Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Small Story

Today i woke up and went to check my email. I have a wireless connection to the internet, via a "data card." It's a small portable modem that connects to my computer via the USB port, and gets a signal from one of the wireless networks. This morning when i connected it, i couldn't get online. A "modem error" message came up on the screen. So i called the wireless company's tech support and explained that the modem wasn't working on either of my two Macs. He said, must be the modem, if it doesn't work on both machines. He advised me to go back to the store where i purchased it and swap it or upgrade the card.

That meant a trip to Boston. Since i found the store originally when i was on my way to the temple one day last month, naturally i thought it would be a good chance to have darshan of Sri Sri Radha Gopi Ballabha. I decided when i moved to Cambridge that i would go once a week for darshan. Not because the temple atmosphere was inspiring, but because the deities are charming, transcendental, and i was lucky enough to be there when they originally were brought to Boston and personally installed by Srila Prabhupada. Why else would Krishna want to live in Boston, i thought, except on the invitation of his beloved pure devotee?

I got to the temple around noon, just in time for the Noon arotik. I rang the bell (the front door was locked) and one mataji let me in. I took off my shoes and thanked her. Inside the temple, the deities looked gorgeous. I commend the devotees and in particular, the pujaris, for keeping up a high standard of beauty and regularity in the deity worship. There was a tape playing, so i chanted a few rounds during the arotik. An older Indian man arrived with a large cloth bag. He stood in front of the deities, carefully taking items out of his bag and arranging them on a tray. Tulasi manjaris, milk sweets, fruits, a $20 bill and a few tupperware containers with unknown contents. He placed them on a plastic tray on the arotik table, after the pujari had finished his offering. He also had what looked like an invitation in his hand that he was offering to Radha Gopi Ballabha. This offering the invitation and praying went on for awhile. I thought the man was perhaps inviting the Lord and seeking his blessings for a wedding.

After the pujari took the tray of offerings from the man, he handed the pujari the printed invitation and requested he place it on the altar. Then, the man walked around me (so he would not walk in front of me and offend me) to the Donation Box and made another cash donation. I thought the whole exchange was touching. As he was leaving the temple room, i wanted to say something to him. "So you invited the Lord to your daughter's wedding?" I asked, just guessing. "Yes," the man quietly replied, "my daughter is getting married," as he reached into his bag to offer me one of the milk sweets still in the bag. "I'm sure he will attend," I said back to him, as a way of acknowledging his devotion.

Such an exchange is quite remarkable when you think about it. Someone inviting God to their daughter's wedding. Sure, the father wants blessings, as all parents want, for his daughter's happiness and security. But to personally come to the temple and extend an invitation to the Lord shows the essence of personalism. There are plenty of codes and rituals in all religions, but in a spiritual culture, a pious father humbly asks Krishna, the Supreme Person, to please attend his daughter's wedding.

This is the meaning of the culture that Srila Prabhupada introduced to the West. How come then, his own disciples have such a difficult time to apply it, even amongst their own god brothers and sisters, friends and disciples? The unfortunate answer is, they are not practicing spiritual culture, no matter how many seminars on Radha Kund or Bhagavat Saptas they give. They are practicing a form of material culture, with their own brand of politics, diplomacy and donation/disciple collecting. Personalism is what is missing in Iskcon. The leaders should learn from that simple man whom i met at the temple today. They should get down from their stages and learn to become real spiritualists.