Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Going Out of Business

A few days ago i read that there are now more online bloggers in America making money at it than there are firefighters. That's difficult to believe, but it shows how pervasive and popular blogging has become.

I haven't made one cent here, but that was never my purpose. I started writing this blog two years ago. I had just returned to the West after seven years of traveling and living in India. My intention was to express my impressions on being back in the West. That gradually evolved into an airing of my grievances with Iskcon, sharing my opinions and realizations on being a "devotee," and giving voice to my feelings about my state of consciousness.

Now, around 200 posts later, and several stops and restarts, i am finally closing up shop. I revealed my thoughts and my heart here. I don't wish to be repetitious and I think i've said enough. I have no agenda to push other than to encourage honesty and self expression and to expose duplicity and corruption. I am not an expert or authority on anything but i guess the summary of my advice is this: never sell yourself short. You are eternally an individual. Don't let the world make you conform. Respect your deeper self and be mindful of your relationship with God.

I will keep this blog online so that anyone who wishes to can go thru the archives. The topics are not time-sensitive. Most of them deal with issues that will remain challenges for anyone interested in spiritual life. I have tried to convey my real life experiences as they relate to the great transcendental subject matter of Krishna consciousness.

Recently i reread Siddhartha, the 1922 novel by the Nobel prize winning author, Herman Hesse. I had read this book as a teenager in school and remember being fascinated by the twists and turns of a spiritual seeker. It was an exciting fairy tale to me then. Reading it again, after 40 years of treading myself on the spiritual path, Siddhartha had a new, more authentic meaning for me. It's an exceptional read. Hesse was not a devotee but a European intellectual who was deeply interested in India and had an intuitive understanding of human nature in its quest for perfection. The book is free to read online if you're interested:
http://www.online-literature.com/hesse/siddhartha

Getting out of the material world is the most zigzag of roads. It requires constant attention and adjustment, causeless divine mercy, conscious suffering, sukriti (spiritual good fortune), child-like inquisitiveness, patience, obedience to truths that are often invisible, rules that are at times apparently counter-intuitive, and goals that are always beyond our tiny efforts. This road also demands rejection of group-think, personal sacrifice, tolerance of one's karma and the karma of one's friends, the ability to pick oneself up after countless stumbling, and many other qualities.

Anyone who thinks it's easy to drive down this road and become liberated will soon learn otherwise. Anyone who thinks that blind faith to a belief system or to an institution will suffice is in for a big surprise. Anyone who abuses vaisnavas or disturbs others on the road will need to remain in the material world to become aware of their mistakes and atone for them.

For old-time bhaktas who are readers, i offer my respects, obeisances and appreciation for all your past efforts on the path, and my encouragement. As dark as the day may seem (and it seems quite dark to me), the future is brighter than any of us can imagine. The sun can be checked by dense clouds only for some time. The nite lasts only so long. The morning sun eventually dissipates the fog. We can't say when or where, but every sincere follower of Srila Prabhupada (his regular disciples and the uninitiated who follow his instructions) will surely meet him again.

All glories to our eternal spiritual father, the spiritual sun of our universe, Srila Prabhupada.

Anyone who wishes to communicate with me, can reach me at: jauvana@gmail.com

Om tat sat.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Association

We live in a world full of denial-- denial of death, denial of grief, denial of compassion, denial of sacrifice. We are part of a "you only live once" culture. Everyone is busy maintaining a mask of successful well-being, a pursuit of enjoyment and an artificial movie of being a well adjusted, happy personality. This bullshit culture that we have grown up with and surrounds us also filters its way into so-called vaisnava society. But that is hardly spiritual association.

The vaisnava acaryas are not afraid to write and sing about how morose they are without pure association. ami boro dukhi. "I am so miserable." kripa balo kana koro. "Give me the glance of your mercy." To acknowledge depression due to lack of association is something the great acaryas did.

My point in my last post was simply to address the enormous loss each of us experienced when we felt it necessary to give up the association of devotees. We each had good reasons for leaving, but we also have good reasons for grieving.

Grief is a natural part of the process of coming to terms with a traumatic loss. In her landmark book, On Death & Dying, published in 1969, Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross researched grief associated with the dying process. The 'grief cycle' is actually a model for helping to understand and deal with all major losses--the emotional, physical and yes, spiritual traumas in our lives.

These are the five stages:
1 Denial
Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality relating to the situation concerned. It's a defense mechanism.

2 Anger
Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves or project it on others who they blame for their situation.

3 Bargaining
Persons in this stage of grief bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise with what they have lost or with a higher power, usually with God. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution.

4 Depression
Depression is a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. It's natural to feel sadness and regret, fear, uncertainty at a great loss. It shows that the person has at least begun to accept reality.

5 Acceptance
This final stage of the grief process indicates emotional detachment and objectivity. It brings a kind of peace and allows the person to move on to a new space, letting go of the old and embracing a new paradigm.

The grieving process is natural and like other forces of nature, unavoidable. It is when we get stuck in one phase that our situation feels intolerable. For example, if someone remains angry at Iskcon for year after year, unable to move to the next phase, that means he or she is not just angry at Iskcon but at themselves. Chronic anger is self destructive. The same for the other stages of grief. The idea is not to get stuck but to tolerate and acknowledge the different phases of grief while moving thru them to finally reach a new consciousness and corresponding worldview.

The soul "is" the world, and when we are in harmony with the soul and with Supersoul, our actions and emotions will create peace and happiness.

If you can find good association, you are very fortunate. If you cannot find it, you need to create it. There is no alternative. Association to facilitate harmony of the soul is the greatest necessity of our time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Depressed

I've had a couple of dreams recently that Hrdayananda appeared in. It's a bit unusual, since i hardly know the guy and i never liked him. I didn't serve in Iskcon with him and rarely saw him since the zonal acaraya fiasco. But there he was, in technicolor, in a couple of my recent dreams. Both times i tried to confide in him, to share with him my grief over what happened in Iskcon. I spoke to him in hushed tones from the heart. I reasoned. I cried.

Why my mind chose Hrdayananda for its catharsis i don't know. But the grief i experienced in these dreams is similar to the sadness of a marriage gone bad. When my first marriage was falling apart, i had to grieve to let go of the attachment. A strong commitment binds the heart.

For those of us who joined Iskcon as idealistic youth, it was like a marriage. As young monks with our hopes, our fears and our devotion, we married Iskcon because it was the vision of our great spiritual master. Sure most of us --if not all of us-- were totally unqualified to make such a commitment. But who knew that then?

All our karmic endeavors that followed-- our wives, our children, finances, businesses and hobbies-- were important to us but always remained subordinate in our hearts to our first big commitment, our unrequited bond to Iskcon. This tie, this great responsibility given to us, a vow and contract signed with the invisible ink of bhakti, was challenged and finally broken for most of us in the months and years following Srila Prabhupada's disappearance.

The details of how this happened i will leave to the historians and commentators. The official line is that we just "disappeared," thousands of us. But the reality is that we were humiliated, starting with being forced to obey and participate in the worship of wholly unqualified peers who sat on high seats in Srila Prabhupada's temples. Those 11 men controlled everyone. Now those men are gone. New ones have replaced them, the seats have been lowered and the externals look more democratic, but in practice, the same sore lack of genuine respect, give and take, openness and brahminical principles remain. The highly centralized control, the censorship, the sweeping corruption, the fundamentalism, party spirit and corporate mindset are all very much on display if you visit Iskcon and have the eyes to see it.

Recently i corresponded with one godbrother whom i haven't met in 25 years. I wrote:
"I think most of us, the godbrothers, are pretty depressed. We all wanted to do something wonderful for Prabhupada, but it didn't turn out the way we had hoped. That was a result of everyone's immaturity and impurities, but especially the disqualification of the leaders. Ironically, almost all of them fell down and became disgraced, but the system didn't fall with them. Instead, it became institutionalized, and it was the godbrothers who scattered and went their own ways.

"A few godbrothers started their own missions and are doing well. There is Paramadwaiti Swami (formerly Alanath) who is a very successful guru in South America, Jagat Guru (now Narasinga Swami) in South India and Tripurari in California. I'm sure there are other godbrothers getting some results on their own. But most of us do not have the ambition or the sakti to act as gurus. This is the problem. Unless we create it, we will not find association. Unless we pay the price of being co-opted by a Hindu-corporate structure or join a personality cult. And that is a Faustian bargain."

I haven't done a survey, but the godbrothers i know and still communicate with are feeling like they lost something that they will not be able to find again and seems impossible to recreate. The hopes of their youth have been smashed. The bride of Iskcon died in their arms just after the honeymoon and transformed itself into an apparition. That is reason enough to feel depressed.

But we must digest this grief and move on. Even if we completely fail, we can be satisfied knowing that failure is the pillar of success.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Amazing Plaze

"Wandering thru this universe, can't be seen and can't be heard,
can't be understood with words, but amazing."
From "Jivatma Express" by me!

The world really is an amazing place, filled with jivas who are crisscrossing each other's destiny. So creative, so destructive, so vulnerable and dangerous, this world. The more we try to control other jivas for our own enjoyment or control, the greater the reaction. Ask George Bush. Or Bill Clinton. Or one of the former 11 zonal "acaryas."

Today i took a walk by the lake, Lake Michigan, near where i live now. I walked along the shore up to Northwestern University, the school i attended as an undergraduate (and later dropped out) 40 years ago. For a moment, i had a flashback of my consciousness from those days. I remembered my state of mind from my youth. I was swept up, like most of my peers who went on to become devotees, in an idealistic mood that our generation would change the world, make it more human, more spiritual, more just and more beautiful. Anyone over 30 was suspect. We were age racists.

But internally, when i flash back to my personal consciousness, i was walking around in a bewildered condition. I was searching but without a solid sense of what i was to look for. I was confused but way too independent minded to trust any of my professors or even the great philosophers of the past. The only godly quality i can remember was a sense of sincerity that came up when i took drugs and my mind entered an altered state. In that condition only i felt a genuine sense of humility in relation to the universe and to God, although both remained mystical and beyond my understanding. That drug-induced humility led me to prayer and prayer led me eventually to the devotees and Srila Prabhupada.

So there is a place for everything. Even drugs can lead you to God if taken in the right mood. I'm not advocating a "Jayatirtha-approach" to bhakti, but am just stating how the Intention is everything. As Prabhupada once commented when he was on Second Avenue in NYC in 1966, referring to the winos who would loiter outside his storefront temple: If when they drink wine they think this taste is God, that appreciation will lead them to Krishna.

The debate going on now on the internet about gays in Krishna consciousness should reflect the importance of intention over externals. Everyone is having sex in this world. Straights, gays and in-betweens. Even sannyasis, sorry to say, can sometimes be found in Bangkok with their arm around a Thai woman after an exhausting preaching tour. What else is new? Sex is all in all in this world, this amazing place where the jivas can't remember who they really are. So the point is, not homosex or heterosex, but the Intention to appreciate God and to engage in the process of bhakti. Sure, with intention proper behavior and actions should follow, but unless the intention is firmly fixed, no amount of posturing will do any good. "Better a sincere street sweeper than a charlatan yogi."

The "homosex" debate by devotees on the internet has brought Hrdayananda into conflict with the traditionalists in Iskcon. He recently posted an article to defend his position titled, "Never Break a Devotee." The article had some good points i thought, describing how Srila Prabhupada, while speaking with great force against politicians, scientists and clergy, when dealing with members of these professions on a personal basis, was respectful and practical. And that "Prabhupada once personally taught me that we should never "break" a devotee, that is never push a devotee to the breaking point."

I have also seen how gentle Prabhupada was with me when he stayed with us in Tehran for 10 days. Although he could easily understand my disqualification as his disciple, he never once threatened me or used his authority to minimize me. Rather he perfectly reciprocated with my feeble attempts to be receptive to him. But compare that example and Hrdayananda's quote of Srila Prabhupada about never breaking a devotee, to what went on in Iskcon. Even during Prabhupada's time, many devotees were abused to the point of breaking. It was "my way or the highway" with almost all Iskcon leaders.

After Prabhupada left the world, this abuse culminated in the wholesale slaughter of the faith of Prabhupada's disciples. Led by whom? Well, coincidentally, by Hrdayananda and his 10 partners who paraded themselves as the appointed successors to Srila Prabhupada. Sitting smugly on their vyasasans in Srila Prabhupada's temples in front of their godbrothers and sisters they proclaimed: "Don't break a devotee --break all of them! Divide and conquer! Carpe Diem!"

Yes, the jivas are amazing in this material world, an amazing plaze. One of these days or in a future lifetime, a strong fervent desire to get out of here will arise in my heart. At that time i will become indifferent to all that is heard or will be heard. All the material noise will subside and i will learn to listen with great greed to the eternal sound vibrations in the core of my heart. Until then, i will be wandering around this place, learning the lessons i need to reach that defining moment of realization.

Don't break a devotee. Be a devotee.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Atonement

I came across the concept of "atonement" when reading one of Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavatam translations. These days, unless you are cautious and check the edition you are reading, you can't be sure if you are reading Prabhupada's words or those of an attention-deficit disordered disciple who compulsively edits his divine grace's translations and purports, to "improve" on Srila Prabhupada's transcendental ecstasies.

Well, i prefer to read the books "as they were," when Prabhupada dictated them late at nite sitting alone in his room. I prefer his language and his emotions to a neophyte's. And most of the changes are so minor they are irrelevant. What justifies altering your spiritual master's life work? Changing Prabhupada's syntax for no better reason than your own ego's satisfaction is hardly justifiable. You can be sure that if Prabhupada were physically here, these editors would be too meek to change even a comma.

The word atonement caught my eye in one of Prabhupada's translations, as we hear the term commonly used in Judeo-Christian culture and religion. It always irks me that the best words in the English language have been co-opted by western religions, thus giving them a spin that renders these words judgmental, aggressive or sectarian to my ears. So i researched the etymology of "atonement" to find its origins and various meanings.

Atonement is influenced by the Latin, adunamentum, meaning unity or reconciliation, especially between man and God. An even earlier root is onement, from an obsolete verb, one, to unite. So the concept of atonement is based on uniting with the divine by reviving one's original consciousness. At-One-Ment.

In popular usage, atonement has come to mean: to make amends for a wrong or injury; to repay or compensate for a wrongdoing or a mistake. It is closely linked to the word, expiate ("to expiate one's sins"), which in turn is connected with the word, appease, meaning to pacify or satisfy. Peace is thus directly related to piety.

Here is where Srila Prabhupada's devotional genius shines a light on the concept of atonement. He writes in SB 6.1.11, that "even though one may superficially seem pious, he will undoubtedly be prone to act impiously." (Sound familiar?) "Therefore real atonement is enlightenment in perfect knowledge, Vedanta, the Absolute Truth."

Another synonym of atonement is the verb, to propitiate. Propitiation is the act of placating and overcoming distrust, to win over and regain someone's favor by doing something that pleases them. To make them favorable to us. So atonement is not an abstract, impersonal activity, but one that is very much connected to reciprocation in a Relationship.

Atonement is an understanding and bonding between persons. That person with whom we most need to understand and bond with is Vasudeva, the knower of Vedanta, the source of everything, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we make ourselves favorable to him, our long history of suffering will cease.

Interesting confirmation of this is that the antonym or opposite of atonement is separation. The opposite of making amends and becoming enlightened with perfect knowledge of Vasudeva is to experience the angst of existential separation: maya, illusion, ignorance, the false ego, fear, death. The root of our sense of separation is our damaged relationship with God.

Which brings me to the most concise and compelling definition of atonement i found. It is in the Wiktionary, a new online dictionary related to the Wikipedia. There, atonement is defined as "a repair done for the sake of a damaged relationship."

So there it is: real atonement is to act in such a way as to repair our damaged (bahir mukta, misdirected) relationship with Bhagavan Sri Krishna. The process of atonement is hearing (sravanam) and chanting (kirtanam) about him, developing perfect knowledge of him (smaranam), culminating in taste (rati), spiritual emotions (bhava) and pure love (prema bhakti, complete Krishna consciousness).

Atonement is not Group Think. It is not a competition, a corporate career or ecclesiasticism, church practice.

What is called atonement in mundane circles --pious acts, rituals, austerities, vows and decrees-- is not substantial enough to move the soul out of its sleeping condition. These things only cheat the soul by keeping it attached to matter. According to Srila Prabhupada, real atonement is soul work -- the activity of the soul proper. Detachment from matter.

When the soul practices real atonement, he or she learns to act in full harmony and in perfect knowledge of God. He becomes a yogi of the highest order, a swan who swims in the peaceful lake of At-One-Ment. Diving beneath the surface of popular concerns, the soul learns to play in the tangled stems of the lotus of Sri Krishna's feet. This was the message and the example that Srila Prabhupada taught. Don't accept anything less. Om tat sat.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Red Meat Exposed

I usually write about essential spiritual and philosophical topics. Today i divert to inform you of an important new study on the effects of meat eating on health. Most readers of this blog are already vegetarians. But this new study is significant as it is the first to provide strong empiric evidence of the effects of meat eating on human life span. Red meat has been found to be a major cause of premature death.

The results of a study of 500,000 middle-aged and older Americans found that those who consumed about four ounces of red meat a day (the equivalent of about a small hamburger) were more than 30 percent more likely to die during the 10 years they were followed, mostly from heart disease and cancer but other diseases as well.

Previous research had found a link between red meat and an increased risk of heart disease and cancer, but the new study is the first large examination of the relationship between eating meat and overall risk of death.

Among women, those who ate the most red meat were 36 percent more likely to die for any reason, 20 percent more likely to die of cancer and 50 percent more likely to die of heart disease. Men who ate the most meat were 31 percent more likely to die for any reason, 22 percent more likely to die of cancer and 27 percent more likely to die of heart disease.

"The bottom line is we found an association between red meat and processed meat and an increased risk of mortality," said Rashmi Sinha of the National Cancer Institute, who led the study published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"The uniqueness of this study is its size and length of follow-up," said Barry M. Popkin, a professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. "This is a slam-dunk to say that, 'Yes, indeed, if people want to be healthy and live longer, consume less red and processed meat.' "

The American Meat Institute dismissed the findings in a statement saying that "meat products are part of a healthy, balanced diet, and studies show they actually provide a sense of satisfaction and fullness that can help with weight control. Proper body weight contributes to good health overall."

That's a pretty lame rebuttal of a scientific study which proved that the 71,000 persons who died in the course of the study were the heaviest red meat eaters in a group of half a million.

In addition to health benefits, reducing red meat in the human diet would greatly reduce water shortages, global pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and cut energy consumption. Eliminating red meat would effectively reduce the murder rate of millions and millions of cows and bulls by 100%, thus greatly improving the collective karma of all human beings on this planet.

But don't expect that to happen anytime soon. When asked what he would like to eat the first time he boarded Air Force One, the presidential airplane, Mr. Obama asked for a cheeseburger with fries.

More effective than any scientific study to change people's eating habits would be massive distribution of Krishna prasadam. That was Srila Prabhupada's prescription for the world. It was also his secret weapon for creating devotees out of red meat melechas. If a study was done, and the devotees were honest, it would be seen that none of them had a higher taste for chanting the holy names, but all of them had a taste for delicious prasadam.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Pride of Prejudice

We all have our views and opinions in this world. They are based either on personal likes and dislikes, actual experiences or prejudices.

It is everyone's prejudices -- preconceived opinions not based on reason, or a holistic understanding of scripture or on sober personal reflection of life experience-- that is the cause of so much grief, hostility and conflict in the world.

We see how everyone in the vaisnava world is extremely judgmental.

Quoting from any source they can-- a verse here, a letter there, a "Prabhupada said" or whatever they can dig up-- devotees do not communicate with an openness or a desire for discovery. Contrary to vaisnava behavior, which is one of inquiry and reasoning, devotees from all sides, immediately take the position of authority.

It amazes me that something as detailed as whether a particular deity can wear a peacock feather on an altar in the mandir becomes a major subject for debate and didacticism. In the manner of moral authorities, devotees have become patronizing zealots rather than seekers of an all inclusive truth. Soon the pen will turn to the sword, and Hindus will follow their fundamentalist brothers from other faiths to justify killing to enforce their prejudiced morality and judgments. Murder is already part of Iskcon history.

We are each able to learn and advance according to our own realization and abilities. There are no "stereotypes" on the path to God. There is so much diversity of feelings, impressions and expressions in this universe. If the Common point is Krishna or Allah or Khoda, bas. The details will work themselves out if the intention is pure.

We are quick to offend and slow to support one another. We express our prejudices as if they were the absolute truth. Thus we miss the actual Reality of Krishna, which is to see everything as Krishna's energy and to respect all expressions connected to Bhagavan, as attempts to glorify the Lord. Of course, nescience must also be seen for what it is and clearly understood as the shadow of Krishna: maya, illusion.

But to let our prejudices preempt the gentle manners and inquiring spirit of real vaisnavas while we masquerade as sadhus-- that is not Krishna consciousness. That is the pride of prejudice. The pride before the fall.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What are you looking for?

Truth is always painful at first. The truth to see yourself. To see how fallen you are. To see how far away from Krishna you have gone. To see how helpless you are. To see the naked truth of the material world.

But truth also sets you free. Free to be yourself, not to play a role. Free to stop trying to control others or be controlled by them. Free to be independent of family and society. Free to be a sadhu.

Freedom leads us to Krishna. Krishna gives us bliss when we meet him and even when we feel separation from him. Bliss is not cheap. Bliss is the one thing Krishna gives only to his devotees. His pure devotees.

Money, power, fame, heaven, even liberation from the material world is easy to get compared to bliss.

And devotees of Krishna do not easily accept bliss, vowing to serve him instead. Do you think that Srila Prabhupada, who agreed to receive so many headaches from his disciples and from his preaching, was always in bliss? He was in anxiety for his service. In anxiety to deliver the truth to unqualified souls. Anxiety to do everything he could to create a spiritual revolution in a short time without qualified helpers.

What about the less advanced "simulated" gurus (no names necessary)? Their bliss appears to be a show, an impression, a caricature of devotional ecstasy. They are devotees no doubt, and many of them have sacrificed much on behalf of their service. But unfortunately, most are far better actors than devotees.

Actors are looking for applause. Devotees are searching after Krishna.

What are you looking for?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Gaurabda 523

Today i read that B.V. Puri Maharaj, the 96 year old sadhu and Gaudiya vaisnava guru of his own mission, passed away last week at Visakapatnam, India. He was one of the very last of his generation who took initiation from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and who faithfully carried on his teachings. That generation of devotees contained many great souls who were real sadhus. They may not have been exceptional managers from the material perspective, but just to see such sadhus in Vrindavan or in Mayapur was purifying and satisfying. I remember seeing Puri Maharaj there many times. I am more and more feeling the absence of such personalities in our world. Their absence is our loss.

In a world deprived of genuine sadhus, imitation sadhus prevail. In an insane world, a rational person is unwelcome.

The diaspora of devotees, those who became disgusted by or who were chased away from Iskcon, are now scattered around the world by their karma. Everyone is suffering. Most are silent, some are talking, others have made new alliances. But there is no magic bullet, no solution, no redemption for anyone who is competing or placing their hopes in the material world. Maya is in charge here, and she creates endless problems for the jivas in this world. Even if someone is charismatic and empowered to influence others towards good or evil, he cannot liberate others or even himself. daivi hy esa gunamayi.

Srila Prabhupada confirms this when he explains that "a man bound by the hands and feet cannot free himself-- he must be helped by a person who is unbound. Because the bound cannot help the bound, the rescuer must be liberated." This is the problem. Unless sadhus are real, they cannot liberate anyone, even themselves. Those who merely pretend to be sadhus still want to control others. They create more problems than they solve.

Prabhupada then quotes Lord Siva: mukti-pradata sarvesam visnur eva na samsayah. "There is no doubt that Visnu is the deliverer of liberation for everyone."

Friend and enemy, lover and hater, member of this institution or that-- all positions are relative in this world. Even my own body and mind are very often uncooperative and unenthusiastic for my spiritual life. Passion pushes me in the wrong direction. Inertia is a powerful force that keeps me down. Nothing seems to move me towards Krishna. Yet, the wonderful thing is that sraddha--transcendental faith-- is not dependent on any of this. No external or internal obstacle, no actor in this world, not even the powerful mind, can check faith. Bhakti is independent like Krishna. This is the secret gift we have received by divine mercy. And it is within the garden of this faith that we must cultivate our hopes and prayers so that one day they will bear fruit.

We cannot expect an easy path. Things may get worse before getting better. "Those favored by God find their paths set by thorns." This quote is attributed to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and should give us hope. When we see thorns or when we step on them, we should think that the roses of God are not too far away. We should learn to search out the roses rather than curse at the thorns. Perhaps even see the thorns as our guides....siksa gurus, friends of ours who have come to lead us to the soft rose petals of ruci and bhava.

In any case, the thorns are on our path and this path is our way home. Whether we are walking in loneliness or in the company of many, we must each walk this path with our own faith. There is no alternative for us.

I wish you success today, Gaura Purnima, and on your journey during this new year of Gaurabda 523.

Gaura Hari...Gauracandra...Gaurasundar ki jaya!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Exchanges on the Path

I am not thinking about this blog or planning anything, but when relevant thoughts or exchanges come up, i will post them here. I have email exchanges with a few friends and this one just happened. As they say, "if the shoe fits...wear it."

Since i did not ask this godbrother's permission to post his words, he will remain anonymous (although he is one of the regular readers of this blog, and if he has an objection, i will hear from him.)

From a godbrother:

"But we have to face it that the majority (including devotees) is, well, alpa medhasha – less intelligent. I am not claiming that I am super intelligent but I think that I can safely say that I am somewhat thoughtful. For myself I have resolved that in spite of advanced age and the days flying by I still have to practice to be patient. So, for now, I am concentrating on Shaastra – reading, translating, and publishing. I just feel safe that way. But even for that I really have to discipline myself, especially the initial inertia. I still visit the SUN almost every day, but find myself skipping a lot of contributions as I look at the names of the contributors. A lot of it is just a modern form of Prajalpa.

"Your recent blog entry regarding puppets gave me another confirmation as to how make the best use of the valuable time. 'Some of the best atheists are the clergymen and commissioners of the churches and temples of this world.' Something similar went through my mind during my last visit to the Mayapur festival and on my now rare visits to Dandavats.com."

And part of my response to him via email:

Everyone hears what they want to hear. In reality the spiritual path is the most wide, all-inclusive, truly non-sectarian, the only truly personal path. But it is not experienced like this for most neophyte devotees because they are confronted by materially tinged interpretations of higher reality from their peers. i think that is why Jesus said that the spiritual path is the most narrow one. Because if you really want to walk on it, you need to disregard conventional wisdom and politically motivated approaches, including those of your spiritual peers. You need to let go of anything that conflicts with your own higher understanding. So it is a sign of your progress that you have a sense of higher understanding and this is what guides you. Progress must follow if you act on your understanding, despite the cost.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Puppet Play

In an article in the NY Times i came across a couple of quotes written by the recently deceased Pulitzer prize winning author, John Updike.

Updike describes the facts of life as “unbearably heavy, weighted as they are with our personal death. Writing, in making the world light — in codifying, distorting, prettifying, verbalizing it — approaches blasphemy.”

In other words, Updike says that our mortality makes every other thing in the world-- whatever its apparent beauty, value or power-- seem superficial and facile, like trivial chatter. Think of this chatter as a kind of blasphemy against reality! Certainly to glorify this chatter is a kind of blasphemy!

How true, but how difficult to avoid it. Authors like Updike made his name and fame from it, and the rest of the world feed each other with it. It is practically the bread of life. To be indifferent to all of it (including the blah blahing most devotees enjoy) is a great achievment.

Greater yet than tolerating and being indifferent to this chatter, is to be attentive and active on a platform beyond it, on the plane of seva. To be jolly and cheerfully situated on that higher plane of divine service, of hearing and chanting, is possible only for a sadhu. I don't care what anyone's dress is or how articulate they may be. I am not impressed with their scholarship or renunciation or popularity.

I bow down only to those who are steadily situated on the plane of seva to sravanam and kirtanam. And i offer my respects to those whose hopes and prayers are to one day reach that plane. To all others, let me do my best to endure their petty blasphemy in a myriad of forms and appearances.

Here is another golden quote from Mr. Updike:

“Nature dangles sex to keep us walking toward the cliff.”

We are sexual puppets moving towards a cliff which happens to be our own death. Sex and death are intimate relations with each other. (For those who cannot see the connection, think of it another way: sex is the cause of birth, and birth is the cause of both sex and death.)

Our imaginations are the background score to this puppet play, filled with undelivered yet vivid promises of sex, drugs and rock and roll (choose your particular variation). Nature is the puppet master who moves us on the strings of the impressions in our minds. The false ego is the puppet master's faithful assistant who spins a personal web for each of us that blinds us and keeps us from seeing our soul and from seeing what lies just ahead.

As we finally approach the cliff in our forgetful play, fear appears and grasps us by the neck. We sense a bleak outcome and experience the anxiety of another impending death. 'Oh shit,' we say, 'I'm not ready to die.'

The rare ones who yell out to us in the puppet theatre before we walk off the cliff, shout: 'the house is on fire!' At their own risk, they warn us and try to awaken us. But these great souls are either marginalized as "freeloaders" or madmen, or are co-opted into plastic prophets by the chela priests of religion. Some of the best atheists are the clergymen and commissioners of the churches and temples of this world.

Unbearably heavy, this conspiracy of illusion, this play of puppets. To all who are sincerely trying to get off the stage and to help others too, i say: Sadhu, sadhu! Bravo! Well done! Jai to you! Send me your blessings!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Actions Louder than Words

In an article just published in the Sampradaya Sun on Scroll Paintings in Lord Jagannath's Orissa, Part 2, the author, Asis K. Chakrabarti, extols the virtues of what he calls, "Jagannath Consciousness."

Here is what he writes:

"Jagannath consciousness has become ubiquitous, radiating near and far. He is the symbol of universal brotherhood. His principal preamble is, 'Humanity on earth is but one family.'

"It is precisely for the very reason that various sects and religions such as Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shakta, Buddhist and Jain traditions have transcended barriers to mingle and blend immaculately in Lord Jagannath. Lord Jagannath also encompasses the animistic tribal religions. Before Him, starting from the tribals, others like the Brahmin, untouchables/chandals, sudras, or even the Muslims - all have become His children traversing on a single path."

If the author of this article really believes what he writes, then let him explain why it is that no one is allowed into the Jagannath temple at Puri unless they can prove they are Indian-born Hindus. It is easy to use flowery language. Let Mr. Chakrabarti and the respectable brahmin priests of Puri display a universal vision of brotherhood under the fatherhood of Lord Jagannath by acting as servants rather than as racists. By excluding others on the basis of skin color or nationality, they are proclaiming that Lord Jagannath, under their care, is not Lord of the Universe, but Lord of a racist religion.

For us who are not born in India, it is no problem to pay our respects to Lord Jagannath from a distance, and to benefit by tasting His transcendental prasadam. Maybe it is better for us in order to understand our own fallen condition. Even Haridas Thakur, the namacarya personally selected by Lord Caitanya, did not complain about not having darshan of Lord Jagannath, due to his being born in a Muslim family.

But if the servants of Lord Jagannath want people of the world to take notice of the true personality of their master, Parambrahman Sri Jagannath, then they would welcome every innocent visitor to His temple. With their open minds and hearts, they could show the world the non-sectarian munificent spirit of pure love that He is.

The same prescription applies to anyone who wants to impress others with the value of their belief system. It is actions, not words, that count. Don't talk the talk unless you walk the walk. The words we write and the truths we speak are only as eloquent or as egregious as our behavior.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Who is a devotee?

The definition of a devotee is based on two simple premises in my opinion. First, a devotee recognizes the authority of God as the supreme proprietor and controller of the world and of himself. Second, he or she understands their own distressed and spiritually impoverished condition in relation to God. Before we can recognize our oneness with the Lord, we need to recognize our smallness. By recognizing our smallness, we also see the oneness of all jivas with God which leads us to offer them profound respect.

Respect is not lip-deep or a misty new age projection. It is a profound regards for other jivas that creates a feeling of heartfelt compassion for their suffering. No one can love another jiva or be in a position to guide them or save them, without first having basic respect for them. You cannot be a guru, father, mother, husband or leader without respecting those who are depending on you.

Where there is false pride, you will see imitation leadership, bullying and cronyism. The results will not be inspiring. Love and devotion will be conspicuous by their absence. The "us and them" mentality will prevail. Disrespect will be the currency of communication.

When we look at the dealings of devotees in all camps, more often than not we see a culture of indifference and disrespect. Everyone attempts to present themselves or their group as self righteously perfect. We hear blatant name calling, condescension, contemptuous language, straw man arguments, guilt by association and twisted logic all over the internet between vaisnavas. And we wonder: are these immodest persons really devotees?

It takes more than theoretical knowledge, semantics and basic faith to be a devotee. Sambhanda, the first stage of bhakti, is not just knowing our eternal relationship with God, but also knowing and acknowledging our separation from God due to our own mistakes. To act with respect and without duplicity towards others is required to pass the entrance exam to bhakti. Spiritual practice (abhidheya) and the goal of life (prayojana), are out of context without sambhanda. Often more harm than good can be done by pretending to practice or to have achieved the goal without experiencing and acting on this foundation of our true position.

If someone praises God without acknowledging their own smallness and inner fallen condition, certainly they are pious, but are they a devotee?

I challenge anyone who claims to be a devotee to first accept their own distressed, miserable condition and acknowledge it publicly. To avoid seeking praise or profit for oneself based on so-called devotion and to genuinely respect others will go a long way to create an atmosphere where a real society of devotees can grow.

Such open hearted behavior is the pillar of success in spiritual life, as expressed in the teaching of Sriman Mahaprabhu: amanina manadena. According to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, this advice is the ultimate siddha-pranali mantra. (The mantra for attaining your spiritual body.)

And what about criticism? Is it all right to criticize others for their apparent failings? Or for their misuse of power? The answer is that there is no contradiction between showing respect to others and offering criticism if it is done in a humble spirit. That means we first acknowledge our own responsibility and our own limitations. For example, all of us who participated in Iskcon during the time of Srila Prabhupada, have to share some of the burden for supporting the corruption that took place both during Prabhupada's time and after his departure. We allowed corrupt leaders to control us. Some of the reaction came down on us. We need to proclaim our own mistakes as loudly as we point out the mistakes and misrepresentations of others. No one can claim they were completely innocent victims. And no one will be free from the reactions of their abuse.

The status quo is wanting in every respect. It is shameful what goes on in the name of bhakti and religion. But devotees who call for reform or revolution will never be successful without genuine modesty. This modesty is not to be confused with etiquette. We have all seen how words spoken without sincerity do more harm than good. And we have also seen how artificial submissive behavior creates tyrants!

What is needed is a paradigm shift towards promoting truth without biases or material ambition, a new pattern of honesty without duplicity towards our brothers and sisters, a reprogramming of our personality minus the arrogance and self righteousness. The tendency towards herd mentality, following others blindly, setting up leaders who are themselves imperfect must be overcome. Sober, mature, tolerant, inner focused must be the new standard. Change must come from within.

Without such a shift, we may be able to temporarily impress, persuade or even control others. We may even get some concessions from the established political hierarchy. But in the end, unless we change ourselves, nothing will change. The last laugh will be on us. We shall have to ask ourself at the time of death: what have i done with my life? Why did i hesitate to go deeper? Why did i shortchange my higher purpose for some lesser goal?

I'm afraid the answer to: "who is a devotee?" is still pending for the vast majority of us. We have not yet answered this basic question for ourself and some of us have not even bothered to ask it. Whatever our position, we cannot act for the greater good until we are able to get our own inner house in order. We must stop distracting ourselves by all sorts of things: traveling around without purpose, shouting at each other, jockeying for position, looking for respect or appreciation, giving in to bad habits.

Some of us struggle on in loneliness, thinking about what to do. Anyone who has the chance must make it his necessity to shift egoistic thinking and sacrifice old habits. No shortcuts will work. The state of mind must be simple and lead to kirtan. When we actually find a taste in kirtan, we will probably find that our life is no longer morose, our doubts no longer trouble us and our hopes no longer are in vain.

That is when we can call ourself a devotee. By then, we won't need to call ourselves anything. We will be happy without any designation and feel free amongst the noisy chaos and clamor of the world.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Resolution

Around this time last year, i thought about ending this blog. I announced this in a post around New Year's Day, January 2008. A few friends responded by encouraging me not to stop writing. Since then i've written another 70 posts, which i think are better than the previous year's batch. Although i don't get a lot of feedback, sometimes friends or new readers send me their comments. These brief exchanges always lift me up. And when i travel, it amazes me when devotees tell me they read the blog or how they liked a particular piece. The No.1 hit was my satire on a faux GBC resolution selling samadhi plots in Mayapur. It was funny because it was pretty close to the truth. If those guys only knew how absurd they appear to the rest of the world, and especially to their godbrothers (95% of whom are no longer their "pals" in Iskcon) they would all immediately resign! They would be too embarrassed to carry on. That goes for every one of them.The fact that they are not resigning is a sign that they are shameless.

For me, out here on my own, like most of you, being able to express my thoughts in writing and instantly post them to a global audience has been a rare pleasure. But as far as i can tell, i've said everything i have to say. And reflecting on the limited time that i have in this life, i would like everyone's blessings to focus again on music. It's one of the first things i did when i started out as a brahmacari. I joined the original road show as a musician at New Vrindavan in 1971, and then i went to L.A. to work in Iskcon's first recording studio that was dedicated to preaching thru the Krishna Show and to recording and distributing Prabhupada's bhajans.

It shows just how neglectful the leaders of Iskcon are, that more than 30 years after Srila Prabhupada's disappearance, to my knowledge, there are no recording studios dedicated to kirtan. Sankirtan is music. By now, there should be 50 recording studios around the world committed to devotional music composed by devotees. Instead, Iskcon has big white elephant temples in India such as Juhu and Delhi with more on the way, and skeleton temples in North America where a handful of imported devotees keep the temples from closing. And it's not any more progressive in most of the other Gaudiya missions, with a few exceptions.

One notable exception is the mission of my godbrother, Paramadwaiti Swami. Perhaps because South America is poor, or because Iskcon failed to recognize him and kicked him out, he started his own mission where he cultivated a family spirit, promoting respect amongst devotees and between genders in his sanga. Paramadwaiti offers an example of sane leadership, a rare achievement in today's dysfunctional devotional world. Naturally, he's shunned by Iskcon.

It is a lack of basic respect for vaisnavas, a pretentious show of etiquette by grandiose leaders and the creation of an elite "upper caste" of unqualified elected gurus that has crippled the spread of Krishna consciousness. Of course, those in command will tell you how dynamic the growth has been these past 30 years. But really, what intelligent or talented person would join a society of duplicitous supervisors, petty zealots and warmhearted sentimentalists? Those who join eventually either sell out or get out. Either way, it is a failure.

It is the ultimate irony, that the movement started by the Enlightened Reformer and Bold Transcendental Pioneer, Avatari Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, has been burdened and handicapped by reactionary and conventional managers! How displeased our founder acarya must be with this result! And how painfully obvious this is to anyone who is not getting their chapatis buttered by the institution.

We, the godbrothers out there, are each in our own lifeboats now. We each must act attempting to connect our nature to the Supreme by whatever means available to us. This is not at all an easy task without association and support. Srila Prabhupada wanted us to have lots of support and association-- that was one of his primary purposes in starting Iskcon. He knew how difficult spiritual life is for neophytes. Out of his deepest compassion for us, he created Iskcon. He didn't create a bureaucracy and a politburo for a new religion! But that is how things turned out.

Prabhupada wanted us to become brahmanas. He didn't want kripanas, misers, who misuse their work for their self interest. He wanted us to work as a sacrifice for the Supreme, not for any local interest. The artificial imposition of control over devotees by ignorant leaders for their own parochial interests has spoiled Prabhupada's vision for a society of devotees!

But all is not lost. Actually, nothing is lost. Krishna consciousness cannot be checked by any infection.

One place we can always find Krishna consciousness is in the transcendental vibration of sound. Here is what Srila Prabhupada personally told John Lennon and George Harrison in 1969:

"Music -- the Vedic mantras were all through music. Sound waves are full of music....(Sanskrit verse)....Samogha means the follower of the sound waves. Gayanti, they are always in music, through musical vibration they are approaching the Supreme. Samogha.

"Gayanti means singing. So Vedic mantras are sung. This whole Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam can be sung very nicely. And this Vedic mantra chanting, simply by hearing the vibration, people will be benefited. Even they do not understand.....

"Simply by transcendental vibration of sound, everything can be achieved."

To succeed in anything requires determination and a sea change in habits. It is not easy for an old dog to learn a new trick. But rather than being unaccountable for the days speeding by, reading the news and (the mostly) depressing opinions of those on the mental platform (including the vast majority of articles written by devotees on devotee websites), or worse, falling down into anarthas, we must learn to exercise our free will. I would like to focus my attention on developing skills in music and become absorbed in kirtan. I especially would like to study the unique kirtan style introduced by Srila Prabhupada and adapt it to a contemporary form. I don't know if i have the sakti to do this, but at least i have a desire.

If i can't become a kirtaniya in this life, i would like to die trying. Prabhupada often mentioned that we should "die with our boots on." (And with so much glory he showed us how to do that!) OK, it's not possible for us to live and die with such grace and fearlessness, but at least we can try to get our boots on! Even one boot or even half a boot! The effort will count for something.

As for this blog, i've decided to press the pause button again. Maybe it's the time of year, i don't know. I just don't want to feel obliged for now. After writing and posting 180 articles here on this blog these past two years, i've said just about everything that i have to say in the way of commentary. Anyone is welcome to read my posts and come to your own conclusions. And i encourage anyone who has anything to say, to create your own blog. It's easy-- blogspot.com is a free service provided by Google-- and it's simple to set up. If i can do it, anyone can.

Giving and taking amongst devotees is an exchange of love. However tenuous my friendships with devotees are, i consider these friendships my most valuable asset. I would like to give a shout out to a few friends who are attempting to walk the walk. To Ananda Swarup in Amsterdam, who plays sweet Bengali bhajans on his guitar, and can tell you the word-for-word meaning of each song with precision and realization. To Vicaru, who wakes up at 4 am most mornings in his house near Kent, England, and does a complete morning program all by himself. To Rasacarya who lives alone in the northern boondocks of Holland and maintains tulasi devi nicely year round in an extreme climate. To Atma Vidya, who stays in a humble flat in Hamburg, chanting lots of rounds and translating Jaiva Dharma into German. These devotees around the world are quietly doing their seva and are inspirations to me.

May the coming year be kind to you. May the grace of God be with you in the form of insight and energy to act on the higher platform and to reach out to share this energy with others. May your long and at times tedious journey that found hope and good fortune when you met the devotees and bowed your head at the lotus feet of Prabhupada, not be checked by any obstacle. And may you experience inner felicity and peace-- by the causeless kripa of Sri Gaura Hari, Sri Nitai Ram and Srila Prabhupada.

your insignificant friend,

nava jauvana das

p.s. Despite my sabbatical from this blog, i welcome correspondence and i am always ready to respond and reciprocate as best i can. My personal email address is: jauvana@gmail.com At least, please send me your blessings.