Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chanting in Times of Distress and Suffering

Isn't it ironic that when we're experiencing the highest degree of material suffering, anxiety and despair that we have an increased interest in chanting the Holy Name of Sri Krishna? Isn't Queen Kunti our ideal in the way that she prayed to Sri Krishna for more and more calamities and suffering if it would be the cause of her remembering Krishna? It's a fact that when we're suffering we naturally cry out for help. But what about those times when the suffering and distractions are so great that it actually has the reverse effect? In other words, what if our suffering causes us to lose faith in Krishna and in chanting the Holy Name?

Sometimes when everything is going wrong and you're completely bogged down by the weight of material responsibilities and obligations there's no time and no room to think of Krishna. More importantly there's no interest in chanting Krishna's Holy Names. If we've spent all day at work dealing with difficult people and we come home and have to clean and cook and spend time with our family, then by the evening time we just want to lay down and "space out" by watching TV or surfing the Internet. But why isn't our relaxation time filled with chanting the Holy Name and connecting with Krishna? Why do we have no interest for that after being bombarded by the material energy all day long?

The thing that is so difficult for us to grasp is that it's really only the Holy Name and the nine processes of bhakti that will help us! Our favorite TV show won't help us. Our favorite flavor of ice cream won't help us. Facebook won't help us. All of these material distractions will simply be that: distractions. It will momentarily divert us from the suffering we experienced during the day, but it's just like any other sense gratification in the mode of the passion: in the beginning it's pleasurable, but in the end it's the cause of further misery and suffering.

Our only cure and our only shelter is the Holy Name of Sri Krishna. But we're resistant. We don't want to surrender to the Name. We don't want to sit for an hour or two chanting on our beads. We don't want to spend an hour or two reading the Srimad Bhagavatam. We think, "How will that possibly help my situation? How will that possibly make me happy right now?"

The fact is that the more time we spend absorbed in our illusory, temporary problems and miseries and false identities, the more and more miserable we'll become. It's a fact. The happiest people in the world are those that spend more time thinking about and assisting others rather than them selves. My guru maharaja tried to hammer this point into my thick skull over and over again, but I was (and still am) so dull that I can't grasp it, can't appreciate it. By taking the time to chant the Holy Name and read the sastras, we're taking the focus off of our self. We're making it about Krishna's pleasure, not our own. And as conditioned jivas with demonic propensities, that's a difficult pill to swallow. "Krishna's pleasure? Guru's pleasure? Preposterous!"

So here I am in my own particular experience and existence, facing the onslaught of the material energy. There is so much stress to face from work, school, relationships, our health, etc. Everyone has their own individualized "suffering plan" and everyone's level of suffering is subjective. In other words, someone may think my suffering is not so bad compared to a starving child in Africa, but given the context and circumstances of the situations, the stress levels can be the same. Stress and suffering are all around us and every living entity is suffering to some degree or another. If we want to end the suffering, we have to end the illusion. To end the illusion we have to chant the Holy Name of Krishna. It's the only means of developing our detachment from this temporary, material identity and developing our attachment to our eternal, spiritual self in relation to God (Krishna).

For some reason we go on in the illusion, go on in our suffering, accepting it as the only reality, the only truth. But when we genuinely transcend our lower, material nature and transcend the platform of the mind, we find the real truth and that truth is beautiful. We get so caught up in the day to day, in our individual "suffering plans" that we forget this is all temporary and not our real, permanent situation.

Krishna is sitting here right next to us. He's simply waiting for us to turn towards Him and call out His Holy Name. But we're so stubborn, lazy and unfortunate that we can't even muster the desire to do so.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What Would Rupa Goswami Do?

I feel like I haven't written in this blog in ages. My life has been a blur of activity: work, school, house-sitting, hospitalization for a migraine, social functions, etc. these past couple of months. Even now I'm dealing with my old arch-nemesis: a sinus infection/head cold. Somehow through it all I've still been trying to think of Krishna and devotional service.

When we came back from Sri Vrindavan Dhama I was riding the high horse of inspiration and enthusiasm. I had re-acquired that rare and elusive taste for chanting the Holy Name and had again taken up the chanting of 16 rounds a day. It lasted a good month or month and a half before the madness of work and school caught up with me. At times it was a challenge, as I would find myself sitting up late at night trying to finish all of my rounds, but I had a deep conviction that inspired me to do it. I was feeling reciprocation from Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga through devotional dreams at night.

But it's been gone for awhile now and I'm back in the same funk and struggle. Work at the Staples copy center has been a new hell unlike any hell I have had to experience in quite some time. Granted, it's not as hellish as the experience of getting malaria in Nigeria, but it's an emotional stressor for sure. I don't even want to get into why it's so stressful, but just imagine non-stop people coming up to you with demands and getting angry at you when you can't fulfill their demands instantaneously. It's one person with their demands after another.

So anyway, there's all of that stress from work. Fortunately this school semester has been one of my lightest loads thus far in my academic career and my co-op teaching has been a better experience than last semester. So I'm grateful for that. I don't know why I'm such an easily stressed out person. I like when things are predictable and uneventful. I like when there's nothing to do. I like staying at home and being indoors. I like habit and routine. I guess that's why I get so stressed out when there's a lot of change or inconveniences.

Anyway, all of that to say that's why I haven't been blogging much. It's one of those things that isn't really a priority in my life at this time. But here I sit in the library with about an hour to spare (we got out of class early) and figured this was as good a time as any to finally write something.

I wanted to talk about this photo image that I created in Photoshop:

I took it from the famous image of Srila Rupa Goswami. A devotees initial response may be, "Well this is totally offensive! What blasphemy! What sacrilege!" But my intention behind this image isn't offensiveness. It's to trigger within us the thought, "Rupa Goswami would never watch TV, listen to an iPod and drink Starbucks!" We instantly and instinctually know, "This isn't proper Vaishnava behavior." It's an incompatible image with our knowledge of Rupa Goswami. At the same time, we have to question why isn't it an incompatible consideration when we see one of our devotee peers engaging in such activity?

This of course brings us to the main reflection of this post: the expectations of the various levels of Vaishnava devotees. We know there are kanisthas, madhyamas and uttamas. There are different kinds of devotees at different levels of realization and advancement. As progressive, aspiring devotees we have to constantly analyze where we are and where we're heading. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur has written the poem "Vaishnava Ke? (What kind of Vaishnava are you?)", which you can read in its entirety here:

At one point in the poem, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta says:

"The pure devotee acts in Krishna consciousness without attachment to the objects of the senses, remaining conscious of his relationship as the eternal servitor of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The pure devotee is fixed in his attachment to rendering pure devotional service to the Lord and thus he sees all apparently material objects of sense enjoyment as non-different divine energies of Lord Madhava (Krishna), ie. they are seen in terms of how they can be utilized in the devotional service to Lord Madhava (Krishna) and not according to their material sense-gratificatory value."

This is of course the highest level of devotional service (uttama-adhikari). As an eternal associate of the Lord, we know that Srila Rupa Goswami, if he were manifest today, would have nothing to do with watching TV (unless perhaps it had some connection with serving and giving pleasure to Krishna and the devotees).

This is the entire crux of our problem as neophyte devotees: we rarely perform activities for the service of Sri Guru and Sri Krishna and ever rarer are our thoughts focused on the pleasure of Guru and Krishna. This is why there is a disconnect between our material activities/thoughts and our devotional activities/thoughts. We're still doing things based on personal sense-gratification and not on selfless seva. There is still too much of our selves in the factor.

We then develop this sort of split-personality. We have our devotional selves and our materialist selves and we switch back and forth between these roles depending on the need and the situation. At devotee functions or programs we turn into the "Jaya, Haribol prabhu!" personality and when we're working at our karmi jobs we become "one of the guys or gals" and talk about mundane topics. When we're inspired we chant our rounds (or a couple) and read the Srimad Bhagavatam, but when we become bored of it, we watch a non-devotional movie or eat some (bhoga) corn chips or listen to a Neil Diamond song. We're too back-and-forth in our consciousness and our desires.

Obviously this is from being in the lower stages of devotional service. There is weakness of faith, weakness of heart and weakness of enthusiasm. That has to come from the higher association, but our will is so weak that it's hard to even muster the strength or desire to search out higher association. We become complacent and lazy in our stagnation and we see no urgency, no need to move beyond it.

Death is sneaking up on all of us. Time is passing by relentlessly. Yet we get so caught up in the stressors and anxieties of the (illusory) present that we forget this life isn't the all-in-all. We forget that our temporary families, friends, work, money, jobs, etc. will all be gone in the blink of an eye. They are not the goal. They're just traveling along with us on the path towards eternity and genuine love for God.

So when we look at that image of Srila Rupa Goswami watching TV, drinking Starbucks and listening to an iPod we can say to ourselves, "That's not the ideal. Srila Rupa Goswami wouldn't do these things. I should also aspire for that state of consciousness where these things are unnecessary distractions to that flow of loving and serving Krishna. I should aspire for that level where Srila Rupa Goswami resides: in pure, unconditional, unmotivated loving devotional service."

Of course that's not to say that these things can't be utilized in the service of Krishna. TV can be used to watch Krishna Conscious programs or to broadcast Krishna Conscious messages. An iPod can be filled with Srila Prabhupada's lectures and various devotional bhajans and videos. And Starbucks can be used to...well, uh...hmm...maybe it could help keep a devotee awake late at night as they're driving the sankirtan van. :^) The point is that it's all about our consciousness and intention behind the activity.

So this is pretty much where I'm at in my "Krishna Consciousness" at the moment. I'm back to the struggle of finding my devotional self. I'm back to the struggle of supremacy between my material self and my devotional self. I'm back to the struggle of finding some taste in chanting the Holy Name. I'm back to the struggle of trying to break out of my stagnation and complacency/apathy.

He Krishna! He Nitai! He Gurudeva! Please don't let me get lost in the mire of worldly, self-centered existence!

My dear Srila Rupa Goswami, please give me a drop of your mercy and lead me to the path of pure, selfless devotion. That devotion is your wealth and property. With a drop of your mercy I can push aside all of these unnecessary distractions and impediments and come to the stage of unmotivated, uninterrupted devotional service. This is the greatest goal and the greatest wealth in all of existence. Without the mercy of the Vaishnavas this will be impossible to attain.