Monday, March 26, 2012

Parental Anxiety and Vatsalya-Rasa

This past weekend my (almost) 2-year old daugher, Gita, had fallen and scraped both of her knees. She’s a very girly-girl and doesn’t tolerate pain very well. She becomes very traumatized by any type of physical distress and will cry and whine about it for hours and sometimes days.
So I spent the weekend with her in this miserable state. I became so absorbed in taking care of her and worrying about her “boo-boos”. I was cleaning and dressing them three times a day (which she was not fond of!). I was trying to take her mind off of her distress. I was obsessing about every little detail, like did I put enough Neosporin or should I have not used gauze or should I have not wiped the excess cleanser off with my finger, because it might have germs on it, etc., etc. It was pretty bad. Even last night I was laying up in anxiety because I had used a gauze pad and was afraid we would wake up in the morning and find it had stuck to the wound (which had happened the previous morning and ripped her scab off!).
Then driving home to work this morning I couldn’t stop thinking about her and worrying about everything. Would she be okay? Would the band-aid fall off? What if she fell down again? What if it gets infected? I was a mess of nerves and anxiety!
Then I had this realization, “If I thought about Krishna as much as I am thinking about my daughter and worrying about her well-being I would be in total samadhi and completely Krishna Consciousness!” It got me thinking about the parental rasa or relationship with Krishna known as vatsalya-rasa. I could finally understand and appreciate how Mother Yasoda would feel towards her young child Krishna. The level of anxiety and worry creates an intense meditation. I can imagine when Krishna heads out into the forests of Vrindavan with His cowherd boyfriends and cows that Mother Yasoda spends the entire day worrying about Him and wondering if He is okay.
Somehow I have to transfer this anxiety and worry to Krishna. That would be the perfection of my existence. Everything in this world is transitory and temporary. There is no value in worrying about the temporary things in this world, whether it’s our children, our families, our possessions, etc. We all have our karma and our destinies fixed up and there is nothing I can do to change mine or anyone else. If my daughter is meant to fall down and scrape her knees then I can’t stop it. Of course this doesn't mean we become callous and not care about others. It just means we understand there are limits to what we can actually do.
I am under the illusion that I can somehow protect my daughter in all situations and all circumstances, but in reality it’s just not possible. This weekend I was thinking foolishly that I would protect her from all calamities by giving her my full attention and being mindful of all the possible things that could harm her. Then she was eating a snack of little cheese crackers and out of nowhere began choking on one of them! The look of terror on her face sent chills down my spine. I patted her back and did a finger sweep in her mouth and she coughed it out. She was crying and gagging. At that moment I realized I have no power to protect her. She, and I and you, are completely in God’s hands. We are in the hands of fate and destiny.
I can try my best to protect my daughter and my loved ones, but in the end what happens is not up to me. That’s such a frightening thought when you realize how very little control we actually have. The people that I love and that are close to me could be destined to suffer a terrible accident or die a horrible death and there’s nothing I can do to stop it from happening.
All we can do is give up our illusion of control, depend on God and try to see the positive blessings in everything that happens. It’s not always an easy thing to do, but the alternative of becoming constantly full of fear, anxiety and depression really isn’t a better option. That is unless the focus of our meditation is Krishna.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Yo Gabba Gabba Prema and Other Tales of Brainwashing

A few years ago, before my daughter was born, I had watched a few episodes of the children’s television show “Yo Gabba Gabba”. I was immediately attracted to its quirky, humorous and at times psychedelic imagery and storylines. It’s completely my creative aesthetic. I remember saying to my wife while she was still pregnant, “I want our daughter to grow up watching and loving this show!” Fast-forward to today and my almost 2-year old daughter is attached to and obsessed with everything Gabba. Mission accomplished!
In the process I have also developed an unhealthy level of attachment to it, to the point that I’m buying Yo Gabba Gabba trading cards, collectible figures and giant, plush pillows in the shape of the characters! I also sometimes find myself doing random eBay and Etsy searches for “Yo Gabba Gabba”. Throughout the day I may find myself singing or humming a song from the show. I also know in which episodes certain things happen, for example: in the “Differences” episode Toodee yells at Gooble and tells him to “go cry somewhere else”. I also at times feel like I know the psychology behind each character and how they would act in a given situation. It’s almost as if they’re real to me!
How did this happen? How did I, and my daughter, become so obsessed with it? I was reflecting on this from a Krishna Conscious perspective and I realized it’s all about conditioning and association. The more time we are exposed to and associate with something (or someone) we start to emulate, assimilate and become like that. It’s all about the repetition of exposure. This is how conditioning works. It’s just like smoking cigarettes. The first time someone inhales the smoke it’s an unpleasant experience. It burns and makes them cough, but there is some pleasure from the nicotine, so they continue to do it. They repeat the process so much until they are no longer adversely affected by the inhalation of smoke. The smoker becomes conditioned to it. Conversely, it’s also the same with exercise. At first we may be extremely out of shape and become short of breath walking up a flight of stairs. After continued exercising the heart and lungs become stronger; they become conditioned.
As conditioned souls we have been repeatedly exposed to the material energy from time immemorial. We have intimately associated with it for so long that the conception of anything beyond it seems imaginary and unreal. While wandering around in this material energy we have come up with so many avenues for sense gratification. We have devised countless ways to be distracted, enamored and conditioned by the material world. In the veil of these distractions Yo Gabba Gabba is just another thread.
Sometimes I joke with my wife that we should have been showing our daughter Krishna Conscious videos from her birth so that she would be obsessed with Krishna. Am I doing a disservice to my daughter by making her attached to such mundane things? I can imagine some strict, stalwart Vaishnavas would respond with an emphatic, “YES!” The not-so-stalwart devotees would say, “Lighten up, she’s just a kid!” Unfortunately being one of those lowly, not so strict “devotees” I lean towards the side of thinking, “It’s really not a big deal. She has her whole life to become Krishna Conscious. Besides, she’s too young to even really appreciate or understand it.”
I sometimes wonder what the benefit would be of dressing her up in Indian clothing, putting tilak on her forehead, tulasi beads around her neck and getting her to put her arms up and shout “Haribol!” if all she’s doing is blindly, innocently imitating. I guess it can make the parents feel a sense of pride, like “Hey, look at what an awesome devotee my kid is!” but does it really afford the child any real benefit? Sure, it’s the benefit of influence and devotional impressions, but even children born to strict Vaishnava parents can go on to become drinkers, smokers, drug-takers and sex addicts. Ultimately isn’t it my child’s karma that will determine their level of enthusiasm, interest and faith in Krishna Consciousness? As we all know, many of us grew up in non-devotional, materialistic, “demoniac” households and still came to the path of bhakti later in our lives. So I guess I don’t believe that exclusively exposing children to Krishna Conscious music, movies and themes leads to a pure devotee. There are so many karmic factors involved for every individual that we can’t always understand it on the surface.
However we spend our time here in this material world is how we become. In other words, if I spend all of my time absorbed in thoughts of comic books, I will become an expert in comic books. If I spend all of my time absorbed in thoughts of art education, I will become an expert in art education. We are all in the process of being “brainwashed”. We fill up our brains with the desires of our hearts. The question is, “What drives our desires here in this world?” Why am I obsessed with Yo Gabba Gabba, yet another parent or another person could care less about it? It then seems to become a question of karma and destiny. The “how” and “why” of what drives us is intimately connected to our karma. We are born into this world with certain parents, certain peers, and certain associations that shape, mold and influence us to become who we are at present. Even at the present moment we are taking in various influences from our environments that continue to color the lens of our perception and consciousness.
Is my attachment to all things Gabba a detriment on the path of devotional service? No doubt it is. I know it’s just nonsense maya. I know it distracts me from thinking about God and service to God. The problem is that I don’t take it as a serious problem, because my faith and devotion are so weak. There is honestly no way to “have our cake” and “eat it too”. There is no way to mix water with oil. There is no way to have a little maya in our life and to be Krishna Conscious at the same time.
At some point I will have to choose which life I want. I will have to decide between maya (sense gratification) and Krishna (selfless devotional service). I just hope I can make the right decision before I die. I also hope I don’t call out the name of Brobee at the time of death.

The Magical Coin

I recently acquired an old, silver tanka (somewhat similar to the one pictured above) from the reign of Husain Shah in Bengal (1493-1519). This is the same Husain Shah that enlisted Sanatana and Rupa Goswami in his service. Here’s a bit about him from Wikipedia (yeah, I know, it’s Wikipedia, but the information is accurate, so who cares!):
“The reign of Husain Shah is also known for religious tolerance towards his Hindu subjects of Bengal. However, R.C. Majumdar claims that during his Orissa campaigns, he destroyed some Hindu temples, which Vrindavana Dasa Thakura has mentioned in his Chaitanya Bhagavata. The celebrated medieval saint, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his followers preached the Bhakti cult thorughout Bengal during his reign. When Husain Shah came to know about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's huge following amongst his subjects, he ordered his qazis not to injure him in any way and allow him to go wherever he liked. Later, two high level Hindu officers in Husain Shah's administration, his Private Secretary, (Dabir-i-Khas) Rupa Goswami and his Initmate Minister (Saghir Malik) Sanatana Goswami became devoted followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.”
As I hold this coin and reflect upon the history behind it, I can’t help but feel its spiritual potency. It was on the planet, in Bengal, at the very same time that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates were present there, wandering about and propagating the sankirtan movement. I begin to imagine the coin’s secret history. I wonder about who’s hands it passed through. I wonder about the person that made it. Had he at some point known about or met Srila Rupa Goswami or Srila Sanatana Goswami? Was this coin once in the possession of someone at that time who had seen or known about Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates? Perhaps they had even heard or participated in sankirtan?
It’s so surreal to think back in history like this and to imagine the details of the time. Here is this coin that has traveled through time, from at least 1493, and made it into the palm of my hand. When we, as devotees, come in contact with historical artifacts from the Lord’s pastimes it really makes you appreciate everything so much more. At least for me, it makes me realize that, “Yes, this is real. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is real. He was really here with all of his associates and devotees!” Of course as spiritualists we are supposed to accept all of these things on faith regardless of if there is physical, material, historical evidence. I admit my faith is not so strong.
Sometimes in India, specifically in the holy dhamas, we may come across temples that proclaim they have Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s water pot or danda or Sri Krishna’s footprints in a rock or other such items. I can’t help having a healthy sense of doubt about a lot of these items. I know that maybe I shouldn’t, but I do. You never really know if the temple sevaites are just making stories up to gain more attention and (ultimately) more donations or if these articles are genuine.
Since Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu appeared so long ago I have no way of empirically knowing if He’s real or not. I have to accept what has been handed down through the written histories, as well as through the disciplic succession. That’s the oddest, most curious thing about the past: we never really know if it happened. Even if we have historical records of the past, we never really know the details of things. We are forever trapped in the eternal present that is unfolding at every moment, unable to ever fully know the past or future. It’s just another one of our limitations as conditioned jivas.
This coin is a recorded moment in time. It honors and proclaims Husain Shah’s reign for everyone who was to later encounter it. This is the nature of creating history. We make our mark and move on from this current body, this current time. We become history ourselves.
I wonder what I will leave behind. I wonder if anyone in the future will look at what I did and wonder if it really happened or not. I wonder if in 200 or 300 years someone would read about my experiences with my Guru Maharaja and wonder if he was real and wonder if my stories about him were true. Of course they will never be able to truly know, being stuck in that nefarious, eternal present.
The people who were around when this coin was made and the people that possessed this coin (along with their personal histories and stories) have come and gone. Wouldn’t it have been amazing if someone had kept a written record of this coin’s origin and history, from the moment it was made to the moment it ended up in the hands of a rare coin specialist in modern day California? And what if we had known the details of the lives of every person that owned it? It’s amazing to think of the rich history this coin holds.
I will never known all of these things. I can only know that by serendipity this coin has come into my possession. It has become many things to me. It has become a reminder to me that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, His associates and His sankirtan movement were (and are) real. It is a reminder to me that I am mortal and that I too will become part of the past. It has (strangely) become an object to increase my faith in Sri Krishna and the process of devotional service.
Such a simple thing this old coin is, yet it resonates the energy of a magical touchstone.

Let Go and Let God...Punch You In the Face

“Everyone is bound up by the resultant action of his karma. It cannot be changed. So sastra says don’t try to change your karma-phala. Better utilize that energy for becoming advanced in Krishna Consciousness. You cannot change your destiny. That is not possible. “Then shall I not endeavor for improvement of my economic condition?” No! Why? Because destiny, automatically you have your destiny, you will get it. “How shall I get it?” Suppose if you are put into some unwanted circumstances, you do not want it. You are forced to accept it. Similarly, as a distressed condition comes upon you without your wanting, the position of happiness will also come to you, even if you don’t try for it.”
- Srila Prabhupada (conversation with Gurudas – Vrindavan, India, Feb. 6th, 1974)
It seems that every time I listen to an audio recording of Srila Prabhupada he is saying the above statement is various ways. Is it Paramatma/Sri Guru (Krishna in my heart) trying to tell me something? Undoubtedly.
It’s a very interesting point to reflect upon that we cannot change our destiny. Our destiny is “fixed up” (as Srila Prabhupada has said elsewhere on this topic). We are already given a certain quota of happiness and distress based on our previous karmic reactions. This is why sometimes we may endeavor so hard to get some kind of happiness and yet no matter the intensity of our effort it never comes to us. We may think if we endeavor to obtain some material possession, like a piece of clothing or a collectible that we will be happy in the end. Usually what ends up happening though is that after getting the object of our desire, we do not experience the kind of happiness we had hoped for.
Happiness and distress are all about our karma. We cannot experience happiness unless it comes as a result of our previous karma. We also do not experience misery and distress unless it is also a result of previous karma.
When you really ponder this it makes you wonder, “Well then should I just not bother trying to avoid misery and pursuing happiness?” The answer here, from Srila Prabhupada and the satras, would be, “Do not bother!” We may wonder then, “Won’t this make a bunch of lazy, unmotivated people sitting around doing nothing?” The point is that we don’t stop all activities. Instead we perform activities that further advance us along on the path of devotional service. That’s why Srila Prabhupada said above that we should use our energy for becoming Krishna Conscious. Don’t bother trying to be materially happy here, because it’s a waste of time. A) You can’t change your destiny and B) everything here is temporary. The pursuit of material happiness is futile on both counts.
I am far from actually realizing this knowledge. I have terrible obsessive compulsive behaviors that stem from my fear and anxiety of experiencing migraine headaches. I think that if I follow certain patterns in my daily routines that I will somehow circumvent and avoid migraine attacks. It’s completely irrational and I know it is. Logically I know that I cannot control what is happening to me by repeating the same daily routines, but emotionally it’s hard to stop.
I imagine what it would be like if I lived in this detached, care-free, anxiety-less world where I just accepted whatever happiness and distress came on their own accord. It would definitely allow my mind and consciousness to be more focused on Krishna. Somehow I have to let me fears and anxieties go. They are an impediment to my developing genuine, transcendental consciousness.
This body I am currently in is already destined to experience a certain amount of pains and pleasures. I should stop trying to avoid the pain (and being in anxiety about when it may come) and stop trying to pursue happiness in the things of this world. The power of the Holy Name and remembering Krishna and my true, spiritual, eternal identity can help me get to that place. It’s the only process that will work in this kali-yuga.
There comes a point in our life when we truly have to live the saying “let go and let God”.

Reflections on HH Bhakti Tirtha Swami's Appearance Day

This year I completely forgot about my Guru Maharaja’s Vyasa-puja/Appearance Day. I only remembered it when my wife mentioned that one of her friend’s had mentioned it to her. I had been so caught up in thinking of my wife’s birthday and my everyday responsibilities that I completely wasn’t even thinking about it.
It really made me wonder about the depth of my commitment and seriousness about the process of bhakti-yoga. What kind of disciple am I if I don’t even remember or honor my Spiritual Master’s Appearance Day? Then again, what kind of disciple am I if I don’t even strictly follow my initiation vows?
I’ve pondered this notion before in other blog posts. I’ve examined my faith (or lack thereof), my doubts and my lack of enthusiasm. Some devotees commented at the time that doubt and self-reflection are important processes on the path of bhakti. Without it we may accept things blindly or become mechanical in our routines. I have to wonder though: at what point does the doubt become destructive, rather than constructive? When does it become detrimental rather than beneficial?
I think back to my days as my Guru Maharaja’s personal servant and secretary. It was so long ago that it seems like it was another lifetime ago. It also seems like another lifetime ago because of the completely different consciousness I had at the time. Where did that young brahamcari go? Where did my enthusiasm go? Where did my conviction go?
I spent a lot of time in the physical presence of my Guru Maharaja. When he would stay at Gita Nagari I would massage his feet every evening. One time during this service he said to me, “One day you’ll look back and be very grateful for this time.” He didn’t say it or mean it in an egotistical way. I took what he said to mean that I would look back at that time and remember what it was like to be fully absorbed in devotional service. I think he knew I was moving away from the path and could understand that in the future I would be “out in the world” and experiencing the mundane, daily struggle for survival.
I think of that prophetic statement and wonder: how much did those experiences change me? How different did I become from all of that service? What was really the benefit of it all?  It’s difficult when your Spiritual Master physically departs. It’s hard enough to be serious about the process when your Guru is in a different State or on a different continent, what to speak of when they’re no longer on the planet at all.  Of course if we’re talking about the principle of Sri Guru (that indwelling Paramatma), then the Guru is never away from us, even for a second.
Even though my Guru Maharaja has physically departed, that principle of Sri Guru remains. That guidance is still available to me if I am receptive to it. Not necessarily in the same form, but in the essence.
Maybe the way in which personally serving my Guru Maharaja changed me or benefited me is that I cannot give up the path of bhakti, no matter how great my doubts or weaknesses become. When I moved out of the temple in 2002 I went back to a materialistic life: playing in a band, drinking, smoking, watching TV, etc. But through it all I couldn’t forget about Krishna and the process of devotional service. There were even times when I was in an “altered state” and I would turn on a Srila Gour Govinda Swami lecture or an Aindra Prabhu kirtan. My central focus never strayed too far from Krishna, even when externally it appeared that I was fully in the throes of maya.
So perhaps this was my Guru Maharaja’s blessing upon me. Perhaps that was my great fortune in being able to serve him. He gave me the ability to always come back to Krishna Consciousness. Isn’t that really the essence of Sri Guru/Sri Nityananda Prabhu’s causeless mercy? That somehow, in spite of our selves and our shortcomings, that we will inevitably reach the lotus feet of Krishna?
I ashamed to admit that I forgot my Guru Maharaja’s appearance day, but I am not too proud to admit it. I am not too proud to say I am fallen and destitute. I am not too proud to say that I am nothing without the causeless mercy of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai and Sri Guru. Maybe one day I will be able to make my Gurudeva proud by becoming an exemplary disciple. Until that I time I beg for his forgiveness for being such a dull, lazy, hypocritical and callous disciple.

Reflections on Sri Nityananda Prabhu's Appearance Day

These festival days in the Bhakti tradition come and go so quickly. Sri Nityananda Prabhu’s Appearance Day festival was this past Sunday. Even though I have drifted so far from any substantial daily sadhana I still find myself inspired to do something devotional on this very auspicious and special day.
Some devotees think of me as a “Nitai-bhakta”. I don’t agree with this label, as I have no idea who Sri Nityananda Prabhu is and I have not an ounce of devotion for Him. I simply have some inexplicable attraction to His holy name, form and pastimes. I remember mentioning this attraction to my Guru Maharaja in a letter many years ago and he replied that my attachment to Him was wonderful, because without His mercy no one can make spiritual advancement.
So I’ve always had this attraction to His lotus feet, most likely a carry over from my previous lives. When I lived in the temple I tried to imbibe His mood of magnanimity through Harinama-sankirtan and book distribution. I remember one time even going out alone on a solo Harinama to a BBQ festival in downtown Detroit. My enthusiasm and conviction were just that strong.
Over the years something happened though. I lost that enthusiasm, that fire, that spark. My faith began to waver. As Sri Nityananda Prabhu’s Appearance Day has come and gone I was reflecting on how and why I lost “the taste” that I once had for devotional service and devotional life. Why would I today not go out and distribute books or dance through the streets singing the Lord’s glories?
Each and every one of us that has come in contact with this Krishna Consciousness movement (Gaudiya-Vaishnavism) is unfathomably and inconceivably blessed. Srila Prabhupada, acting as the divine agent of Sri Nityananda Prabhu, brought Krishna to us (the lowly, sinful and fallen) in this modern day. What is it that makes us lose sight of this great fortune?
We know from the sastras that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His eternal associates do not always personally appear. In other words, sometimes they are Vishnu expansions. Yet in this particular kali-yuga that we are living in, Krishna Himself has appeared. In the world of astronomy seeing a planetary occurrence that happens only once every thousands or millions of years excites people. How more infinitely rare and wonderful is it that we are existing on this planet when Krishna was just recently here, delivering the universe through the Holy Name.
Yet we don’t see this as great fortune. We see winning the lottery as great fortune. If there was ever a definition of “being in the right place at the right time” it is NOW! In our delusional, conditioned state we see Krishna Consciousness as just another religion, just another belief system. The reality is that it is so far beyond these external considerations.
We are so fortunate to be here at this time and to be connected to this movement, but at the same time we are so unfortunate because we cannot understand or appreciate our great fortune!
Sri Nityananda Prabhu is acting at every moment from within us as Paramatma and from without as the physically manifest Guru. There is never a moment when Sri Nityananda Prabhu is not with us, not present. So what is it that makes us forget and makes us unable to appreciate our great fortune?
In the song “Nitai Guna Mani” Locana Dasa Thakur mentions that Sri Nityananda Prabhu inundated the devotees with the ocean of love of God (Krishna-prema), but that the non-devotees “floated” on the ocean. It is our selfish misdirection of energy that keeps us “floating” on the ocean of love of God and unable to experience any of the higher tastes in devotional service.
As long as we remain absorbed in bodily identification and materialistic concerns we will never truly experience our eternal relationship with Krishna. If 99% of my time is spent in making plans for and engaging in selfish pursuits and only 1% is given to devotional service then I will lose “taste”, lose enthusiasm, lose interest, lose faith in the process. We must put 100% into devotional service, which means no selfish, self-absorbed, self-centered pursuits.
I always come back to the struggle to be selfless. Even when I was my Guru Maharaja’s personal servant I was never truly selfless. There was no love, no affection. It was simply duty and often done in a grudging mood. That is not devotion and it yields no benefit or results.
I see my daughter as a manifestation of Sri Guru. Her appearance is an opportunity for me to develop genuine selflessness, to live for someone and something other than my self. Obviously this sort of consciousness should be had in dealing with EVERY living entity that we interact with. This was the consciousness of the Avanti brahmana who saw everyone and everything as his Guru. Unfortunately I am not that advanced and so I need to take “baby steps” towards such a level of equal vision.
I pray to Sri Nityananda Prabhu to please bless me that no matter how far I stray from the path of bhakti or how strong my doubts become, that I never forget His lotus feet. I pray that He forcibly brings me to a surrendered, selfless state at His lotus feet.
I’ll end this post with a wonderful reflection and meditation upon Sri Nityananda Prabhu, given to us by Locana Dasa Thakur:
Nitai Guna Mani
"Nityananda, the Jewel of Virtues"
from the Caitanya-mangala, by Locana Dasa Thakur

nitai guna-mani amar nitai guna-mani
aniya premer vanya bhasailo avani

1. My Lord Nityananda, the jewel of all virtues,
my Lord Nityananda, the jewel of all virtues,
has brought the flood of ecstatic love of God that has drowned the entire world.

premer vanya loiya nitai aila gauda-dese
dubilo bhakata-gana dina hina bhase

2. Bringing this overwhelming deluge of prema
when He returned to Bengal from Jagannatha Puri on Lord Caitanya's order,
Nitai has inundated the assembly of devotees.
The fallen non-devotees did not drown, however,
but remained floating on that ecstatic ocean.

dina hina patita pamara nahi bache
brahmar durlabha prema sabakare jace

3. Lord Nityananda freely offered this exalted prema,
which is difficult for Lord Brahma to attain,
even to the fallen and wretched souls who did not desire it.

abaddha karuna-sindhu nitai katiya muhan
ghare ghare bule prema-amiyar ban

4. The ocean of mercy had formerly been sealed tight,
but Nitai cut a channel in its boundary
to allow the great flooding waves of nectarean prema to splash from house to house.

locan bole mor nitai jeba na bhajilo
janiya suniya sei atma-ghati hoilo

5. Locana dasa says,
"Whoever has not worshiped my Nitai
or taken advantage of this excellent opportunity offered by Him
knowingly commits suicide."

Purport by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada

This is a song sung by Locana Dasa Thakura, almost a contemporary of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He has got many books on the life and precepts of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. So he is saying that Lord Nityananda is full of good qualities, guna-mani. Guna-mani means the jewel of all qualities. So nitai guna-mani amar nitai guna-mani. He is repeatedly uttering that Lord Nityananda is the reservoir of all good qualities. Aniya premera vanya bhasailo avani. And on account of His spiritual qualities, he inundated the whole world by the flood of love of God. It is by His kindness people can feel what is love of God.
Premer vanya loiya nitai aila gauda-dese. When Caitanya Mahaprabhu left home and took sannyas, He made His headquarter at Jagannatha Puri. So after His accepting the sannyas order, when He left His home and country Lord Nityananda Prabhu also accompanied Him up to Jagannatha Puri. So after a few days, Lord Caitanya requested Him that "If both of us remain here, then who will preach in Bengal?" Bengal is known as gauda-dese. So under the order of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, He brought from Him the flood of love of Godhead and He distributed in the whole of Bengal, gauda-dese. And in that flood of love of God, all devotees became drowned. Only those who were not devotees, they could not drown but they were floating, dina hina bache. But so far Nityananda Prabhu is concerned, He does not make any discrimination between devotees and nondevotees. Dina hina patita pamara nahi bache. Poor or rich or enlightened or foolish, everyone could take the instruction of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and become drowned in the ocean of love of Godhead.
Such love of Godhead is brahmar durlabha. Even Lord Brahma, who is the supreme teacher within this universe, he also cannot relish. But by the grace of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Mahaprabhu, this love of Godhead was distributed to everyone without any discrimination. So abaddha karuna-sindhu, it was just like a big ocean blocked all sides. Ocean of love of Godhead is a big ocean, but it was not inundated. So Nityananda Prabhu cut a canal from the ocean, and He brought the canal in every door. Ghare ghare bule prema-amiyara ban. The flood of the nectar of love of Godhead was thus distributed in each and every home in Bengal. Actually still Bengal is overwhelmed when there is talk of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Prabhu. Locan bole, now the author is speaking on his behalf that anyone who does not take the advantage given by Lord Nityananda Prabhu, so in his opinion he thinks that such a person knowingly is committing suicide.

Bi-Monthly Death Obsession and Other Ramblings

With the recent tragedy of three devotees losing their lives in a car accident, it got me thinking about destiny and fate. I’ve heard many times in Srila Prabhupada’s lectures that our happiness and suffering are “fixed up” according to our karma and that they are both simply manifesting of their own accord. He has said that we shouldn’t bother looking for happiness, because it will come to us automatically according to our karma. Similarly we shouldn’t bother trying to stop suffering, because it will also come to us and run its destined course.
I had met Nitai dasa in New Vrindavan when I was my Guru Maharaja’s personal servant. We didn’t have a deep connection or friendship. It was just an informal interaction, like the usual “Haribol, prabhu”. I look back at that moment and think how strange it is that so many years later he would end up in a fatal car accident. There he was at that moment in time with me, both of us oblivious to his fate.
It got me thinking about my own fate. It’s most certainly already destined, already written according to my karma. The scary thing is that I have no way of knowing how or when that time will come. A devotee should live fearlessly. Usually we live fearlessly out of ignorance and not because of transcendental realization. I live my day-to-day existence unafraid of death simply because I’m not thinking about it. It’s not that I’m genuinely unafraid to die.
I imagine a sort of deep-seated paranoia and fear would set in if one were to always be obsessing about their demise. One would become afraid to go outside for fear that they could meet death through an accident or similar calamity. The fact is no matter how much we obsess over it there is no stopping it. So most of us live our lives not thinking about it, not giving it any serious consideration.
Death puts so many things into perspective. It renders so many things meaningless and futile. The spiritualists would have us believe that the only thing not rendered meaningless by death is devotional service. When you think about it, it makes sense…that is if you believe in an afterlife and a Supreme Being.
In what ways are we using our time here? Do we spend it in temporary, transient pursuits? Or do we spend it in trying to cultivate our eternal identity and nature? Are we only concerned with the trials and tribulations of this current existence? Or are we planning for the future beyond the dissolution of our physical bodies?
Most of us spend so much time swimming around in the material, external energy that the internal, spiritual energy seems imaginary. But that is our disease! Accepting illusion as reality and reality as illusion. We have no idea who or what we really are. We are not humans. We are not any type of material body. What we truly are is beyond our limited reasoning and comprehension, because in truth we are non-different from the Supreme Being (in quality, not quantity of course).
It’s a fact that at any moment we may die. The question is: will we be ready for it? Are we living our lives like a person who is staying the night at a hotel and knows in the morning they must pack and leave? Or are we living like we’ll be in the hotel forever?
I’ve died a million times and yet under illusion I’m thinking I’ll be here forever.
So what is the nature of that internal side? There is no pasts or future. Only an eternal now. There is no self-centered considerations. Consciousness is perfectly entwined with the Divine. The only thought and meditation is on the center, on God, on Krishna. Selfish desires and ideals are non-existent having fallen away once the illusory covering has been lifted. There is no physical body that gets hungry or tired. It is a supremely blissful place that is ever-increasing in its blissful and wondrous nature. There is harmony and ecstasy. It is true freedom.
That quarter of consciousness is deep within every living being. It remains inaccessible to most because of a misdirection of energy. That place is none other than the spiritual kingdom and within that kingdom there are different quarters. The highest quarter being Goloka Vrindavan. The spiritual authorities have been to that place and experienced all of its nuances. It is a completely different world where selfless love and devotion reign. Everything in this material world is insignificant and unimportant when compared to it. But this place cannot be conceptualized; only experienced first hand. It cannot be understood philosophically or intellectually. It has be given through divine revelation, divine mercy.
Krishna is eternally present with us, but under illusion we ignore Him and are unaware of his presence. When the veil of illusion is lifted there is no way not to see Him everywhere and in everything.
We all have to meet with death. That is a fact we cannot ignore. We have to develop some sense of urgency about our predicament here in the temporary, material world. We have to push on towards that internal, spiritual, transcendental world. We have to pursue it with earnestness and serious. It has to become real to us. It has to become the only thing worth living for. Otherwise we have simply wasted our time here…yet again.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Reflections on Gaura Purnima...from a Fallen Neophyte

Here I sit on Gaura Purnima, one of the most important and auspicious days in Gaudiya-Vaishnavism, not celebrating, remembering or honoring the day, but working a mundane job, dealing with mundane affairs and thinking mundane thoughts.

What a stark contrast to this very same day back in 1997 when I was in Sri Vrindavan Dhama assisting with the decoration of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai’s altar, as well as being able to participate in and bathe the Deities during the abhiseka. I look back at that time with fondness and gratitude. Nothing else in my devotional life has ever compared with that day. It was the highlight of my devotional life; a moment in time that may never be surpassed in this lifetime.

So what happened? Why am I now doing nothing for Gaura Purnima? Why am I not chanting? Why am I not fasting? Why am I not reading Sri Caitanya-caritamrta? Why am I not engaging in discussions about Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu? Why does it seem just like any other day?

The most I did today was to listen to a lecture on the way to work. It was a lecture given by Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja. The topic was “Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the Most Munificent Incarnation” or something like that. I was listening attentively for the about the first 30-minutes or so, but then something happened: I became disinterested and my mind started to wander and drift away to various non-devotional thoughts. What caused this inability to remain focused on Krishna-katha?

The dogmatic answer that came to mind was, “Maybe I’m just too offensive and therefore I cannot hear/experience/understand all of this tattva.” Granted, it’s not too far from the truth that I am full of offenses. Are my offenses really the cause of my lack of enthusiasm, my lack of interest, my lack of faith? The sastras, sadhus and gurus would tell me so.

It’s not that I don’t understand what’s being said. It’s more that it just feels like empty jargon, empty stories. These pastimes (lilas) and tattvas (truths) are supposed to be full of “nectar” and yet when I hear them I just think, “Yes, I’ve heard these things hundreds of times, but how are they relevant to me?” Maybe the problem is that I’m not truly understanding, for if I truly understood what was being said/transmitted, wouldn’t I be tasting this elusive “nectar”?

In kali-yuga we are full of so many deficiencies. I am lazy, misguided, unfortunate and addicted to sense gratification. In this condition how will I ever understand or appreciate the process of bhakti-yoga? Isn’t the whole purpose for Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s appearance to give mercy to us wretches? Why is this mercy passing me by? Why am I “floating on the ocean of Love of God” (as sung by Locana Dasa Thakur) and not drowning in it? Again, is it because of offenses? But then why are offenses counted against me in kali-yuga? Doesn’t Sri Nityananda Prabhu overlook one’s faults and offenses? Didn’t He even ignore an offense as great as a physical assault?

Obviously the Lord forgives all of our shortcomings and faults. The only offenses He does not forgive are the offenses made to other Vaishnavas (Vaishnava-aparadha). Which Vaishnavas have I offended? Does it include knowingly and unknowingly? Does it include being associated with people who are offensive to Vaishnavas? What are the rules and guidelines here?

If all of these offenses were to be eradicated, would a downpour of Krishna-prema come flowing down into my heart? When I first began my devotional “career” in this lifetime and was innocent and devoid of Vaishnava-aparadha, how come I didn’t easily attain Krishna-prema? If the Holy Name gives us prema, why did I never attain it over those first few, serious, devoted years as a brahmacari? Of course the answer is: my chanting was offensive. *sigh* It’s a vicious circle in which all of the unattained promises in devotional service can be attributed to my offensive nature.

The conclusion is that I’m too offensive to attain Krishna-prema, but the question is why are my offenses being held against me in kali-yuga? Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Sri Nityananda Prabhu appeared to deliver all the miscreants and unfortunate souls, like myself. Why then are there are so many restrictions, rules, conditions and exemptions in an age where no one can follow them?

This raises an interesting theological question about grace vs. works. Is it by our effort and actions that we can attain the lofty ideals of Krishna Consciousness? Or is it strictly only through the mercy of Sri Guru and the Supreme Personality of Godhead that we can attain such goals? I’ve always heard it said that it’s a combination of both, but in kali-yuga it would seem that unconditional mercy should be the only possibility of progress.

Chanting our quota of rounds doesn’t make us realized. Dressing in Vaishnava garb doesn’t make us realized. Knowing a thousand verses doesn’t make us realized. Knowing Sanskrit doesn’t make us realized. Repeating what we’ve heard doesn’t make us realized. Traveling to or living in the holy dhamas doesn’t make us realized. Associating with pure devotees/paramahamsas doesn’t make us realized. We can do all of these things externally, but not be realized internally. We can quote sastra and know verses, but it doesn’t mean we are transcendentally realized and in direct relationship with Krishna in our siddha-deha.

So what makes us realized? What is it that happens that gives us direct access to the spiritual world, to that higher consciousness, and to a direct relationship with Krishna? What takes us beyond theoretical knowledge to realized experience? It has to be mercy, plain and simple. There is no amount of effort I can make that will allow me to kick in the doors of Goloka Vrindavan and demand an audience with Krishna and His eternal associates.

Of course this may all sound like the ramblings of a fallen devotee who doesn’t want to follow the rules and regulations or any form of sadhana and yet wants to experience bhava. I’m not trying to make a case like that. I’m not saying we should all just do whatever nonsense we want and simply depend on the Lord’s mercy to one day lift us up to the spiritual world. But I’m saying just because we externally follow all of the rules and regulations and wear devotional clothing and quote slokas it doesn’t make us advanced in realization. There has to be some higher intervention to bring us to the level of genuine experience and realization, where we’re not just hearing and reading, but actually living in the transcendental realm. We have to search out where to get that mercy from, where to beg and cry for it.

With the advent of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His divine associates this tremendous, causeless mercy is available. We just have to focus our consciousness and energy towards it in order to receive it. The problem is that we don’t have a desire for it. Somehow, someway we have to appreciate and understand Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s identity and mission. We have to make an attempt. We can’t sit idly watching TV and eating corn chips thinking that one day everything will just work itself out, being unconcerned about what will happen after our death. We have to express interest in and give attention to the process, just as we express interest in and give attention to sense gratification.

As the old saying goes, “The ball is in our court”. The mercy and blessings are available to everyone, every living entity, on this planet due to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s divine appearance. The question is, “Can we pull our heads out of the ass of sense gratification long enough to even care?”