I am very grateful and honored by the presence of all of you. I would like to try to explain something that is somewhat unexplainable – the origin of this particular festival.
Radhanath Swami explains how to tune in to Bhakti
There is a beautiful verse in Sri Bhagavad-Gita where Krishna tells –
patram pushpam phalam toyam yo me bhaktya prayacchati
This is in the ninth chapter. “Anyone who offers me even a leaf, a little water, a fruit or a flower with love and devotion, I will accept it.”
When the Lord accepts our offering, Lord reciprocates with his love and grace. So this is the essence of the path of bhakti, to tune in to God’s grace, which is actually all pervading. It is the sweetest but most gentle and powerful thing in all of creation, the personal love that God has for all of us. – Radhanath Swami
How to tune in? By offering our will to love God and anyone can do it. How much does it cost to pick up a leaf? Do need a college education to offer a little water? It is available for everyone; it is not the thing that counts. Our Guru, Srila Prabhupada explains that the Supreme Lord is bhavagrahi janardhana, he only accepts our love because that Supreme Personality, that Supreme Absolute Truth who is the cause of everything, doesn’t need anything but love which is something that is beyond relative logic.
I will give an example. When I was a little boy I was quite mischievous, and I didn’t get such good grades because nothing really interested me so much in the schools. I was too busy thinking of the civil rights movement and you know the counterculture, and trying to change the world compared to study science and mathematics and that stuff. So my parents were not happy with me. Our next-door neighbors were getting straight A’s and they were well behaved. Yet, my parents loved me more. That doesn’t make sense because love is not something that always makes sense; it is based on something very deep, very spontaneous.
So, Krishna who is the controller of all controllers doesn’t need anything from anyone and wants to love. If we open our hearts to love God, God fills us with unlimited love and that is the principal of bhakti. How to cultivate and express that love? Anyone and everyone could do it, just by offering even a little flower with the intent to please, with the intent of devotion.
In that sense bhakti is not determined by our material qualifications or disqualifications. It is simply determined by our sincerity. – Radhanath Swami
My Guru, Srila Prabhupada defines sincerity as: to be without ulterior motives, to be without selfishness, to actually serve with the will for the well-being, for the pleasure of the object of our love.
Radhanath Swami narrates the story of Krishna visiting Bahulasva and Shrutadev in Mithila
There is a beautiful story in the Srimad Bhagavatam, one of our scriptures which is considered to be the conclusion of all Vedic knowledge. It is Krishna, who is God himself, who appeared in this world in a way to reciprocate love in a very personal way. Krishna went to a kingdom which is called Mithila. Sita, the feminine potency, the Hladini Shakti of the Lord was born near Mithila and she lived there. In his previous incarnation as Lord Ram, he married her in Mithila. If you read Ramayana, it is a very holy place. So Krishna went to Mithila with some sages and rishis; and people especially came to greet him at the border of the kingdom. One was the king with name Bahulasva and the other was a very simple poor Brahman named Shrutadev. They both invited Krishna to their house. They wanted to have a reception.
Just recently I was in Delhi and the President of India had a reception for Michelle Obama and Barack Obama. So receptions are quite standard when an important person comes. So here is the king, he has his entire palace prepared to welcome Krishna, and here is this Shrutadev who just lived in a little straw hut with his wife. Both asked Krishna with the same sincerity. For Krishna this is not a problem. He just expanded himself into two forms. But the interesting thing is, neither King Bahulasva nor Shrutadev knew this; each one thought, ‘He is only with me.’ Krishna is so kind, can you imagine? Shrutadeva thinks that, ‘King is inviting Krishna to his house and he chooses to be with me,’ and the king was very humble, ‘Shrutadev is a very pure hearted person, I am not pure hearted. He invited Krishna and Krishna came to be with me!’ Both were very humble and grateful.
When Krishna came into the palace of Bahulasva, there were marching bands and the military reception. King offered him his own jeweled thrown. He had cooks cook hundreds and hundreds of the most delicious preparations out of the most luxurious ingredients. King offered him them, fanning him with golden handled yak tail fans. They were offering Krishna jewels, necklaces and crowns. King had the entertainers of the kingdom dancing, singing and performing dramas. Krishna was enjoying it very nicely.
Meanwhile Shrutadeva brings other Krishna in thatched hut. He never had a throne; he just gave Krishna a little straw mat, just like what you’re sitting on, but small. The only food he had was some rice. After Krishna agreed, he went out to beg as he didn’t have any food. To fan Krishna, he just took his own cloth that was going like this (hand action). As far as entertainment, Shrutadeva himself was just an old Brahman, an old guy, he just started dancing for Krishna; he wasn’t trained as a dancer, he just wanted to make Krishna happy.
So it explains, they both served Krishna according to their capacity, with sincere devotion. Krishna explained how he was equally pleased and gave the same supreme spiritual perfection to both of them because Krishna sees the purpose, the intent, the love in which we speak, we think, we interact with each other, and we perform our seva or our service.
There is a similar story. Hanuman was building a bridge across the Indian Ocean and little spider was kicking single grains of sand with his legs. Now Hanuman’s arms were really strong and spider’s arms aren’t so strong, that’s why they need eight of them just to walk. So, Hanuman was taking mountains and putting it to float in the ocean and the little spider was just kicking one grain of sand. He was standing in front of Hanuman while Hanuman was with the mountain. Hanuman said, very respectfully to the spider, “Out! Get out of my way. I’m holding the mountain!” Ram said to Hanumanji, “He’s doing as much service as you are. You are trying to please me according to your capacity and the spider is trying to serve me according to his capacity.” Hanuman was very happy because he is the very personification of bhakti.
Bhakti is the intent of our heart, the spirit of our heart. Bhakti is the process of awakening the love within our heart. – Radhanath Swami
Radhanath Swami on practical application of unity in diversity
So today many of you are helping to pluck flowers. Now I am going to speak from the philosophical side to the cultural side, with a philosophical message behind it. The idea is, as you are plucking the flower, it is an offering of devotion to the Lord. Now, in our temple we do not recognize everyone who was here: there were billionaires, there were multi-millionaires, there were simple farmers, there were people from the middle-class, there were multi PhD’s, there were people who couldn’t write their name, and everything in the middle, there were people from all the various countries, from Ukraine, from Russia, from China, from India, males and females, people who have black complexion, white complexion, yellow complexion, brown complexion, people from the backgrounds of agnostics and atheists, from backgrounds of Jews and Christians and Parsis and Jains and Sikhs and Hindus and Muslims. It is not that anyone was in a superior position to anyone else, everyone was sitting in the same straw mat and everyone was plucking the same flowers, whether it was a rose or a marigold or whatever those other flowers are. They are all put in baskets and when they are being offered to Krishna, all its one offering from everyone. This is the teaching of Lord Chaitanya, unity in diversity.
Lord Chaitanya was Krishna himself who came to this world but he came to crash through the sectarian caste system, which made people according to their birth or their material qualifications: either superior or inferior. He wanted to teach us that everyone has the opportunity for the same perfection.
In this age of Kali the most powerful and simple way of awakening our love of God is to tune into the grace of God by chanting these beautiful mantras, the names of God. – Radhanath Swami
Lord Chaitanya made the supreme teacher for all time of the chanting of the holy names, Thakur Haridas, who happened to be born in an untouchable family and he was completely rejected by orthodoxy because Lord Chaitanya wanted to teach very strongly, because Krishna wanted to teach, it is not about our material situation. The ego wants whatever our particular role is to prove ourselves superior to others.
The principle of bhakti is to actually feel satisfaction, fulfillment in being the servant of the servant of the servant, to be a well-wisher of others, to be an instrument of God’s compassion to others. – Radhanath Swami
So as we were plucking the flowers and they are going into the baskets, it is an offering that we have all made to gather. Just like us, the flowers have different shapes, the petals of different colors and different fragrances and different names, and they are coming from different places but they are all being offered together with devotion. So it is a festival of unity and diversity.
If we understand the oneness of our spiritual essence, then we can really appreciate that rather than being fearful of or arrogant toward the differences, diversity is really beautiful if we understand the unity. You will see during this festival, when Krishna and Radha are offered different flower, the more the different colors being offered, this makes it that much more exciting and wonderful. As we are chanting with one voice, chanting these beautiful holy names, you will see what Kirtan is: each of us is chanting individually but for Krishna all the voices become one voice. Unity in diversity! Similarly these flowers are the flowers of our love. It’s a celebration of unity in diversity and it’s a very appropriate festival especially for the world today.
All of these flowers are organic and environmentally friendly flowers, at least I think so. There are a lot of them. Mother Earth is providing so many wonderful gifts and even the simplest of those gifts have unlimited value. When Krishna was a little boy in Vrindavan, the gopis were simple cowherd ladies and they would make butter, and Krishna would come to steal their butter. There are so many stories, and they would tell Krishna’s mother that Krishna is coming to steal our butter. They would tell so many stories of what he would do and how he would do it and they, and they just couldn’t stop talking about it. Yashoda Mai would say, “I’ll try to keep Krishna at home,” and they would say, “No! No! We only make our butter with the hope that Krishna will steal it. It’s the perfection of all our desires when Krishna comes to accept our butter. The greater joy than seeing Krishna stealing butter is describing to you how he’s doing. We can’t stop talking about it, it’s so beautiful, and it’s so sweet because this butter is the expression of our love.”
When our heart becomes very soft with humility and devotion, then Krishna, God will steal our hearts and there’s no greater pleasure than that. – Radhanath Swami
Radhanath Swami shares the reason for celebrating the flower festival
Years ago, I saw in our calendar, we have a particular calendar with the holidays according to our tradition. Many of them have been celebrated for thousands of years and there’s one festival in the month of January called Pushya Abhishek. Now in those days and still today, I’m not so good with Sanskrit which is the language of the scriptures. I was thinking, ‘Krishna says patram pushpam, puspa by means flower, and this is pushya abhishek, so this abhishek means to bathe Krishna with flowers. On Krishna’s appearance day or Radha’s appearance day we have abhishek where we offer, we bathe Krishna with so many wonderful bathing ingredients.’ So I was thinking, ‘Pushya abhishek means you’re supposed to bathe Krishna with flowers and Sri Radha with flowers so let’s celebrate.’ I don’t know why nobody else is doing like this, but we should do it because this is what the calendar says.
So we started showering Krishna with flowers and it became such a popular festival. People love to come to see it, thousands of people are coming for the pushya abhishek and soon other places were hearing about it and coming and seeing how beautiful it was. There are temples all over the world that has pushya abhishek. Then I found out that according to the calendar January is the month of Paush and pushya abhishek means you’re supposed to bathe Krishna with water and stuff in the month of January. But because I didn’t understand, I thought it was a flower festival. But when I discovered what it really meant, it was already such a popular festival and so many people in so many places wanted to celebrate it, so we just keep doing it. So in this sense, ignorance is bliss.
But actually there are so many beautiful stories in the scriptures. When Ram returned to Ayodhaya, everyone showered him with flowers. When Krishna came into Mathura, Dwarka, Vrindavan, everyone shower him with flowers. So it is tradition. But as far as the festival, it was revealed in a very mystical way. But my prayer to all of you is that this is a meditation, it’s a meditation on the beauty of God’s love for us and the beauty of our inherent love for God. If you water the root of the tree then that water naturally extends to every part of the tree. When we connect to that love within ourselves, that love for Krishna, it naturally extends as love and compassion for all beings. That is what bhakti is meant to awaken from within us. As we are seeing Krishna being showered with flowers with Sri Radha, as we are chanting with grateful humble attentive hearts and minds, the meditation is, ‘We are celebrating, celebrating the unity of our combined efforts to enlighten each other and enlighten the world.’ We recognize that, in every basket – because it’s all mixed up – there are some of your petals, and when it is offered to Krishna it becomes prasad, becomes his mercy, and at the end all the 1 ton of flower petals that are offered on the altar will be showered upon us, receiving grace.
Thank you very much.