Lessons From the World Around Us

P1050355By Levi Lapham

[…]Over the course of the last two centuries, animals have become all but invisible in the American scheme of things, drummed out of the society of their myth-making companions, gone from the rural as well as the urban landscape. John James Audubon in 1813 on the shore of the Ohio River marveled at the slaughter of many thousands of wild pigeons by men amassed in the hundreds, armed with guns, torches, and iron poles. In 1880, on a Sioux reservation in the Dakota Territory, Luther Standing Bear could not eat of “the vile-smelling cattle” substituted for “our own wild buffalo” that the white people had been killing “as fast as possible.”

And as observers, they were not alone.  Many others have noted the departure of animals from our human world and culture.  Between 150,000 and 200,000 horses could, for example, be found in the streets of New York City in 1900, requiring the daily collection of five million pounds of manure. By 1912, their function as a means of transport had been outsourced to the automobile.

As with the carriage and dray horses, so also with the majority of mankind’s farmyard associates and nonhuman acquaintances. Out of sight and out of mind, the chicken, the pig, and the cow lost their licenses to teach. The modern industrial society emerging into the twentieth century transformed them into products and commodities, swept up in the tide of economic and scientific progress otherwise known as the conquest of nature.

Animals acquired the identities issued to them by man, became labels marketed by a frozen-food or meat-packing company, retaining only those portions of their value that fit the formula of research tool or cultural symbol — circus or zoo exhibit, corporate logo or Hollywood cartoon, active ingredient in farm-fresh salmon or genetically modified beef.

It was 10 years after my meeting with the Australian koala that I was first introduced to an animal in a state of nature — a gray langur (Semnopithecus entellus, golden fur, black face, fond of fruit and flowers). It was about two feet tall, very quick on its feet, one of 60 or 70 monkeys of various species wandering around the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on the shore of the Ganges River, 128 miles north of New Delhi.

The Maharishi at the time (February 1968) was at the high-water mark of his fame as a guru, his science of Transcendental Meditation having captured the celebrity markets in Los Angeles, New York, and London, and that winter he was teaching the lesson of the yellow marigold to a select company of disciples, among them the four Beatles, who had made the journey from the decadent, materialist West in search of enlightened well-being in the spiritual East. The ashram was set in a forest of teak and sheesham trees at the base of the Himalayan escarpment, and again on assignment from the American press, I’d been advised by the editor of the Saturday Evening Post to listen for the voice of the cosmos under the roof of the world.

During my nearly three weeks on the ashram I learned nothing about the Beatles that wasn’t known to their fans, from the Maharishi little more than the fact that at the fifth level of realization, “Everything becomes hilarious.” But from the monkey I learned that it was somebody else — not a pet or a little friend to all the world, not an allegory, a movie actor, or a laboratory experiment. Two days after my arrival I noticed it standing in a tree opposite the door to the small outbuilding (one room, whitewashed stone, no window) in which I’d been granted accommodation near the ashram’s lower gate. Another two days, and it was always there whenever I was coming or going, and it occurred to me that it was I who was being observed by the monkey, not the monkey who was being observed by me.

On the morning of the fifth day, I presented it with a slice of bread, late in the afternoon with half an orange. It accepted both offerings as a matter of course; no sign of acknowledgment, much less of appreciation or affection. My sense of its attitude was that I’d been slow to pick up on the custom of the country, and later that same evening one of the Maharishi’s principal subordinates, a saffron-robed monk by the name of Raghvendra, validated my impression as not wrong. In India, he said, the gray langur was sacred. Properly known as the Hanuman langur — Hanuman being the name of the Hindu monkey god of healing and worship — it was revered for its willingness to accompany sadhus on pilgrimages, and therefore enjoyed almost as many privileges as the cow, free to ransack food stalls, at liberty to plunder grain shops.

For whatever reason, its motives presumably mixed, the monkey for the next 10 days, attentively on post at the height of my right knee, accompanied me on the path to pure consciousness, a path on which I was careful to scatter crumbs of stale chocolate and shards of dry cheese. If I was listening to the Maharishi discuss Vishnu in the meeting hall, the monkey would be comfortably settled on the corrugated-tin roof; when meals were served on the terrace, where the disciples received their daily ration of rice, tea, and tasteless boiled vegetables, the monkey perched in the vine-trellised arbor behind the refectory table, on watch for the chance that I might send in its direction an overcooked carrot or a destabilized turnip.

When for the last time I walked out in the morning from the stone outbuilding at the bamboo gate, on the way to the ferry across the Ganges, the monkey wasn’t standing in its nearby tree. Possibly it understood that my time was up, that it had done all that could be done with a pilgrim who was slow to catch the drift and didn’t know the language. On the other hand, probably it didn’t. What was certain was that it didn’t care. It had moved on, gone somewhere else, grown bored by the sound of a voice clearly not the voice of the cosmos.

A Dearth of Animals, a Plague of Pets

The Renaissance scholar and essayist Michel de Montaigne toyed with a similar line of thought in 1576 by asking himself, “When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime for her more than she is to me?” The question placed Montaigne’s customary pillow of doubt under the biblical teaching that man had been made in God’s image, and thereby granted “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and for every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

The claim to the throne of the universe on the part of what Montaigne called “the most vulnerable and frail of all creatures,” he regarded as vainglorious impudence, man dressing himself up in the robe of divinity, separating himself from “the horde of other creatures,” distributing to them “such portions of faculties and powers as he sees fit.” Amused by the presumption, Montaigne took the trouble to ask follow-up questions:

“How does he [man] know, by the force of his intelligence, the secret internal stirrings of animals? By what comparison between them and us does he infer the stupidity that he attributes to them?… It is a matter of guesswork whose fault it is that we do not understand one another; for we do not understand them any more than they do us. By this same reasoning they may consider us beasts, as we consider them.”

The American writer Henry Beston revisited the questions while walking on a beach at Cape Cod in the 1920s, watching constellations of shorebirds form and reform in “instant and synchronous obedience” to some sort of mysterious command. Astonished by the spiraling flight of what he likened to “living stars,” Beston understood that nonhuman creatures eluded the definitions made for them by man, that they could not be classified as mechanisms programmed by the master software designer in the sky to hop, growl, swim, glide, roar, nest, crawl, peep, mate.

“We need,” said Beston, “another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals… We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err… They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves within the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”

At the turn of the twenty-first century, what remains of the once-upon-a-time fellowship incorporating man and beast has for the most part been reduced to the care and keeping of pets. Possibly to compensate for the rapid and permanent disappearance of global wilderness species, the numbers of pets in the United States have outpaced the entire human population south of the Potomac and west of the Mississippi — 70 million dogs, 75 million cats, 5 million horses, God alone knows how many boxed reptiles and caged birds. That animals are still looked to for some form of instruction, believed to possess “analogous qualities” recognized by Aristotle as being “akin to sagacity,” is a proposition sustained by the large demand for documentaries exploring the jungles of Africa and by the fact that the Internet postings of unscripted cat videos draw bigger crowds than do the expensive mechanical dolls posed in the ritualized stagings of the Super Bowl.

For 2,500 years it has been known to the students of nature that the more one learns about animals, the more wonderful they become. The observation stands confirmed by the instruments of both science and art, but the animals are most instructively perceived when they are seen, as they were by Beston from the beach on Cape Cod, as other nations complete in themselves, “gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.”

The environmental casualty reports filed from the four corners of the earth over the last two hundred years don’t leave much ground for argument on Montaigne’s question as to who is the beast and who is the man. Whether attempted by men armed with test tubes or bulldozers, the conquest of nature is a fool’s errand. However it so happens that the beasts manage to live not only at ease within the great chain of being but also in concert with the tides and the season and the presence of death, it is the great lesson they teach to humanity. Either we learn it, or we go the way of the great auk.

This excerpt can be read in full, here.

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17 Responses to Lessons From the World Around Us

  1. Lots of romantic, poetic nonsense!

    What if all of these creatures were honored by us? Would that solve the predicament of samsara?

    The author wonders about the inner life of these beings. We already know the most important aspect. They cannot take up the spiritual path. And if we don’t we are on their level.

    As kali yuga advances and food becomes scarce all those millions of dogs and cats, horses, will be back-yard barbequed.

    Lessons from the world around us? Death is everywhere. Sickness, war, and an empty and meaningless struggle for existence by all. The lesson is one. Get qualified to leave this place and don’t come back. North Americans are intoxicated by riding a relatively higher wave than the third world. That won’t last.

    Simple. But scratching their heads and asking questions, these big thinkers are no better than monkeys.

    We are so fortunate. Now we have to take the opportunity. Hare Krishna!

    • Mahaprabhu was schooled by the grass and trees. How can one not honor others, including animals and nature, and be Krsna conscious? We find in the Bhagavata the Avadhuta who had 24 siksa gurus, all of whom were members of less complex forms of life. Reverence for nature is lacking in our industrial society in a way that it would not be in a Krsna conscious society. Thus the author seems to have embraced an aspect of what it means to be Krsna conscious. One has to start somewhere.

      • ” Reverence for nature is lacking in our industrial society in a way that it would not be in a Krsna conscious society. Thus the author seems to have embraced an aspect of what it means to be Krsna conscious. One has to start somewhere.”

        Of course I can see your point.

        On the other hand please consider the following:

        I read a blog submission wherein a member of the NRDC (which is devoted to the preservation of nature and wildlife) wrote, that he was very sorry that a certain sports fishing area was closed due to the fact that the local fish species was nearing extinction,… because he really liked fishing there.

        I once worked at a hotel that hosted a convention of the Humane Society. These people were concerned about the inhumane treatment of dogs and cats. When the last guest speaker had concluded, they all met in the dining room …… for a steak dinner.

        The Food COOP in the local town is very much concerned about organic food and against GMOs, etc. And they are very proud of the fact that all of the forzen turkey, chicken and beef that they sell comes from range free creatures who lead a wonderful free life…..until they cut their throats.

        All of the people mentioned above would certainly approve of this article. And they would go right on with their respective ways of life.

        One person wants to preserve nature so he can go on getting hooks embedded in fishes throats. Another so that he can throw his steak bones to his beloved dog. And others who think that cutting the throats of range free creatures is very kind. These are the kinds of people who would like an article like this, because it does not lead them to the conclusion that they should stop participating in these various forms of thoughless violence.

        Therefore my thought is that we should simply tell them, point blank, the basics of Bhagavad-gita. I.e., all of the creatures are spirit souls, non-different from any of us, and that killing them has terrible karmic results.

        But my remarks, in the previous comment, were not aimed at these people. They were aimed at devotees. This site discusses subject matters like “rasa”, so it did not occur to me that we were directing the content at the lowest common denominator. But if we are, why not be direct, so that they can walk away with something concrete, instead of enjoying the article and blindly continuing in their unfortunate habitual ways.

        In other words most of the people who have these nice feelings about nature, it is simply that they want to preserve it so that they can selfishly exploit it. They need to understand that this is not in their interest. And this article does not help them to understand that. Such is my feeling.

        • Unfortunately many devotees talk about rasa but do not even revere nature. They have their heads in the clouds but do not have their feet on the ground. So articles like this one speak about aspects of Krsna consciousness that others have embraced more than devotees have. Of course nature worship has its limitations as a spiritual ideal unto itself. Thus those engaged exclusively in it may err in other ways. But what they do get right is worth pointing out to devotees in the hopes that devotees will not overlook such an important aspect of the whole of Krsna consciousness. And we find that worship of sacred trees, and cows is an anga of uttama bhakti.

        • Yes, I have given consideration to this issue, viz., religions that direct us towards “love of the Father” (God), while perpetuating the rape of the “Mother” (mother nature). A kind of religion with an Edipus (spelling?) complex. I.e., how can we be pleasing to God the Father, if we are bent on raping the Mother? Or not respectfully caring for the facilities at hand as God’s property.

          So I can see your point. And although this respect for nature would follow naturally from realization, it has to be taught, and implemented as practice by us in our unenlightened condition.

          I was having the same reflections today about the Buddhism that devotees disdain. The Buddhist teachings so strongly endorse the cultivation of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.

          They also talk of a mind “space” from which these attributes spring spontaneously – the mind of “awareness” which in every way corresponds to Krishna’s description of the brahma-bhutah prerequisites to the bhakti status in Gita, 18.54. As you have written in your purport that in order to come to bhakti, “…its status is post-liberated.”

          In other words, the stage of liberation (brahma-bhuta) is not without attributes, but rather, is self-fulfilling, free of hankering and lamentation, and enables one to be equally disposed to all beings. So we can understand that love, compassion and taking pleasure in the happiness of others are part of this stage.

          But more importantly, these attributes can be directed towards the Godhead. Once we become free from self-centered preoccupation, it becomes very easy to feel love towards Krishna, compassion for Him in His feelings of separation from Sri Radhika, and sympathetically feel joy in the loving exchanges that They share. This sympathetic joy is the very fabric of bhakti.

          And when asked by a devotee “How do we love Krishna?”, Srila prabhupada answered, “By loving Him!” But we westerners don’t know how to hold or cultivate these basic aspects of the brahma-bhuta platform, whereas in Bhuddism, this is the basic training, which if cultivated and held, by aspiring vaishnavas, could then be directed towards Krishna.

          So my thought is that just as you point out that we talk of rasa without having any feeling for ground that we stand on, so also, we talk about love of God without understanding that the cultivation of the ability love is something that would be a great asset in the development of our Krishna consciousness. As opposed to mechanically engaging in sadhana bhakti with the hope that at some point an internal light will come on.

          This very process is in fact the substance of the first verse of our gayatri mantra which states:

          “Identifying ourselves with the supreme brahman, or pure consciousness, (through which the material planes of mind and body are generally experienced), let us then us then meditate on Krishna in a serving disposition.”

          In other words, from that liberated position, the serving demeanor springs without effort. But the cultivation of that platform has been discouraged and dismissed as less intelligent in order to prevent a leaning towards impersonalism. Whereas what we have is a body of sadhakas that are frozen in the impersonalism of their cultural heritage and don’t know how to be more than mechanical in their cultivation of bhakti.

          Therefore my strong feeling is that the mind of “Awareness” which is developed through Buddhist practice can be a very strong asset when the harvest of loving feelings elicited can then be focused towards Radha and Krishna. It is as basic as your pointing out that respect for the earth we stand on will be helpful in affording us a foothold in Krishna consciousness.

        • It is a paradox that although we take a strong stand against impersonalism in the spiritual context, so many of us as neophytes are predisposed towards impersonalism in our approach to nature, and incapable of cultivating personal feelings towards Krishna as well.

          This appears to be a cultural phenomenon, in terms of time, place and perhaps race (caucasians have always been the most prominent in terms of exploitive imperialism and exploitation of natural resources.)

          The Buddhist texts (although not of theistic garb) contend that the abilty to hold feelings of love, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity are
          our inherent qualities of consciousness, when that consciousness is not encumbered by the effects of our emotional sociological development. And they present specific practices that free that indwelling consciousness from obscurations so that these loving qualities shine forth naturally without separate endeavor.

          Putting aside the philosophical metaphysical issue of whether or not consciousness arises from an eternal soul – if that kind of liberating process can be implemented, and these loving qualities can issue forth spontaneously, unimpeded by accumulated sociological developmental rubbish, what a gift to the aspiring bhakta, who otherwise is left to wonder whether love for God will someday miraculously appear.

          It is my own experience in finding this vibration of unappendaged neutrality in my own consciousness that without separate endeavor feelings of love spring forth automatically and my natural tendancy is to direct those feelings towards the Deity, as well as to immediately happily sense a current of loving reciprocation.

          After so many years of carrying a congested and impacted western mind, that wondered if it were possible for Krishna to love me or to accept my attempts at bhakti yoga, simply by beginning to access this quality of unfettered consciousness, feelings of love for Krishna as well as feeling that Krishna loves me are available to me.

          I feel certain that I was not alone in this predicament. And I feel equally firm in the conviction that these practices will be of unimaginable value to anyone who undertakes this cultivation.

          If other bhaktas are feeling enriched with a living sense of loving reciprocation with Govinda, so be it. But for those who feel themselves under the mantle of doubt and despair regarding the awakening of that relationship, I believe there is great hope.

          I am not referring to a great entrance into the realm of siddha deha, but only a very beginning in awakening the ability to feel love and the sense of being loved in return by Krishna, which will serve to propel the whole process forward.

          I know that I am taking my head in my hands as I place this proposition before reactionary propensities of true-blue adherents of vaishnav thinkers. But the basic tenet of Srila Rupa Goswami Prabhupada stands as: “Accept all that is helpful.” And as I am finding it helpful, I am naturally wishing to share that with others.

          These teachings of Lord Buddha are also “Lessons from the World Around Us”. His intention was to bring people to a very beneficial level of human experience, albeit by a different vernacular. Regardless of what terminology is employed, it is for bringing forth a level of consciousness that those of theistic inclination can certainly harness to fuel their march homeward.

          Imagine the ability to feel a current of love for Krishna without even trying. The desire for that has been there so long in our hearts. As soon as it arises therefore, it flows naturally toward the goal.

          If I am courting excommunication – so be it. For now I have found the doorway, not to some club of official nomenclature, but to the answer to a lifetime of desperate searching.

        • I am not suggesting for a moment that we as devotees consider the Buddhist metaphysical view in connection with the subject of God and the soul.

          I am only saying that some of the basic practices in Buddhism for activating the capacity for having loving emotions could be helpful to some of us.

          There is one verse in Srimad Bhagavatam that states something to the effect that if after engaging in our sadhana, if we are not moved to tears and spiritual emotion then surely our hearts must be steel-framed.

          So I wonder how many devotees have read that verse and wondered why they were not having these experiences. The fact is, that many of us who have been raised in the west have been so traumatized in our development that our hearts ARE steel-framed. So if bhakti is the means and bhakti is the goal, how do such people begin.

          All my adult life I have been insisting that all we need is the practice of Krishna consciousness, and that nothing else is required. And friends have insisted that this is what they called a “spiritual by-pass”, and that I had some homework to do aside from Krishna conscious practices.

          By gradually reading I saw that there were practices that helped with feelings of self-acceptance and the consequential ability to have loving feelings, and by applying those practices this automatically resulted in the ability to have and direct these feelings towards the Deity and thereby to sense reciprocation.

          So I thought I would share that, because I’m pretty sure there are others out there with similar challenges.

        • The same kind of challenges that cause some devotees to be numb in regard to having feelings of love and respect for the earth and the various forms of life. It’s the same syndrome – with a slightly different effect. But in either case the heart has to be opened up. Then love for the earth and Her Proprietor will automatically begin to blossom.

        • It is also significant to note that our parampara teaches us that the reason for the teachings of Lord Buddha, were to derail the brand of theism that endorsed an insensitivity towards animals. Also that this philosophy was part of a progressive step towards impersonalism, leading onward to vaishnavism. Therefore rather than compartmentalizing these stages of spiritual understanding as mutually antagonistic, we can also see them as mutually supportive and part of a divine progressive orchestration. Taking the best of what each has to offer, then, perhaps we can arrive at a healthy theistic threshold.

      • “Reverence for nature is lacking in our industrial society in a way that it would not be in a Krsna conscious society.”

        I feel that your observation (above) is most significant. I.e., that a lack of reverence for nature is a natural by-product or consequence of being raised in the sterile atmosphere that industrial society tends to foster.

        Then again, it may not be a direct consequence but only part of the problem. In other words, the emotional/social atmosphere which the industrial society seems to incubate may produce a level of indifference that makes makes contemporary man incapable of having such feelings, whether it be for nature or for God. Obviously those who have no love for God in the nature around them also have no more than a conceptual appreciation for rasa (at best). If developing love for God is simply a question of changing the account, transfering love for the mundane to love of god, then, if the loving capacity is so much constrained, one cannot cultivate love for nature or love for Krishna. In other words, this kind of mechanical, industrial atmosphere is so dehumanizing that the loving capacity becomes devitalized, and this becomes a real problem for spiritual aspirants to proceed beyond the intellectual platform in their march toward the spiritual alternative. The need is recognized within oneself. The desire is there for something more. But the heart is crippled – and the ability to “feel” appropriately has to be somehow cultivated, before it can be focused organically in a program of spiritual cultivation. This is my growing suspicion. Because in the development of KC, we don’t learn how to love – rather we are instructed where to direct the loving propensity that we already have. But if we don’t have that ……..? Sadhana can go on mechanically indefinitely…..

  2. I think that the author imprudently dismisses the value of pets as lesson providers. In the modern age, where most people are far removed from natural environment, pets play an important role in our learning experience. I’m willing to bet that the author never had a pet, or if he did, he learned nothing from that experience.
    I agree with Ishan that author romanticizes wild animals. Certainly, they can be our teachers in many ways, especially when it comes to the game of survival. I have a feeling that the author have not had much ineraction with wild animals either and likely have spent all his life in the city.
    And on top of that, the langur monkey in his story is not quite a wild animal, as it lives in close proximity to people and is essentially completely dependent on them for survival.
    So, regarding the article… some good thoughts there, some inspirational value, but definitely lacking depth and precision.

    • “I have a feeling that the author have not had much ineraction with wild animals either and likely have spent all his life in the city.”

      Yes, I often think about all the “save the wolves” urban dwellers, and how they would feel about those wolves if they were lost in a forest cold, hungry and weak – and then meeting up with a pack of very ravenous wolves who would be very enthusiastic in tearing them limb from limb.

      I live quite deep in the forest. We are warned that the local mountain lion can leap up to 30 feet when pursuing its prey. And a rural man in the area was found torn apart by a lion who was camping nearby in order to come back and finish the meal.

      A pack of javalina can take a man down very quickly as well.

      Still, as Swami Tripurari has pointed out above, the value of this article can be found in the fact that all of us, including devotees, have to learn how to respect the earth and all life forms thereon, if we are to enjoy a sustainable experience of life, both spiritual and mundane.

  3. Ishanji,

    Although we as Vaisnavas disagree with Buddhism on a number of important points, its teachings on the nature of the mind are very similar to what is found in the Bhagavata school. And while our goal is very different and it is good to have some feeling for that goal we must pass through what the Buddha taught in order to reach it. The cultivation of compassion is a very powerful practice and is central to Gaudiya Vaisnavism as well as to Buddhism; Thakura Bhaktivinoda said, jive daya, krsna-nama–sarva dharma sara, “The essence of all dharma is compassion for jivas and to chant Krsna’s names.” No doubt this point can be sometimes forgotten when we look at the goal and it does not overtly speak of compassion, but it’s good to remember that Mahaprabhu is not called karunavatara–the incarnation of compassion–for nothing.

    • Dear Citta Hari Prabhu,

      Please accept my humble obeisances. I think that you have caught a bit of my drift. If we look into the books that present the teachings of Lord Buddha today, wherein the teachings of loving kindness, compassion, etc., are taught, we find that the first exercises or practices prescribed are to direct these feelings towards ourselves, in meditation. It appears that when we begin to feel love and compassion for ourselves, that love and compassion is automatically then reflected into the world that we encounter. So much of our perception of reality is simply a projection of how we feel about ourselves even when those feelings about ourselves are deeply buried.

      I have been trying to express the idea that when we are filled with feelings of self-hatred, or lack of self-love, not only are incapable of loving others, but we are incapable of directing loving feelings towards God, or Krishna. This is very common amongst western practitioners.

      I found that by doing some of these practices I gradually began to feel more affection for Krishna without separate endeavor, and then began to feel that Krishna loves me. So I thought that this could be useful to others who may find themselves to be hard-hearted. It is only my tiny experience that encourages me to think like this. But afterall, I am only beginner as a devotee, still immersed in materialistic conceptions of identity. So perhaps I should not try to encourage others in this way. But for me it has been helpful.

      • Dandavats Ishan,

        Nice points.

        I think the self-loathing you speak of among Western practitioners arises out of their trying to emulate the humility found in great devotees they read about. The problem is they fail to realize that such humility comes from the plane of the soul and can’t really be imitated, and that the great devotees have passed through loving themselves to seeing how small they are in relation to their object of love. Genuine humility makes the heart soft while artificial humility only makes one hate oneself and as you pointed out the world.

        • Haribol ! Oh great warrior amongst Vaishnavas!

          I have been reflecting on your comment that points to lack of self-esteem as a manifestation of an immature propensity to try to artificially imitate the enhanced demeanor of advanced vaishnavas. This is not what I am focusing on.

          What I am referring to can perhaps be brought more into focus by considering the findings of a contemporary group of psychological practitioners who were for a few years instructing their clients to repeat a mantra/phrase as follows:

          “Even though I am feeling……… about myself (something negative), I deeply and completely love and accept myself unconditionally.”

          What these “healers” found was that it was very difficult and even impossible for a very large proportion of their clients to repeat this affirmation. They simply could not be comfortable expressing such a large degree of self-acceptance. This is because at very deep levels, persons who are socialized in circumstances where they do not receive sufficient amounts of unconditional love from their parents have such strong feelings of guilt, and shame, unworthiness, unlovableness, etc., that when asked to repeat such an affirmation, simply cannot say it. In other words, many of us feel so badly about ourselves, at very deep, even unconscious levels, that neither can we have loving feelings for others, nor can we anticipate love, acceptance, care and nurturing from the world around us.

          My hypothesis is that it is extremely difficult for such persons to have feelings of love for God or to sense that God loves them.

          It is commonly understood and accepted by those who conceptualize about mental processes that our inner and our outer worlds are one and the same. In other words, the way that we feel about ourselves, at a very deep level, dictates our ability to perceive and anticipate our relationship with the world around us. In this way we go through life perpetuating our own reality. Life becomes a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’. This dynamic “runs” peoples lives. Our sense of feeling good about ourselves is by nature a social contextualization, because it is developed in a social context. Therefore as we feel good about ourselves, our hearts are open to others and we are then received in that way more and more. Our ability to “receive”, to manifest abundance, etc., ….

          Of course this all sounds very “new-age” and is very mundane – except that (and this is most important), my assertion is that it can overflow into our spiritual life. My assertion, based on my own experience. introspection and observation, is that the better I feel about myself, the more I can have a loving feeling towards Krishna and the more I can have a sense that Krishna loves me.

          Srila Prabhupada (who informs us that his father was exceedingly loving and indulgent) has always maintained that “Krishna consciousness is simple for the simple. We all have a loving propensity, and all we have to do is transfer the account by focusing our loving propensity on Krishna.” When asked, “How do we love Krishna?”, Srila Prabhupada would answer, “By loving Him!”

          All of this (is great),……… as long as we feel loving and lovable. But if we don’t, then we are in a very disadvantaged condition. Because even in our sadhana, in the very beginning stages of bhakti yoga, the medium of exchange is still “bhakti”. Bhakti is the goal, but bhakti is also the means. Sadhana bhakti is not purely mechanical performance of prescribed activities. Rather it is loving performance of prescribed activities. The form is prescribed. But the bhakti (loving) aspect that we focus through those forms is also part of the prescription.

          Therefore there is one verse in Bhagavatam that states that the heart of one who takes up those practices must be “steel-framed” if, upon taking up those practices one does not experience tears of joy, etc.

          It is that”steel-framed” condition of the heart that I am referring to. My contention is that we are indeed carrying these steel-framed hearts and are therefore doing our japa, our puja, waiting for our hearts to crack open, year after year.

          So my belief is that somehow or other, each of us, in his own way, at his own pace, has to arrive at the capacity to be a healthier more wholesome human being, so that he/she can begin to have loving feelings for Krishna, and experience loving reciprocation with Krishna. Hindu, Christian, Muslim or Jew. the challenge will be the same. Until we are loving beings, living with loving feelings in our hearts, how can we “simply transfer the account” to God? I can mechanically do sadhana for 100 years, but……

          So that is my first point. If that is appreciated, then we can go on to discussing the very real need for how to bring about a change of heart, and a discussion of the various technologies for how to implement this.

          You see, I have been doing sadhana very seriously for over 40 years. Also, I have been “working on myself” in the last few years and dealing with aspects of myself that I dared not consider until lately, and the encouragement I have received in my sadhana is very encouraging. And I suspect that this could be a turning point for many others. Just as Swami Tripurari points oout that the third verse of Sikshastakum is the focal point about which our spiritual growth revolves, so simlilarly, I feel, perhaps without glaring shastric support, that this is equally important, and perhaps not essentially different.

          Perhaps think this over. Talk it over with those near and dear to you, and let me know if any of this resonates with you.

          I always tenaciously held that all we need is the sadhana. But now I am not so sure. Even a pump needs to be primed before it will deliver. How do we prime our hearts for pumping bhakti?

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