The Acts of Love

 ‘Acts of Love’

Dear reader, it is hard to find anything permanent in this world. We are born, we grow up, we become adults, then we grow old, and at the end die. Days and nights come and go, seasons change, the Moon chases the Sun constantly as if in celestial pursuit… The clock never stops to take a breath. We build, we sustain, time destroys. We inhale, we exhale, and die in between. We come, we go. We travel, we dance, we smile, we cry, we celebrate, we mourn. TVs, houses, cars, watches, laptops, gadgets, phones, airplanes, ships, trains–all so called comforts of modern life–we don’t take with us when death knocks on our door. We change house, country, state, one, two, three, ten times…an endless cycle, indeed!

A constant repetition, dear reader! And if you happen to subscribe to a tradition based on karmic principles (as I do), then the picture becomes even more morose– this endless and painful cycle continues life after life. Happiness and distress dance eternally in the hearts of us forgetful souls ‘Depressing,’ you might scream dear reader, and I hear you. It is depressing, it is painful, it seems hopeless. And yet, remarkably against all odds, there is always hope.

Actually, hope is the active principle of faith and so is service. Therefore, no matter how much we deny ourselves, we are made of faith. Faith in a brighter tomorrow, faith in the next moment, faith in the belief that one day the Divine will shower us with His mercy. At the end of the day, dear reader, His mercy comes to fortunate souls through the Acts of Love of His servants.

God’s servants are indeed the carriers of His mercy, the messengers of His Love. Ultimately, when God’s servants Act out of Love – when they bring the mercy, they become the spark that ignites the fire, which starts a revolution in our hearts. In turn, these fortunate souls, who happened to encounter a messenger of Love, themselves become the carriers, the messengers of His mercy. Eventually, they start Acting out of Love. Consequently, the Rain of Divine Mercy continuously showers over the heads of fortunate souls eternally. Therefore, dear reader, do not despair, hope is always waiting for you around the corner. Allow it to enter your heart.

‘We are the stories we hear.’

One of the ways to encounter God’s messengers of Love is by reading or hearing stories of the Acts of Love they have performed for others. We are the stories that we hear. Stories underpin the human condition at every step. Stories are the fundamental building blocks of our identities and relationships. We are who we are because we tell ourselves the stories of who we are. Over time, we start believing these stories and in turn, we start living them. Ultimately, the stories we are exposed to through culture, society, and art, create our sense of self and of ‘I-ness’ and ‘mine-ness.’

In this way, dear reader, over time we enter the reality of impermanence. The reality of eternal suffering that I described above. Do you remember? Fortunately, it appears that the messengers of Love always carry a basket full of books filled with transcendental stories – the stories of God and His devotees. These stories are unlike any other stories, for they point to the direction of ultimate and eternal Reality.

The stories of the Srimad Bhagavatam describe the loving exchanges between God and His eternally surrendered souls. By hearing these stories, we the forgetful souls, slowly turn our hearts towards the ultimate spiritual Reality, where God and His eternal associates live in joy and service. A Reality in which every step is a dance, every word is a song, and every moment is bliss.[1] Who would not desire to reside eternally in such Reality?! However, the only way to get in touch with this Reality is through the selfless Acts of Love by the messengers of Love. God’s servants can show us the way, they can present to us these transcendental stories, they are our only hope.

So dear reader, let me tell you the story of how I met one such messenger of Love around one corner of the world. Four years ago, when I was an exchange student at McGill University, Montreal, I happened to encounter one of God’s servants on the city campus. I was in a hurry, late for class, but somehow, out of nowhere, this little skinny lady approached me, introduced herself as a monk, and presented a book into my hands. She started speaking about the author, about chanting some ancient mantra, about the author’s relationship with the Beatles, etc.

I was generally interested in what she was speaking, as I was practicing astanga-yoga for couple of years, so I was naturally attracted to meditation, and I was vegetarian as well. At the same time, I felt I was in a ‘I know it all’ and ‘Don’t waste my time’ mood. Thus, I was being a bit impatient with her. Eventually, I felt where things were going– a donation request for the book. Therefore, I quickly got a $5 out of my wallet and was about to walk away from her for my class. However, this messenger of Love, dedicatedly continued talking to me, about the author of the book, about me coming to where her place of worship was, etc. I simply told her, rather indifferently, that I would come to the temple at some point. Then, I walked away.

I never remembered the she-monk’s name, nor did I remember her face, neither did I ever go to her place of worship. Little did I know, dear reader, that this messenger of Love, would change my life in such a fundamental way. Little did I know, that this she-monk would be instrumental in my connection with such a saintly personality as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami and his books.

Indeed, dear reader, little did I know, that this brief Act of Love towards me, at that moment in time and space, would have had a ripple effect on my consciousness that would put me on an adventurous path of dancing with (reading) the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the eternal Reality of God, and the loving exchanges between Him and His intimate devotees.

Such is the power of a simple Act of Love. It can transform one’s life in an instant. Four years down the road, I still wonder, what the she-monk’s name is. I still try to picture her face in my mind. I still wonder if I would ever go back to Montreal at some point in the future and be able to meet her and express my gratitude. Alas, I don’t remember her name, nor do I remember now how she looked like, neither if she is still around. I can only pray in my heart for her wellbeing and spiritual advancement from afar. But at the end of the day, this is the beauty of these Acts of Love– they are rewards in themselves.

‘May your deeds be your own reward.’

 There are countless stories about the Acts of Love in the Srimad Bhagavatam, dear reader. All of them exemplifying the extraordinary compassion, self-surrender, and total dedication for the Divine Person, Sri Krishna. Stories of little boys such as Dhruva Maharaja, who walked out into the jungle to meditate and find the Divine Person. Stories of great kings such as Ambarisha Maharaja, who worshipped the Divine with all his possessions and kingly wealth. Stories of great self-surrendered devotees such as Prahlad Maharaj, who was both fearless in the face of danger and compassionate towards his enemies who were trying to kill him (his own father in this case). However, the story of the Rasa Lila is the crown jewel of the Bhagavatam. It is the Story of all Stories, which describes the glories of the greatest devotees of God, the transcendental milkmaids – the gopis of Vraj – and their loving exchanges with their Beloved Lord, Sri Krishna.

The Bhagavatam consists of 12 cantos, containing 335 chapters and 18,000 Sanskrit verses. The Rasa Lila is just 5 chapters out of the 335. It is the story that presents the highest vision of the Caitanya School of Bhakti Yoga. There are unlimited aspects and teachings on Divine Love contained in the Rasa Lila story, described by various saintly devotees throughout the centuries.

I am not going to pretend I have fully understood, what to speak of realised all the teachings in this Sacred Love Story. However, dear reader, I just want to focus your attention on one aspect that is of importance for the purposes of this essay, as it acts as a personal inspiration for me.

In the penultimate chapter of the Rasa Lila, Krishna speaks about the nature of Love and the glories of the gopi’s Love towards Him. He explains the different types of lovers– the selfish, the self-less, and the self-satisfied.[2] Ultimately, Krishna is conquered by the gopi’s Love for Him and He proclaims:

Dear ladies,

          indeed, for my sake alone

 You have abandoned the world,

          the Vedas, and

          even your relatives,

           out of love for me.

 It was out of love for you

          that I became invisible,

          though you were never

          removed from my sight.

 Therefore, you should not be

           discontented with me—

           O dearest ones,

          I am your beloved!      21

I am unable to reciprocate,

          your faultless love for me,

          your own purity,

And all that you have

          sacrificed for me,

          even over the lifetime

          of a great divinity.

Severing strong ties

          to your homes so difficult

          to overcome, you have

          lovingly worshiped me.

 May your reward be

          your own purity.          22[3]

Krishna is glorifying the gopis by explaining to them that they have sacrificed everything for Him, therefore He is unable to reciprocate appropriately. However, Krishna is breaking His promise to His devotees. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna tells His devotee Arjuna that: ‘As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pṛthā.’[4] However, He is so impressed with and conquered by the gopi’s self-surrender to Him, that He proclaims: ‘May your reward be your own purity.’[5]

In other words, Krishna is glorifying the highest type of Love towards Him – a Divine Love untinged by any selfish motives, expressed through self-forgetful and self-absorbing Acts of Love for the Beloved Lord. In this way, He is breaking His promise that He will reciprocate in the same way as one surrenders unto Him. The gopi’s Love for the Divine Person is so pure, that ultimately their deeds, their sacrifices, their austerities become rewards in themselves. Their deeds become Acts of Love.

So dear reader, reflecting on my experience with the she-monk from the streets of Montreal, in line with the teachings from the Rasa Lila story, makes me realise that it does not really matter if I ever remember her name. Nor does it really matter if I ever remember how she looked like. Neither does it matter if I’d ever meet and thank her again. All it matters is that four years ago, a devotee of the Lord decided to walk out on the street, to sacrifice some of her time, energy, and health. A devotee of the Divine Person, a messenger of Love, decided to stop me, Mr. Forgetful Soul, and give me attention. A devotee of the Lord that decided to dedicate herself to serve the great saintly devotees of the past. Ultimately, all that matters, dear reader, is that this devotee of the Lord decided to Act out of Love on that day, and her only reward was that very Act.     

‘All relationships are opportunities to serve.’

 Yes, dear reader, this world, this impermanent reality, may seem depressing, we may experience pain and suffering. We may struggle daily. We may inhale, exhale, and die in between. However, one sunny day, by the Grace of the Divine Person and the Acts of Love of His devotees, we can receive the Gift of ultimate Reality. We can read and hear the stories of the Bhagavatam. We can pass them on and inspire the hearts of others. We can become the messengers of Love, we can carry the baskets full of transcendental books, and we can Act out of Love for others.

We come full circle – from a receiver of God’s mercy, we are transformed to a giver of His mercy. That is the beauty and potency of a simple Act of Love. It just takes one moment, one decision, one step towards becoming a servant of others. It takes one moment, to introduce other fellow forgetful souls to the taste and inspiration of serving the Divine Person. And the best thing about it is that the Acts of Love are rewards in themselves.  Ultimately, all our relationships in this world turn into opportunities to serve others. All our relationships become arenas to share the stories of how we have received the Gift from the messengers of Love. All our relationships allows us to be the spark, that ignites the fire, which starts a revolution in the hearts of others. In turn, we allow others, to start writing and sharing their own adventurous stories.

Bibliography:

  1. Bhaktivedanta, A., 2014. Bhagavad Gita As It Is. Watford: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust
  2. Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Gosvāmī, 1991. Śrī Brahma-Saṁhitā. Los Angeles: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
  3. Schweig, G., 2005. Dance of Divine Love. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[1] Brahma Samhita ch.5.56

[2] ‘Dance of Divine Love-Part I- Poems From The Bhagavata  Purana- p.63

[3] ‘Dance of Divine Love-Part I- Poems From The Bhagavata  Purana- p.64-5

[4] Bhagavad-Gita As It Is- 4.11

[5] ‘Dance of Divine Love-Part I- Poems From The Bhagavata  Purana- p.64-5