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.