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.
Although Truth is beautiful, it may also seem stark, and be disconcerting by challenging our misconceptions and illusions. The analogy of decorating a dead body at a funeral, frequently used by our spiritual master, Shrila Prabhupada, may seem insensitive or gross. However, I hope you will see that this view is only a matter of perspective which comes from seeing a person as their body. The fact that we are all eternal spiritual beings temporarily associated with our current body is considered the ABC’s of spiritual life. At the same time, it isn’t easy to apply this truth from realization, even for transcendentalists who accept the theory of transmigration of the soul. This is the case because real comprehension only gradually occurs through spiritual practice, combined with the grace of God. Spiritual knowledge and truth go against our material education and conditioning, or the status quo of conventional civilization, so we need a powerful process of spiritual awakening like Krishna consciousness, or bhakti yoga, to awaken us from the dream of bodily identification.
The process of bhakti yoga, or Krishna consciousness, is entirely based on the power of prayer and remembrance of Krishna. As students of consciousness and the Vedic literature, such as the Bhagavad Gita, we learn that (put very simply) our mental absorption determines our destiny. Some people understand this, though for the most part, don’t realize the connection of God to these laws (He is their source, and they exist to bring us to him). They think mind is supreme. I am not saying that, but I am pointing out the basic principle that sustains material existence. As the American philosopher, Emerson said (who was inspired by the Vedas), “A person becomes what they think about all day long”. This could have been taken from the Gita’s Eighth chapter, where we learn, “Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail.”, and the specific application for bhakti practitioners: “And whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body remembering Me alone at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt”.
In my youth it was sort of a fad to climb a near-by mountain and watch the sun set. A beautiful sight awaited those of us who ventured to the top of this small mountain, and it seemed special, and certainly peaceful. This is an everyday event that is seldom noticed as we hurry along to our next destination, which however, may evoke some deeper reflections about our existence—which it did for me. One problem with normal life informed only by modern media, is that we become conditioned to see the extraordinary and profound, as common place (or only for economic gain), and we can lose the message that these events or things are meant to teach us. If we are to change our life for the best, we have to change our angle of vision. The Shrimad Bhagavatam and other such Vedic scriptures are meant to help us develop our appreciation for the lessons in life and Nature. One verse in the Bhagavatam inspired this blog: “Both by rising and by setting, the sun decreases the duration of life of everyone, except one who utilizes the time by discussing topics of the all-good Personality of Godhead.”
As a nineteen year old living in the redwood forests near San Francisco, California, I became tuned in to myself and my spiritual feelings, and the forces of Nature, which we often become forgetful of in today’s world of gadgets and things. I now appreciate how the juxtaposition of my simple life (I had given up my education, relationship, and employment) with my past life’s unfinished spiritual practice, naturally fostered a spiritual awakening. This was fueled by my existential crisis, without which I couldn’t have turned toward a spiritual path. When we are not distracted and in a receptive mood we can notice many things we formally missed.
Another way to answer the question posed in my last blog, “On Seeing Krishna?” is that we aren’t trying to see Krishna, but to serve Krishna. At present, we don’t have the spiritual eyes, or qualification to really see him. Even if Krishna were right before us, we could very well miss him, or misunderstand him, as did some envious persons when Krishna was on this planet five thousand years ago. Prabhupada often taught us that we will hear Krishna before we see him. Generally we “see” Krishna through serving him as well as his devotees. Pure devotees carry Krishna within their heart, constantly hearing and chanting about him, and share their realizations to those who want to hear. Therefore, we first hear or see Krishna through the example and teachings of such great souls. Through their chanting of the holy name, we are inspired to also chant, and we practice seeing through hearing our personal japa (soft repetition of the mantra on beads), and through singing with others in kirtana.
An educated, wealthy man came to hear a talk given by our spiritual master’s guru, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Thakur. After the discourse, the man requested a private audience with the learned saint. Considering the man’s position, the great guru agreed, and in a short while the two faced one another in a beautiful garden. Unbeknownst to either of them, a new disciple of Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta had raced to this spot and hidden in the bushes, fascinated to know what the man would ask his guru. The man look in all directions to make sure they were alone, and asked his host, “Have you seen Krishna?” Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati replied that this was not a spiritual question. If he said that he hadn’t seen Krishna, the man would discount him, whereas if he said he had seen Krishna, he would seem proud.
Since computers have a huge impact on us, analogies are frequently made comparing their inner workings to our lives. Though I realize I am not being original here, computer analogies have been useful for me in thinking and speaking about many of our struggles in practicing spiritual life. I hope this one will be of value to you as well in helping put your life in a spiritual perspective. For instance, computers have default settings which they automatically use, or revert to. Applying this idea philosophically, material bodies are vehicles and fields of action for the soul’s attempts to manipulate and enjoy matter. Souls are the perceiver, and conscious awareness of the body, making it appear alive. In this situation, the soul gives up its natural freedom to be under the control of physical, mental, and emotional urges for basic survival of the body, production of progeny to continue our species, and for the fulfillment of our karmic destiny—these are our personal, and human default settings.