This piece is being featured in “The Emergence of Women’s Voices in ISKCON” a written documentary of the voices of the first-generation pioneer women of ISKCON. Thirty-three authors speak about their relationships with Srila Prabhupada, what women bring to Krishna consciousness, and the importance of women’s voices in ISKCON. My “Letter to our Future Selves” is featured in this book and book launch. Please scroll to bottom of this posting to learn more about this effort. Here is the link to the event on Facebook August 22-23: https://www.facebook.com/
A Letter to our Future Selves
by Rukmini Walker
written on June 20th, 2020
Click here to listen to the audio version of this piece.
Dear Vaisnavis of the future,
My deepest respects to you all. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Several years ago I attended a conference in Geneva, sponsored by the Global Peace Initiative of Women. A woman who was a high court judge in India spoke and explained a powerful metaphor.
She said that traditionally in India, most people lived in a joint family home. There was usually a courtyard space in the center facing inward, and a veranda around the perimeter facing out. The men would usually be on the veranda, talking about finance, politics, science, and the problems and affairs of the outside world.
The women would be in the courtyard cooking together, talking together, dealing with domestic problems, and healing the family’s illnesses with herbal remedies.
Some are trying to lead by facing out, looking for solutions from outside; and some are looking to lead, and heal community by facing in…
Of course, today, there are many women in leadership – in government, in finance, in science, and many other fields as well. In ISKCON, in the US today, there are six women temple presidents. In other countries, there are also women leading in different capacities, in different services. It seems that often women and also men who are spiritually advanced, have an ability to lead in a supportive, empathic way, rather than a controlling or domineering way.
It seems to me that this sort of introspective leadership would mean to lead as a sort of path smoother, or servant leader, trying to truly hear others and deeply appreciate each and everyone’s unique and diverse contribution to the whole. This inward-facing community-centered leadership seems to be a formula for developing what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr called, “the beloved community”.
He defined that beloved community, first of all, as one that offers radical hospitality to everyone; an inclusive family rather than an exclusive club; recognizing and honoring the image of God in every human being. Of course, we would extend that to include every living being.
I’m fond of a certain story about Srila Prabhupada. In the early days, a new devotee, who was also very young at the time, had a chance to serve Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada was staying for a few days in a house near New Vrindavan, and this young man was given the task of guarding the house from outside at night. It began to rain outside and the young man came into the attached garage to do his guarding service from there.
In a few moments, he felt a presence behind him in the garage. He turned around, and there was Srila Prabhupada standing behind him. He fell down and offered his obeisances. Then he rose and asked, “Is there any service I can do for you, Srila Prabhupada?”
Srila Prabhupada said, “Yes. You can go where I will not go!” The young man was bewildered. Srila Prabhupada had just come from Chicago; Dallas; Caracas, Venezuela; San Francisco, and before that Tokyo; soon he would be going on to New York, London, Paris, and Germany…
He asked, “But where is it that you will not go, Srila Prabhupada? You are going everywhere!”
Srila Prabhupada replied, “To the future! And by the way you treat the people there, they will know how much Krsna loves them.”
In other words, Krsna cares for us, for all living beings. He patiently travels with us as the Supersoul in our lost wanderings as we try to fulfill our separatist desires in so many species of life. When we feel distress, Krsna feels compassion for our suffering. “Tat te ‘nukampam…”, “anukampam” means “to tremble with” (SB 10.14.8). And He gives us the understanding by which we can come to Him.
As His aspiring devotees, how can we make our consciousness more like His, in the sense of loving and caring for others? What will enhance our Krsna consciousness and help us go deeper in experience and realization? What parts of ourselves do we want to carry into the future?
What kinds of interactions in our communities and beyond can grow into deep loving exchanges that sustain and build faith and trust?
On the path of Bhakti, we learn that at the center of all existence, there is a love affair, a dance between Radha and Krsna. The divine masculine – Sri Krsna, loving the divine feminine – Sri Radha, who is expanded from Him. She is His own pleasure potency. In effect, this is God loving God. And we are being invited to join that dance, to live and dance in harmony along with Them in eternity. To live in Bhakti, means to live in harmony with this “Rta,” or divine cosmic order.
Once, Srila Prabhupada gave an example: If you’re sitting on the bank of a still lake and you throw a pebble into the center of the lake, then harmonious concentric circles will radiate outward from that center where you threw your pebble. If you throw another pebble, and another one, and yet another one into that same center, they will all create harmonious circles generating out from that center. But if I throw a pebble to this side or that side, and you throw your pebble here or there, then so many interference patterns will form and begin to clash with each other.
In other words, if we act in this world, loving Krsna and serving Him in the core of our hearts, and at the center of our lives, then as many interests, goals or pursuits as we may have, can all be harmonized in peace and sustainability in Krsna. We can have community, family, art, music, intellectual pursuits, environmentalism, or so many other “isms” all offered into the center point of loving Krsna. And if we act out of self-centered ego, then we will clash – within ourselves, between ourselves and others, and in the world.
How does Srila Prabhupada describe the formula for peace? To understand that everything is owned and controlled by Krsna, that everything is meant for His pleasure, and that He is our dearest friend. (BG 5.29)
In his purport to Bhagavad Gita 4.24, Srila Prabhupada explains that,
Everything that exists is situated in the brahmajyoti, but when that jyoti is covered by illusion (maya) or sense gratification, it is called material. The material veil can be removed at once by Krsna consciousness… the Absolute Truth covered by maya is called matter. Matter dovetailed for the cause of the Absolute Truth regains its spiritual quality. Krsna consciousness is the process of converting the illusory consciousness into Brahman, or the Supreme. When the mind is fully absorbed in Krsna consciousness, it is said to be in samadhi, or trance.
How can we bring this mood of harmony into our hearts, into our communities, and into the world? We are eager to preach, but are we eager to appreciate and to truly hear others?
We are members of an institution meant for giving compassion to others, but are we each individually acting with compassion in our personal dealings? Or are we remaining on the neophyte platform judging and criticizing others? Offending others and becoming offended by petty things, making assumptions, taking things personally, and acting out of false ego? Are we trying to grow the seeds of Bhakti but instead getting tangled up in the weeds?
I was recently listening to a lecture given by Srila Prabhupada where he was comparing the practice of beginning or sadhana, vaidhi Bhakti to jumpstarting the engine of a car. We try to give our internal battery a jump by our daily practice. But real Bhakti begins when we develop a spontaneous taste for the practice, or when the car engine kicks in and begins to run on its own power.
If we want to carry these sacred teachings into the future, we must ourselves develop the taste for authentic Krsna consciousness. So many religious communities of different traditions exist on a kanistha, or beginner’s platform… judging or criticizing others over petty differences of understanding, or class or race or practice.
If we remain on this beginner’s platform, how are we any different? Perhaps we have an extraordinary theology, but if we don’t practice it with realization, how are we any better? How will we communicate to them how much Krsna loves them if we are not living and showing that love between ourselves and others?
Recently, we attended a funeral ceremony for a beloved devotee who had taken his own life. It has been a tragedy in this community. In the first days after the suicide, there were naturally many unanswered questions: “Why? How could this happen?” As well as much blame and finger pointing to others in leadership that, sadly, also extended out onto social media.
I feared that this mood of negativity would continue at his memorial ceremony. And yet after those first painful days, there seemed to be a shift. At his ceremony, each person spoke of him with such appreciation, telling stories of how kind, selfless, and lovingly serving he had always been. How he treated everyone of every community, both Indian and Western, young and old, new and seasoned members with such affection.
After the ceremony, there was such a sense of peace, of the community having come together. Afterwards, one older god brother of mine, said to me, “Why did we have to wait until after his death to appreciate him so much? Why didn’t we let him know while he was alive, how much we all loved him? Maybe this tragedy could have been averted, if we had let him know…”
We so often speak about higher levels of rasa, of brava and prema. But this kind of love is impossible to realize without first learning to act with appreciation and gratitude in this world. Our acarya, Srila Prabhupada was always so grateful. Even Lord Krsna is so grateful for any tiny service rendered.
In conclusion, dear Vaisnavis, I suggest that gratitude and appreciation are the two doors to the palace of Bhakti… and there is no back door. Can we be the change that creates the future and show the people there how much Krsna loves them?
Your sister in service,
Rukmini Devi Dasi
The Emergence of Women’s Voices in ISKCON is a written documentary of the voices of the first-generation pioneer women of ISKCON. In this anthology they pass the torch of wisdom and lessons learned to future generations. Thirty-three authors speak about their relationships with Srila Prabhupada, what women bring to Krishna consciousness, and the importance of women’s voices in ISKCON. They tackle difficult issues with philosophy, reason, common sense, decades of personal experience, and Krishna consciousness.
The essays in this anthology will bring light to ISKCON members around the world. They are as applicable today as they were yesterday and can be used as a road map to move into the future. Many senior devotees have poured out their wise hearts here, having thought deeply about this topic. They knew Srila Prabhupada and lived under his roof.
“A must-read. Emergence opened a floodgate of emotion and gave me solace and wisdom.” –Mathura Mandala devi dasi