Krishna has a perfect sense of timing. As so often happens in my life, He has helped me in my tiny service. While I was thinking of how to expand my four paragraphs in this second part about affection, I heard a very appropriate tape of a Prabhupada lecture, with pertinent details about feeling that I never remember hearing before: In his travels, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu came to a town where He observed a brahmana who appeared to be reading the Bhagavad-gita. As he was turning its pages, he was sometimes crying. Passersby were mocking this brahmana’s “reading” of the Gita, since it was known that he was illiterate. Curious, Lord Chaitanya humbly approached him and inquired how it was that he was reading the Gita. The brahmana felt the sincerity of Shri Chaitanya’s inquiry, and answered that he was illiterate, but since his guru asked him to daily read the eighteen chapters of the Gita, he was somehow trying to follow his guru’s order by just seeing the pages. "Oh,” asked Lord Chaitanya, “you are not simply seeing it, since you also are crying." "Yes, Maharaja, I am crying also." "Then if you are not reading, how you are crying?" "Maharaja, I am not reading, but I'm feeling the Gita."
René Descartes, considered the father of Western philosophy, is most famous for his statement, “I think, therefore I am”. However, devotees of Krishna, informed with the spiritual knowledge of the Vedas, might better say, “I am, therefore I can think,” which hints that often Western philosophy has it backwards. In other words, from consciousness, or from the soul, flow all our abilities such as thinking, speaking, or communicating, etc. Thinking doesn't make us exist, but our eternal nature allows us to think. While rationality is better than merely animality, or the struggle to meet bodily demands, Lord Chaitanya has taught us that the real gift and facility of human beings is their ability to voluntarily love, and specifically to love Krishna or God. Animals express a limited form of love based on biology and receiving physical necessities, yet human beings have the full potential for loving unconditionally--one another and God. Therefore, we might continue to develop Descartes’ maxim, by rephrasing it further to say, “I love Krishna, therefor I am.”
A week of rain
with more on the way
a full morning
of sadhana and prayer--
My country spot calls me
favorable for contemplation/writing
secluded place by the creek
inspires many themes to share.
As we prepare for prayer
by remembering our dependence
on our Gurus and Krishna
I prepare for the wetness—
(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player needed)
Today, the sun didn’t rise
I kept waiting, perplexed
the wind howled
rain came in sheets
electric power failed
no machines worked
not even computers
I lit candles
the ancient technology
altar Deities again illuminated
“O Lord, what is going on?”
Going upstairs, my wife vanished
“Such things can’t be happening!”
The concept of service is an important one since it involves the true constitution of souls in relationship to God. It is the natural religion of the soul, so to speak, and as I have mentioned previously, it is observable in every person to varying degrees. This topic needs to be thought about from many angles of vision, and thus yet another blog. As so often happens, the last part in this series on service, is what first inspired me to write about it, namely some of my early misconceptions about service, and relating to the world and other people. Having taken up the path of bhakti at the young age of 19, I had many misunderstandings, as did many of my spiritual brothers and sisters. Some of our ideas at that time, though well intended, were quite one-sided, and are not very flattering when looked at today. However, my hope and prayer is that my mistakes and immaturity may help you understand Krishna consciousness in a deeper and more nuanced way than some of us. If we don't admit our mistakes, how can future generations learn to avoid repeating them?
Studying his life reveals
a lifetime of preparation
kindling his fire of devotion
realization of the scriptures
practical knowledge with purity
compassionate perseverance to save us.
Many current or past ideas of service to others have no connection to God, are seen as direct service to God, or replace any idea that God has an existence beyond humanity. For example, the idea of some in India that "manava-seva is madhava-seva" or that "service to man is service to God." It certainly can be service to God, but that depends on one’s intention and one’s goal in life. Why we do what we do is all important and will determine the karmic or spiritual result we obtain, and the degree of benefit for others. Most every person will appreciate service or helping the poor or downtrodden, and it should be done. However, often these same people will criticize religious or spiritual people who may be focused on the spiritual solution to everyone’s problems. Both helping people materially and spiritually are important, yet from a Godly perspective, the most essential service helps awaken others to their real life. As I mentioned in the last blog, this is a sensitive topic because not everyone understands or agrees upon the purpose of life. Some people think that in the face of untold suffering of many people, spiritual pursuits are a luxury.
As souls, we are all individuals with the innate awareness of our serving disposition, but it is now hidden by our identification with matter. Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu taught us that the svarupa, or constitutional nature of the soul, is the rendering of service to Krishna. The more we understand and apply this, the more we spiritually awaken. Our serving nature is explained in code by the concept of dharma, as outlined in Prabhupada’s introduction to his Bhagavad-gita As It Is. The “dharma” of something refers to its nature or quality which can’t be changed. Specifically, sanatana dharma means the nature of the soul to serve God.
In other words, our intrinsic spiritual nature is to serve, and we can’t help but serve, wherever we are in the material or spiritual world. Although not often referred to as service the material world is run by people serving one another in different capacities. Even a small-minded absorption in serving bodily appetites is a limited expression of this natural urge. If the body is not served by food and nourishment, it will die, so we are forced to begin serving at least this much if we want to continue living. We cease being merely animals when we voluntarily give, or sacrifice to benefit others.
For the last few days and up till Saturday, we are blessed to have consecutive festival days in which to remember various incarnations of the Lord, and great devotees. Wednesday was Ekadashi (referred to as the day of Hari, or God), yesterday the appearance of Lord Vamana (the dwarf incarnation) and Shri Jiva Goswami (a principle disciple of Lord Chaitanya and one of the greatest philosophers of India). Today is the appearance day of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, and tomorrow the disappearance of the nam-acharya (great teacher of the holy name) Shrila Haridas Thakur. There are many such days throughout the year, and they are meant to remind us of God, and his most devoted souls who live to share their realizations of life and God with us forgetful souls. By taking up Krishna consciousness or the path of pure devotion (suddha bhakti) we can live our life, work at our profession, and take care of our families while also making spiritual progress by cultivating knowledge of, and feelings for Krishna, and remembering Him through every moment of the day. Such special days help us to do this.
Whenever I sit down to write, I imagine us being two dear friends having an ongoing conversation. My attempt is to share my convictions and faith (or even doubts and struggles) with you and speak something that may resonate with your mind, and ultimately your spiritual heart. There is so much philosophy in Gaudiya Vaishnavism just to satisfy our intellect, but for that knowledge to affect us, it has to be activated through the convictions and experiences of a devotee with some spiritual standing. From that perspective I am at a bit of a deficit, yet I am praying to be empowered to be helpful to others on their spiritual journey—whether a newcomer, or long standing spiritual bhakti practitioner. Although we are meant to awaken our spiritual humility as given by Shri Chaitanya (trnadapi sunicena, being humble like the grass, and tolerant like the tree as given in the third verse of Sri Sri Shikshastakam ), this also includes the confidence that we can be blessed to act as Divine instruments to help others, regardless of where we are on the devotional journey.