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.
My desire was to read and write something about Shri Radha for her appearance day, or Radhastami, but I had too many other things to do in her service. Where I live, this holy day is on Sunday the 4th of September. Often we have to do things when they can be done, so my son came to help me with some home projects, and I am also studying for Bhakti-sastri (a course of study of my guru, Shrila Prabhapada's basic books, like his Bhagavad-gita As It Is). Tomorrow I will be cooking for Shri Radha, and then going to a nearby devotee Temple with incredibly lovely Radha Krishna Deities. We expect a big crowd, so after arotik and kirtan, we will come to our home for a reading and prasad, or sanctified vegetarian food. For our guests I had to clean the house in preparation. This is a different type of cleaning then just working for our family (which is not bad, mind you), but this cleaning and everything we do around the home, we endeavor to do it as an offering to our gurus, and Radha Krishna. Preparation for festivals is often more enlivening than the festivals themselves when we are fixed in a devotional mood. Though it is late and tomorrow will be full, rich, and busy, I at least wanted to say a few words about Radha, and also give you some special prayers for meditating on, and receiving her favor.
(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player needed)
Have you ever been down
then cheered up in the rain?
listening to soothing downpour
watching the wonder of water
mist caressing your face
feeling Krishna amidst beauty
rainlike tears share your grief
thunder shakes the house
Wow! Krishna is great,
powerful, yet dearest friend.
An interesting exercise for all of us is to think of ways that we remember, or could remember, Krishna, along with verses to support them. Krishna consciousness means, among other things, to remember and serve Krishna in love, so remembering Him is essential for those on the path of bhakti. A few blogs ago I spoke of seeing Krishna within everyone and everything and gave one example of thundershowers. Now I will further examine what I find of particular significance, relating it to Krishna. I hope you will think of your own examples of things that remind you of Krishna, or apply some of mine.
The most basic absorption of conditioned souls is their body. Even those who are devotees of Krishna use their body for service and are conscious of it. To me, of notable interest, is the changing condition of the body—especially old age, which I really notice.
(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player needed)
Hearing from a visiting sadhu
enlightening talk brings rain
celestial celebration jolts us
the firmament rejoices
I read till the fireworks cease
rising at 3:33 a.m.
being tired, a truth not considered
ablutions, then donning dancing dress
face and body decorated with tilak
for the stage performance, dress rehearsal
waking our Deities with grateful prayers
I hurry out the door, scurry to the car
greeted by the happy trees, plants, grass
fat and satisfied after sufficient water
driving to the Temple hearing
eternal truths lovingly spoken.