MEDITATIONS ON SRI CAITANYA’S SIKSASTAKA PRAYERS (PART 2)

April 18th, 2012 § 0

These eight verses of instruction embody the teachings and mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. They reveal the process of pure love of Godhead, bhakti, and the congregational chanting of the holy name of Krsna as the best method for spiritual perfection within the bhakti path.

 

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu´s murti which was worshiped by Srila Prabhupada

 

In this first verse, Sri Caitanya expresses the purpose of His advent on the earth. As the yuga-avatara for the age of Kali, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu teaches the yuga-dharma, the recommended process for God realization. He says: “Let there be all victory to the Sri-Krsna-sankirtana”. This indicates that the chanting of the Holy name awards all types of perfections to the chanter. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur explained in his commentary to this verse that the following 7 perfections are achieved by the process of chanting the Holy name of God, the maha-mantra Hare Krsna:

 

  1. The mirror of the heart or consciousness is cleansed.
  2. The blazing fire of material life is extinguished.
  3. All good fortune blesses the life of the chanter.
  4. Transcendental knowledge becomes revealed.
  5. An ocean of divine happiness fills the heart of the chanter.
  6. The material existence is completely uprooted.
  7. Everything becomes complete by the process of chanting.

Public Sankirtana in Czech Republic

 

As a practitioner (sadhaka) on the path of devotion to Krsna, I can say that, albeit I have still a long way to go, I’m experiencing glimpses of the divine gifts of the holy name mentioned by Sri Caitanya in this verse. I cannot claim to be immersed in an ocean of divine bliss nor to have extinguished the fire of material existence in my life, but I can say that daily chanting gives me a concrete sense of connection to God, inner peace and satisfaction, and a clear and definite purpose in life. Chanting Hare Krsna gives me also strength and intelligence to overcome the natural difficulties of life and to not “buy in” the false propaganda of material happiness. Chanting the holy name allows me to taste a higher taste in life: the taste of that nectar for which we are always anxious.

 

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is described by Srila Prabhupada as the great apostle of love of God and the father of the congregational chanting of the Holy name of God. This He has expressed in this verse of Sri Siksastakam. Every day He would go into the streets with His devotee companions and would perform public congregational chanting of the Holy name, sankirtana, and would inspire other people to join the chanting. He ordered His follower to do the same for the benefit of others.

 

Sri Caitanya y Sri Nityananda en Sankirtana

 

The first time I heard congregational chanting happened in a little room my friends and me had rented to the cultural centre of my hometown. We had a youth group for research about UFOs and parapsychology, and also yoga and hidden sciences. That day I came in the room and 2 or 3 of my friends were euphorically singing accompanied by hand cymbals and a little metal box that they used as a drum. They had not taken any drugs nor drank any liquor or alcoholic drinks. They simply were singing with their hearts, voices and bodies, which were moving from side to side following the rhythm of the chanting and the instruments. Their faces beamed due to a contagious spiritual happiness that inundated the place. When I entered the room I felt that my whole being was enraptured by an intense spiritual happiness. There was no doubt that this was not an ordinary singing or music. It was full of spiritual power and there was no question for me to doubt about its authenticity, as much as a person who tastes the most delicious meal will not doubt the experience.

 

Some weeks later I went to the temple in Barcelona for the first time and experienced my first kirtana with temple devotees. I was already chanting the holy names on my beads, reciting 16 rounds of the maha-mantra Hare Krishna and my friends and me used to meet regularly and have our kirtanas, sometimes in one of our parapsychology rooms, which we had transformed into a temple, and other times in a nearby forest or park. Still, when I experienced the first kirtana in the temple with a larger number of devotees and their enthusiastic and expert dancing the experience became stronger. I felt immersed in an ocean of bliss. Perhaps this sounds like a stereotyped expression, parroting the words of Sri Caitanya, but I have not better words to describe it. It was a real, tangible and intense spiritual living experience. After that kirtana I decided: “I want to come here and live here with these people”. Since it was my first time in the temple, I had not made any friends. Yet, the experience was so powerful that increased my growing desire to follow Sri Caitanya’s teachings and mission.

 

Shortly after, I participated regularly in the Sunday harinama sankirtana processions that the devotees organized in Barcelona. I was not dressed like them and I was less experienced than them, but this did not make any difference to me. I was going out to bring the experiences I was having so that others could get the same opportunity. Somehow the sankirtana of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His devotees had touched me so deeply that I became part of His mission and was actively propagating it. The happiness I experienced and I still experience surpasses, beyond any comparison, the ordinary happiness of the material mind and senses. Therefore, as Sri Caitanya says in this verse: param vijayate sri krsna sankirtanam, let there be all victory to the Holy name of Krsna which expands the blissful ocean of transcendental life.

 

EXPERIENCES OF AN ITINERANT MONK (5)

February 17th, 2011 § 0

Cabo Verde, January 15, 2011

Today was the first day of our Sankirtana mission in Cabo Verde. Cabo Verde is a young country. It was a Portuguese colony for several centuries until it became independent in 1975. As far as I know this is the first time that a Sankirtana party comes to this small African country.  The four team members for this mission are: Radha Govinda Prabhu, Rupa Vilasa Prabhu, Dina Sarana Prabhu and myself. Radha Govinda runs a centre in Porto (Portugal) together with his wife, Gopala Priya Devi Dasi, for the last 20 years. He is one of the pillars of ISKCON Portugal. Rupa Vilasa is a Portuguese brahmachari, who likes spiritual adventure and has enthusiasm to share Krsna Consciousness with others. He has a friendly gentle nature. Dina Sarana was born in Ukraine and is living in Lisbon for several years. He is married to a devotee from Gujarati background, Damodara Priya Devi Dasi. Both of them are kind souls and very sincere devotees. I am very happy to be in the company of these three wonderful devotees.

We reached Cabo Verde late last night.  During our flight we distributed our first Bhagavad Gita and three small books. We gave the Bhagavad Gita to Mr. Godinho, the general manager for Cabo Verde Airlines in Lisbon, who helped us to get the cheapest fares possible. I gave the three small books to the stewardess team. Particularly, there was one Cabo Verdian stewardess, Myléne, who expressed appreciation for India when she saw me wearing Indian robes. It turned out that she knew about Krishna and yoga. She has arranged a contact with a lady who has been teaching yoga. Today Radha Govinda fixed an appointment with this yoga teacher for tomorrow, Sunday evening, in order to explore what we can do for them.

Our flight from Lisbon was delayed for a few hours. Radha Govinda has made several preparatory arrangements. There was one Mr. Alcides waiting for us at the airport. Mr. Alcides is the president of a youth association named Youth Association Black Panthers. Mr. Alcides came with Eduardo, a young man who belongs to this association and who, so far, has been very capable and helpful. We stayed the first night in a nice Eurolines hotel and today at noon time Eduardo brought us to a football association related to the FIFA. We are renting two rooms in this place. We can also use a shower room, kitchen, and refectory. No other people seem to be occupying rooms these days. So we have our own space.  The facilities are austere, but not extreme.

We used the first day to settle and to start getting a feeling for our field of action. Eduardo, Mr. Alcides’ right hand man came punctually at noon time to help us move from the hotel to our fixed base for our first leg of the trip in Praia, the capital of Cabo Verde. When we reached our place, many things were missing and it took time to make the practical arrangements. There were no proper facilities for cooking. In the kitchen we had been promised, for example, the gas bottle was empty and some pieces that connect the stove with the gas bottle were missing. In addition, we lacked ingredients and it was Ekadasi day. It took a long time until Dina Sarana and Rupa Vilasa managed to prepare a subji with sweet potatoes, squash, and few other vegetables. We ate lunch at 5.00 pm.

After lunch we decided to go for a walk to the “Plateau”, the central part of Praia, in order to inspect the area before having an evening meeting in which we intended to define our strategy. Our place is very well located. The Parliament is across the street, and the Plateau is located only five to ten minutes walk distance. The National Library and a cultural centre are also very close. We were told by Mr. Godinho to be careful at night, that is from 6.00 pm onwards, as it seems that there are active thieves around the city after sunset. We walked around the main plaza and a main pedestrian street. National elections are scheduled to take place on February 6. We found that in the main street a group of people had started campaigning in favor of one of the candidates for the post of Prime Minister. The way of campaigning had some similarities to a Harinama party, but with a different object of glorification. People were dancing, playing drums, and singing. Seeing this I thought that people of Cabo Verde would easily relate to public Kirtan. During our walk we distributed four small books to people who approached us to inquire.  In the main pedestrian street, there was also a group of Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art developed during the slavery period, which is disguised as dance and musical performance. The leading person in the singing group called me and complimented us by saying that he was very happy to see us in Cabo Verde. He gladly accepted a small book I offered him. Nadine, a journalist of a weekly journal, also stopped us and asked for how long we plan to be in Cabo Verde. She wants to interview us for the next issue which will be published next Friday. We exchanged contact details and will fix an appointment tomorrow or day after tomorrow by phone. Luckily Dina Sarana brought a mobile phone and bought a local phone card so that we can use it when we need it. I purposely avoid having a mobile phone, but I must admit that sometimes they are really useful.

First contact with the people of Cabo Verde

One of the first recipients of Prabhupada's books in Cabo Verde

Some people were greeting us by saying “Namaste” and folding hands, which, in the beginning, was both pleasantly surprising and puzzling for us. Shortly after, we found out that, by Krishna’s arrangement, we have reached Cabo Verde in an excellent time. The main TV channel is showing a Brazilian novel entitled “Caminhos Da India” (“Paths of India”). It is very popular and has made people very receptive to Indian culture. It seems that Krishna is mentioned regularly in the film and that it also includes many traditional Hindu ways, which makes people feel at ease with and attracted to us.

After our first exploratory evening walk, which gave us anticipation and enthusiasm, we made a general plan for the next twenty days and a specific one for next day, Sunday. We have calculated that in order to distribute the 1600 small books and 100 Bhagavad Gitas we have shipped beforehand, we should distribute an average of 100 small books and 5 Bhagavad Gitas per day. We decided that tomorrow we will go out on Harinama and distribute more than 100 small books we brought in our suitcases. Hopefully on Monday we will be able to collect, from the port of Praia, the sixteen boxes of shipped books.

Sunday, 16th January 2011

After our morning program and breakfast at our base, we went to the Plateau full of anticipation for our first Harinama in Cabo Verde. We carried mrdanga, kartalals, and a harmonium that, according to Dina Sarana, was personally made by Aindra Prabhu, the outstanding 24 hour kirtaniya of  ISKCON Vrindavan. We took also more than 100 books “Krsna the Reservoir of Pleasure”. We had planned that we will sing for awhile and when people would gather around us, Dina Sarana and Rupa Vilasa would pass around books to the people. While they distribute the books Radha Govinda, our best Portuguese speaking mission member, would speak a few words and request that those who have money should contribute for the books. What it really happened, however, was quite different. Firstly, there were not many people in the street, at the beginning. We found out that people were attending the church. Only children were around. We were told that the Mass will end at 11.30 am and that then more people will come out. We decided to start singing and “warm up”.  Gradually people started to come; most of them showed genuine interest. At some point we stopped the kirtan and tried to put into practice our plan. Radha Govinda started to speak according to what had been decided the previous day. It became evident, however, that these persons were extremely eager to receive what we were offering –they were literally taking the books from our distributors´ hands by force. In addition, we noticed that the vast majority of them were not able to contribute. All of us unanimously agreed that, considering the limited time we have, the poverty of the people, and overall, their enormous interest, it was best to adjust the strategy. We decided to freely distribute the small books, kindly sponsored by European devotees, to everyone who shows genuine interest. We trust that no books will be wasted.

First street Harinama

Harinama observers

Many young people felt attracted to the Hare Krishna Sunday street Kirtan

Many people expressed interest and curiosity for what we were doing

At the end of the morning Harinama we met a nice couple, Sanza and Susana. Sanza teaches philosophy to students in their last years of Secondary (16 to 18 years old). As many people of Cabo Verde do, Sanza was studying outside his country in order acquire knowledge and skills that he can use in developing his homeland. Susana, his wife, is from Coimbra, Portugal. Both of them were extremely amicable and they accompanied us from the Plateau to the place we are staying. We have agreed that next Friday we will go to the school where Sanza teaches and that we will speak to his students about our tradition. He is enthused about the idea and so are we. It seems that we will speak to two groups of 60-70 students each time, and that next week we can speak to another two groups, if we like.

On the way to our place, Sanza took us to see a statue of Amilcar Cabral, a powerful personality in Cabo Verde and Guinea, who is credited for having achieved that Cabo Verde and Guinea Bissau are respectively recognized as independent countries. Amilcar Cabral was assassinated in 1973. He did not manage to see the results of his work and ideals, as Portugal granted independence only in 1975. It is still a mystery who was behind the plot that caused his death: whether the Portuguese, the Cape Verdians, or his own countrymen from Guinea Bissau.

In the afternoon we went out on Harinama again. As soon as we sat on the floor (we are using a nice blanket given to us by Krishna Puja Devi Dasi from Portugal), and before we started to sing, many curious people came to us and asked permission to sit with us. Radha Govinda Prabhu briefly introduced us and what we were going to do, taught them the maha-mantra, and invited them to sing along, which they did with gusto. The afternoon was even better than the morning. More numbers came who expressed interest. Many of them were personally welcoming us to Cabo Verde and expressed happiness that we were playing nice music. At the end of this Harinama session we had finished the more than one hundred books we carried in our luggage.

Radha Govinda and I had to stop at 5.30 pm because we had a couple of appointments at 6.00 pm which had been arranged my Myléne, the Cabo Verdian stewardess we met when entering the country. We walked to an area named Achada de Santo Antonio, a medium to high class neighborhood. There we met with Myléne and two educated mature ladies who have opened a yoga cultural association named Prana. Any and Dulce are cousins of Myléne and they asked us many favorable questions. At the moment their association is not very active because it is expensive to rent a suitable place to teach yoga. They told us that there are many people in Cabo Verde who are interested in yoga, but that what they can contribute is too little to maintain their own place. We agreed that we will inform them when we have fixed our public programs and Dulce will circulate the information among their people. During our meeting, Susana, the philosophy teacher´s wife, also joined us. She came to make sure that we reached our appointment safely. She also wanted to take us to meet one of her friends, a Spanish lady who owns an Indian restaurant, “Lotus” along with her husband, Aju, an Indian man born in the Canary Islands. After our meeting with Myléne and her cousins we took a taxi in order to reach the restaurant safely. Susana told us that at this time of the evening it was risky to go by walk. Recently she had been robbed by some men who carried knives.

We had a very nice meeting with Emilia, Aju, and Susana. We broaden our perspective on the reality of Cabo Verde by hearing the views of three foreign people who are living and working in Cabo Verde for many years. Their main challenge was to cope with the general low moral standards, the lack of family responsibility of the people, their insufficient cleanliness habits, and the shortage of water and electrical power some times. I thought that they were too negative, but it gave us another perspective of the local social situation, so that we do not become unrealistically optimistic. Emilia asked us if we can bring her a japa mala, which we promised to do as soon as we can.

We reached our base by taxi at 10.00 pm, where we had an analysis of the day with our colleagues Rupa Vilas and Dina Sarana.

Meditations on Sri Caitanya’s Siksastaka Prayers (Part 2)

April 15th, 2010 § 0

Chanting Hare Krishna awards all perfections

These eight verses of instruction (Sri Siksastaka)  embody the teachings and mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. They reveal the process of pure love of Godhead, bhakti, and the congregational chanting of the holy name of Krsna as the best method for spiritual perfection within the bhakti path.

In this first verse, Sri Caitanya expresses the purpose of His advent on the earth. As the yuga-avatara for the age of Kali, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu teaches the yuga-dharma, the recommended process for God realization. He says: “Let there be all victory to the Sri-Krsna-sankirtana”. This indicates that the chanting of the Holy name awards all types of perfections to the chanter. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur explained in his commentary to this verse that the following 7 perfections are achieved by the process of chanting the Holy name of God, the maha-mantra Hare Krsna:

  1. The mirror of the heart or consciousness is cleansed.
  2. The blazing fire of material life is extinguished.
  3. All good fortune blesses the life of the chanter.
  4. Transcendental knowledge becomes revealed.
  5. An ocean of divine happiness fills the heart of the chanter.
  6. The material existence is completely uprooted.
  7. Everything becomes complete by the process of chanting.
As a practitioner (sadhaka) on the path of devotion to Krsna, I can say that, albeit I have still a long way to go, I’m experiencing glimpses of the divine gifts of the holy name mentioned by Sri Caitanya in this verse. I cannot claim to be immersed in an ocean of divine bliss nor to have extinguished the fire of material existence in my life, but I can say that daily chanting gives me a concrete sense of connection to God, inner peace and satisfaction, and a clear and definite purpose in life. Chanting Hare Krsna gives me also strength and intelligence to overcome the natural difficulties of life and to not “buy in” the false propaganda of material happiness. Chanting the holy name allows me to taste a higher taste in life: the taste of that nectar for which we are always anxious.

Sri Caitanya, Father of the Congregational Chanting of the Holy Name

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is describes by Srila Prabhupada as the great apostle of love of God and the father of the congregational chanting of the Holy name of God. This He has expressed in this verse of Sri Siksastakam. Every day He would go into the streets with His devotee companions and would perform public congregational chanting of the Holy name, sankirtana, and would inspire other people to join the chanting. He ordered His follower to do the same for the benefit of others.

The first time I heard congregational chanting happened in a little room my friends and me had rented to the cultural centre of my hometown. We had a youth group for research about UFOs and parapsychology, and also yoga and hidden sciences. That day I came in the room and 2 or 3 of my friends were euphorically singing accompanied by hand cymbals and a little metal box that they used as a drum. They had not taken any drugs nor drank any liquor or alcoholic drinks. They simply were singing with their hearts, voices and bodies, which were moving from side to side following the rhythm of the chanting and the instruments. Their faces beamed due to a contagious spiritual happiness that inundated the place. When I entered the room I felt that my whole being was enraptured by an intense spiritual happiness. There was no doubt that this was not an ordinary singing or music. It was full of spiritual power and there was no question for me to doubt about its authenticity, as much as a person who tastes the most delicious meal will not doubt the experience.

Some weeks later I went to the temple in Barcelona for the first time and experienced my first kirtana with temple devotees. I was already chanting the holy names on my beads, reciting 16 rounds of the maha-mantra Hare Krishna and my friends and me used to meet regularly and have our kirtanas, sometimes in one of our parapsychology rooms, which we had transformed into a temple, and other times in a nearby forest or park. Still, when I experienced the first kirtana in the temple with a larger number of devotees and their enthusiastic and expert dancing the experience became stronger. I felt immersed in an ocean of bliss. Perhaps this sounds like a stereotyped expression, parroting the words of Sri Caitanya, but I have not better words to describe it. It was a real, tangible and intense spiritual living experience. After that kirtana I decided: “I want to come here and live here with these people”. Since it was my first time in the temple, I had not made any friends. Yet, the experience was so powerful that increased my growing desire to follow Sri Caitanya’s teachings and mission.

Shortly after, I participated regularly in the Sunday harinama sankirtana processions that the devotees organized in Barcelona. I was not dressed like them and I less experienced than them, but this did not make any difference to me. I was going out to bring the experiences I was having so that others could get the same opportunity. Somehow the sankirtana of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His devotees had touched me so deeply that I became part of His mission and was actively propagating it. The happiness I experienced and I still experience surpasses beyond any comparison the ordinary happiness of the material mind and senses. Therefore, as Sri Caitanya says in this verse: param vijayate sri krsna sankirtanam, let there be all victory to the Holy name of Krsna which expands the blissful ocean of transcendental life.

Meditations on Sri Caitanya’s Siksastaka Prayers (Part 1)

March 19th, 2010 § 1

Chanting Hare Krishna is Blissful

“Let there be all victory for the chanting of the holy name of Lord Krsna, which can cleanse the mirror of the heart and stop the miseries of the blazing fire of material existence. That chanting is the waxing moon that spreads the white lotus of good fortune for all living entities. It is the life and soul of all education. The chanting of the holy name of Krsna expands the blissful ocean of transcendental life. It gives a cooling effect to everyone and enables one to taste full nectar at every step.”

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is known by His followers as the yuga-avatara, the incarnation of God for the present age. According to the Vedic scriptures, there are four ages of time which occur cyclically in a similar way that the four seasons of the year. In each age or yuga, there is an incarnation of God, avatara, that comes to the world to teach humanity a suitable process for spiritual elevation and enlightenment according to the characteristics of the people. The incarnation of God that teaches and exemplifies the process of spiritual elevation for each corresponding age is named yuga-avatara.

Sri Caitanya is known not only as the yuga-avatara for the age of Kali, but also as God Himself, who descends to the world in the garb of a devotee to teach by His personal example how to worship and how to love God. Srila Prabhupada writes in his book “Teachings of Lord Caitanya” that as a teacher writes the A,B,C to show his pupils how to read and write, Sri Caitanya educates humanity in how to re-establish and develop our relation with God, which culminates in unconditional pure love.

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu

When I first came in contact with the Hare Krsna movement, the personality of Caitanya Mahaprabhu intrigued me and attracted me. Having being trained as a catholic in my childhood, I had great appreciation and feeling for the personality of Lord Jesus, although I was not practicing his teachings very much. To hear and read about Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu evoked in my heart some of those feelings I had experienced during my catechesis in an increased way.  I liked that Sri Caitanya had shown the path to spiritual perfection by giving up everything to serve the Lord and that He propagated vigorously the chanting of the holy name. I already had experienced a higher happiness in chanting Hare Krishna with my friends in my hometown and later on with the devotees in the Hare Krishna temple in Barcelona. It was a happiness that was not of this world. Every week I would anxiously wait for the weekend to go to the temple which was 30 kilometres away from my hometown to join the devotees and sing and dance with them, and to experience the happiness of that chanting.  For me, this was a living proof that made me identify with the character of Sri Caitanya and fanned in my heart a growing vocation to follow Him, a vocation that has marked profoundly my life and that I pray continue until my last breath.

In those beginning days I used to read and re-read the introduction of Srila Prabhupada’s Srimad-Bhagavatam, where he wrote a summary of the life of Sri Caitanya. Prabhupada entitled it: “A short sketch of the life and teachings of Lord Caitanya, the preacher of Srimad-Bhagavatam”. In the description I learned that Sri Caitanya was a great scholar practically since childhood and that he had astounded and humbled great intellectual and spiritual champions of his time such as Kesava Kasmiri, Prakasananda Sarasvati and Sarvabhauma-Bhattacharya. These influential and renowned personalities became followers of Sri Caitanya or, at least, accepted the Vaisnava teachings after meeting Him. It was amazing to read that in spite of being such a prodigious scholar, Sri Caitantya Mahaprabhu compiled only 8 verses, the Sri Siksastaka. The translation of these verses was quoted at the end of Srila Prabhupada’s summary and I used to enjoy reading their poetry and deep spiritual feeling. They expressed profound spiritual emotions showing the greatness of God and how tiny we are in comparison to Him and, yet, how a very intense, sweet and sometimes bitter relationship develops between the Lord and His devotee. Somehow I felt identified with those sublime expressions in my own way. I saw it, and still see it, as an ideal to be achieved: intense emotions for God and open and honest communication with Him. Later on, when I decided to become a novice in a Hare Krishna temple in Spain, I would recite those same verses every morning, both in Sanskrit and Spanish, as part of the morning spiritual programme. Now, after more than 30 years, I still derive great inspiration from reciting and regularly meditating on those same 8 verses.

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