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Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the modern world. Dealing with the varieties of challenges we face as practicing Gaudiyas amidst Western culture.

Job etc. & devotion - How to live as a G. Vaisnava in the West

yAcaka - Thu, 24 Apr 2003 22:39:11 +0530
Dear Vaisnavas,

probably I am not the first nor the last one who wants to express his gratitude and admiration for the work done on this website. I am new on the raganuga path and also on this forum, but I had read many of the articles and contributions in discussions before I became a member, and I must say that they are simply wonderful and enlightening. All credit to administrators and the webmaster for their hard work to foster this little community and also all thanks to all the participants who have created such a friendly and inoffensive atmosphere. May I always have such a good association.

This is my first question: I understand that raganuga sadhana, with its emphasis on smaranam and japa (at least 1 lakha a day) takes up a lot of time. How is it possible, then, to have a job, take care of one’s family, household etc. and also do one’s devotion? Or in broader terms: How is it possible to live as a traditional Gaudiya Vaisnava in the western world?

This issue has already been touched on in some of the threads but I feel (or am I wrong?) that it has not been fully developed. I would like to direct this query particularly to those devotees who took diksa from an Indian guru and then returned to the West. How do you manage to apply all that you learnt in India (smaranam, puja, etc) when back here you have to work and have also other obligations?

Especially beginners are in need of certain models that they could then aspire to. Babajis certainly present an excellent model but they are set within the Indian context where the conditions are different from the western countries, and their lifestyle can hardly be emulated by someone living in the West.

I know that Vaisnavas on this forum would not like, humble as they are, to be viewed as models but I am sure that if they described how their lives look like, or maybe how their typical day looks like, they would provide much-needed stimulus and inspiration for someone who is just starting on the raganuga path.

Of course, I would like to hear also from uninitiated devotees of which I think there is a great number in these discussions. I believe that every experience is valuable, the more so when it is shared.

I apologise for a lengthy posting.
Guest_Jagannathdas - Sat, 26 Apr 2003 01:23:44 +0530
Dear YAcaka

I also feel this issue has not been fully developed.
You ask the question, "how is it possible to have a job, take care of the family etc. and also do one's devotion".
The model to look at here is not so much how the babaji's perform bhajan, but of their disciples. If we visit Vraj we will see many babaji's engaged in bhajan, but it is married couples who will make up the bulk of raganuga sadhakas. This is the tradition from Mahaprabhu's time 'till today. Gurus give diksa to married couples and then train them in archana and puja, so that they can carry on these practices at home. This will normally start in a simple fashion probably without smaranam at first and will grow according to the disciples desire. The Gurus instructions will take into account their circumstances.

If we look at the western model, the main emphasis has been for a renounced monastic lifestyle, with householders often made to feel that they are not up to scratch. I have seen couples broken up, so that each becomes a 'bramachari' and 'bramacharini', with all the resultent hardship, when they could have been trained together. I still hear today in ISKCON classes the 'process' described simply as living in the temple, once a decision is made to get married then the process becomes visiting the temple. They may have been temple pujaris but will be discouraged from performing archana at home. Without a process of bhajan many western householder devotees are simply left to stagnate. So traditional lineages in the main offer far more to people with home, family and work commitments than the western model in my experience.
Raganuga sadhana needn't take up too much time if we have other commitments. I personally do not know anyone who is required to chant 1 lakha japa a day. We are required to chant a fixed number a day but this can be decided upon with the Guru according to time and desire. It is best I think to start with a small quantity and as the desire increases we can decide to chant more although this will have to be a fixed amount that we adhere to. In the same way archana and puja can be quite simple. With practise the time involved will come down considerably as you become familiar with mantra and procedure. One way to do this is to do puja, archana and smaranam in the morning before work and do japa in the evening. Extra sadhana can be done at the weekends if your feeling enthusiastic!
I personaly often find myself in difficulties to engage in bhajan. I certainly do not possess the religious nature of the hindus, following this process alone can be difficult. It is not time that separates me from bhajan, just my desire to engage in it.
adiyen - Sat, 26 Apr 2003 13:11:10 +0530
Such a nice question by Yacaka and a nice answer by Jagannath Das. I feel obliged to add some comments because I have recently taken traditional diksha. The brief answer is that it is certainly difficult to live in a western country and practice Gaudiya sadhana. There are perhaps only a handful of devotees who are trying to follow the Raganuga path in the West and each one is solving the problem differently. I have heard of devotees giving up the process because it has become too difficult and time-consuming. This is a real problem and if you feel it is not adequately addressed it is because everyone struggles to some extent, planning eventually to live in the Dham where Sadhana is easier. And I personally can understand why the Iskcon-associated devotees have developed their 'in the Temple' approach- because this can be so helpful if one is weak, and arent we all? But it can also be destructive too, as we may have experienced.

On the other hand, if we remember that the central dictum is 'Smartavya satatam Vishnu...' 'Never forget Krishna, Always practice remembrance of Krishna' then this can be applied under any circumstances and one can practice as little or as much as one is able until the time comes when one can undertake a formal sadhana.

And it really does depend on one's Guru. If one is having difficulty it is proper to place one's self at the mercy of Sri Guru and request guidance. I would offer some specific examples of my own case, but I am such a bad example. There are times when I have been able to chant a lak of Harinam, usually I try to do this on Ekadasi, there are other times when my Sadhana is poor and my enthusiasm is low. Actually my Sri Gurudeva requested me to chant my first diksha mantra 108 times, 3 times throughout the day, and I was not able to do this even when I was living in his association in Sri Radhakunda. I would always forget one of the Sandhya. Also Diksha mantras are usually only chanted immediately after taking one's bath in a clean state, so it is quite difficult. Gurudeva also kept me very busy with Seva, so sometimes I simply had no time to take bath and do my Diksha mantras. To make up I would chant all 3x108 mantra after morning bath.

My Gurubhai, meanwhile, is one young Baba who chanted 3 Lakhs of Harinam for four years. He says it took him about 12 hours and he chants loudly but very clear and pure with deep concentration. But now he is engaged in serving Sri Murti and devotees by Archana and cooking feasts. He is so busy he barely has any time to sleep, so I did not see him doing very much Japa, but every night he would sing Padavali. Meanwhile another Gurubhai, a young householder, would spend an hour or so every morning in silent Smaran, offering flowers on a Patra in some ritual I have not been taught (Yogapith Seva?) which he woud gaze at intently while sitting in a corner of the ashram. Then he would perform a full days' seva, he worked very hard. There are no hard and fast rules.

Hope this helps.
yAcaka - Sat, 26 Apr 2003 19:33:36 +0530
Dear Jagannath and adiyen,

thank you very much for your insightful answers. I found especially the difference between ISKCON-propagated monastic lifestyle (brahmacari) and sadhana within family life (householder) very helpful. Indeed, I think that the position of a householder deserves more attention in the discussion about sadhana in the West. Now I am not sure but I believe I read somewhere that Nitai das had written something about it. Could anyone provide us with a link or further info?

QUOTE(Jagannathdas @ Apr 25 2003,08:58PM)
Raganuga sadhana needn't take up too much time if we have other commitments. I personally do not know anyone who is required to chant 1 lakha japa a day.

Well, I am new on this path, and I have read in several places that a raganuga sadhaka should chant 1 lakha a day (or more), so I was under the impression that 1 lakha was a compulsory minimum. Consequently, with regard to smaranam and puja which I thought to be time-consuming activities as well, I found it difficult, and indeed discouraging, to start or pursue raganuga sadhana in Western conditions. I thank both of you for showing me that it was not necessarily so.

In fact, Jagat’s posting about his sadhana goes in a similar vein (as quoted by raga, April 25 2002, 11:21 PM, on siddha pranali thread):

“As a householder, I am busy with my work, which fortunately requires me to translate Gaudiya Vaishnava literature. I consider this work to be nicely connected to my sadhana.

As far as anything besides this, I chant my mantras and Harinam for 30 to 40 minutes each day. So I suppose I fall quite short of what a serious sadhaka would be expected to do.”

Here, however, he makes a very good point of including his job within his sadhana. In this case, he is constantly serving Krsna either directly through remembrance or indirectly through serving Vaisnavas. (I think it is the same as in your post, adiyen, where your Gurubhais either do direct smaranam or do seva which is just serving Krsna through service of one’s guru).

I see no problem in combining smarana/puja/harinama with seva. The trouble is that in the West one seldom has a job that might be considered seva, and what is even worse, one usually meets there materialistic people who can have, especially in long term, a negative influence on one’s devotion.

Probably what one has to do in such a situation is to start/carry on doing one’s bhajan (Jagannathdas’ tips are useful in this regard), while continuing with the job, and at the same time pray for Radha and Krsna’s mercy to get better conditions for one’s sadhana.

Any other suggestions?
A D R Singh - Mon, 28 Apr 2003 06:58:24 +0530
Dear Vacaka

I think your conclusions are very good. I've been reading Ananta babaji's comments on Narottam's Prema Bhakti Chandrika. Page 84 of Adwaita's translation.

The relevant topic deals with renunciaton of false endeavours. Babaji is asking the question that householders who are surrendered to a spritual master, since they have to pursue some occupation to maintain their families, is'nt this to be considered false endeavour?

We all know that westerners are unable to pursue a career in India due to legalities or conditionings.

Babaji answers this question saying no..this is all geniune work. Devotees who have taken shelter of Krishna's lotus feet are all part of his family, because their houses, wives, friends and money are all offered to the Lord, therefore their domestic duties are to be considered among the items of bhajan.

Krishna told Uddhava "mad artha dharma karmatham.." that the devotees who surrender to me and perform all their activities, whether they be religious or economic, if they perform it for my love, they will attain unwavering devotion to me.

So the Lord assures that one who pursues economic development in this way, devoting everything to him, such a person will attain Krishna prema.

If someone finds himself acting for sensual pleasures, forgetting Krishna, whether residing in Vraj or the West, it will lead to downfall.

yAcaka - Tue, 29 Apr 2003 15:57:38 +0530
Dear A D R Singh/anjani,

thank you very much for so beautifully clarifying the point about householder's activities being actually part of sadhaka's bhajan. I need such reassurances very much.
nabadip - Tue, 06 May 2003 21:51:41 +0530
It is very comforting and full of solace to read, brothers and sisters, what Sri Ananta Das Babaji says about apparently mundane work in one's endeavour to make a living. There is an angle to it, that actually kripa from our guru-lines flows into the world through our work. So many souls get sukriti with or without their knowing, mostly without probably. I think this gives a special dignity to whatever one does, that it is actually a service to all the souls getting in direct service connection with the Divine. They are His anyway, but through this occult (i.e. hidden to the eyes) flow everything we touch gets a special touch, an inclusion in a higher nirguna order. This angle also gives one a responsibility of awareness of what is happening through one's actions. How great is our path, that such marvels are revealing themselves. Jai Nitai.