Sunday, December 30, 2007

Signing Off

As the year 2007 comes to a sudden end, i'm impulsively thinking to sign off and not write more on this blog, at least for awhile. They didn't renew my contract for next year. (That's a joke.)

Seriously, i have enjoyed writing and sharing a bit of my mood and inspiration with myself and with you, dear readers, most of whom are my friends. But i am not feeling enthusiastic at this particular time, and therefore i don't feel i have anything more significant to say for now.

One thing i would like to say in signing off, is how much i appreciate Srila Prabhupada's love for me, which came in the form of his preaching. By removing the false hopes and dreams of materialistic thinkers-- of scientists, politicians and religionists-- from the altar of my intelligence, he gave me the gift of true knowledge. That light of confidential knowledge still remains a wonderful hope on the horizon of my consciousness.

That understanding is just a glimmer of the dazzling effulgence of Krishna, but it is more beautiful and valuable to me than millions and billions of glow worms from the material sky whose illusory tricks can no longer cheat me. So thank you, Srila Prabhupada, for your gift of transcendental light. A gift you gave to me and others with your love and hard work. And thank you, dear readers, for sharing in this matchless gift.

I wish to each of you a new year that brings new realizations, closer connections with saintly persons, and more feelings of love for Sri Krishna in your heart. Somehow the mercy of Patita Pavana shall shine on us. Where there is Godhead, there is no darkness.

all my good wishes,
nava jauvana das

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Politics of Assassination

In my previous blog entry of 25th December, i wrote about the distance between rhetoric and reality when it comes to peace in our world. How songwriters, politicians and popes talk of peace, yet it remains always beyond our reach. And how Srila Prabhupada cited a famous verse in Lord Sri Krishna's Bhagavad-gita (Ch. 5.29) as the "Peace Formula." Without following this formula, he told us, peace shall remain a dream.

Today's breaking news is from Pakistan. Opposition political leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at a rally. A suicide terrorist fatally shot her and then blew himself up along with 20 innocent persons. The details and analysis of the assassination you can find on any news site. What is striking to me is how easy it is in this kali yuga to destroy hope. It takes just a few madmen to destroy the hopes of millions.

I'm old enough to remember how hope was crushed when JFK was assassinated. Then a few years later, it was Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy whose hope giving presence was darkened by assassins' bullets. Then John Lennon, the world's most influential songwriter, was violently killed. Anwar Sadat of Egypt and later, Yitzhak Rabin of Israel, were struck down by their own countrymen. Both leaders courageously tried to move their country away from conflict towards peace, and both paid the price with their lives. Today it was Benazir Bhutto's turn. She had twice been Prime Minister of Pakistan and was a voice against the barbaric Taleban and for the rule of reason.

It seems that the personality of Kali yuga is not disposed towards peace. He appears to sacrifice leaders who represent hope and peace. I guess when sacrifice to God (Sankirtan, the Sacrifice of the Holy Names) is not performed in society, one way that Kali makes the population suffer is by letting madmen and killers sacrifice the public's most hopeful leaders. Mediocre and repressive leaders remain while the politics of assassination kills off the best and the brightest. Kali yuga is tough.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Give Peace A Chance

From Associated Press, this wire story today:

ROME, December 25- As the faithful marked Christmas Day, political and religious leaders called for peace and reconciliation, and hope flickered in places long plagued by conflict.

In Iraq, Christians made their way past checkpoints on Tuesday to fill Baghdad churches in numbers unthinkable a year ago. And in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where tradition says Jesus was born, Christians celebrated in an atmosphere of hope raised by the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

For them, and for all those in the "tortured regions" of the world, Pope Benedict XVI prayed that political leaders would find "the wisdom and courage to seek and find humane, just and lasting solutions."

Peace is one of those words that defines Kali yuga by its absence. Conspicuous by its absence. In this age of conflict and cruelty, every day hundreds of human beings are murdered by the urges of passion or hatred. Hundreds of thousands of children die of malnutrition while billions of animals are needlessly slaughtered for the pleasure of human palates. Even the ice glaciers are melting at alarming rates due to uncontrolled greed.

We would all like to see a world that is just and peaceful. But no one knows the formula for peace. Peace is a song by John Lennon. Peace is a slogan by politicians and popes. But the formula for real relief is still a secret.

"The sages, knowing Me as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods, and the benefactor and well wisher of all living beings, attain peace from the pangs of material miseries." Bhagavad-gita As It Is Chapter 5.29

Paramatma is the final controller of all. He is the super subjective person behind all endeavors and the unprejudiced friend of all beings. Realizing Him with knowledge and satisfying Him with loving service, a person becomes a perfect yogi. When a critical mass of yogis who practice God consciousness arrives, this earth will experience a just and lasting peace. Anything less is no more than a well-meaning song or a religious slogan. True "shanti" is much more than a sticky melody.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Yuletide Greetings

Yuletide now refers to Christmas, but the word originally comes from Old English or Old Norse. It refers to a pagan festival that lasted for twelve days. Paganism is a polytheistic and hedonistic value system practiced in Northern Europe before Christianity.

It seems everything that goes around, comes around. So the Christians borrowed a pagan holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ (whose actual birthday is unknown). And after one or two millenia of lies, hypocrisy, misuse of power, episodes of intolerance, violence and gross exploitation (e.g. the inquisition, crusades, conquistidors and colonialism, to name just a few) the prevailing mood of this now Christian holiday has again become pagan--in the form of commercial hedonism. Christmas has become the iconic symbol of consumption capitalism. The glorification of "I, me, mine"-- spirit covered by matter, universal love co-opted by global greed. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

John Griffin 1927-2007

I just heard that my former father-in-law, John Griffin, passed away in Honolulu a few days ago. John was a gentle and generous man. He had been a journalist and editorial page editor of the largest newspaper in Hawaii. Materially successful but soft spoken, he was liked by many.

He had no particular interest in Krishna consciousness, but no aversion either. When his daughter (Manjari) joined a group of devotees when she was only 16 (in 1969), he told Manjari's mother, Helen, that he admired her for following her convictions. That was more than liberal in those days when "Hare Krishna" was a complete unknown. He also made sure she got vitamins and proper medical care when she was living austerely in the temple as a teenager. Later, he traveled thousands of miles out of his way on a trip to Asia, to see his daughter in Tehran, to make sure she was OK.

I got to know him as a son-in-law, typically not a very comfortable relationship. But he was always relaxed, never making me feel judged or pressured. He seemed to accept my choice of lifestyle, whether it was as an ashramite or entrepreneur. He never imposed his own values or opinions on me, to the point where i was never sure what his own ideas were. We never had any conflicts.

In later years after i left Hawaii, i saw him infrequently. He lived comfortably with his second wife, Susan, in a middle class neighborhood not far from the famous Diamond Head Crater. After he retired he wrote and published a novel. I heard he had an interest in certain new age authors such as Deepak Chopra. Try as she did, Manjari, who has been a resident of Vrindavan for the past 11 years, was never able to convince him to visit the dham. But she would bring Vrindavan with her when she visited Hawaii-- including a Kesava saligram sila named Braj Kishore, 3 Govardhan silas and brass Nitai Gauranga deities. They were all there, along with Tulasi devi, in John's home, at the time of his passing last Sunday evening at the age of 80.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur mentions that when one becomes a kanista vaisnava (neophyte devotee), 3 generations of his or her relatives are elevated by the mercy of Krishna. When one reaches madhyam vaisnava, 14 generations of ancestors are elevated, and for uttama vaisnavas, so rare in this world, 100 generations receive special mercy.

In the end, all of our conceptions about life, our identity and our place in this world are either buried or burned with our bodies. Only our consciousness and our luck (good and bad karmas) go with us. If we are really lucky, by our practice or by some special grace, we will attract the mercy of the Lord. That mercy, however unseen it is to us, is our real capital. It gives us a visa that allows us to take a birth to associate with a real sadhu, one of the liberated associates of the Lord. That is perfection. Everything-- until that point-- is merely a rehearsal of unlimited scenes of temporary happiness and suffering. It is an endless loop in the theatre of maya.

I hope that Krishna was especially merciful to John. I hope he got his visa and is now somewhere on his way to joining the eternal play, the pastimes of the loving vaisnavas with Krishna, reality, the beautiful.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Incarnation of Sound

"So in this yuga, this Kali-yuga, incarnation is Lord Caitanya, and the process of worship is this sound vibration. That is mentioned. In every avatara, every incarnation... Just like Lord Buddha. His name is also mentioned. And there will be another incarnation, Kalki. That is also mentioned. So they are mentioned, yugavatara. And saktyavesavatara. Saktyavesavatara.

"All avataras, their mission is to preach the message of God. Avatara has no other business. The message of God. Saktyavesavatara. This Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, this is also considered saktyavesavatara, the incarnation of sound. Incarnation of sound.

"It is described by Lord Caitanya that kali-kale nama rupe avatara: "In this Kali-yuga, in this age, this incarnation of name -- Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare -- to give facility to the conditioned soul." They cannot do anything. It is very difficult to perform any other religious rituals. This, the best anywhere, everywhere -- you can chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna.

"Namnam akari bahudha nija-sarva-sakti. Sakti, this word is used, sakti. And from sakti, that energy, saktyavesavatara. So this name is also saktyavesavatara."

Srila Prabhupada lecture on Caitanya Caritamrita, 16th Dec. 1966, NY.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Eternal Race of Women

My meditation today comes from a lecture given by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur on 25th September, 1925. I read his words in the English book, Prabhupada Saraswati Thakur, published by Mandala Publishing.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Thakur spoke about women:

"All of you please perceive everything in this world as ingredients for serving Krishna. Everything of this world is actually meant for Krishna's service. Please see the whole race of women as beloved consorts of Krishna, and help them to always engage themselves in the service of Krishna....They are to be enjoyed by Krishna; they are never to be enjoyed by the living entities."

Later in the same lecture, the Thakur mentions that he wants to build a "Visnupriya Palli" (palli means neighborhood and Visnupriya Devi is the wife of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu) in Sridham Mayapur, for women who have been impeded in their devotional practices by bad association. He wanted them to have a place in Mayapur where they could live peacefully near Yogapith (Mahaprabhu's birthplace) and practice devotional service free from exploitation.

Walking down the street today on my way to buy groceries, my meditation as i passed women was to see them as part of "an eternal race" who were meant for Sri Krishna's enjoyment. It is a novel way to process familiar sense impressions. It is not easy to override my conditioned response system. Every man subconsciously looks at women as objects of attraction or aversion. And women are tuned in with a kind of internal radar to pick up any signals of interest. So this exercise (of seeing women as an eternal race belonging to Krishna) is counter-intuitive to the normal dance between the sexes. But that dance is actually a hallucination, a trip. Maya always promises to take you to a mystical, wonderful world. And in the end she brings you mediocrity and misery. Always.

Of course, our Srila Prabhupada also taught us these essential truths: to see that everything belongs to Krishna, and is meant for His service. By his example also, Prabhupada taught us to always respect women, as he respected his own female disciples. He never exploited them in even the slightest way. He offered them protection as brahmacarinis and he also respected them when they married. He rarely engaged his female disciples directly; rather he encouraged them to accept their temple authorities or husbands as spiritual guides. This is in contrast to less advanced gurus who take on a subtle but intimate role in their women disciples' lives. This has become quite popular these days, with some gurus acting as 'surrogate' husbands. That is distasteful and dangerous and disturbing, as it upsets the already difficult balance of household life.

Much worse, however, are those false gurus who grossly exploit their female disciples. Incest between guru and disciple is even more abominable than the ordinary brand of incest. It is beneath all moral codes, what to speak of spiritual etiquette. Amorality of that kind is for animals. Guru is the spiritual father for progressive members of the human race. If he acts like an animal for personal sense gratification, he is not guru at all, but a 'shmuru', a bogus cheater. The Isopanisad says such a rascal is headed for the darkest regions of the universe-- animal or plant life.

For the rest of us who are aspiring to be progressive humans, our responsibility is mostly to ourselves. If we want peace, we must develop the vision to see all women (or men) in this world as expressions and energies of Sri Krishna, meant eventually for His company. They are His creation, His race, meant for Him to maintain and enjoy, eternally.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Maha Vishnu Animation

A kind of Christmas tree-like animation created by a devotee in Canada, now on YouTube:

And from the same devotee artist, a tribute to Govinda, sung by George Harrison:

Monday, December 10, 2007

Loitering in Samsara

"All living entities, they are loitering within this universe in different bodies, in different planets, and from time immemorial, without knowing that he belongs to the kingdom of God, he is the direct son of Krsna and God, that Krsna is the proprietor of everything, and he can enjoy his father's property, and these problems of material conditioned life automatically solved. Just like if you become a rich man, if you can possess millions of dollars, then your poverty is automatically solved. Similarly, if you become Krsna conscious, if you act in that way, then all other problems in the material conditional life -- solved."

From a talk given by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, 9th December, 1968, in Los Angeles.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Saranagati Walk, Part 2

All issues are meaningless talk, without walking the Saranagati Walk.

Six transformative steps on my walk:

1. Because i want to obey you, Srila Prabhupada, i will focus on engaging in hearing from you and the previous acharyas, and chanting the names of Hari.

2. Because i want to obey you, Srila Prabhupada, i will fight with my mind which tempts me to engage in actions that are averse to your instructions and cause me to suffer.

3. Because i want to remember you, Srila Prabhupada, i will accept that Sri Krishna is able to protect me from my enemies, within and without.

4. Because i want to remember you, Srila Prabhupada, i will depend on Sri Krishna to maintain me in this life and sustain me forever.

5. Because i wish to please you, Srila Prabhupada, i will cultivate the sense that I belong to Lord Krishna and to you. I will declare my dependence on you as my eternal master in life and in death.

6. Because i wish to please you, Srila Prabhupada, i will remember that despite the voices of my false ego, i am really an atomic spiritual spark of the Lord, meant to be humble in the service of the Lord. My desire is to become saturated with your mood of loving devotion to the Lord.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Saranagati Walk, Part 1

I came across this description of Saranagati from Sripada B.B.Tirtha Maharaj:
1. anukulyasya sankalpa - Accepting those things that are favorable for pure devotion.
2. pratikulyasya varjanam - Rejecting those things that are averse to pure devotion.
3. raksisyatiti visvasa - Having firm faith that Sri Krishna will protect us under all circumstances—
from inside and outside foes.
4. goptrtve varanam - Accepting Him as the only Sustainer and Maintainer of our real and apparent selves.
5. atma-niksepa - We all belong to Him, i.e. we are of Him.     
6. karpanya - We should give up all material egos, we should think that we are a spiritual spark, minutest part of the marginal potency (tatastha-shakti) of the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna, i.e. we should be humbler than the blade of grass.

"A completely surrendered soul has no cause of being worried under any circumstances, under any pressure in this most transitory world. Supreme Lord Sri Krishna protects and sustains always a bonafide surrendered soul. According to our Karma we get congenial and uncongenial environments. Nobody is to be blamed for this."

How can one achieve this state of divine peace in this disturbed world? Only thru obedience to the transparent via medium, servitor supreme, paramahamsa vaisnava guru. However many lifetimes and however many lessons it takes to accept myself as an obedient and receptive student at the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada, to clear away the Mountains of anarthas in my heart and dry up the Oceans of sinful reactions in my karma, and to fully dedicate my words, mind and body to his divine grace, let that be possible.

All issues are meaningless talk without walking the Saranagati Walk.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Half Empty Half Full

It’s the old folk wisdom about the optimist and the pessimist, one seeing the glass half full, the other one seeing the same glass half empty. I must admit to being of the half empty perception these days. Our world, despite so much information access, enormous wealth and impressive technology, seems always half empty. There is unity in the universal embrace of greed and power. But polarity is everywhere else: in politics, religion, even amongst vaisnavas (who are supposed to be transcendentalists). Cooperation is only possible with bribery and “Love” is an old Beatles song (now co-opted to advertise SUVs).

You could say i’m cynical and you’d be correct. But wasn’t Prabhupada cynical about the material scientists? He gave them a beating not because he was against science. (He called Krishna consciousness the science of God). He was against cheating. The scientists cheat when they deny a Supreme Intelligence and claim that accidents of matter create consciousness. First of all, they can’t prove it and second, behind their claims are always selfish interests.

I was thinking about George W. Bush, probably the most unpopular president in the last century. What is it about him that makes him appear so incompetent? My conclusion is it’s his hubris combined with a tunnel vision that qualifies him perfectly for the description in the Bhagavatam that Prabhupada loved to quote: sa eva gokarah. Just like a cow or an ass— he’s stubborn, attached to the narrowest and most parochial of interests, a perfectly ignorant, ordinary, selfish man in a position of overwhelming material power and leadership. Total mismatch.

His is the typical hypocrisy of our times: an apparent attachment to religion and lip-deep morality (he says Jesus saved him and prays to God every nite), together with an asuric need to bully, sabre rattle and attack those who don’t conform to his definitions of what is good , godly and American. But then, what can you expect from a Texan cattle rancher who loves meat? We suffer collectively from little demons dressed as leaders.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Beautiful Devotee, Narahari Sarkar Thakur

About four miles west of Katwa, in the rural Barddhaman district, is the small Bengali village of Shri Khanda, the birthplace of Narahari Sarakara Thakura. I spent one week there four years ago, for the annual mela that celebrates Sri Narahari Thakur's Tirobhav, his disappearance day, on this Ekadasi of the dark moon.

When i visited Sri Khanda it seemed caught between those golden times of Mahaprabhu's associates and modern times of West Bengal. The temple sevant and leading citizen of Sri Khanda, Nityananda Thakur, is the 18th generation from Narahari Thakur, if i remember correctly. He was 91 years old when i stayed at his home four years ago. He was in charge of the temples and a living descendent of the great mahabhagavatas and associates of Mahaprabhu, Narahari Thakur, his brother Sri Mukunda (the royal physician) and Mukunda's son, Sri Raghunandana Thakur. All three are mentioned in the Caitanya Caritamrita as major branches of Lord Caitanya's tree.

Sri Narahari Thakur was connected with many of Mahaprabhu’s pastimes. Narahari Chakravarti Thakur writes in Bhakti Ratnakara: “Sri Narahari Thakur's glories are wonderful. In Vrindavana he was Madhumati, and his excellences were boundless.” Sri Lochan Das Thakur was a dear disciple of Narahari Thakur. In his Chaitanya Mangala he describes his gurudeva as follows: “Sri Narahari is my Lord. He has taught me transcendental knowledge, and I am under his influence in many other ways. His abundant Krsna-prema saturates his very being; its symptoms are clearly evident in his body. No one can understand the extent of his Krsna-prema. In his former existence in Vrindavana he was known as Madhumati, a dear gopi friend of Sri Radha who was a storehouse of sweetness. That very sakhi friend of Sri Radha appeared in the pastimes of Shri Gauranga during the age of Kali as Narahari, a storehouse of Radha-Krsna prema.”

Bhaktivinoda Thakura mentions Narahari Sarakar in his Gaura-Aroti song: “narahari adi kori chamara dulaya, sanjaya mukunda vasughosh adi gaya.” Narahari Thakur was a great singer as well as a poet. He wrote many poems and songs in connection with the pastimes of Gauranga and Nityananda. He wrote in Bengali and also in Sanskrit. One book of his Sanksrit songs is called Shri Bhajanamrita. A book of songs called Padakalpataru, describing intense separation from Shri Gauranga has also been attributed to him.

In Sri Khanda, there is a special five day festival to remember and glorify Narahari Thakur. Over a thousand pilgrims attend the mela, where Mahaprabhu is carried in procession, and many songs written by Narahari Thakur are sung by a few family members and local devotees who carry on his tradition of sankirtan. I could not follow the meaning, but the expression is very beautiful. I filmed this festival and have many hours of dv footage of the kirtans, processions, darshans and interviews with some of the surviving family members. I would like to make a documentary of this festival which has been annually celebrated since Narahari Thakur's passing. With most of the family descendants now living in Kolkata and disconnected from the bhakti line, and very few devotees left in Sri Khanda, i'm not sure how much longer the tradition will continue.

It is said that Narahari Thakur was the first of the associates to glorify Mahaprabhu directly in poetry and songs. Srila Lochan Dasa Thakura has written, “Before the sankirtan lila of Sri Gauranga began, many different ragas were written by Narahari which sang of Vraja-rasa, glorifying Radha and Krsna. Later he wrote songs of Gauranga Mahaprabhu."

Narahari Thakur was the only devotee who had the adhikara (right) to do Gaura-kirtana in Gaurasundara's presence. Ordinarily, if anyone would praise Mahaprabhu or chant his names in front of Him, Lord Caitanya would block his ears and call out: "Visnu! Visnu!" Narahari, however, enjoyed the special privilege of being allowed to sing about Mahaprabhu in his presence, in a unique and intimate mood, with sweet descriptions of his transcendental beauty.

Sri Narahari's disappearance is on the Krsna ekadasi (the eleventh day of the dark moon) in the month of Agrahayana. That corresponds to today or tomorrow (depending on which continent you are standing). An excellent time to sing one of his songs or remember him in any way.
Sri Narahari Sarkar Thakur ki jaya!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Odd Fellows

Life is a mess. No matter how you try to get it together. Sooner or later, it falls apart.
If you add "Krishna" and "Gauranga" into that mess, that is success.
So congratulations; to some degree, just by reading those names and sometimes chanting them, you are successful!
But, to become consistent and to become a great soul, you need to preach, to share your good fortune with others.
Kirtaniyah sada Hari. Always remembering and chanting Hari.
Sankirtan means to work on the root cause of personal and collective suffering in the world--
the lack of Krishna and Gauranga Consciousness.
That requires some cooperation-- difficult, perhaps impossible, cooperation. Once Prabhupada called Iskcon,
'the international society for odd fellows'.
That describes the entire vaisnava world.
Can't leave them, but can't work with them either.
Odd fellows.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Path of Auspiciousness

I think most of us first heard that word, 'auspicious,' from Srila Prabhupada. It was in reference to something very favorable, some success on the transcendental path. We used that word quite a lot in the early days, if memory serves me. I don't hear it anymore. Some Indians may use it, as part of their British-raj inspired English. And perhaps it's still part of the cultural vocabulary in Iskcon. But not many of us old-timers can be heard saying it.

Besides coming across it in Prabhupada's books, recently i found the word frequently used in a translation of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's Bengali conversations. Here are three short excerpts:

"To surrender to the Parama Purusa, Supreme Lord, in both happiness and distress, is the only path of auspiciousness. Krishna will certainly protect us....Our fortune lies in depending on Krishna. Otherwise we will have to suffer misery birth after birth....

"If we follow and serve the spiritual master, who constantly serves Krishna, we will no longer have any problem. There is no way to make our lives auspicious except to follow the Lord's devotees....Those who want actual benefit must serve the spiritual master and the devotees with love and devotion....

"The auspicious desire of the unalloyed devotees is that the jivas not remain in a suffering condition. Let them achieve eternal fortune. To achieve that good fortune, they must take shelter of a bona-fide spiritual master's lotus feet, a devotee who is most dear to Krishna. By taking shelter of such a devotee's feet, they will attain Nandanandana's service. It is important that these people hear Krishna katha from the guru's lotus mouth."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ajitananda, my friend

I just read in the Sampradaya Sun that an old friend from California, Ajitananda prabhu, has left this world. Ajitananda did not come across as a complicated person but was always nice. That's not to say that he didn't have his share of problems. Who doesn't?

Ajitananda was a very sincere personality. Not one to stand out in the crowd, or to impress others, he was sweet and simple. We first met in Los Angeles in the 70's. I really don't remember him well from those days. Then we met again in India, about 10 years ago. He had gone there with his wife and only daughter. They were always rather poor, just getting by. Somehow they got the money to spend some time in Vrindavan. Ajitananda loved the holy dham. When his wife and daughter felt it was time to return to L.A., Ajitananda opted to stay. He rented an apartment across from mine. We would run into each other there. He was excited about painting the qualities of Srimati Radharani on a large pink plywood board. When he completed it, he convinced the head pujari at Krishna Balaram Mandir to hang the signboard just to the side of Sri Sri Radha Syamasundara's altar. It listed all of Radhika's qualities. He was very pleased with it. And i believe Radharani was pleased with him.

We never had much to talk about with each other, but Ajitananda would always say something to me both simple and transcendental whenever we met. The last time i saw him was 3 years ago, in Berkeley, California. He was living in a room in a devotee's house. He had separated from his wife. He didn't seem happy, but he didn't complain either. I had heard he had a substance abuse problem, but neither of us mentioned it. Instead, he talked about Srila Prabhupada, how wonderful his qualities were. I listened to him as he told me about a book he was writing describing Prabhupada's 26 qualities as a pure devotee.

He published that book, and the article in the Sun mentioned that he had just completed a 4 part video based on the book. Ajitananda completed the videos just 6 weeks before he died, last week, during Kartik. Although we were not close, i feel sad to think that i will not see him again in this life.

Prabhupada collected many jewel-like souls. They were covered with dust or dirt, but they were jewels underneath, shining with faith and love. Ajitananda is one of them. Ajitananda prabhu ki jai! Srila Prabhupada ki jai!

p.s. the video can be found on YouTube:

Monday, November 26, 2007

And the Answer Is.....

My last post has solicited several comments, as predicted by a good friend. Most devotees have an opinion on this issue of how and why we came to this material world. Some suggested i could find the answer in Jaiva Dharma. They gave me specific chapters to read. Others gave me papers written by other devotees, quoting Prabhupada or scriptures to support the authors' own preconceived conclusions. There are also dialogues posted on the internet between devotees on this subject. Some are funny, like one devotee who complained: If we are Brahman here to experience suffering as one of the Lord's lilas, why didn't the Lord give us Bliss first?! Another said: If there is NO reason why we came here (as one devotee argued), this is asura vada, a demonic argument, similar to what the material scientists say about the laws of the universe.

Even after reading the relevant chapters in Jaiva Dharma and following the arguments of papers and internet dialogues, i still don't have an answer to my question. One thing that is interesting is that everyone else seems to (have an answer). But from reflecting, reading and replying to some of the devotees' comments, i am not sure anyone except the rare pure devotees really know the answer, and even they are not explicit. I do, however, have a few clues. First, above all, Krishna's role in this affair (of our coming to the material world) must be completely benevolent. Why? Because that's one thing that ALL the mahabhagavatas say.

For example, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Thakur said: "Everything about the Lord is merciful. Whatever He does is for the good of all living entities. Those conditioned souls who consider interference in their sense gratification inauspicious or as example of the Lord's cruelty, understand only one move of the chess game. They do not know what will happen four or five moves later." (translated from Bengali in Amrta Vani)

Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya wrote: "An atomic particle of the mercy of Mother Saci's son is able to purify and deliver the three worlds." (Sri Saci tanayastakam)

Locan das Thakur sang: " At the boat pier of my beloved Lord Gauranga, the ferry is taking everyone-- including the gross ones, the blind and the disturbed ones-- across the material ocean for free." (Ke jabi ke jabi bhai?)

Bhaktivinode Thakur sang: "To deliver you, Sri Krishna Caitanya has appeared in Navadwip. He has already taken so many miserable souls like you out of this material world." (Emona durmati)

So how could the all merciful Lord, who delivers everyone in Kali yuga as Gauranga Mahaprabhu, ever be unkind or sadistic towards the living beings? If He is famous as the deliverer of fallen souls, how could He have been cruel to these same souls by causing their suffering? While nothing is impossible for the Lord, one thing is clear: He always acts with Love towards his parts and parcels. Sometimes this Love takes the form of a blessing or a gift, and sometimes it takes the form of a curse or a lesson. But behind everything He does is Love. That is what the mahajans tell us.

The other clue i have is that i need to accept responsibility for being here, for being covered, for being weak and for being rebellious. If i insist that i am a passive victim of events outside of my experience, then i deny my individuality. Then i am no different than a stone. But I experience emotion, feelings, attraction and repulsion. I am a knower; therefore i must be a person. I may not like my circumstances, but as a person, i must accept that i somehow create my own enjoyment and suffering. This is a hard pill to swallow. But if i am to develop the motivation to surrender, i cannot be a victim. I must accept my free will, which gives me a chance to surrender. In other words, if i screwed up by falsely claiming independence from God, i have a chance, with the help of Srila Prabhupada, the all merciful previous acaryas and the most merciful sara avataras, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Nityananda Prabhu, to become whole (and holy) again.

One of my favorite verses from scripture, one that i hope to eventually follow:

tat te 'nukampam su samiksamano, bhunjana evatma krtam vipakam
hrd vag vapurbhir vidadhan namas te, jiveta yo mukti pade sa daya bhak

"My dear Lord, one who sincerely waits for Your causeless mercy, while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds, and offering You his respectful obeisances with his heart, words and body, is surely eligible for liberation, as it becomes his rightful claim." SB 10.14.8

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Original "Why?"

This morning, reading the 7th Chapter of Bhagavad gita, which usually gives me some transcendental pleasure, a question that had previously come up for me reappeared. Why did we, the marginal energy of the Lord, make the wrong choice to come to this material world? Why, if we are superior energy, did we not choose to remain under the protection of the internal energy, rather than be covered by the inferior energy? Now the obvious answer i know: as part & parcel of Parambrahman, we have a spark of free will. Free will is intrinsic to our nature as jivas. So we were given a choice, and we chose to enter the material world to compete with Krishna, to act as false enjoyers and lords. But that begs the question: how could we have made that choice when anyone in knowledge would never have made it, knowing that the consequences would be endless suffering here in this material world?

It does not seem possible to me that we, as jivas, were in knowledge when we made this basic choice. That would imply that we were covered by ignorance from our very beginning. The Sanskrit term, nitya bandha, implies the same: eternally conditioned. So then the question comes back to Krishna. Why, as the all merciful (karuna sindu) friend of the fallen (dina bandhu) would the Supreme Lord cover his own children, his parts and parcels, by ignorance, from what appears to be their very beginning, knowing they would then make the wrong choice?

So, this is my question. If i were deeply sincere, like Adwaita Acarya when he could not understand one verse in the Gita, i would fast until Krishna kindly revealed some answer or gave me an insight to clear up this doubt. Since i am an insincere rascal, such austerity and determination are not possible for me.

I know that this question is related to the controversy over where the jiva actually comes from. I don't buy the official "BBT" version that the jiva was with Krishna in the spiritual world in his original swarup and then fell down. No one falls down from Goloka. I also know that Srila Prabhupada spoke and wrote various different perspectives on this subject, but he stressed that it is not important to know how we got here, but absolutely necessary to know how to get out. Still, our philosophy should be able to clearly explain the ontology of the jiva. How and why did we make this terrible choice to enter samsara?

Ironically, it may only be after we are well on our way out that we'll understand the answer.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Running Out of Time

I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal (as mainstream as media gets) about peak oil. The gist of the piece is that the world is not really running out of oil, but it's running out of capacity to produce more of it. As it gets more expensive to extract oil, the world keeps consuming more and more of it. So sometime soon, according to the CEOs of giant oil companies, a production plateau will be reached while consumption keeps rising. In other words, a major energy crisis is around the corner. Gone will be the days when we can fly to India whenever we want. Being in one place will become more of a necessity than a choice. Even basic things like heating and food supply may radically change.

The world is also running out of balanced weather. While it's been good to Al Gore (he won half the Nobel Peace Prize this year for his film about it), global warming will not be good for mother earth. Severe weather, floods and droughts are expected to increase. And it's not just a result of carbon emissions from machinery and transportation that accounts for it. The methane produced by the billions of domestic animals raised to slaughter each year, i've been told, produces more carbon gases than automobile exhausts do. (All those cows, pigs and chickens eat a lot and pee, shit and fart a lot before they are killed.) So the culture of animal slaughter that has now become globalized, has helped create the climate crisis. That connection between global warming and animal concentration camps is something Al Gore should think about.

The dollar is so weak now, one British pound costs more than $2.20 in dollars. It's around $1.50 for a Euro. The President of Iran wants to stop pegging oil to the dollar, which he called "a useless piece of paper." For the first time that i remember, the Canadian dollar is worth more than a buck. In India, the dollar is below 40 rupees, an exchange rate that is the lowest since the rupee was deregulated. If your money is in dollars, as mine is, you're running out of money.

But the most important problem facing the world today is the same one that has faced the planet since time immemorial. We're running out of time. "Time I am, destroyer of all worlds," says Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the Gita. This simple paradigm means that even if we can fix our self-created global energy, climate, money problems, we cannot fix the God-created time problem. This daivi prakriti, divine energy, is impossible to overcome, Krishna tells us, unless we do something more radical than fixing another material problem with external adjustments. We need to accept that He is the real essence behind everything, including our lives and our consciousness. Moving towards Him, we need to stop trying to run away from time. No one can get away from time and no one can keep time. The nine processes of bhakti, focused on hearing and chanting, are the only ways to let go of time, oil, money and hold on to sanity. It may be difficult, but it's the only sane solution.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Day the Sun Went Out

Thirty years ago today was the day the world lost its sun. Sure, according to the scriptures, there are always pure devotees on the earth. And sure, there are hundreds of thousands more devotees in the world now than there were 30 years ago. But for me, that was the day when intelligence, common sense, joy, gracefulness, effulgence and humility left the world. That was the day when many imitation suns rose in the sky of Iskcon. And the day that darkness prevailed.
guru mukha padma-vakya, cittete koriya aikya, ar na koriho asa.
The words of the guru need to be focused in the heart, allowing no other hope or ambition to enter the mind. The hope of seeing the vapu of Srila Prabhupada gave me a chance to hear his words and keep them close to me as my guide. Now, without such hope, it is difficult to focus on those words. On top of that, background noise from imitators, exhibitionists, neophytes and sycophants, makes me cynical and callous to the sweet kirtan of sri guru carana padma.
How will my ears regain their innocence to hear his melodious words again? How will i wash Prabhupada's lotus feet with my tears when my eyes have gone dry? How will my hope rise again now that the sun has gone out and darkness surrounds me?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Commentary on Crisis

A few friends kindly responded to my last entry, seeking to advise, clarify and comfort me. Thanks for your concern.
Here are a few of their comments and mine back to them:
Finding a personal service that pleases the Lord is the key.
We are jivas, and service is our religion.
But service must be focused properly. internally. On the plane of atma, the real self, in relation to paramatma, the Superself.
The guru can never be given up. He is the via medium directing our service to the Superself.
Material reality is nothing but external: serving senses and mind. It is a massive depressing movie including the special effects. Institutions are also external and therefore toxic.
The antidote is internal. Hard work. No glamour.
Prabhupada made it look easy and fun. We screwed up.
We are feeling the effects of a hostile environment.
But God's mercy knows no bounds and he is behind everything.
In other words, there is hope.
Transform an unfavorable situation to a favorable one.
Die to live.
Help a friend.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Crisis of Place

A long pause between entries. I can attribute it to the business of trying to help my relatives in need. But the more honest answer is that i have been having a crisis of purpose. Being relatively healthy, middle aged and without the need to go to work, i'm a victim of having a lot of time but no sense of place in the normal society. Not being a leader or a follower or a sycophant of any existing cult, i also have no place in the counter culture. This makes me a candidate for alienation and depression, both of which diseases i now have. In a larger sense, it is also a crisis of faith. While i don't doubt the absolute nature of the truth or its manifest mercy in the form of Srila Prabhupada, param para and Panca Tattva, i do not have the absolute faith needed to become a blind instrument. Thus i am caught in a profound dilemna, not knowing what to do or where to do it. An embarrassment for someone of my age. Hence, my silence these past few weeks. To my dear friends who read this blog, i can only apologize for such weakness of heart and words. If you have any advice for me, pray tell me.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Second Generation

Tonite i was invited to the vyasa puja of my godbrother, Paramadwaiti Swami, at his temple in Miami. I would normally never attend such an event, but as Paramadwaiti is a personal friend who has been very kind to me, and he's also an outcaste from Iskcon, i felt comfortable attending the celebration. He is in Chile for his birthday observance. A small group of his disciples are here in Miami. I arrived in time for Gaura arotik, worshipping a beautiful Mahaprabhu deity from Bengal, then there was more kirtan, guru puja, puspanjali and the usual verbal glorifications. I also spoke something about my friendship with him. Afterwards we sat around and took a nicely prepared feast of prasadam. Everyone was relaxed and it was comforting to be in the company of devotees. We are now the seniors when devotees gather. We are different because we're older. In my opinion, the first generation of western devotees can claim to have received the mercy of a most extraordinary pure devotee, a special messenger from Krishna. But in all other departments, we have failed miserably. I certainly don't see myself as a good example or role model. But there are a few leaders like Paramadwaiti who do inspire younger devotees. The 2nd generation have less baggage than we do. They are motivated by the hope that they can do something. Most of us have lost that hope, or it's been obfuscated by the mess we made of things. It would be nice to have some of that innocent enthusiasm back, with the benefit of practical experience from living in this world. It would be great if the 1st and 2nd generation could mix together freely and share what each has to offer the other. But again, that's easier said than done. That requires a kind of maturity and vision that does not seem to exist yet in the ranks of the assembled vaisnavas.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Saturday nite my G4 Mac Powerbook started making strange noises. It has always been a quiet machine and never gave me a single problem in the 3 1/2 years since i purchased it. But after making noises as if it were dying, it froze and would not reboot. I tried putting in the original OSX systems disc but it could not read it. I thought my hard drive was finished. Sunday morning i started desperately calling Apple stores. This being America, they were all open on Sunday. But they were all very busy. I could not make an appointment for the "Genius Bar" (a trouble shooting area they have in all their stores) for a few days....unless i became a member of "Pro Care." That meant $99, so i paid it over the phone, and after several more phone calls, got an appointment for the Genius Bar at an Apple store in Ft. Lauderdale, 25 miles from my apartment. Just get in the car, follow the directions, and 45 minutes later, i'm there, going up the escalator into the heart of America, the mall.

I was on time for my appointment at the Galleria Mall, and within 20 minutes, the tech at Apple's Genius Bar, got my laptop working. He diagnosed it, fixed it and rebooted it, all with a little machine that looked like a small external backup drive. So within 15 hours of its crashing, my computer was healthy again. That's efficiency. And it was free (except for the $99 that i think i'm going to get refunded.) My anxiety over, i was free to browse the Apple Store. Amazing machines and monitors these days. So much advanced from 20 years ago, when i first started using Macintosh computers for my advertising agency. Capitalism at its best.

But looking around the store at the people there, both customers and staff, it was a sorry sight. Americans are the most overweight people in the world i think. And one of the most unhappy, despite the show they put on. Many of these people are on prescription drugs, just to get by. And most of the others, are on non-prescription drugs or alcohol. They are working like asses to afford the toys they covet. The mall is where they go to enjoy life. Capitalism at its worst.

The ugly part is when nature strikes at persons who are unprepared for setbacks. That's when the payback comes, in the form of diseases, depression and death. A life devoid of reflection or without connection to the divine is a sad life, regardless of how pretty, how polished or how impressive the outward show is.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Sour Oranges & Sweet Thoughts

Florida so far is one huge, hot, humid, ugly shopping mall. It is a mystery of the asuras' infinite greed, how this place, a former sub-tropical hunting grounds for the Seminole Indians, has been transformed from a natural habitat into a commercial urban sprawl from the southern tip of Florida till only God knows where it ends.

I'm staying for now in a nice apartment in a "transitional" neighborhood in Miami. That means it used to be a lower middle class black residential district, and now it's seedy but gradually being gentrified into a trendy area. But i'm too old for trendy or seedy. I don't feel safe going out at night, and driving anywhere means a traffic jam. Soon i will be moving to someplace about 40 miles outside the city, a suburban middle class heaven (or hell, depending on your perspective).

I have not been keeping up with the Joneses (i mean the Gurus) on the Sampradaya Sun, so no political commentary today. I've just barely been keeping my head above water in this samsara world. There is, of course, no material impediment in this world or any world that is great enough to check the practice of devotion except for one. That one is our own stubborn habitual mind. Best of friends, worst of enemies, the dear mind. To all my friends whose minds are becoming their best friends, due to their continual struggle to direct their senses toward the message of the Lord, my most humble and respectful obeisances.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Organizing my things to pack up, i found this quote from Thomas Paine, writing to his compatriots in 1776. He was writing in regards to duty to country, but his words can easily be applied to those of you who are fighting for liberation and bhakti:

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he who stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value."

from The American Crisis, by Thomas Paine

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Signing Off from the Big Apple

One thought i had today: the most difficult thing to do is to do nothing. We are active by our very essence. A parrot flies, a fish swims, a cow chews. And a man plans, thinks, collects and spends. So doing nothing is against our nature. This is one reason why old age is so difficult. The senses slacken. The body deteriorates. And energy becomes very low. So there is no scope for action. Only thoughts continue unabated. And if the mind has not been trained to take pleasure in transcendence, it gravitates to the memories of an imperfect past, or anticipates the dark fear of an unknown future. This is the curse of old age without cultivation of real knowledge.

My time in New York is almost over. I have been here for 10 weeks. I came on a mission, and that mission has more or less been completed. I have no more reason to remain in New York, although i have become a bit attached. New York City is engaging due to its exceptional ethnic mix. I haven't seen a more diverse group of people anywhere in the world. Of course tourists come from everywhere, but amongst the resident population, there's an amazing diversity of races, religions, cultural backgrounds and ages. Just walking down the street is a variety show of God's human creation. I wouldn't call it "civilization," but it's a fascinating human zoo.

I live alone here; however in the past few days, one fly has become my roommate. He seems to like me, and i like him enough not to try to kill him. We don't communicate much but we tolerate one another.

I'm now preparing for my next stop, Miami. I'll be busy packing for a few days. So my next entry will probably be sometime next week from the Orange State. Wandering from Apples to Oranges on the jivatma express.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Thakur Bhaktivinode, Where Are You?

I woke up this morning, remembering it was the golden appearance day of one of our great predecessor acaryas, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur. Yes, and i found a biography of his glorious life that i shall read before the day is over. There was also a brief sketch of his life posted in today's Sun that i read. But the chief article in that vaisnava online newspaper that caught my attention was a posting by Rocana of the scandal in Scotland with Balabhadra dasa and the GBC men who covered for him and later (due to his not obeying their conditions) exposed him. It was a depressing article on a subject that has no spiritual value. It only exposes the extreme lack of qualification amongst the current leaders of Iskcon, and frankly, the lack of vision on anyone else's part to create a viable alternative.

From there i went to the mainstream news, where today's big story is about the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who spoke at Columbia University. He is berated as a mini-Hitler and incarnation of evil by some of the media and especially by the Jewish organizations in the US. But he is also an academic and a smart politician. He spoke about God, science and religion to the students and faculty, complaining that he was insulted (he was) by the University president who introduced him. He explained that in Iranian culture (which is coming from Aryan culture originally, as Prabhupada confirmed when he visited us in Tehran in 1976), one never insults one's guest, even if he is considered an enemy. He made some good points, but as a politician whose record on human rights is terrible, one can be sure that his words do not match his deeds.

So in today's news we had vaisnavas who intimidate others and engage in degraded activities, other vaisnavas who protect their own vested interests as leaders and cover up for the abusers, "if they remain quiet." Then we have a world leader berated for being a dictator, who tells Americans what they don't want to hear: that they aren't the "good guys" and they should stop trying to control the world.

I guess it was not so much different 120 years ago, when Bhaktivinode Thakur was writing and preaching. There were fallen vaisnavas and sahajiyas then too, and colonial imperialists at that time were more brutal than today's leaders. People seemed much more simple then, and in many ways, less sinful, but also much less aware and open to change. And there was no internet to challenge the prevailing lies and half-truths of the established media. Now we have this amazing technology, where i can sit here in New York, typing on my keyboard, and within seconds, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can read my words. Or see video images of any event happening in the world. That could be a powerful force for truth.

The only thing missing are the real devotees, the great acaryas, like Bhaktivinode Thakur and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Thakur and Srila Prabhupada. Where are those rare souls who have the compassion, the knowledge and the sakti to cut thru this jungle of ignorance and give the message of Caitanya Mahaprabhu with an open heart? Until Krishna inspires such souls to return, or until He empowers new mahatmas or sadhikas, the world will not get any better. And unless it improves, it will decline even further.

We cannot expect miracles. We don't know the plan of the Lord. All we can do, is try to remember those great souls, pray to them, cry in separation from them, and with humility, understanding our limitations, do whatever little we can to follow them. Then at least we will not create any more bad news. And in times like this, no news is good news.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Demigod Worship

Today is one of those rare days when the demigods are merciful to the impious New Yorkers. They give them sun, clear skies and air that is not too hot, too humid or too cold. Today the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, arrives in New York. Seeing the weather, he may think that Allah is on America's side after all.

Walking down Central Park West on my usual shopping trip, i noticed lots of people taking photos of the Dakota Building that i wrote about in a blog one week ago. I also noticed a vendor selling photos of John Lennon nearby. On my way back, i passed the same intersection and even more people were taking pictures. I knew why, but just for confirmation, i asked a Japanese tourist aiming a digital camera at the building. "Why are you taking photographs here?" I asked in a friendly way. "Dakota here....John Lennon here," came the reply.

It made me think how the natural tendency for human beings is to worship demigods. In the absence of the real deal (Lord Siva, Durga Ma, Kali, Saraswati, Hanuman, Ganesh, Karitkeya), people worship other human beings, who by their fame, become like demigods. If they are dead, all the more convenient to worship them. That's why on the corner of 72nd St. and Central Park West, everyone was snapping pictures of a building that John Lennon lived in 30 years ago.

In spiritual and religious movements also, in the absence of the real deal (self realized devotees and uttama adhikari gurus) the followers feel a need to worship "demigods." In the case of Iskcon, it's the unqualified rubber stamped gurus. Like celebrities on tour to promote their latest film, or corporate execs, they fly from one continent to another. On the Sun the other day, someone published an email sent by one of these gurus to a friend. He was saying how he was going to be one day in Helsinki, one day in Estonia, one day in Latvia, then come back to the US for a week, then go to Fiji, India, then back to Europe. This guru said he was "in bliss." In other words, he had finally achieved celebrity status, and was now a demigod in Iskcon.

This kind of behavior simply gives nutrition to the ritviks who claim there is only one guru for the next 10,000 years. But even the Catholic Church, which practices a kind of ritvik philosophy, has its demigods-- the Saints, Popes and Cardinals. And the Protestants? I guess they've got evangelical preachers and movie stars. All perverted demigod worship, in my opinion.

So the Hindus, with their hodge podge puja of demigods that we thought was 'backward' when we were young, turn out to be more sane than everyone else after all. At least their demigods are real.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yom Kippur Blues

Today in New York, it's Yom Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays, a full day (from sundown yesterday) of a nirjal fast by observant Jews. It's also Ekadasi. So the Jews who observe Yom Kippur, get the benefit of fasting for Ekadasi as well, at least until sundown. Unfortunately, they will not break their fast with Krishna prasadam. The elephant bathes in the river, and then throws mud over his clean body.

That seems to be one of the recurring themes in this material world. Crematorium renunciation. We see a dead relative being cremated, and it makes us want to renounce. Then a few hours or days later, we forget the dead body and again want to enjoy.

The Jews have certainly suffered. But that does not prevent them from wanting to enjoy, being falsely proud of their intelligence, arrogant and hostile to their half-brothers, the Palestinians. And the Muslims, despite Mohammed having said that God gave Israel to the Jews, cannot tolerate that other faiths exist, especially if those faiths are successful materially. Envy boils their blood and makes them run for the sword, quoting verses from the Koran.

Envy along with greed, also rules the global capitalists. Their operating principle is to exploit and distribute the stolen wealth widely enough so that every good thief can have his slice of the pie. The winners take in billions while the majority go into debt to consume their little piece.

And that leaves the vaisnavas. Where are the vaisnavas? Most of them are following the materialists, accumulating wealth and prestige. Building temples, maintaining big bank balances, collecting large numbers of disciples, traveling around the globe like corporate executives and feeling good about themselves, thinking they are saving the world.

No wonder i got the Yom Kippur Blues.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ne Plus Ultra

ne plus ultra \nee-plus-UL-truh; nay-\, noun:
1. The highest point, as of excellence or achievement; the acme; the pinnacle; the ultimate.
2. The most profound degree of a quality or condition.

I just discovered this word at I think it properly defines the lives of the pure devotees and the pastimes of the Lord. Here in this material world, the melodramas are so predictable and mediocre. But the loving exchanges of devotees who experience bhava towards the Lord and the love in service they experience amongst each other— those dramas run the gamut of transcendental emotions. The spontaneous roles they play with each other and with the Lord are nothing short of ne plus ultra.

So, how do we go from the soap operas of our daily frustrated existence, to the surcharged dramas of ne plus ultra? Prabhupada, our teacher and our savior, summed it up exactly, concisely and effortlessly (as usual), in a class he gave in London on Radhastami in 1969. (London, 9/18/69)

“atah sri-krsna-namadi
na bhaved grahyam indriyaih
sevonmukhe hi jihvadau
svayam eva sphuraty adah

No one can understand the transcendental nature of the name, form, quality and pastimes of Sri Krsna through his materially contaminated senses. Only when one becomes spiritually saturated by transcendental service to the Lord are the transcendental name, form, quality and pastimes of the Lord revealed to him.
(Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.2.234)].

With our material senses we cannot see Krsna, we cannot hear about Krsna's name. But sevonmukhe hi jihvadau.
When you engage yourself in the service of the Lord... Where the service begins? Jihvadau. The service begins from the tongue. Not from the legs, eyes, or ears. It begins from the tongue. Sevonmukhe hi jihvadau. If you begin service through your tongue... How? Chant Hare Krsna. Use your tongue. Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama,
Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. And take Krsna prasadam. The tongue has got two business: to articulate sound, Hare Krsna; and take prasadam. By this process you'll realize Krsna.

Don't try to see Krsna. You cannot see Krsna with your material eyes. Neither you can hear about Him with your material ears. Neither you can touch. But if you engage your tongue in the service of the Lord, then He'll reveal Himself to you:
"Here I am." That is wanted. So feel separation of Krsna just like Radharani, as Lord Caitanya teaches us, and engage your tongue in the service of the Lord. Then, one day, when you are mature, you'll see Krsna eye to eye.”

Ne plus ultra is from Latin, literally, "(go) no more beyond", from ne, "not" + plus, "more" + ultra, "beyond."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Radharani in Brooklyn

The Queen of Vrindavan, Daughter of King Vrishabanu and Controller of Krishna's Heart can be found with her consort, Govinda dev, in Brooklyn, New York, in a temple located in a neighborhood of derelicts. Walking from the Subway station to the temple, one crosses by genuine down and out bag persons sitting on the pavement with plastic bags full of their only possessions. One poor guy has plastic bags for shoes. Just before you reach the temple there's a Bingo Hall where several black men are smoking and hanging out. Then, there is Iskcon.

For me, it was something of a full circle. The first temple i ever visited was in Brooklyn, on Henry St., in 1970. The devotees had just moved from 61 Second Avenue. Henry St. was in a middle class area, and the temple was quite large. It was full of young shaved up American boys wearing dhotis and young American girls in saris. I don't remember seeing a single Indian, other than the painting of Prabhupada on the Vyasasan. It was a shock to see so many contemporaries of mine dressed up as monks. Now the temple has a different kind of population. It is an Indian temple, with a few token westerners. Out of 40-50 devotees who had gathered in the temple at Noon for Radharani's celebration, there were maybe 4 or 5 non-Indians. I'm not sure if there were any Americans at all. What began 40 years ago as a counter-cultural movement of westerners, has now transformed into a movement of Indians. Maybe even the acronym, Iskcon, will become Indian Society for Krishna Consciousness.

Of course, the Indian devotees are nice-- nicer in their natural piety and simple dress than most westerners. The men in the temple were all businessmen and students, wearing clean clothing, short hair and carrying shoulder bags and brief cases. Some even had a little pouch on their belts for a mobile phone. The ladies all wore proper long skirts or saris. Much more pukka than how westerners dress.

The temple is decorated with cheap paper flags criss-crossing the ceiling, and those large varicolored paper balls you see at kids' birthday parties. Very kitchy. But the altar is first class. Radha Govinda are strikingly beautiful, large black marble Govinda and white Radha with reddish cheeks. Today they were clothed in deep teal dresses with orange and gold jari, wearing garlands of fresh yellow and orange roses. Around them are vases of large sunflowers and roses. I arrived during the abhisek (bathing ceremony) of the small brass deities. Again, it was an all-Indian group of male devotees doing the bathing, with another small group of Indian devotees singing kirtan. Leading the kirtan group was an old friend of mine from Vrindavan, Nanda nandana, a wonderful Bengali devotee who managed the Goshalla in Vrindavan for many years. I greeted him and we were very happy to meet each other, being reminded of Vrindavan. He immediately invited me to stay for prasadam. He is in New York because he has 2 daughters back in Vrindavan whom he needs to get married, and this is his only way to make a little money for their dowry.

When it was time to offer the bhoga, the devotees first hung a cloth in front of the deities and brought offerings under the cloth. But the offerings kept coming from the kitchen, until the entire front of the altar (outside the cloth) was also covered with preps. Then they brought a folding table in front of the altar, and filled that completely with more preparations. There must have been over 100 different items offered. No wonder Srila Prabhupada called Krishna consciousness a "kitchen religion." This is something the Indian devotees have mastered.

I stayed for part of the arotik when the kirtan started to take off: "Radharani ki jaya, Maharani ki jaya!!" Just like Vrindavan. And then the maha mantra. The kirtan was refreshing, not too crazy, and as it progressed, more devotees arrived and the enthusiasm increased. But i needed to get back to my apartment by 2 pm for some workers, so i left the temple before taking prasadam. One nice mataji offered me a mangal arotik sweet as i was leaving. She invited me back to the "big" program tonite, when Radha and Govinda will wear flower dresses. I thought about going, but it's a long subway ride and walking thru that neighborhood at nite would be dodgy.

On my way out, i asked an Indian gentleman sitting by the front door what time they hold the Sunday program. He said, "Yes, it's usually 5 or 6 pm, but don't worry, God will call you."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Govinda dasi's memories

By accident i came across a nice collection of memories by Govinda dasi. I’ve know Govinda dasi for a long time, and she is quite a character. In this series of recollections, she gives her firsthand experiences of being a 20-year-old girl who, with her young husband, Gaurasundara, met Srila Prabhupada when he had just a handful of disciples. It was the early days of Iskcon in San Francisco, New York and Montreal and everyone was still very much like a family. Prabhupada (who was called "Swamiji") gave his followers as much attention as they wanted, often sharing his apartment with his disciples and making them a part of his life. Prabhupada even brought back saris for each of his young female disciples when he returned from Vrindavan to San Francisco in late 1967. For more than a year, Govinda dasi, with Gaurasundara, was serving Prabhupada as his secretary, cook and personal servant. They were the only husband and wife team to do this service. It was a time of intimacy that was never again possible. Here is a brief selection from the series:

“While living together with Srila Prabhupada in New Jersey, we would have kirtan, just the four of us or if guests came from New York we would also have kirtans and Srila Prabhupada would talk. He was recovering from the stroke, so he would not give regular lectures as before when we were in New York temple but he was always eager to talk about Krsna to whoever would listen. So while sitting on the sofa one day, Srila Prabhupada began talking about kirtan, and he began to demonstrate the different ways to play kartals. He taught us the basic ching-ching-chang and other beats as well; we sang "Govinda jaya jaya" and Srila Prabhupada began to play the kartals exactly like the sound of cow-hooves running. I was amazed. Then he showed me how to do it - slowly and carefully so that it is in perfect timing with the regular kirtan; yet it sounds exactly like cow-hooves running across the fields. Other times he would sit and talk about Krsna, His pastimes in the forest of Vrindavan and his mother and father and friends. Srila Prabhupada would close his eyes and say: "Oh, the cowboys are going to their homes in the evening and tell their mother: "Oh mother, today Krsna has killed one very big demon." Srila Prabhupada's eyes would grow big as he said this. "He has saved us from danger," and then he would smile, "and their mothers are happy and they simply talk of 'Krsna is so wonderful.'”

this is the link:

Monday, September 17, 2007

Prabhupada writes about John & George

In yesterday's blog, i mentioned a dream Srila Prabhupada had about John Lennon. Thanks to Vicaru prabhu, who manages a web site archive of Prabhupada's letters (link to the left), here are Prabhupada's words, in a letter to Shyamasundar:

Friday, April 24, 1970

"You have asked me to disclose my dream about John, so I beg to state the incident as follows. I dreamt that John took me in a place at Calcutta and he was showing me a house, a big palatial building, which formerly belonged to a very rich man, and he was a famous musician also.

I think therefore that John was previously that man to whom that house belonged, and now he has taken birth in England. It is quite possible that he has inherited his past musical talent, and because that man was very liberal and charitable, so he has acquired some wealth also, and now in this life if he properly utilizes his talent and wealth for Krishna, then surely he will achieve the highest perfection of his life."

In the same letter, prior to revealing this dream, Prabhupada writes about a disturbing quote from Swami Vivekananda that George apparently wanted to include in his foreward to the Krishna Book. Prabhupada was determined not to have his transcendental writing polluted even with one sentence of impersonalism.

Regarding George's foreword, you write to say that certainly there will be no more changes. Do you mean that the changes which you have already suggested in you letter dated 11th April with quotation from Swami Vivekananda are to be added? We cannot add any quotation from Swami Vivekananda.

In your letter of April 11th you have asked me to insert ``What right has a man to say he has a soul if he does not feel it, or that there is a God if he does not see Him?'' Do you mean I have to put in my KRSNA book all this nonsense quotation? This man (Vivekananda) has no understanding either of soul or of God and still he has posed himself as a Swami to mislead so many innocent persons.

Understanding of the existence of soul is the beginning of teachings of Bhagavad-gita. If one has no understanding of the soul and God, he is no better than an animal because animals cannot have any idea of the soul or God. So how can I add these nonsense quotations?

George's foreword as it was originally sent can be published with little editorial changes, but in no case can the quotation from Swami Vivekananda be placed in my book. You have already admitted in your letter dated 11th April that it hurts you to see this change, quoting a rascal like Vivekananda, so please let me know clearly what you want me to do. If you think that George's foreword will help the selling of the books, then it may be published as it was originally sent.

(Excerpt omitted)

You cannot learn music from a carpenter. If you want to learn music, then you have to approach an expert musician. So how he can learn about God from persons like Vivekananda who had no preliminary knowledge of the soul, even?

So best thing is if he is serious to know about God, tell him to begin reading Vedic literatures, and we have published our Isopanisad. Let him seriously read this book and whenever he has to question, he can ask from us, but he should always remember that he should try to know about God from a person who is in touch with God, not from a speculator.

Hope this will meet you in good health.

Your ever well-wisher,
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Musings on John Lennon

Took another walk around the Upper West Side today. Autumn is approaching and the heat and humidity of summer have taken off, replaced by a pleasant coolness in the air. Autumn is a nice refreshing season in the north, if it weren’t so quickly overcome by bone-chilling cold. It is transitional, like everything in this world. There is an expression: “never a dull moment.” The truth is, in this world, there’s never a truly conscious moment. Things are changing, but they are dull, covered by various degrees of ignorance. I feel that dullness strongly today. No kirtan and no association with devotees.

I walked down Broadway to 72nd Street and then to Central Park West. On the corner of 72nd & Broadway is the Dakota, a super upscale apartment complex where John Lennon lived in the late 70’s. It’s also where he was killed. The building is rather depressing looking, with two large gas-light flame lamps at the entrance, in front of a black gated driveway (where Lennon was shot). On top of the building flies a large American flag.

John Lennon was more famous than the president of the U.S. when he was struck down by an assassin. “We're more famous than Jesus,” he once said, and had to apologize for that remark to the American Christians he offended. He had such fame, but that’s history now. No one knows where John Lennon went. His real sukriti came from a few meetings he had with Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada was a guest at his Tittenhurst estate in England during the summer of 1969. Prabhupada lived very simply in a guest cottage there during his stay. Yoko Ono noticed how austerely Prabhupada was living. She asked Lennon, “do you think it would be possible for us to live like this?"

I've heard one of their conversations where Prabhupada enthusiastically explained the importance of music in spiritual life. Prabhupada was sitting with Lennon, Ono and George Harrison. Prabhupada told them that Vedic knowledge was delivered via music. Then he started to sing a Vedic prayer for them. Singing a cappella an unusual melody, Prabhupada recited a long Sanskrit prayer. I always wondered how Prabhupada learned all the sutras he knew. He was like a Wikipedia of Vedic knowledge and prayers. When did he have the time to memorize all those sutras? And where did all those exquisite, far out melodies come from?

Prabhupada spoke with them for over an hour that day. George was clearly influenced by Prabhupada, as can be heard in the text of many of George’s songs and in his service on behalf of the devotees. John was less influenced, being preoccupied with Yoko and with his self made image as a cultural icon. He was both idealistic and cynical, according to the accounts i’ve read of his life. But he also was very fortunate, to have had personal contact with Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada even had a dream about Lennon, where he said John had been a big businessman in Calcutta previous to his birth as the most famous Beatle. Who knows, he may be back on Park St. in Kolkatta now, selling pirated versions of his own cds. (That’s my cynicism. He’s probably doing much better than that.)

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."

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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

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Quote of the Day

"Write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow."
Lawrence Clark Powell (late librarian and author)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Dear Srila Prabhupada,

Please accept my obeisances at your lotus feet. It is with shame that i write this. First, it is impossible for me to glorify you. How can a fly glorify a swan? The best a fly can do is fly away and not disturb a swan. But you are far beyond a swan. As a paramhamsa amongst paramhamsas, you not only tolerate flies such as me, you call them close to you and give them your blessings.

Five years ago when i was in Bombay making my album, Jivatma Express, i went to your Juhu temple on this day to try to glorify you. I spoke briefly from my heart and the devotees appreciated my words. I remember Sridhar Swami, who is no longer with us, getting up from his seat and embracing me after my talk. But early this year, i returned to Juhu temple to stop over for a few days on my way from the US to South India. I attended the morning program, but when i looked at your murti on the vsyasasan, you looked unhappy. When i attempted to go to your quarters on the 5th Floor of the Guest House during visiting hours, i was told your apartment was closed. Later, in Vrindavan at the magnificent temple you built for Krishna Balaram and Radha Shyamasundar, you also looked unhappy on your vyasasan. I could not feel your presence there. And the devotees had lost access to your rooms at Radha Damodar that you said were the hub of the spiritual world on this earth.

How you will rectify what has gone wrong in the movement you founded only you and Krishna know. What i know, when i look at myself, is that i am not following you properly. You gave a tall order. How does a fly follow a swan? I don't expect to be anything other than a fly in this life. But i guess this is the test. To hope against hope to find some way, somehow or other, to follow you and to give you some pleasure. If this becomes my constant meditation, then i will consider my fly life successful.

your fallen and insignificant disciple,
nava jauvana das

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Janmastami on Second Avenue

Sounds like the title of a hit song from the 40's (although i wasn't around back then so i'm just guessing). Actually it was a huge hit in the 60's. It was where Srila Prabhupada performed one of the greatest miracles in religious history. Tonite i decided to go on pilgrammage to 26 Second Avenue, Prabhupada's "Matchless Gifts," the western world's first Radha Krishna temple.

I took the "C" train to West 4th St. and the "F" train to Second Avenue. The Subway in NYC is much cleaner and cooler (air conditioned cars) than back in the 60's when Prabhupada took it. It isn't a model subway, but it felt a lot safer than i recall from almost 40 years ago. When i got down on Second Avenue and Houston Street (where Prabhupada first met Hayagriva on the street in 1966), i turned and walked two short blocks up Second Avenue. There on the corner is a large Exxon petrol station and next to it sits the tiny temple, a storefront attached to a nondescript apartment building.

I crossed the street and noticed bars across the front window. The temple was locked and it was 6:45 pm, just 15 minutes before their bi-weekly program was supposed to start (Tuesday and Friday evenings, 7-9 pm). There was a sign in the window that said: Janmastami will be held at the Brooklyn Temple. Take the A train to Jay St. and another train to the next stop. I wasn't really disappointed. I thought for a minute of going to the Brooklyn temple where the devotees would be and also nice deities of Radha Govinda, but decided against it. I was inspired to visit 26 Second Avenue because of Prabhupada and what he did there, but i wasn't inspired to visit Iskcon in Brooklyn.

I stood there in front of the storefront for several minutes, trying to imagine what it was like in 1966. It's a very small space, around 8 meters wide by about 30 meters long. The devotees renovated the storefront, and it looks gentrified, much newer than it must have looked 41 years ago. It would have been nice if they had replicated it. But that requires a little imagination.

Now it looks like a comfortable yoga studio, with a shiny wooden floor, and a small altar with a black and white photo of Srila Prabhupada sitting with his three original Bhagavatams. In the storefront window, 4 books were displayed. Only one of them was Prabhupada's book, Bhagavad-gita as it is. The others were a cookbook, a compilation (Coming Back), and a book about India.

I was sympathetic to the devotee who decided to close the temple on Janmastami and go to Brooklyn where he could socialize with other devotees and participate in the abhisek, bhajans, etc. But i also thought this is typical of a movement where preaching is no longer the essence. Preaching or expanding the circle of Krishna's mercy has taken a back seat to corporate religiosity and institutional indulgence.

While i was standing in front of the storefront, two young Indian women approached, also unaware that the storefront would be closed tonite. They knew it was Janmastami. I don't know if they decided to take the train to Brooklyn for darshan. I was actually satisfied to have darshan of the storefront and the image in my mind of Prabhupada having been there. I didn't mind missing the devotees, because i expected they would have a mindset that is far from mine. And for the deities, i have a very nice photo of Radha London Isvara with me, so i can have Their darshan.

I decided to walk up Second Avenue to Iskcon's 2nd Radha Krishna Temple, which was at 61 Second Avenue. Prabhupada gave many classes and kirtans there from 1967 thru 1969. It's just 2 or 3 short blocks up from the storefront. I noticed a number of evangelical churches on the Avenue mixed in with old apartment buildings and many newer bars. In fact, 61 Second Avenue has become "Dempsey's," a fairly upscale bar. The sign outside says: Happy Hour 4-8 pm. I guess it was also Happy Hour when Prabhupada used to lead kirtans and arotiks there.

I looked in. It's much larger than the storefront. It was strange to see the bar with its customers on bar stools where the devotees used to gather for kirtan. It shows how this material nature is so transformative, constantly shifting from goodness to passion to ignorance. It never stops changing. Nothing is static.

I turned left on East 4th St. to walk towards the West Village. After some time i walked by New York University, then Washington Square Park and finally MacDougal Street, where Bob Dylan got his start as a folksinger. New York University was also where i met my friend, Marz (Atreya Rishi) at a night class. He lived in Greenwich Village and we became friends then, both of us searching for a guru. Little did we know how close we were to an uttama guru. It was only by the mercy of Krishna that after a short search, we found him.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Missing the Boat

What i'm saying, my dear friends, is that this whole discussion about guru tattva and the guru issue is wrong. From the day Srila Prabhupada left us, until today, we should be discussing not who is a guru, but "who is a vaisnava?" And helping each other develop those qualities, behaviors and thought patterns that form the foundation of a vaisnava. I am certainly not a vaisnava and although my observation is defective, i cannot easily find others who inspire me to be a vaisnava. All this talk about gurus is nonsense. When i hear it now i say: wait!! Where are the vaisnavas??

Diversity is celebrated in this universe by Lord Brahma's amazing creation, and in the spiritual world by the innumerable expansions of Visnu and nitya siddhas. Why cannot we, on this small planet, in the super tiny world of devotees, not recognize and accomodate each other? The answer: we are not yet vaisnavas. The demigods must be laughing at us as we waste our time discussing guru tattva.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Crazy Rascal Syndrome

After reading more of the Sampradaya Sun and hearing the arguments of my godbrothers on the subject of diksa initiation, my only conclusion is that Srila Prabhupada could not appoint anyone to be guru because he knew no one had even the basic qualification to save himself, what to speak of saving others. And that 30 years later, that remains pretty much the case.

We just don't have the basic mindset of a vaisnava, which is non-envious, non-greedy, not looking for our own name. We attribute material qualities and criterion to spiritual phenomena, thus contaminating our thinking, feeling and willing. We speak as if we know something and then use quotations from scriptures to support our opinion, but in reality, we know nothing when we don't know "vasudeva sarvam iti."

Even worse, we misuse the pure intentions of our eternal well wishers for our own selfish goals. We misinterpret their words and slander them, or conversely, we align our own misconceptions with their personalities to give our thoughts (or the words of our chosen spokesman cum guru), false credibility and importance.

Is it better to do this than going to a bar or a brothel? I suppose so. But it's a far, far cry from the loving exchanges between genuine devotees we read about in the books. It illustrates the terrible price we all are paying due to our own deficiencies.

So what about the guru issue? My general answer is, first things first. To everyone who is now on a soapbox promoting their "absolute" understanding of "guru tattva," i say, come down to earth and develop your qualities of kindness, tolerance, forgiveness, and the 23 other qualities of a vaisnava. Give up your pride and show us your example. When there is a chance for real sadhu sanga, the issues of guru tattva and all other controversies can easily become clear. Without sadhu sanga, you'll find yourself in another goddamned religion.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Another Sunday in New York

Sundays are a bit more reflective than other days for me. I don't know why, except it's quieter, the official day of rest, although in America all the shops are open. This morning i walked down Central Park West to Whole Foods to buy my groceries. A cop was giving a ticket to a poor black guy sitting on a park bench. I don't know if he was drunk or jonesed or why the cop was giving him a ticket. But i thought it strange that, in this country, even sitting on a bench can be a criminal offense.

Further on, a fat guy was sitting on another bench. He had two handwritten signs saying something about helping him out, and he was holding a rosary in one hand. I felt sorry for him. No one in New York pays attention to someone like him. Even i was skeptical of him. Beggars in America are untouchables. No money, no respect. After shopping, i decided to walk back instead of catching the bus. The beggar was still sitting there. Now he was looking more depressed, not fingering the rosary any more, his head down. I walked past him, then stopped, took a dollar out of my wallet, turned around and said: "Here, friend." He looked up, took the buck and said, "God bless you." "Hare Krishna," i responded, and he easily repeated: "Hare Krishna." I smiled and turned to continue walking. I was happy he chanted. Maybe he had heard Krishna's name before or maybe it was the first time, but he was totally open and had no trouble to say Krishna's name. Shows how akincina, to be possessionless, is a great qualification for spiritual life. Unfortunately, in this society, to be akincina you need to be completely down and out.

Now i'm back in my little bubble, the condo. Another week ahead of hassling with the realty company and condo supervisor, contractors and workers. And another week of hassling with my own mind which is always trying to find sense gratification, always searching out another face of maya, rather than submitting to and taking shelter at the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.