Better news this week—Satsvarupa Maharaja only had four migraine headaches. He was able to sit up for longer periods of time before a regular headache, and most of the time they went away without taking medicine. He even tested the waters a few times—responded to a few letters, listened to ten minutes of a lecture by Daivisakti devi dasi, heard some Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta audiobook, and got involved in some press affairs. His limit seems to be ten to twenty minutes of activity, then resting for one to two hours while churning on a writing project. His main concern is whether or not he can write again without migraines and seemed to be a little relieved about this. Still it is a long, boring/resting road ahead to recovery . . . A real test of tolerance and patience. Hopefully it will work—resting is still the best medicine.
The “News Items” section of Free Write Journal has been temporarily suspended while Guru Maharaja recuperates.
It’s the first week in October, but everything is still very green here. The air is not cold, and the sky is a very beautiful, light blue. This is also from Krsna. In the Bhagavatam purport today there was discussion of Avijnata, the old friend. No one knows His activities. The living entity forgets his relationship with his old friend. We spoke in a question-and-answer period about how a devotee of Krsna has a very intimate relationship with the Supersoul, although we ordinarily say that we are not worshipers of the four-armed form of the Lord. In this world, however, He is Krsna in our hearts. He is Krsna in that form, whether we see Him in His four-armed form or not. He can speak to us, and He can infuse our hearts with intelligence and help us return to Him. As He says in the Bhagavad-gita, “I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy the darkness born of ignorance.”
Since the disappearance of our spiritual master, we also pray to the Lord to please help us to do the right thing. Give us intelligence and courage to follow Prabhupada. Give us inspiration to work with each other. In my private praying and writing in my diary, I have been trying to get more direction from the Supersoul. However, I know we shouldn’t be demanding; otherwise, it approaches wanting special consolations from God rather than being content and following with faith.
Faith also means knowledge that He is definitely there. He is already there, He does love me, He is giving me intelligence. It doesn’t have to be confirmed by seeing the four-armed form or by some auditory benediction like hearing Him speak. Be assured, don’t be a doubter: He is there.
I have noticed that sometimes even when I go to pray to You, my Lord, in the middle of the prayer I switch to talking to myself. I should try to discipline this. I should speak to You when I am speaking to You. Probably I do this because of so much egoism. However, my Lord, to the degree that I do speak to You, I have shyness, or scruples, or think that You are not there; so please remove that and let me talk to You in earnest. I am not a prakrta-sahajiya, but I do want to talk with You. My Lord, I am going to talk with You in a simple way with faith. Thank You.
Mostly on these walks I encourage myself about the extra praying and thinking of Krsna aside from the chanting, but chanting is more important than other praying. So, if I am a little excited by extra prayer, I must direct that prayer more toward ways to be attentive in chanting. The first prayer may be, “My Lord, please let me pay attention to Your holy name. Please let me honor Your holy name.” However, I can’t even do this interjected prayer. While chanting japa, I just plow ahead. At best, I count what round I am on. I am sorry to have to say this.
This should be the first, attention for prayer improvement. What I want to reach is not a new mystic connection with the Lord as much as just to enter attentive chanting as a servant. I want to be able to say, ‘Good, you are doing better. You are paying attention to the sound of the Lord’s name: Hare, Krsna, and Rama. Just be very simple. Hear and chant, and ask the Lord to let you hear and chant. “Please engage me in Your service, starting with chanting.”
The air was cold enough to make white vapor as we breathed. But as the sun rose it would become warm. Enduring the weather was one of the honest austerities of Vrndavana, as was the lack of technological amenities. Desiring to cast off my foolish thoughts, I turned to Prabhupada as he began his walk. “Srila Prabhupada,” I said, “it seems that India has all spiritual knowledge. But here they can’t even keep the electricity on, whereas in the West they have material advancement. So they should combine. Is that possible?”
“Yes,” Prabhupada replied, and he seemed enlivened at what I had said, “that is my mission. To combine them.” Along with about ten devotees, Prabhupada stepped into the sandy lane and walked in the direction of the old parikrama trail of Vrndavana.
“The material side is also necessary.” he continued. “But in the West they even have a machine for shaving. It is all for the itching sensation, sex—that which is insignificant, abominable. The whole intelligence is being employed like a dog or cat.”
Off the lane we saw two babajis, wearing only small white cloths. They were crouched before a small fire, warming their bodies.
“Vrndavana is the gift of Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis,” Prabhupada said. “The meaning of gosvami can be found in the prayers to the Six Gosvamis. They were wealthy government leaders, but they gave up everything and became beggars, accepting one cloth and always thinking of the gopis. They gave contributions of many books so people could take advantage and become Krsna conscious. Now we see many imitations of Rupa Gosvami in Vrndavana today. We shouldn’t imitate the dress of Rupa Gosvami, while at the same time we cannot give up our cigarettes. It is the gift of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami that we should not jump and try to change our garment all of a sudden. We should try to hear the Absolute Truth from realized souls, and then we can conquer Ajita, Krsna, the unconquerable.”
One of Prabhupada’s disciples working on the Vrndavana project came closer to Prabhupada and asked, “Prabhupada, some of the smarta-brahmanas are very caste-conscious, and they don’t accept that Westerners can be brahmanas. What should we say to them?”
“Tell them that Bharata-varsa means the whole world,” said Prabhupada. The real term is Bharata-varsa, not India. Tell them that the first brahmana was not an Indian. That is Lord Brahma. We have knowledge which makes us brahmana, and they do not. They eat fish. They eat anything. But our men here in Vrndavana, should become actually goswami. That means detached from sex end eating and sleeping. They must become actually gosvami by always engaging in Kuna’s service.
“Prabhupada,” another devotee came forward, “you are like the hometown boy who made good here in Vrndavana. The people are proud of you.”
“They should be proud,” said Prabhupada dryly. “They couldn’t do anything.”
Together the group walked onto the parikrama trail where the Yamuna River used to flow. Many pilgrims were on their way to visit the temples, workers on bicycles and men with donkeys or oxcarts carried their various wares. But almost everyone greeted Prabhupada, saying, “Jaya Radhe!” And he warmly responded, “Hare Krsna!” . . .
As we walked, Prabhupada remarked that Vrndavana was becoming like a desert and that in the future it would become more so. He said it was because of impiety in Vrndavana.
“In the West,” said Srila Prabhupada, “I see in America, Germany, there is so much green. But not here.”
“But Srila Prabhupada,” I asked, “how can it be? The West is not more impious than Vrndavana?”
“Yes,” Prabhupada replied. “But when I came to the West you did not know anything about Krsna. You did not even know that meat-eating and illicit sex were bad. And when I told you to stop, you did it. But Vrndavana is Krsna’s land, yet they are eating meat and having illicit sex. So the reaction is even worse. They are being punished directly by Krsna.”
Reading the Caitanya-caritamrita chapter “The Glories of Haridasa Thakur” (Antya-lila, Chapter 3). Prabhupada encourages us to follow Haridasa Thakur but not to imitate him. Haridasa Thakur practiced a very simple bhajan. He lived in a cottage in a solitary forest, sat before the tulasi plant, and chanted the holy name of the Lord 300,000 times a day. Citing Haridasa’s example, Prabhupada recommends how Krsna consciousness can be practiced without difficulty. But he warns against imitation:
Throughout the entire day and night, he would chant the sixteen names of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. One should not, however, imitate Haridasa Thakur for no one else can chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra 300,000 times a day. Such chanting is for the mukta-purusa, or liberated soul. We can follow his example. however, by chanting sixteen rounds of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra on beads every day and offering respect to the tulasi plant. . .. Therefore we request the members of the Hare Krsna movement to follow Haridasa Thakura’s example rigidly.
Haridas Thakur converted a prostitute by his constant chanting. When she surrendered to him, he recommended “Chant the Hare Krsna mantra continuously and render service to the tulasi plant.” In his purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada also recommends continuous chanting (Antya-lila 3.137):
In our Krsna consciousness movement, we are teaching our followers to chant the Hare Krsna mantra continuously on beads. Even those who are not accustomed to this practice are advised to chant at least sixteen rounds on their beads so that they may be trained. Otherwise, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu recommended:
trnad api sunicena
taror api sahisnuna
kirtaniyah sada harih
. . Sada means “always.” Haridasa Thakur says, nirantara nama lao: “Chant the Hare Krsna mantra without stopping.”
“Don’t imitate Haridasa” and “Always chant” seem like contradictory instructions. How may we please Srila Prabhupada? There are other purports in which Prabhupada makes it very clear that we should not attempt to go to a solitary place and chant a big number of rounds like Haridasa Thakur. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur also has described this as a cheating process, whereby one imitates Haridasa Thakur and tries to get fame as a great devotee. If we attempt this, we will fall prey to sleep and lust, and our bhajan will become nonsense. Therefore, we take solace that Prabhupada has recommended only a bare minimum of sixteen rounds daily. But when Prabhupada encourages all devotees to chant always, it awakens a flicker of hope within us that maybe one day we may learn to always chant Hare Krsna.
Since we’ve come here, there is a diminishing half-moon, but in the morning. by 6:45, a golden sun. Prabhupada says, “Don’t be sorry they bar us from the temple.” But we are sorry we don’t chant the name of Jagannatha in love, because then we would be always blissful: brahma-bhutah prasannatma na socati na kanksati.
Walking on the beach with Madhumangal dasa. I daydreamed: What if I became mad about the chanting and couldn’t stop chanting Hare Krsna with great pleasure? But Prabhupada wants us to do multifarious duties, including fighting lawsuits. “Go on with the fighting.” Yes. But what about this mechanical japa? All right, I will be quiet, try to reform, but not demand progress. The Name may one day taste sweet. We walked and chanted two rounds this way. Tomorrow we visit the places of Haridas Thakur.
My Dear Satsvarupa,
Please accept my blessings. Herewith please find four pages of poems written by Tirthapada dasa Brahmacari who is working at Sydney very diligently. If our Vyasa Puja pamphlet is not yet finished, you may add them there or conveniently they may be published in BTG. He is a good worker in Sydney; he should be encouraged.
Hope this will meet you in good health.
Your ever well-wisher,
A. C Bhaktivedanta Swami
This letter indicates that despite all the difficulties in ISKCON and my own appointment to a post of responsibility as GBC member, I still had my regular services to perform. I liked being fully engaged—I lived for it. My health was good, so having all this work to do was not a physical stress. Devotees often told me that I was too thin to be a leader of so many devotees, and they encouraged me to eat more and to fill out my body, but I couldn’t take advice like that seriously. Although I was thin, I was never sick, and I never missed anything due to illness. I had a lot of energy, and I ran up and down the stairs of the Boston temple many times a day in order to accomplish all the things I was supposed to do.
Prabhupada had indicated in a 1969 meeting that I had so much to do that I shouldn’t be typing his tapes, but that was one service I didn’t wish to relinquish. Then Prabhupada told me that a real leader delegates responsibility instead of doing all the work himself. Perhaps by 1970 I was doing too much to be efficient, but I don’t remember feeling frustrated about that. The only struggle I was having was with my marriage. Whether the troubles were my fault or the fault of my wife, the main frustration that came out of my marriage was that it distracted me from concentrating on my service. Somehow, the marriage didn’t bolster a sense of mutual Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Both of us had a holy dedication to Prabhupada’s books, and Prabhupada himself had led us to be active devotees. Both of us burned the candle at both ends. Unfortunately, we didn’t form a team to serve Prabhupāda together but were always at odds.
In this letter Prabhupada mentions Tīrthapada dasa Brahmacari. I’m not sure I knew him even then, but this is one in a series of letters I received from Prabhupada in which he sent me something someone had written and asked me to publish it. Prabhupada writes that he wishes to encourage this devotee because he is such a sincere preacher. As I mentioned previously, Prabhupada didn’t interfere with our final decision on what should be published, but Hayagrīva, Jayadvaita, and I would receive these pieces in the mail from Prabhupada and decide whether or not they would fit into BTG. In this case, we could also consider printing the poems in the Vyasa-puja booklet.
I like Prabhupada’s mood that we did not have to base all decisions on literary considerations. Sometimes we could print something simply to encourage a devotee. Of course, in a publication there are limits to how that sentiment can be applied. In this case, I don’t remember whether or not we published Tīrthapāda’s poems or where they appeared. I do know, however, that it was our system to inform the devotee being recommended, one way or another.
The practice of prayer is bound to stir up some difficulties. Most of them arise within oneself and some may come in relation to others. The greatest difficulty is that because of encountering difficulties, one will entirely stop the practice of prayer. As with most obstacles in the path of perfection, one should consult with one’s spiritual master for guidance. And if one wants at all to continue the practice of prayer, one should follow Rupa Gosvami’s first principles for favorable devotional service as taught in Upadesamrta, utsahan niscayad dhairyat: “Being enthusiastic, endeavoring with confidence, and being patient.”
Is the practice of prayer, especially personal prayer, bona fide in the Vaisnava parampara? If you don’t raise this doubt yourself, someone else will raise it for you. I have already cited several statements by Prabhupada and the sastras to support that one should submit to Krsna whatever distress or confidential problem he has, and there are many more statements, once one starts looking for them. How many times that Srila Prabhupada simply said, “Pray to Krsna?” Many times.
Srila Rupa Gosvami has therefore said that by affection and love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, devotees can express their mind to Him with their words. Others, however, cannot do this, as confirmed in Bhagavad-gita (bhaktya mam abhijanati yavan yas casmi tattvatah).
Since temperments differ, some devotees may be more inclined to the inner dialogue than others. Some may even pray regularly without really noticing it or labeling it as “prayer.” We needn’t advocate that everyone must pray in the way we do. But, although prayer makes no noise, some may become disturbed that anyone their house is taking prayer so seriously.
The voice of doubt continues: “What has this to do with the preaching mission?” One answer this is that purity is the force. Any spiritual activity which purifies us and makes us a genuine devotee will make us more fit to preach. Prayer will help us to become more convinced of Krsna’s presence.
As we become more Krsna conscious, the people we meet will be impressed that we are not speaking hype or trying to cheat them. Prayer will also give us inner strength to face the opposition to preaching which comes from nondevotees.
By praying for others, one’s selfish heart broadens, and an automatic result is that one wants to give them Krsna consciousness. This attitude of caring for others and then wanting to actually do something for them is expressed in the prayer of Prahlada Maharaja:
My dear Lord Nrsimhadeva, I see that there are many saintly persons indeed, but they are interested only in their own deliverance. Not caring for the big cities and towns, they go to the Himalayas or the forest to meditate with vows of silence (mauna-vrata). They are not interested in delivering others. As for me, however, I do not wish to be liberated alone, leaving aside all these poor fools and rascals. I know that without Krsna consciousness, without taking shelter of Your lotus feet, one cannot be happy. Therefore I wish to bring them back to shelter at Your lotus feet.
Doubts may be raised endlessly, and in a positive sense, they may serve to correct or refine any non-Vaisnava elements that may have entered our prayers. But we shouldn’t run scared just because someone thinks we are odd. How is it even possible to stop praying? For a devotee it is as natural as breathing. The doubt whether prayer practice is bona fide is mostly a matter of misunderstanding. Like Prahlada Maharaja, we should go on praying, without becoming an antagonist. If our behavior and enthusiasm for regular devotional activities improves because of praying, no serious devotee will complain about our “talks with God.”
Haribol. It’s January 28 and I’m on the air to discuss Krsna consciousness.
Heard that there was an armed robbery in the temple in Guyana, fire in the Crimea, eruptions on the skin, temples in the Himalayas, jokes on Main Street, stripping of the birch trees, crumpling up of the oak leaves, winter in the Maine desert, prayer of the heart, St. Therese, Brother Aelred, William Burroughs, Hare Krsna.
I once sat in the barber chair of—what was his name? Fiorelli? The Italian barber in Great Kills Village. Imagine going back there now as a devotee. It would freak them out. I wouldn’t have the guts to do it. I had the guts to do it in 1966 just after the Swami had rescued me, but visiting them and trying to give them Krsna consciousness seemed like an impossible mission. When I went back to see my sister to recruit her and her husband as trustees of Swamiji’s fledgling ISKCON, I parroted Swamiji’s words with conviction. I wasn’t a cultist, but I hadn’t yet learned to speak in my own voice. I hadn’t learned to enunciate the philosophy with personal realization, although my heart had changed. I knew I wasn’t taken in by an Indian “god,” and Swamiji had not imposed “his” Krsna on me. Love of Krsna was already in me, and Swamiji awoke it. No one has to teach what comes naturally. It would have taken someone expert, though, to see inside my fanatical, new convert veneer to see how I had been touched. The people I knew in Great Kills Village just weren’t up to that—not my parents, not my sister and her husband, not old Fiorelli, the barber.
I already told you about a Godsister who went into a coma and heard people asking in her room, “Is she dead yet?” I didn’t tell you, though, that she said that for years she hadn’t been chanting, but had been engaging in sinful activities to the max. After meeting the devotees in New York City again, somehow or other back at her place, she tried to chant again. She said it was like being a mummy. By chanting, she felt herself peeling off layer after layer of covering until she again remembered that she was a devotee, that Swamiji had loved her, that she was meant to be Krsna conscious.
My dear friends, dear radio congregation, this is your announcer. There was a time when Vin Scully and Red Barber, who broadcast the games from Ebbets field, would say during World War II, “There is good news tonight,” or, “There is bad news tonight,” in those grave, rolling stones Gabriel Heater used. Well, what does a Hare Krsna have to say? Does he speak like Billy Graham or as if he were part of a panel of religious experts? “Mr. Guarino (or shall I call you Satsvarupa dasa?), according to your faith, what is the meaning of religion?”
“Thank you for asking, Billy.” In the Sanskrit language—the Vedas are written in Sanskrit and are at least five thousand years old—”religion” is known as dharma, a term which is difficult to translate into English. Dharma does not refer to something appropriate. I’ll just dig in and repeat something that Prabhupada said.
Here’s something he said: there is a difference between theoretical and realized knowledge. To illustrate this point, he told the story of the time he was at work in Subhas Candra Bose’s chemical laboratory in Calcutta. The firm owned a sulfuric acid chamber. Well, that machine wasn’t working one day, so all the big scientists conferred, consulted books, looked at the machine, and tried to figure out how to make it work. But they couldn’t. Then Subhas Candra Bose, the intelligent manager, at once sent a messenger to another chemical firm and asked an ordinary laborer there to please come over. This man was a laborer, but he was experienced with machines. He came into the lab, looked at the ailing chamber, and worked at it for a few minutes. Soon, it was producing acid again. Experience is important, and even a simple person can have it.
I forget if there were more details in his telling of that story, but just knowing how Prabhupada taught, I can conclude the analogy by saying that the “experience” to which he was referring in his reference to devotional service is feeling love for Krsna. We don’t have to become great tapasvis or have a vast material or even spiritual education. All we need is devotion, and an ordinary person can have it just as easily as a learned scholar. Sometimes even easier.
I remember when I first bought Prabhupada’s three volumes of the First Canto in 1966. I wasn’t even initiated. I asked him if the books were his commentaries of the sastra. I hinted that they were subjective. I was trying to show off I knew about reading books. He said, yes there were his commentaries. He said they were six dollars each. I was dressed in a suit jacket and tie on my lunch hour from the welfare office. I opened my wallet and gave him a twenty-dollar bill. He made a gesture of getting change, but I said he could keep the whole thing. He then asked me to sit down in a heavy voice. There were several other devotees seated listening to him talk, but I told him I had to get back to work—I was on my lunch hour. He didn’t seem disappointed by my remark, but enlivened to see that I was a person who was not just a jobless hippie but a person with employment and a busy life. He saw I could be employed in Krsna’s service. I took the books and began to read them. When I came upon the first long verse and a ten-page purport, I had to slow down to read it. There were printing errors and grammatical errors in the Indian edition. But I didn’t mind them. There were quaint phrases like “Lord” but I was charmed by them. My initial attraction to Prabhupada transferred to reading his book. I read it with enthusiasm, although I didn’t understand much.
I brought the book to work and put it in my drawer. I would occasionally open my drawer and look at it and read a little bit of it. My residence was in the worse of slums. I didn’t live in a hippie section of the Lower East Side but south of Houston Street, which was more densely Puerto Rican. My apartment was so bad that the landlord didn’t even collect the rent. Water dripped down on your head as you went into building. Shortly after this introduction to Prabhupada and the Srimad-Bhagavatam, I moved out of that hellish situation and got a slightly better apartment just around the corner from 26 Second Avenue. I had cats in my old apartment and just let them loose in the hall, and I left my collection of LPs which could have been used by the temple to be sold for money. I left them behind on the table in my room because I wanted to renounce them. I bought a sleeping bag and abandoned my bed, which was in my old my apartment, and slept on the floor in my new apartment and chained my typewriter to the radiator. Prabhupada was giving lectures on the Bhagavad-Gita, so reading his Srimad-Bhagavatam you would get into more advanced subject matter then what he was presenting in his lectures. When I read in the Bhagavatam in one of the later chapters about Vyasadeva’s desponency after writing so many Vedic literatures, it really resonated with me, because I was a writer and I was also despondent. So I asked Prabhupada about it. It was not a subject matter he had brought up in his lecture. He opened his eyes wide with pleasure that I asked such a question about Vyasadeva and Narada. That was the advantage of reading the Srimad-Bhagavatams along with hearing him in his lectures.
I love to read Prabhupada’s unedited English in his 1962 edition: “He sees at night in the sky and naturaly thinks what are the stars, how they are situated and who lives there and so on.” Later, Prabhupada told Hayagriva, “Put it nicely.” Then Jayadvaita dasa began to edit because he told Prabhupada he could bring it closer to the original. (I remember not wanting to change Prabhupada’s Teachings of Lord Caitanya. After all, William Faulkner and James Joyce broke all the rules and created their own styles, and people accepted their writings. Why couldn’t Prabhupada do that too?)
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.