General


The Srimad Bhagavatam is the beautiful book of Sri Krishna, Bhagavan. Srimad Bhagavatam is also called the Bhagavata Purana. It contains the essence of the Ancient Vedic Histories known as the Puranas – the transcendental pastimes of Lord Krishna and His saintly devotees.

Mundane histories describe personalities caught in the grip of birth, death, disease and old age. As Nietsche so cynically said, ‘History is for those who dwell in the graveyards’. Prabhupada described mundane narrations as fit for crows. I have seen crows in India and they are very fond of garbage. The Vedas consider the pastimes of Krishna, however, to be amritaimmortal nectar. These descriptions are for swanlike persons and are full of sac-cid-ananda – eternity, knowledge and bliss. Srila Vyasadeva – the compiler of the Vedas, including Srimad Bhagavatam– calls the Srimad Bhagavatam ‘The ripened fruit of the desire tree of Vedic knowledge’.

The Bhagavad-gita is called the ‘Jewel of the Vedas’. Also known as Gitopanisad, an extension of the Vedic teachings called Upanisads, Bhagavad-gita is the oldest book on the planet – dating some 5,000 years. It is the sacred conversation or song between the saintly prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna. The Gita is a perfect summary of the entire Vedic Canon of knowledge.

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada writes, ‘Bhagavad-gita accepted as it is, is a great boon for humanity; but if it is accepted as a treatise of mental speculations, it is simply a waste of time’. Essentially, Bhagavad Gita As It Is means as it is understood in disciplic succession ie. via a lineage of qualified teachers. Srila Prabhupada has presented the world with wonderful translations of the Srimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita. Even more importantly, he has explained to the public at large the true spirit of these scriptures through his authoritative commentaries or purports.

‘The living entities are combinations of the material nature and the spiritual nature.  Such living entities are seen not only on this planet but on every planet, even on the highest, where Brahma is situated.  Everywhere there are living entities; within the earth there are living entities, even within water and within fire.  All these appearances are due to the mother, material nature, and Krsna’s seed-giving process.  The purport is that the material world is impregnated with living entities, who came out in various forms at the time of creation according to their past deeds’ – A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita As It Is 14.4 Purport

‘Service in Krishna consciousness is, however, best practiced under the able guidance of a spiritual master who is a bona fide representative of Krishna, who knows the nature of the student and who can guide him to act in Krishna consciousness.  As such, to be well versed in Krishna consciousness one has to act firmly and obey the representative of Krishna, and one should accept the instruction of the bona fide spiritual master as one’s mission in life’ – A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita As It Is 2.41 purport

‘But worldly people take a contrary view and give the service of Godhead the second or subsidiary place to morality on the assumption that moral living may easily dispense the same.  There are people who admit the existence of God in their practical conduct as a means of establishing themselves in moral life as if Godhead is a mere steward and caterer of their worldly conveniences and comforts.  They opine that Godhead exists only for making us moral and not for our service.  To make Him exist for morality is to make Him an order-supplier.  Such misguided persons make a show of serving God for a time in order that while leading a life of gross worldliness they may pass before the world as self-restrained holy personages, but their purpose is to turn their so-called object of worship into an Impersonal Entity in the long run.  Godhead exists in His Transcendental Form that is visible only to His devotees who render their services for the gratification of His Senses.  Neither conventional morality, which are divorced from the service of Godhead and are practised for the sensual gratification of men, has any place in the conduct of those who live for the gratification of the Senses of God.  All morality, sanctity, good manners, patience, humility, and every other good quality of the head and heart are alway anxious to serve the purpose of the devotees if they are accepted for the worship of God.  Thus it should be admitted on all hands that to seek to separate morality from theism and to imagine Godhead Himself to be subservient to the rules of conventional morality, is nothing short of undiluted atheism’

[Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, ‘Spiritual Morality and Aesthetic Culture’ p.107-8]

My History tutor was a thin man with a black beard. He wore a navy blue V-neck jersey and a plain white collared shirt. He spoke expressively. From time to time, he would make wide, excited movements with his hands. The spirit of the tutor, the design of the buildings and the tutorial itself smacked of Cambridge or something foreign.

‘We will be discussing Historiography and Historicism today’, our tutor exclaimed in a jerky, nervous way. ‘We’ll be taking a look at Interdisciplinary Studies and History’, he added. Then he posed what appeared to be an innocuous question to the students, ‘What is science?’ The initial responses to this question seemed to bes from the perspective of natural science, physics and chemistry. A girl put up her hand, ‘Science is the observation of phenomena based on experimentation and concomittant results’. ‘Yeeesss’ he coaxed. ‘Go on’.

I offered an explanation, on the basis of our Latin Intensive course: ‘The word ‘science’ comes from the Latin word ‘scientiae’ which means ‘knowledge’. ‘Knowledge’, itself, is all-embracing. ‘Knowledge’, in its broad sense, cannot be compartamentalized’. While I was saying this, an image of the British neoclassical architecture fixed itself in my mind. It was very Oxford, the whole setting. Even the discussion. Institutions like Oxford and Cambridge had systematized and comparmentalized knowledge into highly specialized faculties. My tutor’s eyes lit up, and his face rumpled into a satisfied smile. ‘Good’, he said, ‘we are trying to see how different branches or sciences are all basically part of a broader definition of ‘knowledge” At that moment I thought of Cicero’s definition of the word ‘abstract’. Cicero defines ‘abstract’ as ‘that which can only be grasped in thought’. We had connected intellectually.

I still couldn’t really see the point of these tutorials, however. They were never conclusive. A topic would be introduced. We would have to read a whole bunch of articles. And then we’d discuss them in a roundabout way, without getting to the heart of the matter. But what was the heart of the matter? I had yet to resolve this question. When would the elusive truth I was seeking manifest to me?

I revelled in my newfound independence.  But the novelty of writing an MA in History soon wore off.  It became routine. Like a job. I was reading official documents – court records, government letters and deeds – to find myself back at law, only this time through the lens of history.

I had difficulty reconciling my wide philosophical perambulations with the narrow focus of my project: the slave trade to the Cape from 1797-1818. I met my supervisor, Nigel Worden, every six months. Nigel would ask the same question: ‘What is your thesis?’ A blank stare. ‘Michael’, Nigel explained, ‘A thesis is an argument or theory, based on original research, that contributes to the existing knowledge of the discipline of history’.  He continued, ‘What are you trying to say?  What is your argument?  Your contribution to knowledge?’ We were both frustrated. What was my thesis?

I wanted to present to the world a broad and expansive history – like Braudel’s langue duree – of the slave trade to the Cape. Nigel always brought me back to the essence of my task: ‘Why?’ he would ask,’ Why is this relevant?  Why is this information necessary?’  Nigel was an exceptional teacher.  My thinking process was diffuse and holistic, but Nigel coaxed me into seeing the cause-and-effect of historical processes – for myself. I sympathised with John Stuart Mill, the child prodigy, who had a nervous breakdown when his father asked him, ‘What is a theory?’  (He later cured himself with Wordsworth’s poetry!).

The demands of my research and the promptings of Professor Worden had a profound effect on me.  Critical thinking gave way to ethical and existential enquiry. The study of ethics helped me understand people’s decisions and actions.  I, like Diogenes Laertius, wanted to establish a personal code of ethics.  How was I going to do this?

While Bhakta Arne is saturating himself in bliss in Sri Vrindavan Dhama, MCD and G-Man (Gaura Sakti Das) are holding the fort here in Rosebank. We are still cooking up a storm with ‘Krishna’s Vedic Emporium’ foodstalls at the Killarney Mall Organic Market on Thursdays and The Wholefood Market at Blu Bird (Atholl Oaklands) on Sundays. Actually, we held a stall at Blu Bird today and Yelena, the wife of Branco, who sometimes fetches me from the airport, bought a Bhagavad-gita and took a whole lot of pamphlets on Krishna Consciousness. Another lady, Corinne, bought a Spiritual Warrior IV by Bhakti Tirtha Swami and another took a Higher Taste.

Prema Kishore prabhu led us on our third regular Harinam though the streets of Melville last Friday (see http://www.vediccity.co.za for details). I rounded off our very successful Cooking Course on Saturday with Pizza, Khichari, salad and salad dressing. We sponsored the chef, Joseph, from St James (a vegetarian school) and the headmaster wrote a letter praising Joseph’s new cooking skills. I realized that what we take for granted, in this case our training as chefs, is of great value to others. That evening we cut vegetables for Sunday’s market. On Sunday we sold Prashadam at Blu Bird again and held our weekly Sunday programme. It was very encouraging for me to have Gaura Das and some of his friends at the programme. Another friend, Marcelle, arrived just as the guests were leaving. Gaura Shakti showed her some basic mridanga beats, then she sat and chanted a round of the maha-mantra with us. Oh…and we also gave her some chickpea fudge (which she’d had before).

Monday. We teamed up with Nandarani – who was in the Temple with me in Cape Town – at the University of Johannesburg Bhakti Yoga Society (BYS) from 12-2:30pm. We taught the students how to chant on beads last time. This time we held a basic cooking demo: Simply Wonderfuls and Nimbu Pani. The demo went well. Prema Sarovara Mataji’s friend, Grace, bought a Bhagavad-gita. Seven students bought chanting beads at the previous session. That they took beads was a very positive sign from the point-of-view of chanting. They told me at this session that the chanting was really helping them find peace and happiness. I returned to the flat, took a brief nap, then Gaura Shakti and I went to Dwarakadish prabhu’s place for the Marlboro Namahatta. It was humbling to be with such hospitable and respectful devotees.

Tuesday. Market and shopping for the stalls in Fordsburg. We dropped in at “Cater Commercial” to pick up some kitchen utensils kindly sponsored by Bhakta Rakesh and his family. We got in at around 4pm. Gaura Das came in the evening for a Mantra Meditation Session. He brought some of his friends and people he’d met on book distribution – Lebohang, Matthew, Claudia and Mortaza. I delivered 30 pieces of Laddhu (Chickpea Fudge) to a juice-bar in Woodmead on Wednesday morning, rushed back to the flat, then gave a talk on ‘Jyotish And Its Relevance To Spirituality’ (Jyotish is Indian Astrology) at the Wits BYS at from 1-3pm. I bought some slop-chips at “Kara Nicha’s” before trundling back home, back to Pancha Tattva. That night Gaura Das invited us over to his mom’s place for supper (in honour of his wife Jamuna’s birthday). I still had to cut veg for Thursday’s stall when we got back to the flat. Thursday means Killarney Mall Organic Food Market. Self-explanatory. Mother Prema Shakti came to the stall and informed me that there was a GAD (Gauteng Administration and Development) Sub-Committee meeting about Education at her flat with Keshava Krishna prabhu and some other devotees. The meeting touched on various important areas of education – for children, youth and adults. Another late night. Friday, I went on Sankirtan at the airport and Eastgate. Saturday, Sankirtan at Menlyn. Sunday, Blu Bird and Sunday programme.

Tonight we read from Bhagavad-gita and then chanted Damodarastakam Prayers. This week has been quite a busy one, compounded by Arne’s absence. (All the guests left with Chickpea Fudge). We are offering lamps every night to Lord Damodara and chanting the Damodarastakam. Kartik is a month of mercy. May the Lord be kind upon us.

Your servants at the Vedic City Project.

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