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H.H. Romapada Swami

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Q309. I have come to understand that in engaging oneself in spiritual life, one has to undergo a whole process of testing. This happens because Krishna is testing the devotee if he is ready for the spiritual world or not. What if one is scared of engaging oneself in spiritual life because of the fear that one will undergo an extreme testing phase? How would you encourage such a person to not lose hope and continue engaging oneself in spiritual life?

Krishna is the most expert teacher and would never give His devotee a test that he/she cannot pass! In other words, He knows our strengths and weaknesses, what exactly we need in order to take the next step in our journey towards Him and when we are ready to be tested and purified. Accordingly, when He sees that a sincere devotee is really eager to come to Him, yet at the same time is distracted by or struggling to give up some material attachment, He arranges for their purification in a variety of ways, sometimes through some ordeal.

We should not imagine the Lord to be a hard taskmaster who ensures that only those strong enough to withstand the most excruciating ordeals are allowed entry to the spiritual world. Rather the seeming 'tests and ordeals' are actually an exhibition of His great love for His devotees, meant to make them exclusively attached to Him, by way of their letting go of other, false shelters. All that the devotee has to do, when such circumstances arise, is to make a simple but bold and firm choice, "I want only Krishna as my shelter, in all circumstances"; then Krishna Himself will give all the requisite strength and knowledge required, by which we can overcome the circumstantial tests and quickly come to His lotus feet. Krishna simply wants our love. When He sees an unflinching mood of loving service and willingness to surrender even in the face of adversities, then just as He promises in Bhagavad-Gita, He preserves what we have and carries what we lack. (See Bg 9.22)

When a devotee understands this aspect of Krishna's `tests', the prospect of being subject to purification and tests is no longer intimidating, not in the least! Rather, such circumstances are preceived and an act of special kindness coming from Krishna, a welcoming invitation or an graciously-offered opportunity to come closer to Him. The devotee comes to appreciate that the so-called difficulty is actually a blessing extended by Krishna, to bring His devotee closer to the very goal they actually desire, i.e. attachment to Krishna. Immediate circumstances may seem to be painful; but the devotee experiences great happiness in recognizing that the Lord has been so kind as to not disqualify them from receiving His mercy, and instead is actively removing particular anarthas or obstacles from their path.

Please consider: does material life, a denial of God's existence and His merciful nature, in any way offer us a promising alternative? Fear of the tests of spiritual life may encourage us to shy away from it, but one needs only closely examine the alternative to be convinced which path of action is superior. For example, is there any guarantee that there would be no reverses or extreme hardships in this world, sans spiritual shelter? Very much to the contrary, this material world is declared as a place of misery - where there is danger at every step.

Everyone in this material world is always in anxiety, always at risk of so many calamities, culminating in the sufferings of birth and death, repeatedly. What shelter do we have in the face of these calamities? On the other hand, Krishna promises that those who surrender to Him are NEVER vanquished, that all their sins are destroyed, that even a little endeavor in this path saves one from greatest danger of gliding down to lower life and so many comforting reassurances. (Cf. Bg 9.31, 18.66, 2.40,
6.40-41) So there is every reason to take to the process of devotional service in all enthusiasm and earnestness. An easygoing life is not expected for one trying to attain spiritual perfection. Yet, while material nature inevitably afflicts everyone with hardships that simply entangle us in further misery, austerities faced in Krishna's service, while filling us with a sense of the Lord's infallible protection even now, ultimately open the doors to Vaikuntha.

Q308. I have been struggling for some time with questions such as: Is everything pre-determined? Do we have to accept that everything is pre-determined and occupy ourselves with devotional service while still performing our duties? Or do we have to strive toward a goal (even if that means being competitive) while still performing devotional service?

We have extensively discussed karma and freewill previously (See Digest 4) which may partly answer your questions. If I understand correctly, it seems that your question focuses on whether or not someone performing devotional service should strive to achieve something in the field of their occupational duties, or in some specific way strive to improve their present life situation.

Devotees also have goals and aspirations that they strive towards, but their impetus is simply to please Krishna and increase their devotion, and not the achievement of any material objective in itself.

In the course of trying to cultivate our Krishna consciousness and steadily progress towards the spiritual plane, we are advised to carefully perform our prescribed occupational duties, and so we do. In the course of executing duties there may be standards to achieve and milestones to be reached. Our acharyas recommend that devotees should live very simply, but whatever is needed to perform one's duties nicely, one should strive according to their best capacity and to dedicate such endeavors and all facilities provided for that service fully unto Krishna. While working industriously the devotee also knows fully well that the result of one's endeavors is in Krishna's hands, not merely a product of their personal efforts.

Finally, there is a clear connection between devotionally-based endeavors and the notion of predestination.

As concluded in previous Digest discussions, our past actions "pre- determine" our present circumstances in life, but they do not pre-determine what we choose to do now. Our present choices determine our future. What we choose to do now can be executed on the material plane (deliberately or mindlessly, impelled by past conditioning), yielding temporary material results; or our present choices can be enacted on the spiritual plane, thus lifting us completely out of the cycle of karma. In other words, a devotee is not so directly interested in changing their karmic destiny nor overly concerned with improving their material circumstances per se, simply for sake of material welfare; however they are keenly interested in cultivating their relationship with Krishna. The devotee is contented to base their spiritual endeavors upon whatever position or within whatever circumstance of life they find themselves. In turn, Krishna takes charge of such a surrendered devotee, and their life is orchestrated by Krishna, and not karma.

Q307. I have a question relating to Avanti Brahmana narration found in Canto 11 of the SB. His conclusion was that the false ego is the cause of his suffering - is it the same meaning that is conveyed in Bg.14.19?

The story of Avanti Brahmana is narrated by Krishna to illustrate how one should soberly tolerate the disturbances and offenses caused by others, and remain fixed on the spiritual path. Note that the conclusion of Avanti brahmana was that the mind, not the false ego, is the cause of one's happiness and distress.

Since the soul, which is spiritual, cannot actually be touched by happiness or distress, he concludes that neither other living entities, nor the effects of past actions nor any other factor could cause one to enjoy or suffer. Through the agency of false ego the soul misidentifies itself with matter but it is the mind alone, which is the reservoir of ideas and conceptions, that makes the soul wander in the material world making one perceive happiness and distress. Therefore the only way to rise above one's suffering is to control the mind. Concluding in this way, he firmly resolves to fix his mind on the lotus feet of Krishna, and attains perfection.

Bg 14.19 does not directly address the experience of happiness and distress by the living entities and the means of counteracting them. Here Krishna describes how the living entity is not the doer or controller, rather his activities are simply based on the particular mode he is situated in. One who factually sees his true position and how he is entrapped, can learn to transcend the influence of the modes.

Q306. I am an optician and I sell spectacles. Srila Prabhupada mentions in almost all of his lectures that you should think of Krishna 24 hours. Since I am a businessman, I need to think about my business; therefore how do I follow Srila Prabhupada's instructions?

From our experience we can understand that the only way one can constantly think of someone / something is when there is love and attachment. When there is love, all activities and all things are seen in relation to the object of love. The gopis were engaged in many household affairs but their minds were always on Krishna. So was Arjuna's, even in the thick of the catastrophic battle.

Of course, love for Krishna is dormant in all of us. The practices of bhakti yoga are meant to reawaken that dormant love. Therefore, strong practice of sadhana bhakti is the key to destroy our forgetfulness and bring us to the position of constant remembrance of Krishna.

The stage described above is an advanced stage. Attaining that advanced stage requires cultivation. All of us have variegated responsibilities - occupational duties, family responsibilities, personal needs etc - that demand our attention. However, if we dedicate a certain portion of the day, especially in the early morning hours before we begin our routine work, to fully focus one's attention on Krishna through direct devotional activities such as chanting, hearing/reading and worshiping, then that effect would linger and permeate the consciousness throughout the rest of the day, even while dealing with other practical matters. For this reason, Srila Prabhupada very much stressed the importance of attending the morning program, which can be performed right within your home, daily (typically consisting of Mangala-arati, Japa and Srimad Bhagavatam class, as is performed in all of our ISKCON centers).

In order to be able to do so on a consistent basis, one may have to make some other adjustments such as modifying the activities of the previous evening, minimize unnecessarily stressful endeavors etc. In other words, as Srila Prabhupada often said, we have to mold our life in a way that is conducive to and promotes remembrance of Krishna. At the same time, as far as possible we should avoid those things which would impede our positive remembrance of Krishna. (See Texts 2&3 of Nectar of Instruction)

The second part of the answer is to dedicate one's occupation itself in service to Krishna. In other words, one's business is not seen as a secular activity separate from devotional service; rather a devotee cultivates the mentality that their occupation is also part of their daily expression of devotion to Krishna; our business is done for Krishna. This means that not only the fruits of that activity are given to Krishna, but the activity itself is to be dedicated for Krishna's pleasure. In practical terms, a devotee should think: "Krishna is the Master of this enterprise - both of its management as well as the profits - and I am His ordered servant." (Please see Bg 18.57 Text and purport)

Most certainly there will be practical details that need to be attended to, but they are attended to with this meditation. Interaction with others during the course of business is also done in a way that is pleasing to Krishna. In this way, there would be no possibility of forgetting Krishna.

Practice makes a thing perfect. By practicing in this way consistently, our remembrance of Krishna will become more and more sustained and eventually unbroken.

Q305. In the Bhagavad-Gita, last verse of the second chapter, Krishna says that ”... If one is thus situated even at the hour of death, one can enter into the kingdom of God”. Also the purpose of all the practice that we do is to remember Krishna at the time of our final exam - The DEATH. Regarding Ajamila’s deliverance, is his previous karma also involved in this or is it just purely because he chanted Krishna’s name? In case of Ajamila, he didn’t even cry out for Krishna; rather he was calling for his son. So how did he get the mercy of Lord, and what happened to all his karma for all of his bad activities? Does it mean that any person who doesn’t have even a slight spiritual knowledge or bhakti calls his friend or relative whose name is related to Krishna will get the same benediction like Ajamila, and get liberated? We understand that the Name of Krishna is non-different from Krishna Himself, but how do we understand this incident? It is not really clear and looks contradictory to laws of karma. At least in case of Valmiki when he was a hunter he regretted for all the sins he did and took shelter of his Guru and chanted Krishna’s name sincerely, but again it is not sure what happened to Valmiki after his death, whether he went back to Godhead or was given a better life!! Could you kindly clear this question: what does it mean to remember Krishna at the time of death; does it really have to be with love or can it be out of fear or can it be just calling out someone whose name is Krishna-related?

There are three stages of chanting, namely the offensive stage, the clearing stage and the pure stage. Scriptures list different offenses against chanting the holy names, specifically ten in number. (See Nectar of Devotion, Chapter 8, pg. 72.) The Holy Name is compared to the sun, but offenses shroud the sunshine like clouds. The clearing stage of chanting is called Namabhasa, meaning a shadow or a dim reflection of the holy name. It is compared to the light at daybreak before the sun actually appears on the horizon and yet at once dissipates the darkness of night. In the pure stage of chanting, one’s love of God awakens and Krishna actually manifests to the chanter.

Namabhasa, the ‘clearing stage of chanting’, is so powerful that it can burn up the reactions to more sins than one is able to commit! Note that while namabhasa can easily destroy sins and bestow liberation, it cannot give love of God, which is attained only in the pure stage of chanting. Ajamila’s unintentionally calling out the names of Narayana is considered to be in the Namabhasa stage, for it is free of the ten kinds of offenses to the holy name. In other words, Ajamila was not sinning on the strength of his chanting, nor did he consider his chanting to be some material ritualistic activity, etc.

Scriptures state that one who chants either unintentionally as when calling a relative, or derisively as did Sisupala, or even unknowingly, as when saying “Bowl-o-Rama” one utters the name “Rama” - they get the benefit of Namabhasa! This is not contradictory to the law of Karma, because Krishna is the Supremely independent Lord, who is the master of the laws of Karma, also provides measures for those who violate the laws of nature to be relieved of the karmic reactions. Chanting of His holy names and the rendering of other forms of devotional services are those very means. This is an exhibition of Krishna’s unlimited mercy to the most fallen conditioned souls who would never willingly serve Him otherwise. Krishna and His names are Absolute and fully pure and thus are fully capable of destroying all impurities even by a slight contact. This implies that the effect of mountains of sins can be easily overcome by chanting as long as one carefully guards against the ten offenses. Ample scriptural evidence to support the above statements can be found in the section of the Ajamila story wherein the Visnuduttas are addressing the Yamaduttas (Chapter 2, Canto 6).

You have asked if Ajamila’s great fortune was due to his previous karma. No, devotional service is never created by good karma nor prevented by bad karma; devotional service is obtained only by the Lord’s mercy. By virtue of his practice of brahminical principles in his youth before he had become corrupted, he was somehow inspired to name his youngest son as Narayana. Entirely due to his material attachment, Ajamila constantly chanted his son’s name. However, some Vaishnava acharyas have explained that by his intensely calling out the name of Narayana at his deathbed, he was freed from all sinful reactions and thus he actually began to remember Lord Narayana, the Lord whom he had learned to worship in his childhood.

In either case, anyone who remembers Krishna at the time of death in any frame of mind, whether in love, fear or even hatred is delivered from all sinful reactions. They may be given a second chance, as was the case of Ajamila himself, to perfect their life in devotion. However, it is not certain that one will accidentally remember and offenselessly chant the Lord’s names at the crucial time of death. Those who are wise do not take such chances and therefore diligently practice during their lifetime to take shelter of the holy name. For the sincere devotee, Krishna assures that He will personally appear in their minds at the time of death, even if they happen to forget Him by chance.

Q304. Srila Prabhupada in his purport to Bg 8.17 gives in detail about the lifetime of Brahma (i.e. about yuga, Manvantra, Kalpa and so forth). Can I get the actual reference to these statements?

The calculation of Vedic time scales is described in great detail in Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto Three, Chapter 11. Specifically see 3.11.18, 19, 22 & 23 for above definitions.

Q303. I recently heard a lecture on the Bhagavad-Gita, Chapter 9 texts 26-34. The verses speak about offerings to Krishna, how we should make our offerings with genuine love and devotion.

In the Dharma book published by the BBT, Chapter 8 page 59 it says: “A spiritually advanced Krishna conscious person sees all moving and non- moving things, but he does not exactly see their forms. Rather, wherever he looks he sees the manifestation of His worshipable Lord.”

My question is: If a person like the one described above is able to see Krishna in every moving and non-moving things, is this person a living offering to the Lord? Yes, one could say that such person is a living offering to the Lord. The advanced devotees dedicate all their life energy and their very selves to Krishna.

Krishna’s multifarious energies are broadly divided into three categories - internal energy, external energy and marginal energy. The living entities are described as superior to dull matter, and are marginal in nature, i.e. in between material energy and the Lord’s internal energy; the Lord’s marginal energy, jiva souls, are capable of choosing either the spiritual energy or or the material energy to associate with and thus identify with (see Bg 7.5). The self-realized souls understand that the material energy belongs to Krishna and thus they try to engage whatever they come in contact with in His service. Beyond that, they understand that even their own body, mind, words, all their relationships, and even their very soul do not belong to them but are Krishna’s energy. Thus they offer their very selves to Him. This is called atma-nivedana, or total self surrender.

Q302. Our BG discussion group has been rambling for lack of our ability to grapple with the meaning of ‘ego’. All of us generally agree that spirituality is about surrendering the ego or getting rid of ‘I consciousness’. But understanding it conceptually itself seems a challenge. We discussed ‘I am not the body, I am the soul’, and ‘I am the eternal servant of the lord’ aspects. We also cited the example of sage Valmiki - he must have lost consciousness of body altogether. We would appreciate hearing from you about this topic.

There is a distinction between ‘ego’ and ‘false-ego’ which I would like to point out --- perhaps that would help understand the concept of ego better. Ego is the conception that one has of oneself, a conscious awareness of one’s identity, or as you put it, “I-consciousness”.

The soul cannot get rid of ego, or the conscious awareness of oneself, even with one’s greatest effort. The soul IS conscious, and being conscious of one’s spiritual identity is experienced in the liberated state. However, by uncovering our real-ego, or the true and eternal sense of self, we can discard the false-ego or the false identification of the soul with external objects, such as the bodily coverings of the soul, both gross and subtle, and things related to the body.

Getting rid of false-ego does not necessarily mean to ‘lose awareness of the body or mind’, as was the case of Valmiki during his deepest meditation on Ram’s name. Rather, ridding oneself of false-ego means to change one’s perception of one’s self --- to see oneself not as the enjoyer and controller of the material energy, but as a part and parcel of Krishna and an instrument in Krishna’s hands.

To repeat, a self-realized soul is not necessarily disconnected from sensory perception of the external world; but a self-realized soul is disconnected from any mis-identification with matter, as much as the driver of a car is fully conscious of the movements of his vehicle but doesn’t identify himself to be the car. As one’s real-ego or awareness of one’s eternal identity awakens, one becomes transcendental to the pains and pleasures and changes of the body although fully connected to the body, seeing it as a mere instrument.

Here is one final thought on this topic.

Real ego is the consciousness that one is the eternal servant of the Lord, while false-ego is characterized by the mentality of being the doer and mover of material energy (Bg 3.27). Very often, beginners in spiritual life, trying to overcome false ego and the doer-ship mentality, mistakenly suppose that abandonment of false ego means giving up action or taking initiative. Karma-tyaga is their objective, not just karma- phala tyaga. They think that surrendering or acting as an instrument of God, moreover, is akin to becoming something like a mindless programmed robot. This is not correct. Rather, giving up false ego is to give up whimsical actions and the mentality that one can achieve something independent of Krishna, replacing this false-ego with the consciousness that one’s actions are to be placed subordinate to and suject to God’s will.

I hope this sheds some light on this topic.

Q301. If there is something that is haunting one’s mind everyday in one’s thought pattern and there is nothing one can do about it, and it gives lot of irritation, anger and suspicion, what should one do? Since the specific details are not clear, I will attempt to give only a very general answer.

The mind is a repository of lifetimes of thoughts, impression, attachments and aversions. It is also greatly and very subtly affected by our immediate circumstances and surroundings. The food we eat, the company we keep, our daily activities, the sounds and sights we are exposed to, etc., have a great bearing upon our mental state; for example, by eating food cooked by someone who is irritated, we can become affected with a similar mental state for apparently no reason!

In this Iron Age, these above mentioned aspects of our life are all contaminated and naturally people in general are always disturbed. Or even if there are no immediate causes for disturbance, impressions stored from the past can rise to one’s conscious awareness, like a bubble rising from the bottom to the surface of a clear lake. In either case, these disturbances are by and large taken care of by molding our lives so as to minimize the disturbing impressions. In Bhagavad-Gita (6.17) it is described how by leading a regulated life, and adopting spiritual practices, one can mitigate almost all material pains, including those disturbances arising from the body and mind. Even further, by spiritualizing our activities - for example, by eating spiritual food cooked and offered to the Lord with devotion, by associating with saintly persons, by carefully following the regulative principles of spiritual life - we can inoculate ourselves from most disturbances from within or without.

Most effective of all is hearing / reading transcendental literatures about Krishna, and chanting His holy names. These spiritual vibrations not only cleanse the mind of all contamination but are so attractive and powerful that they can capture even the most disturbed mind from its preoccupations.

There may be some other practical measures you may have to take, but reposing the mind in taking shelter of spiritual energy as said above gives the basis and support for all other secondary measures, and it is the only ultimate solution to all difficulties.

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