Shrila Prabhupada's Appearance Day Reflections: Vyasa-puja offering 2011
(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.
Although we will hear remembrances of Prabhupada’s activities today, I have reasoned that as important as considering his glorious activities and contributions are, it is perhaps more essential to consider what we have become by following his teachings, and how our conceptions of him have changed and deepened over the years. Have we had false or limited ideas about who Prabhupada is, or the position of the guru, and/or how much have we examined the foundations of our faith and understandings—are they institutional, or based on guru, sadhu, and sastra? One of the tests of the Guru is this physical disappearance from our vision, calling us to sink or swim on the basis of our realizations of his instructions.
I do have a number of personal dealings with Prabhupada that I have shared at various Vyasa-puja offerings and which I have posted on Krishna.com. I am gladdened to remember them, yet to me, these times are not the “good old days.” Like many of us I became a devotee at a very young age—personally, at 19 years old, in 1970. Shrila Prabhupada remained physically with us for seven more brief years—so I was twenty-seven at his disappearance. Being so young, most of us were very green and inexperienced both materially and spiritually and couldn’t take advantage of Prabhupada’s personal association. The awe and reverence I had for Prabhupada prevented me from having a more personal relationship with him, which I now regret. However, my almost blind submission was good for me, and enabled me to gain a foothold in Krishna consciousness. After Prabhupada left the planet, many of us wished we could have brought various concerns and issues to his attention that now seemed very urgent. In my own case during his physical appearance I was very dull, and didn’t have any questions, as I unquestionably accepted most things. My understanding was to a large extent superficial, and not really based on realization. Over the years I have had to really examine the foundations of my faith, and strengthen them with the reason of the scriptures, saints, and my own experiences.
More important then which edition of Prabhupada’s books one favors—the pre 1978 or later editions—the most imperative question is: “How has what we have read or heard changed our life, and is continuing to change our life?” Spiritual life is about changing our angle of vision and learning to see spiritually. When we read Prabhupada’s books, what effect do they have on us, and what do we have to say about the Krishna conscious philosophy? How is the fire of spiritual life blazing within us, and how are our anarthas and critical mentality diminishing? Are we becoming more absorbed in hearing, chanting, and serving our guru, and the mission of Lord Chaitanya?
To me, these are questions to revisit on days like today, and on a regular basis. Are we making spiritual advancement, and if not, what are we doing wrong, and what do we need to give up, adopt, or increase in our life? Is our conditioned nature still getting the best of us, or is the purification of Krishna consciousness giving us new clarity of spiritual vision? Are we more a religious, casual devotee, or are we truly a spiritual practitioner, or sadhaka? I am very familiar with how it is possible to just coast along, or tread water as a devotee, since this describes most of my years spent as a devotee. Alas if we are like the older Indian guests who in years past would respond to our speaking to them about Krishna with the words: “I am knowing about Krishna.” In other words, they were telling us not to preach to them, or they weren’t really interested, since they already were familiar with the subject.
Sometimes our sense of certainty about Krishna consciousness can prevent us from growing and examining our cherished assumptions. Although it can be painful, even frightening to do so, I have learned that it is dangerous to not be introspective, or to assume the foundations of our faith are absolutely correct. Krishna consciousness is not what we think it is, as it is so much more than our intelligence can fathom. For example, although we may say that Krishna is blue, even that color is inconceivable, though we are given hints in the scriptures and commentaries.
Before I became a devotee, or when I began my spiritual quest, I had a high level of intense urgency to find the Truth, and a path for realizing it. I was excited to find Prabhupada’s disciples—who have always been the face of Krishna consciousness for me—and to become a surrendered monk. Unfortunately, after only a few years, I was just plugged in to the temple programs, and was so busy in active service that I lost my spiritual focus as to why I was working so hard. I was an example of the Upadeshamrita verse which speaks of the pitfall of engaging in spiritual practice without remembering the purpose. When Prabhupada disappeared, I was greatly challenged in my determination to continue my Krishna consciousness and I was severely tested. I kept chanting, but I was at best, a religious devotee, without being fixed on the ultimate goal. I remained this way for many years, so I know very well the power of saintly association and keeping a spiritual focus, and the great detriment to its absence. I have found that it is easy to be comfortable in our religious life and stagnate.
Now, in the last third of my life or less, I am praying to Prabhupada and my many teachers, that I can become a real devotee, intensely focused on the spiritual practices I have been blessed with, and to make progress on the lofty goal of loving Krishna, my gurus, the devotees, the holy name, and all living beings. I feel I am trying to make up for lost time after so many years of complacency. I pray to never again take anything for granted or to assume I have nothing more to learn. On this holy day commemorating Prabhupada’s appearance in the world, and his coming into our lives, I humbly bow to his lotus feet and pray he may forgive my many shortcomings, give me the strength to overcome them, bless me with Krishna consciousness, and empower me to share whatever I have learned and realized as a way to try to repay Prabhupada for giving me life and direction. I also pray for the prayers and understanding of the assembled devotees that we may be mutually supportive on our difficult journey of spiritual awakening, despite differences of opinion.