“It was an upbeat week for Satsvarupa Maharaja. He felt cheery and comfortable enough one day to sit with the devotees around the table after lunch for at least an hour. It was at least fifty percent krsna-katha, like how I came to Krsna consciousness, or tracking down Krsna’s relationship to rainbows, etc. He even has joined the reading group again in the morning and reads with a strong, enthusiastic voice. He averages about forty rounds a day for this retreat period, but is also looking forward to his editor, Krsna-bhajana, and wife Satyasara’s, return from vacation to start writing again. Om tat sat.
The “News Items” section of Free Write Journal has been temporarily suspended while Guru Maharaja recuperates.
A wicked person, even though adorned with learning, is to be avoided at all costs. If a snake is decorated with a jewel, does that not make him all the more dangerous?
A poisonous snake may appear tame, but it is always a fearsome creature, not to be trusted. Similarly, even when the Western sky appears sunny and clear, clouds and ill weather may quickly move in. A demoniac person may be a friend, but we can never trust him. The Isopanisad (Mantra 1) makes it clear that serpent-like persons exist not only on the lower levels of human society, but on all levels. In fact, the more educated they are, the more dangerous they are. “Those who engage in the culture of nescient activities shall enter into the darkest region of ignorance. Worse still are those engaged in the culture of so-called knowledge.” Srila Prabhupada elaborates in his purport:
“Those who simply engage in the profitless pursuit of sense gratification are worshiping avidya (ignorance) according to Sri Isopanisad. Those who play the role of helping this sort of civilization in the name of educational advancement are actually doing more harm than those who are on the platform of gross sense gratification. Advancement of learning by godless people is as dangerous as a valuable jewel on the hood of a cobra. A cobra decorated with a valuable jewel is more dangerous than one not decorated.”
Lord Caitanya demonstrated this wariness toward highly placed materialists. When His devotees recommended He meet King Prataparudra, Lord Caitanya said, “Although it is correct that the king is a great devotee, he is still to be considered a venomous snake.”‘ In this way, Lord Caitanya taught us that one who is serious about spiritual life should avoid the materialists, even if they are highly qualified. Of course, the Lord eventually made an exception in the case of King Prataparudra, but His example stands as a sobering instruction. A devotee should not be favorably impressed or swayed by a materialist’s wealth, good education, beauty, or other opulence.
Some of us had a taste of the purport to this verse early in our devotional lives. Several of us were awed by the showy wealth of a real estate man who was out to cheat us. He managed to take $5,000 of ISKCON’s hard-earned money instead of donating a building to us as he had promised. After stealing our money, Mr. Payne and his lawyers told us that we would not get the building.
Prabhupada had warned us not to trust this man, but we disobeyed his instructions and lost the money. Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter, “Take it for granted that Krsna has taken away this money from you for your deliberate foolishness. In the future, be very cautious and abide by the orders of Krsna.” In his letter Prabhupada quoted the Bhagavatam verse, yasyasti bhaktir bhagavaty akincana: a nondevotee can have no good qualifications, despite his education or well-dressed appearance. Prabhupada added, “In other words, you should not keep your trust on so-called gentlemen of the world, however nicely dressed he may be. In the matter of discharging our mission of Krsna consciousness, we have to meet so many so-called gentlemen, but we must be very cautious for dealing with them as we are cautious in dealing with serpents.” The nondevotee is always liable to be harmful to others because he is always aggressively pursuing sense gratification.
Both Prabhupada and Canakya give us what appears to be an opposite instruction. They tell us that we can learn from the nondevotees the skills we need to prosecute our Krsna conscious services and at the same time, say that we should avoid the educated nondevotees, who are jewel-headed serpents. Although this appears contradictory, it is not. What we are being advised against is offering our respect to others based only on their material qualifications. We shouldn’t be naive and think that a serpent decorated with a jewel is any less a serpent. A neophyte devotee may even become envious of such a decorated materialist, but no one should be enamored by material qualifications devoid of Krsna consciousness.
Another point to note is that devotees are meant to preach to the materialists. Materialistic people are only our enemies insofar as they are unwilling to hear about Krsna consciousness. Even then, a devotee never gives up his compassion for them. Srila Prabhupada found the means to give so many apparently asuric people Krsna consciousness.
As with any description of the world’s ills, devotees should understand that the serpent-like enemy exists not only in others, but in ourselves as well. Therefore, we have to be careful not to become enamored or cheated out of our spiritual lives by this enemy. “The mind is always accompanied by six enemies—namely, kama, krodha, mada, moha, matsarya and bhaya—that is, lust, anger, intoxication, illusion, envy and fear. Although the mind may be merged in spiritual consciousness, one should always be very careful in dealing with it, just as one is careful in dealing with a snake. One should never think that his mind is trained and that he can do whatever he likes. One interested in spiritual life should always engage his mind in the service of the Lord so that the enemies of the mind, who always accompany the mind, will always be subdued.”
Even if we think we have become Vaisnavas because we are well-behaved and well-respected, we should watch for the enemy of pride. “Although the six qualities—education, austerity, wealth, beauty, youth and heritage are for the highly elevated, one who is proud of possessing them becomes blind, and thus he loses his good sense and cannot appreciate the glories of great personalities.”
When we see new devotees come to Krsna consciousness with material expertise, as a movement we should be careful not to neglect that person’s spiritual needs in order for the temple to profit from his or her learning. Srila Prabhupada did not treat his wealthy disciples any different than his poor disciples. On the other hand, if a wealthy philanthropist came forward to donate money to ISKCON, but was not himself serious about Krsna consciousness, Prabhupada treated such a person as a benefactor and with respect.
The boat seemed to leave late. I had fallen asleep and then wakened to the pitch and roll of the sea. I fell asleep again and slept soundly. Seasick earlier this morning and felt I had to lie down.
I read in the intro to the Dover Thrift Edition of selections from Thoreau’s journal—the guy said that Thoreau used to gut his diary to form other books, such as A Week In Concord and Walden. Then he turned to leaving the diary intact and made that into a work of art. Thoreau had great trouble getting anything published, so how could he have expected his huge journal to be published intact? It wasn’t published during his lifetime, but almost immediately after his death that work was begun.
The editor goes on to say that Thoreau was convinced in his project. How wonderful that a person can retain conviction even without hope of reward. Emily Dickinson was the same. She sent a few poems to a prominent editor, but he wrote back with faint praise and said he couldn’t understand them. She wrote him a letter saying she would remain a “barefoot” poet.
And then there is SK [Soren Kierkegaard], who created an incredible, intricate opus exactly in his own way, one which caught very little attention from others. Now he attracts the attention of scholars and religionists from many different viewpoints.
I too should be convinced of what I am doing. A devotee writes to please guru and Krsna. He keeps their pleasure always in the forefront of his mind as the all-in-all. From that dedication he may see, even in his own lifetime, that some people appreciate what he is doing. Or he may meet only criticism. It doesn’t matter. He simple continues.
An author can’t pretend that he never thinks of what will happen to his writings after he dies. A devotee author hopes that others will continue to benefit from them, and that he will receive credit toward his own eternal devotional service. It would be folly to try to enjoy either present admiration or the admiration that might come after death, however. We are not meant to invest our emotions in material praise. My point right now is only to admire the selfless dedication of persons like Thoreau, Dickinson, and SK, and that their selflessness was not a shallow one but a determined individuality. It was not de¬pendent on fame and glory.
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you Nobody—Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise—you know!
How dreary—to be—Somebody!
How public—like a Frog—
to tell one’s name—the livelong June—
To an admiring Bog!
September at sea, the furrow
broad the boat stacked with
trailer trucks, looking out I
the furrow trough . . .
That way, France.
The poem and I spaced out—
forgot who I am where I
am supposed to be going. Turn
the door handle to the
men’s room, relieve my body
in there, then walk as in trance
to Room 17, open and
to my companion,
I start talking some new thought
I had about solitude—
I want a life of prayer—
and about preaching—
to the devotees, that’s my lot—
and about faithfulness—
I can’t leave Prabhupada.
So I am not spaced out
just at sea
for a while longer.
After his lectures, Swamiji asked for questions. After a few lectures, I raised my hand. I asked, “Is misery eternal?” My question came from something Van Gogh wrote in his collection of letters to his brother, Dear Theo. Van Gogh had written that he thought misery was eternal, and I wanted to know what Swamiji thought of this. He answered, “Yes, misery is eternal. You may break your leg and have it fixed by a doctor putting it in a cast. But then another year you may be in a car accident and suffer brain damage.” He said this world was a place of misery, and there was no relief from either birth, death, disease or old age. But then Swamiji said, “However, there is another world, the spiritual world. If you become a pure devotee, after this lifetime you go to Krsna and live with Him in the spiritual world, where there is no anxiety, where everything is eternal, full of bliss and knowledge.” What a complete answer! I rejected Van Gogh’s dismal point of view.
Once, soon after meeting Swamiji, I was alone with him in his apartment. I asked him, “Is there a level of spiritual advancement from which you don’t fall down? I was thinking of my vices such as marijuana and masturbation. I knew these were vices, and I strived to eliminate them. Sometimes I would go weeks and even months without indulging in them, but then again I would fall down. Prabhupada answered my confidential question with one word: “Yes.” He said it in a confident, absolute way, and I was encouraged. In fact, I stopped all my vices for good after the first night I attended his lecture and kirtana in the temple storefront. It was like a miracle.
Once I went with Swamiji to Chambers Street, where he consulted with his lawyer. I went to the law offices with another devotee, Raya Rama, but he left us, and I had to accompany Prabhupada back to 26 Second Avenue by myself. On the way back I commented to Prabhupada that the city was like a jungle, except that there were no snakes. Swamiji said to me, “Oh? What about Mr. Payne?” (Mr. Payne was the real estate agent who tried to cheat us out of thousands of dollars in his con-artist attempt to get us a new building.)
I was supposed to be protecting Prabhupada on our journey home. We got on the bus together. When I thought we were one stop away from 26 Second Avenue, I pulled on the buzzer. But Prabhupada said, “No. You have buzzed too early. There is one more stop.” So I waited until the next stop came up and pulled the buzzer again. It seemed that Swamiji knew better how to get around New York City than I did. When we were just across the street from Second Avenue, I wanted to make conversation. I asked Swamiji, “How come the Ramakrishna mission is so well-organized if they are bogus?” Swamiji did not answer my question but bolted ahead of me and crossed the road. He went right upstairs to his apartment without answering me. I was taken aback. Why had he not answered my question? Did I do something wrong? Why had he ignored me? Did I make an offense? The whole incident upset me, and it took me a while to get over it. I eventually realized that Prabhupada didn’t have to answer my questions if they didn’t seem fit for him to reply to.
One night I was up late (around 9:00 P.M.) typing Swamiji’s manuscripts in his worship room. He was also there sitting on the floor eating puffed rice. He looked over at me with widened eyes. It seemed like an intimate moment.
Where will this end? I keep wearing out sweatshirts and getting new ones, and new dictaphones and slippers and knit hats. There is no end to the pen refills, and a new book is always coming out. I’m always sharpening new pencils. Things go on year after year—to India and back and to India and back. I live as if the world is never going to end its perpetual motion.
But this scene is not perpetual. This elderly sannyasi and his little life dramas, his headaches, Madhu and the van—they are all part of an identity with variations on the theme. It will come to an end.
Incidents pop into my memory: sitting in the Boston University library reading Prabhupada’s books before they were published, editing. I see myself absorbed in the Srimad-Bhagavatam’ s philosophy. It drew me in and carried me away from the outside world.
Then standing with Saradiya after we had been presented with an honorarium at Boston University. She told me how she had learned to smile by practice—a woman’s secret way to charm strangers.
Then singing in night clubs with the devotees. I don’t want to dwell on all these memories. They make me restless, they’re so skimpy. All I want is to bow down to Prabhupada and say, “Please accept me. Please forgive me. Please give me Krsna consciousness and good service engagement. I do remember you and here I am in the present wanting to engage in your service.”
All those mantras I’ve chanted, do I remember them? All those times I uttered Hare Krsna. Agrani Prabhu taught me how to breathe out so I could chant five mantras on the exhalation. When your breath runs out, you inhale quickly and chant five more as you slowly let your breath out again. He said I could speed up my chanting in that way. We chanted sixty-four rounds together in Vrndavana for awhile. Mahakrama was there too. I think of those devotees and it’s painful to remember how we have all gone our different ways. I wonder what will happen to me. Where will my memories finally end?
This life is just a “spot journey,” as Prabhupada calls it, and we’re moving onward toward our goal. We may not reach it with these memories and this body. Mundane memoirists dwell on this life as the all-in-all, although some have a vague idea that they are drawing from Jung’s collective unconscious or from some other cauldron of memories connected with the Union of Man. That’s how they define memory, that it’s not something personal to the individual, but it’s a vast pot of impressions from which we all can draw. They theorize and remember their mundane experiences and explore their outer world, but they don’t remember God. They think the outer world is inconceivable, but the inner world is more inconceivable because memory, knowledge, and forgetfulness come from Krsna. And who can understand that?
Real remembrance, therefore, is Krsna conscious memory, “smaranam.” Smaranam means we remember Krsna’s form, name, pastimes, and entourage. That keeps leading me back to the same question. In my other personal writings I say I want to speak perfect philosophy but that I can’t always keep my mind on it.
Therefore, I free-write about what my gut tells me as I read Bhagavatam or the nature of the struggle to drag the mind back verse after verse. Similarly, smaranam means thinking of krsna-lila, but at this point, I can’t always keep my mind on Krsna’s pastimes but find some other memory welling up in me. How do I fit them into my Krsna conscious life? And the truth is, I find real lila-smaranam impossible. Rupa and Sanatana Gosvamis lived in constant lila-smaranam and were emerged in Krsna’s Vrndavana pastimes. Because their minds were in Goloka Vrndavana so much of the time, their bodies were completely neglected. They lived in trance. If by chance they lost their ability to engage in lila-smaranam, they would try by any means to recover that ability. They were ragatmika devotees. I am not. If I were to report only my remembrance of Krsna’s pastimes, the report would cover only a tiny portion of my day, a tiny percentage of my actual consciousness or experience. How could I possibly hide the big lumps of dirt under the carpet? And it’s not all dirt, either. There are also all my attempts to become a devotee and to deal with the reality of who I am. I try to “Krsna-ize” my memories and to make peace with them. I know that my perpetual motion is actually temporary and that some of my memories have no absolute value or standing, but I still have to admit my actual level and go forward from there. In that sense, remembrance is an item of sadhana, even if it’s not lila-smaranam.
It is cold in this room but not so bad. It will warm up. Madhu is building a coal fire in the fireplace below and it will come up in the radiator. I keep banging away up here. Be cheerful. Our van arrives today from Italy. Nanda is driving it and M. will pick him up at the ferry terminal. That means we have our van with all Bhagavatams and can travel to places and live that life of reading and writing in various countries and hideouts.
Tolerate the pain. Tolerate the smallness. Be happy in Krsna consciousness if you can.
The fire is out
but the blaze is starting within.
I don’t mean the agni in belly which is
also very important (Ekadasi is today)
but I mean fire of immortal longing
for Krsna conscious nectar-reading.
It all starts with hearing
our Swami told the boys in his room.
Even today 26 Second Avenue’s
a preaching center. Glad.
Fire of longing
flame of love,
little blue spark on pilot light to
blaze if I tender it carefully reading
Nectar of Devotion.
Our van is coming
loaded with the best books.
I don’t mean William Burroughs or the dictionary
I mean Bhagavatam and Krsnadasa Kaviraja,
words of Krsna directly in Bhagavad-gita,
and translated with commentary by His Divine
Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
I am tired of being away from him
and getting it wrong.
Even the official praises of him choke you
sometimes from the best and the real thing.
van arriving, white Renault
loaded with books,
cold morning salute
this day and this book.
We will come through.
No one can stop us because maya
is not as powerful as mam ekam, the only one
Supreme Lord Krsna, cause of all
and King of rasas.
So my friend, you can keep going with this. I told you there is a way to go, to follow the previous acaryas. We are not great preachers, but the instruments of previous acaryas. You don’t have to be residing in Vrndavana to be in touch with the immortal Vraja. You touch by faithful hearing. Also, that same Krsna when He was in Kuruksetra, don’t try to separate Him from His paraphernalia or pastimes. He is still Krsna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra. You say, “But that is a Vasudeva expansion,” and I reply, “The expansion of whom? He is an expansion of original Krsna. Don’t separate Krsna from the teachings of your spiritual master. Hear from him, that is good enough.”
“Prepare to meet your Maker,” they say. I have to pause and think again. What did I recently read or hear? Be confident that over the years you have been hearing and experiencing, and today too. In the bathroom half an hour ago, you heard him say even if one comes to Krsna consciousness out of sentiment, which mostly they do, not understanding the philosophy nicely, but just thinking, “Let me join,” what happens to them? He said even if they fall down there is no loss. That means no loss in the attempt at Krsna consciousness. In another sense, I think it is a loss. If you go somewhere where you are expected to make money but you come back empty-handed, then you failed. One who practices any Krsna consciousness does not fail. I understand. But what about failing to make it all the way back to Godhead in this life? That is also a falling short. You still don’t chant with love, writing these imperfect . . .
“Don’t complain. (I don’t. I say I will reach the Everest mountain peak sooner or later.) We are but instruments to serve the previous acaryas. Preaching is the essence. They glorify Krsna in preaching. That is in the introduction to The Nectar of Devotion too. Preaching is the goal. Bhakti is cultivation, meaning activity of body, mind, and words, and when they are all used in preaching the glorifies of the Lord, there you have the perfection of cultivation. As for mental cultivation, you think of Krsna. But you must activate your consciousness and not just have it. Use it. This is all described in many places, and I’m glad to say so.
Our spiritual master is still here
and you can speak with him and
pray to him. While standing on a bridge
looking into the water you promise. Walking,
you forget where you are and feel assured.
He will be lenient, he will lead you further.
Walking. Memories pass like clouds
moving at dawn . . .
One time you came into his room when
he was sitting at the low desk. You
bowed full dandavats before him.
Please travel with me, father and friend, as I
You sat up and he smiled.
He told you to go on placing his books in
Prabhupada, correct me, be with me.
This life turned inside out
produces only pennies and a ripped rupee.
This life is blessed yet still
it?s a teacup with
no spiritual emotions.
The colder it gets . . . I’m the only
sannyasi at mangala arati so I recite aloud
the prema- dhvani prayers: “Nityalila
pravista.” Srila Prabhupada is in his
eternal lila and in the Prabhupada
Samadhi Mandir. We’re gathered with
The shops are locked.
Too cold for chowkidars to sleep outdoors.
Too cold for thieves?
Krsna and Balarama
wrapped in maroon silk.
I can’t see much,
cobwebs of thoughts.
Performance. Don’t think about it.
Be somewhere truly and write of that.
I am in my head and belly, in this house and
backyard, in the lives of those we call my
I have read a sublime chapter
of Krsna’s pastimes. A
friend is traveling here tonight,
and by the weekend two more.
I am thirsty for water.
I write with a pink pen
and then change it to a light green.
Krsna—Krsna knows the reason
why He visits some in
His personal form and refrains
from seeing others.
He knows what is best
and He reciprocates with our
All this I’ve heard from the reliable, undisturbed
He is far away (I know) and very near as well.
You can seek Him in your heart.
God is not vague; He is not dead.
He’s in the fierce arguments caused by His devotee
He’s in the Deity form in the temple
where He sleeps
He’s in His names for whoever
makes the effort to chant.
Even in the birds’ cries,
sounds of barking dogs and
Where did I start?
Where can I go?
Just stay on the beam as a vaidhi’bhakta.
I’m writing this for you,
for me that is,
hoping to express
what I’m really after and
what I’ll attain one day:
fixed up in jolly attraction
for my Lord Govinda
and telling about Him
to whomever I meet, like
Prabhupada did at Dr. Mishra’s
when he led them in hour-long kirtanas
even when there was no sign that
anyone would take to it full-time.
He sang slowly and gravely, in a deep
voiced, old-voiced devotional tune of
And because he was pure, gradually some
came, playing karatalas 1-2-3 in New York.
That’s where I started; that’s where I go.
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.