Monday, June 25, 2007

How Krishna Consciousness Came into My Life, Pt. 2

Here's a draft of the rest of my story.

The next day, I went to the place where I had recently quit working to collect a paycheck I had coming, so I could buy my own copy of Bhagavad-gita As It Is. I also started attending the Bhagavad-gita classes held three nights a week at the temple. I remember still having difficulty dealing with the fact that this spiritual treatise was spoken on a battlefield, with the Lord exhorting His friend to fight—against his relatives, friends, and teachers! I asked about it three meetings in a row. The temple president, Gaurasundar das, was very patient with me, explaining painstakingly the difference between spirit and matter, the body and the soul, and apparent nonviolence and real nonviolence. After three times, the concepts began to sink in, and I was hooked.

On the alternate nights, I found myself in Waikiki, a member of the temple’s sankirtan party. During the day, I would walk from my apartment near Diamond Head up to the temple to help with the gardening duties. In particular, I was eager to help with the mango trees. The devotees had told me that their spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, had declared the mango king of fruits and promised to visit Honolulu when mango season came. After a couple of weeks, it became clear that I was spending more time with the devotees than with my other friends. My interests had changed drastically in a very short time: less surfing, more serving. I began discussing the possibility of moving into the temple for more intense study and spiritual practice with my friends. Some were adamantly opposed, convinced that, although I was one of them, I was becoming brainwashed by all the chanting. Others suggested that, although it could be a big adventure, monastic life wasn’t for everyone. After some vacillation, I went down to the beach one day to sell my surfboard so I could pay my share of the rent for the month at my old apartment. Then I packed my few belongings and walked up to Manoa Valley to begin this adventure.

At the time, I didn’t think of myself as a devotee, or as a disciple of Srila Prabhupada’s. For some time, even after moving into the temple, I referred to Srila Prabhupada as “your spiritual master” in my conversations with the seven devotees that comprised ISKCON Hawaii at the time. My idea was that I would try to develop an understanding of Krishna consciousness and share it with those with whom I associated. However, as I chanted regularly, spent anywhere from four to eight hours a day chanting on the streets of Honolulu, and studied Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, my relationship with Krishna consciousness began to change in ways that even I could recognize. I began to see that it was much more than just a very appealing personal philosophy. I can still remember a few particular passages from the first canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam that initiated drastic changes in my appreciation for the Bhagavatam’s ideals. One is in the purport, or commentary, on the second verse. The verse explains that Srimad-Bhagavatam has nothing at all to do with any religious concept less than pure love of God:

Completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated, this Bhagavata Purana propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are fully pure in heart. The highest truth is reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all. Such truth uproots the threefold miseries. This beautiful Bhagavatam, compiled by the great sage Vyasadeva [in his maturity], is sufficient in itself for God realization. What is the need of any other scripture? As soon as one attentively and submissively hears the message of Bhagavatam, by this culture of knowledge the Supreme Lord is established within his heart.

In his purport, or commentary, Srila Prabhupada discusses how all beings in the material world are engaged in a competitive struggle for dominance over others. Then he contrasts with this the attitude of pure devotees of Godhead:

But the devotees of the Lord rise above such competitions. They do not compete with the materialist because they are on the path back to Godhead where life is eternal and blissful. Such transcendentalists are nonenvious and pure in heart. In the material world, everyone is envious of everyone else, and therefore there is competition. But the transcendental devotees of the Lord are not only free from material envy, but are well-wishers to everyone, and they strive to establish a competitionless society with God in the center.

This was the most radical idea I think I had encountered at the time, in the real sense of the word: it went right to the root of all our problems, and it offered the perfect solution. This, it seemed to me, was everything!

As I got further into the first canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, I found more statements in the verses and purports that showed me the profundity of Srila Prabhupada’s mission. In one such passage, Narada Muni, a great sage, explains the difference between mundane literature and transcendental literature to his disciple, Vyasadeva, the divine compiler of the Vedic literatures:

Those words which do not describe the glories of the Lord, who alone can sanctify the atmosphere of the whole universe, are considered by saintly persons to be like unto a place of pilgrimage for crows. Since the all-perfect persons are inhabitants of the transcendental abode, they do not derive any pleasure there.

On the other hand, that literature which is full of descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, forms, pastimes, etc., of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a different creation, full of transcendental words directed toward bringing about a revolution in the impious lives of this world's misdirected civilization. Such transcendental literatures, even though imperfectly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.

I began to see that the Hare Krishna movement was not simply an exotic religion but a revolutionary movement. But this wasn’t the kind of revolution we had become accustomed to discussing in those days of social and political ferment. This, I was beginning to understand, was a revolution of the heart. I was interested in finding ways to change our culture. At the time, the most profound political influence in my life was Mohandas Gandhi. I had read pretty much every thing by and about him that I had been able to get my hands on. While I was still in the Navy, one of my friends had drawn a charcoal portrait of Gandhi that I displayed in my room in the barracks, and later in my apartment in Honolulu. I liked his idea of revolution based on nonviolent non-cooperation with evil. I found his search for Absolute Truth inspiring. I found his practice of observing celibacy, or brahmacharya, to re-channel his energy to effecting social change intriguing, if impossible for me. And I had been inspired by his faith in Bhagavad-gita to explore it myself. His approach to revolution, it seemed to me, was almost spiritual.

But this approach was completely spiritual. And the more I read, the more clearly I could see this, the more firmly I became convinced.

Later in the first canto, I read of Emperor Parikshit’s encounter with an abused bull. In the vision of the Vedic sages, the bull is Dharma, the personification of religious principles. At one point King Parikshit exclaims, “In the age of Satya [truthfulness] your four legs were established by the four principles of austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness. But it appears that three of your legs are broken due to rampant irreligion in the form of pride, lust for women, and intoxication.” In his purport Srila Prabhupada explains that the Dharma, religion, had been abused by Kali, the personification of the age in which we live, characterized by hypocrisy and quarrel. The pillars on which this age is built are destructive habits such as gambling, intoxication, unrestricted pursuit of sexual gratification, and meat eating. The antidote suggested here is a culture based on simplicity, cleanliness, mercy, and truthfulness. Now that was truly revolutionary, at least in my experience! And a little earlier, I had found the essential antidote for the influence of this age of discord. If we can make arrangements, Srila Prabhupada says, “for the constant chanting of the holy names, qualities, etc., of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there is no chance at all” for Kali’s influence to increase the downward spiral of modern society. And Srila Prabhupada recommends using even modern technology for widely broadcasting the holy names of Krishna, as well as Krishna’s teachings. That was it. I was convinced that I had found the real revolution and that I had to dedicate my life to helping effect that revolution. I would somehow become Srila Prabhupada’s disciple and an instrument in his life’s work.

That determination was further solidified when Srila Prabhupada visited Honolulu in August of 1970. When I first saw him, my heart leapt, and I knew without any doubt that I had found my eternal teacher and that I could approach him without any reservation. When I did physically approach him to offer a flower lei and offer the common gesture of obeisance by bowing down to the ground, I inexplicably found myself so overwhelmed with spiritual emotion that I sobbed uncontrollably, unable to offer the prayers of dedication a disciple likes to make. Later, as we walked from the airport lobby to the car that awaited him, I held an umbrella over his head (yes, even inside the airport), he stopped for a moment and smiled broadly as he looked into my eyes. I felt as though he had accepted me as I had accepted him. I felt irrevocably committed to the spiritual revolution that is Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s sankirtana movement and have never looked back.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Thinking about Srila Prabhupada

I heard a disturbing--but not surprising--story about an offering written by one of my Godbrothers for this year's Vyasa-puja book, which commemorates the appearance of our spritual master, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. This got me thinking about my own offering for this year, which in turn made me think about posting some of my past offerings here. This one was written on behalf of the San Diego, California ISKCON center in 1994.

nama oṁ viṣṇu-pādāya kṛṣṇa-preṣṭhāya bhū-tale
śrīmate bhaktivedānta-svāmin iti nāmine

namas te sārasvate deve gaura-vāṇī-pracāriṇe

śrīla prabhupāda dayā karaha vicāra
vicāra karile citte pābe camatkāra

Anyone interested in logic and argument should apply them to the mercy of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda! If they do so they will find it strikingly wonderful.

For more lives than anyone can count, we have
worked hard at becoming the most fallen of souls,
Our hallmarks, our pride: ignorance, misfortune, and sin.
We have majored in forgetting Kṛṣṇa, doing extra coursework
in denying our eternal relationship with the Lord.
Our own bodies, born and bred in Kali-yuga,
serve as our diplomas: Fool Number One,
devoid of any grace.

But Lord Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Thief;
He has stolen our misfortune by
sending Your Divine Grace, His personal envoy,
to show the folly of our self-imposed exile.
You have changed our lives by demonstrating
pure devotional service to Kṛṣṇa, conceivable to us only
by Your Divine Grace.

The matchless gift, which
immediately relieves all material distress,
opens the way to the best of fortune,
bestows transcendental happiness,
is rarely achieved,
transcends even liberation,
and is the only way to attract Kṛṣṇa,
is available only at the lotus feet
of the pure spiritual master.
Anyone who wants any happiness must learn
bhakti from a bona fide guru,
making his word one’s life and soul.
Lord Caitanya shows this as the root
of the devotional creeper.
We can attain love for Kṛṣṇa
only by the spiritual master’s
divine grace.

Śrīla Prabhupāda, you are the supreme professor
of the science of devotional service.
Anyone who claims to know anything about Kṛṣṇa
must have heard it from you.
Any goodness found in the word in this age of anxiety and discord
is strictly due to your taking the word of your spiritual master
as life and soul, and showering us with
your causeless mercy.

The task of preaching is our legacy;
you left you mission incomplete
so we could spend our lives pursuing its fulfillment.
We are your limbs in this dark world, and
apart from you, our lives have no meaning;
apart from Your Divine Grace –
your causeless mercy – we have no life.

As we approach the Śrīla Prabhupāda Centennial year,
your helpless children – your “boys and girls”
(though boys and girls, perhaps, only in your eyes anymore),
those who came in the years of struggle,
the new counterculture kids who remind us
of ourselves not so long ago,
and the world’s great hope, the gurukula alumni,
who show us all how to remember Kṛṣṇa
everywhere and when –
pray to dedicate our work, words, and thoughts
to establishing your reputation as the universal teacher of pure devotion
so all may be attracted to your lotus feet
and receive your causeless mercy.

Just as we get water from the earth by digging,
we hope to get one more drop of your mercy
by our service to your great mission.
That drop of mercy, we hope, will yield
humility, forbearance, compassion,
and freedom from personal ambition.
Only then will be fit to free
all fallen souls of Kali-yuga
from the ignorance and misfortune they so prize
and share the great treasure of
Your Divine Grace.