“I can find no means to drive away this grief which is drying up my senses. I will not be able to destroy it even if I win an unrivalled kingdom on the earth with sovereignty like that of the demigods in heaven.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.8)
Among many other things Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the best teacher. Both the content and the delivery style have to be ideal in order for the person being instructed to be benefitted. With Krishna, the message is perfect. It is the science of self-realization, and the self is the one object that trumps all others in importance. It is the lone valid basis for identification; all other identifications are temporary. Since Krishna teaches the science that allows the individual to make this identification and keep it, His knowledge is above all others. It is not surprising, therefore, that the knowledge is described as the king of education.
“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2)
Krishna’s delivery is flawless as well. The best teachers in life are those who can push the student past their own expectations. If a student feels they can’t do something, the teacher attempts to guide them in such a way that they can eventually do it. And when they do, they feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. They feel so appreciative of the teacher as well. Such was the case with Arjuna, who got past his own limitations through the guidance of his dear friend, the original teacher of the world, Shri Krishna.
The same potency gets passed on to Krishna’s representatives. They are all able to push others past whatever limitations they thought they may have had, especially in relation to serving the Supreme Lord, which is what Arjuna’s dilemma was mainly about. Two friends, Doug and Ray, were once discussing this point. Doug was one day able to do something that he previously thought he never could. Afterwards, he remembered Arjuna and the help he received from Krishna. Doug told the story to Ray.
As you know, I’ve been attending this temple program regularly. I particularly like the kirtana portion, the congregational chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” At first I was drawn in by a book someone had given me. I wasn’t that interested in the chanting or much of the other festivities. But I liked the book very much, and so I had a fondness for the author. The author was the one who started this temple, so that’s why I felt it important to attend every week.
As is expected to happen, I picked up on a lot of the stuff that went on. If you go to enough baseball games, you kind of figure out the schedule. You know what time they open the gates. You know when it’s good to use the restroom and when it’s not because of overcrowding. You know what songs they will sing and at what time.
So by going to this temple program every week, I learned all the songs that they sing. I wasn’t trying to learn them. I learned almost involuntarily. The nice thing about this program is that it is very small. You don’t feel lost in the crowd. The negative, for me anyways, is that they constantly seek participation. There isn’t just one song they sing, and there isn’t just one worship. They start out by saying prayers to a plant named Tulasi. This is supposed to make everything else auspicious. You recite prayers, then you sing a song while walking around the plant. The worship of Tulasi is unique in that you don’t get anything else except devotion to God. In fact, if you don’t even have a temple, not even a single painting of God, if you have at least a tulasi plant you’re all set. You can worship it while remembering God and everything will be fine.
Next they do a similar worship of the spiritual master, or guru. It was this person’s book that I first read, and it was through his efforts that this temple was established. That worship has chanting as well, all of which is in call-and-response. Someone leads by singing a verse, and then the crowd responds. It’s actually a lot of fun.
Then there is a discussion period on a verse from the Bhagavad-gita, which also starts with singing. Then there is the main worship of the temple deities, who sit on the altar. That goes on for some time, and it can get quite boisterous. More people are in the temple at that time than any other. Following that is a song dedicated to the Supreme Lord’s unique form of a half-man/half-lion. Known as Narasimhadeva, He once came to this earth to protect the otherwise helpless five-year old devotee known as Prahlada.
It’s hard to rank this stuff, but for me probably these prayers to Narasimhadeva are my favorite. The way they are sung is very nice; the tune is especially dear to me. Anyway, so in going every week, I learned all the songs. It so happened that this past Sunday not many people attended the program. The person who leads everything is someone in the renounced order. They are known as a sannyasi, and they dedicate body, mind and speech to serving God. This person sings all the songs very well, and he usually leads.
On this particular Sunday, during the time for the prayers to Narasimhadeva, he asked me to lead. As you know, I am way too shy for that type of thing. I have trouble just showing up at these things and talking to people. But he insisted. In fact, he practically forced me. He said he had to take care of something in another room and that there was no one else at the program that day who knew the song. What could I do? If I refused then no one would sing to Narasimhadeva.
More nervous than I had ever been in my life, I took up a pair of hand cymbals and tried to play them as best as I could. The noise from the hand cymbals forced me to sing very loud. This helped to ease my nervousness. I don’t know what happened to me, man, but somehow I did it. I poured heart and soul into that kirtana. I felt like a kid who didn’t know how to swim being thrown into the water without any help. I was forced to swim, and I must say, it was great. I had never felt like this before. I surely didn’t do that great a job, but everyone was so nice that they told me I did. One person there told me, “You killed it, man. That was great.”
Anyway, on the way home that night I couldn’t help but think of how that swami had pushed me to go beyond my limitations. I was so benefitted. I didn’t think I could lead that kirtana, but due to his kindness I was able to. For sure I will be just as nervous next time, but at least I know I can do it if asked. It reminded me of how Arjuna got past his doubts and pushed forward in service to Krishna. The Supreme Lord knew how to inspire Arjuna, and that same masterful ability is passed on to the servants who are dedicated to Him. From that incident in the temple I gained so much more appreciation for this whole process of bhakti-yoga and the people who are kind enough to teach it to others.
So nervous and no ability too,
This chore not something I can do.
But when a successful attempt to make,
So much joy from the accomplishment to take.
All due to the teacher’s guiding hand,
That more ability in me they understand.
Krishna to Arjuna in this way led,
Pushed past his doubts and dread.
Vaishnava saints acting in similar way,
Healing when asking us holy names to say.