“Swanning”

Swan drinkingNo it is not a new dance step, but a process. I first heard the term from my dear feathered friend Dr. Garuda (Ph.D Harvard) who used the term to indicate the process of taking the best from any situation–in his case his educational pursuits. Prabhupada gives the example of the swan that can draw out the milk from a mixture of milk and water. We have to look for the nectar or the essence which can be used for Krishna’s service.

A famous quote Prabhupada’s purport from the first Canto of the Bhagavatam [1.5.11] gives the same idea:

“It is a qualification of the great thinkers to pick up the best even from the worst. It is said that the intelligent man should pick up nectar from a stock of poison, should accept gold even from a filthy place, should accept a good and qualified wife even from an obscure family and should accept a good lesson even from a man or from a teacher who comes from the untouchables. These are some of the ethical instructions for everyone in every place without exception.”

In most cases we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we can use what is already there. We have to use our intelligence to apply the Krishna consciousness philosophy to all our circumstances, looking for what can be used or not in our life of devotion.

There are six principles of surrender given by one of our great teachers, Rupa Gosvami. The first two we can apply for our current theme. To accept what is favorable, and to give up what is unfavorable for devotional service, or our spiritual life.

Most of us work in the world, and it is our challenge to connect our life, occupation, family and everything we do to Krishna. We do that by understanding what Krishna consciousness is by associating with advanced devotees, reading the books of Shrila Prabhupada and his disciples, chanting the holy name and so many other processes that we will learn.

There are so many rules which are favorable for the cultivation of Krishna consciousness. However, the first thing is to become attracted to Krishna and convinced that Krishna is a goal we feel is worthy to obtain. Otherwise why bother with so many activities?

Everything begins with faith, and the different stages of advancement all the way to love of Krishna (prema) are deepening of that faith. When we are really convinced that Krishna consciousness is our path, then we will naturally want to follow whatever can deepen our faith and help us make spiritual advancement.

Then we can strive to be in the world but know we are not of it (we are souls having a human experience), and we can employ “swanning” or finding a way to use everything to help us make advancement and facilitate our devotional service.

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Life is what happens to us when we are busy making plans

So busy making plans I believe John Lennon said that, though I think Prabhupada would approve of that sentiment. He often spoke of the folly of the materialist plan makers. Of course I also subscribe that to the saying that “those who fail to plan, are planning to fail”. That means that we all have to chart a direction toward goals, otherwise we are adrift, like a ship without a rudder. (this could be a big topic for another time)

In Prabhupada’s life he was very focused on making plans, yet he always looked for Krishna’s direction, and that shaped the movement and his preaching.

Devotees make plans for service, work, family etc though they depend on Krishna for the results. Though obviously our intention in making plans to obtain the result we envision, we have to really be detached from the outcome, and try to see how Krishna is directing us by the results.

As devotees our responsibility is to try to act on behalf of Guru and Krishna even as we meet the necessities of our lives as a householder or renunciate.

Many devotees were fortunate to live in the Temple for many years. At that time everything we did was obviously connected to Krishna. In the beginning of the movement, living in the Temple was really the only option.

My wife, as a young unmarried lady, used to preach that you could be Krishna conscious living outside of the Temple, but she really didn’t believe it was possible. In those days our conceptions were very black and white as was our preaching.

Often we would present an “all or nothing” perspective—-kind of like “live a surrendered Temple life or die” (you can forget about making any spiritual advancement). I have to say, as immature as that was, it did work for many of us for a time, and we made a lot of advancement in our very focused devotional mood.

Then many of us married, and had to live and work in the world. We discovered that—surprise—Krishna wasn’t only in the Temple. We were no longer carried along by the Temple program, and had to choose to do our sadhana and japa etc. Some weakened with the pressures of living in the world, yet many others became stronger, more realized devotees. We had to step forward and become responsible for our lives.

Now after many years, experienced devotees can try to help others be “in the world, but not of it”, and teach from our experience how to be Krishna conscious despite family responsibilities, and to make plans for Krishna.

I don’t really feel like an “elder”—though the mirror says otherwise—but I do know that part of my service is to give to the next generation of devotees what I have learned.