Interview with Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja on Prayer
Interview with H.H. Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja on Prayer
April 30, 2005, Gita Nagari
Bhakti-tirtha Swami: What concerns me is that we want to be more mindful in everything that we do so that everything we are doing is an offering to Krsna or it’s a prayer.
When we are chanting Hare Krsna, we are making the maha prayer. But our mind is so strong and crazy, just what is going on when we are actually not chanting? The actions of our mind and how much do we have time to submit ourselves.
We have to improve the quality of our chanting, but our chanting is not just what we are uttering as external sound vibration. Although there are different kinds of chanting, loudly, softly, silently. Sometimes devotees are thinking, somehow I have to chant purer and then everything is OK. Yes, but that chanting is connected to the whole culture and that culture is connected with vandanam.
So many of the stories in the Bhagavatam, the lives of devotees you see how their existence is like a prayer. What to speak of all the amazing songs are all prayers. In the Bhagavatam, the songs of personified Vedas—so many expressions of prayer. We have to harvest a deeper mental culture.
Divyambara dd: Prayer is important because it helps us focus on Krsna, it helps us improve our personal relationship with Krsna. Religionists pray a lot. When somebody asks you, please pray for me, how do you pray?
Bhakti-tirtha Swami: It also goes to the general idea of prayer for Vaisnavas. If we only pray by repeating a prayer or a song, it’s not enough. At the same time, we shouldn’t think that our own creative offerings is also enough. So I would suggest two things, I guess. That the person repeats through the readings, through memorizing or through the bhajans some of the prayers spoken by fully realized souls. That we parrot their words and understand the essence of what they offer.
And then, at the same time, as we are trying to understand more the the essence, that we put these prayers in our own words. It is almost like in the Bhagavatam class. Everything is there in the verse, but Prabhupada and the other acaryas are giving commentaries and at the same time the devotee gives commentary. This is almost the exact same thing. The devotee who only quotes the verse is not imbibing the philosophy. At the same a devotee who sits down and just starts speaking and doesn’t relate to previous verses and acaryas and previous devotees in our line, that is not potent. According to the devotee’s nature and how much one can deliver. But still the delivery should involve some realization, some glorification, because what is already given, and then some presentation that applies to here and now for people to realize that the philosophy and the mission is alive.
So in one sense prayer should be the same as how we preach. There should be a certain internal dialog that’s going on that we are not necessarily sharing.
These are very (I’m not trying to be arrogant at this point) sharp points. Just the whole idea of internal dialog. How little do we realize that what we are constantly telling ourselves is having a big influence sometimes on what we are articulating audibly. We’re constantly telling ourselves about others.
So prayer is often more of internal reflection, that means our mind culture is getting stronger and stronger because we will be praying in the spirit of the acaryas and trying to think like that.
Divyambara dd: Praying for devotees, who are ill or in difficulty…
Bhakti-tirtha Swami: You should never be karma-kandic.. Our position is trying to be beyond. And that’s what causes a problem. That especially devotees from Christian backgrounds are so much in the habit of the whole idea of prayer is asking for something. I saw it in my own life—I was so much in the background of consciously praying every day out loud but more for something. When I became a devotee, I was just considering, I’m chanting Hare Krsna now and that’s the maha-prayer, so that’s it.
But then what is going on in the rest of the day with the mind. How much is good to have more control of the mind by focusing it on different prayers. So then when a devotee is ill, or in some difficulty, or in some particular situation, we have to pray that Krsna helps that devotee in that specific way if it’s going to help that devotee’s spiritual life. Or to help that devotee in such a way to help his spiritual life. Also to prayer that whatever is going to help that devotee in being a better devotee.
Divyambara dd: Also your daily prayer is that whatever I need to experience to be a better servant, let it happen or come to me.
Bhakti-tirtha Swami: Yeah. On the back I think of my Beggar I and II, I have it in my bathrooms in all my places framed so that I would repeat it or try to reflect on it as a daily meditation. Sometimes I just pray in my own words, of course and beg a prayer in the ten different kinds of Vaisnava prayers and I just [?] in my own words.
Divyambara dd: Please share some of your realization and experience of the Lord’s reciprocation to your prayer. Sometimes you would say, “Be careful what you pray for.”
Bhakti-tirtha Swami: In my own life I’ve prayed mostly to be forced. The general theme underlining my prayers and my way of trying to serve, I pray to be forced to experience whatever is necessary to be at the right place at the right time as much as possible, to be limited with what free will of mine may cause a problem. Even though it’s hard… It’s easy to say it but it’s hard to accept fully just being pushed into situations or put into situations. But my basic mood of prayer is, I know what I want, You know what I need, therefore bring on me what I need. And then I try to keep this internal dialog with this internal mantra.
Divyambara dd: And as you are constantly praying, you are constantly experiencing the Lord’s reciprocation…
Bhakti-tirtha Swami: No, sometimes yes, sometimes no. In other words, sometimes it’s very clear, it is very obvious that what has happened is totally beyond my own framework plan, anticipation and idea. Sometimes it is not. Sometimes there may be some immediate reciprocation, sometimes not. The karma-kandic and the religionist way of praying is for some particular, specific thing, for some particular and specific goals in mind. And this is where confusion can come with the Vaisnavas that as they are hearing more and more about prayer and then people are going back to that mindset of thinking that you are petitioning Krsna, petition, petition Him. We are to petition Him to be better servants and we do that we are chanting, so it is a means also of grasping a little better what we actually are doing every day. Every day we are supposedly offering ourselves in full surrender. Every day we are supposedly begging for forgiveness.
Divyambara dd: My last request is for any guidance on what could be a prayer of a Krsna conscious leader?
Bhakti-tirtha Swami: The greatest qualities we find from the Bhagavatam and Manu-samhita, also in Bhisma’s instructions about leaders that they have the duty to protect their constituents. So one of the greatest mindsets prayer for the leader should be to guru, to sadhus, and to Krsna, the previous acaryas, somehow to please give us clarity, greater clarity, purity to be able to give greater protection to those we can influence. Protection is all arena itself. It means how to be clear about what is maya so that we don’t pursue that path. How to be able to have greater faith so that they can be more fixed and determined on the goal. And it means doing things in such a way that if others did it, they would benefit spiritually. It means simultaneously having tremendous fear because if one doesn’t properly deliver or protect, there is very heavy consequences.
The Bhagavatam says that the leader who is not protector is not leader, a guru who is not a protector is not a guru. And especially the higher level of ksatriyas are trained up in the sciences of care.
We talked about Maharaja Prithu… we see those discussions in the Srimad-Bhagavatam that they were trained. It wasn’t just something that happened by [?] or by people who were doing their own investigations, by speculating, hurting people’s lives… there was a system for training.
In some cases we suffered in ISKCON because we had such an emergency kind of mission. So we were so much put into leadership positions. Practically none of us ever took a course on management or read a book on management. I only started understanding more about leadership when wrote my first Leadership book and then people started asking me questions and I started getting some engagements. Then I started to learn about leadership materially and spiritually. In my Leadership book I wasn’t writing a leadership book, I was just writing on some issues leading to preaching—time management, conflict resolution, healthy balances, resources, protection of the environment; the mentor or the person being empathetic toward the ones under their care—just basic things and then somehow we decided to call it Leadership for Higher Consciousness.
So even in my case where… You know, other than Anuttama and Akrura and one of our devotees in Malaysia—they have probably studied leadership more than anyone. But even in my case and mostly in other cases, it’s something they did on their own. Now we have this formal course that Anuttama is offering… Hanuman and a few others… This is like fantastic… But most devotees didn’t get exposure like this before they start managing. And even now when devotees take the course there, in most cases they are amazed that they didn’t know this kind of thing or have exposure 20 years ago.
So, it’s hard to have very successful institutions without successful, caring ksatriyas. Because the ksatriyas are to help balance off the vaisyas with their power and influence and to help the message of the brahmanas to be able to come thru. But when you have brahmanas who are brahmanas without a society to re-enforce their brahminical status or desires, when you have vaisyas who basically can control almost everyone, then there is no proper attention for training up the ksatriyas so that they can… ksatriyas has be powered … great skill. That power has to be monitored by purity. So the more likely for greater purity is the brahmana who doesn’t involve in vaisya or ksatriya activity but has the ability to know and to offer advice and to give guidance and where one can look and trust that he doesn’t have a vested interest. Everyone has their own personal interest, but their own life is not life that’s connected with a vested interest.
So probably the strongest thing that’s needed now is the ksatriya. Because we have so much emphasis on productivity that the vaisya can help with, we have so many brahmanas who just get frustrated that there is not enough resources, facility and arrangements for helping them things to happen. There is a need for the ksatriya with spiritual purity who has the financial resources. That combination is so rare. Maybe we will never see it fully in our lifetimes, but when the emphasis is more on the purity while pursuing the productivity [?] to be internal dialog, a culture of constantly, mindfully offering ourselves to guru and Krsna. Then our life becomes a prayer.
Divyambara dd:Thank you, Gurudeva. I will keep praying for your guidance.
Bhakti-tirtha Swami: Keep praying to Krsna to let you experience whatever is necessary to help you serve Prabhupada’s mission better.