Newsletter by Krishna Kshetra Swami, Issue #14 – June 14th, 2020
THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP
Friendship is a good thing. When it is seen amongst devotees, it attracts more devotees. I will tell you a nice story. I do not know if it is from the Christian tradition or the Jewish tradition, or a combination of both. It is an interreligious story.
There was a monastery where there were one abbot and five monks. They were quite elderly and becoming more and more aware of the fact that they were getting older and older and one after another they would probably make their “exit stage left”, as we say in English. They were concerned, “What to do? We are not getting any new bhaktas!”
It occurred to the abbot that there is one, we would say, sadhu, who occasionally visits one place in the forest, a Jewish rabbi, who sometimes goes on a retreat, just by himself. The abbot thought, “Maybe I should go and visit him. Who knows, maybe he has some good advice for our monastery.”
And so, he goes to visit the rabbi one day, and they have a very sweet conversation and then the abbot brings up this subject and says, “You know, we are becoming concerned what to do considering we are all getting older and not getting any new bhaktas.” And the rabbi was very sympathetic and he said, “Well, I don’t have any practical advice, but there is one thing I would like to say.” The abbot said, “Please, tell, what is it!” The rabbi answered, “Amongst six of you, there is… one of you is the Messiah!”
The abbot goes back to the group of five monks and reports. They knew he went for some advice and they were interested what the sadhu would say. “Well,” replied the abbot, “he said that one of us is the Messiah!” And they all looked at each other and everyone said to himself, “Well, the Messiah would not be that one, he is so goofy sometimes. And this one, he speaks so… And this one, you know, he always burns the sabji… But then again…” they thought, “Maybe the cook… Even if he always burns the sabji, still maybe, how do I know? And on the other side, one of us… one of us… would that mean that I am the Messiah? No, that could not be me! But then again, maybe he is? I better start behaving myself properly!”
Each one of the six was thinking like this. And so, they started to interact with each other as if one of them was the Messiah. The story goes on, for some time they are interacting in this way and people are visiting the monastery because of the church, but also now because of the atmosphere amongst these monks people started to stay a bit longer and ask the monks questions. They interacted with the monks. And then they felt good and they interacted with others, saying, “These monks, they are really good. You should go and visit these monks. There is something about them.” And gradually, gradually people came and said, “I want to join you guys.” And in this way the monastery flourished…
—From a lecture by Krishna Kshetra Swami on December 8th, 2019 in Simhachalam
DIALOGICAL VAIṢṆAVISM — THE SPIRIT OF INCLUSIVENESS
Śrīla Prabhupāda delivered to the world a venerable and ancient tradition of devotional dialogue, what I like to call “dialogical Vaiṣṇavism.” Most of our sacred literature is in the form of dialogue, saṁvāda: Sages speak with kings throughout the Bhāgavatam, and the Lord himself speaks with his dear friend Arjuna the dialogue that comes to be known as Bhagavad-gītā. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu speaks with Rāmānanda Rāya, and more recently, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura fills his Vaiṣṇava narrative catechism, Jaiva Dharma, with dialogues. In the same tradition, Śrīla Prabhupāda welcomed numerous guests into his quarters, engaging them in dialogue on spiritual topics.
I use the word “with” to better understand the richness of our tradition: Sages speak with kings, rather than to kings. We might want to say that Śrīla Prabhupāda, in his room conversations, spoke to his guests, instructing them, not exactly dialoguing with them. But while he was surely instructing, he was also listening, having exchanges with his guests. And, in effect, Śrīla Prabhupāda was engaging his guests in saṅkīrtana, community glorification of the Supreme Lord, as spiritual dialogue. By such activities, he taught us, as he taught us so many truths, by example.
This spirit of universalism, of inclusiveness, has driven the saṅkīrtana movement from its earliest beginnings in the nagara-kīrtanas of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and his enthusiastic followers to the early times of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s nascent congregation in New York and San Francisco. Everyone who took part in those occasions remember them fondly, at times wondering if present-day Vaiṣṇava culture, after Śrīla Prabhupāda’s departure, has experienced a shift in its collective disposition. Doubtless much of our nostalgia is just that, a creeping sense that something like a child’s lost innocence has passed.
And yet in our enthusiasm to participate in this glorious spiritual movement, with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s blessings we continue to extend ourselves outward as best we can to attract anyone and everyone to come closer to the Lord, especially through chanting His holy names. I like to think of those flags carrying symbols of the various religions in that early Hippie Hill kīrtana. What can we do to foster more of such a spirit, one that is more “dialogical”?
Anticipating that some might think the chanting of the hare kṛṣṇa mantra is sectarian, Śrīla Prabhupāda once countered, “But Lord Caitanya says, ‘It doesn’t matter. If you have some other bona fide name of God, you can chant that. But chant God’s name.’” Śrīla Prabhupāda then went on to assure his audience, “Do not think this movement is trying to convert you from a Christian to a Hindu. Remain a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim. It doesn’t matter.” And then he invited everyone, “But if you really want to perfect your life, then try to develop your dormant love for God. That is the perfection of life.”
I pray to remember—and to serve Śrīla Prabhupāda by doing what I can to help foster—the spirit of inclusiveness that he instilled in us by his example. Despite the rumors that atheism increases in popularity, millions of people are firm in their theistic convictions. As Śrīla Prabhupāda said during one room conversation, we [theists of all sorts] “should make combined effort” to revive people’s God consciousness. In the spirit of dialogue that our Vaiṣṇava tradition holds dear, I pray that we, followers of Śrīla Prabhupāda, may properly represent him in all dialogical venues for the common good of the world and the glory of our disciplic succession.
—Based on the Vyāsa-pūjā offering for Śrīla Prabhupāda by Krishna Kshetra Swami on September 6th, 2018
JAGANNATH VERSUS JUGGERNAUT
On that summer Sunday in 2003, viewing the procession from Marble Arch toward Trafalgar Square, seeing the three or four thousand British paraders (including many of Indian origin or ancestry) I recalled being here on this same occasion thirty years before, when Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, had led the procession. It was all strange then, and it was still strange now, to both witness and be part of this odd display, a mixture of ancient and modern, religious and secular life. Vaisnava devotees of Jagannatha (who consider the image ‘’nondifferent” from the more human-like divinity Krishna), might feel no need to give any but “transcendental” reasons for all this, as the Lord’s divinely playful will, his lila. Others might well wonder what was the underlying purpose or message.
To be sure, others have pondered the mixing and matching of tradition and modernity with reference to Jagannatha. In his recent book “Hinduism and Modernity”, David Smith cites Anthony Giddesn, who describes the “erratic, runaway character of modernity” as an experience like “riding a juggernaut.” Contrasting two abstract but compelling notions – modernity and Hinduism – Smith juxtaposes the modernity-juggernaut of capitalism with the huge Jagannatha processional car of Hindu tradition (the British colonial neologism juggernaut being derived from Jagannatha). He writes, “While the original Jagannath car carried images of the gods that people worshipped, the modernity that is capitalism as it proceeds along its trajectory befuddles us with fetishisms, with factitious, fabricated images. The temple car characteristic of the lumbering, unmanoeuverable, dangerous quality of Hinduism is transferred to its opposite, modernity, which is fast, unmanoeuverable and no less dangerous (Smith 2003; 23).”
—From the book “Attending Krishna’s Image: Caitanya Vaishnava Murti-seva as Devotional Truth” by Kenneth R. Valpey, Routledge, 2006
about our weekly online KrKSangas.