I can't believe it has been a month since I posted. Time flies when you are busy. So much as happened in my life, and so many different emotional states, in those 4 weeks and a day! After I finished my 31 day bodily cleanse of my various organs I felt disassociated from life and had to regroup and recommit to my life mission--which is the subject of this short blog poem--and my wife and I helped facilitate the Grihastha Vision Team 4th Annual Couple's Retreat in Gita-nagari PA. I wrote and thought a great deal about my life, and the value of keeping death in mind. I realize I've already written a lot about it, but as I share in this poem, my tendency is to forget the urgency of my spiritual life, in my case, when my health seems to be getting better.
I must continually remember that I will die
perhaps today or tomorrow, but soon
because if I forget this truth
I return to complacency and the easy life—
this has happened to me, yet again...alas!!
I must recommit to spiritual life, continually.
Otherwise I may die distraught and resentful
which I have been shown by cancer’s mercy.
THE MIRACLE OF FORGIVENESS: Much has been written in spiritually themed literature, Vedic scriptures and Prabhupada's translations, and personal growth/self-help books about forgiveness. As a young person and devotee I had no idea how important forgiveness could be. It was only after years of introspection and prayer that I personally understood how important it was for me to forgive important persons in my life and myself.
The topic came up in my reading of the last few days, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts about it. I have done much work with forgiveness—with my parents, for how I was raised, and for myself, for my many personal failings and what I should or should not have done. I looked at all my significant relationships in as much honesty as possible, and also considered that I may have some anger toward Krishna, and my guru, Shrila Prabhupada.
I did find some anger toward Prabhupada and I had a long talk with him to uncover it, and let it go. I have written somewhere about my, in contemporary terms, gestalt type conversation with him. Whatever it may be called, to me it was a very real talk before the Prabhupada murti in Berkeley almost 30 years ago. Before him, I shared and examined my anger and doubts, and I received a simple though compellingly powerful answer to my angst with his physical disappearance.
MY PRESSING QUESTIONS IN LIFE: Examining my heart, how are my material attachments still impeding my full practice of bhakti, or causing me to remain a mixed devotee? What do I want in my heart of hearts, and how is that causing me to act, or not act? In deep honesty, what truly moves and inspires me? As a result, what do I actually want to be absorbed in, demonstrated by my consistent thoughts and actions? What types of people I do think about or are attracted to in my daily life? Who do I want to become now, and forever? Knowing I will die, today or tomorrow, what must I give up, and what must I adopt to make my life a true success?
Having an ordinary materialistic upbringing until I was 19 years old I was still blessed with spiritual practices for many years. However, I have recently noted that I developed a cavalier attitude that I was “saved” and in the back to Godhead program. Being forced to face death has brought to light honest introspection of what is my true shelter. I have found that the old conditioned voices run deep below the surface of my consciousness. At present, those voices are much more prominent than I have dared admit, like an old disease waiting to manifest when the conditions are right—like herpes, or hepatitis.
I have found that I have been too willing to accommodate, or compromise with my materialistic tendencies rather than truly root them out. Now, praying to move beyond my complacency and comfort, I realize I can’t keep feeding the causes of my embodiment. Seeing my conditioned nature, I must keep casting those tendencies away which are unhelpful for my real life of spiritual progress, seeing them as ugly degrading darkness, and not to be simply tolerated. In my understanding this is what we devotees have signed up for, right—not the life of ease? I don’t want to only remember my spiritual connection when convenient, or to either get out of a jam, or obtain some desirable object.
Celebrating the holy day of Krishna’s appearance in this world five thousand years, or Shri Krishna Janmastami, is one of the many “high holidays” (to borrow from Judaism) which devotees of Krishna observe. What is known today as Hinduism includes what is called Gaudiya Vaishnavism, or the bhakti (devotional) movement inaugurated by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, which Krishna.com represents. My spiritual master, Shrila Prabhupada, wasn’t fond of the word Hinduism since it is an imposed term created by those not familiar with the tradition and is a word not found in any Vedic literature.
Be that as it may, for the sake of convenience, we sometimes say we are part of the very diverse and inclusive Hindu tradition of India. Irrespective of the various Hindu theologies, all sects of Hinduism celebrate Janmastami as an important day, and glorify Krishna in various ways. Whether they think he is one of the many Hindu gods, or that the Ultimate Truth is “The One,” or the formless, impersonal Brahman source energy, they still glorify him as the wise speaker of the Bhagavad Gita, and are charmed by his depiction in the Shrimad Bhagavatam as a carefree cowherd who lived an idyllic life amidst the simplicity and beauty of Nature, surrounded by those who loved him.
This evening we read from the Krishna Book, and discussed some of Krishna’s pastimes surrounding his so-called “birth” in the world. I was reminded of watching how excited Prabhupada was when he was presented with advanced copies of the Krishna Book during the 1970 Rathayatra, and how he personally sold and signed copies. I also remembered our routine of reading “Nectar of Devotion” and “Krishna Book” while we sipped hot milk and ate popcorn. I never doubted—what to some people are fantastic stories—but felt more and more connected to Krishna by hearing his pastimes. When I think of it, my attitude was truly amazing and shows my open and innocent heart as a very young, tender 19 year old. I had only been a devotee a short time, and yet hearing about Krishna was so faith building. I was still basking on the energy from my spiritual existential search and felt no need to question the teaching.
Krishna's lila or pastimes are inconceivable and can't be understood with material logic alone. Our Christian brothers and sisters are fond of saying that the life of Christ and his crucifixion are an historical fact that can be verified. We, however, would argue that while Krishna was really here five thousand years ago and engaged in his pastimes, they happened in a spiritual way, and are inconceivable to ordinary logic.
After a rather depressing day yesterday for reasons that we needn’t get into, I woke up this morning feeling much better, with the resolve that I would pray to Krishna from now on to either heal me, or kill me, physically speaking of course, since there is no death for the soul. In a way the status of my cancer, namely not getting worse or better, is a metaphor for how I see my life—mediocre, and that just isn’t acceptable any more. I am called to physically, mentally, and emotionally leave my comfort zone, and do what I must.
We are admonished in the Bible to be either hot or cold, but not half-baked. I have been half-baked, with some notable exceptions, about most things my whole life. If I am going to continue to write, speak, travel, minister and help others, than I have to really do it, and by the grace of my gurus and Gaura Nitai, excel at it, or make my best effort and prayers to that effect.
As a number of motivational speakers have discovered and shared, “Reasons come first, answers some second.” Thus I have to have the proper motivation to write, speak, and help others, and then Krishna and his agents will help me find the ways to practically manifest it. I don’t have to know how, just that I must.
Therefore I am going to spend every day chanting, praying, and doing self-healing. I have studied for years in the past and spent thousands of dollars studying healing methods, and even practicing them, but never feeling strong enough about them to really pursue them. So now I have to use them or lose my current physical self.
Life in the material world is difficult and challenging for everyone to different degrees. While we may see in the world great misery and take some consolation that ours are much less, still, initially in the thick of our personal misery, we are still effected and challenged to keep our positivity. Can we use our distressful situation as a negative impetus for spiritual practice? In other words, human life is favorable for spiritual practice when we understand its glaring shortcomings and thus use them to our spiritual advantage by taking shelter of Krishna and his holy names. Prabhupada taught us to "make the best of a bad bargain."
Whether we are able to remain positive even amidst difficulties depends on our personality type, general attitude toward life, and spiritual development, which such small or large misery brings to light. We are called to improve ourselves through the crucible laboratory of suffering or pain.
The following two incidents in the scheme of world suffering are tiny difficulties, and yet they still add a shade to the general color of our lives. Our reactions to even small miseries teach us about ourselves and how well we have dealt with suffering in the past. If we are on an overload of general suffering even a small pain or problem can be overwhelming or we could be so callous that we barely notice. However, if we have handled life reverses well, have a generally stable life situation, and see problems or material miseries as meant for our highest good, we will meet them in our stride. I am sharing this as an opportunity for you to think about your own life and evaluate how you deal with reverses and small or large difficulties, pain, or miseries.
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.