Sri Radha Govinda, Amsterdam NL

Sri Radha Govinda, Amsterdam NL
Sri Radha Govinda, Amsterdam NL (Personal Deities)

07 November 2008

On Holy Vrindavana's Riksha wallahs, beggars, brahmanas, monkeys, dogs and hogs

On one of the blogs that I read regularly there is a travelogue by my old friend, author, musician and spiritualist, Yauvana, on the fascinating Indian holy city of Vrindavana, the birthplace of Lord Krishna. You can read the original story here.

In yesterday's posting a certain Caitanya dasa made a comment which I consider typical of a breed of so-called devotees who are long on theory but woefully short on wisdom.

"Your "kindness" to these rickshaw wallas, who are in their present position because of their very sinful past life activities, will be unkindness to devotees and other westerners who travel in India. Now, the rickshaw wallas will ask triple or even more price to any westerner they meet. There are different levels of charity, for different modes of material nature, if I remember properly..."

We need be very careful how we deal with any Brijbasi, including ricksha wallahs, beggars, monkeys, dogs and pigs. For them it is their last birth just prior to returning to Lord Krsna's lotus feet and any offense is not tolerated, unlike in Mayapur.

The externally materially poor ricksha wallahs see us westerners as rich wallahs who can easily afford to be a little generous. Once in Calcutta, when overcharged by a ricksha wallah, I asked him in Bengali why he was charging me more that the usual rate. In a delightful moment of candor he replied, "See, saheb, you are a rich man and it is my duty to charge you more because if I did not my fellow ricksha wallahs would laugh at me." Paying a little more is part of our cost for the benediction of visiting India. Take it as a built-in blessing.

Regarding Caitanya dasa's abysmally ignorant view that Vrindavana's ricksha wallahs are so because of "their very sinful past activities" and negative comparison of them to devotees, the fact is that the lowest of Vrindavana's ricksha wallahs is greater than any visiting devotee I know. I should be so lucky in any of my future lives to be born a ricksha wallah in the Holy Dhama of Vrindavana!

In fact, I find Caitanya dasa's comments offensive in the extreme and I wonder from whom who he took instructions in Krsna Consciousness. Better he approaches his guru and humbly beg for rectification.

04 November 2008

'Our Leaders'

A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada opens his “Krsna Book” by attributing Lord Krsna descent to,

“…the world was overburdened by the unnecessary defense force of different kings, who were actually demons, but were posing themselves as the royal order. At that time the whole world became perturbed….”

The great lie is that we are represented by people like Bush, Brown, Putin, Harper, Sarkozy, Berlusconi, Merkel, described as ‘our leaders’. Because they represent us and we are not monsters, we are to believe that ‘our leaders’ are seeking to resolve problems afflicting humanity in general, while working more specifically to protect us from terrorism and other threats. In other words, we are to believe that ‘our leaders’, like us, are rational, compassionate and well-intentioned.

The truth is very different. In fact we are free to chose from parties and leaders who all represent the same interests of concentrated state-corporate power - the tiny fraction of the population that owns much of the country and runs its business.

Crucially, ‘our leaders’ front a political system that has an overwhelming advantage in high-tech military power. They are all too willing to use this power to convulse countries with bloodshed when doing so supports their lucrative version of economic ‘order’. Iraq is the obvious example - Somalia is another.

‘Our leaders’ rule in the name of democracy, but they act in the interests of a narrow, extremely violent kleptocracy.

The entire material enterprise is based on godless, ruthless exploitation at any cost of our planet and everyone and everything in it by ‘our leaders’.

(with thanks to

09 September 2008

Finally a True Christian Perspective

It’s not often that exponents of mainline religions attract my attention. Generally Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists pay some lip service to their teachings while as far as greed, lust and highway robbery is concerned, its business as usual.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the following article. So much so that I decided to reproduce it here in full. As usual your comments are welcome.

You can read the original article here

In an address to an Assembly of God Church in Alaska, Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin suggested that church members pray “that our national leaders are sending [soldiers to Iraq] on a task that is from God, that’s what we have to make sure we are praying for, that there is a plan, and that plan is God’s plan.”

It would be interesting to hear Palin explain her understanding of how God’s plans can possibly involve violations of His sacred commandments.

The commandment is simple: That shalt not murder. God did not provide exceptions to that prohibition, not even for agents of the CIA and the U.S. military.

Lest we forget: Neither the Iraqi people nor their government ever attacked the United States or threatened to do so. No matter how many contortions that Dick Cheney and George W. Bush have engaged in (e.g., WMDs, the war on terrorism, 9/11, spreading democracy, UN resolutions, and radical Islam), the simple truth remains: The U.S. government attacked Iraq, not the other way around.

Thus, we should never forget: In the Iraq War, the United States is the aggressor nation and Iraq is the defending nation. That means that no agent of the U.S. government had any moral right to kill even one single Iraqi, much less the million or so that have been killed.

Some people calculate the wrongful Iraqi deaths only in terms of civilian deaths. They have it wrong. Since the U.S. government had no right to invade Iraq, U.S. agents, including those in the CIA and the military, had no moral right to kill any Iraqi, including Iraqis who were defending against the wrongful invasion and occupation of their country.

The standard neo-con religious position is that whatever the U.S. government does overseas against foreigners is right and moral as a matter of law because the government is operating as an agent of God and simply fulfilling His plans.

The hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children killed by the pre-invasion sanctions? A million Iraqis killed in the invasion? Well, you see, those killings can’t be murder because it was the U.S. government that did the sanctioning and invading. It would only be murder if, say, the Russian government committed those acts. Since it’s the U.S. government that killed all those people, it’s all good and moral because it must be all part of God’s plan.

Moreover, keep in mind that in the neo-con mindset the U.S. government and the American people are one and the same. Since everyone knows that the American people are kind, caring, and charitable, that means that everything the U.S. government does, including kidnapping, renditioning, torturing, and sexually abusing people, is all good and moral. It’s all part of God’s plan, you know.

This attitude, of course, is what distinguishes Christian libertarians from Christian neo-cons. Christian libertarians adhere strictly to God’s commandments, refusing to draw an exception for agents of the U.S. government. Unlike them, we hold that murder is murder, even when committed by agents of the U.S. government. Since the U.S. government had no right to invade Iraq, it had no right to kill any Iraqis, much less a million of them. The same principle holds true with respect to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children killed by the pre-invasion sanctions. The same holds true for the murders, torture, and sex abuse committed by U.S. agents against Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison.

Christian libertarians, unlike Christian neo-cons, do not conflate the American citizenry with the U.S. government. As such, we are capable of recognizing immorality and wrongdoing committed by the U.S. government and we are unafraid to take a stand against it. Unlike the neo-cons, we don’t try to excuse away evil and immorality by claiming that they must be part of God’s plan.

Indeed, unlike the Christian neo-cons we Christian libertarians don’t view the government as an agent of God but instead as simply a bunch of ordinary people who use government force to satisfy their self-interests, including the ever-growing lust for more power and more money.

06 September 2008

An Answer for Satya dasa (When the Guru Falls)

A few days ago a devotee called Satya dasa published a heart rendering letter in the Sampradaya Sun (see here). His question was, "What happens to a disciple when the guru falls?". Having been a guru myself and having fallen from the strict standard I thought I owed him and the devotee community a sincere and truthful answer. So, here it is.

The answer is that your guru Harikesa dasa lied to you. He presented himself for what he wasn’t. He wasn’t a liberated soul. He did not have the power to take you to Krsna because he himself had not yet reached Krsna. What he should have told you is that although he had no power to take you directly to Krsna, he could take you to someone who could: Srila Prabhupada. He should have told you that Prabhupada, as your siksa guru, was the preeminent spiritual force in your life and that he, Harikesa, was simply acting as Prabhupada’s humble, insignificant and unqualified servant. If he had told you that, he would have told you the truth. Certainly he was and still is your diksha guru but not on the platform of a liberated soul and he had no right to accept the worship and position as if he was. Specifically he had no right to allow you to believe that lie. If Harikesa had been a truthful vaisnava, then you, knowing him as a soul still on the path to perfection, could have seen his falldown in the proper perspective and avoided much trauma, possibly including the loss of your family. Although Harikesa tried his best with what he had and this painful, negative experience will teach him and purify him more, the fact that he lied will be a big stumbling block for his future redemption. Why do I say that? Because his lies and the lies of others in his position have practically destroyed the pure force of Prabhupada’s movement. Those lies have alienated 95 percent of Prabhupada’s disciples and stolen their rightful inheritance. Thus, although there are no negatives in Krsna consciousness and although it is all a purifying, learning experience, still, “The bigger you lie the harder you fall.”

I too am a fallen guru and sannyasi. My fall disappointed and hurt many people and I suffered greatly because of it. In many ways I am still suffering the shame of it all. However, in my defense, I can attest to one fact that greatly attenuated that negative reaction: the fact that to each and every one of the 22 devotees I initiated I clearly stated in advance that I was not a liberated soul, that although I could not take them to Krsna, I could take them to Prabhupada. The proof of it is that I never ever accepted a pranam mantra, a guru puja or a Vyasa puja. I simply tried to be what Prabhupada ordered all his disciples to be after his departure: regular gurus. Unfortunately, the ISKCON hierarchy and the GBC body did not and still do not share that view.

In the writing above is an implicit challenge to my godbrothers in ISKCON, to the gurus and sannyasis and to the GBC: be real vaisnavas and put the truth before everything. Stop the spin, stop the denial. Be real. If you do that you will have the goodwill and service of the lost 95 percent and with it the goodwill of Srila Prabhupada. Now, what will it be? Your foolish, puerile and wholly insignificant pratistha or a united movement with the spiritual strength to change the world? My dear brothers, it is not too late: Yes We Can!

jadera pratistha sukarera bistha

Your precious prestige is no better than the excrement of a pig

(Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura)

24 August 2008

On Srila Prabhupada's lineage. An offering on his appearace day

My dear Srila Prabhupada, I was in prison within the prison of Devi-Dhama, yet you effortlessly came in and freed me. Because you saved my life, from that day on my life belongs to you.

As a river flows to the sea, my natural desire to see you overcame all material obstacles and brought me to Vrindavana, to your lotus feet. You welcomed me and encouraged me to stay and “preach to the Indians.”

Owing one’s life to someone is a momentous, overwhelming experience. Each new breath one takes, each new day that dawns simply increases one’s indebtedness to one’s savior. As one cannot repay God for His gifts, so much more His cherished servant. Indeed, the very notion of repayment is risible. Still, knowing how Krsna’s fame is founded upon transmuting the impossible into the possible, I prayed to Him for guidance and He inspired me to go to Gauda-desa.

Because you appeared there, I conclusively decided that I would love everything about it. And indeed I did. I loved the language, the script and the way all Bengalis had a soft spot for Mahaprabhu. Truly, scratch a Bengali and you find a vaisnava. I loved the vibrant green and gold countryside, the Ganga, the pukurs (ponds). I loved the food: Govinda bhog is the best kept secret in the rice universe! And the fruit! My goodness! Mountains of lychees in the spring, bigger mountains of juicy Fuzly mangoes, big as rugby-balls, in the summer, and pots of heady tal-ras (date tree juice) in the winter – drink it before noon or you’ll get intoxicated!

I was fortunate to travel there before TV, satellite communications and rampant materialistic propaganda. In my time entertainment meant yatras – stage plays based on the Mahabharata and Ramayana and performances of akhanda kirtans.

I simply could not get enough of Bengal. I traveled to every nook and corner, bathed in all the ghats and pukurs, took the dust of every holy place and distributed your Gitar Gan in every town and village. Yet, despite this kaleidoscope of beauty I kept returning to the places directly associated with you, my master.

Baro Bazaar in Calcutta – where you appeared. The Suvarna Vanik community’s Sona Durga temple across the street from your house where, above the main Devi shrine, I discovered a small, intimate temple of Krsna-Balarama. There, the old Oriya pujari would tell me, “Before going to ‘merika your Guru Maharaj would come here daily at noon and play the harmonium and sing for Kisna”.

Ultadanga Road – the tree-shaded roof of the house where you first met your master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. In the corner a tiny, tiny room where this prince of aristocratic devotees performed his bhajan. How can I describe such blissful experiences? Such undeserved nectar? Far from beginning a scheme of repayment, I was sucked deeper and deeper in your debt! And it does not end – to this very day it increases.

Discovering first hand your background as an aristocratic vaisnava gentleman did not answer my inner questions. After all, I knew what it took to save me, and I knew it was beyond the power of a first class Bengali vaisnava gentleman. Way, way beyond.

Then, in the month of Magha 1977 I was told to take a sankirtan party to Adi Saptagram on the western bank of the Ganga, near the birthplace of Raghunatha Das Gosvami. This is the main temple of the Suvarna Vanik community and its presiding deity is Sri Sadbhuja Caitanya with the two hands of Lord Ramacandra holding the bow and arrow, the two hands of Krsna holding the flute and the two hands of Caitanya Mahaprabhu holding the danda and the kamandalu (water pot). This deity had manifested due to the intense bhakti of Uddharana Datta Thakur, one of the twelve gopalas (cowherd boys) who descended from Gokula with Lord Nityananda Prabhu.

The day I came there was the festival of Uddharana Datta Thakur and all the gentlemen and ladies of the Suvarna Vanik community were there. Some years before, on your first return from America, they had honored you at this temple on the same day. At that time you requested your disciples to send a sankirtan party every year.

Talks were given glorifying your achievements, kirtan was held and sumptuous prasadam was honored. As I looked around at the elegant gentlemen, the Mulliks and the Des’, in their starched dhotis of a hundred fine folds, and at the ladies, cooking puspanna rice and richly decorated with costly jewelery and gold-laced saris, I marveled at their aristocracy, devotion and consummate class. I remembered your description of them, how they had so much gold, they actually owned Calcutta – sold it to the British in fact – how you described them as fallen demigods. How proud they were of you, how blessed they felt that you had appeared in their community.

Over the years I returned to Saptagram many times with my sankirtan party and the pujaris told me wonderful stories. Uddharana Datta Thakura and Raghunatha Das Gosvami belonged to your community, the Suvarna Vanik Kayasthas, and were immensely rich, influential and aristocratic vaisnavas. Uddharana Datta Thakur was especially dear to Lord Nityananda Prabhu.

One day, Lord Nityananda came there to take prasad. As He sat in the courtyard of the temple, surrounded by His associates, a delegation of local Brahmanas appeared. They asked the Lord, “You belong to a first class Brahmana caste, why are you accepting prasad from a member of the Kayastha (lower) order? You should take prasadam with us brahmanas.” As this conversation was going on, Uddharana Datta Thakur came out of the kitchen where he was personally cooking for the Lord. He held a swizzle stick (used to churn dahl) in his hand. Without saying a word, Lord Nityananda took the stick from His devotee’s hand and pushed into the ground in front of the brahmana delegation. Before their astonished eyes the stick began to sprout twigs and buds and immediately grew into a large Madhavi-lata tree, its blooming and fragrant white flowers cascading on all sides. The brahmanas were dumbfounded and in complete silence got up and left. That Madhavi tree is still there, giving its shade and in the evenings the sweetest flowers I have ever experienced.

Behind the temple is a very large pukur and one day, as I came out of the water after bathing, the pujari said, “Now you have achieved the lotus feet of Lord Nityananda.” I replied, “What do you mean?” He then related the story how once, when Lord Nityananda bathed there, He lost one of His ankle bracelets. Uddharana Datta Thakur engaged hundreds of his servants and had the huge pukur dredged – totally emptied of water – but the ankle bracelet was never found. Thus, anyone who bathes there is at once directly purified by Lord Nityananda Prabhu, on the principle of His paraphernalia being non-different from Himself.

Srila Prabhupada, I wanted to share these stories depicting your exalted background. Out of humility you never directly told us but Lord Nityananda, the original spiritual master, wanted the whole world to know of your auspicious lineage. The Lord takes immense pleasure in glorifying His devotees as you took immense pleasure in glorifying Him.

(for more information see Caitanya Caritamrita Madhya lila, 11.41)

18 August 2008

Some Notes On Real Kirtan (with one 't')

So, what should a devotee do? Let all the non vaisnava non sampradaya non initiated non pure bhakti kirtan performers go to hell? Very nice. Very compassionate. Very prthivite ache jagat adi gram sarvatra pracar haibe mor nam.

Fortunately, the above sentiments were not the sentiments exhibited by the one true, pure vaisnava who had enough compassion and faith in guru and parampara to come to yavana-mlecca land, the land of the demons, the land of the killers of cows and brahminical culture, the land of the people totally written off by the neophyte vaisnavas in India of the time.

True, impure kirtan is not pleasing to Krsna and its effect not readily discernible. However, to make it pure and discernible is easy: just try to make a sincere attempt to connect it to Srila Prabhupada in some way or another. I see that Satyaraja Prabhu is doing this in his Yoga of Kirtan Book and I applaud him for it. I offer him my most humble obeisances and pray that he may give me a modicum of the expertise he has shown over the years in bridging the gap between pretentious gurus and sincere sweepers in Prabhupada’s “House in Which the Whole World Can Live."

10 August 2008

Efficient At Being Inefficient -- One way Out

OK, here goes. I'll start with the astute Bengali saying, "ati bhakti curer lokhon" or, too much devotion is a sign of a thief. This takes care, in my mind, of mostly all non-Krsna connected activities in human endeavor. From sex life on down, self interest is a mighty powerful incentive for efficiency. In my experience efficiency in KC became inversely proportional to my understanding that advancement depended on me giving up the idea of sexual enjoyment, especially the subtle kind, not only in the present, but in the future as well. That realization brought about a semi-catatonic state which took mighty trauma and years of pain to accommodate. I’m sure this is not an unique experience among the more serious contributors to these comments.

When Krsna pulls the rug of sex enjoyment from under your feet you are left in limbo, a kind of purgatory of inactivity where the mind thinks you’re dammed if you do and you’re dammed if you don’t. So, what did I do? I did…. nothing. For years. Going through the motions. Treading water. Getting whatever more or less legit sense gratification I could and often going overboard with it. Fortunately Krsna did not forget the little bit of sincere service I had done and He did not let me go too far. The result is, of course, that you get tired doing nothing for Krsna and eventually you pick up the pieces. The difference is that your appreciation for Krsna is enormously enhanced just because He went the distance with you. With me that’s one way He operates. Does this resonate with any one of you?

Anything related to Krsna is good, transcendental, purifying, pointing to reality in knowledge and understanding. Even frustrating inactivity. As the scientist remarked to a friend that pointed to his hundreds of failed experiments, “These are not really failures. Rather, they are hundreds of ways I learned what does not work.” Positive thus. Seeing the bagel rather than the hole.

Mens sana in corpore sano is a Latin aphorism which recently infused in me a surge of new energy I hadn’t experienced for many years. What I did is I embarked on a 30 day lemon cleanse program, also known as the Master Cleanse (plenty of info on Google). This is a powerful detox program which eliminated loads of mucus and other toxins on a daily basis. I felt no hunger, discomfort or loss of energy. Rather, around the 25th day I experienced a powerful surge of enthusiasm to get things done. Chores that I had put off for years altogether became a pleasant activity. Boring routines shelved in the basement of both my mind and apartment were eagerly dusted off and attended to. Not to speak of clarity in chanting and reading. Highly recommended.

04 August 2008

Monkey, monkey on the throne…

A recent post by my old friend and godbrother, Navajauvana dasa, entitled “Maws, Morons & Oxymorons”, has caught my undivided attention and deserves the attention of the general body of devotees. In it, the following comment sums up a long standing and oft-repeated request by myself and others:

Let them (the GBC body) call a general meeting of all devotees, including and especially all godbrothers and godsisters who left Iskcon but still honor and worship Srila Prabhupada, and together find some way to deconstruct the legal, corporate, religious labyrinth they have concocted and reconnect all sincere devotees to the original purpose Srila Prabhupada had in his pure heart when he brought Krishna consciousness from Vrindavan to a Second Avenue storefront.

What I recommended is for all of us to come together in Mayapura and put all we own on the table for the pleasure of Srila Prabhupada. This means our abilities, talents, money, disciples, followers, secret assets and, above all, truth. This will be the demonstrable proof that we love Prabhupada. This is the only truth that will unite us. This will sort out the pretentious from the real. The time is long overdue. We’ve had enough of spin and propaganda. Too many of us have experienced the truth up close and personal. For us, propaganda will not work. It is not possible to please Prabhupada by external endeavors, by bloated multi-million dollar projects and by writing and mouthing a whitewashed version of ISKCON history. Contemporary solutions depend to a large degree on an honest accounting of the past, which offers plenty of lessons for those willing to listen. The point is, do we want to become independently thoughtful devotees as per Prabhupada’s clear desire or do we want to cop out in the lazy mood of see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil and risk a birth in Vrindavan as the proverbial monkeys?

13 July 2008

Where Is The Simple Living?

Both in the first and third world, people are facing a range of health problems. To name a few: bird flu, threat of a worldwide influenza pandemic, drug resistant tuberculosis, mad cow, e-coli infections on green-leaf crops, uncertainties about irradiated food, cloned and bio-engineered plants and animals, the mysterious dying bee population and lifestyle repercussions such as obesity and Alzheimer. In addition, the planet is facing unprecedented challenges: peak oil, climate change, melting ice caps, financial meltdown, nuclear strike threats in the Middle East, terrorism and loss of human rights in our democracies. The list goes on…

Srila Prabhupada had the answer: Simple Living.

Of all Prabhupada’s instructions, I think the most important one, the one closest to his heart, is the one to set up rural communities to live on the land, keep some cows for milk and fertilizer, bulls for hard work, grow our own organic crops, produce our own karma-free food and offer it all to Krsna in a spirit of devotion. The rewards are a no-brainer: health, both material and spiritual, self esteem from achieving independence from the corporate greedbags and an opportunity to create an inclusive spiritual community wherein no one’s talents, big or small, would go unrewarded. This proposal is not utopian. As I child I grew up in rural northern Italy on a small household farm. We lived as a big joint family, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, all in all about 30 souls. We didn’t have a lot of land, just enough to meet our necessities. There were no machines. Everything went on bull power. One uncle was a carpenter and he made the carts and the wheels, another uncle was a blacksmith and he made the rims, the plows and the simple tools. The other men knew how to farm, bake bread, make the best olive oil in Italy and, Italy being Italy, wine. The women knew the basic principles of herbs to use as medicines. We kept all kinds of animals like chickens, turkeys and rabbits around the farm to augment our basic diet of polenta (maize meal) and vegetables. We fished in the nearby rivers and lakes. Once a year we slaughtered a fat pig. No, we weren’t vegetarians but at the same time there was no question of keeping cows for slaughter. They were too valuable. We needed the milk and the bulls. The entire enterprise wasn’t based on making a profit. It was based on self-sufficiency. It never crossed our minds to raise animals for slaughter as a business. My mother sewed my clothes and when they got too small they were passed on to my younger brother. Us kids made our own toys: bows from tree branches, arrow tips from old umbrella ribs, catapults from discarded bicycle inner tubes, penny whistle flutes from the green branches of poplar trees and our carpenter uncle could make a beautiful rocking horse, hand cart, wooden train, or spinning top. Once a year in the summers there’d be a fairs at nearby villages where everyone was fed free polenta and sausage and we got a chance to buy stuff from traveling vendors. Me and my group of small friends knew every fruit tree for miles around and the stealing would begin with cherries in late spring, continuing with plums, apricots, peaches, loquats, figs, pomegranates, pears, apples and, just before the winter frost, kakis (persimmons). Wild strawberries, black and red berries and chestnuts were free. Among the adults it was a given that those who had a strong spiritual bend could always become monks or nuns and practice a life of renunciation and prayer in nearby monasteries. The rest went to church regularly and chanted on their rosaries. One of my early memories is of my grandmother waking me daily at 6:30 AM to go to church with her. Sunday was a day set aside for church and other things beside work and production. On Fridays we strictly ate no meat. It was a simple life but not a hard one. In the spring there was intensive work to prepare the fields, late summers were for harvest and late autumn to get ready for the winter. In between there was a lot of free time when the men would gather in the “cantina”, where the wine was aged, and sit around philosophizing, drinking and generally contemplating their life situations. The women had their own sphere of influence centered around the home and the children. So it wasn’t all work, especially not debilitating, soul destroying 12 hour days for some corporate, soulless corporation bent of exploiting you and everything around you. The concept of God was central to the people around me and because of that example and training I was later able to go to India and deepen my search for meaning that culminated in my practice of Krsna consciousness, which, please note, did not in any way convert me from nor minimize my Christian experience, rather it enhanced and perfected it so that nowadays I can reap the benefits of some spiritual maturity to go along with my 65 years.

So, don’t give me the spin that we need 50 million dollars to built a Temple in Mayapura (I saw the two designs and was appalled -- they look like glorified Sikh Gurudwaras) or that we need annual half a million plus dollar travel budgets for some of our swamis, hundred thousand dollar cars for some of our GBCs, or fat salaries, perks and golden retirement benefits for some of our managers. No! What we do need is some serious money and manpower for Prabhupada’s plans of simple living high thinking because without that we simply following the ardha murkha logic. And most of us can perfectly understand how a half baked half chicken idea will keeps us rotating in this material world for far longer that we or anyone else needs to.

Thank you for your attention.

20 April 2008

Why I write

Why do I write? I write because Srila Prabhupada expressly advised his disciples to do so. Why? One reason is that writing is a natural reflection of one's inner realization. Any fool can be considered spiritually advanced until he opens his mouth or, even more irreversibly, when he puts pen to paper. In any case, writing is a natural manifestation of any devotee who has genuine vijnana or wisdom. It is impossible to be silent when Krsna speaks through you. The reason for my blog and other writings is to share my thoughts and experience with my friends and students who participate in my Sat Sangs. Younger devotees are inquisitive and I try to provide some ideas to help them become independently thoughtful and competent in knowledge and action.

The material world is full of problems. Spiritual progress and material needs can go along peacefully side by side like the two parallel lines of a railway track. But not always. Sometimes there are disturbances and that should not be surprising. Thus, Krsna many times advises in Bhagavad-gita to be equal in all circumstances, in honor and dishonor, success or failure and so on (Bg 14.24, 16.3, 17.18, 2.38). Why does He advise us this way? Because the nature of the material world is that there will be dishonor, there will be lack of acceptance due to envious people and, of course, our old bad habits and karma coming from many, many previous lives will tap us on our shoulder until we have fully dealt with them. Material existence is padam padam hi vipadam na tesam (Bhag. 10.14.58), dangerous at every step. Notwithstanding the dangerous nature of this material jungle, because we are living in it, an important prerequisite to progress is to appreciate that Krsna’s plan is behind all things and thus there is no need be unnecessarily critical nor approving. In fact, mindless approval and visceral criticism are counterproductive. Each and every living entity is unique, there are no two alike and each one has the potential to offer unique love and pleasure to Krsna. Since there are unlimited living entities it is logical to see this as one way that Krsna enjoys unlimitedly. Because of this inclination to enjoy, every living entity is very dear to the Lord who is sitting in the heart waiting for that unique and as yet undiscovered loving reciprocation, raso vai sah (Taittiriya Up 2.7.1), He is all love and love is all to Him. The devotees who have begun the process of uniquely loving Krsna are personally nurtured by Him to come to newer and newer levels of loving exchanges. He specifically and personally takes care of them in proportion to their willingness to be trained, ye yatha mam prapadyante (Bg 4.11). Even if a devotee, due to past habits, makes some mistakes, we must know that Krsna Himself will take care of him or her in a better way then we can imagine or judge. Also, although we may not like what a devotee is doing, or his or her actions may be contrary to accepted morality, nonetheless Krsna may be satisfied with that devotion, api cet suduracaro (Bg 9.30). After all, who is in control?

12 April 2008

Sat-sanga -- Using Discrimination To Find the Truth

Discrimination is the best part of valor." Simply we have to learn how to discriminate whether we are working on material platform or on the spiritual platform. That's all. Just like Arjuna. Arjuna was being advised to work on the spiritual platform. That's all. The whole instruction of Bhagavad-gita is based on this principle, that Arjuna was perplexed with material thoughts. And Lord Krsna wanted to pose him, or to place him in the spiritual platform. That's all. So now, from Arjuna's activity, you can understand that what is spiritual platform and what is material platform.(Srila Prabhupada, NY, April 5, 1966)

The role of sat-sanga is to highlight the patterns that keep us on the material rather than the transcendental platform. The difference between the two is simple. The first is characterized by a subjective reaction to events. The second by understanding that, as pure spirits, no external event has any bearing on us. Naturally there is a huge gap between the two perceptions. Nonetheless, understanding the theory is an essential step on the journey to enlightenment. For example, we all experience rejection, and that can be very painful. As a young man I became suicidal over the loss of a long time lover. It took me years to overcome that loss and the pattern kept repeating itself in other failed relationships. Finally I figured out that the amount of loss I experienced was directly connected to the misunderstanding of myself as a spiritual being. In other words, the amount of suffering was directly proportional to my ignorance of my spiritual nature. The best part of my discovery was its possible and practical application to every day life. This is spirituality. Practical and applicable. Not some debatable promise of distant perfection or, even worse, extorted present payments on an after-life insurance policy.

In the next few posts I will try to explore how Prabhupada’s presentation of Krsna’s advice on discrimination can be understood and applied to immense benefit here and now, in our daily struggle for meaningful existence. Stay tuned!

08 April 2008

Our Six Demons and How to Deal With Them

It is sometimes very hard to know how to deal with deep emotions. Of these six: kama (lust), krodha (anger) lobha (greed), moha (bewilderment), mada (madness) and matsarya (envy), only envy must be ruthlessly uprooted from a devotee's heart. The other five, according to Narottama Dasa Thakur, must be dovetailed. He gives the following examples on how to do it: Lust by offering the results of my activities to Krsna. Anger by directing it to the enemies of the devotees. Greed by eagerness to hear Krsna-katha. Bewilderment by acknowledging my frustrating inability to quickly attain Krsna. Madness when I glorify the limitless beauty and sweet unpredictability of Krsna.

An important point to consider is that the above dosas (faults) are best mitigated according to a devotee’s position. Subjectively speaking, because I am an old man and have been around ISKCON since Srila Prabhupada’s time, my anger has a tendency to be directed at the many ways I see his legacy being misused and corrupted. I am not saying this is the best way and in fact often it isn't. Even for old geezers like me. I certainly would not recommend it for younger devotees. Anger is very dangerous and best to avoid it unless Krsna directs one like He did Arjuna or Mahaprabhu showed with Jagai and Madhai. So, I would be very, very careful if anger comes up too often.

That does not mean that under the guise of anger we should throw out truth. No. Truth is truth and nothing can change that. We may not be able to do much about it for whatever reason but as devotees we cannot live a lie. It is just not possible to lie or condone a lie and at the same time be a devotee.

02 April 2008

Mission Critical

(The) Krishna Consciousness Movement is for training men to be independently thoughtful and competent in all types of departments of knowledge and action, not for making bureaucracy. Once there is bureaucracy the whole thing will be spoiled. There must be always individual striving and work and responsibility, competitive spirit, not that one shall dominate and distribute benefits to the others and they do nothing but beg from you and you provide. No. (Srila Prabhupada, Bombay, 1972)

This is a mission critical instruction from Srila Prabhupada. Genuine spiritual life is never from the top down. Never impersonal. Never bureaucratic. Never dogmatic. According to Rupa Gosvami the Krsna Consciousness movement is not nyamagraha or organized solely around the rules. Rules are important up to a point but more important are the reasons behind the rules. We must always remember how liberal Krsna is in His dealings with His children and thus understand that no brother or sister can overstep the mood and desire of the father. That is, if you want to keep the family together. This begs the question: what happened to Prabhupada’s family? Why is its decimation since 1977 never discussed in any meaningful manner? At the time of Srila Prabhupada's departure there must have been upward to 2000 of his dedicated disciples active in ISKCON (perhaps someone can supply a more exact figure). What happened to them? Why did the overwhelming majority of them leave? Is no one responsible? Can we have leadership without responsibility? These are important question that need to be discussed. I am eager and open for genuine and now long overdue discussion. I want to talk to the devotee community about this and other important subjects which seem to be anathema in certain quarters. Please feel free to communicate with me.

Ananda Svarupa dasa

30 March 2008

Letting Go

Spiritual life is the opposite of material life. We have to let go of one to get the other. The built-in frustration of material endeavor forces us to let go. Being forced to let go materially always comes as a shock because we normally go on blissfully unaware of our past activities that are producing our present mentality and situation. As devotees, Krsna is directing us and, according to our capacity He allows us to deal with stuff that comes up from the past and through that process we grow towards Him.

The process of genuine introspection is not encouraged in the society in which we live and therefore in the bhakti, or devotional section of the Vedas, it is written that no one understands the dealings, activities and mentality of a real devotee of God. Actually, the more a devotee advances towards purity, the more he is misunderstood by the crowd and by their institutions, especially the religious ones.

Many of Krsna’s statements in the Bhagavad-gita are coded. They actually contain far more than it appears on the surface. For me, that is the beauty of the Gita, it is a never ending ocean of new realizations which spur my appreciation for Krsna’s supreme intelligence and His willingness to teach us the prerequisites of divine love. This is satisfying to my mind and especially to my heart. Krsna declares that he who studies the Gita worships Him by his intelligence (18.70). Thus, the Gita is not for fools and rascals who are bewildered by power, position and followers. Nor for the ones that think it is just a basic-level book and leave it aside to enter in the literature of the Gosvamis thinking it more advanced.

08 January 2008

Some Comments on Crticism

Lets face it, no sincere devotee likes to criticize another devotee. Fault finding is foreign to a devotee. We address each other as Prabhu and that term leaves absolutely no room for criticism. Quite the contrary. Even the most abject beginner full of material imperfections, if he chants Hare Krsna and accepts the process of Krsna consciousness he or she is to be considered a vaisnava and to criticize such a devotee is vaisnava aparadha. However, if someone uses the position of devotee to mask some ulterior motive or if someone accepts a position in the devotee community to further some hidden agenda, then criticism is not only allowed, it is mandatory, and to not expose the fault implicates one in the deception.

We don’t like to see senior devotees criticized. We don’t like to see certain gurus and sannyasis criticized. However, these devotees accepted a position of high responsibility and esteem in the devotee community and the community has the right to expect from them a behavior fully commensurate with that position.

If you present yourself for who you are, without pretense or duplicity, despite myriad faults, no devotee in his right mind will criticize you. However, if you pretend to be who you’re not, if you have a history of crooked dealings based on diplomacy and deceit, if your position has been achieved and is maintained through politics and manipulation then not to criticize you is aparadha to Srila Prabhupada, to his movement, and to what he stood for. Those in leadership position in ISKCON are expected to do their service according to the standards Prabhupada set up. These standards are no secret and are well known to the larger percentage of his disciples. Spiritually speaking, the difference between the times when Prabhupada was with us and now is like day and night. No wonder some of us find fault. We find fault not because we are addicted to fault finding. No. We find fault because fault is there.

04 January 2008

Srila Prabhupada on What is Guru

“But the spiritual master does not think of himself as Hari. Although he's offered the respect of Hari, he thinks himself as humble servant of Hari and all others. A spiritual master takes his devo..., disciples as his spiritual master. That is the position. He thinks that "Krsna has sent me so many spiritual masters." He does not think himself as spiritual master. He thinks himself their servant. Because they have to be trained. Krsna has appointed him to train them. Therefore he thinks himself as servant of the disciples. This is the position. So when one is advanced, he can see the importance of devotees. Advanced devotee never disobey or disrespect another devotee. Disrespect to another devotee is a great offense. Vaisnava aparadha. Vaisnava aparadha is very serious offense. Therefore we teach to address amongst the devotees, "Prabhu", "Prabhu", "Such and such Prabhu." This should not be simply spoken by the lips. It should be realized. Everyone should think other devotee as his prabhu, master. Not he should try to become master.” (The Nectar of Devotion Lectures, Vrndavana, October 23, 1972).

Recently I read an interesting comment to the effect that in the devotee community, instead of discussion who is guru, we should be discussing what is guru. In the preceding comments Srila Prabhupada highlights three of the important symptoms a real guru manifests: One, he thinks himself as servant of all others. Two, he personally takes responsibility to train his disciples and, three, he treats all devotees, big and small, as prabhu or master. To speak frankly, my biggest disappointment during my tenure as a regional secretary in ISKCON during the first six or seven years of the Zonal Acarya farce was the utter disregard of the local zonal guru to spend any time to train his disciples. Unlimited time and discussion covering every detail of the initiation ceremonies, that was taken, but for training post-initiation? Practically nothing. And that hurt my heart, my service and, ultimately, my faith. In fact, it has taken me the best part of twenty years to fully recover.