This week was another roller coaster ride with headaches. At least the nausea has subsided for the most part, with only half the medicine. There were only two migraine headaches (both on the same bad day). The rest of the days were scattered with two or three “regular” headaches per day. Despite this, there were more “up” times—sitting, reading, writing, listening to lectures, etc., for ten or twenty minutes at a time before the clouds set in and Satsvarupa Maharaja had to go down in bed again in the dim room. Satsvarupa Maharaja is starting to get used to the fact that it probably will be a long haul unless the hoped-for miracle occurs. I think the readers (including myself) are also going to look forward to incremental breakthroughs, if at all, during any particular week. For example, writing means one or two pages for the week, rather than many pages, which would be his regular standard.
Your respectful servant,
The “News Items” section of Free Write Journal has been temporarily suspended while Guru Maharaja recuperates.
The person on the left comes from a mleccha or yavana background. Both his Italian-American father and his Irish-American mother were meat eaters and liquor drinkers and trained their son to be the same. The son then added aberrations of his own in illicit sex and taking of recreational drugs. The person on the right in the picture is a nitya-siddha pure devotee of Krsna who never committed any sinful activities in his lifetime. Yet the pure devotee is humbly accepting a garland of flowers from the person of the mleccha-yavana background. And why is that? Because he has accepted him as a disciple, as a spiritual son via hari-nama initiation. He no longer considers that the young man is a mleccha-yavana, but he has told him he is a sincere devotee of the Lord and that Krsna will give him auspicious advancement. The young man is a householder, but he is a temple president and has a full time job as a welfare officer for which all his offerings goes go to the temple treasury. Prabhupada considers the young man qualified because he is hardworking in the preaching mission, and he follows the regulated principles. Prabhupada has made him a brahmana. In so doing he quoted Sanatana Gosvami’s verse, that as iron can be changed to gold by touching it with a cintamani stone, so a low-class man can become a brahmana by chanting the holy names of Krsna: Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare. The young man has faith that he has been cleansed and that he has been accepted as a son in spiritual parampara. The young man is aware that he is lacking in many finer qualifications of a Vedic brahmana, but he has sincere faith in his spiritual master, and that makes him very happy.
I spin the roulette wheel on remembrances from my life and watch what number the ball stops at. I consider the milestones in my spiritual life and my fortune in that Prabhupada personally attended me in each case. At my first initiation I was lucky to be one of the first ones to receive the honor. It was Radhastami of 1966, and just a small group were gathered by Prabhupada in his worship room at 26 Second Avenue. He had me recite his pranama mantras after him and when I came to the word “bhakti” in Bhaktivedanta, I felt myself diving down deeply into space. I took the initiation seriously and felt personally bound to the Swami. Two years later he performed the first brahminical initiation in ISKCON at our Boston storefront on Glenville Avenue. I was so proud of the fact that he was doing it in Boston, and it was intimate, with him giving each of us the Gayatri mantras during the fire sacrifice. The Boston brahmanas were the first, and Swamiji personally handed us the piece of paper with the Gayatri mantras and another mantra by the Avanti brahmana in Srimad-Bhagavatam, and he looped the Gayatri thread around our torsos. In 1972, on Nrsimhadeva’s Appearance Day, another milestone took place as Prabhupada gave four of us sannyasa initiation in the Los Angeles temple. We had private meetings with him where we asked questions about sannyasa and when he handed me my danda he said, “Preach, preach, preach.” In December of 1973, Prabhupada treated me again in a very special way. Out of all his disciples he called me to join him and become his personal servant and secretary to replace Srutakirti, who had just become married. I was thrilled at his request and rushed to join him in Los Angeles, where I took on my duties of cooking, massage, and answering his mail. I was overworked, but I did my best. In 1977, he picked eleven disciples to initiate on his behalf because he was too ill, and my name was one of the first he mentioned. There is a commercial for Delta Airlines that says, “When you go to the trouble to pick an airline for your travels, is that airline obliged to reciprocate? It should. Because loyalty is not a one-way street.” Similarly, for all the special personalized treatment I have received from Prabhupada, I am obliged to serve him in full surrender. He has been so kind as to train me personally in the beginning of my Krsna consciousness, and I owe him the guru-daksina, which can never be fully repaid. If one thinks he can repay the debt he owes his guru, he is a joker. It is a gift beyond repayment. But I owe it to him to stay loyal and keep preaching on his behalf as a token of my full appreciation and debt. I will never give up being Prabhupada’s cela (servant) and will stay faithful in my vows to him.
Last night I dreamt of the Guarinos. One group of us arrived at a place and had a car ride scheduled for the next morning. Then Uncle Mickey, who was physically big, and another uncle arrived. They needed a ride to the same place where we were going, but Mickey was considerate. He said maybe they couldn’t all fit in our car since I also had my luggage (including my book). I said in the morning when our car actually arrives, we can try to fit in. We’ll see. Then I wanted to tell them my childhood memories of the Guarinos, especially something my father used to say —that if the five brothers had gotten together to form a business—something like a furniture moving business—it could have been a great success, but they could not cooperate. Do I dream of them because only two days ago I learned that my father died?
Svevo mourns on principle. If he knew who he was, then
he’d know his story, what he has done. He waits for words
to be his own, not those of John Berryman’s “Henry’s Fate.”
Is he the one right now ascertaining whether he has
indigestion? Is it he who is hearing the highway sounds?
Is he afraid? All we can conclude with any certainty is that Svevo joined the Hare Krsna movement.
I would like this to be a bright and light narrative, like the way I felt when we first stopped for breakfast.
No use recalling childhood.
It’s not that we now and
even at the time . . .
were not God conscious,
doesn’t help me except
I was a self and so were they.
Illusion of happiness is
also a kind of happiness?
Srila Prabhupada said, “What if a man builds
a very nice house and you ask
him why he built it
and he says, ‘Just to set fire to it’—
you’d think he’s a crazy fool.”
I have to write even when I don’t feel like it. The dictionary defines “marathon” as “a foot race of 26 miles, 385 yards run on an open field.” It refers especially to an event in the Olympic games. It’s derived from the story of the Greek runner who ran from Marathon to Athens to tell of the Greeks’ victory over the Persians. A marathon is also ‘any long-distance or endurance contest.’ Lie on your back and dream. On your side. The day turns mild. We will reach our day’s end destination, Ljubljana, it’s called. Zagreb is to the southeast.
Did it ever occur to you that you are not making progress? Drive on, only two hours from the temple. I’m a faded, living legend, who wrote the biography, was there in the beginning, has no teeth, doesn’t care much what others may think. I anticipate danger, anticipate being thrown in the clinker, think of Amnesty International.
If we examine what makes us happy, we may discover a means to find our unique self. Plenty of people would like a wet rag to cool down a hot body or to eat the whole-wheat spaghetti (no tomato sauce) we ate with vegetables at lunch. I look over at the desk in this van (my desk), at my new desk lamp, and the index card I taped there reminding me to write. Does that make me happy?
True happiness is far away. The unique self is known by revelation. The Supreme makes us happy. When we serve Him, we can taste a drop of His sac-cid-ananda nature. No other process can do it, and no introspection or speculation. Scratching the surface leaves you cold or hot, but not spiritually where you want to be.
From Rome came the news the Celts
were on the march
but then later the Romans marched on the Celts. And
meanwhile in India, in
Vrndavana, a few knew of
Krsna and Radha in Goloka…
I’m glad you’re back with us in
reindeer-land in Hare Krsna mantras.
You can still take it easy, but
I’ll ask you to sing and you
have only eight or ten songs of your own
which you revolve in a cycle.
I’m glad to see you’re back
in the temples and homes, reading
the book giving up obeisances
to another guru.
Please free to work for us and clean our shoes.
I’m glad to see you’re preaching
and stay clear of ennui and
I’ve heard you’ve got no email but at least
you bust your bone. You still
get them trifle headaches, man?
Once a man claimed
that he’d run out of steam,
we gave him a boast but he said
don’t do it by chemical stimulants.
We grabbed his boat by the sail and hoisted
him up and he landed on the ledge
near the sedge he said
Gosh, I don’t have anything up here
but my own head in a tent.
We said this is too prosaic you’d
better wait “till the devotees
come home and in the meantime
just wash the pots twice a day.”
He said that’s fine and went
under the temple president’s fond gaze.
But after a month he said now
I’m ready for preaching and wanted
to move to the cakra center
of the U.S.A. where many
Buddhists and Native Americans lived
and where Krsna consciousness
was just another thing.
Let the trees blossom,
“Hang in there!” was the best
thing you said to me, wrote Hari
dasa to me. “It empowered me
to go on living with my wife and
business.” Say it to yourself. I picked
it up from the migraine online
journal with a use to
help each other when
there’s no other recourse, when
the magic bullet doesn’t work.
Pray to God.
That copper penny is shining
get with it and chant Hare Krsna tonight,
before the sun goes down it could be your
Writing won’t kill you or despiritualize you. You simply need some good optics. Let us write to our heart’s content and chant much better. You just have to write of the brilliant white underclouds at 4:30 P.M. and remember the good side of your mother. The cameo of this child praying here on my desk, whom I brought from Ireland. Now you can expect “Dear John” letters, more from Ireland than anywhere else.
And the eagle soars to the top of the Douglas fir.
God is not a dot. Not a vast, indifferent universe, not a merging of selves, not a nada nada nada nada. God is the Supreme Person, and He expands into many parts, and parts of plenary parts. His loving potency (hladini-shakti) is Srimati Radharani.
Pulling out all the stops. Shine all the stars. All the lotus petals. Never mind one fellow who can’t make it. The tide flows anyway, despite his puny failure. You have compassion for the poor? So does She. Call on Her mercy for all errant souls.
Who is the good-looking man and the beautiful young woman with Him?
Hare Krsna mantra has twice as many Radhas as Krsnas. Krsna has arranged it that way.
You are capable of considering the quality
of nama a little.
Me? Me talk about Radha’s radiant
face and limbs for plenty
pages? What you know, what you’ve
heard. I’m shy to go forward. Just repeat
what Prabhupada said. And what he
said of Krsna and what he said not
to say. Oh, like he said
some people are like the traumatized cow in
the barn who saw fire and now is
afraid of any red. She’s
compared to sex mongers who’ve heard
of Radha and Krsna pastimes
and can only think of them
as like their own sex exploits.
Such people should
never go into the kunjas of Vraja as long as
their hearts associate mundane sex
with Radha and Krsna.
So write or die, have you fully explored that?
What do you need to revisit?
Or visit for the first time?
Your relationship with your father?
All Radha-Krsna pastimes in a new playette?
Sharon Olds in an interview: “I never create characters.” I rally to that statement by Sharon. I mostly assassinate any character that comes my way, including my own self, give him different names. It is a great achievement to make a Raskolnikov, a Micawber, a Holden Caulfield, a Dr. Zhivago, a King Lear, little Dorritt, etc.
Especially I don’t want to make Krsna a character, or Radha a character, or Mother Yasoda, or Nanda, or Sridama, or Vrndavana or Yamuna. It can be done by great authors who make reference to the rasika sastras and who are themselves immersed in those sastras and have a vision of the Lord and His parisads. But I am too afraid to go there. I can occasionally pick the fruit of a Prabhupada saying, or something straight from the KRSNA book, spoken in my own hoarse voice. But not a character of my own creation.
I don’t know if you find this usable, Mr.
Publisher, Mr. Reader, but
I wrote it just before supper.
I am not a holy monk from Salamanca.
But I have pure, pure roots
replanted at age 26
at 26 Second Ave. by His Divine Grace Prabhupada.
He gave me the name “Satsvarupa dasa,” and
I had to turn in Stephen T. A good
deal. Smoke gets in your
eyes at the yajna in his apartment.
I dove deep at his feet
saying “bhakti,” they had to rescue me.
That is not a made-up story,
truly happened with big red beads.
It’s been a long road and I’m not
so happy about where I’ve sunk
to now. Need to pull up
by my bootstraps. . . .
Krsna is kind. He allows us to think of Him or not as we desire. Often, unfortunately, we desire not to. We object to His power and want to claim some of His supreme control for ourselves. The more control we claim, however, the more distracted our lives become, and we lose that peaceful place inside ourselves where we would have practiced devotion. Nondevotees are gross about this, but devotees suffer from it too. One devotee wrote me that her life always seems to come down to the struggle for control. Then life gets so quick- “a whirlwind”-that she has no time to find satisfaction and taste in spiritual life. How to rectify?
Be simple and dependent on Krsna. There is no other answer. O Lord, O Energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your service. O son of Maharaja Nanda, Krsna, I am Your eternal servitor.
We have to be conscious to perform devotional service. In his purport to Bg. 18.57, Prabhupada gives a wonderful insight as to how we can think of Krsna while engaged in duties. He says that we should act under the Lord’s direction. Then we can know, “I have been given this work by Krsna.” This brings the concept of “eternal servant” out of the theoretical realm and into the practical.
And we should think devotionally. If we sweep the floor mechanically or with our minds in a daydream state, that is useless. Krsna doesn’t need the floor swept; He wants our devotion. Sometimes trying to find that devotion means taking a break from sweeping the floor. We have to find our attentive and loving recitation of the holy name, and we have to learn to pray.
The ability to know Krsna to some extent by thinking about Him is perfected when it is dovetailed with authorized activity by the Lord. We need both: just thinking about Krsna without serving Him is incomplete; duty done without Krsna consciousness is practically useless. We must practice both.
Srila Prabhupada wrote to a sannyasi disciple of his—who had thanked Srila Prabhupada for awarding him sannyasa— “You are competent to spend your life traveling and preaching as a sannyasi.” I also travel and preach on his order. I hope to do this service for the rest of my life. Most of my preaching comes in the form of writing. Travel enhances the writing and frees me from entanglements and politics and staleness.
If I were to boil down what I want from my disciples, it would be that I am asking them to improve. That is the thrust of my own attempts in devotional service, to always try to improve and deepen my Krsna consciousness. I don’t ever want to think that I have improved enough. Inspiration for improvement comes from hearing. No matter what stage we are in in our lives, we can always hear something and then aspire to improve ourselves.
Prabhupada gave a lecture in Hawaii, 1974, where he talked about becoming a genuine devotee. He began by explaining the three stages of chanting—offensive, inoffensive, and pure. Then he commented on devotees who don’t chant their rounds. In the lecture, Prabhupada quotes Bhaktivinoda Thakura:
Merely reciting the external syllables of the holy name does not mean that one is actually chanting the holy name. We must be purely chanting…. Therefore we must have fixed chanting process. Because we are not in the pure stage, therefore by force… So even if we do not follow sixteen rounds, where is the question of chanting Hare Krsna? Don’t be artificial…. Don’t be… a show bottle. Be real thing. That is wanted. If you want real benefit of spiritual life, don’t be show bottle.
Prabhupada used that word a lot. Don’t be a show bottle devotee. This is what the spiritual master wants from the disciple, that he or she be a real devotee, not a show bottle devotee. (The phrase “show bottle” comes from the practice of pharmaceutical shops using bottles of colored liquid to advertise their medicines in their shop windows. The show bottle did not contain actual medicine.)
In this lecture, Prabhupada defines a show bottle devotee as someone who doesn’t chant sixteen rounds. That devotee may wear neck beads and tilaka, but his devotional service is show bottle. A real devotee practices Krsna consciousness. At least we have to chant our rounds, we have to practice. Otherwise, we will never reach pure chanting.
Therefore, we can extend my statement that what the spiritual master wants from the disciple is improvement to include that he wants truthfulness and genuineness. We can’t say, “Oh, I don’t want to be a show bottle devotee. I want to be a good devotee. I want my spiritual master to see that I am not less than a pure devotee. Therefore, I’d better not tell him I am having problems in spiritual life.” Actually, that’s another kind of show bottle. We have to be truthful with ourselves, with our spiritual master, and to our endeavors in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We need confidence to practice. The acaryas have given us this Kṛṣṇa conscious sadhana in parampara. We have to practice it with faith.
One time some devotees asked Prabhupada, ‘How can we please Kṛṣṇa?’ Prabhupāda answered, ‘By your anxiety.’ It was such an unusual and unexpected answer that the devotees laughed nervously. Prabhupāda then said, ‘If you have a sense that I did something wrong, I did not serve nicely, then you can improve. But if you think, ‘I did everything nicely, I am already advanced, then how can you improve?’ Kṛṣṇa can enjoy everything we offer Him without our help. He is pleased by our anxiety and eagerness to improve.
When a disciple shows that anxiety or eagerness to improve and takes help from the spiritual master, then the guru-disciple relationship deepens to the point where the guru and disciple can discuss krsna-katha. When that happens, it’s pleasing both. to the guru and the disciple. Prabhupāda says in his purport to Bhag. 10.1.4: “For krsna-katha, topics about Kṛṣṇa consciousness, there must be a speaker and a hearer, both of whom can be interested in Kṛṣṇa consciousness if they are no longer interested in material topics.”
—Among Friends, Volume 2 #3 (1993)
When I write to You, I should ask for service. “All I want in my life is Your causeless devotional service, birth after birth.” I know what You want me to do. You want me to contribute to Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana movement— “Tell everyone you meet about Krsna.” Chant Hare Krsna. I have done it for many years. I still do it, mostly by writing.
And aside from making propaganda, I try to write to You personally, to get to know You. Of course, You will reveal Yourself to me by Your own sweet will, as You desire. If I act for You, You will be pleased with me and reveal Yourself in my heart. I contend that writing itself is an action to approach You. When I make a sincere, well-composed prayer, which is an act of devotion recognized by You. A prayer expresses Your glories, describes Your beauties, and praises Your devotees.
I cite Your glories by describing You as the Supreme Truth, the Supreme Person, the cause of all causes. From Your original form emanates all the expansions of Godhead, all the individual spirit souls, and all the energies and manifestations of the material and spiritual worlds. Everything comes from You and is maintained by You.
A prayer expresses Your beauty by describing Your personal form, especially as appreciated by the gopis of Vrndavana. They see You as the conqueror of the beauty of Cupid. You are indeed the original Cupid. Your form attracts all the women in the universe and makes them give up their attention to their husbands or mundane paramours.
A prayer praises Your devotees because You can only be approached through them. Those who love You and distribute Your message are very dear to You. One who becomes dear to Your devotees becomes dear to You.
I am not qualified to make wonderful prayers (uttamasloka) because I do not know Your universal glories, I have not perceived Your personal beauty, and I do not render devotional service to Your devotees. My prayers are poor, broken offerings, made out of a personal need to express myself to You. I am a “wannabe” devotee. My desire to know You is “self-ish,” not broadminded. It is vertical (from me to You), not horizontal (from You to me—to others).
As I write this impromptu prayer to You, I am getting a headache, and my thinking process is becoming disturbed. I want to close it out by saying something in favor of my writing to You, feeble as it may be. The fact that I write to You means I want to reach You and to behold You. And if You want me to serve You, then I want to serve You. I am not a warrior. I am not a poet. I am not a scholar. Am I a devotee? That You will judge. You will ask my spiritual master, and he will tell You. If I am to make it as a devotee, writing to You will have to be included. It is a virtue, of a kind. I pray to You that my writing and my other services may improve. Let my heart broaden to include love of others. Let my writing become a true prayer by a true devotee. This I ask You, even as I am forced to end this prayer.
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.