“Realization means you should write. Every one of you. What is your realization? What for this BACK TO GODHEAD is? You write your realizationwhat you have realized about Krishna. That is required.” (Srila Prabhupada; Lecture on Sri Brahma-samhita, Los Angeles, 14 August 1972)
For more than a decade, my most important service to Krishna has been writing. Over these years, by Krishna’s mercy, I have written 8 books, some 500 articles, and over 100,000 words in my personal diary. Since last year, when I started writing a daily 300-word meditation on the Bhagavad-gita, I have been repeatedly asked: “What inspires you to write?” I have no single steady answer. Over the years, as my writing has evolved, so has my understanding of what writing does for me and what I can do with itin particular, how I can use it to serve Krishna and to go closer to him.
I can summarize what I presently understand about why I write through an acronym WRITE. Worship, Realization, Introspection, Therapy, and Explanation. Let me elaborate these five reasons one-by-one.
Sva-karmana tam abhyarca:“By your prescribed work, worship Him.” (Bhagavad-gita 18.46)
For me, writing is first and foremost a way of worshiping Krishna. We may normally associate worship with the service of the Deity form of Krishna, but the Bhagavad-gita broadens our understanding of worship, thereby showing how a broad spectrum of activities can become forms of worship.
Writers live in words. So naturally words are the means by which devotee-writers strive to worship Krishna. Just as pujaris (priests) worship Krishna in Deity form, devotee-writers try to worship Krishna in the form of His message. Just as the pujaris beautify the Deity with choice arrangements of flowers and various other decorations, devotee-writers try to beautify Krishna’s message with choice arrangements of words and various figures of speech. Of course, both pujaris and devotee-writers know they cannot beautify Krishna; He is already perfectly and supremely beautiful. But by endeavoring diligently to beautify Him nevertheless, we render service to Him and thereby become purified. Additionally, when we try to skillfully beautify Krishna, His true beauty becomes manifest even to material visionat least partially.
Most people find it easier to appreciate Krishna when His beauty is made evident through a gorgeously dressed Deity or when His wisdom is made evident through an exquisitely written text. That’s one reason why the pujaris who wish to dress the Deity in the temples and the devotee writers who wish to be published need to have some basic level of training and proficiency.Of course, the other reason to strive for a higher aesthetic standard is that Krishna deserves to be offered the best.
Pujaris dedicated to the worship of the Deity experience an intimate connection with Krishna in the very act of dressing Him and not just in seeing or having others see the adorned Deity. Similarly, writers dedicated to worshiping Krishna through the written word experience an intimate connection with Him in the very act of writing and not just in reading or having others read what they’ve put on the page. Those who rush through the process of beautification, be it through flowers or words, miss the emotional richness of the process, a richness that can be relished only by a devoted heart and a concentrated head that come together to offer the very best to Krishna. Of course, just as pujaris have to finish dressing the Deity within a limited time, devotee writers too need to set some time limit for their service to be productive. Like conscientious pujaris, conscientious devotee writers keep refining their work till the last moment possible. Moreover, like devout pujaris, devout writers constantly meditate on how they can improve the quality of their service. Both work painstakingly to improve the small details that contribute to the overall beauty and potency of the effect. These painstakingly crafted details often miss the eye of most observers, but there is one eye that doesn’t miss even the smallest of details. Knowing that Krishna is watching and appreciating the meticulousness of worship is the private ecstasy of the worshiper.
“Never mind two lines, four lines, but you write your realization.” (Srila Prabhupada lecture on Sri Brahma-samhita, Los Angeles, August 14, 1972)
Practically realizing the knowledge given in the scriptures is a challenge for all aspiring devotees. Realization essentially means accepting in one’s heart the reality of that which the scriptures declare to be true. All realizations come due to Krishna’s mercy and many of them come as epiphanies, so their arrival may not seem be in our hands. But we can certainly prepare our inner ground for their arrival by thinking deeply about the scriptural truths that we wish to realize. And writing is one of the most compelling ways to force ourselves to think seriously.
For example, let’s consider how writing may help us realize the scriptural precept that the material world is a place of misery. If we resolve to write on this precept, we will be able to write clearly, cogently, coherently only after serious, sustained, systematic thinking. This disciplined contemplation will enable us to probe unsentimentally beyond the ubiquitous promises of pleasure that our culture parades before us. We will remember the many incidents from our own life and the lives of those around us that demonstrate how misery can overcome anyone at any time even the most powerful and well-to-do people, and even in the most successful and joyful moments of their lives. When we thus consciously correlate the scriptural precept with our own experience, this inner correlation will definitely help us in grasping the reality of that precept, that is, in realizing it.
Some of us may avoid writing due to the feeling that we are not skilled writers and so what we write is unlikely to become a literary master pieceor even a published piece. This feeling is not necessarily true; if we try diligently to write for Krishna, He can empower us far beyond our capacity. Srila Prabhupada writes, “As stated in Bhagavad-gita(10.10), dadami buddhi-yogam tam yena mam upayanti te. Since a devotee writes in service to the Lord, the Lord from within gives him so much intelligence that He sits down near the Lord and goes on writing books.” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila 8.39, purport)
Even if our writing doesn’t get published, the very act of writing involves gathering, processing, organizing, clarifying, and verbalizing our thoughts. All this intellectual focus on a scriptural precept helps us understand it better and thereby takes us closer to realizing it.
The most powerful realization that writing has given me is that remembrance of Krishna enables one to transcend worldly irritations. Once I had to finish writing my weekly article while I was traveling to Mayapur for a series of seminars. During the car journey from Kolkata to Mayapur, I was hungry, the road was bumpy, the weather was sultry, and the driver was sulky. But once I put my laptop in front of me and got into writing, I scarcely realized how the five hours of the journey passed away. Though different people may be able to forget worldly miseries by absorption in various activities, devotees know that the transcendence attained by absorption in Krishna is unique because it comprises a this-worldly glimpse of the eternal, ecstatic absorption that awaits them in the next world.
The two reasons to write discussed till now can help us both externally and internally: externally in sharing our faith with others and internally in deepening our own faith. The next two reasons writing for introspection and therapy focus on helping us internally to enrich our devotion. This enhanced devotion helps us in our outreach too, but that is a fringe benefit. We will now be talking about writing a personal journal or diary as a tool to map and aid our spiritual growth. A significant feature of this genre of writing is that it doesn’t have to be shared with the world,so it is ideal for those of us who feel that our writing is not worthy of publication. Here, we can cast afar the worries that may otherwise hinder us All we need to do is express ourselves for ourselvesand, of course, for Krishna.
“Unwanted creepers look exactly like the bhakti creeper. They appear to be of the same size and the same species when they are packed together with the bhakti creeper, but in spite of this, the creepers are called upashakha. A pure devotee can distinguish between the bhakti creeper and a mundane creeper, and he is very alert to distinguish them and keep them separate.” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 19.159, purport)
In this section of the Caitanya-caritamrta Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu equates the growth of devotion in the heart with the growth of a creeper in a garden. Just as weeds may grow in the garden and choke the growth of a creeper, non-devotional desires may grow in the heart and choke the growth of devotional desires. We need to watchfully nourish our devotional desires and uproot non-devotional ones.
In trying to be “very alert to distinguish them,” as Srila Prabhupada instructs, I have found writing a personal diary an invaluable, even indispensable, tool. It has helped me repeatedly in locating, isolating, and extirpating unwanted desires. Soberingly enough, it has also helped me discover how many more non-devotional desires I still have to get rid of.
How should a personal diary be written? There is no standard format for everyone or for even one person at all times. I write my diary differently at different times. In deciding what format to use, the main guideline is to always keep in mind the prime reason why personal diaries help: because the relationship between thoughts and words is not one-way, but two-way. We don’t just reach for words to express our thoughts; we also reach for our thoughts with words. That is to say, words are not just tools to get our thoughts out; they are also tools to get in to our thoughts. Due to this capacity of words, we can use them in spiritual life to probe in wards to assess our state of consciousness, purity of purpose, and sincerity of execution.
Let me share an example of words as tools for inner exploration. Sometimes in our spiritual life we may feel a sense of vague uneasiness or doubtfulness but may not be able to pinpoint the exact problem. If we start writing our feelings and their stimuli just as we would pour them out to a close devotee friend we will gradually find their root cause: the tension between the creeper and the weeds, between the congenial and the inimical desires.
This kind of writing may become a form of self-indulgence if we spend too much time wallowing in thoughts about ourselves and our own feelings without seeking devotional insight. But then, we might become self-indulgent while confiding to a friend too. And writing has an inbuilt safeguard against self-indulgent rambling: it is quite a bit of work to write anything using a pen and paper or even a computer keyboard. Consequently, we are less likely to ramble while writing in a diary. Nonetheless, it is important to evaluate periodically whether our writing a personal diary is actually helping us in our Krishna consciousness. The deciding principle should beanu kulyasya sankalpah prati kulyasya varjanam: accept whatever is favorable for our Krishna consciousness, reject whatever is unfavorable. (Hari-bhakti-vilasa 11.676)
Devotees who are more introverted and who find it difficult to open their hearts to others are likely to find diary writing enlivening and even empowering. But one important caution is that diary-writing should not become a substitute for real friendships with living, loving devotees; those friendships are irreplaceable. Still, given the demanding schedules of modern life, our friends may not always be available when we need them. At those times our diary can act as a friend to whom we can unburden our heart. In my spiritual life, I have found that diary-writing not only supplements but also complements my real-life friendships. When I have introspected through diary-writing, my subsequent exchanges with friends have been more substantial, meaningful, and fulfilling.
“Constant thought of the Lord is the antiseptic method for keeping oneself free from the infectious contamination of the material qualities.” (Bhagavatam 3.1.32, purport)
In writing for introspection, the focus is on identifying the problem. But in writing for therapy, the focus is on finding and applying the solution. The essential internal problems we face are not many we become lusty or greedy or angry or haughty or touchy or weary or gloomy or lazy. At such times, we have to struggle to come out of the emotional quicksand that threatens to swallow us. We somehow fight our way out by chanting or praying or seeking counsel or studying scripture or by some other form of devotional service. After intense endeavor, we get ideas, insights, and inspirations that enable us to emerge, safe once again. Yet, the next time similar negative feelings start devouring us, we often find ourselves flailing blindly; all that helped us during our previous fight seems to have disappeared from our memory.
This is where writing can play a crucial role. If we note down the ideas, insights, and inspirations that worked in the past and the emotions we went through while deploying them then those notes become our readymade weapons for future inner battles. Of course, when I mention things that have worked, I refer not to things we have concocted through writing, but to things we have taken from the scriptural tradition,the potency of which we have discovered and preserved through our writing.
This kind of writing is therapeutic in the sense that it helps us standardize, at least partially, the therapies we can use when the maladies of non-devotional emotions afflict us. All these therapies gravitate around helping us to find a way of remembering Krishna that is practically and potently transformational. By helping to thus transform our consciousness, this form of writing assists our inner healing.
“They [the students of Krishna consciousness] must present their assimilation in their own words.”(Srila Prabhupada, in a letter to Brahmananda, July 1, 1969)
We now return to another external reason to write that for many is the only reason to write: sharing our faith through written explanation. The written word has no equal as a tool for structured, reasoned, and refined communication of thoughts. The message of Krishna consciousness encompasses the richest revelations of the highest manifestation of God and the sweetest ruminations of His greatest devotees. Writing is a precious and pivotal way of making this divine legacy available to the whole world. No wonder then that the acharyas of our tradition Srila Prabhupada especially have toiled tirelessly to make that legacy accessible through their profound and profuse writings.
At the same time, every generation has its own ethos (way of thinking or valuing things), paradigm (way of looking at the world), and idiom (way of speaking). For a tradition to stay alive and vibrant in any particular generation, it needs to re-present itself in ways that are sensitive, relevant, and appealing to that generation. Making that re-presentation through the written word is the responsibility of devotee writers of each generation. Srila Prabhupada points to this need in the quote that began this section.
Writing for their generation, devotee writers strive to explain the eternal message of Krishna consciousness in contextual terms and to address the prevalent preconceptions that impede their audience from understanding it. Thus they try to remove the obstacles that block their generation’s vision of the beauty of Krishna. Nothing gives such writers greater fulfillment than the knowledge that their intellectual sweat has softened the way for even one soul to return to Krishna.
To conclude, Krishna deserves the best of everything at all times. So He deserves the best writers in our generation too. The opportunity to become a part of my generation’s literary offering to Krishna has been my life’s greatest privilege. I pray, dream, and strive to cherish and relish this honor till the last day of my life.
Caitanya Carana Dasa is the associate-editor of Back to Godhead (US and Indian editions). To subscribe for his daily Bhagavad-gita reflections, please subscribe for Gitadaily on his website, thespiritualscientist.com.