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 272018
 

On Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s disappearance day, Giriraj Swami awarded first initiation to Vishal Amarnani and his wife, Shweta, giving them the names Vraja Bihari dasa and Sveta-manjari dasi. While discussing the ten offenses against the holy name, he read and spoke on Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.15.25 and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta Adi 8.31.

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Initiation Kirtan
Initiation Talk

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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

Celebrating Gita Jayanti, The Advent of the Bhagavad-gita

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Dec 182018
 

An address by Giriraj Swami to leaders of Hindu organizations in Houston, October 23, 2009.

 

The Bhagavad-gita is also known as the Gitopanisad and is considered one of the Upanishads. The title Bhagavad-gita is sometimes translated as “The Song of God.” Gita mean “song.” God, Krishna, is so sublime that whatever He speaks is music and poetry. The word bhagavan has been analyzed by Vedic authorities. Bhaga means “opulence” and is related to the word bhagya: “good fortune.” And van means “one who possesses.” So bhagavan means “He who possesses all opulence in full.”

aisvaryasya samagrasya
  viryasya yasasah sriyah
jnana-vairagyayos caiva
  sannam bhaga itingana

“Full wealth, strength, fame, beauty, knowledge, and renunciation—these are the six opulences of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Vishnu Purana 6.5.47)

All of us possess some wealth. I may have ten dollars, but if I look further I will find someone who has a hundred dollars. And if I look still further, I will find someone who has a thousand dollars, and a million, and a billion. But no one can say that he has all the wealth in all creation, that no one is equal to him or greater than him in wealth. When we come to that person who has all wealth—no one is equal to or greater than him—that is Bhagavan, Krishna.

The Bhagavad-gita was originally spoken by Krishna to Arjuna. As stated in the Gita (4.1),

sri-bhagavan uvaca
imam vivasvate yogam
  proktavan aham avyayam
vivasvan manave praha
  manur iksvakave ’bravit

“The Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna, said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku.” Lord Krishna originally spoke the Gita to Vivasvan, the sun-god, who spoke it to his son Manu, who in turn spoke it to Iksvaku. In this way, the knowledge was passed on through disciplic succession from one to the next to the next. But in the course of time, that chain became broken.

evam parampara-praptam
  imam rajarsayo viduh
sa kaleneha mahata
  yogo nastah parantapa

“This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.” (Gita 4.2) Nasta means “spoiled.” You may have a nice plate of prasada, but if you leave it aside and it becomes old and contaminated, it becomes nasta, spoiled. It is food, but you don’t get the benefit. To get the real benefit of the Bhagavad-gita, one must receive it through parampara (evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh).

Five thousand years ago, Lord Krishna detected that the chain was broken and that, consequently, the knowledge was lost. So He came again and spoke the Bhagavad-gita again, to Arjuna: “Now, Arjuna, you become the first recipient of this knowledge in the new chain, so that the knowledge is received and presented as it is.” Srila Prabhupada called his translation of the Gita the Bhagavad-gita As It Is. “As it is” means as Krishna spoke it five thousand years ago and as Arjuna understood it.

How did Arjuna understand it? First, he accepted Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead:

   arjuna uvaca
param brahma param dhama
pavitram paramam bhavan
purusam sasvatam divyam
  adi-devam ajam vibhum

“Arjuna said: You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest.” (Gita 10.12)

And he accepted everything that Krishna said as true: sarvam etad rtam manye yan mam vadasi kesava—“O Krsna, I totally accept as truth all that You have told me.” (Gita 10.14) “I accept whatever You say, in toto.” He did not discriminate that he liked some parts of the Gita and not other parts. Sarvam etad rtam manye: “I accept in toto everything that You have said.” If we begin to discriminate, “I like this portion, but I don’t like that portion,” we become implicated in ardha-kukkuti-nyaya, “half-hen” logic.

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From Lust to Love—With Krishna’s Mercy

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Dec 152018
 

We read from Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Chapter Three: “Karma-yoga.”

TEXT 41

tasmat tvam indriyany adau
  niyamya bharatarsabha
papmanam prajahi hy enam
  jnana-vijnana-nasanam

TRANSLATION

Therefore, O Arjuna, best of the Bharatas, in the very beginning curb this great symbol of sin [lust] by regulating the senses, and slay this destroyer of knowledge and self-realization.

PURPORT by Srila Prabhupada

The Lord advised Arjuna to regulate the senses from the very beginning so that he could curb the greatest sinful enemy, lust, which destroys the urge for self-realization and specific knowledge of the self. Jnana refers to knowledge of self as distinguished from non-self, or in other words, knowledge that the spirit soul is not the body. Vijnana refers to specific knowledge of the spirit soul’s constitutional position and his relationship to the Supreme Soul. It is explained thus in SrimadBhagavatam (2.9.31):

 jnanam parama-guhyam me
 yad vijnana-samanvitam
sa-rahasyam tad-angam ca
  grhana gaditam maya

“The knowledge of the self and Supreme Self is very confidential and mysterious, but such knowledge and specific realization can be understood if explained with their various aspects by the Lord Himself.” The Bhagavad-gita gives us that general and specific knowledge of the self. The living entities are parts and parcels of the Lord, and therefore they are simply meant to serve the Lord. This consciousness is called Krsna consciousness. So, from the very beginning of life one has to learn this Krsna consciousness, and thereby one may become fully Krsna conscious and act accordingly.

Lust is only the perverted reflection of the love of God which is natural for every living entity. But if one is educated in Krsna consciousness from the very beginning, that natural love of God cannot deteriorate into lust. When love of God deteriorates into lust, it is very difficult to return to the normal condition. Nonetheless, Krsna consciousness is so powerful that even a late beginner can become a lover of God by following the regulative principles of devotional service. So, from any stage of life, or from the time of understanding its urgency, one can begin regulating the senses in Krsna consciousness, devotional service of the Lord, and turn the lust into love of Godhead—the highest perfectional stage of human life.

COMMENT by Giriraj Swami

In the beginning of the movement in America, one of the first young men to come forward to serve Srila Prabhupada was Bruce Scharf, who was later initiated as Brahmananda dasa. Brahmananda had taken a class in English literature, and the professor had asked the students to give an interpretation of the motives of a character in a story. So, Brahmananda told Srila Prabhupada that he had interpreted the motivations of the character in a cosmic, or spiritual, way and that the professor had explained the motives in terms of lust, or sex desire. Srila Prabhupada replied, “Your professor was right: In the material world everything is impelled by lust.”

Because of lust, we remain encaged in the physical body, which is full of misery. Both the gross body and the subtle body, which includes the mind, suffer pain and anguish. We want to become free from the bondage of the material body. As long as we are imprisoned in the material body, we have to suffer greatly. And we never know what may come next. Things may go well for a while—for years even—but then all of a sudden something goes wrong that we had never expected. And the result is that we suffer great pain—physical, mental, or both.

A sober, intelligent person will think, “As long as I am in this material body, I am subject to so many miseries, but my nature as a spiritual soul, is joyful.” The soul is by nature eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss (sac-cid-ananda). But the body is the opposite: asat, acid, and nirananda—temporary, full of ignorance, and full of misery. The eternal soul imprisoned in a temporary body is in an awkward position, an incompatible situation. Therefore an intelligent, wise, sober person will endeavor to become free from the bondage of material existence, from the cycle of birth and death in the material world. And as long as we identify with the body and act on the impulses of the body to enjoy the senses, we will have to take birth again.

Contemporary society has made much propaganda in favor of enjoying the senses without restriction. They say that there is no problem with sensual gratification; the problem is that we feel guilty about it. If we can get rid of the sense of guilt, we can really enjoy the senses. This theory may sound attractive to materialistic persons who want to enjoy the senses, and we also don’t insist that you should avoid sense gratification because it is “bad” or “evil.” There is sense gratification even in the spiritual world—spiritual sense gratification. But the problem with material sense gratification is that it increases our material attachment and bondage, which extends our duration of suffering in this material world, extends our prison sentence. And it is also not true that the sense of guilt or shame in relation to sense gratification or sex is just a false imposition by society. Experimental studies of children who were taught from the very beginning that there is nothing wrong with sex and that they should have as much as they want revealed that even they felt there was something not quite right about it. Even without moral instructions and admonitions from others, they felt some guilt and shame. They felt bad.

Every culture has restrictions on sex indulgence, and the general rule is that if one wants to have sex he or she should get married; the husband should be responsible for the wife, and the wife should be faithful to the husband. There is restriction, regulation, as indicated in the verse (niyama). But even such regulation does not qualify a person to be liberated from the repetition of birth and death. The only qualification for that is Krishna consciousness.

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Odana-sasthi

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Dec 132018
 

Today is Odana-sasthi, the date on which Lord Jagannatha is given a winter shawl. One year, when Lord Caitanya and His associates celebrated this festival in Puri, Pundarika Vidyanidhi, who is Vrsabhanu Maharaja, Srimati Radharani’s father, in krsna-lila, received some special mercy. His experience is instructive for us all.

Srila Prabhupada explains, “At the beginning of winter, there is a ceremony known as the Odana-sasthi. This ceremony indicates that from that day forward, a winter covering should be given to Lord Jagannatha. That covering is directly purchased from a weaver. According to the arcana-marga, a cloth should first be washed to remove all the starch, and then it can be used to cover the Lord. Pundarika Vidyanidhi saw that the priest neglected to wash the cloth before covering Lord Jagannatha. Since he wanted to find some fault in the devotees, he became indignant.” (Cc Madhya 16.78 purport)

And Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 16.78-81) describes the event: “Pundarika Vidyanidhi initiated Gadadhara Pandita for the second time, and on the day of Odana-sasthi Pundarika Vidyanidhi saw the festival. When Pundarika Vidyanidhi saw that Lord Jagannatha was given a starched garment, he became a little hateful. In this way his mind was polluted. That night the brothers Lord Jagannatha and Balarama came to Pundarika Vidyanidhi and, smiling, began to slap him. Although his cheeks were swollen from the slapping, Pundarika Vidyanidhi was very happy within. This incident has been elaborately described by Thakura Vrndavana dasa.”

From this incident, we can learn that the Lord does not tolerate offenses against His servants, even from an advanced devotee, and that He chastises a devotee who commits such an offense even within the mind. We can also learn that a pure devotee accepts such chastisement from the Lord with great happiness, as a manifestation of the Lord’s mercy, of His love and care for His devotees—both for those who may commit such an offense and for those who may be objects of such an offense. He thanks the Lord for rectifying him and preventing him from committing further offenses, and he feel great jubilation within his heart.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami