Thursday, February 14, 2008

Obama & Krishna

If anyone is following the news, one cannot avoid reading about the race for President of the US. And the most exciting person by far in that race is an African-American (father from Kenya, mother from Kansas) born in Hawaii, Senator Barack Obama.

Obama's fame and popularity have risen beyond rock star proportions. He's become like one of the Beatles in their prime. Wherever he goes, he attracts arenas full of people-- many of them young-- and inspires tremendous hope. That he is running on the platform of hope, against the forces of the status quo, is what makes his candidacy unique. And that he is one of the most gifted speakers in more than a generation gives him superstar attraction.

I have been following his campaign for the past six weeks as it's dramatically unfolded. And not because of any interest in politics, but because of the tone and intellect of Obama. He has become the voice of a new generation of Americans who are ignorant of what is really good for them but want something more than what they have now. They are dissatisfied with the lies, deception and hypocrisy they have seen in their leaders. They have placed their hope in Obama, and so far, he seems to be channeling their trust perfectly. His gifts and his timing will probably make him the next President of the US.

The question will then become -- beyond the rhetoric of hope and change-- can Obama deliver anything new, anything valuable? Can any man, conditioned as we all are in this highly material society, actually be tranformative and move the world towards a brighter, more enlightened space?? Or will he be consumed and co-opted by the huge and heavy forces of insidious darkness, the godless corporate demons?

For Krishna, nothing is impossible. If he wants, Krishna can empower anyone, any jiva, to accomplish his will. He empowered Hanuman, a monkey, to discover Sita and burn down Lanka. (Although Hanuman is an incarnation of Sankara, Lord Siva.) He empowered Arjuna to kill Bhisma and conquer the greatest army ever assembled on the battlefield of Kuruksetra. And he empowered Srila Prabhupada to deliver both the Yuga dharma (chanting of the holy names) and Krishna prema (divine love) to the far corners of the globe in 12 short years.

These are mahabhagavat pure devotees. They were given special powers to achieve the internal desires of Krishna, and for their surrendered efforts they received eternal fame. Real agents of transformation are those who single-mindedly overcome all obstacles to carry out Krishna's will.

Barack Obama is not an empowered devotee but he's a good man, a gifted, justice-seeking, inspired politician. He has intelligence and openness and some awareness of the unity behind the diversity, at least in humankind. There is a kind of recognition of the transcendent in Obama that is absent in almost all other politicians. This quality sets him apart and inspires hope in people, and this is the mystical power of his campaign i think. 

From his speech on Feb. 12th, after he won three landslide primaries, here are a few things he said (to see and hear him speak is like watching a great artist, but these are the points that struck me in his speech):

"We know our road will not be easy. But we also know that at this moment the cynics can no longer say our hope is false.

"It's a game where Democrats and Republicans fail to come together year after year after year, while another mother goes without health care for her sick child. That's why we have to put an end to the division and distraction in Washington, so that we can unite this nation around a common purpose, a higher purpose.

"It's a game where the only way for Democrats to look tough on national security is by talking, and acting and voting like Bush-McCain Republicans, while our troops are sent to fight tour after tour of duty in a war that should've never been authorized and should've never been waged. That's what happens when we use 9/11 to scare up votes, and that's why we need to do more than end a war – we need to end the mindset that got us into war.

"That's the choice in this primary. It's about whether we choose to play the game, or whether we choose to end it...

"That is our calling in this campaign. To reaffirm that fundamental belief – I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper – that makes us one. The politics of hope does not mean hoping things come easy. Because nothing worthwhile in this country has ever happened unless somebody, somewhere stood up when it was hard; stood up when they were told – no you can't, and said yes we can.

"It's the same message we had when we were up, and when we were down; that out of many, we are one; that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us; and that we can cast off our doubts and fears and cynicism because our dream will not be deferred; our future will not be denied; and our time for change has come."

There are qualities of transcendence in this speech: of oneness in the many; of feeling compassion for other souls; of affirming the power to overcome limitations of fear; of seeking clarity to look for goodness and peace.

Obama promises to become the most eloquent and most successful political leader since JFK. Whether he can personally achieve greatness, or even if he can survive without being assassinated, is a real question. But one must give him credit for his audacity and courage. And hope that Krishna decides to empower him further to actually create a more favorable environment for spiritual transformation on this planet.

We anxiously wait and pray for such leaders to emerge in our nations and in our spiritual societies as well. We hope the time for change has come.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Vasant is the first month of Spring in India, and today is Vasant Pancami, the fifth day of Vasant, according to the Indian calendar. It is celebrated as the beginning of Spring. Today in Vrindavan dham, all the Deities in the temples take off Their winter clothing (including gloves and scarfs) and put on bright yellow dresses. It is a beautiful festival. Lord Krishna once told Narada: "What is the meaning of life without festivity?"

I am thinking about this today, trying worship my Giriraj silas in this mood. But without the company of sadhus and without a strong purpose for seva, it is difficult to feel festive.

Today i was also reading some letters Srila Prabhupada wrote to his early disciples in February, 1967. He wrote to Kirtanananda: "I wish that each and every Branch shall keep their independent identity and cooperate keeping the Acarya in the centre. On this principle we can open any number of Branches all over the world. The Ramakrishna mission works on this principle and thus as organization they have done wonderfully."

How this basic instruction has been twisted and abused! This practical order, like so many others, is unrecognizable in today's Iskcon. But this instruction gives us a hint of how to function, even as disenfranchised disciples. We do not need to be passive. We can learn to act as independent identities, according to our individual natures, keeping the Acarya in the centre thru our work. At least we can try to cooperate with Prabhupada as individuals. That will be the best way to overcome our lamentation and create a festive mood in our hearts.