Friday, August 26, 2011

Knowledge vs. Realization

Jnana is defined as knowledge and Vijnana as realized knowledge. It's the difference between intellectually knowing that we are not this body and actually acting on the platform of "I am not this body." Tonight I was speaking to a very senior mentor of mine and in answer to a question he simply said, "You are on the mental platform." Agreed. I'm pretty sure I'm one of those people who is always on the mental platform! But it got me thinking- then where is the stepping stone between jnana and vijnana? As I began reading some excerpts from Srila Prabhupada's letters to various disciples, I felt I received an instantaneous answer:

"Keep on with the practice of writing articles; in the midst of your heavy duties go on writing something glorifying the Lord and put our philosophy into words. Writing articles means to express oneself how he is understanding the whole philosophy. So this writing is necessary for everyone." Letter to Giriraj, August 12, 1971.

In between the little knowledge that is in my head and (one day) the grace of Krsna actually giving me complete realization of that knowledge, is the stepping stone of understanding. We can understand knowledge to different levels but it may not still be completely manifested in our hearts.

Krsna is so merciful. He is always giving hope! Even if something hasn't fully become realized in our hearts, the process of Krsna Consciousness is so powerful that 1. Krsna in one second can give full realization if he wants to and 2. if we sincerely and seriously practice this precious gift of Krsna consciousness, our understanding will mature and one day bloom into the juicy fruit of realization.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Meager Offering

Dearest Srila Prabhupada,

Please accept my humble obeisances in the dust of your lotus feet.
All glories to your divine appearance!
All glories to your causeless mercy!

It's 10:54pm on the most auspicious occasion of your appearance and I am still in the process of composing what will probably remain an inadequate offering. My problem lies in the fact that it is impossible to express my gratitude in words and even harder to choose amongst your unlimited good qualities!

I was trying so hard to eloquently compose something beautiful when now, at this late hour, I am realizing I can only hope to convey what is in my heart. Srila Prabhupada, this summer, what to speak of this past year, has been so interesting. So many lessons, so many opportunities, so many challenges and most importantly so much mercy to absorb.

Amongst all that, one theme keeps coming up- unwavering determination and faith. Determination to serve for the sake of service without any preference or expectation for recognition. Determination to always behave like a vaisnava, which is actually extremely difficult for uncultured individuals such as myself. Determination to do one's duty and carry out the orders of the spiritual master without any expectation for the outcome of the results. And most importantly, faith that Krsna always knows what's best and to put full trust in Him.

You, my dear Srila Prabhupada, exemplify all this. You personify what Krsna speaks to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita:

vyavasāyātmikā buddhir
ekeha kuru-nandana
bahu-śākhā hy anantāś ca
buddhayo 'vyavasāyinām

Those who are on this path are resolute in purpose, and their aim is one. O beloved child of the Kurus, the intelligence of those who are irresolute is many-branched. Bg. 2.41

In the translation, you give us a beautiful definition of what vyavasāyātmikā means- resolute in Krsna consciousness. You personify this. Your resoluteness in Krsna consciousness is the reason why we are all here today. You faced what seemed to be countless insurmountable challenges, but you never wavered. You took so much shelter in the instructions of your spiritual master HDG Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami. In fact, you always said "My spiritual master is always with me."

Such faith and determination does not come cheaply. It is a result of great realization, trust and surrender. It is no doubt that you are a pure devotee who is so dear to Krsna and yet you came to the material world, undergoing all types of trials and tribulations just to save ungrateful individuals like myself who have no idea, even after so many years, what it actually means to be Krsna conscious.

My dear Srila Prabhupada, on this day of your glorious appearance, please first of all forgive me for procrastinating and only writing this offering at the last minute! Secondly, please give me that determination and faith you had in your spiritual master so that I too can follow in your footsteps and the footsteps of those who follow you. Please allow me to see every challenge or obstacle as a gift and allow me to feel gratitude and imbibe the lessons that Krsna is trying to teach me. Please allow me to have complete trust and faith in the Holy names of Krsna. I long for the day when I can say with full confidence and realization that everything is in Krsna's holy names.

Your aspiring servant and granddaughter,
Vrndavana Vinodini dasi

Sunday, August 21, 2011

We Get What We Can Handle

We've all heard the saying that "God only gives us what we can handle." I'm sure most would probably agree that sometimes we've felt, "I can't handle this. I don't know how true that statement is!" Of course whether we realize it soon after, or even in this lifetime, it's true. Krsna only does give us what we can handle whether it be in the form of glory, frustration, happiness or challenges.

I was speaking about this with a dear friend yesterday and we got to unpacking this statement. What does it actually mean? As she spoke about the lives of pure devotees and the tests that they face, a realization sprung up. Perhaps only giving us what we can handle doesn't only apply in the sense of our physical or emotional capacity, what if we looked at it from the perspective of learning lessons?

Personally, I have always looked at "Krsna's giving me what I can handle" from the viewpoint of strength- "Can I deal with this?" It's a valid perspective, especially when one is caught up in the moment.

However, when we look at the lives of those advanced bhakti yogis and yoginis, that's not their primary focus. Of course, that's not to say that we should imitate them artificially, but we can learn from them. I was recently reading HH Radhanth Swami's book "The Journey Home" over again and upon this second reading I was struck by the wonderful outlook Radhanath Swami takes. Never does Maharaja complain asking "Why is this happening to me?" Instead, Maharaja is always looking to understand how each circumstance is moulding him in his quest of self-discovery and finding the Absolute Truth.

Srila Prabhupada said during a conversation that took place in Teheran on August 11, 1976, "But before coming to the post of recognized devotee, Krsna tests very severely. That one has to pass." When we examine the lives of recognized devotees like Prahalad Maharaja we can unequivocally see it's not just because "They can handle it," it's because they know what to do with the tests- every test was an opportunity to turn to Krsna.

It's the same principle we hear in scripture of how the spiritual teacher will only chastise those who can accept it because for others that same chastisement may only serve to weaken or destroy their faith in Krsna. That acceptance may include learning we have certain anarthas and having to work on it, being corrected in our behaviour or even being properly trained in devotional service. As we imbibe this guidance we should always see it in context with our ultimate goal: to become staunch servants of the devotees and Krsna.

We are just like diamonds. The formation of natural diamonds requires very high temperatures and pressure, conditions I'm sure we've all experienced before! But, if we remain patient, like the diamond, we to will become something of great beauty and value that can be offered to Krsna.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Opportunities and Surrender

Opportunities and surrender. It seems to be the theme for this Summer of 2011. Opportunities to travel, to meet new people, to explore opportunities and most importantly to see the lesson in every situation.

That's become my definition of surrender- to see the lesson I need to learn in every circumstance I find myself in. What can I learn from this? What is Krsna trying to teach me? What unwanted qualities are holding me back from allowing me to embrace Krsna's plan for me?

Although it's so easy to compare and bemoan that Krsna may "appear" to be more merciful to others, it's actually the coward's way out. It's another ploy on the part of my fickle mind to shift responsibility and play the blame game. But what's the use?

Instead of feeling a sense of satisfaction, I feel a loss of control and instead of exercising the free will that Krsna has given me, I act like an ungrateful fool by trying to toss it back into His face.

I forget I have a choice. That free will can be spent in understanding that in spite of the choices I make, Krsna is so merciful that He is trying to take me back to Him. Whatever lessons, whatever successes and whatever failures, He is beside me. He is the one person who will never give up on me and will always be there to encourage me.

Little by little, I get glimpses of that encouragement when I step back and take stalk of what Krsna is trying to teach me. Although at times it can be exhausting, and definitely battering to my false ego, there is also a refreshing sense of freedom.

That freedom frees me from the false illusions that I have about myself and in turn presents opportunities that may have never come otherwise. It makes complete sense doesn't it? Only when we let go of those things that are holding us back can we be open to whatever will help us to move forward.

Although completely logical, it can also be hard to apply practically. That is why I'm so grateful to all my mentors, friends, parents and well-wishers who act as my role models in always seeking to find Krsna in all aspects of their lives. Thank you for giving me the inspiration and encouragement to follow in your footsteps.