On Sharing my Heart and Faith, and Experiences with Krishna Deities
Whenever I sit down to write, I imagine us being two dear friends having an ongoing conversation. My attempt is to share my convictions and faith (or even doubts and struggles) with you and speak something that may resonate with your mind, and ultimately your spiritual heart. There is so much philosophy in Gaudiya Vaishnavism just to satisfy our intellect, but for that knowledge to affect us, it has to be activated through the convictions and experiences of a devotee with some spiritual standing. From that perspective I am at a bit of a deficit, yet I am praying to be empowered to be helpful to others on their spiritual journey—whether a newcomer, or long standing spiritual bhakti practitioner. Although we are meant to awaken our spiritual humility as given by Shri Chaitanya (trnadapi sunicena, being humble like the grass, and tolerant like the tree as given in the third verse of Sri Sri Shikshastakam ), this also includes the confidence that we can be blessed to act as Divine instruments to help others, regardless of where we are on the devotional journey.
This was the example set by my guru in an extraordinary way. By studying the activities of Shrila Prabhupada and the effect he had on others, it is obvious that he was empowered with Krishna-shakti, or the ability to spread the Krishna conception all over the world, one heart at a time. "The fundamental religious system in the Age of Kali is the chanting of the holy name of Krsna. Unless empowered by Krsna, one cannot propagate the san-kirtana movement.” [Chaitanya Charitamrita Antya-lila 7.11] Those who associated with him and diligently heard his entreaty to become Krishna conscious also convinced others, and this continues to this day. This is called disciplic succession. The more spiritually advanced the devotee, the more impact or spiritual influence they have on others. For this reason we are encouraged to search out, associate with, and serve devotees of great spiritual standing and faith. Great devotees “infect” or affect us with their conviction and faith, and their association helps us progress faster than we would on our own.
Mondays and Fridays I offer the morning services at the Temple. This means altar service and officiating or offering worship to our gurus and Lord Chaitanya and his associates, on behalf of all the devotees. I have been doing this type of service for a good portion of my adult life, and it is natural and comfortable for me. The activities of being a pujari or servant of the Lord’s Deity forms at a Temple are not complicated, but they require love and devotion, or at least continual ardent prayer to develop the proper mood. The constant awareness is meant to be that I am servant of the Lord, so I must be divinely conscious to maintain a loving service attitude. We cultivate a mood of reverence to avoid over-familiarity or complacency, which can defeat the purpose. For example, our body can be engaged in service that may appear devotional, while our mind and consciousness may be somewhere else. This tendency of being distracted has to be consciously given up with the understanding of what we are doing, and why. Practice make perfect, and this requires prayerful focus and remembrance of Krishna.
Anyone who has served Deities of Radha and Krishna, Gaura and Nitai, or our Gaudiya gurus, has some experiences in relationship to their service. Even small awareness’s are powerful testimonies. In my experience, whenever our Deities are freshly bathed, dressed and offered ornaments, flowers, etc., there is noticeable difference in how they feel to look at. Or, even more powerfully, when we have many guests, as we did yesterday afternoon for Radhastami, their presence is notably stronger. Put in practical terms, these manifestations of God, and his devotees, respond to the degree of devotion or bhakti. Mind you, I am no great devotee, but as dull as I may be, I can perceive this reciprocation, and it is very endearing and touches my heart.
The most tangible experience of this I experienced in Hawaii about 35 years ago. I was with a group of devotees sent there to revive a temple that had been neglected. That is a long story, but suffice it is to say that a set of Panca-tattva Deities (Lord Chaitanya and his four principle associates) were no longer being taken care of due to a misunderstanding. Our group was dispatched to reestablish their worship and the temple functions. The Deities were in a small home with one devotee staying with them. After we arrived he left and it was obvious that no worship had gone on for some time. I thought to immediately prepare a feast for them and offer an arotik or Vedic ceremony as is customarily done many times a day in temples around the world. After cooking, offering them the feast, and the arotik while all the devotees chanted prayers together in sankirtan, it was a palpable experience of everyone that the Deities had returned. This was a powerful demonstration of the potency of the presence and absence of bhakti, or love and devotion—even by neophytes. With the absence of worship, the Deities had left, and with the return of bhakti, they had again manifested. Generally, there is a ceremonial calling for the particular Deities to come with the promise of worship and service. Certainly God is everywhere in a general sense, but in Bhakti, Krishna takes an active role in the devotee's lives. Whether having an altar with pictures of Krishna or a Deity, it helps us develop a personal relationship with Krishna, and to offer our lives to him.