Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Nectar Chronicles: Part 1

Inspired by the "Nectar of Devotion" lecture series given by His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada from October 20-November 13, 1972 at the Radha-Damodara Temple in Vrndavana, India

All of these lectures are available for download at ISKCON Desire Tree.

Let me set the scene...

It is autumn in Vrndavana. The clouds have broken in the rainy season, a natural metaphor of the mercy of Caitanya Mahaprabhu that has broken through to the Western world.

Prabhupada describes it thusly in the "The Description of Autumn" chapter of Krsna book: "As clouds sometimes clear, even in the rainy season, and sometimes the moon, stars and sun become visible, so even in this Kali-yuga there are sometimes advantages. For example, sometimes Lord Caitanya’s Vedic movement of distributing the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra is heard. People seriously eager to find real light should take advantage of this movement instead of looking toward the light of mental speculators and atheists."

Surrounded by a transcendental gaggle of his young, eager,confused, and very sincere disciples from the mleccha-lands, the acarya, the best friend, the magnificent personality that is Srila Prabhupada expounds on the basics of Krsna Consciousness, laying the literal foundation for the worldwide spreading of his mission for the benefit of all living entities.

Thanks to the minor miracles of modern recording technology, we, as his disciples and grand-disciples and so on, have the unique situation of having the sound of the acarya, the words of the acarya, and the presence of the acarya available freely at our fingertips and eardrums at any given moment.

These are my humble reflections on these timeless and priceless lectures, the words of Srila Prabhupada, the parampara passing through him and in him, to us now and forever.

Lecture #1

Srila Prabhupada knows that his young disciples, those his spiritual master has sent to him to help him fulfill his mission, are raw and prone to easy and heavy misjudgement and misunderstanding.

So, although he is speaking from the very exalted platform of the Bhakti-Rasamrta-Sindhu by Srila Rupa Goswami, which has been translated by Prabhupada, who like Srila Vyasadeva is very kind to the ignorant masses, into The Nectar of Devotion, we are really here in Krishna Consciousness 101, and we should relish every moment.

This is our chance to stand on the firmest ground, to build the strongest foundation, simply by our attentive and respectful hearing.

...Who is the personality behind this foundation? It is Srila Rupa Goswami. Prabhupada says our aim of life must be to serve the mission of the acaryas. By this service, in its many dynamic forms and expressions, we actually associate with Rupa Goswami and all the acaryas personally

Another brick in the transcendental wall of our foundation is the association of the devotees, the cypher and medium through which we gain the opportunity for loving service exchanges wherein this personal association of the acaryas lies, waiting to bear its fruit.

Siddhanta...the conclusions of the acaryas are the lighthouse of clarity in the dark sea of the Kali-Yuga. Prabhupada says to the assembled Vaisnavas:

"Those who are advanced devotee, they know siddhänta, the conclusion. In the Caitanya-caritämåta, therefore, it has been advised, siddhänta baliyä citte nä kara alasa ihä haite krsna läge sudrdha mänasa [Ädi 2.117]

If you neglect siddhänta, conclusion, given by the äcäryas, then you will misunderstand Krsna. Krsna, therefore Narottama däsa Thäkura says... These are the evidences.
Narottama däsa Thäkura, such an exalted äcärya, he's teaching us, "Don't try to understand yugala-piriti, the love affairs between Rädhä and Krsna, concoctedly, by your own concoction." No.

You should first of all try to serve the Six Gosvämis, rüpa-raghunätha-pade haibe äkuti, how they are directing. Just like this Bhakti-rasämåta-sindhu. Srila Rüpa Gosvämi is not teaching in the beginning the loving affairs of Rädhä-Krsna. No. He's training, first of all, the reader, the devotee, how to become first of all pure devotee."

If we jump, we shall fall...fall right off the cliff. Prabhupada warns his young disciples, he warns us, that we shouldn't take off the training wheels until we know how to balance ourselves, until we know how to ride the bike of Vaisnava etiquette, until we have real, honest, active faith in the siddhanta of the acaryas.

We cannot re-establish our relationship with Krsna artificially, or as Prabhupada reveals by metaphor, we cannot force the sun to rise. It is revealed gradually, with proper training. Svarup-siddhi, our natural position, is revealed gradually.

Prabhupada also knows that some of his young disciples are still impressionable to the impersonalist gobbly-gook they discovered in their psychedelic journey to the promised land.

Similar to the "stay high forever" rhetoric of the 2nd Avenue days, Prabhupada relates that the impersonalist may shoot into the effulgence like a rocket, buoyed by his austerities, but like the rocket, unless it finds a planet to land on and engage, one cannot float forever. One must come back down.

Whether its psychedelic seasoning or millions of lifetimes of cold-cave austerities, without Krsna in the center, the results are not permanent. The fruits eventually become dry, spoiled, and rotten.

Prabhupada is very careful to make clear that artificial bhajan invariably leads back to sense pleasure. It does not lead to Krsna. If we jump, we will fall down.


Our training ground is our preachings. Our college classrooms. Our bhakti-vrksa gatherings. Our festival delights. Our subway book distributions. Every inch of the globe stands ready to be used to rescue our faltering excuse of an civilization to the feet of the acaryas.

Prabhupada's encouragement is simple but completely rock-solid. We should just try to preach this message, and the more strength we will get to go on further and further, reaching more and more people, entering into newer and uncharted territories.

This is the best welfare activity for everyone. Better than political rallies, petitions, and seditions. The welfare it gives is free and real.

It hits the soul, like a Trane refrain, and brings the love so lacking, filled in its void by a hatred, a collection of aparadhas, that sears the very idea of our actual identity, of the peace and self-realization that is our eternal birthright.

Anyone who is preaching the message of Lord Caitanya is most, most dear to Krsna. It is His desire, His will, and His greatest pleasure that we preach the siddhanta of the acaryas to our fellow uncovered devotees and covered-over devotees, whomever we know and whomever we will meet.

And preaching is not difficult. We are simply to establish that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Isvarah paramah krsna. We must become sincerely convinced and then we can also convince others.

Prabhupada says the test of advancement of our sincerity as we build our foundations in Krsna Consciousness, is to experience oneself as different in mood, thoughts, and actions from the karmis, jnanis, etc.

If we walk down the street, and we feel different from those around us, if we don't desire the mundane that surrounds us, then we are pushing through. The rainy season is beginning to clear, and the sunlight of the Supreme Lord is beginning to shine through

(Of course, if we walk down the street, and we feel different from others, yet don't feel proud or superior because of it, then that is a further, higher level of advancement)

Another example is our willingness to give up the non-essential comforts in our life (Speaking from the brahmacari side is the clear realization that we don't require furniture) to find the better engagement.

Letting go of our lesser tastes makes room for the higher tastes. It makes room for the real bricks, the real spiritual cement we have to have in place to survive and thrive as the servants, the personal associates of the acaryas.

Monday, June 15, 2009


The Major Points of Convergence within the Great Spiritual Traditions
by Ronald Rolheiser

When we look at all the major world religions we see that they are more similar than dissimilar in how they understand the spiritual quest, the path of discipleship and holiness. When we look at Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Native religions, we can draw out these major points of convergence:

� First, in all of them the aim of the spiritual quest is the same, union with God and union with everyone and everything else. There are different disciplines, different understandings of God, and different understandings of life, but all the great spiritual traditions are ultimately seeking the same thing, union with the divine and, through that, peace with one another and with physical creation.

� Second, in all the great spiritual traditions the path to union is understood as coming through compassion. In every great spiritual tradition, what religion ultimately strives to achieve is to form a heart that is properly shaped in compassion and wisdom. Then, and only then, are worship, dogma, and justice done correctly.

� Third, in every great spiritual tradition, the route to compassion and union with God is paradoxical, requiring that somehow we have to lose ourselves to find ourselves, die to come to life, and give so as to receive. In every major spiritual tradition we are taught that we cannot come to joy, delight, and happiness by actively pursuing these. These are always a byproduct of something else, namely, of trying to create joy, delight, and happiness for someone else. Every great spiritual tradition would be at ease with the Prayer of St. Francis: Affirming that in giving we receive, in consoling others we are consoled, and in trying to understand others we are understood.

� Fourth, every great spiritual tradition is clear that spiritual progress requires hard discipline and some painful renunciations, that the road-more-travelled won't get you home. The gate to heaven is always the narrow one, the one that requires discipline and renunciation. Indeed the word "discipleship" comes from the word "discipline". When Hinduism and Buddhism speak of different kinds of "yoga" they are simply referring to various forms of discipline (from which we take our reduced sense of the word "yoga").

� Fifth, every great spiritual tradition tells us that the spiritual quest is a life-long journey with no short-cuts, no quick paths, no hidden secrets, and no appeal to privilege that can short-circuit the discipline and renunciation required. They also tell us that there are no exempt areas within the spiritual life and that there are no moral or psychological areas that we can ignore or write-off as unimportant. No great spiritual tradition lets us chose between personal integrity and social justice, personal holiness or political action. Every one of them tells us that both are non-negotiable.

� Sixth, in every great spiritual tradition consolation and desolation, religious fervor and dark nights of the soul, both have an important role within the spiritual journey. Both provide a necessary, if very different, kind of nurturing. All traditions caution us not to identify progress only with consolation and fervor, just as all of them caution us not to make suffering, desolation, and dark nights an end in themselves.

� Seventh and perhaps surprisingly, all the great spiritual traditions downplay the importance of extraordinary phenomena within the spiritual journey. Visions, altered states of consciousness, mystical trances, ecstasies, miracles, and appearances by persons or forces from the other world, whether benign or malevolent, soothing or frightening, are all downplayed in every major tradition. These can be real and they can mark our lives, but they are not indicative of real growth and progress which, in all great traditions, take place within the ordinary bread-and-butter of life. In every major spiritual tradition, the essential things that God wants us to know are public, available to all, and written down. All traditions make the distinction between public revelation (which is binding for everyone) and private revelations (which can be meaningful but which are not binding for everyone and are not the salient revelation even inside of the life of the person to whom they are given.)

� Eighth, all great spiritual traditions affirm that, while we are on the spiritual path, we will meet great temptations and powerful demons and that these need to be recognized and taken seriously. All of them caution against naivete, especially naivete regarding certain innate tendencies within our own make-up and within the dynamics of every crowd.

� Finally, all the major spiritual traditions agree that the spiritual journey will always partly be mystery. Just as the God we meet on this journey is ultimately ineffable, so too is the experience. In the end we will never find adequate words and concepts either to understand or to describe what we experience on the journey. Hence all traditions caution strongly against ever thinking that our grasp of things is adequate, even remotely so.

All the great religious traditions agree: The road is narrow and hard and there are no short-cuts.