Some dogs go to Heaven

22 05 2021

Nothing begins, and nothing ends,
That is not paid with moan,
For we are born in other’s pain,
And perish in our own.

-from “Daisy” by Francis Thompson

As my final installment summarizing my thoughts on the Chaitanya Charitamrita, I wanted to present the one anecdote from this scripture that summarizes the real spirit of Krishna consciousness. And, as could be expected, this anecdote involves a dog.

The story is told at the beginning of the Antya Lila. Śivānanda Sena found a dog who he began to feed. One day, when the dog wasn’t fed, he wandered off and was thought lost. Later, Śivānanda Sena and other devotees found that the dog had made his way to the feet of Lord Chaitanya, and that the Lord was feeding him. To their surprise, Lord Chaitanya was also teaching the dog to chant the Holy Names. The episode concludes:

When he saw the dog sitting in that way and chanting the name of Kṛṣṇa, Śivānanda, because of his natural humility, immediately offered his obeisances to the dog just to counteract his offenses to it. The next day, no one saw that dog, for it had obtained its spiritual body and departed for Vaikuṇṭha, the spiritual kingdom. Such are the transcendental pastimes of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the son of mother Śacī. He even delivered a dog simply by inducing it to chant the mahā-mantra, Hare Kṛṣṇa. (Antya 1.31-33)

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“I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.”

8 04 2021
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The body of the Lord was just like a field of sugarcane into which the mad elephants of ecstasy entered. There was a fight amongst the elephants, and in the process the entire field of sugarcane was destroyed. Thus transcendental madness was awakened in the body of the Lord, and He experienced despondency in mind and body. In this ecstatic condition, He began to speak as follows.

“ ‘O My Lord! O dearest one! O only friend of the universe! O Kṛṣṇa, O restless one, O only ocean of mercy! O My Lord, O My enjoyer, O beloved to My eyes! Alas, when will You again be visible to Me?’ ” (CC Madya lila 2.64-65)

Here I get to talk about something familiar to me – something that I have written about copiously – the grotesque. While Srimad Bhagavatam has its extremely odd and even risque moments, the Chaitanya Charitamrita has an earthiness to it due to its closeness to us in time and mood. In some ways, the Chaitanya movement parallels the devotio moderna and other popular religious movements developing in Europe during the same period. Indeed, all Gaudiya theology unfolds in a very baroque manner, with flourishes and complexities that seem to reveal another unexpected face of Vedantic religion.

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On the reform of the reform

25 02 2021

I was listening to a podcast about Catholic liturgy, namely the idea of the “reform of the reform”. The podcast interested me because it recapitulated a phase of my life as a young Catholic man in the late 20th century. I grew up with very liberal, very free-wheeling liturgy as a Catholic in California. When I began to take my faith more seriously, I saw the problems with the ritual (or lack of it) at my local parish. I was not alone in this at the time. The podcast mentioned a book by Msgr. Klaus Gamber called Reform of the Roman Liturgy which I read in college. This podcast speaker claims that this book is among the first to call out the lack of continuity in the reform of Roman Catholic ritual in the late 20th century and thus advocate a reform of that reform towards a more traditional direction. This book was praised by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict took many measures to make the reformed liturgy more traditional, at least when he celebrated it. He also allowed again the celebration of the old unreformed liturgy.

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Notes on St. Bonaventure

5 09 2020
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As a Christian, my mind was Augustinian, though I am by no means a scholar of St. Augustine. As I have written elsewhere, I have always had a problem with Thomistic Scholasticism. This is not for lack of engagement, as I like reading Thomistic authors, and have even tackled the Angelic Doctor himself on occasion. Much of it still didn’t sit well with me. As stated previously, one of my difficulties was trying to reconcile faith and reason. Though my problematic dives into modern philosophy led me down disastrous paths, I think I have purged enough of their influence to soberly realize that the narrative of making sense of faith through purely rational premises still doesn’t appeal to me. In my opinion, trying to marry faith and reason too closely can only be done through “cooking the books,” or begging the question. If you value the “reasonableness” of faith that much, you are already beginning the inquiry with a foregone conclusion.

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On persecution

20 06 2020
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A reader left the following comment on my last post:

What would your approach to the problem of persecution be? At some point, even in Krishna consciousness, one would assume that persecution of the faithful would still be an issue (granted, this could be my ignorance of the matter showing). Recognizing that material “reality” is not the end-all-be-all, and that it’s rather an elaborate game, gets you so far; but in the end, wouldn’t you still counsel steadfastness and longsuffering in the face of worldly aggression. Is it a case of counselling the same action (as a Christian, that is) but with different motivations, or is there an entirely different principle at work?

The modern Krishna consciousness began in persecution, namely, under the Muslim occupation of Bengal in early modernity. The Golden Avatar of Krishna, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, had to negotiate around Muslim rule to spread His movement to chant the Holy Names of Krishna. At one point, persecution broke out, and Lord Chaitanya led a movement of civil disobedience and dialogue with the Muslim rule of Bengal, the Kazi, convincing him that the sankirtan movement was not a threat to Muslim rule. Lord Chaitanya’s Kingdom, in other words, was not of this world. Instead of being crucified, Lord Chaitanya and His disciples were allowed continue their spreading of the the public chanting of the Holy Names.

In modern times in the West, Hare Krishnas have also faced persecution. In the Soviet bloc before the fall of the Iron Curtain, this persecution involved jail and other penalties. Krishna consciousness in the capitalist West was often perceived as a cult, and deprogrammers would kidnap devotees using the excuse that they were brainwashed. In some cases, devotees would feign being “cured,” even up to the point of dressing normally and eating meat, only to escape back to the Krishna consciousness movement. In sastra (the Scriptures), it is permissible to deceive if the end is beneficial to Krishna consciousness. So there isn’t really a conundrum similar to the trials of persecuted Christians in Endo’s novel.

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Silence

15 06 2020

I reviewed Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence years ago, but I only recently saw the film adaptation (I don’t watch many movies these days). My main issue with these types of novels / films, namely one’s the treat issues of tortured religious conscience in a modern context, is that I am acutely aware of the rift between ancient and modern religiosity. Perhaps this is a matter of written records, but the radical subjectivity of this literature is more an indication of absence than a heightened sense of presence. I don’ t believe for a minute that modern people “get God” more than their predecessors. If anything, we are greatly more self-absorbed to the point of thinking every difficulty is some sort of existential crisis.

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Notes on John Paul II

9 05 2020

The whole difficulty is that in this Age of Kali there is no sattva-guṇa and no clearance of the heart, and therefore people are making the mistake of identifying with their bodies. Even the big philosophers and scientists with whom we deal are practically all under the impression that they are their bodies. The other day we were discussing a prominent philosopher, Thomas Huxley, who was proud of being an Englishman. This means that he was in the bodily conception of life. Everywhere we find this same misunderstanding. As soon as one is in the bodily conception of life, one is nothing but an animal like a cat or a dog (sa eva go-kharaḥ). Thus the most dangerous of the dirty things within our hearts is this misidentification of the body as the self. Under the influence of this misunderstanding, one thinks, “I am this body. I am an Englishman. I am an Indian. I am an American. I am Hindu. I am Muslim.” This misconception is the strongest impediment, and it must be removed.

Srimad Bhagavatam, Purport to Canto 8

The above text reminded me that I have wanted to write a long and extensive blog post about Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II was Pope for the first quarter century of my life, and under his pontificate, I became super-devout, apostatized twice, became a seminarian, got “excommunicated,” reconciled with the Church, was tonsured a monk, etc. In other words, it was rather eventful for me. When he died in Easter Week 2005  I was a novice monk. That day, I was actually at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels taking a road trip with a friend of the monastery. I got to stare down Cardinal Mahoney when I saw him walking toward me. He must have wondered what some Orthodox monk was doing there and why he looked unhappy to see him. Read the rest of this entry »





Archimandrite Anastassy (Newcombe)

6 03 2020

Since I don’t have a lot of “fresh” materials, or I don’t really have the time and energy to develop anything new, I am re-editing and altering things that I previously wrote. Someone asked my where my involvement in the Eastern Church came from, so here is the origin story written well over a decade ago.

It was raining that day in San Francisco. I was concerned we were not going to be able to park close enough to the Old Cathedral on Fulton St. in order to get to our appointment with Fr. Anastassy on time. He was expecting us for tea, and I was eager that my young friend J. meet him. Fortunately, we found parking close enough and we were twenty minutes early for our meeting. Read the rest of this entry »





Noche Buena

25 12 2019

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My last memory of my grandmother took place on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t the last time I saw her by any means, but it is what I remember most about her now. It wasn’t all the times she dragged me to the charismatic prayer meetings, or told us to go play outside because we were making too much noise. It wasn’t her rubbing a tomato on her feet for some weird reason, or her watching telenovelas (though watching them with her was fun). I don’t think about how she would make me my own little hard cakes of sweet dough because I didn’t like the pumpkin filling of her empanadas though I liked the dough. It wasn’t even the last Thanksgiving I spent with her when she told us about how when she was growing up she didn’t have shoes, just huaraches made of wood that would leave her feet bloody from splinters at the end of the day. The last memory I have of her is from the last Christmas I spent with her. She began the rosary on the night of Christmas Eve, we muddled through some villancicos, and at the end of it, she picked up her little Niño Dios, maybe no more than four inches long, and began rocking Him like a real baby. She had dressed Him in new clothes, and placed Him in the crib decorated with lights. Of all the memories I have of my grandmother, that’s the one that sticks. That’s the one that stays with me. Read the rest of this entry »





St. Thomas and the robot

1 03 2019

A fascinating video series concerning the veracity of a story of St. Albert the Great building a robot and St. Thomas Aquinas smashing it. It touches all of my intellectual sweet spots: Aquinas, philosophy, natural magic and so on. Read the rest of this entry »