Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

You Can Pray To The Gosvamis!

I've only just got around to reading the latest KK Bindu #140 and what do I find? A nice pada by Sri Narottam das Thakura with the following interesting couple of verses:

jaya rūpa sanātana bhaṭṭa raghunātha
śrī-jīva gopāla bhaṭṭa dāsa raghunātha

Glory to Rupa Gosvami, Sanatana Gosvami,
Raghunatha Bhatta Gosvami, Jiva Gosvami,
Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, and Raghunatha dasa Gosvami!

ei chaya gosāñīra karama caraṇa vandana
yāhā haite vighna-nāśa abhīṣṭa pūraṇa

Please bow down before the feet of
these Six Gosvamis and offer them
prayers. They will destroy all your
obstacles and fulfill your desires!


Sunday, November 19, 2006


My friend Madhava has set up another forum for languages - Bhasa.Net - where everyone is welcome to learn the fundamentals of Indic languages such as Sanskrit, Bengali, Oriya and Hindi, though obviously such learning would be in a Vaishnava context. It is not a language course as such, just a place to compare notes and learn while you're at it!

Mahaprabhu's Blessings On The World

I found this beautiful passage today in Manindranath Guha's 'Nectar Of The Holy Name' and wanted to share it with everybody:

"The Name is by its very nature the seed, 'the origin of all bhakti.' In addition, in the Age of Kali the Name has been mixed with Gaura's compassion: 'Victory to the shouts of the syllables 'Hare Krishna,' bursting from the lips of Sri Caitanya, as they flood the world with love.' This is Sri Rupa's blessing on the world. It cannot become otherwise or be lost, because the names 'Hare Krishna' that Sri Chaitanya spoke with His own mouth even today are spread through the atmosphere." - p. 53.

Govinda Lilamrita 1.1

The first verse in the entire Govinda Lilamrita is inexpressibly sweet, so sweet and charming that you can even sing it to yourself:

śrī govindaṁ vrajānanda sandohahānanda mandiram
vande vṛndāvanānandam śrī rādhasaṅgananditam

"Obeisances unto Sri Govinda, the abode
of transcendental bliss in Vraja and the
forest of Vrindavan, who finds
happiness in Sri Radha's company!"


Monday, November 13, 2006

Equality And Something Funny

With regards to my previous post about a conversation with a devotee, we did get around to discussing some form of Krishna-katha before it went sour (for me). I mentioned that I was slightly annoyed with how the conversation wasn't on 'equal' terms. As a matter of fact I'd say that an extremely large majority of devotees suffer from this problem whether or not they are conscious of it; talking down to people. This devotee somehow had the idea that he was "senior" (or superior) and that I was a "junior" devotee which gave him some rights to preach to me about chanting and also to give me some "tips".

I don't know why I did it, and it may have been my ego rearing it's ugly head again, but I decided to "play smart" with this devotee even though my question was genuine and I am really looking for the answer. In Sri Rupa Gosvami's BRS, it is mentioned that the Vaishnava should bow to the deities with one's left side facing Them. As anyone who has been to India would know, the "normal" way of bowing down is to bow down facing the 'object', and this Gaudiya tradition of bowing down with one's left side facing the 'object' is somewhat peculiar. I have my own ideas for why this is so but I would prefer an "authentic" confirmation from a knowledgeable Vaishnava.

So I decided to ask him this question; why is it written in Sri Rupa's book that we must bow down with our left side facing the Deities (or Guru) and why do we do it? A funny look came over his face (as if he was going to dismiss it again) and he did mention that this was a minor rule that is not that essentially important as some of the harder must-do rules. He then proceeded to give an example of how it is written in Sri Visvanatha's Sarartha-Darshini that in some kalpas Krishna travels to Mathura riding on Kaliya rather than on Garuda, and that it is foolish to question why this is so since this is obviously lila. I quickly responded, "Yes, but that is Krishna-lila. Here I am talking about devotee-lila, why is it enjoined that we must bow down with our left side facing the Deities?"

He had no choice but to admit his ignorance. I didn't know how to feel about that. On one hand I was smirking inside ("that'll teach him to think I'm a dumb junior when I can bring up tougher issues than that!") and I quickly realised that this was a violation of humility. I was guilty of the same thing which I viewed him as doing, acting superior over other people. We all have to deal with this tendency in ourselves, it seems so natural but it is also so very wrong and sometimes hard to recognise especially within ourselves. On the other hand I was genuinely disappointed that he didn't have an answer. Even though it is essentially a minor issue, I have often wondered about this curious left-side bowing practice and an authentic answer would be nice even though I did bring up that topic off the top of my head.

Trinad api sunicena
Taror iva sahisnuna
Amanina mana dena
Kirtaniyah sada harih

This verse is soooooooooooooo important.

Reflections on a conversation

There is a devotee in my temple who I had always admired from afar; he behaved very sweetly with everyone, not talking much 'prajalpa', always chanting and always having a nice smile for everyone. I never spoke with him much but we always exchanged greetings. A rather sweet person.

A conversation I had with him last week changed my opinion completely. Basically we were just having a chat about this-and-that when the topic came to sadhana (japa, etc). Then he started off with the usual "Prabhupada made many adjustments" line, so since we were talking about japa I decided to mention the "four rounds" rule. His face immediately screwed up so I quickly qualified my comments; "It may be that Prabhupada 'adjusted' the standard from 64 to 16, but it is interesting to note that throughout the whole Gaudiya tradition the barest minimum is taken at 4 rounds." I didn't have any particular agenda to push, as far as I was concerned we were just having an informal discussion.

Then he leaned over close to me and said, "I know where that idea comes from - Gaudiya Math." Well no, it didn't. The Gaudiya Math sure have this 4-round thing in their books (specifically, Sridhara Maharaja) but I was actually referring to the wider world of traditional Gaudiya Vaishnavism, something that this devotee obviously had no clue about and would just as easily dismiss the "babajis" just as he dismissed Gaudiya Math. Although I tried to explain to him that chanting four rounds is not meant to be a maximum for lazy people, but the barest minimum, fully affirming all injunctions to chant 16/64/lakh, but this guy just wouldn't understand. He then went into some sort of quiet tirade about the Gaudiya Math were watering the standards down even though their original founder (Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati) had set it at 64.

I quickly understood that there was no point in continuing this discussion and, just then, the time came for arati and so we ended it there and went about our business. We also discussed some other interesting points, but I just wanted to reflect on this issue. It seems to me that a lot of people in ISKCON still suffer from the mentality of criticising other Vaishnavas and/or their organisations. Even though the GBC has formally banned criticising Sridhara Maharaja (et al.) in one of their resolutions, I could just see this devotee dismissing it ("GBC? What GBC? They are also watering things down").

But it is not a problem about GBC, Gaudiya Math or anything else. It is about the deep-set problem of criticising or blaspheming other Vaishnavas, which is the mad-elephant offence that is responsible for the complete uprooting of the tender bhakti-lata. It's amazing to see how far I've come too; a couple of years ago I would have totally agreed with this devotee and we would have chinwagged about setting the entire Gaudiya world to rights, but I just found this rhetoric deeply offensive and hurtful. I didn't get the chance to remind him: amanina mana dena, [One must] offer all respects to everyone. And needless to say, I no longer consider this devotee to be the sweet person that I thought he was. I was actually angry about it, but anyway I have decided that it is bad company to associate with those who offend other Vaishnavas, and this is perfectly in keeping with Vaishnava principles. Of course I will continue to greet him as a matter of politeness but I am not interested in any long discussions which is a shame since we also discussed many interesting things in Sri Visvanatha's Sarartha-Darshini (apparently in some kalpas Krishna visits Mathura riding on Kaliya instead of Garuda).

It's just a pity that he doesn't even know how wrong and offensive he is being; in his own mind he is staying true and faithful to the path chalked out by Prabhupada and there is nothing wrong with that in itself, but it becomes a burden when one points fingers at other Vaishnavas in a critical tone. First of all the discussion wasn't even on equal terms; he clearly had an idea that he was a "senior" devotee and I was a "junior" which account for the condescending style of some of his points. More on that in the next post.

To be honest I have been stewing about it all week and have been very hurt by it. I don't know why, maybe I am just getting disillusioned again. Yet another person who I thought would be good association turns out to be just like the rest. It's so hard trying to find the "ideal association", the sadhu-sanga that Mahaprabhu and His great devotees have praised so much. Maybe that's why sadhu-sanga is so praiseworthy, because it's so hard to find a real sadhu?

And then today I got a massive idea. I was reflecting on the bountiful prema of Nityananda and Gauranga after quietly singing 'Parama Karuna' to myself: The one thing that we have to keep in mind above all others is how Nitai and Gauranga came and opened Their arms for everyone without exception. I wonder if the human mind can even comprehend such boundless compassion and kripa? With the sole exception of Vaishnava-aparadha, Nitai and Gaura accept everyone into Their fold regardless of past histories, sins, and other disqualifications. They even tolerate insults and abuse against Themselves but They don't care. No one should be turned away. Contemplating this brings a feeling of humility.

And what this means is that since Nitai and Gaura have opened Their arms for everyone, you can be sure you cannot get along with absolutely everyone. But we must make an effort to try and do so if only to honour and uphold Their desire. It's not an easy task because much personal development has to be undergone before one can reach the stage of real implementation of trinad api sunicena taror iva sahisnuna. No wonder Kaviraja Gosvami said we must make a garland of this verse and string it around our necks, it is that important!! A lot of complications may arise but they should put aside in the face of the larger purpose of coming together under Nitai-Gaura's banner.