Live Q&A from Vrindavan
Shree Giridhar Dham Ashram, 2 April 2020
Today's Satsang features answers from Paramahamsa Vishwananda about our relationship with God here on Earth and in Vaikuntha, changes in the perception of that relationship, falling off the spiritual path, and the right answer to the question 'What do you want?'.
Jai Gurudev, everybody!
Today is Ram Navami, the birthday of Lord Rama, and we celebrated in a very simple and easy way the birthday of Rama. It’s the first time we have celebrated Ram Navami in such a very simple, ‘not many people’ way. Because every year for Ram Navami, we celebrate it in a grand way. And it was nice, it was very sweet also. Like I was saying earlier, it’s the first time that we have celebrated Ram Navami according to the time that Rama was born! Especially being here in Vrindavan, it’s a great blessing and, yeah, right now you can hear all the ashrams around here. They are all singing, which is back to Vrindavan how it was, not the quiet Vrindavan, so it’s really vibrant and really nice, actually, to hear all the ashrams and all the chanting going on around us.
You see, Lord Rama came about 10,000 years ago and He was born here. And as a great king, He did a lot. He brought knowledge to the people: how to live, how to care for each other, and so on. And He was a personality that everybody looks up to. When we look at His life, He suffered a lot, yes, but He suffered to keep His word that He had given to His father, and inspired many.
Throughout all these years why has the Ramayana been praised? You can hear many stories of many people, but does that story makes an impact upon you? Many people can write many stories, but why did what Valmiki wrote make such an impact upon the people? Why has the life of great ones like Lord Krishna, Lord Buddha and so on, made such an impact upon the people? Why do we still look upon their life as something inspiring? Because they have not lived their lives for themselves, firstly. They have lived their lives as a service to humanity, as a reminder to humanity of what is life about really, not just the superficial living that everybody goes through. It has created a deep impact upon the life of each one; it still does and always will create an impact. For those who hear the Ramayana and go deeper into it, it will touch and change something within them.
You hear other stories of very great personalities too, but it doesn’t make any difference upon your life, it doesn’t touch the core of you inside. That’s why these great epics carry a certain vibration. In the Hindu tradition, we say that God is also in the form of the holy scriptures. We have that respect for the scriptures, because scriptures, as compared to other books, transform a human being from a normal mundane human being into a divine being.
We should not look at these scriptures from an intellectual point of view, because when we look at it from an intellectual point of view, especially in the West, very often people have another kind of notion of things. Instead of appreciating and diving within it, no, they have to analyse it, they have to understand it. Okay, you analyse it, you understand it, what will that do to you? Will that change anything in you? No, it will not! Because you are looking at it from an intellectual point of view. You see, your intellect, your mind and that wisdom is all limited by the realm of material reality. So, you understand it in a material way. So, that’s why by reading it, by listening to these scriptures you have to really dive within your heart. Let that mind dive deep inside. Then you will have a different understanding and then you will have a transformation.
You have often asked people, ‘What do you want?’, and many people have given different answers. Even in the shastras this question has been asked in many situations. When Prahlad was asked this question, he replied he did not want anything. Is there ever a right answer to this question?
Well, Prahlad said the answer itself, as in your question you said. You see, asking is a very human way. When somebody comes and asks you, ‘What do you want?’, automatically you have in the back of your mind, ‘I want something.’ No? So, that 'want' itself limits the whole possibility of what God is willing to give you. That’s why when Prahlad said to Nrsingadev, ‘Why – what do you want?’ Three times Nrsingadev repeated that question. For sure Prahlad Maharaj said, ‘Oh, my goodness! I am telling You, Baba, I don’t want anything! You, the Supreme Lord Himself has come, You have come out from that wall in such a terrifying way, you have killed my father, what else can I ask of You? Out of mercy, You give; unasked, You give to Your devotee, and now You are asking me what I want?! I am telling You I don’t want anything.’
So, the answer from Prahlad is very powerful and very strong, even if Bhagavan knows that everybody has a certain want. Everybody, even the sages, the rishis, whenever they do their penance, it’s always for something. Some people pray, ‘Oh, give me this’, or, ‘Give me that.’ At the back of the mind we always ask for something, ‘Oh, give me intelligence, give me knowledge, give me this and give me that.’ No! Actually, what we have to learn is that whatever His will is, let it happen. Do you think by asking and asking, of course, you will receive? It’s said, ask, you shall receive. He will give you. He is the abundance of grace, the abundance of mercy, and He will give it you until you really realise what you are here for.
Bhagavan Krishna in the Gita said it. In Chapter 10, verse 10, He put it beautifully, ‘Those whose minds are surrendered to Me with loving devotion, I pour the grace upon them. I give them that grace of wisdom, grace of knowledge, by which they can attain Me.’ It is very beautifully said, you see, Chapter 10, verse 10. Bhagavan Krishna had put everything into that verse. He said it’s nothing about asking. Because whatever you ask, your mind, your intellect, and even the understanding of that wisdom which you receive is all limited by the realms of this reality. So, when you say you understand something, you understand something only to a certain point of understanding in a limited way. Your asking is also based upon a limited way. Here He said, ‘Those whose minds are surrendered to Me in loving devotion…’, He said, ‘…that mind has to transform into devotion.’
What is devotion? Devotion is about surrendering oneself. If here you say, ‘Okay, yes, I am doing my puja to my deity, I am surrendering.’ No! That mind must surrender. As long as that mind doesn’t surrender, that grace doesn’t come. It’s said that ‘those whose minds are surrendered in loving devotion to Me’, so that means the mind that has transformed. It’s no longer ‘I’ who wants to understand something, it’s no longer that ‘I’ want to do something, it’s no longer that ‘I’ want something from You, Lord. It’s not that I’m having devotion to You because I want something from You. I am ready, to accept whatever You pour upon me.’
It is very powerful, even if it doesn’t sound that strong, but actually it is very powerful. You see, what power does it take to accept everything from God? It is a very powerful thing, because very often we say, ‘Yes, oh, I want this, God, and I want that, God. I love You, God, and I will accept everything.’ But the moment He tests you, then you see how much love you have for Him, how much acceptance you have for Him. So, that’s why he said that. You see, people ask and ask, they don’t know what they are asking. Sometime back, one person said, ‘I want God’, yes, everybody wants God. Tell me who doesn’t want God? The whole incarnation of you being here is for the attaining of God, but are you ready to receive Him? Can you handle Him? That is another point.
And also, one thing is that, yes, we keep asking, we want God, we want this, we want that, but we have to understand that to have Him is only by His grace. Our own effort is useless in that. One can meditate, one can chant, can do whatever, but the only thing you can do is transform your mind and make your mind a loving service to Him. For Him to pour His grace upon you is entirely His own will. And when He sees that you are ready, He will grace you with that.
That’s why in the second part of that verse He said, ‘I grace them with that knowledge, for they shall attain Me, they can attain Me’. Which means there is some that can attain Him and some cannot attain Him. How we receive that grace is very important. So, asking, ‘God, give me Yourself, reveal Yourself’, is not the right attitude. Just do your service and remember Him.
Coming back to the talk of Prahlad and Lord Nrsingadev, and it is such a beautiful talk, a very long talk that goes on.( I don’t know whether all this talk will come out from me now, but anyway…) At one point, Prahlad asked Nrsingadev,
‘Prabhu, You are the Lord of the Universe… (here he addressed Him as ‘Prabhu’), tell me. What is a servant? What is the role of a servant?’ Here he asked Nrsingadev and said, ‘Look, a servant is here to please the Master. Yes or no? Whatever the servant does is only to please the Master. If you are a good servant, that is the dharma of a servant, dasya-bhava. Those who have that servitude bhava inside of them, they are here to please the Master. It’s not about pleasing themselves, but about what the Master wants. Then he said to Him, ‘Look, whatever I have is all material, is all bound by limitation. So, what can I offer to You which is not Yours already? Everything is Yours. I don’t have anything to offer to You, and yet, You are asking me to ask You something?! I am your servant, how can I ask You something? You bestow upon me whatever it’s pleasing to You.’
That is the role of a servant: to accept what the Master… Here I’m saying ‘Master’, please, don’t think of this like a master and his slave. No, it’s nothing to do with that. What I am saying about the Master right now, I am saying about those who really care for the people. Often, when we talk about Master and servant, oh, it’s shocking, especially in the western mind. They compare that to a colonial time with a master and slaves. No, it’s nothing to do with that. Here, the servant is offering themselves willingly; that willingness of, ‘I want to serve You, I don’t have anything else, it is not that I expect something from you. I am ready to give myself fully to you.’ That willingness of serving. Compared to slavery, slavery is different. That person is forced to serve, whether they want it or not. The servants in dasya-bhava – Prahlad, Hanumanji – have that bhava inside, ‘I want to serve You, only You, nobody else!’
Prahlad Maharaj said to Nrsingadev, ‘This is the role of a servant, I want to serve You, I’m doing everything to serve You only. How can a servant ask something from the Master? One can’t. A servant, a good servant, never asks anything from the Master and accepts everything that the Master offers to them.’
Nrsingadev agreed with that, but again He asked the question, ‘What do you want? What can I give you?’
He said, ‘Baba, how can I make You understand?’ Then he said, ‘Okay, if You want to give me something, Prabhu, give me the blessing that I never ask anything from You.’
He had cornered Nrsingadev. Prahlad had asked for a boon, and since he asked, Nrsingadev had to give it to him. Prahlad said, ‘Give me the blessing that I never ask anything of You.’ Which means that, ‘Whatever You want, give it to me. I am Yours and You are mine’.
There is no need of asking. That Beloved Lord, who has sent each one here, knows what is good for each one. So, the best is to transform your mind and offer it to the Lord.
In reading the stories of the saints Ramadasu and Mirabai, is it only being God-realised here on Earth that we can have a personal relationship with God and serve Him and how is that different from the eternal relationship we have with God in Vaikuntha?
Different saints have different bhavas inside of them. A few days ago, I was telling you. For some, like Ramadasu, he prayed to Lord Rama to let him be in the invisible world, but serving Sri Rama.
So, let’s see the character of these, of Ramadasu, first. You see, Ramadasu’s life was only to please Rama. Whatever he did was for Rama. He didn’t see the difference between Rama in Badrachalam and Rama in Vaikuntha. Rama is Rama. So, he doesn’t say, ‘The Rama who I’m serving here in the deity of Badrachalam is less.’ He never sees that. For him, whether it is in Vaikuntha or whether it is in Badrachalam, it’s the same Rama he is worshipping and serving. So, for Ramadasu to say, ‘Let me be here to serve’, it’s because he finds great happiness to reinforce the bhakti through his service, through his prayer, in those who come to Badrachalam.
Last year we were there. It is such a wonderful place, such an inspirational place. You see, each place has a saint, and like in Badrachalam, Ramachandra Bhagavan has chosen Ramadasu. Through the example of a bhakta (the word ‘dasu’ means a servant), Rama’s servant, we perceive that, yes, my life is not only for me. My life is also a service to the humanity. Rama’s life is also. He set the example of a king who was here for His people. That’s why Ramadasu said, ‘I also want to be here for the people.’
So, now we look at Mirabai. Mira had a different bhava in herself. Mira’s bhava is the loving bhava. It’s not that Ramadasu was not loving Rama. He was loving Rama, but he was dasya-bhava. But Meera wanted to be with her Beloved. She also inspired people through her writing her poems with how it is when one is fully saturated with the madhurya-bhava, and with what was happening in her, heart-to-heart.
And this is amazing. It’s not that she wanted to merge with Krishna. No, no, no, no, no, no. The Lord wanted her because, when Mira was singing, the Lord was dancing in front of her. When Mira was writing, Bhagavan was listening to her. So, when Mira’s time came for her to disappear, she was 83 years old and Bhagavan came and reached out with His hands to her and took her. Because of such a great soul, every aspect of her material body transformed into Bhagavan Himself.
So, how and what the devotee has to pray and how the devotee has to be…look, all these great examples of the saints are not about them. Again, coming to the first question, it’s about their relationship to God. True saints have realised that, and they have risen to that state. I will not say it’s understanding, because understanding is still limited. You understand many things today and tomorrow you forget about it. No, for them it’s more than just an understanding.
So, a devotee really should just follow what the guru has given to them. Even Mira was just following what her guru, Ravidas, told her: just sing the Name of Krishna, nothing else. But we are not living in that time now. We are living in a different era. We have to adapt it to this era with the chanting of the Name of God and to what the mind is. Leave it to Him, trust Him.
There is this beautiful story. Not a story, but an event that happened to Mira in her life. Mira was, like, crazy, just singing the Name of Krishna, nothing else. So, Tansen and Akbar came in disguise to listening to this wonderful devotional singing of Mira in Chittoor. (Chittoor was under the rule of family of Mirabai which is the Rana family.) So, they were in ecstatic bliss listening to Mira, and Tansen who was a devotee of a great saint from Vrindavan, Haridas Thakur, was also a great singer. So, he understood that bhava that Mira was in and he wanted so much that Akbar come and see her. They were so pleased, as they were leaving, Akbar touched the feet of Mira and placed a pearl necklace at the Feet of the deity.
When Rana heard about that, he became so furious; he felt disgraced, actually, why Mira had not said anything. But for a bhakta who is so humble this doesn’t matter. For those who come to the Feet of the Lord, it doesn’t matter in what religion you are. He called you, who am I to stop you or to say anything? So, Rana called Mira and said, ‘You have been a disgrace to my family, you should go and drown yourself, and don’t ever show me your face again. Go and drown yourself.’
So, Mira took it as an order and she went to the nearby river ready to drown herself when a hand from behind pulled her; not just pulled her, grabbed her! When she turned, she saw her Beloved Giridhari and she fainted. A few minutes later, she woke up and Giridhar Gopal was looking at her and He said to her, ‘My beloved, the life with this material husband of yours is finished. Your duty to him is done. You are Mine.’ And He said to her, ‘Go to Vrindavan, go into these little gullies and find Me there.’ So, Mira went without delay to Vrindavan, and she went around singing the Name of Krishna. And in this Vrindavan, she found everything.
Now, Ramadasu before he disappeared (actually, he also disappeared, he didn’t die) also wanted to kill himself because his wife had darshan of Rama and he didn’t have it, so he felt great pity for himself. He went up on the mountain, took a knife, ready to cut his chest. The moment he cut himself, it opened his heart, and Rama and Sita came out. And like Mira had become one with her Beloved, like that, Ramadasu had become one with his Rama who is everywhere.
That loving service of the Lord carries on whether it is for Mira or for Ramadasu or for any saint who has attained that grace of the Lord. And the devotee should only do their service, with their mind focused upon the Feet of guru and God, nothing else. Because whenever you ask for something, you will have a certain way of looking at it: a limited way. And then you will go into your fantasy and all this stuff. No, just do your loving service to guru and God. The rest He will look after; He will take care.
In the past that my relationship with the Lord felt more intimate than it does now even though I have been consistent in doing my sadhana. Does this mean I have gone backwards on the path or is it normal for there to be some variation in how close to God a bhakta’s heart feels at certain times or stages of life?
Again, this question is similar, and it’s normal. Because at the beginning very often people have a certain enthusiasm when they go on their spiritual path, and due to that enthusiasm, how long can you keep that enthusiastic feeling? You don’t!
Because you have your daily routine, you have your daily life to go on with. It’s a normal reaction that at the beginning you could feel this vibration strongly, this feeling and all these things, but then, later on it diminishes. It‘s not that you lost it, or it’s not that it has disappeared or vanished. No, it is still there.
That loving relationship is always there. There has been no time which it was not there, because this is not just now that you’ve felt it. It’s not just popping up from somewhere. It must come from some place where it has been, no? So, who put it there? Since when have you had it there? Only when Bhagavan reveals itself and says, ‘Yes, it is time now, I claim you back, you belong to Me.’ He removes that veil which separates this reality and Him, so you can feel Him a little bit.
But just to feel Him a little bit is like giving you a wonderful sweet to eat which you want more of! Once you have tasted His love, you will want more. But to want more, you must work for it. You must really transcend your ego and pride, because He will not just give Himself just like that. So, only when there is no pride and ego, will He reveal Himself.
How is it possible that some who appear so dedicated on the spiritual path just fall off the path all of a sudden? What is the reason, and more importantly, what can we do to avoid this happening to us?
Yeah, this is a sad reality, that very often you see people do that. Lately I’ve been experiencing that also. Not in me, I am talking about some of the people around me who were very dear to me, and it’s true, they appeared very spiritual and very dedicated and so on and yet, later on they show a different aspect of themselves.
I think it is a normal human reaction, because very often people who are on the spiritual path like to pretend to be more than what they are really. Especially if you are wearing this orange colour or other colours, very often the ego takes place. And the ego is very subtle. It’s always at the back of the mind, dancing. It can happen that they have appeared very holy and very dedicated on their path, but you see, the misunderstanding comes when people take these people as an example, and this is sad. They say, 'Oh yes, he is like this’, or ‘She is like that, we should listen to them’, or this and that. No, you should not listen to them. You should not take them as example. You should only take the guru as an example. What your guru said to you, that’s what you have to say.
If you follow the word of the guru, that will not happen. That will happen only when people start looking at them and thinking that 'Oh, these people are great personalities’, because of what colour clothes they wear or how dedicated they appear to be. No, then you are not following the guru, you are following them.
So, if you really want not to fall from here, just follow what the guru tells you. And also, one thing: it’s a normal human way, you know? Sometimes people do fall from grace, until they realise their mistake one day in life. They will come back because the grace of God is very merciful.
So, don’t confuse what I am saying right now, saying that God doesn’t love them, or guru doesn’t love them. No, the guru loves them, and cares for them. It’s just that they never see that. They see it only from their personal viewpoint, ‘I, I, I, my, my, my and mine, mine, mine’. And this is the thing. When you are on the spiritual path, those three things you should remove. Especially if you are more close in your service, and especially when you know that people look at you as an example, you should be very observant about that towards yourself. So, if you are observant towards yourself, then there is not a possibility of that.
So, there is much more to talk about that, but I think that is enough right now.
Okay, Jai Gurudev, everybody!