(Kindly transcribed by Sheela Mataji, Singapore.)
We are reading from Srimad-Bhagavatam Canto 4, Chapter 21, verse number 36. The chapter is entitled ‘Instructions by Maharaj Prthu’. I thought this would be appropriate for our theme of leadership, spiritual leadership.
aho mamami vitaranty anugraham
harim gurum yajña-bhujam adhisvaram
sva-dharma-yogena yajanti mamaka
nirantaram ksoni-tale drdha-vratah
Translation: The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the master and enjoyer of the results of all sacrifices, and He is the supreme spiritual master as well. All of you citizens on the surface of the globe who have a relationship with me and are worshiping Him by dint of your occupational duties are bestowing your mercy upon me. Therefore, O my citizens, I thank you.
Purport: Maharaja Prthu’s advice to his citizens to take to devotional service is now concluded in two ways. He has repeatedly advised persons who are neophytes to engage themselves in devotional service according to the capacities of the different orders of social and spiritual life, but here he specifically thanks those already engaged in such devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is actually the enjoyer of all sacrificial ceremonies and who is also the supreme teacher as antaryami, or Paramatma. There is specific mention of the word gurum, which indicates the Supreme Personality as caitya-guru. The Supreme Godhead in His Paramatma feature is present in everyone’s heart, and He is always trying to induce the individual soul to surrender unto Him and to engage in devotional service; therefore He is the original spiritual master. He manifests Himself as spiritual master both internally and externally to help the conditioned soul both ways. Therefore He has been mentioned herein as gurum. It appears, however, that in the time of Maharaja Prthu all the people on the surface of the globe were his subjects. Most of them — in fact, almost all of them — were engaged in devotional service. Therefore he thanked them in a humble way for engaging in devotional service and thus bestowing their mercy upon him. In other words, in a state where the citizens and the head of state are engaged in devotional service unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they help one another and are mutually benefited.
Krsna Ksetra Das: It is with some trepidation that I sit here with all of you exalted Vaisnavas and Vaisnavis presence, so I beg your blessings that I may say something that will be enlivening and illuminating.
Prthu Maharaja, King of the earth, he is giving instructions, he is teaching his subjects. . . I sometimes wonder how he manages this without internet. [laughter] Perhaps people’s ability to listen was so much better than it is today. In any case somehow he was able to communicate with his vast kingdom, his subjects. And as Srila Prabhupada says this verse is coming to the conclusion of his instruction. In this particular verse he is expressing gratitude. Gratitude is the theme I want to focus on as we speak about leadership, specifically spiritual leadership. I would suggest that gratitude is foundational to our individual personal progress in spiritual life and it is also foundational collectively to our progress of, as the phrase we are using, pushing on this movement cooperatively.
I was fortunate a few days ago to participate in a smaller seminar called the Spiritual Leadership seminar. And this is something that’s been prepared over some years and has been presented by our Anuttama Prabhu and our HH Prahladanandana Swami very expertly and very inspiringly. So I wanted to share with you especially—well I want to address all devotees but it especially those who are participating in this ISKCON Leadership conference—a little bit of what I learnt in this seminar. We learnt that there are principles of leadership which are useful to keep in mind as we practice leadership. There are twelve of these which have been divided into three categories and I am not going to through all of these but the three categories I think are interesting.
So first of these is vision. Prthu Maharaj is giving vision to his followers, to the citizens of the world. He is especially emphasizing varnasrama dharma but interestingly in this verse it says sva-dharma-yogena, and more than one commentator explains that sva-dharma in this context means bhakti and by bhakti they are offering yajanti, worship. Vision is what we receive from ultimately the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the acaryas in the line of disciplic succession. For this vision we are grateful. Some months ago I had the good fortune to get some new glasses from an optician who is a devotee and he took me to his office and put me through the eye examinations. I have had this done so many times before in so many years as my eyesight gradually dwindles as the body dwindles. But this optician spent a very long time examining my eyes. I don’t know how long it was, it seemed like at least an hour with lots of different machines and most importantly very careful questioning. I reflected on this exercise after getting the glasses, these are the glasses. They are the best glasses I ever had, they are fantastic glasses. I can see really sharply, it’s so nice. So in the examination process he is putting on different lenses and asking can you see clearly now, is this better, is this worse. So there is a back and forth exchange. Similarly the spiritual master asks us, inquires how we are doing and what is it that we need so that we can get the necessary adjustments, so that we can engage nicely in devotional service. This gets a little bit ahead of what I want to say so I am going to back up before I get to that point of facilitation.
So first is vision, and then when we have vision which may need some adjustment, we may need to sometimes ask ourselves am I getting the vision sharply, is it in sharp focus? Circumstances change, our experiences change, our needs change over time and as a result the vision could get a little blurry. Or we might lose it altogether and so we need to keep coming back to check am I getting the vision? And when we have the vision then we can experience the next principle and that is inspiration. Inspiration has, the acaryas of our leadership seminar have worked out four sub-categories, one of which is being balanced and exemplary in one’s lifestyle. The word balanced, I was discussing with some devotees last night, makes me think of tight rope artist. Do we have any tight rope artists here? But you have seen, tight rope artists, what do they do, how do they walk the tight rope? They have a long rod and what does this rod do? It helps to balance, right. So what is the rod in our case, in this analogy, what is our rod for balancing on this tight rope of material existence?
Devotee response: sadhana, mahamantra, instructions, sadhu-sanga, good habits, guru.)
Sadhana, mahamantra, which is part of sadhana right! Instructions, right. Sadhu sanga which is part of sadhana. Good habits, guru, all of the above. Yes all that you have said, this is the balancing rod. So we need to balance ourselves, to keep ourselves balanced as we progress, as we go along in our spiritual lives as leaders so that we can imbibe others with inspiration. First of all we can be inspired and then we can give inspiration to others.
Now when someone has become inspired, “Yes, I have got a vision, yes I have inspiration, now what do I do?” The third principle is facilitation and as Anuttama Prabhu who pointed out the word facilitation comes from the French word facile. What does facile mean? Easy, yes. So to facilitate is to make it easy. Srila Prabhupada how many times he said, “This process is so easy. Simply chant Hare Krishna, what is the difficulty?” and we want to say, “Prabhupada, there is so much difficulty, if you only knew!” [laughter] . But actually from the position of clear vision then there is no difficulty because one understands how to facilitate the practice and the leading of Krishna consciousness. And part of the practice of facilitation is being reflective and being self-aware. Stepping back and thinking, reflecting for oneself and this means being self-critical. Now I don’t know about you, but I am a card carrying member of the fault-finding club. Actually I am an honorary member I am embarrassed to say but I am trying to learn to overcome this habit and one thing I find (aside: Sri Sri Radha Madhava ki jaya) is that if I am self-critical then there is no more steam left to be critical of others because there is plenty of work for me to do on myself.
So this is part of facilitation. You may well wonder how do these two relate? It’s about humility, isn’t it?
trnad api su-nicena taror iva sahisnuna
amanina mana-dena kirtaniyah sada harih
We facilitate for ourselves the chanting of Hare Krishna purely so that we enable others to do the same. But there is another dimension to this self-critique. And that is what I would call collective self-critique. I would suggest that this is one of the things that we do when we come together especially in this sanga, the Leadership Sanga. We look at ourselves, we give a hard look at ourselves, a critical look at ourselves collectively and we see how are we doing, how can we improve, where are we going, are we following the vision and if not how do we correct ourselves so that we are indeed following the vision.
Srila Prabhupada told us that the perfection of the vision is to see Krishna face to face. And we could see that Srila Prabhupada was seeing Krishna face to face. I was so fortunate to be present when Srila Prabhupada made his last visit to have the darshan of Sri Sri Radha Londonisvara in 1977. He was preparing to leave the world and this was very clear. He was in Bhaktivedanta Manor but he wanted to go to have darshan of Radha Londonisvara and some of us found out that Prabhupada was going so we jumped in cars and went in to see. And it was so touching because Srila Prabhupada, all the time that he had stayed in the Manor whenever we would see him because his eyes had become very sensitive to light, so he was keeping on dark glasses. But when he went to Bury Place temple he took off his sun-glasses to have direct darshan of Sri Sri Radha Londonisvara who were as he said himself his ‘favorite Deities’.
So we go from vision to inspiration to facilitation and we go back to vision and in this way we keep going around and by this circulating process then we put ourselves in the position of being proper leaders. But the basis of being a leader is to be grateful. Srila Prabhupada expressed his gratitude again and again and again to his followers and I will just read a couple of very brief excerpts from letters and end in this way. A letter to Nandarani from 1968: “I am very much pleased with your preaching enthusiasm when you say, ‘if people won’t come to us here, we will go to them.’ And this is the process of preaching. And this is required. I thank you very much for this spirit, just like I have come to your country with the same spirit.” So here Srila Prabhupada is thanking his disciple for her spirit. He wrote to Gargamuni in 1969: “Your humble repentance is just like a Vaisnava student. So I thank you very much for this humbleness. Lord Caitanya taught us to be humbler than a grass on the street, more tolerant than a tree, so these symptoms are Vaisnava symptoms. There is no question of rejection or dejection. I am always at your service and you can question whenever there is any doubt and I will try to answer them as far as possible.” Here Srila Prabhupada is appreciating the humility of his disciple and he is offering him help. So he says, ‘whenever you need some guidance, whenever you have some doubt, I am there.’ So that’s very nice!
At the end of this verse that we read today, Prthu Maharaj says, “Therefore, O my citizens, I thank you.” Now if you look carefully in the Sanskrit of this verse, nowhere does it say “Therefore, O my citizens, I thank you.” So I wondered about this and I looked at some of the commentaries and I didn’t find anything in the commentaries. Often Srila Prabhupada would weave commentary into his translations. And then I realized this is a case where Srila Prabhupada is responding to inspiration from Krishna. And this is our conviction as we read Srila Prabhupada’s books. As Hari Sauri Prabhu explained in one lecture, Srila Prabhupada’s two sources for his writing Srimad Bhagavatam were the commentaries of previous acaryas and his inspiration that he received directly from Krishna. So with this you might say transcendental addition. We understand what is actually going on here, that Prthu is thanking his followers, his supporters.
That’s something that I would suggest we want to keep in mind as we go about our duties acting as little tiny isvaras in service of the Supreme adhisvara.
Granthraj Srimad Bhagavatam ki jaya! Hare Krishna!
Thank you for your attention. Is there any comment or correction or question?
Suresvara Das: Your last comment about Prabhupada’s inspiration, how he weaves that into his translations. Since your service has been and perhaps continues to be teaching in the academic world, is that explainable to scholars or is that something that only the devotees can really understand? Or maybe it’s both.
Krsna Ksetra Das: It depends who you are speaking with. There are many scholars who have a lot of appreciation, a lot of sympathy and it’s very easy for them to understand. There are others who whatever you say they won’t understand in this life. [laughs]. The spirit of Srila Prabhupada in his translation has been appreciated and that’s been spoken of by many scholars going back to A. L. Basham, I believe, and others. And some who will be in a certain sense critical, they are not inimical. They just want to see that what they understand to be scholarship is somehow upheld. For example one scholar I know in Germany was concerned about Srila Prabhupada’s use of the word “Vedic”. Prabhupada uses it in a variety of ways. So he wrote an article in which he analyzed, he spent the time studying Srila Prabhupada’s books. He analysed that, “Oh ,he uses the word in three different ways – in a narrower sense, in a kind of medium sense and a more broad sense.” Ok, actually that’s useful. We can use that scholarship.
Suresvara Das: In the secularly scholarly world, is there something that if someone knows siddhanta then they are allowed to do that? They know where Krishna is going with it, so they are allowed to weave in. Like Krishna says vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyah, therefore Prabhupada, knowing that, in his Gita translations he is saying things in verses, as you were pointing out, that are not necessarily literally there. Is that OK by their standards?
Krsna Ksetra Das: Again it depends on who you speak to, depends on what type of scholar, a textual scholar is likely to say well, that’s stretching things, an anthropologist who is studying our tradition will say that’s part of the tradition, that’s thoroughly Puranic, that’s what you do with Purana, you recite it with your realization. So what’s the difficulty?
Suresvara Das: Thank you.
Tattvavit Das: The words yajña-bhujam in the verse means “all the demigods eligible to accept yajña offerings.” That part disappears from the verse, that’s not in the verse. Could you comment on that?
Krsna Ksetra Das: Tattvavit Prabhu has just pointed out that there is a word or a compound in the verse yajña-bhujam which doesn’t appear in Srila Prabhupada’s translation. Sometimes that also happens. In this case yajña-bhujam, bhujam means arms so the arms of yajña, which then, what are the arms, the arms are the demigods. So apparently Srila Prabhupada didn’t feel that was essential to translate this verse.
Tattvavit Das: Where would it fit in?
Krsna Ksetra Das: It will take me a minute or five to think about that.
Jahnudvipa Das: Who came out with the idea that only the sruti are the Vedas and that the smrti are not the Vedas? Isn’t that basically a Western idea?
Krsna Ksetra Das: To my knowledge that is not a western idea. The idea of orthodox brahmans, which is one component of our wider , is that the Veda means the Vedic samhita—Rg, Yajur, Sama, Atharva; the Brahmanas, each who are associated with one of those samhitas; the Aranyakas, each one associated and Upanisads. However our acaryas are very concerned to include Purana as Veda. And in fact there is an interesting kind of reversal that happens; scholars have even noticed that the Srimad-Bhagavatam, in what they call the pre-modern period, became that which gives authority to other scriptures rather than the other way around. So the Srimad-Bhagavatam over time became accepted as actually THE central text. nigama-kalpa-taror galitam phalam, suka-mukhad amrta-drava-samyutam is very relavant and nigama, the Veda, the ripened fruit of the tree of the Veda, that is the Bhagavatam. And that came to be recognized but the orthodox brahmanas the smartas, they may not accept although they are smarta which means they follow smrti. Very complicated.
So one last question. Yes?
Ekalavya Das: Hare Krishna, Prabhu. Thank you for your wonderful class. You spoke about the importance of being self-critical. Could you speak a little about the art of introspection and how we can actually go within and understand how to be self-critical?
Krsna Ksetra Das: The art of introspection, that’s a whole lecture if not a seminar in itself. Yes that’s something. One sutra: “Don’t assume that everything is all right. Assume rather the opposite that there is danger lurking and one must be attentive.” Yes. That’s my sutra.
Thank you all very much. Srila Prabhupada ki jaya!