ISKCON 50 – S.Prabhupada Daily Meditations – Oct. 9-2015 – Dec. 31-2016
January 1, 2016
Sticking to His Point: We are All Servants
Prabhupada insisted on repeating the point that we are all servants. We may serve our bodies or families or our nation, but it is best to serve the Supreme Lord, and that is our constitutional position. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna asks Arjuna, “O son of Prtha, O conqueror of wealth, have you heard this with an attentive mind, and are your ignorance and illusion dispelled?” (Bg 18.72). Arjuna replies, “My dear Krishna, O infallible one, my illusion is now gone. I have regained my memory by Your mercy, and I am now firm and free from doubt and am prepared to act according to Your instructions.” In the purport, Prabhupada emphasizes that we are all in illusion thinking we are someone other than the servant of Krishna. We may even think that we do not have to serve anyone. But we do serve – either the illusory energy or the Lord.
This morning when I read this, I recalled a criticism I had heard that Prabhupada is a fundamentalist who does not deal with the esoteric interpretations of Vaisnava philosophy. As I read the purport, I saw that Prabhupada was being very basic and was repeating his theme. He says for example, “The living entity’s constitutional position is to be a servitor; he has to serve either the illusory maya or the Supreme Lord. And only when this illusion is overcome, can one understand Krishna.”
The illusion that Arjuna refers to was mentioned by Lord Krishna when He said, “Is your illusion gone? Is your doubt gone?” Arjuna replied, “Yes, my illusion is gone; my doubt is gone, thanks to You.” But in these verses of the Bhagavad-gita, the Lord does not specifically state what the illusion is. Prabhupada tells us what it is.
Srila Prabhupada says that almost all conditioned souls are in this state of illusion. If it were not so, then we would be liberated; we would be pure devotees. Prabhupada is not wrong to insist on this. Because he is such an essential preacher, he wants to deliver us just as Krishna delivered Arjuna. He is not speaking as an academic exercise or in a theoretical way. He wants to save the soul, guide it to the lotus feet of Krishna.
Prabhupada wants us to actually transform ourselves in all our activities and thoughts, into bhaktas of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So his proposal is the heaviest, and it is also the most relishable. He is the most existential preacher, moving us to action. If we take this action, then all the esoteric truths of Krishna consciousness rasa will be revealed to us. If we do not do what Prabhupada says, then although we may find another teacher who will freely talk about esoteric topics, how will it move us to actually surrender ourselves to Krishna? How many of us are so advanced that they have already done what Prabhupada has asked us to do?
I think, in most cases, if anyone is not satisfied with Prabhupada’s writing, it is because they want to discuss something else, not because they have already complied with what he said. Rather they sometimes feel disturbed that he is asking them to surrender to Krishna the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They want to discuss something else.
Even if one wants to hear discussions of something else about Krishna – to hear about Krishna and the gopis, or hear a symbolic interpretation of the meaning of surrender – this can only be done in a meaningful way when one has already grasped his constitutional identity. Prabhupada is sticking to his point, which is Krishna’s point and the point of the previous acaryas. He is offering the reader enlightenment and a plan of action. Our illusion is that we are thinking we do not have to serve anyone, or we think that we ourselves are the masters. But Krishna consciousness means to accept Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
January 2, 2016
Prabhupada’s “Involuntary” Smiles
By smiling involuntarily I mean the best kind of smiles, when you can’t help yourself but feel your lips parting back from your teeth, and there you are, smiling. Perhaps you even make an effort not to smile, but you have to smile anyway. It was very pleasing to see Prabhupada smile like that, because it was so humanlike. Somehow or other, we all hankered to see those aspects of Prabhupada. He was godlike; he was heavy as guru. If he had not been so heavy, he would not have been able to take us out of maya. But we all sought his smile as a special kind of lift; and also for tenderness’ sake, we very much wanted to see Srila Prabhupada smile.
January 3, 2016
Keeping Personally Connected to Prabhupada
A possible danger as time goes by is that Prabhupada’s followers may lose touch with his personal nature. We can see this in the history of world religions. In Christianity some of the followers have developed an impersonal attitude toward Jesus Christ, and some may not even believe in his historic reality. They talk about “The Christ within each one of us.” There is also a danger of doing that with Prabhupada. Although we do say that Prabhupada is inconceivable and beyond what we know of him, yet we also know that his personal nature is very real, important, and lasting. He is the pure devotee of Krishna, and his appearance in our lives is still our greatest solace. When Prabhupada delivers us Krishna conscious knowledge, we accept it in parampara and because the knowledge is formidable and appealing – but also because it comes from him.
By the sheer number of times we refer to Prabhupada and then turn to him, a strain is placed upon the freshness of our perception. Our desire for novelty is not satisfied. When that happens we look elsewhere for pleasure. And then an unfortunate thing occurs. Despite our official praise for Prabhupada, we find difficulty in reading his books. This is the dreaded rigor mortis that comes from too much institutionalism and not enough personal care for our personal relationship and memories with Srila Prabhupada.
As with any worthy human relationship, our loving relationship with Prabhupada can be kept fresh, but we have to make an effort. One way I have found to fight against mechanical or boring reading sessions is to read Prabhupada prayerfully, not just for gaining information or to finish a big quantity of pages. I read as a way to meet him and be with him. This is just one of many methods. We may have to try out new varieties and approaches just to stay alive in Prabhupada consciousness. It will not happen automatically by reciting a “Pledge of Allegiance,” but by keeping oneself alive.
January 4, 2016
New Life in Prabhupada’s Books
Prabhupada did not write as a mechanical routine; it was real for him, and so it can be real for us if we tune in to his wave length. Prabhupada refers to this as “submissive aural reception.”
When we can read in this way, it becomes enjoyable. When we read only as duty, we become guilt-ridden. We think, “I know I am supposed to worship this book, so why can’t I? What is wrong with me?” Then we start forcing ourselves and kicking ourselves, “Read Prabhupada! You are supposed to do it!” But if you push and nag a little child, he will not like it and he will rebel. While reading and walking with the Isopanisad, I found myself spontaneously appreciating Prabhupada’s purport, “Hey, this is good!” (I also got renewed appreciation for the fact that the verses were translated by Prabhupada. They had his flavor, “The self-sufficient philosopher who is awarding everyone’s desires since time immemorial …”)
January 5, 2016
Using Prabhupada Memories
Just as we maintain our aging bodies by exercise and rest, so the memories have to be exercised. One has to be humble and accept even little memories as worthwhile. We should seek any occasion to talk about Prabhupada in a natural way. We must also be humble to recognize that other devotees are repositories of Prabhupada-katha, and hear from them without envy.
Approaching memories of Srila Prabhupada requires humility. There is also an art to it. We should remember in an honest way. For example, when a remembrance first returns to us, it may be disappointing. This is due to our lack of devotion, or our poor memories. In a similar way, sometimes a devotee attempts to paint a portrait of Prabhupada, but it doesn’t come out nicely. We may point out the defect (gently) and encourage the artist to try again.
Ultimately, the best way to retain an original freshness in Krishna consciousness is to go beyond the neophyte stage and become a pure devotee. A pure devotee of the Lord spontaneously sees Krishna in all things. As stated in the Īśopaniṣad, “He who sees everything in relation to the Supreme Lord, who sees all entities as His parts and parcels, and who sees the Supreme Lord within everything, never hates anything or any being.” When one attains the stage of spontaneous Krishna consciousness, then he will truly love Krishna and Prabhupada and see their influence everywhere. Such a pure devotee will never be disturbed by “familiarity” or opposition to Krishna consciousness. The maha-bhagavata stage cannot be imitated, but we can improve our condition so that we do not fall away or become merely official devotees.
Even at our present stage of advancement, whatever it may be, we can appreciate Prabhupada with our hearts, as he actually occurs in our lives, sometimes humorously, and sometimes tragically, as when we neglect him. Although our memories and our service on behalf of Prabhupada sometimes come out poorly, let us accept them for what they are and seek to improve them.
January 6, 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 in some way that 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. 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 of 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? I should assume with more confidence that Prabhupada is my friend and that he is quite capable of understanding my mind. If I make my position clear to him, he will understand. And he will accept me. I am a grown-up son now, at least in terms of years, although spiritually I am still a baby. I am exerting my free will more than when I was a youngster. And that I must do. It is part of my surrender, to give my whole life and not just wait for Prabhupada to direct me at each moment.
January 7, 2016
Prabhupada, the Original Book Distributor
All book distribution came from the inspiration of Prabhupada. In fact, all the different kinds of book distribution were originally done by him. The library party distributed books to universities and libraries, but Prabhupada was the first to do that successfully. In New Delhi, he was also the first one to distribute Back to Godhead magazines in the streets and at the tea stalls; he also distributed his own books in the bookstores in Manhattan.
January 8, 2016
From Prabhupada’s Point of View: Alone in New York City
Suppose you want to tell of your experience in facing a tiger. You were traveling unarmed through the jungle, when suddenly you came upon a tiger. As a narrator, you build up the suspense, “There I was, face-to-face with a ferocious tiger!”
We can empathize with the terror you must have felt, simply by stretching our imaginations a little, we feel your danger. Similarly, we may try to put ourselves in Prabhupada’s position: what was it like for him to come alone to America and to live in New York City? Let us think of those circumstances and appreciate it from Prabhupada’s point of view.
In New York, Prabhupada is wrapped up in the preaching mood. He thinks, “My dear Lord Krishna, why have You brought me here? This place of demons is far away from Vrindavana. But You must have some purpose.” Prabhupada’s disciples find themselves in similar situations when they go to preach in countries where there is no ISKCON temple to support them. Fortunately, by Prahbupada’s work, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is never very far away from us. Yet occasionally, we are on our own. At times like that, we can remember what it was like for Prabhupada alone in New York City.
January 9, 2015
Seeing the Person Prabhupada
Everyone can meditate on Prabhupada in a personal relationship, and the perfection of thinking of him is to see him as a person. Prabhupada sitting like a lotus on the water, writing his books, honoring prasadam, sitting in a simple room, plotting, planning, getting involved – always transcendental. Prabhupada meditation is a sanctuary from material hassles and from the frustrations that occur in socializing and dealing within his movement. Prabhupada meditations can encourage us by reading a few pages of Prabhupada-lilamrta or any of the many memoirs about Prabhupada.
Prabhupada states in the Krishna Book that any bona fide book about Krishna, “Even this book Krishna,” can be a solace for devotees feeling separation from the Lord. We read the Krishna Book and hear of Krishna’s activities while working within Krishna’s movement. Similarly, we hear about Prabhupada’s activities while carrying out his work in contemporary forms. Prabhupada himself is the classic, inviolable essence – always a person, the great teacher, the simple, pure-hearted devotee. The person who is mysterious to us because his intimacy with Krishna is beyond our vision, that person we want to remember.
Sometimes we can study Srila Prabhupada’s life and teachings at leisure. More often we have to remember Prabhupada while on the run, while in the struggle to live and preach. We have to renounce the pleasure of sitting at the lotus feet of the spiritual master. We have to go out and preach on his behalf. Sometimes this work on behalf of the guru creates a kind of separation from him that is only relieved by remembrance.
January 10, 2015
When I was eight years old and in the fourth grade of elementary school, Miss Williams taught us a good lesson about forgetfulness. Some students had forgotten to do their homework, so she wrote the word “FORGET” on the blackboard in very large letters. She then drew many arrows shooting at the word. It was a bad thing to forget. Later, Miss Williams covered up that section of the blackboard with a map of the United States. We all forgot what was underneath, but at the end of the year, she removed the map and there it was …
Some forgetting is good. Prabhupada used to say, “We have to forgive and forget, or how can we live?” Forget grudges and forgive minor offenses that people may commit against us. We should never forget Krishna, however, and we should always shoot arrows at our forgetfulness of Prabhupada. According to the scriptures, even a moment’s forgetfulness of the Lord and His pure devotees is the greatest loss.
How do I remember Prabhupada? First of all, I remember that there was (and is) such a person as Prabhupada. Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” That was his bottom line of truth. Our bottom line is, “I remember Prabhupada, therefore I am.” I am now in spiritual life because my spiritual master delivered me from darkness. I do not forget that. I remember him and follow him. Basic remembrance of Prabhupada refers to the promises we made him at our initiation – the four rules and sixteen rounds and other obligations. We aspire to be Krishna conscious and to read Bhagavad-gita and his other books. We aspire to serve among his devotees.
When we remember him in personal ways, that is the sweetness which makes life worth living. We may say duty is enough, but who does not crave joy, “the nectar for which we are always anxious.” For example, I remember soft saffron on Prabhupada’s body. I sense his stature. He was not tall or fat, but neither do we think of him as gaunt. None of these words seem to apply.
Our remembrance of Srila Prabhupada is more than nostalgia for a wonderful person who was here, but who is now gone. Remembering Prabhupada is the cutting edge of our life at every moment.
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura said that when one forgets his guru, then all one thinks of is, “I run in a hurry for my bath. I become busy for preventing a cold. I run after other occupations different from the service of Sri Gurudeva.”
January 11, 2015
January 11, 1966: Prime Minister Shastri Dies
Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died of a heart attack while visiting Russia. The Prime Minister had been a personal acquaintance of Srila Prabhupada’s in India and an admirer of his Srimad-Bhagavatam translation. He had been scheduled to visit America, and Prabhupada had expected to obtain a personal sanction from him for the release of funds from India. His untimely death was a great upset in Srila Prabhupada’s plans to purchase the building at 143 West 72nd Street. The realtors had shown him the building, and he had already mentally designed the interior for Deity worship and distribution of prasadam. The money was to come from India, and Prime Minister Shastri was to give personal sanction for release of the funds. But suddenly that was all changed.
January 12, 2016
A Letter to the Landlord
On January 14, 1966, Prabhupada decided to write the owner of the building, Mr. A.B. Hartman. He explained how his plans had been upset, and he proposed a new plan:
Now the Prime Minister Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri is suddenly dead, and I am greatly perplexed . . . As there is now great difficulty for getting money from India, I am requesting you to allow me to use the place for the Institution For God consciousness, at least for some time. The house is lying vacant for so many days without any use, and I learn it that you are paying the taxes, insurance and other charges for the house although you have no income from there. If, however, you, allow this place for this public institution, you shall at least save the taxes and other charges which you are paying now for nothing.
If I can start the institution immediately, certainly I shall be able to get sympathy locally, and in that case I may not be required to get money from India. I am also requesting that your honor become one of the Directors of this public institution because you will give a place to start the institution.
A.B. Hartman wasn’t interested.
January 13, 2016
Letter from Mr. Singhania
On the same day he wrote Mr. Hartman, Prabhupada received a letter from Sri Padampat Singhania, the director of the very large J.K. organization in India. Prabhupada had written Sri Padmapatji for financial support, and this reply gave him hope. Not only was the Singhania family fabulously wealthy, but its members were devotees of Lord Krishna.
My dear Svamiji,
I have gone through your letter. I am very glad to know your idea of erecting a Sri Radha-Krishna temple in New York. I think the proposal is a good one, but the following are the difficulties . . .
Mr. Singhania pointed out two difficulties. 1) He had to get government sanction to send money and foreign exchange to America. 2) Mr. Singhania doubted whether with this small amount of seven lakhs [$110,000] that Prabhupada was asking a temple could be built in New York. He said he was thinking of a temple, a nice construction with Indian-type architecture. For this he would have to send a man to America. These were the two difficulties, “otherwise your idea is very good.”
Srila Prabhupada and Mr. Singhania had a basic disagreement. A magnificent temple in New York would cost many millions of dollars to construct. Prabhupada knew, of course, that if Padmapat Singhania wanted, he could provide millions of dollars. But then how would he get so much money out of India? Prabhupada therefore again suggested that they only spend seven lakhs. “After purchasing the house,” he wrote, “we can build another story upon it with a temple dome, cakra, etc.”
Prabhupada had his own line of reasoning:
Lord Dvarkadisa exhibited His opulence at Dvaraka with sixteen thousand queens, and it is understood that He built a palace for each and every queen. And the palaces were made with jewels and stones so that there was no necessity for artificial light in the palaces. So your conception of building a temple of Lord Krsna is in opulence. But we are residents of Vrndavana, and Vrndavana has no palaces like your Dvaraka. Vrndavana is full of forests and cows on the bank of the Yamuna, and Lord Krsna, in His childhood, played the part of a cowherd boy without any opulence as you people, the inhabitants of Dvaraka, are accustomed. So when the Dvaraka-walas meet the Vrndavana-walas there may be a via medium.”
With Sri Padmapat’s Dvaraka-like wealth and Srila Prabhupada’s Vrndavana-like devotion, Lord Krsna, the Lord of both Vrndavana and Dvaraka, could be properly worshiped.
January 14, 2016
The Process of Memory
Memories slow down and fade, just as the physical body slows down with old age. Aging, though, can be checked so that it does not deteriorate so quickly. If you begin an exercise program and improve your diet, you may feel rejuvenated. Similarly, memories do not have to wither and die if you exercise them. As a singer grows older, he or she loses the wonderful timbre and range of the peak years, but sometimes a singer develops a personal phrasing that substitutes for lack of power. These artists go right on to the very end making poignant expressions. In this way, our memories of Prabhupada may continue as long as we live. As we serve, we get fresh realizations.
We want to go back without obstruction to whatever memory is there and accept it. We want to go back and ask, “Memories of Prabhupada, please come forward.” When the memories come forward, we meet them halfway.
When events in the world push us to take shelter of Prabhupada, then we can remember him best. Humility and gratitude help us here. In the Nectar of Devotion, we read that remembrance of Krsna may be invoked by hearing someone play a flute, or just by seeing a darkish cloud. These impetuses help us to remember Krsna and become flooded with krsna-prema. It works like that with Srila Prabhupada also.
Haiku poets speak of serendipity, the good luck or susceptibility to receive special moments. They say that you cannot voraciously devour special moments; you must go on with life and simply notice and honor the moments when they come of their own accord. I must be ready at any time to notice when I am visited by a Prabhupada remembrance. Thank you, Srila Prabhupada, and thank You, Lord Krsna, for allowing me to remember you both.
January 15, 2016
Walking and Talking with Prabhupada
Please forgive me for not speaking more directly of Prabhupada. This is all I have. It may be like reading a menu rather than giving you the feast. However, I am trying, and only by this way can I get closer. When I walk and talk with Srila Prabhupada, I feel that I am with him. It is real, this presence. It is not tangible in the sense that you can touch it or say, “There, I just saw a vision of Prabhupada. He was standing in the forest wearing a saffron coat.” Or, “I suddenly heard his voice saying, ‘Go on, you are doing very nicely.'” Or, “He just said, ‘You rascal!” Or, “I suddenly smelled the aroma of his body—sandalwood, mustard oil and roses.” Or, “I suddenly felt something within myself and tears flowed and I cried out, ‘Prabhupada!'” I am not deriding such intense encounters, but I am saying the subtle, intangible presence is also worthwhile. When I come back from a walk I do not ask, “Was Prabhupada here? Did I meet him?” I am sure I did.
We can talk to him. “Prabhupada, do you hear those birds? I do not know their names, but it is so nice to hear the birds sing in the morning. It is so nice to be in the country where practically the only sounds are those of nature. I know, Prabhupada, that you deplore the industry in the city, although we should be there for preaching. Prabhupada, is it like this in Vrndavana?”
We ask him our foolish questions. Even when it is we who do the talking, we feel him in the things that Prabhupada has said. If we become enamored with nature, he may rein us in saying, “This is the material world, it is only the mode of goodness.” If we ask him what it is like in Vrndavana, he may tell us that our question is premature. In every case, we feel him with us, despite our unworthiness.
“Prabhupada, I feel joyful to hear the birds in the forest, and I want to share that with you. The joy I feel on a nature walk leads me to the joy of you in my life. It is because of you that I am not cheated and that simple joys have meaning. Only because of you do I connect things to Krsna. I want to thank you and share it with you.”
We should not think that we are better than Prabhupada because he has passed on and we are still living in this “wonderful” world. It is not that Prabhupada is now among the unfortunate dead and we are living. The whole basis of connection with Prabhupada is that we are all eternal. Socrates said that the soul is immortal, and he chided his disciples for thinking otherwise about him. If we want to be with Prabhupada, we must have faith that he is not dead. He is eternal. He is preaching somewhere, and we will also always be preaching somewhere. Otherwise, what is the meaning of being his follower? Prabhupada has gone ahead of us, and we are following. In the old days, people would go ahead of their families and leave Europe for America. Their families would join them later after everything had been prepared. So Srila Prabhupada has gone ahead, leaving us memories and solid teachings for our lives. If we cannot complete our progress in one lifetime, we will continue in the next. Wherever we go, we want to make further progress with Srila Prabhupada.
January 17, 2016
Staying in Love
Turn to Prabhupada. What do I mean by that? You are facing in one direction and you hear a sound, or your mind tells you that you want to look in another direction. Physically, you move your neck and head in order to see the desired object, or you may turn your whole body. At least you turn your attention.
When we turn to Prabhupada, what do we see? Like dawn, at first we do not see much. We strain our eyes and wait as outlines start to become clear. We see the peaks of hills and can clearly distinguish the horizon. The sun is not up yet, but we desire to be with Prabhupada—so we talk of him.
Way off in the mind’s eye, we see him going out on another walk, and we run to catch up. Abstractly, but in truth, we think of how our lives have been made fortunate by meeting a great devotee of the Lord. He gives us salvation and turns us to the next life without so much fear. As Christ says, “To those who are given, more is expected.” Because we have been given his association, there is an obligation. This is guru-daksina.
People who have a relationship bound in love are obliged to continue it. One reason relationships diminish is that people do not communicate. The same thing can happen in the guru-disciple relationship. One can continue to perform the rituals but lose the sense of being in love. When the guru-disciple relationship begins, it is romantic. One is swept off one’s feet in adoration. You promise to give everything. However, we have to learn how to stay in love with Srila Prabhupada.
We do not think of Prabhupada as similar to Yamaraja. He is not someone who is going to smash us. We feel assured that he loves us even though we can do only insignificant service, and we have many faults. He has a right to reprimand us, and that is also part of love. When reprimands come, we go on serving and loving. We take it on our heads for our wrongs. We have faith that he is always trying to help us. Prabhupada says, “I will take care of you. I can bring you back to Godhead if you follow.”
Sometimes in his lectures, Prabhupada said, “These disciples are working twenty-four hours a day, and why? Out of love.” He reminded us that he saw our loving attitude toward him. It was not forced, he did not bribe us. It was not fear. It was love. Now, how to stay in love? By Prabhupada meditation and by right acts, we are trying to stay in love. In the relationship between the servant of God and the Supreme Lord, obedience is one of the first requirements. A disciple has to be obedient, and that must be given freely, from one’s entire self. This is the obligation of the eternal disciple. He humbly knows that he is always in need of instructions. He keeps trying to please Prabhupada and asking for mercy.
Touched by His Greatness
Do not forget that Prabhupada is your master. Never be condescending in your praise or estimation of him. As disciples, we worship our guru with affection as well as with objective evidence of his greatness. We also have to be regularly touched by his greatness.
In describing Prahlada Maharaja’s prayers to Lord Nrsimhadeva, Prabhupada asserts that Prahlada was able to please Lord Nrsimhadeva even though others, great demigods and even Laksmidevi herself, could not. What was Prahlada’s quality that so attracted the Lord? Prabhupada goes right to the heart of it sweetly and simply, entering the mentality of Prahlada Maharaja and explaining it to us.
A great teacher is one who can convey tremendous thoughts and experiences to the students. It is one thing to feel something, and it is an added empowerment to convey it to others. That teaching ability arises from compassion and empathy. Prabhupada was able to grasp the whole relationship of Prahlada Maharaja and Nrsimhadeva and give it to an audience—not of great scholars or long-time practicing sadhus—but to ordinary persons. He stressed the simplicity of Prahlada Maharaja’s approach: in a childlike way, he prostrated himself before Nrsimhadeva.
According to Prabhupada, Nrsimhadeva said to Prahlada, “It must have been very difficult for you to be tortured by your father, and then to witness his killing. Do not worry, do not be afraid. Now be pacified. I am here and you are all right, everything is all right.” When Prabhupada says, “Everything is all right,” I remember how he had said that to me and to others at different times. He is our Lord Nrsimha-protector.
Simple devotion to the Lord is what pleases Him. Prabhupada did not analyze the topic with very intricate scholarship. He did examine the Sanskrit words for us, but mainly he said, “Krsna is not unfeeling, He is not impersonal. He responds to your devotion.”
January 19, 2016
The way he taught in his Prospectus written in the 1950s for the League of Devotees, Swamiji gave prominent mention to prasadam. He invited members to live with him in the asrama, and he advertised the daily schedule. There were many times during the day when prasadam was served. The menu was described exactly. By studying that daily schedule, one can understand that prasadam is like attending arotikas, bhajanas, or Bhagavatam readings. Prasadam was not a material break in a spiritual day. It was another full-fledged, spiritual activity – a devotee was either chanting, or working, or honoring prasadam.
Prasadam works. It makes you feel satisfied and free of sex agitation. Everything seems nice. You don’t want to argue with people. Prasadam helps to heal the ailing self. The atma is not only the soul; it is the mind, body and self. All of these will be satisfied by eating prasadam.
When you honor prasadam, the body says, “I like Krishna consciousness.” The mind says, “I like it too, I am not agitated any more.” The self exclaims, “This prasadam was offered to Krishna. Swamiji says it is not ordinary food.” Prasadam is an item of faith, a sacrament.
Recently I heard a devotee say we should “honor prasadam and not just eat it.” I knew what he meant by that. Yet eating in Krishna consciousness has always been celebrated as a way to share love and togetherness. Rupa Gosvami even mentions these two forms of loving exchange among devotees: “To accept prasadam and to offer it to others.” A spiritual family eats together in the spirit that Swamiji showed us. Although it is true that we should not eat in the mood of sense gratification and indulgence, the loving exchanges of eating in good company brings us into Krishna consciousness.
Devotees can sit and take prasadam together in spiritual communion. If you do not have the fortune of having Swamiji in your midst, you can bring him into your midst by meditation. Before we eat, we offer the food with prayers. We can also converse with Prabhupada in our minds, “Prabhupada, please take this prasadam. They have given it to me, but I am bringing it to you, just as we used to bring you prasadam. Please take it.” By meditation, you can offer your food to Prabhupada. He can be with you, and he can take prasadam with you. Anything is possible. It depends on your purity.
January 20, 2016
Do It For Him
It is reassuring to take stock of the fact that we follow Prabhupada in almost everything we do. Often we feel bereft of love for Prabhupada, and we think that we are distant from him. However, if you take inventory, you will see that you are always doing what he wanted you to do.
I do not wear sannyasi clothes because it is my destiny to be a Vaisnava monk; I do it because he introduced it. When I think like this, it gives me assurance that I am completely immersed in Prabhupada consciousness. Even me, a laggard who does not fulfill front-line duties, who fails in many ways to cooperate with devotees – even I am following Prabhupada in general, and in the particulars, with devotion.
Chant your rounds, read his books, do your preaching service, whatever it may be; do things the way he wanted them done. With the instinct of a well-trained person, you act the way Prabhupada taught you. To give a crude example, consider the way a jet pilot moves in the cockpit. He does not expressly think, “Now I am going to pull this switch and that lever to make the plane take off and veer to the left.” He does not have to think so specifically about what he is doing because he has experience. We also have experience and should be guided by Prabhupada’s vani. Whatever comes up in our lives, we simply act according to Prabhupada’s instructions.
If someone asks us, we may verbalize the source of the instruction. Usually, we do not have to verbalize it – you see something and you do it the way Prabhupada did it, because you see the wisdom of his ways.
You use the tongue scraper the way he does, you sit on a toilet crouched with the soles of the feet on the seat like an Oriental, not the way the Westerners do. You eat food only that is offered to Krishna. In order to offer the food, you say prayers to Srila Prabhupada three times and ask him to accept it with devotion, so that the food can be offered to the Deity. You read the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Whatever you do, you are always thinking, “How is this service to Srila Prabhupada?” If it is something he did not explicitly teach, how can it be accepted as an innovative form within the mainstream of Prabhupada teachings? If there is anything we do that is not given by him, we must deliberate whether it is acceptable. By taking inventory of our actions, we want to conclude that we are doing everything for him.
January 21, 2016
Correspondence with Bon Maharaja
January 21, 1966
He received Bon Maharaja’s reply. Two weeks before, Prabhupada had written to his godbrother, the Director of the Institute of Oriental Philosophy in Vrindavana, that he had found a place for a temple in New York and that he wanted to install deities of Radha and Krishna. In his reply, Bon Maharaja quoted price estimates for fourteen-inch brass deities of Radha-Krishna, but he also warned that to begin deity worship would be a heavy responsibility. Srila Prabhupada responded:
I think that after the temple has started, some men, even from America, may be available, as I have seen they have at the Ramakrishna Mission, as well as in so
many Yoga societies. So I am trying to open a temple here because Srila
Prabhupada (Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati) wanted it.
Prabhupada also requested Bon Maharaja’s assistance in getting the Government to sanction release of the money he felt Padampat Singhania would donate. He mentioned that he had carried on an extensive personal correspondence with the Vice-President of India, Dr. Radhakrishnan, who was also know to Bon Maharaja.
Tell him that it is not an ordinary temple of worship, but an international institution for God consciousness based on the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
January 22, 2016
Snowstorm in New York City
January 22, 1966
While Srila Prabhupada prayed to receive Radha-Krishna in New York, a snowstorm hit the City. That morning, Srila Prabhupada, who had perhaps never before seen snow, woke and thought that someone had whitewashed the side of the building next door. Not until he went outside did he discover it was snow. The temperature was ten degrees.
The City went into a state of emergency, but Prabhupada continued his daily walks. Now he had to walk through heavy snow, only a thin dhoti beneath his overcoat, his head covered with his “swami hat.” The main roads were cleared, but many sidewalks were covered with snow. Along the strip of park dividing Broadway, the gusting winds piled snowbanks to shoulder height and buried the benches. The Broadway kiosks, plastered with layers of posters and notices, were now plastered with additional layers of snow and ice. But despite the weather, New Yorkers still walked their dogs, the pets now wearing raincoats and mackinaws. Such pampering by American dog owners left Prabhupada with a feeling of surprised amusement. As he approached West End Avenue, he found the doormen blowing whistles to signal taxis as usual, but also scattering salt to melt the ice and create safe sidewalks in front of the buildings. In Riverside Park, the benches, pathways and trees were glazed with ice and gave off a shimmering reflection from the sky.
In the news, Selective Service officials announced the first substantial increase in the draft since the Korean war; a month-long peace ended with the U.S. Air Force bombing North Viet Nam; the New York transit strike ended after three weeks, and the transit Labor leader died in jail of a heart attack.
January 23, 2016
From Purport to Purport
Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavatam purports sometimes shift from one topic to another. For example, in his purport to Bhagavatam 10.1.17, we read that at one time the world was overburdened with demoniac kings who were harassing the people. The verse and purport are relevant to modern politics, where every nation is trying to build up its military power. Then in the next verse, we hear that Lord Brahma went with the demigods to the shore of the milk ocean and recited the Purusa-sukta prayers. Brahma received a direct message back from Lord Visnu. In that purport, Prabhupada writes mystically that you may get a direct message from Krishna when you meditate on Him. He says that this can be done even today, and he gives the example of how subtle communications go by television and other methods.
When reading Prabhupada purports, we should be patient and happy to follow Prabhupada as he goes from one topic to another. Gradually, we may begin to understand, that for Prabhupada, Krishna is present everywhere, and the jurisdiction of Krishna consciousness is everywhere. If Prabhupada turns his attention to the world’s political situation with thoughts of lamentation or anger, that is Krishna consciousness. When he turns directly to Krishna and forgets this world, that is also Krishna consciousness. As Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita, “For one who sees Me everywhere, I am never lost and he is never lost to Me.”
We should move with Prabhupada in his Bhaktivedanta purports from one topic to another. With each purport, he gives all that the previous acaryas have said, and he reflects on it based on his own experience. If we read Prabhupada with at least a little understanding of how he composed his purports, one after another, then we, too, will begin to see Krishna everywhere.
January 24, 2016
Recently an initiated devotee, who has broken his connection with ISKCON, made some sharp criticisms against what he called “ISKCON-speak,” the jargon used among devotees. He made a list of jargon words and said they should all be thrown out. This critic of “ISKCON-speak” traced many of the “faulty” expressions to the fact that while Srila Prabhupada spoke English as a second language and his expressions were fine for him, they are unfit for those who speak American or English as a mother tongue. I looked over the critic’s list and agreed with some of his choices, although I could not see how he managed to get rid of habitual expressions, such as “take rest,” “foodstuffs,” “take prasadam,” and the pronunciation of the word “de-vo-tee.”
We should not feel guilty if newcomers hear Prabhupada’s followers use many curious expressions not usually heard in the English language; there is jargon in every profession and subculture. Americans are notorious for using bloated language to cover the direct energy of their speech and to unnecessarily complicate it. Jazz musicians think they are speaking naturally; so do construction workers. One person’s idea of unencumbered speech is another person’s version of artificial talk; often one group can hardly understand another.
It is possible to simultaneously cherish Prabhupada idioms while avoiding some of them in our lecturing and speaking. Some expressions were used by Prabhupada in a particular way, but are grammatically incorrect or archaic. Yet some devotees may see any criticism of ISKCON jargon as insulting to Srila Prabhupada when it is done in a cold-hearted way, without understanding the attachment we have for His Divine Grace and the way he speaks.
The solution to such perceived language misuse is not to eliminate strong teachings of surrender; neither will eliminating the strong preaching spirit help. We have to be sensitive and non-hypocritical. We should be “context sensitive,” speaking with awareness of time, place and persons. On the other hand, if we use ISKCON-speak in a way that is insensitive or unthinking, we may become offensive to our fellow devotees. Hackneyed speech can become a hackneyed way of thinking. We then fall into a habit of speaking without expressing our feelings or realization. We speak “the party line.” If I try to manipulate a fellow devotee by speaking officialese, it is offensive to the devotee and to the philosophy which I claim to represent. Devotees are repelled when they hear another devotee rattle off words which demand obedience and surrender to the highest ideal, although the speaker of those words is himself not following them. “Don’t be on the mental plain, prabhu. Prabhupada wants us to cooperate. Therefore, you should do what I say.”
Let’s face it, we do use language in a special way in ISKCON, and it is not all bad. Many of the words we use are the best translations of Sanskrit terms. Prabhupada translated words such as “aparadha” into “offense,” and “Bhagavan” into “the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” We could change these terms into some other ones, but we feel safe that Prabhupada has put his unique realization into the translations. Prabhupada writes in one purport that we are more interested in the techniques of bhakti-yoga than in the language itself. In the name of purifying language, a pedant might remove the realization.
January 25, 2016
Appreciating the Mahatma
Lord Krishna defines mahatma as one who is under the protection of the Divine nature. He is fully engaged in devotional service because he knows Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The mahatma is always engaged in chanting the glories of Krishna and worshiping Him with determination.
Prabhupada warned that persons who claim to be God, or to be mahatmas, “are not mahatma.” Rather they are duratma, “crooked.” Yet Prabhupada said it is not difficult to become a Krishna conscious mahatma; all one has to do is follow what Krishna says.
It is difficult to actually find a mahatma living in this world. This is Krishna’s opinion: vāsudevaḥsarvamiti / sa mahātmā sudurlabhaḥ. Therefore let us appreciate how rare Srila Prabhupada is, even by material calculation, Indian sannyasis were scarce in America in the 1960s. Vaisnava sannyasis were extremely rare. Yet the true rarity of Srila Prabhupada is that he is a pure devotee of Krishna. He left Vrindavana to give Krishna to others. That makes Prabhupada one among millions.
When Prabhupada came to America, Westerners were groping for consciousness expansion. We did not find what we wanted in LSD, or in friendship, in art, or music. We were being dragged toward a cliff to be plunged into death and rebirth. We are very fortunate to have met the pure devotee. Once, before I met Prabhupada, I shared an LSD trip with my friend Murray. I remembered his conclusion that night – “Life is cheap.” I liked to think that life was rare and valuable, but Murray’s vision seemed realistic and in tune with what was actually happening in New York City. Life is cheap. You can buy and sell it if you have money, or sex appeal, or power. Life is cheap because the “powers that be” can snuff it out in a minute.
Therefore, I joined the multitudes thankful to the mahatma, Srila Prabhupada, for making our lives valuable. He upgraded our lives in a way that we could never have done on our own. We thank him for being who he is; for being so rare. “Sa mahātmāsudurlabhaḥ.” The mahatma’s heart is expanded to help everyone, and our gratitude should be expressed by helping him in his cause. Although we were not qualified, Krishna within our hearts told us, “Go ahead and hear from the Swami. Do as he says, chant Hare Krishna.” It is Krishna who allows one to repeatedly hear and gradually take that opportunity.
I thank Srila Prabhupada for being who he was. We were not expecting an elderly person to come into our lives; we were not expecting a guru. Prabhupada, however, satisfied us because he was who he was. He was better than anyone we could imagine – golden in complexion, elderly, dressed in sannyasi robes. Everything about him was attractive to us, and by Krishna’s grace, his path was easy to take.
January 26, 2016
The gift of an artist is his ability to feel something with love and then convey it in an interesting way. The art should infect others with the exact same sentiment that the artist felt. A God-conscious teacher is able to do that, too. He has love of God, and he has the gift of conveying it. It was Lord Caitanya’s desire to convey Krishna-prema by chanting Hare Krishna. Prabhupada was empowered to do that – to chant Hare Krishna and to explain Hare Krishna. He was generous in interspersing his basic Krishna conscious talks with direct introductions into the topmost sphere of Goloka Vrindavana. Furthermore, he did it in plain language. Goloka Vrindavana is itself down-to-earth. The earth is cintamani, but nevertheless, it is earthy. It is not like Vaikuntha, with emphasis on the celestial. Vrindavana’s emphasis is on the humanlike. When Prabhupada talked about Krishna-loka, he did it like that, speaking as a resident and telling us what it was really like.
January 27, 2016
Prabhupada Gave At All Levels
The mixture of basic and advanced Krishna consciousness appears constantly in Prabhupada’s purports. In his Bhagavatam purports, he does not always stick to a storyline. In his explanation of the verses, he feels free to lecture in each particular purport, expanding on the themes in different directions. There may be occasion when one wants to read only the verses as translated by Prabhupada or his followers, in order to get more involved in the story flow. However, we should never think that a careful study of the Bhaktivedanta purports may be avoided or skipped over in our reading of the Bhagavatam. Rather, the more we study the purports, the more we will appreciate Prabhupada’s relationship with Krishna. As Prabhupadanugas, we want to understand Prabhupada’s Krishna consciousness as much as we can. This will help us to understand our own relationship with Krishna.
January 28, 2016
The Wealth of Prabhupada’s Lectures
A devotee can sustain his spiritual life by hearing Prabhupada’s lectures. They are not intended as background noise. We should listen to Prabhupada lecture tapes with the same attention we would have if Prabhupada were personally in the room. To ignore Prabhupada is an offense.
There are always times throughout the day when we can listen to at least part of a lecture. In the old Christian monasteries, the monks used to observe silence while they ate, while one monk read aloud from the scriptures. In one monastic refectory, I saw a sign over the door, “Man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that issues from the mouth of God.” We can also honor prasadam, while hearing the scriptures directly from Srila Prabhupada.
A spoken lecture is an important medium for the Vaisnava acarya. Speaking Vedic truth requires specific, special qualification. The more purely the message is spoken, the more potent the result. For example, unless one has memorized and assimilated Sanskrit slokas, he cannot cross-reference and prove his points. And for the audience, what strength is available by hearing transcendental sound vibration from a realized devotee! He calls to us with his knowledge and realization of the scriptures, and our souls respond, leaving the critical mind and sleepy body behind. Transcendental sound cuts through matter.
Lecturing is ultimate communication. When Prabhupada says, “Krishna cannot be served with matter; He has to be served with spirit,” Prabhupada did feel the weight of his own words. He wanted to convey the import.
Psychologists inform us that it is important to communicate if one wants to develop personal relationships. Dialogue is necessary in order to keep love alive. Unfortunately, most people don’t know what to say to each other in order to have a loving relationship. And of course, they cannot grant each other eternity, bliss and knowledge. Ultimate communication takes place between Krishna and the soul hankering to recapture his relationship with Krishna. When the jiva is awakened by hearing, then he can begin to serve God. Further communication can then take place. This is called bhakti.
January 29, 2016
Krishna’s Great Orator
Srila Prabhupada was a dramatic orator, a real communicator. He communicated on Krishna’s behalf as the medium for Krishna’s love to the conditioned souls who had not yet developed their desire to go back to Krishna. His voice was tempered and his points balanced, yet his lectures were powerful. They were quite different from his ordinary speech. His lectures were full of feeling – strong, loud reprimands of the non devotee, and soft, loving expressions of bhakti. His voice rose and fell in sonorous tones. “You cannot understand Krishna with these blunt senses,” he said, and his voice keyed, both to his audience and to his own sense of delivering the message. He spoke from the heart. He spoke to wake us up.
Prabhupada lectured mainly from the Bhagavatam and the Bhagavad-gita. He didn’t title his lectures, and they didn’t have a specific subject, other than a commentary on a particular verse he was speaking on. He took advantage of the wealth of material in the Vedic scriptures and taught us to lecture. Prabhupada had to lecture frequently, but he had such a great command of the Vedic scriptures that he was free to speak on a wide variety of topics within the realm of Krishna consciousness. We should try to follow his example.
January 30, 2016
The East Snowstorm
January 30, 1966
The East Coast was hit by severe blizzards, seven inches of snow fell on the City, with winds up to fifty miles an hour. The City of New York offered warm rooms and meals for people living in tenements without heat. JFK Airport was closed, as were train lines and roadways into the City. For the second time within eight days, a state of emergency was declared because of snow.
As a lone individual, Srila Prabhupada could not do anything about the snow emergency, or the international warfare – he saw these as more symptoms of the age of Kali. Always there would be misery in the material world. But if he could bring Radha and Krishna to a building in New York … nothing was impossible for the Supreme Lord. Even in the midst of Kali-yuga, a golden age could appear, and people could get relief. If Americans could take to Krishna consciousness, the whole world would follow. Seeing through the eyes of the scriptures, Srila Prabhupada pushed on through the blizzard and pursued the thin trail for support for his Krishna conscious mission.
January 31, 2016
Appreciating His Teachings
Prabhupada can mediate between Krishna and the individual soul. For example, he explains how we can offer Krishna whatever we eat, and how the main ingredient in our offering is our devotion. Prabhupada comments, “If you offer something to Krishna: ‘Krishna, I have brought a very palatable dish for You to eat’ – no, Krishna will not take it. Nāhaṁprakāśaḥsarvasyayoga-māyā-samāvṛtaḥ. He is not exposed to everyone.”
There are different levels of understanding Prabhupada’s teachings. A newcomer will be amazed that Krishna will accept offerings of food. Someone who has been hearing and serving Prabhupada for more years will hear with added depth and richness. Such a person is trained to hear and consider more the subtleties of the philosophy. For example, Prabhupada quoted the verse “nāhaṁprakāśaḥ” in the context of offering food to Krishna. The nāhaṁprakāśaḥverse tells us that Krishna places a curtain of maya between Himself and foolish persons. To quote that verse immediately after saying that Krishna accepts offerings made in devotion, produces an interesting contrast. Prabhupada’s point is that if we try to give Krishna something materially opulent to impress us, He will not accept it, because nāhaṁprakāśaḥsarvasya– Krishna puts a barrier between Himself and such fools.
Often when Prabhupada quotes the Bhagavad-gita, he spontaneously gives a translation which is not at all literal, but interpretative. It is a kind of combined purport and translation. These little purport-translations vary from one lecture to the next and we can appreciate them as added nectar. Problems and anarthas in our devotional service can easily be solved when we carefully hear how Prabhupada attacks those problems.