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The Sky of the Heart

The Sky of the Heart

Question: Maharaja, what does it mean to develop attachment for all the devotees on this planet, and how to do it?  

Answer: I was afraid you would ask that! I look at it this way. Here comes the confession time: there are some devotees, where I feel like, “O my God, him again…” But then I catch myself and think, “Okay, let me imagine that it would be an arrangement of Krishna that I will be put in a life-threatening situation, and that it would be the same Krishna’s arrangement that this particular devotee that I cannot stand – for whatever reason – just happens to be the one who saves my life. How is it going to change my appreciation of this devotee?”  

There are many thought experiments like this one. You can do them whenever you find yourself troubled by a lack of appreciation for one or another devotee. You can do another type of though experiment in which you can change your perspective. We get attached to a particular perspective that we think is us, but it is actually not us, it is just circumstantial, and from that other perspective you can awaken in yourself some appreciation of every devotee. The thought experiment is like this: Okay, there is this particular devotee whom I am not appreciating. Think now how much this devotee is appreciated by his or her mother! Right? Mothers love their kids, no matter what. I think that is generally the case. So, like that, you are taking a different perspective. What this can do is awaken an awareness that, “It is potentially possible for me to have space, to have a place in my heart, even for such devotees—for any persons—for whom I initially feel some aversion.”

What we are trying to do in our spiritual life is to let our hearts grow. Bhaktivinod Thakur speaks of the “sky of the heart”:  

jivera kalyana sadhana kam 
jagate asi e madhura nam 
avidya timira tapana rupe 
hrd gagane viraje

“May the Lord’s names illuminate my heart, may they shine in the sky of my heart!”  

So, what we are doing is expanding our hearts, and this is an individual project, but it is also a collective project. This leads to another point: we need to be careful to not indulge in what we might call a “collective false pride”. What is that? Collective false pride is thinking: “We have made it, and everyone else in the world is in maya, and we don’t care about them. Okay, we will save them, but it will be us who will save them!” This collective false pride can take many different forms. It can take the form of being quite complacent about the suffering of others. But the immediate point is that we want to expand the sky of the heart or to recognize that the heart is a sky that has space for everyone.

—From the lecture by Krishna Kshetra Swami on SB 1.17.23, March 12, 2023 in ISKCON Chowpatty, Mumbai, India

The Boatman and the Professor

(Based on a story told by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura)

The scene opens on the bank of the Ganges opposite Benares. The professor is in a hurry to cross the Ganges, in time for his scheduled lecture, as a guest speaker at the University Institute of Futurology. (He wears a long coat and hat, small wire-framed glasses, and carries a briefcase, with a copy of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 1 in it, and an umbrella.)

Professor (irritated, in a hurry, talking to himself): I can't believe it! The bridge was destroyed by the flood last week! Typical India! How am I supposed to get across this blasted river now? I simply must be at the university on time! (He sees a boatsman sitting and mending something) Hey there, you! Tell me, how, on earth and heaven, is one supposed to get across this river when the bridge is out, huh?

Boatsman: (detached) Well, you could take a boat.

Professor: A boat. Not a bad idea, (still irritated) and where might one find a boat under these conditions? No doubt, there are thousands of people trying to get boat rides across under these conditions.

Boatsman: Well, I've got a boat for hire.

Professor: Really? I do say. . .(feigning indifference) What's your price?

Boatsman: One way, or roundtrip?

Professor: One way.

Boatsman: One person?

Professor: One person (emphasizes "one" in his impatience)!

Boatsman: Five rupees, fifty paise.

Professor (astonished): Five rupees, fifty paisa!? That's insane! Forget it. I'm not going to pay that much. In my country that's called thievery...

Boatsman: As you like (continues mending). But, I don't think you find anyone cheaper. That is the price these days. A man has to earn a living to support his family...

Professor: Ok, ok, just show me your boat.

Boatsman: Give me five minutes and I'll be finished with mending this life-jacket.

Professor: No! Now! I'll be late for my appointment at the university. I must deliver a very important lecture (looks at his watch) in exactly one hour!

Boatsman: Alright. Here's my boat. Please get in, sir.

Professor (hesitantly): Is this boat navigable?

Boatsman: “Naviga babel”? What does that mean?

Professor: Na-vi-ga-ble. Doesn't it leak?

Boatsman: No, sir! I have had this boat already for ten years. Never a problem!

Professor (doubtful): Alright. Let's go.

Boatsman: (holds out a hand, expecting payment; professor quickly puts money in his hand) Climb in, please, and I will push off (the professor climbs in clumsily, forgetting his umbrella.) Your umbrella, Sir (boatsman hands the umbrella over).

Professor: Oh yes, thank you (the boatsman pushes off, beginning to row, showing great endeavor), tell me, boatsman, if you don't mind my asking, what is your age?

Boatsman: My age? Fifty-two last week.

Professor: Hmmmm, fifty-two, and I suppose you have been rowing boats across the Ganges your whole life, eh?

Boatsman: Yes Sir…whole life, like my father and grandfather...

Professor: Did you ever consider investing in a motorboat?

Boatsman: Invest? Motor?

Professor: Sure. If you had started saving money when you were young, by now you could have bought a first-class motorboat. Not only would you not have to work so hard in your old age, but you could carry a lot more passengers and make a lot more money. And with that extra money, you could buy more boats and rent them out... by now you could be a rich man. Money makes money, they say!

Boatsman (gravely): Hmmm... money... I'm certainly not a rich man, but I get by, and whatever excess money I have, I use for Krishna-seva.

Professor: Krishna-what?

Boatsman: Krishna-seva -- service to Krishna. Worship of Krishna.

Professor: You don't mean to say you belong to that Hare Krishna sect, do you?

Boatsman: My family has been worshiping Krishna for generations. I don't know what you mean by "sect." In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna says: ‘Bhoktaram yajna tapasam sarva-loka-mahesvaram’, "I am the Supreme Lord, the Supreme enjoyer of all sacrifices." Therefore, I worship Him. I simply accept the statements of Bhagavad-Gita.

Professor: Ach! This religious nonsense. Nothing more than an opiate for the people, if you ask me. It is one thing I have to agree with Karl Marx about. "Opiate for the people." Have you ever heard of Karl Marx?

Boatsman: He is a movie actor, isn't he?

Professor (turns to audience): Just see! He doesn't know anything! He hasn't the slightest idea about economics: neither for his own economic advancement nor in theory. The great theories of economics by which this world moves, he has no idea about. Typical India! (Turning to the boatsman) I must say, 25% of your life is wasted!

Boatsman: Wasted?

Professor: Wasted! Simply wasted.

Boatsman: Well, I wouldn't say “wasted”. I may not be so well educated as far as book learning in school goes, but every evening I hear stories read by our village brahmins from Mahabharata and Ramayana. You have heard of these books, sir?

Professor: Of course, of course, mythology, all my-tho-lo-gy! Just some stories compiled for maintaining a stable and complacent society. As the rest of the world marches onward to greater and greater frontiers of advancement, India hobbles behind, worshipping her "sacred" cows. You probably don't even know that we have landed men on the moon, do you?

Boatsman: Yes, someone was telling me about that, but quite frankly, I have my doubts.

Professor (flabbergasted): DOUBTS!?

Boatsman: Yes, doubts. After all, what did they find there? A few rocks, I heard.

Professor: Not a few, A LOT of rocks!!!

Boatsman: Ok, a lot of rocks. Anyway, according to the Vedic description of the moon, there are much more than rocks to be found there. Actually, it is a very beautiful heavenly place. The people there live for 10,000 years, where each day is equal to our six months. If you ask me, they didn't land on the moon. Maybe some other planet. Anyway, they couldn't stay there, so what is the use?

Professor (indignant): Use? For the advancement of human knowledge, of course! Man has an intrinsic need to explore the vast reaches of the unknown, to leave no stone unturned, as the saying goes.

Boatsman: That's alright, but what is the use if you know so much about moon rocks and film stars but do not know who you are?

Professor (offended): You think I don't know who I am!? Of course, I know who I am! I am the famous one and only professor Dr. Weiss von Nix! With degrees in several subjects, including astro-physical-biology, political-economic-simplistics, and ontological-paleo-cryptology. And I've studied so many subjects thoroughly and written hundreds of papers and articles and books - I'm so busy with speaking engagements, that I simply have no time...

Boatsman: ... to consider who you actually are… After all, that is what human life is for -- that is what the Vedas say -- to realize who you really are...

Professor: Look, boatsman, that's quite enough. And why are you slowing down? It is getting late. Hurry up, for God's sake!

Boatsman: Yes, ok (resumes rowing, singing quietly to himself Hare Krishna mantra).

Professor: With your cows and Vedas and all that, you don't even believe that we have landed on the moon! Ha! I say 50% of your life is wasted! Oh my God, I almost forgot, I have to prepare my address to the Institute of Futurology about human genetic perfection. Where is my notebook? (He digs in his briefcase, and pulls out Srimad-Bhagavatam Canto 1) What is this book? Oh yes, some young lady sold me this book at the New York airport. I told her I wouldn't have time to read it, but she wouldn't take "no" for an answer (opens the book, reads one verse aloud) Hm, Sanskrit is a very old language… srnvatam sva-kathah krsnah... Ha! Krishna! I thought so (addresses boatsman),   you Krishna is everywhere! (Continues reading from the book) “The Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, who is in the heart of everyone and the benefactor of the righteous devotee, destroys the desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who is pleased with His message. This message is itself pious when properly heard and chanted.” (The professor forgets himself for a moment.)

Boatsman: Jaya! Haribol, haribol!

Professor: (resuming attitude of irritated impatience) Oh, no! Again, this Krishna. Why me?! Anyway, look here, boatsman, just get me across this accursed river fast!

Boatsman: Excuse me, Sir, but this river is none other than the scared mother Ganges, whose waters emanate from the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu. Please don't offend her in that way.

Professor (exaggerated apology): Oh, I'm so sorry. And I suppose you want to tell me that the water is completely pure, huh? If you only knew how many disease-carrying micro-organisms these rivers in India carry! Sometimes I wonder what is the use of this country at all. After all that the British did for you, you still insist on keeping your antiquated ways. Boatsman, tell me what you know about the British colonial time in India.

Boatsman: Not a whole lot. I know they came and built railroads all over the place so that so many people left the land and went to the cities to work in factories in squalor, and inhuman conditions...

Professor: 75% of your life is wasted! I say there, where did you hear this propaganda? What a nonsense! If it weren't for the British... Hey, what's going on? It's raining and getting cold (opens his umbrella) and blowing like anything! (a little bit more humble) Boatsman, can't you be quicker?

Boatsman: I'm trying my best. But the current is very strong (rows intently, chanting “Jaya Govinda, jaya Gopala' Kesava Madhava Dina-dayal”). The weather is very unpredictable at this time of year. A heavy windstorm can come at a moment's notice.

Professor: Please, hurry up (shows panic)! This can't be true, I have to deliver my lecture on futurology. Look, I'll even pay you five rupees extra to hurry up!

Boatsman: That is all right. I don't think it will help at this point. You can keep your money (the boatman takes off shoes, shirt).

Professor: What are you doing now?

Boatsman: Getting ready to swim.

Professor (panicking, tearful): To swim!? You are going to swim?

Boatsman: What else is there to do (the boat capsises)? Excuse me sir, but we'll just have to swim for it now; it’s not so far… Can you swim?


Boatsman: Then 100% of your life is wasted!

Postscript commentary: The life of our unfortunate professor was not actually 100% wasted. After all, he had read a verse from Srimad Bhagavatam, heard the Hare Krishna mantra, and even drowned in the sacred Ganga. No doubt freeing him from all sinful reactions for his past misdeeds. As for his so-called advanced learning, we see that it was not sufficient to defend him from the jaws of death. Our simple boatsman on the other hand, despite his lack of book knowledge on material subjects for so-called advancement, had sufficient knowledge not only to save himself from a physically dangerous situation but also to bring him to realize the goal of life—going back home back to Godhead.

The end.

—Performed by Krishna Kshetra Swami and Devasri Radhika devi dasi at the Yoga the Art of Play seminar during the Summer Bhakti Retreat 2023 in Switzerland