Creating a self in five-year segments: Conversation in the Chai shop

She: I think at this point you should lead by going silent. You do not know what prema is and yet you promote yourself as a premik or rasik devotee. The fact is that, within the context of investigation, you are not different than your fellow senior Prabhupada's disciples: Immature and yet attempting to lead alone.

Me: That is my contribution to leadership. And it is working. Someone just wrote to me: "I am definitely sympathetic to, and have respect for Jagadananda for being so brave as to instigate such hot subjects and for constantly exposing himself to the mercurial harshness of controversy."

She: I am sorry but that is not bravery proper. Recklessness as a behavior should not be encouraged, no?

Me: Moreover, my coming on FB shows me what "my" group of people -- those who are not afraid to be different -- is thinking, and that helps me know what needs to be said. When you first said to lead, I told you impulsively that "I lead from behind." Then I thought, "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

So I thought, I lead by not pretending to have all the answers. By questioning, but questioning with faith in the ultimate truth of this tradition, prema. I have spent a lot of time confronting the issues and trying to distill the essence of what is meaningful and what is not.

I furthermore do this with the purpose of serving the devotees, my gurus, and my God. I think this is leadership because those who say they know usually don't. I know some small answers. But where the big things are concerned, I know what I do not know and what I do not have. And I think that is at least a step in the direction of humility that is salutary for the whole world, not just the Hare Krishnas.

You won't find me printing cards that say "Bhakti-yoga master" or starting a web page where I call myself a Paramahamsa" or a "saint for our times." But I do enjoy writing and I hope that on occasion someone might be entertained and even benefited.

She: Correct. You will find yourself doing other things, to be sure. Anyway, that is fine. But please don't entertain at the expense of others. That is what you have done to pretty much everyone over the course of your writing career. Hurting people is not OK. That is why perhaps you should stop writing for now, you have done enough. Let other, fresher minds take the stage before we lose another generation.

Me: I am here for everyone. Facebook is a distraction. A coffeehouse. A hangout. Order a pastis or a café-au-lait, light up a Gauloise, and listen to the music.

Das: Yes, I think you definitely have the enthusiasm and scope to stir debate, and I also think the humanity and humility to realize your limitations in the company of other thoughtful and reasonably intelligent devotees who enjoy your posts and blogs.

She: It is accidental, Das. Not a method, and actually very much a result of anarthas. No need for self-glorification here, hope.

Me: Well, most of us who are hanging out here with me on Facebook are old farts. I have already admitted to being irrelevant, passé, redundant. The young don't bother with us. They are busy elsewhere. Why should that stop us?

She: Become relevant again, become good fertilizer, cease being toxic. Choices can be made until the end. Age is not an excuse. You are only off the hook after you die. Like Prabhupada.

Me: Don't worry. The moment that Radharani decides to make me relevant is when I will be. And that will happen the moment that she makes someone else decide that who and what I am are relevant. And it always takes a bit of time for seeds to sprout. You are one such seed, not yet sprouted.

She: I don't worry. I have a stock of ear plugs.

Me: But of course, you tell me to lead and you tell me to be silent. But like I said, this is about a bunch of old farts sitting in a Vrindavan café, sipping chai and listening to the Bhagavata over the loudspeakers and watching the people going by on Parikrama.

She: If anyone can hear the loudspeakers over your old speeches....  But bhajan is sacred, so. Even the commercial Bhagavat saptams in the Dham is better than your kirtan, said Srila Sridhara Maharaj! He was right....

Me: Perhaps, mirabile dictu, it shall be my voice on the loudspeaker, droning some verse or other... Yes, worse it will be, as it always is, but sometimes the inexpert steps of the baby learning to walk are as pleasing as the debonair terpsicoreanism of a Fred Astaire.

And again, mirabile dictu, perhaps on one occasion someone will stop at the chai shop and say, "Hey Old Fart Prabhu! Perhaps in all the years that brought you to this chai sipping moment here in the holy dust of the Dham, you have acquired some gift of Hari Katha that you could share with me."

And I will stop, my heart will jump, and in great surprise, I will say, "You want to actually hear Hari Katha from me? Wouldn't you rather hear about the sampradaya and how it has been broken? Let me tell you about some scandals that I actually witnessed with my own eyes! Let me tell you about how I have better siddhantas than the other guys!"

And when, to my great relief, he says, "No, I have heard from a secret source that you actually can talk about Radha and speak her glories... with genuine feeling and true insight... as though you have yourself seen that glorious world of the kunj... Radha rasa..."

And suddenly I will realize that there was a time when I was so eager to dive into Radha rasa, when diving and jumping and breathing and smelling and rolling in the dust of Radha Kund was my life, when the Holy Name could grab me by the scruff of the neck and make me dance or roll on the ground without a care for the thoughts of others. Magic moments of the singular.

She: He, your chai stall buddy, be lying. There is no such secret source. Radharani's glories are quite open and widely known. And dancing still goes on in the world...

Me: "Thank you, my friend," I will say, as soon as my reverie is broken. "Truly you are a noble soul, my guru, for you have truly asked to know what is in my heart, to remember the truth of Radharani's love.

sa vai puṁsāṁ paro dharmo yato bhaktir adhokṣaje
ahaituky apratihatā yayātmā suprasīdati
The supreme art of action the human being must master is that which results in devotion to Him who is beyond the Alpha and the Omega. If without cause and if uninterrupted, it will bring sweet contentment to the soul. (SB 1.2.6)
dharmaḥ svanuṣṭhitaḥ puṁsāṁ viṣvaksena-kathāsu yaḥ |
notpādayed yadi ratiṁ śrama eva hi kevalam ||
The performance of one’s other duties, even if done perfectly, is labor for nothing if it does produce the delight of hearing about the Lord. (1.2.8)
 She: "I have no wish to be part,
Of your ephemeral score
I would love to be loved,
But I've felt love once before"

-Donovan Way-

Me: And the child, for indeed, childish innocence filled his eyes, blue they were, his skin as pink as a salmon's flesh, and his hair still stubbled from its last shave. His head was still bobbing and bead bag jangling nervously with some European city's hustling and bustling.

But suddenly, as appropriate to a character in a dream, he said, "But how were you able to refute the Buddhist belief in the non existence of the soul, in order to believe in fairy tales about a pastoral tribal folk god? Moreover, are you still a cult fanatic at your age? I would have thought that you would be a little more grown up!"

And with a curt and incongruous laugh, he turned, chanting "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna" with his jaws moving deliberately, mechanically, his eyes glazed as he looked forward into the lila he had chosen to remember.

She: Indeed. You are the Yoga Master of Redundance.

"Together we can break this chain
no longer a cog in the machine
continuously turning how it wishes
We have a choice, It is not easy
But it is achievable
for what is a puppeteer
with no puppet to control
and what is living without life?"

Me: Usually we prefer to be a puppet in the hands of God. But we don't care much for the interfering hands of unconvincing puppeteers. And then we realize, it is all the same, you will dance to someone's tune. You do, of course, have a little choice in imagining the scenario.

You see, my friend, I have been living life for 64 years this time around, and I figure that it goes in five-year segments. Whatever strange unconscious motives made me decide that I was going to choose sa vai puṁsāṁ paro dharmo as my directive in life, everything else has somehow played a direct or indirect role in that one motif. You can drop everything, but you will always be who you are. And you are what you yourself created.

So I have been creating a self in five-year segments, a self that will connect to the Self. And each segment is a different incarnation, a different lila, a different outlook, a different set of questions and confrontations.

There is always a temptation to go back to one or the other of the incarnations, but that is an impossible dream. You can extract the rasa of those periods in your life, its essence, its lessons, its good and bad moments... because bad moments are also rasa, but they are always best if followed by a little heroism, or a little mādhurya.

She: Hm. I have done my mathematical gigs as well.

He: You have to move forward, but you can move forward consciously. But the saṁskāras will remain. As a matter of fact, we must carefully choose the saṁskāras we wish to keep, which ones have the most juice left in them still.

She: So, is there a point in your story, though?

He: Of course there is no point. I am just gabbing away like a drunk at a wedding.

She: Ah, ok, speaking of doomed weddings, you must watch Kirsten Dunst's 'Melancholia.' The director is controversial, but there are quite a few subtle humanities there to consider.

Me: What I was saying is that at some point you have to decide who you are. As you get older you become less fond of change. Any change tends to be within a very well defined set of limits. I myself have led a fairly narrow life with a fairly wide range of sub-lives within it. This is not uncommon, as a matter of fact it is the norm for most people, I would think.

So my question is, "Who am I?" What did I want to be? What have I become?" You see, identity crises keep coming back, they just take on more sophisticated forms and the puzzles keep getting more intricate. They just unfold at a slower pace.

It is like choosing a topic of conversation or a television channel to watch. It is best when you can both enjoy the same entertainments. When the entertainment is sādhanā, then it happens to work best. If you know what you are doing. It has to be both entertaining and a sādhanā. Which basically means you want some gain for your pain.
She: I believe the idea in Rupa Goswami's proposition is that everyday life itself is to be a sādhanā, no? So all cultures of the world will have to be considered.

Me: Does Rupa Goswami say that? Anyway, I believe in grace, basically. I have been converted by Shiva into a will-o-the-wisp floating on the eternal sky, blown by the sweet breath of the all controlling and loving Lord. And I watch the busy world with its busy entertainments, dipping in there less and less as time goes by... for some stupid reason I am a little bit more internet open, scrolling the world outside and watching the human comedy as my little corner of the internet presents it.

I believe in grace, deeply. And I believe in the manifestation of grace in each one of my incarnations. And now, I feel I am moving into a new phase. But what it will be is not in my hands. Though I am responsible for it in an endless succession of chains of decision momentary and momentous. The ship has sailed on everyday life for me... Everyday life for me is bhajana, sādhana.

The thing is that no matter what you do in life, it is always better if you can share it with others. That is the nature of the human animal. For me, love would mean being able to share what I love the most.

She: OK. But enough about the world. Tell us about yourself.

Me: So sorry to bore you. Men and their identity crises!

She: Write a book. That would be entertaining.

Me: You are absolutely right. I was thinking of stealing this entire conversation and making it a chapter in my new novel.

She: Donovan's poetry is very entertaining. But it is much more than that.

Me: I really was talking about choices. The other day I was thinking, there is something to those who stick to one thing in their lives and perfect that and that alone. I barked up a number of different trees in this life, each of those mini-lives, mini-incarnations being one.

So like a rolling stone gathers no moss, the lack of niṣṭhā in one sādhanā means lack of siddhi. Would I had perfected one before allowing some bright bauble in the future or some depression of defeat in the past to push me in yet a different direction. But that is of course not in our control. Those are the parts of the story that God writes. The editor overrules the author.

Of course, I have been working on the assumption that one is uncovering the one sādhya in each of the sādhanas in a different way. Approaching from a slightly different angle in order to understand better the advaya-vastu. After all, whatever we do is a sādhana for something. And if that something is always the same Thing, then eventually we will get a bit closer.

Knowledge is external, but it has allure. Maybe I would have been better off doing kirtan, but somehow I went this route. And then there's the yoga. There are so many symptoms of an erratic brain at work. Unless one has one niṣṭhā, somewhere alone the line--one has to bring the threads together into one solid sādhana, the essence of all the sādhanas you have learned.

One has to decide what one's life is for and go for that exclusively. Prema.


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