a blade of grass

… he told me that perfection could be learned from nature. be more humble than a blade of grass; more tolerant than a tree. give respect to others freely, without expectation or motive. in such a state of mind, stripped bare of your false pretenses, call out to your Lord eternally.

i’m still working on it …

2006/10/17

Are we Hindu?

It would be interesting to know whether Steven Rosen included in his book, all the remarks that Srila Prabhupada made about Hinduism. The Krishna Consciousness Movement is not a Hindu movement; that’s clearly the message we get from Srila Prabhupada’s various statements on the subject.

What is also surprising is that our leaders (GBC and temple presidents) have made official statements — at various times — alluding a clear connection between the Sankirtana Movement of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Hinduism. I wonder where do they that from?

Hinduism — the way it is presented by the Hindus themselves — is strikingly and unmistakably polytheistic and pantheistic, which are considered inferior forms of theologies among Western theologians. Actually, Vaishnava theology also considers such forms of theologies inferior to the exclusivity and monotheistic of bhakti.

I wonder what’s the benefit of the tendency to keep mingling Hindusim with the Krishna Consciousness Movement?

Comment posted by ykd108 on October 12th, 2006

* * *
In his comment, ykd108 wonders where ISKCON's leaders (and presumably Satyaraja Prabhu in writing this book) get the basis for a connection between the sankirtana movement of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and what is commonly referred to as the "Hindu" tradition. The answer: from Lord Caitanya Himself (who made such a connection, for instance when speaking to Chand Kazi), from Srila Prabhupada (who made such connection, for instance when trying to protect our movement from being branded a cult by the New York Supreme Court) , and from the Vaisnava sampradayas (which, as the book review mentions, often describe themselves as the largest constituents under the Hindu umbrella).

Of course, ykd108 is correct to point out that Srila Prabhupada made it clear that the Krishna consciousness movement is not preaching the Hindu religion -- but why stop there? In fact, Srila Prabhupada made it equally clear that the movement is not preaching any sectarian religion; Krishna consciousness, he boldly reminded us, is trying to share pure love of God (a supra-religious, transcendent, universal goal). As far as theological statements go, that is both accurate and powerful.

From a historical and sociological standpoint, however, it is just as accurate to identify the movement as representing the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya, a monotheistic faith with roots in what is commonly known as Hinduism. Thus it is entirely possible (and legitimate) to speak about our philosophy as being both non-sectarian or non-religious (in an absolute context), and being one of the "traditions [that] collectively constitute the numerically largest portion of the Hindu world" (in the -- dare I say, mundane -- relative context).

In expressing his fear of the "mingling Hindusim" [sic] monster that lurks beneath ISKCON's bed, ykd108 inadvertently highlights one (of several) reasons that devotees do need to participants in the Hindu world. "Hinduism" ykd108 informs us "...is strikingly and unmistakably polytheistic and pantheistic." And lest we fault him for this generalization, he quickly points out that this snapshot of the religion is "the way it is presented by the Hindus themselves." And that is precisely the problem. For who are "the Hindus" that ykd108 refers to? And by what process were they invited to be the unequivocal spokespersons for Hinduism? Surely, there are more than a few Hindus -- for example, my dear Sri Vaisnava friends (who follow Sripada Ramanujacarya’s teachings faithfully and also identify themselves as Hindus) -- who would beg to differ. Certainly, educated and realized ISKCON devotees -- folks like Satyaraja Prabhu, for example -- could do amazing service for Srila Prabhupada and Lord Caitanya by introducing people to the beautiful and theologically indefensible traditions of monotheism and devotional service within that vast Hindu culture.

But ykd108 seems content to surrender the task of defining Hindu to stereotype-fed indologists and an impersonalist elite (for instance, Swami Vivekananda and his neo-Vedantic progeny). Tragically, our consolation prize is the opportunity to bask in the conviction that "Vaishnava theology also considers such forms of theologies inferior to the exclusivity and monotheistic of bhakti" [sic], which puts us in the company of Western theologians (who, by the way, will likely still think of us as Hindus).

I think we can do better.

I truly believe that we can (and must) describe our tradition in an articulate, honest, and accurate way: by acknowledging the Vaisnava faith in its proper context, and by humbly sharing what makes being a follower of Lord Caitanya the most wonderful, unique, sublime process.

It may not always be easy, but to do any less -- even in the name of safeguarding the exclusivity of bhakti -- would constitute the real compromise.

2006/10/15

2006/10/03

The Essence of Religion, part 2

H.H. Radhanath Swami
Sri Sri Radha Govinda Mandir (Brooklyn, NY)
Sunday Feast Lecture – September 10, 2006

The Essence of Religion:
Living up to Srila Prabhupada’s Expectations

(Please note: To retain the mood of the class, I have presented it in the first person. However, this is a summary re-telling of Radhanath Swami's class, based on notes I took while Maharaj was speaking. It is not a verbatim transcript of the lecture. In order to convert from spoken to written English, I have also made small edits where necessary. This is part 2 of 2.)

Srila Prabhupada explained that “Vaisnava” actually means unconditional, uninterrupted love of God. It is not just some category of religion; it is the essence, the goal. This is what he tried to give us, and he entrusted us with the responsibility to promote and uphold this goal in this world of conflict. We learn what a godly person is by studying the lives of such persons. Descriptions in scriptures of how we should be only really make sense when we study the lives of those people.

When Srila Prabhupada was on the Jaladuta, he revealed his mind to Krishna privately. I don’t think Srila Prabhupada ever expected that his prayers to Krishna would be circulated all over the world in songbooks! He was in a destitute position. He had nothing – just some rupees that couldn’t even be exchanged – and he didn’t know if anyone would be there to meet him. He poured his heart out to Krishna. And Krishna allowed us to have those prayers, so that we could see what a humble person really is. Not a haughty beggar, but a humble beggar – begging for the ability to awaken love in the hearts of others.

In 1980, the pujari of Advaita Bhavan in Shantipur came to Srila Prabhupada’s temple in Mayapur. In Shantipur, Sri Advaita Acarya prayed with tears in his eyes, in a loud voice, for Krishna to appear in this world to deliver the fallen souls in Kali Yuga. He was an avatar, and was not only seeing the present, but also seeing the future conditions. He could see that people become more and more atheisitic and materialistic; real culture seems irrelevant in name of progress. He saw that irreligion is taken as religion, and real religion mistaken for irreligion. He understood that people were so superficial – they were engrossed in ritual, and if other people had different externals, they labeled them as dangerous, satanic, agents of maya.

When we become too much concerned with external forms, we forget the real purpose of any ritual: to purify our hearts of all ego. The purpose of all religious rites – whether puja, namaaz, mass – is to humble ourselves before God, to take shelter and offer ourselves in humility. Offering arati is not just waving lamps and incense; every one of those articles is an _expression of our intent to offer our body, mind, lives, and intent for the Lord’s pleasure. Ritual is the form, but that form is meant to facilitate a particular meditation, or particular state of consciousness. According to the various times, places, and circumstances of history, there may be different rituals – but what is purpose of them? We must remember that just because we are Hare Krishna devotees, doesn’t necessarily mean we are better than anyone else! Bhaktivinode Thakura said that there will be those with kanthi beads, sikha, dhoti, but who will be agents of Kali. It is not the ritual, it is our intent. We have such wonderful rituals, such a beautiful culture, to develop and purify that intent. But the intent must be there, or else the rituals and culture bring disunity rather than unity.

So yes, Advaita Acarya saw what would happen in Kali Yuga even in the name of religion. He saw people would become so materialistically inclined that they could justify any sinful activity in the name of progress and “being normal.” Who will combat this? So he prayed for years and cried tears of compassion for you and me. Begging, “Krishna, unless You come personally, there is no hope for this world.” And Krishna fulfilled this prayer and descended as Lord Caitanya. Krishna wanted to experience Radha’s love, but he combined that with fulfilling Advaita Acarya’s prayer. He came to promote the Harinama Sankirtana movement, and taught how to develop that intent through chanting of names.

It was it in that place, Advaita Bhavan, that Advaita Acarya and Haridasa Thakura would meet. When Lord Caitanya appeared, Advaita Acarya and Haridasa Thakura met in Shantipur and danced ecstatically there, understanding that the Lord had come. Many things happened there, that’s another class. But in summary, Advaita Acarya wanted Lord Caitanya to punish him, because Lord Caitanya was treating Advaita Acarya as a senior. Most of us like to be respected as a senior, but Advaita Acarya hated it. He wanted only to be seen as the servant of the servant. But Lord Caitanya was teaching by His example amaninamana dena – to offer all respects to others, and expect none for oneself. And because Advaita Acarya was the godbrother of His guru, He would take the dust from Advaita Acarya’s feet. Advaita Acarya hated this. So he came up with a plot. He thought, “If I pretend to preach the philosophy that the living entity becomes one with God, that ultimately God has no form, that eventually you become Krishna instead of worshipping Him… then Lord Caitanya will come and smash me.” So Advaita Acarya carried out his plan, and Lord Caitanya actually became so enraged that slapped him. Advaita Acarya became the happiest man. “Ha ha ha,” he laughed, “where is Your formality now? Where is Your showing me respect now? One punishes a servant, not a master!” This beautiful pastimes happened at Shantipur.

So here was a pujari from Shantipur who came to Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir in 1980, and he told this story:

I have been the temple pujari at Advaita Bhavan since the 1940s and 1950s. During that time a Bengali householder would come regularly, and sit in the back of the temple wearing simple khadi dhoti and kurta. He wouldn’t say anything to anyone, but would spend hours and hours chanting on his beads. He chanted so deeply. Sometimes I saw tears falling from his eyes. I became attached to this man. He was genuinely absorbed in the Holy Names. He came every month, but because he came alone, I didn’t want to disturb him. Every time he left he’d say “Thank you” to me, bow down, and go. Then something happened. This man didn’t return for about ten years. But then I remember distinctly, in the month of August 1965, I saw a personality come in the saffron robes of sannyasi. He sat in the back of the temple, chanting on his prayer beads. I recognized, “This is my old friend, he has returned… but now he’s a Swamiji!” All day, he chanted in the back of temple room with tears falling from his eyes. Then he bowed down for a long time, got up, and came to me. He said, “Thank you for your wonderful service in the temple.” It was then that I asked him “Who are you? I remember you coming for so many years.” He responded, “My name is Abhaya Charanavinda Bhaktivedanta Swami, and I am a disciple of that empowered soul, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada, who has come to deliver world. I have been coming here because my gurudeva has given me an impossible mission to perform. He has ordered me to take the message of Lord Caitanya and the Holy Names of Krishna across the ocean to spread all over the world. I have no qualification, no ability, people in the western world have never heard the name of Krishna or who is Radharani. How to convince them? Therefore, for all these years, I have been coming here. Because this is the place that Advaita Acarya, Lord Caitanya, and Nityananda Prabhu are eternally present. They are planning to take the Holy Names all over world. I have been coming here, praying to Them to empower me to fulfill my guru’s order. Tomorrow I am taking a cargo ship to New York City. But I don’t know what I will find there. I don’t know how I will do it. So I am crying to my gurudeva and to the Supreme Personality of Godhead to empower me.” He asked for my blessings also, and then he left.

I spoke to Vrindavan Chandra De, Srila Prabhupada’s son, who was one of the five people who saw him off. It’s amazing—Srila Prabhupada was going to spread love of Krishna all over the world, and it wasn’t a big send-off. It was just his son, an employee of the company, and some other people he hardly knew. He had an umbrella, a change of clothes, some cereal, and his books. I asked Vrindavan Chandra De, “What were you thinking when you saw your father going up that plank, alone?” Vrindavan Chandra looked at me with tears in his eyes, and said, “I was proud of my father.” But still, even he could have never dreamed that anything would be accomplished except his coming home and saying “I met a few people.”

That pujari from Shantipur continued to tell the devotees:

Years later, I started seeing something very strange. I saw white people with kanthi-mala, shaved heads, tilak, dhoti, sari. They started to visit our temple here. I was a shy person, so I never spoke to them. But one day, after some years, one of these white people gave me a magazine, called Back to Godhead. On the back of the magazine, I saw a photo of the founder-acharya, and I looked at it – it was my old friend! He did it! By Krishna’s grace, he performed the impossible mission of spreading glories of Krishna all over world.

Srila Prabhupada was a man of substance. He expected all of his followers to live by the highest conduct of a Vaisnava. In one place, Srila Prabhupada challenged a PhD candidate, “What is use of philosophy without good character?” In fact, if we don’t have good character, then we actually destroy people’s faith. Srila Prabhupada expected us to take very, very seriously the process for purifying our heart and really seeking the essence. He expected that we not become diverted or disturbed by the peripheral arrangements that maya creates. And it can happen even in the name of Krishna consciousness; we get some advancement and all the fringe benefits come. Soon, we get attached to fame, position, prestige, and facilities. Facilities are great to use for Krishna, but we should never be attached to anything but the desire to use these things for Krishna.

The only way to not get diverted is to stay focused on essence. Therefore, it is so important to study Srila Prabhupada’s books. On every page, he is reminding us of the essence that we are meant to strive for.

We must regularly cleanse our hearts by chanting the Holy Names. The Holy Name is that medicine that can cure, not just the symptoms, but the very origin of all disease: forgetfulness of God, and false ego. False ego is the basic substance of all misery. How to reach that and cure it? In the age of Kali, the most powerful effective means is caling on the name of God. Namanama akari

But there are many people who chant the name of God. Some people chant the Hare Krishna mahamantra to become God, to merge into the brahmajyoti. So the intention is so important. Therefore we chant Hare Krishna, but we need to study Srila Prabhupada’s books, to come together and discuss them, and to attend classes regularly.

Srila Prabhupada once told one of his godbrothers, “I have the formula for a tonic that gives us the ability to perfectly digest the Holy Name: trnad api sunicena, taror iva sahisnuna, amaninamena dena, kirtaniya sada harih.” To be humble, tolerant, eager happy to give all respect to others, and not care about getting respect in return. These three qualities – humility, tolerance, pridelessness – are the basic foundation of good character. Everything else follows from them. Why do we commit sin? Because we cannot tolerate! Why do we get frustrated? Because we are not humble! All problems are solved by this formula. Why? Because by living by these principles, when we chant Krishna’s name, Krishna will be pleased. And that is what all spiritual life is about. Krishna reciprocates with us because we have pleased Him. We want to chant the Holy Names to please God, and by His mercy the disease is cured. By His mercy eternal servitude, eternal love is awakened. But this is how we can please Krishna with our chanting. By living our lives developing a service attitude and the proper consciousness.

So yes, maya and the modes of nature are terrorizing us from within. Yes, lust, anger, greed…, they appear in disguises. “I am a friend, serve me.” And we do. We’re being used, becoming their agents… and yet, we think that they are our friends. But if we chant Holy Names through this formula, the terrorists in our hearts will be removed. And we can do something great for the world, as Srila Prabhupada did. He was begging us, and is still begging us, to assist him in this mission. How? Srila Prabhupada said, “Accept what I am giving you, and give it to others.” Accepting means that we are living up to his expectations of us. To reciprocate with gratitude, we must take his words very carefully. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

That pujari from Shantipur was amazed to see devotees in Mayapur chanting and dancing. “My old friend did it!” And somehow by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada, we are also being allowed to participate. Thank you very much.