Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Nama-Aparadha

It appears Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur (shortened form only for the sake of post title being concise) had a lot to say on nama-aparadha. I’m typing this down before I forget as I just listened to these stories in a class where no references were given and I can’t find confirmation in available sources. The speaker gave a lot of details and he has access to Bengali originals so there is no reason to doubt these accounts whatsoever, so here goes.

First thing, and this is where more clarity is probably needed, is that before Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati the concept of nama-aparadha was absent in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. This might not have been true of ALL Gaudiya vaishnavas but there were cases of notable opposition and this can’t be ignored. The fact that this opposition didn’t feel challenged until Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati started speaking up on this shows that there was this tacit understanding – there are no nama-aparadhas in chanting the holy name. This was their argument – the Name is all forgiving and all powerful so there cannot be a way to offend it as a matter of principle.

We could say – “Wait a minute! What about that famous verse from Padma Purana?” Every ISKCON temple has its translation on the wall somewhere – the list of ten offences. Temple devotees often recite this list before morning japa, too, so how it can be denied? The speaker didn’t clarify this but he said that Padma Purana is… not a fixed text, shall we say. Damodarastaka we sing every day during Karttik is also from Padma Purana but can’t be found in any contemporary editions. The ten offences verse is still there but it’s already in a different Canto from the time of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, so it’s possible that this verse was not widely known. Off the top of my head I can’t think of an exact place where this Padma Purana verse on nama-aparadhas is discussed in Goswami literature, though I believe everything can be found in Srila Jiva Goswami’s sandarbhas or in Hari-bhakti-vilasa. By itself it won’t mean much anyway because most of the Gaudiya vaishnavas were illiterate and caste goswamis who preached to them avoided nama-aparadhas for their own reasons.

I said “avoided nama-aparadhas” not in a sense they avoided committing offences, no, they avoided talking about offences because then it would mean they’d had to give them up and they didn’t want that. They didn’t want to reform themselves and they didn’t want to discourage their followers either. If people wanted to have a kirtan – let them, don’t interrupt them, gradually the Holy Name would purify them automatically. If you start stopping their kirtans they’ll lose the taste completely and so what would you achieve?

It’s all very reasonable and this is exactly what we often hear today – let them sing, it won’t hurt, they are singing Hare Krishna, what more do you want? Don’t be fanatical, show a little appreciation, don’t turn people away from chanting, encourage them, nurture them, give them facilities, give them praise. Gradually gradually they will come to the stage of pure chanting by the power of the Holy Name. Moreover, if you start enforcing your rules everybody will leave and you won’t have anyone to have a kirtan with.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati had none of that. His central point on nama-aparadha was that it never goes away automatically by itself. Never. People who believe it will happen are only fooling themselves. Even Krishnadas Kaviraja says so in Caitanya Caritamrita – offensive chanting will go on for many many lifetimes (CC Adi 8.16). It’s a waste of everybody’s time, and in Kali yuga time is valuable – it flies away much faster than before.

Two stories were given to demonstrate this in the life of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. First story involved a devotee from Nityananda Vamsa who helped him establish Gaudiya Math in Calcutta. He was once present during a class and when he heard Srila Bhaktisiddhanta preaching extensively on avoiding offenses he loudly protested, saying that he never heard anything like that form his guru, who was a famous acharya who translated many Goswami books (into Bengali, I suppose). To this Srila Bhaktisiddhanta calmly, without naming any names, replied that anyone who doesn’t teach his disciples how to avoid offences in chanting is not a real guru and it was not a real initiation. The devotee left, unable to tolerate such disrespect, but it is actually true – it is an essential part of initiation procedure. One must not only give a mantra but also give instructions on how to chant it. There are no rules in chanting the Holy Name but offenses must be avoided, this is essential, otherwise mantra will not bring its expected results.

There was another anecdote given, this time from Srila Prabhupada. He once let his senior disciples to give initiation lecture and he was sitting there and listening. Then at one point he interrupted it and said that one absolutely must mention avoiding the ten offenses during initiation, and then Srila Prabhupada took over and completed the talk himself. Again, no reference were given and I wouldn’t even know how to search archives for a class like that. There are 67 hits in Folio on “initiation lecture” and there is no facility to search within the results so I’d have to read them one by one, which is impractical. I have no reason to doubt it happened.

The point is this – offenses absolutely must be avoided, which we all already know, but do not take very seriously, and the guru absolutely must teach his disciples how to do that. I don’t want to play part of initiation lecture police but recent FDG initiation class was very short on anything to do with chanting and with the Holy Name and I don’t think they mentioned offences at all. They all talked about this glorious achievement of having female gurus instead. I don’t want this to be a dig at FDGs either – just a neutral point that a guru should absolutely teach about avoiding offenses, otherwise he is not a real guru and initiation is not a real initiation either. For all I know, that female devotee could have taught about offenses on other occasions, which would be sufficient, so, once again, it’s not a dig at FDG, just a reminder what we should be on a lookout for when someone claims to be a guru. Doesn’t matter male or female – it applies to everybody equally.

Second story from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s life was connected to his preaching in Jajpur in Orissa. That one I could find and so here is an account of what happened as told in Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava:

After a public program in Jajpur District, whereat Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura had spoken about the ten offenses against the holy name, the maharaja of that area objected that since the Lord’s name is pure it can be chanted in any manner without question of aparādha; and the many sadhus present there abetted his claim. Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura told the doubting monarch, “I will show you how this is true.” He asked the sadhus to remain throughout the entire second session of that function, scheduled for the next evening. “We will be having saṅkīrtana and Hari-kathā, so you should not leave,” he said. Those sadhus came, but the majority left early, being habituated to smoking ganja and tobacco or taking tea at that time. Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura then pointed out, “Because of their addictions they cannot stay for saṅkīrtana. Is this not due to their offenses?” The maharaja understood. Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura then told him that Kali resides where there is meat-eating, gambling, illicit sex, intoxication, and the search for money, so these vices should be given up by serious reciters of the holy name.

SBV 3.12.Namaparadha (located in Volume 2)

This is self-explanatory. Btw, the first story could be the one described in the previous paragraph in the book but the names mentioned and circumstances are different, so it’s either a different story or it comes from a different source, or the speaker misremembered it, which is not very likely given his scholarly nature and proficiency in both Bengali and Sanskrit. Otherwise the content of that chapter in SBV confirms everything else I heard in that class and said in this article.

One must absolutely avoid nama-aparadhas as otherwise one would not be able to make any progress. A guru who tolerates nama-aparadha committed by his disciples only deludes his followers. I’ll conclude with Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s own words on this subject:

Without taking shelter at the lotus feet of śrī-guru there is no harināma. Not knowing the difference between nāma and nāmāparādha, many persons accept mud instead of milk. Thus it is absolutely essential to know the right object of worship. Why we should perform bhajana, which bhajana we should do—understanding this is called initiation from śrī-gurudeva. Dīkṣā is the pastime of imparting sambandha-jñāna.

Srila Prabhupadera Goloka-vani 3.155

Pilgrim’s Diary 11. Resonance

We have completed a set of events on Pilgrim’s journey, he got his books back and said good-bye to police captain, but the underlying theme of his odyssey continues as a phase of a larger cycle. The captain challenged him about the power of the the prayer as opposed to the power of reading the Gospels and the pilgrim said they were equal, and yet he was representing praying as a method that works. At the same time he was reunited with the books so he was excited about reading. Next stage on his journey will continue these topics and it shows how these two activities resonate with each other, how they amplify each other, feeding off and stimulating each other in turn.

There will be significant ground to cover in this installment and I think it will need at least two appendices dealing with two lists that pack quite a lot separately.

The pilgrim walked fifty miles along the main road but then decided to try something else. Too much traffic, I guess, so he turned off into a country road where villages were far and few and between. His MO was to read Philokalia during the day, taking shelter of a big tree, and walk at night. He loved that book and learned a lot from it, his only concern was that he didn’t have a place to sit down and immerse in it completely. The book was encouraging him to chant his prayer and the prayer was drawing him to study what the book teaches about it.

He read the Bible, too, and he realized that Philokalia was the key to unlocking Bible’s treasures, he discovered that the Bible was full of hidden meanings and Philokalia was uncovering them for him. Here is a list of his discoveries taken from English translation of the diary: “the inner secret man of the heart,” “true prayer worships in the spirit,” “the kingdom is within us,” “the intercession of the Holy Spirit with groanings that cannot be uttered,” “abide in me,” “give me thy heart,” “to put on Christ,” “the betrothal of the Spirit to our hearts,” the cry from the depths of the heart, “Abba, Father,” and so on.” I think this deserves unpacking separately.

With these realizations his praying evolved to a whole new level. As the prayer was flowing from his heart he started seeing everything surrounding him as “delightful and marvelous” – trees, grass, birds, earth, air, daylight – everything was telling him that it exists and is shown to him as a demonstration of God’s love for humanity and that everything he sees feels grateful to the Lord and glorifies Him in return. When the pilgrim saw it he understood what the books mean about knowing the language of animals and he understood what it means to know the speech of all creatures. This needs unpacking, too, but I wouldn’t even know where to start because this has to be experienced, it has to be seen. As far as people report – you don’t actually talk to trees and animals, it’s not a verbal communication, but you understand why they behave in a certain way, you can reply to this understanding on exactly the same level it came to you, and they will get it and respond accordingly. Conversations like this can be translated into words but only if a third party asks, otherwise words are not necessary. This vision, this realization is related to seeing the root of every creature’s existence, their raison d’etre, and responding to it with great respect and appreciation. I don’t have much experience in this regard and can point to people in popular culture saying things like “he sees me” or asking “Do you feel me?” These expressions refer to the same deep understanding of another person’s reason for existence, that’s where they came from before they got trivialized by the public and entered into Urban Dictionary.

Speaking of the public – I’ve never seen this kind of vision attained when observing human society while it’s been very common when observing the nature. Something about what we, people, do feels unnatural and disconnected. Maybe it’s all our garbage and highways and everything, or maybe it’s due to our inability to distance ourselves, which is necessary for becoming observers. Or maybe it would need a high level of spiritual realization, way above our current level. It works with animals and trees because humans are already higher than them so no extra effort is necessary. Moving on.

After some time the pilgrim reached a very remote region and didn’t see a single village for three days. He ran out of his dried bread and started to worry about food. He, however, dispelled this uneasiness by turning his heart to his prayer again. There is this joy in surrendering to God’s will that doesn’t leave any space for unhappiness even if the reasons still seem to be perfectly valid. I don’t remember where I’ve seen this recently, probably in some commentary on something, but even if the state of being hopeful drives away all fears, real peace comes only with absolute hopelessness. Just leave it to the Lord and simply be with Him. Worries come only in relation to the events of this world. Forget about it and just be with God. That’s where the real peace is. In our lingo this state is called “akincana”. In this term “kin” is from the beginning of question words – what, where, who, etc, and “a-kin” makes it to mean “no questions” to be placed to the world, nothing to ask for or about, which means one doesn’t expect any answers, which means one doesn’t entertain any hopes.

If this looks like a pretty high level of advancement – no, sorry, it’s only the first step in vaishnavism. Queen Kunti in the First Canto uses the state “akincana” as a prerequisite to chanting the pure name, stating that it won’t happen otherwise. This state is elusive, unfortunately, as we all can attest to the unfailing ability of things like good food to fill us with hopes. Happens all the time, doesn’t it? When you smell it you hope for a good meal, with your first bite you hope for satiation, and when you ingest it you feel an influx of energy and confidence, ie your hopes are rising up.

The pilgrim was walking along a huge forest and suddenly he saw a very friendly dog running out of it. Friendly dogs mean friendly owners and the pilgrim followed the dog into the forest where he was met by a skinny, pale middle aged man. They asked introductory questions and immediately took liking of each other. The man was living in something translated as a dugout (“mud hut” is used in the above linked translation but it’s not a hut). It’s basically a hole in the ground, something like a trench, with a roof over it. The man said he was a forest ranger watching after the timber. The pilgrim said he was jealous of this life – alone, in the solitude, not having to mix with all kinds of people on the road. The man replied that there is another dugout nearby and the pilgrim was welcome to use it. Villagers bring bread once a week so they will be set for food, and the only problem is that later in the fall two hundred guys will descent on this forest to fell all the trees and their watching job will be over. “Works for me,” replied the pilgrim, and so a new phase of his journey started.

It should be noted that they both considered living only on bread to be totally sufficient. The fact that the man was described as skinny and pale doesn’t say much in favor of this diet but he had also lived like this for ten years and was not going to die anytime soon, which is also saying something. The pilgrim was very happy with this turn of events and he gratefully noted that the Lord fulfilled his desire for solitude. He also noted that there were four months left before late autumn when loggers were supposed to come, which means it was August and he was only two-three months into his journey and no more than two months since he started chanting. Quite a progress.

Guys exchanged their life stories and it turned out that the man was a village artisan, doing all kinds of skillful things for the public, but he also had a fair share of vices. He wasn’t an alcoholic like police captain but he loved to get into fights and insult people. Village deacon had a very old book about Last Judgement and he would go from house to house reading from it for money. For ten cents he would read it until morning while people would go about their chores, and so the man got to hear these stories, too, and started thinking about his sins and his future. He realized that he stood no chance and that he needed to atone for his sins. He sold his business, his house, and moved into the forest where he had lived for ten years already. He got paid in bread and candles, which he used for his altar. He would get up before sunrise and pay obeisances and pray, he would eat only once a day and, when walking around looking after the forest, he would wear sixty pound chains on his body, and not the golden chains either – it was not to show off but a voluntary austerity meant to atone for sins.

He said he liked this life at first but then thoughts about women and stuff started creeping in, leaving him confused. He hoped to atone for his previous sins but wasn’t sure he was saved from the new ones, and he wasn’t sure the Book was telling the truth either. He then gave a list of common doubts regarding Christian doctrine – how dead people are supposed to rise up? Who knows for sure that hell exists? What if it was written by popes only to scare ordinary people into obedience? What if austerities of a righteous life are all for nothing and there is no heaven waiting ahead? Why should people restrict their joy now if there is no certainly about joy in the afterlife? Is he wasting his life living in a forest? Wouldn’t it be better to return to the village and restart his professional career? Yeah, he had a lot of time to think about these things and this also tells us that he was also a neophyte on his spiritual journey.

Previously I described the police captain as a neophyte on the basis of doubts in his own chosen path and it was not very fair. This guy was a lot more doubtful than the captain but I would still insist there is progression between these two cases. Police captain was a karmi and this forest guy was a jnani. Police captain relied on religion for his enjoyment and this guy relied on it for liberation from suffering. It’s not the language Christians use and there is no hint of this progression from one case to the next in the diary but once you see it can’t be unseen.

Pilgrim’s reaction to these doubts was rather mature. He was amused that even simple folk, not just the urbanites, can grow into “freethinkers”. Nope, concluded the pilgrim – dark forces have equal access to everyone and simple people are probably even an easier prey. The solution was obviously to fight against doubts with the sword of the Scripture, so he took out his Philokalia and read out a passage by St. Hesychios saying that restriction of the senses does not bring results if not accompanied by directing one’s mind towards God. Atonement of sins is not nearly enough without cleansing the heart and the mind. The pilgrim explained that even if one decides to turn his heart to God but is still driven by fear of punishment then it’s no more than a business transaction and only unalloyed surrender is the way. It’s like he was reading from Srila Prabhupada (that St Hesychios’ passage is less clear, however). He similarly recommended chanting of the Holy Name as the only reliable means of self-realization. The Holy Name will not only guard one against temptations but it will fill one’s heart with genuine love of God, which is the real goal of human life. He also gave instructions on chanting, the man accepted his reasoning, and become peaceful.

Having sorted this out the pilgrim went to his dugout and suddenly it felt like being in God’s own palace for him – because what he treasured most at that moment was solitude and the company of Philokalia, and now it was provided over and above. He read the entire book, from start to finish, and he marveled at the depth and breadth of these topics. The only problem was that with so much to know and appreciate he wasn’t sure how to keep the thread of instructions on chanting, which was what was most important to him. He really wanted to find the secret to unceasing and self-manifested prayer in the heart. This is probably the first time the prayer was called “self-manifested” or “self-chanting”. He had remembered two instructions from the Bible telling him not to give up his quest for seemingly unattainable, otherwise known as “hunting for the rhino” in our parlay, so he was determined to find the answers.

Since he had chosen to be alone and books were of no help here he had no choice but to turn to the Holy Name for guidance. He gave himself completely to it and didn’t do anything whole day but chant, hoping that the Lord might respond to his inquiry. Then he fell asleep and in his dream he saw his spiritual master, the one who first told him about chanting and about Philokalia (he died in episode 6). The pilgrim was in guru’s ashram, like in the old days (less than a month ago), and the guru was telling him about glories of Philokalia, how it is a treasure chest of spiritual secrets but at the same time contains simple things for simple people, too. He said that for those who are not very wise it’s not recommended to read the whole book from cover to cover but look only at the chapters suitable for their level of development, so those seeking instructions on unceasing prayer should read Philokalia in the following order, copy-pasting from English translation again:

“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, Simeon the new theologian on the three forms of prayer and his discourse on faith, and after that the book of Callistus and Ignatius.”

That’s another list that needs to be dealt with separately. I’ve located some of these already and the only thing left is to actually read them, should be done in about an hour. Ha ha, I don’t think a week would be enough, but this stuff is interesting and it forms the background to pilgrim’s next realization so I don’t want to skip it and I want to stay on the same page, quite literally here.

The guru then added that after this one should read the prayers of the holy Callistus but the pilgrim couldn’t find it in the book. He then asked the guru for help and the guru quickly flipped a few pages and located it easily. “Here,” he said, “I’ll even underline it for you,” and he took a piece of a charcoal and put a mark in the book. When I grew up it was unthinkable to mark books this way but this was a personal copy and these people weren’t very cultured by today’s standards (says more about our standards than about real culture). Instructions on reading continued and broke off only when the pilgrim woke up. It was still dark out and he tried to memorize guru’s instructions while they were still fresh in his memory. He also pondered whether it was a ghost or the soul of the actual guru, or maybe just a dream. Thinking about options and explanations he got up and noticed that his Philokalia was on the table instead of under the pillow, and that it was opened, and then he found that the passage from his dream was actually underlined with a piece of charcoal lying nearby. This confirmed to the pilgrim that it wasn’t a dream but a real visit from his guru, made possible by the mercy of the Holy Name.

He then read the assigned passages, then read them again, and he felt the urge to try their advice in real life. This means that by the mercy of the Holy Name he got access to necessary passages in Philokalia and then, in turn, Philokalia implored him to chant. The book gave him sambandha – what is this inner prayer, how it pleases the heart, and how to distinguish this pleasure from the weeds of bhakti, which can sometimes appear indistinguishable.

The pilgrim started with locating his heart, as was advised by Simeon the New Theologian. One has to close his eyes and direct his mind to it. It’s a process of visualization and I normally don’t put much value on it, but I’ve seen it being practiced elsewhere so I don’t want to dismiss it out of hand. It’s not something we learn from Srila Prabhupada, which is a rather damning label by itself. Should I try it myself? Not sure about that. Anyway, the pilgrim tried this several times a day for half an hour each and for the first few days he saw nothing. I guess it’s easy to imagine one’s heart but to actually see it with the mind is a different thing and, by pilgrim’s account, it requires a significant amount of practice.

After he started sensing his heart and sensing its movement, the heartbeat, he started placing Jesus Prayer inside it, as was instructed by Gregory of Sinai, Callistus, and Ignatius. I really need to check their writings out. This was also synced with breathing – on the inhale he said first part of the prayer and on the exhale completed it with “have mercy on me”. This he had practiced for an hour at first, then for two hours, and if he felt tired or lazy he would open Philokalia and restore his confidence again. After three weeks of practice (should I still try it!?!) he started feeling pain in his heart which was then replaced by delightful warmth, consolation, and peace. This encouraged him to chant even more and as he directed more energy and efforts to chanting he started feeling great joy. Sometimes he would feel his heart bubbling with exultation, sometimes he would feel lightness and freedom in his heart, sometimes he would feel love towards Jesus and to the entire creation, too. Sometimes tears would flow from his eyes, sometimes he would feel gratefulness for the mercy shown to an insignificant person like himself. Sometimes he would have great insights in the words of the scripture and sometimes what was complicated and misunderstood appeared simple and clear as day. Sometimes the warmth from his heart would spread all over his body and he would feel Lord’s presence everywhere. Sometimes simply calling Lord’s name filled him with untold joy, and he started to realize Lord’s words that kingdom of God is within us.

From these experiences he noticed that inner prayer brings results in three ways – in the soul, in the mind, and in intelligence. In Christian language it’s in the spirit, in the feelings, and in revelations. “Revelations” here means realizations, attaining knowledge, and therefore I think it’s justified to equate it with intelligence, buddhi. He then gives examples of these three kinds of realizations but I don’t think it’s necessary to translate them all. The ability to understand animals was classified as “revelation”, for example, sweetness of love of God as “spirit”, warmth in the entire body as “feelings” and so on. It’s a lot of stuff we don’t experience right now so listing it and sorting it out correctly doesn’t seem like a useful endeavor.

Five months into the practice of praying (two months before he got to his dugout plus three months according to instructions from Philokalia) he got so used to the prayer that he did so without interruptions and then finally he felt that the prayer got a life of its own, that it didn’t require his conscious efforts anymore, it flowed entirely by itself, and it did so in the heart even when he was sleeping.

We will leave the story at this point, just before the loggers came and a new chapter started. All I can say that in five months he achieved that which might not be attainable for me in my entire life. With this success in mind it’s hard to dismiss his method of visualizing the heart and placing the prayer inside it. On the other hand, it’s not what Srila Prabhupada taught us and so some reconciliation is necessary. It’s like manasika japa – I know some devotees swear by it but there is no way I’d replace any of my sixteen rounds with it. I’m open to trying it on top of sixteen but so far I haven’t noticed anything unusual about it. Maybe need to try more. The pilgrim didn’t notice anything at first, too, so it might require weeks of concentrated work, plus he was living in the forest with minimum distractions. This one episode with Lokanatha Swami threw me off balance for a week, what to speak of taking in some mundane news, like a war in Israel or Belarus grounding a plane. If we let our minds to indulge in these things we can forget about unceasing, self-generating prayer in the heart. Of this I’m confident. Nevertheless, it still shows the ideal conditions for chanting and it gives hope and encouragement to try it, so why not? What was that about hunting the rhinos?

I’m still in two minds about this. Maybe I should read those instructions in Philokalia first, and I have another source for “meditations” like the one described above. I should probably try those, too – visualizing things, controlling the mind in a sense of directing it to certain locations in space. What kind of space is that? Special kind of mind space? There is so much to know about these things, and there is also “simply chanting is enough”. So I’ll leave it at that.

Hari Parsad’s Guide to Smarana

Hari Parsad Prabhu posts regular installments, giving his thoughts to the process of smaranam, on Facebook. He calls it “Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa” and his latest post is #19. It’s nice to follow it as new posts come out but very difficult to read the whole thing from the beginning, so I decided to create one long article here, updating it with new posts as they come out and, perhaps, interspersing it with my own comments, though I don’t really want to do that. I just want to keep it all in one place. There are tons of interesting quotes and arguments which should be remembered regardless.

For now it will be just FB dump, later I might remove smileys and “meta” information such as dates etc. I don’t know who many of the people in the pictures are.

Disclaimer: I do not endorse his views in many places, I just don’t want to make fuss out of it right now. Maybe later I will add comments.

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 1) ~​

A previous post of mine contained the following verse:​

mano-madhye sthito mantro​
mantra-madhye sthitaṁ manaḥ​
etad dhi japa-lakṣaṇam​

The mantra firmly situated in the mind; the mind firmly situated in the mantra; such a seamless connection of the mind and mantra is the characteristic of [ideal] japa. — (Gaura-govindārcana-smaraṇa-paddhatiḥ, 64)​

We all should attempt to properly understand the message that the verse is trying to convey. The verse says that the mantra should be situated firmly in the mind, not simply in the ears. When a sādhaka chants using the tongue, sound-vibrations travel through the pathways of the sādhaka’s ears. These sound-vibrations are supposed to reach their intended destination i.e. the mind. If the mind is absent, the sound-vibrations will not reach their destination and ideal japa will not occur.​

It is therefore NOT sufficient to say that — “Simply chant and hear”. The ideal statement is — “Chant and hear attentively“. Here is a quote from Srila Prabhupada about both types of chanting:​

Devotee: Prabhupāda, when we first got to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, a way to concentrate is to just concentrate on the vibration. Should we try to strive for…​

Prabhupāda: No concentrate on the vibration. Simply hear. It is very easy. If I say “Hare” you can hear, even without concentration. It is so easy.​

Devotee: But…​

Prabhupāda: But if you hear attentively, that is required. (Talk on Bhagavad-gītā, 13 Jan 1969) ​

[End of Quote]​

The last statement of Prabhupada is very important — “But if you hear attentively, that is required”. Although Prabhupada initially acknowledges chanting without concentration, he later emphasizes attentive japa. Therefore, simply saying “chant and hear” is not the description of ideal japa. Prabhupada wanted more, so an intelligent soul should not settle for less.​

Next Question — How should we hear attentively and involve the mind? In order to do that, it is required that the mind should be dissociated from all other thoughts and engaged only in attentively receiving the sound-vibration coming through the pathways of the ears. We can try this once — chanting one mantra with the tongue, ears and mind centered only around the sound-vibration. The tongue acting as the transmitter, the ears acting as the pathway and the mind acting as the receiver of the mantra. ​

This one mantra that we chanted is ideal japa as defined in the verse above. The effort is not so much in aligning the tongue or the ears, but there is major effort involved in constantly dissociating the mind from all other activity and aligning it in japa. ​

A single mantra chanted with the proper alignment of the tongue-ear-mind tripod gives much better effect than many mantras chanted without such alignment, since such aligned japa fulfils the criteria of ideal japa given in śāstra. Similarly, a single round with proper alignment gives much better effect than many unaligned rounds. This doesn’t mean that one should reduce one’s japa to chant only ideal japa. One should chant one’s prescribed japa, and gradually build up on the number of ideal mantras that one is chanting. ​

Once again — The mantra firmly situated in the mind; the mind firmly situated in the mantra; such a seamless connection of the mind and mantra is the characteristic of [ideal] japa.​

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 23-March-2021.

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 2) ~​

The previous part described the alignment of the tongue-ear-mind tripod to achieve ideal japa. Notice how Srila Rupa Goswami describes Krishna’s names in relation to this very tongue-ear-mind tripod in his famous verse from the Vidagdha-mādhava. A fresh translation of this verse is as follows:​

tuṇḍe tāṇḍavinī ratiṁ vitanute tuṇḍāvalī-labdhaye​
karṇa-kroḍa-kaḍambinī ghaṭayate karṇārbudebhyaḥ spṛhām​
cetaḥ-prāṅgaṇa-saṅginī vijayate sarvendriyāṇāṁ kṛtiṁ​
no jāne janitā kiyadbhir amṛtaiḥ kṛṣṇeti varṇa-dvayī​

Translation: When the bi-syllabic name “kṛṣ-ṇa” enters the mouth, it dances around like an expert dancer and distributes pure love, so that it can get many more mouths as its reward. On entering the fertile grounds of the ear-holes, this name sprouts and replicates vigorously like the kaḍambī-śāka (water spinach), thus generating the desire to have tens of millions of such ears for further replication. Finally when it attains the touch of the courtyard of the mind (consciousness), it conquers the activities of all other senses and reigns victorious. I do not know how many varieties of nectar have gone into the formation of this bi-syllabic name “kṛṣ-ṇa”. — (Vidagdha-mādhavam, 1.15)​

We can note how the first three lines of the verse begin with the terms — tuṇḍa, karṇa and cetaḥ — (mouth, ear, mind). Thus Srila Rupa Goswami has also clearly identified the same tongue-ear-mind tripod in this famous verse. ​

As specified in the previous part, keeping the mind focused on hearing one’s japa is most difficult. We may be chanting audibly, but the mind closes its doors and runs somewhere else. Many individuals try various techniques to subdue the mind. Some sit in groups and chant loudly, some sit alone but chant each syllable very loudly and some vigorously move the hand holding the beads to keep the attention focused.​

All these techniques are good and may even give some results, but then many individuals feel that such japa is more or less an exercise to beat the mind into submission. Instead of trying to control the mind, the previous ācāryas have suggested that japa itself should be adjusted sometimes in such a way that the mind has no choice but to focus on it. The Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (17.155 – 158) specifies three types of japa:​

(1) Vācika-japa — Chanting audibly with clear pronunciation of all syllables and lips moving distincly.​

(2) Upāṁśu-japa — Muttering the mantra in such a way that it is audible only to oneself. Lips move slightly.​

(3) Mānasika-japa — No verbal utterance of mantra. Only mental sounds while visualizing each syllable and word as it is chanted. Lips should not move at all.​ The tongue however may move slightly inside the closed mouth as we chant mentally.

The Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (17.156) clearly says — śreyān syād uttarottaraḥ — these types of japa are progressively better in quality. In other words, Upāṁśu-japa (muttering) is much better than Vācika-japa (audible chanting) and Mānasika-japa (Mental chanting with visualization of syllables) is much better than the first two. The reason is obvious — Muttering requires greater focus of the mind on the soft-spoken syllables and Mānasika-japa is a purely mental activity, so there is no chance of the mind slipping out. We can try chanting ten mantras in the mānasika way and see if the mind slips out. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The previous ācāryas are absolutely correct on this point.​

At the same time, chanting entire rounds of mānasika-japa may not be possible for everyone. Therefore, vācika-japa or upāṁśu-japa is often recommended by gurus to various disciples. According to the adhikāra given to us by our guru, we should execute our japa as best as possible. Whatever type of japa we are chanting, we should remember that — The mantra firmly situated in the mind; the mind firmly situated in the mantra; such a seamless connection of the mind and mantra is the characteristic of [ideal] japa.​ ​

(To be continued …)

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 24-March-2021.

From comments:

Kishori Jani
So interesting that the most difficult is possibly the manasik Japa since the mind needs to be fully in control!
Could you please elaborate on the difference then between mansik Japa or listening to Hari Katha and meditating on the pastimes of the Lord. Since the Lord is non different to His names, form, Lilas etc… Can we substitute Hari Katha with mansik Japa?

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Mānasika-japa falls in the category of that japa which is overlapping with smaraṇa. Listening to hari-kathā falls directly in the category of śravaṇa. Meditating on Krishna’s pastimes falls purely in the category of smaraṇa. Even in smaraṇa, the ācāryas have distinguished between nāma-smaraṇa, rūpa-smaraṇa, guṇa-smaraṇa, līlā-smaraṇa etc. Although krishna is absolute, a rasika is one who knows how to identify the distinctions and relish each distinction separately. The Bhakti-sandarbha is a great example of description of such distinctions. Dāso’smi 🙂 /\ò

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 3) ~​​

In the previous part, three types of japa were specified — (1) Vācika (2) Upāṁśu and (3) Mānasika. The condition of ideal japa is that — the mantra should be firmly fixed in the mind, and the mind should be firmly fixed in the mantra.​

We can note how in mānasika-japa, the mind itself is turned into the chanter as well as the receiver of the mantra, thereby eliminating the role of the ear. Thus, the mind has no other option but to focus completely upon such japa, and the condition of ideal japa is immediately fulfilled. This is why the ācāryas call it the most beneficial for the chanter. There are many individuals who are uncomfortable with the concept of mānasika-japa, but when they chant their own second-initiation mantras, they too will agree that upāṁśu-japa is preferable over vācika-japa and mānasika-japa is preferable over vācika and upāṁśu-japa.​

Mānasika-japa is also the great savior of those who are speech disabled. The Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya, 15.110) quotes a verse from the Padyāvalī which glorifies Krishna’s name as — amūka-loka-sulabho — “Easily accessible for everyone except the speech disabled”. Mānasika-japa makes Krishna-nāma overcome this difficulty and truly makes it — mūka-loka-sulabho — “Easily accessible even for the speech-disabled”. For second-initiaton mantras, mānasika-japa reigns as the undisputed king of all types of japa. When it comes to the Hare Krishna mahā-mantra however, most gurus recommend soft and audible variations of japa, since large quantities of japa has to be chanted, and the mood is to benefit other living entities besides oneself.​

Moving ahead, some individuals confuse the terms “japa” and “kīrtana” and consider them to be synonymous. This understanding is not correct. The previous ācāryas have differentiated between japa and kīrtana:​

laghūccāre japa haya uccāre kīrtana​

Translation: Soft muttering of mantra becomes japa. Audible utterance becomes kīrtana. (Prema-vivarta, 19.15)​

This raises a new doubt — “We already know of three types of japa — vācika, upāṁśu and mānasika. If only soft muttering (upāṁśu) is termed as japa, then what are the other two considered as?​”

In reply to this, the ācāryas have clearly said that not all japa is created equal. ​ Srila Sanatana Goswami says in his commentary to Hari-bhakti-vilāsa that these three types of japa fall under three distinct categories:​

(1) Vācika-japa — Although many call it japa, but technically it falls under the category of kīrtana.​

(2) Mānasika-japa — Although many call it japa, but technically it falls under the category of smaraṇa.​

Therefore only:​

(3) Upāṁśu-japa — Falls purely under a distinct category of its own named “japa”.​

In other words, Upāṁśu-japa is that activity which can be truly called “japa without any major involvement of elements of kīrtana or smaraṇa”. ​

It should also be noted that the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa calls the difference between soft-japa and audible japa as — īṣad-bheda (minute difference). Even though there is a minute difference, acknowledging this difference is important so that we do not confuse these two terms for each other. Soft-japa is in its own category, whereas audible japa falls in the category of kīrtana.​

When it comes to practical execution of bhakti, japa and kīrtana are distinct limbs. Often, devotees engaging in solitary japa think that they are engaging in kīrtana, but this is not true unless they are chanting audibly. As soon as japa is chanted audibly, it enters into the category of kīrtana. As soon as it is muttered softly, it goes back to the category of japa. As soon as it is done purely using the mind, it enters the category of smaraṇa. Whether we are engaging in japa, kīrtana or smaraṇa of Krishna-nāma, we should remember that — The mantra firmly situated in the mind; the mind firmly situated in the mantra; such a seamless connection of the mind and mantra is the characteristic of [ideal] japa.​ 🙂 /\ò

(To be continued…)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 25-March-2021.

From comments:

Tilak Groger
Dandavat Pranam Prabhu,
Thank you for writing this, I had long wondered which category manasik and vacik japa fall into, this very much helps clarify.
One question however, how do we understand these technicalities in regard to our obligation to 16 rounds? You mentioned that these differences are minimal yet important, are we to understand it is ideal to chant our 16 rounds as Upamsu japa? Or have I fallen into niyamagraha thinking by thinking this?
Thank you.

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Dandavats Tilak Prabhu. Tomorrow’s article will focus on how to see these in relation to one’s japa. One thing is for sure, the japa of the mantras received during second initiation is not recommended to be performed in a vācika manner. Thank you prabhu for kindly taking out the time and reading the articles. Dāso’smi 🙂 /\ò

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 4) ~​

As explained previously, japa is slightly distinct from kīrtana. It is even more distinct from saṁ-kīrtana (audible chanting in the association of many individuals). Kīrtana can be executed by a single individual, but saṁkīrtana requires multiple individuals (minimum three). The yuga-dharma for the age of Kali is kīrtana/saṁkīrtana, and those engaging in soft japa should understand that they have to put separate efforts for engaging in such kīrtana/saṁkīrtana. The previous ācāryas have mercifully made everything clear for us.​

From certain individuals, we may sometimes hear instructions regarding harināma that may truly end up confusing us. Some individuals say that loud japa is the only japa that should be chanted, since it is much superior and benefits others. Individuals who give such instructions may be confusing japa related instructions with kīrtana related instructions. One should understand that when it comes to japa, the soft-sounded variation is better than the audible one ; and when it comes to kīrtana — the greater the sweet audibility, the better the kīrtana. Between japa and kīrtana however, it is obvious that kīrtana stands out superior.​

Therefore, we should not get confused when we hear instructions such as — uccaiḥ śata-guṇaṁ bhavet — “Loud chanting is hundred times more beneficial” (Caitanya-bhāgavata, Ādi, 16.274). Notice how conflicting this is with the instruction from the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa quoted previously which says that silent variations of japa are better than audible variations. Without getting confused, we should clearly understand that the instruction in Hari-bhakti-vilāsa pertains strictly to japa, whereas the instruction glorifying loud chanting in the Caitanya-bhāgavata and other literature pertain strictly to kīrtana. Once again, when it comes to japa, softer is better , and when it comes to kīrtana, more audible is better. Nāmācārya Śrī Haridāsa Ṭhākura clearly identifies these two by their names:​

japile śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāma āpane se tare​
ucca-saṅkīrtane para upakāra kare​

By performing “japa” of Krishna-nāma, one delivers oneself. By performing loud “saṅkīrtana”, one also benefits others. (Caitanya-bhāgavata, Ādi, 16.281)​

Thus, even Śrī Haridāsa Ṭhākura has distinctly identified “japa” and “saṅkīrtana” in the verse. He has understood the distinction between these two categories clearly, and we should follow in his footsteps. Instead of trying to erase the distinctions between japa and kīrtana, we should appreciate the line of demarcation that separates these two limbs of bhakti, and we should respect the distinct rules that are mentioned in śāstra for these two limbs. Confusing rules for japa with rules for kīrtana will plunge us in an ocean of doubt, and in turn will also drown all those who are listening to our confusing instructions.​

Having understood this, there is also a frequently asked question — “What type of japa should we chant on our beads — Mānasika, Upāṁśu or Vācika” ? There is no single answer to this question. Every disciple is supposed to receive their tailor-made instructions on japa from their respective bhajana-gurus. An uttama-adhikārī bhajana-guru who is well-versed in śāstra and has reached the advanced stages of realization in bhajana can definitely impart personalized instructions to us. The Prema-vilāsa (Chp 24) says that Śrī Haridāsa Ṭhākura chanted one lakh each of vācika, upāṁśu and mānasika japa. On the other hand, Śrīla Prabhupāda himself always favored upāṁśu-japa. Here is an excerpt from the book named “You Cannot Leave Boston”:​

In order to hear the holy name distinctly, the devotees would have to vibrate some sound. In his purport to Ādi 17.32, Prabhupāda writes that chanting is simple, but it has to be taken seriously. He mentions how the lips should move and we should hear our own sound vibration. Prabhupāda used the word “silent” to indicate “soft.” He did say, however, that loud or soft, our chanting should not disturb the spiritual master. Prabhupāda became annoyed on occasion with his servants, secretaries, and other devotees for chanting too loudly when he was trying to work. When we chant, we have to learn to be simultaneously attentive and considerate toward others. ​
[End of Quote]​

Thus, different ācāryas prefer different types of japa, and we should get our own personalized instruction from our bhajana-gurus. It is useless to take the personalized instructions given by one’s guru and force them upon others. Others may not share with us the enthusiastic level of śraddhā that we have in our bhajana-gurus, and to try to instruct such people in hari-nāma may quickly turn into the ninth offense. Individuals who want to paint the entire world in a single instruction are unfortunately attempting to spoil the variegatedness of bhakti. Without trying to give personalized instructions to anyone and everyone, we should follow our bhajana-guru’s instructions nicely, and while we do that, we should always remember that — The mantra firmly situated in the mind; the mind firmly situated in the mantra; such a seamless connection of the mind and mantra is the characteristic of [ideal] japa. 🙂 /\ò

(To be continued…)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 26-March-2021.

From comments:

Abhishek Gautam Anaṅga-MohanaDās
Hare Krishna Dandvat pranam prji
Could you please clarify the below query
As yuga dharma is samkirtan/kirtan then why japa is prescribed to most of us as our daily sadhana?…. Although both are angas of bhakti,as you mentioned superiority of Samkirtan over japa in current age in the article…for congregration devotees who are not living in temple, samkirtan is not a daily affair so how can one imbibe naam samkirtan in his sadhana bhakti.

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Abhishek Gautam Anaṅga-MohanaDās Prabhu, it’s a fact that the yuga-dharma is kīrtana/saṅkīrtana. At the same time, there is a tradition in all Vedic sampradāyas to chant silent japa after initiation. In most sampradāyas, the japa-mantra is not even to be revealed to others. In our sampradāya too we do not reveal the second initiation japa mantras to others. Only mahamantra is revealed.
It was Mahaprabhu who popularized congregational saṅkīrtana in this age. Traditionally, the guru would ask the disciple to chant japa. Therefore, tradition has been preserved in the form of japa and congregational saṅkīrtana has also been introduced in our sampradāya.
Moreover, japa can also be performed purely as a solitary activity whereas saṅkīrtana requires other people and preferably musical instruments. Japa can also be performed at a faster speed as compared to singing kīrtana, and hence greater quantity of harināma flows through the ears and mind in japa.
Previously in India, people would gather together on certain designated nights in temples/courtyards and perform all-night kīrtana. Gṛhasthas would find time for it. All this was part of mahāprabhu’s culture. If it is not easily possible today for gṛhasthas, then there are other forms of kīrtana viz. giving bhāgavatam class etc. that can be performed. Gṛhasthas should try to gather on weekends and organize saṅkīrtana. It is a hundred times more powerful than japa so whatever benefit was accrued by an entire week of japa can easily be accrued by performing saṅkīrtana on the weekend /\ò

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 5) ~​​

We now already know that — The mantra should be firmly situated in the mind, and the mind should be firmly situated in the mantra. For a moment, let’s step back and try to analyze these two conditions of ideal japa. Why is the same fact spoken twice by interchanging the subject and predicate? Is it not sufficient to simply say that — The mind should be situated in the mantra? What is the need for saying that — The mantra should also be situated in the mind?​

To understand the reason behind this, we should know that mantra-japa for a bhakti-yogī is not simply a yogic practice for focusing the mind on the mantra. Between the mind and the mantra, the mind is somewhat in our control, and so we can inspire it to fix itself on the mantra. At the same time, what is not in our control is the mantra, and this mantra is not simply a set of dead syllables. It is caitanyaḥ rasa-vigrahaḥ — “Self-conscious personification of rasa”. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya, 17.133)​

Therefore, in order that the two conditions of ideal japa to be fulfilled, it is also important that the mantra mercifully agrees to be situated in our minds. Although with some effort we can fix the mind in the mantra, but the mantra is not a dead commodity that we can purchase from a super-store and fix as an attachment within the mind. The mantra has its own personality and its own independence. In many ways, it is non-different from the presiding deity of the mantra. Thus, gaining favor of the mantra is also important so that it will mercifully reveal itself to us and agree to situate itself in our minds. For a jñāna-yogī or an aṣṭāṅga-yogī, the mantra is a stepping stone to attain a higher goal. For a bhakti-yogī however — nāmaiva paramā gatiḥ — “The mantra and the personality denoted by the mantra are the highest goals to be achieved” — (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 11.467).​

Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī also says in his Krama-sandarbha commentary to Śrīmad-bhāgavatam (6.2.20) that the utterance of hari-nāma is of two types — (1) kevalatvena — mere utterance of syllables ; (2) sneha-saṁyuktatvena — endowed with sneha (loving feelings of belongingness towards Krishna). To attain the second stage of sneha-saṁyukta-nāma is the ideal japa-related goal, and it is certainly possible if harināma mercifully agrees to walk on the pathways of our minds.​

Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī therefore tells us clearly:​

ataḥ śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāmādi​
na bhaved grāhyam indriyaiḥ​
sevonmukhe hi jihvādau​
svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ​

Translation: Thus, one should know that the names, forms etc. of Krishna are not graspable by the material senses. However when the sādhaka becomes inclined towards service, then such names etc. manifest on the senses of the sādhaka by their own volition. — (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.234)​

So the certain way to ensure that the mantra also fixes itself voluntarily in our minds is to render service to the mantra. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī rendered such service by composing many prayers of glorification viz. Nāmāṣṭakam. We too should follow in his footsteps and utter harināma by considering it our worshipable deity. We should not consider it a set of dead syllables to be used to control the mind. Ultimately, it is dependent upon harināma if it wants to manifest in our minds through the via-medium of japa. We should continue to chant our prescribed japa as ordered by our guru-janas and always expect the unconditional mercy of harināma.​

In case such mercy doesn’t come to us through japa, we should not lose hope and should never give up such japa. The names of Hari do not only manifest in our lives through japa. There is another limb of bhakti that is waiting nearby to deliver sneha-saṁyukta-nāma in our lives, and that limb is the undisputed king of all limbs named “kīrtana”. When everything else fails, kīrtana will arrive in our lives with all its multiple forms to ensure that we become completely, transcendentally maddened in Krishna-prema. This limb of kīrtana will be discussed in the next part.​ 🙂 /\ò

(To be continued after Gaura-pūrṇimā …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 27-March-2021.

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 6) ~​

A lot has been said about japa till now, and before we move ahead into kīrtana, there are a few qualities that sādhakas should try to inculcate in order to achieve high quality japa. Although these qualities are in relation to soft/silent japa of second-initiation mantras, they can also be effectively applied to the chanting of harināma:​

manaḥ-saṁharaṇaṁ śaucaṁ​
maunaṁ mantrārtha-cintanam​
avyagratvam anirvedo​

Translation: (1) Withholding the mind from all other activity ; (2) Maintaining internal and external purity ; (3) Not uttering anything besides the mantra ; (4) Focusing on the meaning of the mantra ; (5) Non-hastiness and (6) Non-despondency — these qualities are the causes of great attainments in japa. (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 17.129)​

We now begin with the definition of kīrtana. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī defines kīrtana as follows:​

uccairbhāṣā tu kīrtanam​

Translation: Loud utterance of names, pastimes, qualities etc. of Bhagavān is known as kīrtana. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.145)​

We can immediately notice how kīrtana is not simply limited to audible glorification of Krishna’s name. It is also the audible glorification of his form, pastimes, associates etc. Therefore, speaking Krishna-līlā to a person (or even to a wall) is also kīrtana ; reciting the verses of the Bhāgavatam is also kīrtana ; speaking the glories of a devotee to another devotee is also kīrtana.​

What is NOT truly kīrtana however is to record someone’s voice and then play it back using an artificial medium. The definition itself says — uccairbhāṣā — “Loud utterance”. Utterance is the function of voluntarily pushing out air from the lungs using the mouth along with various articulation points viz. lips, lower palate, upper palate etc. Such utterance cannot be performed by a machine. Moreover, utterance also needs “conscious choice”, which a machine lacks completely.​

The performer of kīrtana receives immense benefit, but a machine cannot receive such benefits since it has no soul. Therefore, true kīrtana is something performed in real-time by real-life individuals. Machine emanated sounds are kīrtana-vat (similar to kīrtana, but not exactly fulfilling all the criteria of kīrtana). Imagine a temple where the pūjārī, the audience, the kīrtana singers, instrument players, bhāgavatam class speakers and book distributors are all programmed robots. If such a thought appears depressing to us, then we should be immensely thankful next time we see a devotee who is performing real-life kīrtana for real-life devotees in a real-time environment, either by singing, speaking śāstra, book distribution etc. These individuals are the front-line soldiers counteracting the influence of Kali-yuga and they deserve all our support and love.​ We can watch a video of tasty food being cooked, but watching real food being cooked right in front of us is a much better experience. Similarly, we can listen to a recording of a kīrtana, but hearing it live is the experience of the spiritual world.

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 30-March-2021.

From comments:

Shivang Thakkar
Hare Krishna prabhu! So the audio/video recordings of classes we hear doesn’t fall in the category of Kirana? And does it benefit the speaker and the hearer?

Hari Pārṣada Dās
my pranams prabhu. when we are listening to an audio, we are performing śravaṇa. There is no individual performing kīrtana in such a situation. Just as śravaṇa requires a living person who is performing the act of śravaṇa, similarly kīrtana also needs a person who is performing the act of kīrtana.
As i specified in the post, tapes are kīrtana-vat (similar to kīrtana but not fulfilling all the criteria). A person who listens to tapes may receive benefit of śravaṇa in some cases, but there is nobody who receives the benefit of performing kīrtana. /\ò

Kishori Jani
Hari Pārṣada Dās thank you for clarifying prabhu.
I’m still confused about listening to lectures/Kirtans and getting the benefit of shravanam atleast?
Isn’t shravana just as powerful as kirtana? (Or Blind uncle is better than no uncle.) If we can’t physically be in a live Kirtan, wouldn’t hearing the kirtan recording give us the full benefit of shravana? And is that benefit any less than that of actual performance of kirtana? 🙏🙏

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Kishori Mataji yes when participating in a kīrtana is not possible, śravaṇa and other limbs of bhakti are always to be performed. One can also individually perform kīrtana. Hearing a recording gives the benefit of śravaṇa in those cases when one is listening attentively.

Ruchira S. Datta
What about singing the response part while listening to a recorded kirtana? Is that individual live kīrtana on the respondent’s part?

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Singing in any manner (uccair bhāṣā) is kīrtana. However, for there to be saṅkīrtana, three individuals must be present. /\ò

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 7) ~​

A person who performs kīrtana may or may not be keeping Śrī Hari in his thoughts, but Śrī Hari definitely keeps such a person in his thoughts. This is clearly specified in the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam:​

nāma-vyāharaṇaṁ viṣṇor​
yatas tad-viṣayā matiḥ​

Translation: Simply by chanting the names of Viṣṇu, the devotees attract him, which causes him to focus his attention upon the devotee. (Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 6.2.10)​

Śāstra also recommends that in case one cannot focus the mind upon the Lord by any other means, it is best to perform loud kīrtana. This is specified in the text named Bhagavan-nāma-kaumudī as follows:​

naktaṁ divā ca gata-bhīr jita-nidra eko​
nirviṇṇa īkṣita-patho mita-bhuk praśāntaḥ​
yady acyute bhagavati sa mano na sajjen​
nāmāni tad-rati-karāṇi paṭhed vilajjaḥ​

In daytime or night, if a fearless, sleep-conquering, detached, firmly determined, controlled, tranquil person is unable to fix his mind in Lord Achyuta, then he should loudly and unabashedly utter names of the Lord, for such names generate attraction towards the Lord. (Bhagavan-nāma-kaumudī)​

When kīrtana is accompanied by musical instruments, it becomes easier for the mind to focus upon the glorification. However, musical instruments sound good only when used in moderation. Too many instruments playing too loudly can spoil the taste of the kīrtana. The ācāryas say — madhura madhura madhura bāje — All instruments have to play harmoniously in a sweet manner. Instruments that are not sweet sounding are thus not very appreciated in kīrtanas.​

The kīrtana of the Lord is of the following types:​

(a) Nāma-kīrtana — Glorifying the Lord’s names.​

(b) Rūpa-kīrtana — Glorifying the Lord’s forms.​

(c) Guṇa-kīrtana — Glorifying the Lord’s qualities.​

(d) Līlā-kīrtanam — Glorifying the Lord’s pastimes.​

Saṁ-kīrtana is the practice of congregational glorification. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says — bahubhir militvā kīrtanaṁ saṅkīrtanam ity ucyate — “The kīrtana performed by many individuals gathered together is known as saṅkīrtana.” (Bhakti-sandarbha, Anuccheda 269)​

In the Gauḍīya-saṅkīrtana festivals, a ceremony named Adhivāsa is performed before the festival to invite Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu and his associates to the saṅkīrtana festival. When Mahāprabhu is thus invited, all the songs pertaining to kṛṣṇa-līlā are sung for his pleasure. In this way, saṅkīrtana of Krishna’s names, forms, qualities, pastimes etc. is performed for the pleasure of Gaura. This simultaneously pleases Krishna and Gaura, and is the ideal of Gauḍīya-kīrtana.​

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 1-April-2021.

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 8)

Speaking upon the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam is also kīrtana. There is a standard established in śāstra which guides us how to speak upon the Bhāgavatam. It is unfortunate however when such standards are neglected in a Bhāgavatam class. To speak on the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam is a great opportunity for service. It should not be wasted in useless elaborations on politics, left/right wing agenda promotions, needless social justice issues etc.​

Individuals who have come to listen to us are expected to be rasikas. They have come with the intention to learn something new about the Bhāgavatam. Giving the audience what it doesn’t desire is a sure way of spoiling their taste. There are thousands of platforms available in the world outside for politics, social justice etc. Why spoil the prestige of the vyāsa-āsana for such purposes?​

It is best to explain Śrīmad-bhāgavatam according to the standards of an ideal explanation given in śāstra. The ideal given in śāstra is as follows:​

pada-cchedaḥ padārthoktir​
vigraho vākya-yojanā​
ākṣepasya samādhānaṁ​
vyākhyānaṁ pañca-lakṣaṇam​

Translation: A vyākhyāna (complete explanation) of any śāstra consists of five items:​

1) Pada-cchedaḥ — breaking down the text into individual terms.​

2) Padārtha-uktiḥ — explaining the meaning of each and every term.​

3) Vigrahaḥ — explaining the grammatical breakdown of difficult terms.​

4) Vākya-yojanā — forming a meaningful sentence by showing the connection between the various terms. This is also known as anvaya.​

5) Ākṣepasya samādhānam — the resolution of various doubts of the listeners by giving one’s realizations upon the text.​

— (Parāśara-upapurāṇa, 18.18)​

We can immediately notice how the first four are usually included in the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam published by Śrīla Prabhupāda. He has expertly ensured that those who are speaking on the Bhāgavatam will follow the first four items of an ideal explanation. The very purpose of speaking word-for-word, meaning of each word and translation is to follow the ideal standards of explanation.​

The fifth element of an ideal explanation given above is dependent on the speaker. If the speaker is well-trained and has heard śāstra from well-qualified gurus, he/she will be able to easily explain the Bhāgavatam and keep the talk centered around the verse. On the other hand, a person who is not well-trained may deviate from the topic at hand and may start peddling his/her own political, social, personal agenda in the class.​

It is important to understand that speaking upon the Bhāgavatam is also a “sevā”. The speaker is rendering sevā towards the audience, so he/she should be cautious not to end up rendering disservice towards them. A single dead fly in a box of sweets can potentially give diarrhoea to the entire marriage party that eats such sweets. Similarly, a single arasika speaker can spoil the mood of hundreds and thousands of listeners by misusing vyāsādeva’s platform. Sādhus, please be careful!​ /\ò

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 2-April-2021.

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 9) ~​

In the previous part, speaking on Śrīmad-bhāgavatam as a form of kīrtana was explained. Speaking a general class is one form of kīrtana, but it doesn’t have to stop there. There is something beyond general Bhāgavatam classes. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī calls it — śrīmad-bhāgavatārthānām āsvādo rasikaiḥ saha — “Relishing the deeper meanings of the Bhāgavatam in a select rasika audience.” (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.90)​

In a general class, we are not aware of the mood as well as intention of various individuals in the audience. Some may be sitting simply to find faults. Some are most uncomfortable in discussing topics of rasa. If we try to speak confidential topics in such an environment, we will most likely end up regretting our decision. Our aim should be to find like-minded rasika devotees who are expert and non-hesitant in relishing the rasas of Śrīmad-bhāgavatam.​

The second and third verses of the Bhāgavatam say clearly that the Bhāgavatam is truly meant for the non-envious rasikas. In a private, like-minded, non-envious, rasika audience, the true relishment of Śrīmad-bhāgavatam can take place. In such private gatherings, the name, form, qualities, pastimes, associates of Krishna can be glorified without any hesitation. In such an assembly, there is such powerful Krishna-kathā that one’s heart melts in love of Krishna, and one feels genuine spontaneous attraction towards the Lord. This experience cannot be described in words.​

One must always endeavour to reach the platform where one can become a rasika (connoisseur) of the Bhāgavatam. A person who swims only in the shallow waters of the ocean cannot attain any jewels. Similarly, a person who is satisfied simply by a cursory reading of the Bhāgavatam will not be able to discover the rasas that are hidden within it. Śrīla Prabhupāda always wanted his followers to read the Bhāgavatam from multiple angles in great depth. ​

Ācāryas of the past have sacrificed a lot for relishing the Bhāgavatam in like-minded association. For relishing the Bhāgavatam, Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī risked his job, spoke a lie and suffered imprisonment ; the devotee poet Śrī Harisūri vowed not to eat anything in the day until he had finished reading twelve chapters of the Bhāgavatam ; and Śrīla Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī left all of his possessions. In order to bring the same message of the Bhāgavatam to the entire world, Śrīla Prabhupāda took the greatest risk of his life. If we can become serious students of the Bhāgavatam by following in the footsteps of the previous ācāryas, our service of kīrtana will attain success.​

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 4-April-2021.

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 10) ~​

Much has been spoken about kīrtana and the various methods to execute it. We now focus upon one of the most neglected aspects of bhajana. This aspect is named — smaraṇa. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī very clearly said in his Upadeśāmṛta (Nectar of Instruction, Verse 😎 — sukīrtanānusmṛtyoḥ …. rasanā-manasī niyojya — “One should invest one’s tongue in chanting and one’s mind in repeated smaraṇa.”​

Smaraṇa is an indispensable part of those who wish to cultivate rāgānugā-bhajana. In the Rāga-vartma-candrikā, Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī speaks clearly about this — smaraṇasyātra rāgānugāyaṁ mukhyatvaṁ rāgasya mano-dharmatvāt — “Smaraṇa is the main element of rāgānugā bhakti, since such rāgānugā-bhakti is mainly a function of the mind”. Even after knowing this, there are many who willingly neglect smaraṇa, and thus execute only śravaṇa and kīrtana in the domain of vaidhī-bhakti.​

A person who doesn’t execute rāgānugā-bhakti can certainly attain perfection through vaidhī-bhakti, but their perfection has limitations. Devotees on the path of vaidhī-bhakti cannot attain Goloka Vṛndāvana. The Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Ādi, 3.15) says clearly — vidhi-bhaktye vraja-bhāva pāite nāhi śakti — “Simply by following such vaidhī-bhakti, one cannot attain the loving sentiments of the devotees in Vrajabhūmi”. The writing is clear on the wall. Individuals who neglect rāgānugā-bhakti and smaraṇa and instead are busy trying to find shortcuts to the spiritual world will not be able to attain the mood and sentiments of the residents of Goloka Vrindavan.​

For this reason, Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura also said the following in his Prema-bhakti-candrikā:​

sādhana smaraṇa līlā, ihāte nā kara helā​
kāya mane kariyā susāra​

Translation: Never neglect your sādhana and smaraṇa of Krishna-līlā. Perfect your spiritual body in your mind carefully. (Song 1, Verse 14)​

There are many individuals who promise shortcuts to the spiritual world. Some individuals say — just chant X number of rounds every day and you will attain Goloka. Some others say — just follow this particular paramparā and you will attain perfection ; just pull the ropes of the chariot in the ratha-yātrā and you will never come back to the material world, etc. One has to understand that all these so-called promised shortcuts are good for encouraging new devotees to become more serious in bhakti, but only the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam will tell us clearly and uncompromisingly the true eligibility for attaining the spiritual world.​

The true qualification for attaining the spiritual world is prema — prītir na yāvan mayi vāsudeve na mucyate deha-yogena tāvat — “Until one has love for Lord Vāsudeva, he is CERTAINLY not delivered from having to accept a material body again and again” (Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 5.5.6). In order to attain prema, one has to keep Bhagavān, his names, form, qualities, pastimes etc. always within his heart, and this is easily possible for one who has cultivated smaraṇa in his life. The most important rule of Bhakti is also centered around smaraṇa — smartavyaḥ satataṁ viṣṇur vismartavyo na jātucit — “Always remember Viṣṇu and never forget him” (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.😎. Knowing this well, why would any intelligent sādhaka want to neglect their smaraṇa?​ /\ò

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 6-April-2021.

From comments:

Swami B. P. Padmanabha
Esteemed Hari Pārṣada Dās,
Not wanting in the least to downplay the importance of smarana in the raga-marga and in the spirit of contributing with your insightful postings, I nonetheless consider significant to add further nuanced masala to the present post by way of complementing its content with a few important statements from our Gosvami grantha in connection to smarana in connection to kirtana, such as:
“If the sense of speech, which sets all the external and internal senses in motion, is brought under control, then the mind becomes stable and can properly engage in transcendental remembrance of the Lord. Remembrance thus develops as the fruit of chanting.” and, “As a result of sankirtana the joy of meditation increases and as a result of meditation the sweetness and the joy of sankirtana increases. In this way the two invigorate each other, and it is experienced as if they are not two separate activities, but only one.” (Brihad-bhagavatamrita 2.3.149 and 2.3.153)
“In order for purification of the heart to take place, it is necessary to begin with hearing the name. When the heart is purified, one can hear about the Lord’s form, and by doing so the heart becomes fit for revelation of the Lord’s form. When the Lord’s name, form and qualities have fully manifested along with His associates, the pastimes of the Lord unfold properly. It is with this intention that hearing the topics in a specific order was originally stated. The same conclusions apply in regard to singing (kīrtana) and remembering (smaraṇa) the names, forms, virtues and pastimes of the Lord.” (Bhakti-sandarbha, Anuccheda 256)
“It has been mentioned earlier that remembrance is the primary limb of rāgānuga-bhakti. But one should understand that remembrance is dependent on kīrtana. In the present age of Kali, it is the practice of kīrtana that grants the eligibility to enter into bhajana, because as all the scriptures proclaim, kīrtana is superior to all the other limbs of bhakti and bestows the highest result.” ( Raga-vartma-candrika 1.14)
“Smaranam is not a mental practice, but rather the result of subjugating the mind, and kirtana is most effective in bringing about this subjugation. Thus, although rågånugå bhakti involves smaranam, kirtana is its primary limb. If one’s heart has become pure by surrender, sādhu-saṅga, and hearing and singing the names, forms, attributes and pastimes of the Lord, one can perform smaraṇa, or remembrance of the Lord. However, a pure heart is required for smaraṇa. Therefore, it is not as effective as kīrtana.” (Bhakti-sandarbha, Anucchedas 273, 274 y 276)
“Among all forms of bhakti, śravaṇa (hearing), smaraṇa (remembering) and kīrtana (chanting), kīrtana is the main one. Again, among the various forms of kīrtana (focusing on the names, the forms, the qualities, and the acts), kīrtana of the names is the best. Moreover, in the kīrtana of the names, kīrtana of the names that fit one’s bhakti is considered the best of all.” (Visvanatha Cakravarti´s commentary to Bhagavata 2.1.11)
“Of the nine processes of devotional service, the most important is to always chant the holy name of the Lord. If one does so, avoiding the ten kinds of offenses, one very easily obtains the most valuable love of Godhead.” (Mahaprabhu himself in C.c. Antya 4.71)

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Swami B. P. Padmanabha Maharaja, thank you for these wonderful quotes. Really appreciated. Dāso’smi /\ò

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 11) ~​

There is a sweet, deep relationship that exists between smaraṇa and kīrtana. This relationship should be understood by us. Sometimes, individuals who favor kīrtana needlessly try to discourage others from smaraṇa by saying that kīrtana itself is the yuga-dharma and is sufficient enough. Some other individuals say that smaraṇa will happen automatically in an advanced stage. Some others say that smaraṇa itself is sufficient for the advanced sādhaka, and there is no separate need for kīrtana. In this way, many individuals pit smaraṇa and kīrtana against each other. Let us try to see from the perspective of the previous ācāryas.​

According to the Upadeśāmṛta (Verse 😎, both kīrtana and smaraṇa are supposed to be executed by the sādhaka. The term kīrtana here especially means discussion of Krishna’s name, form, pastimes etc. from various angles. In the Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛtam, the residents of Vaikuṇṭha speak the following verse glorifying such kīrtana:​

vāg-indriyaṁ syād yadi saṁyataṁ sadā​
cittaṁ sthiraṁ sad-bhagavat-smṛtau tadā​
samyak pravarteta tataḥ smṛtiḥ phalam​

Translation: If the sense of speech, which sets all the external and internal senses in motion, is brought under constant control by kīrtana, then the mind becomes stable and can properly engage in transcendental remembrance of the Lord. Smaraṇa thus develops as the fruit of kīrtana. (Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛtam, 2.3.149)​

This verse shows smaraṇa to be a result of performing kīrtana. A few verses later, the same residents of Vaikuṇṭha also say that kīrtana can also be a result of performing smaraṇa:​

ced dhyāna-vegāt khalu citta-vṛttāv​
antar-bhavantīndriya-vṛttayas tāḥ​
dhyānaṁ tadā kīrtanato ’stu varyam​

Translation: If by the force of one’s meditation all the functions of the senses — including saṅkīrtana of the Lord, physical contact with Him, seeing Him, and so on—become absorbed into the function of meditation, then that meditation is accepted as better than chanting out loud. (Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛtam, 2.3.151)​

Finally, these residents of Vaikuṇṭha say that each sādhu has a different preference. Some will always prefer kīrtana, whereas some are always inclined towards smaraṇa. Every sādhu’s choice is justified:​

prītir yato yasya sukhaṁ ca yena​
samyag bhavet tad rasikasya tasya​
tat sādhanaṁ śreṣṭha-tamaṁ su-sevyaṁ​
sadbhir mataṁ praty uta sādhya-rūpam​

Translation: Whatever the devotional method by which a man with true spiritual taste feels satisfaction and complete joy, that is the method saintly authorities deem most excellent and effective for him. It is not only the best of methods but the very aim of his endeavor. (Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛtam, 2.3.152)​

This conclusion should be maturely understood and accepted by all sādhus. Some sādhakas will prefer to have kīrtana as a function within their smaraṇa, whereas some other sādhakas will give first priority to kīrtana. Every masala is not supposed to taste like garam masala, and similarly, every sādhaka is not supposed to be of the same bent of mind. Each sādhaka’s personal taste and inclination is different, and this variegatedness adds immense flavour to the spiritual world.​

It is true that kīrtana is great in comparison to smaraṇa because kīrtana can benefit other living entities. At the same time, smaraṇa is also greater to kīrtana in its own way, because some private feelings towards the Lord cannot be expressed in loud kīrtana. They can only be expressed in smaraṇa:​

tathā syād yadi śakyate​
satām atha vivikte ’pi​
lajjā syāt svaira-kīrtane​

Translation: Although kīrtana also bestows happiness upon the chanter, but there are some emotions towards the Lord which even the sādhus feel ashamed of expressing even through solitary kīrtana. (Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛtam, 2.3.156)​

Such feelings of advanced sādhakas can be expressed only through smaraṇa. In this way, each process has its advantages and support rooted in śāstra. The balance given by our ācāryas is as follows — One should never give up kīrtana in order to pursue only smaraṇa, since kīrtana is the yuga-dharma and it immensely facilitates smaraṇa. At the same time, one should also never neglect one’s smaraṇa in order to pursue only kīrtana, since there is no question of rāgānugā-bhakti for one who willingly neglects the art of smaraṇa and artificially glorifies only kīrtana.​ Sādhakas! Giving up all false pride, let us understand the glories of each process and respect the sādhus who perform both smaraṇa and kīrtana effectively.

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 8-April-2021.

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 12) ~​

The ācāryas are very clear about the fact that among all the limbs of bhakti, there are three most prominent ones. Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura says — sarveṣu bhakty-aṅgeṣu madhye śravaṇa-kīrtana-smaraṇāni mukhyāni — “Among all limbs of bhakti, śravaṇa, kīrtana and smaraṇa are the primary ones” (Commentary to Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.230). Among these three, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī is absolutely clear that the path of progress in rāgānugā bhakti goes through smaraṇa:​

kṛṣṇaṁ smaran janaṁ cāsya​
preṣṭhaṁ nija-samīhitam​
tat-tat-kathā-rataś cāsau​
kuryād vāsaṁ vraje sadā​

Translation: While performing smaraṇa of the dearmost Lord Krishna and his associates who are dear to one’s mood, a person who is fully engaged in their kathā should always make Vraja as his residence. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.294)​

When one is thus progressing on the path of rāgānugā-bhajana, the śravaṇa, kīrtana and smaraṇa that one performs are very specific. The devotee on the path of rāgānugā-bhajana listens, speaks and meditates primarily upon the kathā pertaining to those specific rasas and devotees that are closest to his cherished goal of life. In the Bhakti-sandarbha, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has said (in Anuccheda 278) that smaraṇa progresses in five stages:​

(1) Smaraṇa — Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says — yat kiñcid anusandhānaṁ smaraṇam — Remembering whatever related to the Lord is easily possible is known as smaraṇa.​

(2) Dhāraṇā — sarvataś cittam ākṛṣya sāmānyākāreṇa mano-dhāraṇaṁ dhāraṇā — Fixing the mind upon the Lord in a general manner by withdrawing it from everything else is known as dhāraṇā.​

(3) Dhyāna — viśeṣato rūpādi-vicintanaṁ dhyānam — To specifically meditate upon specific forms, pastimes etc. of the Lord is known as dhyāna.​

(4) Dhruvānusmṛtiḥ — amṛta-dhārāvad avicchinnaṁ tad dhruvānusmṛtiḥ — When such meditation becomes spontaneous and constant like the flow of a stream of oil, it is known as dhruvānusmṛtiḥ.​

(5) Samādhi — dhyeya-mātra-sphuraṇaṁ samādhiḥ — When only and only the object of the meditation remains in one’s consciousness, it is known as samādhi.​

If an individual leaves their body in a state of such samādhi, they are sure to achieve success in their spiritual lives. It is very important to note that Krishna has kept the condition of death on smaraṇa — anta-kāle ca mām eva smaran muktvā kalevaram — “Whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body remembering ME ALONE at once attains my nature” (Bhagavad-gītā 8.5). It is very important to note that Krishna said — mām eva — “One should remember ME ALONE”. The term “eva” clearly indicates remembrance exclusively of Krishna. This happens only in the stage of samādhi as described above. Therefore, it is important that those who are attached to smaraṇa should try to achieve this stage of samādhi in order to attain desired success.​

In order to achieve such success, one has to meditate deeply NOT ONLY on the words of the recent ācāryas, but also on the words of the previous ācāryas, as Śrī Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura has correctly said — mahājanera yei patha, tāte haba anurata, pūrvāpara kariyā vicāra — “Become attached to the path shown by the great devotee souls. Meditate on the teachings of the previous and recent ācāryas carefully” (Prema-bhakti-candrikā, 1.14). One who doesn’t know the art of harmonizing the teachings of the previous and recent ācāryas cannot become a sāragrāhī (true essence seeker). Just taking one convenient instruction from one ācārya and copy-pasting it upon the entire world is a sure recipe for failure.​

True success in any field of yoga is attained not by sentimentally sticking to the teachings of only one ācārya. It is attained by understanding the teachings of all the available ācāryas and then carefully selecting a path according to the recommendations of one’s guru and according to one’s innate nature. The necessity of accepting knowledge from multiple ācāryas is clearly specified in the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam itself:​

na hy ekasmād guror jñānaṁ​
su-sthiraṁ syāt su-puṣkalam​
brahmaitad advitīyaṁ vai​
gīyate bahudharṣibhiḥ​

Translation: Although the Absolute Truth is one without a second, the sages have described him in many different ways. Therefore one may not be able to acquire very firm or complete knowledge from one spiritual master. (Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 11.9.31)​

These facts cannot be understood by a kaniṣṭha-adhikārī who is attached only to his/her own group or guru. True sāragrāhīs understand that valuable instructions can come from multiple sources, and Krishna speaks through various bona-fide gurus. Perfection in spiritual life cannot be mass-produced in a factory. It is a highly individual process, and the needs of each individual are different. Moreover, perfection also needs the mercy and sanction of Krishna. Therefore, it cannot be mass-produced in any way, and will always be available to a select few who are willing to take efforts in their sādhana to attract Krishna’s mercy. There are many promised shortcuts, but unfortunately many of them end up only frustrating the sādhaka in the long run.​

(To be continued …)

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 11-April-2021.

From comments:

Radhamadhav Das
Simply beautiful! Thank you so much Prabhuji. This is my favourite article of this series so far.
I’m looking forward to hearing more about the prime focus on smaranam of vraja-bhakti. And the last paragraph is most outstanding because it is clearly the outcome of a personal internal process of churning and digesting. I’m stoked you allow it to flow into your writings. Let nobody discourage you! A genuine doctor who has powerful medicine will give out that medicine no matter what others will say. Please keep it coming with confidence. 🙏

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Radhamadhav Prabhu, thank you. Yes these are words that have taken years of study, self-reflection and consultation of senior vaiṣṇavas. I’m happy that like-minded vaiṣṇavas viz. your good self are finding these writings relevant and inspiring. Thank you so much prabhu /\ò

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 13) ~​

As soon as someone starts speaking of rāgānugā-bhajana and smaraṇa, there are some individuals who rub their hands with glee, waiting to say — “You need a special type of initiation named siddha-praṇālī to really access Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī’s mood of a mañjarī. This is not available in your branch of the sampradāya, and you cannot get it from the books. So the only way is to take shelter of a Vraja-rasika-guru who has received siddha-praṇālī in a guru-paramparā.”​

Many times, such individuals do not tell us what Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has said — aneka-guru-karaṇe pūrva-tyāga eva siddhaḥ — “In accepting newer dīkṣā-gurus, one automatically rejects the previous ones” (Bhakti-sandarbha 207). Thus, acceptance of a new style of initiation automatically implies rejection of one’s existing vaiṣṇava-guru and the mantras given by him. Usually a guru is rejected only when they’ve fallen away from vaiṣṇavism, but there are some disciples and gurus so eager for pushing devotees into siddha-praṇālī that they overlook all these considerations and cause a person to lose faith in their existing vaiṣṇava-guru who is in good standing.​

It is a fact that every serious sādhaka should have at least one bhajana-guru who is a Vraja-rasika. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has clearly said — tad-anurāgi-janānugāmī — “One should become a devout follower of a lover of Krishna and Vraja-dhāma” (Upadeśāmṛta, Verse 😎. It is disappointing to see that there are some gurus who say to their disciples — “You don’t really need to develop attraction to Vraja and Krishna”, and instead give shortcuts to disciples. Such disciples are unfortunately being pushed towards getting recycled in the material world. Most of these disciples do not get any practical experience of the higher stages of bhakti while they are living their lives in the material world, so there is absolutely no reason why they should attain the spiritual world. As it has been stated in a previous part, liberation from the material world is ONLY for someone who has attained prema in this world (ŚB 5.5.6).​

Siddha-praṇālī is an initiation procedure in which a guru tells a sādhaka what their mañjarī identity in nitya-līlā (eternal pastimes of Krishna in Goloka) is. The guru also reveals ekādaśa-bhāva (eleven details of one’s perfected mañjarī identity) which includes one’s age, form, relationship to Śrīmatī Rādhā etc. This is a valid form of initiation and even recent ācāryas such as Śrīla Bhaktivinode Ṭhākura have spoken of the validity of such ekādaśa-bhāva and siddha-praṇālī in their books viz. Harināma-cintāmaṇi. Śrīla Bhaktivinode Ṭhākura himself had received his siddha-praṇālī and eternal identity from his dīkṣā-guru Śrī Bipina Bihārī Gosvāmī. At the same time, NONE of the gosvāmīs or ācāryas have said that siddha-praṇālī is the ONLY WAY available to access rāgānugā-bhajana.​

Firstly, the siddha-praṇālīs that are bestowed nowadays are available primarily for mañjarī-bhāva. There are almost zero siddha-praṇālī systems available for rāgānugā-bhakti in other moods viz. sakhya, vātsalya etc. Secondly, the framework of ekādaśa-bhāva doesn’t exactly apply to these other moods (sakhya, vātsalya etc.). It only applies to mañjarī-bhāva. What then should sādhakas attracted to other moods do? They have nowhere to go and no siddha-praṇālī to receive. Most of the Gaudīya lineages nowadays do not even bestow sakhya, vātsalya and other bhāvas upon initiates, nor do they teach literature pertaining to such moods viz. preyo-bhakti-rasārṇava (a manual on sakhya-bhāva). What then is the solution? Should the sampradāya be reduced only to a small lake that bestows only one specific mood of mañjarī-bhāva? Should all individuals interested in Gauḍīya-vaiṣṇavism neglect all other bhāvas as vijātīya (inferior) and streamline themselves only towards mañjarī-bhāva? Those who meditate deeply on these topics will see clearly that although siddha-praṇālī/ekādaśa-bhāva is a valid and very respected form of initiation, it is not the exclusive method to access rāgānugā-bhajana.​

If we see all the examples of devotees who have attained perfection in the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam, none of them had a system like siddha-praṇālī bestowed upon them. Even the sages of Daṇḍakāraṇya, who approached Śrī Rāma with a desire for conjugal relationship did not have siddha-praṇālī. Still, they managed to become gopīs in their next lives simply because they had immense lobha. The Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ (1.2.307) also specifies the history of an aged carpenter who attained rāgānugā-bhajana in the mood of a parent simply by receiving instructions from Nārada Muni and worshipping a deity of Krishna in the mood of considering the Lord as his son. He too did not have any type of siddha-praṇālī, yet he attained perfection. What more! Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī also says — puṣṭi-mārgatayā kaiścid iyaṁ rāgānugocyate — “What is known as rāgānugā-bhakti in Gauḍīya-sampradāya is also known as Puṣṭi-mārga in Śrī Vallabhācārya’s sampradāya” (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.309). In the Puṣṭi-mārga, there are no siddha-praṇālī systems, yet according to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī they too have access to rāgānugā-bhakti.​

In this way, a good system of initiation viz. siddha-praṇālī should not be turned into an instrument of monopolizing the sampradāya or trivializing other branches of the sampradāya. Those who receive siddha-praṇālī from a vaiṣṇava-guru are fortunate, but in no way do they reserve the exclusive right to enter into rāgānugā-bhajana. Someone who has practiced smaraṇa as an ordinary vaidhī-bhakta can quickly rise up the ranks of bhakti and turn into a rāgānugā-bhakta by the strength of his sādhana and the mercy of a vraja-rasika guru or bhagavān. The nature of bhakti is to be supremely independent, and those who are trying to make bhakti subservient to a specific initiation process are unknowingly trying to harm this aspect of bhakti. Attempts of monopolization of bhakti by individuals or institutions have always resulted in great disservice to the cause of bhakti.​

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 13-April-2021.

From comments:

Bhima-Karma Saragrahi
Nice post.
Vallabha sampradaya doesn’t call Gaudiya Vaisnavas Pushti. That quote is saying that what is called by Gaudiya Vaisnavas as raga-nuga is synonymous with what is called Pushti by vallabha sampradaya, which is also known as the Pushti Marga.
Pushti Marga Vaisnavas generally regard Gaudiya Vaisnavas as maryada because of the counting practices and the use of pancaratriki viddhi.

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Bhima-Karma Saragrahi ji, the quote is translated properly. What the Gauḍīyas call Rāgānugā-mārga is known as Puṣṭi-mārga by the Śrī-vallabha-sampradāya.
I do not agree that entire sampradāya can be given a general label of maryādā, when there are clearly so many elements of puṣṭi in it. Actually, sampradāyas are not puṣṭi or maryādā. It is a jīva whose innate nature is puṣṭi or maryādā. Even in puṣṭi, there are sub-categories — (1) śuddha-puṣṭi and (2) miśra-puṣṭi.
Even in miśra-puṣṭi, there are further sub-categories — (1) pravāha-puṣṭi ; (2) maryādā-puṣṭi and (3) puṣṭi-puṣṭi. All this is given clearly in the writings of Śrī-Vallabhācārya. Therefore it is better to categorize individual jīvas as puṣṭi or maryādā instead of classifying the entire sampradāya. Dāso’smi /\ò

Bhima-Karma Saragrahi
Hari Pārṣada Dās yes it is the way which is being named not the sampradaya.
I can agree with you about should, I’m just saying that’s how Gaudiya Vaisnavas are generally perceived by Pushti margiya Vaisnavas, do to the reasons I said

Acyutalila Das
Bhima-Karma Saragrahi same argument was presented to us when I started following Iskcon by our parents who are from Vallabh sampradaya . They told us why you want to follow maryada marga leaving pusti aside?

Nimai Nrsimhapali Hedemark
What does maryada mean? Im unfamiliar with this word, in the same vein what is the direct meaning of Pushti?

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Nimai Nrsimhapali Prabhu, maryādā is similar to vaidhī mārga. Pushti is similar to rāgānugā marga. According to Sri Vallabhacharyas philosophy some jivas are inherently inclined to maryādā mārga and some are inherently inclined to pushti. Some jivas are mixed. There are many sub-categories.

Nimai Nrsimhapali Hedemark
Hari Pārṣada Dās thank you. That much I understood. I was curious about the literal meaning of the words.

Bhima-Karma Saragrahi
Acyutalila Das I would say the same thing.

Nimai Sundar Stansfield
“inherently” – meaning according to Oxford – dictionary :
“in a permanent, essential, or characteristic way”
So by inherently are you meaning that the attraction to a particular path or bahava is due to:
1 – The jiva practicing that path in previous material births or
2 – The jiva’s original spiritual identity in the spiritual world (siddha deha) and since coming to the material world their attraction is due the jiva’s inherent position in the spiritual world?
I understand that it’s a loaded question so feel free to ignore if you can’t publicly state your position, but I think that the correlation between the two is quite important since it affects our approach to rāgānugā-bhajana and smaraṇa.

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Nimai Nrsimhapali Prabhu, maryādā literally means “bounds of morality as set in śāstra”.
Puṣṭi literally means poṣaṇa (spontaneous nourishment).

Nimai Nrsimhapali Hedemark
Hari Pārṣada Dās perfect. Thank you

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 14) ~​​

Once sādhakas are initiated into Gauḍīya-vaiṣṇavism, they have an opportunity to engage in smaraṇa as a limb of their vaidhī-bhakti with the blessings of their guru. Such smaraṇa should be performed without giving up one’s prescribed japa/kīrtana. Smaraṇa doesn’t begin only at the stage of rāgānugā-bhakti. It can (and must) begin at the stage of vaidhī-bhakti and it later takes on a very important role when the sādhaka progresses to rāgānugā-bhakti. To begin smaraṇa however, there is a very important pre-requisite that should be fulfilled in order to engage peacefully in such smaraṇa. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī calls it — śokādy-avaśa-vartitā — “Being free from negative feelings viz. lamentation, anger etc.” (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.80). While explaining this requirement, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says:​

śokāmarṣādibhir bhāvair​
ākrāntaṁ yasya mānasam​
kathaṁ tatra mukundasya​
sphūrtti-sambhāvanā bhavet​

Translation: How can there be any possibility of a spontaneous manifestation of Krishna in a mind that has been overtaken by negative feelings viz. lamentation, anger etc.? — (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.115)​

Thus, one of the primary requirements of smaraṇa for the practicing initiated sādhaka is to have a peaceful state of mind. To ensure this is especially difficult in this age of Kali, and therefore kīrtana is glorified more than smaraṇa in this age, since kīrtana has no such pre-requisites. Kīrtana can even help the sādhaka achieve a peaceful mind, which can then help him engage in smaraṇa. This is one of the ways in which kīrtana assists smaraṇa. In any case, the mind of a sādhaka is usually peaceful in the early hours of the brāhma-muhūrta, and at such a time the process of smaraṇa can begin. After completing one’s morning duties viz. bathing etc., the sādhaka should engage in a process which the ācāryas call — nitya-prātaḥ-smaraṇa (daily morning remembrance of the Lord). The Hari-bhakti-vilāsa (3.23) prescribes that the sādhaka should meditate on the following verse of the Bhāgavatam every morning:​

jayati jana-nivāso devakī-janma-vādo​
yadu-vara-pariṣat svair dorbhir asyann adharmam​
sthira-cara-vṛjina-ghnaḥ su-smita-śrī-mukhena​
vraja-pura-vanitānāṁ vardhayan kāma-devam​

Translation: Victorious is Lord Sri Krishna. It is he who is known as jana-nivāsa, the ultimate resort of all living entities, and who is also known as Devakīnandana or Yaśodā-nandana, the son of Devakī and Yaśodā. He is the guide of the Yadu dynasty, and with his mighty arms he kills everything inauspicious, as well as every man who is impious. By his very presence he destroys all things inauspicious for all living entities, moving and inert. His blissful smiling face always increases the amorous desires of the gopīs of Vṛndāvana. (Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 10.90.48).​

This is the verse with which Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī concludes his glorification of Krishna in the tenth canto. Performing morning meditation on the meanings of the words of this verse gives a succinct summary of Krishna’s pastimes. While performing such smaraṇa it is important to memorize the verse, repeat it in the mind and understand the meaning of each and every term. While one is singing it in the mind, one should chew upon and relish the meaning of each and every term as it is being recollected in the mind. The Bhāgavatam is nothing but Krishna in the form of words. Therefore, it is important to meditate on the original terms of the Bhāgavatam. Chanting the original terms spoken by Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī makes us come in direct contact with Krishna (in the form of the words of the Bhāgavatam), and this gives us the authentic, complete result of such meditation. Chanting translations is good, but no matter how accurate the translation is, we all know the popular phrase that — “much is lost in translation”. Therefore, best to meditate directly on the original text.​

There are few other verses given in the same section of the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa for morning meditation. Here is another such verse which is very esoteric in nature:​

pavitram āmnāya-girām agamyaṁ​
brahma prapadye nava-nīta-cauram​

Translation: I surrender to the butter-stealing, supremely pure brahman who although is inconceivable even to the words of the Vedas, yet is fully decorated on each body part with the love-marks gifted by the expert cowherd girls. — (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa 3.25)​

We all should note that the smaraṇa given in this section of the Hari-bhakti-vilāsa is a part of vaidhī-bhakti, not rāgānugā-bhakti. If such esoteric meditations are prescribed for vaidhī-bhaktas, one can only imagine the good fortune of the same bhaktas once they maturely attain rāgānugā-bhakti. In this way, the devotee on the path of vaidhī-bhakti should perform such smaraṇa given in śāstra. The ultimate injunction in śāstra is to CONSTANTLY remember Krishna:​

smartavyaḥ satataṁ viṣṇur​
vismartavyo na jātucit​
sarva-vidhi-niṣedhāḥ syur​
etayor eva kiṅkarāḥ​

Translation: Viṣṇu should be constantly remembered and never forgotten. All other rules and regulations are subservient to these two principles. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.8)​

Commenting upon this verse, Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura says that “satatam” (constant remembrance) is not possible for a new sādhaka. Therefore, for such a sādhaka, “satatam” means “remembrance at least once a day”. In this way, if sādhakas begin their journey honestly on the path of smaraṇa with even one good meditation per day, it will go a long way in helping them attain rāgānugā-bhajana. Sometimes, a new devotee gets siddha-praṇālī but is completely untrained in the art of smaraṇa. There is very little use of such siddha-praṇālī initiation without knowing the art of smaraṇa. Better is to have initiation in harināma and train oneself in smaraṇa as a vaidhī-bhakta and thus gradually rise up the ladder of bhakti-yoga to reach rāgānugā-bhakti. That is the sure, spotless path of bhajana practiced by sādhus since time immemorial.​

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 15-April-2021.

From comments:

Swami B. P. Padmanabha
Hari Pārṣada Dāsji,
I think it is important no clarify how the Gaudiya sampradaya is not a vaidhi-bhakti-sampradaya, and therefore from day 1 we are members of the raga-marga. This is what Mahaprabhu came to give as a result of his own inner experience:
prema-rasa-niryāsa karite āsvādana
rāga-mārga bhakti loke karite pracāraṇa
“Srima Mahaprabhu wanted to taste the sweet essence of prema-rasa, and He wanted to propagate raga-marga-bhakti in the world.” (Cc. 1.4.15)
In other words, raganuga-bhakti means to follow the ragatmika-bhakti of Krishna´s nitya-parisadas in Vraja, and at least we could say that we are introduced to day ultimate goal from day 1, and in that general sense we are raganuga-bhaktas from the very beginning, contrary to a vaidhi-bhakti-sampradaya like Sri sampradaya, where from day 1 they conceive their goal in terms of aisvarya-bhakti for Narayana in Vaikuntha.
That said, not everyone has the same level of raga in the beginning of one´s practice, and therefore vaidhi can play an assisting role in monitoring one´s budding raga, and in that context Srila Jiva Goswami coined the term ajata-ruci-raganuga-sadhana-bhakti in his Bhakti Sandarbha (which Krishnadasa Goswami follows in his Cc.), to refer to those “raga-bhaktas who do not possess raga,” which sounds as an oxymoron, but actually refers to thos beginners in the raga-marga who, although being pointed to the goal of Goloka, still need to nourish their life of bhajana with certain statements from sastra about what will happen if they do not do so.
Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura´s Raga-vartma-candrika is a very special work in this regard. 🙏

Swami B. A. Ashram
Along these same lines, Hari Pārṣada prabhu, as much as I like this series, and as important as I think it is for practitioners to consider these things, I was also a little unsettled at seeing vaidhi sādhana bhakti and rāgānugā sādhana bhakti referred to as “stages” of bhakti. They are (largely) discrete forms of sādhana, with different motives and (in an important sense) different goals. At least, that is how Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī discusses them in the second chapter of his Bhaktirasāmṛta-sindhu. They may appear as progressive stages according to the different strength of rāga seen in some practitioners in earlier phases of their practice, as Padmanabha Maharaja explains above.

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Swami B. A. Ashram Maharaja, my pranams. Jaya Guru gauranga. What Swami B. P. Padmanabha Maharaja is saying is that I should clarify how the Gaudiya sampradaya is not a vaidhī-sampradāya but instead is a rāgānugā-sampradāya from day 1. I am not so much in agreement with this statement because the Gauḍīya-sampradāya aims at rāgānugā while allowing the new candidates to take comfortable shelter in vaidhī-bhakti. A simple look at the original logo of the Gaudiya Math (…/gaudiya-math-logo.html ) clearly tells us how Vidhi is also a part of the spectrum of Gaudiya-vaishnavism. Rāga may be the goal, but vidhi is where most sādhakas find their initial comfort and adhikāra. If Gaudiya sampradaya was not a vaidhi-bhakti sampradaya from day 1, then we should not allow any candidates of vaidhi-bhakti in our sampradaya. However, majority of the candidates we have now are eligible only for vaidhi-bhakti.
Regarding your comment on vaidhi and raganuga being discrete forms of sādhana-bhakti, I would say that Srila Rupa Goswami has closely connected them when he defines vaidhī-bhakti : yatra rāgānavāptatvāt pravṛttir upajāyate śāsanenaiva śāstrasya sā vaidhī bhaktir ucyate (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.6). Vaidhī is defined as the standard proclivity to engage in bhakti in the absence of rāga. This doesn’t mean that when rāgānugā-bhakti develops, one gives up all aspects of vaidhī. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says in the commentary — rāga-prāptatvam api cet tarhi aṁśenaiva vaidhītvaṁ jñeyam — Even if one attains rāga, still a significant portion of vaidhī-bhakti-ness should be understood in rāgānugā practice.
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī confirms this by saying — śravaṇotkīrtanādīni vaidha-bhakty-uditāni tu yāny aṇgāni ca tāny atra vijñeyāni manīṣibhiḥ — Learned ācāryas know that the sixty-four practices of vaidhī bhakti—headed by hearing and chanting—are also useful in rāgānuga-bhakti. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.296). This statement clearly shows that a rāgānugā-bhakta also has to learn all the rules of vaidhī-bhakti first. The limbs of vaidhī-bhakti form a very important part of the foundation of the practice of rāgānugā-bhakti. One cannot independently practice rāgānugā-bhakti without first learning the aṅgas of vaidhī-bhakti.
In essence, vaidhī-bhakti never leaves us completely as long as we are in the sādhaka-deha. The standard adhikāra of a person with zero previous merit lies in vaidhī-bhakti. Then such a sādhaka later progresses to rāgānugā-bhakti (whenever lobha develops due to whatever reason). The sādhaka then continues the practices of vaidhī-bhakti that are suitable for his rāgānugā-bhajana and gives up unfavourable practices. So from the point of view of a sādhaka with zero previous merit, it has to start from vaidhī-bhakti and then progress into rāgānugā-bhakti after lobha develops.
Therefore even in the sādhana-bhakti section, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī clearly dealt with vaidhī-bhakti first and then dealt with rāgānugā-bhakti. He put them both in the same wave of the eastern division and said that absence of one (rāga) is the indication of being an adhikārī of the other (vaidhī).
It is true that in many cases, vaidhī-bhakti doesn’t automatically guarantee rāgānugā-bhakti, but that doesn’t mean that in every case, vaidhī-bhakti will fail to turn into rāgānugā-bhakti. In many cases, practice of vaidhī-bhakti can produce the sukṛti required to come in contact with a rāgānugā-bhakta who can inspire one to progress into rāgānugā bhajana.
Śrīla Bhaktivinode Ṭhākura also says — Vaidhi-bhakti starts from śraddhā and proceeds up to rati, when it becomes one with rāgānugā-bhakti. (Bhaktyāloka, Chapter 😎.
In this way, for a sādhaka with zero previous merit, the sequence of progression is clear — vaidhī-bhakti followed by causeless generation of lobha followed by rāgānugā-bhakti. If the lobha doesn’t occur for some sādhakas due to any reason, the sādhaka remains in vaidhī-bhakti forever. However, if the lobha gets generated, the sādhaka develops taste for rāgānugā-bhajana. Dāso’smi /\ò

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Another point to note is that a vaidhī-bhakta may turn into a rāgānugā-bhakta. However, there is no case in Śrīmad-bhāgvatam or purāṇas of a rāgānugā-bhakta turning back into a vaidhī-bhakta. Thus there is a sequence of progression from this point of view too. If vaidhī and rāgānugā were two completely discrete styles of bhakti without any hierarchy, we should have seen transitions from rāgānugā to vaidhī too. /\ò

Prahlādeśa Dāsa
If on the first day that a Bhakta enters the Temple, he/she receives the information that we worship Narayana, Visnu, Ramacandra, Nrsimha because they are forms of God but that our goal, the goal of this process is to reach Navadvipa (Gaura) and Vrndavana (Radha Krsna). So, in this case, Vaidhi Bhakti is called Ajata Ruci Raganuga.
Now, if this same Bhakta does not receive this information on the first day and worship Narayana, Radha Krsna, Visnu, Gaura, Ramacandra, Nrsimha, a generic, multifaceted worship, without the cultivation of an Ista Devata, then yes, we will have majority of the candidates eligible only for Vaidhi-bhakti.
So the question is what kind of information are we giving to the new Bhaktas in the Bhakta programs?

Prahlādeśa Dāsa
We will find charlatans in all parts of the world and in India too. Someone who offers Siddha Pranali Diksa in exchange for a few Rupees.
But as far as I know, in serious traditional Parivaras, they only offer Siddha Pranali Diksa to candidates who have chanted Harinama for a long time.
And even though Sadhaka is not perfect in Smarana, he establishes his self-esteem into this form which helps to purify.

Swami B. P. Padmanabha
Hari Pārṣada Dāsji:
I think that most of the issue here has to do with semantics. Some additional thoughts below in an attempt to further clarify my point:
When I speak about “from day 1”, I do not refer to the very first day one visits a temple, but to the official beginning of one´s life of sadhana, i.e., accepting Sri Guru or guru-padasrayah. And at that moment we start to receive bhakti-samskaras from him/her which go in a particular direction, that of the raga of Vraja. Eventually, that siksa takes us to accept diksa from him/her and we will be further influenced in the direction of the raga-marga by receiving the bhakti-lata-bija in the form of mantra, which again has all to do with raga-bhakti and not vaidhi.
That said, our own personal situation as beginner Gaudiyas may be such that we need to culture such gift with the support of vaidhi, but this doesn´t mean that we are practicing vaidhi-bhakti or that we belong to a vaidhi-sampradaya. We have actually imbibed samskaras for raga-bhakti from Sri Guru and we are nourishing that with the support of vaidhi in the service of raga. This type of vaidhi is what Sri Jiva refers to as ajata-ruci-raganuga-sadhana-bhakti in Bhakti Sandarbha 311, so you can see that he labels it as raga-bhakti and not vaidhi. And it is this type of bhakti (ajata-ruci-raganuga) that acaryas like Thakura Bhaktivinoda or Prabhupada Bhaktisiddhanta referred to as vaidhi-bhakti. But again, this notion of vaidhi-bhakti is very different from that of the vaidhi-bhakti received from day 1 in a sampradaya like Ramanuja´s, where one´s conceptual orientation has all to do with aisvarya-bhakti to Narayana in Vaikuntha.
Regarding what you mention that you have seen devotees in vaidhi-bhakti being “upgraded” to raga-bhakti but not otherwise, well, I respectfully differ. I know a good number of Srila Prabhupada´s disciples who, after having received siksa/diksa from him, eventually felt attracted towards the Sri sampradaya, and nowadays are full-fledged members of it. Similarly, in Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu Sri Rupa Goswami speaks of a possible downgrade of one´s acquired sthayi-bhava due to aparadha, so one could make another similar case in this connection.
Considering all this, I would say that Sri Rupa speaks of vaidhi-bhakti in his Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu not to imply that “vaidhi is a first stage and then comes raga,” but because mostly all of the 64 vaidhi practices enumerated by him can be expressed in the context of raga-bhakti, so he defines them as vaidhi an then says that most of them can be taken part in the raga-marga. Also, one could say that by defining vaidhi-bhakti Sri Rupa is indirectly indicating what is raga-bhakti by first pointing what it is not in the very beginning, as it has been usually done in sastra in many places. And I wouldn´t say that the Gaudiya sampradaya only aims at raga-bhakti, because if our goal (prayojana) is raga-bhakti, then a corresponding initial education (sambandha) should be present there from day 1 to guide actions in such a way that they may take us to our goal. We both need to establish from the beginning (at least in a general level) not only where we are, but where we want to be. This is how it works with the GPS as well: you have to tell where you are but also where you want to go. 🙂
In his Raga-vartma-candrika 1.7 Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti gives the clear example of this: someone with lobha (greed) for milk, who undertakes all the necessary steps (getting a cow, milking her, etc.) in order to obtain his object of greed. Similarly, the adhikara for raga-bhakti is lobha, and in the beginning a sadhaka will follow vaidhi in that same spirit: embracing whatever will take him to get the object of his greed. But this begins from day 1, as Visvanatha points in section 1.8: “It is described that the DEVOTEES IN THE PATH OF RAGA gradually progress FROM THE INITIAL SURRENDER to the feet of Sri Guru up to the stage of directly attaining the object of their desires”. And this arises from sadhu-sanga and not out of a vaidhi-bhakti which is separate from raga, as Visvanatha confirms in section 1.5: “No one ever develops this sacred greed on the basis of the scriptural injunctions, nor is there any consideration of spiritual qualification or lack thereof for obtaining it. Rather, greed arises spontaneously simply upon hearing about or seeing the object of one’s longing.”
And regarding the Gaudiya sampradaya being a vaidhi-bhakti one because it allows candidates of other sampradayas in it, I would say that this happens not so much because our sampradaya is (also) a vaidhi-bhakti one, but because Sriman Mahaprabhu comes in part to establish the yuga-dharma, which is universal no matter which affinity one may have.
So again, my conclusion would be that instead of conceiving our progress “from vaidhi to raga” we should see how raga comes from day 1 to us, but due to our lack of insight we take assistance of a particular type of vaidhi in the context of raga, which Sri Jiva labels as ajata-ruci-raga-bhakti, and not vaidhi-bhakti per se.
Some thoughts, sorry for the extension. 🙏

Radhamadhav Das
Very worthy discussion, thank you, dear devotees. 🙏🏼 🙂

Radhamadhav Das
I personally have experienced that devotees get much more confused with the “stages” vision than with the “parallel tracks” vision. The most confusing part is, perhaps, the fact that when you get perfection in vaidhi-bhakti, you get siddhi in one of the opulent dhamas such as Vaikuntha, Ayodhya, etc. The only way that a gradual transition to raganuga-bhakti happens apparently automatically is if you are practicing under the guidance of a raganuga/ragatmika bhakta by the law of magnetism (sangat sanjayate kamah. The most crucial aspect of awakening lobha is sadhu-sanga with devotees who have raga).

Radhamadhav Das
Hari Pārṣada Dās I tried to look up the context of your quote, “Śrīla Bhaktivinode Ṭhākura also says — Vaidhi-bhakti starts from śraddhā and proceeds up to rati, when it becomes one with rāgānugā-bhakti. (Bhaktyāloka, Chapter 😎.” But I couldn’t find the text right now.
Without specification, this statement could lead to confusion, for above mentioned reason and other reasons. Devotees could think that they can just practice vaidhi-bhakti and then they will automatically transition to raganuga-bhakti. Such thinking is a trap. It happens only if you are practicing under a devotee with raga and if you embrace the raganuga-bhakti-sadhana aspects with all its moods.
I know you are perfectly aware of this, I’m just pointing out pitfalls devotees struggle with so we can optimize our presentations for everyone’s benefit.

Radhamadhav Das
Also, to further exemplify the “parallel track” vision, there are certain sangas I know in Vraja Dham that immediately start with raganuga-bhakti-sadhana from day one. They keep vaidhi-bhakti to an absolute minimum (certain elements of vigraha-seva, for example, but even those can be transformed internally). It also works. And they make sure they don’t miss the raga train. Since the adhikara for vraja-bhakti is lobha, which is a particular intense desire, the mixture of how much vaidhi we are involved in is more a question of personal desire (shaped by previous samskaras and sangas) than of a universal necessity for sadhana.

Radhamadhav Das
Lokarāma Dāsa-Mādhavī Dāsī yes like you I have no doubt that Hari Pārṣada Prabhu is properly embodying the teaching of his lineage. And you are right that both approaches come with downsides. I try to find a balanced approach and even that will look different for different types of devotees.

Radhamadhav Das
Lokarāma Dāsa-Mādhavī Dāsī “a higher order of vidhi” is a tricky statement and although in my few years of association with Aindra Prabhu I never heard him say this I can imagine that he did so under certain circumstances. He was definitely the most outspoken devotee on the importance of very distinct and dedicated raganuga-bhakti-sadhana among his Godsiblings and this gave me so much nourishment and encouragement.

Radhamadhav Das
Lokarāma Dāsa-Mādhavī Dāsī true, this is acintya-bhedabheda-darsana 🙂

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Swami B. P. Padmanabha Maharaja, thank you for clarifying that by day 1 you meant the day of dīkṣā. There are certainly many elements of rāgānugā-bhakti in the dīkṣā that is bestowed. By dīkṣā I am speaking of second initiation here. However, just because there are elements of rāgānugā-bhakti that are bestowed at the time of dīkṣā doesn’t mean that the receiver has the lobha required to accept all of it completely.
Let’s take a simple example. All devotees in ISKCON chant tulasī-āratī every day. The āratī itself says — mora ei abhilāsa vilāsa-kuñje dio vāsa. In this way, every bhakta in ISKCON utters the prayer through his/her speech. However, just because they utter the prayer doesn’t mean that they really have the force of lobha in their hearts that is required to make the prayer effective. The entire tulasī-āratī is written in the mood of rāgānugā-bhajana. Not a single element of vaidhī-bhakti exists in it. Yet, many devotees who chant the prayers don’t even know the location of vilāsa-kuñja in the spiritual world. Some may not even know how to spell it.
In this way, the entire sampradāya doesn’t become vaidhī or rāgānugā simply because it bestows elements of these two on the day of dīkṣā. The presence or absence of genuine lobha in the heart of the sādhaka is what determines if that particular sādhaka will end up being a vaidha-bhakta or a rāgānuga-bhakta. In the Śrī-sampradāya too (which is primarily based on pañcarātra and vidhi), there have been devotees who have exhibited many elements of rāga. The sampradāya certainly influences the individual a lot, but in the end, the specific devotional disposition of the individual is what makes them vaidha-bhakta or rāgānuga-bhakta.
Regarding the examples of Prabhupada’s disciples going to the Śrī-sampradāya, I am not so sure if they were practicing rāgānugā-bhakti. Therefore if you see carefully I asked of examples from the Purāṇas. Examples from Purāṇas are confirmed examples. Falling due to aparādha is not the same as getting attracted to vaidhī-bhakti. I am looking for a genuine example in śāstra of a person who was attracted to rāgānugā-bhakti, and then later became attracted to vaidhī-bhakti (not due to aparādha, but due to genuine attraction to the rules). If there is no hierarchy between vaidhī and rāgānugā bhaktis, then we should be able to see transitions on both sides (without aparādha being involved). Thank you for the enlivening discussion /\ò
Radhamadhav Prabhu, Lokarāma Prabhu, thank you so much for these comments. Please let me present another angle of vision. In the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ (1.2.60) it is said — śāstrataḥ śrūyate bhaktau nṛ-mātrasyādhikāritā — “It is said in the śāstra that all humans have adhikāra for bhakti”.
A simple question arises — Which bhakti do all of them have adhikāra in? Does everyone in the world have adhikāra for rāgānugā-bhakti or vaidhī-bhakti? Teachings of śāstra are available for everyone in the world, but the association of devotees with lobha is not. Simple observation tells us that most people in the world have adhikāra for vaidhī-bhakti. This is the reason why most Gaudiya organizations based on pracāra keep vaidhī-bhakti as the common starting point for everyone. They give elements of rāgānugā-bhakti during initiation (as I specified in this comment above) but they know that most candidates do not have the required lobha to understand those elements.
Regarding whether vaidhī and rāgānugā are two separate parallel streams or whether they have a hierarchy, let us look at the definitions of vaidhī and rāgānugā bhakti again. Vaidhī is defined as the proclivity to perform bhakti in the absence of rāga whereas rāgānugā is defined as the proclivity to engage in bhakti by following a rāgātmika-bhakta.
In these definitions, vaidhī is absolutely not dependent on rāgānugā-bhakti in any way. It is fully dependent only on the instructions of śāstra (śasanenaiva śāstrasya). Rāgānugā-bhakti however needs a lot of support from the limbs of vaidhī-bhakti. I have specified the relevant verses in my previous comments. If the underlying support of vaidhī-bhakti is fully and completely removed, then such wayward rāgānugā-bhakti will certainly become a disturbance to the society (śruti-smṛti-purāṇādi verse).
So in this world, it is rāgānugā-bhakti which needs the foundation and support of vaidhī-bhakti. Vaidhī-bhakti doesn’t need any such foundational support from rāgānugā-bhakti. This is how the material world is. Thus, if vaidhī is the foundation of rāgānugā-bhakti, and rāgānugā is not the foundation of vaidhī, then it is very clear that there is a hierarchy. The foundation clearly is the support of rāgānugā-bhakti and the lowest common platform available for one and all.
Regarding whether vaidhī-bhaktas can progress into rāgānugā-bhakti or not, I repeat the direct words of Śrīla Bhaktivinode Ṭhākura from the Harināma-cintāmaṇi:
vaidha-bhaktera unnati-krame (Sequence of progression of vaidha-bhakta)
vaidha-bhakta smṛti-kāle sadā vicāraya
anukūla yukti-śāstra yakhana ye haya
bhāvāpane haya bhāva āvirbhāva-kāla
śāstra-yukti chāḍe tabe jāniyā jañjāla
Translation: During his smaraṇa, the vaidha-bhakta always thinks according to the directions of śāstra and logic favorable to his bhakti. As soon as bhāva arises, the devotee gives up all unfavorable śāstra and logic, understanding them to be mere complexities. (Harināma-cintāmaṇi 15.89 – 90)
Point to be noted here is — if the vaidha-bhakta gives up śāstric injunctions, how can he remain a vaidha-bhakta? He is clearly showing the characteristics of a rāgānuga-bhakta.
For this reason, he again clearly writes immediately after this — āpana-daśāya rāgānuga o vaidha-bhaktera bheda nāi — “In the stage known as āpana-daśā, there is no absolutely difference between vaidha-bhakta and rāgānuga-bhakta.” (Harināma-cintāmaṇi 15.91)
This means that in āpana-daśā, the vaidha-bhakta has clearly progressed to the stage of rāgānugā-bhakti. These are the pramāṇas from the recent ācāryas. Similar pramāṇas can also be shown in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ, but Śrīla Bhaktivinode Ṭhākura has spelled it out more clearly.
In no way does this mean that every vaidha-bhakta will naturally progress to the stage of rāgānugā-bhakti. A vaidha-bhakta who doesn’t attain āpana-daśā can never progress to the stage of rāgānugā-bhakti. I hope this clarifies. Thank you for all these wonderful comments. My apologies for this long comment /\ò

Radhamadhav Das
Hari Pārṣada Prabhu thank you for your well-thought replies. No doubt vaidhī-bhakti is a basis for raganuga-bhakti-sadhana. With the “parallel track” vision I call into attention the fact that the goal of both paths are different. We have to measure in the fact that if there is a transition from vaidhi to raganuga-bhakti-sadhana it should be because of the arising of lobha (tatra laulyam api mulyam ekalam) which requires sanga with raga in some form, especially sadhus.
Even if Bhaktivinoda Thakura is saying it arises at the stage of bhava during vaidhī-bhakti, you would have to explain why that doesn’t contradict the mulyam-ekalam definition of Rupa Goswami. Also, why didn’t vaidhi-bhaktas who have attained vastu-siddhi outside Vrindavan transition to raganuga-bhakti-sadhana when they attained bhava?

Radhamadhav Das
Also, it’s noteworthy to consider that Srila Swami Prabhupada once mentioned that 70 percent of his disciples will end up in Vaikuntha because they are too much attracted to aisvarya. Attaining Vaikuntha means passing the stage of bhava without transitioning to raganuga-bhakti-sadhana. Or perhaps I’m missing something. 🙏

Radhamadhav Das
Lokarāma Dāsa-Mādhavī Dāsī I also tried to track it down and asked several of his disciples who only remembered him saying it but not where.

Hari Pārṣada Dās
In many cases, our devotees still have the consciousness of the residents of the heavenly planets. Prabhupada once said that most of his disciples want to go to the heavenly kingdoms, which means that they still want to use God to gain some type of pleasure or experience. (Bhakti-tīrtha Svāmī, Reflections on Sacred Teachings 3, Chapter 7)

Prahlādeśa Dāsa
Yes, Lobha is the starting point of Rāgānugā Sādhana Bhakti.
In BRS 1.2.292, 1.2.300 and 1.2.309 Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī explains how Lobha awakens.
1 – By reading the scriptures about Vraja (Rasa Śāstra).
2 – For listening to Vraja’s sweet pastimes.
3 – By contemplating the sweetness of the Deities of Rādhā Kṛṣṇa and the Gopīs.
4 – By the mercy of Kṛṣṇa and His devotees.
Mukunda Gosvāmī explains that through the first 3 and Kṛṣṇa’s mercy it is very rare to awaken Lobha.
In fact, Lobha awakens only when we associate with a Vaiṣṇava who is strongly attracted by the sweet feelings of the Vrajavāsīs and who is following the path of Rāgānugā-bhakti. And talks about it and inspires us in this way.
Now, in a Society and Institution where it is neither possible nor allowed to talk about this, its members will hardly ever wake up Lobha and walk the path of Rāgānugā Sādhana Bhakti.
The worship of such devotees is a neutral Bhajana, devotees who have never attained the association of even a single devotee firmly situated in a certain Rasa.
They attain Sāmānya-rūpa sthāyi-bhāva (a generic worship of God without a specific Rasa).
And they don’t go any further.

Swami B. P. Padmanabha
So I imagine that with all this having been said, we can naturally conclude that bhakti is not inherent in the jiva, but comes to us through sadhu-sanga. (and the same happens with prema, a bhakti-svarupa, sthayi-bhava)…

Swami B. P. Padmanabha
Lokarāma Dāsa-Mādhavī Dāsī Hard for me to keep with the thread´s dynamics today, sorry. I hope I may be able to reply tomorrow to all of the different (and interesting) commentaries…🙏

Onkar Yemul
Prahlādeśa Dāsa prabhuji it is not talked in public doesn’t mean that Devotees don’t discuss such things . There have been great MahBhagavatas in Iskcon . Obviously not many very less but there are such devotees. And then devotees following such devotees (Raganuga sadhakas ). So if one is fortunate he can get it . Also see the amount of change of vision devotees can talk about such topics on public forum previously such devotee would have been excommunicated from Society. Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj always said there will always be some or 1 pure devotee to continue the Sampradaya dhara .

Swami B. P. Padmanabha
Lokarāma Dāsa-Mādhavī Dāsī
Well, yes and no: The jiva-sakti has the potential to receive svarupa-sakti (bhakti) in its tatastha-constitution, so in that sense we have potential for bhakti. But this does not mean that bhakti is inherent within us, so the analogy you´ve shared falls short in that sense.
As you may know, analogies do not prove in themselves siddhanta, but are just that: analogies. An analogy may help to illustrate one point that has to necessarily be established through sastra-pramana. And in connection to this topic, sastra clearly shows bhakti´s noninherence. While by rubbing two pieces of wood we will have fire, by “rubbing” two baddha-jivas who have not received bhakti yet we won´t have bhakti as a result of that.

Swami B. P. Padmanabha
Hari Pārṣada Dāsji,
You say: “Just because there are elements of rāgānugā-bhakti that are bestowed at the time of dīkṣā doesn’t mean that the receiver has the lobha required to accept all of it completely.”
Of course, I agree with this, and that´s why we are to conceive these definitions in a nuanced way and not black/white. And this is why Sri Jiva Goswami shares the term ajata-ruci-raganuga-bhakti, which clearly speaks about a type of raga-bhakti which has not yet reached full accomplishment. But raga-bhakti is there nonetheless. The price for raga-bhakti is lobha/laulyam, and there will be degrees of how much such a currency will be possessed by one sadhaka or another.
Regarding the example of tulasi-arati, well, of course, many devotees may not yet have the adhikara to enter into the kuñja and render intimate seva to Radha-Syamasundara, but nonetheless, the conceptual orientation is there: as Gaudiyas, we project ourselves into that particular direction in the Vraja. So in that sense we are practicing (at least a rudimentary form of) raga-bhakti.
You say, “In the Śrī-sampradāya too (which is primarily based on pañcarātra and vidhi), there have been devotees who have exhibited many elements of rāga.”
Agree. That´s why I don´t feel comfortable describing our raga-bhakti as “spontaneous devotion”, because you can be a beginner raga-bhakta without much spontaneity yet, while on the other side you can have some accomplished vaidhi-bhakta like Daruka who will exhibit a deep degree of raga. So yes, the very term raga or even ragatmika could be easily applied to devotees outside of the Gaudiya sphere. For example, Hanuman is a ragatmika, or in other words, a nitya-siddha, an eternal associate of Bhagavan composed not of jiva-sakti, but himself being composed of svarupa-sakti, of attachment for Sri Rama. That´s the very meaning of raga-atmika, “he whose very atma is made of raga.” But of course, when we as Gaudiyas refer to raga, there is a very specific conception of it we have in mind, or at least our acaryas have in mind and a novice practitioner will eventually realize more and more under their shelter.
You say, “Regarding the examples of Prabhupada’s disciples going to the Śrī-sampradāya, I am not so sure if they were practicing rāgānugā-bhakti. I am looking for a genuine example in śāstra of a person who was attracted to rāgānugā-bhakti, and then later became attracted to vaidhī-bhakti (not due to aparādha, but due to genuine attraction to the rules)”
Well, on some level those Prabhupada disciples were engaged in raga-bhakti, since I know their personal situations and how they dealt with what they received from Prabhupada. Let me think a little bit more about examples from the Puranas, but I don´t think that´s a mandatory necessity in this case to establish this point.
And of course, I agree that vaidhi plays a fundamental role in the beginning of a raga-bhakta´s practice, but I wouldn´t consider such vaidhi as vaidhi-bhakti per se, but as a rudimentary form of raga, which sustains itself on some level on what sastra says and a sense of duty. Because again, raga-bhakti is fully dependent on sastric injunctions, but of a different type: hearing Bhagavata katha and becoming absorbed in vraja-lila-sravana is not the same as practicing out of fear of those sections in sastra which declare what will happen if you do not engage in bhakti, etc.
That said, one should of course be careful of eventually breaking the rules in order to embrace higher rules, as Visvantha Cakravarti points out in his Raga-vartma-candrika and commentary on Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, where he mentions how, if one´s raga-sadhana becomes in time predominantly influenced by vaidhi (while we would like to serve Hari in madhurya-bhava), we may end up as servants of the Dvaraka mahisis (since there is no chance whatsoever of madhurya-seva in Vaikuntha) and not in Vraja. Similarly, he mentions that when we remain attached to serve Radha-Krishna in Vraja but certain degree of vaidhi remains in the background, we may end up in the bahir-mandala (outer circle) of Vraja, where there is overt svakiya between Radha-Krishna, and not in the antara-mandala (inner circle), where parakiya is operative.
Yes, we belong to a very specific path. 🙂

Swami B. P. Padmanabha
Lokarāma Dāsa-Mādhavī Dāsī
Well, in brief I would reply that there is no single sastric statement declaring that svarupa-sakti is in the jiva, quite on the contrary (since the verse you´ve shared is not expressed in the context of bhakti in the jiva). It is very clearly said how svarupa-sakti, jiva-sakti and maya-sakti constitute three categorically different saktis of Bhagavan. When it is said that “all other saktis expand from the svarupa-sakti” it is a way of establishing svarupa-sakti as paramount, but actually this does not take place at some point in time (one sakti expanding from another, and so on).
I don´t want to over-extend here with sastric quotations, but if you are interested, I have written a series of articles about the topic (and now I´m finishing a whole book about this), that you can see here:

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 15) ~​

In the previous part, the practice of nitya-prātaḥ-smaraṇa (daily morning remembrance) of Krishna was specified. It is important to perform all our devotional activities in a way that will ensure certain success. This can be ensured by following the exact path shown by the previous sādhus. Following the previous saintly souls is one of the sixty-four limbs of vaidhī-bhakti. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says:​

sa mṛgyaḥ śreyasāṁ hetuḥ​
panthāḥ santāpa-varjitaḥ​
anavāpta-śramaṁ pūrve​
yena santaḥ pratasthire​

Translation: That path should be certainly sought out in life which is the cause of one’s ultimate benefit, which is devoid of afflictions and which the saintly souls traversed upon effortlessly in the past. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.100)​

Thus, it is best to find out how the saintly Gauḍīya-vaiṣṇavas of the past performed their smaraṇa. A question that frequently arises is — Can we perform smaraṇa during japa? During japa, our mind is already engaged in thinking of Krishna’s nāma (name). However, can we engage our minds instead in thinking of Krishna’s rūpa (form), guṇa (qualities), līlā (pastimes), etc. during the process of harināma japa?​

If we think carefully about it, one of the conditions of ideal japa specified previously is that — the mind should be situated completely in the mantra. If the focus of the mind is artificially taken away from hearing the mantra, then how can one say that one is chanting ideal japa? Therefore, the recommendation of the previous ācāryas is that one should perform smaraṇa and japa as distinct activities. Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī says in his commentary to Viṣṇu-purāṇa:​

japāc chrāntaḥ punar dhyāyed​
dhyānāc chrāntaḥ punar japet ​

“After being exhausted at japa, one should engage in smaraṇa, and after being exhausted at smaraṇa, one should again engage in japa” (Commentary to Viṣṇu-purāṇa 6.6.2).​

This clearly indicates that japa of Krishna’s names and smaraṇa of Krishna’s form, qualities etc. are ideally two distinct activities.​

When the devotee is advancing in his bhajana however, remembrances of Krishna’s form, pastimes etc. may come up spontaneously even while chanting japa. If this happens NATURALLY and SPONTANEOUSLY, one should not try to suppress such smaraṇa. In a letter to his disciple, Śrīla Prabhupāda too said that our aim is to come to the point of such advancement that simply by chanting the names of Krishna, one gets spontaneous remembrances of his form, qualities, pastimes etc.:​

[Quote]: Regarding your first question, is it offensive to think of Krishna’s pastimes while chanting? I think you should know that it is not offensive, but rather it is required. One must try for the point when he simply hears Krishna and immediately all of Krishna, his pastimes, his form, his quality, are in his thoughts. So to always be immersed in thoughts of Krishna — this is our process. When we are full in Krishna then where there can be any chance for maya in us? So this is our duty to remember Krishna’s Pastimes. One who cannot remember Krishna, let him always hear Hare Krishna and then when he has perfected this art, then always he will remember Krishna, his activities, his qualities, etc. — (Letter to Śivānanda, 4 Dec 1968) [End of Quote] .​

The last statement in this quote is especially important. One who cannot spontaneously remember Krishna (purely vaidhī-bhakta) should focus on the sound of the mantra. One who gets spontaneous remembrances however should never try to suppress it in any way. The quote by Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī above which distinguishes japa and smaraṇa applies mainly to vaidhī-bhaktas, not to those who have progressed into spontaneity. The ācāryas have also said — nāme prasphuṭita haya rūpa guṇa karma — “The form, qualities and pastimes of Krishna sprout spontaneously from chanting his nāma” (Harināma-cintāmaṇi 2.30). Some individuals mistakenly take such statements to mean that there is no separate need for smaraṇa. If there was no separate need for smaraṇa, why would Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī specify smaraṇa of Krishna’s form, qualities, pastimes etc. as a compulsory injunction in his Upadeśāmṛta (Verse 8 ) ?​

In the stage of vaidhī-bhakti, one should focus on the nāma while performing japa, and one should also perform smaraṇa as a distinct activity. When rāgānugā bhakti arises in a sādhaka, chanting the nāma itself will give spontaneous rise to form, qualities, pastimes etc. in the heart of the advanced devotee. Individuals who are artificially trying to prevent themselves and others from smaraṇa do not understand that the most important injunction in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ is to “always remember Viṣṇu and never forget him”. This injunction is applicable to all levels of sādhakas. By artificially trying to eliminate smaraṇa from one’s bhajana, a sādhaka renders immense harm to oneself and to all others who come in contact with his strange ideas.​

Japa is not performed as a 24 hour activity by most of the sādhakas. Most of them engage in japa only for a few hours. What should sādhakas do in the remaining free time of the day? If the sādhakas have any free time, they should not waste it and by all means should spend it in other limbs of bhakti viz. quality svādhyāya (self-study) and smaraṇa. Therefore, instead of trying to render disservice by preventing oneself and others from smaraṇa, one should pay close attention to the instruction of Nārada Muni — tasmāt kenāpy upāyena manaḥ kṛṣṇe niveśayet — “By any means whatsoever, one should invest one’s mind in Krishna” (Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 7.1.32). Following this injunction will go a long way in helping the sādhaka progress towards success in rāgānugā-bhakti, and this is the sure path of advancement practiced by sādhus in the past. At the moment of our death, we do not want to end up thinking of vanilla ice-cream, video games or shiny red colored cars. The entire point of the Bhagavad-gītā is to train the mind. Which intelligent sādhaka then will put himself at risk by neglecting the art of smaraṇa?​

(To be continued …)​

​· 1w
— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 17-April-2021.

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 16) ~​

The previous part spoke of the relationship between smaraṇa and japa. We now look into the sweet relationship between smaraṇa and kīrtana. The ācāryas have clearly said that the process of smaraṇa is greatly facilitated by performing kīrtana. Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura says — gānasya paunaḥ-punyena smaraṇsayāpi paunaḥ-punyaṁ svata eva bhavet — “By repetition of singing (kīrtana), repeated smaraṇa takes place automatically” (Commentary to Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 11.11.23).​

Thus, it is very much needed that devotees should learn the art of singing about Krishna. Best is to sing directly the verses in the Bhāgavatam related to Krishna-līlā. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says — śrī-bhāgavata-sthita-nāmādi-kīrtanaṁ tu pūrvavad anyadīya-nāmādi-kīrtanād adhikam — “The kīrtana of the names, forms etc. of the Lord given in the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam is greater than kīrtana of the names etc. derived from other sources” (Bhakti-sandarbha, Anuccheda 275). Once again, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī is referring to original Sanskrit verses here, not translations.​

Reading the verses of the Bhāgavatam, memorizing our choicest verses related to Krishna-līlā, reciting them again and again is the key to ensuring that smaraṇa keeps coming back to us naturally. In this regard, many individuals complain that — “We cannot memorize verses, since our memory is weak”. Often, it is seen that many of these same individuals are able to memorize non-devotional karmi songs effortlessly, even if such songs are in a completely foreign language. It’s not always a memory issue. Often, it’s a problem of motivation.​

For those who are motivated enough, relishing the verses of the Bhāgavatam is easy if we understand how the previous ācāryas relished them. The first thing is to break down the verse into individual terms and understand the meaning of each and every term. A single term that we’ve not understood will remain like a perpetual missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Understanding all the terms of a song is important for relishing the meaning of the song. Similarly, understanding all the terms of a verse is important in drawing a complete image of the verse in one’s mind.​

Every verse is a painting that can be drawn and hung upon the blank canvas of the mind. The individual terms in the verse are the colors that add detail to the painting. It is important to understand each color in order to have the complete painting. The devotee memorizing and understanding the verse is like the artist who’s creating a replica of the original painting by Vyāsadeva. The more adept a devotee is in understanding the meanings of the verse, the better the resultant painting in the mind. Let’s take a verse from the tenth canto (10.32.2) and relish it right away:​

tāsām āvirabhūc chauriḥ​
pītāmbara-dharaḥ sragvī​
sākṣān manmatha-manmathaḥ​

smayamāna = With a smiling​

mukha-ambujaḥ = lotus face,​

pītāmbara-dharaḥ = wearing a yellowish cloth,​

sragvī = and adorning a garland,​

śauriḥ = Krishna​

sākṣāt = the personified​

manmatha-manmathaḥ = enchanter of the enchanting Cupid​

āvirabhūt = appeared​

tāsām = among those [gopīs].​

If we just read the translations of the individual terms in sequence, the meaning of the verse will be crystal clear to us. This verse describes how Krishna appeared among the gopīs after he had disappeared from the rāsa-līlā. Simply understanding the terms and singing such verses repeatedly during the day will go a long way in rendering a complete painting of Krishna-līlā within the heart, and every devotee should have thousands of such paintings hanging upon the walls of their hearts. This is how all previous ācāryas relished the Bhāgavatam — break down the terms, understand the meanings and reorganize the terms to form a legible sentence, thus rendering a perfect image in the heart.​

From a thousand such paintings that we draw, we can select one hundred most important ones, note them down and gaze at them regularly. Gazing here means singing them often and meditating on the painting again. From those one hundred paintings, we can select ten that are sweetest and closest to our heart and meditate deeply on them. From those ten paintings, we can select that one painting we wish to gaze upon if death suddenly strikes at our door. We should practice drawing such a painting daily.​

If Gopīnāth is merciful and allows us sufficient time in life and also allows us to develop lobha, we should by all means make a customized painting in the heart in which we (the artists) paint our siddha-deha (eternal spiritual body) in which we are rendering service to Radha-Krishna and their associates. Reaching such a stage will take a lot of understanding of Krishna-līlā and the siddhāntas, but the starting point of all smaraṇa is the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam, especially its smiling face — the tenth canto. /\ò

(To be continued …)​​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 20-April-2021.

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 17) ~​

Often, when devotees engage in smaraṇa, there are some who have the following doubt — “Isn’t all this simply an imagination of the mind? The material mind is imagining some form, qualities, pastimes of a historical entity named Krishna. What is spiritual about all this imagination?” Thinking in this way, many individuals stay away from smaraṇa altogether, considering it to be a purely material affair.​

The mind is not the only material sense in the body. The entire body is filled with material senses. The tongue, ears, nose, eyes etc. gifted to us are all a part of the material body. Thus, these senses are originally material in nature. How do we know that they’re material? Because they undergo the six transformations of matter specified by Yāska Muni in the Nirukta. These six transformations are: (1) jāyate — coming into existence ; (2) asti — existing for some time ; (3) vardhate — enhancement ; (4) vipariṇamate — transformation ; (5) apakṣīyate — dwindling and (6) naśyati — complete destruction.​

So the doubt about smaraṇa being a material affair can also be equally applied to any other devotional function carried out through any of the other senses. One may start doubting that, “The nose is carrying out a material function when it accepts the aroma of a garland offered to Krishna” , or that “The tongue is carrying out a material function when tastes prasādam”. It is therefore important to see what the previous ācāryas have to say about the relationship between the material senses and bhakti.​

Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has made a short but eloquent statement in his commentary to Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ. He says that all the activities of bhakti are — śrī-bhagavataḥ svarūpa-śakti-vṛtti-rūpam — “Functions of the transcendental internal potency of bhagavān named svarūpa-śakti” (Commentary to Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.1.11). A question arises — If bhakti is completely transcendental to matter, how can the material senses of the sādhaka execute such bhakti? Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī replies in the commentary to the same verse by saying — ato ’prākṛtam api kāyādi-vṛtti-tādātmyenaiva tatra tatrāvirbhūtam iti jñeyam — “Thus, although these functions of bhakti are completely transcendental, yet they appear VOLUNTARILY on the material body by becoming one with the functions of the senses etc”.​

Thus, no amount of material effort can make the material senses execute the transcendental functions of bhakti. The transcendental functions of bhakti have to voluntarily agree to manifest themselves on our material senses. As specified in a previous part, bhakti is not something we purchase from a super store and add to our lives. It is bhakti-devī who has to select us and agree to voluntarily manifest herself in our lives. When these functions of bhakti manifest voluntarily, they become one with the functions of our material senses, and thus our senses become spiritualized and we engage in genuine bhakti. Another question arises — What inspires bhakti-devī to manifest herself voluntarily on our senses? Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says in the commentary to the same verse — etac ca kṛṣṇa-tad-bhakta-kṛpayaika-labhyam — “It happens only and only by the mercy of Bhagavān or his devotee”.​

If bhakti-devī doesn’t agree to manifest on our senses then what to speak of smaraṇa, even our kīrtana can become totally mundane. Such mundane kīrtana is infested with aparādhas, and according to the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Ādi, 8.16), even multiple lifetimes of such kīrtana will not help us in achieving the goal. Therefore, whenever any of the material senses come in contact with Krishna’s name, form, qualities etc., one should understand the following underlying principle:​

ataḥ śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāmādi​
na bhaved grāhyam indriyaiḥ​
sevonmukhe hi jihvādau​
svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ​

Translation: Thus, one should know that the names, forms etc. of Krishna are not graspable by any of the material senses. However when the sādhaka becomes inclined towards service, then such names etc. manifest on the senses of the sādhaka by their own volition. — (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.234)​

So all that the sādhaka has to do is to continue engaging all the material senses in their respective devotional functions while having an attitude of service towards bhagavān. The sādhakas should continue to engage their minds in smaraṇa. When bhakti-devī sees the proper attitude develop in the devotee, she will manifest her function of genuine smaraṇa by becoming one with the function of remembrance carried out by the material mind.​

Finally, as devotees we should know that when we are engaging our minds in smaraṇa, it is never to be termed as “imagination”. The difference between smaraṇa and imagination is that imagination is based on one’s mental speculation, for example someone imagining Krishna to be orange in color. Smaraṇa on the other hand is based on the authentic literature approved by the previous ācāryas. When devotees engage their minds in smaraṇa, they are not “imagining” something. Instead, they are “reminiscing” Krishna’s form, pastimes etc. The proper term to be used is — “reminiscing”. Reminiscence is based purely on real events that have occurred in the past. Imagination on the other hand is to make things up in one’s material mind without following the previous ācāryas. The devotees engage always in reminiscence, never in imagination.​

In the Padyāvalī, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has included a verse by Śrī Dākṣiṇātya which says — viṣṇau sarveśvareśe tad-itara-sama-dhīr yasya vā nārakī saḥ — “One who thinks the Supreme Lord Viṣṇu to be just another mundane person is possessed of a hellish mentality” (Verse 115). Since the Supreme Lord is not a mundane person, his smaraṇa is also not a mundane function. However, we should ensure that such smaraṇa is based on authentic śāstra approved by the previous great ācāryas of a valid Vedic paramparā. We should also remember that although we are engaging our mind in smaraṇa, it is smaraṇa which will voluntarily come to us and not vice-versa. As specified in a previous part, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says that the best kīrtana, smaraṇa etc. are those which are based directly on the words of the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam, because the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam is the direct result of the samādhi of Śrī Vyāsadeva, and nothing can be more authentic than that.​ 🙂 /\ò

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 24-April-2021.

From comments:

Deva-kṛpā Dāsa
Hari Pārṣada prabhu, a few months ago I listened to a class where the speaker said that it’s better not to say “Bhakti-devī” because the term it’s not mentioned in any śāstra. I did a little research but couldn’t find a reference… could you please share where can we find it?
As the speaker was an Iskcon prominent leader, I felt it is important to know a reference. Thank you for this series 🙏🏼

Hari Pārṣada Dās
With all respect to the speaker, here is a line from a verse written by Śrīla Kavi Karṇapūra:
yasmin mūrtā puri puri parispandate bhakti-devī
Translation: Bhakti-devī roams in each and every village in the personified form [of Gaura].
— Caitanya-candrodaya-nāṭakam, 2.12.

Deva-kṛpā Dāsa
Excellent prabhu 🙏🏼 I just wanted to be sure 📖… already waiting for part 18. Hare Kṛṣṇa!

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 18) ~​

The importance of smaraṇa based on the singing of the name, form, qualities, pastimes etc. of Krishna has been specified earlier. Such singing should ideally be based on the direct words of the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam. However, such singing doesn’t have to stop at the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam. There is another extremely sweet way of reminiscing Krishna-līlā, and that is through the via-medium of deśī-gāna (singing in local languages).​

According to the previous ācāryas of saṅgīta (music theory), gāna (singing), is of two main types. The commentary named “Tilaka” on the Vālmīki-rāmāyaṇa specifies these types as follows — gānaṁ dvi-vidhaṁ mārgo deśī ceti. tatra prākṛtāvalambi gānaṁ deśī saṁskṛtāvalambi tu gānaṁ mārgaḥ — “Gāna (singing) is of two types – (a) Mārga and (b) Deśī. Singing based on local languages falls under the category of deśī and singing based on Sanskrit language falls under the category of mārga” (Tilaka commentary to Rāmāyaṇa 1.4.36).​

Thus, besides devotional mārga-gāna i.e. singing the Sanskrit verses of the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam and other devotional literature, one can also engage in kīrtana based on deśī gāna (songs written in local languages). The entirety of India is filled with various cultures of devotional deśī-gāna. In the Tamil language, there are the “Thiruppavai” devotional hymns, which contain stanzas known as “pāsuram”, the Kannada language has an immensely rich tradition of the songs of Śrī Purandara Dasa ; the Marathi language has been blessed with the abhaṅgas of Śrī Tukārāma and Bengal has been gifted with the rich culture of Padāvalī kīrtana.​

From the birth of Krishna all the way upto his leaving for Mathura — all rasas of Vraja-līlā can be found in the Bengali Padāvalī Kīrtanas. For many of the Gauḍīya-vaiṣṇavas who did not have access to the Sanskrit language and Gosvāmī literature, these padāvalīs were the main source of engaging in kīrtana and smaraṇa. A person who simply understands the Bengali language can easily relish all of Krishna-līlā and Gaura-līlā through this medium. The authors of such Padāvalī kīrtanas composed thousands of songs based on various moods and pastimes of Rādhā and Krishna. Poets such as Śrīla Narottam Das Thakur, Govinda Dāsa, Vāsudeva Ghosh, Jñāna Dāsa, Devakīnandana Dāsa etc. filled the entire culture of Bengal with kīrtanas related to Gaura-līlā and Krishna-līlā.​

For those who knew the traditional Bengali language, these padāvalī kīrtanas were a great boon aiding them in their smaraṇa. Krishna’s appearance, childhood, youth, first meeting with Radha, union with Radha, separation, sulkiness, re-union, separation in union, union in separation — name the theme and there will be many Padāvalī kīrtanas to sing for each one of them. If we analyze the padāvalī kīrtanas written by the various medieval Gaudīya-vaiṣṇava poets, we will see that most of them (approx. 80%) pertain to Krishna-līlā and a smaller percentage (approx. 20%) pertain to Gaura-līlā. This is a very healthy combination for anyone who wishes to relish both līlās. Here is a Bengali padāvalī-kīrtana describing the celebration of Holi in Vraja. It has been composed by a medieval poet named Navakānta. This song is ideally sung in Rāga Asāvarī:​

añjali bhari phāgu lei sakhi-gaṇe​
rāi kānura aṅge dei ghane ghane​

Taking her sakhīs along with her, holding fistfuls of red color in her hands, Rai profusely smears the entire body of Kanu [on the day of Holi].​

dolopari duhuṁ dolata bhāla​
gā-uta koi sakhi dhari tāla​

Rai and Kanu sway beautifully together on a swing. A sakhī sings songs in a suitable rhythm.​

bājata kata kata yantra suraṅga​
vīṇa rabāba svara-maṇḍala upāṅga​

Many beautiful instruments are played. The spectrum of notes on the vīṇā compliments all of these instruments.​

śobhita taru-kula vikaśita phūla​
jhaṅkaru madhu-made saba ali-kūla​

The trees appear beautiful, the flowers blossom, swarms of bees buzz around due to intoxication caused by honey.​

malaya pavana bahe yāmuna-tīra​
nācata śikhi-kula kuñja-kuṭīra​

Winds as cooling as those found on the sandalwood hill named Malaya blow on the banks of the Yamuna. The peacocks dance within the shelters created in the kuñja.​

vilasai tahi dolopari kāna​
iha navakānta duhuṁka guṇa-gāna​

Kanu enjoys himself on the swing. Navakant sings the glories of the divine couple. (End of Song)​

One will immediately notice that the song is giving a vivid image of a very specific Krishna-līlā. Devotees who relish each and every term of the song will be able to paint a beautiful image in their minds. Once again, this is not someone’s imagination. It is reminiscence based on the writings of the gosvāmīs of Vraja. A question may arise here — “The song glorifies Krishna by the deśī (local) name Kānu. Is it recommended to chant such localized names?”​

The Śrīmad-bhāgavatam (11.2.39) has already clarified — loke gītāni nāmāni — “One should chant even those songs and names of the Lord that are popular (outside śāstra) in the common world”. Commenting on this verse, Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura says that names of the Lord derived from a bona-fide devotee paramparā should be sung. These names include Kānu, Kānāī etc. Thus, as long as our sources are rooted in a valid paramparā having genuine elements of Krishna-bhakti, the kīrtana of Bhagavān based on deśī-gāna is a brilliant way of engaging in smaraṇa. The spiritual world is certainly a place where every word is song, every step is dance and there is a festival every day. That world has been brought to life here in the material world by all the wonderful composers and singers of deśī-gāna-kīrtana.​ 🙂 /\ò

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 27-April-2021.

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 19) ~

​As specified previously, performing one’s bhajana (especially smaraṇa) requires a peaceful state of mind. To attain that state of mind is immensely difficult in the world today that we find ourselves in. The Śrīmad-bhāgavatam (1.1.10) has already declared all of us as — upadrutāḥ — “disturbed in many ways”. What are the reasons for such disturbance? Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī says — rogādibhiḥ — such disturbance is due to diseases etc.​

Therefore, the ācāryas have suggested that one should make some plans to reside permanently in Vraja in this very life. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says — kuryād vāsaṁ vraje sadā — “The devotee aspiring for rāgānugā bhakti should reside ALWAYS in Vraja” (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.294). In his commentary to this verse, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī specifies what is the meaning of residing in Vraja. He says — sāmarthye sati vraje śrīman-nanda-vrajāvāsa-sthāne śrī-vṛndāvanādau śarīreṇa vāsaṁ kuryāt — “If one has the required caliber, then one should reside with one’s physical body in the geographical area of Vraja, which is the residence of Sri Nanda Maharaja”.​

A question arises — “What if we do not have such caliber” ? Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī immediately says — tad-abhāve manasāpīty arthaḥ — “In the absence of such caliber, one can also reside in Vraja through one’s mind”. Thus, it is very clear that either physically or mentally, a devotee aspiring for rāgānugā-bhajana MUST reside in Vraja. Another question arises here — “What about the prohibitive statements that recent ācāryas have made against full-time residence in Vraja? How do we reconcile them with Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s instruction centered around full-time residence?”​

The reconciliation is simple. The recent ācāryas have prohibited only those practitioners who are new to the path of bhakti and are affected by material desires. Such material desires can easily cause new practitioners to lose taste in their bhajana very quickly. Therefore, for such sādhakas, short durations of Vraja-vāsa are recommended so that they can appreciate Vraja from a distance and not disturb the mood of the serious sādhus staying there. Another doubt arises — “At what stage does the sādhaka become free from material desires”? The answer given by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī is as follows:​

rucim udvahatas tatra​
janasya bhajane hareḥ​
viṣayeṣu gariṣṭho ‘pi​
rāgaḥ prāyo vilīyate​

Translation: For a person who has sincere ruci in his bhajana of Hari , even the severest of material attachments are almost completely destroyed. (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.254)​

Thus, on attaining the platform of genuine ruci, a devotee loses all taste for material desires and becomes qualified to stay physically in Vraja permanently. Devotees who are still struggling with material desires should also continue to try and stay permanently through their minds while visiting the geographical Vraja-maṇḍala occasionally. One should know that the instruction to stay physically in Vraja is not an optional instruction. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s has specifically said — kuryāt vāsam — “One MUST reside”. According to Sanskrit grammmar, this verbal form “kuryāt” is in the mood known as vidhi-liṅ (imperative). According to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, “Instructions which are in the vidhi-liṅ (imperative) mood must be carried out compulsorily, and not doing so is a fault” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Ādi, 4.35).​

Another question arises — “What about those devotees who stay in the dhāma and commit forbidden activities”? One should understand that such activities committed by devotees fall under the category of “aparādha” (offense), not “pāpa” (sin). The devotees (especially initiated ones) are not subject to results of karma, therefore whatever negative reactions they get in their lives is not due to their pāpa. It is given directly by Bhagavān as a result of some previous aparādha. There are two major differences between pāpa (sin) and aparādha (offense) — (1) Pāpa leads to suffering whereas aparādha leads to suffering along with obstruction of bhakti ; (2) the result of pāpa is administered by Māyā, whereas the result of aparādhas is administered directly by Bhagavān. Sometimes, devotees take up residence in Vraja-maṇḍala even though they have the tendency to commit forbidden acts. They do so by giving justifications from śāstra, such as:​

mathurāyāṁ kṛtaṁ pāpaṁ ​ ​
mathurāyāṁ vinaśyati​

eṣā purī mahā-puṇyā ​
yatra pāpaṁ na tiṣṭhati​

Translation: The results of sins committed in Mathurā can be destroyed within Mathurā itself [simply by residing here]. Mathurā is therefore greatly auspicious, for sinful reactions do not persist here. (Varāha-purāṇa, 165.58)​

However, this doesn’t mean that one takes Vraja-dhāma for granted and performs forbidden acts while residing in the dhāma. Even if there are no sins for the residents of Vraja-dhāma, forbidden acts definitely turn into aparādhas, and Bhagavān himself can administer a suitable negative reaction for such aparādhas. Committing pāpa on the strength of nāma and dhāma leads directly to aparādhas. Devotees should therefore know in advance that the ideal candidate for staying permanently in the dhāma is someone who has lost taste for material desires. Such loss of taste is not a result of forced vairāgya (renunciation), but is instead due to developing genuine ruci towards Krishna and his name, form, qualities, pastimes etc. Vairāgya is simply a side effect of such genuine ruci.​

Finally, a serious devotee should know that the instruction to reside permanently in a dhāma viz. Vraja is not an optional instruction, which one can skip comfortably by giving silly excuses of “yukta-vairāgya”. Living a grueling life full of ugra-karma in postmodern cities of this disease-ridden, ghastly world is a sure way to spoil one’s human life. Those who stay in such cities are usually not able to see Vraja-bhūmi even in their dreams. Their dreams are filled only with concrete jungles, decaying electronic gadgets and their ever-unfulfilled hopes of enjoying a life free from debt and depression. For such individuals, Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura correctly observes as follows:​

viṣṇv-āveśaḥ sudūrataḥ​
vāruṇī-dig-gataṁ vastu​
vrajann aindrīṁ kim āpnuyāt​

Translation: For those individuals whose hearts are engrossed in material sense-objects, the possibility of spontaneous remembrance of Viṣṇu remains far away. How can an object lost in the west be found by searching out the east? (Mādhurya-kādambinī)​

Śrīla Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī therefore has an important message for all of us sādhakas:​

bhrātas te kim u niścayena viditaḥ svasyānta-kālaḥ kim u​
tvaṁ jānāsi mahā-manuṁ balavato mṛtyor gati-stambhane​
mṛtyus tvat-karaṇaṁ pratīkṣata iti tvaṁ vetsi kiṁ vā yato ​
vāraṁ vāram aśaṅka eva calase vṛndāvanād anyataḥ ​

Translation: “O Brother! Do you know for sure the exact time of your death? Or have you perfected some great mantra for the sake of stalling the advancement of such death? Do you think death will wait for you to finish all your tasks in life? I [Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī] think that your answer to all these questions is YES, because you seem to confidently walk out of Vrindavan again and again to go elsewhere”. (Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛtam, 1.50)​

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 06-May-2021.

PS: Dedicated to the sacred memory of Śrī Paṅkajāṅghri Prabhu. _/\ò_

From comments:

Aleksandra Adigopi Cvetkovic
Hari Pārṣada Dās prabhu, what about residing in places like New Vrindavan, New Vraja dham or Govardhan eco village? These are replicas of the Dham?

Hari Pārṣada Dās
my pranams. Replicas of dhāmas are effective to the degree that they’re able to replicate the mood and culture of the original dhāma as it was during Krishna’s time. It is not always possible to replicate everything, especially the elements of nature viz. birds, trees, flowers etc.
Today, even within the geographic Vraja-maṇḍala, many things have disappeared. Many species of birds are no longer found and the rivers/kuṇḍas have changed drastically. Therefore, even in Vraja-maṇḍala, sādhus are finding it difficult to perform bhajana.
All these factors go into the effectiveness of a tīrtha or a replica — (1) the quality of sādhus ; (2) the quality and variety of nature ; (3) the general social culture in the place.
If these things are in place, a replica can also be effective to a great extent. The original geographic Vraja-maṇḍala however still retains its originality, because it was manifest in the world directly by Krishna. /\ò

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 20) ~​

While performing japa, kīrtana, smaraṇa or any other limb of bhakti, there is one basic precaution that all sādhakas should take. This is to never reveal one’s inner mood, feelings, eternal identity or any such confidential detail of one’s bhajana to anyone and everyone. Śrīla Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura says:​

āpana bhajana kathā, nā kahiba yathā tathā​

Translation: Do not speak details of your confidential bhajana here and there to anyone and everyone. (Prema-bhakti-candrikā, 119)​

This principle doesn’t simply stop at not disclosing one’s confidential bhajana. In fact, śāstra recommends that as far as possible, one should not loudly proclaim any act of dharma (especially charity). The Śrīmad-bhāgavatam (11.11.40) describes one of the activities of a devotee as — kṛtasyāparikīrtanam — “A devotee should never advertise his devotional activities”. What is the reason that a devotee doesn’t engage in advertisement of his japa, kīrtana, smaraṇa, charity to vaiṣṇavas or any other devotional activities? Commentators on the verse quote an ancient smṛti, which says — dharmaḥ kṣarati kīrtanāt — “Dharma is lost by self-advertisement”.​

The Mahābhārata takes it a step further and says that blowing one’s own trumpet while executing dharma leads to all-round failure:​

yan mantre bhavati vṛthopayujyamāne​
yat some bhavati vṛtā’bhiṣūyamāṇe​
yac cāgnau bhavati vṛthā’bhihūyamāne​
tat sarvaṁ bhavati vṛthā’bhidhīyamāne​

Translation: The fault that one accrues on incorrectly pronouncing Veda-mantras ; the fault that one accrues on spoiling a Soma-yajña by not giving appropriate charity , and the fault that one accrues after incorrectly offering oblations in Agni — all these faults are collectively accrued simply by useless loud proclamations of the dharma that one has executed. (Mahābhārata, 13.10.29, Interpreted according to the Lakṣālaṅkāra Commentary of Śrī Vādirāja Tīrtha)​

A new doubt arises — “Why then do ācāryas viz. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, Śrī Narottama Dāsa Ṭhākura etc. write their own names at the beginning or end of their respective compositions? Is mentioning their own names not an indication of glorifying their own selves”? When such doubts arise, one should understand that a single mention of one’s name in a small corner of one’s composition is not the same as loudly proclaiming one’s glories to the entire world. These devotee poets mentioned their names in their compositions only once so that devotees in the future could accurately establish the authorship of the texts composed by them. There was no other purpose. Moreover, ācāryas viz. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī etc. also deliberately looked down upon themselves when they mentioned their names in their works. While denoting himself as the author of the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī addressed himself as — varāka-rūpaḥ — “Wretched Rūpa” (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.1.2).​

There are some rare vaiṣṇavas who do not want even that one single mention of their name. Such detachment is present in them naturally, and not by some external artificial force. One such example of a vaiṣṇava is Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī. Śrīla Prabhupāda notes in one of his purports — “When Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī took permission from all the Vaiṣṇavas before writing Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī also gave him his blessings, but he requested him not to mention his name in the book” (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Ādi, 10.105, Purport). In this way, either a single mention of one’s name in a small corner, or no mention at all — both approaches have been followed by the vaiṣṇava ācāryas of the past.​ However, none of the ācāryas have engaged in active self-glorification or self-promotion in their writings.

Dear Mind! All this may sound very impractical to you in this day and age when most individuals believe that popularity, likes, comments, shares etc. are the sure sign of Guru’s and Krishna’s mercy. Many individuals think that Krishna is being truly merciful to them if their popularity is expanding. The true bhajanānandī never confuses such poison for nectar. Today’s age is filled with individuals of such shallow devotional caliber that if Krishna somehow agrees to appear in front of everyone, then most of them will be interested only in clicking photos with him in order to continue their façade of self-promotion. The bhajanānandī knows well that revealing esoteric secrets of bhajana to unqualified individuals will only result in attracting shallow appreciation. Such shallow appreciation becomes a big burden over a period of time, as Mahākavi Kālidāsa has correctly observed:​

autsukya-mātram avasāyayati pratiṣṭhā​
kliśnāti labdha-paripālana-vṛttir eva​
nāti-śramāpanayanāya na ca śramāya​
rājyaṁ sva-hasta-dhṛta-daṇḍam ivātapatram​

Translation: When pratiṣṭhā (fame) is attained, the only benefit is that the intense longing for such fame is immediately relieved. However, the much greater loss is that the maintenance and protection of such newly acquired fame gives endless trouble. Such attainment of fame is like holding a heavy umbrella in one’s hand. Such umbrellas do not so much relieve stress as much as they generate it. (Abhijñāna-śākuntalam, 5.6)​

Many foolish individuals of the 21st century think that such instructions of the past great souls are not applicable to them. They also think that the fame they received in spiritual life is somehow an indication of spiritual progress. The sādhus of the past have clearly said that this is not so. In fact, getting famous may be an indication of the opposite. In the Rāma-carita-mānasa (1.161), the devotee poet Śrī Tulasī-dāsa says — loka-mānyatā anala sama kara tapa kānana dāhu — “Worldly fame is like a blazing fire which destroys one’s forest of accumulated spiritual attainments”. Śrīla Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī has compared the desire for fame to a degraded, evil, dog-eating lady in his Manaḥ-śikṣā (Verse 7). By trying to gain popularity and trying to reach out to anyone and everyone, we hang the fruit too low and go against the instructions of our own ācāryas. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has clearly said — sva-sva-sampradāya-vṛddhy-artham anadhikāriṇo’pi na saṁgṛhṇīyād — “Do not collect unqualified followers simply for the sake of increasing the head-count of your sampradāya” (Commentary to Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhuḥ 1.2.113).​

Dear mind! After knowing all this, take a vow never to reveal any secrets of your bhajana to unqualified individuals. Śrīla Prabhupāda was such an expert in the art of hiding his devotional secrets. He never directly revealed his eternal identity to anyone. After he left this world, individuals kept arguing over his spiritual identity based on his writings and statements. Dear mind! Be smart, be like Prabhupāda. You carefully spent many years collecting the fragrant flowers of devotional realizations from the garden-like writings of the previous ācāryas ; you carefully extracted the perfume-like essence from those flowers under the guidance of the expert perfumer (Śrī Guru). The sole purpose of all this effort was to gift that perfume to Gaura, Rādhā, Krishna and their associates. Do not make the mistake of willingly throwing away that rare perfume in the putrid sewage of worldly popularity. Sādhu! Sāvadhāna!​

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa (dāsādhama). 10-May-2021. Special thanks to HH Indradyumna Swami Maharaja for kindly sending me this beautiful photo of Śrīla Prabhupāda.

From comments:

Edith Best
A question: Some of our acaryas such as Visvanath CT and Bhaktivinoda, etc. do reveal their svarupa, eternal service, inner meditation, etc. in their songs at least to some degree. How can we understand that? Did they not intend for this to be public?

Mahaprabhu Gaura Dasa
Edith Best I understand the siddha-pranali declaration of BVT as a social convention. The siddha-pranali chart of the entire Bhagnapra-sampradaya, BVT belonged to through diksa was the social neccessity in order to establish himself as the spiritual authority of traditional Vaisnavas. For preaching to bhadralok he appropriated other means, and inserted his spiritual authority in other ways, but to be accepted in Gaudiya Vaisnava world of the time BVT needed to declare himself through jatu-gosai system, which was either pedigree seminal gotra or siddha-pranali parampara. BVT did this pragmatic move in order to preach. That was the spirit of the time.

Edith Best
Hari Pārṣada Dās I’m interested in your explanation if possible

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Printing presses became popular in the beginning of the 20th Century. Prior to that, there were a few manuscripts of the writings of the ācāryas. After the printing press was introduced, even rare texts got printed in large quantities. The Gīta-mālā was Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura’s person collection of songs. It was later published in large numbers and translated. It was not like Jaiva-dharma, which he intended for mass distribution. What the ācāryas wrote as their personal notes got printed later in large quantities, especially after they physically left the world. Similar thing happened with Srila Prabhupada – his letters and personal conversations got printed in large quantities.
Therefore as long as most of these ācāryas were physically present in the world, their siddha-identity was (a) Recorded only in their personal songs/notes or (b) Revealed only to their confidential disciples, who published these identities after their passing away.
In the case of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, he spoke his identity only once to some of his dear disciples viz. Śrī Ananta Vāsudeva Prabhu etc. From them we know what that identity was. There is no record of any ācārya disclosing their identity in a literature intended for mass distribution. Srila Prabhupada knew very well that if he spoke anything about his identity, it would spread around the devotee world in a matter of days. /\ò

Mahaprabhu Gaura Dasa
Hari Pārṣada Dās Printing press did not become popular in the beginning of 20th Century, but Gaudiya Vaisnava classics were printed since 1815. Bhaktivinod Thakur was involved with publishing and printing since 1857 with his uncle Kasi-prasad Ghosh, and in 1880s and 90s BVT possessed his own printing press. Can you please state reference of BSST revealing siddha-deha to Ananta Vasudev ? I am only aware, that once Kunjabihari had a dream, that BSST is Nayana-mani manjari, and than he told it to BSST. BSST started to laugh at it, and Kunjabihari took it to mean “yes”.

Hari Pārṣada Dās

Mahaprabhu Gaura Dasa This is a biography in the acharya folio. I’m not sure who the author is. I have highlighted the relevant section. It also says that he accepted that this was his identity.
No photo description available.

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Mahaprabhu Gaura Dasa the real boom of printing thousands of copies of literature in the Gaudiya vaishnava world came around the beginning of the 20th century. We rarely see any Gaudiya books from the 1820’s. Dāso’smi /\ò

Mahaprabhu Gaura Dasa
Hari Pārṣada Dās Thanks for this one, I taught I have heard Bhaktivikas Maharaj saying it was Kunjabihari’s dream, can’t find the reference now, I will tell if I come across.

Mahaprabhu Gaura Dasa
Hari Pārṣada Dās after 1815 Baratala publishing group printed over 50 Gaudiya Vaisnava classics. BVT was fired up with journalism since 1857. In the last third of the 19th century it was a big printing boom in Kolkata, there were over 90 periodicals, BVT had a printing press at Bhakti Bhavan, with his sons he reprinted Vaisnava classics, in 1879-1907 Sajjana-tosani and his own books too. I am unaware of the real boom starting only in the beginning of the 20th Century, can you please give some reference? Thank you.

Personal note:

A quote from Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava:

In his writings Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had intimated his siddha-svarūpa to be Kamala Mañjarī, a young gopī. And Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had declared Śrīla Gaura Kiśora dāsa Bābājī to be Guṇa Mañjarī. In a letter to Kuñja Bihārī Prabhu in 1921, Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura wrote of his internal feelings and position on the spiritual plane:

Śrī Vṛṣabhānu-nandinī addresses Her young maidservant as Nayana-maṇi Mañjarī and wants her always by Her side. But sometimes she cannot be with Her. Vimalā Mañjarī, who is ever connected with Nayana-maṇi Mañjarī, being deprived of the association of Śrī Rādhā, leaves on the pretense of severing ties with Nayana-maṇi Mañjarī. Yet it is the very nature of Vimalā Mañjarī to ensure that Nayana-maṇi Mañjarī perpetually engages in service to Śrī Vārṣabhānavī-devī.1

When some time later Ananta Vāsudeva Prabhu told Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī that in a dream he had seen him as Nayana-maṇi Mañjarī in Vraja, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī simply laughed. Thereafter his followers were convinced that his siddha-svarūpa was Nayana-maṇi Mañjarī, a young assistant gopī who is the personification of the aspect of Rādhā that is dearest to Kṛṣṇa….

More from comments:

Kishori Jani
OK, well we are already very wary of this new found ‘fame’ for us 😔 So should we take it as “the opposite of spiritual progress”? … Should we not preach or share KC because we truly have no qualification/adhikaar… I thought Srila Prabhupada’s mood was indeed to “hang the fruit extremely low so as to accept as many fallen souls” like me… What should people like me do? Preach or not preach? Because if I intend on preaching, then I must utilise these given platforms in a way to ‘increase head counts’ and likes and followers as a natural byproduct of reaching out and making KC relevant to others… I feel very confused by this post and what I understand to be Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to keep preaching almost ‘at all costs’! Please help me by clarifying .. 🙏

Hari Pārṣada Dās
Kishori Mataji, my pranams. Thank you for this thoughtful comment. Yes we’ve all been simultaneously gifted and cursed with free platforms viz. YouTube etc., and we can try to utilize them for pracāra. However, i’m not sure where Srila Prabhupada said that we should hang the fruit too low. The statements i’ve heard more often are to “boil the milk”. Here is a confirmed statement made by Prabhupada:
[Quote:] Now we have got so many students and so many temples, but I am fearful that if we expand too much in this way that we shall become weak…, weakened…, that we shall become weakened and gradually the whole thing will be lost.
Just like milk. We may thin it more and more with water for cheating the customer, but in the end it will cease to be any longer milk. Better to boil the milk now very vigorously and make it thick and sweet, that is the best process. So let us concentrate on training our devotees very thoroughly in the knowledge of Krishna consciousness from our books, from tapes, by discussing always, and in so many ways instruct them in the right propositions. (Letter, 22 June 1972) [End of Quote]
In the quote above, Prabhupada very clearly says that over-expansion leads to weakness of the movement.
Thus, I am very doubtful if Prabhupada ever said that the fruits should be hung too low. Hanging the fruits low is a slippery slope. I’m worried to see nowadays that TikTok, mixing devotional music with bollywood etc. is also being propagated as pracāra. If we ask the individuals who are doing it, they will say that they’re only doing it because they want to use everything in Krishna’s service, and they will throw around terms viz. Yukta-vairāgya. We all know the popular phrase which says that – “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Thus, in the attempt to make Krishna-bhakti relevant to the world, we may end up making it irrelevant for our own selves as well as for the serious practitioners.
In this particular series of articles, my focus is mainly on personal bhajana, not so much on pracāra. A devotee can’t simply live the life of pracāra while neglecting his/her bhajana. Shallow bhajana ultimately reflects even in pracāra. Therefore, some of the statements of the ācāryas quoted in the articles may seem to go against the mood of pracāra.
There is always a healthy, dynamic tension between bhajana and pracāra, and Mahāprabhu acknowledges this in CC Antya 4.102. This dynamic tension should always be there in our lives, and devotees should approach their respective diksa/siksa gurus to make a decision on how they should conduct their pracāra in a way that their bhajana is not affected. Ultimately, what will help us at the time of our death is our bhajana. Prabhupada used to say — bhajan kara sādhana kara murte jānle hoy — “How we are performing our bhajana will be tested at our time of death”. Thus, at the moment of our death, it is a test of our bhajana, not pracāra.
So even in your own attempts at pracāra, you can make a decision on how to balance out the pracāra and bhajana by consulting with your guru-janas. One man’s medicine may not work for another. In the case of my own son too, it happened that one fine day, his video got so popular that millions and millions of people viewed it (and still view it today). Of course, it was all very good pracāra. He made millions of people hear the mahā-mantra, which i may not be able to do in my entire life. However, he will still have to perform his bhajana and all that pracāra cannot compensate for him if he lacks in his bhajana. Dāso’smi /\ò

Anuj Shrotriya
Kishori Jani My dandvats pranam mataji. You are so so inspirational. Your family is the manifestation of ideal Krsna consciousness. I wish you and your family all success from the bottom of my heart. Please don’t ever stop preaching.

Gopi Gita
We are willing to go to hell if it means one person will hear the holy name, chant the holy name, read Srila Prabhupada’s words by which their entire lives will be changed.. Srila Prabhupada left his eternal home Sri Vrindavan Dham at such an old age just so people like myself can become free from the horrible suffering in this material world and learn who we really are. He sacrificed tons and tons and showed, up until the very last moment of skin and bones that his life was dedicated cent percent to sharing Krishna consciousness, kinibo lutibo in whatever way he could. Dear Kishori Jani , you are a powerful advanced devotee, chanting Sri Krishna’s names from your birth, the daughter of powerful preachers in this movement, who also never put their own bhajan or personal spiritual needs ahead of sharing Krishna with everyone they meet, no matter what. You have been given this opportunity of likes and followers because you are so qualified and thousands of people, even by seeing you for a few minutes, will become attracted. Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu’s desire for the Golden Age will only come about by dedicated preachers like you, who show that Krishna consciousness is not something only sannyasis do, but completely relevant to every Tom Dick and Harry in the western countries. I will never ever forget how at 11 years old on the bus in India, you started automatically preaching to people sitting next to you — like fire you shot out the Sanskrit verses.
Reading Shyamasundar prabhus books on how Krishna consciousness was established; Mukunda Maharajas, Tamal Krishna Maharajas, so many. There are hundreds of thousands of jivas suffering in this world who needdd Krishna now. There is no time to waste. We need to get the message out however we can.
Yes, purity is important. I take Hari Parsad prabhus post as a good reminder to make sure my intentions are pure, to take good time to go inward, to beg for the Lord’s mercy.
But never ever should any of this make us question the empowerment that has come your way.. Spending a few days with my sister and seeing everywhere she goes, so many people say Mataji, you give me hope. Mataji, I was going to end my life and now I’m chanting. Mataji I love the Bhagavad-Gita. Kichada you are the same to me and goodness, I know I’m on a total rant here lol!!! But go go go and never stop. I love your live videos.
So our chanting isn’t perfect. So we have ego and we wanna look pretty and we’re women for crying out loud (striyo vaishyas tatha shudras) oh well!! Srila Prabhupada is so very proud of you and keep on going as strong as you ever can.
I have been in the hospitals. I have felt a mother’s pain. There is so very much suffering. We have no time to waste. What will the point be of us going to Srila Prabhupada at the end of our life with empty hands? He will say okay ya cool.. you made it. What of the rest of the fallen souls all around us.
Aahh k rant over 😊🙏💕

Gopi Gita
Hari Pārṣada prabhu. I agree with everything you’re saying. I wanted to add that Sri Krishna is extremely personal, and His holy name is the most merciful, dearest personality. If He sees that our japa is shallow… If He sees that we are distracted.. if He sees that our mood is incorrect, He very quickly “nija jana smaya dhvamsana smita”.. He knows how to exactly smash it.. how to bring us back to His lotus feet like the wayward calf. But out of fear of becoming wayward, we should never give up our preaching. Careful, yes. Aware and reflective, yes. Making sure our sadhana is strong, yes. But never ever should we become discouraged by the weeds. Yukta vairagya means we trust that the Lord will completely purify our existence and will bring us to him every step of the way. akama sarva kamo va. Sri Hare Krishna are extremely present and will always look out to make sure the things to be engaged in the Lord’s service aren’t becoming stronger. Thank you for an important conversation.

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 21) ~​

In today’s world, most practitioners of bhakti are individuals who are members of some or the other institution. Now even in a small family of two or three individuals, a lot of differences of opinion, arguments, conflicts etc. may arise. Śrī Dattātreya confirms this as follows — vāse bahūnāṁ kalaho bhaved vārtā dvayor api — “When many people live together in one place there will undoubtedly be quarreling. And even if only two people live together there will be frivolous conversation and disagreement” — Śrīmad-bhāgavatam (11.9.10). What then to speak of institutions with hundreds and thousands of individuals per center! ​

Thus, even though institutions are great places for performing saṅkīrtana and various other congregational limbs of bhakti, sincere sādhakas should know that they’re carrying out their japa, kīrtana, smaraṇa in a large house where many people are bound to be fighting each other all the time. These conflicts may arise due to differences of opinion on various issues — śāstra, guru’s instructions, social roles (varṇāśrama) etc. Even trivial issues viz. “should we take medicine or depend on Krishna” can become a source of contention and conflict. Sometimes, even the best of sādhakas can get caught in such conflicts. Thus, it is important to know what a sādhaka can do in order to minimize conflict and have a peaceful life for executing japa, kīrtana and smaraṇa.​

The first thing to do is to not allow oneself to become a conflict creator. One of the 26 qualities of a devotee is — akṛta-droha — “One who never generates any conflict, especially amongst devotees” (Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 11.11.29). All of us are extremely finite, limited entities in a universe that is infinitely complex. Any understanding of anyone or anything in the universe that we have is marred by several limitations. Due to not being able to see these limitations of oneself and others, people end up having differences of viewpoints, which eventually result in conflicts. Although conflicts are inevitable in the external world, but to try one’s best to not become the creator of conflicts among devotees is a good indicator of one’s vaiṣṇavism.​

The second thing to do is to try and avoid taking sides in useless, petty conflicts. Krishna’s instruction to all devotees is clear — śuṣka-vāda-vivāde na kañcit pakṣaṁ samāśrayet — “A devotee should never take any sides whatsoever in useless arguments” (Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 11.18.30). One should note that this instruction cannot always be practically implemented by those devotees who are managers or conflict resolvers in an institution. Managers have to deal with and take sides even in petty conflicts. However, the devotee who doesn’t have institutional responsibilities can certainly carry out the above-mentioned instruction of Krishna in order to avoid needless strain in his bhajana. Petty conflicts are not worth the time of the serious devotee.​

Finally, even though we may not want to create petty conflicts or willingly take sides in them, but there will always be individuals in the institution with strong opinions, who will come to us and try to convince us to take sides with them in various conflicts. Now if we are in a position of authority to resolve the conflict, and if the conflict needs our intervention, then by all means we should not stay neutral and should take sides with dharma, and should immediately cite śāstra to give reasons for our taking sides. ​

However, if individuals in the institution are coming to us with petty conflicts, or if we have no authority to resolve conflicts, then we can use — “The Okay Man Approach”. The idea behind this approach is to neither say “Yes”, nor say “No” to any strong suggestions or opinions given by others. Instead, the devotee says “Okay” (indicating neither yes nor no), and defuses the situation. This approach is suggested by Nārada Muni:​

jñātayaḥ pitarau putrā​
bhrātaraḥ suhṛdo ‘pare​
yad vadanti yad icchanti​
cānumodeta nirmamaḥ​

Translation: An intelligent man in human society should make his own program of activities very simple. If there are suggestions from his friends, children, parents, brothers or anyone else, he should externally agree, saying, “That’s Okay” but internally he should be determined not to create a cumbersome life in which the purpose of life will not be fulfilled. (Śrīmad-bhāgavatam 7.14.6)​

In other words, neither agreeing, nor disagreeing, but continuing to do what is favorable for one’s bhajana. Even after taking all precautions, if one finds oneself entangled in a conflict, one should try one’s best to use non-provocative speech and get out of the situation as soon as possible. The characteristics of non-provocative speech are given in Bhagavad-gītā (17.15).​

One should know that institutions are needed only in the age of Kali. There is no record of devotees in previous ages joining large institutions in order to execute their bhakti. Institutions are immensely beneficial for the unfortunate souls of this age, since these institutions give one an alternate family and a society in which one can live and practise one’s bhajana as peacefully as possible. If the sādhaka is careful enough, he will be able to stay in the institution, render quality service to the institution as well as to Krishna, and be able to execute his japa, kīrtana and smaraṇa in a way that will enable him to attain perfection in this very life. For a careless sādhaka, the institutional experience can turn into a nightmare.​

Institutions are comparable to Mathurā, Dvārakā or Hastināpura. They’re large gatherings of individuals with different mindsets, motivations and cultural baggages. Eventually, all these places ended up becoming hotbeds of intense conflict. Mathurā was attacked 18 times and had to be abandoned, whereas Dvārakā and Hastināpura ended in terrible fratricidal wars. All these conflicts happened in Krishna’s personal presence, and Krishna allowed it. Same is the case with every institution that grows in size. Devotees who are within the institution and are serious in their bhajana should know how to form small, informal, Vṛndāvana-like groups of like-minded, simple devotees in order to escape the larger conflicts that are inevitable in all institutions.​

sarve bhavantu sukhinaḥ​
sarve santu nirāmayāḥ​
sarve bhadrāṇi paśyantu​
mā kaścid duḥkha-bhāg bhavet​

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 19-May-2021.

~ Japa, Kīrtana and Smaraṇa (Part 22) ~

It has been stated previously that smaraṇa can be performed on Krishna’s nāma (names), rūpa (form), guṇa (qualities) or līlā (pastimes). Now, among all these, the līlā of Krishna is categorized by the previous ācāryas into two main categories — (1) Prakaṭa-līlā and (2) Aprakaṭa-līlā. The term Prakaṭa-līlā refers to those pastimes of Krishna that were manifest in Dvāpara-yuga while he was prakaṭa (visible) to the eyes of each and every one in his proximity. The prakaṭa-līlā has been specified by Śrī Vyāsadeva in the Śrīmad-bhāgavatam and Mahābhārata, and those on the path of vaidhī as well as rāgānugā-bhakti can easily hear those pastimes and engage in smaraṇa of such prakaṭa-līlā.​

The term Aprakaṭa-līlā refers to pastimes of Krishna which go on eternally in the various holy places on earth as well as the original abodes in the spiritual world. These pastimes are going on even today and cannot be seen by the common materialistic eye. However, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says that a few exceptional individuals can see those pastimes even today — bhāgavatottamaiḥ adyāpi dṛśyate kṛṣṇaḥ krīḍan vṛndāvanāntare — “The topmost devotees in love of Krishna can still see him sporting in Vrindavan even today” (Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛtam, 5.392).​

Thus, one of the main aims of līlā-smaraṇa is to be able to rise up to the stage of being a topmost rāgānugā devotee and to directly perceive those aprakaṭa pastimes of Krishna in one’s heart. Those on the path of Rāgānugā-bhakti who cannot currently perceive such pastimes can take help of previous ācāryas who have perceived and written down such aprakaṭa pastimes in their books viz. Kṛṣṇa-bhāvanāmṛtam, Camatkāra-candrikā, Govinda-līlāmṛtam etc. All this should be done in close consultation with an expert guru who understands the value of these literature and the proper method to engage in such smaraṇa. These literature have very little importance for those who are on the path of vaidhī-bhakti.​

When one engages in smaraṇa of aprakaṭa-līlā, one should also understand that the previous ācāryas have also classified all aprakaṭa-līlā into two categories — (1) Mantra-upāsanā-mayī and (2) Svārasikī. It is important to understand the exact distinctions between these two categories.​

The first among these two is Mantra-upāsanā-mayī. As the name suggests, it is a type of aprakaṭa-līlā which is described in a mantra, and is helpful during one’s upāsanā (daily worship of Krishna). For example, let us consider the following dhyāna-mantra (meditation mantra) commonly quoted in many books pertaining to deity worship:​

śuklāmbara-dharaṁ viṣṇuṁ​
śaśi-varṇaṁ caturbhujam​
prasanna-vadanaṁ dhyāyet​

Translation: For ensuring the pacification of all calamities, one should meditate upon Viṣṇu who is wearing pristine white cloth, whose complexion is resembling a moon, who is manifesting four arms and a smiling face. (Ahirbudhnya-saṁhitā, Introductory Verse)​

We can notice a few characteristics about the description of the Lord given in the dhyāna-mantra above:​

(a) The mantra is NOT dwelling on some historical prakaṭa-līlā. Rather it is describing the Lord in “present continuous” tense. Therefore, this mantra is describing continuously ongoing aprakaṭa-līlā, and is inspiring the sādhaka to meditate upon such līlā. Such mantras will never have descriptions of any prakaṭa-līlā that took place in the past.​

(b) The mantra presents a single static image of the Lord in the heart of the sādhaka. The Lord is simply fixed in that static position and the sādhaka meditates upon him as part of his upāsanā (daily worship).​

(c) Such mantras will never have a description of Krishna actively engaging in any physical activity viz. dancing, playing around, talking, walking etc. In short, such mantras do not describe any change in the space time continuum of the Lord. The Lord is eternally fixed in one place (the heart of the sādhaka) and one time (present continuous tense).​

Thus, any aprakaṭa-līlā which is — (1) Described in a mantra ; (2) Part of some upāsanā, i.e. regular worship of the Lord and (3) Satisfies the three criteria mentioned above — becomes known as mantra-upāsanā-mayī aprakaṭa-līlā. We can think of it as holding a static photograph in our heart. An ordinary photograph in the material world is distinct from the person who has been photographed. However, this mantra is a spiritual photograph in which the Lord who has been photographed is personally present. Just as a static photograph doesn’t portray any change in the space time continuum of the photographed individual, similarly, mantra-upāsanā-mayī aprakaṭa-līlā is a spiritual static photograph of the Lord described in a mantra or a verse, and it is used primarily during one’s daily worship of the Lord.​

As soon as there is even a small change in the space time continuum of the Lord, it no longer remains mantra-upāsanā-mayī and turns into svārasikī aprakaṭa-līlā. Consider the following verse from Padyāvalī, which although has many characteristics of mantra-upāsanā-mayī, but which actually is describing svārasikī aprakaṭa-līlā:​

pañca-varṣam atilolam aṅgane​
dhāvamānam alakākulekṣaṇam​
rañjitaṁ namata nanda-nandanam​

Translation: Kindly pay obeisances to the fickle-natured five-year old baby of Nanda Maharaja, who is running around in the courtyard, whose eyes appear to be flickering due to his curly hair, and who is decorated with ankle-bells, bracelets, necklaces and anklets. (Padyāvalī, Verse 134)​

In this verse, the first description of Krishna being a five-year old baby pertains to a static image in present continuous tense. However, as soon as the verse speaks about him running around in the courtyard and blinking his eyes, we immediately understand that there has been a change in the space time continuum. Running around and blinking eyes is not a static activity that can be captured in a static image. Space time motion has been introduced in the meditation. Thus, this verse begins with the characteristics of mantra-upāsanā-mayī but ultimately ends up being svārasikī aprakaṭa-līlā.​

The details of svārasikī aprakaṭa-līlā will be described in the next part.​ /\ò

(To be continued …)​

— Article by Hari Pārṣada Dāsa. 29-May-2021.

Pilgrim’s Diary 8a. Hare Krishna

Previous article mentioned grasping the meaning of the Hare Krishna mantra and I didn’t feel I did the justice to this topic. There is so much more to say about it and I don’t want to continue with pilgrim’s journey without elucidating on those points first. Main reason is that I might not get around to it again, but also because the study of the diary won’t be complete without us making relevant observations or adjustments in our own practice. I don’t want it to be theoretical or even simply inspirational, I want it to be practical.

On the minus side – I should have typed this up at least a week ago when it was all still very fresh in my head. Instead two weeks passed from the last entry in this journal and I might forget this or that, never mind losing a clear structure I intended for this post. I had it, and then it dissolved because other things came into my consciousness. Still, I have to commit this material to paper at least for posterity, so, in no particular order…

I mentioned singing Hare Krishna with specific tunes being expressions of specific feelings rising during the conversation with the Holy Name. I don’t see how it could be done during japa and it’s a good argument for advantage of kirtan over japa, but let’s not forget that Hare Krishna mantra, unlike the Jesus Prayer, already is in a verse form. There are four lines with eight syllables per each. This is the same structure as the famous Anustubh, the meter of the first verse in Sanskrit ever, the one that came to Valmiki. There are many varieties of Anustubh but I can’t easily find the one that fits with Hare Krishna. By varieties I mean sequence of guru and laghu syllables, or short and long, as we say in English. Guru means heavy and laghu means light but in this context “long” and “short” are fine. In Hare Krishna mantra they alternate as follows, with long syllables in capitals:


haRE RAma haRE RAma
RAma RAma haRE haRe

or, if we replace long and short with “o” and “O”:

oO Oo oO Oo
Oo Oo oO oO

and this repeats for “Hare Rama” part. Try to repeat it without actual words and you WILL feel the pattern of call and response. Put this pattern back into you mantra, listen to it, hear it reverberate through your mind and body, make it “your own”. I put it quotation marks because, if we think about it, it’s not our own. It’s not a call and response between us and God but between two different aspects of Divinity – between Hara and Krishna, who changes His mode from Krishna to Rama in the process.

In this way we have two beings but the main one among them responds to the interaction by modifying itself creating a third word in the mantra, but more about this in a moment. Let’s look at the numbers first.

There are 32 syllables, and it’s the syllables that are the building blocks of words and meanings in Sanskrit. Syllables themselves are consonants modified by vowels so it doesn’t contradict the scientific understanding of individual sounds being the most basic unit of information, especially if we consider that consonants and vowels are two fundamental categories of sound and so it’s their combination that produces unique meanings, which are syllables, and we have 32 of those in total. 32=2⁵, of course, which means the entire mantra has 2 as its base elements with no “third wheels”. Let’s see how it goes.

First there are two parts – Hare Krishna and Hare Rama. Each part has two names – Hare and Krishna or Hare and Rama, each name has two syllables, but that’s where we get stuck because there are 6 unique syllables in the mantra – Ha, Re, Krish, na, Ra, and ma. But, as I said, Rama is just another name of Krishna and it gets born out of interaction with Hara so we still have two beings, each being’s name made of two syllables, and not just “two” but one short and one long.

It’s the interaction between short and long syllables that creates the rhythm of the mantra, but it’s not the end yet. The mantra has 16 names, repeated 108 times, and then 16 rounds of those. Here is an obvious idea – why not make meaningful use of this repetition? It has been tried before with individual mantras but matching 16 names to 16 rounds sounds very natural. What do I mean? I mean making stress on each individual name in turn. First round stressing Hare, second round stressing Krishna, third round stressing Hare – see in capitals below, with unchanged parts omitted for now:

HARE krishna hare krishna krishna krishna ….
hare KRISHNA hare krishna krishna hare hare ….
hare krishna HARE krishna krishna hare hare…
hare krishna hare KRISHNA krishna krishna …
hare krishna hare krishna KRISHNA krishna …

Just try to hear how putting stress on different names changes the sound of the mantra, how the mood of it changes. When you make one individual name stand out as the main pillar of the entire mantra you will see how all these mantras suddenly become different. Let’s see how to make more sense of it.

If we split the mantra into pairs then we have “Hare Krishna”, “Krishna Krishna”, “Hare Hare”, and so on. They are distinct combination and one explanation I heard is that “Hare Krishna” and “Hare Rama” indicate the union of Hara and Krishna (or Rama) while “Hare Hare”, “Krishna Krishna”, and “Rama Rama” indicate a call in separation. Thus you can notice that the entire mantra is a vibration of union and separation. Interestingly, first they are together, then Hara calls for Krishna, then Krishna calls for Hara, and then they get together again.

Usually we talk about crying out for Krishna when chanting but in this scheme it’s not us who feel separation, it’s the Divine Beings themselves, and we are here only to observe. Or to make them dance – dance with each other, not with us. WE are the third wheel in this relationship! We should facilitate it, not barge in with our own ideas. Manjari bhava, remember? We are here to make THEM happy, not to worry about ourselves. We’ll be alright, no need to worry about it. I mean we will get old, sick, and die, and no amount of chanting can ever change that.

Anyway, if we stress 16 successive names for each round of our japa we get perfect number of 16 rounds. It’s just meant to be this way. And if we want to increase our rounds it is done in multiples of 16, too.

There is another consideration here as well – let’s say we chant the same “hare krishna HARE krishna …” during one round. Are all these mantras the same? No. Each bead represents one of the 108 principal gopis, which means each one of these gopis has a unique mood. Some are reconciliatory, some challenging, some domineering, some submissive – there are a lot of these classifications in Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu and then in Ujjvala Nilamani. They ARE different personalities and we CAN inject their mood into each mantra, if we ever get to learn their names and peculiar characteristics.

In this way the mantra never becomes repetitive and expresses different moods with each bead and then with each round. There IS something to keep our minds busy, if we learn these distinctions.

Can we turn it into genuine music? Possibly – nothing stops us from changing the tonality of our voice as we chant, and rhythm is already there, as I said. What more do we need for a song? It might not follow our own hearts, with us being concerned with dinners and politics, but, as I said, it’s not our mantra to chant – it’s the dance between Radha and Krishna. We can follow it if we can, that’s all. It would obviously be ideal to learn to fully feel and appreciate it but we probably can’t do it right away, so let’s make baby steps first.

One thing we should remember – japa is not a mindless repetition. It appears so only until we learn its meaning. It’s not mindless even when we simply chant and hear how it sounds and explore the variety of meanings, moods, and emotions already contained within. It becomes mindless only when we want to think of something else but force ourselves to chant. Which is what we do most of time. There are other pitfalls to avoid, like investing ourselves too much when we haven’t learn to patiently hear yet. As I also said above – it’s a dance between Radha and Krishna and they don’t want our opinions and requests just yet. Leave them alone. Learn to appreciate what they are already doing first.

Pilgrim’s Diary 8. On the Road

We left the pilgrim at the end of the summer with his guru suddenly leaving this mortal world. The pilgrim used money earned for guarding fields all summer to buy a copy of Philokalia and went on the road again. This is where his second story begins, though it’s not marked in English translation.

His Jesus Prayer became his constant companion, it traveled with him, comforted him, consoled him, warmed him – they had built a relationship. This should not be very difficult for us either but there are obvious conditions – traveling means detachment from people and places. You meet someone, you see something, and you move on. Things, people, and words come into your view and disappear, you don’t create any bonds with them, just watch them come and go, even though in normal thinking it’s YOU who are traveling. In these ever changing circumstances the pilgrim had only one steady association – with his prayer. From the point of view of this relationship they stayed in one place and everything else traveled past them. We can and we should form a similar bond with the Holy Name, we should also find this solid ground where we stay in one place and life flows before our eyes, and eventually we should stop looking – it doesn’t require our attention anyway. We won’t stop the universe by not looking at it.

Next step for the pilgrim was to realize that this flow of people, places, and events is still distracting. He longed for solitude again but it wasn’t available. He divulged something about himself here – his left arm didn’t properly work from his childhood so he couldn’t get a job. This is interesting – if one wants to walk he will be fed as a passing holy man, but if one wants to stay in one place he has to work for his upkeep, and since our pilgrim was handicapped holding a steady job was not so easy – he lived a hundred years before emergence of “service economy”. Work meant working with your hands and hands needed to be strong. Thus the pilgrim chose walking, and he chose to walk east to Irkutsk, some five thousand kilometres away from central Russia, a city near lake Baikal. There was an apparently famous priest living in Irkutsk and the pilgrim didn’t feel the need to explain why he wanted to see him, not at this point in the book anyway. A side note – the name of that priest is interesting for non-Orthodox readers – in English it would be “Innocent” but in Russian this “c” in the middle is hard and the word doesn’t mean anything, it means “innocent” only in English and other Latin based languages but doesn’t evoke ideas of innocence in Russian even though it’s a very popular name.

The idea was to walk through Siberia, which was always sparsely populated, and there would be no distractions on the way. A look ahead – the entire book is dedicated to events of this journey to Irkutsk where the pilgrim met this “Innocent” priest, which was kind of anti-climatic, if you ask me, but that’s where the road had taken the pilgrim, so let’s go along.

He walked and walked and walked and chanted his Jesus prayer (on his beads) and then he noticed that the prayer, entirely by itself, started entering his heart. It was basically one sentence in the book, but there was so much packed into it that I have been thinking for several days about what it means in practice and what it could mean for us.

First of all – it was result of chanting a lot of names, chanting whole day through, without getting involved in anything else. The pilgrim walked, which isn’t an option for most of us, but we CAN find a way to dedicate more time to chanting. These days we often hear that it’s quality, not quantity that matters, that we shouldn’t prematurely take vows to chant more than sixteen rounds, that it should be done only on the orders of the spiritual master and only under his supervision, and so on. Well, this is also as impractical as us walking five thousand miles to Siberia. Our gurus have no time to babysit our chanting, though consulting with them is, of course, necessary. Still, I don’t see how shooting a “Can I chant one lakh a day?” email is appropriate. It’s not something that can be discussed from a distance, it’s something that should come from close heart to heart relationship, and that’s where practicality becomes a problem. I’d say that we should attain this closeness within our hearts ourselves, not necessarily by hanging out with our gurus day and night. There is much to discuss about this but now is not the time. Chanting a lot of Names has to be done, though.

One has to find a way to be close to his guru and start chanting more and, of course, one has to find a way for chanting itself. This can’t be ignored, we can’t move forward and expect the same results without these two steps. The pilgrim felt his prayer entering into his heart after maybe two months. What should be our equivalent? I once saw a quote from Sivarama Swami’s book on japa – one should get a grasp on what he is doing after five-ten years of practice. The idea is that initially the mantra has no meaning to us, it’s just sounds, but after five-ten years these sounds should start to really mean something. We’ll talk about the meaning a bit later but let’s talk numbers first.

If we gave up our jobs and replaced them with chanting we could be chanting about twelve hours a day – eight hours of work plus grooming, commute etc and two hours we chant already – we are in the region of twelve hours. With reasonably fast speed it works out to two lakhs of names, or 2×64=128 rounds. That’s eight times more than what we chant regularly. This means that what Sivarama Swami said could be achieved in five-ten years would be achievable in one year only if we chant two lakhs a day – counting by the number of names we hear. When Sivarama Swami gave this time frame he also meant “for temple devotees”. I believe he based his estimate after observing temple devotees, not “fringies”. He meant devotees who wake up before sunrise, attend mangala arati, chant sixteen rounds before breakfast, attend deity greeting and guru puja, listen to Bhagavatam classes, engage in active service, read our books one or two hours a day, attend evening Gaura arati – you get the picture. My point is that it’s five-ten years of intense sadhana, not five-ten years of working in the office, with internet and movies and all the other trappings of being “normal”. That kind of lifestyle is useless here – useless for spiritual progress of the kind I have in mind. Conversely, when chanting takes one’s entire day then intensity and purity of lifestyle will bring results faster than dictated by the number of rounds alone. In other words, what the pilgrim experienced is doable and is in the realm of possibility if we apply the same method – a lot of chanting with a lot less distractions.

Now about the meaning – in pilgrim’s words he felt like his heart started saying words of the prayer with each beat. Thus, for example: One – “Lord,” Two – “Jesus,” Three – “Christ,” and so on. Once he discovered this ability he stopped chanting orally and started listening to his heart. He felt subtle pain in his heart, similar to how he felt pain in his wrists when he started chanting on rosary, and his thoughts were flooded with love of Jesus. He felt that if he saw Jesus he would have immediately embraced his feet and kissed them with love and devotion. So we have three things here – prayer on the lips, prayer in the heart, and love in one’s mind. I’m not sure how to translate it properly into our experiences.

Sivarama Swami spoke of grasping the meaning of the mantra, though I don’t recall his exact words. The pilgrim had “Lord”, “Jesus” etc and he felt his heart “pronounce” each name distinctively. Let’s say one’s heart beats at the rate of 80 beats a minute. 80=16×5, which means at this rate we would chant 5 sixteen word Hare Krishna mantras in a minute, which means it would take almost half an hour to finish one round. Obviously, it won’t work. Even with two words, like “Hare Krishna” per one beat, it won’t work. We need to chant a bit more than twenty mantras per minute to keep a reasonable tempo and it just doesn’t resonate with heart beats. At least I don’t see the connection.

We can still approach it from the other side – never mind the hear trate, the words should mean something to us in the same way “Lord”, “Jesus”, and “mercy” mean something to Christians. We have been given the basic meaning of Hare Krishna mantra and every now and then our speakers remind us of it, but there is really a lot more to be said on the subject. Most importantly – we should find what these words mean to us. Take “Hare”, for example – it could be an appeal to Hari or it could be an appeal to Radha. Lord Hari snatches away our material attractions and Srimati Radharani engages us in Krishna’s service. These are two different functions and one should find which one has a meaning to him and in what way. Devotees struggling with life in the material world should probably find what Hari can do for them and what He is probably doing already and remember that when chanting. Our mantras should be meaningful, they should be connected to our lives and should be relevant to our stages of progress. There are so many other meanings of Hare Krishna matra, too, so we always can find something that speaks to us. Every word has multiple meanings and their combinations have multiple meanings as well. “Hare Krishna” is not the same as “Hare Rama” and not the same as “Hare Hare”. Even syllables in Hare Krishna mantra can have different meanings.

The point is that there is always something in the mantra that can speak directly to us and we can find it. It’s not a matter of giving book references but a matter of the mantra itself. If we want to know what it means to us it will reveal itself and make itself relevant. We just have to listen. Then we can start pronouncing each syllable with full knowledge and in full connection to the mantra. It will literally become our companion, become our conversation partner. We WILL see the mantra reciprocating with us, though [probably] not in the same way as conversing with other people. Personally, I experience a several day lag between expressing what I want and getting the answers. Like if I feel I want to hear something about a particular topic and then appropriate book or a video or facebook post coming to my attention. I don’t order these things, though, they must be heartfelt inquiries that rise up almost on their own and then get answered. Two-three days is a big delay, one might note, but it’s not how I see it. I rather see it as lots of useless stuff happening in between exchanges in the ongoing discourse. I pay a lot less attention to this stuff than to questions and answers. It’s “two-three days” in human calculation but this conversation is not on the human level.

I guess it could be compared to chess games played by exchanging letters in the old days. You mail your move and wait for reply with your opponent’s move, think about it, send your new move, wait for reply etc. The game can become very exciting, but this excitement should be experienced on game’s time, not on everyday’s time. If you forget the game the excitement goes away but it still exists, you just have to filter out everyday noise and concentrate on the game again. It IS possible to live in such a game but, of course, we are also forced to watch a lot of mundane stuff passing by, too. Forget chess, a very common example is people falling in love and exchanging text messages. They, too, live on a different time, barely noticing what happens to them between their texts.

There is another issue here – articulation. Desire in the heart takes time to manifest itself in the mind and it takes time to come out from the lips and, similarly, the response takes time to propagate from the layers of the universe before it materializes as somebody’s helpful Facebook comment, for example. We are mediating our conversation with God through a slow responding medium of our bodies and our universe, but that’s what we have have and so I don’t complain. This brings me to another aspect – our chanting should resonate with our bodies.

What I mean is that it takes time to say the words and it takes time to feel them. This becomes important when their meanings become distinct. Our minds need time to change their state from requests to thankfulness or to whatever the appropriate meaning should be. This time can be reduced with practice, as evidenced from experienced chanters, but we have to learn it slowly first. It takes time for the mouth, it takes time for the mind, it takes time for intelligence to switch to the meaning of the next mantra, and it takes time for the heart. When we are somehow blessed by circumstances we can find this perfect pattern and perfect tempo and feel the mantra reverberating through our entire bodies, and I don’t mean “head to toe”, I mean it from “heart to tongue”. This goes both ways, too – sometimes we hear the Name and we catch its meaning in the mind and then our heart melts, and sometimes the call rises from the heart and then reverberates through the body until it manifests on the tongue, and we hope the Lord is listening.

In any case, depending on one’s “speed of life”, it needs to take a certain amount of time and we should become sensitive to it. We should not rush the mantra before we can catch what it means and we should not stretch it so that the mind wanders away. It would wander away if we chant fast, too – because it can’t meaningfully distinguish between fast flying words. The idea of chanting audibly was to give the mind something to hear, if you remember, and evolving from hearing to listening is a natural next step.

It’s like a song on a radio – it’s one thing to hear music coming out of it and quite another to actually listen to the song itself, to resonate with its tempo, to appreciate the moves of the tune, and to absorb the meaning of the words. Our Hare Krishna mantra is not that different – there is tempo, there are words, and there could be a tune, too – our voice can rise and fall and we can change tone if we want. We already do it in kirtans, all that is needed is to drastically reduce the amount of “music” and it becomes japa.

Speaking of kirtans – I listen to a lot of Aindra playing in the background and, with time, I noticed how each tune is very personal for him. He is not singing melodies but rather the call from his heart takes shape of a song. Emotion translates to music, which is how music is created anyway. We have to feel something very very deeply to make it into a song, and that’s how most of our common kirtan tunes were born initially, before they were turned into memorized melodies with a lot of embellishments. I especially like it when “Hare Krishna” part produces a new emotion and then “Hare Rama” part is a response of amusement and appreciation. This is a special stage in a tune’s development and I think it’s very precious. Later on in the evolution the distinction disappears and “Hare Rama” part simply mirrors “Hare Krishna” – because we, the general public, do not feel the same way, we simply follow the already known music, we do not discover it, and so we do not react to our discoveries. I’m getting away from the topic, however.

So, one way or another, but the pilgrim observed the mantra entering his heart. He does not elaborate on it at this point and so he presents himself as an observer – the heart chants and the pilgrim listens. How does it work with listening, though? It’s not his ears that hear the prayer of his heart. Perhaps his sense of hearing, the actual sense as a part of his subtle body, not “sense of hearing” in a common usage, so his sense of hearing had, perhaps, detached itself from his ears. We don’t need ears to hear – senses and physical sense organs are different things. This would mean that the pilgrim is gradually moving to a different state of reality – detached from gross matter. Can it happen to us? It probably should, if we did one of the usual kinds of yoga, but since Lord Caitanya invested the “gross” sound of the Holy Name with the power to reveal itself it’s not strictly speaking necessary to detach ourselves from our bodies in order to perceive the Holy Name in all its glory. That’s His very unusual gift, probably never seen before – revealing God’s presence in common articles of matter. Traditionally, things like deities, names, books, and all kinds of sacred objects, were seen as tools and as gateways to divinity, but with Lord Caitanya’s blessings we don’t have to look anywhere else – He brought full power of Divinity right into this world.

I didn’t think much of it before but now I can’t read Pilgrim’s Diary in the same way anymore. First time around I was sure that going inside the heart was THE way but now I realize that if we can’t see Krishna in the audible name outside we won’t see Him inside the heart either. It’s not the location were we look that matters, though chanting in the heart, the way the pilgrim learned, is still a pretty useful skill to have. The pilgrim himself didn’t totally disappear in his internal chanting either and that would be the subject of the next installment in this series. Something very “external” happened to him and we will discuss it next time.

Pilgrim’s Diary 5. Nyasa

In Vedic tradition mantras given at initiation are supposed to be “placed” on the body in a ritual called “nyasa”. Good example of that is Narayana Kavaca from the Eighth Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam. The Holy Name, however, is famously exempt from this rule – niyamitah smarane na kalah – no niyama, no rules, no kalah, no consideration of time. Is it equally true for the Jesus Prayer given to the pilgrim? Yes and no – not in the traditional sense.

I think I forgot to mention it last time – unceasing prayer was supposed to be chanted by the tongue, by the mind, and in the heart. So far the instructions were given only for chanting coming from the tongue but the major work is placing the prayer in the mind and, the hardest part – in the heart. It’s not going to happen at once but it is necessary – the prayer must come in touch with these three bodily parts or it would be ineffective. In Narayana Kavaca prayers one is supposed to touch his left knee and right ear so it’s not quite the same, and yet the principle remains – one’s body has to become one with one’s mantra. Narayana Kavaca was meant to protect one’s knees and ears so it had to become one with those bodily parts. Makes sense.

Strictly speaking, this is not required from Hare Krishna mantra which provides direct connection with the Absolute and doesn’t require medium of the body. Of course we can’t chant it without using the body but, with experience, we should realize that the mantra exists entirely by itself. We are not specifically encouraged to “place” it inside our bodies but nobody would object to it either – Krishna is Krishna. Our problem is that we can’t perceive the mantra’s full power and sweetness when it escapes our lips. Maybe it would be better felt in the mind? It should definitely feel better in the heart, right? Not necessarily – Krishna is Krishna, He is independent of any medium, if we can’t see Him in the books or deities then we can’t see Him inside our hearts either. It’s not a mechanical process and it does not depend on our powers of perception, it depends solely on Krishna’s agreement to reveal Himself.

Nevertheless, traditional process of yoga, of connection with the Lord, should not be dismissed. We still have to withdraw our consciousness from the external world and focus it on our hearts, hoping to meet the Lord there. This is how it’s supposed to work – connect with the Lord first, then learn to see Him in the objects of the external world, too. I don’t think Lord Caitanya is supposed to dazzle us with external displays of sankirtana all the time. We have to put our own work in finding Him as well. Of course, when He so obviously demonstrates His external presence, like five hundred years ago in Navadvipa or like fifty years ago in Hare Krishna movement, He can’t be ignored or discounted, but these five hundred years in between were conspicuous by His absence. He presence is not always externally perceptible.

So let’s return to the book. Once again, the goal has been announced – one should chant the Holy Name, in this case Jesus Prayer, always and at all times, inside one’s heart, and even in one’s sleep. The first instruction, however, was much easier. After reading a couple of other unspecified passages the old man explained their meanings and let the disciple to attend predawn Mangala arati. His last instruction was to practice this prayer under his supervision and warned the pilgrim that doing it alone would be troublesome and ineffective.

During Mangala arati the pilgrim felt elated and fervently prayed for further directions. There was no place for him to stay but he heard that there was a village nearby and, by God’s grace, he was able to get a job there guarding someone’s fields through the summer. He got a straw hut to stay and all the time in the world to pray. What a find! He put himself to practice.

First week went fine, he was contemplating his Jesus Prayer from all sides and reflecting on the passages the old man read to him from Philokalia. Then things started to go wrong. He felt heaviness, inertia, boredom, total lack of taste, sleepiness, and simultaneous influx of all kinds of fascinating ideas. He went back to the forest church and told about this to his guru. “It’s normal,” was the reply. “It’s just maya testing you because those who take to chanting the Holy Name are about to escape her grip forever and ever, and she won’t let it go so easily.” Replace “Maya” with “the world of darkness” and you can’t tell vaishnava from a Christian here. The old man also added that even Maya serves at the discretion of the Lord so there is nothing to be really afraid of. This test indicated the need to develop humility and to give up one’s own desires. Unless one’s heart is clean and pure it’s not suitable for the Holy Name to establish itself there. It would lead only to pride. The old man opened Philokalia again and read a passage that I found unexpected:

‘If after a few attempts you do not succeed in reaching the realm of your heart in the way you have been taught, do what I am about to say, and by God’s help you will find what you seek. The faculty of pronouncing words lies in the throat. Reject all other thoughts (you can do this if you will) and allow that faculty to repeat only the following words constantly, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” Compel yourself to do it always. If you succeed for a time, then without a doubt your heart also will open to prayer. We know it from experience.’

On second thought – Krishna also said that mind can be conquered by sustained efforts, by one’s willpower. We have also been told to speak nothing else but Hare Krishna mantra. To be honest, I always fail at this. I’m compelled to say so many other things, but I would also admit that avoiding temptations is very important. This instruction was meant for Christian monks and ascetics and I’m sure it would work for “simple living high thinking” vaishnavas, too. The pilgrim lived alone in the forest, on the edge of the field he was guarding, so he had no one to talk to and no TV. In those days cell coverage didn’t reach remote areas yet so there was no mobile internet either. There was no outlet to even charge his phone, if he had one. Electricity had not reached rural Russia yet. My point is that living in today’s world and peace of mind are incompatible, and one has to make concerted efforts to isolate himself from the noise of the world. It has to be done, skillfully, gradually, with humility, with recognition of one’s weakness, but it has to be done. As far as I tried, it really works and mind CAN be brought under control when it is protected from unnecessary stimuli.

In this regard, Christian response to this book made a point that the pilgrim, in his twenties by their calculation, was jumping ahead of himself and that one should go through many many years of practice before one can dedicate himself solely to prayer. Fair enough. Actually, very true, but we all must come to this point anyway. Christians can’t accept that the bulk of this progress could have been done in previous lives and, perhaps, we also have to accept that perfection in our chanting is a multi-lifetime project as well. It helps to understand how the world works, it helps to know what distractions are there and what their roots are so they hold no mystery and don’t provoke curiosity. Curiosity is encouraged in modern population but there must come a stage when one sees it as a distraction. We should realize carvita carvananam principle for ourselves – all the alleged pleasures and treasures of the world are only chewing the chewed. But for that things have to chewed first, too. How else would you recognize them?

This is an uncomfortable point for those devotees who believe in one life ticket back to Godhead. I’m not here to discourage them and I know many who are well on their way towards this goal, but I am also aware of many who are fooling themselves and driven by rather mundane interests in their daily dealings. You can’t be genuinely excited by something you see on the news or something you anticipate in your own life AND hope to return to Krishna. Maybe we can get to fulfill those desires in Krishna’s presence, but it won’t make us into His devotees, it won’t grant us Krishna prema.

I was hoping to finish this part of the story today but there’s too much interesting stuff left. Coming back to the title – so far it’s not so much about placing mantra “on” our bodies but about placing ourselves INTO the mantra. Let the Holy Name take over our lives, let the mind surrender unto it. It’s a very important step that no one can neglect. Mind must become still and peaceful. Not thoughtless, but peaceful. Undisturbed.

Vanity thought #1391. Insanity

According to Einstein, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I tend to value his insights and I reminded other people about this observation multiple times but when it comes to myself the rules are always meant to be bent, aren’t they?

It was only a week ago that I tried chanting three lakhs of names and the lesson I learned from the experience is that for me it’s still premature. Then yesterday I heard that I might have another couple of days to myself next month and the first thought that came into my mind was “I should try again, I really want to try again”. Isn’t it insane?

This wasn’t the first time I attempted to chant three lakhs, I think I tried a few time before and succeeded twice, but there’s only one memory that is etched into my mind, from the very first time I completed the task. It was about 11 PM and I had only six or seven rounds left. I was tired like a dog, I was sleepy, my hand ached, the tip of my middle finger was cracked and almost bleeding, and yet I still had determination to finish. That’s when I sensed a kind of epiphany, it was as if Kṛṣṇa finally conceded that I deserve His attention and His recognition of my effort. It wasn’t just a second wind for me, it was sudden realization that my chanting mattered and I was “welcomed to the club”, so to speak.

Now the actual membership is obviously deferred until I sufficiently purify my consciousness but from that moment on I knew that my place was booked, reserved, waiting for me to reclaim it.

Maybe it’s this one memory is all that drives me to try again and again, I want to relive that glorious moment, even if it didn’t feel like anything special externally. There was no tears, hairs standing on end, nothing of that kind, just an internal understanding that Kṛṣṇa was somehow pleased. And not even Kṛṣṇa personally, but the Holy Name or maybe the Supersoul – something or someone I have a regular relations with in lieu of relations with Kṛṣṇa Himself, my personal understanding of who or what the Absolute Truth is. It didn’t reveal itself, just let me know that my chanting had been heard, and I can’t forget it.

Several times after that I got a subtle message that “now it’s not the time”, and to augment it I was given some other engagements I had to accept. This last weekend was the first time the universe went along with my plan and that’s why I hoped it would work, but it didn’t. It’s still not the time, so why do I want to repeat it next month?

Well, I don’t actually want to repeat it, I want to learn from mistakes and do it differently, but I haven’t decided yet what exactly I want to change. Maybe I should set a lower limit, maybe set no limit at all, maybe set only the number of hours dedicated to chanting, maybe decide to chant whole day and simply record the number at the end. Maybe chant only as long as I feel like it, maybe find some other way to avoid the pressure. I still have time to find the best formula, and I think I will need it.

Last Saturday might have been the worst day in my recent memory, quality wise, but the week after that was easily the best week I remember. My mind was unusually cooperative and attentive and my consciousness was always in the right place. Now the effect is slowly wearing off and I might need another boost, another marathon.

Next time I try, should I chant slower, without a rash, and try to appreciate every Name coming out of my mouth? Or should I set a goal and try to hack my way through exhaustion and sleepiness and don’t stop until I’m done? I think this second approach is the one that worked for me last Saturday and that time when I actually finished my rounds. Should I change this winning formula and focus on quality rather than on the valiance of the effort?

It’s hard to say what’s better. Effort means sacrifice, sacrifice means reward, reward means mercy and recognition by Kṛṣṇa. Attentive, quality chanting might please Him right away, under normal circumstances it always feels better and it should be our goal anyway. Chanting is not just means to an end, a price to pay in exchange for some spiritual goodies, pure chanting is the goal in itself just as bhakti is the reward in itself. Whatever it leads to is not as valuable as the process.

The counterargument could be that my chanting is not pure yet and so for me it’s the effort that could possibly count, Kṛṣṇa is not going to listen to my chanting itself.

There’s also something to be said about other forms of purification. On Saturday I haven’t taken any prasādam, for example, and so only one function of my tongue was engaged in Kṛṣṇa’s service. My intelligence was also dying for learning things, processing information, figuring stuff out etc. I didn’t give it a chance to purify itself through philosophical speculation or whatever way works for purifying intelligence.

And what is it with my using “I”, “my” and “mine” in every sentence today? Should I address this self-centeredness first? Is it possible for us to turn ourselves around and talk about these important things without filtering them through personal perspective? Is it possible to talk about them from Kṛṣṇa’s POV? I still don’t know how and this means I’m still not ready for pure chanting.

Or is pure chanting something that simply needs to be done, not talked about? Am I overthinking things? Should we just chant without seeking external validation from our intelligence? Should we give up our attachments to hows and whys and what fors and just chant. Chant, don’t talk.

Or is it completely natural to be nervous about it, like a boy before his first date, but this nervousness would go away by itself once our date with the Holy Name starts rolling?

What I really want to achieve is just being with the Holy Name. Being with the sound, being with the concept, live my life in its shadow, hang out together. Maybe then I’ll get a chance to interact with it, pray, hear feedback, or simply know that the Name likes my company, too. Maybe He will teach me faster, maybe He will purify my consciousness faster, maybe He’ll teach me how to surrender.

In any case, the Holy Name is not the worst company to keep.

Vanity thought #1387. Dream turned into a nightmare

This has nothing to do with dreams we watch when we sleep, it’s my dream desire that got fulfilled and left me confounded and exhausted. I still can’t make sense out of it and speak about the experience with any clarity or certainty, so all interpretations are still on the table.

Last week I found out that I had Friday and Saturday all to myself and I thought it would be a good idea to dedicate these two days to chanting, especially Saturday. I haven’t done this in a long time, a few previous opportunities were lost to various circumstances, so I wasn’t sure it would finally happen, I was waiting and watching for any disturbance in the force, so to speak, but nothing happened and so Friday came.

I thought I’d prepare myself gradually and chant sixty four rounds first. My biggest worry was that my wrist would get tired of holding the beads and the skin on the tip of my middle finger might get bruised from counting the beads and rolling them between fingers as I chant, so I thought sixty four would be a good start.

I still had a few engagements on Fridays so I had to chant when I had free time, of which I had plenty. I finished the first sixteen in the morning as usual but the rest had to wait until the afternoon, minus some six rounds I squeezed at lunchtime. When I was finally free I took up the japa bag and did the other forty two rounds straight without a break.

It was tough but doable, I quite enjoyed the experience, it was just me and the Holy Name and my mind was cooperative. My wrist sore a little but I sensed no physical obstacles to the big Saturday whatsoever. Just one more day alone with the mantra, I thought. I was waiting for this a long time and it all looked good.

Then Saturday came and I started briskly. I was surprised at the slight increase in my speed and I took it as a sign that someone has done the calculations and decided that I had to chant faster to complete my task – I wanted to do the full three lakhs, or a hundred ninety two rounds, or three sets of sixty four, or twelve sets of sixteen.

At my normal speed it would have taken me just over nineteen hours, leaving less than five for toilets breaks, showers, and sleep. With the increased speed it would have shortened the time to eighteen with six hours for rest – a very manageable number. Give an hour for toilet breaks and showers and there would be five hours left to sleep. Less than I need but I didn’t mind sleeping late on Sunday morning.

The first sixteen rounds were counted as the required duty and they went fine, no worse than usual. Chanting was brisk, either my subconscious or the Supersoul were obviously pushing me, and everything seemed to be in order.

Then came trouble.

I don’t know what happened but my mind went completely berserk, I could hardly remember what I was doing, that I was chanting in the company of the Holy Name. The sick bastard seemingly went through every memory I have ever had, not missing anything, and I completely lost my composure. Externally I was fully on track but my consciousness just wouldn’t concentrate on chanting.

I thought that getting through this mind-storm was necessary and eventually it would quieten down but peace seemed to be elusive. The day was long, of course, a few hours of confusion wouldn’t matter if I finally found my place at the feet of the Holy Name, but it dragged on and on and on. And then I got tired.

I certainly couldn’t walk whole day like but sitting made me sleepy. I had this intolerable phantasmagoria in my head and at the same time I think I actually dozed off for a moment or two, still chanting and counting at the same speed but external consciousness being switched of. It was a state of torture while being caught in between being asleep and being awake.

So, at the end of the first sixty four rounds I decided to take a nap. It went well, I slept for maybe half an hour, woke up by myself, and continued chanting. Time wise I was still on schedule, everything was fine, except it wasn’t. Peace was still elusive, escapades of my mind stressed me out and I was thinking about finding a way to ignore it and listen to the Holy Name despite the cacophony of thoughts and memories in my head. I wasn’t very successful, but it’s certainly an idea to be explored further.

Towards the end of the second set of sixty four I was very tired again. I tried to perk myself up, walk up and down to get the blood going, but nothing worked. At least the mind got tired – if I was tired of listening to it imagine how exhausting it must have been inventing all those things. Aww, poor little thing, all this trouble for nothing, as I simply kept chanting and chanting.

Eventually I realized that I needed a second nap or I couldn’t go on. I took it, maybe for fifteen-twenty minutes, chanted some more, and got tired again. I knew I was going to be tired and I thought I had enough energy to continue overall, but I underestimated my strength. About an hour later I had to take another nap, with japa beads still in my hand, safely placed on a clean surface, I made myself comfortable, closed by eyes, and let it go.

It felt so good and when I remembered myself again I thought I needed some more sleep, it was so sweet and so I caved in. When I finally woke up three hours were gone. I kept chanting and doing math in my head – “how many rounds left, how many hours, am I still on track?” Then I realized that I could possibly finish three lakhs in twenty four hours but it would mean my next day would be totally screwed as I would have to sleep at least until lunch. I wasn’t even feeling fully refreshed and so wasn’t sure another nap would not be necessary.

That’s when I realized I had to give up. I chanted a couple more rounds but once determination was gone and decision had been made I saw no point. I went to bed and slept for seven hours straight. The end.

I didn’t complete the three lakhs but still did a “respectable” hundred and forty rounds, almost three quarters of the goal, but, most importantly, whole day long I didn’t do anything but chant, all my waking time was dedicated to chanting, minus toilet and showers. I didn’t eat anything, only drank water, and this might have compounded my problems, but by now my body is trained to live without food, it knows where all the nutrients are stored and I didn’t feel any hunger at all. Perhaps an injection of calories would have given me needed boosts of energy but I was defeated by sleep, not by hunger.

Should have thought of that – big chanting marathon like this requires a fully rested body but my wasn’t. I collected a lot of sleep debt over the week and it so happened that I had to pay it on this day. Next time I should account for that, too.

There’s a bigger problem, though – the mind. Something happened to it and something happened to me, it was like chanting beyond sixteen rounds was unwelcome. Higher powers, fate and the Supersoul, did not object extra chanting like they did before but they did not cooperate either. All throughout the day I felt a disconnect, I wasn’t myself.

Maybe it was stress of having to complete the self-imposed vrata that did me in. If I chanted because I wanted to it would have been okay but I chanted to prove something to myself. Maybe it’s all the planning and calculating and worrying that did me in. I chanted sixty four rounds the previous day without any worries at all, I knew I had time, I didn’t have to hurry, it was perfect.

The best explanation I have, however, is that I should simply go with the flow and make the best of what Kṛṣṇa and my karma have arranged for me already. By their grace I have enough time to read and listen and otherwise engage myself in service, trying to improve on that is foolish. I have plenty of material desires that cannot be addressed by chanting alone yet, they need other outlets, and I shouldn’t deny them when Kṛṣṇa arranges for their fulfillment.

This realization makes me feel that every moment of our lives is truly special in that it has been arranged by the Lord to bring us closer to Him. As I said, it’s foolish to try and improve on that, we should instead learn to see Kṛṣṇa’s hand behind everything that happens even when things do not comply with strict requirements of sādhana.

I must say that chanting since that Saturday has been very sweet and illuminating, nothing to complain about whatsoever, and all other daily engagements in service were sweet, too. I see things with new eyes and with newly found respect, and I like it. Lesson has apparently been learned.

By back2krishna Posted in Japa Tagged

Vanity thought #1255. Thought process explained

Somehow my mind lost its focus and keeps forgetting things when I write these articles. It’s a curious situation, actually. I know what I’m going to type but no matter what I do, I always forget half of it. Sometimes the reason is that I just don’t fully prepare myself mentally, don’t visualize every turn of the argument before hand, so when time comes to sit down and type I follow a different path from what was intended before.

You’d think that the solution would be to think the post through and memorize the key points but that doesn’t work either because when time comes to sit down the mind does not follow previously covered tracks, it tends to think new thoughts instead. As much as I want to stick to the program it follows “inspiration” and things get forgotten.

Inspiration is an important consideration in itself. “Writers block” is a real thing and I don’t want it to happen to me. Real writers have the luxury to wait for their inspiration to come but I took a vow to post something everyday and I don’t feel satisfied until the article reaches a thousand words. I can’t wait for the inspiration, I can’t depend on it, I have to produce it myself. How?

I used to think about it while chanting but I stopped a while ago. I used to pray for it but then I decided that it’s not worth diverting my attention to during chanting. That took almost two hours of preparation from my day and so sometimes I just don’t have the time to think these articles through. I just pray that when I sit down Kṛṣṇa would not forget me and accept my efforts as a service.

With an attitude like that I have to respect the flow of my mind. Well, it’s actually mind under the direction of intelligence under the direction of the modes of nature under the direction of the Lord. And, despite of what my mind tells me, I’m not the one writing these things. I’m here just to observe. Mind sees something interesting, takes a note of it, contemplates the topic, gets suggestions, remembers things, looks for confirmation, and finally presents it as an idea for an article.

Personally, I try to learn to distance myself from it. It would happen with or without my participation, the material world is not going to stop just because I decided to lose interest in it. Well, it will eventually stop for me but not for everybody else.

Usually, when a devotee writes something about Kṛṣṇa we treat it as devotional service coming from his heart, authorized and supervised by Kṛṣṇa. A devotee has to make an effort to please the Lord and we can judge the result by the purity of this effort, and also by the quality of the presentation. No one likes to read half-arsed messages that do not elicit any interest or inspiration.

I”m trying to distance myself from such thinking. I’m not this body and I’m not a doer of anything. By the arrangement of the material nature this body sometimes does something related to the Lord and that’s what I should be grateful for. Sometimes these efforts look relatively more accomplished, sometimes they look sloppy, sometimes they look pure, sometimes they look contaminated with envy, ego, or desire for sense gratification. I really have no control over it, my body lives in certain conditions and it reacts to them.

We will not obtain devotion by building up our temporary intelligence and “understanding” things. We cannot go on on chanting only either, we need our heads in the game, too, at least for the time being. We need classes, we need books, we need devotees exchanging opinions, we need to argue in favor of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and against atheism, we need tips on overcoming our anarthas. All those things are necessary but only from the bodily consciousness point of view. As long as we are here the body will be doing something but that alone will not lead to devotion.

Bhakti is not the result of activities on the material platform so our interest in what happens here must be limited. We also need to learn to focus only on Kṛṣṇa related things and look past everything else. I can’t stress this enough – look past everything else that bodies do and focus only on their engagements in Kṛṣṇa related activities.

Sometimes there’s not a lot to get focused on, our appetites for sensory inputs might be bigger than what little Kṛṣṇa consciousness is available, and so we might get involved with something else, less directly related to the Lord. That’s natural, too, but then we should build patience and realize that simple remembrance of the Lord is more important than having mind and intelligence fully engaged in any other topic. Mind and intelligence are moved by the modes of nature, sometimes these winds don’t blow in the desired direction, but should’t it be an opportunity to disengage ourselves from the material world altogether? Let it do whatever it does and let not become judges of that. There’s still Kṛṣṇa to be remembered.

Judging things is what keeps us here. We need to have a look and form an opinion. We need to feel the satisfaction of figuring out something. We need to feel comfort of being properly adjusted in our position. We need safety of knowing our situation in time and place. We need to have a grasp on things. We need presence of our minds, and not only that, we need clarity. All that is on top of lower sensory engagements.

Well, we don’t need any of that. That’s what false ego wants – to be a fully integrated and fully adjusted part of the material nature. It’s not in our real interest at all.

To step back a bit – all these arguments started with two episodes I experienced while chanting. First was when I was doing japa in total darkness and very comfortably seated on a sofa. I couldn’t see anything, I couldn’t hear anything, the whole world just disappeared and there was only the sound of the Holy Name. After a while I stopped trying to produce this sound and just listened to it. I couldn’t really locate its source then – I didn’t hear it coming out of my mouth, I didn’t hear it entering my ears, the sound vibrations turned into the Kṛṣṇa’s names somewhere in my brain, which is impossible to locate. That’s when I started hearing “myself” as an outsider. The effect was similar to listening to recordings of one’s voice for the first time – our voice always sounds different from what we imagine when we speak.

So that was the point when I started to realize that my body does its chanting on its own, I’m here just to listen. It chants by the mercy of guru, Kṛṣṇa, and devotees, and it’s the material nature that makes my lips move accordingly. I can only express interest in the process, that’s all.

Second episode was when I just woke up and immediately took my japa bag. I wasn’t fully awake yet, had no real concept of what time it was, how much time I had, what was my schedule for the rest of the day, and where everyone else was. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings and during this time I realized that I don’t need to know any of those things, chanting is perfect without this kind of knowledge.

So there… Word of caution, though – these articles shouldn’t be seen as inspired by Kṛṣṇa from within or anything like that. They are written by a conditioned soul under the modes of nature and according to its limited experiences in this particular incarnation. It so happens that during this time we see a rise of the movement of Lord Caitanya and so some of these experiences are influenced by the Lord and, accordingly, some of this stuff becomes related to the Lord, and that’s what should be appreciated, the rest is best forgotten. It will be forgotten at the time of death anyway, and whatever is taken by the soul into the next incarnation is not worthy of remembering either. Only the Holy Name matters, and it’s there with us at all times and it never changes, as fresh and youthful as ever.

Now I have to go and change the title of this post because that’s not what I had in mind when I sat down to type it at all.