Trust the process

10175999_10152640855119667_8227195595408581059_nI wanted progress and I got it. I proved that it is possible to progress spiritually on your own – at least for a little while.

If I look back on my last few years, how have I progressed?
Well, I’m in a mentally very healthy state now, with an emphasis on the word healthy. I’m exactly where I should be, really. I’ve learned that if I want to progress spiritually, I have to clear away old baggage in form of relationships that aren’t healthy, childhood wounds that needs to be healed, creating a healthy space for myself. I have learned tolerance and grit by breaking, except I’m not broken when I break. When I break, I’m at the end of learning a lesson.

All of these have been great lessons I’m happy I have overcome, but the thing is; these are in themselves not spiritual lessons. They are lessons on overcoming unfavorable material karma. The spiritual lesson is that clearing this baggage makes me more available to progress spiritually because there is less junk on my path. Clearing this junk makes it easier and faster to progress spiritually.

So where do I go from here?

I used to have so many questions about this philosophy, but I’m all out of questions. I used to devour books, and now I haven’t opened one in a long time. Progressing spiritually is a bit like being blind and deaf. I have no idea what spiritual insights I need to develop, because I have never done it before. I’m blind to what I have never experienced. I’m walking a path I have never walked before and I don’t even know the path. I know the path behind me, but not the path in front of me.

My focus has shifted from reading to (not) practicing. I need to practice. I need a siksa guru to put that discipline in me – or at least get me moving. I get why one needs to have close interations with a Guru to progress spiritually. I’m bad at kicking my own hide, I’m a terrible boss of me.

I just have to trust that Krishna will make me walk the path of bhakti and will reveal everything to me in the right time. I have to trust that He will reveal the process and put the right people in front of me. I have to trust the process.

Rule 2 of Japa: There are no rules

JapaAlone With The HOLY NAME by Sacinandana Swami. September, 2014

So my child, you want to know
what it is like when you are alone
all day long with the Holy Name?
It is like the rising of a second sun
on the horizon of the heart
on a stormy day.
After some time all the clouds are gone.

Chanting just is. My idea of setting an intention before chanting was a good idea, but in setting up an intention I inadvertently was setting up an expectation of a reward for “good behaviour”, as in expecting a reward for chanting. In reality there is no hard and fast rules for chanting. Why? Because bhakti self-manifest. Bhakti generates bhakti.

nāmnāmakāribahudhānijasarva-śaktis
tatrārpitā niyamitaḥsmaraṇenakālaḥ
etādṛśītavakṛpābhagavan mamāpi
durdaivamīdṛśam ihājani nānurāgaḥ

“‘My Lord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, in Your holy name there is all good fortune for the living entity, and therefore You have many names, such as “Kṛṣṇa” and “Govinda,” by which You expand Yourself. You have invested all Your potencies in those names, and there are no hard and fast rules for remembering them. My dear Lord, although You bestow such mercy upon the fallen, conditioned souls by liberally teaching Your holy names, I am so unfortunate that I commit offenses while chanting the holy name, and therefore I do not achieve attachment for chanting.’

CC Antya 20.16

I have been thinking that chanting is hard. It is hard, but even that is a notion I have to let go of. I found Syamananda Prabhus comment to be a good depiction of how chanting is. Chanting is a conversation with the soul and an uncomfortable one at that.

Do you know what rule 1 of Japa is?
Just chant. Do it.

I have decided to let the struggle of Japa behind me for the time being and instead just chant.

 

 

The bad and ugly of Japa

I’ve begun to read Chapter 6 of Bhagavad-gita to get a sense of how I should chant.
I try to sit down alone, close my eyes and chant without moving for a little time.
Keeping my back and head as straight as possible. It becomes apparant that I’m
restless. Not in the – I need to do these ten things. No, I become restless because I think
that this Japa is well… a bit boring. Nothing happens during it and my mind wanders a bit and it’s easy. Then I direct my mind back to listening to the mantra. My mind tries to wander, but I keep it there.

That’s when I feel the pressure. It’s uncomfortable. My mind is uncomfortable with the direction I’m keeping it in. The longer I restrain the mind, the more pressure it feels. The pressure grows to pain. It becomes painful for the mind to listen to the chanting.

All I’m doing is sitting still and chant – and it’s painful for my mind. Huh – go figure. It grows even more painful. I feel every itch on my nose, hair, back, ear, that one hair that keeps itching on the neck. I’m trying to be devotional and increase bhakti – but instead I feel the body even more pronounced than before. We are supposed to learn that our consciousness is the soul, but here I’m chanting and meditating on the body. There isn’t any spiritual bliss in sight.

I feel hungry. But I have dedicated to chant a specific number of rounds before I do anything, so the hunger just have to be there. The mind just wants to get up and feed the body, and I feel the pressure of the mind gets even more painful. It’s so painful.

I crawl myself through those last couple of rounds, and with a clear relief when I’m finished.

That was just one hour…

Oh dear… what have I gotten myself into?

Putting discipline in disciple

lessons in lifeI have read Madhurya-kadambini so many times, but still been unable to resolve where I was on the actual spiritual ladder. First I thought I was in bhajana-kriya, then I realized I was still in sraddha. Now – I see I got it right the first time. I’m in bhajana-kriya, in the stage of Visaya-sangara.

vivayavivsta cittanam
vivnvavesah suduratah
varuna dig gatam vastu
vraj annaindram kim apnuyat
One whose heart is absorbed in materialism is far from obtaining devotion to Vishnu. Can a man by going east obtain something which is in the west?
Understanding that material enjoyment is forcibly carrying him away and impairing his steadiness in serving Krishna, the devotee resolves to renounce his addictions and take shelter of the Holy Name. But many times, his attempts at
renunciation often end in enjoying what he is trying to renounce. Such a person is exemplified in the Bhagavatam:
Knowing that sense gratification leads to misery, though he tries to give up his material desires, still he is unable. (SB 11.20.27-28)
This on going battle with his previously acquired desires
for sense pleasure, in which he sometimes meets with
victory and sometimes with defeat is called vishaya sangara or struggle with sense pleasure.

Madurya-Kadambini by Srila Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura

I have read that passage so many times, but it never translated itself to me. I never really understood how it reflected on me. That was until I read The Reflections on Madhurya-kadambini by Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja:

Visaya-Sangara is the stage of internal tug-of-war with material sense enjoyment.

 

Visaya-sangara is the stage when conflicting doubts and arguments are resolved in the devotee’s heart and he is convinced about the path of renunciation

Bhakti Triology, 18

…although there is still flickering back and forth, the understanding is stronger but one does not yet have the strength to act on the understanding. We may see different points in our own lives in which we had more doubts than faith. Then we reach the point of having more faith, but we lack strong determination, and so our senses still pull us excessively. Although we know the proper actions, we fail to carry them out.

…We may know what is proper, but the senses and mind still pull us. Even though we may deviate or feel bewildered, our intelligence knows that we have to get out of the slump and continue moving towards the goal. We keep picking ourselves up. This is a level of conscious unfoldment.

My immediate reaction when reading this was: This is me !!! Finally, I found me !! What a relief ! It’s like I’m unable to move forward, it feels like my karma/past actions stops me from moving forward. In one way, I’m content with where I am, I see how I’m unable to move forward and that’s just fine. It feels like I have a block, a wall I need to breach. But to get over that block takes time, I have to continue until I wear and tear the block down.

For example, I was so happy when I could offer my food –  even if it wasn’t up to quality. Do you know what happened? Nothing…  I would remember it long after the meal was eaten. But slowly, I begun to offer more. Slowly, it’s growing into my consciousness. At least I offer more now than I used to. At least I offer one meal a day, versus none. That is progress in my book. Slow progress is still progress, and any progress is to be celebrated.

The next stage in bahajana-kriya is niyamaksama:

The next stage of unsteady devotional service is niyamaksama, where the devotee vows to increase his devtional activities. He resolves to chant sixty-four rounds daily; offer one hundred prostrated obeisances to the Deities and the Vaishnavas; serve the senior devotees; avoid talking about mundane topics; shun the company of materialistic minded people, and so on. Daily he makes these vows, but at the last moment he is unable to honor them. The difference between visaya-sangara and niyamaksama is that in the former the devotee is helpless to give up his material sense pleasures, and in the latter he is unable to increase and improve his devotional activities.

Bhakti triology 18-19

So how to go from visaya-sangara to niyamaksama?
I purchased a weekly diary and begun to keep track of my chanting, gayatri and prasadam. If I was to progress spiritually, I needed something to tell me how I was doing. It also gave me inspiration to do a little bit better than the last week.

But a long time ago I decided to never force myself to do Japa again. I wanted Japa to be a pleasent experience, not something I loathed. But I didn’t apply my understanding  of discipline. To make these ridiculous vows, to progress to the next stage; it requires discipline. It requires showing up every day and doing what is needed. More than that, I need to chant at least 16 rounds each day using concentration and being within the chanting.

So I realized the importance of discipline and for a couple of days I chanted 16 rounds – and then it happened. I got sick. Fever and pain. Lying in bed, overindulging on pain meds. I’m still not healthy, and I have not picked up my chanting.

But that is fine. It just means I couldn’t do it that day. I will do it the next day.

Even though we may deviate or feel bewildered, our intelligence knows that we have to get out of the slump and continue moving towards the goal. We keep picking ourselves up. This is a level of conscious unfoldment.

The power of intention

radhanath_swamiSo this is really a core theme of the Bhagavad-gita. That in our words, thoughts, and especially in our actions we should be content with our intent and doing the best we can. From a spiritual prospective that is the success. If we are really doing the right thing in the right way, that is going to nourish ourselves and help others with the right purpose. That within itself is our success. The results we have no control over, but we do have control over the choices we make and the intentions that we have.

So yoga really means to make choices and to cultivate intentions and purposes that are wholesome and healthy for our well being, for the well being of the environment and for the well being of other people. And we should be grateful just for that opportunity. Just the action itself, just the motive itself is our success whatever the results may be. In that way our joy and fulfillment is transcendental to the apparent actions and reactions of this world.

In the Bhagavad-gita Arjuna was taught whether you win or lose is not important. Honor – dishonor, happiness – distress, success – failure, health – disease, life – death, all of these dualities are always playing with each other in this world, and we have some degree of control over the situation but not much. Yoga is not what the result is but your motivation in doing it and how you do it. If we are happy with that then our happiness is something very deep and circumstances and people in this world cannot meddle with it. – Radhanath Swami

Source: Radhanathswami.com

Krishna consciousness is art

10454293_10152596931969667_3180703810951558494_nKrishna consciousness is a lifestyle. It’s a choice you make every moment to hear, breath, live, sleep and eat love of God by doing meditation, Kirtans, cooking, speaking, relating to people and going about your day being an authentic person who continuously work on improving your performance ie yourself. Art comes with mastery. Art implies that there is a level of creativity in one’s sadhana and the method one has to follow.

Like a performer or an athletic, you have to work on it every day for many hours. You have to hone your skills until you master it. There’s the external activities like eating etc. but the most important skill is the mental one. You have to work on your mind like top performers in any field. You have to reflect on what you are doing. In your spiritual practice you make errors and figure out a way to improve it. Your bhajana becomes an art when you follow the strategies of the top musical performers.  You are able to perform the same actions but change it according to time, mood, people and circumstances.

What made Srila Prabhupada and Gurudeva able to attract thousands and thousands of followers and disciples? There’s a beauty in interacting with uttama-bhagavatas because they have made an art out of their bhajana which includes dealing with people and serving Krishna.

As a 37 year old mother of a three year old son, I never thought I would love Taylor Swift. That was until I got a feeling of her personality. It’s playful, funny, empathic, just lovely. Then I saw the music video of her latest song, and it just further emphasized the impression I have of her. There’s art to her music and to that music video. It’s beautiful to watch. When I come across such beauty I become an avid fan.

Taylow Swift didn’t get to that place miraculously. She has worked hard and for many years to get there. To become top performers in Krishna Consciousness we have to do the same. We have to be a part of the society, go to work and perform our business. In our spare time we meditate, perform arcana and kirtans until even our work and business interactions becomes a work of art. We, as people have to become a work of art, so much so that it attracts Krishna to us.

 

Setting my intention

In the presence of Bhakti-devi there is firm faith, enthusiasm and determination.
Reflections on the sacred teaching II: Madhurya-kadambini

Dear Bhakti-devi,

Thank you for refusing to give me bhakti. I was not aware that I was using my desire for bhakti for sense gratification. By refusing me, you allowed me to figure out what I was doing wrong.

I don’t know how to remove this weed from my bhajana, but I now understand where to begin. I have to set my intention whenever I do something. So from now on I will make this prayer everytime I try to do something: “Dear God, please let my reading/gayatri/japa/etc. help me widen my understanding/knowledge, and let it help me in develop my relation to Radha-Krishna.”

I now understand that I have to develop this quality of intention in my bhajana. Thank you for refusing me, and please continue to refuse me as long it helps me deepen my bhajana. This was a very instructive lesson, and I like it.

Haridasi

A-ha moment: My offence

Exposed gnarly roots in Fall River Park

I have been wondering where my enthusiasm have gone, why it’s so difficult to get it. As I was reading reflections on Madhurya-Kadambini, it started to dawn on me.

Bhakti generates bhakti. Bhakti is self-manifest. It’s not something I can force forward. If I want enthusiasm, I have to fake it until I make it. But that was not the a-ha moment.

There have been times where I have been chanting, and it has felt like I would die if I stopped chanting. To not chant is like death. As I have contemplated this mood in my chanting, it slowly have waned away and then I desperatly try to hold on to it, but then it just dissipates even more quickly. Then I try to trace back my steps, what was I thinking that generated this experience and try to recreate it. It never works.

The a-ha moment was when I realized what the source of my inability to create this enthusiasm, this spiritual experience. My bhakti dissipates because I want to enjoy it. My search for enthusiasm is solely because I want to enjoy the spiritual feelings I get. My bhajana is self-motivated. I’m not motivated to do bhajana because of service to my Gurudeva – I’m motivated because I want the spiritual feelings that are generated by my actions.

I tried to figure out which offense this is, but I didn’t find it. And now I have to figure out how to remove this enjoyment as motivation. But this motivation runs deep, I have no idea how to start up-rooting this one. I have to transfer enjoyment to service.

Easy peacy right? Yeah… that’s done in a day…

How much japa is enough?

measure_progressWhen asking for diksa, all practitioners are asked the same questions; “Do you chant 16 rounds and follow the four principles (no meat, no gambling, no intoxication, no illicit sex)?”. Is 16 rounds enough for a practitioner to  achieve krishna consciousness, or is it kindergarten level of japa?

The word science implies that there is a method to achieving our siddha-deha, and 16 rounds following the four principles is integral in this method. Vaidhi-bhakti must be the method, though I must admit that it’s not clear to me exactly what it is. As a practitioner it’s certainly easy to find faults in ones practices and there is no shortage of things one is supposed to do, behave, think.

I don’t chant 16 rounds anymore. I have actually gone years without chanting, though I’m more steady now than I have ever been. I would even say the quality of my chanting is better now than when I chanted 16 rounds. I refuse to lock myself to chanting a specific number of rounds. Why? Because my consciousness becomes: “I just have to finish these 16 rounds, so I can go back to my sense gratification.”

A really simple hearted devotee has no duplicity. At any moment, even in the dead of night he is ready to render service to Guru. If a devotee says, “I am very tired now, Maharaja. I had no sleep. I cannot do this service. Please excuse me”. That disciple is not ready to serve. This is duplicity.
Gour Govinda Maharaja, Bhubaneswar 1992.

Whatever I chant now, is because I want to. It’s not about finishing chanting anymore, I chant to pay my respect to Hari-Nama. I chant to improve my chanting. I chant, to chant. Though, I need to measure progress. If this truly is a scientific method, then certainly I should be able to measure progress somehow.

But how is progress measured? I’ve started to write down the number of rounds I chant every day with some notes on the side if necessary. I’m not sure if this even qualify, but at least it’s something.

How much chanting is needed?

How do you measure progress?

 

Who do you pray to?

Ever since I became angry and started praying to God, I have continued doing so. I have a lot to pray about these days. The thing is, I pray by naming him God. Not Krishna – God. God somehow seems less… personal. Less scary, because there is no attributes to God. God seems more of a force, than a person, therefore easier.

Krishna probably have other things on his mind, and the little prayers of me shouldn’t matter to him. He is in another mood which I don’t fathom, but I know that my prayers to him is an intrusion. But calling him God, despite the safety of it probably isn’t correct. So who should I pray to? Narayana? Is that the name I should use when I pray?I have no relation to Narayana. How should I understand Narayana? Who should I pray to about my little life with my conditioned thoughts?

After I started praying semi-exclusively to God, something went missing. My prayers to Gurudeva. I talk so very little to him now. Again, I don’t want to bother Gurudeva with my small minded, conditioned thoughts and desires, fears etc. But then the whole conversation is lost. For better or worse, my small minded, conditioned prayers are a relationship. At least it’s an act of approaching my Gurudeva.

I don’t know how to pray anymore. Or – I do pray, but how do I do it? To whom? With what?