Saturday, May 26, 2007

Japa Retreat (Part I)

I'm still working on a post (or two) summing up my experiences and realizations at the japa retreat. In the mean time I thought I'd share some of the things I quickly jotted down* right after the weekend so that I wouldn't try to remember them two months later and find that they had long since left me.
  • I am not my mind. My mind wants fireworks, but while that may distract me for a time, it's not satisfying to the heart/the self/the soul. My heart is satisfied by things that are much deeper, and far more subtle, not simply flashy and impressive.
  • To love someone means to pay attention to them (and) if we pay attention to someone, we will come to love them. In the same way, developing love for the Holy Name only requires our enthusiastic attention.
  • Sankirtan means: everyone goes back to Godhead together. (Ravindra Savrupa Dasa)
  • My chanting is a personal time to associate with the Lord/the Holy Name (which are not different). When chanting I should be giving the Holy Name my full attention. This applies to application (how well I am concentrating) as well as attitude (how have I arranged the environment? how eager am I to get on to something else?).
  • My chanting is not a courtesy to my spiritual master (completing my rounds merely in order to fulfill a vow). My chanting is an offering to my spiritual master. As such I should chant as well/as attentively as I possibly can desiring to please guru and Krishna, but I should be detached from the results. I should expect nothing in return for my chanting, but should simply be satisfied with the chanting itself.
  • Japa is a purificatory process by which we express our love for Krishna. Kirtan is an expression of love between devotees. One requires the other: the heart must be purified in order to express love for the devotees. (Varsana Swami)
  • nirvisesa sunyvadi pascatya desa tarine... Srila Prabhupada saved us from impersonalism and voidism by giving us the Divine Love of the Holy Names: you can try to love the void, but it won't love you back.
  • Chanting is going on all the time...

*I copied this almost exactly as it appears in my notebook, with only a minimal amount of editing. It's abit awkward here and there. Also, many of these reflections are the direct result of things I heard in classes from the many exalted Vaishnavas who participated. I have noted those places where I have quoted someone directly.

Vacation Pics: Badarikashrama


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Anti-God Delusion

Those who engage in the culture of nescient activities shall enter into the darkest region of ignorance. Worse still are those engaged in the culture of so-called knowledge.

As far as vidya is concerned, the first mantra has explained very clearly that the Supreme Lord is the proprietor of everything and that forgetfulness of this fact is ignorance. The more a man forgets this fact of life, the more he is in darkness. In view of this, a godless civilization directed toward the so-called advancement of education is more dangerous than a civilization in which the masses of people are less "educated." [Sri Isopanisad, Mantra 9 & Purport]
Working in retail means that at least four days a week I dutifully connect spirit souls with their material desires. I earn, what I hope is a mostly, honest living at one of the two major chain bookstores in the US. I am often reminded that the Srimad-Bhagavatam describes that “words which do not describe the glories of the Lord… [are] like a place of pilgrimage unto crows” [SB 1.5.10]. This is undoubtedly true whether those words are spoken aloud or found on the printed page. In that case, I regularly visit a place of pilgrimage. In fact, I often see a small flock of jet-black fowl perched just above the front door when I go into work in the morning.

We carry books, magazines, CDs, DVDs and so forth, covering all varieties of material “knowledge” – and, I should point out, a small selection of transcendental literature of varying potencies; for instance, we carry a version of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, originally printed by Macmillan, and reprinted by the BBT. Because this is largely a “mainstream” sort of place, we spare no expense – be it monetary or karmic – in carrying whatever may happen to be the latest trend.

I somehow weathered the ballyhooed release of The Secret in its many formats – thanks Oprah! While that little publication probably deserves a post of its own, it’s nothing in comparison to the disturbing trend of anti-religious tomes that have been coming through over the least several months. The first one I remember seeing was Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. If you are unfamiliar with Dawkins and his ilk, suffice it so say that he is one of a growing number of evangelical atheists that have gained popularity as of late. I think Srila Prabhupada would have readily identified Dawkins as one of the “tiny Hiranyakasipus of today” .

So it was with little surprise, but much irritation, that I happened upon this little manifesto the other day. Though supposedly writing for the intelligent class, Christopher Hitchens’ title -– God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything – leaves nothing to subtlety nor imagination. A quick glance at the inside cover reveals whatever could not already be assumed: Hitchens considers it his responsibility to push on the crusade – and let’s not let that word fly by without belaboring its painful irony – to completely eradicate the world of the thing that he feels is causing all of its pain and suffering: religion, and by obvious extension, God. Materialists like Dawkins and Hitchens never hesitate to send up their battle cry of logic and reason, but any intelligent examination will reveal that their proposals are neither logical, nor reasonable.

Let’s be honest. There has been, is, and unfortunately will be much suffering perpetrated in the name of religion, and in the name of God. I will address this sad fact shortly, but let me first emphatically state that the atheistic plan for their total eradication will do nothing to solve the real problems of material life: birth, disease, old age, and death. It is for this reason that Hitchens’ proposal is entirely unreasonable. It is, in effect, a declaration of war on material nature, a campaign which has been throughout human history, an utter failure. The death rate in the material world has always been one hundred percent, and no amount of advancement in the fields of science, technology or so-called rational thought will change that fact.

I can hear their deluded objections rising up right now, declaring with some amount of fevered confidence that if only we devote the time and resources to these problems, that science will one day discover the solution for these plagues on humanity, bringing about an ageless, deathless utopia, free from all illness and strife. Srila Prabhupada said, “trust no future, however wonderful”, and also warned us about accepting what amounts to a massive post-dated check from the falsely confident. We have no reason to believe that material science has any hope of effectively addressing the problems of birth, disease, old age, and death, and we should not be swayed by empty promises. Every illness apparently “cured” is replaced by some newer, more virulent scourge, what to speak of the specter of inevitable death.

Besides, this dogmatic faith in the scientific infallibility of the universe is totally illogical. Fanatics like Hitchens and Dawkins profess their faith for evincible scientific fact, completely eschewing all things spiritual and supposedly unverifiable. However convincing their approach may be in theory, they are laughably inept at applying it in practice. Motivated by their so-called compassion for the suffering of humanity – at the hands of evil religion, no less – they hope to bring about a utopian age free of all pain and inconvenience. However, if the world is merely a complicated interaction of physical laws, scientific interactions, and chemical reactions, then what use is there for compassion? If millions of people die every day, why should we care? When each life amounts to a few dollars of soon to be useless chemicals, why should anyone get upset? By their own standards the pursuit of happiness is only so much phantasmagoria, an illusion created by the temporary presence of electrical impulses in the brain, or the increase of certain chemical compounds. Why should any standards of moral decency exist in a civilization supposedly created by human intellect? As Hitchens suggests, God, and the faiths that revere Him, is simply a concoction of the human mind, a concoction that he feels is responsible for all of the world’s ills.

However, Hitchens’ solution is the worst kind of utopian misdirection. In presenting the one solution he feels will be the panacea for the world’s problems, he is simply covering up the real source of suffering. It is not God, nor religion, that is causing this suffering, it is the lust, anger, greed, and envy so deeply entrenched in our hearts that are the source of suffering. It is that lust, anger, greed, and envy that will make any so-called believer exploit others for his own selfish gain. And by offering his brilliant solution, Hitchens and his ilk are merely absolving themselves from any real responsibility in the matter. By placing the blame on God, they are only attempting to avoid the daunting task of ridding themselves of that same lust, anger, greed, and envy: a seemingly superhuman task that begins with humility. Obviously, this is a quality that Hitchens sorely lacks.

Sure, I don’t know Hitchens personally. He may be a great guy, right? A real saint, I’m sure. Perhaps. But it doesn’t take much investigation to see the evidence of arrogance and conceit; look no further than the cover of his book (Dawkins, too). Both Hitchens and Dawkins have resorted to what J.D. Salinger referred to as “the worst kind of name-dropping”, riding on the reputation of the possessor of all fame, in the hopes of gaining a little more fame and publicity (and money) for themselves. Hitchens and Dawkins profess their desire to completely remove God from the picture, but they don’t hesitate to use his reputation to get a little attention for themselves.

These are the brilliant leaders of modern society. Deluded by the material energy, desperate only to increase the gratification of their senses, they pour all of their energy into refining the animalistic activities of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, completely oblivious to their inevitable failure. Hitchens and Dawkins, and the other fundamentalist materialists like them, are certainly the “tiny Hiranyakasipus of today”, and they can look forward to accepting the same fate as their bigger demon cousins of yore. They too will eventually meet Krishna in the form of cruel death.
Real sense enjoyment is possible only when the disease of materialism is removed. In our pure spiritual form, free from all material contamination, real enjoyment of the senses is possible. A patient must regain his health before he can truly enjoy sense pleasure again. Thus the aim of human life should not be to enjoy perverted sense enjoyment but to cure the material disease. Aggravation of the material disease is no sign of knowledge, but a sign of avidya, ignorance. For good health, a person should not increase his fever from 105 degrees to 107 degrees but should reduce his temperature to the normal 98.6. That should be the aim of human life. The modern trend of material civilization is to increase the temperature of the feverish material condition, which has reached the point of 107 degrees in the form of atomic energy. Meanwhile, the foolish politicians are crying that at any moment the world may go to hell. That is the result of the advancement of material knowledge and the neglect of the most important part of life, the culture of spiritual knowledge. Sri Isopanishad herein warns that we must not follow this dangerous path leading to death. On the contrary, we must develop the culture of spiritual knowledge so that we may become completely free from the cruel hands of death. [Sri Isopanisad, Mantra 11, Purport]

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Excuses, excuses...

It's not that I was lying, really. I just tend to overestimate the imminent presence of "free-time" in my day-to-day life.

Earlier today someone said : no rest for the wicked.

It certainly seems that way sometimes, doesn't it. I'd like to think that Krishna is keeping me out of trouble. He's certainly keeping me engaged. And how can I complain? Krishna is very merciful. Besides, when I sit for a couple hours a day and ask again and again and again to be engaged in the Lord's service - however insincere and inattentive those requests might be - I shouldn't be very surpsised when service actually comes.

The short version? My reflections on the japa retreat are forthcoming, as well as a little something else I've been working on. At least, I really hope so...