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 introspect 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 I have a natural tendency for, when the conditions are right—like herpes.
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. I also remembered our routine of reading “Nectar of Devotion” and “Krishna Book” while we sipped hot milk and ate popcorn. I never doubted—what to some people are fantastic stories—but felt more and more connected to Krishna by hearing his pastimes. When I think of it, my attitude was truly amazing and shows my open and innocent heart as a very young, tender 19 year old. I had only been a devotee a short time, and yet hearing about Krishna was so faith building. I was still basking on the energy from my spiritual existential search and felt no need to question the teaching.
Krishna's lila or pastimes are inconceivable and can't be understood with material logic alone.
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.
As I prepared last week to give a Sunday class in Hillsborough (video at the end of this blog), along with researching and thinking of the topic of levels of secrets (from the most mundane to the most sublime) I also contemplated the topic of speaking to others from our Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. The archetypal “class” is Maharaja Parikshit being instructed by Shri Shukadeva Goswami. Both of them have special qualifications being pure devotees of Krishna, and yet the whole class was fueled by the urgent necessity of Parikshit Maharaja, since he was cursed to die in seven days, and sought the best way to use his remaining time.
According to Shrila Visvanath Chakravarti Thakur, of the three types of people benefited by talks about Krishna—the questioner, the hearer, and the speaker—the speaker is the most benefited. Never the less, without the ardent interest, fueled by an urgent necessity to hear, the speaker won’t be as motivated to speak. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam, which records the conversation between these two great souls, Shukadeva frequently glorifies the questions of his student being enlivened at the opportunity to speak about that which he has such feelings for.
Therefore, as exemplified by this conversation, as well as in many scriptures including the Bhagavad-gita, both speaker and listener have responsibilities. For example, being advanced devotees with the urgency to speak and hear helps make the conversations an inspired one, and takes it to new heights of spirituality and insightfulness. While we may not be on the level of such high devotees, we can none the less be as reverential, attentive and prayerful as possible, whether we are speaker or listener, and be mindful of the sublimity of the process we are following.
Otherwise, out of our familiarity with the process of attending or giving a class, we may minimize its benefit and have a material vision of what it’s about. If we become complacent in our spiritual lives we may skip the class or think it is just for new people. However, if we truly realize our perilous situation in the material world and have an urgent necessity to make spiritual advancement we will do as much as possible to make spiritual progress.
The Origin of Secrets and their Reflection in the World
I am finding the subject of secrets very rich, deep and important. The existence of secrets is all-pervading, and it all begins in the spiritual world, where its true purpose is to facilitate the loving pastimes of Krishna and his devotees. For example, Krishna’s relationship with Radha and the gopis, while suspected by a few, is a secret kept from Krishna’s parents, which intensifies their love and the passion of their meeting. The fear of separation and being found out intensifies the emotions and value of being with one another. Everything in that world is according to Krishna’s desire, even those who appear to create so-called impediments to Krishna’s secret love rendezvous with his greatest lovers.
The distorted reflection of these secrets is found in the tabloids or in rumors and secrets of movie stars and other famous people. Every person has some secret they don’t want others to know, as do families, communities, nations, religious groups or institutions, and ruling powers in any organization or government. Keeping secrets is the business of the false ego which thinks of friends and enemies and endeavors to protect our false sense of material identity from harm or criticism. We also criticize others to protect our secrets and divert attention from ourselves.
In this world there are ordinary, special, and the greatest secrets of all, as hinted about in the Bhagavad Gita, and then expanded upon in the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita. While the most secret and confidential knowledge of Krishna’s Godhood and the means to obtain him need to be the basis of our lives, there are other secrets, the ignorance of, or lack of application of, create many problems in our ordinary lives and in spiritual practices. We might know these secrets in theory and yet not apply them in our own lives. One of the most important secrets is widely known, though often difficult to apply, and revolves around our relationship with ourselves.
THE IMPORTANCE OF OPPOSITION AND LIFE REVERSES: In the lives of great persons there is always opposition and apparent road blocks in accomplishing their goals or mission in life. Whether through another person, an accident, their own body or mind, or some natural disturbance, what appears on the surface to be an impediment is passed through and the glory of the person is revealed.
Practically we can see that great success in any undertaking or field is not accomplished without passing through many setbacks and even failure. In the personal growth or success literature such perseverance and determination in the face of what seem insurmountable odds are part of any great person’s story.
In Christianity we have Judas who betrayed Christ but was actually a facilitator of his mission to sacrifice his life to benefit others. Haridas Thakur being whipped in 21 market places, or being tempted by a prostitute sent by a envious person, only added to his glory as the great teacher of the holy name.
Without the atrocities of Hiranyakashipu, Prahlad’s glories would not have been revealed, and we would have never heard of him. Dhurva Maharaja’s step mother forbidding him to be favored by his father helped him realize the strength of his determination and his eventual favor by the Lord. What would have happened if Krishnadas Kaviraja, the author of Chaitanya Charitamrita, had not left his brother's home? Without the devastating rains sent be Indra, Krishna would have had no necessity to lift Govardhan Hill.
Imagine Prabhupada easily receiving his first visa and other papers for travel, or if instead of sailing on the Jaladuta he would have just hopped on a plane and was met with instant success in America. We glorify great persons not for the ease of their lives but because of the great odds they overcame. Without Arjuna's dilemma there would be no Bhagavad Gita to light our path out of darkness. Had Emperor Pariksit not been cursed to die, we would have no Shrimad Bhagavatam to lead us on the path of bhakti...and on and on, as the examples are many in scriptures and life....
PRAYING FOR BETTER RELATIONSHIPS AND HEALING OUR HEART: Yesterday we celebrated the disappearance of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Gadadhara Pandita and honored our relationship with them, and as we contemplated our independence (July 4th) from the material modes of nature, we contemplated the subject of relationships in general, since life is about relationships. There is nothing like relationships to severely test our ideals and demonstrate the spiritual work we have to do with ourselves.
We hunger for those who love and understand us, who nurture us, bringing out our best qualities, but also allow us to be ourselves, imperfections and all. However, if we are to have good relationships with others, we are required to have a good relationship with ourselves. For those of us who are theists, self-acceptance is greatly helped by our acceptance and positive relationship with our Source, or God, to me, Krishna. Self-acceptance and positive self-esteem are intertwined with our loving relationship with God, who we are part of.
Relationships open a door to reveal who are and what we are made of, being compared in the past to a threshing floor for separating the wheat from the chaff. Love and acceptance have been compared to the wheat, whereas our self-centered fears and criticism are like the chaff. By our endeavor aided by prayer we can crack the protective husk of our fears and release the delicious, nourishing essence. We could also think of relationships to be like a laboratory which can produce both useful and harmful chemicals.
Yesterday I had another PET or full body scan. I rose around my usual time but had to be especially focused on finishing my morning duties before I had to leave at 7: 15 AM. Thus I chanted my japa, or my morning meditation on the names of God, first thing, read for a few minutes, and jumped into the shower. Donning devotional attire and tilak I went downstairs to wake the Deities with official prayers, and then offering my prayers for the day and my life—to offer it for the best service possible and to benefit as many people as possible.
I began my morning worship of my shilas and all our Deities. Preparing their breakfast and then offering my Lords their bath, arotik, and food offering, I removed the worship paraphernalia and offering trays from the altar and washed everything. I packed up what was now Prasad, or sanctified food, since I had to fast from food and drink. Then I packed all the herbal remedies, potions and pills, and changed into my regular dress. I packed my computer, iPod for listening to lectures, and books to read and distribute. Saying goodbye to my wife and making my last prayers to our Deities that they may accompany and guide me, I was out the door and on the road, on time.
Driving can be a time for listening to lectures and contemplate what I hear, and also a time for deep thought about my life, and life and death in general. We are bombarded with reminders of the four fold miseries (re-birth, old age, disease, and death) on the Net and throughout our day. I am supposed to be happy that the US Air-force killed 250 ISIS fighters, and sad with the unfortunate death of 50 persons at a night club in Florida.
What about all the bugs my car kills on my windshield or grill, or the many animals or “roadkill” splattered on the side or in the middle of the road? Down the road GMO corn is grown, while the bee, song bird and frog populations are diminishing as Roundup poisons go into the groundwater and forests are made into paper. Problems are everywhere.
Part 1 FINDING OUR MATERIAL SELVES TO HELP US FIND OUR SPIRITUAL SELF and Part 2 FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT
Part 1 FINDING OUR MATERIAL SELVES TO HELP US FIND OUR SPIRITUAL SELF: I have thought and written much about what it takes to stay the course in bhakti for our whole life, as well as to how not to settle into a comfortable religious life not intensely focused on making spiritual advancement. They are related subjects though usually spoken of separately. I am thinking mostly about what kind of unique guidance should be provided devotees of different ages, needs, and personality types.
Everyone is best served by tailor-made guidance which takes into consideration a person’s age, years of spiritual practice, material necessity and nature, and all-around maturity. I bring up the topic because most of us didn’t receive this type of guidance and suffered accordingly. I am challenged to succinctly present this in the bite size form of a blog, as there are so many aspects to consider, so please take this as food for thought to be expanded upon.
When I and those of my generation lived in ashrams during our young and inexperienced years some of us just plugged into the bhakti process without really understanding our nature and if we could live primarily spiritually focused for the long haul. To learn how to center our lives totally on active seva is valuable, though it’s often unsustainable due to our surfacing desires and conditioning. This should be made clear to every new devotee, so they don’t feel guilty if they have to leave the ashram, or need to address some pressing concern in their marriage.