Jun 242019

A talk by Giriraj Swami on July 13, 2008, in Berkeley, California. This year Snana-yatra was on June 16, and Ratha-yatra will be on July 4.

It is a great honor, privilege, and pleasure to be here on the auspicious occasion of Snana-yatra. The first deities of Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra in ISKCON were discovered in San Francisco in 1967. One of Srila Prabhupada’s early disciples, Malati dasi, saw a small figure in an import store, Cost Plus, and brought it to him. When Prabhupada saw the figure, his eyes opened wide. He folded his palms and bowed his head in respect. Then he said, “You have brought Lord Jagannatha, the Lord of the universe. He is Krishna.” He said that Lord Jagannatha was worshipped with two other deities: His brother, Balarama, and His sister, Subhadra. Malati confirmed that there were other, similar figures at the store, and Prabhupada asked her to go and buy them. So she and her husband, Shyamasundar, immediately went and brought the other two figures. Srila Prabhupada placed them with Lord Jagannatha on his desk and told the devotees about Jagannatha’s appearance in India thousands of years ago, and how He was still worshipped in a great temple in Puri and taken in an annual procession with His brother and sister, each in a huge chariot, in the Ratha-yatra festival. Prabhupada chanted, jagannatha-svami nayana-patha-gami bhavatu me: “O Lord of the universe, kindly be visible unto me.” And he said that henceforth San Francisco should be called New Jagannatha Puri.

Prabhupada asked if any of the devotees knew how to carve, and Shyamasundar said that he did. So Prabhupada requested him to carve three-foot-high replicas of the small Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra. Shyamasundar got three large blocks of wood, and, following sketches and directions that Prabhupada gave him, he carved the first large deities of Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra in the West.

Then Prabhupada said that the devotees should hold a Ratha-yatra festival. So, following Prabhupada’s instructions, Shyamasundar and the others arranged a flatbed truck on which they erected five tall columns and covered them with cloth to serve as a canopy over the deities. And then they decorated the “chariot” with flowers. The devotees didn’t have many vehicles then, and those they did have were pretty old and dilapidated—and unpredictable in their performance.

At the time, Srila Prabhupada was unwell, and the devotees had rented a place for him at nearby Stinson Beach, where he could recuperate. Although he was unable to attend the festival, the devotees—along with the Ratha-yatra truck, the deities, and some hippies—came to visit him the next day. They were excited and eager to report. Shyamasundar explained that while he had been driving the truck up a steep hill, the truck had stalled, and although he had tried to start the engine, he couldn’t. Then the brakes had failed, and the truck had begun to roll backwards down the hill. Finally he had been able to stop it, but when he had tried to move forward, again the engine had stalled and the truck had rolled backwards. Again and again he would get it started, the truck would go forward, the engine would stall, and the truck would roll backwards. The situation had seemed hopeless, and the devotees had wondered if they would be able to finish the parade.

But somehow they had, and they had come to give the report. Srila Prabhupada told them the story of how Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had celebrated the Ratha-yatra in Puri. He said that in Puri too the chariot would stop, even with thousands of people pulling the ropes. The king would order powerful wrestlers and elephants to push the chariot, but still it wouldn’t move. Finally, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would put His head on the back of the chariot and push, and only then would the chariot move. “Now that Ratha-yatra has come to the West,” Srila Prabhupada said, “this pastime has come too.”

So, Ratha-yatra is a very ancient festival in Puri, and in ISKCON’s history it began here, in San Francisco, on a flatbed truck, in 1967. From that first Ratha-yatra, the festival has been celebrated yearly, not only in San Francisco but also in many other major cities throughout the world.

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Jun 212019

We will be having kirtan at my ashram in Carpinteria with Madhava, Radhika, Vrindavan Kirtan, and others on Sunday, June 23, at 5 p.m., followed by prasada. Please join us in person—otherwise the kirtan will be live streamed on Madhava Naidoo’s and my Facebook pages.

Thank you very much.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Jun 202019

“Vyasa was the spiritual master of Sanjaya, and Sanjaya admits that it was by Vyasa’s mercy that he could understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This means that one has to understand Krsna not directly but through the medium of the spiritual master. The spiritual master is the transparent medium, although it is true that the experience is still direct. This is the mystery of the disciplic succession.

“Actually there is no difference between hearing directly from Krsna and hearing directly from Krsna via a bona fide spiritual master like Vyasa. The spiritual master is the representative of Vyasadeva also. Therefore, according to the Vedic system, on the birthday of the spiritual master the disciples conduct the ceremony called Vyasa-puja.”

Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 18.75 purport


In the Adi Purana Lord Krishna tells Arjuna, “Those who claim to be My devotees are not My devotees, but those who are devotees of My devotees are actually My devotees.” His Holiness Tamal Krishna Goswami Maharaja was a most staunch devotee and disciple of Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada entrusted so much of his work to Tamal Krishna Goswami Maharaja. Seeing a picture of Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara before coming here, I recalled how Goswami Maharaja had assisted Srila Prabhupada in his pastime of practically stealing Radha-Londonisvara from one Hindu gentleman’s home and bringing Them to be the first large marble deities of Radha-Krishna in ISKCON. And as I began to think of Srila Prabhupada’s mission and how Goswami Maharaja had assisted him, I found that most of the history of ISKCON is filled with Tamal Krishna Goswami’s service to His Divine Grace.

But just as Krishna is more pleased when a devotee serves His other devotees than when he serves Him directly, sometimes I feel that Srila Prabhupada also is more pleased when a disciple takes care of Srila Prabhupada’s other disciples and servants. And today especially I think of Goswami Maharaja’s wonderful quality of taking care of Srila Prabhupada’s devotees.

Srila Prabhupada once told Tamal Krishna Goswami, “Do not let one inch of my property deteriorate.” He has explained that every endeavor requires land, capital, organization, and manpower, and they are all Krishna’s property—or Prabhupada’s property. And Srila Prabhupada said that we shouldn’t waste or spoil any of Krishna’s property. But of all the four items, Prabhupada said that the one we absolutely cannot afford to waste or misuse is the human resource. And although Goswami Maharaja was expert in looking after all of Srila Prabhupada’s mission and property, the most important part was the devotees.

I can speak of my own experience, how Goswami Maharaja looked after me and took care of me. He once said that ISKCON is a family and that none of its members are more important than any others. And in one sense what he said is true. Still, the father’s elder sons have, in one sense, a more important position. Even the Bhagavatam explains that the eldest son can be regarded like the father.

tasmad bhavanto hrdayena jatah
sarve mahiyamsam amum sanabham
aklista-buddhya bharatam bhajadhvam
susrusanam tad bharanam prajanam

[Lord Rsabhadeva told His sons:] “My dear boys, you are all born of My heart, which is the seat of all spiritual qualities. Therefore you should not be like materialistic and envious men. You should accept your eldest brother, Bharata, who is exalted in devotional service. If you engage yourselves in Bharata’s service, your service to him will include My service, and you will rule the citizens automatically.” (SB 5.5.20)

Goswami Maharaja expertly trained the people around him. One time, he really broke through several layers of false ego in me. He had come to India as the GBC, and at a certain stage we were going out together and collecting funds for the Vrindavan project, as the Juhu project was delayed because of legal complications. The two of us used to work as a team, and I was the one to make the appointments. And he was very insistent that I make a lot of phone calls. The best time to phone was early in the morning before people went to the office, but sometimes I wanted to chant more and would go to phone later.

Goswami Maharaja would always ask how many phone calls and appointments I had made. One day I had hardly made any phone calls, and when he asked what had happened I was afraid to tell him, so I told a few little lies, that I had tried some people but couldn’t get through. Somehow, by Krishna’s arrangement—or my good or bad luck—Goswami Maharaja spoke to one of the gentlemen I had falsely said I had tried to reach, and concluded that I had lied to him. So he was very angry—transcendentally angry—and he really helped me. “You pretend to be very pure and innocent,” he said, “but you are not innocent at all,” which was and is true. He exposed the truth that I was a liar, and the experience was actually very purifying—though it took me a few days to fully appreciate the value of what he had said. But eventually I did, and it helped me in my service.

Another incident I remember that shows Goswami Maharaja’s deep love for Srila Prabhupada and his great care for us, as well as his noble character, took place after Prabhupada left. Goswami Maharaja and I were serving together in Juhu, and we had some disagreement over how best to serve Prabhupada. Then Goswami Maharaja withdrew from his involvement with Juhu. One or two years later, he returned to India, and one of his disciples in Juhu, Veda Vyasa dasa, met him in Mayapur. Only later did Veda Vyasa tell me what had happened. He had met Goswami Maharaja in Mayapur and proposed, “Now you are back in India, so why don’t you come back to Bombay?” And Goswami Maharaja had replied—and this is his greatness, because he thought if he came back to Bombay I would be disturbed—“Giriraj is very dear to Srila Prabhupada. Anyone who causes pain to Giriraj is causing pain to Prabhupada. So I don’t want to come back to Bombay now.” (Later, Goswami Maharaja became the GBC for Bombay, and I was delighted to work with him again.)

I really cannot express how much Goswami Maharaja’s caring for me, as an expression of his love for Srila Prabhupada, has meant to me. And so many other disciples of Srila Prabhupada’s, all of whom are dear to Srila Prabhupada, have experienced Goswami Maharaja’s love and affection and care and assistance.

In my relationship with Goswami Maharaja I have the added fortune of having accepted the renounced order of life from him. Although the initial instruction to take sannyasa came from Srila Prabhupada, it was actually fulfilled after Prabhupada’s departure through His Holiness Tamal Krishna Goswami Maharaja. And I am glad Srila Prabhupada arranged for my relationship with Goswami Maharaja to be enhanced by Maharaja acting as my sannyasa-guru.

I feel very strongly that my relationship with Goswami Maharaja is eternal, that we are eternally servants of Srila Prabhupada together; he is like the older brother and I am the younger. But we are meant to serve Srila Prabhupada together, and actually Prabhupada saw us together—though I am sure it is not unique to the two of us that he saw us that way.

It was like the mystery of disciplic succession Srila Prabhupada explains at the end of the Bhagavad-gita, that one approaches Krishna through the spiritual master, although the experience is still direct. In a similar way, Goswami Maharaja would help me in my relationship with Srila Prabhupada, but at the same time my relationship with Prabhupada was direct. So my receiving first and second initiation from Srila Prabhupada indicates the direct relationship, and then my accepting sannyasa, in one sense also from Srila Prabhupada but through Tamal Krishna Goswami, indicates the other aspect—how I was approaching Srila Prabhupada through Tamal Krishna Goswami and how Srila Prabhupada was giving mercy and caring for me through Tamal Krishna Goswami. So I feel confident that our relationship is eternal and will continue.

I feel blessed because so many fortunate souls have also been connected with Tamal Krishna Goswami Maharaja—godbrothers and godsisters, diksa and siksa disciples—and because of my connection with Goswami Maharaja, I will also be connected with them. Although I am not very qualified, I pray to remain in his service and association through the association and service of those connected with him. I hope you will accept me.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

[Adapted from a talk by Giriraj Swami on Tamal Krishna Goswami’s Vyasa-puja, July 3, 1999, Houston, Texas]

Jun 202019

When my chanting is going well and I’m feeling some love for the holy names, the physical representation of the holy names, the maha-mantra, on my altar strikes me as extraordinarily beautiful and effulgent.

Hare Krishna.

May this find you well.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Jun 152019

Srila Prabhupada expressed his appreciation for his father in his dedication to his book Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, “To My Father, Gour Mohan De (1849–1930)”: “A pure devotee of Krsna, who raised me as a Krsna conscious child from the beginning of my life. In my boyhood ages he instructed me how to play the mrdanga. He gave me Radha-Krsna vigraha to worship, and he gave me Jagannatha ratha to duly observe the festival as my childhood play. He was kind to me, and I imbibed from him the ideas later on solidified by my spiritual master, the eternal father.”

As devotees, we try to encourage and facilitate our children’s Krishna consciousness, as Prabhupada’s father did with him—an effort that is solidified when our children find their eternal spiritual masters.

Srila Prabhupada wrote to one of his disciples, “You have accepted me as father, so I have also accepted you as my dear and real son. Relationship of father and son on spiritual platform is real and eternal; on the material platform such relationship is ephemeral and temporary. Although I cannot give you anything as father, still I can pray to Krishna for your more and more advancement in Krishna consciousness. Your sincerity and service mood will always help you in advancing your genuine cause.”

We are indebted to all our fathers, biological and preceptorial. To those still with us, we wish you Happy Father’s Day. To those who have left us, we love you and miss you and shall try to act in such a way as will please you—and Krishna, the Supreme Father.

Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.24.13) states,

etavaty eva susrusa
karya pitari putrakaih
badham ity anumanyeta
gauravena guror vacah

“Sons ought to render service to their [qualified] father exactly to this extent. One should obey the command of his [qualified] father or spiritual master with due deference, saying, ‘Yes, sir.’ ”

Srila Prabhupada explains, “Two words in this verse are very important; one word is pitari, and another word is guroh. The son or disciple should accept the words of his spiritual master and father without hesitation. Whatever the father and the spiritual master order should be taken without argument: ‘Yes.’ There should be no instance in which the disciple or the son says, ‘This is not correct. I cannot carry it out.’ When he says that, he is fallen. The father and the spiritual master are on the same platform because a spiritual master is the second father. The higher classes are called dvija, twice-born. Whenever there is a question of birth, there must be a father. The first birth is made possible by the actual father, and the second birth is made possible by the spiritual master. Sometimes the father and the spiritual master may be the same man, and sometimes they are different men. In any case, the order of the father or the order of the spiritual master must be carried out without hesitation, with an immediate yes. There should be no argument. That is real service to the father and to the spiritual master. Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has stated that the order of the spiritual master is the life and soul of the disciples. As a man cannot separate his life from his body, a disciple cannot separate the order of the spiritual master from his life. If a disciple follows the instruction of the spiritual master in that way, he is sure to become perfect. This is confirmed in the Upanisads: the import of Vedic instruction is revealed automatically only to one who has implicit faith in the Supreme Personality of Godhead and in his spiritual master. One may be materially considered an illiterate man, but if he has faith in the spiritual master as well as in the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then the meaning of scriptural revelation is immediately manifested before him.”

On this occasion I pray to become a proper servant of my spiritual master, my spiritual father, Srila Prabhupada, and of all his other servants.

Hare Krishna.

Your aspiring servant,
Giriraj Swami

The Panihati Cida-dadhi Festival

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Jun 132019

A talk by Giriraj Swami, June 15, 2008, Laguna Beach, California.

We have gathered at the lotus feet of the Pancha-tattva on this most auspicious occasion of Srila Raghunatha dasa Gosvami’s cida-dadhi festival. The background to this incident can be found in Raghunatha dasa’s early life. His uncle and father, Hiranya and Govardhana Majumadara, were wealthy landlords in Bengal—almost like kings—and had a huge, opulent riverside palace, with boats that plied the river. Hiranya and Govardhana were generous and devoted to brahminical culture, and they maintained practically the entire brahman community of Nadia with their charity. Raghunatha was their only son, so naturally they put all their hopes to carry on the family dynasty on him. But from a young age, Raghunatha was attracted to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The Majumadaras’ spiritual master was Yadunandana Acharya, a disciple of Advaita Acharya and an intimate student of Vasudeva Datta. And the family’s priest was Balarama Acharya, a dear associate of Haridasa Thakura and close friend of Yadunandana Acharya. Balarama Acharya and Yadunandana Acharya used to host Haridasa Thakura, and when Haridasa stayed in their village, Raghunatha visited him daily and received his mercy. Balarama Acharya also invited Haridasa Thakura to speak in the Majumadaras’ assembly about the glories of the holy name. Thus Raghunatha dasa had the association of these great souls, followers of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who would tell him about Mahaprabhu and encourage him to chant.

Once, when Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, after taking sannyasa, visited Shantipur, Raghunatha dasa went to meet Him. In pure love, Raghunatha fell at Lord Chaitanya’s lotus feet, and the Lord, out of His mercy, blessed him with their touch. Raghunatha served the Lord for a week, and after he returned home he was mad with ecstatic love. He wanted to join Mahaprabhu in Puri, but his family would not allow him. Time and again he would run away from home to go to Puri, and every time, his father would catch him and bring him back. His father even kept five watchmen to guard him day and night, four servants to see to his comforts, and two brahmans to cook for him—eleven people were engaged to make sure he did not go to Puri. Later, when Mahaprabhu again visited Shantipur, Raghunatha begged his father, “Please allow me to see the lotus feet of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Otherwise, my life will not remain in my body.” So his father allowed him to go to Shantipur, sending many servants to accompany him. For seven days Raghunatha stayed in the Lord’s association, constantly thinking, “How will I get free from the watchmen? How will I be able to go with Mahaprabhu to Puri?” The Lord, being omniscient, could understand Raghunatha’s mind, and He reassured him with some important statements. These instructions form the background of the Panihati festival, and we shall read them as they are recorded in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila, Chapter Sixteen: “The Lord’s Attempt to go to Vrndavana.”

TEXT 237

“sthira hana ghare yao, na hao vatula
krame krame paya loka bhava-sindhu-kula


[Lord Chaitanya told Raghunatha dasa:] “Be patient and return home. Don’t be a crazy fellow. By and by you will be able to cross the ocean of material existence.

TEXT 238

“markata-vairagya na kara loka dekhana
yatha-yogya visaya bhunja’ anasakta hana”


“You should not make yourself a showbottle devotee and become a false renunciant. For the time being, enjoy the material world in a befitting way and do not become attached to it.”

PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada

The word markata-vairagya, indicating false renunciation, is very important in this verse. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, in commenting on this word, points out that monkeys make an external show of renunciation by not accepting clothing and by living naked in the forest. In this way they consider themselves renunciants, but actually they are very busy enjoying sense gratification with dozens of female monkeys. Such renunciation is called markata-vairagya—the renunciation of a monkey. One cannot become really renounced until one actually becomes disgusted with material activity and sees it as a stumbling block to spiritual advancement. Renunciation should not be phalgu, temporary, but should exist throughout one’s life. Temporary renunciation, or monkey renunciation, is like the renunciation one feels at a cremation ground. When a man takes a dead body to the crematorium, he sometimes thinks, “This is the final end of the body. Why am I working so hard day and night?” Such sentiments naturally arise in the mind of any man who goes to a crematorial ghata. However, as soon as he returns from the cremation grounds, he again engages in material activity for sense enjoyment. This is called smasana-vairagya, or markata-vairagya.

In order to render service to the Lord, one may accept necessary things. If one lives in this way, he may actually become renounced. In the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu (1.2.108), it is said:

yavata syat sva-nirvahah
svi-kuryat tavad artha-vit
adhikye nyunatayam ca
cyavate paramarthatah

“The bare necessities of life must be accepted, but one should not superfluously increase his necessities. Nor should they be unnecessarily decreased. One should simply accept what is necessary to help one advance spiritually.”

In his Durgama-sangamani, Sri Jiva Gosvami comments that the word sva-nirvahah actually means sva-sva-bhakti-nirvahah. The experienced devotee will accept only those material things that will help him render service to the Lord. In the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu (1.2.256), markata-vairagya, or phalgu-vairagya, is explained as follows:

prapancikataya buddhya
mumuksubhih parityago
vairagyam phalgu kathyate

“When persons eager to achieve liberation renounce things related to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, thinking them to be material, their renunciation is called incomplete.” Whatever is favorable for the rendering of service to the Lord should be accepted and should not be rejected as a material thing. Yukta-vairagya, or befitting renunciation, is thus explained:

anasaktasya visayan
yatharham upayunjatah
nirbandhah krsna-sambandhe
yuktam vairagyam ucyate

“Things should be accepted for the Lord’s service and not for one’s personal sense gratification. If one accepts something without attachment and accepts it because it is related to Krsna, one’s renunciation is called yukta-vairagya.” Since Krsna is the Absolute Truth, whatever is accepted for His service is also the Absolute Truth. . . .

COMMENT by Giriraj Swami

In the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Srila Rupa Gosvami enumerates sixty-four items of devotional service, beginning with guru-padasraya, taking shelter of a spiritual master; krsna-diksadi-siksanam, taking initiation and instruction from the spiritual master; visrambhena guroh seva, serving the spiritual master with respect; and sad-dharma-prccha, inquiring about one’s eternal duties. And at the end of the list he discusses certain items that have not been included but which one might think could or should have been. One such item is the cultivation of vairagya (detachment), and Rupa Gosvami explains why he has not included it. He says that bhakti by nature softens the heart. The primary activities of bhakti, hearing and chanting about Krishna and remembering Him, make the heart soft, whereas the cultivation of speculative knowledge and performance of artificial austerities tend to make the heart hard—the exact opposite of bhakti.

The question then arises, “If we do not cultivate detachment from material things, are we meant to be attached to them?” The answer, of course, is no. Shastra says that a person absorbed in material enjoyment is far from being absorbed in Krishna. Then how do we resolve this dilemma—that we do not want to be attached to material things yet do not want to cultivate detachment from them? In reply, Rupa Gosvami says that a taste for devotional service itself will destroy one’s material attachments, without the hardness of heart caused by the practice of vairagya. And he explains what kind of vairagya is suitable for bhakti in this important verse:

anasaktasya visayan
yatharham upayunjatah
nirbandhah krsna-sambandhe
yuktam vairagyam ucyate

Anasaktasya means “without being attached,” and visayan means “material sense objects.” Without being attached, when one engages (upayunjatah) material sense objects in appropriate ways (yatharham) in relation to Krishna (krsna-sambandhe)—in devotional service—that is called proper renunciation (yuktam vairagyam ucyate).

Srila Prabhupada used to cite the example of a famous monk in India who was supposed to be so renounced that if anyone offered him money, his hand would curl and turn away. Srila Prabhupada said, “But if anyone offers us money, we will immediately take it and use it in Krishna’s service.”

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Pandava-nirjala Ekadasi

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Jun 132019

Ekadasi is one of the regular celebrations in the Vaishnava calendar. It is observed eleven days after the full moon and eleven days after the new moon of every month. Even in the thirteenth, or leap month, called adhika-masa, or purusottama-masa, which comes every three years, during which no other festivals are celebrated, Ekadasi is observed. Ekadasi is known as the day of Lord Hari and is said to be the mother of devotion. Keeping the fast on Ekadasi is one of the sixty-four items of devotional service listed in Srila Rupa Gosvami’s Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu. In fact, it is one of the first ten.

The Nectar of Devotion, Srila Prabhupada’s summary study of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, states, “In the Brahma-vaivarta Purana it is said that one who observes fasting on Ekadasi day is freed from all kinds of reactions to sinful activities and advances in pious life. The basic principle is not just to fast, but to increase one’s faith and love for Govinda, or Krsna. The real reason for observing fasting on Ekadasi is to minimize the demands of the body and to engage our time in the service of the Lord by chanting or performing similar service. The best thing to do on fasting days is to remember the pastimes of Govinda and to hear His holy name constantly.”

Later in The Nectar of Devotion, Srila Prabhupada cites the observance of Ekadasi as a stimulus (uddipana) for ecstatic love: “Some things which give impetus or stimulation to ecstatic love of Krsna are His transcendental qualities, His uncommon activities, His smiling features, His apparel and garlands, His flute, His buffalo horn, His leg bells, His conchshell, His footprints, His places of pastimes (such as Vrndavana), His favorite plant (tulasi), His devotee and the periodical occasions for remembering Him. One such occasion for remembrance is Ekadasi, which comes twice a month on the eleventh day of the moon, both waning and waxing. On that day all the devotees remain fasting throughout the night and continuously chant the glories of the Lord.”

The importance of the Ekadasi fast is also seen in the history of King Ambarisa and the sage Durvasa. Maharaja Ambarisa had observed the fast without even drinking water up until the appointed time to break the fast, called the Ekadasi-parana. Durvasa Muni was to have returned before the time of the parana, and because he was playing the part of a brahman and Ambarisa Maharaja the part of a kshatriya, proper etiquette dictated that Durvasa break the fast first. However, because Durvasa did not come in time, Ambarisa was in a dilemma. If he did not break the fast in time, the whole observance would be spoiled. At the same time, if he did not wait for Durvasa, he would be guilty of an offense, because the etiquette demanded that he wait for the sage to break the fast first. King Ambarisa consulted his advisors, but none could resolve his problem. Finally, the king himself determined the solution: he would take water. Taking water would break the fast and at the same time not break it.

So, Ekadasi is an important observance. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu personally observed Ekadasi, and He ordered all of His followers to do the same. And of all the Ekadasis, Pandava-nirjala Ekadasi, Bhima Ekadasi, is most special.

The story behind this special Ekadasi is recounted in the Brahma Vivarta Purana. Five thousand years ago, during the time of the Mahabharata, Arjuna’s elder brother Bhima admitted that he had great difficulty fasting. (In those days everyone would fast completely from all food and water.) So the Vedic authority Vyasadeva gave Bhima permission to observe the full fast (nirjala, “without water”) only once a year, in the early summer, and to derive the same benefit as if he had observed all the other twenty-three Ekadasis. Thus, devotees who are unable to properly observe Ekadasi during the year, or who by chance happen to miss an Ekadasi, can get the benefit of fully observing all the Ekadasis if they properly observe the Pandava-nirjala Ekadasi. Strictly observed, the fast begins before sunset the evening before Ekadasi and continues until the parana, about the time of sunrise, the morning after Ekadasi. Many devotees try to chant at least sixty-four rounds on Ekadasi, especially the Bhima Ekadasi.

Once, when we were with Srila Prabhupada in Amritsar, Yamuna-devi read to him from the newly published Nectar of Devotion: “Ekadasi, which comes twice a month on the eleventh day of the moon, both waning and waxing. On that day all the devotees remain fasting throughout the night and continuously chant the glories of the Lord.” Then she asked, “Should we also observe Ekadasi like that?”

“No,” Prabhupada replied. “We have too much service to do for Krishna.”

Still, Srila Prabhupada said, “Ekadasi is most auspicious. And chanting is more effective.” And to a disciple who asked, “Should we chant twenty-five rounds on Ekadasi?” Srila Prabhupada replied, “Why only twenty-five rounds? You should chant as many as possible.”

So the basic observance of Ekadasi, as prescribed by Srila Prabhupada, is to refrain from grains and beans and to chant as many rounds as possible. Although most devotees in ISKCON do not perform nirjala on every Ekadasi, many do on Pandava-nirjala Ekadasi. They also try to chant at least sixty-four rounds. And by the mercy of Ekadasi, they make great spiritual advancement: they are blessed by spiritual strength and realization and so continue their service to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission with renewed vigor—enthusiasm and inspiration.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Panihati Festival Talk, June 8, Laguna Beach

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Jun 112019

Giriraj Swami read from Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya-lila, Chapter 6, and spoke about Lord Nityananda’s—and Srila Prabhupada’s—boundless mercy.

“Raghunatha dasa offered his obeisances by falling prostrate at a distant place, and the servant of Nityananda Prabhu pointed out, ‘There is Raghunatha dasa, offering You obeisances.’

“Hearing this, Lord Nityananda Prabhu said, ‘You are a thief. Now you have come to see Me. Come here, come here. Today I shall punish you!’

“The Lord called him, but Raghunatha dasa did not go near the Lord. Then the Lord forcibly caught him and placed His lotus feet upon Raghunatha dasa’s head.

Comment by Giriraj Swami: “Raghunatha dasa was very humble. In fact, later, when by the mercy of Nityananda Prabhu he joined Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu at Puri, although he was in Mahaprabhu’s inner circle, he would almost never submit a question or plea directly to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He would always go through Svarupa Damodara. He was so humble.”

“Lord Nityananda was by nature very merciful and funny. Being merciful, He spoke to Raghunatha dasa as follows:

“ ‘You are just like a thief, for instead of coming near, you stay away at a distant place. Now that I have captured you, I shall punish you.

“ ‘Make a festival and feed all My associates yogurt and chipped rice.’ Hearing this, Raghunatha dasa was greatly pleased.”

Panihati Festival Talk (Right-click to download)

India Next Year

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Jun 092019

On Friday my chiropractor told me, “I think you will be ready to go to India next year. You withstood the travel to the East Coast well—your body feels strong and resilient—and I think you will be able to manage the trip to India.”

He had never said anything like that to me before, and his words had the ring of truth to them. I believe that, Krishna willing, I may actually go to India next year, and that made me feel very happy.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami