Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Baghdad - A Doctor's Story

I was watching this programme on TV earlier this evening, part of the 'This World' investigative reporting series. This week it was about "Life in Baghdad" and was entirely filmed by an Iraqi doctor. Now I realise that the war has a lot of polarising views about the rights and wrongs of this or that, but I couldn't help feeling how this film got straight to the core of what people need to know: what everyday life in Baghdad is like.

Some of the scenes were horrific, describing how civilian hospitals had turned into field hospitals and how 90% of patients received injury treatment from bombs, gunshot wounds and the like. Not to mention the fact that such hospitals are horrifically underequipped and that the doctors themselves risk their lives at every single moment even within the hospital, since at any moment they can be shot dead in the ER by terrorists who maliciously disrupt their activities. Surprises included how severely injured Iraqis refused to believe that their wounds were inflicted by their fellow Iraqis/Muslims, and the open acknowledgement that sectarian loyalties and divisions were being stirred up by bigots who were exploiting them to make war, when Sunnis and Shias had lived happily as brothers under Saddam's rule.

Especially heart-wrenching was a scene within an ambulance after a marketplace bomb blast where several adults and children were blown up. Witnessing the grief of the survivors for their dead friends first-hand brought tears to my eyes. A Shi'ite woman openly wished for the return of Saddam because she considered "systematic" terrorism (Saddam's tortures) to be preferable to the "random" terrorism caused by market, street and car bombs where people are fearful just to go out and buy a loaf of bread. Think about that, you risk your life every time you take a trip to your local store to buy a loaf of bread. It makes me realise how thankful I am for small mercies like that.

I used to be heavily interested in politics but this war has disillusioned me so much that I hardly read anything any more. Because beyond all of the mudslinging and campaigns, people tend to forget what life is like for the man on the street. I guess I felt that was my main interest in politics, how the man on the street can be benefited by whatever proposal is being debated in Parliament. So indeed this documentary helped me understand how the war in Iraq affects the man on the street; ordinary people like you and me who don't care about any war, they are being put to suffering and are needlessly terrorised. The tears of the man on the street is the fire that burns my soul.

I had to think about it in the context of my musings about preaching to the needy; how can one spread the message of Nitai-Gaura's supreme love in a place like Baghdad? Is it even possible? Lots of people would think I am a basket case for even suggesting it, and how could it happen anyway? It's like one of those people who walk around saying "Jesus Loves You", it doesn't make any sense and it doesn't help. People are suffering needlessly over political footballs kicked by politicians with no goalkeepers and the full-time whistle never sounds does it?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Diwali 2006

Blogger was down for several hours yesterday, so I couldn't write up my Diwali report but anyway here it is! I actually had a bit of a late night before Diwali and so I got up rather late. As it is our custom to do the family puja in the evening, we figured that it would be nice to take a trip to the temple and take darshan of the deities. The only trouble was that I hadn't eaten anything at all since waking up and I was getting rather annoyed at that. It surprised me that when I am able to exercise self-control during Ekadashi fasting, why is just a couple of hours of starvationbothering me? This reinforces my theory that adequate mental preparation is necessary to do such things, to get oneself in the right state of mind.

So anyway I was feeling rather despondent because we arrived at the temple after the 4.20pm arati, and I was sure that the curtains would be closed. But of course, I had forgotten that on festival days it is procedure to allow longer darshan times! So we managed to get a nice darshan aftaer all, and how beautifully They were dressed!!!! Lots of nice candles everywhere. The battery on my camera ran out so I didn't take as many shots as I would have liked, but here are some of them anyway. Beautiful!

And by the way, I guess Krishna and Rama were so supremely merciful that They gave me a nice Diwali present. Since I had been starving and the arati was over, I happened to get a small plate of maha-prasad. Wow! The first thing I had to eat all day was maha-prasad, how fantastic was that?!

And the temple has this really cute diorama Damodara for Kartik month, I think it's adorable!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Preaching To The Needy

I was watching a TV program about Heather Veitch on Channel 4 today, 'The Holy Hottie'. It was all about how Heather was a topless model, stripper and porn actress who found God and became a sincere follower of Jesus Christ. She proceeded to network with other Christian women from her church in order to form a ministry; "JC's Girls".

What I found remarkable about this is the way the JC's Girls took the message of the Gospels directly to those who needed it. Capitalising on her experience with the porn industry and having first-hand experience of the suffering that exploited women undergo, Heather and the JC Girls go directly into the topless bars and strip clubs - and even the Adult Entertainment Expo festivals - and gently persuade the strippers to give up their vocation and accept the love of Christ into their lives. The endeavour was surprisingly successful and is still going strong, even though it naturally has it's critics.

The part which I found most touching is how the pastor of the California church who hosts the ministry was being pressured by the 'higher-ups' to discontinue the project. As the pastor was wholly committed to the ministry having seen it's remarkable success first-hand, he set an ultimaturm in front of his congregation that if he did not receive the support of the congregation then he would leave and go elsewhere. He was willing to sacrifice the whole church in order to support the ministry. They were initially stunned but then, slowly but surely, they all arose and made their way to the stage in a 100% show of support. Wow! And it was all started off by one woman.

This inspired me to think about the love of Nitai and Gaura. People supported the "JC's Girls" ministry by citing Christ's own example of associating with the prostitutes and the drunks in order to transform them with his love. Well isn't our Caitanya the very Patita-Pavana himself? And isn't our Nitai dayamaya? How could anyone resist the love, compassion and forgiveness of these Two? They saved Jagai-Madhai and so many others, They incarnated for the very purpose of loka-upakara, and They took their gifts directly to those who needed it.

As devotees of Nitai-Gaur, we have a responsibility to extend Their compassion by humbly taking up the same duty of preaching and, even though I loathe the term, "save the fallen souls". I was also reflecting on the preaching activities carried out by ISKCON; book distribution, chanting parties, pandal programs and so on, and their success thereof. I am always amazed at those who advocate or are more inclined towards concentrating on their own progress and are not much inclined towards proper preaching. I have to admit that even though I was full of the fire of preaching when I was younger, time and experience have taught me that some approaches are not always successful. It is not the type of "Speaker's Corner" preaching that will be successful although that may have some advantages. I was thinking that it is time to think of strategies that make up an ideal of intelligent preaching.

I have not heard any stories of devotees being so bold as to enter strip clubs and the like for preaching. There is a wine bar next door to the ISKCON London temple, and I remember once how one devotee went down there in his enthusiasm during the street chanting-and-dancing party. He did it just for a joke and promptly came up the stairs again, whereas the other devotees looked at him and laughed with a look of mock horror and concern. Why did they do that? Is it really so bard to enter wine bars or pubs in order to preach? Isn't that directly taking the message to those who need it, regardless of their receptivity to it?

Another factor to consider is that the "JC Girls" are preaching about Jesus after all. This is possible in the USA which is a Christian country and the whole population is familiar with the idea of Jesus. It is not so easy to talk about Nitai Gaur (what to speak of Radha-Krishna) in a "foreign" country. Even in India Nitai-Gaur is not so well known except in Bengal, while at least Radha-Krishna is known everywhere. So in that respect, Vaishnavas have a harder task than others in regards to first introducing the whole subject from the beginning.

The JC Girls used the strategy of entering a strip club and booking a dancer for a so-called private dance in a dedicated booth. They then told the dancer that they didn't want a dance and they only wanted a chance to chat about Jesus, offering to pray for them right then and there, and then paying them for the "dance" that never happened. This endeared them to the owners of the club since the dancers were not losing any money by talking to the Christians. The funny thing was how most of the dancers were receptive to the preaching and were happy to accept invitations to attend church, accept a free Bible and so on.

Anyway so these are the main points circulating in my mind after watching that show. There is opportunity to harvest a broader field by way of intelligent preaching strategies that bring the all-encompassing love and forgiveness of Nitai-Gaur directly to those who need it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

cirAd adattaM nija-gupta-vittaM

Some interesting and exciting points have been made in discussion over my last post, but I would like to expand on one of my points in this separate post. This is what I said:

[In answer to the proposal that the 3 reasons given for Gauranga's advent do not appear to support the existence of an 'eternal' existence for Gauranga, I responded..]

"That is a good point actually. However, the fact still remains that whenever Krishna comes only once in a day of Brahma, Gaura comes immediately after that. Is it just purely coincidental that every time He becomes "inspired" to experience the feelings of Radha? Radha-bhava is indeed a unique and wonderful thing for Gaura (Krishna) to experience, but on another level it can't be that unique that He comes to experience it in every kalpa?"

In furtherance of this view, there is another oft-quoted verse in praise of Gaurahari's magnificent contribution:

cirād adattaṁ nija-gupta-vittaṁ
sva-prema-nāmāmṛtam aty-udaraḥ
ā-pāmaraṁ 'yo vitatāra gauraḥ
kṛṣṇo janebhyas tam ahaṁ prapadye

Not giving His own secret treasury of love of Himself and the nectarean, greatly munificent, holy name for a long time, that Gaura, Krsna Himself, distributed it to the people and the lowest of men. Unto Him I surrender. (CC 2.23.1)

One should note that 'cirāt adattaṁ' means 'not given for a long time'. The BBT translation appears to contain the interpolation: "This was never given to the people at any time before," which doesn't seem to be backed up in the original Sanksrit. So we must consider the meaning of 'not given for a long time' as opposed to 'never given at any time before'. As I said earlier, Gaura comes once in a day of Brahma, in the Kali-yuga immediately following the Dvapara-yuga in which Krishna comes, who also comes once in a day of Brahma. We all know how long a day of Brahma lasts, or do we? ;-)

The point being, "not being given for a long time" refers to when it was given previously i.e. in the previous day of Brahma when Gaura made His appearance. This is my interpretation and I hope it is correct. So if it is certain that Gaura de facto hasn't been around "for a very long time", what has He been doing in the meantime? One might argue that He has been going around like a firebrand following Krishna, who is also going around like a firebrand into all of the other universes.

In which case, one might also consider the Svapna-vilasamrita of Sri Visvanath Cakravartipada; what is Srimati Radhe doing dreaming of Mahaprabhu when She is with Krishna? It has the interesting line: nigadya premabdhau punar api tadahasyasi jagat, by Your own transcendental potency You will ... again plunge the world into the ocean of pure love." (Verse 7) What is the reason for using the word "again"?

And then to top it all off, the Caitanya-mangala specifically describes Gauranga as being attended by Radha and Rukmini with all of their attendants. I wrote about this briefly on Advaitaji's blog, but I'm afraid that I don't accept his reasonings about Gaura being Krishna (as such) and that it is figurative. While Gaura is Krishna (ontologically speaking), the text specifically describes Narada's visit to Goloka where one would expect to see Krishna, but there is Gaura (specifically mentioning His golden complexion) being attended by both Radha and Rukmini giving Him an abhishek! So I'm afraid that I don't accept these as being poetic embellishments or whatever others have suggested. The circumstances of the text make it very clear that Narada is speaking directly to Gaura and not Krishna. So what is Gaura doing there if His existence is only for prakat-lila? It doesn't make sense.

Advaitaji has already confessed that he thinks that all of these "Gaura-evaporation" ideas are the personal realisations of the "mahatma" he spoke to, so it is a subjective thing and there is no reason as such to believe it. I personally find the ideas sickening. To think that one's devotion to Gaura will one day "evaporate" into nothingness or so? This contradicts everything we have been taught.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Six Goswamis

The debate about the 'eternality' of Gaura-lila is still going on in Advaitaji's blog, where I spotted the following comment made by him:

"Whatever the case, the 6 Goswamis are the Supreme Court. The buck stops there."

I have heard this line presented in all sorts of discussions where 'deviations' and other curious happenings are being discussed. The basic premise of it is thus; if it's not in the books of the Six Gosvamis then it's unauthorised and not worth bothering with.

I have to admit that I am rather tired of this reasoning as it seems to be a very convenient way to inhibit deep technical discussions about this or that issue. It seems to be used as a weapon, almost as if to continue with any 'deviant' discussions holds you in contempt of the Gosvamis.

Now let me make this very clear so that I am not misunderstood: I do not question the authority of the Six Gosvamis, nor do I seek to minimise or disrespect them in any way. They are indeed the "Supreme Court" and they are the most beloved servants of Sriman Gauranga Mahaprabhu, empowered with His shakti to formulate the doctrines of Gaudiya Vaishnavism for the samaj to follow. Having said that, we need to carefully consider the merits of using the "If it's not in the Six Gosvamis' books.." argument by considering what it is that they actually wrote.

Apart from Sri Rupa Gosvami's magnum opus (Bhakti-rasamrita Sindhu), the Sat-sandarbhas of Sri Jiva Gosvami and the Hari-bhakti-vilas of Sanatana/Gopal Bhatta Gosvami (just generally off the top of my head), what else did they write? Mainly books of lila and nataka-candrikas, dramas and plays. One could argue that only the first wave of BRS has any use for sadhakas in terms of practical hints and tips and the rest of it being examples of lila, and it is also possible to argue that the Sat-sandarbhas were just formulations of the actual doctrine in terms of philosophy, and that the HBV is the "lawbook" that mainly concentrates on the mechanics of rituals, prohibitions and so forth, one cannot seriously expect to resolve any controversies of deviancy or heterodoxy from any of the Gosvamis' books because they appear to be insufficient for those purposes!

One cannot expect BRS to deal with controversies like Gaura-nagara-vada (for example) because the subject is off-scope! The only real controversy is when Sri Visvanath Cakravartipada threw out Rupa Kaviraja for his sakhi-bhekhi ideas (or whatever it was), which wasn't done by any Gosvami because the theory probably wasn't around in their times. Also, arguing that "it is false because the Gosvami's wrote nothing about it" is a logical fallacy.

Therefore I think that comments about the buck stopping at the Gosvamis are ultimately useless for presenting in debates and discussions. It is simply unfair to use the Gosvamis as a weapon to halt or inhibit serious discussion on issues especially when they have nothing substantial to contribute. I also have used the Gosvamis as weapons in the past which is why I can say that it is not a very nice thing to do.

If Krishna is svayam-bhagavan and appears in a certain universe only once in a day of Brahma, the same holds true for Gaura and this is official Gaudiya doctrine. Consequently if Krishna can have a prakat-lila going around like a firebrand yet remain in Nitya-Vrajadham, it can also follow that Gaura similarly follows Krishna like a firebrand and remains similarly situated in Nitya-Navadvipa as it were. Every avatar, no matter how miniscule they are, has their own abode so why not Gaura? And why can't sadhakas go there if they want to? To me, it is absurd.

And stating that "the Gosvamis never said anything about it" is rather unhelpful.

Important to wear tilak

I was reading Caitanya-Bhagavat today and I came across a verse from Mahaprabhu where He states that it is very important to wear tilak. This took place during His pastimes of being a schoolteacher, and he would shame and (lovingly) embarrass any of his students who had forgotten to put on his tilak that morning before arriving for class. He said that it was proof that they hadn't completed their morning duties properly (sandhya-vandanam) and sent them back, only allowing them back into class when they had worn their tilak. He further said that the forehead of a brahmana on which tilak is not present is like a crematorium. So it is very important to wear tilak.

I remember an incident where a lecture program was due to be held in a non-ISKCON venue, and the lecture was by a visiting ISKCON swami who had been invited. When I arrived at the venue and greeted the swami before the program was due to start, he looked at me joyfully and exclaimed, 'Oh! You have got a nice big tilak!'

So wearing tilak is the sign of a devotee. It 'marks' one as a devotee of Radha-Krishna. It brings joy to Mahaprabhu. It brings joy to the Vaishnava sadhus. That is all that is necessary, the blessings of the Vaishnavas.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Lovely Ekadasi Treat..

I do realise that I'm writing this about 3 days after Ekadasi because I was ill (again!) but I'd like to relate soemthing wonderful that happened. You may remember that some time back I mentioned that I had ordered the books of my friend Advaita dasji from someone who was selling his collection. These are Gaudiya scriptures that have been translated by Advaita dasji. Although I had ordered them sometime in mid-August, I was told that it would take three weeks for the delivery to arrive from the USA.

Why so long? I put it down to the terrorist scare that was taking place at the time, extra vigilance on parcels and stuff like that. In any case it was starting to take longer than 3 weeks to arrive and I was getting worried. Had my beloved scriptures been lost in the post? Maybe I shouldn't have been so hasty, and maybe I should have bought it myself from a bookstore. I was kicking myself and worrying. I was even thinking of sending off an email to the devotee-seller and asking him if he knew of anything from his end.

And then what do I find on Ekadasi morning? A nice big sack! :-) A silly thought skitted within my fevered brain; had Christmas come early and Santa left his sack behind?

Seems like the parcel box had been damaged in transit and the postal services had had to go through the motions of authorising it to be delivered in a secure sack. I breathed a huge sigh of relief that the books had at last reached me and they are seriously wonderful:

  • Asta-kala Lila Padavali - Ray Shekhar
  • Sri Sri Dana-Keli Cintamani - Sri Raghunath das Gosvami
  • Sri Mukta-caritra - Sri Raghunath das Gosvami
  • Sri Krishna Bhavanamrita Mahakavya - Sri Vishvanath Chakravarti Thakur
  • Sri Govinda Lilamrita - Sri Krishnadas Kaviraj Gosvami

Oh dear, such wonderful books. I still have not gone through all of them fully, because these literatures are so confidential and so highly-placed that I could not take too much of it in one go. And above all, I was almost breathless and awed by the simple act of grace; in spite of any delivery problems it could have come on any day, but it just had to come on Ekadasi and make the whole thing completely auspicious. :-) I was really very happy about that, the fact that they had arrived on Ekadasi. Wonderful!