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. Māyā-mgaṁ 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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The Soul of Compassion

It is December of 1936. Abhaya Caraṇāravinda Dāsa, a forty-year-old pharmaceutical distributor then in Bombay on business, feels a sudden impulse to write a letter to his spiritual master, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura.

Bhaktisiddhanta2_1Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura

It is December 9, 1968, thirty-two years later. The same disciple—now a renunciant and spiritual master himself—finds himself in the city of Los Angeles where he relates to a gathering of his own disciples the story of his 1936 letter. He is observing with them the “Disappearance Day” of his spiritual master.

Srila Prabhupada“Swamījī”— A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

Abhaya Caraṇāravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami asks ­his disciples: “Who knew that I would come in America? Who knew that you American boys will come to me? These are all Kṛṣṇa’s arrangement. We cannot understand how things are taking place.” He continues:

In Bombay, I was then doing some business. All of a sudden, perhaps on this date, sometimes between 9 or 10 December. At that time, Guru Mahārāja was indisposed little, and he was staying at Jagannātha Purī, on the seashore. So I wrote him letter, “My dear master, your other disciples, brahmacā, sannyā, they are rendering you direct service. And I am a householder. I cannot live with you, I cannot serve you nicely. So I do not know. How can I serve you?” Simply an idea, I was thinking of serving him, “How can I serve him seriously?” So the reply was dated 13th December, 1936. In that letter he wrote, “My dear such and such, I am very glad to receive your letter. I think you should try to push our movement in English.” That was his writing. “And that will do good to you and to the people who will help you.” That was his instruction. And then in 1936, on the 31st December—that means just after writing this letter a fortnight before his departure—he passed away.

Some background: “Push our movement in English” was an expression immediately recognized among the followers of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. It denoted his fervent desire for his disciples to propagate Kṛṣṇa consciousness boldly in the countries of the West. He had urged this course upon his most competent leaders in his institution, who, as sannyāsīs or brahmacārīs, were free to venture forth unfettered by familial and social bonds. These renunciants, under Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura’s direction, had spread Lord Caitanya’s movement all over India, opening sixty-four temples. Now he wanted to expand outside of India. Yet his disciples had, so far, disappointed him.

Householders, with their domestic and social obligations, were not as available for widespread preaching.  Abhaya Caraṇāravinda Dāsa understood well the intensity of his guru’s desire to give others Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and he keenly felt his own lack. So he had written: “I am bound by family obligations and cannot serve you like my renounced godbrothers; even so, is there any service I can render?” How astonishing, then, it must have been for Abhaya Caraṇāravinda Dāsa to receive in answer the exact same instruction Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura had imparted to his renounced leaders.

In Los Angeles in 1968, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami—at that time addressed as “Swamījī”—recounts to his small band of disciples: “I took that order of my spiritual master very seriously. But I did not think that I’ll have to do such and such thing. I was at that time a householder.” In other words, although he took the order to heart, he could not at first consider any practical plans. He was incapacitated: “at that time a householder.”

Swamījī continues: “But this is the arrangement of Kṛṣṇa. If we strictly try to serve the spiritual master, his order, then Kṛṣṇa will give us all facilities. That is the secret.” How did it happen that he came to America and American youth joined him? Here he answers the question. Even though the order of his guru seemed like “mission impossible,” (to expropriate the title of an old American TV series), Swamījī committed himself to it anyway: “Although there was no possibility. . . . I never thought . . . . But I took it little seriously by studying a commentary by Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura on the Bhagavad-gītā.” Explaining the “resolute determination” cited by Kṛṣṇa (BG 2.41) as necessary for spiritual success, Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura wrote:

The instructions of my spiritual master . . . are my only dhana, my only dhya, my only livelihood. I am incapable of giving up these instructions either in the stage of practice or in the stage of perfection. They alone are my object of desire and my only responsibility. Besides them I can desire no other responsibility, not even in my dreams. It is all the same to me whether I feel happy or unhappy, or whether my material existence is eradicated or not.

[quoted by Bhūrijana Dāsa,  As They Surrender Unto Me, preface]

Swamījī continues: “So I tried a little bit in that spirit. So he has given me all facilities to serve him. Things have come to this stage, that in this old age I have come to your country, and you are also taking this movement seriously, trying to understand it. We have got some books now. So there is little foothold of this movement.”

And now something momentous happens:

So on this occasion of my spiritual master’s departure, as I am trying to execute his will, similarly, I shall also request you to execute the same order through my will. I am an old man, I can also pass away at any moment. That is nature’s law. Nobody can check it. So that is not very astonishing, but my appeal to you on this auspicious day of the departure of my Guru Mahārāja, that at least to some extent you have understood the essence of Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. You should try to push it on. People are suffering for want of this consciousness.

Perpetuating his guru’s order, he directs us to cultivate Kṛṣṇa consciousness and to give it to others. He explains:

A Vaiṣṇava, or devotee of Lord, his life is dedicated for the benefit of the people. You know—most of you belong to Christian community—how Lord Jesus Christ, he said that for your sinful activities he has sacrificed himself. That is the determination of devotee of the Lord. They don’t care for personal comforts. Because they love Kṛṣṇa or God, therefore they love all living entities because all living entities are in relationship with Kṛṣṇa. So similarly you should learn. This Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement means to become Vaiṣṇava and feel for the suffering humanity.

“Push our movement in English” is the order of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, and now Swamījī, in transmitting  “the same order” to his disciples, expressing it as “feel for the suffering humanity.” Prabhupāda goes on to explain that many people make strenuous attempts to alleviate human suffering, but because they understand this suffering on the bodily platform, their efforts, however laudable, cannot solve the problem. The Vaiṣṇava, on the other hand, understands the root cause of suffering, and offers the only effective remedy: Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

It is illuminating to note that in 1936, in backward, colonial India, where the advanced British nation, having dutifully shouldered “the white man’s burden,” strives ceaselessly to bestow upon the materially and socially retarded people the blessings of centuries of European progress—in this archaic, benighted civilization, so desperately in need of enlightened Western guidance,  Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura expresses his deep concern for the suffering humanity of the West.

What effrontery! India is the land of suffering, not Europe!

Yet look at what is happening in the West in 1936, the result of centuries of progress. In Germany, Hitler sends his rearmed military to take over the Rheinland, thus breaking the Treaty of Versailles; Germany enters into a pact with Japan against the USSR. Mussolini and Hitler proclaim the “Rome-Berlin axis.” In Spain, a civil war breaks out, pitting Fascists against Communists in a harsh struggle later recognized as the “dress rehearsal” for World War II. Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini poured men and material into the civil conflict.

A world-engulfing war is in the works, taking an estimated toll of over 60 million human lives before it is over.  Research is ongoing: The systematic viciousness of this death-orgy is highlighted in a recent article in The New York Review of Books by Timothy Snyder, a Yale professor of history, who gives close consideration to the way “the bureaucracies of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union turned individual lives into mass death, particular humans into quotas of those to be killed.”

Here are Snyder’s approximate numbers for “the five largest policies of mass killing of civilians carried out by Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union.”

The German attempt to exterminate European Jews              5.7 million deaths
German starvations of Soviet citizens                                            4 million
German mass reprisals against civilians                                        750,000 (at least)
Soviet starvations of Soviet citizens                                                5.5 million
The shootings of the Soviet Great Terror                                     700,000

Triumph of deathPieter Brueghel the Elder, The Triumph of Death

I was born during the course of this global slaughter; as a child I played in the war’s detritus in Okinawa and Germany. Since then, I do not see that the world, despite so many efforts of good-willed, self-sacrificing people, has become more hospitable. Most of us know now that at any moment the next great human devastation can break out.

A few years after Swamījī handed on the order of his spiritual master to his own disciples, I was blessed to receive initiation from him. By that time he was called “Śrīla Prabhupāda,” for by his action he had proven himself to be the rightful inheritor of his Guru Mahārāja’s own title. On the morning of my initiation (July 21, 1971) in New York, I heard my first class from Prabhupāda in person.

In the verse for that day (SB 6.1.6), Mahārāja Parīkṣit asks Śukadeva to “kindly tell me how human beings may be saved from having to enter hellish conditions in which they suffer terrible pains.”

Prabhupāda remarks:

Vaiṣṇava is always feeling for others’ distress. That is Vaiṣṇava. Vaiṣṇava—para-duḥkha-dukhī. They’re very much afflicted with others’, I mean to say, miserable life. Just like Lord Jesus Christ, he presented himself as very much afflicted with others’ miserable condition of life. So all the Vaiṣṇavas, devotees—It doesn’t matter which country he belongs to or which sect he belongs to. Anyone who is God-conscious or Kṛṣṇa conscious. . . Para-duḥkha-dukhī kṛpāmbudhi. These are the adjectives of the qualifications. . . . kṛpāmbudhi means ocean of mercy, kṛpāmbudhi. And para-duḥkha-dukhī [one who suffers because of the suffering of others].

He explains Parīkṣit’s question like this:

“Sir, you have described that on account of these sinful activities, he’s put into this hellish condition of life or in hellish planetary system. Now what are the countermethods by which they can be saved?” This is the question. This question: Because he is Vaiṣṇava, he is thinking, “Oh, so many living entities are suffering. How they can be saved?” A Vaiṣṇava comes, God also comes, and God’s son or very confidential devotee also comes. Their only mission is how to save these sinful men who are suffering so much. That is their mission. They have no other mission.

Prabhupāda has charged his disciples with the same order he received from his Guru Mahārāja. He has also shown us that single-minded dedication to that order is the secret of success. He has demonstrated this by his own example.

And we know how much the world is suffering. Therefore, we should wholeheartedly fulfill the request Prabhupāda made at the conclusion of his address in Los Angeles in 1968:

Now, you American boys and girls who have taken to this movement, please take it more seriously and. . . That is the mission of Lord Caitanya and my Guru Mahārāja, and we are also trying to execute the will by disciplic succession. You have come forward to help me. I shall request you all that—I shall go away, but you shall live—don’t give up pushing on this movement, and you’ll be blessed by Lord Caitanya and His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī  Goswami Prabhupāda.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Triumph of Death

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Monsoon Parade—Queens

Queens flag

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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A Table of the Modes: The Remedy for Cluelessness

Clueless? Indeed.

As the bard of my generation once lamented:

You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You’ve been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read
It’s well known

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

The real remedy for cluelessness is to become a person who can see things through the “eyes of knowledge” (jñāna-cakṣuṣaḥ). This blog (whose very title owes something to Dylan’s  “something is happening here”) aims to promote seeing through the eyes of knowledge.

The science of the three modes of nature is essential to the education of our vision. I’ve recently offered three postings concerning the three modes of nature. As an addition to them, this table provides a systematic overview compiled by Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

Click here to view PDF.

MODES 14pt_Page_1MODES 14pt_Page_2MODES 14pt_Page_3MODES 14pt_Page_4MODES 14pt_Page_5MODES 14pt_Page_6MODES 14pt_Page_7MODES 14pt_Page_8

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A Short Letter to Śrīla Prabhupāda

Prabhupada mrdanga

My dear Śrīla Prabhupāda,

Please accept my most fallen dandavats at your feet.

For twelve extraordinary years you crossed and re-crossed the world, sowing the seeds of love of Krishna. Who can actually know the extent of your work? Wherever you went, you broadcast the seeds of bhakti—by your footfall, by your speech, by your glance. And wherever in the nooks and crannies of this earth your various energies came to alight, the seeds of bhakti scattered and spread—carried by your books, your recorded voice, your followers. To this day no one knows the breath and depth of your work.

One day it will be known. Your greatness will become manifest. You sowed the seeds, and I labor joyfully with your followers in the fields you planted to nurse the huge harvest of love to fruition; I work so that your glories can be known. Each day we uncover new fields, discover growing testimony to your great work. Each day we mark the indomitable growth. We get a hint of the dimensions of what is to come.

I am the most fortunate person in all the worlds to have had your association and to be able even now to keep your association by following your order and doing your work. I undertake these things for your glorification. Pleading to remain forever at your lotus feet,

Your unworthy servant,
Ravindra Svarupa dasa

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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 (bhava-mahā-dāvāgni). 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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THEATRE OF THE MODES

Feature 1: Modes of Combat

Feature 2: Passion to Misery to Goodness—A Drama

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Filed under Three Modes