation. But this time there was a complication. She put the needle in on the inside of my elbow, but she couldn’t draw any blood. She got it in the vein, but couldn’t get any blood out. She said I was dehydrated and should drink more water before coming in. So she gave up on one part of the arm, and tried the needle on a vein that looked bigger on the back of my left fist. This time the blood flowed out, but not as swiftly as it usually does. Baladeva used to even call them “geysers” because the blood would come out so quickly. But today the blood flowed out slowly. However, she was able to collect three vials, and that was enough.
Vicaru returned after nineteen days in Fiji and Taiwan. He said he spent much of his time intensely studying Srila Prabhupada’s books. Here’s how he does it: he puts quotes from Prabhupada’s books into a small electric device, and then he adds comments of his own. He showed me the device, but the print was so small I could hardly read it. He also spent his time writing in the book he’s compiling, personal memories of his spiritual master, Tamal Krishna Goswami. He endured long flights—fifteen hours one way, and fifteen hours coming back to New York. He didn’t mention anything about reading my books, although formerly he was much absorbed in them. We are happy he is back in Viraha Bhavan and hope he is happy too.
Anuradha dasi, who is from Ireland and has served at Oxford in England for twenty years, has been here to Viraha Bhavan to serve on an ESTA visa, which allows her to stay three months. After her last visit we applied for an R-1 (religious worker) visa. It took a long time to process, but now, finally, it is approved and stamped on her passport. This means she can now stay indefinitely if she wants and come and go freely. She is a welcome addition to the few permanent members of our skeletal crew.
I had written in last week’s Journal how I was busy with upcoming meetings. I mentioned several events, including my lunch and talk with Jayadvaita Maharaja. At the end I said, “But I’d rather be writing.” When Jayadvaita Swami came for lunch today, one of the first things he said was something like, “After reading your Journal, I was thinking of not coming to lunch with you.” I was embarrassed, half-apologized, and then said, “I would prefer to have lunch with you.” I admitted that I was a “fanatic,” and Baladeva said I was worse, I was a “cultist.” Jayadvaita Swami was easy with me, and I think he forgave me. We spoke of many things, some of which was confidential. He is one of my few close friends.
I told Jayadvaita Maharaja of my “new life” in writing Journals. He approved of my writing in this genre. I told him of some instructive books I’ve read about how to keep a personal and spiritual journal. Many of them say your journal should be a complete secret; you shouldn’t show it to anyone. But then there is a vast literature of published journals, such as the journals of Thomas Merton, which were published in many separate books, the journals of Thoreau, which have many fans, May Sarton’s many journals, and indeed there is a vast array of published journals and their advocates.
For myself, I had hit a writing block early this year. It was so strong that I became silent, a little depressed, and couldn’t think of what to say. Then, suddenly, and perhaps with the mercy of guru and Krsna, I found a new way: the journal. I felt happy at my new discovery and wrote prolifically and with enthusiasm. In a few months I finished a first Journal, which GN Press is about to publish as a four-hundred-page book. After finishing the first volume and going to print as a book titled Worshiping with the Pen, I immediately started a second volume, and I’m proceeding with more. Every time I drop the bucket into the well, the bucket comes up with more water, more inspiration to do Journals. It seems like I have a window to write them, so I might as well take advantage of it.
We are happy to announce that the BBT Media has released the first volume of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, A Lifetime in Preparation, as an audiobook. Very soon, after an additional technical step, it will be available on the prestigious Audible.com. It is a great step in the wide distribution of prabhupada-katha. The narrator of this first volume is Ekendra dasa, who worked very hard producing it. He is continuing to make every effort to produce all seven volumes of SPL as audiobooks. Ekendra is the narrator and the editor of the series. He has found it very challenging to come up to the professional standard of BBT and Audiobooks, which is a branch of Amazon.com. In the beginning he lost his voice and developed reflux laryngitis and had much editing to make up at the end. In order to continue he had to change his way of life and diet, not speaking at all for long periods of time. We congratulate Ekendra for his determination to come up to the excellent standard of the audiobooks. He has mastered the art, and is now moving more swiftly, having nearly completed Volume Two. Volume One can be purchased for $25.00 from BBT Media (http://bbtmedia.com/audiobook/en_pl_1_ed/).
Today Krishnendu, who has been here for a month as my cook and servant, returns to his home, Rupanuga College, Kansas City. He started out feeling a little uncomfortable because Viraha Bhavan is not up to the strict brahmacari standard of the Rupanuga College. But within a week, Krishnendu and I got used to each other, and we both finished his month of duty at ease and friendly.
Starting today, Vicaru takes over. He has been here before, and we have developed a good friendship. He is a disciple of Tamal Krishna Goswami and is writing a book of memories of his spiritual master. In the early evening he reads to me from his book. He loves to read my books. Vicaru intends to stay here permanently. I say, “He’s welcome,” and “I hope he can do it.”
Since I have announced that the out-loud reading session is canceled for ten days, I am trying to implement the same vow of silence in our ashram. There is mostly just me, Baladeva and Vicaru here. I identified with a quote by Ekendra in describing how he is trying to recover from his laryngitis. He wrote, “Silence is the best medicine.” He wrote this after trying different things and following different regimens from different doctors. At our ashram we are trying to cooperate. I keep the silence by not talking at all or keeping my voice down. For not talking at all, I am not answering any letters I receive during these ten days. I will save them for afterwards. For cooperation among the men here, I am speaking in a very low voice and allowing them to talk to me in a normal voice. Still, I seem to be talking too much by attempting this free-write. Even as I speak this, I’m getting louder. I will try to speak lower, but if it becomes impossible, I will ask my readers to go to my books. I know they like the Free Write Journal, and I will try my best as the days go by and see if I can check my voice from getting louder.
Since Krishnendu left, Baladeva and Vicaru didn’t know how to make my daily soup. But they followed Krishnendu’s recipe, although they warned me that lunch might be fifteen minutes late. They were nervous and not quite sure of what they were doing. But when they brought the soup, everyone agreed, including me, that the soup was just great! Now they know how to do it, and I can have my regular lunch every day—salad, soup, and a shake, all offered to Gaura-Nitai and Radha-Govinda.
Rupa Gosvami gives the following definition of grateful: “Any person who is conscious of his friend’s beneficent activities and never forgets his service is called grateful.” (NOD, p. 166) I want to be grateful to Srila Prabhupada and carry out that sentiment in my actions.
For example, I may think of his pranam-mantra: “My obeisances unto you, O Spiritual master, servant of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. You are so kindly teaching the message of Lord Caitanya and delivering these Western countries which are filled with voidism and impersonalism.” Thanks to Prabhupada, now whenever I meet with the mayavada philosophy (which is frequently), I appreciate that I’ve been trained to avoid their snares and to see through their word jugglery.
I am grateful to Lord Krsna for sending Srila Prabhupada. I feel fortunate to have contacted him. And therefore, remembrances of personal association with Srila Prabhupada—not allowing those times to be forgotten—are themselves acts of gratitude.
The concept of guru-daksina is meant to prevent the disciple from lapsing into ingratitude. We don’t think that we can ever repay Srila Prabhupada for what he has given, but we should make the attempt. “As you have learned this knowledge from me, now you should be kind and give it to others.” It is not enough to feel thankful while I keep the gift for myself. Since I have received blessings, I am obliged to give them to others.
My first deviation was when I failed to carry out Swamiji’s instructions not to give Mr. Paine any money. Whenever I think of it deeply, I’m sorry that I was swayed and failed to carry out my spiritual master’s instructions. Mostly, I see myself as a dupe of the real estate men, and a dupe of my Godbrothers who were themselves swayed. I don’t think it’s worth remembering that episode so much or looking for some new revelation in it. There is even a kind of sweetness to that deviation because I was so obviously befooled by the cruel world. I had no recourse but to turn to our spiritual master. And Swamiji came forward as the protector of we New York boys, not only spiritually, but he also rescued the money back from the demons. It was a good lesson that you should always follow Prabhupada and not be swayed. Don’t have respect for demons even if they have a good education or fancy cuff links. Even if they flatter you, don’t disobey your spiritual master. That lesson is never outdated, and in that sense, it is nice to meditate on how Swamiji saved us. It puts me in my right place although I’m sorry I could not follow what he said.
In more recent years, some unwanted doubts began festering in my mind, and I noted them down in a diary. Finally, I spoke about them with a Godbrother. My question was, “If so many of Prabhupada’s disciples have left, then it seems like he was demanding too much surrender. Was that a mistake on his part? Also the fact that the movement has failed in certain ways, is he to be held responsible for that?” My Godbrother’s replies were all positive. He said that we should always appreciate the great odds Prabhupada was working against in the West as he tried to start the Krsna Consciousness Movement. It’s not that every single move he made had to become successful or had to be perfect in a tactical sense. But we should always appreciate that he was always perfect in trying to get the pure movement of Lord Caitanya’s Krsna consciousness going. And Prabhupada’s work was successful. So we should be sympathetic and appreciative to all his attempts and not find fault. Furthermore, we can’t know the mind of the acarya. I don’t remember what else my Godbrother said on that occasion, but the most important thing was to be able to admit to problems like that. I wanted to bring it out and confess and be helped.
It is tough to speak about Prabhupada to an audience that knows Prabhupada-lilamrta well. The audience in Poland was ideal; they knew enough about ISKCON and enough about Prabhupada that they really liked to hear. They did not think, “Why is he speaking at length and in so much detail about his spiritual master?” They are worshiping Prabhupada every day in guru-puja, singing his mantra, distributing and reading his books; but they do not have his biography. What better chance than this to discuss Prabhupada-katha? I was glad to take it.
On the second night, I spoke about 26 Second Avenue. I focused on the kirtanas in the storefront. I said that Prabhupada taught us the rhythm, one-two-three, one-two-three. When he gave some of the young hippies the karatalas, they wanted to play their own beats. But Prabhupada stopped them and said, “No! Keep this beat one-two-three.” Although we did not accept him in the beginning as our spiritual master, he insisted that we keep this beat, and so we agreed. He asserted his authority on the beat of the mantras; if you wanted to stay in the storefront and participate, you had to do it his way or confront him.
But aside from the one-two-three beat, Prabhupada was very lenient and allowed all kinds of musical instruments to be played. I told about the piano innards that were brought inside and strummed.
I also told how people who came were seeking consciousness expansion, which they had been getting on LSD, and how Srila Prabhupada promised that they would find it without drugs, by chanting. I told of his writing room and the room where he performed the ceremony called “Bells.” I said that Prabhupada himself would refer to the arati as “bells,” because in the beginning he did not introduce all the Sanskrit words.
It was a pleasure to see the translator, Drsta dasa, conveying all this, and the audience, a moment later, taking pleasure. A few who understood English took pleasure as soon as I spoke. It was one volley of pleasure after another, hearing the pastimes of Prabhupada.
I told how the people in the storefront would leave after the kirtana. Maybe only half would stay for the lecture. I compared the storefront to the room we were in, which was about the same size as 26 Second Avenue. I said, “On a good night there might be about as many people as there are in this hall right now, and after the kirtana half would leave.”
I heard the phone ring and the Swami answered, “Hello?”
I said, “Swamiji, this is Steve.” I can’t remember for sure, but I think I added, “Do you remember me?” At least that was definitely on my mind.
Swamiji said yes, he remembered me.
I said, “I won’t be able to come today at noon for lunch because I have to stay in the office and work. But I’ll come over at one o’clock. Could you ask the devotees to please save some prasadam for me?”
“Yes,” said Prabhupada. He made it sound like it was not a problem. As I hung up, I was very pleased that I had made that phone call. Nowadays it doesn’t seem like the proper way to treat Prabhupada, and in the later years of ISKCON with Prabhupada, there was no question of doing such a thing. First of all, you wouldn’t be able to reach Prabhupada by phone; you would reach his secretary. But in those days it was right, and it was nice. It was a way to surrender and develop friendship. I very much wanted to go and be with him and eat his prasadam.
It turned out to be a better treat than usual because by the time I got there, all the boys were gone. Swamiji was there and the rug was still rolled back. The office had been demanding—so much bureaucracy and talk and nonsense, and now I had only one hour before I had to plunge back into it. I came to take shelter with the Swami.
He told me to sit down, and so I waited alone in the room. He made up the plate and then came in and put it before me on the floor. I said, “Thank you,” and I bowed down before him.
He said, “Yes.”
Nowadays we bow down so many times, but this was the first time that I bowed down. When I had met Swamiji at the door, I did not bow down, and neither did I bow down to him in the temple. When he saw this boy finally bowing down, it pleased him and he said, “Yes.” I knew it was a significant step forward. Although now I bow down hundreds of times, I wonder if I’m actually surrendering and worshiping? But that time, I overcame my pride and really did it, bowed down before the rice, dal, and capatis, and especially at the bare, lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada.
Usually I favor meditating on Prabhupada as we knew him. As an expression of loyalty, I almost scoff at the possibility of Prabhupada having a form other than how he appeared to us. But I know he does. Still, I prefer to think of Prabhupada as I knew him, and anyway, I can’t really know Prabhupada in any other form. At least not now.
Lately, as I have been hearing more about raganuga–bhakti and Gaudiya Vaisnavism, I am coming to understand that it is possible for a disciple to know his eternal relationship with his spiritual master in the spiritual world. It is possible to meditate on that eternal relationship. This no longer seems scandalous to my loyalty if I think like that.
I have never been able to understand whether Swamiji (the form we met Prabhupada in during 1966) is eternal. Is there an eternal 26 Second Avenue? But now I tend to think there isn’t. That doesn’t make it any less sweet or memorable for me, and I feel comfortable continuing with my Prabhupada recalls and my memories of life in the storefront with my spiritual master. But now I want to pray that the other form is revealed. I cannot imagine it or concoct it, but I hope one day Srila Prabhupada will reveal how I can be with him as he assists Radha-Krsna in the spiritual world. Just as we sing every morning, nikunja-yuno rati-keli-siddhai and sri-radhika-madhavayor apara-madhurya-lila-guna-rupa-namnam prati-ksanavadana-lolupasya van-de gurosri-caranaravindam. These two verses are meaningful. I pray that I may one day realize them.
Meditating on Prabhupada in his eternal form in Goloka Vrndavana would not be negated. Understanding his other form would be a graduation, the fruit of remembering Prabhupada in this world. Furthermore, we can continue to meditate on Prabhupada as he appears in this world, but with the understanding of how he is eternal. These points are becoming clearer.
We want to flourish simultaneously as a person and as a disciple of Prabhupada. It is sometimes difficult to combine these two needs. Sometimes they seem to conflict. We feel that taking care of our self-actualization, becoming more honest, allowing a healthy balance of emotions, and developing our own tendencies can bounce against our desire to surrender to the spiritual master. Our desires are not the same as Krsna’s; therefore, we have to submit. The trick is to submit with our whole intelligence, voluntarily, so that our personhood is not challenged as our material desires fall away.
That is one side of it: Yes, our personal tendencies have to be given up in favor of Krsna’s desires, but what about subconscious resistance to that surrender we haven’t put our heart into? In the end, as the psychologists tell us, the subconscious usually wins. It may take years, even decades, but finally the needs of the subconscious emerge and balk at our shallow renunciation. As Krsna Himself says in the Bhagavad-Gita, “What will repression accomplish?” Therefore, we have to make peace in our minds and hearts between what we are willing to do for Krsna and what He asks of us.
By Prabhupada’s grace, everything is workable. Prabhupada doesn’t want us to be stunted or neurotic as a result of following him. He wants us to be happy. He says a devotee is happy and simple by virtue of his Krsna consciousness.
We have to trust that Prabhupada continues to oversee our activities and that he desires our success in surrendering to him. He knows the difficulties we face. Krsna is helping us in the heart as caitya-guru. But ultimately, it is up to us as individuals to find our own balance. We have to use our intelligence to understand why we have to submit ourselves to the higher will of guru and Krsna, and then we actually have to surrender, even in small increments, on the basis of our understanding. Krsna assures us, as He assured Arjuna, that victory will be on our side. He promises to help us at every step, if only we make the endeavor.
I was just on the edge of leaving material life. My spiritual perceptions were still raw. But the new life that I was entering was unencumbered by ISKCON disappointments and politics, unencumbered by thoughts of mixing Krsna consciousness in with the reading of other philosophies and other interests. My approach was summed up like this: “Swamiji says Krsna is everything. You don’t need to do anything else.”
My reading of Swamiji’s books was fresh, and my affection for Swamiji was full of wonder and transformation.
Starting with the summer. It was hot. You can smell the feet and socks at the door. You can almost smell buildings. Hallway smells, apartment building smells. The odor of people cooking from the other apartments. Swamiji’s room …
It is exciting to see him. He is a swami, a guru from India, a pure devotee of Krsna, a self-realized soul. You like to tell other people about it, but you soon find out that they don’t understand, they don’t even want to hear about it. What can be done? First you go up to everyone, open and excited, and say, “I found a wonderful thing. It is wonderful for everyone. You should come. Everyone should come and hear the Swami.” It doesn’t take long for you to see that people are blasphemous at worst and disinterested at best. But that doesn’t diminish your own feelings. It brings you in closer with the other people who come to see the Swami. That’s something special you share with them.
Most people are kind of stupid. People just see the outer thing, that he was a Hindu, an old man, and they have their own religion, or they don’t believe in God—even hip people, your friends! Your friends say, “Where have you been? What are you into?”
“I’m going to see the Swami over on Second Avenue, and he’s doing this kind of meditation called kirtana where he chants and people chant together. It’s pretty far out.”
You don’t mention how within a few days, you’re already so into it that your whole thinking has changed. You almost don’t dream it could happen—but wouldn’t it be wonderful if Murray and Steve got completely into it with you? It’s strange, because although you thought you were close friends, this is different. This is your own path. You have to do what you want. You left the Navy, left your parents. Maybe you have to leave your friends, too.
Dreamt of being alone, yet I was trying to be Srila Prabhupada’s servant and cook for him at the same time. One woman tried to serve Prabhupada raw spinach. She was reprimanded for not cooking it.
Now I’m awake. I can perceive in a dream at night that I have a certain body. It seems real—one may be so afraid that he wakes in fright. I perceive that body, but then I wake up and see that it is an illusion. This is proof that the body changes and the self endures. That subtle body that seemed so real last night is gone this morning. Prabhupada explained all this to us on a walk in Germany. Similarly, the waking body is also temporary or illusory. We will transmigrate after death.
(Electric light flickers for a moment. If it goes out, I’ll have to give up writing and chant japa instead.)
Prabhupada was arguing with me and others on this morning walk. I played the skeptic for a while, but then stopped. I didn’t want to be the demon forever. I accepted what he said. One should not continue being ornery and arguing, “That is only an analogy. One cannot perceive that he lives on after death.” You can perceive it, Srila Prabhupada.
We accept what Krsna says. I took His statements on cards and went out back and read them aloud. I called it a form of prayer and consider it important if for even ten minutes I can allow Him to speak to me while I listen, listen, and then pray back like Peter Calvay, “I have faith, Lord. Please make it strong and release me from unfaith in Your words and presence.” I say to myself, “Please continue some practice of prayer like this even when you’re in the van or in Rome or on the plane to India. Go inside yourself and hear Lord Krsna speaking in the verses of Bhagavad-gita.”
We who doubt the very existence and omnipotency of God have our feeble faith encouraged when we can mediate on the Almighty Great. When we can perceive His greatness, when the power of the Supreme is revealed to us, then at least we push away the atheists’ grip upon our minds. Or if we are blessed with a mystical insight that there must be One who holds all things together, an original intelligence, the cause of all causes, we are pacified. But it was just this type of cosmic insight into the totality of the Supreme One, that Mother Yasoda rejected when she gave up her humble and amazed contemplation of the Universal Form. She again treated baby Krsna as her own begotten child: “He may be the Supreme Personality of Godhead or a demigod,” she thought, “but He is my son to feed and protect.”
Mother Yasoda, or any liberated devotee, is able to see the Lord in a personal way through the agency of yoga-maya. Yoga-maya makes the pure devotee forget Krsna’s opulence and omnipotency and enables the devotee to love the Lord in an intimate, personal way. Thus, the devotee and the Lord enjoy rasa. Krsna is not a mere child dependent on Yasoda and Nanda, but for their pleasure He appears that way. Similarly, when Vasudeva, Krsna’s “real” father was carrying Him across the Yamuna, the child fell into the river and appeared to be drowning just to put Vasudeva into a state of anxious parental love. That was another rasa between the Lord and the devotee.
Another feature of the liberated rasa (which takes the forms of master and servant, friend to friend, child to parent, and lover to lover) is that the devotee beholds the Lord and thinks “no one else is with Krsna now except me.” Krsna allows this kind of exchange, and He performs it simultaneously for unlimited number of pure devotees. Each of the 108 gopis in the rasa dance thought, “Now Krsna is with me alone.”
Are you afraid to meet God in His holy names? Afraid to meet yourself? Is that why I turn away from full attention? Do you fear Him as Arjuna feared the universal form? It isn’t something I have thought much about. Why am I reciting His names day after day if I want to avoid meeting Him? But even great devotees like Dhruva Maharaja were speechless and afraid when they first got Krsna’s darsana.
According to this theory, as soon as you seriously begin to approach Him by His holy names, you become afraid. Therefore, you allow your mind to go off. A whole lifetime could be spent in this way—afraid of what you will become in comparison to Krsna when He manifests. So, you prefer to keep it all distant, as a ritual, and you candidly confess, “It is very hard to control the mind.” You expect your friends will sympathize because they also find it hard. I don’t think my fear theory tells the whole story, but I glimpsed it today.
Otherwise, I am left with my overfamiliar, stay-on-the-surface bad habits. There is no way to bypass them, it seems. Neither am I working hard to change them. I humbly accept a low state and count my blessings that I am up earlier than most, I am awake, and there are other services that I can do with more competence than chanting. It’s like accepting the fact that you lost your legs in a car accident or that your wife is unfaithful. You live with it: “I’m a poor chanter.” Is that the way to go through life?
When we are trying to cut ourselves off from matter, dealing with the matter is part of it. For example, we try to see how Krsna is working through the material energy, even when we get kicked by it. When Vidura had to suffer at the hands of wicked Duryodhana, Vidura “was not sorry, for he considered the acts of the external energy to be supreme” (Bhag. 3.1.16). That is, he saw that even in material circumstances, the internal energy was helping him and offering him a way to improve his Krsna consciousness.
This kind of analysis is favorable, but then we have to directly apply for Krsna’s mercy. “Please pick me up and place me as one of the atoms at Your lotus feet.” Chanting is not a ritual to pacify God; it is a heartfelt calling out to Him for mercy. Chanting is not meant to help us create a favorable, material situation (the eighth offense against the holy name); it is meant to free us from all material situations. But the dullness of body and the tricky nature of the maya-influenced mind often render us incapable of pure chanting. If we can actually achieve suddha-nama, then we will be freed from the material world. We will then truly understand and act on the realization of aham brahmasmi. Such an apparently simple act as utterance of harinama in devotion can do all this. The sastras compare pure chanting to a lightning bolt making dust out of a mountain peak. The mountain represents our accumulated karma and ignorant thoughts. We should beg for a lightning bolt to strike us, even if we are afraid of the jolt.
What to do with the mind during japa. As if I can logically, reasonably, ready the mind to chant. I have tried different approaches. I have tried ignoring the mind. I have tried simplifying my life to the point where my mind’s demands have no choice but to simplify. I have given myself lessons in the sastra. I have appealed to my higher nature. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura advises, when all else fails, beat the mind with a broom in the morning and a shoe at night.
When we cannot control the mind, when we are dull or paralyzed by illusory conceptions of ourselves, we can still go on with our external utterances of nama-japa with faith. We can also pray that the day will come when we can taste the sweetness of chanting, and when that sweetness will spill over into all our other devotional activities.
In the compilation Namamrta, there is a heading: “One Develops a Taste for Chanting By Chanting.” The statement from Srila Prabhupada’s purports says that chanting is nectarean; the more you chant, the less you tire of it. The more you chant, the more attached you become to chanting. I agree, but I am unhappy that the statement doesn’t apply to me yet. A statement more in line with my experience is this one: “Attacked by jaundice, the tongue of a diseased person cannot palatably relish sugar candy. . . Avidya (ignorance) similarly perverts the ability to relish the transcendentally palatable name …” (Nectar of Instruction, text 7, purport). Even this “jaundice” statement, with its assurance that “if he chants, he will develop a taste for chanting” is something that hasn’t happened to me. Another verse: “Unfortunate as I am, I commit offenses and therefore cannot taste the holy names.” So I can’t complain that the scriptures are too optimistic or lack detail. They pin me down. Another one states that if your chanting is infested with offenses, you can go on chanting for hundreds of births, but you will never attain Krsna-prema. It has all been spelled out.
Since I tend to complain and claim an injustice is being perpetrated on me, I also say, “There is no guide to take me through the required changes. No one has spelled it out, such as who I may have offended (sadhu-ninda), or exactly how I can go about controlling my mind against inattention (pramada).” Response: “Be serious. Do the needful to improve your chanting. And you do have friends and guides, so appeal to them.”
I wanted to take advantage of these weeks to improve japa, but I may lack the heart or “guts” to do what is required. Besides, it’s so subtle. I can’t exactly grasp what it is exactly that I need to do. I am up at 1:00 A.M. helplessly rattling the beloved names, but there is no prayer of the heart, not even a prayer of the mind. What to speak of mixing japa with Krsna’s pastimes.
I lack regret. Now, how to reform?
I can start by noticing the problem. I can start by dragging the mind back to the feet of the holy name. I can start by rejecting any idea that inattentive japa is all right because I’m thinking of devotional service. I can hear from the acaryas, the humble, realized acaryas who are intent on saving me by their statements.
First comes regret: hari hari! bifale janama gonainu. Why are we so afraid to feel regret? Of course, we don’t want to be artificial about it and beat our breasts with no real feeling. Certainly the nondevotees will deride us. They will compare us to medieval flagellants who beat themselves out of guilt. Body- punishing ascetics, self-accusers, sufferers from low self-esteem—all negative, they say. But we should not concern ourselves with what the nondevotees think.
I like to record some of these verses so I can look at them often. The verse I just quoted is an unmitigated lament. It offers no solution—that is not its purpose. Bhaktivinoda Thakura has given plenty of recommendations on how to improve, but unless we want to improve, unless we admit we need improvement, and unless we feel sorry about poor chanting, then the recommendations will be of no help. Therefore, statements of assurance and the more elevated statements of yearning, as well as descriptions of the intoxicating nature of pure chanting—these all become useful when we are actually trying to improve. Otherwise, they sound like flowery poetry, and our collection of verses on index cards just becomes a hobby.
“The treasure of divine love in Goloka Vrndavana has descended as the congregational chanting of Lord Hari’s holy names. Why did my attraction for that chanting never come about?” (“Ista-deve Vijnapti,” Narottama dasa Thakura, Songs of the Vaisnava Acaryas, p. 63).
“ ‘This is humbleness,’ Prabhupada said. ‘… If you go on thinking, “Oh, I did not perform this duty so nicely, I should have done it this way,” then you will improve. Our love for Krsna keeps growing as long as we think that we are not doing the most for Krsna and that we must do more’ ” (Prabhupada-lila, p. 10).
This is a book about clouds. Ireland bhajana must reflect the cloudy sky and the blustering chill that produces hardy natures and red cheeks. Now the whole sky is covered except for a few chinks of blue showing through. Rich colored, magnificent gray, Krsna’s own bodily hue. Prabhupada says Krsna is blackish, but not like the black in this world. No, not the color of black-skinned Africans or dark-skinned Indians, but the color of a fresh rain cloud. That image is good because clouds aren’t material in the gross sense. Their darkness is filled with the aura of heavenly light. It’s “gray,” but it’s beautiful, infinite, inconceivable.
Radha is said to be “golden,” but not exactly like a gold bar or straw or turmeric. A flash of lightning in the gray clouds— this is the metaphor that is used to describe Radha and Krsna together.
When Krsna wants to know Radharani’s nature from Her point of view, He appears (eternally) as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. His body is golden, and He is immersed in the bhava which is unique to Radha—maha-bhava-prema for Krsna, and especially, madana-maha-bhava, the mad love felt in separation from the beloved.
How far away these emotions are from me, and yet they are also near. If I can shape my life and pay more attention to them, then that will be the best use of my life. Make this the point of your search for a “calm” life.
Whirling about unsteadily like a sweet wheel, like the moon decorated with a halo of sparkling rays, purifying the faces of the directions completely with His tears, Mahāprabhu remained glorious while dancing.
All directions resounded incessantly when He shouted loudly “Jaya, jaya, jayatu.” What else could they do? Glancing with His red eyes in all directions constantly, He made the universe red with eagerness as He danced.
He mocked the autumn moon, faulty with its spots, continually defeating it by the beauty of the foam emanating from His moon-like face. He surpassed Sumeru with a covering of new sprouts, by His body with hairs standing on end intensely.
May the universe become joyful by the tears of the Lord, which, becoming visible, first flooded His eyelashes, and then quickly flowed in long, copious streams to the edges of His cheeks. They then reached His chest and in three streams spread to the earth, like pearls from a broken necklace.
May the universe experience bliss by Gaurāṅga’s tears of joy, endowed with the beauty of a lake holding the sunken lotuses of His eyes, which flooded the universe as they fell on the earth, and which derided the beauty of a river attractive with golden stones as the tears fell on His chest.
The Lord shone, surrounded by a first circle of singers, surrounded by a second continuous circle of great devotees surrendered to Mahāprabhu’s lotus feet, including Kāśī-miśra, who held hands in bliss. Outside this circle, King Pratāparudra stood alone.
Indra, Brahmā and Śiva did not experience their bliss. That was to be expected. The eyelids did not close for a moment when Gaurāṅga, attractive in His clothing, danced with grace.
When Mahāprabhu lay stunned on the ground in bliss for a long time and the chariot of Jagannātha approached, the affectionate, alarmed devotees put Him in their laps with their lotus hands and quickly situated Him at some distance. May that Gauracandra be glorious!
Stunned with bliss by shouting and roaring constantly, embracing to his broad chest with his affectionate budlike hands Advaitācārya, attractive with bliss as he danced, his two feet and rod-like arms falling here and there, may that Gauracandra who appeared like a rod (being stunned), remain glorious.
Fainting because of great bliss, quivering and breathing faintly, with hairs standing on end because of bliss, with tears streaming from His lotus eyes, His lotus feet served by Pratāparuda in bliss, Gauracandra shone.
When Gaurāṅga, the moon of good fortune in the waves of the ocean of sweetness, languid with bliss, danced with open lotus eyes, hairs standing on end, and conquered the moon with His moon-like face, shining as it emitted saliva, who in the universe would not become stunned?
He was a wealth of sweetness in every limb, washed constantly by many streams of intense bliss flowing from his eyes in bliss. With his attractive heart full of desire, when he continually drank the full river of rasa from dancing, he became agitated with joy and frequently trembled in bliss. He was a fortress of the highest bliss.
In Puri, the best renunciate, was called Dāmodara because he wore a string around his waist (for his kaupiṇa). With intense desire, he seemed to enter into Mahāprabhu, the ocean of arts, with his body, mind and words as the Lord danced. Thus he was called Svarūpa (the Lord’s very form).
See the Lord whose feet are embraced tightly here and there out of joy and intense affection by many bud-like, blissful hands placed low on the ground, as He dances with most intelligent Dāmodara, joyfully stepping on the ground with His beautiful lotus feet flowing with honey.
This collection of Satsvarūpa dāsa Goswami’s writings is comprised of essays that were originally published in Back to Godhead magazine between 1966 and 1978, and compiled in 1979 by Gita Nagari Press as the volume A Handbook for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness.
This second volume of Satsvarūpa dāsa Goswami’s Back to Godhead essays encompasses the last 11 years of his 20-year tenure as Editor-in-Chief of Back to Godhead magazine. The essays in this book consist mostly of SDG’s ‘Notes from the Editor’ column, which was typically featured towards the end of each issue starting in 1978 and running until Mahārāja retired from his duties as editor in 1989.
This collection of Satsvarupa dasa Goswami’s writings is comprised of essays that were originally published in Back to Godhead magazine between 1991 and 2002, picking up where Volume 2 leaves off. The volume is supplemented by essays about devotional service from issues of Satsvarupa dasa Goswami’s magazine, Among Friends, published in the 1990s.
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.