Lord Nrisimhadeva’s divine appearance day celebration is certainly one of my favorite occasions, and I am sure I am not alone in this. Our Christian friends are fond of quoting the Bible that “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” [John 3.16] and we could also say that God so loved his pure devotee in the world that he personally descended to give him all protection.
To this day devotees feel protected by this form of Krishna and pray to him to slay their “anarthas” or unwanted habits of thinking and acting, just as the Lord slayed Hiryanakashipu, the tormentor of his devotee, Shri Prahlad. While Gaudiya Vaishnavas can agree to having great faith in one’s particular agent of Divinity or conception of God—even thinking their path and face of God is the best—Vedic scriptures point to a more inclusive God that reciprocates according to one’s faith, and doesn’t condone fanaticism or war in the name of faith. There is only one God, though like a gem with many facets, the one God has unlimited expansions. “As they surrender to me, I proportionally reciprocate with them.” [Bhagavad Gita 4.11]
The “one path” to be celebrated would be pure devotion and not merely the externals of worship or which name of God one favors which, unfortunately, religionists fight over. How God reciprocates with those who worship him is expressed in many different forms in the religious world and to different degrees of purity. This is to be celebrated as the mercy of the Lord and the types of devotion that exist.
The topic of why I write and how my cancer diagnosis was the fuel to my publishing my new free verse poem book, My Yoga of Expression, serves as in introduction to the book, and my hope to give you sufficient reason to obtain your own copy. Yet, I don't consider this just self promotion because my purpose in writing in addition to being my service is one way I aim to give support and encouragement to those involved in bhakti, as well as to introduce seekers to new possibilities for their spiritual search. Additionally, it is a testimony that with every difficulty, reverse, or life challenge, there is always a gift to discover. So I also write and speak with new urgency to demonstrate this--how cancer has become a great impetus for my fulfilling what I consider my life work. With a deeper, faithful, spiritual look, everything is mercy from the Lord. This I pray to convey so you so may think about it should you have to personally deal with a life threatening illness, or with a loved one:
(While I have shared my story a great deal, here I show how I have grown from my upbringing and immature practice of bhakti. Now I see everything in my life is by divine order to help me on the human and spiritual level. In that sense, it is all good! I am also stressing that everyone's life story is important to learn from.) Ten years after taking up the path of bhakti, at 30 years old, I was given a journal. Over the next 20 years I regularly wrote about myself and events I was confronting. As a child, I learned to be a very shut down or emotionally unavailable person as a defense against my raging alcoholic father. While the misery I experienced growing up was part of the catalyst for my spiritual search, I still would have to deal with it and become at peace with my past. I couldn’t flush my history as I wanted to or just ignore it, thinking I would be able to transcend the world and its demands in a short time of hearing and chanting.
That would come later, but when I lived as a brahmacari monk for nine years, I dressed my disengagement from life and who I was as a person in the clothes of detachment and self-effacing humility. At the same time, those formative years of service and the spiritual reciprocation I experienced doing “emergency devotional service” as a pujari and cook, became the spiritual bedrock for my later life, enabling me to not be completely lost during the turbulent days after the departure of my guru, Shrila Prabhupada.
As I matured as a person this placid persona—which was actually a way to wall myself off from life and relationships—no longer worked for me. As a result of this realization, for the first time in my life, I was impelled to understand who I was in my body and mind—before that I was consumed with my spiritual quest. I gradually realized that to fully embrace the spiritual I had to use my conditioned nature to its fullest and most empowered expression, rather than deny or repress it.
WHAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT? I have thought about and discussed this general idea many times, yet to me, it is always super essential, as what is important to us--really, really important, not just in theory, but what we feel in our heart and emotions--defines us and tells us where we are going in life. At one point in my life, having a relationship was my all defining absorption, and I was always on the lookout for that. At another time, finding myself materially--who I was in this body and what kind of work I should do, consumed my thinking and hankering.
Now, after many years of living, of finding what for me as been an ideal loving relationship, and my work as a writer, speaker, and healer, now, as I still meditate on death, even as my tumor is shrinking, I look into my heart beyond just wanting material desires that just go with my conditioned identity, or the lusts of the flesh, which I acknowledge as one part of me, but have done my best to make it only muzak in the background, I have to say that my devotion to Krishna is the most important aspect of my life.
I consider this the fruit of my years of practice, even though it has not reached the pitch of an all-encompassing, self-defining state, I still feel it, as I do during my worship and at times throughout the day as I pray and call out, "Please help me," or "Let me realize my full devotional potential and my service to others," etc, and it gives me hope of the person I am becoming. I want to give this energy and focus, and not merely the insanity and scandals of the larger world, or our devotional world. While I acknowledge that there are many important causes that need to be addressed, and I am glad that some people are,
WHO IS THE PERSON YOU THINK YOU ARE, & DO YOU ASPIRE TO IMPROVE? and TALKING & PRAYING TO KRISHNA BY OURSELVES AND IN A GROUP
WHO IS THE PERSON YOU THINK YOU ARE, AND DO YOU ASPIRE TO IMPROVE?; NATURE VERSUS NURTURE, OR KARMA VERSUS FREE WILL?: At this point in my life I am doing my best to really understand what is true and what we can all do to be the best person possible, both on the human and spiritual level.
I know what it is like to either focus on the spiritual in theory while neglecting the material, as well as those whose total emphasis is on material progress, often at the cost of the environment and any possibility of spiritual growth and factoring God into their lives—and everything in-between. I have personal experience and life is full of teachers who model that which is to be avoided, and a few who model the ideal in various arenas, to varying degrees.
Spiritual growth isn’t about denying our material needs, and material life can’t be perfected without a relationship to God. We have to become masters of ourselves and our attitude and in creating a positive self-image that is realistic and full of promise, and incorporate this in relationship to making spiritual progress.
Many people have a very low opinion of themselves—almost everyone who comes for counseling—or they can hide this fact by showing an inflated sense of whom they actually are. In my view our character is everything, or how we walk our talk, or live what we speak and profess as our ideal.
LIVING SPIRITUAL PRACTICE AND OUR SPIRITUAL RESPONSIBILITY: Living spiritual practice means that we experience how Krishna consciousness works in our personal lives. It means knowing what we’re inspired by, and that we’re able to both determine and admit where we fall short—otherwise, how can we be helped? Then we have to believe, or pray to develop the faith, that we can change for the better—because we aren’t our past or poor opinion of ourselves—and are valuable and lovable as souls—spiritual positive self-esteem.
Knowing that we need help and encouragement, and being willing to ask—and pray—for it, is a big step in a successful and joyful life. As it is commonly said, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” We need to gradually take 100 % responsibility for our lives and yet be open to Krishna’s guidance and see the results of our endeavors as feedback. We both endeavor and pray. We act as if everything depends on us, while knowing that everything depends on the Lord’s mercy.
Our spiritual responsibility is to act with, or pray to act with, faith, devotion, determination, and confidence without attachment to the results, which we know come from Krishna. Practice with prayer makes perfect. Whatever results come we see as, and offer to, Krishna—if we do so we obtain, in Krishna’s words, “unadulterated peace” [BG 5.12]. “In all activities just depend upon Me and work always under My protection. In such devotional service, be fully conscious of Me.” [BG 18.57]
[ A note written a week later from publishing this: I find it fascinating to understand why certain blogs are favored over others. It remains a mystery to me. I think that sometimes I am misunderstood as favoring a casual approach to bhakti. I am not. I am promoting pure devotional service, being fully engaged in our bhakti practices, and aspiring for the highest stages of prema. However, speaking from my long experience and observation of others, I am stressing that devotees shouldn't neglect or repress their physical/emotional requirements in the name of spiritual advancement. I have seen too many devotees leave on account of this extreme position.
Thus when I write, I also speak with a certain caution, that although we should stretch ourselves, we should be careful not to break, or go beyond our limits, and this requires considerable maturity--and sometimes we may even attract a certain disease to force us to slow down and also do our personal inner work or fulfill our mission and service to our Gurus and Shri Chaitanya. As I mentioned in other blogs, giving and receiving must go on simultaneously, or we will often "burn out."
We are recommended to be "active listeners or readers" and not just be passive, but do our best to understand what is being said, and also ask questions to help us go deeper. As I have often said I share so much of my personal story so you can better understand my thinking. Every speaker and writer has a certain angle of vision and perspective from their life experience and personality as well as their level of spiritual advancement. I find this very helpful to understanding what is being presented. ]
WAITING FOR ETERNITY WE FORGET TO LIVE TODAY: When I was a new devotee I often reflected that within a few years that special flower airplane would take me back to Godhead, and so I had no worries. Ten years later I realized my thinking was wishful and I had to deal with living in the world. Gaudiya Vaishnavism, or living with a consciousness or remembrance of Krishna, isn’t life denying but life affirming. In the beginning we may be overly anxious to get out of the material world to the extent that aren't able to be present and aware of our life lessons and what is required for the long haul of a life time of service.
For those who came to this path of bhakti in great distress, having bottomed out materially, our personal necessities take a while to embrace because we are able to put them on hold to facilitate our spiritual practices, and then we may continue to be more more comfortable denying, than facing, them. In such a condition we relish hearing how bad the material world is, which confirms that we aren’t crazy for experiencing our distress, frustration, or depression in what appears to be a pointless, miserable world. However, there are two side to sharing our spiritual lives--one is the shortcomings of material life, and two, the bliss of devotional service and chanting the holy name. Both are important and have to be embraced in a balanced, mature way, depending on our stage of life.
What do you believe about your self
and what do you actually have faith in—
that is so much a part of you
it’s invisible, hidden, yet constant
like the air you breathe?
You hardly perceive it
but it’s your sense of self
that gives you a life attitude
like the scent of your body
which life, people and dogs can smell.
It follows you everywhere
like your shadow
determining how you think
what you give energy to by attention.
Coloring your outlook
it’s what you project onto life
WHAT DO YOU REALLY LIVE FOR TODAY, AND WHAT PURPOSE ARE YOU WILLING TO GIVE YOUR ENTIRE LIFE FOR? Part 1 & 2
Part 1: I wrote about the topic last night, and this morning during my reading and chanting, I gained insight and some clarity. One point is that within a problem is always the solution, if we don’t try too hard. Sometimes we have to let the answer come in its own time and take the time to be quiet, calm, relaxed, and wait with positive expectancy.
For example, leaves fall in autumn on their natural internal schedule. The bulbs flower in the late winter when it is their time. The baby in the womb is born when it’s ready. Every one of us has our own process of becoming, acting or just being.
Part of a successful life is just finding one’s natural direction, and being able to accept what is now, not thinking we can force outcomes by our will. We still endeavor, but in our own way. For me, “my way,” is gentle determination after having decided on a goal.
I’m not an official warrior, and yet, I find the energy and fixed purpose of the warrior attractive, perhaps because in the past I was such a timid, tepid, tentative, indifferent person. This nature has appeared to be a problem to be struggled against, but now it seems to hold the key to accomplishing my life’s work!
I am attracted to the hero’s quest to obtain the sacred object or save the world, or superheroes that continually save the day. How can I use this inspiration according to my nature? What about your nature--how can you use this to help your spiritual life?
THE IMPORTANCE OF COMBINING “HORIZONTAL” GROWTH WITH “VERTICAL” GROWTH and THE POWER OF LOVE TO REVEAL OUR OCCUPATION
THE IMPORTANCE OF COMBINING “HORIZONTAL” GROWTH WITH “VERTICAL,” OR SPIRITUAL, GROWTH: Much of what I write about could be called “horizontal” growth, or tools, thinking processes, angles of vision, or making the mind our friend, that while in of themselves are not counted as bhakti, they're essential for it, and to me, inseparable for remaining, or becoming, an enthusiastic devotee, and happy human being—the spiritual and material sides of life. Horizontal growth means in the broadest sense being a balanced person strongly influenced by the mode of goodness, where our physical, emotional, mental, and intellectual requirements are naturally addressed, but in such a way as to be made favorable for bhakti practices.
To put this in devotee lingo, we could say this is within the purpose of the socio-religious system of Varnasrama, but to me, without the baggage. Without getting into the details, formally designating a person as this or that varna appears counter-productive in today’s world. However, we can serve its purpose by helping devotees discover and deal with their life issues, become balanced and happy human beings, and find an occupation, and possibly a mate, that compliments their natural proclivities, all within the context of spiritual advancement.
Many devotees struggle from not addressing their past or personal life issues which bleed into their spiritual lives and can make it difficult to avoid making aparadhas or offenses to others and in fully absorbing themselves in sadhana, which is the ultimate healing method. In such a condition we have a divided mind and our out of integrity and in conflict with ourselves.
Some say to me, “You only need to chant Hare Krishna!”
Sure, if you can chant purely without distraction, and are happy in the process—go for it. I am all for that, and see the purpose of personal growth work as total absorption in the spiritual life.