Vaishnava etiquette and culture is always our saving grace. It is Krishna’s system to protect us from so many traps along our journey back home. Krishna offers us these guidelines as a kind of crutch to gradually help us move forward. Thus we can establish humble patterns of behaviour, giving up those driven by ambition and the desire to be recognised and glorified.
In the purport to the Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.15.18), Srila Prabhupada states with his special sense of humour: "In the material world even an ass enjoys his sound vibration, but in the Vaikunthas such nice birds as the peacock, the chakravaka and the cuckoo prefer to hear the vibration of the glories of the Lord from the bees. The principles of devotional service, beginning with
hearing and chanting, are very prominent in the Vaikuntha world."
I had a blissful time giving myself to these devotees who have gone through so much hardship. And so many sweet memories of my time in Ukraine appeared within my mind - it was almost like a short visit to Ukraine, relishing the unique mood and spirit of these wonderful devotees.
Being in the material world, most of us carry this ass-like conditioning in our heart, thinking our sound to be most beautiful. And the whole world should hear it. After all, the urge to speak and be heard is one of the foremost urges that we have to learn to control. However, in the name of preaching one can very easily feed this urge instead of subduing it.
Therefore, Vaishnava etiquette and culture is designed to help us give up this ass-like conditioning and cultivate true humility, considering ourselves unqualified and worthless. Thus we should not give our little ‘donkey’ a chance to stick up his ugly head, by being so eager to speak or lead kirtan and be heard, but rather wait until we are invited to do so.
Sometimes, when being introspective, we may detect a certain frustration or disappointment in our hearts when we are not given the chance to lead kirtan at an event. Or we may be very insistent to lead for longer than the time slot allotted to us. When we observe such tendencies within ourselves, an internal alarm bell should go off. It is a very clear sign that our pleasure and satisfaction are not coming from chanting the holy name.
If our joy comes from chanting the holy name, then it will no longer matter to us whether we lead a kirtan or somebody else does. We are simply joyfully chanting. But if we are only satisfied when we lead, we are undeniably running after satisfaction of the ego. As long as we are attached to this gratification, we will not be able to relish the sweet taste of chanting the holy name. We taste the fruits of self-glorification instead.
Chanting the holy name is a deep, mysterious science and secret. It is not meant to be a forum to show off our musical expertise or our beautiful voice. We are meant to deeply connect with the Lord by helplessly appealing to Him to accept us and allow us to serve Him and His devotees. Who are we to be so easily accepted by Him? It is not such a cheap thing!
Once we understand the deeper secrets of chanting, we will lose our eagerness to lead. We may realise that it is much easier to connect with the Lord in kirtan when we don’t lead. As long as we have not deeply established our connection with Krishna through attentive and prayerful japa, we may easily be distracted by so many external aspects when leading kirtan: The tune, the instruments, the rhythm, the speed, even the audience may take our attention away from calling out to the Lord. And we may be pre-occupied, wondering what the audience thinks of us or whether they are getting bored with the same tune, and so forth. Consequently, we may decide to allow more advanced and experienced devotees to perform the service of leading kirtan, considering ourselves unqualified.
However, so often that little donkey in our hearts takes over. With burning eagerness we may try to take advantage of the opportunity to grab the microphone, thinking to ourselves, “Now I have an audience! This is my chance to be heard and noticed. Nobody else volunteers, so looks like I have to do it!” But no, we should not take to the microphone unless we are invited to do so.
In this way, we may not follow proper Vaishnava etiquette – perhaps we are not even aware of these subtle aspects in our culture. We may have never been trained this way, to not show ourselves keen for situations that feed our false ego, nor should we jump at the chance to be in the limelight – on the stage, where everyone will admire us, take photos or videos of us and applaud our performance. We may be excited at the prospect that it will be posted on the Internet for the whole world to see and admire!
While we are in a less advanced stage – and as we become purified, we will understand ourselves to be in a neophyte position – we must carefully avoid such situations because they may poison the cultivation of our bhakti-lata.
Rather than allowing our false ego’s ass-like conditioning to use kirtan for braying, we should focus on praying!
Instead of pushing ourselves to the front, we should cultivate the mood of encouraging others around us to step forward. This is the atmosphere in the spiritual world. If we want to enter Krishna’s abode one day, now is the time to develop such a mood, otherwise our presence will create a disturbance and we may not be allowed entrance.
On the 10th of April I moved on to yet another wonderful community....!
Your servant, Devaki dd