Categories
Prayers

Prayer XV

O Rādhārāṇī, I have heard and spoken many names in my lifetime, but none have given as much pleasure to my ears as those that belong to You, nor have any tasted as sweet on my tongue. It is said that Śukadeva Gosvāmī did not directly mention Your name in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam because if he had done so, he would have become overwhelmed with ecstatic emotions, rendering him unable to complete his narration of that beautiful scripture. I can certainly empathise with this – though I am nowhere near as advanced as that exalted soul, my own experiences of Your holy names have given me a glimpse of their unrivalled power.

O daughter of Vṛṣabhānu, just as one cannot count the waves of the ocean, one cannot count the waves of love which spring forth from Your boundless heart and wash over those who sincerely turn to You – like the soothing lullaby of a mother to her child, those waves bring one relief from all the miseries of material existence. I do not know anything, and every day I make countless mistakes, but whenever I turn to You I feel acceptance and unconditional love.

O beloved of Dāmodara, there is nothing more precious in all of existence than Your beautiful lotus feet – indeed, the Supreme Lord, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, considers those feet to be dearer than life itself. Therefore, on this final day of Kartik, I beg for a place at Your divine feet. I can find no shelter in this material world; if You do not grant me shelter, I will have nowhere else to go.

O Rādhikā, You are my mother, my queen, and my worshipable Deity. I have never taken good care of my heart, so I now place it in Your lotus hands for safekeeping. Please do with it as You wish, for it belongs to You anyway.

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Categories
Short Stories

Queen of Mercy

To the northwest of Vṛndāvana lies the town of Varṣāṇā, which is the home of Rādhārāṇī. To highlight their exceptional significance, Śacīnandana Swami describes Varṣāṇā as “the parliament of the spiritual world” and Rādhārāṇī as “the prime minister of divine love” (Pandava Sena summer retreat 2016, Germany).

But who exactly is Rādhā? Why is She always with Kṛṣṇa? And what is She like? To answer these questions, I have written the following short story:

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In a remote ashram in India, a young disciple named Jīva was inquiring from his spiritual master about a very important subject matter.

The disciple said, “Although you have explained it many times, I’m still finding it difficult to understand who Rādhārāṇī is. Please could you explain it to me again in simpler terms?”

Categories
Reflections

LXV: ALWAYS IN THEIR COMPANY

“The devotee who knows that there is no difference between the name and the form of the Lord chants Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare / Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare and realizes that he is always in Kṛṣṇa’s company.”

— Kṛṣṇa, The Supreme Personality of Godhead,
Chapter 2: “Prayers by the Demigods for Lord Kṛṣṇa in the Womb,”
By Śrīla Prabhupāda

Diary entry dated 9th November 2020:

My previous Reflection was firmly focused on feelings of separation, but this one is about feelings of union.

While chanting japa this evening in the living room, I looked at the picture of Śrī Śrī Rādhā Gokulānanda on the wall and suddenly found myself telling Them, “I’m always talking about separation, but actually we are never separated. Whenever I chant Your names, You are with me immediately. Hare Kṛṣṇa… You are with me. Hare Kṛṣṇa… You are with me. Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa… You are here. Hare Hare… She is here with me. Hare Rāma… You are by my side. Hare Rāma… You are right here. Rāma Rāma… You are with me. Hare Hare… She is in my heart.”

Out of Their infinite mercy, Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa have made Themselves easily available in the form of Their holy names – as I thought about this, my heart became filled with gratitude and my face was bathed by a sudden flood of tears.

Categories
Reflections

LXIV: LET THE TEARS FALL

Diary entry dated 13th October 2020:

This morning, I had a profound experience which revealed just how much the Manor residents mean to me, and how much I miss them.

For the first time since I moved out of the Manor, I woke up early enough to watch the entire morning programme online. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the morning programme, it begins at 4:30am with Magala-ārati, during which devotees sing beautiful prayers glorifying the spiritual master, followed by the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. It is considered magala, or auspicious, for all who participate.

As I sang along whilst taking darśana of Their Lordships through my laptop screen, my eyes were constantly filling up with tears. In my Reflection entitled Blissful Agony, I attempted to describe my feelings of separation from the Deities. Now, seeing Their exquisite forms and loving smiles, my heart was once again overwhelmed by those same feelings. When I saw Tulasī-devī as she was being carried off the altar in preparation for Tulasī-ārati, the emotions became especially intense, for she is very dear to me.

During Tulasī-ārati, which begins shortly after Magala-ārati, more prayers are sung, this time in glorification of Tulasī-devī, an intimate servant of the Divine Couple who can grant us access to Their devotional service. Devotees then circumambulate Tulasī-devī and lovingly offer water to her, accompanied by more singing of the mahā-mantra. As I watched the devotees joyfully dancing around her, the tears that were falling from my eyes out of affection for Tulasī-devī became tears of separation from those whom I had lived and served with for three years.

Tulasī-ārati finishes around 5:15am, and then the temple room lights are dimmed and devotees begin to chant their japa. The two little clouds on my face, which had been releasing their rainfall almost non-stop for forty-five minutes, temporarily ceased their activity – at 7am, when the altar curtains were reopened and the Deities revealed once more, the clouds resumed their downpour. Their Lordships are greeted with a special song consisting of prayers spoken by Lord Brahmā, which describes the glorious qualities and unmatched beauty of Kṛṣṇa’s transcendental form.

After greeting the Deities, devotees move towards Śrīla Prabhupāda’s altar on the opposite side of the temple room for guru-pūjā. As I watched them step forward one-by-one to offer flowers to Prabhupāda and pay their obeisances to him, I was overcome by agonising feelings of separation from each and every devotee that I saw on the screen, and tears flowed incessantly from my eyes.

Categories
Reflections

LXIII: AN INVISIBLE WAR

There’s an invisible war raging all around us – every living entity in this world is constantly under attack, but the vast majority of them are oblivious to this fact.

The enemy, who appears to be unstoppable, knows all of our weaknesses and how to exploit them. This enemy is the material energy. As described by Śrīla Prabhupāda in a lecture given in New York on 5th October 1966, “This material nature … She will give you good kicks. She is engaged for kicking you always, twenty-four hours, threefold miseries … But we are so much, I mean to say, … accustomed to this kicking that we don’t… We think, ‘It is all right. You go on kicking. My dear material nature, thank you very much for your kicking.’ You see?”

Although the nature of the soul is to be blissful, we have become so used to the miserable standard of life in the material world that we consider it to be normal. We have even managed to convince ourselves that we are happy here. In other words, we have accepted as reality the illusory life presented to us by material nature.

Categories
Reflections

LXII: A FEARFUL FOREST

In his previous life, Nārada Muni left home and embarked on a long journey after his mother passed away. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.6.12 explains that during his travels, he passed through “tracts of land with reservoirs of water filled with beautiful lotus flowers, fit for the denizens of heaven, decorated with bewildered bees and singing birds.” This is reminiscent of the descriptions of Vṛndāvana that are given elsewhere in the Bhāgavatam.

In contrast to this beautiful description, Nārada Muni explains in verse 1.6.13 that he also travelled through “deep, dark and dangerously fearful forests.” After reading this, I reflected that the material world can also be described in the same way. We find it a fearful place because we have forgotten the shelter of the Lord’s lotus feet. In his bhajan “Keśava Tuwā Jagata Vicitra,” Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says, “This material creation of Yours, O Keśava, is most strange. I have roamed throughout the forest of this universe in consequence of my selfish acts, and I have beheld many strange and curious sights. Forgetfulness of Your lotus feet has brought on anguish and grief.”

Categories
Reflections

LXI: TIME TO WAKE UP

Diary entry dated 25th September 2020:

Since moving out of the Manor, I have made some observations on the material world which I would like to share.

I recently went to the local shopping centre as I needed new shoes. In one shop, I happened to listen to the lyrics of the music being played in the background. A woman was speaking to her lover, who was cheating on his girlfriend to be with her. Children were coming to the shop with their parents to look for shoes, and were being exposed to such music. Even if they weren’t directly hearing the lyrics, their consciousness would be influenced by the degraded consciousness which permeated the song. Afterwards, I reflected that, in one sense, we are all cheating on Kṛṣṇa, but our affair with the material energy can only lead to suffering, so we are actually cheating ourselves.

One of the characteristics of the material world is a general lack of respect and kindness in people’s dealings with one another – this is all the more obvious to me after spending almost three years in the relatively harmonious society of the Manor. We have so much knowledge at our fingertips but we don’t know how to behave with others. When things seem to be going well between people, it’s often just the calm before the next storm. And when something goes wrong, instead of being given the benefit of the doubt, we are treated as guilty until proven innocent.

Another thing that I have observed is that a lot of arguments arise because we only see what someone hasn’t done and focus on their apparent faults, and fail to appreciate or even notice what they have done. This is in stark contrast to Kṛṣṇa, who appreciates all of our efforts, no matter how small, and turns a blind eye to our temporary shortcomings. By the standard of His character, the Lord demonstrates how we should treat others; if we want to live a harmonious life, we should follow the example set by Kṛṣṇa.

Categories
Reflections

LX: BLISSFUL AGONY

“If one’s hairs do not stand on end, how can the heart melt? And if the heart does not melt, how can tears of love flow from the eyes? If one does not cry in spiritual happiness, how can one render loving service to the Lord? And without such service, how can the consciousness be purified?”

— Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 11.14.23

Diary entry dated 11th September 2020:

Exactly three years ago, I moved to Bhaktivedanta Manor, and a new chapter of my life began. Now, that chapter has come to an end. I find it difficult to believe how quickly time has flown – years have passed by like falling autumn leaves, never to return.

The original plan was to leave in mid-March, but then the Manor went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I still could’ve left at that time, but I felt the urge to remain a little longer to help out with services during the lockdown. Somehow or other, “a little longer” became five months!

If I’m honest, those five months were some of the best months of my life. I relished the opportunity to get involved in simple services such as cleaning the temple building, helping to prepare meals for the pleasure of Śrī Śrī Rādhā Gokulānanda and Their devotees, serving those meals to the devotees, and washing pots in the kitchen (the latter was my favourite service).

Eventually, though, it became clear to me that I couldn’t delay any longer. On 15th August, three days after the most blissful Janmāṣṭamī festival that I’ve experienced in this lifetime, I left the shelter of the Manor and returned to my family home.

When I saw the picture of Rādhā Gokulānanda that we have on the wall in our living room, it was almost too much for my heart to bear, but in that moment of heartbreak I felt closer to Their Lordships than I’d ever felt when I’d been living in Their house. During the first day or two, my eyes were like rainclouds, but at some point the storm of tears subsided.

Categories
Poetry

I Once Loved You

You were once everything to me,
The dearest treasure of my heart.
How could I let such a jewel
Slip like sand through my fingers?

Somehow I must have fallen
Into a well of insanity.
Why else would I have turned
My back on You so easily?

Having deprived myself
Of Your association,
I have suffered and suffered,
Lifetime after lifetime.

You were once dearer to me
Than the air I now breathe,
And loving You came
So naturally to me.

Some infinitesimal
Trace of that love
Must still remain
In the depths of my heart.

Why else would my eyes
Fill to the brim with tears
When descriptions of You dance
In the courtyard of my ears?

Categories
Reflections

LIX: SHE’S NOT FOR YOU

Diary entry dated 9th July 2020:

Since I’m transitioning from the brahmacārī ashram to household life, I’ve been thinking more seriously about relationships. I’ve never actually been in a relationship, so I can’t claim to be any kind of authority on the subject, but I know one thing for certain – I never want to be in a relationship based solely on material attraction. Such attraction steals away one’s intelligence and makes one do stupid things, as I have experienced many, many times.

Due to material attraction, I’ve often found myself asking pointless questions or making rubbish jokes, simply so that I can speak to an attractive young lady for a little longer. And afterwards, I always think to myself with amusement, “Nikhil, that was such a stupid thing to say!”

I remember one instance where I saw a young lady that I’d been attracted to for a while, and I thought to myself, “If you look closely, she’s not actually that attractive.” But about a minute later, I saw her again and thought, “Wow, she’s beautiful.” I had to laugh to myself at how ridiculous the whole thing was.

Most of the time, I’m walking around thinking, “I’m such an advanced devotee! Have you not heard my amazing singing? I’m the man!”

But as soon as I’m in front of someone that I’m attracted to, my external mood becomes, “Hare Kṛṣṇa, please accept my most humble obeisances at your lotus feet.”

At this point, my mind might say, “Humble obeisances? But I thought you said that you’re the man?”