Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yom Kippur Blues

Today in New York, it's Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays, a full day (from sundown yesterday) of a nirjal fast by observant Jews. It's also Ekadasi. So the Jews who observe Yom Kippur, get the benefit of fasting for Ekadasi as well, at least until sundown. Unfortunately, they will not break their fast with Krishna prasadam. The elephant bathes in the river, and then throws mud over his clean body.

That seems to be one of the recurring themes in this material world. Crematorium renunciation. We see a dead relative being cremated, and it makes us want to renounce. Then a few hours or days later, we forget the dead body and again want to enjoy.

The Jews have certainly suffered. But that does not prevent them from wanting to enjoy, being falsely proud of their intelligence, arrogant and hostile to their half-brothers, the Palestinians. And the Muslims, despite Mohammed having said that God gave Israel to the Jews, cannot tolerate that other faiths exist, especially if those faiths are successful materially. Envy boils their blood and makes them run for the sword, quoting verses from the Koran.

Envy along with greed, also rules the global capitalists. Their operating principle is to exploit and distribute the stolen wealth widely enough so that every good thief can have his slice of the pie. The winners take in billions while the majority go into debt to consume their little piece.

And that leaves the vaisnavas. Where are the vaisnavas? Most of them are following the materialists, accumulating wealth and prestige. Building temples, maintaining big bank balances, collecting large numbers of disciples, traveling around the globe like corporate executives and feeling good about themselves, thinking they are saving the world.

No wonder i got the Yom Kippur Blues.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ne Plus Ultra

ne plus ultra \nee-plus-UL-truh; nay-\, noun:
1. The highest point, as of excellence or achievement; the acme; the pinnacle; the ultimate.
2. The most profound degree of a quality or condition.

I just discovered this word at I think it properly defines the lives of the pure devotees and the pastimes of the Lord. Here in this material world, the melodramas are so predictable and mediocre. But the loving exchanges of devotees who experience bhava towards the Lord and the love in service they experience amongst each other— those dramas run the gamut of transcendental emotions. The spontaneous roles they play with each other and with the Lord are nothing short of ne plus ultra.

So, how do we go from the soap operas of our daily frustrated existence, to the surcharged dramas of ne plus ultra? Prabhupada, our teacher and our savior, summed it up exactly, concisely and effortlessly (as usual), in a class he gave in London on Radhastami in 1969. (London, 9/18/69)

“atah sri-krsna-namadi
na bhaved grahyam indriyaih
sevonmukhe hi jihvadau
svayam eva sphuraty adah

No one can understand the transcendental nature of the name, form, quality and pastimes of Sri Krsna through his materially contaminated senses. Only when one becomes spiritually saturated by transcendental service to the Lord are the transcendental name, form, quality and pastimes of the Lord revealed to him.
(Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.2.234)].

With our material senses we cannot see Krsna, we cannot hear about Krsna's name. But sevonmukhe hi jihvadau.
When you engage yourself in the service of the Lord... Where the service begins? Jihvadau. The service begins from the tongue. Not from the legs, eyes, or ears. It begins from the tongue. Sevonmukhe hi jihvadau. If you begin service through your tongue... How? Chant Hare Krsna. Use your tongue. Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama,
Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. And take Krsna prasadam. The tongue has got two business: to articulate sound, Hare Krsna; and take prasadam. By this process you'll realize Krsna.

Don't try to see Krsna. You cannot see Krsna with your material eyes. Neither you can hear about Him with your material ears. Neither you can touch. But if you engage your tongue in the service of the Lord, then He'll reveal Himself to you:
"Here I am." That is wanted. So feel separation of Krsna just like Radharani, as Lord Caitanya teaches us, and engage your tongue in the service of the Lord. Then, one day, when you are mature, you'll see Krsna eye to eye.”

Ne plus ultra is from Latin, literally, "(go) no more beyond", from ne, "not" + plus, "more" + ultra, "beyond."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Radharani in Brooklyn

The Queen of Vrindavan, Daughter of King Vrishabanu and Controller of Krishna's Heart can be found with her consort, Govinda dev, in Brooklyn, New York, in a temple located in a neighborhood of derelicts. Walking from the Subway station to the temple, one crosses by genuine down and out bag persons sitting on the pavement with plastic bags full of their only possessions. One poor guy has plastic bags for shoes. Just before you reach the temple there's a Bingo Hall where several black men are smoking and hanging out. Then, there is Iskcon.

For me, it was something of a full circle. The first temple i ever visited was in Brooklyn, on Henry St., in 1970. The devotees had just moved from 61 Second Avenue. Henry St. was in a middle class area, and the temple was quite large. It was full of young shaved up American boys wearing dhotis and young American girls in saris. I don't remember seeing a single Indian, other than the painting of Prabhupada on the Vyasasan. It was a shock to see so many contemporaries of mine dressed up as monks. Now the temple has a different kind of population. It is an Indian temple, with a few token westerners. Out of 40-50 devotees who had gathered in the temple at Noon for Radharani's celebration, there were maybe 4 or 5 non-Indians. I'm not sure if there were any Americans at all. What began 40 years ago as a counter-cultural movement of westerners, has now transformed into a movement of Indians. Maybe even the acronym, Iskcon, will become Indian Society for Krishna Consciousness.

Of course, the Indian devotees are nice-- nicer in their natural piety and simple dress than most westerners. The men in the temple were all businessmen and students, wearing clean clothing, short hair and carrying shoulder bags and brief cases. Some even had a little pouch on their belts for a mobile phone. The ladies all wore proper long skirts or saris. Much more pukka than how westerners dress.

The temple is decorated with cheap paper flags criss-crossing the ceiling, and those large varicolored paper balls you see at kids' birthday parties. Very kitchy. But the altar is first class. Radha Govinda are strikingly beautiful, large black marble Govinda and white Radha with reddish cheeks. Today they were clothed in deep teal dresses with orange and gold jari, wearing garlands of fresh yellow and orange roses. Around them are vases of large sunflowers and roses. I arrived during the abhisek (bathing ceremony) of the small brass deities. Again, it was an all-Indian group of male devotees doing the bathing, with another small group of Indian devotees singing kirtan. Leading the kirtan group was an old friend of mine from Vrindavan, Nanda nandana, a wonderful Bengali devotee who managed the Goshalla in Vrindavan for many years. I greeted him and we were very happy to meet each other, being reminded of Vrindavan. He immediately invited me to stay for prasadam. He is in New York because he has 2 daughters back in Vrindavan whom he needs to get married, and this is his only way to make a little money for their dowry.

When it was time to offer the bhoga, the devotees first hung a cloth in front of the deities and brought offerings under the cloth. But the offerings kept coming from the kitchen, until the entire front of the altar (outside the cloth) was also covered with preps. Then they brought a folding table in front of the altar, and filled that completely with more preparations. There must have been over 100 different items offered. No wonder Srila Prabhupada called Krishna consciousness a "kitchen religion." This is something the Indian devotees have mastered.

I stayed for part of the arotik when the kirtan started to take off: "Radharani ki jaya, Maharani ki jaya!!" Just like Vrindavan. And then the maha mantra. The kirtan was refreshing, not too crazy, and as it progressed, more devotees arrived and the enthusiasm increased. But i needed to get back to my apartment by 2 pm for some workers, so i left the temple before taking prasadam. One nice mataji offered me a mangal arotik sweet as i was leaving. She invited me back to the "big" program tonite, when Radha and Govinda will wear flower dresses. I thought about going, but it's a long subway ride and walking thru that neighborhood at nite would be dodgy.

On my way out, i asked an Indian gentleman sitting by the front door what time they hold the Sunday program. He said, "Yes, it's usually 5 or 6 pm, but don't worry, God will call you."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Govinda dasi's memories

By accident i came across a nice collection of memories by Govinda dasi. I’ve know Govinda dasi for a long time, and she is quite a character. In this series of recollections, she gives her firsthand experiences of being a 20-year-old girl who, with her young husband, Gaurasundara, met Srila Prabhupada when he had just a handful of disciples. It was the early days of Iskcon in San Francisco, New York and Montreal and everyone was still very much like a family. Prabhupada (who was called "Swamiji") gave his followers as much attention as they wanted, often sharing his apartment with his disciples and making them a part of his life. Prabhupada even brought back saris for each of his young female disciples when he returned from Vrindavan to San Francisco in late 1967. For more than a year, Govinda dasi, with Gaurasundara, was serving Prabhupada as his secretary, cook and personal servant. They were the only husband and wife team to do this service. It was a time of intimacy that was never again possible. Here is a brief selection from the series:

“While living together with Srila Prabhupada in New Jersey, we would have kirtan, just the four of us or if guests came from New York we would also have kirtans and Srila Prabhupada would talk. He was recovering from the stroke, so he would not give regular lectures as before when we were in New York temple but he was always eager to talk about Krsna to whoever would listen. So while sitting on the sofa one day, Srila Prabhupada began talking about kirtan, and he began to demonstrate the different ways to play kartals. He taught us the basic ching-ching-chang and other beats as well; we sang "Govinda jaya jaya" and Srila Prabhupada began to play the kartals exactly like the sound of cow-hooves running. I was amazed. Then he showed me how to do it - slowly and carefully so that it is in perfect timing with the regular kirtan; yet it sounds exactly like cow-hooves running across the fields. Other times he would sit and talk about Krsna, His pastimes in the forest of Vrindavan and his mother and father and friends. Srila Prabhupada would close his eyes and say: "Oh, the cowboys are going to their homes in the evening and tell their mother: "Oh mother, today Krsna has killed one very big demon." Srila Prabhupada's eyes would grow big as he said this. "He has saved us from danger," and then he would smile, "and their mothers are happy and they simply talk of 'Krsna is so wonderful.'”

this is the link:

Monday, September 17, 2007

Prabhupada writes about John & George

In yesterday's blog, i mentioned a dream Srila Prabhupada had about John Lennon. Thanks to Vicaru prabhu, who manages a web site archive of Prabhupada's letters (link to the left), here are Prabhupada's words, in a letter to Shyamasundar:

Friday, April 24, 1970

"You have asked me to disclose my dream about John, so I beg to state the incident as follows. I dreamt that John took me in a place at Calcutta and he was showing me a house, a big palatial building, which formerly belonged to a very rich man, and he was a famous musician also.

I think therefore that John was previously that man to whom that house belonged, and now he has taken birth in England. It is quite possible that he has inherited his past musical talent, and because that man was very liberal and charitable, so he has acquired some wealth also, and now in this life if he properly utilizes his talent and wealth for Krishna, then surely he will achieve the highest perfection of his life."

In the same letter, prior to revealing this dream, Prabhupada writes about a disturbing quote from Swami Vivekananda that George apparently wanted to include in his foreward to the Krishna Book. Prabhupada was determined not to have his transcendental writing polluted even with one sentence of impersonalism.

Regarding George's foreword, you write to say that certainly there will be no more changes. Do you mean that the changes which you have already suggested in you letter dated 11th April with quotation from Swami Vivekananda are to be added? We cannot add any quotation from Swami Vivekananda.

In your letter of April 11th you have asked me to insert ``What right has a man to say he has a soul if he does not feel it, or that there is a God if he does not see Him?'' Do you mean I have to put in my KRSNA book all this nonsense quotation? This man (Vivekananda) has no understanding either of soul or of God and still he has posed himself as a Swami to mislead so many innocent persons.

Understanding of the existence of soul is the beginning of teachings of Bhagavad-gita. If one has no understanding of the soul and God, he is no better than an animal because animals cannot have any idea of the soul or God. So how can I add these nonsense quotations?

George's foreword as it was originally sent can be published with little editorial changes, but in no case can the quotation from Swami Vivekananda be placed in my book. You have already admitted in your letter dated 11th April that it hurts you to see this change, quoting a rascal like Vivekananda, so please let me know clearly what you want me to do. If you think that George's foreword will help the selling of the books, then it may be published as it was originally sent.

(Excerpt omitted)

You cannot learn music from a carpenter. If you want to learn music, then you have to approach an expert musician. So how he can learn about God from persons like Vivekananda who had no preliminary knowledge of the soul, even?

So best thing is if he is serious to know about God, tell him to begin reading Vedic literatures, and we have published our Isopanisad. Let him seriously read this book and whenever he has to question, he can ask from us, but he should always remember that he should try to know about God from a person who is in touch with God, not from a speculator.

Hope this will meet you in good health.

Your ever well-wisher,
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Musings on John Lennon

Took another walk around the Upper West Side today. Autumn is approaching and the heat and humidity of summer have taken off, replaced by a pleasant coolness in the air. Autumn is a nice refreshing season in the north, if it weren’t so quickly overcome by bone-chilling cold. It is transitional, like everything in this world. There is an expression: “never a dull moment.” The truth is, in this world, there’s never a truly conscious moment. Things are changing, but they are dull, covered by various degrees of ignorance. I feel that dullness strongly today. No kirtan and no association with devotees.

I walked down Broadway to 72nd Street and then to Central Park West. On the corner of 72nd & Broadway is the Dakota, a super upscale apartment complex where John Lennon lived in the late 70’s. It’s also where he was killed. The building is rather depressing looking, with two large gas-light flame lamps at the entrance, in front of a black gated driveway (where Lennon was shot). On top of the building flies a large American flag.

John Lennon was more famous than the president of the U.S. when he was struck down by an assassin. “We're more famous than Jesus,” he once said, and had to apologize for that remark to the American Christians he offended. He had such fame, but that’s history now. No one knows where John Lennon went. His real sukriti came from a few meetings he had with Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada was a guest at his Tittenhurst estate in England during the summer of 1969. Prabhupada lived very simply in a guest cottage there during his stay. Yoko Ono noticed how austerely Prabhupada was living. She asked Lennon, “do you think it would be possible for us to live like this?"

I've heard one of their conversations where Prabhupada enthusiastically explained the importance of music in spiritual life. Prabhupada was sitting with Lennon, Ono and George Harrison. Prabhupada told them that Vedic knowledge was delivered via music. Then he started to sing a Vedic prayer for them. Singing a cappella an unusual melody, Prabhupada recited a long Sanskrit prayer. I always wondered how Prabhupada learned all the sutras he knew. He was like a Wikipedia of Vedic knowledge and prayers. When did he have the time to memorize all those sutras? And where did all those exquisite, far out melodies come from?

Prabhupada spoke with them for over an hour that day. George was clearly influenced by Prabhupada, as can be heard in the text of many of George’s songs and in his service on behalf of the devotees. John was less influenced, being preoccupied with Yoko and with his self made image as a cultural icon. He was both idealistic and cynical, according to the accounts i’ve read of his life. But he also was very fortunate, to have had personal contact with Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada even had a dream about Lennon, where he said John had been a big businessman in Calcutta previous to his birth as the most famous Beatle. Who knows, he may be back on Park St. in Kolkatta now, selling pirated versions of his own cds. (That’s my cynicism. He’s probably doing much better than that.)