ISKCON 50 – S.Prabhupada Daily Meditations – Oct. 9-2015 – Dec. 31-2016
September 1, 2016
Psychologists analyze religious conversions and give many reasons why a person accepts the absolute truth of scripture. I am not trying to analyze my conversion in that way. I know what happened to me: a pure devotee came into my life.
The pure devotee (Prabhupada) has a lot of ammunition. He has very good reasoning power and good arguments. He has personal saintliness and a mystical connection with the Supreme. In addition, Prabhupada had the ancient and great Vaisnava tradition behind him. He was from India and spoke of many acaryas who also spoke of Krishna consciousness. He said that what he was preaching was the same thing that Christ and Buddha had taught. So if we went against him, we went against all the Visnu incarnations, all the God-teachers and sages of renunciation and lovers of the Supreme. He frankly said that the truth was beyond our senses; we should accept it and be humble.
When I speak of my own conversion, I may also speak for other devotees who joined with me at this time. One thing we all had in common is that we were suffering from material life and we admitted it. Prabhupada said that what he was teaching would bring us freedom from anxiety. We wanted that. Swamiji himself appeared to be free of anxiety, and he was “fixed”. He said that we could do it just by chanting Hare Krishna. We tried it, and when we did not feel much change Prabhupada would assure us, “You will, eventually.” He told us to be patient.
But for ourselves, did we experience anything? Yes, undoubtedly; something. I attained release from bad personal habits and addictions. This was something tangible; I knew it for sure. In a more general sense, I also experienced a new meaning to life, a willingness to be part of the adventure of living and hearing from the Swami. To speak psychologically, I would say that Krishna consciousness fulfilled a deep need in my psyche, a desire to be like a monk, someone who would seriously approach a guru. I had perhaps never thought of it exactly in those terms, but I had read about it in novels like Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game and Siddhartha. The idea of discipleship was not entirely strange to me. These are some of the things that the Swami had going for him in his battle against our cynicism – the battle to save souls, to convert us.
September 2, 2016
One night after the Swami had shaved his head so that it was gleaming, he sat in his room and talked happily about the four-armed Visnu. But when I saw him, I fell back into thinking, “How can I believe this?” And the first time I heard him say that Krishna married 16,000 wives, that also set me backwards, and I thought, “I can’t go further. I can’t accept this. It is too fantastic.” Sometimes you expressed these doubts to Prabhupada and sometimes you did not. If you did ask him, he was always ready with strong argument and sastra. He was not in the slightest bit doubtful. And neither, by his own understanding, was he being dogmatic. He used to say, “You may believe or not believe, that is a different matter.” Theoretically, you might imagine that someone in the world might have a better argument against the Swami, but you did not have any better argument. Besides, part of you very much wanted to believe him, but you just couldn’t get past some of your doubts.
When I heard about the 16,000 wives, I blurted out, “I can’t accept this.”
Prabhupada replied, “You cannot? The greatest scholars cannot.” My doubt aroused his concern. There I was, another ignorant person who could not accept Krishna. Why did I not accept Him? “Why don’t I believe it?” This was another strength of Prabhupada’s – he could answer questions with cool logic, but he was also deeply involved in what he said. He was more involved in his conviction than you were in your doubt.
“Why can’t Krishna marry 16,000 wives? He’s the creator of everything, and He’s in everyone’s heart. If He comes out of the heart of a small number of persons and becomes their husbands, then He can do it. He can do anything.”
While Swamiji was lecturing about life on the higher planets, he added, “I am not just saying this, but I am convinced.” That blew my mind. Other times he said, “Rest assured”, or “Take it from me”. He was willing to teach us on that basis also. He was saying in effect, “I know what I’m talking about. I realize this. It is a fact, so please accept it and take it from me. If you chant Hare Krishna you will understand that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. All these things will become revealed to you. Take it from me, there are higher planets. Just because you cannot understand it, and you cannot touch it with your senses, that does not mean that it does not exist.”
Gradually I accepted whatever Prabhupada said. Whatever answers and convictions I now hold, they come from that place of a doubtful person who inquired and got answers from Swamiji.
September 3, 2016
A godbrother said that when you accept Krishna consciousness, it is like a package deal; you accept everything – the demigods in the higher planets, the four-armed forms, the thousand-headed forms, and so on. Everything starts to be part of the same axiomatic truth – whatever is in the Vedas or whatever is taught by the spiritual master. You do not pick and choose. Besides, there is a reason why everything is believable. If it is not “believable” to you, that is also understandable. You do not have to comprehend it with your own brain – it is often beyond you. Once you accept these premises, then you accept particular teachings that sound strange to outsiders on the principle of acintya, inconceivable knowledge. And as we know, knowledge borne of the senses is defective. The realities of other worlds don’t have to tally with our world. The guru knows what is right.
Once you plunged into it, you began to accept it. You saw American devotees painting pictures of Visnu with four arms. There is Lord Visnu and He does have four arms, and it is not the most impossible thing in the world. You have two arms and He has two more arms. What’s the big deal? There is spiritual form. We started getting unstuck from our previous conceptions by Prabhupada’s grace.
This was a school where we sat in his apartment and asked questions, and where he lectured in the temple and taught us all these things. We became different than other people. We became his “confidential devotees”. As he said in one lecture, “The other day some of our confidential devotees were talking together and we all concluded that Krishna consciousness is the great need of human society.”
September 4, 2016
Removing the Fear of Prabhupada’s Presence
The presence of Prabhupada in separation is a mystical topic. He is not there in his physical form, and yet you claim that in some way he is there. What are you saying? Are you communing with spirits? Is it something weird?
No, it’s not weird. Prabhupada’s presence is very real and personal, and very tangible. In one sense, it simply means to follow the guru’s instructions. But his presence is also something inconceivable to the material senses and mind.
I do not doubt that Prabhupada can be present before me, but I have some fear of coming into his presence – and I should remove that fear. My fear is that he will reprimand me and tell me to stop what I am doing; or I fear that he will not understand me. I am putting so much energy into my work and sometimes coming up with some “discoveries.” But what if Prabhupada dismissed all that I do as nonsense? That would be hard to take.
Although I have some hesitation, I am trying to listen to what Prabhupada is telling me to do. One way to accomplish this is by prayerful reading – when I speak my mind and then read from Prabhupada’s purport and listen to what he is saying, I try to apply it to my life. Aside from reading his books, I also desire his presence in my heart. As I am alive and talking, so Prabhupada is alive and can hear me. He can communicate to me. This should be possible for all Prabhupada’s disciples who are immersed in his teachings. They know his way of thinking and speaking from his purports, conversations, and lectures; so why should it be impossible for them to meditate on Prabhupada, desire his presence, and know his will?
There is a nice statement by Prabhupada in an Isopanisad purport about free will and initiative:
When one properly utilizes his initiative or active nature with intelligence, understanding that everything is the Lord’s potency, he can revive his original consciousness, which was lost due to association with maya, the external energy.
(Isopanisad, Mantra 4, purport)
I want Prabhupada to accept me and understand how I am trying to serve him. I want to be appreciated and understood. I want my offering to be accepted. I hope that Prabhupada will accept my service and not kick it away.
Yet I know that my offering is faulty. I should be open to any correction the spiritual master wants to give me. In any case, my offering will be accepted by Prabhupada and Krishna, and I will get the result of my action. To the degree that mine is not a perfect offering, I will have to suffer the results. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna invites us to surrender to Him in many ways. You take your choice, He reciprocates with you accordingly. It is up to you; He is not going to force you. But in the end, He says you should completely surrender to Him, and that is the best thing.
I hope that my proposal to serve Prabhupada is not so conditioned that Prabhupada has nowhere to enter into his relationship with me. I am praying, “If you think that what I am doing is unacceptable, please guide me to do your will. I want to serve you so that you will be proud of my contribution. I wish to see myself as small and to appreciate the services of your many devotees.”
I would like to be in the presence of Prabhupada, and I hope it is possible more and more. I can enhance it by writing letters to him, by writing Prabhupada smaraṇam, preaching in the temples, reading his books, staying fixed up. Be a Prabhupada man and you will always be in his presence. Go to Vrindavana, pray to his murti, do things his way, and then you will be in his presence more and more. Speak his philosophy and do not be afraid.
September 5, 2016
Following the Saint
Reading a biography of Saint Francis of Assisi by Johannes Jorgensen, I was reminded of Srila Prabhupada and his relationship with his disciples. The biographer tells us of the days when Francis was a teacher “not only in word but also in action.” His first disciples were also very eager to follow him and please their spiritual master.
The biographer writes, “Everyone who has had the happiness in his youth to have lived near a highly exalted personality will therefore understand that a young Brother named Ricerius had acquired the conviction that the good will of Francis was the infallible sign of the satisfaction of God.”
I am struck by the phrase, “Everyone who has had the happiness in his youth to have lived near a highly exalted personality …” What are the odds that one will be born in the human species in Kali-yuga and get the opportunity to meet the pure devotee of Lord Krishna? It is very rare. To meet him when one is young adds to the possibility of taking to Krishna consciousness as soon as possible, and of doing it with the ardor of a young man or woman.
I am reminded of another phrase by the 19th century Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, about the French Revolution. To the Romantic poets, the French revolution was an emblem of freedom for humanity. And so the poet wrote, “Bliss it was to have lived at that time, and to have been young was heaven!”
We may curse our fate for being born in Kali-yuga when we hear of the piety of previous ages. But as the Bhagavatam states, there is one great quality in Kali-yuga which redeems the ocean of voices – the chanting of Hare Krishna. But the holy name cannot manifest itself unless it is carried by the pure chanter.
Although we Lower East Side boys were cynical toward middle-class American values, yet in our own way we were innocent and idealistic. When you meet a person like Srila Prabhupada, then youth and idealism are wed to a tangible goal. So it was bliss and heaven that Prabhupada came to us while we were young, and that he took us with him to chant in the park.
Francis’s biography gives us a sketch of Brother John the Simple, who had a tendency to do whatever he saw Saint Francis do.
When therefore Saint Francis was in the church or other place to pray, he watched him closely so as to follow all his ways and movements. And when Saint Francis bent his knee or lifted his hands to heaven, or spit, or signed, then he did exactly the same.
Some of our behavior was in the copying mood, such as imitating Prabhupada’s Indian accent and uttering his ecstatic sound “Mmmmmm.” To outsiders, we may have seemed like copycats wearing tilaka, dressing like Prabhupada and shaving our heads. But we were actually following the standard Vaisnava methods. And Prabhupada did not force us to do so.
When we read of John the Simple, we think that there is something favorable to be said for the affectionate desire to follow the saint in everything he does. It is certainly more attractive than limiting the saint’s influence in your life so that you follow only a few general principles. Nowadays we even hear some initiated disciples say, “Prabhupada was a great saint, but I no longer follow his instructions.” Instead of that, give us the devotion of Brother John the Simple!
By Srila Prabhupada’s natural humility and strict parampara teaching, we can now combine our worship for him with the right understanding of the Supreme Personality of Godhead who receives all our service.
September 6, 2016
Hearing Prabhupada Face to Face
When I reflect on specific aspects of Vaisnava philosophy, I often recall the time when I first heard these teachings from Prabhupada. Hearing face to face while he was present produced a special impression. For example, I was near Prabhupada in his room when he said, “How can they say there is no God? It is a ridiculous argument. For example, if a man goes to a doctor and the doctor examines him and finds that his vital organs are working, his metabolism is in order, his pulse, his heartbeat, his blood circulation, his breathing, everything is working – if after discovering this the doctor concludes, “My dear sir, you are dead,” – this statement is nonsense, absurd.
“In a similar way, if we see that the universe is working, the planets are in orbit, the sun is shining, the law of gravity and other natural laws are strictly being observed, and everything is going on – and if we conclude, ‘There is no intelligence behind it: God is dead,’ – it is the same absurd statement.”
When Prabhupada said this, I was convinced. What convinces one person may not convince another, but when you are convinced, you know it. You are fully satisfied and ready to advocate that which you are convinced about.
Lord Krishna says, “Ignorant and faithless persons who doubt the revealed scriptures cannot obtain God consciousness; they fall down. For the doubting soul there is happiness neither in this life nor the next.” (Bg. 4.40) And yet we are plagued with doubts. When we gain a strong foundation of faith and conviction, it is the best possible thing that we can have.
Some of it is gained gradually. We have to protect it by hearing and chanting. But first there must be a time in which this bhakti knowledge is rightly and deeply planted within the heart. Prabhupada was the planter – and he still is, through his books and by his devotees in parampara.
September 7, 2016
Depending Deeply on Prabhupada
Dear Srila Prabhupada,
today I heard you on tape.
Your voice was weak,
but your logic very forceful;
you were intolerant with maya.
You said Indian culture
is “hopeless” due to “misleaders.”
“We do not care
if they do not agree with us.
If Krishna agrees we are satisfied.”
Listening to lectures, reading –
this all counts as meditation,
yet I feel absence.
I have no choice: either I
remember and talk,
or the absence and forgetfulness
get worse. So I talk Prabhupada katha.
When you are bankrupt,
even a dream becomes an asset.
Something stirred within you,
it was ambiguous
but with a definite impression –
Prabhupada in your dream.
Did I dream last night,
but immediately forget?
There are lean days.
But you are able to think,
“I am in his movement.”
You go to your duties,
as if just performing them
is enough. Morning lectures,
bowing down before pictures,
singing “Gurvastakam” …
There are lean days.
At least they remind me
that I hope for better.
Even a moment within a day,
to serve and rejoice
in the presence of Prabhupada.
September 8, 2016
As We Knew Him
In discussions among devotees, I have heard that the Prabhupada we knew is temporary and we will not see him again in that form. Only those who go back to Godhead will see him again, in his eternal liberated form. As the Six Gosvamis have spiritual forms – and therefore Rupa Gosvami is known as Rupa Manjari – so the liberated spiritual master may be seen in his spiritual form by his liberated followers.
These topics are beyond me, although I accept what is stated in the sastra. But on an emotional level, I do not like to hear it put so bluntly, that I will not see Prabhupada again. Perhaps some things are better not spoken about, because we do not realize them. When we try to speak, it does not come out right.
This much I can say: Prabhupada will continue to live for the people of this world, at least for the next ten thousand years. Even Lord Caitanya’s mercy will not be manifest after ten thousand years, because then, by the Supreme Lord’s will, the Kali-yuga will set in full force. But as long as human civilization is capable of receiving Krishna’s grace and Lord Caitanya’s grace, Prabhupada will be celebrated as the great devotee of the Lord, the first one to effectively spread bhakti all over the planet.
I will content myself by knowing that any memories we can preserve of Prabhupada will endure for the people during the time when a Golden Age is possible. And so we will go on remembering Prabhupada as we knew him.
I say “as we knew him”, but much of Prabhupada’s identity is beyond us, even in his form as a sannayasi pure devotee. Vaisnavera kriya mudra vijne na bhujhaya; no one can understand the mind of the Vaisnava and the nature of his activities. But as far as we know Prabhupada lila, we can recall it with assurance that it is lasting and spiritual.
The Supreme Lord and His liberated devotee may appear within this world for some time and then return to the spiritual world, where the devotee may take on a different form. Only if we serve Srila Prabhupada in the form as we knew him will we be qualified to understand further spiritual transformations. If we jump over the Prabhupada we knew and as he taught us in his books, if we try to imagine some other Prabhupada – then we will never reach the spiritual world. By the grace of the guru one can transfer to the eternal world, where Krishna will arrange that we may recognize our spiritual master. The relationship is eternal.
September 9, 2016
Standing in the storefront, wearing those gold-colored turtleneck jerseys, Prabhupada standing beside us smiling. He is youthful in his own way. ISKCON is youthful and our association is new. When we were standing together I felt very happy, relishing the essence of a lively guru-disciple relationship.
Prabhupada led us in a dance step. He did the step and we followed him around his room. It was in front of his desk where we usually sat. He taught us two varieties of dance steps: one quick and one slow. Two steps per beat or one step per beat. You put your left foot in front and draw it back; then you put your right foot in front and draw it back, and while doing that you move forward and your arms are upraised. There were at least three of us walking behind him as he taught us.
September 10, 2016
I Want to Celebrate All the Things in My Life Until Swamiji
I want to celebrate all the things in my life that led up to my meeting Srila Prabhupada. I am thankful to everything that happened. Thankful mainly that I survived. Recently I started thinking of the places I had lived in around 1964, 1965; rehashing. After I got out of the Navy, I rented a tiny, slum apartment with no hot water down on Suffolk Street. After six months there, a real estate agent came to the door and said I had to leave; they were going to tear the building down. He helped me find another place, which was a real dump. It was one block north of Houston Street, more into the stream of things, in a predominantly Puerto Rican neighbourhood. It was a basement apartment without lights.
That summer I was like a young boy playing in a treehouse. I played at being a Lower East Side hipster with a part-time job; smoking marijuana, wasting my youth, very unhappy but playing a game of “forget by getting high”. Once again the real estate agent came to the door and said that I had to get out; they were going to use the building for something else.
I was so burned out from taking LSD and being hurt by “friends” that I moved back in with my parents on Staten Island. After that I got a job in the city on the Lower East Side. Then I almost killed myself during an LSD trip by jumping out a window. I broke both my heels falling from the fourth floor. After six weeks in casts I moved back again to Staten Island, to my own apartment. While still hobbling around on crutches, I decided that I wanted to get back into Manhattan where the action was. Staten Island was too far for me to travel to my job on Fifth Street in Manhattan. Actually, I was strategically placing myself for what was going to happen very soon – but I did not know it.
I remember the night I moved from Staten Island. I had some furniture from my boyhood room, a bed and a bureau, and I had to move it. I called up a freelance mover in Manhattan and they came and picked me up. I did not tell the landlord, but just checked out and brought two cats with me.
On the ferry I tried to act urbane and hip to impress the guys in the cab of the truck. It was night-time when we pulled into Suffolk Street. And there it was – the congested, steaming, passionate city. The air was filled with Spanish accents, music, and a violent atmosphere. As we pulled in front of the building one of the movers said, “Why are you moving here? You had such a nice, quiet place.”
The other mover said, “He wants to be part of the action, right? Staten Island is dead.”
I especially remember that moment with the two movers. The first guy’s remark had really hit it on the head: “Why is this young guy moving back to the city?” And as I relive that frightening and yet courageous move that I was making to try to get back into the action, searching for whatever I thought I could find in the city, suddenly I recall that that was the apartment I was in when I met Prabhupada!
If I had met an astrologer back then, and if he had been accurate in his reading, he would have looked at me knowingly and said, “Oh, you are about to meet a very special person, and he is going to make a momentous change in your life!” But I had no such anticipation.
That apartment on Suffolk Street, and the nearness of it to the time when I would meet Prabhupada – the fact that it was the place where I lived when I first met him and began to chant Hare Krishna under his direction – makes it very special in my personal history.
September 11, 2016
My Life Until Swamiji (con’d)
I’m so happy to have met Prabhupada that I’m willing to be grateful to everything that happened to me. Somehow or other, by Providence, it must have all been leaning toward that which happened.
Even if events seemed to be wrong, with no connection to meeting Prabhupada, still they were part of the flow that led to meeting him. So how can I be resentful?
For example, in 1962 I dropped out of Naval Officer Training School and became a sailor. I could resent that, or be unhappy that my father put me into the Navy. But since my life led to meeting Prabhupada, I am grateful. If I had become a Navy officer, maybe my life would have been different. I might not have been working on the Lower East Side and might not have had the attitude of a seeker.
If I hadn’t jumped out the window, if I hadn’t met friends who hurt me, I might not have been in that place at that time. I might not have been the person who gratefully accepted the prasadam and the teachings of His Divine Grace.
Srila Prabhupada, I do not know if you remember how I was when you saw me. There were numerous people coming to see you, and they were all strangers to you. Maybe you do not remember what I was like. Maybe you do not care about it. The main thing is that you picked me up. There is no need to remember how wretched I was. But I just want to say: you knew me from the beginning. Thank you.
September 12, 2016
A Short Walk to the Spiritual World
I remember the walk from my apartment on First Street to Srila Prabhupada at Twenty-six Second Avenue. I rented that apartment just after I met Srila Prabhupada, as a way to start a new life. I wanted to be like a yogi, a clean devotee, and so I kept the apartment bare.
Let’s see – around 7 P.M. I start out to see Swamiji. I’ve come home from work, taken a shower and changed from my office clothes to black chinos, a short-sleeved shirt, and dirty tennis shoes. I brush my short hair forward and start out, down the stairs and out the front door. Facing the tall fence across the street, the playground with handball courts and basketball courts, I turn right and walk half a block up First Street heading west to Second Avenue. Tenement buildings are on the right. Puerto Ricans, Ukrainians, office workers and a few hippies. Coming around the corner on Second Avenue, there’s the Mobil gas station, and then you face 26 Second Avenue. I’m 25½ years old.
I’m looking forward to seeing Swamiji. He’s a new and interesting person I’ve met. Very exotic. Full of unknown things that I want to hear. So I go to the door of the storefront, open it, and there’s a hallway ahead and stairs. I go to the right, past the stairs, down the hallway and into the courtyard. There’s a birdbath, a tree, and some green. It’s summer. Then I face the back building and look up to see if I can see Swamiji through his window. I go up the flight of stairs. I made the journey and I’m going to see him. Thinking what it will be like, what he will say to me and the others. Just through that door. Go in and have a seat. There are already people there, sitting in his room. He’s in the middle of a conversation. Just go there and be in his presence. I don’t have to do anything but listen to the conversations and notice how I’m feeling.
My imagination invites me to be there with Swamiji in 1966, but I’m here in 2016. Fifty years later, looking back, it seems so long ago. As soon as I speak about it I encounter the same “canned memories”, which I often repeat. But they are reliable memories and I am trying to open the cans and see what is actually in them.
September 13, 2016
What Would Prabhupada Do?
We often think, “What would Prabhupada do or say in a situation like this?” And as the Bhaktivedanta Archives surprise us with all of Srila Prabhupada’s spoken and written words, we can push a computer button and bring up what he has said on “walks in the woods,” “when the body feels cold,” “nail-biting” – almost anything. But even Prabhupada’s instructions have to be applied (as they were by him) according to time, place and circumstance. We must ponder on the meaning. If Prabhupada said the woodland walks are all right provided you think of Krishna, then should we justify all our time walking in the woods? If we find a statement by Prabhupada that woods-walking is useless, should we give it up for all time? We have to think and feel what he meant – and what it means to us.
We want to surrender to his order. That means being disciplined by him; don’t invent or interpret the parampara: kṛṣṇastu bhagavān svayam. “If there’s no surrendering,” Prabhupada says, “then there’s no beginning even, what to speak of advancement. Disciple means one who accepts discipline – as soon as the discipline is broken, then everything is lost.”
But surrender also means love. You don’t deposit yourself like a “surrendered stone” at your guru’s lotus feet – you grow as a person and live for him and his mission. You attain your maturity – you turn to Krishna within, you try your best – and it’s all offered to guru and Krishna. Your offering should be thoughtful, painstaking – a garland of handpicked wildflowers, an artistically arranged plate of fruits, an innovative way to preach. “Whatever you do, do it for Me.” And as you work to make a thoughtful project on his behalf, you always stand ready to be told, “That’s wrong. Do it over.”
September 14, 2016
Diving Into Kirtana With Swamiji
Swamiji says, “Let us have kirtana,” and he starts playing the drum. He sings solo for quite a few minutes. He begins with “vande’haṁ” and builds up. You become a little anxious, hoping that the guests won’t go away. If they can just wait, everything will be great. But even if they don’t like it, it’s great. Finally the Swami begins to sing the Hare Krishna mantra. We look up to him and sing in response, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The room is filled with the kirtana, with no energy left over for anything else. Most of the guests are singing. By giving yourself to the singing, you go out of yourself. Swamiji says this is cosmic consciousness. You can do it without taking any drugs. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. We chant, then Swamiji chants. His head moves slightly from side to side. He has very nice fingernails, cuticles, half-moons, and you can see all that as he plays, his hands and fingers working on the drum while he sings.
After the kirtana, there is a transition before he starts to speak. As people quiet down, he opens the book and starts. But some people leave because they don’t want to hear the philosophy. The mood becomes intellectual philosophy, argument, spiritual knowledge. Swamiji explains that the chanting is Krishna, and Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It’s all described in Bhagavad-gita. As he speaks, everything becomes clear and defined: Sri Krishna is the Supreme Person according to the previous acaryas. “Krishna,” “Vrindavana”, “Goloka,” “Bhagavad-gita” – everything is explained.
I faithfully heard, believing in what he said. Accepting the arguments I tried to grasp the philosophy, the language; although sometimes missing the finer points.
Krishna consciousness was substantial knowledge. It could be reached only by devotion. There were glimpses – that you could actually obtain pure bhakti and live forever with Lord Krishna. The Swami explained things which no one else talked about; that life is filled with problems and miseries that no one can solve: birth, death, disease and old age … The atma is free and you don’t die. We were sharing and accepting what he said. I couldn’t directly experience much of it, but when he said, “It is such a nice thing” – we all respected that he was in an elevated consciousness beyond us. He was a self-realized soul. He was far-out because he had so much devotion and realization of Krishna. And that was the difference between us.
September 15, 2016
The Power of Faithful Hearing from One’s Spiritual Master
When Krishna appeared on the battlefield of Kuruksetra, He was about ninety years old Prabhupada said. By that time in His life, Krishna had married 16,108 wives. Each of His wives had ten children by the Lord, and each of those children married and had their own children as well. So Krishna was a great grandfather, with a family numbering in the millions. And yet He looked like a beautiful youth, no more than sixteen or twenty years old. Whenever I hear “fantastic” details of Krishna’s life, I put myself in the position of an innocent person who never heard of Krishna before. “What will they think?” And then I remember how I first thought when I heard of Krishna and His wives and gopis.
How did Srila Prabhupada convince us? He did it on the basis of perfect, Vedic authority. He also gave the evidence of powerful scholars and sages who accept everything that Krishna says and does. Prabhupada explained: Since Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, nothing is impossible for Him. Why be astounded that He had 16,000 wives, since He lives in the hearts of all the innumerable living entities?
I have become faithful in accepting the way that Prabhupada thinks about Krishna. When I hear that Krishna married 16,000 wives I accept it calmly, because I accept Srila Prabhupada. I can empathize, but reject the reductionist’s explanation of Krishna consciousness. I can defend it myself against the atheists. And yet I admit to the simple faith: I accept Krishna as God because Prabhupada said that He is the Personality of Godhead.
The acceptance of spiritual truth, such as I’ve mentioned about Krishna and His super-human lila, is sometimes given the name “dogma”. The dictionary definition of dogma is “a philosophical tenet; a theological doctrine authoritatively inserted; a principle or belief.” In ordinary usage, dogma is derided as opposed to the truth, which is free and dynamic. Dogma implies dullness and fear. The religionist is supposed to be afraid to even think, lest he begin to lose his faith. However, there is another way to look at it. It’s not wrong that some conclusions are settled once and for all. Even Descartes, in attempting to dismantle all dogmatic beliefs, arrived at his “I think, therefore I am.” Everyone works from a preference, even if it’s “nothing is certain” or “nothing exists”. We accept the theistic proofs of sastra, and we have learned how to defend them. More important, by following them we gain direct realization of Krishna, His name, His form, His loving service.
Prabhupada criticized the speculations of an imperfect philosopher. But he encouraged us to think, meditate, worship. It is not dogmatic. We are not afraid to look and think. But for subjects that are beyond the human jurisdiction, we can take guidance from the Lord and His pure devotee. When I meditate on Prabhupada or Sri Krishna, it is they who are meditating within me; just as when you pray, it is Krishna and the spiritual master who are praying with you. This is faithful meditation. And when the devotee becomes confused or doubtful, he places an inquiry before the Lord: This is my doubt, O Krishna, and but for Yourself, I have found no one who can answer it.
September 16, 2016
Offering Obeisances to the Spiritual Master
The divine form of my master, Srila Prabhupada, frequently appears in my art. On occasion, I draw or paint devotional pictures of Swamiji and me together at 26 Second Avenue. There is one of me sitting in front of Swamiji and looking at him intently, prayerfully. I was surprised when I drew it, but then it made me realize how drawings could create their own life, a new possibility in my relationship with Prabhupada.
In this painting Prabhupada looks like a murti, his skin golden. He’s not looking at me. He seems absorbed in his kirtana. Or perhaps he is looking past me at the others who have assembled in the storefront. That’s the freedom of the artwork – that you can place yourself right in front of your Gurudeva, intent on getting his mercy, looking up to him with worshipable eyes, trying to penetrate his solemnity, his peace, become absorbed in it. One of the reasons I attempt to worship my spiritual master in this way is that my love for Prabhupada is the beginning and essence of my spiritual life. Devotees sometimes ask why I put so much of myself in my writing (and drawing). What can I say? I exist. Prabhupada told me that the feeling “I am something” is not wrong. I simply have to understand who I actually am. Then he taught me that I was Krishna’s eternal servant, and although I exist in a false conception, I exist in a real conception too.
Submission to Prabhupada was not a manifestation of false ego, but of Prabhupada’s mercy. Therefore these drawings are not of my false ego, but of a person about to serve, who first came before his spiritual master to beg permission and acceptance. Besides that, Prabhupada liked to see me. He liked to see all his disciples. He didn’t think we were ugly, because he could see past the body to the soul. He was interested not in our expertise, but in our hearts.
September 17, 2016
With the Swami in the Temple
We like to remember the simplicity and innocence of those days at 26 Second Avenue when Swamiji chanted Hare Krishna surrounded by wild Americans who he had turned into ecstatic chanters of the holy name. We were crude, but Prabhupada refined us little by little.
Would I like to go back to those days? Perhaps I am holding on to some romantic conception of myself and my relationship with Prabhupada. I had so many material desires then. I must be in better shape now. I really wouldn’t want to go back, at least not as I am now. But those days were full of the freshness of hope and faith and Krishna conscious spirit that we had in 1966. Krishna consciousness in New York City … I was there! Swamiji was there! It happened, by Krishna’s grace. The spirit of 26 Second Avenue was summed up by Prabhupada: “These boys, you will see that they are practically thinking of Krishna twenty-four hours a day. We have so many engagements. We have manufactured engagements. Someone is typing; someone is editing; someone is writing; someone is distributing or dispatching; someone is cooking.” I don’t know whether we really can ever go back, but ultimately that “going back” means returning to the spiritual world. That is the meaning of 26 Second Avenue.
September 18, 2016
Lunch With Swami: Eat more!
Swamiji looks thin, but he is happy. Panca-tattva is on the same table. The boys are scruffy. Is that Brahmananda with the belly? Is that Acyutananda with the long hair? Who’s the guy with the anchor tattoo? I don’t know. You wonder who will come to lunch. Who will serve the capātīs? There had to be a few girls there, too – that’s how it was. Swamiji always sat in the center, the glowing source, our invitation to spiritual life.
Can I capture in my mind the actual aromas steaming from the pots? I can only draw a few lines to indicate steam. You should note though, that I can convey the aromas of our happiness at eating such hot rice, such subtly spiced capātīs … We had never even imagined such food, such capātīs from India.
“Eat more,” Prabhupada invites. “Take seconds and thirds.”
People are wearing tilak in this picture, and some have red beads. We eat with our right hands (and no spoons).
We’re still eating Krishna prasadam. Now, of course, we know we shouldn’t eat so much. But those were permissive days. It was better to eat this food than to go out and eat lumps of sin – food not offered to Krishna, non-vegetarian food, dirty food, junk food. This was food for the spirit; Prabhupada had offered it to Lord Caitanya. You can see His glowing lotus feet in this picture.
Lunch with Swamiji was at one o’clock. He cooked in his small kitchenette. Later, his boys cooked. A dozen or more of us would come. At first we would sit in his room with him, but after the noon meal attracted more people, we would have lunch downstairs and Swamiji wouldn’t come. It was very special in the earliest days to sit in his room with him and have lunch. The room was warmed by the prasadam and the heat from the near-by kitchenette, which showed signs of the recent explosion of hot chaunce meeting hot metal. The room was especially warmed by Swamiji and his “Eat more!”
September 19, 2016
Flooded By Memories of Swamiji
I experienced a unique, intense moment of separation after I had met Srila Prabhupada for only a few weeks. With his permission, I paid a visit to my parents at their summer bungalow in Avalon, New Jersey. I arrived at their home in the evening and went immediately for a swim in the canal in their back yard. As I floated in the water and looked up at the stars, I was overwhelmed at the presence of Prabhupada, hearing his voice and the things he said, which he had been teaching us. After having associated with him day after day, I felt it coming through me, all the Prabhupada expressions. There I was in the water, looking up at the sky which was so very far away, and without calling for it, I was surcharged with remembering Prabhupada. I understood, “Swamiji has gone … Swamiji has really gone deeply into my life, and it’s very strong!”
I have told this story before and I have written about it. There is no harm in the repetition, provided each time you remember it, you do it by going to a genuine source of feeling and thought. So I want to be open to those canned memories and see them as they actually occurred. To do it one has to enter an altered state of consciousness. When Maitreya asked Uddhava to speak about Krishna, or when Pariksit asked Sukadeva certain questions about Krishna, the response was not canned. Rather, Uddhava and Sukadeva felt such ecstasy by thinking about Krishna that they could not even speak:
On the inquiry by Vidura about Krishna, Uddhava appeared to be awakened from slumber. He appeared to regret that he had forgotten the lotus feet of the Lord. Thus he again remembered the lotus feet of the Lord and remembered all his transcendental loving service unto him, and by so doing, he felt the same ecstasy that he used to feel in the presence of the Lord. Because the Lord is absolute, there is no difference between His remembrance and His personal presence. Thus Uddhava remained completely silent for a moment, but then appeared to be going deeper and deeper into ecstasy. (Bhag. 3.2.4)
An active student of Srila Prabhupada might see my attempts as idle, but what can I say? It is not idle. I am fighting for the survival of dear memories, and refusing to allow my everyday consciousness to deteriorate into a watered-down following of Srila Prabhupada. Of course, Prabhupada can be very heavy as the breaker of illusion. So when I say I want to remember him, I want to open myself up to that too.
September 20, 2016
Swamiji used to sit with us in the morning and say, “Chant one round.” Then he would give us a japa lesson. This is what it was like to be with him. In the off-moments when he wasn’t lecturing, he would simply sit with us, leaning over his table and allowing us to approach him to learn the art of chanting.
We didn’t have bead bags in those days, and when we chanted together, Swamiji took his beads out of his bag and held them in his hands. We hung our beads around our necks as we chanted. We wore them out on the streets too. Those red beads became the mark of the Hare Krishna chanters.
In his lectures he implored the audience to chant. He promised peace and prosperity, and he assured us that it didn’t cost anything. He begged us to chant the holy name because Krishna is non-different from His name. He told us we could chant anywhere – in the factory, in the subway, in hell. How could we have chanted without Swamiji’s japa lessons? He was happy to give them to us. More than anything, he wanted us to chant. This is how he hoped to satisfy his guru and all the acaryas. It had to start with us practicing sadhana.
September 21, 2016
A View of Tompkins Square Park
Try to capture the panorama of the harinama in Tompkins Square Park: happy, simple faces. Ecstasy. Black man plays a wooden recorder. Girls in dark glasses. People dancing according to their own style, devotees dancing the Swami Step.
Swamiji loved the way young Americans took to chanting. He said, “You Americans are able to capture a good thing.” It was our innocence, our willingness to try something new despite the risks. When we applied those tendencies to Krishna consciousness, they became valuable. We didn’t care that our conservative neighbors looked at us askance. The Swami was a good thing. Why didn’t anybody in Straight Square Authority swing with the Swami? We just wanted to play the music.
He accepted us the way we were: raw youth, flirting faces, dancing bodies, most of us standing while he sat, the vibration of his drum punctuating our movements. He was not lost in the sea of American youth. It is not that he started chanting and later someone else took over and sang rock-n-roll. It started and ended with him in control, glorifying Krishna.
These images stand by themselves, childish as they are in their happiness and simplicity. As I describe them I try to reach back through my complicated present, my seventy-seven year old mind and body, through everything the institution has been through, everything I have since seen and done and realized and thought, to remember that simple happiness. Those days were not false or sentimental; we were really singing and dancing in the park, and as the New York Times reported, finding ecstasies during those long, warm October afternoons. It never rained on us as we distributed our “Stay High Forever” flyers.
September 22, 2016
“Attend Swami Bhaktivedanta Lecture on Bhagavad-gita”
On a Bristol board in my upstairs art studio, I create posters featuring Swamiji: “Attend Swami Bhaktivedanta’s Lectures on Bhagavad-gita – 26 Second Avenue, M.T.W., 7 P.M.” The drawings are crude. As disciples we tried to bring people to his lectures, that’s why I use the imperative case: “Attend”. I don’t say “Please Attend”. Don’t be left out.
I didn’t make posters like this in 1966. I can’t make posters like this now because Swami Bhaktivedanta is not lecturing. But I did make them, and I don’t think they are outdated. “Attend.” We only have to change the address to wherever we are speaking Swamiji’s words. (Nowadays we don’t even have to change the address, of course – 26 Second Avenue is still there.) I’ve often said that my first impression of Swamiji was that he was like Buddha. In my drawings, the classical lines of his form are similar to any Buddha, any holy man, any ecstatic chanter. Yet he is so perfectly himself. That’s how spiritual life is, isn’t it?
These posters wouldn’t make sense to someone if they were stuck in delicatessen windows on the Lower East Side. They are insider posters. I can imagine hanging such posters up in my apartment on First Street where the devotees used to hang out. “Sixteen rounds, four rules, no sense gratification.” The posters say Ravi Shankar and Shakespeare are now in a class with rock-n-roll. Don’t do anything unless it pleases Krishna. A reminder.
We all need reminders. When we look up and catch ourselves, we remember Swamiji. Businessmen remind themselves with words like “THINK” and “TIME MEANS MONEY”. We remind ourselves by asking: “Is this for Krishna or for me?” I drew my face in because I was there in 1966. You’ll see that I look happy in the inset. That’s because I’m still practicing Krishna consciousness by Prabhupada’s grace. I am happy.
September 23, 2016
Radha and Krishna
It’s not that whatever we did in 1966 is an ideal to which we should all aspire, but it was something. The devotees were closely linked to whatever Swamiji wanted and that was also true of course of the artists. Those 1966 paintings have become the foundation of a tradition. They are spiritual.
Most of the original artwork was painted by Jadurani. She wasn’t the first artist – there was Haridas (Harvey Cohen) and Jagannath (James Green). But she was the first to take it up full time.
Even in the beginning, her pictures weren’t as crude as the ones I have done. We were introduced to Radha and Krishna as forms right from the beginning when we saw James Green’s painting of Radha and Krishna. I also found a picture of Radha and Krishna in a copy of Narada Bhakti Sutra. Swamiji approved it. As I have been trying to go back to 26 Second Avenue, I have, for the first time in my life, dared to paint Radha and Krishna in a serious way. I drew Radha and Krishna and was afraid it might be blasphemy, or like the Godless impersonal versions in the Delhi airport where Visnu forms have no face. “Modern Art.” But I want to draw the Supreme Lord in affection as a tiny son draws his father – not so good, but with love. Best if a viewer smiles, knows I felt love, but couldn’t execute it for lack of expertise.
Once I had a moment alone with Prabhupada at the Ananda Ashram. I took out Narada Bhakti Sutra and asked, “Swamiji, is this painting of Radha and Krishna all right?” He looked at it and said, “Yes.” I went out and made a dozen copies for the devotees.
Prabhupada was private. We couldn’t understand his mind. He was often silent. There were barriers we couldn’t cross. It created a gap. When I asked him if this painting was all right, he simply said, “Yes.” That was all. Then he was silent, as he often was.
September 24, 2016
“Swami’s Flock Chants in Park to Find Ecstasy”
In my travels as a sannyasi, people would often ask, “Could you tell us more what is was like when Prabhupada went to sing in the park in New York City? Did he bring a carpet? Were you there? What was it like?
That was always a nice set-up. I would say something like, “You mentioned a carpet? Yes, there was a carpet. We had an old carpet that someone had given us. We started out about ten or twelve devotees along with Prabhupada, and we walked to the park. I told how we went through the streets and people hooted and jeered. Prabhupada was sober and transcendental to it. After all, Prabhupada had said that he was a “Calcutta boy.” In his boyhood, he had seen hoodlums stabbing people, prostitutes on the street corners, and had even run away from a man who tried to kill him during a Hindu-Muslim riot. He was not fazed by a few hoots.
I said that once we got to the park, we were a little shy. I thought that some of my old friends might come to see me, and I was embarrassed. But when Prabhupada began to sing the names of the previous acaryas, and then Hare Krishna – we sat close to him. He was like a mother and father. Just as little children stay close to their parents when they are afraid, we stayed close to our spiritual parent. We sat with him on the rug, inside his world, which he had created within the “big” world of Tompkins Square Park. I told about the Ukrainians, Polish, old people, and younger Puerto Ricans who lived in that neighborhood, and middle class American hippies who had come from different parts of the country to live there. The hippies came around with flutes and drums and guitars. Prabhupada sang strongly for an hour and a half, gave a little speech, and then sang again. Then we walked back to the storefront. Many guests came with us and we distributed cups of sweet rice to them. Then Prabhupada went up to his room and talked some more. I told everyone how the Swami encouraged us to get up and dance. Brahmananda and Acyutananda used to do it regularly. One time Prabhupada looked at me and gestured that I should get up and dance. At first I wasn’t sure that he meant me and so I turned around and looked behind me. I looked at him again. Yes, he meant me.
I was hesitant to dance because I had seen one of my old college friends in the crowd in the park and they would see me with my arms up and dancing with the Swami. What would they think? What would they talk about among themselves? There I was, dancing in the park to this religious Hindu chant. But then I thought, “I don’t care what they think. I am Swami’s boy, Swami’s man, and I am going to get up and dance. It is blissful and I will show my bliss. I will do it.”
September 25, 2016
Recapturing the Wonder of the Early Days
In the early days of surrendering to the Swami, we believed the sastra of whatever the Swami said just because he said it. And we were attracted to his teachings not because an institution taught us the “official truth”, but because we were very pleased and enthused to hear from him. We found his writing style exciting. All of this wonder is still available. But with time and repetition, we tend to become familiar and read only as duty. I notice that when I do read more carefully, and when I seek a rendezvous with Prabhupada and Krishna, then the vital appreciation comes back. Recalling the early days may also be helpful, reminding us how Krishna consciousness was so personal and entertaining. If we do not keep up the process for staying alive and awake to the original nectar, we may fall dead in spiritual life, even without knowing it.
Our enthusiasm for hearing philosophy from Srila Prabhupada in the early days was not without sound basis. We understood that the Absolute Truth did not jive totally with mundane science or material reality. There was a higher principle of truth coming by the descending process. We accepted this principle with vigor and enthusiasm. It is probably a fact that our innocence has been lost over the years. It has been replaced realistically with strong foundations of knowledge and faith in Prabhupada. ISKCON continues to take Srila Prabhupada’s statements very seriously, but we have also become “sadder but wiser” in seeing our inability to carry out those instructions. We have also become gradually aware of the many kinds of philosophies and groups who are in opposition to what Prabhupada is saying. As Krishna consciousness has spread, it has been challenged more, and there has been more counter-reply. Thus we become more aware that our appreciation of Prabhupada clashes with material reality. We are concerned with “presenting” Prabhupada in a palatable way and we are more careful with our logical presentation. We also sometimes assume that we have now fully grasped Prabhupada’s message; now we are more interested in tracking down the details and working out the apparent contradictions in what he said. This kind of sober scholarship can sometimes become boring.
September 26, 2016
Prabhupada: A Public Yet Private Presence
Is Prabhupada worship public or private? It’s both. Sometimes it is shared among the devotees, as when everyone gathers for the Prabhupada guru- puja and sings the same prayers. There should be agreed-upon conclusions as to what Prabhupada meant in his teachings and what he intended for his followers. So what is the basic message of Prabhupada? The very first thing he said to us was, “Chant Hare Krsna and be happy.” And for reading, Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam are all we need. Live with devotees, cooperate and push on Krishna consciousness. Work with his followers even when it’s difficult. These are our goals and this is our work. Only by faithfully prosecuting these orders can we realize Prabhupada’s promise that we will think of Krishna twenty-four hours a day. He’s not just one person’s Prabhupada.
As a complement to the public worship, there is a private relationship with him. It must be so, and we don’t want it otherwise. Sometimes we even feel disturbed when someone starts talking about Prabhupada. We think, “Prabhupada remembrance is not so easy to attain as this.” Or we think, “They have asked me to speak of Prabhupada, but how can I do it? It is not something to be so openly discussed.”
Then it is esoteric? Yes and no. It is an open secret; it is pure love — which you cannot weigh and put into a package. We each have our pure devotion for Prabhupada, and it is not always touched on in the general recitation of his glories.
Sometimes we are unsure: “Does Prabhupada know I’m here? Does he love me? Does he understand my inner nature?” The answer to this is yes, but you have to enter a real relationship as menial servant, as disciplined follower, as practicing devotee. Srila Prabhupada will shower his blessings on you and you will know him, without a doubt.
September 27, 2016
Prabhupada’s Emphasis on Guru
Remembering the spiritual master is an important and frequent topic in Vedic literature. Yasya deve para bhaktir . . . “Only to one who has implicit faith in guru and Krishna are the imports of the Vedic literature revealed.” So we may remember the spiritual master in a philosophical way, in his tattva, or “category” — he is the representative of Visnu. We also remember him in a personal way, recalling the activities and qualities of His Divine Grace. When you read in the sastras of the liberated person, the bona fide spiritual master, it’s very reassuring because you have no doubt that your Srila Prabhupada is a bona fide acarya. He fits the bill in all respects.
“The spiritual master is addressed as ‘Prabhupada’ because he is a completely self-realized soul. The word ‘pada’ means ‘position,’ and ‘Prabhupada’ indicates that he is given the position of prabhu, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, for he acts on behalf of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. (Bhag. 4.23.18)
Take a Vedic reference on the importance of the guru and savor it, giving thanks to Lord Krishna and Srila Prabhupada: “The spiritual master is honored as much as the Supreme Lord because he is the most confidential servitor of the Lord.”
September 28, 2016
Why I Follow His Way
When I talk of why I follow Srila Prabhupada, I should speak for myself.
He was the only one who taught me of God and I listened. He explained everything. He represented a “science of God.” He came to where I was on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, into my egocentric dirty life, when I was turning over Van Gogh’s question (“Is misery eternal?”) in my mind. (According to scriptures, if you meet the sad-guru, eternal spiritual master, you shouldn’t wait to do something else or look for someone else — but surrender to him and take initiation as his disciple.)
He brought the chanting of the holy names and youthful hope about the chanting. Although I’ve been chanting for fifty years without much progress, I still have enthusiasm — “What a great idea! What an easy thing to do all the time! And how devotional! — Chant God’s names!”
And he brought us the chanting in a musical rhythm of drum and karatalas. Don’t underestimate the hold of the kirtana music with Swamiji leading us night after night.
He gave us a complete philosophy, Gaudiya Vaisnava siddhanta. Lord Caitanya is the benedicting moon. Radha-Krishna are the ultimate goal in Goloka. The Gosvami philosophers teach the way, and Prabhupada is their latest representative.
“But later, when you grew older, didn’t you change your mind? Weren’t you ever sorry for following him? Didn’t you find it difficult to renounce so much? Weren’t you disappointed by the institution?” One who asks those questions doesn’t understand. Celibacy, for example, feels right; it’s wonderful peace and simplicity. Just for giving me brahmacarya, I owe my life to Swamiji. He made it sound like routine work. Disappointed? Not so much. I am in anxiety that Srila Prabhupada might be disappointed in me. So many things went wrong, fell short. But I remember when one of his first disciples went away, Prabhupada said, “It is not so amazing that someone leaves Krishna consciousness. The amazing thing is if someone stays [because maya is so strong].”
We’ve almost all been disappointed by the institution at one time or another. But the Krishna Conscious Movement is growing again; seeds are coming up in unexpected places: Russia, Eastern Europe, China. America is surviving bad times. So I have no regrets for taking to the spiritual path and working for the Movement. I’m happy; I have a tangible connection with a pure devotee of the Lord. I’m only sorry because if I see him today, he may show his disappointment for my obvious failure. But he gives me hope, just as in the beginning. I want to please my spiritual master by coming alive in devotional service unto Lord Krishna.
September 29, 2016
A Glimpse from a Saturday Night in Swamiji’s Room
You can sit down, it’s a closed room and Swamiji is sitting on the other side of the little desk. His desk is a tin suitcase. Over Swamiji’s head is a calendar painting of Krishna playing His flute and standing on the world, and then over our heads here on the other side of the room, there’s a picture of Lord Caitanya, which the Swami sometimes glances at. He’s sitting on his mat, which is the same mat he uses when he lies down to sleep. His typewriter is also on the desk. He rises early and does his work right here, the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
“Now a boy, Neal, is going to do some typing for me.” When Swamiji speaks, you try to be part of it. Don’t be an outsider who comes and raises doubts. But when they come, then you get to observe the Swami answering questions, which is good for us.
Tonight you have a question: “Swamiji, you said that the souls leave Krishna and come into the material world out of envy. So where does it say that in the scriptures?” The Swami shows you in the Bhagavad-gita. He says, “Chapter 7, verse 27.” He gives you the book to read out loud: “All living beings are born into delusion, bewildered by dualities arisen from desire and hate.” So there it is: Krishna says they come here out of envy and hate. You say, “Hate sounds like too strong a word.” But Swami says no, they actually hate God. Then he gets strong in saying it. I accept what he says.
It’s been a few months now, and you notice that some things he says you have heard before, but that’s all right — although it makes you wonder, if already some things are starting to be repeated, what does it mean? But then, there’s so much more that you don’t know. Anyway, the difference between the Swami and us is immeasurable. It’s not just that he’s read a lot more books. But he has direct realization of Krishna. He says if we chant Hare Krishna we’ll also have realization, but I know that it’s not possible that we could ever have as much realization.
He’s the pure devotee in this particular form, in a goldenish complexion, and an Indian body, elderly but strong looking, like a strong father or even grandfather. You are drawn to him. And the same truth will be conveyed to anyone who comes here. They can accept it and see for themselves, the presence of a person who has a different consciousness than we do because he is a pure devotee of Krishna, and you can have faith in seeing him. Those who don’t see him that way, it’s unfortunate. If someone comes and doesn’t get a wonderful impression of the Swami, what can we do? We can’t force them. If they miss the point, it’s their mistake. It doesn’t faze us. Others are puzzled as to why he lets the hair grow out of his ears, or how come he’s wearing eyeglasses if he’s perfect? But we see these as not inappropriate to a sage.
He is lovable because of his dedication to Krishna, but not lovable like a five-year-old kid is. He is heavy. If you just try to tell him why you don’t believe there is God, he can knock you down with intellectual arguments, and if need be, shout you down. If you try to shout back, then everything is ruined. Swamiji goes anywhere and meets anyone to preach, even if people aren’t receptive. But he doesn’t regularly expose himself to people or places where he is mocked or harassed. There has to be respect and then it can happen. You can’t expect a guru to give Krishna to faithless persons.
September 30, 2016
Prabhupada and the “Party Spirit”
Regardless of approach, everyone has a direct line to reaching Prabhupada’s mercy. For some, it may be their service to his mission, even if they don’t find much time to read. The heart of attachment to him is dedication, and it may be taken up in many individual ways. Some devotees stress obedience to the vows of sadhana, and another party takes as more important the spreading of the teachings to new people. And everyone draws examples from the life of Srila Prabhupada to support their own ways of serving him— whether by cooking, preaching, worshiping the Deities, leading kirtanas, giving classes, teaching children, or whatever. For example, some parents believe in “indulging” their children up to the age of five because Srila Prabhupada said something to this effect. Or some devotee parents will say Prabhupada’s father sent him to college for a career, using that as an example for their children’s future. A business-inclined devotee will look at Prabhupada’s life during his pharmaceutical business and take direction from that. A family man sees Prabhupada’s responsibility towards his family members as a model, and it helps him to chalk out his own life. Each is a testimony to Prabhupada’s dearness and greatness. In a 1966 lecture on the Bowery, Prabhupada emphasized “dovetailing our consciousness with the Supreme.” He said, “Don’t stop your activity (that’s not possible), but act in a way that you can serve the Lord of the senses with your senses.” So everyone’s service is possible. And yet we must admit that there are servants who are pleasing and those who are more pleasing.
Let me not be upset or envious of the existence of the “party spirit” among Prabhupada’s followers. Don’t be bewildered by their propaganda and by the attention Srila Prabhupada gives them. Let me give as many authentic views as possible of Prabhupada. Memoirs are nice, but tell them gently, not to prove that you are a good disciple or to prove one of your pet theories. Let us appreciate how Srila Prabhupada is everyone’s best example. Choose your own way to serve him. A successful servant is one who thinks of him intensely while trying to carry out his instructions. Another way of saying it is that a devotee should offer his whole life and whole self to Srila Prabhupada. Decide on how best to do this, and then give all you have as an offering to him. Furthermore, anyone who gives himself or herself and serves Prabhupada, remembering him in a humble way, will overcome all material difficulties. Thus it happened to Prahlada Maharaja, who was a perfect devotee in krishna-smaranam:
Thus the weapons of the demons had no tangible effects upon Prahlada Maharaja because he was a devotee undisturbed by material conditions and fully engaged in meditating upon and serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is unchangeable, who cannot be realized by the material senses and who is the soul of the entire universe. —Bhag. 7.5.41
But does this mean that it is entirely individual, with no definitive view of the lilas and instructions of Prabhupada? Yes, there is a consensus view. The meaning of Prabhupada’s life, according to his faithful devotees, is conclusive. Yet even within authorized ISKCON understanding and carrying out of instructions, there are inevitable parties. This party spirit exists even in Goloka among the different wings of gopis or among devotees serving in the various rasas. Mother Yasoda and her friends look upon Krishna’s activities differently than do the young gopis, and the cowherd boys have their own point of view. So let us work in a party of like-minded devotees for carrying out Prabhupada’s instructions. By taking up the service of Srila Prabhupada which most attracts our heart and to which we feel we can give our greatest efforts, we will enter into association with devotees who are like us. A certain group, for example, will gather up from Prabhupada’s writings all he has said about living on farms and feel nourished carrying on cow protection and ox power, convinced they are carrying out Prabhupada’s most important mission. What about those distributing his books — are they opposed to the varnasrama servants? No, although sometimes, in the rhetoric of the party spirit, devotees may sound like that. Let us not be agitated or discouraged by the party spirit. Let everyone come together, at least sometimes, and appreciate Prabhupada as universal teacher. Let’s all draw the same conclusion from his life and teachings — that he is our inspiration, which is expressed in many ways.