H.G. Matsyavatar Das

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

My first meeting with my Guru Maharaja: His Holiness A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Shrila Prabhupada -PART 1/2- Di Matsyavatara dasa (Marco Ferrini)

In the summer of 1976 I was in India, on the Himalaya. I was seriously interested in the philosophy of the sage Patanjali (yoga sutra) and I was living in an ashram in a very austere way, where I studied attentively from dawn to sunset. There nobody knew who I was; I was 31, unmarried and in excellent health. In Europe I was living a period of great material success. In Italy I had founded six companies and I was considered one of the most famous furniture designers in the world. Plenty of money, fame, and a social life studded with VIPs no longer satisfied me, rather the feeling of solitude even among my crowd of anonymous "friends" saddened me. I felt I was wasting my best years in vain and that I was moving in a direction that was completely the opposite of my aspirations. So in 1974, to everyone's great surprise, I gave a turning point to my life: with great caution I selected my friends, eliminated many worldly commitments and directed my interests more and more towards introspection. I found worldly literature nauseating, even if it was written by the most famous authors. Though I had taken part in the student movement in 1968, I had by now lost interest in their requests, which had been betrayed and politicised. Verbal and political violence, sex and drugs, had destroyed the movement's ideals of freedom and fairness, causing it to degenerate in an unacceptable and definitive way. With this state of mind, I was losing interest in the hedonistic, materialistic western culture and, thanks to some material I had read, was starting to look towards the Orient. Likewise, the course of my travels also changed and instead of going to Paris or New York, I began visiting China and India until I finally put into focus the barycentre of my research: My interest was concentrated more and more on the spiritual. I found Vedic literature very interesting, and among this, Patanjali's "Yoga Sutra" was my favorite book. In 1976 I went to India for the third time, resolved to find a satisfying answer to my existential questions. During this, as well as my previous sojourns, I had visited many ashrams and met many yogis and gurus but none of them inspired me deeply, nor did they convince me as much as I had expected. I began to think that I was not yet ready or did not have the "correct vision" and that I would have to purify myself through study and an ascetic life. I was convinced that by doing so God would reveal to me with clarity the path to follow. In this mood, I went to an anonymous ashram to "prepare" myself for spiritual research. This same year, at the end of August in the ashram I have just mentioned, I made friends with a brahmachari of my age, who looked intelligent and ascetic. We both attended the classes on Vedanta-sutra, studying together nd talking about our aspirations. Early one day, he told me gravely: " If you want to be happy you have to devote your life to Krishna and in order to do so you must meet Shrila Prabhupada personally, since he can introduce you to Krishna. Leave this place, go to Vrindavana and speak with Prabhupada". I had never heard anything about this Swami and the figure of Krishna, as it was presented in the Bhagavad-gita that I had read, did not impressed me much. Struck by my friend's attitude, I asked him for more explanations and he replied that he was a Vaishnava and that he was there to preach. We started to talk about Krishna and Prabhupada and one of the first things he told me, was that the Bhagavad-gita I had read was not authentic and that Krishna can be revealed only by one of His pure devotees which was why I should have immediately gone to meet Prabhupada in Vrindavana. We stopped attending the classes on Vedanta and we regularly met on the banks of the Ganges. We would chant the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra and I would listen to him recount Krishna's and Prabhupada's pastimes. On August 27th we affectionately parted ways and I left for Vrindavana in search of Prabhupada. I did not know exactly where Vrindavana was, nor how far it was from where I was at the present. I knew only that I had to meet Prabhupada, who would introduce me to Krishna.
In this manner, thinking intensively of Prabhupada, my trip began. I left that ashram and travelled up to Haridwara, from there I took a train to Delhi, then another to Mathura, from there I took a tanga (a cart drawn by a horse) to Vrindavana. I got to Vrindavan in the early afternoon and under an implacable sun I immediately began to look for Srila Prabhupada. I only knew that he was in a Krishna temple in Vrindavana, so I asked the driver candidly to take me to the temple of Krishna. He took me to innumerable Krishna temples, where I entered and asked about Prabhupada, but even from my first impressions, I knew I was not yet in the right place. After hours spent going in and out of many temples, the tanga driver lost his temper, afraid that I was making fun of him and would never pay him, after a series of threats, he threw my baggage in the middle of the street. I was in Vrindavana, now I knew there were thousands of Krishna temples and more then one person who was claiming to be Prabhupada, but I did not know in which temple my Prabhupada was. I was alone, tired, hungry, sitting on my luggage in the middle of a dusty street, the passerbys watching me curiously. My poor knowledge of English was not of much help. Since I was standing near a fence, after a while I decided to knock on it's large iron gate, which opened at once. A bright, clean devotee appeared and I asked him the same information I had already implored so many times that afternoon: "I am looking for Srila Prabhupada...", from the open gate I could see a coloured temple and a beautiful garden and even before the devotee answered, I felt I was in the right place. The devotee, who was Italian, invited me to come in and seeing my condition, he prepared me a room where I could rest and wash, then he told me that after taking prasada, I could meet Srila Prabhupada. I was extremely happy: I felt safe and my faith in the protection of Prabhupada and Krishna was increasing. Once I had recovered from my tiredness, the devotees informed me that Prabhupada had left for Delhi the day before, therefore the following day I also left for Delhi. Before leaving, I asked the temple president to write me a letter of introduction. When I arrived in Delhi, it was very late at night: I was to meet Prabhupada the next morning.

Monday, 14 February 2011

About religious freedom By Matsyavatara Dasa (Marco Ferrini)

On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 18

-Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, consciousness and religion; this right includes freedom to change one's religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest one's religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.-

Article 19

-Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.-

In the last days we were ashamed to hear about the disrespectful behaviour resulted in barbarous acts against Christians, mostly in Countries of Muslim tradition, that caused the death of many people. By witnessing so many frequent episodes of violence, with regards to religious intolerance, more than ever today we feel the moral need to remark a fundamental concept for the human welfare society, to favour its ethical and spiritual development: the importance to respect one’s freedom to seek a religious belief as a civil way of living. Everyone has the right – women and men at the same level – to freedom of thought and expression of one’s own belief or religion. We make a strong and clear claim first of all to our conscience and to the sensitive people who spend time to listen, in order to reject any form of violence and whether possible to promote, to defend and value the respect for practising any form of religion, not only by granting to each individual the possibility to choose in one’s own private life which religion to follow and how. Furthermore to grant the faculty to become a follower of that particular beleif, self-guarding the right to become a witness of that faith, to convey and spread the message in the society we live in, with full respect for the others and for the basic values of living together in a civil society.
Episodes of violence claimed in the name of religion, with the aim to repress a faith different from the one accepted by the majority of the population, appear to us as heavy as those offences made towards us, against our own religious values that attain to our person, because such acts of violence are by far contrary to the essential freedom of every human being.
By repressing the rispectful expression of one’s belief, we deny the principle of religious freedom in itself, which is a fundamental part of a wider concept of individual freedom. As a matter of fact if we lack the freedom to practise spiritual values, what other kind of freedom could we ever talk about?
Freedom on the political and social level without the respect for a religious freedom, that attains to the more intimate and deeper instances of each human being, is considered neither real freedom nor justice. As History may very well teach us, where there is no justice there can never be peace and freedom.
Besides the kind of belief it may concern, each religious fundamentalism is an attack to freedom and to spiritual realization, the same as every exasperated laicizing of spiritual values is an attack to the expression of freedom, of one’s own way of being, feeling and projecting life in accordance to an evolutive and creative purpose.
For this reason, if we really want a better human world, it is essential, today more than ever, to become witnesses and leaders of an authentic expression of religion on the basis of a rightful freedom.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Family Matters (Part Five - Last) - By Matsya Avatara Dasa (Marco Ferrini)

Rigid versus Rigorous

Many times, listening to his tapes and reading his books, I heard Srila Prabhupada say that illicit sex is illicit sex. Very true, but I have heard him thundering against extra-conjugal illicit sex and have heard him being understanding, compassionate―not approving, not accomplice―towards those who, out of weakness, break the principles in family life. Pay attention to this point: I don't approve the breaking of principles and I am not accomplice of those who break them, even within family life. But I am ready to be quite tolerant, ready to provide help to overcome these weaknesses―without an air of catastrophe, without excessive criminalization―because those instincts, if negated or brutally repressed, slide into the unconscious and create much more damage than when they are dissolved in the sunlight. One can't avoid taking them in consideration. Either accepting such instincts or rejecting them should be done consciously, with awareness. One should use all one's resources to sublimate these instincts to a higher level, the spiritual one. And even if one succeeds nine times out of ten but the tenth time bangs his head, he should try again till perfection.
There are spirit souls who are more reawakened and those who are less reawakened; those who have more success and those who have less success, but the important thing is not to embark in disasters. I believe that in the past many tragedies occurred due to interpreting things, although in good faith, in a rigid manner instead of in a rigorous manner. There is great difference between these two concepts. What is rigid is unfortunately also very fragile. What is rigorous is much better. Rigid has a negative connotation while rigorous has a positive one. A rigid, crude, hard, radical negation―which, I repeat, could be in good faith―means repression, but if these impulses don't act on the conscious level they act, and even more powerfully, on the unconscious level. In a moment of distraction or in a moment in which our perception of God is a little hazy, in a moment of tiredness or in a moment of disappointment, these impulses surge out like a torrent overflowing its ridges and flood our consciousness. And the apparently faultless person becomes abominable.
This is a school of life. We have to learn the art of living. We have to be comprehensive towards the needs of others. We should help all those who are sincere but conditioned and with weak willpower to canalize and orient their urges upwards―without brutally negating them. If one is addicted to tobacco, let him smoke a cigarette once in a while. If one is an alcoholic, let him drink a glass once in a while. If one is addicted to sex, let him have an intercourse once in while. In this way the mind organizes itself to do always better, to improve. If a devotee is helped, cared for and inspired spiritually, receiving guidance and mercy by the spiritual master and understanding by the vaishnava, and behaving sincerely, then this process will lead to a purification of one’s samskara and desires. Bhakti is especially meant for the correction and transformation of one’s deep, unconscious tendencies (vasana). Brutal negations are a terrible teaching and it's for this reason that great thinkers have classified also organized religion―or rather the Churches―as one of the neurosis-generating environments: family, work and religion. Religions, when interpreted rigidly, to the letter, are dangerous means of serious conditioning, of neurosis, but religion, when explained by the spiritual master, sadhu and realized persons, is an extraordinarily effective means of spiritual realization.
In the same 'tree' category there are hundreds and thousands of different trees, similarly there are many different human beings. We can't make one law for everyone and make it so rigid that it doesn't work for anyone. There must be general moral definitions, but they can’t be applied in the same way to every individual. We should have general definitions because man lives in community, is a social being and can't negate his social needs. General definitions drive the group to grow; comparison among peers generates the drive for improvement, also among spiritualists. But even in law, the general definitions are not applicable to all individuals in the same way. Therefore the legislator―in our case the spiritual master, the vaishnava―has to understand the peculiarities of each person. The law remains one for everyone, but there should be personal considerations in the application.
Question: I would like to verify if I understood properly: we should see our spouse as a person who is helping us dissolve that attachment that is not spiritual―and which causes damage―and therefore we see him or her as a friend, with a sentiment of reciprocal help. This relation is like one of the various camps established in climbing a mountain, right?
Yes, if you feel alone and incapable of reaching the summit you might be overcome by desolation and by anguish. You might lack the energy to even start the climb. But you do have the desire to reach the summit and therefore we are not talking of grihamedhi but of grihastha, whose aim is spiritual realization. Sometimes it's necessary to make this journey in two, because by oneself one doesn't have enough strength, even psychologically. It's crucial that the spouses remind each other of why they got together. When a spouse has a difficult moment, the other must remind him or her of the original motivation in a consistent way. Otherwise, if they both forget, they go somewhere else.
Question: It's about continence, abstinence from sex. Sometimes the couple fails to control the sexual urge and becomes so "confidential," so familiar that they reach a point where they don't value each other any more; they can't see each other's good qualities anymore.
This is a very interesting question. There is a confidentiality that doesn't diminish respect. That's confidentiality on a spiritual basis. When familiarity becomes excessive and it's reduced to the material plane, it inevitably creates disrespect and causes disappointment. Step by step this darkness envelops the zone of light until the relation is largely consumed, depleted. During the excitement, the enthusiasm of the moment one doesn't perceive that this is happening, but it does actually happen. One whose vision is sufficiently detached―but attentive, profound, discriminating―can understand when this happens. Therefore we should try to define what love is, because this helps a lot, it helps enormously in creating categories. Life needs categories; otherwise we don't understand what's happening.

yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthau
prakashante mahatmanau

"Only unto one who has unflinching devotion to the Lord and to the spiritual master does transcendental knowledge become automatically revealed."(Svetashvatara Upanisad VI.23)
In the path of bhakti, love is defined as the sentiment for guru and Krishna. Just like food has to be inserted in the mouth; there are innumerable other ways of inserting food but they don't work. One could make little balls of rice and stick them in one’s ears, but it doesn't work. One could even try intravenously, and also in that case there would be nourishment, but it won't give pleasure and real strength. Shrila Prabhupada said: "We teach all men to love Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If you learn how to love Krishna, which is very easy, then immediately you love every living being simultaneously." (Letter of 10th March 1970) Only the unflinching love for God gives the strength to love all other creatures. This is an essential point; the capacity to love all others is the result of loving God. Otherwise love undergoes devolution, degeneration; it becomes egoistic. Slowly, slowly it shrinks to the level of ahamkara, false ego, the reflected self, the atman reflecting on the mental field.
What is the ahamkara? It's the sum of all the psychic contents with which we identify. Love in this form shrinks to the minute field of the psychic contents, thus practically negating all the real needs of the living being. The effect of love for God, or love "in God"(yasya deve para bhaktir―deve is in the locative case) is not like falling inside a well and getting locked up. Love of God multiplies in love for the husband, for the wife, for the children, for the parents, for the neighbors, for the so-called enemies and for the so-called friends. Therefore through bhakti we can enter into respectful affection. There is morbid affection, which has no respect―think of the pedophiles and the rapists. Criminologists working on the psychological profiles of criminals, would assure that they always talk of affection, of an overflowing affection, but they often cause huge disasters. Love of God is that affection that bubbles over, overflows, and benefits everyone.