Keeping it real – while still seeking spiritual emancipation.

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I gave Srimad Bhagavatam class today in the Hare Krishna temple in Riga, Latvia on this verse (http://vedabase.net/sb/3/20/6/ ). I was feeling very unqualified and somewhat perplexed. I mean, I am not a Vedic scholar, nor a self realised soul in any sense, and yet this verse was talking about how much a true devotee of the Lord relishes even the most simple truths. However, after praying to my spiritual teachers and God for clarity, it dawned on me that what Srila Prabhupada was saying in his commentary to this verse was that a TRUE (“actual”) self-realised soul does not need to jump to the most intimate pastimes of Krishna (rasa lila), but can relish the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita thousands and thousands of times and never feel satiated. Why is this? Because what is contained in the Bhagavad-gita is the beginning and the end of all knowledge. It is a completely perfect treatise on spirituality, and therefore a realised soul can always find newer and newer aspects from reading it.

Members of ISKCON often hear followers of other swamis say, “Your teacher (Prabhupada) never taught the highest truth”. But from my personal experience and from a careful study of his comments on this verse, I can unequivocally say that that idea is bullshit. Prabhupada did indeed give the world the sum and substance of spiritual truth, but like foolish children we desire to jump ahead to the ‘Quantum physics’ of spirituality, before even understanding the most basic laws of addition.

From what I have seen in my 30 years as a member of ISKCON, there is way too much emphasis on philosophising and studying the more intimate aspects of the Lord’s pastimes, when in fact all we really need to do is become conscious of Krishna in this world. Simple statements by Krishna like: “I am the taste of water”; or “I am the fragrance of the Earth” are profound and it is these simple things that will actually help us to always remember Krishna and never forget Him. And according to the great scholar, Rupa Goswami, that simple truth is the essence of ALL instructions.

Having seen so many struggle on the path of bhakti yoga (myself included), I can only conclude that ISKCON has completely missed this simple truth. Srila Prabhupada clearly told us: “First become conscious, then become Krishna conscious.” In other words, we need to become aware of Krishna’s presence in this realm; to see the magic of Krishna here, on earth, during our day-to-day affairs. Then gradually, gradually, through increased awareness, mental purification and maturity, the Lord will reveal more and more to us. There is no need to race ahead or pretend to be something we are not.

My call to all followers of Gaudiya Vaisnavism and indeed, anyone who has taken a position of spiritual leadership in any spiritual tradition is to be honest and stop pretending to be a pure devotee if you are not. Before expecting someone to bow down to you, learn to bow down to a plant and ask permission of that plant if you can take it’s life to sustain your body. Before you expect worship, go wash the feet of a homeless person; before showing off you ability to quote the scripture and your grasp of knowledge, know that superior knowledge can be demonstrated in small acts of kindness; before you take disciples or any kind of dependent, allow a dog to lick your hand and appreciate the love it has in it’s heart, and before you become a so-called Rasa-jna, learn to relish the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita. All these things are manifestations of Krishna. He is everywhere and everything.

To be perfectly clear here, I am a not in any way pure, but I have a right to my own opinion. And my opinion is based on my personal experience, and I felt that Prabhupada’s purport (please read it) was confirming my opinion. I am sorry if my statements seem generalizations about members of ISKCON or other faiths, but please understand that whether or not we are a student of a swami in ISKCON, ultimately all swamis and priests are representative of their particular spiritual tradition and what they do does impact every member of their society. All I am saying is we need to be straight forward and down to earth and not so high in the clouds. Krishna (God) is present even in the cockroach and the apple.

Becoming conscious of Krishna in this world includes embracing the simple truth that, maybe, entering into a loving relationship with another human being could be critical for your evolution in consciousness. Sadly though, ISKCON still has a leadership culture that demonises this basic human need, where women are viewed as “obstacles” on the path of self-realisation. So it is my humble opinion that the status of Sannyasa should only be awarded to those that have fully experienced a relationship (and all it’s challenges) with a women, and who are also sufficiently mature in age.

Of course, there are many pure souls in and outside of ISKCON, but my point is that ISKCON and many spiritual institutions as a whole have missed the simple truth of honouring the Lord in this world. Every swami, guru or priest is certainly honourable, but they may not be a pure devotee of the Lord. However, all of them are influencing the culture of their institutions and sometimes their behaviour and attitude is cruel and/or embarrassing. I mean, there are endless examples in ISKCON of devotees feeling disrespected or marginalized just because they were not a Prabhupada disciple, or Sannyasi, or male, etc. What to speak of those that are not book distributors or scholars, and this is wrong on so many levels. Each and every one of us, from the bug to the tree, to the single mother, pot washer, street sweeper, postman or Nazi racist, are parts and parcel of Krishna (God).

We need to cultivate an appreciation for the presence of the Lord in every living being and all day to day experiences. Srila Prabhupada made it very clear in his purport that “Those who are actually on the transcendental platform are never satiated...” and he then specifically mentions Bhagavad-gita. Why? Obviously to stress the point that what Krishna teaches in the Gita is the most profound and deepest knowledge there is. I therefore took the liberty to expand on this concept that all of us need to keep it real and not try to jump ahead of our actual status.

Your life is your life and how you choose to live it, enjoy it, experience it is your decision to make. We can take help and guidance from friends and our religious institutions for clarity, but ultimately the decision is yours. We may even be offered the order of sannyasa, the highest status in Hinduism, but ultimately it is we who choose to accept that status or not. I was also offered sannyasa in 1996 by my spiritual teacher, but I chose not to accept, knowing that my heart was not pure enough. I am so glad I had the guts and the humility to stay honest.

This is me as a monk. A year after this photo was taken I was offered sannyasa. I did not accept it.

God bless you all. ,__,__o__

3 Comments

  • Carmella

    August 7, 2013

    Thank You ..precious soul for your honestry and insight..i agree with so much of what you say and find it refreshing and engouraging to read..
    Hoping that those that need to hear it..HEAR IT..
    All Glories to the Glorious..
    Lotsalove
    Jahnava Mata dd

  • Anonymous

    August 9, 2013

    Dear Priyavrata Prabhu
    Dandavat Pranam
    (I'm going to try posting this in 2 installments)
    I appreciate your thoughts and realizations on the verse from Srimad Bhagavatam and admire anyone who has the patience, desire and ability to put together any kind of nice class to expand the meaning of the verses and purports, as I am not that talented.
    My siksa Guru was Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja. He would give classes in his temple in Bhubanesvar for 3 to 4 hours at a time but was limited to 45 minutes in worldwide temples. Therefore, during classes he used to often say, "You see this purport by Srila Prabhupada? Each word of it could take days and days to explain". "But you want to limit Krsna to 45 minutes" he would then add.
    So I have noticed your comment about having heard devotees from other sangas say that Srila Prabhupada didn't give the highest teachings.
    It may be true that those who are not reading Srila Prabhupada's books and following his words would think that, but it is unfortunate that such comments were believed to stem from highly advanced devotees who thoroughly respected Srila Prabhupada's books.
    I understand that some rumours got out of hand, as they often do. Perhaps some new bhaktas spoke something silly and then their Guru is blamed.
    Looking at Srila Prabhupada's books, he has rushed to give us the 10th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam in a beautifully easy to read way first and foremost before he continued his translation of Srimad Bhagavatam.
    If we read the purports of his Upadesamrta Nectar of Instruction, we can see in the last 3 verses how the instruction that ultimately one must take shelter of Radha Kunda, is prominent.
    Of course we need to understand when that 'ultimate' time is and not jump.
    However, many senior Gaudiya Acaryas have agreed that one needs to fix their goal before proceeding with their appropriate sadhana.
    The verse you spoke on mentions Krsna lila and Srila Prabhupada has given emphasis to Krsna lila in the appropriate books.
    The other followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in our recognized parampara have given many deep meanings of Radha Krsna lila, and with exception of a few intimate pastimes, Srila Prabhupada has not prohibited their reading. However,we are very limited in our capacity and we can certainly get all we need to understand everything through Srila Prabhupada's books. Yes, he presented them perfectly but I still become upset when I think that members of Iskcon missed a golden opportunity to give honour to particular Senior Vaisnavas by accepting the rumours such as the ones about Srila Prabhupada's books not containing everything, as being fact.
    Also, the everything that Srila Prabhupada gave in the books, requires those who are really in line with Srila Prabhupada's desires, to elaborate on. Therefore Srila Gour Govinda Maharaja elaborated in long long classes, as he was one of the most qualified persons to do so.

  • Anonymous

    August 20, 2013

    That was for your consumption alone. The larger truth is that The Hare Krishna movement is 95% + positive, and there are few, if any groups, who could claim such a broad and wonderful legacy. God bless you Paul, really love your heartfelt articles. I am sorry if my opinion offended or insulted you…Hare Krishna

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