“It is His [Krishna's] will that universal welfare work depends on the protection of cows and brāhmaṇas; thus brahminical culture and cow protection are the basic principles for human civilization.”
– Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 3.22.3 Purport.
Are we ready for this? Please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/f/cow-care-book
Animals as gurus
Nature is the stage setting for Krishna’s pastimes, where Krishna is the source of all attraction, and the dangers of nature are just opportunities for Krishna to have some fun.
In the 11th Canto there is a wonderful series of lessons from gurus, and amongst them are some animals. For example, the pigeon. From pigeons we learn about attachment in family life. The story is that a pigeon gets caught by a hunter. The partner of the pigeon laments and gets also caught, and all their children too.
So, the Bhagavatam is teaching us many lessons. And it is meant that we carry the lessons with us into our lives. So, for example, we go outside, see pigeons, and get reminded of this lesson. And this is actually the technique of this whole series by which we are reminded by Krishna, through nature, through animals, of so many important principles of spiritual life, usually having to do with attachment and detachment.
The next lesson is of the python. The python teaches us detachment. How? Because this kind of snake does not do anything until some food comes to him. He is just lying there, not even chanting Hare Krishna. But the idea is that the python accepts whatever comes. Maybe it is not the best example as we see not may pythons around, but still we can remember.
Another teacher is the moth. A kind of gray butterfly, dark, not colorful. From these little creatures there is also a lesson about attachment. They are attracted to light. They go to the light in the night, and that light becomes their death.
The next one is the bumble bee. What do bumble bees do? Bzzzzzzzzzzzz… Yes, it sings, but what else? They are called madhukari. They are doing madhukari. Just like sadhus,they go from home to home asking for some food. The lesson is: do not try to get everything from one householder, go to many householders. And if you are a householder, do not give everything to one sadhu. Spread the wealth. Then there is the honey bee and her lesson: do not collect and save for yourself. Do not pile up goods.
There are more animals mentioned. The elephant is attracted to the opposite sex and this attraction is used to capture him. The deer is attracted by music. The lesson is not to waste our time and energy with frivolous activity. And there is the spider. He does wonderful artwork, unfolds and weaves a beautiful web. But what is its purpose? To capture small insects in order to eat them. How is the spider a guru? He can remind us of the Lord, who unfolds this entire creation. The Lord’s creation expands and expands just by the Lord’s power. We are so preoccupied with our lives in the “spider web” of this world, a world which the Lord at some point in time is simply going to withdraw back into His body.
So, these are nice lessons from animals, and Bhagavatam refers to them as guru. Further, the Bhagavatam suggests that we can learn from all different sorts of animals, creatures and beings of nature. Just like three days ago, when I arrived to Kolkata we had to wait outside the airport for some time before getting our ride. We were sitting in a not very pleasant place, just concrete, noise and taxis. We were chanting japa and then I heard a bird singing. The bird was just sitting above and singing. And it was such a sweet singing type of bird we do not have in Europe. So, I was thinking: How nice! This is not a very nice place, but the bird is just singing a sweet song. That can be also a mood to imbibe. As devotees in this world, not a great place to be… What can we do? Sing sweetly for the Lord. Hare Krishna!
– From the lecture of Krishna Kshetra Swami, “Animals in Vaishnava literature”, Shravan Utsav, February-March 2019, Sridham Mayapur.
Keep cultivating questioning mentality
I am seeing now days your new BBT pullovers, sweatshirts with the message on the back “What is the purpose of life? Ask me!” I have been wondering since I have seen that, if anyone is getting asked, as you are out on the street distributing books. If anyone is coming up to you after reading your sign, “Please tell me what is the purpose of life!” Any experience of that yet?
Anyway, the previous verse kāmasya nendriya-prītir lābho jīveta yāvatā jīvasya tattva-jijñāsā nārtho yaś ceha karmabhiḥ says that life is meant simply for pursuing the absolute truth, inquiring. The word jijñāsā means inquiry. But in Sanskrit this word with prefix ji before jñā indicates what is called desiderative, the grammatical form indicating that there is some desire, some eagerness, intense desire to find out, to know. Jijñāsā. So, tattva-jijñāsā means to intensely desire to know tattva, the truth, the absolute truth, ultimate truth.
There is a nice little story in the beginning of the Katha Upanishad, telling about this eagerness to know. There was this young boy called Naciketas. His father was busy performing a sacrifice and the conclusion of the sacrifice was his intention to give away all of his possessions, and in this way to attain heaven. But the father was hesitant, although he had made this decision to give everything he was finding it difficult, and so his young son Naciketas was watching his father giving away in charity only the old and lame cows, only the cows that no longer give milk, only blind cows. Naciketas observed this and he thought – “Something is wrong, the purpose of my father’s sacrifice is not being fulfilled.” So, he asked his father, “Dear father, I am also your possession, what are you going to do with me? Are you going to give me away in charity?” And his father didn’t answer. So, he asked again and his father didn’t answer. So, he asked again, as small children tend to do, they ask their parents questions again and again and again till sometimes parents get a bit annoyed. Well, Naciketas’ father got very annoyed and he said, “Yes, I will consign you to death. I will send you to death.” It is another way of saying – “Go to hell!”
So, Naciketas thought – “All right, that is interesting, my father has sent me to death so I have to follow his instructions and I have to go.” So, he proceeded on his way after reflecting on the temporal nature of this life and expressing himself to his father he said, “Yes, the corn grows and then it goes to seed and then again death comes again and in this way life goes on.” And he said, “Cheerio!”, as they say in England, and he went off to visit Yamaraja.
Well, Yamaraja wasn’t home, so Naciketas waited three days and three nights. Yamaraja was, as they say, out of station. When he came back Yamaraja’s servants said, “Yamaraja, a brahmanahas arrived. And because you have been out of station you have not received him. This is not good.” Yamaraja was very worried, so he came to Naciketas and begged his pardon. “I am so sorry that I did not receive you. So please receive from me a boon, blessing for each day I have not be present. You have three benedictions, you can choose your desire.”
“All right,” Nachiketas said, “my first request is that you pacify my father and that you arrange that when I come back to him that his angry mood will be finished and he will embrace me”.
“Yes, no problem,” said Yamaraja,” that we can do.” “And now your second desire.”
“My second desire is as I have heard in heaven things are very nice because there is no fear and so I would like to learn the process of sacrifice by which to go to heaven.”
“All right!” So Yamaraja teaches Naciketas a process of yajñā and he learns very good all the mantras, all the procedures immediately. He is a perfect student, so much that Yamaraja is so pleased that he says, “I am going to give you an extra benediction. I am going to name this particular sacrifice which I have taught you the ‘Nachiketas yajñā’.”
“So, now your third boon. What do you want?”
Nachiketas said, “People in this world say different things about what happens after death, whether the living entities continue to exist or not. So, I want to know from you the secret of immortality.”
Yamaraja said, “O that I can’t tell you! I will give you any other benediction you desire, I will give you sons, grandsons, all of whom will live to be one hundred years old, I will give you horses, elephants, chariots, kingdoms. I will give you all manner of sense pleasure and even the superior power by which you will be able to enjoy those pleasures. Not just ordinary capacity of the senses, I will give your senses with super sensitivity. So, you can really enjoy! I will give you all of this, anything, but not what you are asking for.”
Nachiketas said, “No, thank you. You can keep your horses, elephants, kingdoms. What use have these for the person who understands that this is all temporary, ephemeral? How can someone enjoy these things knowing that the next day it will all be finished?! So, keep your cows, horses, chariots, keep it all, thank you, I don’t want any of that, I simply want to know about immortality”.
At that point Yamaraja was pleased. He saw he has a serious student here. And then he begins to speak the Katha Upanishad, about the nature of the soul, Supreme Soul, and the internal nature of both and about the miseries of material existence. In many ways it is like the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. So, that eagerness to know, tattva-jijñāsā, is something which is being spread. In our tradition, Srila Prabhupada always, in so many lectures he would talk about this aphorism from Brahmasutra.
The suggestion I want to make is, that it is not that we once read the answer to this question and then we know it, and then the questioning is finished. Rather it is a mentality that we want to cultivate through our lives, the questioning mentality. When Sanatana Goswami says, “ke ami kene amay yare tapa-traya? Who am I? Why is it that I suffer the threefold miseries?” he is giving a model how to question and it is not that it is simple, here is a question, here is an answer. “Okay, I got the answer, now my business is finished.” There is something more to it than that. Understanding the Absolute Truth, and how we are part of the Absolute Truth, that is an ongoing business of devotional service. So, when we say that bhakti is independent of jñāna, this is not to say “forget about this inquisitiveness.” No. Inquisitiveness we want to cultivate. We want to keep penetrating, rethinking and keep asking ourselves: “Who am I actually? What am I actually doing here? What is the purpose of life?” Then we can have that on the back of our pullovers: “Ask me. I know the answer.” Yes. We do know the answer, we can tell others, but we are also asking, we are continuing to ask. That is important I think for us to understand.
– From a lecture on SB 1.2.11 by Krishna Kshetra Swami.
Serbia: 4-7-2019 till 12-7-2019
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