Saturday, September 15, 2007

Karma Free Tea

Last nite i spoke with one of my close friends who is living in Amsterdam. Many of you know him as Ananda Swarup. He is not a guru reformer; he is a reformed guru. What i mean to say is, he is no longer claiming to be guru or anything, other than a follower of Srila Prabhupada. He had a long and illustrious career in Iskcon as a brahmacari preacher in West Bengal, then as a sannyasi and Regional Secretary in South India. Ananda (who was then known as Bhakti Ananda Swarup Swami) was unjustly removed from his position in India by Jayapataka after he stood up to JP when Bhavananda was excommunicated for being a predatory homosexual. After that, Ananda spent some time in Hawaii, then he went back to Holland, became an initiating guru in Europe, and opened a preaching center in Cairo. I have known him since his early days in Mayapur.

We caught up with each other again in 1992 in Amsterdam. Later that year, Ananda left the sannyas ashram and got married. It was a messy affair, and naturally Iskcon, rather than looking for a graceful solution, exacerbated the situation by banning him from preaching in all temples. (He later got the GBC to repeal that order.) His marriage did not last long, and soon Ananda was without his danda, without his wife and without any service. That began a very difficult period for him that lasted more than a decade. But gradually, thru divine intervention and the process of maturity, Ananda found his peace and recreated himself as a devotee. He is learned and talented and now he's planning to open his own preaching center in the heart of Amsterdam.

When we spoke last nite, he told me he wanted to find a location in one of the trendy urban neighborhoods in Amsterdam, an area known as De Pijp, and create a place where anyone could come along and feel welcome, get a cup of tea or bowl of soup and hear about Krishna consciousness. Previously we had been brainstorming about forming his own non-profit structure, to be called: Karma Free Foundation. So after hearing about his idea for the storefront, i suggested he call it Karma Free Tea.

Now there will be those who object to serving tea, unless it's herbal tea. I only drink herbal tea --if anyone cares to know--Bengal Spice is my favorite. But even if Ananda serves green tea, black tea, latte or expresso, to attract people who are lost in the material world and help them be more open to hear the message of the Gita, then i support him 100%. Didn't Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur once say that he was prepared to serve meat in an English hostel, if that is what it would take to get the Englishmen to hear Bhagavatam? How much more evidence do we need? It is the intention that counts, not the external form. I say to Ananda: start your tea house, and make it a grand success. Don't follow convention. We will all be better off drinking tea and preaching than following some orthodox diet and finding fault with each other.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The One & the Many

Walking down Central Park West tonite, on my way to shop at Whole Foods, i remembered one of Srila Prabhupada's favorite verses.
nityo nityanam, cetanas cetananam, eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman. Anyone who has heard half a dozen classes given by Prabhupada has heard this verse, maybe more than once. Prabhupada loved it. I also love it, probably because it reminds me of Prabhupada.

The verse itself is an axiom, seemingly quite simple, yet containing the nutshell of the entire Absolute Truth.

There is One eternal being who is the chief of all eternal beings, and one consciousness who is the chief of all conscious beings. That One (eko) is fulfilling the Desires of the unlimited Many (us). As i was walking i was thinking of the magnitude of this vedic statement. That One is so greatly powerful, he is able to fulfill the unlimited desires of all Others. I looked up and could see an electronic billboard for CNN flashing on the top of a midtown skyscraper. So many jivas, i thought, with so many desires. And that One is somehow acting as a friend to help these jivas achieve their goals. Of course, there is also karma involved-- interest to be collected or debt to be paid-- but behind the karmic bank there is the hand of that One. Ultimately it is He who controls the game.

Then i arrived at Whole Foods and my moment of philosophical awe transformed into a more mundane concern, shopping for organic carrots, conventional tomatoes, a ripe avocado and some lettuce for my dinner. eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Impassible, not impossible

I found an interesting free feature called "word of the day." For those who like to expand their english vocabulary, every day a new word is emailed to you with definition, examples of usage and its linguistic root, at least up to Latin. As we know, a lot of Latin comes from Sanskrit.
Today's word that came was:

impassible \im-PASS-uh-buhl\, adjective:

1. Incapable of suffering; not subject to harm or pain.

Body is flux and frustration, a locus of pain and process. If it becomes impassible and incorruptible, how is it still body?
-- Jeffrey Burton Russell, A History of Heaven

My note: In this definition, impassible really means transcendental consciousness, or a spiritual body. Nice word.

2. Unfeeling or not showing feeling.

As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it
-- Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs

Impassible is from Late Latin impassibilis, from Latin in-, "not" + Late Latin passibilis, "passible; capable of feeling or suffering" from Latin passus, past participle of pati, "to suffer." It is related to passion, which originally meant "suffering" but came to apply to any strong feeling or emotion.

My note: Interesting how passion originally meant suffering. "Nectar in the beginning, poison in the end."

To subscribe to Word of the Day by email,
please send a blank message to:

Monday, September 10, 2007

Madison Avenue

Now, Osama bin Laden has put out a new video. He is lecturing Americans on the evils of corporate capitalism i've read. And praising Noam Chomsky, the radical liberal intellectual. One asura of hatred is instructing another asura of greed to give up the sinful path. If you give it up and join Islam, all is well. (That is, if you don't become a Shia, God forbid.) But if you don't convert from sin to our brand of Islam, my friend, well, no hard feelings, but if we bring down a few more of your tall buildings or perhaps nuke a couple of your cities with dirty bombs, it's just jihad, you know.

Tonite i needed to go to Home Depot to buy some electrical supplies for my renovation project. I took a Crosstown bus to Lexington Avenue and another bus down to 59th Street. Did my shopping and then waited for a bus back uptown. It was a foggy nite, and the fog and darkness and skyscrapers created an image of Gotham City for me. The Upper East Side is the emblem of capitalism. But sorry, Osama, it's not about to convert to your perverted form of religion.

A man of wisdom, however, sees both the over indulgent wealth and the crushing poverty of this world-- the highest to the lowest-- all as nasty and temporary. That we like what looks nice here and want to be praised as good men and women here and we are attached to this body's fleeting pleasures and pains-- these are the symptoms of our disease, ignorance.

On the bus back to my apartment, i drove past Madison Avenue. Madison Avenue used to be the home of the world's most famous ad agencies. It became a synonym for the marketing of America, when America was more influential in the world and less self conscious. Into that mileu came Srila Prabhupada. For that reason alone-- Srila Prabhupada's coming to preach here-- we can say that New York and America were blessed. Prabhupada told the truth to the Americans he met, but he didn't condescend to them or ask them to convert to his form of Hinduism. With great compassion he offered them real knowledge and a taste for the transcendental experience. Only a paramhamsa can act so perfectly.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Letter to a Devotee

Yesterday i received an email from a very nice devotee whom i had met in Mayapur about 4 years ago while shooting video. He sent me an email after discovering my blog, and asked me if i ever made a documentary from the footage i shot (I haven't). I replied to him this morning and publish it here since it summarizes my view of the current situation.

My dandavats to you. Thank you for your email. I apologize that my memory is not so good with names, but i do recall our meeting in Mayapur 4 years ago when i was shooting a lot of footage with my Canon dv camera. Ambika Kalna ki jai! And thank you again for that glass of delicious pomegranate juice. It's a great tonic.

Prabhu, if you read my blog carefully you will understand my current mood. I have been twice separated from Iskcon-- once i left in 1984 to become an independent householder because i was very angry with my godbrothers who had hijacked Srila Prabhupada's movement in the name of Zonal Acaryas. Then i tried to come close again to Iskcon when i lived in Vrindavan and Mayapur from 2000-2005. Again i became disappointed with the superficiality and corporate mentality. It was more of the same pretension as the '80s, except now it was polished and formalized into an organized religion. So i left the association of Iskcon again. Twice separated, i am now filing for divorce.

I write like this to you because i see you are a very sincere devotee and it appears you working within the borders of Iskcon. There are many, many sincere devotees like you. This is Prabhupada's mercy. There are also many many sincere devotees outside of Iskcon, and this is also Prabhupada's mercy. What we are lacking in the world today is not mercy. We are lacking examples of vaisnavas who practice the culture of love. That is what i was attracted to when i was thinking about making a documentary with that title, "Culture of Love" in Mayapur. I wanted to show the simple, beautiful qualities of dham basies who have these qualities in their blood and who demonstrate these qualities in their faces and behaviors.

Unfortunately, neither Iskcon nor any organized math promotes or teaches such qualities. Instead, Iskcon and other groups promote a show of "spirituality" which is strong on glamour, hoopla, temple construction, external etiquette and imitation acharyas, but very short on real vaisnava exchanges. It has become a kind of show business, not the revolutionary movement to re-spiritualize the world that Srila Prabhupada introduced.

As a result, the world is not getting the full mercy that Srila Prabhupada and Sri Mahaprabhu want to give it. No doubt, that divine flow will find its own way to be released in the future. But i see this period as a time of darkness, or at best a transitional one (darkness before the dawn). I feel that it's every man for himself now. Survival of the "faithest." Sorry, but that's my take on the current state of affairs.

Having said that, i hope your own spiritual life is rich and inspiring. Hoping this finds you in good health.
your fallen friend,
nava jauvana das