Giriraj Swami

Jan 142019
 

Today, January 14, Makara-sankranti, marks the anniversary of the grand opening of Sri Sri Radha-Rasabihari’s temple and cultural complex in Juhu, Bombay.

Two days after the opening, The New York Times ran an article on the front page of its second section, with the headline “Hare Krishna Sect Displays Vitality At Its New $2 Million Temple in India”:

“JUHU, India, Jan. 15—Several hundred members of the Hare Krishna sect, chanting and singing and clapping, opened a $2 million temple and cultural center here this weekend in a colorful festival of devotion.

“To the young American monks of the movement the dedication of their sumptuous carved marble temple on the Arabian seacoast here, 10 miles north of Bombay, symbolized a kind of coming of age of the sect, which they hope is becoming less controversial.

“ ‘We are gaining a broader base among the general public, in both India and America,’ explained Tamal Krishna, a 32-year-old New Yorker who is a member of the organization’s 23-member governing board. ‘We’re learning that there’s no way we’re going to give Krishna consciousness a general appeal if we make everyone shave their heads and chant “Hare Krishna” all day long.’

“But like most leaders of the movement, Tamal Krishna, who was named Thomas Herzig when he was growing up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, does have a shaved head, a saffron-colored flowing garment called a dhoti and streaks of Ganges River mud on his forehead. Like all of them, he chants this mantra at least 1,728 times a day: “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

“The chant, which has been sung with stomping feet on hundreds of American street corners in the 12 years since the International Society for Krishna Consciousness was started in New York, was the motif of the weekend here. Crowds shouted it to the beat of drums and cymbals as each statue of Krishna was anointed, as each of the huge teak and brass temple doors was opened and as marigolds and bananas were laid in offering beside the silver-plated altars.

“But one difference between this celebration and the performances in the United States was reflected in the fact that India’s Health Minister and other high Government officials were among the speakers at the dedication ceremony, lending respectability. As a saffron-clad monk from Miami Beach put it, ‘When we come to India, we are coming home.’

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Jan 082019
 

A talk by Giriraj Swami on Srila Jiva Gosvami’s disappearance day, January 14, 1994, Mauritius.

Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila, Chapter Ten describes the branches of the tree named Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

TEXT 1

sri-caitanya-padambhoja-madhupebhyo namo namah
kathancid asrayad yesam svapi tad-gandha-bhag bhavet

TRANSLATION

Let me repeatedly offer my respectful obeisances unto the beelike devotees who always taste the honey of the lotus feet of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. If even a doggish nondevotee somehow takes shelter of such devotees, he enjoys the aroma of the lotus flower.

PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada

The example of a dog is very significant in this connection. A dog naturally does not become a devotee at any time. But still it is sometimes found that a dog of a devotee gradually becomes a devotee also. We have actually seen that a dog has no respect even for the tulasi plant. Indeed, a dog is especially inclined to pass urine on the tulasi plant. Therefore the dog is the number one nondevotee. But Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s sankirtana movement is so strong that even a doglike nondevotee can gradually become a devotee by the association of a devotee of Lord Caitanya. Srila Sivananda Sena, a great householder devotee of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, attracted a dog on the street while going to Jagannatha Puri. The dog began to follow him and ultimately went to see Caitanya Mahaprabhu and was liberated. Similarly, cats and dogs in the household of Srivasa Thakura were also liberated. Cats and dogs and other animals are not expected to become devotees, but in the association of a pure devotee they are also delivered.

TEXTS 2–7

jaya jaya sri-krsna-caitanya-nityananda
jaya advaitacandra jaya gaura-bhakta-Vrindavannda

All glories to Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Lord Nityananda! All glories to Advaita Prabhu, and all glories to the devotees of Lord Caitanya, headed by Srivasa!

ei malira-ei vrksera akathya kathana
ebe suna mukhya-sakhara nama-vivarana

The description of Lord Caitanya as the gardener and the tree is inconceivable. Now hear with attention about the branches of this tree.

caitanya-gosanira yata parisada-caya
guru-laghu-bhava tanra na haya niscaya

The associates of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu were many, but none of them should be considered lower or higher. This cannot be ascertained.

yata yata mahanta kaila tan-sabara ganana
keha karibare nare jyestha-laghu-krama

All the great personalities in the line of Lord Caitanya enumerated these devotees, but they could not distinguish between the greater and the lesser.

ataeva tan-sabare kari’ namaskara
nama-matra kari, dosa na labe amara

I offer my obeisances unto them as a token of respect. I request them not to consider my offenses.

vande sri-krsna-caitanya-premamara-taroh priyan
sakha-rupan bhakta-ganan krsna-prema-phala-pradan

I offer my respectful obeisances to all the dear devotees of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the eternal tree of love of Godhead. I offer my respects to all the branches of the tree, the devotees of the Lord who distribute the fruit of love of Krsna.

PURPORT

Sri Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami sets the example of offering obeisances to all the preacher devotees of Lord Caitanya, without distinction as to higher and lower. Unfortunately, at present there are many foolish so-called devotees of Lord Caitanya who make such distinctions. For example, the title “Prabhupada” is offered to a spiritual master, especially to a distinguished spiritual master such as Srila Rupa Gosvami Prabhupada, Srila Jiva Gosvami Prabhupada, or Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Prabhupada. When our disciples similarly wanted to address their spiritual master as Prabhupada, some foolish people became envious. Not considering the propaganda work of the Hare Krsna movement, simply because these disciples addressed their spiritual master as Prabhupada, they became so envious that they formed a faction with other such envious persons just to minimize the value of the Krsna consciousness movement. To chastise such fools, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami very frankly says, keha karibare nare jyestha-laghu-krama. Anyone who is a bona fide preacher of the cult of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu must be respectful to the real devotees of Lord Caitanya; one should not be envious, considering one preacher to be very great and another to be very lowly. This is a material distinction and has no place on the platform of spiritual activities. Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami therefore offers equal respect to all the preachers of the cult of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who are compared to the branches of the tree. ISKCON is one of these branches, and it should therefore be respected by all sincere devotees of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

COMMENT by Giriraj Swami

Even among Gaudiya Vaishnavas, we must be careful to avoid offenses. We must respect and recognize the service of all Vaishnavas. As Srila Prabhupada once said, if we do not give credit where credit is due, we will become envious.

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Jan 082019
 

On Sunday, January 6, Srila Locana dasa Thakura’s appearance day, in the presence of Sri Sri Radha-Kalachandji, Srila Prabhupada, and their followers, I was pleased to officially connect five devotees to Srila Prabhupada and the guru-parampara through hari-nama initiation. Jeff Janock became Jaya Chaitanya dasa, Nishant Mehta became Nitai dasa, Sakar Panta became Shyama Gopala dasa, Rosie Panta became Radharani dasi, and Ambika Gurung became Amrita Gopi dasi. Please bless them and support them in their service to Srila Prabhupada, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and their mission.

(The video of the ceremony can be seen on my Facebook page.)

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Jan 022019
 

We have gathered at the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada in this wonderful temple of Sri Sri Radha-Gokulananda, Sri Sita-Rama-Laksmana-Hanuman, and Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, in the presence of His Holiness Radhanath Swami and so many exalted devotees. We are entering the new year, and on such occasions we take stock of what and how we did in the last year and what we want to do in the next. Studies have shown, and probably many of us have experienced, that most New Year’s resolutions are broken during the first week. Still more are broken in the first month, and almost all are broken within the first three months.

Why does this happen, and what can we do? Man is a creature of habit. We have developed certain habits over the last however many years—perhaps lifetimes—and to change our habits requires sincere desire and determined effort. Another study has shown that when one is trying to develop a new habit, he has to consistently, diligently strive to adhere to the new practice for at least thirty days. After thirty days, he is able to follow more easily but can be derailed by stress or changes in his life. After ninety days it becomes just as easy to follow the new habit as not, and after a year it is easier to follow the new habit than not.

Now, what new habits will we want to develop in the next year? That will depend on our goals. When I visited Pune some years ago, the Malhotra brothers arranged a program for me in the main hall, and at the end of the talk the general in charge of the Southern Command of the Indian Army asked an important question: “What is the aim for which we are born, what is the aim of our life? It certainly could not be to amass some wealth and ultimately die, or to make a building and then die, or to marry and procreate and then die. For our minor activities in life, we have the aims set first, before we get going to achieve them. When we train our people in the army, whatever they have to do we first tell them what the aim is. And once they are clear what the aim is, then we decide what means to adopt to achieve that. And invariably we don’t go wrong. Now here it is—my whole life is going to waste, to my mind; I am still not very clear what is the aim of my life. Would you kindly enlighten us about the aim of life so that thereafter we can be very, very clear as to what we have got to do to achieve that aim?”

Srila Sanatana Gosvami asked the same question of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu:

“‘ke ami’, ‘kene amaya jare tapa-traya’
iha nahi jani—kemane hita haya

“‘sadhya’-‘sadhana’-tattva puchite na jani
krpa kari’ saba tattva kaha ta’ apani”

“Who am I? Why do the threefold miseries always give me trouble? If I do not know this, how can I be benefited? Actually I do not know how to inquire about the goal of life and the process for obtaining it. Being merciful upon me, please explain all these truths.” (Cc Madhya 20.102–103) He said, “In ordinary dealings people consider me to be a learned scholar (pandita), but I am so learned I do not even know who I am. So please tell me who I am and what is the goal of life.” And Lord Chaitanya replied, “By constitution you are an eternal servant of Krishna—jivera ‘svarupa’ haya—krsnera ‘nitya-dasa’—and the goal of life is to be reinstated in your constitutional position as His loving servant.”

If someone understands that he is not the body, that he is the soul within the body, and that his real relationship is not with the body or things related to the body but with the Supreme Soul, then he can adopt the methods that are suitable for reviving his eternal relationship with the Supreme Soul, Krishna.

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Jan 012019
 

Most resolutions take the form of “do’s”—things I resolve to do—and “don’ts”—things I resolve to not do. And Vedic wisdom tells us that all do’s and don’ts should support one main do—always remember Krishna (God)—and one main don’t—never forget Him.

Now, practically, what can we do to always remember Krishna and never forget Him? The item most favorable for remembering Him is chanting and hearing: chanting and hearing His holy names—the Hare Krishna maha-mantra—and chanting and hearing His transcendental topics—krsna-katha such as the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. And in broad terms, the items most obstructive to remembering Him are mental speculation and sense gratification, especially vicious activities against Vedic principles, or God’s laws—activities that include eating meat, taking intoxicants, engaging in illicit sex, and gambling.

So, for our New Year’s resolutions, we can resolve to increase our chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, especially on beads, and our reading of Srila Prabhupada’s books. And we can resolve to decrease, or stop, activities detrimental to Krishna consciousness. And in our efforts, the Lord will help us, for God helps those who help themselves.

We wish you a happy New Year—in Krishna consciousness—by the grace of Sri Sri Guru and Gauranga.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Dec 312018
 

Srila Prabhupada’s beloved disciple Yamuna-devi dasi passed away on Saphala-ekadasi, which falls on Tuesday, January 1.

There is so much to be said about Srimati Yamuna-devi dasi.

In October of 1970 I was one of a group of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples from America going to join him in India. On the way, we stopped in Brussels, and it was there, in an apartment, that I first met Yamuna—and Malati and Shyamasundar (I had met Gurudas before that, in Boston). Upon entering, I could immediately feel their intense, extraordinary devotion to Srila Prabhupada—it was so palpable, so tangible; the room was just suffused with their devotion—and we spent the next several hours there together. As enthusiastic as I was to go to India to be with Srila Prabhupada, I felt like I could stay there forever; I never wanted to leave the association of these amazing devotees who were so attached to Srila Prabhupada and so capable of serving him in such different ways.

Gurudas had arranged a cheap flight on a small airline, and so, that evening we boarded an old converted dual-propeller cargo plane, bound for Bombay with a stop in Cairo. In my mood of Krishna consciousness then I was quite oblivious to things around me. I wanted to avoid maya—anything that could distract me from Krishna—and didn’t pay much heed to anything that didn’t relate directly to my service. I was focused on the idea of chanting and hearing every word of the Hare Krishna mantra distinctly and on always thinking about Krishna and never forgetting Him. I had heard that Srila Prabhupada had said that if you have trouble hearing you should chant loudly. So sometimes, to really get into the holy names—and to break out of any possible lethargy—I would jump up and down. One or two of the devotees told me that they were anxious about how people in Egypt might react to my chanting, but I was determined.

There was unrest there at that time, and when we landed in Cairo we were met on the tarmac by soldiers and armed security guards with bandoliers of bullets strapped across their chests and machine guns slung over their shoulders. And as we deplaned and walked down the steps, the men were pointing machine guns in our direction. Then Yamuna, as I was later told, saw the guards suddenly move their guns up and down, shifting their aim. And when she turned around to see why, she saw me behind her, coming down the stairs chanting japa, jumping up and down.

Anyway, we escaped Egypt and flew to Bombay, where, as arranged by Srila Prabhupada, we were taken to Kailash Seksaria’s house. While there, I went through a period of confusion—some things were very difficult for me to understand and cope with—and I wasn’t sure what to do. I was a relatively new devotee, at least compared with the others in the group, and somehow I got the inspiration to approach Yamuna and Gurudas for help. What they told me was extraordinary, and for me, revolutionary. I entered their room feeling completely at a loss, but they turned the whole thing completely around, saying that Srila Prabhupada had sent me to engage them in thinking about him and about topics of deep significance. That was the beginning of what proved to be a very close relationship with them both.

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Dec 302018
 

At Kirtan50 today, Bada Haridas Prabhu and I spoke about the holy name, following the theme of this beautiful verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.55):

visrjati hrdayam na yasya saksad
dharir avasabhihito ’py aghaugha-nasah
pranaya-rasanaya dhrtanghri-padma
sa bhavati bhagavata-pradhana ukta

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead is so kind to the conditioned souls that if they call upon Him by speaking His holy name, even unintentionally or unwillingly, the Lord is inclined to destroy innumerable sinful reactions in their hearts. Therefore, when a devotee who has taken shelter of the Lord’s lotus feet chants the holy name of Krsna with genuine love, the Lord can never give up the heart of such a devotee. One who has thus bound the Supreme Lord within his heart with the ropes of love is to be known as bhagavata-pradhana, the most exalted devotee of the Lord.”

The audio of our talks can be found here: https://soundcloud.com/premasindhu/hh-giriraj-swami-hg-bada-haridas-prabhu

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Dec 262018
 

On the auspicious occasion of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s disappearance day, we were pleased to officially connect Vishal Amarnani and his wife, Shweta, to Srila Prabhupada and the guru-parampara through hari-nama initiation. Their new names are Vraja Bihari dasa and Sveta-manjari dasi. Please bless them and support them in their service to Srila Prabhupada, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and their mission.

Thank you very much.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Dec 242018
 

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, is my grand spiritual master, but I feel that I never really knew him very 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.

 We are all here by the mercy of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. There’s a line through which the mercy descends upon us, beginning with Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and passing, one teacher after the other, through parampara, or disciplic succession. Five thousand years ago Krishna came in His original form and instructed, in the Bhagavad-gita (9.34, 18.65), man-mana bhava mad-bhakto: “Always think of Me and become My devotee.” Five hundred years ago the same Lord Krishna came again, in the devotional form of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, to explain and personally show how to be a devotee and always think of Krishna. Lord Chaitanya 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, Krishna. 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) This desire and prediction were expressed 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 Krishna to countries outside India. He wrote a small book in English called Chaitanya 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, mridangas, and kartals and perform kirtan 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)

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was a very powerful spiritual master, an acharya. After the disappearance of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates, many unscrupulous people claiming to be Mahaprabhu’s followers introduced concocted philosophies and practices—even illicit activities—to the point that if an educated Bengali heard the word “Vaishnava,” he would immediately think the worst. In educated circles, “Vaishnava” had come to mean a sentimental, ignorant person with loose character who, in the guise of religion, engaged in all sorts of activities. In this precarious situation, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura came forward and presented the true understanding of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, speaking strongly against the deviant groups that had distorted and perverted His pure teachings and practices.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura held a high position in the British rule of India—the highest an Indian could hold, and then only very rarely. He had important responsibilities in the government and had a large family, but his main interest was Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the sankirtana movement. He would sleep little and rise early. He did so much—wrote books, traveled, preached, established centers—and had a tremendous effect, especially on the people of Bengal and Orissa, including the intellectual elite, who were just then coming in touch with modern ideas from the West. He revived the true mission of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, inspiring hosts of people to join him, and pushed back the deviant groups, which lost much of their influence.

Having undertaken such a tremendous task and executed it so successfully but still being surrounded by so many parties with vested interests in covering the true intention of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura was at a loss as to who would carry on his mission. So he prayed to Krishna to send someone—one of His own associates from the spiritual realm—to continue the work. It is understood that the appearance of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was the answer to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s prayers.

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Dec 242018
 

“Now these Christmas holidays have begun in your country. Throughout the whole month of December you’ll observe nice festivities. Why? It began with God consciousness. Jesus Christ came to give you God consciousness, and in relation to him these festivities are going on. It may have degraded into another form, but the beginning was God consciousness. Now we may have lost it. But people cannot be happy without reviving God consciousness. It may be named differently—‘Krishna consciousness’—but that means God consciousness. That is the necessity. We want to love somebody. Our love will be perfected when we love Krishna, or God. We are teaching that. Try to love God, and if you love God, if you love Krishna, then automatically you love everybody. That is the perfection of love.”

—Srila Prabhupada, December 2, 1968, Los Angeles (adapted)

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami