Jayadvaita Swami and I took turns for two days, reading out loud from Caitanya-caritamrta, Madha-lila Chapter 10, “Lord Caitanya Returns to Jagannatha Puri.” The devotees like rivers flowed into the ocean of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, to visit or stay with him. Bhavananda Raya came with four of his five sons. Lord Caitanya praised him for having a jewel of a son in Ramananda Raya. Bhavananda Raya gives his son Vaninatha Raya to stay with Lord Caitanya and render Him personal service. Govinda, the disciple of Isvara Puri and Lord Caitanya’s Godbrother, arrives. He said that at the time his spiritual master was passing away, he ordered Govinda to go join Lord Caitanya and become His personal bodily servant. Caitanya Mahaprabhu happily accepted Govinda on the order of Isvara Puri. Brahmananda Bharati arrived wearing a deerskin, and Lord Caitanya refused to recognize him for wearing the deerskin to get false prestige. Brahmananda Bharati realized his mistake, changed to sannyasa clothes, and was warmly received by the Lord. They engaged in mock debate, and Lord Caitanya kept Brahmananda Bharati with Him in Jagannatha Puri. Advaita Acarya and the devotees in Navadvipa received word that the Lord had returned from His tour of South India, and they jubilantly prepared to visit Him in Nilacala.
As we read, Jayadvaita Maharaja and I noticed a few editing mistakes, and he noted them down for a future edition. The time spent reading passed quickly and blissfully.
Jayadvaita Maharaja is going next to London. He has picked up a new assistant since his last visit there. Maharaja asked the devotees in London to “spread him around.” He wants to stay at different Vaisnava grhasthas’ homes and speak there. After London, Maharaja and his assistant, Syama, will travel to Africa, where Jayadvaita Maharaja is a senior consultant to the BBT. After traveling in Africa, he will go to the holy dhamas in India, Vrndavana and Mayapura. He plans to return to America in February 2020.
I just heard that a longtime GBC member has resigned from his post. I was told “he broke down, as he is intellectual and gentle and not made for that service.” He wants to meet with me. I am a kind of champion for the individualist; I know the highest standard is to just do the needful despite your psychophysical nature. But when the psychophysical nature is far distant from the service one is assigned to, it may become unbearable. I have a disciple in Italy who is very brahminical. He knows Sanskrit and the scriptures very deeply. But his temple president was pressuring him to stay with managerial duties, both he and his wife. I heard of his predicament and advised him to follow his brahminical nature. He has done this and gotten out of the managerial situation. He is more peaceful now and very active in service, as is his wife. Some devotees have to leave living in the temple unless they can tow the line and obey the authority of the temple president, who emphasizes managerial roles for the devotees.
I always have to labor to think of a subject. Free writes come from what is happening now, or random words that pop up and I try to spiritualize them. For many years I used to write with a pen in spiral-bound notebooks. I would go quickly and finish a notebook with free writing, at least one a week. With old age, my penmanship has deteriorated, and I am not able to write quickly at all. When I wrote with a pen, I later dictated it into a Dictaphone and sent it to a devotee-typist. Now I write by directly using the Dictaphone. I have become so accustomed to it that I can produce finished copy just by speaking. This was the method Prabhupada utilized. After using a manual typewriter for years in India, shortly after he came to America devotees gave him a Dictaphone, and from then on he spoke his purports instead of typing them. In the early days of my writing, aside from using a pen and a notebook, I myself typed on an IBM Selectric machine. I think my record production was to type forty pages in one day, while staying in a motel in Washington with a few devotees. (That would have been in the early 1980s).
I just said I have to labor to think of a subject. But that is not the case when I do free writing. In free writing, I go ahead without thinking and keep the hand moving. Eventually topics come up that are useable. In this method I cannot expect every sentence to be Krsna conscious. When writing off the top of my head, I do so honestly and touch vital subjects. What I do now is called directed free writing. In this process, one chooses a subject matter but then goes ahead and writes whatever one can think of freely on that subject without so much attention to form. It has the advantage of not being as wild as pure free writing.
I think the first pamphlet ISKCON produced was Hayagriva’s prospectus. It was an introductory explanation of the Hare Krsna Movement presented in a nonsectarian way. It was written for outsiders. When my parents received a copy they “flipped out,” and this led to their disowning me. We printed a few of Swamiji’s essays and lectures, “The Peace Formula” and “Krsna, the Reservoir of Pleasure,” and “On Chanting Hare Krsna.” We also printed a longer essay, “Introduction to Gitopanisad,” which later appeared in Prabhupada’s book Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Back to Godhead magazine was mimeographed and sold in the head shops, the temple, and by devotees taking them out onto the streets. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami published Easy Journey to Other Planets in a staple-bound small-book format. This book had a completely transforming, faith-building effect on me, and I have heard from others that it worked the same on them. In the 1960s these pamphlets were produced in the most affordable way. They were pertinent for the times, and they are still vital messages. The early pamphlets have been republished in slicker forms, and they are sometimes handed out free alongside Prabhupada’s big books.
In the very beginning, under Prabhupada’s tolerant acceptance of new devotees, he did not so much emphasize the particulars of “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” He did train Yamuna to be clean (and not smoke cigarettes) in the kitchen while she was cooking for Mukunda and Janaki’s wedding. He told her to repeatedly wash her hands. When devotees first went from America to India, they came back with a reforming spirit, raising the standard on cleanliness, which they had seen in India. That was around 1971, five years after the inception of ISKCON. When the Nectar of Devotion was published, the pujaris became aware of the need for high standards of cleanliness in the worship of the Deity. (The Nectar of Devotion was first published in 1970.) Prabhupada gradually demanded that we increase our standard of cleanliness. He said we should be “revolutionary clean.” In the 1970s, temples instituted maha-cleanup days in which the mandir buildings were thoroughly cleansed and unnecessary paraphernalia was removed.
(Here is an excerpt):
“When I first came to Krishna consciousness, I was a good chanter, and now Krsna has taken the taste away. He has some plan, and I don’t want to react by turning my back on Him and giving up the chanting. In one of her books, Teresa of Avila gives an example of a gardener pulling up water with a bucket from the well. When there is lots of water in the well, the work is easier, and it’s even easier if the garden gets regular rains or has an irrigation system. But it’s hardest of all when the well is completely empty. But even at that time, the gardener should go every day and lower the bucket and pull up the empty bucket. What? That sounds absurd. Why go through the ritual of lowering and raising an empty bucket? But used as an analogy for prayer, she says that God appreciates her act of prayer even when we lower an empty bucket— mechanical, arid prayer—and raise the empty bucket. Although it appears to be useless, we should be confident that God is pleased with it. And so here I go, arid, with my bead bag strapped around my shoulder. The others will see. Oh, I’ll be so proud and have my fingers again in contact with those precious faded beads from Tandy’s, after almost forty years still not broken. It’s like Bill Evans wrote in his song, ‘Yet Ne’er Broken.’
“Weep for me, red beads, I ain’t quittin’
for purgatory yet. These beads were well
worn down when I stopped using them
a few years ago. They are sitting like Rupa
Goswami’s relics or Al Capone’s hat in
a museum now, unused and gathering a bullet hole of dust.
Not as famous as Carl Perkins’
‘Blue Suede Shoes.’
“So who cares who is counting them?
I’m picking them up and wearing them always
like the doggies in Iraq
who keep their automatic machine guns
always wrapped around their bodies
pointing from their chests.
“My bullets are not for terrorizing
Iraqi citizens. They are for
punching holes against the dark cloud
for my brother, for all souls
what does it matter if you don’t like
them? You can pray for them. They
are the same as you. Souls of Govinda.
“You are so dry you lower the bucket
and the well is empty but Krsna says,
“Go on lowering the bucket. I appreciate
your dry work.” It’s senseless you
say with your logical brain.
Go on lowering and picking up
the empty bucket. But it’s dry, dry!
“I appreciate it, says Krsna.
You get credit for it. It’s on your side.
Soon there will be
water. Haribol. He who laughs
The last cry for the resurrection
as possible by the power of the holy beads,
write or write.
I rarely get feedback to my writing. Yesterday I got some. A devotee wrote that I have written many books about Srila Prabhupada. “They are meticulously researched and written in a direct, objective linear style . . .” They are inspirational and informative, and satisfy the devotee’s appetite for ‘Prabhupada nectar.’ For now and in the future, they provide a way to know him.
My books of literary/confessional writing have a different function. Especially the free writing shoots in different directions free of explanation or preaching. But it is valuable for devotees in its own way. My effort to find Krsna in my actual mind allows my readers to believe that their own strange and imperfect personality can “correctly” approach Krsna. “In other words, I am happy to learn that eccentric New Yorkers speaking in the language of this world can achieve love and devotion.” I believe my books on Prabhupada are more important and orthodox, but there is a place for free writing also. In the rough of confessional improvisation are found unpolished gems of Krsna consciousness.
A friend who practiced Zen Buddhism seriously for decades and became the Director of a Zen center has now become deeply involved in Krsna consciousness. His close friends are Hare Krsna devotees, and he worships the arca-vigraha of Gaura-Nitai and chants japa of the maha-mantra. Recently he noticed his statue of Buddha was dusty and sitting neglected on a shelf. He thought it was disrespectful. He cleaned him up and placed him on an altar, offered him some incense and practiced a little Zen meditation. He described this to me and wrote, “I think there is a question in all of this. The question is whether it is permissible for a devotee of Gaura-Nitai (Krsna) to perform puja to a statue of Buddha.” I will write him that given his decades-long dedication to the practice of Zen Buddhism, it is not unnatural that he felt his statue was being disrespected out of neglect. I think it is all right if he gives Siddhartha some attention, but it should not disturb his practices of Krsna conscious worship, especially the philosophy of devotional service unto the Vaisnava guru and devotional service unto Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Don’t become a voidist. You should have given that up. See Buddha as an avatara of Kesava (Krsna) as sung by the Vaisnava kavi Jayadeva in his Dasavatara.
Last night, October 13, Karttika began. There was a distant but clear full moon in the sky. Here in Stuyvesant Falls, we put a pot of sweet rice on the roof (covered with a cheesecloth to keep the bugs out). The tradition is that the sweet rice is left for the dancers in the rasa-lila when they become tired from their exertion. Also, every day the Sri Damodarastakam, found in the Padma Purana and spoken by Satyavrata Muni, is sung by the devotees in ISKCON. The English translation to the eighth and final verse is, “O Lord, the entire universe was created by Lord Brahma, who was born from Your abdomen, which was bound with a rope by Mother Yasoda. To this rope I offer my humble obeisances. I offer my obeisances to Your most beloved Srimati Radharani and to Your unlimited pastimes.” Throughout the verses of Damodarastakam, Satyavrata Muni prays that “the childhood pastimes of Krsna may ever be enacted in my heart.” He also prays, “. . . . May this vision constantly remain in my mind . . . . Protect me with Your nectarean vision.” He wants the saksad-darsana of baby Krsna in this wonderful pastime of Damodara.
Devotees from all over the world travel to India to the Krsna Balarama Mandir in the month of Karttika to worship Lord Damodara and daily recite the prayer of Damodarastakam. The Vraja Mandala parikrama takes place, and ISKCON devotees have been going out for many years. They visit pastime places throughout the six miles (ten kilometers) of Vrndavana. Daily buses go out from the Krsna Balarama Mandir to visit different pastime places, hear lectures in different languages, and honor prasadam. Devotees take on different vratas (vows) during the month. Some devotees give up sweets or limit their diet to simple kichari. Some increase their rounds of japa or reading. It is said that vows enacted during the month of Damodara give one 1000 times the benefit of vows performed at any other time or place. Here in Viraha Bhavan we sing Damodarastakam and offer ghee wicks in the downstairs temple room before the murti of Mother Yasoda tying Lord Damodara. I used to go every year to Vrndavana at Karttika. Many years something internal happened to me, a new direction in my Krsna consciousness, a partial answer to my prayers.
One year during Karttika I was humbled by the grass-roots devotees, and even before the GBC passed resolutions I gave up using the exclusive high vyasasana just for me, gave up the use of the name “Srila Gurupada” and was even ready to give up my zonal-guru territory. Tamala-Krsna Goswami said to me confidentially, “We either step down voluntarily or we’ll be pulled down.” The devotees who influenced me to step down were Bhurijana, Jagadisa, Rupa-Vilasa, and especially Jayadvaita Maharaja, who was very gentle with me.
One year in Vrndavana during Karttika I brainstormed with Baladeva, trying to come up with a new major writing project. I wrote my request down on a piece of paper, and Baladeva and Rupa-Raghunatha delivered it and read it to the Deity Vrnda-devi in Kamyavan. This place and this Deity is very special for awarding devotees’ petitions. Almost immediately after they delivered my petition, I came upon the idea of what to do: a series of books called A Poor Man Reads the Bhagavatam. I would start with the first verse of the Bhagavatam and paraphrase Prabhupada’s purport. After that, I would break into free writing. I had devotees help me to form questions about the verse in the Bhagavatam, and I answered them. Nandarani from Vancouver was very helpful in researching questions for me. I liked the project because it combined orthodox scriptural writing with improvisational writing practice. The first three volumes came out particularly well. Volume Four consists mostly of very technical questions submitted to me by Caitanya-candrodaya and Kaisori d.d. There was not much juice in my answering these questions, and I was unable to do free writing until the later portion of the book, which was too late.
(These sessions were composed on the road from Spain to Ireland in October 1995 as a prelude to a book, Karttika Lights, which is available on sdglegacy.com)
“Whew! I don’t want to go down as a time-waster, a self-indulger or even an atmanandi. I want to preach as pleases my spiritual master. Brhad-mrdanga. It can happen in my lifetime, or later.
“What am I asking? Let the Lord Spiritual Master and the Supreme Lord just say, “He pleased me by his efforts,” that’s all I want. Dear Lord who makes our fate, taking our desires and matching them with our acts and giving us next body—O All-powerful God of all, please help me take out hidden and not-so-hidden desires which will detain me in this rotten world. Let me be convinced there is no happiness here. Let me not maintain desires to be a famous, feted author, or any crap like that,
“the famous, handsome, humble old author
took a bow and slipped off
the stage and hurt his ankle.
He buoyed himself up with an ironic thought, and bought more
time against eternity. But
finally he succumbed with
all his prizes and books and
readers and a review said,
‘He wrote too much.
Otherwise, he was okay. He
was better when he was
t.p. in Boston and not
puffed up, but what can
you do? Everyone succumbs.”
“The austerity is dedication to the writing process. Is the faith misplaced? Why aren’t you 100% sure of this? I don’t know, but I am writing with concentration. When he comes into the room, I sense interruption. I press on. So there must be some good in it.
“I wrote it favorable to the Supreme Lord. Even if all I do is pray for that—‘Please, Lord, let this writing serve You.’
“This is a shakedown, a raid, an inspection. Show us, tell us why you write this way and why it is important.
“Standard answer: This form of writing goes to the bone. It develops honesty. You’ll find gems in this rough, better than anything you could do by any other method.”
(February 24, 1994
“Chanting the names of Jesus, they say, stopped the Lisbon plague of 1432. What if it didn’t? Why pray to be saved. It’s natural, but Srila Prabhupada doesn’t advise that. If Krsna wants you to die, don’t pray to Him to save you—pray to remember Him as you die. Do we like to hear of the power of prayer? But what is that power? That He may give me the nectar of harinama? Or allow me to live without the nectar (like a cactus that goes so long on a drop of water)? But let me chant and remember Him and serve His devotees.”
“It’s brown October
or green and hot like the
days we chanted in
Tompkins Square Park
Raya Rama and Hayagriva and
me too, Bruce,
etc., but don’t find fault
with them, and make yourself
as if the best
in your mind. It’s absurd
and you lose
when you think ill of others.”
(October 1, 1995,
“Vital questions on the mind, and consider what to do. One might even stop the show, later in life, of traveling and lecturing, which is often a social act in which one says things without much conviction. Why go through the motions? What is the effect of it? Could I be doing something more important to surrender to Krsna? I felt a little of this last night, that my talk at the Sunday gathering was nice reminiscences of Srila Prabhupada. And yet some of it was just a public performance to please the audience of laid-back devotee householders. I am also laid-back.
“You know what I mean? I told them how we preferred the Swami in his 1966 mode and didn’t want him to leave N.Y.C. That’s true, and that’s a sweet mood, how Srila Prabhupada sacrificed to preach, and so we also have to sacrifice the life of being with him as the father of a small family. But maybe I didn’t feel it as I said it. I could be honoring that feeling in some more intense way, maybe by directly writing the emotion or drawing a picture of it . . . Anyway, to have recalled it as I did doesn’t harm me, but maybe I can do better.
“I am not Srila Prabhupada, that by traveling here and there I hold ISKCON together. Even disciples . . . I can see them only if they come to me. I might situate myself somewhere and “do bhajana.” Of course, how do you reconcile that with Prabhupada’s books and the ISKCON mood, and his saying, ‘Preach! Preach! Preach!’, as he handed me the danda. But he also said, ‘Preach while you are young, and when you are older, retire and go to Mayapur or Vrndavana.’ But the ISKCON dhamas are sometimes ‘contaminated’ by persons who don’t make it possible to live there and do that bhajana, or one falls into the rasika mood prematurely. So sometimes we consider the idea of a life of solitude outside of Vrndavana.
(October 2, 1995,
Jalon and Alicante, Spain)
“This morning I began a reading of Cc. Good start. Made some honest notes, not like mere review of contents, but express how I feel. I don’t live in Vrndavana, and maybe it’s just as well. But by reading Cc., I can enter the divine realm of Gaudiya Vaisnavism at its best, with Srila Prabhupada as my guide. Srila Prabhupada (not demanding that we do management or cooperate with our Godbrothers—or does he? We’ll read and see). This fellow grows older, is already among the oldest men in ISKCON, needs his space, asserts his right.
“Afraid they may come after me. Even if they do, I won’t come out. They may know, if my secret leaks out, that it’s not a bad act; I have gone for the month of Karttika to a hidden place to write the story of my life. As I try to enter the nectar of the pastimes and instructions of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. They may know.
“May I write poems,
be satisfied with good companionship,
of two Brothers.
All glories to Prabhupada.
(October 6, 1995,
New Vraja Mandala, Spain)
“Travel can be inspiring. Look forward to it. Pray to Krsna to let you spend retreat time well. Write as you travel. Maybe now I’ll stop this writing session and talk to Madhu how I could gain inspiration right away and use to travel days. Mainly they are travel, a bridge to get there. You are always depending on Krsna to protect you. Write your October sessions now.
“I’m a writer
I’m a Jew, a juvenile writer, juvenile delinquent in
saddle shoes (brown and white)
Pat Boone, Miles Standish and others stand off
don’t aggravate the prose.
“Yeah . . .
okay, Mighty Mouse, sing your
opera. Make us biscuits.
Missus, dry and cracky and
healthy and we can eat a lot.
Let me desire to speak with pen.
And you can even begin your “spiritualized
dictionary” discipline. Go to the van now and sort a few
things back into place.
get moving, soon you’ll be released.
(October 6, 1995,
North of New Vraja Mandala, Spain)
“Perimeters. Tomorrow I give my last Bhag. lecture here. I go into M’s little room when he’s not here. Twice I looked at the consumer guide magazine on trucks. Ford is the best of the bunch, they say. You notice the style of the writing. Pretty good. They speak of themselves as ‘we’: ‘We have not driven the model, so we cannot say about its performance.’
“Operator, please connect me
to Franks, to Franx
Dept. Store and Bar.
Yes. Yes. Corina, Corina . . . pleeze connect me to the GBC
office and Communications Dept.
I want to file a complaint
and a search warrant.
Flash the name SATSVAR-OOP and ask, ‘Where is he?’
He should report at once
to the barracks headquarters
and be prepared for all-night
‘Sats-varoop, please report to station master
and bring your brass pot
Geez, oh no, my heart
skips, not that.
And I dreamt I was
faking it in the Welfare
“Enter the water where you write and care. The light is dimming at 6:00 P.M., 6:30, and you ate enough today, four-by-four trucks have air bags when you crash, the greatest danger is if the truck rolls over. They are not always safer than cars.
“Remember in a yurt
then in South Italy
it was nice writing there,
one retreat after another.
“Well, that’s coming up again. You want to say, ‘And nobody can stop me.’ But it’s up to Providence.
“J.G. shocks us. Shocks? Dropping out of ISKCON. Someone may say that’s what I do to. But no. I’m in ISKCON temple lecturing, and after a hiatus, I’ll be back again giving a seminar, visiting a temple, or member goes to health clinic.
“Get any better
Yes, Charlie Parker
I’m cured of my jazz
listening and hyper-rash
and toothache and mild
Oh, but what about—I heard you get head-
aches. Don’t believe anything you hear.
“It is true you are in autumn orange, yellow leaves on trees in Spain villa. Is it true you could have eaten more but didn’t want to look like a glutton before your host? Yes.
“Is it true I heard you are embarking on a reading of Cc. and you write some nice devotional sentiments down?
“Yes, that’s so.
“So I want you to tell me how I too can read like that.
“Wait and I’ll tell you later.”
(October 6, 1995
New Vraja Mandala, Spain)
“October 8—Time flies; tempus fugit. Also, flies buzz in this room, dying, respect them, don’t just be annoyed with them. It’s a tough life. You are fortunate, just a little, but you have some clothes to keep warm and can use heaters so, unlike the flies, you intend to survive the winter and many more winters. Then like the flies too, go against the windowpane, buzz some last times, bump and grope and expire, and it’s another corpse on the floor.
“But you leave your writings; you and Thomas Merton. Library. Library of Congress. ‘A spirit embalmed forever.’ Spirit goes on to a next body. Where you go is real self-interest, more than what you leave in this world. But what you leave is also important, as a contribution. You should do something worthy.
“Tomorrow is Karttika’s first day. I won’t be in Vrndavana or Gita-nagari. In the afternoon we’ll start to travel. Can I begin some writing project on Karttika? Could it continue the five days’ scheduled travel until we reach the retreat house? Would that be nice? It would give you a cause, a means to absorb yourself as you travel. But you don’t want to confine yourself to what you write once you reach the retreat.
“But you could use guidance, no harm in a running start. The retreat can sometimes be a time when you are relieved, grateful, but can’t write as directed as you’d like to.
“Sometimes you do either writing sessions or a timed book or both. And poems and drawing. Let your spirit in the free realms while you practice reading at different times in the day and with limited body and intellect.
“Yes, no harm if you get a head start. You could put down a statement tomorrow, “Here starts my Karttika book.”
“Karttika book, a schnook in spirit. No, don’t mock yourself.
“A Karttika festival. No. A Karttika in Ireland. No. But that’s closer to the truth.
“A Karttika retreat. But what the heck is Karttika to me? Do you have some direction actually?
“No, not yet. I’m looking forward to increasing writing. I don’t call it a vow. Vrata. Let it be more free than that. A love, Katyayani. Let it be freer than that, a love. Katyayani. We want Krsna as our husband.
“Can’t claim that either.
But like it or not,
ready or not,
Kartikka is upon us.
We are writing
on the run
and when seated in Ireland it’s Karttika
and you are supposed to be doing something.”
(October 7, 1995
New Vraja Mandala, Spain)
A writing session is good, the no-form form.
“Is the Karttika Lights a book you can start and take on the road? Yes we will, but it’s more for settling in at the retreat house. Karttika in one place, in contemplating, concentrating on your practices. And if you are in Vrndavana, reap the benefits of residence in a holy dhama. The retreat is a holy space. The road in our van may be less so, but you can transform it from mere mileage and fatigue and ache into something I hope ‘to increase your devotion.’
“We’ll see when we get underway.
Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare.
“A writing session is a shesh-in, a kind of dance
where you sit in a wigwam.
But you’re a devotee of Krsna
and pen words to that effect.
He taught me three modes,
taught us how to transcend.
You can listen to a lecture,
say we are at a P-stop,
here’s a biscuit offered to
photo of Prabhupada murti,
on, M. is pressing
to cover 500 km. and
soon stop, reach the ferry
port, Karttika ki jaya!
Somehow we’ll get there
and then write in mood
of studier of books
chanter of rounds.”