Eating disorders and obesity are reaching epidemic levels in today’s society. In the US some 11 million have anorexia or bulimia, while 25 million suffer from binge eating. Here in the UK obesity causes 30,000 deaths a year and is estimated to cost as much as seven and a half billion pounds each year.
There is no medical cure for these problems although plenty of supposed treatments are touted by those hoping to make a fast buck. Millions are spent on largely useless diet pills, slimming drinks and even hypnosis, as expanding numbers of people grapple with their ever expanding waistlines. As a last resort for those with the cash there is the more drastic recourse of liposuction, another burgeoning industry cashing in on our desire to have the perfect form.
Although for the most part remedies promising rapid weight loss serve to lighten only your pocket, it seems something has arrived that actually works. No, it does not involve wiring up your mouth, stapling your stomach, or receiving a powerful electric shock every time you reach for the pies. Indeed no suffering is required. Called the Mandometer, this clever little device measures the type and amount of different foods you require and, by means of a friendly electronic voice, let’s you know when you are eating too fast and exceeding those amounts. Its makers claim a seventy five percent success rate.
Good news for those of us addicted to food, which tends to be a darned difficult addiction to kick. Food is often sought as comfort amid the stresses and strains of modern life, and these are not about to vanish anytime soon. Or we may binge due to the impulsion of traumas inflicted on us in childhood, which again are difficult to shift.
Many of us occasionally glut out on food, of course, whether or not we have a recognized disorder. Western society has an abundance of edibles to which pretty much everyone has ready access. Eating is one of life’s pleasures that we all enjoy, but Vedic wisdom tells us that it is a material attachment. Dysfunctional or not, the pleasure of eating helps to keep us in what is called the bodily concept of life, an awkward condition that lies at the root of all our problems.
Although we are spiritual beings, when we forget this fact we identify with the material body. As we wish to enjoy and be happy we naturally feel that pleasing the body is the way to go, it being who we think we are. But by grasping its pleasures, immersing ourselves in bodily feelings, we also have to accept the pains that inevitably afflict all material bodies. The consequences of overeating are but a small example of those.
Vedic sages therefore recommend detachment from the body and its attendant pleasures. But of course, we are back to our original little puzzle, how to stop doing something you really enjoy? Or that is providing solace in a harsh age of suffering. To this the sages respond by suggesting that there is a far greater pleasure to be had than anything offered by worldly enjoyments.
That great contemporary sage, Srila Prabhupada, writes in his Srimad Bhagavatam that we are “misrepresented by material hunger.” He goes on to say, “The whole material world is full of hungry living beings. The hunger is not for good food, shelter or sense gratification. The hunger is for the spiritual atmosphere.”
In other words, as spiritual beings it is only spiritual pleasure that can truly satisfy us. Material hunger, whether for food or anything else, is only a symptom of the deeper longing of the soul. This hankering is for the unlimited ecstasy that is found when we unite with the Supreme. In Vedic parlance this sublime and ever-increasing pleasure is known as the “higher taste”. One who has tasted this sees all material enjoyment as pale by comparison. No matter how much bliss we may get from a chocolate cake we have to admit that it has its limits, as indeed does the amount of it we are able to imbibe without incurring seriously painful side effects.
Spiritual enjoyment, on the other hand, has no downside and goes on forever. It is an experience beyond the body and even the material mind; the pure spirit connecting in love with the ocean of divine bliss that is God. And it is cheaper even than a chocolate cake. Free in fact. We need only chant God’s name, especially the Hare Krishna mantra, and we start approaching that ocean.
Try it today and watch every addiction, dysfunction, stress and misery gradually start to melt away. And the mandometer? Well, maybe it can be reprogrammed to remind us, in its charming robotic way, who we really are.
Sri Krsna Chaitanya Prabhu
A Prayer to the Lotus Feet of Sri Gauranga
Narottama das Thakur
(Also known as ‘Punah Prarthana’, “Praying repeatedly for the mercy of Lord Chaitanya and his devotees”)
sri-krsna-caitanya prabhu doya koro more
toma bina ke doyalu jagat-samsare
Sri Krishna Chaitanya, my Lord, be merciful to me,
For who within this world of pain can more gracious be?
patita-pavana-hetu tava avatara
mo sama patita prabhu na paibe ara
You descended to deliver the fallen and forlorn.
Then save me soon my Lord I pray; no worse wretch was born.
ha ha prabhu nityananda, premananda sukhi
krpabalokana koro ami boro duhkhi
O my dear Lord Nityananda, full in ecstasy,
grace me with your glance and free me from my misery.
doya koro sita-pati adwaita gosai
tava krpa-bale pai caitanya-nitai
O most merciful Advaita, look kindly on me,
Then Gaura and Nityananda, I shall surely see.
ha ha swarup, sanatana, rupa, raghunatha
bhatta-juga, sri-jiva ha prabhu lokanatha
O six glorious Goswamis, hear my plaintive plea,
Swarup and Lokanath my lord, be gracious to me
doya koro sri-acarya prabhu srinivasa
ramacandra-sanga mage narottama-dasa
Srinivasa, O great teacher, please show me mercy.
Narottam with Ramachandra, would forever be.
Here is another great favourite of Srila Prabhupada. It can be sung in a number of ragas or melodies, including for example the melody generally used for the Guru Vandana prayers. The first line should be sung separately, as a kind of crie de couer, a refrain along with the following two lines. Again, with a little practice the English verse will work with any of the melodies. Enjoy.
Prayer to One’s Beloved Lord
Narottama das Thakur
hari hari! bifale janama gonainu
manusya-janama paiya, radha-krsna na bhajiya,
janiya suniya bisa khainu
O Lord Hari, my life has passed uselessly.
Though as a human I was born, I have not worshiped you my Lord.
Thus did I drink poison purposefully.
golokera prema-dhana, hari-nama-sankirtana,
rati na janmilo kene tay
samsara-bisanale, diba-nisi hiya jwale,
juraite na koinu upay
The treasure of Vrindavan prema, descended with the Holy name,
yet no attraction awoke within me.
The poison of worldly desire, burns my heart like blazing fire,
but I refuse to take this remedy.
brajendra-nandana jei, saci-suta hoilo sei,
balarama hoilo nitai
dina-hina jata chilo, hari-name uddharilo,
tara saksi jagai madhai
Krishna came as Gauranga, Balaram as Nityananda,
to give the nectar of the name freely.
And any fallen sinful soul, can thus find freedom eternal,
Jagai and Madhai prove this perfectly
ha ha prabhu nanda-suta, vrsabhanu-suta-juta,
koruna karoho ei-baro
narottama-dasa koy, na theliho ranga pay,
toma bine ke ache amara
O hear me please dear Lord Krishna, along with your most dear Radha,
give to me your magnanimous mercy.
Narottama dasa prays, please do not push me away,
for you Lord are my beloved only.
A great favourite of Prabhupada’s. He particularly wanted us to know and sing the songs of Narottama. With a little practise the English verse here works with all the standard Bengali tunes.
Gauranga Bolite Habe
Narottama das Thakur
gauranga’ bolite habe pulaka-sarira
‘hari hari’ bolite nayane ba’ be nira
When will I quake with ecstasy
when chanting Gaura’s name?
And when, calling Hari Hari,
will I weep without shame?
ara kabe nitai-cander karuna hoibe
samsara-basana mora kabe tuccha ha’be
When will Nitaicandra bestow
on me his great mercy?
So all my worldly wants and woe
shall cease to trouble me.
visaya chadiya kabe suddha ha’be mana
kabe hama herabo sri-vrndavana
When shall at last my mind be free
from all mundane desire?
For then I shall Vrindavan see.
What fortune can be higher?
rupa-raghunatha-pade hoibe akuti
kabe hama bujhabo se yugala-piriti
When will I study eagerly
the six great Goswamis?
for then I will know perfectly
divine pastimes of bliss.
ei chaya gosai yara-mui tara dasa
tan’-sabara pada-renu mora panca-grasa
I shall but serve that person who
serves the six Goswamis.
And I shall have as my best food
dust from his holy feet.
manasa, deho, geho, jo kichu mor
arpilu tuwa pade, nanda-kisor!
Body, mind and family, all that I own,
Nanda Kishor my Lord, I offer you alone.
sampade vipade, jivane-marane
day mama gela, tuwa o-pada barane
Prosperity or penury, in life or in death,
I never will worry with you as my breath.
marobi rakhobi-jo iccha tohara
nitya-dasa prati tuwa adhikara
Whether I live or die Lord, choose as you will.
For my place is ever your wish to fulfil.
janmaobi moe iccha jadi tor
bhakta-grhe jani janma hau mor
If by your behest, I be born again,
I pray that your pure servant’s house I attain.
kita-janma hau jatha tuwa das
bahir-mukha brahma janme nahi as
Born as a worm in your bhakta’s abode,
is better than a Brahma, forgetful and proud.
bhukti-mukti-sprha vihina je bhakta
labhaite tako sanga anurakta
I long but to always be in the company
of your sinless servants, who praise you purely.
janaka, janani, dayita, tanay
prabhu, guru, pati-tuhu sarva-moy
Father, mother, lover, guide, son and protector,
you to me are everything, forever my Lord.
bhakativinoda kohe, suno kana!
radha-natha! tuhu hamara parana
Bhaktivinoda prays, please Krishna hear me,
you are my life and soul Lord, eternally.
Here is the Damodarastakam. I have endeavoured to render it into eight English verses that can be sung to the standard tune. In doing so I have worked from the literal word for word translation. Much of the translation found in ISKCON songbooks is an unpacking of Satyavrata Muni’s expressions drawn from the Bhagavatam. However, to try and repack that into eight English verses presents an impossible task, so I have had to settle for the straight translation. I hope it conveys enough of the wonderful meaning of these prayers. Sung in conjunction with the original Sanskrit, I believe it helps English readers (not fluent in Sanskrit) to go at least a little more deeply into the bhava. I pray that I may not have missed any of the essential meaning, or worse still, allowed any rasabhasa to enter. Please do not hesitate to point out any such aberrations if you should see them.
(found in the Padma Purana of Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasa, spoken by Satyavrata Muni in a conversation with Narada Muni and Saunaka Rsi.)
“In the month of Kartika one should worship Lord Damodara and daily recite the prayer known as Damodarastaka, which has been spoken by the sage Satyavrata and which attracts Lord Damodara.” (Sri Hari-bhakti-vilasa 2.16.198)
lasat-kundalam gokule bhrajamanam
paramrstam atyantato drutya gopya
I bow down to Damodara, the form of full joy,
eternity and wisdom, within Vrindavan.
Whose shining earrings swung as he so swiftly ran
from mother Yashoda who caught that naughty boy.
rudantam muhur netra-yugmam mrjantam
sthita-graivam damodaram bhakti-baddham
Captured by Yashoda, crying repeatedly,
he rubs his reddish eyes with his trembling hands.
On his conchlike neck his necklace shakes as he pants.
I bow down to Damodara, bound but by bhakti
itidrk sva-lilabhir ananda-kunde
sva-ghosam nimajjantam akhyapayantam
tadiyesita-jnesu bhaktair jitatvam
punah prematas tam satavrtti vande
Thus bathing Gokula in a great lake of bliss;
he shows love defeats him, devoid of reverence.
Conquered only by those in complete confidence,
I offer him unlimited loving praises.
varam deva moksam na moksavadhim va
na canyam vrne ‘ham varesad apiha
idam te vapur natha gopala-balam
sada me manasy avirastam kim anyaih
I beg not from you Lord, who can grant any boon,
even liberation or life in your abode.
Let memories of Gopala be ever bestowed,
for what other favour offers such great fortune?
idam te mukhambhojam atyanta-nilair
vrtam kuntalaih snigdha-raktais ca gopya
muhus cumbitam bimba-raktadharam me
manasy avirastam alam laksa-labhaih
Your dark, crimson hued curls encircle your face,
lovely like a lotus, with lips of ruby red;
kissed by Yashoda; within my mind be seated.
A billion other boons could not grant such grace
namo deva damodarananta visno
prasida prabho duhkha-jalabdhi-magnam
grhanesa mam ajnam edhy aksi-drsyah
O Damodara, Ananta, O almighty Vishnu,
I fall down prostrate, pray be pleased upon me.
Blinded and sinking in a sea of misery,
grace me with your glance that I shall ever see you.
kuveratmajau baddha-murtyaiva yadvat
tvaya mocitau bhakti-bhajau krtau ca
tatha prema-bhaktim svakam me prayaccha
na mokse graho me ’sti damodareha
Dear Damodara, the sons of Kuvera you saved,
while a baby, by breaking the trees they became.
As you granted them prema, pray grant me the same,
I want not salvation, your love alone I crave.
namas te ’stu damne sphurad-dipti-dhamne
tvadiyodarayatha visvasya dhamne
namo radhikayai tvadiya-priyayai
namo ‘nanta-lilaya devaya tubhyam
I bow down to the bright rope that binds your belly,
within which the cosmos is completely contained.
To your beloved Radha I bow yet again,
and to you the hero who plays wonderfully.
Jaya radha-madhava kunja-bihari
Praise to the Lord’s loving pastimes within Vrindavan
With Radha and with all the cherished cowherd maidens
Yashoda’s dear son and the holder of Govardhana
Seen always strolling by the Yamuna
In groves and gardens, enchanting Vraja
According to recent figures obtained from a survey of many initiating gurus, some 96% of their disciples live outside of temples. This figure is reflected in our own experience here at the Manor, where initiated and practicing devotees outside the ashram far outnumber those within.
How times have changed. When I first came to ISKCON in the late 1970’s there were hardly any members outside the ashram. Not at least many who were viewed as being “serious devotees”. Terms such as “flaky”, “fringy” or just plain “blooped” were often applied by the less charitable to those who left the temple.
But within the ashram, life was flourishing. During my first year at the Manor I often had to sleep on the landing, as the ashram rooms were full to overflowing. There were devotees everywhere. It could be austere at times. Everyone rose early for mangal arti, jostling for the three shower cubicles in the bathroom. I was never in that much of rush for those showers myself, mind you. They consisted of a pipe jutting from the wall that delivered a jet of icy water that took your breath away. At least you went down for the arti wide-awake in crystal clear consciousness.
They were blissful days–full morning programmes with dozens of devotees, then a full day of temple service. But gradually as we grew older things changed. Most of us married and moved out, sometimes to our dismay, as it seemed we were falling down to the ranks of the fringe outsiders. I recall one devotee running from the room in terror when he was asked to marry by the temple authorities. “They’ll never get me alive,” he was heard to cry as he vanished into the distance.
Slowly, though, we came to terms with our new situation. As we studied Srila Prabhupada’s books we realised that living outside the ashram need not be an impediment to one’s practise. Indeed it dawned on us that Srila Prabhupada himself had spent most of his life as a householder, as did his grand spiritual master Bhaktivinoda Thakur. In one lecture Srila Prabhupada said, “…one who is simply interested with spiritual life, they can also be claimed as mahatma even in the household life. But his interest is only for God realization and his symptom is described that his only aim is God and he’s not attached with material comfort or with persons who are simply engaged for the improvement of bodily happiness.”
It might take just a little while to get free of those pesky attachments for material comforts, but apart from that there is no reason why a householder cannot be a mahatma, a great soul.
There are of course other characteristics of a mahatma, such as described in Bhagavad-gita, (9.14), where Krishna says he is “always chanting my glories”.
“Always”. Well, that too may take a while to reach, but at least some chanting can be there. Not just rounds, but householders can also have a daily programme of sadhana. This also dawned on me after a while; it is possible to have a full programme of Krishna consciousness without living in the temple. Ex ashram devotees like myself are sometimes prone to think that we have to go to the temple to have a morning programme. I remember struggling for some time to attend mangal arti with first of all one, and then two small children. Not easy. Neither for me nor for those who found their rounds disturbed by my energetic children as they tried to entertain themselves during a long japa period.
Eventually the following statement from Bhagavad-gita (13.8 purport) impressed itself upon me: “If one is in full Krishna consciousness, he can make his home very happy, because this process of Krishna consciousness is very easy. One need only chant Hare Krishna… accept the remnants of foodstuffs offered to Krishna, have some discussion on books like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, and engage oneself in Deity worship. These four things will make one happy. One should train the members of his family in this way. The family members can sit down morning and evening and chant together Hare Krishna… If one can mold his family life in this way to develop Krishna consciousness, following these four principles, then there is no need to change from family life to renounced life.”
Since reading this I have had a daily programme with my family, at whatever time is most convenient for us, which I have to confess is not always the crack of dawn. For busy householders adjustments may have to be made. We may sometimes do our “morning programme” in the evening, but we always try to fit it in, along with our discussions of the scriptures. It really makes a difference to the consciousness.
Give it a try. Before you know it your family life will be an ocean of bliss. Well, at least a lake
Probably few of you will have missed the recent announcement of the “Ig Nobel Awards”, given out by a group calling themselves the “Annals of Improbable Research”. This year their Peace Prize went to the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, for inventing a chemical weapon that has been nicknamed the “gay bomb”. Adding a new dimension to the old dictum “make love not war”, this weapon releases a cloud of gas that makes men irresistibly attracted to one another. Forgetting all about fighting, they would immediately throw down their weapons and go about embracing each other. Devilishly clever, what?
This marvelous weapon has yet to be tested in the field, and meanwhile wars grind on around the world, most notably in Iraq, which British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently visited. So unpopular is this conflict that when Mr. Brown announced troop withdrawals during his visit, he was accused of currying public favour in the run up to a possible election. Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, suggested he was using the troops as a “political football”.
War is of course never a game of any kind. It is an expensive and harrowing business, and any government whose country is embroiled in war will surely endeavour to extricate itself at the earliest possible opportunity. Clearly there are compelling reasons for not doing so in Iraq, even if these, as the more cynical might suggest, are only economic.
What though is the Vedic position on such conflicts? That is not always an easy question to answer. Certainly war is a part of Vedic politics, after all the Bhagavad-gita was spoken on a battlefield. And the reasons that would make war a Vedic imperative are much the same as those argued by today’s politicians, namely to resist or curb down aggressors.
Few of us would oppose any war that was truly being fought for this reason. Obviously we don’t want swarthy desperadoes swarming our countries, blowing up our trains, planes and buildings. And we surely want to avoid having them burst through our doors, offering us the choice of embracing their faith or having our gizzards forcibly removed. This would seem to be the scenario we are led to believe may occur if certain wars are not fought.
The difficult question is whether or not a given conflict truly has such an aim. We are not privy to all the machinations of government, and politicians as a whole lack an unblemished record of thorough honesty, so the doubts are there. But we have to accept that war is sometimes required.
Notwithstanding the necessity of some fights, the principle aim of Vedic morality is to attack the mindset that leads to aggression and unwanted conflict in the first place. In one famous episode described in a Vedic text, two violent thugs are about to be killed by the divine incarnation Lord Chaitanya, but his brother Nityananda checks him. “Let us destroy the criminal mentality,” he pleads, “not the criminal themselves.”
This is the real problem. Hatred, envy, anger, lust and greed–these are the actual enemies we face. Some of us succumb to them rather more than others, and hence dissent arises on one scale or another. But all of us find these nuisances assailing us at times, and when they do our peace of mind is naturally disturbed. In such a condition we become likely candidates for conflict, often turning on whoever happens to be available at the time.
If then we can find some way of subjugating these powerful assailants we will naturally reduce all kinds of strife, both within and without. And that is precisely the aim of Vedic spirituality, to purify our hearts and minds, which should surely be the aim of any religious doctrine.
When we engage in genuine spiritual life we find our baser impulses subsiding. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna says, “A faithful person who is dedicated to spiritual practice, who subdues the senses, will achieve pure transcendental knowledge and quickly attain supreme peace.”
This is the true test of our practice; are we becoming peaceful? Or are we coveting our neighbour’s ass, eyeing his wife, hating his race or religion, or just feeling plain disturbed for so many other possible reasons? If so it is perhaps time we reviewed our religious practices, or the absence of them. Far from being the cause of conflict, as it has become fashionable to suggest, religion–properly practiced–offers us the only real hope of ever seeing an end to unwanted wars (with or without the gay bomb).
Here is Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s blissful arti song. A vision of pure ecstasy.
jaya jaya goracander aratiko sobha
All glories to Lord Gauranga’s greatly gorgeous arati.
Attracting all living beings, by the sacred Jahnavi.
Gaurange arotik sobha, jaga jana mana lobha (refrain)
Gauranga’s glorious arti, attracts all living entities
daksine nitai-cand, vame gadadhara
nikate advaita, srinivasa chatra-dhara
By his right side stands Nityananda, by his left is Gadadhara,
In front Advaita and Srivasa, bearing an umbrella.
vosiyache goracand ratna-simhasane
arati korena brahma-adi deva-gane
On a golden throne of jewels sits the glorious Gaura,
While the devas offer worship headed by Lord Brahma.
narahari-adi kori’ camara dhulaya
Narahari and companions cool the Lord with bright white fans
Mukunda, Vasugosh and Sanjay, sing the sweetest sankirtan.
sankha baje ghanta baje baje karatala
madhura mrdanga baje parama rasala
The sound of conch and karatalas, blends with bells and beating drums.
Making thus a melody, that most beautiful becomes.
Sankha baje ghanta baje, madhur madhur madhur baje (refrain)
Conch and karatal, drums and bells, how sweet is the sound that swells
bahu-koti candra jini’ vadana ujjvala
gala-dese vana-mala kore jhalamala
Gauranga’s brilliant beauty, conquers millions of moons
His garland of forest flowers shines like the proudest plumes
siva-suka-narada preme gada-gada
bhakativinoda dekhe gorara sampada
Shiva, Shuka and Narada, are all choked with ecstasy
Thus does Bhakativinoda, see Lord Gaura’s great glory
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