Friday, May 2, 2008

Pandering Politicians

From a conversation on May 1, 1976 with Srila Prabhupada:
"These leaders, they are samstutah, they are very much worshiped. By whom? Sva-vid-varahostra-kharaih. By the dogs, by the pigs, by the.... sva-vid-varaha..., camel, and by the ass. Because these particular names, I have explained in the Bhagavata... So suppose one man has become lion, and he's praised by dogs, camels, asses, and pigs. Naturally, they will praise, "Oh, sir, you are the king." Does it mean he's king? He's animal.

"So it is going on. They are electing a big animal as president. And when he begins to eat, animal, big animal, then they protest, "Oh, now he's not proper president. Get him down, get him down." But why you sent him? "Because we are pigs; we have no other knowledge. We another, appoint another big pig as our president." Everything is explained in the Vedic literature.

"The voters are sva-vid-varahostra-khara. And the president is another big animal. That's all. This is transaction of animal kingdom. A lion is the king of some asses, pigs, dogs, and hogs. What business you can expect there? This is their real picture. One who is a human being, he's seeing that how the animals are enjoying by voting and electing president. But they are thinking, "We are busy in a very great business. We are electing president."

Now a major election is going on in the US, and the graphic example that Prabhupada took from the Bhagavatam can be seen in the behavior of the pandering politicians running for President. The Republican, John McCain, who wants to keep US troops in Iraq for another 100 years, and the Democrat, Hillary Clinton, who will say or do anything to get elected, are caricatures of the animals Prabhupada spoke about. They pander to the ignorant masses who identify with them based on gender, race, class or so-called values.

Barack Obama is relatively better, at least he has more noble ideals. But he's being chased around the room by other animals with sticks, who accuse him of not being tough enough or middle class enough or 'white' enough to make a good President. It's a very ugly scene. Even if he somehow wins the nomination and election, Obama will be under terrific pressure from demoniac and divisive forces who will do everything in their power to turn the already polarized citizens against him.

The real issues facing the world are so grave they need immediate attention. But they will go unaddressed while people are distracted until our collective karma produces a crisis of huge proportions. It looks like that is coming soon enough. The current transactions of ignorance, dressed up as advanced civilization, will not be sustainable when the economic and political tsunamis hit our shores. The effects will be devastating and global. We are already starting to see the early signs in food shortages, inflation, bank meltdowns and soaring energy prices.

In an eerily similar way, the politicians of Iskcon pander to their congregations, entertaining them with comical anecdotes, bhagavat saptas, sentimental performances and personal stories. None of these methods were taught to us by Srila Prabhupada. But it's good for collecting disciples and donations while travelling around the world accepting gorgeous positions as gurus and quasi-spiritual leaders. In the meantime, their temples (at least in North America) are empty, just like the churches, except on Sundays, when they are filled with pious Hindus who come for darshan. No one talks about varnashram or any serious alternatives to this material society, and no one seeks to bring back the 95% of Prabhupada's direct disciples who left Iskcon and are not welcome back into the "family" unless they come to glorify the saffron-clad leaders who got themselves elected to the vyasasans.

While this game is going on, the collective consciousness of the world keeps accelerating faster towards a crash and transformation that only Krishna knows how traumatic it will be. While blind leaders-- secular and spiritual both-- are pandering and being praised, the world is quickly losing its balance. The compassionate paradigm that Prabhupada taught us was: "let the blind man and the lame man combine to lift up the world." The miserly paradigm now being followed is: "let blind leaders pander and be worshipped by their blind followers. So what if they both land up in the ditch? That's not our business." It's a topsy-turvy philosophy. It's certainly not vaisnava philosophy.

You can know the truth when you can see it. Prabhupada is showing it and teaching us how to see it. But we need to open our ears if we want to see it with our eyes. Is anyone listening past the pandering?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Prabhupada's Melliferous Voice

I've been listening to a lot of the Vintage series of recordings produced many years ago by the BBT. It's a collection of kirtan and bhajan recordings that Srila Prabhupada made, either singing solo, leading kirtans, or sometimes, singing in response to one of his disciple's leading kirtan.

Prabhupada was very humble about his own singing. He insisted his lectures be recorded, for the benefit of his disciples and future generations. But i think it was more by the initiative of his disciples that his singing was also recorded. I was in L.A. in 1972 when he recorded some bhajans at a small studio we had there. We had to ask him to record them. After finishing a bhajan, he asked us if it was all right, and went on to sing the next one. Everything of course was just one take. Sometimes he added his own mrdunga (drum) or kartals (hand cymbals) part on another track. That same year, he also sang the first couple of chapters of Srimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita-- specifically for me-- to engage me. He suggested that i could go to the temples and teach the devotees how to sing Gita and Bhagavatam verses.

What strikes me most about Prabhupada's voice is how comforting it is. It's like a giant banyan tree, offering beauty and shelter to anyone who comes close to it. Late last nite i was lying in bed, half or 3/4 asleep while a kirtan led by Visnujan Swami was softly playing on my iPod speakers. Then there were some excited sounds, and all of sudden, Prabhupada's voice was leading the kirtan. Hearing his voice gave me a sense of great relief. There was nothing wrong with Visnujana's singing, but somehow it did not pacify me; there was some effort to it. But as soon as Prabhupada started singing, there was no more anxiety. It felt like Vaikuntha.

Prabhupada's voice, for me, is the most distinct and richest voice i have ever heard. It is a voice saturated with love. Effortless and intense at the same time, it's soaked in the honey of prema. Prabhupada was not a trained singer, but his melodies and the inflections of his notes are very unique. In all my travels in India, i have never heard anyone else sing in that way. He had his own mode of expression, based on his pure heart and his inner life, not on a musical style or a desire to imitate or to show off. Prabhupada was never "trying" to be anyone other than himself. He was never a "wannabe" as so many of our godbrothers have become. He never even played the role of world acarya. He just was. And it shows in his voice. The sound of a voice does not lie if one's ears are open. Even if you cannot understand the meaning, a pure voice alone can enlighten you. An impure voice may entertain, but it can never purify anyone.

Many times he told his disciples that we are not musicians but devotees. He warned us that the quality of devotional feeling is what matters; not any technical skills. Yet, he had both: his honey-saturated voice could easily melt one's heart, and his melodies, inflections, mrdunga and harmonium playing were extraordinary and gifted. And Prabhupada did all of it as naturally as a bee takes nectar from a flower.

Prabhupada, please give me this blessing: that i can continue to hear your singing and your melliferous voice in every one of my coming births.