Feeling unusually sober and contemplative, I wrote a rough poem today about how I feel after reading two devotee memoirs, as I think about compiling my own. While I will share it after this introduction, I have so much more to say, to properly convey, all I am feeling today. I continue to contemplate death as as a motivating meditation to live today, and to endeavor to have no possessive attachment weights, that if not addressed, will propel me to work out issues with others in future lives; too many times I have examined my life up to this point and all that I use to define myself, which seem like sand castles, the blowing wind, morphing clouds, crashing ocean waves.
We generally identify as ourselves as our thoughts, feelings, and what we contemplate such as our desires—desires for things, relationships, or experiences, and also our bodily identity of race, ethnicity or the color of our skin, gender or sexual orientation, our family of origin and the one we have created, and memories of past experiences and their principle players or actors. I find it fascinating, though disconcerting to understand how fleeting and temporary these self-concepts are, being only a disguise or transitory covering for our soul, or our real self, consciousness, the observer and animator of matter.
The nature of the material world is change and transformation or as the Gita teaches us, the world is “endlessly mutable.” Accordingly, in physically conditioned life, which covers our soul, our body and mental states change, other people change, our life situation and the greater conditions of the material world change and go through cycles and stages. As a result of such changes we have to recommit and sometimes renegotiate our relationships to others, ourselves, and to bhakti, many times in our lifetime.
If we don’t voluntarily change or fight against conditions we have no control over, we will likely be forced to change because nothing stays the same, however much we drag our feet and resist. While this is a natural process, materially speaking, having to change can be disconcerting especially when we are set in our ways or have identified material conditions as who we are, and the underlying and foundational fact that the soul (who we are), or our animating consciousness, being eternal, wants permanence and doesn’t relate well to changing conditions which seem foreign.
While those who are Gaudiya Vaishnavas, or in fact anyone engaged in some kind of spiritual practice to realize their soul, even if they are grounded in deep spiritual philosophy of the nature of matter and spirit, will also struggle with the changing conditions within and without to the degree
THE ZIGZAG PATH, OR THE UPS AND DOWNS, OF BHAKT: When I was a new devotees it seemed like our spiritual advancement was like a rocket going straight and fast to our spiritual destination, and surely in a few years we would board that spiritual flower airplane piloted by the best of devotees, and go “back home, back to Godhead.” However, after some years my shiny, fast, roller blades become covered in thick, heavy mud and what had at first seemed like a full throttle race to the finish line turned into a slippery crawl, where sometimes I seemed to be going nowhere, or even sliding helplessly backwards down the rocky, dusty hill with no footing or holds.
Reading that Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur has sometimes referred to spiritual advancement in bhakti as the “zigzag path,” has normalized my ups and downs in spiritual life, helping me to understand my difficulties, or starts, stops, and reverses not as a personal anomaly but as natural for every seeker. When we are on the ground, we have to rise up with the help of the ground, so this is my attempt to stand and go forward aided with the staff of mercy, prayer, and knowledge.
(I have adopted many of the words I shared on his disappearance day last year for this occasion, as they are sill of pressing importance to me, and repetition is the mother of learning.) On the appearance day of one’s guru it is customary to present an offering of glorification to one’s guru, and the process given by him or her. It may be directly expressed to the guru, and/or also addressed to the general audience. After the disappearance of one’s guru—or any founder of a religion or sect—many different conceptions of the guru and their teachings arise. This is an inevitable and unavoidable occurrence, and while one may favor their personal understanding, one can also do their best to understand the feelings and realizations of others, in the mood of diversity within the oneness of service to Prabhupada and Lord Chaitanya.
The fact that there are many different ideas as to the essential teachings of our guru can make it difficult to express one’s heart—at least it is for me. Never the less, I will try to express something to honor Prabhupada along with my personal reflections about my relationship to him, and some realizations I have gleaned from my personal experience. I pray for the generosity, magnanimity, and blessings of my audience.
I can't believe it has been a month since I posted. Time flies when you are busy. So much as happened in my life, and so many different emotional states, in those 4 weeks and a day! After I finished my 31 day bodily cleanse of my various organs I felt disassociated from life and had to regroup and recommit to my life mission--which is the subject of this short blog poem--and my wife and I helped facilitate the Grihastha Vision Team 4th Annual Couple's Retreat in Gita-nagari PA. I wrote and thought a great deal about my life, and the value of keeping death in mind. I realize I've already written a lot about it, but as I share in this poem, my tendency is to forget the urgency of my spiritual life, in my case, when my health seems to be getting better.
I must continually remember that I will die
perhaps today or tomorrow, but soon
because if I forget this truth
I return to complacency and the easy life—
this has happened to me, yet again...alas!!
I must recommit to spiritual life, continually.
Otherwise I may die distraught and resentful
which I have been shown by cancer’s mercy.
THE MIRACLE OF FORGIVENESS: Much has been written in spiritually themed literature, Vedic scriptures and Prabhupada's translations, and personal growth/self-help books about forgiveness. As a young person and devotee I had no idea how important forgiveness could be. It was only after years of introspection and prayer that I personally understood how important it was for me to forgive important persons in my life and myself.
The topic came up in my reading of the last few days, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts about it. I have done much work with forgiveness—with my parents, for how I was raised, and for myself, for my many personal failings and what I should or should not have done. I looked at all my significant relationships in as much honesty as possible, and also considered that I may have some anger toward Krishna, and my guru, Shrila Prabhupada.
I did find some anger toward Prabhupada and I had a long talk with him to uncover it, and let it go. I have written somewhere about my, in contemporary terms, gestalt type conversation with him. Whatever it may be called, to me it was a very real talk before the Prabhupada murti in Berkeley almost 30 years ago. Before him, I shared and examined my anger and doubts, and I received a simple though compellingly powerful answer to my angst with his physical disappearance.
MY PRESSING QUESTIONS IN LIFE: Examining my heart, how are my material attachments still impeding my full practice of bhakti, or causing me to remain a mixed devotee? What do I want in my heart of hearts, and how is that causing me to act, or not act? In deep honesty, what truly moves and inspires me? As a result, what do I actually want to be absorbed in, demonstrated by my consistent thoughts and actions? What types of people I do think about or are attracted to in my daily life? Who do I want to become now, and forever? Knowing I will die, today or tomorrow, what must I give up, and what must I adopt to make my life a true success?
Having an ordinary materialistic upbringing until I was 19 years old I was still blessed with spiritual practices for many years. However, I have recently noted that I developed a cavalier attitude that I was “saved” and in the back to Godhead program. Being forced to face death has brought to light honest introspection of what is my true shelter. I have found that the old conditioned voices run deep below the surface of my consciousness. At present, those voices are much more prominent than I have dared admit, like an old disease waiting to manifest when the conditions are right—like herpes, or hepatitis.
I have found that I have been too willing to accommodate, or compromise with my materialistic tendencies rather than truly root them out. Now, praying to move beyond my complacency and comfort, I realize I can’t keep feeding the causes of my embodiment. Seeing my conditioned nature, I must keep casting those tendencies away which are unhelpful for my real life of spiritual progress, seeing them as ugly degrading darkness, and not to be simply tolerated. In my understanding this is what we devotees have signed up for, right—not the life of ease? I don’t want to only remember my spiritual connection when convenient, or to either get out of a jam, or obtain some desirable object.
Celebrating the holy day of Krishna’s appearance in this world five thousand years, or Shri Krishna Janmastami, is one of the many “high holidays” (to borrow from Judaism) which devotees of Krishna observe. What is known today as Hinduism includes what is called Gaudiya Vaishnavism, or the bhakti (devotional) movement inaugurated by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, which Krishna.com represents. My spiritual master, Shrila Prabhupada, wasn’t fond of the word Hinduism since it is an imposed term created by those not familiar with the tradition and is a word not found in any Vedic literature.
Be that as it may, for the sake of convenience, we sometimes say we are part of the very diverse and inclusive Hindu tradition of India. Irrespective of the various Hindu theologies, all sects of Hinduism celebrate Janmastami as an important day, and glorify Krishna in various ways. Whether they think he is one of the many Hindu gods, or that the Ultimate Truth is “The One,” or the formless, impersonal Brahman source energy, they still glorify him as the wise speaker of the Bhagavad Gita, and are charmed by his depiction in the Shrimad Bhagavatam as a carefree cowherd who lived an idyllic life amidst the simplicity and beauty of Nature, surrounded by those who loved him.
This evening we read from the Krishna Book, and discussed some of Krishna’s pastimes surrounding his so-called “birth” in the world. I was reminded of watching how excited Prabhupada was when he was presented with advanced copies of the Krishna Book during the 1970 Rathayatra, and how he personally sold and signed copies.
After a rather depressing day yesterday for reasons that we needn’t get into, I woke up this morning feeling much better, with the resolve that I would pray to Krishna from now on to either heal me, or kill me, physically speaking of course, since there is no death for the soul. In a way the status of my cancer, namely not getting worse or better, is a metaphor for how I see my life—mediocre, and that just isn’t acceptable any more. I am called to physically, mentally, and emotionally leave my comfort zone, and do what I must.
We are admonished in the Bible to be either hot or cold, but not half-baked. I have been half-baked, with some notable exceptions, about most things my whole life. If I am going to continue to write, speak, travel, minister and help others, than I have to really do it, and by the grace of my gurus and Gaura Nitai, excel at it, or make my best effort and prayers to that effect.
As a number of motivational speakers have discovered and shared, “Reasons come first, answers some second.” Thus I have to have the proper motivation to write, speak, and help others, and then Krishna and his agents will help me find the ways to practically manifest it. I don’t have to know how, just that I must.
Therefore I am going to spend every day chanting, praying, and doing self-healing. I have studied for years in the past and spent thousands of dollars studying healing methods, and even practicing them, but never feeling strong enough about them to really pursue them. So now I have to use them or lose my current physical self.
Life in the material world is difficult and challenging for everyone to different degrees. While we may see in the world great misery and take some consolation that ours are much less, still, initially in the thick of our personal misery, we are still effected and challenged to keep our positivity. Can we use our distressful situation as a negative impetus for spiritual practice? In other words, human life is favorable for spiritual practice when we understand its glaring shortcomings and thus use them to our spiritual advantage by taking shelter of Krishna and his holy names. Prabhupada taught us to "make the best of a bad bargain."
Whether we are able to remain positive even amidst difficulties depends on our personality type, general attitude toward life, and spiritual development, which such small or large misery brings to light. We are called to improve ourselves through the crucible laboratory of suffering or pain.
The following two incidents in the scheme of world suffering are tiny difficulties, and yet they still add a shade to the general color of our lives. Our reactions to even small miseries teach us about ourselves and how well we have dealt with suffering in the past. If we are on an overload of general suffering even a small pain or problem can be overwhelming or we could be so callous that we barely notice. However, if we have handled life reverses well, have a generally stable life situation, and see problems or material miseries as meant for our highest good, we will meet them in our stride. I am sharing this as an opportunity for you to think about your own life and evaluate how you deal with reverses and small or large difficulties, pain, or miseries.