THE IMPORTANCE OF COMBINING “HORIZONTAL” GROWTH WITH “VERTICAL” GROWTH and THE POWER OF LOVE TO REVEAL OUR OCCUPATION
THE IMPORTANCE OF COMBINING “HORIZONTAL” GROWTH WITH “VERTICAL,” OR SPIRITUAL, GROWTH: Much of what I write about could be called “horizontal” growth, or tools, thinking processes, angles of vision, or making the mind our friend, that while in of themselves are not counted as bhakti, they're essential for it, and to me, inseparable for remaining, or becoming, an enthusiastic devotee, and happy human being—the spiritual and material sides of life. Horizontal growth means in the broadest sense being a balanced person strongly influenced by the mode of goodness, where our physical, emotional, mental, and intellectual requirements are naturally addressed, but in such a way as to be made favorable for bhakti practices.
To put this in devotee lingo, we could say this is within the purpose of the socio-religious system of Varnasrama, but to me, without the baggage. Without getting into the details, formally designating a person as this or that varna appears counter-productive in today’s world. However, we can serve its purpose by helping devotees discover and deal with their life issues, become balanced and happy human beings, and find an occupation, and possibly a mate, that compliments their natural proclivities, all within the context of spiritual advancement.
Many devotees struggle from not addressing their past or personal life issues which bleed into their spiritual lives and can make it difficult to avoid making aparadhas or offenses to others and in fully absorbing themselves in sadhana, which is the ultimate healing method. In such a condition we have a divided mind and our out of integrity and in conflict with ourselves.
Some say to me, “You only need to chant Hare Krishna!”
Sure, if you can chant purely without distraction, and are happy in the process—go for it. I am all for that, and see the purpose of personal growth work as total absorption in the spiritual life.
GREAT LIFE REVERSES CAN REVEAL GOD'S GRACE AND SHOW WHAT WE MOST NEED, WHAT WE CHERISH, GREATLY VALUE, AND OUR HIDDEN STRENGTHS
HOW CAN WE USE OUR SORROW, PAIN OR GREAT LIFE REVERSES TO INVOKE GOD'S GRACE THAT IS HIDDEN BEHIND IT: To be human is to experience pain, betrayal, disappointment, and various kinds of suffering. We may ask, "Why me?" To which I would reply, "Why not you?" We all have our litany lists of wrongs done to us or to those we love. What do we do with this list?
One natural tendency is that we would rather avoid pain than to experience happiness, so in the face of pain, violence, or loss, we tend to either repress it or be angry or resentful about it. I have experienced both of these reactions to life situations. Unfortunately, such reactions are only helpful in the short term, but do little to help us grow as a person, and self-improvement, and ultimately spiritual awakening are, to me, the purpose of life. Otherwise, we have a pointless dog eat dog world, with death being the end of everything.
Could there be some benefit, even great benefit in these experiences? Some will be angry just at my asking this question, and yet, if we don't ask it, we can remain ever in reaction to the past, and keep playing it out in relationship to others.
We also find that even what everyone else thinks is good fortune or an ideal situation can be interpreted by the person in the middle of it as a terrible or awful experience. So while we have all heard this before, the simple yet powerful truth is that our attitude is really what gives meaning to the events of our lives or a statement we hear. This means that we can change our feelings about an experience by changing the meaning we give it, or by using it as a way to improve our lives.
Poems share what we feel
during a particular time
or mood of the day
from a breeze on our face.
We can label it
as good or harsh,
bitter cold or stimulating,
scented or a repelling stench.
We give wings to our experience
using word pictures to communicate
the magic of connecting to
the possibilities of the spirit.
We can invest life in our words
the nuances and flavors of being
what’s ordinarily inexpressible
incredible beyond reason.
THE PAST CAN BE A GOOD PLACE TO LEARN, BUT IT'S A LOUSY PLACE TO LIVE and THE BLESSINGS OF SORROW AND DIFFICULTIES
THE PAST CAN BE A GOOD PLACE TO LEARN, BUT IT'S A LOUSY PLACE TO LIVE: One of the reasons I share my past growing up and my various struggles on account of it, is to show that we have to make peace with our history so we can move on, often through some type of healing, forgiveness, or various kinds of personal work, often with professional help. In spite of how horrendous our past might be, it doesn't have to define us or have negative power over our lives.
There are two extremes, one is to repress or not deal with our past and stay in reaction to it, and the other is to let it define and limit us by keeping us a tied down victim. We want to identify ourselves as a lovable part of Krishna, not as an incest survivor, child of an alcoholic, or what have you. Some people wear their past trauma like a badge of honor. At the same time, while spiritual advancement is the ultimate solution to all our problems, where we gradually realize and humbly identify ourselves as an effulgent soul beyond material designations or clinical diagnosis, it can be helpful to "name" our type of conditioning since we often identify with it as who we are and suffer accordingly. The way out is through! We aren't our life story, and yet within that story are keys to rise above it. Every negative situation carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater gain.
MAY WE BE BLESSED TO MEDITATE ON, UNDERSTAND, APPRECIATE, AND APPLY TO OUR LIVES, THE UNPARALLELED MERCY OF SHRI KRISHNA CHAITANYA MAHAPRABHU, THE KIRTAN AVATAR, ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF HIS APPEARANCE IN THE WORLD: For me, on appearances day of any incarnation of God, or great devotee, I question myself on how much I appreciate their special teaching and gifts to the world. Today, I am thinking of both the beauty and insanity of being in the material world, and what it would be like to have never met devotees of Shri Chaitanya, and taken to the process of chanting the holy name, engaging in devotional service, and aspiring for love for Krishna, or prema. Like many devotees, I wonder how I would even be alive, so intense was my dissatisfaction with the world, and how much I was looking for an alternative solution to that material status quo and to thus solve my existential crisis.
We can understand how much we have embraced this path by evaluating what our absorption is, and what we do with our time and money. Who and what do we love? What can we not live without? Where is our shelter and support? Is our spiritual life progressive, and are we praying with our whole heart, not merely officially, for spiritual progress? Considering these questions, where do we fall short, and what are we actively doing to change for the better?
TO REALIZE OUR SPIRITUAL SELVES AS TOTAL GIVERS--HOW MUCH DO YOU GIVE, AND HOW MUCH DO YOU HOLD BACK?: Although Krishna, or God, is the Supreme Enjoyer, he is also the Supreme Giver, which we should take note of, and pray to put into practice in our lives. Krishna naturally and effortlessly sustains, supports, and maintains the infinite universes and the souls who populate them ,even as he is the owner of everything and is meant to be served. As part of him, we are also by nature givers, but being covered by material bodies, we are consumed with keeping our bodies and our dependents alive through service.
We have to serve to live, and it is the "religion" of the soul to serve, just as honey is sweet, or chilies are hot. The perfection of service is to serve the interest of the Supreme Source, or Krishna. When we don't serve God, no matter how many souls covered by material bodies we serve, we will never be totally fulfilled, as that service is temporary and limited, and we have the desire to help others to an unlimited degree and forever.
I can say for myself that my desire to serve, help, and love appears much greater than my physical capacity. I see how selfish I am and how focused on taking care of my body and mind, especially in my current illness. As I have shared before, I have to spend so much time just to stay alive and improve my health. While I admit that this service can also be service to others since I can't fully serve with an unhealthy body, I also see how easy it is to not do more than this.
On my healing journey
to postpone my death,
I missed hearing the subtle
first murmurings of spring,
when Winter just begins to dream
of all that it can become—
through rest and rejuvenation,
during snow and freezing rain,
leafless trees and barren landscapes—
transforming into new life possibilities.
I first learned this sensing
on our forested, countryside land
after adjusting to the quiet
while quieting my city mind’s busy-ness
learning to be present and open
without imposing on the environment
THE BALANCE OF GIVING AND RECEIVING: Like breathing in life-giving air, and breathing out carbon dioxide that is needed by the trees and plants, we have to learn that while giving is more celebrated, it cannot exist without receiving--we can't have one without the other. The trees give what we need and we give what they require. Many people are focused on being active for others, often at the cost of their own well-being and health--they feel uncomfortable accepting praise or service from others even when they really need it.
If we aren't doing or being active we think we aren't living. This idea is like the air in our fast-paced modern society, and is often emphasized by religious leaders quoting scriptures. Devotees of Krishna and its institutional leaders also get caught up in this by measuring someone's worth by their visible service at a place of worship or in outreach. Some of us have learned the hard way that to be consistent givers, we need to be able to gauge our personal needs and attend to them, or we will often become resentful or burn out. It isn't just the giving that is important, but how we give, and the spirit behind it--that we are joyful givers who give in a way that is sustainable and takes into account our needs and stages of life.
Personally, throughout my life I have been more of a taker than a giver. Thus a big part of my present push to speak and write is my attempt to give to others what I consider most essential. As I write I have the pull of my necessity to chant and my family responsibilities, and my need to give to you through writing. My writing is both giving and receiving and yet I have to really make the time to write or it doesn't happen. Writing is self-expression and my attempt to encourage others. Speaking is more difficult for me, but is based on the same idea, that I have to do it for my fulfillment and peace of mind, as well as in the spirit of service to others. At the same time I have to fulfill other obligations to take care of my body and mind, and family responsibilities. Balance is required in every aspect of our lives.
DO WE PRAY FOR DIFFICULTIES, OR TO REMEMBER KRISHNA? and GIVE YOUR LIGHT and KINDNESS, NOT MERELY YOUR JUDGEMENT OR CRITICISM
DO WE PRAY FOR DIFFICULTIES OR TO REMEMBER KRISHNA?: A dear young friend of mine sent me a quote from a devotee who had noted that in happy situations devotees tend to forget Krishna, so his recommendation was for devotees to pray for difficulties so that can better remember Krishna. While Queen Kunti--a pure soul, by the way--prayed for difficulties, that were in a certain context, and to make a point. When the Pandavas and their Mother Kunti, were in difficulties they had Krishna's association and direct intervention, while at the time of her prayer, when life was good, Krishna was leaving them, so to her, problems and difficulties with Krishna were much better than a happy life without Krishna. She wasn't a lover of problems, pain, or difficulties, but of Krishna, and she was willing to accept any condition if it fostered her love and service for him. That is the lesson we are meant to learn from her prayer.
Thus, personally, I don't recommend devotees pray for difficulties or distress--those come naturally as does happiness--but to remember Krishna always; to be sincere; to make spiritual advancement so they can deal with any situation in the best way; and to see everything as favorable for service. While difficulties or distresses may foster taking shelter of Krishna and remembering him more, they may not. Whether they do or not depends on our level of spiritual advancement and the timing, or when it happens in our lives.
I know young devotees, who after hearing Queen Kunti's prayer, prayed for difficulties and distresses, but when they obtained them (be careful what you pray for!!!), they were not happy and more Krishna conscious, but were often simply bewildered, in anxiety, and became upset with Krishna. We have to be able to digest and know the meaning of the results we pray for. In a similar way I tell devotees not to ask their guru to answer a certain personal question if they aren't willing to accept advice that may go against what they want or feel they should do. On a certain level many of us just want to surrender, but to do so, well, we may not be ready to, and after doing the "surrendered action," resent having to do it. Therefore, we have to know ourselves. While we do want to stretch spiritually we don't want to break in the process, or become depressed.
I found the drive from LA to ISV, in Mountain View, CA, a scenic one once I was out of the city. About half the way there as I approached the top of a mountainous ridge at 4,000 feet, I was greeted by what I took as an auspicious sign for my current travel and talk the following day. Ahead of me was a rain storm with the beginning of a rainbow to my right. As I progressed, it became larger and larger, finally creating an arch from one side of the highway to the other, like some banner heralding a festival on a city street. My camera was handy and when I posted the picture on Facebook, some of my friends thought that if they didn’t know me, they would have assumed someone Photoshopped it. But no, it was the real thing, and from what I have heard, not a frequent sight. It was the first one I’ve ever seen, and it stayed with me for about 10 minutes or so.
I gradually descended into the San Joaquin, or central valley of California, which grows much of our Nation’s food. Crops and various fruit trees were on both sides of the road often stretching as far as I could see. As I was taking in the scene I remembered that the last time I was in the San Joaquin valley was 46 years earlier. A few devotees and I were on our way to be initiated by Shrila Prabhupada in Los Angeles. At the time I was staying at the San Jose temple, which was near San Jose State University. I rode with Chitsukhananda Prabhu along with some other devotees. His car was an old, brightly colored and exotically decorated station wagon that Prabhupada had called a “hippie car.” About half way there, the car broke down in the middle of the same valley I was now in, and we had to take a bus to LA.
At the time I didn’t really think much about it, whereas now, I would be wondering what the symbolism was, breaking down on my way to be initiated by my future guru, Shrila Prabhupada. Now I might consider that overcoming obstacles and staying the course no matter what was part of the message I could garner from the experience, but at that time, I wasn’t that observant or curious. My simple, accepting nature served me during my early years, and helped me focus on my service without being distracted, or criticizing others.