Saturday, November 16, 2013

My Peruvian adventure

For several years i have wanted to hike up Machu Picchu and check out the amazing stonework which was, according to popular belief, way ahead of it’s time in it’s precision and sheer difficulty.  The mountain side Inka village spans across about ten acres, housed over five hundred people with its advanced aqueduct systems and took only thirty years to build. Even more astonishing is that after being abandoned for over four hundred years with the powerful elements attempting to demolish it, it still stands strong as a testament to the craftsmanship of what is widely considered to be a community of inferior technological people.  And if that’s not enough, there are several other large villages along the trail.

Fortunately i was able to make the trip out there this year and i was joined by four close friends who are fellow adventure-seekers.  Although each of us had different reasons for taking the trip, all of us were fully satisfied and our expectations were widely surpassed.

The first thing i should say is that there is no description, verbal or visual, that can accurately depict the beauty and magnificence of the hike and the ruins.  i highly recommend that everyone go at least once in their lifetime and hike the Inka trail.

One of my main reasons for visiting these majestic ruins was because for a long time i have envisioned building the village for the Bhagavat Commune in a similar way with the terraces, gardens, and simple, sturdy structures.  What i found out on the trip that i did not fully anticipate is that Inkan culture and Vaisnava culture have some core similarities.

At the first set of ruins our tour came across on the Inka trail, our main guide Milton informed us that the Inkas (who were like the ksatriyas) would collect taxes from the other villages which would produce various goods and redistribute them throughout the kingdom so that each village would have the items that they could not produce in their own village.  Milton also told me of the priests who would advise the kings.

Their system of government was similar to varnasrama-dharma, and they certainly appreciated all that was given to them by the Supreme Lord and acknowledged His grace in whatever way that they could understand.  Although their “deities” were the mountains, the sun, the moon, etc., they had a full understanding that there was a higher power in control of their wellbeing and they were grateful for the gifts that were given to them.

The trail connecting the various Inka villages was amazing and there were parts where a single boulder was carved into an entire flight of steps.  The precision of each stone in the walls of the terraces and buildings was unbelievable, but the walls of the temples were especially smooth as a sign of extra respect for their deities.  Even today, the local villagers perform rituals to offer thanks to their deities at various times.

Although shaping granite the way that they did was very difficult, they did live a very simple lifestyle in that they used what was available and didn’t expect anything else.  They were grateful for what they had and used it all to its full potential.

It’s no secret that i am a big fan of self-sufficient cultures, and i always look forward to learning more from the successful ones throughout history.  In my heart i am a mountain man who works the land to cultivate foodstuffs and builds living structures in the most simple and God-centric way.  And while i understand that this type of lifestyle is not for everyone (or for most people these days for that matter), i hope to find some fellow Vaisnavas with a similar passion to this sort of simple living and high thinking.

Tomorrow i will be on my way back to Sridham Mayapura where i will continue my work on the Bhaktivedanta course.  Hopefully when i return to the states in March i will be able to find a new property to continue this dream.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

More on yoga

I was recently speaking with one of my friends who is active in the “yoga scene” and something occurred to me afterwards.  In my observation (and most spiritualist agree) the yoga scene has tended to be watered down and incomplete, and up until recently i considered that the reason for this muted effect was due to the fact that most “yoga practitioners” skip over the first two branches of astanga yoga (the rules and regulations) and focus on the sitting postures and breathing techniques as a form of physical exercise with the hope of attaining spiritual upliftment.

Although it is true that some of the attendees of yoga classes are exclusively interested in sculpting their physique, the majority of them are looking for some inner peace or at least an escape from the daily stresses of their lives.  They seek some sort of transcendence even if they are not sure exactly what lies beyond this realm and although they receive some form of material relief the process is not as effective as one would hope.

Even though my theory makes sense, (how can you expect something to work properly if you do not follow the initial instructions) i think that the bigger problem is actually at the other end of the spectrum of the eight branched yoga process.

During our conversation, my friend told me that most of these yoga enthusiasts are mayavadis (they consider the ultimate goal to be an impersonal energy which we connect with to attain peace).  After this revelation, i realized that the actual reason why these aspiring yogis find it difficult to hold on to any real lasting peace is that they haven’t found anything to grab on to that would keep them from falling back into their stressful lives.

The very word “yoga” means “connection”, and the goal of the yoga process is to connect with the spiritual energy.  Doing so allows us to leave behind the material energy, which is the cause of stress and various other sufferings.  Without understanding what this spiritual energy is and how it works, we have no hope of transcending material nature.  Instead we are merely jumping up and away from our troubles only to have gravity pull us right back down to again enjoy or suffer our karmic bounty.

As long as one’s consciousness is material, our attempts at transcendence will always be futile.  But when we understand the spiritual energy, we can grab a hold of it.  When we firmly hold on to spiritual nature the gravitational effect of the material energy is negated and as such true and lasting peace is attained.But in order to be able to hold tightly to the spiritual energy, we must cultivate knowledge and understanding.

Perhaps the reason so many aspiring yogis skip over the initial rules and regulations of the yogic process is that since they view the goal as an impersonal energy, they have no tangible reason to regulate their lives and give up so many of the things they hold dear.  Although they very much wish to escape their stressful lives, they are not ready to give up the activities that they enjoy for a mere chance of peacefulness.

An example of one of the regulations of yoga is to give up intoxication.  But since intoxication is a widely accepted and popular method for coping with stress, people are reluctant to give it up just so they can merge with an impersonal energy.  They feel that the sitting postures and breathing exercises help them deal with stress in one way and having their bottle of wine helps them deal with stress in another way.  For them, they are just increasing their chances at peace...  a customized formula, if you will.

But the spiritual energy is not impersonal.  On the contrary it is the most blissful and perfect personal relationship that we cannot even possibly fathom.  And when we understand this fact and start to learn about the characteristics of the spiritual realm and about the pure sweetness of the relationships that are experienced there, we will gladly give up any other man-made remedy and grab firmly onto the spiritual energy.

Until then we can not expect to give up our self-prescribed medicines before we are given a better alternative.

So instead of trying to force potential yogis to blindly follow some rules and regulations, perhaps it is better to first fully explain the spiritual nature and discuss the various relationships and pastimes that are present in the spiritual world.  That way instead of blindly and reluctantly giving things up, they will simply lose their taste for an inferior process and take up the full process of yoga.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Today is definitely not thursday...

For the past few months i have been writing a weekly blog entry on my day off of work to compensate for my lack of Vaisnava association while performing my seasonal job on the New Jersey shore.  Although e-sociation is no substitute for the real thing, this writing has been quite therapeutic for me and thankfully it has started a few email conversations which helped me get through the summer.

While i do plan on doing a lot more writing in the future, it seems that i will not be able to post a blog on a regular basis for the next several months since i will be traveling in places with limited internet access.

Hopefully i will be able to post one here and there, but it certainly will not be as regular as it has been.

But i will say this…  these last fourteen weeks of regular writing has been really good for me.  Being steady with any devotional practice (reading, japa, kirtan, deity worship, etc.) is the key to noticeable advancement.  We humans have a tendency to only expend energy on something when it is absolutely necessary…  we like to “take it easy” whenever possible.  But when we do this with our devotional practice we might not notice its effectiveness and perhaps even dismiss it as unnecessary.

We are currently in the age of instant gratification where we want it our way, right away and will not tolerate boring transitions or delayed results.  We want to put in minimal effort and receive optimal results.

But some things are worth putting forth extra effort, and among those things spirituality is the only one that is ultimately worthy of said effort.

So, with that i invite everyone who reads this to pick a devotional practice that you enjoy doing and set aside some amount of time to do that activity on a regular basis.  And, as always, i would love to hear about what you chose and how it has affected you.

If we can somehow figure out a way to never miss the latest episode of a tv show or our favorite sports team’s game, we can certainly figure out a way to regularly chant a bhajan, or read a few chapters from sastra, or write out our thoughts.

Our character can be defined by the priorities that we set for ourselves, so let us set our default to Krsna-bhakti.

forever endeavor… amen.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Skipping over

When we are reading philosophical material we have a tendency to skip over certain parts.  For some it’s the difficult-to-pronounce Sanskrit prayers, while others will skip over the highly philosophical parts considering them to be beyond their level of understanding.  But i would say that the most skipped over sections would be the ones on the Lord’s “universal form”.

i realize that even mentioning that this will be the subject of this weeks blog entry, i risk losing several readers immediately.  But i hope that everyone will give me the benefit of the doubt and read on...  i promise to keep it brief and entertaining.

There are quite a few descriptions of the virat-rupa throughout our sastras and i have heard several reasons for skipping over them from “it’s boring” to “it’s irrelevant” to “it has no flavor”.  After all, it is referred to as a “godless display of opulence” and is usually more appealing to pantheists.  The most convincing excuse that i have heard to justify skipping these descriptions is that in the Bhagavad-gita, even though Arjuna requested to see that form, he quickly asked Krsna to resume His original form because the universal form was incompatible with Arjuna’s rasa.

Similarly, when Mother Yasoda saw such a form within her divine child’s mouth she had to quickly forget about what she saw (with the help of yoga-maya of course) so that it would not sully her motherly relationship with Krsna.

So if the conclusion is that a pure devotee does not wish to see this aspect of the Supreme Lord, then why should we, as aspiring Vaisnavas, bother to read about it?

i have to admit that for several years i too was guilty of skipping over these sections for a lot of the above mentioned reasons.  

But then, while studying the Srimad Bhagavatam in Sridhama Mayapur i came across this verse at the end of the fifth canto where Srila Sukadeva Goswami is addressing Maharaja Pariksit (5.26.38):

"… This vast form is considered the external body of the Lord, created by His energy and qualities. It is generally called the virāṭ-rūpa. If one reads the description of this external form of the Lord with great faith, or if one hears about it or explains it to others to propagate bhāgavata-dharma, or Kṛṣṇa consciousness, his faith and devotion in spiritual consciousness, Kṛṣṇa consciousness, will gradually increase. Although developing this consciousness is very difficult, by this process one can purify himself and gradually come to an awareness of the Supreme Absolute Truth."

In his purport, Srila Prabhupada writes:

“The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is pushing forward the publication of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, as explained especially for the understanding of the modern civilized man, to awaken him to his original consciousness. Without this consciousness, one melts into complete darkness. Whether one goes to the upper planetary systems or the hellish planetary systems, he simply wastes his time. Therefore one should hear of the universal position of the virāṭ form of the Lord as described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. That will help one save himself from material conditional life and gradually elevate him to the path of liberation so that he can go back home, back to Godhead.”

After reading this, my opinion of the universal form changed quite a bit.

Unfortunately, we conditioned souls are not attached to Krsna's sweet pastimes.  Instead we are attached to making our own sweet pastimes independent from Him in this material world.  No matter how vehemently we deny this fact, our actions show otherwise.  Our daily habits show that we are more interested in attempting to keep ourselves entertained, happy, comfortable and/or satisfied through material manipulation than we are in reconnecting with our eternal position.  So since our priorities currently lie more in self-aggrandizement than to Krsna's sweet pastimes, understanding the universal form would be a step in the right direction for us.

The process of Krsna consciousness is to take that which we are already attached to and dovetail it in Krsna's service.  In this way the activity remains the same, but the consciousness is properly directed and the same activity that once facilitated our forgetfulness of Krsna now facilitates our remembrance of Him.

We all have attachments that we know are detrimental to our spiritual growth, and although these attachments are different for every person the process to become detached from them is the same.  The way for us to overcome a material attachment is to understand its proper use.  With our consciousness thus in its proper place, the material attachment dissolves away.

In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, "For one who sees Me everywhere and who sees everything in Me, to him I am never lost nor is he ever lost to Me".  Our goal is to be able to see Krsna everywhere and understand how everything is a part of Him.  That is the very definition of "Krsna consciousness".  Although we cannot run away from our attachments, we can properly understand them and thus we can conquer them.  That is our process.  And since these descriptions of the virat rupa are intended to show how everything we know is merely a part of the Supreme Lord it is certainly pertinent to all of us.

The universal form gives us the opportunity to transform our fondness of the mundane to fondness of the Srupeme Lord.  It is meant to show us that all of our attachments are actually attachments to Him.  It is only because of our skewed vision that we cannot see the connection and thus we are unsatisfied.  But when we see things as they truly are, as transformations of His divine energy, our vision is clear and we are no longer a servant of our senses.

This, like any instruction, can be used properly or improperly.  i certainly am not claiming that we should drop all of our regular service and focus on the universal form.  What i am saying is that we need to examine whatever attachments we have outside of our devotional lives and gradually learn how to see Krsna in all of them.  The descriptions of the universal form help us to do this.

For example, in the descriptions of the universal form, Krsna says that the sun and moon are His eyes.  Every form of light in the material world is a transformation of the sun’s energy whether it is from stored energy in wood, coal, oil, etc. or is reflected (off of other planets etc.)  Without these forms of light, we could not see... our eyes would be useless.  This means that our eyes only work because He has eyes.

Everything we take for granted is made possible by Him, and if we took the time to see Him in all of these things from time to time we would better understand Him and His unconditional love for us.  And if we could better understand that, our hearts would quickly melt and we would naturally fall in love with Him and try to reciprocate His love by exclusively serving Him.

One day we will understand our deeply established relationship with Krsna, and when that happens the display of the universal form will be of no interest to us.  But until then we should understand that the things we see everyday and use for our personal enjoyment is an exploitation of God and His energy and is thus a declaration of atheism.

The real reason we skip over these sections is because there is a part of us that does not want to see Him everywhere.  We only want to see Him when it is convenient.  Otherwise our guilt for turning our back on Him would be overwhelming.  We are self-centered and there is no room for His presence in all of “our things”.

If we truly want to transform this selfish materialistic attitude to a spiritual one, it is in our best interest to learn to see the Lord everywhere.

Sometimes the things that we consider to be insignificant or impertinent are the very things that could potentially change our lives forever.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Letting go

i had a dream, one morning, that i was making my way across an obstacle course made of teetering cars pivoting on high poles.  As i carefully leapt from one car to the next, my weight and momentum from the jump would knock the car off balance causing it to tilt until i repositioned myself to counteract this motion.

While experiencing this exciting dream i was also fully aware of where i was outside of my dream state.  i knew i was dreaming, i knew i was in my room, safely in my sleeping bag and i was completely aware of all of the things that i had to do later that day.

Aside from the fact that there was no true danger of me falling from these wavering vehicles, there was also no point in my finishing the obstacle course.  i knew that it wasn’t real, and that my completion of it would in no way represent any ability that i truly possessed in the prestigious sport of unbalanced car hopping.

Yet i wanted to see if “i” could do it.

At one point of the course there was a relatively far jump to the next car, and when i landed on its hood the car quickly tilted down causing my foot to slip.  As i slammed down face first onto the hood, i firmly grabbed its top edge near the wipers and started to slowly pull myself toward the windshield in an attempt to keep the heavy machine from falling from its perch.

As i cautiously maneuvered myself, the car started to shake and slowly began to slide from its pivot point.  i looked back to see if there was a way that i could leap back to the previous car, but with the present car almost vertical i was both to low and too far away to perform such a feat.  i had no choice but to keep climbing the car which now seemed to be hanging by a thread.

Every time i pulled myself higher the car would rumble and fall a little bit as if it could give way at any moment.

i still knew that this was just a dream, and i also knew that it was almost time for me to wake up. (i confess… this all happened while i was taking a nap before Srimad Bhagavatam class while i was living in the temple)  Even knowing all of this, i still wanted to see how this was going to turn out…  would i fall to my doom with fifteen hundred pounds of metal crushing me?  Or would i somehow be able to climb up and pivot the car the other way with just enough time to leap to the next car before the former would go crashing down without me?

In our Vaisnava philosophy the first thing we are taught is that we are not our bodies…  we are spirit soul…  that which animates these bodies…  eternal beings occupying temporary material bodies.  As such, this whole temporary world is essentially just a very convincing dream.  Our bodies begin and end and go through many drastic changes in between, but the one who experiences these things (the soul) stays the same throughout all of it and still remains even after the elemental bodies are long gone.

This concept is certainly not exclusive to Vaisnavas.  It is, by definition, a foundational tenet for all spiritualists.  All spiritual practitioners can agree that needs of the soul outweigh needs of the body.

So why is it, then, that although we fully understand that we are spiritual beings and that our best interest lies in directly serving the Supreme Lord, we often times put our spiritual practices on the back burner to our material endeavors?  Why is it that even though we know we are not these bodies and not the controller or enjoyer of anything, that we still try to control and enjoy our situations?

The truth is that we are merely trying to amount to something…  to be relevant, to have an impact, to be the first, the best, the only…  to be eternally remembered and honored even after we are gone!

But even if our outstanding achievements are recorded in books for future historians to remind the common man of, our legacy will not last very long in the grand scheme.  Furthermore, our material accomplishments will not help with our spiritual advancement.  So the question becomes: why are we wasting so much time and effort on something that is only momentarily significant for only a few people when we could be focusing our efforts on something that will yield eternal results?

Well my dream during my “japa time” nap answered this important question…  we just want to see what happens.  We are more attached to the mundane storyline than we are to the real one.  We are not ready to relinquish our illusion of control.  We want to feel the pride of accomplishment even though we know it is illusory…  we want to feel supreme independence.  Essentially we want to be God.

That last sentence does not necessarily imply that we want to be the supreme controller in charge of everyone’s lives, it just means that we want to be a controller of something when in fact we can’t even control our own bodily functions.

So until we can give up our aspirations of being the worlds greatest unbalanced car hopper or whatever other ultimately insignificant dream we have, we will not be able to grab ahold of true satisfaction…  we can not grab a flower if our hands are full of sand.

Sure some goals seem noble and worthy of our undivided attention and action like “breakthrough cancer researcher”, “protector of the innocent” or even “worlds best parent”.  But curing a disease without enriching the patient’s spiritual life, rescuing someone from a dangerous situation without pointing out life’s true danger (dying without pursuing spiritual advancement), and putting food on the table and providing shelter for ones children without educating them about their true protector is merely an attempt to take credit for something that we are absolutely incapable of accomplishing.

We cannot truly save a life because eventually everyone will die.  We cannot truly protect one from danger because if one is meant to get hurt, karma will find her way to them.  We cannot truly provide nourishment, for we can only take what has already been provided by Krsna and give it to those who are under our care.

This of course does not mean that we should stop caring for, protecting or providing for others, it just means that we should give credit where credit is due and we should not try to steal any of the glory.

So whatever happened in this dream of mine?  Did i fall and die?  Did i miraculously figure out a way to regain balance and continue the course?

Actually, what happened was i woke up and went to Srimad Bhagavatam class.  The dream ended with a cliffhanger and its sequel was never made.

i can only hope that at the end of this life i am as detached from my actions as i am from that dream…  cause i definitely do not want to come back to see what happens.

It should be understood, at this point, that merely letting go of material desires does not qualify us for entrance into the spiritual realm.  But it does free up our grip so that we can grab onto something substantial.

What are you holding on to?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The funny thing about focus...

At the most important times in our lives…  the truly pivotal moments…  the do or die situations, we all know that the best way to achieve positive results is to hunker down and focus on the matter at hand.  We believe that if we just focus on a problem enough we will be able to solve it and then resume our default apathetic mode until the next emergency presents itself to us.

Although this seems to be a solid strategy in theory, there is a little more to it that we should be aware of if we want to steer clear of disaster.  Any good photographer will tell you that the thing about focus is that you must first understand how to select the proper focal point.

One day i was driving my car to pick a friend up from the airport.  As i steered through the turns on the winding road, a bottle of Gatorade rolled around on the passenger side floor.  When i turned the steering wheel to the left, the bottle would roll to the right, when i accelerated, the bottle would shoot backwards, etc.  When i noticed this, i imagined what would happen if i stopped paying attention to the road and instead put my focus on the movements of the bottle…  i could make it roll around in specific shapes and patterns…  it could be a really neat game!  Of course if i had actually played this game my car would have wound up either wrapped around a tree, in a ditch or smashed up against another vehicle, and the motions of the Gatorade bottle would no longer be of any amusement to me.

But if we think about it, this is exactly what most of us are doing with our lives.  This life (whether we accept it or not) is a spiritual journey.  We are spiritual beings searching for our rightful place.  We all start out on various points on the spiritual path and the choices we make determine whether or not we make forward progress on said path.  If we focus on spirituality and seek bona fide instructions with our consciousness focused on the Supreme, we will surely make forward progress.  But if our focus is elsewhere, our life becomes the equivalent of a useless mangled wreck wrapped around a tree.

Magicians use a trick called misdirection to divert our attention from what is really going on so that their deceitful ruse seems mystical or transcendental.  Our material minds are expert magicians, as they play similar tricks on us making us think we are still on our desired spiritual path while misdirecting our attention to mundane endeavors.

To illustrate this point further, let’s say that there is a father who finds out that the neighborhood kids take a shortcut to school on a short path through the woods.  When the father checks out the shortcut he notices that on one side of the path there is a tree root sticking up out of the ground a little bit.  If this prompts the man to start a campaign about how this shortcut is unsafe because of a tripping hazard and subsequently proposes a nine step plan on how to fix the shortcut (because if the root is simply cut to remove the tripping hazard, the tree might die and turn into a crushing hazard, therefore making it prudent to remove the entire tree, which then removes the shade and rain cover from the path leading to sunburn and mud hazards, which suggests that the path should thus be paved and that a canopy be constructed over it with padded covers on every pole and safety rails), one might say the man’s focus, although noble, is a little off.  If all we see are problems, our focus needs to be adjusted.  There is no need to fix every minor problem on a path that we do not own when we can simply walk around them with much greater ease.

This, of course, is not to say that no problem is worth fixing.  There is nothing wrong with building a bridge to get across a river here and there, but we should expend our energy wisely and only when it is necessary.  And when it is necessary, we should still be careful to keep the focus where it belongs and not become trapped or attached to one of the easements we helped pioneer.

Even while actively on the path of spirituality, there is always the danger of distractions.  There are many side effects that come along as a result of our successful spiritual advancement, which can be a major distraction if given their own separate value.  Sometimes these mere side effects are mistaken for the process itself and with our attention thus diverted, we miss out on the full benefits and as a result are delayed in reaching our desired goal.

As we make spiritual progress, we are endowed with unprecedented clarity, a strong foundation of knowledge, a sense of humility and other attractive qualities.  When people begin to take notice of these qualities there is a chance that we will lose sight of their connection with our spiritual path and instead embrace our newfound popularity and again return to the (now slightly nicer) material pool, all the while considering ourselves still on the path.

Of course eventually we realize that our clarity, knowledge, humility, etc. have stalled out on some sort of plateau and it is during that critical time where we have to make an important self-evaluation.  While some will blame the process at this point for failing to continue to work for them, others decide that it is again time to hunker down and focus, considering this to be their next obstacle.  But the truth of the matter is that in these situations we left the path as soon as we considered ourselves the cause of our advancement…  we have been living on the obstacle for years, spinning our wheels against it, not understanding why we haven’t gone anywhere.

And all of this is due to misdirection… we think we know what is really going on, but the fact is we have absolutely no idea.

So how do we make sure that we no longer become the victim of this misdirection?  How can we avoid being duped into believing that we are going somewhere when we are in fact stuck?

We simply have to periodically assess and adjust our focus.  There is only one focal point.  Are we focused on ourselves or are we focused on Krsna?  Self-focus will keep us spinning our wheels and wrapping around trees whereas Krsna-focus will get us beyond, around, over or through any material obstacle no matter how big and daunting it is.

It is up to us to decide what we want to focus on...  and it is up to us to make sure we keep focused at all times.  We have no one to blame but ourselves if we get distracted, so pay attention.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Selfless servitude

As the name “Krsna Consciousness” implies, the goal of our practice is to become conscious of the Supreme Lord in our every thought, word and action…  to redirect ourselves from a self-centric lifestyle to a God-centric one.  With this end in mind, we gradually adjust and dovetail our everyday actions to bring them in line with Sri Krsna’s desires based on the knowledge given to us by guru, sadhu and sastra (the spiritual master, the elevated saintly people and the bona fide scriptures).

Since we are all at various points on our spiritual journey, we possess varying degrees of selflessness in our character.  Sometimes this can lead to frustration and/or segregation and often times it can unfortunately lead to offenses toward our fellow spiritual practitioners and stunt our growth.  But make no mistake...  each and every Vaisnava is gradually working to achieve said selflessness, so we should be very careful to refrain from judgement.

There is one thing, however, that we can all agree on because it is abundantly clear.  When a person has a fully selfless service attitude, their example is extremely powerful and their actions seem to accomplish the utterly impossible.  And while overcoming that which would be considered by most to be overwhelming adversity, they seem to effortlessly carry on as if untouched by the powerful grip of material nature.

Today we celebrate the appearance day of such a selfless servant of Sri Krsna.  It can be easily observed through his accomplishments that his divine grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, the founder-acarya of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness, was indeed motivated strictly by the desire to serve his guru and Krsna.

Although he was a spiritualist from birth, we tend to focus on the last twelve years of Srila Prabhupada’s life since they directly pertain to the powerful society that he created which enhanced the lives of countless people.

Just before his 69th birthday, Srila Prabhupada set out on a journey from Calcutta, India to the United States of America aboard a steam ship (the ticket for which was begged for) with the equivalent of seven dollars and a case of his books.  During this austere journey, our acarya had two heart attacks among other health ailments, but because he was driven by the instructions of his spiritual master to preach Krsna Consciousness in the west, he kept a faithful mood and took complete shelter under his Lord, Sri Krsna.

With no followers to greet him in America, Srila Prabhupada bravely faced this strange new world with very few material assets but within twelve short years, against all odds, he managed to start a worldwide movement with over a hundred temples spanning six continents all the while translating numerous volumes of books and publications.

Because he was a selfless servant of Krsna, he was never affected by his newfound fame, his huge number of followers, or any amount of donations…  his only concern was that everything and everyone be engaged in the service of Krsna.  In this way he was able to remain transcendental to material energy, which tends to effortlessly tear a normal man apart.

Our process is designed to redirect our consciousness from self-centric to God-centric and as we progress on this path, material energy naturally has less of a grip on us (including the kind that compels us to consider fellow Vaisnavas as ordinary people).  It is our goal to become selfless…  not because we want to become free from material nature, but because we want to give our love to its rightful recipient.  When we give all of our love, faith and trust to God we finally become a part of a true and everlasting relationship.

Since Sri Krsna always has unconditional love for everyone, it is entirely up to us to cultivate our love for Him.  We have to actively adjust our priorities from self-glorifying to God-glorifying.  And when we do so, we can finally return to an eternal life of bliss and knowledge.

And we have to work on this at every moment.  It’s not like Srila Prabhupada waited until he was in his late sixties to pursue his spiritual life… he was doing so since he was a child.  And because of all of his training he was able to remain strong when the odds were stacked against him.

There will come a time (several, actually) when the odds will be stacked against us…  and it is in our best interest to prepare for those inevitable circumstances so that we can be strong enough to hold on to the Supreme Lord’s grace and break through any obstacle that is thrown at us by the inferior material nature.

Srila Prabhupada very generously gave us priceless transcendental wisdom in the form of his books and instructions.  We must take full advantage of these gems at every moment.

Thank you, Srila Prabhupada, for showing us the way.  Please continue to give us your guidance and protection.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Culture or consequence

The following is an homage that i wrote to my spiritual master Srila Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu for this years Vyasa-puja.  Since i celebrated both my guru’s and Lord Balarama’s appearance days this week, and since it very much fits the theme and tone of the blog, i thought it fitting to make it this weeks entry.

Dearest Gurudeva,

Respectful obeisances to you on this auspicious day.  i don’t always write one of these things because i often find myself just asking you for stuff, and i don’t want this occasion to go the way of christmas where everyone forgets about their spiritual master’s birth and instead throws fits about getting the incorrect toy or the wrong color iphone.

But i realize that by not writing an offering, i am missing out on an opportunity for expressing gratitude for all you have given me, so i will try to become more regular with it so as to attempt to rejuvenate our culture as well as to become a more worthy disciple.

Recently, i was reading the pastime of  Lord Balarama going on pilgrimage and His encounter with Romaharsana.   Lord Balarama’s reaction to the so-called spiritualist’s lack of proper etiquette was to first say these words:

“Although he is a disciple of the divine sage Vyäsa and has thoroughly learned many scriptures from him, including the lawbooks of religious duties and the epic histories and Puräëas, all this study has not produced good qualities in him. Rather, his study of the scriptures is like an actor's studying his part, for he is not self-controlled or humble and vainly presumes himself a scholarly authority, though he has failed to conquer his own mind.”

After speaking these words, the Lord fatally stabbed Romaharsana with a blade of kusa grass.

When i read this passage, i couldn’t help but think what Lord Balarama would say about me.  i imagine that i too would get quite the kusa grass lashing. 

It has been two decades since i first heard you speak, and that moment was not one to be taken lightly, for it changed the course of my life in a major way.  There is no doubt that i am a much better man than i would have become without your guidance and instructions, but i would be a complete idiot to say that have done my best.

With the amount of knowledge and mercy that you have bestowed upon me, i should be a much better representative than i am today.

But Lord Balarama hasn’t killed me yet, so i suppose i still have time to try to get it right.

For the majority of the years that i have heard your annual vyasa puja address, you simply request that your disciples get along with each other and cooperate in their Krsna consciousness.  But i think we owe you more than that.  For what you have given us, we owe you nothing less than the absolute best that we could possible muster up.

So i apologize for taking so long to realize my duty, and i hope i can always remember it and apply it in my every action, thought, and word.  Thank you for all that you have given us. There is truly no way for us to repay your kindness.

yours in the service of Srila Prabhupada,

carucandra dasa

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Is time on our side?

We’ve heard countless maxims about time…  it heals all wounds, it flies when you are having fun, if you put a stitch in it, it will save nine (whatever that means)…  sometimes it is equated with money while other times it is considered far more valuable than any currency.  It keeps on slipping into the future, it reveals everything and (according to David Bowie) although time may change us, we can’t trace it.  The one thing that is certain about time is that it is an unstoppable juggernaut and there is nothing we can do to get it back once it is gone.  It’s one of those things that we think we have plenty of until we are faced with the harsh reality that every second gone is another second that we are closer to death.

In theory we all understand that time is valuable but in practice we tend to waste it on things that “seemed like a good idea at the time”.  Time, in my experience, is the thing we are least honest with ourselves about.  After all, no one wants to admit that they are wasting their lives away.  We come up with so many excuses about how we need or deserve a good ole fashioned time wasting session (as if we have been depriving ourselves of that sort of thing).  Since we tend to be overgenerous when meting out self-credit, the best way to evaluate how we spend our time is not to look at a day or even a week for that matter but a much larger sample.  If we really want a fair and accurate assessment of our time usage, we should examine a decade or two.

In a blog i wrote a few weeks ago i mentioned that i have come a long way spiritually in the last twenty years, and although that is true i honestly could have come much further.  For example, if i compare the amount of times i am reminded of stories that i have read or heard about Krsna to the amount of times i am reminded of a mundane song or movie, i can see that my inclinations toward meaningless drivel is more prominent than my inclinations toward spirituality.

Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly potential value in some of today’s music and movies…  sometimes a song that was not necessarily written about transcendence can remind us in a very powerful way about Krsna or His pastimes.  We find this to be true with most well written love songs (before they started to get vulgar).  There is no doubt that everything can be dovetailed in the service of the Lord but it is my experience that we tend to overindulge in the mundane and pay little attention to attempting to make a solid connection to our ultimate goal.

It becomes clear where our priorities lie when we can successfully relate everything we see to an Adam Sandler movie, or an episode of the Simpsons or Seinfeld.

So what can we do about this?  How can we change our focus?  Especially considering that we were already under the impression that our focus was already properly situated.  In one sense our lifestyles show that we are serious about spirituality... from the pictures on our walls, to our special diets, to the way we dress, to the events we attend, etc.  But these are all external, and just like it is true that “actions speak louder than words”, it is also true that consciousness speaks louder than actions.  What really defines who we truly are is our motivation…  our intention.  What do we value the most?  What drives us?

When i was taking the preachers training course in Vrndavan in 1995, Brajabihari Prabhu told the class about a demonstration that he saw during a time-management seminar that he attended.  Since then, i have heard a similar story a few times but (like with all good things) sadly the message had been changed and/or lost.  So today i will revive said message and hope that it stays alive in the hearts of the sincere.  (if you have heard it before, please read it anyway as the moral may be slightly different)

At the seminar, the facilitator had a big empty jar and a bucket of big rocks.  He added rocks to the jar until he could not fit anymore and asked the attendees, “Is the jar full?”  After the consensus came back that the jar was in fact full the man then pulled out from behind his lectern a container of gravel.  The man put several scoops of gravel into the jar and periodically shook it so that the gravel filled in the spaces between the big rocks until no more gravel would fit into the jar.  “Now is the jar full?” he asked.  After hearing mixed reviews concerning the “fullness” of the jar the man then presented a bag of sand, which he poured into the jar, filling all of the spaces between the gravel until he could fit no more sand.  “How about now?” he asked, generating even more uncertain responses.  Finally the man revealed a pitcher of water and poured it into the jar until the water level reached the very top and exclaimed, “Now it is full…  so what is the point that i am making?”

Most of the attendees of this time-management workshop thought that the point was that no matter how busy you think you are, there is always time to do more.  This, however, was not the case.  “The point is” he revealed, “is that you have to put the big rocks in first.”

“Big rocks” refers to the top priority items.  When scheduling our days we have to make sure to first write in our top priority items and then schedule the lesser priorities around them.  This is a very powerful tool in the business world but it is an even more powerful tool in our personal lives.

In the world of business the bigness of the rock is determined by what, in the long run, will generate the most profit.  In the world of spiritual practice it is determined by what will generate the most love of God.

Yesterday i was speaking with a good friend of mine who had a very strong spiritual upbringing and holds family values in the highest regard.  As a businessman, he tries to provide a comfortable and full life for his wife and children by earning money to be able to create a favorable situation for them.  Lately he has been stressed out due to of the current financial climate.  When I told my friend the story about the rocks in the jar, i explained that while money is valuable and necessary, if we make it our main priority - our focus - our big rocks, we will not live a very happy life.  But if his big rocks were the continuation of his spiritual upbringing from the previous generation to his next generation, then his children will understand that peacefulness and understanding are more valuable and important than money.  That way when times are tough financially, instead of becoming depressed and hopeless they will be at peace knowing fully well that “this too shall pass”.

What we consider our “big rocks” becomes evident especially in times of struggle…  What motivates us to get out of bed?  What do we turn to?  What do we pray for?  Even if we are turning to God but asking for money, it is clear that our priorities are still out of balance.

It is never too late though.  When i look back on the last twenty years of my life i am saddened that i have committed to memory so many mundane songs and movie quotes but have not done the same with the countless spiritual stories that i have had access to for the same amount of time.  i am also bummed that with all of the jobs i have had i have only been late a hand full of times while i have missed mangala arotic more times than i care to remember while living at the temple.

But instead of getting down or giving up, i hope to be able to use this exercise to help reassess my true priorities and make even more spiritual progress over the next few decades.  Time has taken away the opportunity for me to change my past decisions but my future decisions are still up in the air.

What we choose at each moment affects our future.  So if we want time to be on our side, we have to consciously make proper use of it at every moment.  Our character is defined by the motivation behind the choices we make.  As time goes by we can evaluate our true motivations by examining our default reactions to everyday situations.  We will all get crushed by the teeth of time...  Of this there is no doubt. The question is will we be prepared for that moment?