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Practicing the Presence of God—(Our Walk with Krishna)

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(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player needed)
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The title of this blog is taken from a book which consists of conversations and letters written by a humble Christian monk, Brother Lawrence, during the 17th century about his practice of remembering, praying to, and serving God in all circumstances. I find it very similar to what bhakti, or devotional service, is all about—that is, to remember and serve Krishna in love and devotion in all circumstances, at all times. As so often happens, the seed for this blog came to me while I was “practicing the presence of Krishna,” by chanting His holy names during my morning devotional time. My life is dedicated to devotional practice, which we could call practicing the presence of God, not only at designated times, but always, or to the extent that I remember. In my retired life I am finding it more urgent than ever before to be absorbed in awareness of Krishna with feeling, studying the bhakti philosophy, keeping good association, and sharing my past and present spiritual journey—I pray—for the benefit of others.

Revisiting this topic was inspiring and I naturally wanted to share that with you by making it the basis of a blog, and hopefully a future book with a Krishna centered perspective. Brother Lawrence’s book reminds me of another classic Christian book, this one from the 19th century, “The Way of a Pilgrim,” which outlines a traveling monk’s adventures with ceaseless prayer through discovering the Jesus Prayer. The idea of ceaseless prayer and thus constant remembrance of God is right out of the bhakti scriptures. Thus, this blog is part of my continual effort to make the practice of bhakti or Krishna consciousness more culturally accessible by demonstrating that the goal of Gaudiya Vaishnavas, to love God, is at the heart of all religions if we go deep enough into their essence, beyond external dogmas and sectarianism.
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What is “Practicing the Presence of God?” It means, simply, yet profoundly, to feel and sense the presence of God throughout everything we do in life—certainly in our spiritual or religious observances—but more, to understand that we are never alone or apart from God. This “Practice” is to converse with God, sharing with Him the details of our life as our constant companion. It also means sharing our doubts, shortcomings— even personal darkness—as well as our thoughts, reflections, and highest aspirations, and experience that if we are in the right consciousness, there is no time we are less with God than at any other. I know this discussion is important for practicing devotees of Krishna since I often receive questions about how to serve and remember Krishna in materialistic situations, or with persons who have no spiritual interest.

I originally thought the title, “Practicing the Presence of God,” was given by the first publishers of the book, but upon purchasing an expanded version, I found Brother Lawrence using it himself. Regardless, I think it gives a good handle for this practice. We might call it Krishna consciousness, or the attempt of devotees to practice the fundamentals of bhakti. Here is the verse from the Padma Purana which is the center around which the Six Goswami followers of Shri Chaitanya (who are the principle architects of Gaudiya Vaishnava practices) gathered Vedic scriptural evidence to support Krishna consciousness: “Krishna is the origin of Lord Vishnu. He should always be remembered and never forgotten at any time. All the rules and prohibitions mentioned in the Vedic scriptures should be the servants of these two principles.”
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To give you a sample of his practice, I am including some of his conversations: “Brother Lawrence related that we should establish ourselves in a sense of God's presence by continually conversing with Him. It was a shameful thing to quit His conversation to think of trifles and fooleries. We should feed and nourish our soul with high notions of God which would yield us great joy in being devoted to Him.

“He said we ought to quicken and enliven our faith. It was lamentable we had so little. Instead of taking faith for the rule of their conduct, men amused themselves with trivial devotions which changed daily. He said that faith was sufficient to bring us to a high degree of perfection. We ought to give ourselves up to God with regard both to things temporal and spiritual and seek our satisfaction only in the fulfilling of His will. Whether God led us by suffering or by consolation all would be equal to a soul truly resigned.”

Any serious devotee of Krishna might give such instruction, as I find it a universal perspective for those who are dedicated to increasing their connection and remembrance of God. Our “high notions of God” come from the Vedic bhakti scriptures and hearing learned and practical classes and advice from devotee spiritual adepts. The various stages of bhakti are a deepening of spiritual faith, and proportionate diminishing of activities or conversations that don’t foster loving service. This is a matter of consciousness, of whether we are remembering Krishna and feeling His presence. Then we can be engaged in what may appear to be material activities, like working to support our family, home, education, etc., but having the internal understanding that we are endeavoring for Krishna and his devotees, who are appearing as our family members. In all circumstances we are attempting to remember that “I am a das or dasi (servant) of Krishna, not the supreme controller, enjoyer, or owner.”
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This is from another conversation: “Brother Lawrence said we ought to act with God in the greatest simplicity, speaking to Him frankly and plainly, and imploring His assistance in our affairs just as they happen. God never failed to grant it, as Brother Lawrence had often experienced… [I]n his work in the kitchen (to which he had, at first, a great aversion), having accustomed himself to do everything there for the love of God and asking for His grace to do his work well, he had found everything easy during the fifteen years he had been employed there. He was very well pleased with the post he was now in. Yet, he was as ready to quit that as the former, since he tried to please God by doing little things for the love of Him in any work he did. With him the set times of prayer were no different from other times.”

I am reminded of this verse from the Gita, which gives us the idea to do everything as an offering to Krishna: “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform—do that, O son of Kunti, as an offering to Me.” [Bg 9.27] This could be considered the beginning of practicing of the presence of Krishna, and is meant to absorb our mind and heart in Him. Then we can gradually awaken our love for Krishna expressed in one of the most confidential verses of the Gita which we are meant to practice with the former verse’s idea: “Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.” [Bg 18.65]

The best way to always think of someone is to love them. Thus, the more we have affection for Krishna, and realize that our relationship with Him is our soul’s true aspiration, then the more we will call on His holy name with feeling; we will see every activity we do as meant for His service, and every person we meet as His agent, and a person worthy of our kindness. When I think of “Practicing the Presence of God (or Krishna),” I imagine myself bathed in the light of Krishna, shining down from above (and within) to surround me with His blessings, so I may pass on the torch of loving service, or to give what I have received. By the grace of Shri Guru and Gauranga (Shri Chaitanya) the lame can cross mountains, the dumb can be empowered to speak with spiritual potency. For me, just saying “Practicing the Presence of God,” is a reminder to be Krishna conscious and see bhakti as my life breath, or constant companion. Krishna is our very life and the basis and sustainer of everything. I am sharing this in the hope of providing you another tool for fostering your spiritual growth, and to make the practice of bhakti real and helpful as you live your life, and uncover your soul.

(Om) madhavo madhava vaci, madhavo madhavo hridi
smaranti sadhavah sarve, sarva-karyeshu madhavam

"Lord Madhava (Vishnu or Krishna) is in one's words and Lord Madhava is in one's heart. All the saintly persons remember Lord Madhava, the husband of the goddess of fortune, in all their undertakings." (Narasimha Purana)
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More quotes

"We have a God who is infinitely gracious and knows all our wants. I always thought that He would reduce you to extremity. He will come in His own time, and when you least expect it. Hope in Him more than ever; thank Him with me for the favors He does you, particularly for the fortitude and patience which He gives you in your afflictions. It is a plain mark of His care He takes of you. Comfort yourself, then, with Him, and give thanks for all.["But those who always worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form -- to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have." Bg 9.22]

"I admire also the fortitude and bravery of Mr.--. God has given him a good disposition and a good will; but there is in him still a little of the world and a great deal of youth. I hope the affliction which God has sent him will prove a wholesome remedy to him, and make him enter himself [his inner life]. It is an accident which should engage him to put all his trust in Him who accompanies him everywhere. Let him think of Him as often as he can, especially in the greatest dangers.["Established thus {in constant remebrance of Krishna}, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact. Bg 6.22-23]

"You tell me nothing new. You are not the only one who is troubled with wandering thoughts. Our mind is extremely roving. But the will is mistress of all our faculties. She must recall our stray thoughts and carry them to God as their final end. [“One must deliver himself with the help of his mind, and not degrade himself. The mind is the friend of the conditioned soul, and his enemy as well.” Bg 6.5]

"God, saith he, has infinite treasure to bestow, and we take up with a little sensible devotion, which passes in a moment. Blind as we are, we hinder God and stop the current of His graces. But when He finds a soul penetrated with a lively faith, He pours into it His graces and favors plentifully; there they flow like a torrent which, after being forcibly stopped against its ordinary course, when it has found a passage, spreads itself with impetuosity and abundance.

"Accustom yourself, then, by degrees thus to worship Him; and the greatest pleasures will be, without Him, a cruel punishment to us. May He be blessed for all.

"I do not advise you to use many words and long discourses in prayer, because they are often the occasions of wandering. Hold yourself in prayer before God, like a dumb or paralytic beggar at a rich man's gate. Let it be your business to keep your mind in the presence of the Lord. If your mind sometimes wanders and withdraws itself from Him, do not become upset. Trouble and disquiet serve rather to distract the mind than to re-collect it. The will must bring it back in tranquility. If you persevere in this manner, God will have pity on you. [“From wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the Self.” Bg 6.26]

"Since by His mercy He gives us still a little time, let us begin in earnest; let us repair the lost time; let us return with a full assurance to that Father of mercies, who is always ready to receive us affectionately. Let us renounce, let us generously renounce, for the love of Him, all that is not Himself, He deserves infinitely more. Let us think of Him perpetually. Let us put all our trust in Him. I doubt not but we shall soon find the effects of it in receiving the abundance of His grace, with which we can do all things, and without which we can do nothing but sin.

"We cannot escape the dangers which abound in life without the actual and continual help of God. Let us pray to Him for it constantly. [“For those who have accepted the boat of the lotus feet of the Lord, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Murari, the enemy of the Mura demon, the ocean of the material world is like the water contained in a calf's hoof-print. Their goal is param padam, Vaikuntha, the place where there are no material miseries, not the place where there is danger at every step.” SB 10.14.58]

How can we pray to Him without being with Him? How can we be with Him but in thinking of Him often? And how can we often think of Him, but by a holy habit which we should form of it? You will tell me that I always say the same thing. It is true, for this is the best and easiest method I know. I use no other. I advise all the world to do it. [“Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krsna and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt.” Bg 8.7]

We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him. And when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure. [Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.” Bg 18.65]