TO LOVE AND BE LOVED: There are primarily two underlying forces in the universe indiscernible by ordinary sensual or modern scientific observation, namely the forces of karma (selfish exploitation of matter), and the force of bhakti (selfless loving service to God). That which is greater than us can’t be understood by force, but only by loving service. When you love someone or the Source of everything, they will be open to reveal all their secrets. There are many, many ways people have spoken about these two forces—or levels of understanding and their implications—according to their belief systems and goal of their lives.
One way of speaking about karma and bhakti is what the personified Vedas state in the 10th Canto of Shrimad Bhagavatam that there are two purposes of the material world: facilities for the living entity to enjoy their senses and mind in unlimited varieties, facilitated by new opportunities thru re-births and deaths to try again, and the higher facility for liberation through realizing one’s spiritual nature and the source of real happiness within. Ultimately, in its highest reach, my understanding is that this culminates in bhakti or loving devotion to various forms of God, for Gaudiya Vaishnavas, Radha and Krishna, or Shri Chaitanya and Nitai, etc. We are sparks of divinity meant to live in relationship to it and under its shelter.
In the lower stages of bhakti we are continually confronted, at times assaulted or harassed it can seem, with the choice to follow the ways of the world through material enjoyment or to engage in acts favorable for spiritual advancement in bhakti. We can call these two endeavors, the path of darkness and bondage, or the path of light and liberation.
IMPOSSIBLE DREAM? Some people think that the existence of the soul and God, what to speak of a relationship between them, is delusional and unproductive. Others may doubt that one can have a spiritual practice to understand them, or that the Ultimate Unlimited Absolute is personal in its highest aspect, what to speak of being Krishna. Or those on the path of bhakti for many decades may doubt that they can make much advancement in this lifetime, but hope against hope for a miracle at the time of death. We find in the world so many opinions, some well-reasoned, others full of emotionalism, negative, positive, regretful, or so many combinations that may dissuade one from spiritual practice or the determination to give one’s whole being, heart and soul.
Sometimes well-meaning friends, family, or those brothers and sisters on our bhakti path who are disillusioned with fallen leaders or their guru, can be our worst advisors or critics. Some people never heal from their painful past traumas, betrayal, or disappointments, and remain looking backward, and not to true empowering possibilities. As the saying goes, misery enjoys company. How much such opinions affect us depends on our mind’s orientation to react or respond based on how much spiritual experience or faith in our path we have, or haven’t.
As I have shared before, despite appearances to some, I am one of those devotees who has lived as a casual, or “religious” devotee (which means just doing the basics and not really fully applying oneself to the process both internally and externally), for most of my decades of practice, and in fact I have this as my general default setting—which I would wager is true for many older devotees. I share this as a warning for younger devotees and a possible wake-up call for those devotees in old or pre-old age.
Feeling unusually sober and contemplative, I wrote a rough poem today about how I feel after reading two devotee memoirs, as I think about compiling my own. While I will share it after this introduction, I have so much more to say, to properly convey, all I am feeling today. I continue to contemplate death as as a motivating meditation to live today, and to endeavor to have no possessive attachment weights, that if not addressed, will propel me to work out issues with others in future lives; too many times I have examined my life up to this point and all that I use to define myself, which seem like sand castles, the blowing wind, morphing clouds, crashing ocean waves.
We generally identify as ourselves as our thoughts, feelings, and what we contemplate such as our desires—desires for things, relationships, or experiences, and also our bodily identity of race, ethnicity or the color of our skin, gender or sexual orientation, our family of origin and the one we have created, and memories of past experiences and their principle players or actors. I find it fascinating, though disconcerting to understand how fleeting and temporary these self-concepts are, being only a disguise or transitory covering for our soul, or our real self, consciousness, the observer and animator of matter.
The nature of the material world is change and transformation or as the Gita teaches us, the world is “endlessly mutable.” Accordingly, in physically conditioned life, which covers our soul, our body and mental states change, other people change, our life situation and the greater conditions of the material world change and go through cycles and stages. As a result of such changes we have to recommit and sometimes renegotiate our relationships to others, ourselves, and to bhakti, many times in our lifetime.
If we don’t voluntarily change or fight against conditions we have no control over, we will likely be forced to change because nothing stays the same, however much we drag our feet and resist. While this is a natural process, materially speaking, having to change can be disconcerting especially when we are set in our ways or have identified material conditions as who we are, and the underlying and foundational fact that the soul (who we are), or our animating consciousness, being eternal, wants permanence and doesn’t relate well to changing conditions which seem foreign.
While those who are Gaudiya Vaishnavas, or in fact anyone engaged in some kind of spiritual practice to realize their soul, even if they are grounded in deep spiritual philosophy of the nature of matter and spirit, will also struggle with the changing conditions within and without to the degree
THE ZIGZAG PATH, OR THE UPS AND DOWNS, OF BHAKT: When I was a new devotees it seemed like our spiritual advancement was like a rocket going straight and fast to our spiritual destination, and surely in a few years we would board that spiritual flower airplane piloted by the best of devotees, and go “back home, back to Godhead.” However, after some years my shiny, fast, roller blades become covered in thick, heavy mud and what had at first seemed like a full throttle race to the finish line turned into a slippery crawl, where sometimes I seemed to be going nowhere, or even sliding helplessly backwards down the rocky, dusty hill with no footing or holds.
Reading that Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur has sometimes referred to spiritual advancement in bhakti as the “zigzag path,” has normalized my ups and downs in spiritual life, helping me to understand my difficulties, or starts, stops, and reverses not as a personal anomaly but as natural for every seeker. When we are on the ground, we have to rise up with the help of the ground, so this is my attempt to stand and go forward aided with the staff of mercy, prayer, and knowledge.
Prabhupada: Well, there was some income tax office pleader. So I have given
the idea that "The fifty percent, that is promotion expenditure." So he
accept..., "Yes, it can be done." Where is the profit? Whatever is profit is
promotion expenditure. We give to ISKCON commission, or some way or other,
it is spent. So he admitted, "Yes, it can be done." And last night I was
suggesting, "For promotion spend." Even if we open a temple, that is
Jagadisa: Profit means that people are putting money in their pocket and
enjoying. And we don't.
"Once, on the full moon of Karttika, a festival honoring Srimati Radharani was being nicely celebrated. Shri Krishna was worshiping Radharani in His rasa-mandala in Goloka, when many other exalted personalities, including the four Kumaras, demigods, demigodesses, sages, saints and others arrived to also worship the beloved of Lord Krishna. They presented her various precious gifts. Lord Shiva began singing songs like nectar for the pleasure of Lord Krishna. All the demigods fell unconscious. Upon regaining their consciousness, they saw that the entire rasa-mandala was flooded with water
(I have adopted many of the words I shared on his disappearance day last year for this occasion, as they are sill of pressing importance to me, and repetition is the mother of learning.) On the appearance day of one’s guru it is customary to present an offering of glorification to one’s guru, and the process given by him or her. It may be directly expressed to the guru, and/or also addressed to the general audience. After the disappearance of one’s guru—or any founder of a religion or sect—many different conceptions of the guru and their teachings arise. This is an inevitable and unavoidable occurrence, and while one may favor their personal understanding, one can also do their best to understand the feelings and realizations of others, in the mood of diversity within the oneness of service to Prabhupada and Lord Chaitanya.
The fact that there are many different ideas as to the essential teachings of our guru can make it difficult to express one’s heart—at least it is for me. Never the less, I will try to express something to honor Prabhupada along with my personal reflections about my relationship to him, and some realizations I have gleaned from my personal experience. I pray for the generosity, magnanimity, and blessings of my audience.
tatah priyatama vishno
radhika gopikasu ca
karttike pujaniya ca
The Way to Worship Sri Sri Radha-Damodara
In the Padma Purana it is said: "Because She is the gopi most dear to Lord
Vishnu, Sri Radha should be worshiped along with Lord Damodara during the
month of Karttika. (HBV 16.195)
sanketavasare cyute pranayatah samsaj jaya radhaya
prarabhya bhrukuti hiranya-rasana damna nibaddhodaram
kartikyam janani-krtotsava-vare prastavana purvakam
catani prathayantam atma-pulakam dhyayema damodaram
Amayo yaz ca bhUtAnAM
jAyate yena suvrata
tad eva hy Amaya dravyaM
na punAti cikitsitam
O good soul, does not a thing, applied therapeutically, cure a disease which was caused by that very same thing?