Newsletter: My Very Very Favorite Place to Write

I thought to share with readers a description of the places where I write, some of which may be surprising. As you all know I travel a bit, so it’s not a surprise that I write in airport lounges and on airplanes. In fact, I find the latter quite a productive venue because I can concentrate knowing that the telephone will not ring; no text, email, or message will arrive, and there will be no one knocking on the door for talks.

The next best venue is driving in the car, usually between New Vraja-dhama and Budapest. It’s a good two hours of straight motorway. The disadvantage of these venues is that I am limited in access to references other than what is in my computer—which is a lot, but still not always everything I need.

Needless to say, when I am in New Vraja-dhama, Budapest, or Mayapur, I write at my desk. In NVD I write before mangala-arati, in Budapest before and after until deity greeting, and in Mayapur, usually between 4–8 am. When I am on a “roll” in any of these places then I could be writing at any time and as long as needed. When the inspiration comes, it has to be written down or it may be lost.

I also write in the garden in New Vraja-dhama. A most memorable occasion was during the writing of Nava-vraja-mahima. It was full-moon midnight, I was on a roll, and the entire dhama was bathed in moonshine—it was glowing. I couldn’t resist, and braving both mosquitoes and the bugs attracted to my computer screen, I went outside and sat in the grass to write. I say “to write,” but the atmosphere was so blissful that I became overwhelmed and just ended up chanting instead of writing. But it was wonderful.

Finally my very, very favourite place—although authors should be sparing with “verys”—is Radha-Syama’s deity preparation room. I take my computer there for mangala-arati and do a kind of medley between writing and dressing Radha-Syama. It’s a medley because although I may bathe, dress, and ornament Their Lordships, other devotees perform other services to Them, at which time I leave the deity room and go to the preparation room to write. This happens about 3-4 times a morning, from 5-7am. It may sound irregular, but the fact is I get such wonderful inspiration from Radha-Syama. Sometimes in the midst of dressing Them I get some extraordinary insight into what I was writing and I have to stop and make notes that I elaborate on later. On occasion it has happened that the inspiration was so detailed and extensive that I had to hand over the deity service and go to my computer and just write. For those who don’t know what and where the preparation room is, it is a large space just behind the deity room where pujaris prepare for and clean up after dressing, arati, and all other services except cooking. So my writing place is just a few yards from Radha-Syama, and their close proximity and very presence is in itself such a wonderful experience that I could write a book about it. Maybe one day I will. A short book!

Newsletter: Determination and Attentiveness

It has been a long time since I wrote a book club newsletter. My apologies! Somehow with travel and re-entry into Hungary it slipped by me—not that there is nothing to write about.

I began the second volume of the Varnasrama Compendium, which is about the asramas.

Very engrossing. However, something unusual happened! I got inspired by a theme during my personal reading of Brhad-bhagavatamrta and with permission from the VAD committee, I have taken a few months off to write a book called Sadhana-sara-dipika. It is not about all the aspects of sadhana bhakti, but rather about two important ones that I found would be of great value to devotees. What are they? Determination and attentiveness! In his lengthy journey from earth to Goloka, Gopa-kumara repeatedly reaffirms his determination for higher stages of devotion, and is himself reminded by his guru of the importance of attentively chanting his mantra. In one such instance, Gopa Kumara becomes the king of Puri and gets the opportunity of such intimate service to Jagannatha that he becomes lax in chanting his mantra. But then his guru Jayanta says, “This chanting, please understand, is another form of service to Lord Sri Jagannath. Have faith in this and never give up your japa.” And Sanatana comments, “Even if Gopa-kumara has no other desire than to render personal service to Lord Jagannatha, he is here told to understand that chanting his mantra is intimate service to the Lord. Gopa-kumara may not have seen this for himself, but he should accept it out of confidence in the words of his guru. Aware of Gopa-kumara’s intense desire to serve Jagannatha, the all-knowing guru also perceives that Gopa-kumara is neglecting his mantra and so is helping him achieve his desire by correcting his neglect.” Does that remind the readers of their own inattentiveness? I am confident this new book—100 pages or so—will help devotees increase their determination and attentiveness in Krishna consciousness. Jaya Radha-Syama.

Newsletter: Waiting for Inspiration

There is a condition known as writer’s block, when an author loses inspiration to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. I don’t have that! I am working on the second codex of the varnasarama series. However, I have not felt direction as to which of the Krsna in Vrndavan books I should embark on next, as there are multiple options. The idea has also come up to do something else, shorter, along the lines of Sadhavo. I am waiting for Radha-Syamasundara’s inspiration. I would like to embark on a new project as I don’t feel complete when I am not writing directly about Krsna, something that has been an integral part of my life for the last twenty years. However, the structure for Codex 2, a very detailed one, is complete, and when that book is in print, I believe it will be a real practical asset to devotees and to envisioning the structure of varnasrama.

In the meantime I am making last preparations to leave Mayapur, which has been a source of spiritual inspiration in so many other ways. Living in Rasamrta-kunja, the housing project on the bank of the Jalangi, is really like living in a grove of nectarean mellows.

Some good news for Hungarian devotees is that Nalini-kanta has informed me that the fourth volume of the Hungarian Nava-vraja-mahima will be in hand before Christmas. Fantastic! And while the English NVM is out of print, it is available as an ebook. So for those devotees who have been asking how to get the set—they are available on the internet. Also, devotees can see below the links for another series of pictures that I have just titled.

Now, for some nectar. Here is something from Manu-samhita that will empower ladies and make men sit down: In listing many pure personal and household items Manu says that the mouth of a woman is pure. He doesn’t say everything that comes out of their mouths is pure. But the organ itself is.


Newsletter: Rest from Writing

Monsoon in Mayapur, an inspiring time to rest from writing. Yes! To rest from writing! That may not be what you were expecting me to say, but as Srila Prabhupada commented, “It (writing) is not mechanical.” Just as one requires inspiration to write, one also requires a respite from writing. With Sri Damodara-janani at the stage of production with Sundara-rupa, my only work will be to review the proofread manuscript. In the meantime I am chanting, reading, and reviewing a list of possible titles to decide which book is next. It is hard work—for me and for everyone involved.

Let me give an example: Braja Sevaki inspired me to include, as an Appendix, a rewrite on the translation to the Damodarastaka that is in ISKCON’s songbooks that I asked her to start working on 18 months ago. I studied Sanatana Goswami’s commentary to the verses and spent the best part of a week on them. Eight verses. Then I sent it to Braja to edit, she sent the edited version back, I reviewed and made changes, sent it back to Braja, she sent it back, and so the back and forth continued to 24 exchanges, for I don’t know how long. And that was before Ananda Caitanya gave us his proofread comments. I told Braja we had to get it just right, and that she should blame the work on Papa. Papa is a nickname for Ernest Hemingway. In completing his book A Farewell to Arms he rewrote the last few pages 47 times. When asked why, he said “I had to get it right.” So that’s what we tried to do. It would have been better had Braja and I had another 23 exchanges. But 24 is not bad.

Here is verse 8. “O brilliantly effulgent rope surrounding Damodara’s belly, O resting place of the universe, the Lord’s belly! Unto You both I offer my respectful obeisances! O dearmost beloved of the gopis, unto Your dearmost beloved Sri Radhika, I offer my humble obeisances! Unto You, unto Your limitless pastimes, and unto Your transcendental nature, O Lord Damodara, I offer obeisances again and again and again!”

Newsletter: Nava-vraja-mahimā E-book

It’s raining outside and the acacia trees are in full bloom. It is spring: a new season and the blossoming of new books in the making, in production, or being printed. And some special Nava-vraja-mahimā news.
What are the books in the making? Volume four of the Hungarian Nava-vraja-mahimā is going to the printers soon. English Śrī Dāmodara-jananī is in the process of editing, and will be in hand before Kārttika. The Varṇāśrama Compendium Volume 1 is being printed: a batch has been sent to the UK and is available from Varṣāṇā Devī Dāsī, and it will be available for sale or order worldwide within some days. Also available within some days is a small English rendering of the verses of Vilāpa-kusumāñjali. Readers may have seen photos of both these books being offered to Rādhā-Śyāmasundara over the festival weekend. They were advance copies, and when the printrun is final they’ll be available.

And once I finish re-reading the manuscript of Śrī Dāmodara-jananī, I will start on a new book. Surprise! I am not saying what that is yet.

OK, here is the special news on NVM: the English version, sold out in print, is now an e-book, and available one volume at a time. It will take perhaps a couple of weeks for it to be available in stores and downloadable, but it’s in the process and we’ll give full details on the pod and in the next newsletter when it happens.

Now, let’s conclude with some nectar. When Dāmodara was running in fear of Mother Yaśodā, the demigods above became worried, “If He is afraid of His mother, how can He protect us?” And when Kṛṣṇa was caught and He saw that Yaśodā was serious about tying Him up, He was so irritated He wanted to spit in disgust. But he didn’t, because He knew that His punishment would increase for such misbehaviour. Jaya Rādhā-Śyāma.

Newsletter: Writing Is Not a Mechanical Affair

Writing while travelling is a challenge. Moving from place to place by plane, train, car—and in Ireland, by motorboat—is one challenge, but another is the expectations of devotees that include giving six hour kirtanas, long seminars, and individual counsel. When I explain the difficulty in meeting these expectations due to international and local GBC responsibilities, devotees acquiesce—somewhat. But when I add that I am writing a book and targeting for a deadline, they look at me blankly. I get the impression that devotees often think that book writing is like taking quick dictation. But that is far from the truth. 

Firstly one needs to be rested. If the mind and body are tired, then the tasks of thought, research, and composition become impossible. Secondly the facilities for writing need to be reasonable. One needs internet for research, a chair that doesn’t cripple the back, a desk suitable for computer and reference books that I carry with me, and a room quiet enough and warm enough to allow one to concentrate. Thirdly, but not lastly, one needs a certain degree of peace of mind. Srila Prabhupada would complain that he could not write when he was troubled by ISKCON issues. 

There are other considerations, including inspiration. It is not possible to write mechanically. So when some books, like our current Varnasrama guidelines—now called Varnasrama Codex, The Four Varnas—are behind schedule, it’s mostly due to the fact that writing is not a mechanical affair and requires backup, facility, and peace of mind. Keeping these considerations in mind you can expect this first volume of the varnasrama series in your hand by spring of this year. 

As for nectar, here is an interesting reference, yet to be checked, on how Jiva Gosvami would analyse the varna of devotees joining his fold: If they came out of distress they were sudras; out of a desire to materially improve themselves, they were vaisyas; if they were inquisitive, they were ksatriyas, and if they were seeking the truth, they were brahmanas. Why did you come?

Newsletter: Varṇāśrama Compendium Part 1 Finished

Reporting in from Mayapur in the midst of GBC meetings and the ISKCON Leadership Sanga: 

Today saw the completion of the first volume of the English edition of Varnasrama Compendium, a series of publications written together with the Hungarian VAD team. That was sent to Sundara-rupa prabhu last night for layout. It was meant to be published in time for the ILS, where I’m speaking on varnasrama, but taking a month off to do the book marathon in London delayed the schedule. We did have it done in time, but at the last minute it was decided it really did need an index, and it was a little rushed. It’s unfortunate: it’s the perfect environment here for distributing the first volume. C’est la vie. 

I have one chapter left to write for Sri Damodara-janani and that too will be ready to send to Braja Sevaki for editing. Ananda Caitanya from London has joined the team as the proofreader; he helped with the completion of Varnasrama Compendium, too. Join me in welcoming him to Lal Publishing. The art department, meaning Nitya-sakhi and Akrsna das, has finished the artwork for Sri Damodara-janani and it will be released in time for Kartika. 

The third book is Vilapa-kusumanjali. It was originally an appendix for Nava-vraja-mahima, but so extensive an appendix that it was in fact a stand-alone book. Braja started working on it again last year, smoothing it over and refining the commentaries, but I wanted to do the same to the verses. Of course, you don’t “rewrite” Raghunatha dasa Goswami’s poetry…but in the same way I give my work to my editor to rewrite or refine, so I worked on the verse translations. On the first read, Braja Sevaki said it “flows like a river of velvet.” It will be produced as a book by Lal, maybe by the end of this year—depending again on artwork. Here is a sample

padabjayos tava vina vara-dasyam eva
nanyat kadapi samaye kila devi yace
sakhyaya te mama namo ’stu namo ’stu nityam
dasyaya te mama raso ’stu raso ’stu satyam

 “Oh Devi! I shall never, never, ask You for anything other than the peerless service of Your lotus feet. Over and over again I offer my respects to the chance of becoming Your girlfriend, but I shall only ever aspire for the honour of being Your maidservant.” (Verse 16)

Newsletter: Finding the Time to Write

Most seasoned devotees understand the pressures devotional service sometimes places upon us, and that “marathons” can often simply be another term for “life:” mothers with several children all under five years of age; parents who are supporting families and working hard to make ends meet, juggling devotional life and material needs; temple devotees on marathons that pull every ounce of resolve, strength, and energy from them. Right now I’m on such a marathon: writing two books while simultaneously managing a yatra, responding to international correspondence, fending off calls for personal meetings, and being in the thick of a Prabhupada marathon—including answering forty text messages daily. So you might fully empathise with the struggle I am having to complete the book called Introduction to Varnasrama. It is not the difficulty of the subject, nor is it the length of the book or a lack of interest on my part: it is about finding the requisite time. Quality time. And then when I do, I don’t want to be too exhausted to do justice to the challenge. Writing is sometimes like that. Tough. But one invigorating thing I can say is: writing this book has been highly edifying. Education is one of the benefits of writing, because writing is the best way to learn. And I am learning a lot.

Some devotees are asking about the Damodara-lila book and when it will be ready. Our original target was for the book to be in print by Kartika next year. Will it be ready before that? Probably! But I can’t say by how much. End of May? That may be too tight.

Devotees also ask whether the diaries of Radha-kunda devi dasi will come out in English. At present our translators are extremely occupied, not just with my books, but BBT work, so if the diaries do reach the English language, it won’t be any time soon. Add to that, that after almost thirty years of translating, Nalini-kanta is facing some health challenges that come with sitting eight to fourteen hours daily behind a computer.

Anyway it’s 3:25 am and I am eager to get back to the Varnasrama book because I am late for an editorial deadline. The reason for that is that the research and references I had for a chapter got lost in cyber space. As a result I have to redo the referencing on the duties of brahmanas and ksatriyas and that is three days of work. Those of you who have personally experienced losing research work, or even worse, losing written material, will be able to fully sympathise with my plight. But those are some of the hurdles in writing, and as they say, c’est la vie.

Newsletter: Books, More Books

It’s thirty-one degrees in my room and I am poring over a new book that is meant to be printed in time for our visit to the Ukraine festival—August 25th. The book is called The Awakening of Spontaneous Devotional Service. 

It started off as an appendix to a chapter in the damodara-lila book, but as fate would have it the contents exceeded one hundred pages and so we at Lal decided to make a separate book of it. No more hundred page appendices…

That means I need to have it to Braja Sevaki by tomorrow, she will edit it, try out a new proofreader, then send it for Manjari’s Sanskrit editing, again a quick proof, then layout by Sundarupa and off to the printers. Whew! I am in marathon mode the last few days. That means I have switched off from GBC duties, but can only do that for so long: there are other pressing issues. But here is an excerpt to give you an idea:

In the way that regulated devotees think of themselves in a very general way, “I am Krishna’s eternal servant,” spontaneous devotees should similarly think of themselves, “I am the servant of a Vraja-vasi.” In Jiva Gosvami’s words, “I am different from Subala but yearn for service like his.” In other words, apart from wanting to be a cowherd boy, a young gopi, or an elder of Vraja, one should not attempt to progress further by imagining personality traits.

In art news, we mentioned in the first newsletter that all the original Nava-vraja-mahima drawings—all 400—would be auctioned to raise funds for publishing the Hungarian translation of NVM. That was meant to be held in June, but has been delayed. We’ll let you know when that will take place, but it will be an e-auction so that everyone can attend. 

Last point: some devotees are of the misunderstanding that Sadhavo Hrdayam Mayam is an extract from Nava-vraja-mahima and so if they have NVM, they don’t need to buy Sadhavo. The fact is that Sadhavo is a different book and thus entirely separate from NVM.

Happy readings…

Newsletter: Welcome

Hare Krishna and welcome to the first of our monthly newsletter

The staff at Lal Publishing and I often receive enquiries about what I am writing, when a book will be finished, what books are available in e-book format, can I share some nectar, and so on. The newsletters will answer all those queries, and will serve to introduce you to the Lal Publishing personnel. There is more than just Sivarama Swami behind an SRS book: a lot more! We’ll show you a little of what it actually takes to put a book into your hands—or your Kindle, Nook, or e-reader, and provide details on purchasing e-books online, and buying hard copies online and in stores. 

The newsletter will give information on my writing, new book launchings, introductions to Lal Publishing staff, and insights into the production process. It will announce new projects, like the upcoming auction of all the original Nava Vraja-mahima drawings—all 400 of them—this June, an auction designed to raise funds to finance the Hungarian translation work.

So here is the first update: I am writing Sri-Damodara-janani, which translates as “Lord Damodara’s Mother.” This is the damodara-lila in the same format of my Venu-gita—expanding on the Bhagavatam verses based on the commentaries of seven acaryas. Aside from retelling the story in 500 pages, it is especially meant to glorify Mother Yasoda.  And in closing, a small glimpse into the book: 

Surrounded by the womenfolk and children of Gokula, Mother Yasoda tries to tie Him to a mortar, but the rope is 
always too short. The ladies say, “O Queen! Don’t you sense something mysterious about your son? You have encircled His body with your arms, but you fail to tie His waist with a rope. How extraordinary!”

Jaya Radha-Syamasundara!

Yours in Krishna’s service,
Sivarama Swami