Next on the assigned reading list is St Gregory of Sinai:
First of all, read through the book of Nicephorus the monk (in part two), then
the whole book of Gregory of Sinai, except the short chapters,
First of all, it doesn’t seem right – in the current editions it’s the short chapters that are clearly related to unceasing chanting. In the modern Russian text there are three books attributed to St Gregory of Sinai. First one has 137 chapters, second one 8, and last one 15. “Chapters” in these books are short and by word count the first book is only twice as long as the two others combined – they are 10,000 words, 3,000 words, and 2,000 words respectively. Pilgrim, however, was using 1793 edition in Church Slavonic language which I can’t read and I have to rely on tables like this just to translate numerals so that I could count chapters.
The first book in 1793 edition is the same, 137 chapters, but then there are 5 more chapters, then there is a 10 chapter book, then 15, and then 7. The last three books use “stillness” and “prayer” in their titles while the long one, in 137 chapters, talks about faith in general. Here is English translation of the penultimate chapter of that long book:
Complete dogmatic orthodoxy consists in a true doctrine about God and an unerring spiritual knowledge of created things. If you are orthodox in this way you should glorify God thus: Glory to Thee, Christ our God, glory to Thee, because for our sake Thou, the divine Logos who transcends all things, becamest man. Great is the mystery of Thine incarnation, Savior: glory to Thee.
I’m not going to read 135 chapters that brought St Gregory to this conclusion, I think it’s an error in Pilgrim’s references.
In English translation, done very recently by a group of collaborating academics, the long book has additional chapters which deal with something called “Morbid Defluxions” and I’m not going to read that either. English translation next has a 10 chapter book called “On the Signs of Grace and Delusion, Written for the Confessor Longinos” but it doesn’t seem to correspond to the 10 chapter book in Pilgrim’s Philokalia so I’ll skip that, too.
Then there is a 15 chapter book in English translation that corresponds to Pilgrim’s edition and to the last book in modern Russian, so I’ll read and comment on that. For reference, it begins on page 1121 of this pdf. Never mind the count starts with “2” there – it’s probably just a typo.
Then Pilgrim’s edition has 7 chapters on “stillness” and they correspond to 8 chapters in modern Russian (7 plus 1 Q&A), and there is an English translation of that, too, so I’ll read and comment on that short book. This leaves a 10 chapter book in Pilgrim’s edition I can’t seem to locate anywhere else. Oh well, what I have found is already more than enough and it’s kind of repetitive so I don’t think we’ll be missing anything truly essential.
The order in which these books appear in modern translation is different and this supports my decision not to summarize and categorize their meanings, not to search of one overarching idea and explain everything in relation to it like we usually do with books. I treat these chapters as a collection of random thoughts, not necessarily following one from another. Unlike modern “thoughts” these pack a lot meaning on their own and that’s why they are called “chapters”, I guess, though in size they are more like paragraphs.
A short note on St Gregory of Sinai himself first. Previous book was by St Nikiphoros, who was a guru of one Gregory Palamas, the father of Orthodox Christian mysticism. Gregory of Sinai was his contemporary and for some time they both lived on Mt Athos but there is no clear evidence that they knew each other – Mt Athos is a big place and monks there are supposed to live reclusive lives. Gregory of Palamas didn’t make it on the reading list, however, and I wonder why. Perhaps it’s a kind of a different sampradaya – because I’ve seen critics of the pilgrim citing saints who refer to Gregory of Palamas for support against his “heresies”. I don’t feel like investigating possible doctrinal differences here so let’s get on with St Gregory of Sinai, chapter by chapter, starting with the 15 chapter book as it appears first in Pilgrim’s edition.
1. First chapter is on two ways of prayer and it doesn’t seem like a choice – either one happens by itself, depending on how the Lord wants to awaken the devotee. In the first one the mind withdraws into the heart and calls the Lord from there, and in the second one the Lord’s Name rises up like a wave and drags the mind along with it. In either case the mind becomes fully absorbed in the mantra and does not desire anything else, no distractions. First method sounds like astanga yoga practice where the mind is withdrawn from the senses and one meditates on the Lord inside the heart. Second method is like mercy of Lord Caitanya which manifests full power of the Holy Name in the external sound, like in kirtan, attracts the mind, and then goes and enters into the heart, too. “Jaga jana mana lobha”, as Gaura arati goes – with Lord Caitanya’s mercy we don’t need to forcefully restrain our minds from sensual activity. God comes out of the heart and shines externally as the Holy Name. This is not the end of it, however – I was just reminded that the sweetness of the Holy Name, before it begins to dance on our tongues, first comes from the heart. So whatever happens externally must go through the heart first in order to manifest itself again, but this time in full glory of the Pure Name. Not to be dismissive, St Gregory tells us that the first method of withdrawing one’s mind also relies on God’s mercy – we can’t compel the Lord to appear in meditation. At the end of the day – either way is fine, whatever works, and whatever the Lord chooses for us Himself.
2. Second chapter gets right to it – to the actual praying in the heart:
Sitting from dawn on a seat about nine inches high, compel your intellect to descend from your head into your heart, and retain it there. Keeping your head forcibly bent downwards, and suffering acute pain in your chest, shoulders and neck, persevere in repeating noetically or in your soul ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy’.
This is it. Makes sense? Not at first. What does “compel your intellect to descend into the heart” mean? How can it be done? How do you even know when it’s done? How do you know your intellect is in the heart already? The moment you start checking you realize that it’s the head that does the testing. I don’t know what he meant exactly but I got my answer how – it’s not a spatial movement where you see your mind first in one place and then observe it moving into another. No – the observer (you) has to move, and the mind is just a location of your attention, “you” doesn’t actually go anywhere, “you” are always in your heart already, and it’s the focus of your attention that has to move.
So, what it means is that you should retract your mind into the core of your own being, away from all external thoughts and considerations, to the core of your heart where there is only you and the Supersoul, or you and the Holy Name in this case. Even if the Holy Name is an external sound at this point it’s still only you and Hare Krishna mantra, and nothing else. That is the location of your “heart”. To check whether you are there you, indeed, have to take an outside observer’s position and that’s when you know you have exited your heart and directed your attention to something else – your head, your considerations of success and failure, measurements of your progress, memories, desires, aspirations – whatever. When you are IN the heart these things don’t exist and they are seen as external. To get to their location your mind has to reach out to them, which is also what it should look like spatially if you were observing this movement from inside the heart – if you are looking from inside the heart then the mind first goes away from you and then comes back, it doesn’t go from one place to another as if you were observing it from a separate vantage point. No, first you are with the Holy Name then the mind, ie focus of your attention, leaves you to see something else, and then it comes back.
How to find that core of your being? Well, it’s when you leave all your worries behind, leave all your shields and faces and become honest with yourself and with the Holy Name. There is no need to pretend to be anyone else, no need to aspire for any better position, no need to justify anything – there is just you as you are and God. If you happen to bring some attachments this is where He will cleanse you. I believe lots of people would spontaneously start crying when they reach this state for the first time, the state of being totally honest with themselves. As devotees we should be a little more familiar with it but as devotees we also have models to follow – managala aratis to rise, Bhagavad Gita to read, rounds to chant, principles to follow, dhoties to wear, initiations to receive, missions to accomplish and so on. None of that should come between us and the Holy Name. We might feel guilty about something but that is the place where the Lord accepts us as we are and so there is no need to hide anything. The Lord knows us inside out already anyway, so just go and be with Him. Hear His name, pour out your soul. “Pour out” – see, once it’s done your heart will be free, empty of all the stuff and free to call to the Lord without any conditions attached. This is different from asking for something – money, wife, peace of mind, justice – whatever. We can’t come to the Lord if we are after these things because these are different destinations. We might be pronouncing the mantra but we should remember that the Name reciprocates with our inattention, too – if our heart is in a different place then the Lord will also be in a different place. This kind of chanting can go on forever without any tangible progress. It’s like Queen Kunti’s “janmaisvarya sruti sribhir” verse – if these things have value to you then you CAN’T call to the Lord sincerely. And the Lord won’t respond sincerely either. So it’s not about spatially locating your heart on the left side of your chest, it’s about purging everything else from the core of our being. Once we are there, once our consciousness is focused there, then this is where the heart is, and we should not let the mind go away from this state.
But then again – I don’t know how St Gregory meant it. He added a few other instructions – chant the first half of Jesus prayer first, keep your head down, bend your shoulders, neck, and chest inwards until you feel acute pain. Then you can switch to chanting the second half of Jesus prayer. I don’t know, maybe this is important, but I don’t see how – not for us. For St Gregory himself it might have been but our lives are different. For him it could have been our equivalent of sitting in a lotus posture with our backs straight like Sacinandana Swami teaches in his japa seminars. St Gregory lived in a “kutir”, alone. He didn’t have TV, internet, Facebook or any other distractions. His religion also taught him to consider himself as a sinful beggar for mercy and so crouching on a low stool, bending his head to almost touch his knees, and exerting considerable effort to maintain this posture could have been his perfect ontological position. There is also less stuff for senses to come in contact with, which means less potential distractions. Our equivalent could be chanting during brahma-muhurta and following routine so that even if there are things to look at our minds won’t pay attention to them and we can go on auto-pilot. Personally, I also prefer to close my eyes if possible, but when the Name comes and grabs your attention it’s not really necessary, you forget what your eyes are looking at anyway, like when talking on a phone we forget what our eyes are looking at – it is possible, we just have to wait for the Name to grab our attention instead of a phone call grabbing our minds as usual.
Second part of this chapter is about guarding the mind from allegedly devotional imagery that comes during chanting. Bad thoughts need to be rejected, that’s obvious, but St Gregory warns us from entertaining good thoughts, too. More on this later.
English edition also has a sentence about exhaling, how the mind can get carried away together with the expelled air, but I don’t think it’s relevant to japa, maybe to manasik japa but I don’t have enough experience with it to comment.
3. Third chapter is about breathing and it’s full of quotes in support, but I’m afraid they actually talk about prana. There is one quote that talks about nostrils but even then the gist of the chapter is that the Lord should become our prana-natha. Literally, it means He should control our breathing, too. Perhaps I should pay more attention to it but it’s hard to imagine how it could work during japa, unless it’s manasik. Prana moves a lot of other things as well. In our literature “Prana-natha” refers to control over desires and aspirations, too, for example. It means everything we do should be done for the Lord AND controlled by the Lord. St Gregory, apparently, included breathing into this “everything”, too.
4. Fourth chapter is about bhajans, kirtans, and attending temple services – St Gregory talks about psalms, which should be sung in predetermined tunes. He says that if you get tired of praying then this change is welcome, but otherwise it would be a distraction. If the Lord is present in your heart then you can’t turn around and go somewhere else, hoping to find Him elsewhere when He is standing right in front of you.
5. Fifth chapter is an answer to a question why some Fathers teach to do more kirtans while others teach to do more japa. St Gregory says that people preach according to their own experiences. Some simply don’t believe in Lord’s appearance inside the heart during unceasing prayer so they don’t recommend doing it excessively. What they don’t believe in, however, can easily come by Lord’s grace, and this is another reminder that this is not a mechanical process but Lord’s own plan for us, meaning we can’t force it and it simply might not be our time yet.
6. Sixth chapter is about difference between performing various limbs of sadhana bhakti and chanting. This goes back to that devotee who built himself a tree-house in Mayapur so that he could chant three lakhs a day. Neglecting things like devotee association, or fasting on ekadasi will not help in chanting, rather the point is that doing all these things – fasting, offering obeisances, staying awake through the night (used to be part of ekadasi vrata) etc should be accompanied by proper thinking and proper understanding. Sambandha should always come first, and then our dandavats will be offered not only with our bodies, or often only with our words, as in “Dandavats pranam, prabhuji”, but with our minds and hearts, too. Similarly, chanting should not be done only with lips – the heart should be invested in calling out for the Lord as well.
7. Seventh chapter is about moderation in mind control – when we get tired of forcing the mind to listen to the Name we should engage it in other activities until we gather strength again. This is the instruction of the wise, St Gregory says, like Srila Prabhupada who did not demand more than sixteen rounds and did not demand sixteen rounds to be chanted all at once. This is not an excuse to indulge in other things and it’s not an injunction to never chant more – it’s meant only to moderate our efforts so that we can give our best at least to these sixteen rounds. The goal is to chant 24/7 like Haridas Thakur, unless we are rather like Six Goswamis and can also write books and stuff. Their dedication is equal to that of Haridas Thakur, just the activities were somewhat different. The point is that this state is achieved by properly moderating our efforts until we get there.
8. Eighth chapter defends Haridas Thakur and says that for people like him there is no need to go to the temple, they are with the Lord already. Lord Caitanya even said that Haridas could take a break from chanting itself because that would not separate him from the Name in his heart. Then St Gregory argues that these instructions on unceasing prayer are meant for those who are simple at heart, even for uneducated, but those who know a lot, on the other hand, will always fall into delusion of grandeur, fall victim to those “prelests” I mentioned in the previous article. More on those later. For now St Gregory warns these people that unless they have purified their hearts of all pride and absorbed themselves in the spirit of “trinad api sunicena” instruction they will not succeed. Two things will happen – either they will persist with force until they break or they will chant haphazardly, which also doesn’t bring any results. Real chanting means inviting the Lord into our hearts and only then it becomes possible – “kirtaniya sadah harih”. We can’t force it and we can’t force the Lord to appear by chanting millions of rounds at Him. Our pride in our ability to chant so many rounds is what prevents us from succeeding.
The passage about dare consequences is damning:
…because of their negligence and arrogance, their intellect is still impure and has not first been cleansed by tears; and so, instead of concentrating on prayer, they are filled with images of shameful thoughts, while the unclean spirits in their heart, panic-struck by the invocation of the dread name of the Lord Jesus, howl for the destruction of the person who scourges them.
We don’t have the equivalent of “unclean spirits” in the heart but we do have the experience of the mind going completely nuts in response to our chanting, and I’m not speaking only for myself here. As I mentioned earlier, there are other beings that share our body in a sense of enjoying its activities and chanting might threaten them. We do have the concept of pisacas attaching themselves to our subtle bodies and if one is infected then he will experience what is described here by St Gregory. Hopefully, they will either leave or, ideally, get purified and help us in chanting, too.
9. Ninth chapter again stresses the need for moderation, this time based on the experience of St Gregory himself. If you get tired then you can go to the temple, let your mind relax by singing in kirtan or something. I don’t need to list all the ways we can engage ourselves. Another important point is that St Gregory recommends changing your psalms daily so that the mind finds fresh meaning and enjoyment in them. He also recommends kirtans where you listen to other people singing, too. The main idea is that when we let the mind relax from forceful meditation it should not get bored, otherwise it will discover its own entertainment. The responsibility is ours.
10. Tenth chapter is about “prelests”. English translation does not give chapter titles but their most common way to translate it is “delusions”. St Gregory implores us, his readers as “lovers of God”, to be very attentive and discerning and reject images of Krishna, Radha, Jesus Christ, angels or whatever that might arise in our minds, nor should we try to evoke these images ourselves. Do not let these images to impress themselves on our minds and become solid memories. These apparitions are designed to delude and distract us, and this is what is called “prelests” – that which seduces us from the spiritual path, that’s what the root of this word means in Russian – the ability to cloud our judgement and steal away our minds. As devotees we don’t suffer from this often but if you listen to congregation members they sometimes share “realizations” that sound just like that. Someone claims to have seen the Supersoul after two days of fasting, someone claims to have seen this or that, but Srila Prabhupada’s answer to these queries is immortal – keep chanting and it will go away.
Having said that, St Gregory does not deny actual spiritual experiences but he says they start and manifest themselves differently from “prelests”. It begins with the overflow of warmth in the heart, the warmth that melts away all desires and worries. It establishes nothing but love in the heart and it fills the whole being with supreme confidence, devoid of all doubts. That’s what “vastavam vastu” from Srimad Bhagavatam means – the foundation of all foundations which does not depend on absolutely anything else, and therefore it leaves no doubts. It’s the direct experience of brahma bhuta platform. Obviously, St Gregory is not talking about realization of the personal form of Krishna that comes as a culmination of chanting on that platform for a considerable period of time, which we probably won’t reach in this life anyway.
St Gregory gives one simple test – anything that produces doubts of any kind is not “vastavam vastu” and must be rejected. Note that it’s not that the doubts need to be resolved but that real experience does not create doubts in the first place. There is also an interesting description in the chapter that sounds like St Gregory was talking about lust, how it burns hot instead of making one’s heart warm, and how its sweetness, even thought clearly perceived, is tied to physicality instead of causeless joy in the heart produced by genuine spiritual experiences. He concludes by saying that with experience one should learn to differentiate between one and the other just as our tongues differentiate between different foods.
11. Eleventh chapter is about reading. St Gregory gives a list of authors who write about keeping silence and prayer and I’m not going to follow up on that, sorry. He warns not to read other literature, even if spiritual one, because their narratives would distract the mind from prayer. They are not to be rejected altogether but one should respectfully put them aside for the moment because they are not conducive to one’s practice. St Gregory says one should avoid reading aloud, because the sound of one’s voice can be distracting, too – one might start enjoying one’s own skill and diction, and one should avoid reading for the assembly because one might imagine himself as a leader who is appreciated by everybody. One should read at a steady pace, not too fast and not too slow, not too much and not too little – moderation should be practiced in everything, and the goal of reading is to make one’s mind ready and strong for praying. Breaking these rules will make one’s mind tired, lazy, clouded, and uncontrolled when it comes to the time to chant.
12. Twelfth chapter warns us to watch our inner intentions. Our mind if controlled by our intelligence, by our will, but our will is controlled by our intentions. We should always restrain ourselves from doing sadhana for reasons other than service, spiritual advancement, or benefit of others. Otherwise we will externally appear as vaishnavas – servants of Vishnu, but internally we will become servants of ordinary people. I guess St Gregory means that we will work for their approval, which will nourish our conceit and vanity. He specifically mentions it towards the end of the chapter – if we become driven by puja, labhda, and pratistha, especially pratistha, our sadhana will be fruitless – srama eva he kevalam.
13. Another realization from St Gregory’s personal experience – a yogi can’t progress without cultivating the following qualities: “fasting, self-control, keeping vigil, patient endurance, courage, stillness, prayer, silence, inward grief and humility”. A couple of these sound strange to our ear, like “keeping vigil”. On one hand there is a church ritual like that, they even have “all-night-vigils”. On the other hand it can’t be what St Gregory had in mind because he already told us not to bother with church services too much. Okay – not to us, but to people qualified for unceasing prayer. I think he means what we can call “meditation” – a concerted, undeviating concentration on something requiring a lot of effort and energy. It’s the effort, the time and energy that we put into it, that is necessary for a yogi in the context of this list. Difference between stillness and silence is elusive, but I would say, based on Russian translation, that the first means general attitude to life – don’t talk and don’t engage with the world, and the second means literal silence, which one can’t maintain 24/7 but should practice from time to time. For us it means japa, more of it instead of talking, and “stillness” is synonymous with renunciation and more of what we might call “phalgu-vairagya” – actual act of not doing anything and not engaging with anything. I think it should be obvious by now that St Gregory’s process is not for those excited by the opportunities provided by yukta-vairagya.
He then says that fasting reduces lust (“dries it up” in Russian translation) and brings about self-control, self-control brings about “vigil” or mediation, vigils develops tolerance and patience, tolerance builds up courage, courage – stillness, stillness – prayer, prayer – silence, silence – crying for the Lord, crying – humility, and humility in turn nourishes tears for the Lord, which lead to more praying, and in this way the chain goes back, strengthening one link after another. By tracing these steps backwards one can figure out how daughters give birth to mothers. English translation adds a bit about mutual generation. It’s a beautiful concept to keep in mind – everything in spiritual life works both ways. We serve the Lord and the Lord protects us. Lord’s protection increases our desire to please Him, and so on. If you think about it, St Gregory’s progression of virtues from the beginning of the list and back makes a lot of sense, too. I mean once you develop real humility than all the other virtues will naturally follow, just as they lead to humility in the first place.
14. Fourteenth chapter is long but actually pretty simple – in spiritual efforts one should always exert himself. If there is no exertion, if our sadhana is effortless, then it will be fruitless, too. In this way “easy” sadhana can go on forever without bringing anything in return, and St Gregory warns against taking this easy path. I guess it’s a counterweight to chapters telling us about the need to relax when necessary. St Gregory gives sastric support for this and these quotes makes up the bulk of the chapter. I can’t think of our vaishnava equivalent and his point seems self-evident to me. Our chanting will become effortless eventually – when the Lord really assumes the position of our prana-natha, but we are long ways from there so it’s not something to worry ourselves about right now.
15. Last chapter in this book tells us that we need instructions of the guru, though some have used their own experience as their guide. As we have seen, both St Gregory and St Nikiphoros occasionally tell us to use their instructions as our guru. We have rittvik controversy in ISKCON but discussing it would be rather distracting at this point. The point is that one always needs a guru but guru’s identity is not fixed – it only must be something external to ourselves. When St Gregory talks about one’s own experience he invites us to surrender to this experience instead of listening to what our minds are telling us right now. In this way “experience” becomes something external, too. It exists objectively and it controls and directs our minds, which is the same function as that of a normal guru. In our tradition there is also a concept of “caitya-guru” but for that we need to develop good sensitivity and discern between caitya-guru talking and the chatter or single pointed obsessions of our minds. This was mentioned in the chapter on “prelests”.
St Gregory concludes the chapter and the book by reiterating the point of chapter 14 – we have to work for the fruits of our spiritual labor, it’s not free, and these fruits will come by themselves and on their own schedule. It’s the same message our devotees get to keep them going – work now, samadhi later. Sadhana bhakti can’t be done in any other way until it brings the fruit of spontaneous attraction to the Lord.
Next is a seven chapter book, plus Q&A, in the modern Russian edition. Its English title is “On Prayer” but in Russian it’s called something like “St Gregory’s instructions to those who keep silence”. It uses a word that is popular in Church literature but is not in Russian-English dictionaries, with Google translating it as simply “silent”, which is not quite it – it’s a person who abstains from speaking. So, moving on.
1. First chapter is on how to sit in one’s kutir while praying – not comfortably but one should exert effort, both mentally and physically. The position should require some strain to achieve that, though he says one can change it occasionally when it becomes too difficult. This goes back to the need for moderation – we should exert effort without putting undue stress on ourselves. How to draw the line? My guess is that due effort is accepted by the Lord as a sign of our attention and we have to be sensitive to Lord’s appreciation. Undue stress, conversely, is not appreciated by the Lord and so feels like torture. Krishna also speaks about it in Bhagavad Gita when He talks about severe austerities and penances as symptoms of a demoniac nature (BG 17.5-6). Similarly, one should exert just the right amount of effort to control his mind. I would also add that we should prepare our minds for japa – we should be serene and peaceful, not obsessed with something or other and not planning revenge or making any other plans, really – japa is not the time for that. We should try to arrange our lives in such a way that we can free two hours from any problems so that we can give our mind to the Lord, at least for the japa time.
2. Second chapter is on how to chant. Some recommend breaking Jesus Prayer into two parts, or alternating full and shortened version so the prayer. St Gregory’s opinion is that it should not be done frequently. This doesn’t apply to Hare Krishna mantra but his underlying reasoning does – our chanting should display patience and not laziness, as when we think we are tired and change something simply to make it easier.
Much of the chapter deals with chanting aloud and in the mind. Some recommend this way and others that way. St Gregory’s own advice is to use both, whichever method helps. Sometimes the mind can’t concentrate on manasik japa anymore so audible japa is advisable. Sometimes the mouth gets tired, which never happens to us but probably becomes a real problem for those chanting three lakhs daily. Then manasik japa become advisable. By saying “both” St Gregory also means that both the mind and the tongue should be engaged at the same time. Audible japa should be clear, peaceful, and quiet. The goal is not to distract the mind from the name by the sound of the voice – there should be only the sound of the name, ie no singing. This is required until the mind gets completely used to listening to the Holy Name and, by the power of the Name itself, begins to pray unceasingly on its own. At this point audible japa will become unnecessary and even distracting – the sound of one’s voice will become distracting. At this stage manasik japa will become fully satisfying and one would have no desire to ever stop it for anything else, ie for audible japa. Maybe that’s what will happen and I can see how “chant 16 rounds or else” would be seen as too constraining on one’s devotion. Presence of the Holy Name at this stage will also include presence of Srila Prabhupada and of our gurus so the need to keep the vow will be reassessed according to our actual degree of progress. Perhaps more should be said about avoiding the dangers here but now it’s not the time.
3. Third chapter gives advice on how to control the mind. St Gregory says, straight away, that it is possible only by Lord’s power and not by our own efforts. He then explains that the mind has attained its current wandering nature because we let it do so for so long and it has become its habit. It goes back to the “original sin”, to our rebellion against the Lord and ever since then the mind had to seek pleasure somewhere else. The mind will have no choice but to behave this way until it’s reunited with God. For us it means to always bring the mind to the Lord’s lotus feet and apologize for leaving Him. The Lord can forgive any transgression if it is brought to him with a repentant heart in the spirit of humility. We have to work this way, St Gregory tells us, until the power of the mantra reveals itself and brings the mind under its control. English translation talks about the prayer becoming “activated”, which has a nice ring to it. I see it as starting the engine manually – you have to turn it again and again and again until it “clicks” and it starts rotating on its own. I still remember trucks that had a place to stick this manual crank in front or how people asked their neighbors to get the car rolling until the engine is “activated”. Lots of small engines for boats and even lawnmowers still have the cord you have to yank very forcefully to start them. I wonder if it’s the same principle with chanting. Could be. Last words in the chapter inform us that even then the mind might occasionally wonder off and this stops only when one attains perfection in his meditation.
4. Fourth chapter is about expelling “thoughts” – in English translation. Russian translation is a bit more specific. Dictionaries don’t help here but it’s more like expelling “intentions”, the ideas to do something. “How to stop yourself from getting ideas” would be a better translation but this informal register won’t match with seriousness of St Gregory’s tone, of course. Neophytes can’t do it, says St Gregory, and only the Lord can protect them here. More seasoned devotees can muster enough strength to fight but even they have to rely on the help of the Holy Name, using it as one’s own armor. This sounds very dogmatic – expelling bad intentions from one’s mind by the power of the prayer. It’s almost a caricature image of an erstwhile Christian shutting his mind to the world and only shouting Jesus’ name at everybody. “By the power of the Holy Name I compel you!” Nevertheless, I agree with St Gregory that this is what we should do. These days, however, people prefer to go along with their ideas instead – “what will repression accomplish?” Quite a lot, actually – when it’s done right, but neophytes can’t do it at all, as was said in the beginning. The model is like this – we should only chant the Holy Name, twenty four seven, and so this is our safest position whenever thoughts come – expel them and focus the mind on the Holy Name. Again. And again. And again. All other thoughts are useless and have to be abandoned. All of them, without discrimination. As you can see – it’s not for neophytes and even seasoned devotees should know their limits here – because “what will repression accomplish?” This is also why it’s impossible to fight this battle without Lord’s help – He has to provide us with safe alternatives to our minds’ ideas. All too often devotees get something in their head and it doesn’t even occur to them that they have to purge this idea completely, that it might be very harmful and should not be pursued. Instead everyone embraces it enthusiastically and tries to connect it with Krishna. And why not? That’s what we do when we are hungry – we cook prasadam. That’s what we do when we get married – so why not? It’s at this point that the reader should remember the huge gap between ourselves and yogis of St Gregory’s caliber – he is giving advice on unceasing prayer to those who have renounced their careers and family lives, who live in caves or bhajan kutis, who sustain themselves by a pound of bread and water, and who are able to chase away ideas of desiring pretty much anything in this world. The question naturally arises – is this really the only way? Yes, and no – it depends on how much support the Lord extends to help us to get to the stage of renunciation. Whatever is provided cannot be rejected, so “renunciation” is not the only way. Maybe it’s the ultimate stage of our journey, as I just heard in class – all activities should lead to religion, all religion should lead to renunciation, and all renunciation should lead to devotional service, otherwise it’s all pointless. Bypassing renunciation, therefore, is not an option. Sooner or later it should come and be welcomed, and before that point is reached St Gregory’s instructions might appear fanatical even if they aren’t. We will lose absolutely nothing if we purge away all thoughts except the sound of Hare Krishna. It’s how it should be, it’s the ideal state of our minds. Let’s get back to the book, however.
The advice is to chase away all ideas by force until the Holy Name comes to our help. He says that one should, like Moses, get up and lift his arms and eyes to heaven and appeal for help, and the Lord will remove unwelcome thoughts. Then one should patiently resume his prayer. I’m not sure how it would work for us – it seems he is talking about attacks of lust, otherwise there is no particular urgency. Anyway, this advice is for those who have not yet experienced the power of the mantra itself. Sometimes even those who have this experience still rely on this method, but only briefly, so that they don’t over do it and do not get a response from the category of “prelests”. The reason being that the mercy comes from the Holy Name itself, not from theatrics, and so getting carried away by his impersonation of Moses could become spiritually dangerous. Anything else we get attracted to, besides the Holy Name, is a gateway to falldown. St Gregory concludes the chapter by informing us that even for very advanced practitioners absolute serenity of mind is impossible and it’s attained only at the stage of perfection. I guess what he wants to tell us is that it won’t bother us as much but it won’t go away completely until the very end, so we should not freak out when the mind starts its ideations. It’s a property of the mind, not of the soul, and it’s natural for the mind to get distracted or attracted.
5. Fifth chapter is again about psalmodizing and it’s significantly longer than chapter 4 in the previously discussed book. We don’t have an exact equivalent to this “singing”. We do it at assigned times in front of the deities or during specially arranged kirtants. It’s not like one can start singing in the middle of the night – we don’t do that, but it’s a common Christian practice. Sometimes we can also start singing Hare Krishna, no one forbids this, but how it should be done properly will be seen from the discussion in this chapter.
Some recommend singing a lot, others never, and yet others singing only rarely. St Gregory is writing a letter here and so to his intended recipient he recommends singing in moderation, for all things are best in moderation. In English translation this maxim is ascribed to Ancient Greeks but in Russian they are identified as “unwise wisemen”. Probably because for all their wisdom Ancient Greeks weren’t Christians. Singing a lot is recommended for those engaged in active service and it would benefit them the most, but it’s not recommended for those practicing silent meditation who live their lives alone with God and who purge their minds from all “conceptual images”. He cites St John Klimakos that stillness is shedding of all thoughts, whether pertaining to empirical or intellectual planes. For these devotees singing would rather exhaust their intellect of strength necessary for controlling the mind during their prayers. That’s a very good point – kirtan is a recommended process for this age but we should keep in mind that after the kirtan we still have to keep on chanting, so it should recharge, not drain out batteries. One should definitely sing less at night but I think it’s meant for those who are actually praying through the night, not to those who are struggling to stay awake. Once again, this reminds us of a distance between us and these Christian yogis who slept only a couple of hours a day and bulk of their spiritual practice was done during the night. At Mt Athos they wake up around 11PM, afaik.
If, while praying, one observes how the mantra in one’s heart is active on its own one should never ever abandon the prayer and start singing. One can do that when the mantra leaves the heart (on its own accord, too) – but not while it’s still there. I would say this observation itself is fascinating – St Gregory talks about the mantra getting a life of its own and flowing in one’s heart out of its own will. In this way we become actual servants of the Holy Name – not in the sense we are using this phrase now – we do something, allegedly for Krishna, and Krishna allegedly accepts our service, which is very different from seeing the Name moving through our heart on its own. Come to think of it, it’s not very different from sankirtana. It might take a long time to find it, to find Lord Caitanya’s mercy and become its carrier, but when it happens one clearly feels how he is riding the wave and nobody in his right mind would want to get off and go home. That’s what St Gregory says about chanting and he says it as a matter of fact: “when the mantra chants itself you should not…” – yeah, but indeed – when? Well, at least we know what we should be ready for here.
His advice makes sense and he gives his reasons, too – if the Lord is speaking to you from the inside you can’t get up and try to address him from the outside. It would be descending from a higher level to a lower one and it would not only break your meditation but disturb your mind as well. True serenity is inside – remember? Stillness, by it’s very nature, engages one in activities of peace and silence. God lives in a world above our clamor and noise and so our singing should be similarly angelic, not mundane. I guess this is for all those new Hare Krishna tunes and styles – pop, rock, techno – whatever. All these overlay mundanity over the mantra and it’s unwelcome here. It might be useful elsewhere but not in silent prayer. Singing is supposed to awaken the pure voice of our souls and overcome, not encourage our, hmmm, “unawareness” and laziness. English translation gives “grossness” and in Russian they translated it as “making oneself dumber”. I actually remember when people’s common reaction to modern music was “it will make you stupid”. No one dares to talk like this today but they do advice to play Mozart to newborns instead, which conveys the same idea – classical music is sophisticated and intellectual while rock debilitates one’s intelligence. If we consider this from all angles we will come to the conclusion that our standard tunes, based on Vedic ragas, are absolutely perfect. In traditional kirtan the voice carries the tune and mridanga provides unbelievable sweetness and sophistication, but I digress.
Citing St John Klimakos again, singing is given to those who haven’t discovered praying yet. Of course everyone knows how to chant japa but here they are talking about prayer that infuses the soul with knowledge, joy, and power. So those who don’t experience it yet are told to sing, and sing a lot. They should also always engage themselves in service and never let themselves stay idle even for a moment. Then, as a result of their unwavering sadhana, they will eventually discover the inner world of self-manifested, self-activated prayer. “One would hope” – all I can say here. Silent meditation and communal life are different things, St Gregory says, but he assures us that one will get to his goal by following either of the two paths as long as it’s prescribed to him by the Lord. He warns that practicing silent meditation on one’s own, without guru’s order, and relying on books alone is futile, which is a point that I feel needed a little expansion there. For ourselves – we know that nirjana bhajana is not recommended for anyone in this age and that gurus are not always easily accessible for such guidance, so what to do? Sometimes, however, it becomes the only viable course of action and that would be the best signal from the Lord – you can’t do anything else anyway, so chant. Ordinarily, however, even with Covid lockdowns, we are not as isolated as necessary and so we have to follow our prescribed duties first and we can’t abandon them willy-nilly. The time will come however, when we will be left on our own and so we should be ready to chant and chant and chant.
Anyway, one who knows the mystery of self-manifested prayer should sing in moderation and spend more time chanting, resorting to singing only when the mantra disappears from the heart and when one feels exhausted. Or one could read Bhagavatam to get his mind back in shape. At this stage one is like a ship that doesn’t need rowing when wing blows its sails, but when the wind stops a bit of good old rowing becomes necessary again. At this point I want to remind us again that “blowing wind” here is the mantra starting to chant itself. We should have experience of this in kirtan but, generally, it’ s not present during japa.
Some give examples of Holy Fathers who spent all-nighters in singing, to which St Gregory replies that not everyone is the same and that not everyone stayed with the same method to the end. Some, after a lifetime of active service, immersed themselves in pure contemplation, enjoying the waves of well-deserved ecstasy, which poured sweetness into their souls so they couldn’t even sing anymore. To them it looked like fulfillment of all their desires but we should know it’s not the ultimate end yet. Others never gave up active service and left this world hoping to get their rewards in the next life. Some attained liberation at death and this was known by the fragrance of their bodies. At first this liberation at death sounds great – a perfectly acceptable outcome – but St Gregory pours some water on this excitement – liberation at death means they were initiated into it during their lives but, due to being caught in the illusion and general ignorance, didn’t get to experience the mysticism of union with the Lord during their lifetimes. Better late than never, as they say. Yet there are others who artfully mix both singing and praying, ie active service and personal bhajan, and in this way they live spiritually enriched lives, enjoying the spoils without obstructions or any obstacles. And yet there are also those who live their lives in silent prayer and attain total unity with the Lord. This book is for them.
6. Sixth chapter is about food. St Gregory starts with a question that sounds slightly annoyed: “What can I say about the belly, the mother of all passions?” Both translations use the word “queen” but in English “mother of” sounds far more appropriate. I think this has been St Gregory’s reply to someone’s query or maybe he was going through the list of topics and this wasn’t one of his favorite ones. After posing the question, however, he says quite a lot, so his apprehension could have been from “don’t get me started” category and he thought that this is a settled issue that can, nevertheless, distract him from his bhajan. He begins his answer with “if you can starve your belly to death or even to half-dead state – do it without hesitation, relentlessly”. He then says that his own belly took control of him and that he serves it like a slave. Then he follows the same argument as given in Nectar of Instructions – belly must be controlled and, on the other hand, uncontrolled belly is the source of all our spiritual troubles, and he also says that a controlled belly leads to liberation. Therefore honoring prasadam is at the very foundation of our sadhana, too. St Gregory didn’t know about prasadam and his solution to controlling the tongue is, therefore, slightly more pedestrian.
Different people have different needs, he says, what is enough for some might be too little for others and way too much for someone else. He lays down one common rule, however – those dedicated to praying in the heart should be always hungry and never eat to satiation. This “always hungry” has not been translated into English and I don’t know what original Greek is, but Russian translation carries the meaning of “always fasting” or “always starving themselves”. St Gregory gives an explanation – heavy stomach weighs on one’s thoughts as well. Full stomach also makes one sleepy and the mind can’t be controlled during dreaming, too (he’s got a very good point here!). Either way – it makes it impossible to be firm and pure in one’s chanting on a full stomach. All in all, his recommendation is to eat a pound of bread a day, accompanied by three-four cups of water or wine, plus other eatables if they come to the table and only for the taste, not for satiation. I guess “wine” rather means “grape juice” but that’s a whole other issue. Taking a little bite of everything serves two purposes – one is not to feel oneself too proud of his ability to fast, and the second is to show respect to the Lord who sends us our daily food. You cannot say no to prasadam, but honoring it is not the same as stuffing ourselves. His says this conclusion is the council of the wise. Then there is this weird quote about eating only vegetables being a sign of a weak faith, and I don’t want to go into that either.
He then continues what looks like correspondence: “You asked me about rules? What else can I say.” He says it’s not easy for an old man like himself to give rules to the young ones because they would fail to follow them anyway. He says that the path of the young is to know the rules, fail to follow them, repent, start over again only to fail shortly afterwards. One must persist despite failures, however, and that’s the only rule he insists on. He also stresses that one should blame only himself for his failure, not the rules and not anybody else. In this way one can eventually convert his failures into victories. In the English translation this passage is interpreted very differently – that St Gregory was writing to an old but sick man and that sick people should eat as much as they can. Then it gently transitions into the above mentioned rule [to be followed when health is restored]. Anyway, the point is to wisely learn how to convert lapses in sadhana into eventual victory.
St Gregory then draws the red line – live only on bread and water. I’ve tried to get exact measures but word usage has been fluctuating – it’s somewhere between a pound and half a kilo of bread. He says nothing works better for strengthening the body than bread and water. In our language it’s the best way to keep body and soul together, with all other eatables being nonessential, and he has a quote for that, too. Where I live it would probably be an equivalent of a cup of rice – when cooked it comes to about a pound in weight and it looks like quite a lot to finish in one sitting, should probably be enough for a day. The chapter concludes with a very important discussion about degrees of satiation: self-control, sufficiency, and satiety. Self-control is when one feels light after eating and doesn’t crave for more. Sufficiency brings slight heaviness to the stomach, and if one continues eating past that point it opens the door of gluttony which then lets in lust. Last words are the quote that one should learn to be full, hungry, and strong all at the same time. It’s a skill we all need to develop. Sigh.
7. Seventh chapter is a long discussion on “prelests” again, and it’s probably the longest chapter in these books. The tone is similar to the previous passage about food – it’s not directly related to unceasing prayer in the heart and if we start talking about it we might never stop, for a lot can be said on this. This time St Gregory does not talk so much about prelests themselves but puts them in a larger context and discusses how, where, and when they fit in our spiritual life.
He starts with free will and points out that by its nature it’s prone to misdirect us, especially for neophytes who are also practically hunted by these demons. We do not personify our delusions but St Gregory does, following general Christian trend to blame Satan for everything. We have this, however. These demons see that our “city of nine gates” is still largely in control of barbarians and so they set up traps and snares wherever possible. Our heart might be in the right place but the rest of our body and mind isn’t, and most of the time we still follow body and mind. Therefore it is to be expected for beginners to become deceived, lose their intelligence, become deluded (“give in to prelests” in Russian translation), accept falsity for truth, or say something inappropriate. Next sentence is very familiar – these neophytes, speaking about truth but still residing in ignorance, sometimes say things they don’t really mean and are unaware of simply because they don’t know how to speak correctly, and this might make listeners aghast, while senior devotees would chuckle and ridicule these pronouncements among themselves. English translation uses “hesychast” for senior devotee here but in Russian it is “silent one”, meaning people who don’t say anything but the words of the Jesus Prayer, and even then only to themselves. These mistakes are common and they happen to almost everybody, says St Gregory. It happens to those who search after God now and it has also happened in the past.
Smaranam, or mindfulness of God, or noetic prayer, or maybe mindful prayer, is the best sadhana and the chief of all good qualities. We usually put sravanam first, but we also have “always remember Krishna and never forget” rule which controls all other rules that follow. Having said that, people should not try to engage in smaranam before they are ready and attain the necessary level of purity. If this condition is not followed than we will become brazen, shameless, and over-zealous in our efforts at intimate communion with God, and for this we can be easily punished by the demons. In Brahma Samhita there is a description of how Goloka is protected and usually people guarding places are known as yaksas and raksasas. Yaksas slow you down and raksasas disassemble you by hooking at pieces of your being and separating them from you by force. This is where these Christian demons become recognized – they are meant to divert your brazen attack on God elsewhere or remove all that is unwanted from your personality. Quick anartha removing service, so to speak.
St Gregory says that demons need permission to do that but it’s unclear whose – God’s or ours. I don’t think he meant God’s permission but it would make sense in our tradition because anarthas don’t necessarily must be removed by force. Kubja came to Krishna full of anarthas and He didn’t inconvenience her experience in any way, as an example. If St Gregory means these demons need our permission then it means the permission to be led astray, not the permission to give up our anarthas. In any case, the real problem is our pride, it lies in our conviction that we deserve a much higher spiritual status. The Lord, out of a desire to protect us, Himself protects us from deviations and engages us in proper service leading to genuine humility so that we don’t make ourselves and Him, by association, the subject of ridicule and drive people away from devotional service. He tries to instill this humility in us before we fall victim to prelests.
Demons need to be battled but this is the calling of the strong, not of the weak. Neophytes, therefore, are advised to retreat and escape and avoid prelests entering into their hearts. Otherwise they’d be slaughtered and so hiding in fear will save them for now.
St Gregory then turns to his interlocutor and advises him, acknowledging his eagerness to succeed in prayer, to never give in to visions of angels, Christ, saints etc, no matter how convincing they appear. The mind already is prone to day dreaming, so don’t help. It projects the images of one’s desires and if one starts contemplating them he puts himself in mortal danger. Memory of good and bad things also get projected by the mind and dwelling on them is equally dangerous. Start thinking about it and you’ll become a day dreamer, not a hesychast or the “silent one”. Therefore we should not give assent to any of this imagery, unless collaborated by senior and more experienced practitioners. Whenever something like this comes, we should strive to keep the mind colorless and formless.
This is an unusual advice for us – we are supposed to engage the mind in Krishna’s service and Krishna is blue and has a form, but this is what St Gregory says. Ordinarily, our mind takes the form of the object it is attracted to and by studying this mindform one can learn the nature of the object itself. Modern understanding, for example, is that healing herbs of Ayyrveda were discovered through trial and error and that it’s a collective wisdom of the ages, but Vedic explanation is that these healing properties are discovered through meditation. You let your mind become totally absorbed in a plant and its environment and gradually gradually you will start to understand it, understand what it wants, what it does, what is capable of, how it relates to other plants and substances etc. Then you will know how to use it. It’s an impressive power but we should admit that it is not at all helpful for our cause. Our minds should become free from all material forms until they become naturally attracted to Krishna Himself. Filling them with artificial imagery is rejected here and I think we should reject it in our practice, too. It might look like we are looking at a picture of Krishna but unless it is self manifested or drawn exactly to instructions of a qualified guru we are looking at artist’s projection of his own mind. He thinks that Krishna should smile like that or hold His flute like that or sit like that and so on. There are also thousands of pictures of babies colored in photoshop to look blue and being presented as “Krishna”. That’s not how Krishna appears in this world and it’s not how He should appear in our minds. I’m with St Gregory on this one – a lot of this imagery should not be allowed into our minds. Also “mantra” means that which relieves the mind of being addicted to such imagery among other things. Hare Krishna mantra does not need mediation by the mind, it can go straight from the ear to the heart. The mind can purify itself or it can take a hike – we are not our minds.
Anyway, St Gregory says that sometimes it’s the Lord Himself who tests our free will by tempting us with these things. He insists that none of this should be accepted unless approved by our seniors, even if it comes from Krishna directly. After all, Krishna is a known liar crooked in three places – who in his right mind would take any of what He says seriously? Of course one must know Krishna first before deciding when to listen to Him and when to listen to one’s heart. Therefore St Gregory says that neophytes should trust only their hearts and not what appears in their minds. He says that the Lord does not deceive those who listen to their hearts and check with their superiors, though there have been occasions when He was angry for ignoring Him. I don’t know what historical episodes St Gregory mean here. I guess it would be like Madhavendra Puri refusing sweet rice in Remuna or a pot of milk at Govardhan – both were sent by Krishna and rejecting them would have been inappropriate. I would say that Madhavendra Puri knew in his heart that these gifts were not to be turned away and Krishna counted on his heart, too. In general, however, the Lord is pleased when we put our trust into His devotees instead of relying only on ourselves.
This brings us to a question of guru – who is guru? Who can we trust? Not everybody, says St Gregory, but those who have been given responsibility to lead others and who themselves lead exemplary lives and, as he quotes the scripture, enrich others while remaining poor themselves. I don’t think he concludes this topic properly, being carried away by discussion on the prayer itself, but the gist of it is already given here – the guru is the one who is entrusted with care for others and he should posses keen discrimination. St Gregory says that inexperienced taking charge of unintelligent will pay for this dearly after death, and then goes into the discussion on the necessary level of discrimination. Guru, sadhu, sastra – he says, with sastra being the pivot of it all. He talks about different kinds of discrimination of which only spiritual one is truly important and attaining it is not easy. One must follow the scripture and reflect on it with humility. It’s hard to find those who stay clear of temptations and have reached maturity because the devil tests one every step of the way. There is a quote given there, too – you can make friendship with many but spiritual advisors are one in a thousand.
St Gregory then reiterates the path of the “silent one” in this regard – one should approach the prayer with great humility and great trepidation, inquiring from his spiritual guides. One should realize the extent of his own impurities and repent his inability to follow strictly, always being afraid of falling back into maya, just as Srila Prabhupada once said he prayed for this every day. This is our great weapon, says St Gregory – humility and prayer. In this way even when joy comes we will spare ourselves from being affected by pride. Again he talks about special kind of warmth that comes from the Lord, different from joys of this world. God’s reciprocation fills us with more humility and the warmth of His embrace burns out all the remnants of our desires, naturally silencing our mind. It doesn’t come from the outside but it streams from inside of our hearts out. We should strive for this source of warmth, for the Lord, in full trust in His assurance that He exists, that He is with us, and that He loves us.
If we see someone falling away we should know that the cause of it is pride and arrogance. The protection, again, is humility and genuine inquiry and search for the Holy Name, which will never harm us. But even if such sincere people appear to fall down we should understand that it’s just testing and that it soon follows by Lord’s personal help. So do not try to be smart and do not try to impress others – that is the best defense against falling into delusion. Stick to this royal road. Excess in anything leads to conceit and conceit leads to delusions, and therefore we should cultivate three virtues – self-control, silence, and humility. These three virtues nourish each other and together increase our thirst for chanting.
St Gregory concludes the chapter by describing the appearance of the Holy Name. Some would experience incredible awe that would melt away mountains of desires in their hearts. Whatever was there blocking our way will be destroyed and the body would feel like it has become dead. Others would experience earth shattering jubilation, the state of exultation described by Church fathers. And, finally, those who were really successful in prayer would experience the sense of peaceful and illuminating light in their hearts. That’s how the Holy Name (or Jesus Christ, in St Gregory’s case) makes our hearts into His own dwelling place – it’s through the flow of illuminating light, and this is the perfection of prayer.
The book ends with an answer to a question and in Russian edition it’s presented as a separate chapter.
Q: What to do when the devil transforms himself and presents as an angel?
St Gregory doesn’t give a direct practical answer, ie what to actually do when it happens, but he gives a valuable advice on how to distinguish demons from angels – by their effects on our consciousness. He says demons can’t replicate what Lord’s grace does to our hearts. The Lord’s mercy makes us gentle, welcoming, humble, serene, free from envy and enmity, and it curbs our lust and greed. This cannot be faked. Appearance of pride, vanity, and haughtiness can’t be ignored either, and this is what is produced by devil, not by the Lord. That is St Gregory’s ultimate test, and test we must. He implores us to become “guru”, in the meaning of “heavy”, and do not get easily carried away by whatever comes. Everything must be considered very carefully before being accepted as truth. This answer is a little different from the advice to check everything with senior devotees given earlier. Here St Gregory tells us to develop the “noetic sense” so that we can distinguish between genuine mercy and delusions presented by the devil. He compares it to distinguishing between vinegar and wine or lettuce and mustard – I’m not sure about translations, but the point is that they look the same and one must test them with his tongue to spot the difference. Similarly, we should develop our spiritual sense to distinguish between grace and delusion.
This is the end of the book and the end of the summary. It took me a long time, two and a half months, but I never gave up and never paused contemplating on these things. The main, most time consuming part, was bringing these words into my own life. There is the part about being inside one’s heart, for example. It’s one thing to translate it or comment on it and quite another to actually gain at least some experience. Will it even work? Yes, it will, and now I can say this with confidence of personal experience. The part about restraining one’s food intake is also easy to translate but difficult to follow for more than a few days, at least for me, but I also at least know now what it feels like and how to do it. In some ways I would like to go back and re-write some paragraphs in the light of my personal experiences but that would be too much for me now. So, please accept it as it is and keep in mind that these things are “live”. They are not just words on the screen but ideas and concepts that WILL interact with you and WILL fill you with understanding and, more importantly, with experiences as you allow them into your consciousness. In the process of such meditation and reflection your mind takes the shape of the thing and starts to behave accordingly, and in this way we get to gain first hand experience ourselves. Admittedly, only glimpses of experience because we are not cave dwelling monks, but enough to give us a taste of what is to come in the future. I’m definitely not the same person as I was at the start of this post and I hope this summary of St Gregory of Sinai’s teachings will make a meaningful change in your life, too.
Oṁ tat sat