This week was another roller-coaster ride with headaches and nausea. But the intensity seemed milder. There were actually two days without a migraine, but still numerous “regular” headaches daily. His personal doctor, Nitai Gaurasundara dasa, with his wife, Matsya, came for a few days, and that had a good influence on Satsvarupa Maharaja. He tends to listen to Nitai Gaurasundara’s advice in person, and he’s started working seriously on the “churning” over different things on his mind rather than actually resting.
Nitai Gaurasundara gets the credit for originally identifying the trigger for migraines after Satsvarupa Maharaja had suffered for almost twenty years previously, and under his care was finally able to stop them. The trigger is anticipatory anxiety, which causes one to “churn” over things almost obsessively until a headache comes. In these recent times, the churning was over writing his inner Journals, the weekly Journal (which is his main regular outreach preaching), and GN Press production involvement. Writing is his life and soul service to Prabhupada, but now health care has to be taken as seriously.
So now the hard work of resting peacefully (for many hours a day) and doing exercise for his arthritic hips, stretched out neck muscles and his Parkinson’s legs. Hopefully he will continue to follow Nitai-Gaurasundara’s advice, and we can have a more upbeat report next week. Satsvarupa Maharaja is very, very fragile at this point.
Now I’d like to tell you about how I followed Srila Prabhupada. I came to him in 1966, and my first service was to give him money. I had a job in the welfare office, and at first I wanted to quit so that I could be with Swamiji all day long like the other boys, who were all unemployed. So I resigned, handed in my official resignation, and went and told Swamiji. To my surprise he was disappointed, and he told me a story. He said there was a man, very nasty man, and he was married to his wife, but he wasn’t faithful to his wife. He was always hankering to visit and go enjoy himself with a very expensive prostitute, but he didn’t have the money. So when his wife learned of this, she went to the prostitute and said, “My husband would like to enjoy with you.” And the prostitute laughed and said, “You don’t know how much I cost. I cost a thousand dollars a night.” So the wife said, “Please accept me as your servant and I’ll serve you to earn money so that my husband can come to you.” So she worked for her for a year, and the prostitute finally said, “All right. You can bring your husband.” And the wife told the husband, and he so ruthlessly went to the prostitute and enjoyed himself.
So I didn’t know why Prabhupada was telling me this story, or I did know … He said, “Whatever you may say about that wife, about her morality, we would have to admit that she was a very chaste wife to her husband and just tried to please him. So you may think the association in that office is not very spiritual, that it’s a dirty place to be. But by being there and contributing to our society you are doing the best service, better than if you stayed here.” So I immediately went back to the office and retracted my resignation. Then I gave Prabhupada my life savings—I had four hundred dollars; it was a lot of money then for him—and continued to give my weekly paycheck. That was my main service and typing. I typed his manuscripts. I typed them, and I edited them. When he left New York City and went to California, he started a new book, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, and he sent me the tapes in the mail. I used to type them and edit them in my apartment and in his apartment, and it was the most intimate service to ease the separation from the spiritual master and to learn the philosophy. And I asked him different questions about things I heard on the tapes, and he kept me accountable: “Don’t miss the tapes, be sure you do them. I have two tapes, you have two tapes, be sure you send me the next tape. . . .” We developed an intimate relationship through the typing.
I went to Boston by myself and opened an ISKCON center there. After trying by myself ineffectually for a while, the New York center sent some help. They sent a few devotees, and we started some preaching activities, going out to the Boston Commons and doing harinama, distributing Back to Godhead on the streets. It was slow going, but Prabhupada visited us in 1968, and we had many college engagements for him, and he was pleased. He got honorariums.
And then in 1969 ISKCON Press moved to Boston. And a whole big group of devotees moved to Boston and set up presses, and suddenly there were sixty devotees in the temple. And I was the temple president, and I had to manage the whole thing. It was very difficult because the press devotees had their own idea of how to serve. They didn’t want to go to the morning program; they wanted to run the presses twenty-four hours a day. But we all got along together, and we went on harinama in the good weather, and it was a very wonderful era in Boston. We were living in an old mansion on Beacon Street in Allston. Those were very formative years for me, as I’ve written about in my Letters from Srila Prabhupada books.
(to be continued)
Calgary is a small city in the middle of Canada. I arrived by airplane at dusk in a blustery snowstorm, and to my surprise there was a pack of wolves sitting just off the runway watching the planes land. This gives you an idea how remote the place really was back in the 1980s. It was so cold (-30° F) that when they opened the door to the house which served as a temple, the air blasting in formed a frosty cloud that entered in at least ten feet before us.
Various troops were coming in, group by group, in their sankirtana vans and entering with ecstatic, beaming red faces from the cold. The enthusiasm was building after the two-week marathon to a point where everyone forgot all the austerities they had just performed and were looking forward to the three-day ecstatic festival that was about to begin.
After Srimad-Bhagavatam class the next morning, which focused on the importance of getting initiated into our Brahma-Gaudiya-Vaisnava sampradaya, there were initiations and a fire yajna (without open windows). There was a wild kirtana with devotees spinning each other around and leaping so high that some could even touch the ceiling. I even saw one man swinging another around so forcefully that the centrifugal force kept his feet off the floor. Several of the best cooks offered an amazing feast that completely satisfied the troops that had been living on granola, stale bread, cold milk and half-frozen bananas for the two weeks.
The highlight plan for the next day was to be the announcing of scores, prizes and kirtana, kirtana, kirtana! Of course, there had to be another feast, then some sankirtana storytelling and kirtana, kirtana, kirtana! Just after Srimad-Bhagavatam class, I got the call that shocked the whole party—the GBC chairman wanted me to immediately fly to Colombia, South America, meet another GBC man and try to mediate a situation. One sannyasi was taking his men and temples over to another camp, so urgent action had to be taken. So that was the end of my time with the devotees in Calgary, leaving everyone shocked and disappointed. They carried on with the festival without me, and I moved on without them.
Unfortunately it turned out to be a fiasco anyway. The sannyasi was so angered by the intervention tactics that he didn’t even arrange a place for us to stay overnight—no temple or member’s house, etc., and there wasn’t even an airport hotel in such a small place. So after a very uncomfortable visit, we had to turn around the next day and fly back to Gita Nagari.
Vicaru regularly will take one of the bikes and head off for a ride in the countryside. Today he came back breathlessly telling me about a huge cornfield he had passed about two miles away. It is one of many one hundred plus acre cornfields in the area, and he showed me a video of the eight-foot high stalks loaded with many ears of corn. He was wondering why we were paying for our regular lunchtime corn-on-the-cob when he could just enter the field and fill his backpack.
I was sorry to crack his enthusiasm when I had to point out that this was starchy animal corn that was ground up with the stalks to make fodder for one of the biggest businesses in our county—a “factory” milk farm. It was not the delicious, juicy sweet corn we offered to our Deities here at Viraha Bhavan.
Locally, over three thousand cows are mechanically fed grass, hay and fodder that have been harvested by huge machines, trucked back to the farm in eighteen-wheelers and served either fresh or fermented throughout the year. The poor cows stay in their stalls, not in pastures, and have their milk bags sucked dry by other machines every day during their peak production years (three or four). Then they are shipped off to the slaughterhouse to make room for the next herd of poor creatures.
This is a far cry from Krsna’s Goloka cows, who wander freely searching out the sweetest green grasses that Giri-Govardhana has to offer. They are carefully milked by the cowherds and treated as lovingly as their own children.We are fortunate to have been given the eyes to see through the “beauty” of rows of corn or acres of grass to understand the illusion of our world. At the same time, Prabhupada has also allowed us to see it as a beautiful reminder of Krsna and the cowherd boys and girls. So—a spark of the splendor that awaits us as we strive for pure devotion.
I recently received a letter from a devotee in Israel who wanted to buy some more of my books. It inspires me to hear how unknown readers in far-off places get the books somehow or other and appreciate them. Here is an excerpt from his letter:
I would like to convey my deep appreciation for your books, which have been a great inspiration to me as a devotee. The principles of honesty in expression in your writings have truly transformed my devotional journey and have helped me in seeking my own individuality in my practice and service. Another aspect of your books that resonates with me is your discussion about managing limited daily energy. I can relate to this challenge, as I experience it myself. However, it’s not easy for many people, including fellow devotees, to fully comprehend this challenge.
I’ve already read SPL (of course), the Japa Reform Notebook, and the Prabhupada letters trilogy. Currently, I’m engrossed in Looking Back, and I’m looking forward to reading many more of your books.
Your grateful servant
The trouble with free writing is that it doesn’t come out as purely Krsna conscious because I am not “wired” to speak or write one hundred percent Krsna consciousness. But there is a type of free writing called “directed free writing.” By this process one chooses a subject and then writes anything and everything that comes to mind on that subject. That way it seems I can steer it to Krsna. I just read in the Bhagavatam that a notable devotee was chanting silently in his mind. That gave me some encouragement because I chant manasa, silently in the mind. If I chant out loud, the tendency is I produce strain in my head, and it builds toward a headache. I know out-loud chanting is best. But I have heard that Haridasa Thakura chanted one-third of his enormous quota silently in his mind. A Godbrother who is a friend of mine also chants silently in his mind, or at most he whispers. I admire him a lot because he practices intense bhajana for many hours a day. So he is a kind of model for me to follow in my own mental chanting. I try to pronounce the words clearly, and occasionally pray, “O Radha, O Krsna, please engage me in Your service.” I like to chant while receiving darsana of my Radha-Govinda Deity or of the big, blown-up photo I have of Radha-Kalachandji from Dallas. This enhances the quality of my japa. Prabhupada wrote that Radharani’s hand, extended in benediction, should be observed by us, then proceed down to the lotus feet of Krsna. So I do this exercise. Whenever I take my eyes off Krsna’s feet, then I go up to Radharani’s hand before I return to His feet. I do not chant at the highest level (suddha-sattva), but I get much satisfaction doing my sixteen rounds.
A registered nurse visited our ashram and asked me many questions. She knew I was a guru of some sort and asked me whether I did counseling. I wasn’t prepared to give her much of an answer, but the fact is I do counseling through emails, through face-to-face meetings, and through my writings. When I meet with devotees, I mostly let them talk. I like them to open their hearts and tell me their troubles; then I make comments. They are often comfortable with this kind of exchange and talk to me freely at length about their life and their conflicts. They seem to like to get their troubles off their chest. I don’t think I am a good conversationalist, so I lean on this strategy of letting the other person do most of the talking, and I interject comments and advice. But mostly I like to play the role of the compassionate listener. When they trust in me, it is a good exchange.
Sometimes in conversations, people try to drag me into their point of view and want me to agree. But I don’t usually go for that. I withdraw and don’t become caught up in their position. I refrain from agreeing with their opinion. I try to give advice from the scriptures to suit their situation and ask them if they can follow the Vedic instructions. I sometimes feel trapped in a “headlock” by a person who goes on and on in presenting their point of view, which I don’t necessarily agree with. I am constrained in my conversations by time because of my proclivity to get headaches, I cannot always speak as long as the person wants me to, and I tell them I will write to them and try to add my conclusion more clearly. Sometimes they are not satisfied with this, but that’s the best I can do, and they will have to accept it.
anchor: a device usually of metal attached to a ship or boat by a cable and cast overboard to hold it in a particular place by means of a fluke that digs into the bottom.
On a news program with several reporters, the one who is most dominant and handles most of the questions is called an “anchorperson.” Srila Prabhupada is the anchor to the ISKCON ship when it is in shallow waters. He holds it down by his vani so that the ship doesn’t float off in some whimsical direction. He assures that it doesn’t crash in the shallow waters. We are all dependent on Prabhupada’s anchor.
jolly: full of high spirits: JOYOUS
Prabhupada used to say that a symptom of a devotee is that he is always jolly. He or she is not morose. When Krsna is separated from the Vrajavasis, and especially the gopis, they all become very unhappy, and no one appears jolly. But their actual state is that they are feeling the ecstasy of viraha, separation from Krsna. By remembering Him in His absence, they feel the highest bliss of all. This is not comprehensible to the nondevotee.
catur-sloki: Four nutshell verses spoken by Krsna in the Second Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.9.33–36)
The first sloka begins aham evasam evagre: In the beginning nothing existed except Myself, now only I exist, and in the future only I will remain. Sri Krsna then says if you see something of value, but it isn’t connected to Me, it’s only a reflection, illusory. Next, Krsna declares that I am in everything, yet at the same time I (in My original form of Krsna) am outside of everything. Finally, Krsna states that a seeker of supreme truth needs to understand these basic principles of the absolute Personality of Godhead, at all times, both directly and indirectly.
Mayavadis misinterpret the catur-sloki to come up with an impersonal conclusion. But this is not the actual direct meaning of the nutshell verses. They clearly establish that Krsna is the Supreme Person, etc.
shut door: When a door is shut, no one can get into a room, especially if the door is locked.
No one has the keys to open the inner sanctum of bhakti unless he has the special keys. The keys are not available to one who is a nondevotee, to one who doesn’t avoid the four sinful activities, to one who doesn’t render loving devotional service to Krsna under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master. To one who surrenders and gives up sinful activities and who serves Krsna with his body, mind and atma, the shut door is immediately opened.
In the beginning at 26 Second Avenue, Swamiji had a telephone installed in his apartment. But he began to receive numerous phone calls from casual and crazy people. They would call him at midnight and say, “Hello Swamiji, how are you doing?” He would reply, “Is this the time to call?” After a series of these intrusive phone calls, he demanded that the phone be taken out. He didn’t like his disciples making long-distance calls as a matter of frugality, because in those days the telephone rates were very expensive.
In several emergency cases, he had his leaders use the phone. When the sannyasis at New Vrndavana were preaching Mayavadi philosophy and disturbing the whole festival at New Vrndavana, Prabhupada was in Japan, but he had his leading disciple call New Vrndavana and tell the leaders that the sannyasis had to leave the Society. That was an emergency case which required the use of a telephone. In his frequent communications with Giriraja and others in the fight to secure the land in Bombay, Prabhupada didn’t use a telephone, but he resorted to telegrams, or usually air mail. So Prabhupada basically stopped using the telephone and confined himself to aerograms. Even to India, for urgent matters, his disciples complied with his example and communicated to him by air mail. Now in the twenty-first century, it is completely different. Devotees communicate rapidly by email, and they use the telephone without restriction. It is a botheration how often the telephone rings, and someone demands your attention for their personal interest. In our ashram, we have just instituted a policy where we turn off our house phone and all personal phones during the time of our out-loud readings while honoring breakfast and lunch. It is very disruptive to try to sustain a Srimad-Bhagavatam reading while getting interrupted by people’s phone calls.
I was thinking of editions of the Bhagavad-gita to facilitate travel—size and clarity of print, and so on. Thinking of reading habits, ways to take the nectar. A little pocket book might be nice of just the Sanskrit and English, a small one similar to those Shambala Pocket Editions. Then thinking about which Bhagavad-gita As It Is I should carry to India. The deluxe is the best (even though the paper is thin) but is it too heavy to carry around? These are nice, external considerations. The internal is to actually taste the nectar. Srila Prabhupada asserts that transcendental reading remains fresh despite repeated readings. This I want. You can’t know all about Krsna, but you always relish hearing about Him. This is more important and more fun than discussing what’s wrong with ISKCON. We may have a responsibility to discuss what’s wrong and seek a remedy for institutional ills, but that doesn’t exclude the importance of continuing to relish Krsna’s statements in Bhagavad-gita, and the krsna-katha of Bhagavatam.
Write as well as read. I am meant for this. One Godbrother said that he doesn’t have “writer’s karma,” the drive to write. Do I have it? A little, and I expand on it, use it. I didn’t feel much like writing just now, but I have begun anyway. I can develop it, but it’s likely that many practical people cannot see the usefulness of it. They will write if they think it can be something “nuts and bolts,” something that accomplishes a purpose. Then they try to control it and make it come out right. They don’t feel the joy of ink coming onto a page.
Rain on roof of this van. Spotlight run by battery. When I feel raindrops, I’ll close the overhead vent. I explained to my Godbrother my open secret of reading in the very early morning. When I said midnight, he wanted to write it down, although he later said he couldn’t rise that early. I immediately said, “Of course not. You are a preacher and have evening engagements.” But I am happy to give up those engagements so I can rise at 12. Midnight might not be auspicious by Vedic standards (Nanda Maharaja was arrested for going into the water too early), but Srila Prabhupada set the example, and I do it to follow him. Do I imitate? If so, it’s the child’s practice—another way of being with my master, I suppose.
I told him that this early rising is part of my inner life. It’s not vague mysticism; I don’t get up and meditate silently, and I don’t enter raganuga-bhajana, but I read for an hour (almost) in one of Srila Prabhupada’s books, then I write for an hour (almost), and then chant for an hour and a half. These are the big three activities that constitute inner life for me—reading, writing, and chanting.
Someone may say that my description of inner life is external, and it can be seen that way. I am describing how I turn the pages of the book or write with a pen or finger my beads and enumerate mantras. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an inner spark. Why else would I do it? I don’t read any book at this hour; I read Srila Prabhupada’s book. I don’t write anything; I free-write and steer to Krsna consciousness (with or without gremlins along for the ride). I don’t chant “Coca-cola” or “Mr. John;” I chant Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare. The inner is outer and the outer is inner, if you know what I mean.
I realize I can take either a negative or a positive viewpoint when I assess my japa, but that’s not an arbitrary choice, is it? I mean, there has to be a factual basis to the assessment. If I take fifteen minutes to chant a round because I keep falling asleep, how can I say that my chanting is nice? Of course, that’s an extreme example. The ordinary state is subtle and hard to ascertain. Anyway, since I do have some choice about how to look at things, I prefer to be hopeful. Hopeful doesn’t mean leading myself along a primrose path of unreality, thinking that I have no problems in chanting at all.
I have already written two books about japa and openly admitted in them the grimmer side of things. I have a reputation among some devotees as one who is willing to admit problems. Therefore, they submit their problems to me. They generously think that I might be exaggerating my difficulties in order to speak for all strugglers.
Narada dasa, echoing my own laments, asked me whether Krsna is even present when he chants. “When I chant inattentively, my mind wandering, etc., is Krsna present, or only His shadow? If it is only His shadow, will I ever actually reach a breakthrough point?”
Dear Narada dasa, all I know is what I read in the sastra. I can repeat it to you along with whatever experience I have had. Your question hints of despair, but don’t despair. Don’t abandon the ship. We have a good captain, Srila Prabhupada, and the Hare Krsna mantra is the most favorable weather because this is Kali-yuga, a time of stormy inauspiciousness. Hari-nama, the most general and liberal form of God consciousness is our only hope. It allows for us to be inattentive rascals, but it still gives so much benefit. Even when we chant offensively, we get relief from our miseries and sins. Therefore, don’t be depressed. After all, you are in the shelter of the holy name, and you are chanting. Krsna will not fully appear in the holy name until we chant purely and wish attention.
As to how long it will take or when you will break through, I can’t say. Prabhupada said it could happen in a minute or fail to happen in millions of births. My only advice now is to please take it seriously. Don’t imagine that you are suffering from a terminal disease, but take it seriously as a positive engagement in your life. Give it priority in a practical way in your daily schedule. You know your daily rhythms, so when you have strength and peace of mind, devote it to the holy name. Always be sure to chant your quota without fail and in a peaceful place. If you do all that and still can’t control your mind, then just keep chanting and praying to Krsna. You’ll break through one day or another. In fact, you are already breaking through bit by bit. As the harer nama verse says, there is no other way. Take that verse personally. There is no other way but to keep striving, and in that striving, you can feel a kind of righteousness. You are performing the yuga-dharma. Give it your best.
Even a convert sometimes gets stuck along the way. One night, after the Swami had shaved his head so that it was gleaming, he sat in his room and talked happily about the four-armed form of Visnu. But when I saw him, I fell back into thinking, “How can I believe this?” And the first time I heard him say that Krsna married 16,000 wives, that also set me backwards, and I thought, “I can’t go further. I can’t accept this. It is too fantastic.” Sometimes you expressed these doubts to Prabhupada and sometimes you did not. If you did ask him, he was always ready with strong argument and sastra. He was not in the slightest bit doubtful, and neither, by his own understanding, was he being dogmatic. He used to say, “You may believe or not believe, that is a different matter.” Theoretically, you might imagine that someone in the world might have a better argument against the Swami, but you did not have any better argument. Besides, part of you very much wanted to believe him, but you just couldn’t get past some of your doubts.
When I heard about the 16,000 wives, I blurted out, “I can’t accept this.”
Prabhupada replied, “You cannot? The greatest scholars cannot.” My doubt aroused his concern. There I was, another ignorant person who could not accept Krsna. Why did not I accept Him? “Why don’t you believe it?” This was another strength of Prabhupada’s—he could answer questions with cool logic, but he was also deeply involved in what he said. He was more involved in his conviction than you were in your doubt.
“Why can’t Krsna marry 16,000 wives? He’s the creator of everything, and He’s in everyone’s heart. If He comes out of the heart of a small number of persons and becomes their husbands, then He can do it. He can do anything.”
One time while Swamiji was lecturing about life on the higher planets, he added, “I am not just saying this, but I am convinced.” That blew my mind. Other times he said, “Rest assured” or, “Take it from me.” He was willing to teach us on that basis also. He was saying, in effect, “I know what I’m talking about. I realize this. It is a fact, so please accept it and take it from me. If you chant Hare Krsna, you will understand that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. All these things will become revealed to you. Take it from me, there are higher planets. Just because you cannot understand it, and you cannot touch it with your senses, that does not mean that it does not exist.”
Gradually, I accepted whatever Prabhupada said. Whatever answers and convictions I now hold, they come from that process—as a doubtful person, I inquired and got answers from Swamiji.
A Godbrother said that when you accept Krsna consciousness, it is like a package deal; you accept everything—the demigods in the higher planets, four-armed forms, thousand-headed forms, and so on. Everything starts to be part of the same axiomatic truth—whatever is in the Vedas or whatever is taught by the spiritual master. You do not pick and choose. Besides, there is a reason why everything is believable. If it is not ‘believable’ to you, that is also understandable. You do not have to comprehend it with your own brain—it is often beyond you. Once you accept these premises, then you accept particular teachings that sound strange to outsiders, on the principle of acintya, inconceivable knowledge. And as we know, knowledge borne of the senses is defective. The realities of other worlds don’t have to tally with our world. The guru knows what is right.
His [Vyasadeva’s] son was a great devotee, an equibalanced monist, whose mind was always concentrated in monism. He was transcendental to mundane activities, but being unexposed, he appeared like an ignorant person.
The devotee is described here as alert. Arjuna is sometimes called Gudakesa, “one who never sleeps,” by Krsna. A devotee is vigilant, and he avoids maya’s traps. Prabhupada alludes to the Bhagavad-gita verse, “What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.” (Bg. 2.69)
Whether devotee or nondevotee, we need intelligence to pursue our goals. Those who choose to practice spiritual life also need introspection, whereas those who desire sense gratification do better without it. When the opportunity arises to chant Hare Krsna or to hear from a self-realized soul, the materialistic person prefers to sleep. He needs his rest so that he will be able to enjoy in the cinemas and brothels of the world. When such places open, the spiritualist becomes indifferent. “He goes on with his self-realization activities undisturbed by material reactions.”
It can be true, however, that a devotee may remain “unexposed” and be hard to discern from the materialist. Sukadeva Gosvami was like that. He did not reveal his transcendental advancement to others. Therefore, some people thought he was ordinary. Even though a devotee may choose to remain “unexposed,” however, he is never the same as a materialist, and anyone who looks below the present surface will see that.
I find it intriguing to think that a person’s Krsna consciousness might be so private that no one would detect it. Just think of Jada Bharata. He pretended to be retarded just to protect himself from becoming diverted by any outside influence. This is an indication of the gravity of a devotee. Devotees relish the association of like-minded persons, but when such association is not available, the devotee, like a solitary yogi, lives with the Supersoul in his heart and remains self-sufficient. Prabhupada writes,
“Unless one is able to relish happiness from within, how can one retire from the external engagements meant for deriving superficial happiness? A liberated person enjoys happiness by factual experience. He can, therefore, sit silently at any place and enjoy the activities of life from within.” (Bg. 5.24, purport)
Most of us fall somewhere between the materialist and the spiritualist. Prabhupada states, “The conditioned soul cannot imagine the actual engagements of the liberated soul.” We might not be able to imagine them either. Who can know what was in Sukadeva Gosvami’s mind and heart? At the same time, we are not completely bound by the modes anymore. We can admit our actual position and at the same time not feel morose.
That’s called counting your blessings. We no longer live in a walking dream based on sense gratification, illusion. “Om ajnana-timirandhasya . . .” The spiritual master has opened our eyes, which were shut tight, by the torchlight of knowledge. We are now hearing from Sukadeva Gosvami instead of some ‘TV broadcaster or radio disc jockey.
The publication of Srila Prabhupada’s unedited letters is controversial. Some feel that the letters should be private; others feel that while the letters should be available among the devotee community, they should not be available so indiscriminately to the outside society. But the letters themselves are bona fide, and our goal in studying them is to increase our enthusiasm and devotional practices.
The letters are somewhat less authoritative than Prabhupada’s books because they are relevant in a much more specific way. Prabhupada addressed his correspondence to individuals (or particular groups of individuals) in certain temple situations and at different times. He also usually wrote in response to his disciples’ inquiries to him, and we do not have that side of the correspondence to give us an even clearer picture of why Prabhupada was speaking in a certain way or how he was applying the Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy to the mentality of a particular individual.
Although in a general sense the letters are less authoritative, to the recipient, they are most relevant. Prabhupada was personally instructing his disciples in the details of their own devotional service. Instructions to one devotee in a letter may not apply to another devotee, or they may change with time (i.e., Prabhupada told me to keep my job at the welfare office, and then later said I could give it up). Because of this, Prabhupada stopped the circulation of his letters among the various centers.
It had been the practice of the devotees that as soon as someone received a letter from Srila Prabhupada, we would xerox it and send it to all the other centers. But in 1969 Prabhupada wrote, “Letters are sometimes personal and confidential, and if all letters are circulated, it may act reversely.” (Letter to Brahmananda, 9/28/69)
Sometimes devotees mention ruefully that it was not always Prabhupada who was writing the letters, but Prabhupada’s secretary. They seem to think that this makes the letters less valuable. But incoming mail was always read to Prabhupada, he would make some reply, his secretary would compose his statements into a letter, and Prabhupada would sign it. So actually, these letters were “written” by Prabhupada. This practice began in the early 1970s, but even after that some letters were dictated directly by Prabhupada and given to a typist to transcribe.
If the letters are relative, are they relevant at all? Yes! For example, the Internal Revenue Service writes individual letters to taxpayers, relevant to their particular financial status, but those letters of judgment are studied widely by tax lawyers and others interested in understanding how the IRS functions.
We should not be addicted to a diet of only letters, and neither should the letters be only used in debates. In Prabhupada’s books we can find statements for and against many issues, as well as statements that balance the extremes. In his letters we find the same statements applied in individual circumstances. But because they are personally applied, they are not always applicable across the board. We should not superficially gather information for one side of a debate from the letters, but should look at both sides of the issue and at Srila Prabhupada’s purports. We have to carefully study the letters to understand the context of time and place, and apply the other techniques previously mentioned.”
I write to help myself conduct this particular japa retreat, to see how to improve chanting now and in an ongoing way.
I also write to reach out to others with guidance and to share the teachings of the acaryas. All writing is different ways to package Krsna consciousness, to keep readers interested, and to give them nectar and instruction.
I am free-writing. It is similar to japa. Both depend on their own processes. Let’s explore a comparison of writing to japa. In japa, you focus on hearing the clearly pronounced name and you look for a break from your confused mind. (The mind is confused by so many currents of thought that it feels like a telephone wire buzzing with hundreds of phone calls at once.) You look for a break wherein you can pray from your actual condition: “Krsna, please help me. Please engage me in Your service!”
And free-writing? It is a process to keep moving quickly over thoughts, selecting ones that are charged with emotion and using them to form prayers. Lately, this “mantra” for writing keeps occurring to me: “Help yourself.” It’s a cue—write something that will help you in Krsna consciousness. “Help yourself” starts with your actual state and goes to serving the Lord’s associates, making prayers to superiors, being friends with peers, and giving parampara instructions and examples to newcomers and younger devotees. It is communication.
Neither japa nor writing can be pursued artificially. I have to concentrate on what I need, what I actually am—the process values honesty. No rituals, no feigned emotions or imagination (kalpana).
Pen jumps up to shout, “Haribol!” Bows down to make pranamas at the mere thought of the name “Gauranga! Lord Caitanya!” Pen does hijinks of kirtana ecstasy. Goes to work with determination like any nine-to-five, hard-effort karmi. Delights, solaces . . . Holds a key, and uses all the keys it can find to try opening the doors—where is greed? Where is greed for greed? When can I find some service to hearing about Radha and Krsna?
Japa is a continual ride, the ultimate ride, the last word in solace (even for one thrown into prison with no books or for one gone blind—solace for the dying who have no time to write more books and who have no concentration or need for anything else). Japa is peace. Like free-writing, japa flows with whatever we have, with whatever we are. It doesn’t wait for a perfect stage before beginning. It doesn’t erase what it just did and go back to start again. If a bead or round is defective, then on to the next one and the next. Japa and writing take you past the material world.
Japa is my hope. Japa is my frustration. It is my embarrassment. It is my distracted performance and my lack of realization. I have been chanting japa for thirty years. I’m still a beginner. Japa humbles me and fills me with enthusiasm at the challenge. It is hopelessly beyond me; I cannot master it. I want to learn how to surrender to the Name and let the Name teach me how to chant. I love it. I appreciate the theistic brilliance of the Lord for introducing harer nama as the yuga-dharma for this sinful age.
Kalau tad dhari-kirtanat.
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 pray to the dry leaves and trees. I mean to say, I pray to God, in the presence of the leaves and trees, “Please let us all mentally, verbally, worship hari-nama. Make it a trend for me, an interest—not a fad—but let me understand that it is the gateway to the attainment of pure devotional service. Improving my chanting is one of the most crucial ways to serve Srila Prabhupada, who says that of all the rules and regulations, chanting sixteen rounds is essential. Prabhupada did not mean mechanical rounds. He meant that we should chant with priti, with love.”
Situations of dire distress drive us to feel helpless, but we don’t realize that we are always in distress. We are so unaware. Here I am in a warm house in the middle of winter in the powerful U.S.A. It is quiet here and I have protective hosts. I have a measure of spiritual favor from guru and Krsna, and I accept the honor disciples and others offer me. Yet I don’t know that my life is slipping away, and I still don’t fully love Krsna. I feel no shame and little regret over this. Is this not a helpless situation?
As for making factual advancement in chanting, I am helpless. I tend to think that my yearning is a yearning just for the cherry on top of the cake, but that I already possess the cake. I am like the materially puffed-up man who occasionally utters Hare Krsna.
I need the holy name. I want to reach out to save myself. I am stuck in a network of material amenities. I am stuck in the role of guru-preacher. I lack faith (or whatever) that the chanting of Hare Krsna can fulfill all my spiritual desires and will be the most pleasing service to guru and Krsna.
“A pure devotee knows that when he chants the transcendental name Krsna, Sri Krsna is present as transcendental sound. He therefore chants with full respect and veneration” (Cc., Adi 2.11, purport).
Perhaps I realize Krsna is His name; I know it to some little degree. Then how can I assume “feeling and veneration”? What else can I say but go on trying? The retreat, the japa worship, the daily best time saved for it, the listening to lectures on devotional science to keep me aware how the aparadhas will adversely affect me—all these are favorable. I am in the right place and in the right association. I am helping myself, and I am receiving divine assistance. So keep as humble as possible and hear the sound vibration of my own utterance of Krsna’s holy name.
Srila Prabhupada emphasized the chanting’s simplicity. But we have to persist. Keep at the attentive, concerned forefront. Don’t slip back from there. Know that chanting is very important in our life and always deserves our full attention. At least that much we should know. Then maybe the regret will come, and the gratitude for His mercy, and the attraction to His pastimes.
Sweet song sure he borrows from past
but on his own love – Srila Prabhupada said there
are millions of temples in India, but
that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have our
own in ISKCON – said that in L.A.
in 1970 just before he left to do it
so grand it became and all
pilgrims go there now.
Similarly, we can
make our song even though
so many have been done in the tradition
Main thing is to be at feet of
your guru and try on your own
you evoke memories sad and sweet
what you went through and
love divining the pleasant
romance the actual event
of Krsna consciousness as you find it
Before we die make
beautiful strong gentle music
we work that way.
“They” may come and ruin us and then
you let go but for now…
That’s my attitude. And Krsna picks
up the tab? No, I have to pay
but He’s upholding all worlds I
simply want to know and recall it.
Srila Prabhupada said Krsna is Anandamaya
and so, on the battlefield He was smiling
while Arjuna was morose.
Work and Love and Chant
funny old goat
so, I can’t walk
on the level parikrama ground
around this house, so?
You can chant your marbles anyhow.
—EJW 26, Part Two, Moving into a House, pp. 102–3
After dressing, the Lord, joking and smiling pleasantly, ate mahāprasādam with the devotees at that place.
In seeing the beauty of the grove, the Lord, endowed with the most attractive activities, with great desire, became happy in His mind with each creeper and tree.
Again He came near the chariot and seeing Jagannātha, attractive with unlimited pastimes, put the chariot behind Him, met with the devotees, and stood victorious, radiating the highest effulgence.
Sometimes clapping His hands and continually saying “Jaya, jaya, jaya, jaya, jaya, jaya” He walked on the road of the chariot and sang confidential songs.
Holding the chariot rope, Gaurāṅga, with His lotus hands, with blossoming lotus eyes, with intense joy, shone brightly while bending His body.
Gaurāṅga, His hairs standing on end, shining like multiple flashes of lightning, holding the chariot rope with great jubilation, while singers glorified the Lord’s pastimes, shone brightly.
Looking on the road, most merciful Gaurāṅga, whose every action was filled with joy, who danced intensely at all times, drank the movement of the beautiful chariot, most astonishing in the three worlds, with His two eyes.
When the sun, having eradicated darkness in the three worlds completely, reached the forests on Sunset Mountain to take rest, the chariot of Jagannātha stopped at that time. But it seemed that the enthusiasm of the people did not.
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.