As a youth and even as a young devotee
I never really thought about my death
as strange as it may seem
I was insulated living in a college town
no relationship with anyone who died
while living with, and noticing only the young—
I didn’t practically realize that every day's a gift
when I spoke it to others, it was only theory.
We learn that hearing from scripture
is the best evidence of material life’s shortcomings,
yet most need experience which gets our attention
A Christian asked me, incredulously, “Why would anyone take to Krishna consciousness? He was satisfied with his religion and felt that not only could it— and should it—meet anyone’s needs, but if it failed to do so and one took up another religion, then that was the fast track to hell. Of course, it is not only Christians who curiously ask this question, but people trying to make sense of a path which seems foreign to them as Westerners. Strange clothes, practices, worship, language, scriptures, and with a transcendent goal they can’t relate to: “The spiritual world of Radha and Krishna, which is named after cows (Goloka)—come on now!” Although they may still not like or understand this path, they may be more understanding of devotees of Krishna who are born in India, where bhakti and Hinduism are the norm.
One psychic told me, “If I was supposed to be a Hindu, I would have been born in India.” Although Krishna may appear Indian since knowledge of him comes from scriptures which appeared there, the spiritual quest is for every soul. Those who have embarked on a spiritual search—either from the West or East—and found that the practice of bhakti spoke deeply to them, weren’t looking for a Hindu God or process, but for answers to their deepest questions and dilemmas. They see Bhagavad Gita and other Vedic literature as universal—the culture of the soul, not any particular land. Krishna claims to be the father of all living beings, which excludes neither country, nor species.
(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player needed)
People we meet or know who impress us the most are those that extend us kindness and heartfelt interest. We may appreciate a person’s beauty, strength, wealth, knowledge, fame, or renunciation (qualities Krishna has in full), but if a person is not kind it stands out like a huge blemish. A lessor person who is kind and friendly appears more valuable, and greater. Of the twenty-six qualities of a devotee given in the great Gaudiya Vaishnava scripture, Shri Chaitanya Charitamrita, we find that kindness to others is the very first quality. Therefore, being a being an advanced devotee of Krishna means to be kind by nature. The six Goswamis disciples of Lord Chaitanya were “popular both to the gentle and with the ruffians”. Everyone appreciated them because of their equanimity and kindness.
I used to hear some married devotees assert how they didn’t want to be mediocre in their life and service. At the time (about twenty-two years ago) I couldn’t relate, and wondered what they were talking about. However, at present, I know exactly what they meant—well, perhaps not exactly, since I didn’t discuss it with them—but I can say that I relate to that statement very much at this time of my life. Why is this? Looking at definitions of mediocre in the dictionary should make this more clear: “of moderate or low quality, value, ability, or performance: ordinary, so-so; neither good nor bad; barely adequate; rather poor or inferior.” Add these ideas to the word devotee, husband/father, wife/mother, provider, professional—pick any word from your life pursuits—and it is easy to not want to be mediocre. You might want to think about this concept in your life. This point is brought out in the Christian Bible in a helpful way, as readers are told that one should be either hot or cold, but not lukewarm!
Combined small efforts are what great achievements are made of. Everyone likes the results of hard labor, but many are hesitant to put in the necessary, often tedious, strenuous work. We want a lot of money, to be president, to win first place in something, to write a bestselling book, or to be a spiritual person, but find it difficult to imagine how we could get there from where we are now. Many of us have heard the famous Chinese proverb, “To begin the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Simple idea, isn’t it? Yet this simple advice is often missed, turning out to be rather profound. Taking the first step provides a key to achieving any success—we must begin, and remain fixed on the goal till victory is obtained. Remaining on the fence of indecision takes us nowhere. If we want something strongly enough we will find a way to accomplish it, though initially our steps will look insignificant. In addition to determination, we require Krishna’s blessings in order to accomplish anything worthwhile.
I find it useful to think of labels as soft or hard, liquid or frozen, flexible or ridged—and some categories as in-betweens as well. So I am labeling labels (!), yet this is a helpful process, so we don’t become used, or limited by them. This is a means of stepping back from life to evaluate the position we take on things, or types and groups of people. Being on autopilot may be easier, but can also be dangerous. Devotees of Krishna are meant to be thoughtful, not reactive persons, who endeavor to see with a spiritual eye gained from the scriptures, association of advanced, broadminded sages, and their own inner experience.
Hearing about other people’s experiences, and especially what they gained from them, can open up new possibilities that hadn’t occurred for us before. My hope is that we can all derive benefit from thinking about my forest dwelling days, and that you will also ponder your own past, searching for wisdom gems. As the Greek philosopher Socrates wisely admonished us, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Applying this principle, my lifestyle at the time practically demonstrates an important point I have mentioned before: by simplifying our life, being in a peaceful environment, and studying ancient spiritual wisdom, we often gain insight into the meaning of life, and our purpose in the world. Exactly how those three things affect one depends on the spirituality carried with us from past lives. Thus I became aware of many perspectives for the first time. Seeing the limitations of labels was one.
As I have often shared in blogs, in the beginning of my spiritual search I lived alone on a mountainside, above an old growth redwood forest park (Muir Woods), across the bay from San Francisco. I pray I haven’t exhausted you with this narrative, which for me was so spiritually formative, and powerful. I present lessons I haven't shared before from those days, which I continue to build on. I gravitated toward actions considered favorable for spiritual practice and yoga. Rising at the day’s first light, with the stars as my roof, I felt the push of urgency to find meaning, because ordinary materialistic life seemed pointless, and increasingly, I didn’t fit in. There arose in me a sense that by living in, and observing Nature, while studying ancient spiritual books, I could understand my place, and what I should be doing with my life.
Forces of Material Nature
a two edged sword
dishing out physical miseries
simultaneously beautiful, sublime
as Krishna’s purposeful energy.
Darkening sky, distant thunder approaches
winds majestically allow the trees to dance
while the squirrel eats mulberries
the birds chew wild cherries
we sit, waiting, for the main show.
The science, or art, of Krishna consciousness is not a negative theology, even though some scholars, or casual readers, are quick to label it as such. If parts of the yogic assessment of material life don’t seem very encouraging or positive, it is because this is only half of a larger picture. Life in itself is not condemned, but material life with no spiritual dimension, is. Criticism of the material world is always in this context, and is meant to put our conventional life, and sense of self, in perspective so we may be encouraged to understand our soul, and relationship to God. There are two primary impetuses for spiritual cultivation. One is the misery of a purely selfish, spiritually disconnected life, and the other is the higher taste of spiritual cultivation and activities. I have written about this is in another blog, Negative and Positive Impetus for Bhakti (http://www.krishna.com/blog/2007/10/1/positive-and-negative-impetus-bhakti). I am giving this introduction because my last blog about decorating a dead body, might seem like a curious contrast to today’s piece on flowers.