Dec 032020

We have again reached December, that most auspicious time of year when the book-distribution marathon takes place. In honor of the occasion, I quote two verses from Srimad-Bhagavatam that embody the devotee’s mood in distributing Krishna consciousness.

naivodvije para duratyaya-vaitaranyas
soce tato vimukha-cetasa indriyartha-
  maya-sukhaya bharam udvahato vimudhan

“O best of the great personalities, I am not at all afraid of material existence, for wherever I stay I am fully absorbed in thoughts of Your glories and activities. My concern is only for the fools and rascals who are making elaborate plans for material happiness and maintaining their families, societies, and countries. I am simply concerned with love for them.” (SB 7.9.43)

prayena deva munayah sva-vimukti-kama
  maunam caranti vijane na parartha-nisthah
naitan vihaya krpanan vimumuksa ek
  nanyam tvad asya saranam bhramato ’nupasye

“My dear Lord Nrsimhadeva, I see that there are many saintly persons indeed, but they are interested only in their own deliverance. Not caring for the big cities and towns, they go to the Himalayas or the forest to meditate with vows of silence [mauna-vrata]. They are not interested in delivering others. As for me, however, I do not wish to be liberated alone, leaving aside all these poor fools and rascals. I know that without Krsna consciousness, without taking shelter of Your lotus feet, one cannot be happy. Therefore I wish to bring them back to shelter at Your lotus feet.” (SB 7.9.44)

To distribute Krishna consciousness, we must have Krishna consciousness. These verses are about Prahlada Maharaja, and in a way they are also about Srila Prabhupada, who in his purport expressed his own mood—and about us, how Srila Prabhupada wants us to execute Krishna consciousness. Prahlada Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada were each on a very high level of Krishna consciousness, but even on our own level we can experience something of what they experienced, that wherever we are we can get relief from material miseries and anxieties by taking shelter of the holy name. We can joyfully chant in the temple room, in the association of devotees, before the Deities, and in the presence of Tulasi-devi—but one can chant anywhere, even on traveling sankirtana. One can close one’s eyes and chant and hear and no longer be in the material world—actually be with Krishna.

Devotees need that connection with Krishna—not just for their own sakes but also for the sake of others. Once, in a meeting with Srila Prabhupada in the Atlanta temple, Svavasa Prabhu asked, “How can we increase our devotion and our desire to distribute more books?” He and the other devotees were eagerly anticipating some special formula to expand their book distribution. Srila Prabhupada didn’t look at them; he looked upward, as they waited in suspense. Finally he said, “If you want to increase book distribution, if you really want, I have only one recommendation. . . . You must chant your rounds uninterrupted. After you begin your chanting, do not stop until you finish.” As Svavasa Prabhu explained, if you win that fight, you will win all day, but if you lose it and allow your mind to carry you to something else, you will have a difficult day.

Svavasa Prabhu still follows that policy. He gets up at two in the morning and chants all his rounds before even coming to the temple for mangala-arati. A while ago I stayed with Vaisesika Prabhu at his home in Burlingame, and his morning program was blissfully intense. He did things that we do every day—and some things that we may do only on occasion—but he did them with so much enthusiasm and so much relish that the practices came to life. I felt, “Wow, that’s what reciting these verses and prayers actually is.” We spoke later about the book he was writing on book distribution, and he said that one of the themes was that the energy to distribute books comes from the overflow of the ecstasy we feel from our spiritual practices, from our own Krishna consciousness.

I’ve also experienced that if you chant your rounds in the morning before going out{,} you will get extra energy and intelligence for your service, and if you don’t, not only may you be a little depleted in your spiritual energy, but you may also be in anxiety about when you’re going to finish your rounds.

So, this practice of rising early and chanting all your rounds is very much part of the process of sharing Krishna consciousness with others. In the first verse, Prahlada said that he has no anxiety for himself because wherever he is he can merge himself into the nectarean ocean of Krishna consciousness—and that’s true for us as well. Wherever we go, we can have that experience of tasting the nectar of Krishna consciousness by chanting the holy names and by reading, studying, and discussing Srila Prabhupada’s books.

So the two—tasting and distributing—go together. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura said that the best gosthyanandi is a bhajananandi who likes to preach. Gosthyanandi means someone who takes pleasure in preaching and sharing Krishna consciousness with others, and a bhajananandi is someone who takes pleasure in his own bhajana, his own spiritual practices. Prahlada Maharaja exemplifies that principle, because personally he can experience pure bliss anywhere at any time just by chanting and hearing and remembering his Lord. Yet he is not content to go back home, back to Godhead, alone; he wants to bring the krpanan with him.

Krpana is a very significant word. It is discussed by Srila Prabhupada in the Bhagavad-gita, in relation to Arjuna’s admission that he was overcome by miserly weakness.

  prcchami tvam dharma-sammudha-cetah
yac chreyah syan niscitam bruhi tan me
  sisyas te ’ham sadhi mam tvam prapannam

“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of miserly weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.” (Gita 2.7)

Krpana means “miser.” But how does it apply? A miser is someone who has an asset but doesn’t use it. He may have a lot of money but not spend it for any good purpose; he will just hoard it. So, we have this human form of life, which is extremely rare and valuable—valuable because it can be used to realize God. And if we don’t use it for that purpose, we are krpanas, misers.

labdhva su-durlabham idam bahu-sambhavante
  manusyam artha-dam anityam apiha dhirah
turnam yateta na pated anu-mrtyu yavan
  nihsreyasaya visayah khalu sarvatah syat

“After many, many births one achieves the rare human form of life, which, although temporary, affords one the opportunity to attain the highest perfection. Thus a sober human being should quickly endeavor for the ultimate perfection of life before his body, which is always subject to death, falls away. After all, sense gratification is available even in the most abominable species of life, whereas Krsna consciousness is possible only for a human being.” (SB 11.9.29)

And not only do we have this form of life, but we have the knowledge of Krishna consciousness, which is most valuable, and we should not keep that knowledge to ourselves; we should distribute it.

Of course, preaching directly about Krishna can sometimes be an austerity. As Srila Prabhupada said, “If you tell people ‘Give up all your nonsense and just surrender to Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead,’ they might not like it.” A few might, but most probably won’t. And the same applies to distributing books. It can be an austerity, because people don’t like the message of Krishna consciousness. They came into the material world to be God, and they don’t want to hear that someone else is God and that they have to surrender to Him. But if we can get them to take a book, the book will tell them. Some time ago, I was visiting a nice devotee family, and the mother’s mother, who was visiting from India, was a pious lady and was very respectful and appreciative of devotees but expressed some wild, impersonalist ideas. I thought, “What am I going to do?” We were having a nice visit, the fulfillment of my hosts’ long-cherished desire, and everyone was very happy. If I contradicted her, it could have led to an argument and had a bad effect. But I couldn’t just let the comments stand.

So I prayed to Prabhupada in my heart, and I got the answer: “Just be polite and pleasant, and I’ll preach to her; I’ll correct her.” Without challenging anything the grandmother had said, I asked, “Have you read Srila Prabhupada’s books?” And we concluded that she would begin to study them regularly.

In these verses we find words that Srila Prabhupada uses quite frequently: “fools” and “rascals.” If you take the meaning of krpana to its deepest level, it comes to fool and rascal, and in the earlier verse vimudhan literally means “fool.” In many places Krishna uses these words—avajananti mam mudha, na mam duskrtino mudhah. They are in the scriptures, but it may not work well if we use them with the people we are trying to attract to Krishna consciousness. Again, here’s where the books come in. We don’t have to call people fools and rascals; we give them the books, and the books will call them fools and rascals. And they need to hear it, whether in those terms or not.

His Holiness Rtadhvaja Swami used to distribute books at Florida Welcome Centers. People would park and get out of their cars, and in one case the wife went into the welcome center and the husband stayed in the parking lot. Rtadhvaja Swami handed him a Bhagavatam. “What’s this about?” the man asked. “It has ancient teachings on yoga and meditation,” Maharaja replied. “Oh, that sounds interesting.” So, the man opened the book, and the first thing he read was, “persons . . . averse to the nectar of the activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead . . . are compared to stool-eating hogs.” He asked Maharaja, “What does this have to do with yoga?” Just then, his wife came out and said, “Honey, what do you have there? What are you talking about?” “Oh, nothing, Honey,” he replied, and then he closed the book, handed Maharaja a donation, and walked away with the book, smiling. Although he didn’t want his wife to know he was being accused of being like a “stool-eating hog,” he wanted to hear it.

Once, Bhurijana Prabhu, knowing how some devotees can be sensitive to strong language, played a short excerpt in which Prabhupada used the word “rascal” seven times. And each time Prabhupada used the word, Bhurijana would say, “First time,” then “Second time,” then “Third time,” all the way through. He was aware of what Prabhupada had been doing, and in that little three- or four-minute excerpt Prabhupada had used the word “rascal” seven times—because pleasant or unpleasant, that’s what we need to hear.

Sometimes readers have noted that there is repetition in Prabhupada’s books. By ordinary literary standards, there shouldn’t be repetition, but Prabhupada himself said, “It is not enough to say that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in one purport; we will say that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in every purport.” So, there may be repetition, and there may be strong language, but the books have everything, and if someone is sincere he or she will get what he or she needs from them. The books have made so many devotees, they are making devotees now, and they will continue to make devotees in the future.

So, yes, “Distribute books! Distribute books! Distribute books!” And to get the strength to do that, chant and hear and be steady in your spiritual practices—and read the books. As Srila Prabhupada said, “Distributing my books will keep them [the devotees] happy, and reading my books will keep them.” He has given us everything, but we have to take advantage, we have to do what he said, and if we do, we will get the results and everyone will be happy.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Dec 012020

My dear devotees,

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

In a letter to me dated December 1971, Srila Prabhupada wrote, “Go on increasing books, and go on increasing my pleasure.” December is a special opportunity to focus on Srila Prabhupada’s desire that we distribute books—and thus increase his pleasure. As he wrote in the same letter, “I am most pleased especially to hear that you are distributing many books.”

tad-vag-visargo janatagha-viplavo
  yasmin prati-slokam abaddhavaty api
namany anantasya yaso ’nkitani yat
  srnvanti gayanti grnanti sadhavah

“That literature which is full of descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, forms, pastimes, etc., of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a different creation, full of transcendental words directed toward bringing about a revolution in the impious lives of this world’s misdirected civilization. Such transcendental literatures, even though imperfectly composed, are heard, sung, and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.” (SB 1.5.11)

Now let us cooperate fully to fulfill Srila Prabhupada’s desire, which is the desire of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the parampara, and distribute such transcendental literature for the benefit of all—and be blessed by their sublime mercy.

Thank you very much.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Nov 292020

I first met Mother Krsnanandini at the fortieth anniversary of the installation of Sri Sri Radha-Kalachandji in Dallas, on Sri Radhastami in September of 2012. She and her mother, Bhumata, were both initiated by Srila Prabhupada on Radhastami in 1972. At the anniversary, she shared wonderful memories of her meeting Srila Prabhupada in Dallas at the time of the installation of Sri Sri Radha-Kalachandji. And she made a heartfelt appeal:

“Srila Prabhupada has given us the key to happiness, which is what our soul is hankering for. If we actually at all appreciate that, it is our job to share that same love that Srila Prabhupada shared, with everybody else—without discrimination. Krishna loves every single living entity; there is no living entity that Krishna does not love. And the greatest service that we can do—if we want to please Radha, if we want to please Krishna—is to share this love with others and to make sacrifices like Srila Prabhupada did, to do that. Here was Srila Prabhupada, seventy-something years old, heart attack, dealing with crazy, weird people. But he did it because he loved Radha and Krishna. He did it because he felt he had an obligation to his guru. And this is our responsibility as well. So here I sit forty years later. And I am telling you all: This has not been an easy path. I would not dare to tell you that it has been. This path has been fraught with difficulties and challenges and pains and tears. But I wouldn’t trade a single ounce of it.”

After hearing her speak, I was eager to meet her, and so we sat together at a table in the Peacock Room of Kalachandji’s restaurant, along with her husband, Tariq. I was fascinated—and impressed—by their relationship. He was a Muslim (favorable to Krishna consciousness), and she was a Hare Krishna devotee—how did it all work? He said that she was the one spending time with the children, so she should decide on their spiritual upbringing, and she raised them all as devotees, servants of Srila Prabhupada and Sri Krishna.

The two of them were marital counselors, and I thought that their example of mutual respect, harmony, and love, with him as a Muslim and her as a Vaishnava, meant that any husband and wife, however different their backgrounds, could live together peacefully and happily. And thereafter, on occasion, I would ask her to counsel devotees with marital problems—in one case a wife who was a devotee and whose husband was an atheist.

Srila Prabhupada had instructed her to show people all over the world how to have Krishna conscious marriages, and she dedicated her life to doing that. With a small group of devotees, she founded ISKCON’s Grihastha Vision Team, which is committed to strengthening and supporting “healthy marriages, happy families, and a strong community,” and remained its president until the end of her life.

On August 28, 2018, she wrote me a kind letter: “Today, we just finished working with a couple on Skype. (We work with couples from many places on Skype, providing premarital and marriage education.) As part of the session today with this couple, we read together, aloud, the foreword you wrote, entitled ‘The Purpose of Grihastha Ashrama,’ for our Heart and Soul Connection book. Tariq Prabhu wanted us to write you in appreciation for the marvelous foreword you wrote: ‘It perfectly encapsulates the purpose of the book.’ Although Tariq Prabhu and I have read the foreword several times, we were again touched by the sharing from your heart, the analogies and the references from Srila Prabhupada. It really helped the couple to understand more the purpose of actual grihastha life. So, thank you again! We are grateful for your support of our mission in strengthening marriages and fulfilling our motto: ‘Healthy Marriages. Happy Families. Strong ISKCON.’ ”

After reading her and her husband’s kind appreciation, my heart melted and my eyes filled with tears.

And she added a PS: “Heart and Soul Connection: A Devotional Guide to Marriage, Service and Love, in addition to the English version, is now available in Russian, Italian, and Portuguese”—which indicated how her service was being appreciated worldwide.

Krsnanandini Mataji had many children, and she took great care to encourage them in Krishna consciousness, even after they left home. One, Ghanasyam, had come to Santa Barbara, and she phoned me to discuss how I could facilitate his bhakti. And the next day she wrote me, “We were grateful to have the opportunity to speak with you . . . and appreciate your willingness to reach out to our ‘sun’ Ghanasyam . . . He is a doctor, veterinarian, who is specializing in cardiology and is working there as a resident at a veterinary clinic. Here are his contact details: . . . May you always be peaceful, living under the protection of our sweet Lord Krishna.” So, Ghanasyam had a loving mother who wanted him to be not only materially successful but also Krishna conscious.

Later, in Dallas, her son Syamasundara Dasshort got to know me and eventually took shelter of me. He described his spiritual journey, which at some stage had taken a detour, and how his mother’s upbringing of him, steeped in hearing Srila Prabhupada and the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, had eventually prevailed and brought him back. His mother very much wanted to be present for his initiation, and she was planning to come, but her health deteriorated and friends and well-wishers advised her to go to India for treatment as soon as possible. But she was very much present in spirit, and to honor the name Syamasundara that she had given him, on September 15 of last year, I initiated him as Syama-vallabha dasa.

A month later, Krsnanandini wrote me, “Thank you again for accepting Syama-vallabha as your disciple and connecting him more firmly to our parampara. I pray often for your well-being and encouragement; you have undertaken a serious service on behalf of Srila Prabhupada and are assisting so many people to have a good understanding of our sambandha and how to prosecute devotional service and achieve the ultimate goal. This is a scary yet exciting time in the Krishna consciousness movement, and I pray that you and I get to cooperate more and more in pushing forward a healthier, more loving, yet chaste approach to engaging in the Lord’s service. Anyway, as you know, I am here in Vrindavan, and Kartik is upon us. I am so grateful that Srila Prabhupada and Srimati Radharani are allowing me to undergo this serious austerity in the holy dhama and are giving me the determination to continue.” She also sent me several copies of a small book she had written—The ABCs of Chanting the Holy Names of God—one for myself and the rest to share with others.

She was an amazing, beautiful person.

Mother Krsnanandini, we love you and we miss you. A huge hole has been created in our society and in my heart by your departure. But we will try to serve and please you in separation, by acting as you would wish and supporting the people and the causes dear to you. And when Srila Prabhupada and you are satisfied with my service here, I may join you again, in what Prabhupada called the “ISKCON in the spiritual sky.”

With deepest admiration, appreciation, affection, respect, and love,

Your eternal servant,
Giriraj Swami

Nov 292020

According to Vrinda-kunda Baba, Srimati Vrindadevi appeared on the full-moon night at the end of Kartik, or Damodara.

Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, in Sri Vrndadevi-astaka (6-8), glorifies her:

rasabhilaso vasatis ca vrnda-
vane tvad-isanghri-saroja-seva
labhya ca pumsam krpaya tavaiva
vrnde namas te caranaravindam

“By your mercy, people attain residence in Vrindavan, the desire to serve your masters’ lotus feet, and the desire to assist in the rasa dance. O Vrinda, I bow to your lotus feet.

tvam kirtyase satvata-tantra-vidbhir
lilabhidhana kila krsna-saktih
tavaiva murtis tulasi nr-loke
vrnde namas te caranaravindam

“They who are learned in the Satvata-tantra glorify you. You are Krishna’s pastime-potency. The tulasi plant is your form in the world of men. O Vrinda, I bow to you lotus feet.

bhaktya vihina aparadha-laksaih
ksiptas ca kamadi-taranga-madhye
krpamayi tvam saranam prapanna
vrnde namas te caranaravindam

“O merciful one, I am devoid of devotion, and millions of offenses have thrown me into the turbulent waves of lust, anger, greed, and other faults. O Vrinda, I take shelter of your lotus feet.”

May Srimati Vrindadevi—and Sri Sri Radha-Damodara—bestow their mercy upon us all.

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Nov 262020

 If we are at all aware of how dependent we are on God—for the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and our very ability to eat and drink and breathe, to think and feel and will, and to walk, talk, and sense—we will feel grateful and want to reciprocate God’s kindness. We will want to do something for He (or She or They) who has done, and continues to do, so much for us.

We often take things for granted until we lose them. I use my right hand to chant on meditation beads, and one morning I found that I had severe pain in my hand and could no longer use it for chanting. I had taken the use of my hand for granted, but when I lost its use, I resolved to never take it for granted again and to always use it in the best way in God’s service.

How can we attempt to return some of God’s favor, some of God’s care and love for us? My spiritual master, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, gave one answer:

“Whatever you have got by pious or impious activities, you cannot change. But you can change your position, by Krishna consciousness. That you can change. Other things you cannot change. If you are white, you cannot become black, or if you are black, you cannot become white. That is not possible. But you can become a first-class Krishna conscious person. Whether you are black or white, it doesn’t matter. This is Krishna consciousness. Therefore our endeavor should be how to become Krishna conscious. Other things we cannot change. This is not possible.

tasyaiva hetoh prayateta kovido
  na labhyate yad bhramatam upary adhah
tal labhyate duhkhavad anyatah sukham
  kalena sarvatra gabhira-ramhasa
     [Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.5.18]

Kalena, by time, you will get whatever you are destined. Don’t bother about so-called economic development. So far as food is concerned, Krishna is supplying. Eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman. He is supplying even cats and dogs and ants. Why not you? There is no need of bothering Krishna, ‘God, give us our daily bread.’ He will give you. Don’t bother. Try to become very faithful servant of God. ‘Oh, God has given me so many things. So let me give my energy to serve Krishna.’ This is required. This is Krishna consciousness. ‘I have taken so much, life after life, from Krishna. Now let me dedicate this life to Krishna.’ This is Krishna consciousness. ‘I will not let this life go uselessly like cats and dogs. Let me utilize it for Krishna consciousness.’ ”

I pray that I will dedicate this life and everything I have—everything God has given me—fully in God’s service, following His pure devotees.

manasa, deho, geho, yo kichu mora
arpilun tuya pade, nanda-kisora

“Mind, body, and home, whatever may be mine, I surrender at Your lotus feet, O youthful son of Nanda!” (Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Saranagati)

Hare Krishna.

Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami