As I prepared last week to give a Sunday class in Hillsborough (video at the end of this blog), along with researching and thinking of the topic of levels of secrets (from the most mundane to the most sublime) I also contemplated the topic of speaking to others from our Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. The archetypal “class” is Maharaja Parikshit being instructed by Shri Shukadeva Goswami. Both of them have special qualifications being pure devotees of Krishna, and yet the whole class was fueled by the urgent necessity of Parikshit Maharaja, since he was cursed to die in seven days, and sought the best way to use his remaining time.
According to Shrila Visvanath Chakravarti Thakur, of the three types of people benefited by talks about Krishna—the questioner, the hearer, and the speaker—the speaker is the most benefited. Never the less, without the ardent interest, fueled by an urgent necessity to hear, the speaker won’t be as motivated to speak. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam, which records the conversation between these two great souls, Shukadeva frequently glorifies the questions of his student being enlivened at the opportunity to speak about that which he has such feelings for.
Therefore, as exemplified by this conversation, as well as in many scriptures including the Bhagavad-gita, both speaker and listener have responsibilities. For example, being advanced devotees with the urgency to speak and hear helps make the conversations an inspired one, and takes it to new heights of spirituality and insightfulness. While we may not be on the level of such high devotees, we can none the less be as reverential, attentive and prayerful as possible, whether we are speaker or listener, and be mindful of the sublimity of the process we are following.
Otherwise, out of our familiarity with the process of attending or giving a class, we may minimize its benefit and have a material vision of what it’s about. If we become complacent in our spiritual lives we may skip the class or think it is just for new people. However, if we truly realize our perilous situation in the material world and have an urgent necessity to make spiritual advancement we will do as much as possible to make spiritual progress.
The Origin of Secrets and their Reflection in the World
I am finding the subject of secrets very rich, deep and important. The existence of secrets is all-pervading, and it all begins in the spiritual world, where its true purpose is to facilitate the loving pastimes of Krishna and his devotees. For example, Krishna’s relationship with Radha and the gopis, while suspected by a few, is a secret kept from Krishna’s parents, which intensifies their love and the passion of their meeting. The fear of separation and being found out intensifies the emotions and value of being with one another. Everything in that world is according to Krishna’s desire, even those who appear to create so-called impediments to Krishna’s secret love rendezvous with his greatest lovers.
The distorted reflection of these secrets is found in the tabloids or in rumors and secrets of movie stars and other famous people. Every person has some secret they don’t want others to know, as do families, communities, nations, religious groups or institutions, and ruling powers in any organization or government. Keeping secrets is the business of the false ego which thinks of friends and enemies and endeavors to protect our false sense of material identity from harm or criticism. We also criticize others to protect our secrets and divert attention from ourselves.
In this world there are ordinary, special, and the greatest secrets of all, as hinted about in the Bhagavad Gita, and then expanded upon in the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita. While the most secret and confidential knowledge of Krishna’s Godhood and the means to obtain him need to be the basis of our lives, there are other secrets, the ignorance of, or lack of application of, create many problems in our ordinary lives and in spiritual practices. We might know these secrets in theory and yet not apply them in our own lives. One of the most important secrets is widely known, though often difficult to apply, and revolves around our relationship with ourselves.
THE IMPORTANCE OF OPPOSITION AND LIFE REVERSES: In the lives of great persons there is always opposition and apparent road blocks in accomplishing their goals or mission in life. Whether through another person, an accident, their own body or mind, or some natural disturbance, what appears on the surface to be an impediment is passed through and the glory of the person is revealed.
Practically we can see that great success in any undertaking or field is not accomplished without passing through many setbacks and even failure. In the personal growth or success literature such perseverance and determination in the face of what seem insurmountable odds are part of any great person’s story.
In Christianity we have Judas who betrayed Christ but was actually a facilitator of his mission to sacrifice his life to benefit others. Haridas Thakur being whipped in 21 market places, or being tempted by a prostitute sent by a envious person, only added to his glory as the great teacher of the holy name.
Without the atrocities of Hiranyakashipu, Prahlad’s glories would not have been revealed, and we would have never heard of him. Dhurva Maharaja’s step mother forbidding him to be favored by his father helped him realize the strength of his determination and his eventual favor by the Lord. What would have happened if Krishnadas Kaviraja, the author of Chaitanya Charitamrita, had not left his brother's home? Without the devastating rains sent be Indra, Krishna would have had no necessity to lift Govardhan Hill.
Imagine Prabhupada easily receiving his first visa and other papers for travel, or if instead of sailing on the Jaladuta he would have just hopped on a plane and was met with instant success in America. We glorify great persons not for the ease of their lives but because of the great odds they overcame. Without Arjuna's dilemma there would be no Bhagavad Gita to light our path out of darkness. Had Emperor Pariksit not been cursed to die, we would have no Shrimad Bhagavatam to lead us on the path of bhakti...and on and on, as the examples are many in scriptures and life....
PRAYING FOR BETTER RELATIONSHIPS AND HEALING OUR HEART: Yesterday we celebrated the disappearance of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Gadadhara Pandita and honored our relationship with them, and as we contemplated our independence (July 4th) from the material modes of nature, we contemplated the subject of relationships in general, since life is about relationships. There is nothing like relationships to severely test our ideals and demonstrate the spiritual work we have to do with ourselves.
We hunger for those who love and understand us, who nurture us, bringing out our best qualities, but also allow us to be ourselves, imperfections and all. However, if we are to have good relationships with others, we are required to have a good relationship with ourselves. For those of us who are theists, self-acceptance is greatly helped by our acceptance and positive relationship with our Source, or God, to me, Krishna. Self-acceptance and positive self-esteem are intertwined with our loving relationship with God, who we are part of.
Relationships open a door to reveal who are and what we are made of, being compared in the past to a threshing floor for separating the wheat from the chaff. Love and acceptance have been compared to the wheat, whereas our self-centered fears and criticism are like the chaff. By our endeavor aided by prayer we can crack the protective husk of our fears and release the delicious, nourishing essence. We could also think of relationships to be like a laboratory which can produce both useful and harmful chemicals.
Yesterday I had another PET or full body scan. I rose around my usual time but had to be especially focused on finishing my morning duties before I had to leave at 7: 15 AM. Thus I chanted my japa, or my morning meditation on the names of God, first thing, read for a few minutes, and jumped into the shower. Donning devotional attire and tilak I went downstairs to wake the Deities with official prayers, and then offering my prayers for the day and my life—to offer it for the best service possible and to benefit as many people as possible.
I began my morning worship of my shilas and all our Deities. Preparing their breakfast and then offering my Lords their bath, arotik, and food offering, I removed the worship paraphernalia and offering trays from the altar and washed everything. I packed up what was now Prasad, or sanctified food, since I had to fast from food and drink. Then I packed all the herbal remedies, potions and pills, and changed into my regular dress. I packed my computer, iPod for listening to lectures, and books to read and distribute. Saying goodbye to my wife and making my last prayers to our Deities that they may accompany and guide me, I was out the door and on the road, on time.
Driving can be a time for listening to lectures and contemplate what I hear, and also a time for deep thought about my life, and life and death in general. We are bombarded with reminders of the four fold miseries (re-birth, old age, disease, and death) on the Net and throughout our day. I am supposed to be happy that the US Air-force killed 250 ISIS fighters, and sad with the unfortunate death of 50 persons at a night club in Florida.
What about all the bugs my car kills on my windshield or grill, or the many animals or “roadkill” splattered on the side or in the middle of the road? Down the road GMO corn is grown, while the bee, song bird and frog populations are diminishing as Roundup poisons go into the groundwater and forests are made into paper. Problems are everywhere.
Part 1 FINDING OUR MATERIAL SELVES TO HELP US FIND OUR SPIRITUAL SELF and Part 2 FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT
Part 1 FINDING OUR MATERIAL SELVES TO HELP US FIND OUR SPIRITUAL SELF: I have thought and written much about what it takes to stay the course in bhakti for our whole life, as well as to how not to settle into a comfortable religious life not intensely focused on making spiritual advancement. They are related subjects though usually spoken of separately. I am thinking mostly about what kind of unique guidance should be provided devotees of different ages, needs, and personality types.
Everyone is best served by tailor-made guidance which takes into consideration a person’s age, years of spiritual practice, material necessity and nature, and all-around maturity. I bring up the topic because most of us didn’t receive this type of guidance and suffered accordingly. I am challenged to succinctly present this in the bite size form of a blog, as there are so many aspects to consider, so please take this as food for thought to be expanded upon.
When I and those of my generation lived in ashrams during our young and inexperienced years some of us just plugged into the bhakti process without really understanding our nature and if we could live primarily spiritually focused for the long haul. To learn how to center our lives totally on active seva is valuable, though it’s often unsustainable due to our surfacing desires and conditioning. This should be made clear to every new devotee, so they don’t feel guilty if they have to leave the ashram, or need to address some pressing concern in their marriage.
THE SEARCH FOR POWER AND DISCOVERING ITS REAL SOURCE and AFFIRMING AND GIVING THANKS FOR OUR HEALING
THE SEARCH FOR POWER AND DISCOVERING ITS REAL SOURCE: In addition to the ultimate life lesson that we are incompatible with matter and need to be in a spiritual environment to realize our true fulfillment and source of power, we also have to deal with our relative life issues. They need to be sorted out so we won’t be distracted and drained by them. From my perspective and experience, this work is favorable for bhakti, and is part of being a balanced human being with the ability to give our whole heart to bhakti. I realize that many of my recent blogs have a similar theme, the reason being that these topics are so important to understand. I see the great need for this inner work to be accomplished for all, and I am also engaged in it. I consider helping those involved in bhakti or interested in spiritual life part of my life's mission. I pray that you seriously think about what I write about here. So please bear with the repetition as I bring up new points each time.
Otherwise, our failure to uncover and work through our life lessons and unhealthy conditioning keeps us spiritually stuck. We see too many examples of this, I think because there has not been enough emphasis on exactly how to do this work. Such endeavors are really “anartha-nivritti,” since unhealthy, reactionary, unexamined habits, cause us to not hear our inner guidance or deal properly with others with the tendency for aparadha and offensive chanting--the root of all offenses is inattentive or distracted chanting. The great Gaudiya Vaishnava teacher or acharya, Shrila Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakur outlines stages of spiritual advancement as well as obstacles we must face in his book Madhuya Kadambini. There and throughout Prabhupada's writings the main recommendation for spiritual advancement is pure chanting of the holy name and having advanced Vaishnava association, or sadhu sanga. Whatever endeavors at self-improvement we make are to better facilitate these practices. Add to this our regular prayers for spiritual progress. We have to begin where we are, as in praying for the desire, to have the desire, to make progress on the road to Krishna prema, or pure love of God.
Many of our karmic issues are highlighted by our family of origin. It’s worthwhile to reflect on this, especially when we become aware of dysfunctional and troubling patterns in our life that bring us distress in relationships, complicate making our particular contribution, and in feeling satisfied with the direction of our lives. The excuse that sometimes comes up in therapy that “this is just the way I am,” is a very poor justification for bad judgment and unkind or aggressive behavior. While we all have particular personality types, certain learned survival behavior is not helpful for our progressive life, or in being kind, loving, and compassion persons, and realizing our full potential. Sometimes a major crisis or illness is required to help us examine our lives and how we are required to change--one of which I am currently in the midst of.
(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player is needed; works best with Firefox or Explorer; if you are using Google Chrome it will automatically play, so if you don't want to listen, mute your speakers.)
[This is republished from August 5th 2014, which I publish today, on Father's Day, as my tribute to my father. Though he was the tragic figure of his worldly drama, I know he loved me and did his best to raise me. He went to the temple at my first wedding, loved prasad, and said Hare Krishna frequently to shock his friends and acquaintances about the strange group I was part of. So he was blessed in many ways.]
[An interesting fact is that other than a few baby pictures with my parents, I only have the above picture and one other of them together during my childhood, and they both show my father pretending to be attacking my mom--but in fact, that was the nature of their relationship. I also have no pictures of my father and I. Life leaves us many clues!]
August 3rd will be the death anniversary of my father who, as we devotees say, “left his body” in 1986. “Leaving our body,” means someone, the soul, has left the physical covering behind and moved on. I don’t remember many dates, but this one is etched in my memory—along with a few birthdays, and my wedding anniversary (very important date for those of you who are married). When I was with my mom in her last days in 2010 I obtained his death certification and some family memorabilia—presently of interest only to me, as the last surviving blood member of my family. This should tell us something about such memorabilia!
My mom was a collector, and saved even her baptism certificate, though she was an unbeliever, brought up by a strong religious mother, and, as fate would have it, had a Hare Krishna son! We are strongly karmically connected to our parents and children. Part of a successful life is to make peace with our past and current life—since our present is very much a reaction to our past, and our present choices becomes our future. Thus, part of bhakti is cutting the worldly cords of attachments by attachment to the spiritual via the “cords” of our beads which we use to chant the maha-mantra, as well as all the practices of devotional service.
I wanted to at least say a few words about this day to honor the lessons I learned from my “dear old dad,” though mainly to share some perspectives in dealing with the death of loved ones. Though the soul is eternal, due to our bodily dress, we calculate the age of the body. So he isn’t really old in a physical sense, but he died when he was 65—you could say he retired his body to ashes (he was cremated) at the age of retirement, since he was tired of living.
I love to write and am doing my best to speak more. Regardless of how inspiring or insightful I may, or may not, be, if my words don’t inspire the audience or readers to take practical action, the benefit will be very brief. Have you ever been to a seminar, workshop, or class, or read a book, where you felt very inspired, only to have it fade because you didn’t put into practice what you heard? I know I have!
Many people know what their problems are, but are unwilling, or don’t believe it is possible for them, to do the difficult work of change and transformation. Or there may be too much secondary gain for staying the same, regardless of their unhappiness or dissatisfaction. We may wear our past wounds like a badge of honor, hoping to get sympathy strokes from others, as in “woe, is me.” Being creatures of habit the thought of change, even positive, beneficial change, is challenging for most people, even if they are currently miserable, and think they “should” change—maybe tomorrow, or that faraway place in the ocean, “Someday Isle.”
What we currently have, or are as a person, is a known reality, but if we change our situation or environment, that is unknown, and takes a leap of faith to embrace. However, we should know that leading a successful life in either the material or spiritual realm requires us to change for the better. As it is said, there isn’t much different between a rut and a grave—only two sides.
LOVE, LEARN, PRAY, GIVE, ACCEPT, RELEASE, LET GO, and CELEBRATING and EMBODYING GRACE AND SHARING THAT WITH THE WORLD
LOVE, LEARN, PRAY, GIVE, ACCEPT, RELEASE, LET GO, CELEBRATE: I often think about how to express the most important aspects of life that can most benefit us all. The following is one perspective and attempt to do this. We begin by sensing that love is our nature and that which we most hanker for. When we discover that our capacity to love in this world, and the capacity for others to accept the amount of love we are capable of giving, is limited and ultimately unsatisfying, we can begin our quest to realize our spiritual nature as beings of eternity, wisdom, and love.
We discover that the fulfillment we seek is only possible when our spiritual nature is gradually awakened, since this nature is who we truly are. There are many stages of this divine awakening which will be promoted by those who seek the goal their path offers. According to the bhakti Vedic scriptures, the highest stage is when our loving propensity and full consciousness is reposed on the Supreme Original Person, God, or Krishna.
When we love Krishna, then we always know what to do. This is true learning and practical wisdom. Krishna teaches in chapter 15 of his Bhagavad Gita, that when we know Krishna as the Supreme Original Person, without doubting, then we know everything that is necessary.
In our endeavor to learn to love Krishna (bhakti) we learn that prayer—through chanting the holy name, reciting prayers in the scripture and by great devotees, and our personal prayers—is our connection to God and leads us to serving and remembering him. We also learn that by serving, loving, and giving to others in the spirit of service to Krishna, we grow spiritually and help others as well (para-upakara). We can’t separate Krishna from his devotees.