Category Archives: Addtional Writings

Saṁsāra in California

As I write, California burns. Multiple wildfires continue to afflict the land.

California! For so long the migratory terminus of American dreams, her own Hollywood gave those dreams back to the world crafted in dazzling pageants of lights and shadows that seemed more real than reality itself. Yet California herself now suffers under multiply woes, most of them, like the Los Angeles fires, self-inflicted.

The state’s budgetary mess has become the stuff of legend, and the one-time paragon of material progress seems on the descent toward third-world status. Yet the main engine of decline is the state’s own electorate, captivated by the spell of an ancient error, described in Vedic literature as “the fallacy of half a hen,” ardha-kukkuṭī-nyāya.

A man cherishes the egg-producing end of his hen, but resents the expense of providing for the other end, the mouth which eats. He thinks he’ll do better if he cuts off the eating end. By various referendums the voters have radically circumscribed the states ability to tax, but still want the state to provide benefits. Even their Hollywood superhero governor cannot save them by conjuring something from nothing.

Ah, the material world.

Now California illustrates another ancient Vedic trope: This world as wildfire.

THE METAPHOR OF THE WILDFIRE

Should we find ourselves at some time surrounded by a monstrous wildfire, we are doomed; there is no way out for us. So the uncontrollable conflagration of a wildfire or forest fire becomes used as an apt emblem for our factual state in this world: Death surrounds and engulfs us, and there is no escape.

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu uses the Sanskrit compound bhava-mahā-dāvāgni: Bhava, material existence, is a huge (mahā), forest fire (dāvāgni). He says that sakīrtana, the cultivation of the divine names in association of devotees, causes the extinction (nirvāpanam) of the fire.

Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhakura develops this imagery. Saṁsāra-dāvānala-līha-loka, he writes. Saṁsāra, the unending cycle of birth and death in which we are trapped, is like a forest fire, dāva-anala, that consumes (ha) the whole world (loka).

If we are trapped in a huge conflagration, no human agency may rescue us. Yet should the clouds open above and pour down rain, we are saved. Therefore, Viśvanātha Ṭhakura writes that the Vaiṣṇava guru is like a cloud heavy with rain (ghanāghanatvam) whose downpour of mercy (kāruṇya) obliterates the all-consuming fires of saṁsāra.

The image of this world as an all-devouring fire should be kept in mind. The Vedic sages advise us to see this world as it is. Kṛṣṇa notes that those who are great souls (mahātmas) understand this world as dukhālayam (full of suffering) and aśāśvatam (temporary).

To those dedicated to preserving their illusions, the sober realism of the wise looks like pessimism.

A California scene: In 1970, in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, a huge crowd of counter-youth gathers for Rathyatra. Prabhupāda—coming like the raincloud—praises them for their frustration and discontent:

In this country especially, in all other countries also, the younger generation are not very satisfied. In your country, they say that the frustrated community, the confused community, the hippies. But I have got all sympathy for these frustrated community, everywhere. They should be frustrated. In the Vedānta-sūtra it is said that athāto brahma jijñāsā. This human form of life should feel frustration. If he does not feel frustration, then it is animal life. The symptom of human life is that he should be very much pessimistic, not optimistic, of this material world. Then there is path of liberation. And if we think that we are very much happy here, that is called illusion, māyā. Nobody is actually happy here. But if anyone wrongly thinks that he is happy, that is called māyā, illusion.

So my request to you, those who are feeling frustration, confused, this is a good qualification. Good qualification in this sense: that those who are feeling frustration and confused, they are disgusted with this materialistic way of life. That is a good qualification for spiritual advancement. But if you are not properly guided, then that will be another frustration. That will be another frustration. To save you from that frustration, this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement has come to your country, Lord Caitanya’s movement.

We are being devoured by the all consuming flames of saṁsāra, yet we think we are safe.

Therefore, we may contemplate with profit the photograph below. Here is the very emblem and image of our true condition, captured in a contemporary California picture.

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THE METAPHOR OF THE DEER

In a number of places, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam compares the conditioned human being to a mṛga, a deer.

In 4.29.53, Nārada Muni likens the oblivious human being to a deer grazing with his mate happily in the forest. The stag is absorbed in the taste of the sweet grass and enchanted by the humming of the bees. He does not know that in front of him a tiger is crouching, preparing to spring, and that behind him a hunter stalks with drawn bow.

The deer is noted for its tendency  to be easily fooled by a mirage. A Sanskrit word for mirage is mṛga-tṛṣṇā, that which induces thirst in the deer. In 7.13.29, a saintly brāhmaṇa tells Prahlāda Mahārāja: “Just as a deer, because of ignorance, cannot see the water within a well covered by grass, but runs after a mirage [mga-tṛṣṇām], the living entity covered by the material body does not see the happiness within himself, but runs after happiness in the material world.”

In 11.5.34, the yogīndra named Karabhājana predicts the appearance of the kali-yuga avatāra who will teach, and so deliver the bewildered souls. Here the conditioned soul is indicated by the word māyā-mga, a deluded deer. Commenting on this word in a lecture in New Delhi in 1973, Prabhupāda says:

We are entrapped by the false reality,māyā. Māyāmgaṁ dayitayepsitam anvadhāvat [SB 11.5.34]. Māyā-mgam: just like the deer, he runs toward the false water in the desert. But the water goes ahead more and more, and the poor animal, without finding water, dies. But a sane man does not go. A sane man knows that reflection of water is not water. But because there is no water in the desert, it does not mean that there is no water. The water is there, but not in the desert. That is knowledge.

We are advised by Kṛṣṇa to become sages who see with the eyes of knowledge (jñāna-cakṣuṣa). We may use these metaphors to educate our senses. See saṁsāra in wildfires, and the deluded living being in the deer.

Here, courtesy of California, is a photograph that put both together. Contemplate it with the eyes of knowledge and reflect, “Here I am”:

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Monsoon Parade—Queens

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The consolidated city of New York comprises five boroughs (each a county): Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island. Among these, the borough of Queens is blessed with The Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Mandir, which stands in the neighborhood of Richmond Hill.

“Queens County,” we learn, “is one of the most ethnically diverse areas on earth. There are over 130 different languages spoken by its citizens, and in many neighborhoods hearing English is rare.” Richmond Hill is home to many Hindu temples, Muslim mosques, and Sikh gurdwaras that minister to the local, twice-exiled Indian communities from Caribbean lands like Trinidad, Guyana, and Suriname.

On August 2nd, a warm but stormy Sunday, Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma (Śrī Śrī Hari-Haladhārī) went out on a parade through Richmond Hill. Outside the temple at 111-14 101 Ave., devotees chanted as Hari-Haladhārī were escorted from their altar to the van that would convey them to their chariot:

SunandaSunanda Dāsa, the temple president, playing drum, leads kīrtana


Mahesvara Carrying Balarama 1Maheśvara Dāsa, assisted by Nityānanda Dāsa, carries Balarāma from temple to the waiting van


Mahesvara Carrying Balarama 2
Mahe
śvara holds The Holder of the Plow (Haladhārī)


Balarama in vanBalarāma in van, cradled by Bhūṣāra Dāsa


For the record, our taking out large marble Deities on parade created some controversy.  When the idea of this parade first occurred to Sunanda, he called to ask me, his spiritual master, whether it could be done. Was it bona fide?  At once I answered “yes,” and then I recounted a conversation I had in 1974 with Śrīla Prabhupāda himself on this very topic.

That year, I talked with Prabhupāda in his quarters in New Vṛndāvana and gave him an account of our recent Philadelphia Rathayātrā, with the largest cart ever.

Prabhupāda’s  response was enthusiastic. He extolled such parades as extremely important. The Deities, he said, can be taken out on parade four times a year. He mentioned Janmāṣṭamī as one such occasion. “Oh, Lord Jagannātha will go out then, too?” I asked. “No,” said Prabhupāda. “Not Jagannātha. Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa.”

Surprised, I exclaimed: “The big Deities?”

He paused a beat and said “Yes. They can go.”

“Isn’t that risky?” I asked.

“Just be careful.” Prabhupāda answered.

He went on to say that when Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa come out in procession, the participants in front of the Deity car hold upraised poles or standards, made of silver or gold, surmounted by lion’s heads.

Then, returning to the earlier topic about bringing out big marble Deities, he said that some temples had special replicas of the altar Deities just for going out of the temple for festivals. He called them “vijaya-vigraha.”

But, he said again, the altar Deities themselves could be taken out, but one had to be very careful.

Having heard this from me, Sunanda went ahead with the festival plans. But soon, other ISKCON authorities registered objections to the marble Deities’ being taken out. By that time, however, the plans and preperations were too far along to change. We understood the concern for the safety of the Deities and planned to have vijaya-vigraha for next year’s festival.

In the meantime, we would take Prabhupāda’s “just be careful” very seriously. That’s why Sunanda and I were thankful for the help of Maheśvara—devout, highly experienced, and strong.

Mahesvara placing Balarama on chariotWith the care of a mother for her baby, Maheśvara places Haladhārī on the chariot


Suspension System 2Suspension system for Deities’ throne on the chariot


Suspension System 1

Manu constructed this remarkable suspension system for the Deities’ throne. A professional in this matter, Manu said the system is used to protect highly sensitive payloads (like electronics or explosives) from shocks.


Kirtan before ParadeKīrtana before the parade starts


Umbrellas Come Out 1The umbrellas come out


Umbrellas Come Out 2More umbrellas

This year we’ve undergone a monsoon season in the northeast United States. The Ratha-yātrā in Purī also takes place during the rainy season.


Gaura NitaiGaura Nitāi led the procession. These are the Deities of Akhilānanda Dāsa. He also provided the chariot for Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma.


Singing in the Rain 1Getting ready


Setting OffSetting off


Siva, Hanuman, GanesaOther divinities join the procession: Śiva, Hanumān, and Gaeśa


Lion-headed standardBearing the lion-headed standard (see conversation with Prabhupāda above)


Singing in the Rain 3“Singin’ In The Rain”


Singing in the Rain 2More “Singin’ In The Rain”


Walking on roadsProceeding on roads first washed clean by Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma


Candrasekhara SwamiCandraśekhara Swami wet, but, as they say, “smokin’”


AkhilanandaAkhilānanda adds brass


Richmond Hill Residents 2Richmond Hill residents watch under cover


Richmond Hill Residents 1Devotees of Lakmī-Nārāyaa come out to see the mobile Lords


Richmond Hill Residents 3More residents of the place sometimes called “New Guyana”


Richmond Hill Residents 4More residents watch from on high


Residents Bring OfferingsResidents along the way bring offerings for the Deities and distribute prasāda to the celebrants


HaryasvaHaryaśva Dāsa adapts completely to the aquatic environment, manifests appropriate form


MannequinsEven the mannequins gaze on Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma with unblinking eyes


Joyous conclusion 1A joyous conclusion


Joyous conclusion 3


Krishna-Balarama on altarKṛṣṇa and Balarāma return safely to their altar


A final note: Any pilgrimage to New York requires a visit to the Deities presiding in three boroughs:

Radha GovindaThe spectacular Rādhā-Govinda in Brooklyn


Radha MurlidhariThe merciful Rādhā-Murlīdhāra in Manhattan


Hari Haladhari on Balarama PurnimaThe playful Hari-Haladhārī in Queens


As of now, Staten Island and The Bronx still await their Lords. . . .


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Texas Retreat

How did this happen? Two weeks in Montgomery, Texas, alleged “birthplace of the Texas flag!”

Montgomery, TX

In June! How did I end up here!

Yet not untypical, somehow, of the crowd of unexpected events that render the adventure of spiritual life so endlessly fascinating . . . .

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Puruṣa Sukta Prabhu, of Bhagavat Life, found the place: a retreat center run by the White Eagle Lodge, located on their seventy-acre wildlife refuge.

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In this place, the director of Bhagavat Life scheduled a pair of back-to-back five-day japa retreats (Level I followed by Level II) in the St. John Retreat Center. Most retreatants were devotees from Houston, Dallas, and Austin.

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Required personnel for a retreat: One Facilitator: Arcana-siddhī dāsī (Level I) and Mahātma dāsa (Level II); Two “Sadhus:” Girirāja Swami and Ravīndra Svarūpa dāsa (both for both levels), Kīrtana leader: Baḍa Haridāsa (both levels); Cooks: Apūrva dāsa and Sarvabhauma dāsa (both levels).

Apūrva added more stars to his reputation, as the increasingly haggard-looking cooks cooked tirelessly:

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We set up a comfy meeting room for our chanting and other spiritual activities:

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Girirāja Swami placed on our altar an extraordinary mūrti of Namācārya Haridāsa Ṭhākura:

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This mūrti was carved from wood of a branch of the ancient Siddha Bakul tree, where Haridāsa used to sit and chant. The branch had been torn off by wind:

Siddha Bakul Tree

Evenings, Baḍahari reliably induced out-of-body experiences in me as he lead kīrtana on the harmonium:

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Girirāja Swami guided and enlightened us:

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His assistant, Bhakta Richie, a native of El Paso, Texas, soon became celebrated as the “Del Norte Kid.” He worked hard:

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All the while, as we air-conditioned retreatants explored the internal potency through the holy name, southeast Texas suffered miserably through a drought as well as record high temperatures—as high as 104° F (40° C). Outdoors,  it was as if every atom were on fire (bhavamahādāvāgni). We ventured into our surroundings only during the beginnings and ends of the blazing days.

Everywhere we saw the drought-stricken thirsty earth opening her parched lips to pray for rain:

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As the sun reddened the western horizon, we meandered though the wildlife refuge, on paths adorned with edifying messages:

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I was tempted to become one with nature:

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The followers of the lodge, committed vegetarians, showed their loved for animals inside the retreat center:

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As well as out:

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Next door, some lodge members maintained a sanctuary for wolves (most of them abused or abandoned):

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Girirāja Maharāja and I went to see the wolves and their caretakers. Jean, the sanctuary director, told us that  hunting or fishing is not allowed on their land. Neighbors were upset because their lakes and ponds teemed with protected fish:

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Among ourselves, we observed the end of the retreat with prayers and commitments, solemnized by the tying of a “saṁkalpa thread” around the wrist:

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Listen to recordings of the Texas Retreat here.

(retreat photos: Sraddha devi)

Great State of Texas: Farewell!

Texas Farewell

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