Hari Hari! . . . .
I’ll keep it short and sweet this week because it is way past my deadline. I was waiting to see what the neurologist had to say today, and it was consistent with what the other doctors are saying—what we’re looking at is the onslaught of senior citizenship. It was a “rock ‘n’roll” week, with good days and bad, some days clear and other days headaches and migraines. So the good doctor prescribed a stronger dose of one med that has been helpful in the past. He also gave a four-month supply of sample injections of the latest generation of migraine medication. He also prescribed an MRI of the head to see if the events have any relationship to a possible mini stroke. Now we play the wait-and-see game, hoping for the best, as Satsvarupa Maharaja prepares for Vyasa-puja. His favorite part is delivering new and refurbished books to the devotees. It always lifts his spirits and gives him new life.
The “News Items” section of Free Write Journal has been temporarily suspended while Guru Maharaja recuperates.
I would like to address letters to different persons, but it seems too much like an uninspiring duty. I have to write so many regular letters, why not write another one? I could write a letter to some young boys and girls in Dublin who are interested in Krsna consciousness but who have some opposition from their parents. There are so many letters I could write, but I don’t feel like it.
Dear friends, today I took a walk in a different direction. After passing one farmhouse without seeing any dogs, I thought I would be well-secluded walking down a narrow road hedged on either side by greenery. On one side was a fence and gate leading into a pasture. A muddy puddle by the gate reflected a patch of sky. Further on, evergreens lined both sides of the path, so I had a sense of going deeper into the green, deeper into the solitude.
Somehow as I walked, I was reminded of the past—a visit I made to Ireland a few years ago when I was trying to enter a life of prayer. Things seem quite different now. I am more fixed on the goal of Krsna in Vrndavana. Yet I was fervent on that previous visit, and the walks I took helped me to go deeper.
It’s nice to walk in silence. Today I walked up to a large herd of cows—maybe fifty or sixty or more. They were almost all black and white, and many of them had big milk bags, like the cows at Gita-nagari. Some of them got nervous as I walked by. I too felt nervous, thinking that a herdsman might not be far off. After all, it was 5:00 A.M. Someone might be coming to milk them, and that would change the whole mood of my walk. Alone I could see the cows, feel sympathy for them, and think of them as beautiful. I could see Krsna’s miracle—how these peaceful animals eat grass and produce milk for human beings. But if the herdsman came, I would suspect that he was wondering who was this person walking around idly in the early morning? Then he might see my tilaka and say, “It’s a Hare Krsna. They have some crazy philosophy about cow protection. Maybe he’s going to let my cows out or do something to my herd.” I didn’t want to linger, but walked past the cows, came to the end of the pasture, and started back, chanting my japa all the while.
I stopped at one place along the road because I heard the sound of water and found a tiny creek runoff caused by the recent rains. I leaned against the fence and looked at the water running over the rocks. I thought I had found the peace and solitude I was seeking on this walk, but then I began to compare it to Vrndavana. What is this peace I think I’ve found here? It’s not saturated with vrndavana-lila. Vrndavana is noisy and populated, but it’s saturated with Krsna’s pastimes.
Of course, no place is perfect until you become perfect, until you become satisfied and Krsna conscious. Otherwise, even when the surroundings are peaceful, you cannot be loving or absorbed in Krsna. Or, if you go to the place of Krsna’s loving pastimes, Vrndavana, you will be distracted by its foreign exterior. At any rate, I don’t think I could be satisfied to live in a place like Ireland all my life, and to spend peaceful days in prayer. Not now that I realize everything is so connected to Krsna in Vrndavana. To be so far away from Him, to make a deliberate place here, where the land is not His land, except in a general sense, would seem artificial.
The only way devotees can live in different parts of the world is to preach. Then if they are fully practicing Krsna consciousness, the country in which they live becomes their prabhu-datta-desa. For example, even when devotees farm, it’s a kind of preaching, and the land itself becomes their service. But with me, just to walk and think poetic thoughts and write them down is not enough reason to be in exile from places that are more inherently Krsna conscious. So my present practice of traveling to temples to preach with occasional breaks during which I can take walks and write is nice. But it’s also nice to go to Vrndavana, which I will do in a month.
What about you, friends? What combination of places and services is best for you? Take a break and think about it, and let me know what you’re planning. Then try to work toward it so that you get the most satisfying combination for serving Krsna according to time, place, and person.
O Prabhupada, who heard and liked Hayagriva’s coronet playing in the kirtana. O master who solved everyone’s riddles and problems in ISKCON, but who wrote back, “If I have to solve everyone’s problems, then who will solve my problems?” O master who accepted an Omega watch from a disciple, and immediately gave that disciple your own watch in return. (Later you discovered the Omega watch didn’t work. You gave it back to that disciple to have it repaired, thus creating a continued exchange between yourself, and that disciple.)
O Prabhupada, I do not care if fools don’t understand our love for all the little things in your life. What do they know? They don’t even know that they are not this body. They don’t know what you and I know, how sweet and secure it is to live for the spiritual master.
O Prabhupada, O Krsna, assure me, that the nectar of serving you will never dissipate. Please assure foolish me, who thinks he is giving more from his side, of the fact that you are giving and caring a hundred times more than I am giving to you.
Dear Srila Prabhupada, thank you for the devotees who serve me because they see me as a bona fide link, but please give me real Krsna consciousness so that they aren’t cheated. Allow me to be a transparent medium to you and not someone standing in the way.
O Prabhupada, you traveled from Boston to Columbus to New Vrindaban to New York and received my weekly letters. You wrote back encouraging me that sankirtana in the streets and colleges was our first concern; “Everything else is subsidiary.”
Dear Prabhupada, when I go out to walk, please let me talk new and old things about your pastimes. Let the logs un-jam in the frozen river of my heart. Let the sun rise and enable me to see you everywhere. Let me be truly faithful out of my desire to serve you. Let me be like I used to be, all-accountable to you, not doing anything until I receive your permission. Because I wasn’t advanced in those days when you knew me, please let me improve now. Please let me be with you now and in the future. May I realize what you have written, that service in separation contains union and is sweeter than union, and that the pure devotee’s ambition is to be rapt in thought of Krsna always and at death. (He doesn’t care what planet he goes to next life as long as he can be rapt in loving service.)
O Prabhupada, you lit and carried the torch. O father of young sankirtana leaders, O well-wisher, O friend and guide of married couples, intimate leader of brahmacaris and sannyasis, please teach us the nectar of Krsna consciousness, the nectar flowing from the Lord’s pastimes, the nectar of austerity undertaken for you.
O Prabhupada, I beg to know your real mission and to serve. Don’t leave me outside! Bring me in and correct me. I am not a good manager, but you said that at least I do whatever you say. Please give me the strength to carry that out so that your words about me will be true.
O father, O humorist, O dear devotee of Krsna, you have told us that the Lord is the Lord of qualities and rasa. May we learn it your way and be seen by everyone we meet as prabhupadanugas, those who think and speak with the same emphasis and balance and conviction as His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
That is my desire, spoken in begging fever and helplessly.
Prayer can be elusive. What? That easily obtained gold can become the heavy lead of patience? All the soul becomes that of patience. I regret my sins, but I do not have faith. And just as I was shocked when I casually asked my father, “Who are you going to vote for?” and he said, “Nixon, not Kennedy,” it would be equally as shocking to think I don’t worship (vote for) Krsna. Of course I do! And how happy we were at Brooklyn College when Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at Walt Whitman Auditorium and said that “The final votes aren’t in, but it looks pretty sure that JFK has won!” Whoopee! Huzzah!
I am Jimmy, a Krsna man in my flight suit. Had an 8.2 headache all day, but at 2:00 A.M. produced a distorted Radha-Krsna painting, and Gaura-Nitai hugging. Jaya, Gaura-Nitai! They then read to me “Taking Aim at Migraine: a Pre-emptive Strike.” Listen. Ice cream is fun, but Krsna is the topmost, and that Sharma picture of Him embracing the dear most servant . . .
Dad, aren’t you going to vote for Jack Kennedy? When JFK was killed, Lieutenant Commander Richardson burst into our office to tell us, and he seemed glad, but he hid the smile. All the bastards of the world. I am among them, forgive me. The Creator makes but one demand—peace and happiness throughout the land. He said you should not be actively writing after taking a pill. Get back to bed. Father voted for Nixon. I vote for Krsna. My father was a solid Republican, and I was more leftward, but I thought everyone preferred Jack Kennedy over Nixon. Since starting junior college, the generation gap had opened wide between us, so my father and I didn’t talk much politics (or anything else) at that point, but I just couldn’t resist, asking him who he was voting for. I almost couldn’t believe that he would vote for the man with the five o’clock shadow.
I was thinking of the pleading, pitiful brash son from Delhi who said, “After all, you are in the last stretch. You should have nothing to do with anything not connected with Lord Caitanya.” If I repeated that to the man with deep lines in his cheeks, he would say, “Actually, he’s right.” If I showed him the Martin Luther King statement on jazz and spirituality, he’d say, “Since when has some black Lutheran preacher become an authority for us?” They just don’t know it’s universal. Prabhupada used to say, “Gold isn’t Hindu, gold is not Christian gold; it’s gold everywhere, universally. So is love of God and God himself, sa vai pumsam paro dharmo . . .”
“I know my God is real.
Because I feel Him in my soul.”
The Creator has a master plan, makes one demand, peace and happiness throughout the land. We are not Hindu or Christian or Muslim. We are lovers of God. How to tell? What is the litmus test? If you are uninterruptedly and unmotivatedly fixed in loving service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that’s the proof. Purity of heart is to love one thing.
Comment: This is mainly a reference to the famous verse in Srimad-Bhagavatam, sa vai pumsam paro dharmo: “That religion is best which is followed uninterruptedly and unmotivatedly, fixed in loving service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” This is a very broad viewpoint of what religion is. Religion is compared by Prabhupada to gold, and he said it isn’t packed up in one of the sectarian religions like Hinduism or Christianity or Islam. It’s gold universally. I very much like the sa vai pumsam paro dharmo verse. It says that true religion is present wherever there is uninterrupted and unmotivated fixed devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is what I’ve been saying, and Prabhupada says it too.
Writing at cement picnic table while sitting on cement bench. Someone’s crumbs on the table. Woman in blue shirt, blond hair pulled back, sitting at another table. A tiny spider fell off my nose and now struggles on the left arm of my sweatshirt. Birds chirping—several kinds, not unlike the sounds at Gita Nagari. Spring sunshine. Cold in A.M., now warming up.
My soul is angular.
Stuff of this body is of this world.
Soul is bright, brighter than
bird’s song, bird lust,
Vaikuntha’s dust is Vraja,
is my soul in any shape or
in Krsna’s pastimes as a spark
at the feet of my spiritual master
and his other
devotees liberated in the spiritual sky.
Looking in M.’s 1994 European atlas at Ireland. Ireland is just the causeway for me to inner life.
I went out on the deck, stood by the rail, and took some deep breaths. Foggy ocean. Don’t want to converse with people or even be near them. What do you want? That things go smoothly. You reach your destination by end of day, and your mind cooperates; you see your life in a positive way. That means it will objectively have to be pleasing to His Divine Grace. I seek an inspired life. A quiet life of allegiance, non-enviousness, producing writing.
“Activities intended to satisfy the senses of the Supreme Lord, Kṛṣṇa, are called krsnarthe ’khila-cestaḥ. This indicates that one can attempt all kinds of work, but one should do so to satisfy Krsna. . . . yajnarthat karma” (Bhag. 4.18.6, purport).
Back of van, on queue for ferry. Pain in eye all day, en route, here and now. Of course, I look forward to when it will go away, but what’s the normal condition, this or relief? En route, saw “Pax Nursing Home” and “Convalescent and Retirement House,” and old hag lady, white-haired man. Funeral home, cemetery. The living and the dead. The living have their photos on billboards: “Elect Pat Lynch, Rock Solid on Munster.” We don’t hear from the dead.
In that sense, the pain in my eye is not my permanent condition. I had better not waste time.
Steel drawbridge like a closed curtain in a theater. It lowers. We see daylight. Enter Ireland. Passport control. The road. Gorse in full bloom. I realize that life in the front of the van is also life. It’s not just going somewhere and thinking of what you will be—it’s now, traveling, this life today, as good as tomorrow. In other words, today I promise to be more Krsna conscious and tomorrow I will try harder.
I just saw Clare Island off Clew Bay.
That sight is an inconceivable glory of God.
Dawn comes over a peak as if
there were a big fire on the other side.
Memories rise up in the consciousness like dreams—evanescent. They come and go. Unlike our dreams, they are things that actually took place. They are objective, even if our perception of them is subjective.
Examining our memories validates our experience. Since I have lived as a practicing devotee for thirty years, there is much I could examine. I once heard a Godbrother say that our direct memories of Prabhupada are like precious jewels. He said he had neglected his own jewels but now he wanted to share them.
My question is, why assign value only to the times when we were in Prabhupada’s direct association? Is it more valuable to remember the time we sat in a class with two hundred other devotees while Prabhupada lectured and then watched him descend from the vyasasana and drive off in a waiting car? Or, if we were lucky enough to get closer, the time we handed him his cane and he nodded in our direction or asked us our name? Aren’t all these years of serving his yarn in separation equally valuable? Isn’t our service to the spiritual master’s order working under the same principle as fully ripened vipralambha? Yes, but now it is unripe. The gopis’ vipralambha has fully blossomed and is bearing the fruit of love of God. Still, in both cases there is union and separation, and in both cases there is happiness. Now, our memories are the ways in which we experience union. We must remember or die.
I remember flashes—a kirtana in the Boston temple in 1976. They had two strange horns, long and twisted, shaped like those we see in some paintings depicting Lord Caitanya’s kirtanas. Our library party was visiting Boston for the weekend and I remember Suhotra dasa Brahmacari playing one of them during the kirtana.
Our party was welcome in almost every temple we visited because we were touring America selling Prabhupada’s books at the universities and the devotees appreciated our service. We went to Denver and danced up and down the temple room during arati. The temple president said we had brought life to his temple by our visit.
At each university we would approach the main specialist on “Hinduism.” If he gave us a recommendation for a standing order, the library would take the books. One day we were all walking onto a campus and one devotee decided he would go and see the prominent professor. I said no, Ghanasyama dasa would do it. That was my role—I was the director.
Once in the Midwest when I was traveling with Hrdayananda Maharaja, we suddenly decided that we should immediately drive to Los Angeles to see Prabhupada. That was a time when service in separation seemed too slow and we grabbed for Prabhupada’s association almost impetuously. We were so near—only a few thousand miles away—and we knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. When we came into Prabhupada’s presence, Hrdayananda Maharaja admitted to Prabhupada that the college students were not so receptive. “It is disappointing,” Prabhupada said, commiserating and perhaps hinting that we were not enthusiastic enough in our service, or that perhaps we should find a better way to do it.
I also remember the letter he wrote outlining the ideal behavior of a traveling preacher going to colleges. He described principles of cleanliness and neat appearance and told us to write down our realizations every day to make our preaching sharper.
Do I remember what I was then? Do I remember the happiness I felt when he reassured me with his words and his glances, when he called my name and told me what to do? It seemed so necessary then.
In Chicago, Jagadisa asked if he could take sannyasa. Prabhupada said, “Not yet.”
Virginia Woolf wrote that when she wrote her memoirs, the past became more real than the present. She got up from her desk and went out to where the gardener and the handyman were working, but the past remained luminous. I have the same experience.
Hemanta Swami went to Antarctica with his assistant, Melodeon, in the summer season when the tourists go there. The sea was not frozen; it was all water, with many small snow floes and ice floes floating in it. Hemanta Swami met two Hare Krsna devotees there. They told him they wanted to be the first Hare Krsnas to land in Antarctica, even before the “traveling preacher,” Indradyumna Swami, arrived there. They brought a twelve-inch Prabhupada murti with them and offered arati and held kirtana for him and the tourists. They spoke to people and considered their mission a success. Hemanta Swami was also a Hare Krsna devotee, but he had a different purpose in taking the ship to Antarctica: he was seeking new land to open a preaching center. He was naïve and “romantic” in coming to the South Pole. He had read the adventures of the first explorers to go there, and he was fascinated. But the reality was that Antarctica was frozen up and inaccessible in the winter, and in the summer there were only a few human tourists and plenty of penguins and gulls. He spoke to some of the scientists who stayed there year-round and returned, disappointed, to civilization. He thought of reviving his seeking for a new (volcanic?) island near Greenland or Iceland. Hemanta liked to write about his adventures. Most of the mainstream devotees thought he was a little touched. But he had a core of followers who were interested in his activities and read his prolific blogs.
Hemanta Swami became a climate activist. He heard talks by seventeen-year-old Greta Thunberg and others, and agreed with their demand: our “house” (the earth) is on fire, facing massively destabilizing climate change, and all countries must completely stop fossil fuel production to reach zero emissions. And he was turned off by President Trump’s statements that the climate activists were merely prophets of doom. Hemanta Swami approached climate change from a Krsna conscious point of view. He approved of the “green” agenda to stop the emissions of fossil fuels, but he was convinced that “all things fail without Krsna.” Unless the world leaders acted as a sacrifice to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they would just be entangled in karmic reactions. Lord Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita, “Whatever you do, do it for Me.” Hemanta gave lectures in venues and wrote in his blog from this point of view.
I was a lost soul,
abominable habits plagued me,
and I was heading for worse,
when Prabhupada came to a place
where I was crawling about,
and he gave me the breath of new life,
spiritual vision for all my days,
and a purpose: to serve him.
|When he gave me my first typing
I replied, “This is enough to last the whole winter,”
and he laughed: “It is enough for your entire life!”
Play one of Prabhupada’s tapes
and listen very carefully
whether you are driving your car
or in prison, or in your home
listen to him and read his books
very carefully, and then turn away
from the whole world of speculation
and material illusion.
He has told the truth
and if you follow your conscience
then you should do as he says,
and become again the servant
of Krsna, your eternal Master,
and take up the work of reforming your life,
so that you may join and preach with us.
Before me I see water moving
with chunks of ice, above that,
the dark undecipherable riverbank,
then upright, leafless trees,
the angles of the tall hill slopes
and then a thin rim of sky light
upward through uncountable layers,
varying hues of blue, up to Sri Krsna’s
from where it all is spinning
as He sends out light
to all souls and worlds.
With more light on the scenic view,
toil and illusion I see
and I turn to hear
the way to penetrate all layers
to go back to His eternal abode.
Before your birth
as human soul
while in your mother’s womb
that when you came into this world
you would be the Lord’s devotee
and not repeat mistakes
that lead to birth in a future womb.
But the shock of birth
made you forget
and your parents
Mostly you never prayed again
all the life-long
except to ask for daily bread.
You did not ask
to become a pure devotee of the Lord
and no one advised you
because no one knew Krsna.
Hare Krsna. I’m in Puerto Rico in the hills of Gurabo, in a little house near the temple. Yesterday we had a long day of air travel. It’s raining and the wind is blowing strong through the leaves.
After arriving at the airport, we were met by a devotee, who drove us up here in his jeep. I laid down in the back and thought about how adventure means giving up attachment to the idea that things should be done in a particular way. Travel makes your joys simpler: you’re glad to be alive. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the phenomenon of feeling demanding, of wanting everything to go just the way you want it to go. Then you get on an airplane. You want it to leave exactly on time and to land exactly on time. I felt that way yesterday, but it was storming in Miami, and our landing was delayed. That meant that our next takeoff was also delayed, and the landing after that. I allowed myself to feel the frustration and anxiety of the first delay, I think because I was worried about making the connecting flight. Then the plane started shaking in the storm. I felt the smallness of the plane, just a toy in the wind’s hands—and saw the angry black sky. I was going to be lucky to get to Miami at all, and I relaxed. All my demands floated away, and I was willing to settle for the mercy of being allowed to live. In fact, this was the theme of the Bhagavatam verse for today.
That’s another thing about travel: when you go from ISKCON temple to ISKCON temple, you get a chance to speak on a variety of verses from various sections of the Bhagavatam. I often think of it like spinning the wheel of fortune. You never know until you get there what Canto the devotees are reading and what verse you will be asked to speak on. This morning I had little time to prepare. As soon as I saw the verse, however, I felt confident. I had hit the jackpot, and I knew it immediately. The verse was about Vamanadeva cheating Bali Maharaja. I thought quickly of how Krsna cheats us, but how we actually cheat ourselves, and I remembered how when Krsna cheats us, it’s always for our own benefit. What to say suddenly became simple and clear. I felt I could, by Prabhupada’s grace, sweeten the philosophy with my own words and experience.
All of this gets back to my evolution as a writer. I have to feel, when doing my service, that I have a unique contribution to make to the preaching. I have to feel that I have something to say that hasn’t been said in quite that way before in Krsna consciousness. Does that sound arrogant? But every writer or artist has to think that way. If all a singer wants to do is to imitate Bob Dylan, then why bother calling himself a singer? He’s an impersonator. A singer can be influenced by Bob Dylan, but he has to have his own art and his own presence.
I feel like that too, and I want to pursue this line of thought. I don’t want to be overcome by the temporality of life and death in a way that it paralyzes me from making my fullest contribution.
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.