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Home » philosophy

Thomas Merton on the Bhagavad-Gita

Submitted by on December 8, 2016 – 12:33 am37 Comments

thomas-merton

By Thomas Merton

The word gita means “song.” Just as in the Bible the Song of Solomon has traditionally been known as “The Song of Songs” because it was interpreted to symbolize the ultimate union of Israel with God (in terms of human married love), so the Bhagavad-gita is, for Hinduism, the great and unsurpassed song that finds the secret of human life in the unquestioning surrender to and awareness of Krishna.

While the Vedas provide Hinduism with its basic ideas of cult and sacrifice and the Upanisads develop its metaphysic of contemplation; the Bhagavad-gita can be seen as the great treatise on the “active life.” But it is really something more, for it tends to fuse worship, action and contemplation in a fulfillment of daily duty that transcends all three by virtue of a higher consciousness: a consciousness of acting passively, of being an obedient instrument of a transcendent will. The Vedas, the Upanisads, and the Gita can be seen as the main literary supports for the great religious civilization of India, the oldest surviving culture in the world. The fact that the gita remains utterly vital today can be judged by the way such great reformers as Mohandas Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave both spontaneously based their lives and actions on it, and indeed commented on it in detail for their disciples. The present translation and commentary is another manifestation of the permanent living importance of the gita. Swami Bhaktivedanta brings to the West a salutary reminder that our highly activistic and one-sided culture is faced with a crisis that may end in self-destruction because it lacks the inner depth of an authentic metaphysical consciousness. Without such depth, our moral and political protestations are just so much verbiage. If, in the West, God can no longer be experienced as other than “dead,” it is because of an inner split and self-alienation that have characterized the Western mind in its single-minded dedication to only half of life: that which is exterior, objective, and quantitative. The “death of God” and the consequent death of genuine moral sense, respect for life, for humanity, for value, has expressed the death of an inner subjective quality of life: a quality that in the traditional religions was experienced in terms of God-consciousness. Not concentration on an idea or concept of God, still less on an image of God, but a sense of presence, of an ultimate ground of reality and meaning, from which life and love could spontaneously flower.

Realization of the Supreme “Player” whose “Play” (lila) is manifested in the million-formed, inexhaustible richness of beings and events, is what gives us the key to the meaning of life. Once we live in awareness of the cosmic dance and move in time with the Dancer, our life attains its true dimension. It is at once more serious and less serious than the life of one who does not sense this inner cosmic dynamism. To live without this illuminated consciousness is to live as a beast of burden, carrying one’s life with tragic seriousness as a huge, incomprehensible weight (see Camus’ interpretation of the Myth of Sisyphus). The weight of the burden is the seriousness with which one takes one’s own individual and separate self. To live with the true consciousness of life centered in Another is to lose one’s self-important seriousness and thus to live life as “play” in union with a Cosmic Player. It is he alone that one takes seriously. But to take him seriously is to find joy and spontaneity in everything, for everything is gift and grace. In other words, to live selfishly is to bear life as an intolerable burden. To live selflessly is to live in joy, realizing by experience that life itself is love and gift. To be a lover and a giver is to be a channel through which the Supreme Giver manifests his love in the world.

But the Gita presents a problem to some who read it in the present context of violence and war, which mark the crisis of the West. The Gita appears to accept and to justify war. Arjuna is exhorted to submit his will to Krishna by going to war against his enemies, who are also his own kin, because war is his duty as a prince and warrior. Here we are uneasily reminded of the fact that in Hinduism as well as in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, there is a concept of a “Holy War” that is “willed by God,” and we are furthermore reminded of the fact that, historically, this concept has been secularized and inflated beyond measure. It has now “escalated” to the point where slaughter, violence, revolution, the annihilation of enemies, the extermination of entire populations and even genocide have become a way of life. There is hardly a nation on earth today that is not to some extent committed to a philosophy or to a mystique of violence. One way or other, whether on the left or on the right, whether in defense of a bloated establishment or of an improvised guerrilla government in the jungle, whether in terms of a police state or in terms of a ghetto revolution, the human race is polarizing itself into camps armed with everything from Molotov cocktails to the most sophisticated technological instruments of death. At such a time, the doctrine that “war is the will of God” can be disastrous if it is not handled with extreme care. For everyone seems in practice to be thinking along some such lines, with the exception of a few sensitive and well-meaning souls (mostly the kind of people who will read this book).

The Gita is not a justification of war, nor does it propound a war-making mystique. War is accepted in the context of a particular kind of ancient culture in which it could be and was subject to all kinds of limitations. (It is instructive to compare the severe religious limitations on war in the Christian Middle Ages with the subsequent development of war by nation-states in modern times-backed of course by the religious establishment.) Arjuna has an instinctive repugnance for war, and that is the chief reason why war is chosen as the example of the most repellent kind of duty. The Gita is saying that even in what appears to be most “unspiritual” one can act with pure intentions and thus be guided by Krishna consciousness. This consciousness itself will impose the most strict limitations on one’s use of violence because that use will not be directed by one’s own selfish interests, still less by cruelty, sadism, and mere blood lust.

The discoveries of Freud and others in modern times have, of course, alerted us to the fact that there are certain imperatives of culture and of conscience which appear pure on the surface and are in fact bestial in their roots. The greatest inhumanities have been perpetrated in the name of “humanity,” “civilization,” “progress,” “freedom,” “my country,” and of course “God.” This reminds us that in the cultivation of an inner spiritual consciousness there is a perpetual danger of self-deception, narcissism, self-righteous evasion of truth. In other words, the standard temptation of religious and spiritually minded people is to cultivate an inner sense of rightness or of peace and make this subjective feeling the final test of everything. As long as this feeling of rightness remains with them, they will do anything under the sun. But this inner feeling (as Auschwitz and the Eichmann case have shown) can coexist with the ultimate in human corruption.

The hazard of the spiritual quest is of course that its genuineness cannot be left to our own isolated subjective judgment alone. The fact that I am turned on doesn’t prove anything whatever. (Nor does the fact that I am turned off.) We do not simply create our own lives on our own terms. Any attempt to do so is ultimately an affirmation of our individual self as ultimate and supreme. This is a self-idolatry which is diametrically opposed to “Krishna consciousness” or to any other authentic form of religious or metaphysical consciousness.

The Gita sees that the basic problem of man is his endemic refusal to live by a will other than his own. For in striving to live entirely by his own individual will, instead of becoming free, man is enslaved by forces even more exterior and more delusory than his own transient fancies. He projects himself out of the present into the future. He tries to make for himself a future that accords with his own fantasy, and thereby escape from a present reality which he does not fully accept. And yet, when he moves into the future he wanted to create for himself, it becomes a present that is once again repugnant to him. And yet this is precisely what he has “made” for himself—t is his own karma. In accepting the present in all its reality as something to be dealt with precisely as it is, man comes to grips at once with his karma and with a providential will that, ultimately, is more his own than what he currently experiences, on a superficial level, as “his own will.” It is in surrendering a false and illusory liberty on the superficial level that man unites himself with the inner ground of reality and freedom in himself which is the will of God, of Krishna, of Providence, of Tao. These concepts do not all exactly coincide, but they have much in common. It is by remaining open to an infinite number of unexpected possibilities which transcend his own imagination and capacity to plan that man really fulfills his own need for freedom. The Gita, like the Gospels, teaches us to live in awareness of an inner truth that exceeds the grasp of our thought and cannot be subject to our own control. In following mere appetite for power, we are slaves of our own appetite. In obedience to that inner truth we are at last free.

37 Comments »

  • Brajasundari

    This is amazing! Why is it not found in present day editions of Srila Prabhupada`s Bhagavad gita?

  • Rudrani dd

    To live selflessly is to live in joy, realizing by experience that life itself is love and gift. To be a lover and a giver is to be a channel through which the Supreme Giver manifests his love in the world.

    It is in surrendering a false and illusory liberty on the superficial level that man unites himself with the inner ground of reality and freedom in himself which is the will of God, of Krishna, of Providence, of Tao.

    The Gita, like the Gospels, teaches us to live in awareness of an inner truth that exceeds the grasp of our thought and cannot be subject to our own control.

    Mystics of the world, unite!

  • Beautiful, poetic, fresh and contemporary, as the very Bhagavad Gita itself.

    • Kausturi Manjari dasi

      Yes, a magical breath of fresh air from one who can “see”. As you say, ‘beautiful, poetic, fresh and contemporary, as the very Gita itself’.

  • Tarun

    He projects himself out of the present into the future. He tries to make for himself a future that accords with his own fantasy, and thereby escape from a present reality which he does not fully accept. And yet, when he moves into the future he wanted to create for himself, it becomes a present that is once again repugnant to him. And yet this is precisely what he has “made” for himself—t is his own karma. In accepting the present in all its reality as something to be dealt with precisely as it is, man comes to grips at once with his karma and with a providential will that, ultimately, is more his own than what he currently experiences, on a superficial level, as “his own will.” ……It is by remaining open to an infinite number of unexpected possibilities which transcend his own imagination and capacity to plan that man really fulfills his own need for freedom

    The Environment is Friendly!?!

  • When I got my first copy of Bhagavad-gita As It Is in February of 1970,this foreword floored me. I knew and respected Ginsburg and Levertov, and was impressed that they had contributed to the book, but, having been something of a Gandhi devotee for a few years before contacting Krishna’s devotees, I had read everything I could get my hands on by and about Gandhi. Merton was therefore rather familiar to me, and I found this foreword amazing then, especially after reading the Gita. When Merton’s name came up in discussion the last few months, I was delighted to find this piece was still available, and I’m grateful to see it here.

    As I read it these days, I find myself wondering in what directions Merton may have moved if he had lived longer and had some time to spend with Srila Prabhupada, and, perhaps with Srila B.R. Sridhara Maharaja.

    • Ishan das

      He sees the hopelessness and vanity of of his endeavors, even for temporal pursuits.

      His proposal? Accept the present circumstances of our lives “precisely as it is”. And in this way, “come to grips … with a providential will that, ultimately,is more his own….”, then by opposing one’s circumstantial situation.

      Providential will can never be our own. This is mayavadi philosophy. (The unmentionable word, according to Yogeshvara Joshua green).

      Merton’s agenda is to “fulfill his own need for freedom.” He believes that by accepting his present circumstances as his past karma and not struggling against it, that he is in harmony with a providential will that is actually his own.

      Where is Krishna? Where is surrender to Krishna? This man is lost in his existential speculations.

  • Ishan das

    Merton’s undoing is his very large mind. What he really needed was a spiritual master like Srila Prabhupada who could tell him what he needed to hear. But apparently he was more intent on his own reflections.

    Merton expresses that he sees Ghandi as a great reformer, which is nonsense. Ghandi saw himself as an Indian and saw independence from British imperialism as a progressive step. Now that India is free of British domination, Indians are no closer to freedom from samsara -perhaps less.

    Merton also envisions a spiritual reality very different from the view that Srimad Bhagawatam and Bhagavad-gita present us with. In Merton’s words, above, real spirituality is, “Not concentration on an idea or concept of God, still less on an image of God, but a sense of presence,…..”.

    In contrast with Merton’s gropings,Vaishnavas do have an “idea” and a “concept” of God. A very strong, and specfic idea and concept. Also we have a very specific “image” of God, in all detail, as given to us in the prayers of Lord Brahma in Brahma Samhita. Not only do we cherish these ideas and concepts that Merton is objecting to, but we worship the image of God on our altars.

    Obviously, Merton is not praising Srila Prabhupada’s Gita, but the Gita as presented by some nonsense impersonalist speculators. However Srila Prabhupada was not above using the so-called thinking world’s admiration of people like Merton and Levertov, and was willing to utilize their endorsements for the cause.

    Merton writes of fulfilling our need for freedom by becoming aware of some vague inner truth. As vaishnava’s, our search is not so much for freedom as for wearing the correct dog collar under the guidance of the bonafide spiritual master.

    So although this man, like other intellectuals, has a way with high sounding words, we should not be so ready to be swept away by them. It is almost impossible for this kind of man to fall flat before a real paramahansa, ready and willing to take his instruction as his life and soul.

    • Gaura-Vijaya

      Really? I wish I will be lost like Merton than be like most devotees I meet. I think his reflections were far deeper and contemporary than anything that currently comes out of the biggest vaisnava institution established by Prabhupada. I don’t understand what exactly is this obsession devotees have that if Merton spent time with Prabhupada, he would have really gone deep into Gaudiya Vaisnavism. Perhaps if he met SSM or BVT, there would be some hope. It is just because Prabhupada made a preliminary presentation at his time that somehow worked with people and was useful to get a ground for Gaudiya Vaisnavism in the world. However, I never saw even one person who has relied solely on Srila Prabhupada’s writing and he/she has penetrated deeply into contemporary issues or even become familiar with Gaudiya philosophy in sufficient detail in my opinion. At the same time, the amount of devotional service performed by people under SP’s direction is comparable to none. I am amazed by the sacrifice people made for him. He had a special ability no doubt to completely capture peoples’s heart and that may be much more important in the long run.

      • Ishan das

        Dear Gaura Vijaya Prabhu,

        Your last few sentences that voice your appreciation of Srila Prabhupada’s positive effect on people are very much appreciated by me.

        Even a lowly, unintelligent and very debased person like myself was swept out of a life of illicit sex, intoxication, meat eating and gambling/speculation after coming in contact with Srila Prabhpada.

        Also, after growing up in an atheistic home environment, and attending university where professors of science made sarcastic remarks about the concept of God, I was a person who never even considered or contemplated the possability that a spiritual dimension even existed. But simply by having a few moments of association with Srila Prabhupada – all of this was swept away and Krishna became the center of my life, my only hope, and only reason for living.

        Re: your opening statement that:

        “Really? I wish I will be lost like Merton than be like most devotees I meet. I think his reflections were far deeper and contemporary than anything that currently comes out of the biggest vaisnava institution established by Prabhupada.”….

        Obviously, Merton was an intellectual, a person who had a rare quality of enquiry into the meaning of life, who was very aware of the discomfort of living with his own mind and heart, and was devoted to finding a workable solution. Perhaps as thoughtful men go, he was one in millions. And also, because you are (or seem to be, from my limited vantage point) a person who is also a member of that more sensitive, introspective, restricted calibre of intellect, I can see how you might have a feeling a kinship with a soul like Merton.

        I have not read Merton, and probably would not have the patience to do so. However, after acknowledging this man’s very wonderful mind, I am still forced to conclude that he remains universes apart from the standard Vaishnave conclusions. Never will you find a man like Merton offering the puja articles to the form of Krishna on the altar, because to Merton, the idea of God having a personal, worshipable form is off the chart.

        As far as: “I think his reflections were far deeper and contemporary than anything that currently comes out of the biggest vaisnava institution established by Prabhupada.”….

        The real problems are birth, old age, disease and death. In this context of thinking, there is no question of contemporary or not contemporary. Those reflections which cannot solve these fundamental problems are of no value. This world cannot be made into a better place. It is created, by Krishna, to embarass us in our grossly and emotionally degraded condtions, only to bring us to the point of surrender, so that we can leave this place. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was also a great intellect. He was invited by the higher institutions of learning to accept honorary titles and prestigious positions, but he would have no part in rubbing shoulders with the Mertons of his time, because they lacked the abiltiy to acknowledge Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

        We must not confuse the propensity for so-called higher intellectual pursuits as a spiritual qualification. The big thinker and the ditch digger are both saintly if they can develope love for Krishna. And the big thinker and the ditch digger are both fools and rascals if they cannot come to that position.

        People are so much apt to think that if a person has leadership propensities, managerial propensities, and intellectual propensities, that they are closer to God. I have seen this over and over in ISKCON. But this is not the fact. According the Vedic literatures, power, wealth, beauty, aristocratic birth and high education – these are all disqualifications in so far as they actually intoxicate the individual so that he feels himself to be suprerior to others, an in an enhanced context of being. Whereas, in fact, the only person who is qualified to surrender to God, per shastra, is that person who is “akinchina gochara”, totally exhausted in their aspiration to make this life on earth into something better. Therefore the pujari at the ISKCON temple may not have finished high school, and cannot talk to like like Thomas Merton might have – but that pujari is happy to do that puja that Merton could never bring himslef to consider.

        When you write that, “It is just because Prabhupada made a preliminary presentation at his time that somehow worked with people and was useful to get a ground for Gaudiya Vaisnavism in the world.” When you write such an idea, then you are indicating that a particular mix of material conditions, comprised of Srila Prabhupada’s characteristics and the world that received his message, “somehow worked with people.” In this, and I urge you take this up with a vaishnav that you respect. I wish to understand that you are walking on very dangerous ground. Because vaishnavas believe, and shastra supports this belief, that the only qualification for doing what Srila Prabhupada accomplished, is spiritual qualification.

        As an aferthought, in this connection, the manner in which the so-called leaders of ISKCON conducted ISKCON’s affaires, after Srila Prabhupada’s departure, and the way in which the bewildered followers of those “leaders” followed suit, in no way detracts from Srila Prabhupada’s purity and exalted position. No more than the crusades, for example, detracts from the position of Jesus. Similarly, the fact that Buddhist monks, the symbols of peace and non-violence, regularly partake of slaughtered animals with great gusto, does not diminish the position of Lord Buddha. My conclusion is, that ISKCON’s present standing is in no way to be taken as a negative reflection on Srila prabhupada. And to think of that person, who accomplished what Srila Prabhupada has, as having done so because of any qualites other than his spiritual standing – will be most injurious for one who is aspiring to advance as a vaishnav.

        “However, I never saw even one person who has relied solely on Srila Prabhupada’s writing and he/she has penetrated deeply into contemporary issues or even become familiar with Gaudiya philosophy in sufficient detail in my opinion.”

        Again, so-called “contemporary issues” are of no consequence. The only issue is samsara. Saving the environment, the earth, improving food quality, air quality, and on and on, will not save us from samsara. On the other hand, Srila Rupa Goswami writes in his Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu that pure devotional service is the beginning of all auspiciousness. To bring this into focus, Srimad Bhagawatam tells us that where there is pure devotional service, all auspicious conditions occur on the planet. The hills produce gems, etc., etc. Pure devotion is the watering of the proverbial root of the very tree of our existence. Srila Prabhupada was not in illusion regarding our fallen nature. Rather, he wrote in his preface to Bhagavad-gita, that if only one person became a pure devotee as a result of his efforts and writings, then he would consider his efforts a success.

        Therefore our concern with “contemporary issues” is not bad. However, without the blessings of Krishna, no amount of concern with these issues can be of any help. And on the other hand, even the most simple, unconcerned devotee, if he is a pure devotee, will bless the planet in every way, simply by his divine presence. These people, the peace marchers, the environmentalists, and on and on, do not understand that these terrible conditions are Krishna’s medicine for their benefit. These people want the kindom of God without God, but they will never have it. Krishna will not allow it. Because the medicine is still required to counteract their stubborn perversity. In otherwords, Merton’s concern with comtemporary issues, instead of His concern over devotion to Krishna, is simply a function of his lack of faith, devotion and metaphysical understanding. Real concern is direct Krishna Consciousness. To believe otherwise is to be a gross materialist.

        This is not to say that such concerns and pure bhakti yoga are at odds with each other. However we have to remember that we are always only instruments of God. So who can become the best instrument other than by becoming endeared to Krishna? When Srila Prabhupada encouraged rural communities, he was totally in favor of us using no modern automated machinery. But we were not capable of surrendering to that standard, so he allowed it.

        “At the same time, the amount of devotional service performed by people under SP’s direction is comparable to none. I am amazed by the sacrifice people made for him. He had a special ability no doubt to completely capture peoples’s heart and that may be much more important in the long run.”

        I acknowledge you as the most intelligent and saintly for your above statement.

        I sincerely hope that I have not offended you. The purpose of our conversation is to put Krishna in the middle, to remember our helples position and to remember and glorify the best course of action on all of our parts. I write not because I am a devotee, but because I hope that one day I will have a change of heart and be blessed by my spiritual master, with only a tiny drop of love for Krishna.

        I sincerely wish you, Gaura-vijaya, all the very best good fortune in every way. And I sincerely request that when you pray to Krishna that you ask Him to please help Ishan who is so terribly fallen and ignorant and is floundering in the material world, even as old age approaches him.

        Hare Krishna! Ishan das

      • Isan writes,

        Merton also envisions a spiritual reality very different from the view that Srimad Bhagawatam and Bhagavad-gita present us with. In Merton’s words, above, real spirituality is, “Not concentration on an idea or concept of God, still less on an image of God, but a sense of presence,…..”.

        I’m not so sure that’s as different from the Bhagavatam’s vision as some may think. In fact, it read to me as an assertion that he’s talking about real experience of the Godhead, of Krishna, which is precisely what the Bhagavatam proposes.

        Rather than gleefully point out where Merton’s experience and realization fall short, so I can feel more fortunate than Merton, I’d prefer to try to see what sparks of appreciation he has for Srila Prabhupada’s work and consider where they may have led him if he had had more time in that body. Let’s consider a little more generously a couple of his assertions. Try this one, for example:

        Realization of the Supreme “Player” whose “Play” (lila) is manifested in the million-formed, inexhaustible richness of beings and events, is what gives us the key to the meaning of life. . . . To live with the true consciousness of life centered in Another is to lose one’s self-important seriousness and thus to live life as “play” in union with a Cosmic Player. It is he alone that one takes seriously. But to take him seriously is to find joy and spontaneity in everything, for everything is gift and grace. In other words, to live selfishly is to bear life as an intolerable burden. To live selflessly is to live in joy, realizing by experience that life itself is love and gift. To be a lover and a giver is to be a channel through which the Supreme Giver manifests his love in the world.

        He may not be using Srila Prabhupada’s language here, but he’s talking about the same ego death we are: surrender to the Absolute “Cosmic Player.”

        There’s more, but I don’t want to belabor the point. Sure, Merton was an intellectual, but he was looking for genuine mystic experience. When he died, he seemed to have been most impressed by a couple of Tibetan Buddhist teachers, but his search was not over, as far as he was concerned. If he had been given more years, he could very likely have met with Srila Prabhupada and with Srila Sridhara Maharaja and found in their teachings the ultimate mystical experience.

        • Ishan das

          Hi Babhru! Hare Krishna!

          Looking at that comment, above that you have quoted:

          “Realization of the Supreme “Player” whose “Play” (lila) is manifested in the million-formed, inexhaustible richness of beings and events, is what gives us the key to the meaning of life.”

          My take on this statement is this: Merton is taking the “million-formed, inexhaustible richness of beings and events” that he interfaces with in his everyday life – as – a manifestation of God’s lila.

          No. This is not God’s lila. These people are all under the sway of the illusory energy, Maya.

          Why would Merton think that the everyday affairs of the people of this world are a manifestation of God’s lila? Because Merton cannot conceive of God having a personal form. Therefore he considers Krishna, on this earth planet, to be one of us. God Who is formless cannot have lila. The only way that God can have activities, according to impersonalist thinkers, is to take on material forms. Such thinkers envision the “million-formed, inexhaustible richness of beings and events”, as a manifestation of God’s lila. This, Merton asserts, is “the Supreme Player whose Play (lila) is manifested in the million-formed….” etc.

          This is classical mayavadi philosophy (to use a term that would cause Joshua green to shrink with horror). Not only do such mayavadis think of our nonsense as God’s lila, but the think of Krishna as an ordinary man. Therefore in Bhagavad-gita, Krishna states:

          AVAJANANTI MAM MUDHA
          MANUSIM TANUM ASHRITAM
          PARAM BHAVAM AJANANTO
          MAMA BHUTA MAHESHVARAM Bg 9/

          In this statement Krishna is calling Merton a “mudha”, an ass, who do not know (avajananti mam) Me, when I appear in this human-like form. such persons do not know My Supreme position and my Lordship over all.

          You see, with these big thinkers, you have to really examine their words. It all sounds so flowery and pretty that we can miss the fact that they are against Krishna’s position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They want to make Krishna like one of us, and make our nonsense activites as God’s lila. Totally absurd. Totally offensive.
          Such a position is demonic. A nice man, lofty thinker, whose kowledge is stolen by illusion,”mayaya apahritajnana”.

          I am nobody. Simply trying to understand Srila Prabhupada’s presentation of our Vaishnav philosophy. This is what I see.

          Hare Krishna! Ishan das

      • Gaura-Vijaya wrote:

        I don’t understand what exactly is this obsession devotees have that if Merton spent time with Prabhupada, he would have really gone deep into Gaudiya Vaisnavism. Perhaps if he met SSM or BVT, there would be some hope. It is just because Prabhupada made a preliminary presentation at his time that somehow worked with people and was useful to get a ground for Gaudiya Vaisnavism in the world.

        I have to say that this struck me as rather an odd comment. It appears to reflect little appreciation for Srila Prabhupada’s actual spiritual stature. In fact, he is a mystic of great experience. It may appear to you that his presentation in his books and lectures is rudimentary, but that in no way indicates the limit of his realization or of his ability to present Gaudiya vaishnavism to different audiences. His own experience as a sadhaka was deep beyond our estimation, as we see in the testimony of those who knew him before his departure for the West in 1965 given in my friend and sister Mulaprakriti’s book, “Our Srila Prabhupada, a Friend to All.” And his establishment of Krishna consciousness in the West and in India was not due to some material entrepreneurial ability, but to direct empowerment by our most merciful Lord. Perhaps my experience of Srila Prabhupada is somewhat different from yours, but I don’t see him as simply a charismatic fundamentalist. And I have absolutely no doubt that he would have dealt with Merton much differently than with that unfortunate French priest, and that he could have charmed him with an even deeper, more satisfying vision than the Tibetans could have dared to imagine.

    • David

      Namaste!
      As one who has read Thomas Merton extensively prior to coming to Krishna Consciousness,I have to add a few remarks as it pertains to Ishan das’ comment. He is correct in saying he needed a spiritual master like Swami Prabhupada but I can’t agree with his assertion that he was apparently “more intent on his own reflections.” Merton, intellectually, was a brillant man, his writings were always respectful and well-intentioned.He was not always correct, but then, he was only human and and did not have the good fortune to have someone such as Swami Prabhupada to guide and correct him. The tone of the response by Ishan das is dismissive and seems disrespectful to a man who was simply expressing something he believed. Perhaps that was not Ishan das’ intention but that’s how it came across.I am thankful that I have come to know the Truth,I feel love and sympathy for those who have not come to that Truth yet.

      • David

        I forgot to add this. In a bit of irony, it was after reading Thomas Merton’s glowing endorsement of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is inside the jacket of one of the editions that led me to read it.

    • Kausturi Manjari dasi

      (Without going back to examine the paragraph), it seemed to me that, instead of claiming that as his own truth, he was simply referring to that as the predilection of the modern religions who have accepted no “image” of god. I personally found his treatise very to the point of much of the greaness of the Bhagavad-gita. The first question that came to my mind was, ‘Was he “initiated”‘, and now I am wondering which of the advanced devotees is his recent incarnation.

  • Ishan das

    Dear Gaura-Vijaya,

    I believe that sometimes I am just plain augumentative. Please don’t let me disturb your mind. You are a devotee of Krishna. I offer you my obeisances. Hare Krishna! Ishan das

  • Tarun

    The greatest inhumanities have been perpetrated in the name of “humanity,” “civilization,” “progress,” “freedom,” “my country,” and of course “God.”(Krishna) This reminds us that in the cultivation of an inner spiritual consciousness there is a perpetual danger of self-deception, narcissism, self-righteous evasion of truth. In other words the standard temptation of religious and spiritually minded people is to cultivate an inner sense of rightness or of peace, and make this subjective feeling the final test of everything. As long as this feeling of rightness remains with them, they will do anything under the sun. But this inner feeling (as Auschwitz and the Eichmann case have shown) can coexist with the ultimate in human corruption.

    I wonder if Merton had lived and joined the Krishna movement, if it would have ended up like it is. His willingness to be self reflective is a great balance to the devotees fanatical struggle to assert KC as the one truth, with hardly a thought that we could in any way learn something from those outside our tradition, or that the tradition itself could actually be evolving. Self reflection is a very rare commodity round these parts, maybe cause it’s grounded in the idea that who we are and what we have, may not be the last word in anything. That we still might be conditioned souls working out our karmas, and slowly, only slowly, coming to consciousness as to what is really going on. That little bit of humility, whether individually of collectively, would give some space for some revealing self reflection, and thus the possibility of some progress. Collectively, that would be huge. It is intellectuals like Merton, (call them jnanis if you will) that are most needed in our western Krishna movement. There is devotion galore, thank Krishna, but progress is stopped by lack of self realization, and an unwillingness to look a little deeper at some of our sacred cows. (Sacred Cows – ha ha) To have a genuinely open and honest discussion, to critique the mindset of the neophyte, with all the tools the modern world, can proffer. The book shelves in stores are filled with New Age and Self Help books, only a fraction of which, would have profound effects on our dualistic mindset.

    A Hare Krishna explosion is immanent, no doubt, but the thick wall around the movement, while keeping out some bad, does not allow much interaction with the good parts of the modern world alas, to our great loss. When I look at our movement, I see not a lack of advanced theology, but a dearth of practical psychology, to help devotees come to terms with where they are actually at. Religion is not very good at providing that, unless one is fortunate enough to be in a line from someone like Fromm or Merton, and I assume there are many more like them in modern theological circles.. Modernity has not had it’s way with us much as yet, though you’d think that would change soon, and allow us to go chanting and dancing in tribal bliss, into the post-modern world, with a lot less baggage to cart.

    • Citta Hari

      You make some good points Tarun, in particular the one about the need for more self-reflection and introspection in the modern Gaudiya world. It’s easy to learn some philosophical theory and unconsciously propagate that because it’s the “absolute truth” but that does little good for the cause of Mahaprabhu’s nama-dharma. Such an approach only alienates intelligent people and attracts those who are content with a black-and-white understanding of the tradition when the exact opposite is what is needed. As you point out it is not high theology that we need more of it is practical psychology. Coming to terms with where one is at is a profoundly humbling process and to genuinely do so requires introspection and knowledge of how the mind works as a tattva as well as the peculiarities of one’s own mind. This introspection makes it possible for us to relate to the high theology in a real way, applying the teachings where we are right now in order to make tangible internal progress toward the goal of love of God. Introspection and humility then make it possible to relate to others in such a way that they will be compelled to wonder what we are about.

    • Tarun wrote:

      I wonder if Merton had lived and joined the Krishna movement, if it would have ended up like it is. His willingness to be self reflective is a great balance to the devotees fanatical struggle to assert KC as the one truth, with hardly a thought that we could in any way learn something from those outside our tradition, or that the tradition itself could actually be evolving. Self reflection is a very rare commodity round these parts, maybe cause it’s grounded in the idea that who we are and what we have, may not be the last word in anything. That we still might be conditioned souls working out our karmas, and slowly, only slowly, coming to consciousness as to what is really going on. That little bit of humility, whether individually of collectively, would give some space for some revealing self reflection, and thus the possibility of some progress. Collectively, that would be huge. It is intellectuals like Merton, (call them jnanis if you will) that are most needed in our western Krishna movement. There is devotion galore, thank Krishna, but progress is stopped by lack of self realization, and an unwillingness to look a little deeper at some of our sacred cows. (Sacred Cows – ha ha) To have a genuinely open and honest discussion, to critique the mindset of the neophyte, with all the tools the modern world, can proffer.

      I think you’ve brought up some rather important point here, Tarun. Before I make any further comments, though, I’d like to respond to your first sentence. When I wrote earlier that it might be interesting to see what might have happened had Merton not died (apparently) untimely, I did not have in mind his joining the Krishna movement in the sense that we did then: moving into a temple, shaving up, putting on polyester sheets, etc. I think he would have kept the commitment he renewed to his church; however, the explorations he conducted in his search for genuine mystical experience, genuine personal encounter with the Absolute Truth (either upper or lower case), which led him to read widely in Eastern approaches and to inquire from a number of Buddhist teachers, might have ended up bearing fruit he probably could not have foreseen had he spent some time with experienced Gaudiya vaishnava mystics such as our Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja.

      And I think you’re really on to something in pointing out the dearth of introspection and lack of intellectual curiosity among devotees. There are genuinely introspective devotees, and there are intellectuals. But there aren’t enough of either, and their influence isn’t strong enough. Yet. One leader in ISKCON told me some years ago that, if he can’t find room in ISKCON for intellectual freedom and integrity, he may have to find other company. I assume he has found a little more room lately, which should benefit not only the Society, but the broader society as well. The world needs more of us to become honestly introspective, open minded, and curious. And we need it, too.

    • Ishan das

      Haribol!, Tarun,

      What you write about the need for self-reflection resonates with my recent experience.

      I am beginning to think that unless I become more self-reflective, my devotional progress is probably going to remain stifled.

      There are, perhaps, a few adults on this planet who were raised by very loving parents. Their early psychological developemental programming has made them into persons whose innermost, deep feelings, as to what they expect, in terms of love, from other people, from the universe and from God, is extremely positive.

      A person like myself, on the other hand, has a fair amount of self-hatred, expects little from others, and has a real challenge actually feeling that Krishna would like to hear me chanting His name on my japa beads.

      Because I have feelings of guilt and shame, and unworthiness, as the basis of my emotional framework, I very often feel that Srila Prabhupada would be inclined to reject me. And it is these deep-rooted biases that coax me to remain asleep in my bed, as opposed to jumping up enthusiastically to do my sadhana.

      I have come to understand that it is only when we really feel love for ourselves that we can feel love for others. And I also see that until we feel love for ourselves, profound love for ourselves, we will not be able to feel loved by Krishna and love for Krishna. When we feel ourselves as lovable, worthy of love, inherently lovable – then we will be able to approach Krishna with a frank and open heart.

      Now, Srila Prabhupada taught us, that all we need to do is our sadhana and our practical service, and love for Krishna will come. But I have also read that he once told Satsvarupa Maharaja (back in the 1960’s) that “It is not simply about following instructions. But if you love me, I will love you.”

      So bhakti yoga, is the yoga of love, wherein the means and the goal are one and the same. The means is love and the goal is love.

      Krishna says in the gita (brahma bhuta prasanatma…) that when one comes to the platform of seeing all living beings with equanimity, then he becomes a candidate for becoming a devotee. This equanimity is a loving platform.

      So we have to become loving beings so that we can get on with our adventure in Krishna consciousness. The Buddhists talk about the four abodes, the Brahma Viharas: metta, karuna, mudita, and upeka, or, loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. They sit and practice dwelling in these abodes in their meditations.

      Sympthetic joy means finding joy in the happiness of others. Sympthetic joy is the basis of Krishna consciousness. Taking happiness in Krishna’s happiness. The pure devotee wants nothing for him/her self, but only to please Krishna. The only ambition of the pure devotee is how to increase Krishna’s pleasure.

      In teaching the Brahma Viharas, the first to be introduced is metta, loving kindness, wishing happiness to others. But the very first step is to wish ourselves happiness, and then gradually expand that to others. Because until we feel good about ourselves, we cannot extend our love to others.

      I have come to see that my anger, fault-finding and the like, all stem from deep, often unconscious, feelings of being emotionally hurt by others, not in the present tense, but as childhood scars.

      Again the Buddhists have a practice for dealing with this. And the practice is very simple. One simply has to witness those feelings of hurt, anger, rejection, etc., within oneself in a non-judgemental mood while showering oneself with compassion and unconditional love. The result? The inauspicious feelings evaporate and what remains is love.

      So for me, lately, it has become like priming the pump. Before I do my japa, I become self-reflective. I tune into my feelings of unworthiness, my guilt and shame (that are always close at hand) and I watch them without judgement, while givng myself unconditional loving acceptance. And when the love comes in, I can undersatnd that Krishna’s love is close at hand, and I begin my japa.

      Srila Rupa Goswami Prabhupada recommends that we accept whatever is helpful for developing our Krishna Consciousness. This kind of practice has been very helpful for me.

      So your suggestion, that self-reflection would be a plus, triggered these thoughts, and I wanted to share them with you.

      Hare Krishna Prabhu, Ishan

      • Tarun

        Hey Ishan, I’m touched by what you wrote here. I’ve been away from computers for a while, but I’d like to respond if I might.

        A person like myself, on the other hand, has a fair amount of self-hatred, expects little from others, and has a real challenge actually feeling that Krishna would like to hear me chanting His name on my japa beads.

        I thought this a significant point. What does Krishna think of our japa, being conditioned souls as we are? Well what would I know about Krishna, but some things we know about God apply. If God is on our level at all, and able to hear our prayers, it is only his compassionate self that is here. Krishna may not be joyful at the sound of my chanting, but I think he is happy that I am chanting, that I am attempting to connect back up with Him through sound vibration. The primary quality of God for us conditioned souls is compassion, and that is something we can bank on. So many of our material fears and anxieties are projected onto God, and so we fear his judgements, that they may be as harsh as we judge others and most importantly, how we judge ourselves.

        After a soul enters material consciousness, everything is skewed, how he understands himself and how he understands God. God becomes like a dictator, to be placated, but never really trusted. If we’re good, He’ll reward us, but can we ever really be good enough? Deep down inside we know we’re bad, and so the best way to relate to God is by following religious rites, by doing everything according to His law. By following the letter of the law, we can fulfill our part in the deal without having to confront our own inherent lack of worth. But that does not stop us from becoming smug about our religiosity, and looking down our noses at those who do not follow properly, as we do. It does make us feel a tad better for a bit, to think of ourselves as superior. But our fortune is built on someone elses bad luck, a very typical conditioned soul dilemma, and one that does not bear good fruit.

        I have come to understand that it is only when we really feel love for ourselves that we can feel love for others. And I also see that until we feel love for ourselves, profound love for ourselves, we will not be able to feel loved by Krishna and love for Krishna. When we feel ourselves as lovable, worthy of love, inherently lovable – then we will be able to approach Krishna with a frank and open heart.

        So true! Inherently loveable! We are made in the image of God, and God is Love, so that is who we are. We are Love and so we are loveable. That can never be taken away from us, no matter how low we apparently sink. Affirming this truth is crucial to spiritual life.

        Sympthetic joy means finding joy in the happiness of others. Sympthetic joy is the basis of Krishna consciousness. Taking happiness in Krishna’s happiness. The pure devotee wants nothing for him/her self, but only to please Krishna. The only ambition of the pure devotee is how to increase Krishna’s pleasure.

        I think the pure devotee doesn’t see any difference between his own happiness and Krishna’s. Increasing Krishna’s pleasure is increasing his own. Loving kindness seems like priming the pump, finding out giving pleasure, giving acknowledgement, means receiving it, even if it is only to ourselves. Sympathetic joy is the real time experience of being with another in Love, and having no desire for separate enjoyment.

        So for me, lately, it has become like priming the pump. Before I do my japa, I become self-reflective. I tune into my feelings of unworthiness, my guilt and shame (that are always close at hand) and I watch them without judgement, while givng myself unconditional loving acceptance. And when the love comes in, I can undersatnd that Krishna’s love is close at hand, and I begin my japa.

        This is so good. This is a daily sadhana for sure. I also usually have to spend some time forgiving others, and acknowledging that the quarrels are not the enduring reality. Not much good japa to be had when thinking of others inimically. It’s a farce to think that some Krishna love will come when there is a knot of hate in the heart.

        Thanks so much for this reply Ishan. Spiritual life can become a very simple affair, when we correct some very simple mistakes. It’s when we don’t correct them that they become very complex illusions. Wishing you the best in Krishna’s service.

        PS: You’re not the trumpet playing Ishan are you?

        • Ishan das

          Yup! That’s me, the trumpet-playing Ishan. Do we know each other?

          Tarun Prabhu, thank you so much for yur kind words. It is so wonderful to connect with someone who can hear what I am trying to put out, and whose own experience has points which meet with parts of my experience.

          For so many years, decades, I have been holding a frame of mind that insisted that all that we need is our sadhana, and to hell with working on ourselves psychologically. But these days I am becoming excited by the prospect of cleaning up my heart, from the material side, so that I can approach Krishna with so much more enthusiasm.

          Gradually, the point is coming home to me, that the more I can feel unconditional love for myself, the more I can feel Krishna’s love for me.

          It seems like all of the internalized judgements that we hold against ourselves, as a consequence of our developemental socialization process, create a vibrational field around our hearts. And that vibrational field tends to resonate with and invoke similar responses from what and who is around us.

          It is as if the world that we perceive outside of ourselves is a projection of what is most deeply embedded in our hearts. And when we are not conscious of the inauspicious sentiments that we harbour towards ourselves, we project these attitudes onto others, and then want to do battle with these judgements by contending with those persons upon whom we have projected our issues. Although we engage other people in this dance, in fact we are battling with the content of our own projections.

          But when left to ourselves, and we want to turn to Krishna, these same inner projections are still at work, causing us to feel unworthy of Krishna’s love, unlovable. This is my experience.

          At such times I am learning to simply allow these feelings to have the space they need, and to simultaneously feel compassion for myself, and unjudgemental loving acceptance for myself. In other words, to see myself, as Krishna, or the pure devotee, would see all of us, as shining spirit souls. When such feelings become tangible, the ability to feel Krishna’s loving presence becomes pleasantly manifest. And as I proceed to chant Krishna’s holy name, it becomes like a calling out to Krishna, that is lovingly received by Him.

          This, Prabhu, is my recent experience. And so for persons who are in some ways like me, holding deep-seated, internalized, unconscious negative feeelings about themselves, this technology for learning how to wipe this dust from the mirror of the mind, and to let the proverbial light shine in – that subject matter is my present excitement.

          Perhaps this Harmonist column is not the appropriate place for this kind of contemplation. But I am so very much inspired to think that there may be so many others, like myself, who could benefit by learning how to focus a loving, non-judgemental feeling towards themselves – feelings of self-love, self-acceptance. For in such a state of mind, one can come closer to what Krishna describes as “brahmabhuta prasanatma, na socati na kanksati, sama sarvesu bhutesu……” – so that, “mad bhakti labhate param.”, can become a living fact.

          It is possible that I am deluding myself, but I am suspecting that the first step in God-realization is a change in heart wherein one comes to experience him/her self as inherently clean, pure, beautiful, lovable, worthy, etc. From there, the natural impulse seems to be simply to want to reach out and hug Krishna with loving affection, within one’s heart.

          We do not see very much in our literature to support this kind of talk. Therefore I may be discrediting myself to the max. However, this little step has born so much fruit for me – that I can’t help wanting to share my small experience with others.

          Hare Krishna! Ishan das (I played my trumpet this afternoon as the sun was going down behind the mountain.)

          • Tarun

            And so for persons who are in some ways like me, holding deep-seated, internalized, unconscious negative feeelings about themselves

            Who isn’t like that really, Ishan. It’s not like there are normal conditioned souls and abnormal conditioned souls. We are all of a category together, though some may be dealing with the problem more effectively than others. Hopefully we are all making some progress towards enlightenment. Krishna seems to be a very easy person to love, it’s all our stuff that gets in the way..

            It is possible that I am deluding myself, but I am suspecting that the first step in God-realization is a change in heart wherein one comes to experience him/her self as inherently clean, pure, beautiful, lovable, worthy, etc. From there, the natural impulse seems to be simply to want to reach out and hug Krishna with loving affection, within one’s heart.

            Seems the first step for many is the dovetailing of our material ideas in some sort of religious idea. The very popular materialistic religiosity so prevalent. Getting beyond that is the real work eh. And it takes daily sadhana to get beyond our conditioning of feeling unworthy and blaming others. Retracting the projection, as Carl Jung used to say, and then re-envisioning ourselves as spirit souls is a new habit. The fact of the matter is we are as God created us, ie. still pure and made of ananda. You’re so right. That is how the transcendent souls see us. And when we can see ourselves that way, we can see Krishna that way too. Or vise versa. If we see that Krishna has nothing but unconditional love, we can emulate that. I have been thinking that unless we can feel that Krishna has love for us, we would never be able to love him. Developing Prema is just an idea without this breakthrough eh.

            I was in the Vancouver temple in the early eighties when you were there Ishan. We just had a memorial service for Yamuna devi here at the Saranagati farm yesterday. Lots of folks here you know. Be well….

    • Kausturi Manjari dasi

      Lovit.

  • Ishan das

    Hi Bbhru! Hare Krishna! I see the comments of your good self, Citta Hari Prabhu, Tarun Prabhu, Gaura-Vijaya Prabhu, and bhakta David.

    Perhaps I am in over my head. I hear a real concern about how we present ourselves to the world at large. I hear a concern about our ability to understand human psychology so that we can interest people in Krishna Consciousness, as opposed to alienating them. I hear a deep appreciation and affection for Thomas Merton. So be it. Perhaps there is much that I have not understood. Afterall, I have not read Merton.

    On the other hand, When I first met Srila Prabhupada, I had been an atheist all of my life, having been raised in that kind of atmosphere. After sitting in the same room alone with Srila Prabhupada for some 15 minutes, I was convinced that all of my lofty science textbooks, sociology books, psychology books, philosophy books, etc., were simply a waste of paper and shelf space. All I wanted was to become this man’s student. My wife, at the time, who was in her own way an admirer of so-called intellectuals, turned to me and said, “But he says that God is blue!” My immediate answer was very simple. “I don’t care if he says that God is made of green cheese. This man has something – and whatever it is, I want it!” You see, I could sense this in his presence. No one in my life’s experience held that kind of energy, and I was convinced that this was the real thing. Whatever he told me to do, I was prepared to follow. Game over.

    Another thing Srila Prabhupada told me, about a year later, in England, went like this: Srila Prabhupada, sitting behind his little desk on the carpet, with bare arms, imitated the action of someone who was injecting hard drugs, into his arm. “You have seen this?”, Srila Prabhupada asked me with a big smile. “Yes”, I said. “Krishna Consciousness is like that.”, he said, meaning, if you simply apply yourself to the practice, you will get hooked. His conviction, and air of realization were superb. Nothing more was required.

    So, everything your guys (my god-brothers and fellow Krishna enthusiasts) are saying is good stuff. But what really sold the product to me was the vibration of someone (Srila Prabhupada) who was solidly situated in love of Krishna. His realization cut through all the boundaries of generation-gap, culture, psychology, introspective philosophy, and anything else that may be pertinent in terms of reaching people. Bottom line? If we want to sell Krishna, we have to own Krishna. Srila Prabhuuupada could sell Krishna – he owned Krishna with his love. So Krishna empowered Srila Prabhupada as his representative. According to my understanding, there is no other way to go.

    Hare Krishna! Ishan das

    • But what really sold the product to me was the vibration of someone (Srila Prabhupada) who was solidly situated in love of Krishna. His realization cut through all the boundaries of generation-gap, culture, psychology, introspective philosophy, and anything else that may be pertinent in terms of reaching people. Bottom line? If we want to sell Krishna, we have to own Krishna. Srila Prabhuuupada could sell Krishna – he owned Krishna with his love. So Krishna empowered Srila Prabhupada as his representative. According to my understanding, there is no other way to go.

      Yes, but that does not mean that one should not bother to use one’s intelligence, try to understand one’s audience, and speak about the philosophy in consideration of time and circumstances. This is also what Prabhupada did. And times have changed. And to say what Prabhupada said and to say it the way he said it 40 years ago today does not mean that one doing so has his realization. Prabhupada spoke in one way (more exclusivist) and Bhaktivinoda Thakura spoke in another way (more inclusivist). Arguably both had the same realization and considerable results.

      I think Merton’s fans here are applauding that which they appreciate in him and desiring to see that hitched to Gaudiya siddhanta. No one thinks that Merton was teaching uttama bhakti, but some like his essentialism, psychological depth, etc. and would like to see that in Gaudiya spokespersons today. They are put off by a more black and white presentation of Gaudiya siddhanta, given the times in which we live. They identify with the common ground we have with other traditions but not at the cost of their own standing in Gaudiya Vaisnavism. So an appreciation of the good qualities of Merton, and the thought that despite our own understanding of Gaudiya siddhanta and conviction in its veracity we stand to learn something from others like Merton on some level, is perhaps a sign of maturity. Prabhupada did not appreciate the philosophical conclusions of Gandhi, but he bowed to his statue in public, appreciating Gandhi’s conviction and moral strength. It is easy to criticize Gandhi’s philosophical conclusions and quite another to be everything else that he was—to be the change one wants to see in others. And so too with Merton some argue.

      • Ishan das

        Thank you Tripurari Swami,

        I am just only beginning to understand your perspective regarding the changing times, and the value of addressing the audience in these terms. I have been out of touch for so long, living in a secluded way, and out of touch with teachers like yourself, who do feel the contemporary pulse.

        Also, I am beginning to understand that my hard mode of expression comes from a place of psychological woundedness, so that I inappropriately focus an element of hostility, in the name of being a true-blue follower of vaishnava siddhanta.

        Thank you for kindly and patiently making your points, and for tolerating my short-comings in this connection. I think that, instead of using this web site as an opportunity to sound off, I am, hopefully, shifting into a process of receiving and assimilating feedback for my growth, both psychological and spiritual.

        Please continue helping me.

        Sincerely, Ishan

  • Ishan das

    Attention all faithful Mertonians!

    Please don’t miss my comments in response to Babhru Prabhu’s Dec. 18th entry above. In his comment Babhru features two quotes from Merton.

    In the first quote, Merton clearly speaks out against the sat-chit-ananda form of Krishna. Merton says he is against “a concept of God”, and “still less an image of God”.

    Then Babhru quotes Merton as saying that because God has no form, he has to come to this material realm and take on a material body in order to experience His lila, thereby equating the material activites of the limitless millions of conditioned souls with God’s lila. Here is the quote where Merton hangs himself as a hard-core mayavadi:

    “Realization of the Supreme “Player” whose “Play” (lila) is manifested in the million-formed, inexhaustible richness of beings and events, is what gives us the key to the meaning of life. . . . To live with the true consciousness of life centered in Another is to lose one’s self-important seriousness and thus to live life as “play” in union with a Cosmic Player.”

    There it is in Merton’s elegant words: We are encouraged to have “Realization of the Supreme “Player” whose “Play” (lila) is manifested in the million-formed, inexhaustible richness of beings and events…”. Merton continues to tell us that this realization of seeing all of the conditioned souls activites as God’s play, God’s lila, “is what gives us the key to the meaning of life.” Then to drive his point home, Merton says that to live with this “true consciousness of life” is “to live life as “play” in union with a Cosmic Player.” In other words, Merton tells us, we simply have to understand that we are “in union with a Cosmic Player”, that we are one with God, and therefore we should accept our activites as God’s lila. This , he says, will give real meaning to our lives.

    In one major respect, Merton was not actually a follwer of Shankaracharya. Because the acharya dismissed the activites of this realm as an illusion, as maya, and therefore to sit motionless. Whereas Merton chooses to see our activites as God’s lila, god’s play. From a societal perspective, Merton’s orientation is more menacing than the classical mayavadi, because a possible next step for those who endorse Merton’s view, is to consider having rasa lila dances and calling it God’s lila. I have seen one such rasa lila dancer in England, trying to dance simultaneously with about 20 women. He was working so hard. I had to laugh.

    I have to stress again and again that these highbrow intellectuals speak in such sophistocated, lofty, ornate language, that one can miss the real message. His real message was simply this:

    THROW AWAY THE CONCEPT OF A GOD WITH FORM. THE REAL FORM OF GOD IS HERE IN THIS MATERIAL REALM, WHERE THE MILLIONS OF BEINGS ARE THE REAL DEMONSTRATION OF GOD’S LILA. ACCEPT YOUR OWN MUNDANE ACTIVIES AS GOD’S PLAY. THIS WILL GIVE YOUR LIFE REAL MEANING.

    Come on, fellas. Merton’s own statements are the nails in his coffin. Let’s call a spade a spade, and get on with glorifying Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Our Srila Prabhupada would eat these mertons for breakfast.

    Hare Krishna! Ishan das

    • Citta Hari

      Ishanji, did you read what Swami said above? We get where Merton was with regard to the siddhanta; that is not what is being admired in him. His intellectual integrity and ability to present theological and philosophical thought in an essential way are, and I personally believe that if more Gaudiyas could present Mahaprabhu’s teachings with the skill of someone like Merton then far more people would be able to recognize the depth the teachings have to offer.

      • Ishan das

        Hare Krishna!, dear Citta Hari!

        Yes, thank you so much for your kind thoughts and encouragement. Yes, I do understand the distnction that you are pointing out. So very, very heart-warming to hear from you, oh vaishnav warrior.

        Dandavats, Ishan

    • Tarun

      “Realization of the Supreme “Player” whose “Play” (lila) is manifested in the million-formed, inexhaustible richness of beings and events, is what gives us the key to the meaning of life. . . . To live with the true consciousness of life centered in Another is to lose one’s self-important seriousness and thus to live life as “play” in union with a Cosmic Player.”

      Ishan, I know you wrote this in a different state of mind, but it is a good thing to respond to anyway. This quote just reminds me of Arjuna’s darshan of the Universal Form. And I think this is what Merton has in mind here. That the whole universe can become the Other is one way to see this event so central to the heart of the Gita. Arjuna’s, or our own understanding of the Supreme has to be grounded in this vision of God as Everything, as One without a second, as All pervasive! This vision eradicates the conditioned souls illusion of separate existence, and thus separate interest. For spiritualists too, this is an important idea. All too often we compartmentalize our lives into parts where Krishna is and parts where He is not. Where He is, like in temples or in His Name, we are most respectful. Where we conceive that He is not, we feel we have more rights to run roughshod over things, people and events, and play out our conditioned soul’s desire for lording over, for comparing, for looking down on, and all too often in the name of the Lord.

      BR Shridhar Maharaja famously asked us to consider the environment friendly, to consider that behind the screen of the world is our dear friend, and we need only see things as such, that the events of our life are meant for our welfare, arranged by a munificent Personality to help us in our coming to consciousness, and we would again see our friend, and face to face. For Gaudiyas, all manifestation is the energy of Krishna, and the fingerprints of the Lord are over everything. The only Maya is our mistaken notion that something can be experienced separately from God, hence the need for the mind blowing vision of Krishna bursting through the veil of the so called material energy, or rather the veil of our material consciousness. Chapter twelve comes after that.

      • Ishan das

        Hi Tarun, Hare Krishna!

        Yes, I see your point of view. And it is sound. And I am that 3rd class devotee who is respectful in the temple, and who can so quickly forget that in the everyday world it is Krishna Who is pulling the strings of the universal puppet show. We are dealing with Krishna, in this way, at every moment, but under maya’s influence, I see it all as separate.

        And the flip side, as you so kindly put forward Sridhar Swami’s request, that we accept the environment as friendly, simply because our best friend is behind all of our interactions, both with the annimate and the inannimate.

        Hare Krishna! Prabhu, Ishan das

  • Ishan das

    TO TARUN: IN REPLY TO YOUR NOTE, JAN 10TH.

    Hi Tarun! Hare Krishna!

    Re: what you wrote, as follows: “I have been thinking that unless we can feel that Krishna has love for us, we would never be able to love him.”

    That is exactly my point.

    Lately, my intermittant process has been:

    – to give myself, unconditional self-acceptance and love (when noticing that I feel otherwise).

    As soon as I feel this loving self-acceptance, then simply by thinking of Krishna, I immediately feel that Krishna loves me, and I become very happy.

    In other words, this aspect of the mode of goodness, feeling wholesome and clean, worthy and lovable, seems to modify the way in which we perceive the world about us. When we genuinely feel good about ourselves, it seems that we automatically anticipate this same quality of reception from others and from the universe. (Srila Prabhupada used to say that a brahmana can live without hoarding because one who is actually in the mode of goodness will experience faith that all of his/her needs will be supplied.)

    That brings me to the point, as you are describing, viz., “I have been thinking that unless we can feel that Krishna has love for us, we would never be able to love him.”

    As soon as I can feel (not think) that Krishna has this love for us, then to direct my affection towards Krishna becomes so natural. This is so different from my habitual way of feeling that “How could Krishna have affection for an animal like me?” As long as I feel unlovable, it is very hard to feel love for Krishna. My habitual fear of rejection makes it very difficult to approach Krishna. But as soon as I can feel that Krishna loves me, I am ready to jump into the pool, so to speak.

    Therefore, I am postualting that as we aspire to advance in Krishna Consciousness, in actually feeling a living reciprocation with Krishna, a sense of reciprocation that can fill us with enthusiasm, we have to come to the point of nurturing a healthy psychology wherein the mind naturally anticipates a flow of love and acceptance. Then the whole process becomes so much demystified, so much a natural transition.

    When asked how can we come to the point of loving Krishna, Srila Prabhupada has said, “By loving Him!” It was always explained that simply we have to change the account, from loving so many separated concepts of reality, to loving Krishna. But a person like me never felt love for anyone in his life. Sometimes I would try to say “I love you.” to different persons, but the words would get caught in my throat. I had no love. But I always felt unloved. So for persons who feel unloved, it is a great challenge for them to love others – the most significant “other” being God.

    And, interestingly enough, this process of developing love for ourselves is a very key aspect of the Buddhist teachings, wherein “metta” (loving kindness) is first directed towards oneself, in meditation, because until one actually feels love for oneself, it is not possible to feel love for others. And therefore love for oneself, compassion for oneself, is the first prescription in that teaching. Therefore, why not for those who want to develope feelings of love for Krishna?

    Again, I feel like I am taking my life in my hands here, by having very little shastric basis for what I am asserting. But it seems so progressive, in my case, to take this approach. I am not talking about Krishna prema, Prabhu. I am simply talking about having a healthy sense that Krishna is open to my tiny endeavors to feel love for Him, and that he is cheering for me, so to speak. I am talking about changing an arotik puja from a mechanical activity, into an enthusiastic feeling that this is a wonderful opportunity.

    Incidently, you have mentioned Yamuna dasi. When I was in London in 68-69, and Srila Prabhupada installed the Deities at the Temple, Yamuna used to literally dance with joy while doing the arotik puja. then when Srila Prabhupada gave me second initiation, and placed a thread over my shoulders, I had some fears and feelings of dread, and I aked Srila Prabhupada, “Do I now have to do the puja ceremony?” And Srila Prabhupada came right back with, “What is the difficulty?” It was fear that I would do something wrong. But today, when i can feel, intermittantly, that Krishna loves me, just the thought of doing an arotik puja makes me want to do it.

    Signing off. Hare Krishna! Ishan das

  • Annu

    this is the real meaning of gita ………….. really amazing… thank you for posting such a great work thank you once again.

  • prahlada bhakta dasa

    Beautiful! So many nice points he makes!
    Was this actually published in Prabhupada’s Gita? I have never read it before.

    Some points that I found very profound:
    “…To be a lover and a giver is to be a channel through which the Supreme Giver manifests his love in the world.”
    This is so true of the bhakti tradition!

    “…Arjuna has an instinctive repugnance for war, and that is the chief reason why war is chosen as the example of the most repellent kind of duty. The Gita is saying that even in what appears to be most “unspiritual” one can act with pure intentions and thus be guided by Krishna consciousness….”
    His understanding of Gita’s message is more deeper than the theoretical knowledge of the Gita of many Hindu spiritualists.

    What a line this is: “The Gita sees that the basic problem of man is his endemic refusal to live by a will other than his own….”

  • Aryan Paladin

    Merton was not always so charitable in his description of Vedic religion as he was in this piece. He describes Bhakti Yoga in very disparaging terms indeed in his *Ascent to truth* and some of his earlier works refer to Hinduism in a downright idiotic manner. It appears that he became more open minded and spiritually advanced the more he divested himself of his Catholicism. The reference he makes to “Holy Wars” betrays his utter ignorance of Eastern religion. A Dharma Yuddha has little resemblance to the types of “Holy wars” that Abrahamic Monotheist faiths have perpetrated on themselves for millennia. It would indeed have been to his Eternal benefit had he been given an opportunity to embrace Vaishnavism but perhaps Vaishnavism wouldn’t have benefited as much from it. He was an unmitigated modernist and modernism is merely the latest phase in the Abrahamic soul-deluding and God-Obscuring project.

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