May 8, 2020

Question and Answers

PARIKSIT DASA: You mentioned something about kirtaniyas performing in some places where the attendees may find it sectarian if we don’t mention demigods or the kirtaniyas don’t sing demigods’ names when they perform. If a Hare Krishna devotee finds himself in that situation, knowing that he really shouldn’t be singing demigods’ names, because of the second offense of the ten offenses that you pointed out, but then our own congregation or devotees who are listening may not like the idea that the demigods are mentioned—what if he gets cornered like that? Then what should he do? 

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: Well, we have a lot of bhajans besides the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. We can sing “Jaya Rama Sri Rama Jaya Jaya Rama” or “Raghupati Raghava Rajarama.” But if we face the question in a different way . . . In the Juhu temple, not because we wanted to show that we are not sectarian, but to appeal to people who are attached to demigods, inside the temple perimeter we have dioramas. So, we had of Ganesh as the scribe writing down the Vedic scriptures as dictated by Vyasadeva. I guess they could if they have to—I mean just the way you phrased the question there—in a situation where they more or less have to. So if they have to, I would say they should explain the position of the demigods in relation to Krishna and then it wouldn’t be an offense. It would be actually helpful and educational for the audience to understand that there is one supreme God just like the king, but the king also has very powerful loyal servants in his cabinet—he has his different ministers and secretaries. We can say that Brahma is like the minister of creation, Shiva is the minister of destruction, and Sarasvati is the minister of education, culture, and learning. It would be good because people in the yoga circles have heard these different names but probably don’t know who they really are, and it would be a disservice if we let them think they are all independent and equal gods. So we can inform them who they actually are, and then if we chant their names or some mantra that includes their names, it wouldn’t be so bad. It wouldn’t be great, but it wouldn’t be so bad.

I had a very stirring experience. Lord Shiva is vaisnavanam yatha sambhuh, the greatest Vaishnava. People should understand that. Late one night I was doing Vrindavan parikrama and walking along the Yamuna River, and there heard a lady—I didn’t see her, but I could hear her—with a microphone, chanting, Om namah shivaya. Under those circumstances I found it quite moving, but there was no confusion in my mind who Shiva was and who Krishna was. Ganesh removes obstacles, so we can pray to Ganesh to remove obstacles in our service to Krishna. So, we can explain like that. I guess if we are too clear in our explanation, depending on the audience, they might think we are too focused on Krishna. And we are.

DR BRITTANY ANDERSON: I had a question that went along perfectly with what you mentioned about the rituals to Lord Shiva. At the Detroit temple we observe Shivarati once a year, and I was there for it last year, and I poured the milk with the conch shell, but I felt really uncomfortable. It was kind of like giving a special gift to someone who isn’t your relative, a total stranger. How should devotees approach Shivaratri and other events like that at our temple? Should we go?  Should we participate? What should our mood and attitude be?

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: Generally Vaishnavas don’t observe Shivaratri. I am not sure why they did it in Detroit. The problem is we know that Lord Shiva is a Vaishnava (vaisnavanam yatha sambhuh), but ordinary people who come to the temple—if they see us worship Shiva they may think, “In ISKCON they worship Shiva; Shiva is the same as Krishna.” They may get some misconceptions. So I would avoid observing Shivaratri in an ISKCON temple, because it sets an odd precedent. It is a very different example.

We were in Madras with Srila Prabhupada . . . I had gone to Madras and cultivated many big people and eventually arranged a series of programs for Srila Prabhupada. A very important man had a sort of a deity installation in his home, and for a home temple it was quite big—large enough for 8, 10, 12 people to stand inside—and his main deity was Lord Shiva. There were a lot of dignitaries invited, and Srila Prabhupada and the other dignitaries were in the temple room, and we disciples were outside. When it came time to offer flowers to the Shiva-lingam, Srila Prabhupada threw his in the corner. So we were a little astonished—what did Srila Prabhupada actually do?—and when all the others came out and we went in, we saw that in the corner there was a little deity of Krishna, and he had offered his flowers to Krishna. So we want to serve Lord Krishna, and Shiva is happy if we serve Krishna.

PARIKSIT DASA: There have been functions here in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and one devotee made some comments about a song that many Hindus sing—Om Jai Jagadish Hare—and he wasn’t so favorable of devotees even being okay with that song. I don’t know; now I am a little confused about it.  Basically what I am asking is: What should devotees think about it?

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: We don’t sing that song.

PARIKSIT DASA: I know we don’t. Should we avoid it all together, or should we not think about it at all? If you meet somebody who is Hindu and they encourage you to sing “Om Jai Jagadish Hare”, what should you, as a devotee, do then?

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: I think just tell them you don’t know the words. My impression is that the song is a little impersonal and a little materialistic, because with a lot of those prayers they want something material from the deities. We don’t have anything to do with that song.

NITYA GOPAL DASA: Maharaja, in the definition of “mahatma” the reference comes for the five transcendental rasas. The mahatmas are engaged in strong determination in any of the five transcendental rasas. So as a sadhaka does one have to worry about what rasa once devotion is happening? Do we have to worry about that?

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: No. No. That will come later. What the purport says is that the mahatma is eager to gain the association of the Lord in one of those rasas. But that will be revealed when the time comes. But we should have in mind that, that is our real home, back home, back to Godhead and not the material world. That we should have.

DEVOTEE (1): I have a question regarding devotees performing kirtans, kirtan programs in yoga studios. Srila Prabhupada introduced street sankirtana harinam programs where we share and spread the holy name of Lord Chaitanya’s movement. Because performing kirtan programs in yoga studios is done in a business place, for lack of a better word, because the yoga makes money from the programs, would it be better to do street sankirtana as opposed to having it in the yoga studios?

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: I would say both are good. I went to an amazing kirtan in a yoga studio in Santa Barbara. The famous kirtan singer Gaura Vani came and he did a kirtan in a yoga studio and it was amazing. He had like 90% of the attendees—and it was pretty packed and it was a pretty large room—and he had like 90% of them dancing. So I think a lot has to do with the potency and attractiveness of the singer. But, yeah, street sankirtana is wonderful. But I would say we shouldn’t miss any opportunity.

Srila Prabhupada gave the example of, I think it was some swami in India, not a devotee, swami, some swami. But he would never miss an opportunity to speak. Prabhupada gave an example that even if a paan shop was opening and he was invited to the opening of the paan shop, he would go and speak. Srila Prabhupada said that in that way he became famous and popular. So from that example I deduce that Srila Prabhupada wanted us to take every opportunity. Of course sometimes we have to choose between a greater opportunity and a lesser opportunity. Yeah, they are spirit souls so they have some interest.  You know, if they are interested in yoga it means they have some openness or inclination towards Indian philosophy and practices. So I think that potentially they are a good audience.

DEVOTEE (2): Among the ten offenses one main offense is to blaspheme the devotees who have propagated the holy name of the Lord. So what about also living entities which we try to offend them, is it an offense?

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: It is. It is. In fact one of the regulative principles in the Nectar of Devotion is not to cause a painful action in the heart of any living entity.

DEVOTEE (3): If we offend a Vaisnava and yet we ask for forgiveness and they don’t forgive us, then what should we do in that case?

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: Well you should . . . do you have any idea why not?

DEVOTEE (3): I don’t know, Guru Maharaja.

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: Well the rule is . . . I have been in a situation like that—not recently but some years ago—and I really, really went out of my way and begged the person to forgive me. But if the person is not ready to forgive you, you could ask the person what you can do to make up for your offense so that eventually the person might forgive you and follow the sort of remedial measures given by the person you offended. Yeah, it is not good for you or them, for them not to forgive you.

DEVOTEE (3): I feel guilty, Guru Maharaja, and I asked for forgiveness yet they don’t forgive me.

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: But did you try asking what can you do so that they will forgive you?

DEVOTEE (3): No, Guru Maharaja.

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: Well, try that.

DEVOTEE (3): Yes, Guru Maharaja. I want to try. I want to ask forgiveness because you know when we offend devotees our spiritual life is affected. So we cannot concentrate on our chanting. 

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: Yeah, it can disturb your chanting. Can you just try to serve the devotee and please the devotee somehow? Or if it is hard to serve the devotee, then serve those who are near and dear to the devotee and that might soften the devotee’s heart and make the devotee more favorable to you.

MATHURA NILESVARI DEVI DASI: How about the practice of celebrating Holi in ISKCON temples? Is it advisable?

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: Well, Holi is not something that we celebrated during Srila Prabhupada’s time. Of course in India, in Vrindavan they make a point of throwing colors on you and you have to hide inside or wear some old clothes you don’t mind getting ruined by the colors. But Srila Prabhupada’s disciple Charu Prabhu in Utah has made a huge festival out of Holi, called the Festival of Colors. It is a huge preaching event. It’s amazing. It is unbelievable. I very much appreciate what he does. Thousands of people come and, yeah, the colors are there, that is part of it, but you know there is kirtan, there is prasada, and he started now—of course with the Covid everything is now shut down—he was doing it in other places. It was so popular. In Utah he had a schedule of doing it in other places. He was going to do it in the LA area also. So, yeah, if you can do it in that way to attract people and to give them a chance to hear the holy name and chant Hare Krishna and get prasada and have a good time, it is good. It is an innovative way to attract people and engage them.

MATHURA NILESVARI DEVI DASI: How about in cases when the devotee we offend passes away? What do we do in that instance?

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: That is a very good question. Well, we can pray to them to forgive us. We can try to counteract the offense. For example, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur says that the same tongue that you use to vilify a devotee you should use the same tongue to glorify the devotee. So, if that was the offense we should do that.  We should glorify that devotee who is departed and I think the same principle to try to serve those who are near and dear to that devotee and please them and then their master will be pleased. Of course if we can it is better to close that chapter while the person is still present. But it can happen. Certainly it can happen. The person we offended passes away before we could be forgiven in person. That was a good question.

ADITYA: I missed your original answer to if one would ask, “If all service is absolute, why chant 16 rounds rather then doing other services?” I missed your answer to that question.

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: Srila Prabhupada said that the Supreme Personality of Godhead wants you to chant 16 rounds.

ANASUYA DEVI DASI: When you were reading Bhagvad-gita 9.14 where Krishna was saying that such a mahatma has firm determination to achieve the ultimate and the association of the Supreme Lord in anyone of the five rasas, 5 transcendental rasas, as a practicing devotee, Maharaja, should our mindset or our focus or mood or attitude should be just in the mood of dasa dasanudasa? Should we be always thinking of how I can get into these five rasas? What is my position in the five rasas? Or just surrender, being a dasa dasanudasa?

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: I think that mood of “gopi-bhartur pada-kamalayor dasa-dasa-dasanudasah” is a very good mood. It was Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mood and if we want to serve Krishna in the spiritual world then we will end up in one of the five rasas. But that’s not something we need to artificially contemplate now while we are chanting or worshiping the deity or whatever service we are doing, preaching.

PATNA DASA: Guru Maharaja, if time permits can you share your realization of when you got Lord Shiva’s special mercy?

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: Well, what makes you think I got Lord Shiva’s special mercy?

PATNA DASA: A long while back I had heard your lecture. It was some realization from Vrindavan—I think Gopesvara Mahadeva, or you could see the moon or something. I tried to get that lecture but I could not it and it was a very special lecture. So I wanted just to ask you to recollect or relive that.

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: There is a deity of Lord Shiva in Vrindavan called Gopesvara Mahadeva. The background to the deity is that Lord Shiva came to Vrindavan and he wanted to join the Rasa dance. So he prayed to Purnamasi, Yogamaya, and she told him to take bath in the Manasi-ganga and when he came out he had the form of a gopi. But when he went to the arena of the Rasa dance, the other gopis didn’t recognize that person and they were asking all sorts of questions. “Where do you live? Who is your husband? What does he do?” And Lord Shiva didn’t have any answers. So they thought that “This so-called gopi is an impostor,” and they started to beat him or her. So then Lord Shiva started to take the name of Purnamasi and Purnamasi came and said, “Please don’t beat him. This is Lord Shiva,” and she gave Lord Shiva the—as it is he is chattrapal, the protector of the dhama—she gave him the boon that, of course he couldn’t participate in the Rasa dance because that is exclusively reserved for Krishna’s gopis, but that he could  protect the area of the rasa dance, keep unwanted intruders out. He could give people the eligibility to enter the Rasa dance. So there is a deity of Lord Shiva, Gopesvara Mahadeva, in Vrindavan near Vamsi Vat where Krishna played his flute to call the gopis for the Rasa dance.  During the day, it is a sivalingam, during the day it is worshiped as a regular sivalingam, but in the evening they dress the sivalingam in a sari as a gopi.

There are supposed to be five most merciful personalities in Vraja and Gopesvara Mahadeva is one of them. I would go to the temple in the evening and I did feel he was sort of a siksa guru and then when I came out of the temple, it was night and I was maybe walking back to the Krishna Balaram temple and I did see a crescent moon, like the kind you see in Lord Shiva’s hair, and—I don’t know—I just felt like he is, he was like a siksa guru for me. He is very merciful. He is in charge of false ego and our godbrother His Holiness Sacinandana Swami went all the way to Kailash, to Lord Shiva’s abode, to pray to Lord Shiva to free him from false ego. We have a little Gopesvara Mahadeva here in our ashram in Carpenteria. It is a gift from His Holiness Indradyumna Swami.

ANASUYA DEVI DASI: When you were speaking on the Caitanya-caritamrta and you were talking about in the purport that we should be remembering the Lord and chanting 24hrs . . . There have been some situations sometimes where, when we ask a devotee to do service and sometimes they have this answer: “Oh, Mataji, I am chanting my rounds.” As a leader, Maharaja, how do we deal with such situations? What do we do because we do come across devotees—“Oh, Mataji, I am chanting my rounds. I cannot; I am chanting my rounds.” And when something important has to get done for service, how do we approach such scenarios?

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: Well, the chanting is a prayer for service. “O Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your service.” You can say, “Well, you are chanting so well that Radha and Krishna are answering your prayer. They are giving you service.” There was a morning walk in Juhu and His Holiness Lokanath Swami asked Srila Prabhupada, “Why have you prescribed 16 rounds?” and Srila Prabhupada said, “Not 16 rounds, minimum 16 rounds.” and Lokanath Swami said, “Some devotees are accepting another minimum,” and Srila Prabhupada said, “Well, who is stopping them? You can increase the minimum. You can’t decrease it. You can increase the minimum.” And then Lokanath Swami asked, “How do we know if we are imitating Haridasa Thakur?” Srila Prabhupada said, “Imitation of a good thing is not bad. If you are chanting more rounds, that’s good.” So then Brahmananda Prabhu said, “What if someone asks you to do service and you are chanting your rounds?” Srila Prabhupada said, “I can’t do any service. I am imitating Haridasa Thakur.” Srila Prabhupada said, “That is very bad.”

ANASUYA DEVI DASI: Yes, Maharaja, I have heard such comments and it bewilders me and, you know, trying to be a leader—I know for me I get fumbled. “Okay I just got shot. How do I answer this question?” It is like they are using the holy name to justify what they are doing. Thank you, Maharaja.

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: I mean, Svavasa Prabhu, the temple president in Los Angeles, gets up 2am every morning and he chants his rounds before mangal-arati because, being a temple president of a big project, he can’t be assured that he won’t be disturbed later. So, you know, if a devotee, if it happens more then once that that devotee refuses to do service because he is chanting, I would suggest that the devotee gets up earlier and does the chanting before Anasuya devi dasi asks him to do some service. So he doesn’t have to refuse on the grounds that he has to chant his rounds.

RADHACARANA DASA: You just told that there are 5 merciful personalities in Vrindavan. Which are the other four? Please tell.

GIRIRAJ SWAMI: The Yamuna River, Govardhan Hill, Purnamasi and Tulasi. We should take advantage of their mercy.