Dec 162017

I have been moved by the many devotees who have written me expressing their concern about the wildfires in the Carpinteria area and informing me of their prayers for me and the other residents. Your concern and prayers mean much to me, and I feel obliged to you all and offer you my heartfelt thanks. Your care is much appreciated, and you all are very dear to me.

Hare Krishna.

Your grateful servant,
Giriraj Swami


Dec 112017

I have arrived safely in Dallas and am now happily under the protection of Sri Kalachandji, His dhama, and His devotees, by the grace of Srila Prabhupada and his followers.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Dec 062017

Terrible forest fires have been raging around Ventura and Ojai, California, devastating homes and everything else on their way. I recalled Srila Prabhupada’s discussion of the first verse of Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura’s Sri Gurv-astaka:

“The spiritual master is receiving benediction from the ocean of mercy. Just as a cloud pours water on a forest fire to extinguish it, so the spiritual master delivers the materially afflicted world by extinguishing the blazing fire of material existence. I offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of such a spiritual master, who is an ocean of auspicious qualities.”

Srila Prabhupada explained, “This forest fire of material existence goes on perpetually, and the authorized person who can deliver you from this fire is called guru, the spiritual master. How does he deliver you? When there is a fire in the forest, you cannot send a fire brigade or go there yourself with bucketfuls of water to extinguish it. That is not possible. Then how will it be extinguished? You need water to extinguish fire, but where will the water come from? It must come from the sky. Only when there are torrents of rain from the sky will the blazing forest fire be extinguished. These rains from the sky do not depend on your scientific manipulation. They depend on the mercy of the Supreme Lord. So the spiritual master is compared to a cloud. Just as there are torrents of rain from a cloud, so the spiritual master brings mercy from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. A cloud takes water from the sea. It doesn’t have its own water but takes water from the sea. Similarly, the spiritual master brings mercy from the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

“We are all suffering in this blazing fire of material existence. But the spiritual master brings the message from the Supreme Lord and delivers it to you, and if you accept it, you’ll be satisfied.

tranaya karunya-ghanaghanatvam
praptasya kalyana-gunarnavasya
vande guroh sri-caranaravindam

Thus the spiritual master is offered obeisances: ‘Sir, you have brought mercy from the Supreme Lord; therefore, we are much obliged to you. You have come to deliver us, so we offer our respectful obeisances.’ That is the meaning of this verse: The first qualification of the spiritual master, or guru, is that he brings you the message to stop the blazing fire in your heart.

“Everyone has a blazing fire within his heart—a blazing fire of anxiety. That is the nature of material existence. Always, everyone has anxiety; no one is free from it. Even a small bird has anxiety. If you give the small bird some grains to eat, he’ll eat them, but he won’t eat very peacefully. He’ll look this way and that way—‘Is somebody coming to kill me?’ This is material existence. Everyone, even a president like Mr. Nixon, is full of anxieties, what to speak of others. Even Gandhi, in our country—he was full of anxiety. All politicians are full of anxiety. They may hold a very exalted post, but still the material disease—anxiety—is there.

“So if you want to be anxiety-less, then you must take shelter of guru, the spiritual master. And the test of the guru is that by following his instructions you’ll be free from anxiety. If you want to keep a guru as a fashion—‘I  have a guru’—that will not help. You must accept a guru who can extinguish the blazing fire of anxiety within your heart.”

In Ojai, the fires came close to Urvasi dasi’s home and then receded. In Ventura, they were close to Krishna Kirtan and Kandarpa Manjari’s house but then changed direction. By Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna’s mercy, they were saved. (We are still praying for them.) But in another sense, all of us have been saved by Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna’s mercy, by following their instructions.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Dec 062017

srila_bhaktisiddhanta_sitting_cross-leggedSrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, is my grand spiritual master, but I feel that I never really knew him that well until I read his biography Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava by my godbrother Bhakti Vikasa Swami. Many of the quotes and references below come from that work, which has helped bring me closer to my spiritual grandfather.

We are all here by the mercy of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu. There’s a line through which the mercy descends upon us, beginning with Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and passing, one teacher after the other, through parampara, or disciplic succession. Five thousand years ago Krsna came in His original form and in the Bhagavad-gita (9.34, 18.65) He instructed, man-mana bhava mad-bhakto: “Always think of Me and become My devotee.” Five hundred years ago the same Lord Krsna came again, in the devotional form of Sri Krsna Caitanya, to explain and personally show how to be a devotee and always think of Krsna. Lord Caitanya quoted a verse from the Brhan-naradiya Purana (38.126):

harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha

“One should chant the holy name, chant the holy name, chant the holy name of Hari, Krsna. There is no other way, no other way, no other way for success in the present age of Kali.” He also desired and predicted:

prthivite ache yata nagaradi grama
sarvatra pracara haibe mora nama

“In as many towns and villages as there are on the surface of the earth, My holy name will be propagated.” (Cb 3.4.126) He expressed this desire and prediction at a time when it was almost impossible to imagine or believe that it could happen.

In the 1800s Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura began the effort to spread the holy name of Krsna to countries outside India. He wrote a small book in English called Caitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts and dispatched copies to libraries around the world. In recent years Srila Prabhupada’s disciples have discovered copies in libraries from Canada (McGill University) to Australia. Bhaktivinoda Thakura yearned for the day when devotees from all over the world would unite in harinama-sankirtana and wrote, “Very soon the unparalleled path of harinama-sankirtana will be propagated all over the planet. . . . Oh, for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German, and American people will take up banners, mrdangas, and karatalas and perform kirtana through their streets and towns. When will that day come? Oh, for the day when the fair-skinned men from their side will raise up the chanting of ‘Jaya Sacinandana, jaya Sacinandana ki jaya!’ and join with the Bengali devotees. When will that day be?” (Sajjana-tosani) Continue reading »

Nov 292017

Today is Gita Jayanti, the day on which Lord Krishna spoke the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna. One year on this occasion I heard a beautiful talk in which Srila Prabhupada spoke about the perfection of reading the Gita:

“When Lord Chaitanya was traveling in South India, in a big temple, Ranganath temple, He went to see the Deity, and He saw one brahman was reading Bhagavad-gita. And people were joking with him, ‘Oh, Mr. Brahman, how you are reading Bhagavad-gita?’ Because they were neighbors, they knew that this brahman was illiterate, and he was studying Bhagavad-gita. So they were joking. But the brahman did not care about them. He was taking the book and in his own way he was reading. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu saw this incident. He came to the brahman. He asked the brahman, ‘My dear brahman, what you are reading?’ The brahman could understand, ‘This person is not joking with me; he is serious.’ So he explained, ‘My dear sir, I am reading Bhagavad-gita. Unfortunately, I am illiterate. I do not know even the alphabet.’ ‘Why you are reading Bhagavad-gita?’ So he said, ‘My spiritual master knows that I am illiterate, but still, he has asked me to read Bhagavad-gita. What can I do? Therefore I have taken this book. I am simply seeing. I do not know how to read.’ ‘Oh, that’s all right. You cannot read. But I see that you are crying. How you are crying, if you are not reading?’ ‘Yes, I am crying. Of course, there is cause.’ ‘What is that?’ ‘As soon as I take this Bhagavad-gita, I remember Krishna. Krishna is sitting as driver and Arjuna is hearing. I have heard the story. I know something of the instruction but cannot read. So as soon as I take this book, this picture comes before me and I simply think how Krishna is so nice that He has become a charioteer of His devotee. He is so great. Still, He has accepted a menial service of His devotee. This gives me so much pleasure that I cry.’ Chaitanya Mahaprabhu embraced him, ‘Your Bhagavad-gita reading is perfect. You have taken the essence.’

“If you simply remember how Krishna is teaching Arjuna and Arjuna is hearing—if you simply remember the picture—that is sufficient. Even if you think that you cannot read. Because after all, we have to become Krishna conscious. We don’t have to become a learned man to argue with another learned man. If it is possible, we can do that. But it does not make any difference if I cannot argue with others or if I cannot teach very nicely Bhagavad-gita to others. Simply if I remember this picture, that is perfection. Because we have to become Krishna conscious. We have to simply think of Krishna. You think in any way. That is your perfection. Smartavyah satatam visnuh. This is the injunction. You have to think of Vishnu always. This is samadhi; this is meditation; this is yoga siddhi, perfection of yoga.

“One who has learned to think of Krishna always, he is already on the perfectional stage. Aradhito yadi haris tapasa tatah kim. If one has come to this stage, just to understand Krishna to be the great, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and he’s a surrendered soul: ‘Krishna, whatever You like You do. I am surrendered.’ This is aradhana. Then he isn’t required to undergo any austerities or penance. His everything is finished. And naradhito yadi haris tapasa tatah kim. And if he does not come to this stage, his so-called scholarship, learned argument, this or that—all nonsense, finished. Useless. One has to come to this stage. Therefore Lord Chaitanya embraced the brahman: ‘Yes, your study of Bhagavad-gita is perfect.’ Because one has to come to this stage, thinking of Krishna always.

“So, that is the perfection. Krishna and gopis. They were cowherd girls. Their father, mother, they were only ordinary village [people], keeping cows. That’s all. What was their education? They were not Vedantists. But they learned to love Krishna. That was their qualification. And Chaitanya Mahaprabhu certifies, ramya kacid upasana vraja-vadhu-vargena ya kalpita: ‘Oh, there is no better worship than that which was contemplated by the gopis.’ They did not know what is Krishna, but they loved Krishna. That’s all. They loved Krishna. Because Krishna was God or Krishna was something great? No. Their natural affection was for Krishna. They could not stay even for a moment without seeing Krishna. That was their qualification. This is Krishna consciousness.

“So, one has to come to perfect Krishna consciousness some way or other. That is perfection. We have presented so many formulas. Why? Not that the formulas are important, but the formulas will help me to remember Krishna always. Just like you are going to sell our magazines. So this magazine selling or taking some contribution is not our business. Our business is that we are spreading Krishna consciousness; people are hearing something about Krishna. And because we are helping, we are also hearing. We are also benefiting. When you speak to somebody about Krishna, then I hear also Krishna. Sravanam kirtanam. The first preliminary steps, hearing and chanting, are going on. So in this way we shall take all opportunities so that twenty-four hours, whether awake or sleeping, we shall always think of Krishna. That is perfection. This chanting means always remembering Krishna—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. I am cooking for Krishna, I am typing for Krishna, I am going to preach for Krishna, I’m distributing Back to Godhead for Krishna. In this way, always remember Krishna; that’s all. That will make you perfect.”

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Nov 262017

 I am pleased to encourage you to participate in the Prabhupada book-distribution marathon. Srila Prabhupada explains, “Srila Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami had no fixed residence. They stayed beneath a tree for one day only and wrote huge volumes of transcendental literature. . . . It is certainly not good to write literature for money or reputation, but to write books and publish them for the enlightenment of the general populace is real service to the Lord. That was Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s opinion, and he specifically told his disciples to write books.” (Cc Madhya 19.132 purport)

This is parampara. Srila Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami and all the Gosvamis wrote books for the enlightenment of the general populace, and that instruction and practice came down through parampara to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who wrote many books and instructed his disciples to write books. And Srila Prabhupada faithfully followed those instructions and also wrote many books. In fact, it is inconceivable that anyone could write so many books in such a short time.

Srila Prabhupada came to America in 1965, and from the very beginning in New York City he was selling his books. Years later, when devotees were doing research about Prabhupada’s life, they went to some bookstores where he had sold his books, and the shopkeepers remembered, “Oh yes, a very nice Indian gentleman came, and he would always give us samosas.” He would give them samosas when he went to sell them his books.

Prabhupada said that from the very beginning the basis of his movement was book distribution—the publication and distribution of books—and he showed that example.

In the same purport, Prabhupada explains further, “[T]he business of advanced and empowered devotees is to write books, publish them, and distribute them widely.”

Prabhupada wrote books, the BBT has published them, and now it is for us to distribute them. This is “the business of advanced and empowered devotees.” We are all already connected to Srila Prabhupada, and we all will benefit when we distribute his books. And if you persevere with sincerity and intelligence, you will also be advanced and empowered devotees.

Prabhupada states further, “According to Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, distributing literature is like playing on a great mrdanga.” He called the printing press the brhat-mrdanga, the great mrdanga, because an ordinary mrdanga can be heard for a few blocks whereas the brhat-mrdanga, the printing press, the books, can be heard all over the world.

I was the first ISKCON devotee to go to West Africa, Nigeria. I did hari-nama on the streets, and large crowds of people would gather round. Some well-dressed Africans started speaking about the Bhagavad-gita and the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, and I asked, “How do you know all these things? Did you ever meet devotees?” They replied, “No. But we have a friend who met devotees on the street in London, bought some books from them, and then shared them with us.” Even before any devotees had gone to West Africa, Prabhupada’s books had reached there and people were learning about Krishna consciousness.

Sometimes a whole yatra can begin just from books. Once, a tourist from Venezuela visited Israel, met devotees, and got some books from them. Back in Venezuela, he shared the books with his friends. They all started reading, became convinced of the philosophy, began to chant, and started practicing Krishna consciousness without having met any devotees. Eventually they developed a community of devotees and invited Srila Prabhupada, and he went—and it all began with the books.

The brhat-mrdanga can be heard all over the world.

Srila Prabhupada concludes his purport with a request to all of us: “Consequently we always request members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness to publish as many books as possible and distribute them widely throughout the world. By thus following in the footsteps of Srila Rupa Gosvami, one can become a rupanuga devotee.”

Rupa Gosvami is described as sri-caitanya-mano-’bhistam, sthapitam yena bhu-tale: he established on earth the mission to fulfill the desire of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. And that is done primarily through writing, publishing, and distributing books.

Srila Prabhupada said, “It’s like a train.” In a train, one car pushes—or pulls—the other, the other pushes another, and the other pushes still another. He said, “My guru maharaja is pushing me, and I am pushing all of you.”

Hare Krishna.

Your servant,
Giriraj Swami

The Influence of Holy Places

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Nov 072017

In the first verse of the Bhagavad-gita, the low-minded king Dhrtarastra asks his secretary, “O Sanjaya, after my sons and the sons of Pandu assembled in the place of pilgrimage at Kuruksetra, desiring to fight, what did they do?” Kim akurvata: “What did they do?” Srila Prabhupada says that this is afoolish question. The two armies had gathered to fight, so what is the question of what they did? Srila Prabhupada gives the example that if someone sits down before a plate of food, intending to eat, what is the question of “What did he do?” He would eat—that’s all.

So why did Dhrtarastra ask? Because Kuruksetra is dharma-ksetra, a holy place of pilgrimage. And under the influence of this religious place, his sons might have been influenced toward the good, to give up their intention to fight. Srila Prabhupada explains, “Yuyutsavah. This word yuyutsu [jujutsu] is still used in Japan. Perhaps you know, yuyutsu, fighting. So, yuyutsavah—‘desirous of fighting.’ Now, both parties were desiring to fight, and they assembled. Why is Dhrtarastra asking the question Kim akurvata: ‘What did they do?’? Because he was a little doubtful. These boys, after being assembled in dharma-ksetra, might have changed their ideas. They might have settled up. The sons of Dhrtarastra might have admitted, ‘Yes, Pandavas, you are actually the owners. What is the use of unnecessarily fighting?’ So he was very much anxious whether they had changed their decision. Therefore he is asking.”

Such is the influence of holy places. They can elevate one’s consciousness, even the consciousness of one habituated to low thoughts. And people who go to holy places—Mayapur, Vrindavan, Jagannath Puri—can immediately feel the difference. The Nectar of Devotion, with reference to the power of living in Mathura-Vrindavan, explains, “Srila Rupa Gosvami has described Mathura-mandala: ‘I remember the Lord standing by the banks of the Yamuna River, so beautiful amid the kadamba trees, where many birds are chirping in the gardens. And these impressions are always giving me transcendental realization of beauty and bliss.’ This feeling about Mathura-mandala and Vrndavana described by Rupa Gosvami can actually be felt even by nondevotees. The places in the eighty-four-square-mile district of Mathura are so beautifully situated on the banks of the River Yamuna that anyone who goes there will never want to return to this material world. . . . Such transcendental feelings are aroused immediately and without fail after one arrives in Mathura or Vrndavana.” (Chapter 13)

Many pilgrims travel to Vrindavan and other holy places during the month of Karttika, and as they prepare to leave to return to their homes and places of service, they may wonder how they can keep the experience of Vrindavan with them. It is a challenge. The influence of materialistic cities, surcharged with passion and ignorance, can be daunting. And our own busy schedules may leave little time for direct service to Krishna. How can we keep the good influence of the holy places in our lives even after we leave?

Srila Rupa Gosvami advises,

krsnam smaran janam casya
  prestham nija-samihitam
tat-tat-katha-ratas casau
  kuryad vasam vraje sada

“The devotee should always think of Krsna within himself and should choose a very dear devotee who is a servitor of Krsna in Vrndavana. One should constantly engage in topics about that servitor and his loving relationship with Krsna, and one should live in Vrndavana. If one is physically unable to go to Vrndavana, he should mentally live there.” (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.2.294, quoted as Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 22.161)

We should always engage in remembering and discussing Krishna—His names, forms, qualities, pastimes, and associates in Vrindavan—and even our own experiences there. By such engagement we can experience Vrindavan wherever we are, with Krishna as the focus of our lives.

And we should spread the message of Vrindavan, the message of Mayapur. Once, on a morning walk in Mayapur, a devotee said to Srila Prabhupada, “Mayapur is so nice, I wish I could just stay here,” and Prabhupada responded, “You must go out and make the whole world Mayapur.”

To experience Vrindavan outside Vrindavan is difficult; to create Mayapur outside Mayapur is difficult. But Srila Prabhupada said, “Spiritual life is difficult, but material life is impossible.” So let us make an honest effort to engage in Krishna consciousness, and Krishna and His devotees will surely help us.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Initiation Ceremony, The Last Day of Karttika, Purnima, November 3, Carpinteria, California

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Nov 062017

Here is a video of the name-giving. Prema Bhakti dasa became Premi Bhakta dasa, Pradipta and Mousumi Chatterjee became Pandita Srivasa dasa and Malini dasi, and Rob Goettler became Jayananda dasa.

Here is Giriraj Swami’s address.
11.03.17, Initiation, Carpinteria

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Oct 272017

Today is Gopastami, the day on which Krishna and Balarama and other boys Their age, who previously had tended the calves, were given charge of the cows. This event is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.15.1):  

tatas ca pauganda-vayah-sritau vraje
babhuvatus tau pasu-pala-sammatau
gas carayantau sakhibhih samam padair
vrndavanam punyam ativa cakratuh

“When Lord Rama and Lord Krsna attained the age of pauganda [six to ten] while living in Vrndavana, the cowherd men allowed Them to take up the task of tending the cows. Engaging thus in the company of Their friends, the two boys rendered the land of Vrndavana most auspicious by imprinting upon it the marks of Their lotus feet.”

As stated in the purport: “Since Lord Krsna’s spiritual body had apparently grown slightly in age and strength, the senior men of Vrndavana, headed by Nanda Maharaja, decided to promote Krsna from the task of herding calves to the status of a regular cowherd boy. He would now take care of the full-grown cows, bulls, and oxen. Out of great affection, Nanda Maharaja had previously considered Krsna too small and immature to take care of full-grown cows and bulls. It is stated in the Karttika-mahatmya section of the Padma Purana:

suklastami karttike tu
smrta gopastami budhaih
tad-dinad vasudevo ’bhud
gopah purvam tu vatsapah

‘The eighth lunar day of the bright fortnight of the month of Karttika is known by authorities as Gopastami. From that day, Lord Vasudeva served as a cowherd, whereas previously He had tended the calves.’

“The word padaih indicates that Lord Krsna blessed the earth by walking on her surface with His lotus feet. The Lord wore no shoes or other footgear but walked barefoot in the forest.”

Srimati Radharani and Her girlfriends wanted to enjoy the fun, and given Her resemblance to Subala-sakha, She donned his dhoti and other garments and accoutrements and, along with Her gopis, joined Krishna. Thus on this occasion, in temples in Vrindavan and elsewhere, Srimati Radharani is dressed as a cowherd boy.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami