Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Form or Substance?

"What the form provides is more important than the form itself. Therefore, we should not be overly attached to a particular form, if another form can provide what we need."

Confused? LOL! Well definitely this "sutra" needs an explanation. At least I can give an explanation based on my realizations. Having given that disclaimer, here goes: Often times when we desire something, even if it's spiritual, we are very attached to having it come in "one way." Whether spoken or unspoken, normally that subtle consciousness is there. But Krsna may not give us "that particular" form, he may give something else. So what does that mean? It means that the particular form we desire may not be suitable or right or whatever and so it may not come in that way. BUT, if it is beneficial for our spiritual life, then the substance will come. Krsna will make sure of that, especially if it brings us closer to him.

So what does that practically mean? It means that being conditioned in the material world we are very attached to "packaging." But this is just another signpost, one could say, that indicates we are very external. Krsna consciousness is about going deep, about becoming internal. The basic foundation is valuing substance over form.

It's a challenge, no doubt, but one to seriously consider taking up. Just remember, Krsna is listening and oftentimes he'll test. So if it's the substance we are truly after, we'll gratefully accept it when it comes.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Does Krsna Hear My Prayers?

This is a question that I often ask myself. Theoretically I understand that "Of course he does!" Not only is Krsna sitting in our heart as the supersoul but he manifests in so many forms such as the arca vigraha and as the spiritual master. But I'm still a very neophyte devotee and so I still have this doubt sometimes.

Again, it all boils down to a lack of trust. Experiences in the material world have shown that trusting someone eventually results in them letting you down. So consciously or unconsciously those impressions become transferred to Krsna. But it's so unfair! We just presume to know that Krsna will let us down. I know how much it bothers me when someone just assumes I'll act or react in a certain way. Can you imagine how tolerant and munificent Krsna is to deal with all our transference and trust issues! It's unfathomable.

But back to the question. Does Krsna hear my prayers? I'm implying, of course, by Krsna hearing my prayers that he fulfills them. :P I think it depends on a combination of two things: sincerity and if I'm praying for something worthwhile. See Krsna is a very special in that once you even "try" to surrender to him, he immediately gives you special mercy. What is that special mercy? Well, when you pray for something (or even just desire something), Krsna immediately looks to see if it is beneficial for your spiritual life. If it's not, most times Krsna won't "hear it." But if it is beneficial, even the impossible becomes reality in a matter of a second. Such is Krsna's power and his love for all of us.

So I guess the question really isn't "Does Krsna hear my prayers?" It's more a question of "Can I see everything that Krsna is arranging for me."

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ok Krsna, You Be God!

Ever just feel totally mental? Well I certainly do...It happens when I feel like I have no control over my life. It was funny....during the past week I heard something that I really liked and have a lot of trouble doing, "Go to Krsna and tell him ok, you be God!"

It's actually a very serious and valid statement if you think about it. Theoretically I know that I am not the controller but in reality I still think I am! Krsna (at least in my case) has to back me up into a corner for me to realize that, "Hey, I have no control WHATSOEVER!" It's pretty painful...but at the same time it can be sweetly liberating. It's much nicer for someone else to take care of everything for you, right? Then what's the problem with letting Krsna handle everything?

Normally it's due to the fact that we bring over our material experiences and wrongly apply them to Krsna. But Krsna is not just anyone, he's God! The other reason that we have trouble letting Krsna handle everything is that sometimes we have "tried" to let Krsna handle it, but he hasn't given us what we wanted. So that has also caused us to lose faith and trust.

The funny thing is that (and I can tell I'm preaching to myself as I write this) we always tend to look at everything from a microscopic perspective, that is from a very limited point of view. I know that if I ever stop to look at how things have gone in my life, I can see that everything has happened at the right time. Things that didn't work (that I really wanted) I can see later on really were for the best. But it's hard to have that kind of vision when things are happening NOW.

So what to do? The eternal question. One thing that has helped me is reading Srimad Bhagavatam. There we see how so many devotees have waited and prayed and trusted Krsna to guide them. We also see the incredible results of having such implicit faith in Krsna. Hearing stories from other devotees as to how Krsna has arranged everything, even the "seemingly impossible" is also a huge faith and trust booster.

So try it out...what have you got to lose anyways? I just had a realization yesterday actually. Normally when I go to Krsna I am very specific and I say "I want this," but as devotees we hear this is the wrong attitude. Technically we should approach Krsna and say "Please let this happen if you so desire." But I have huge control issues and for the past week or so I just haven't been able to bring myself to say that.

I had a really nice epiphany yesterday. I was thinking about why I can't say "Please let this happen if you so desire." It's because I feel that if I do I REALLY will have no control over the situation. See, my ridiculous thinking is that if I tell Krsna "It's this I want" then somehow I trick myself into thinking that now Krsna has to give me this and only this. WRONG! Krsna is still fully in control, this is just my vain and useless attempt in trying to keep some illusion of control. So I tried it this morning..."Ok Krsna, if you so desire." It was really hard and probably not so genuine...but this is my attempt to show Krsna that I am truly trying to let him take charge and take control.

So try it out...what have you got to lose? :D

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Krsna-mas!

Here in Sridham Mayapur it certainly doesn't feel so much like the X-mas I'm normally used to. No panicked last minute shoppers and certainly no snow! But it's definitely really crowded as pilgrims on vacation are inundating Mayapur. Wishing everyone a happy, KC filled and safe holiday! Hare Krishna!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Winding up our 2nd Module

:( I'm so depressed...our Brahminical Culture and Education Module is coming to an end. The next two days will be filled with assessments and then that's it. Considering I was highly skeptical about this class (a thought which was echoed by many in the class), now all I can say is, "It's done already? It's already been 3 weeks? Why? Can we not continue this forever?"

This is what happens when you have such a qualified teacher (HG Adi Purusha Prabhu), a topic that DESPERATELY needs to be taught to devotees and an eager group of students. I can't begin to tell you what a loss it will be to not have at least 3 hours of class on this topic everyday.

The funniest part is that most devotees were like, "What? I can't listen to philosophy for that long. I'm not sastrically oriented." But Prabhuji just presented the material in such a relevant, humorous and practical manner that well...I'm speechless. We also had guest speakers such as HH Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami, HG Pankajanghri prabhu and HG Jananivas prabhu. Needless to say we'll all be coming down from such an incredible high.

Starting next week we have a break and then begins cooking and dressing! This promises to be lots of fun....but...I can't help feeling, "If only we could continue with these classes as well." But I guess it's a good thing to always be left wanting more and I'm super impressed that so far at Mayapur Academy both modules have now left me wanting more.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Flatbed Rikshaws

Ever ridden on a flatbed rik? LOL! Well it's certainly an experience. Imagine sitting on pieces of wood that have been nailed together to form a solid board. This board has wheels underneath and is attached to a tricycle-like contraption. Note, there is nothing to prevent you from falling out because there are no railings or anything to keep you on this piece of wood. Also, it's India, so along with other rikshaws there are cows, goats, cars and high speeding buses that are rushing or going past you. You would NEVER see anything like this in Canada....totally against the law. It's pretty scary the first time around, but today 5 of us got onto one of these flatbed rikshaws and made our way to the Rajaput Jagannath temple. It made me realize how much I appreciate the simplicity of being here in the holy dham. By car, the Jagannath temple is about 10 minutes away but on a flatbed rik (especially when the poor person is pedaling 5 ppl!) it takes a good 1/2 hour. But during that time you get a chance to look at the surroundings, wave to the school children, and just soak in the atmosphere of Nadia. It's just so beautiful. So although perhaps a tad bit scary the first time around, it's still one of my favorite ways to travel short distances.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Try Not to Label

The illusion of Western society- If you label something you think you can understand it.

Think about it. Have you ever found this to be the case? Perhaps you didn't understand someone properly and instead of trying you just labelled them as being "insert any adjective." Often times this happens. It especially happens in relationships. Once you know someone, that's it. That means you "know" them. Often times its the one's nearest and dearest to us that we label. But what does labelling one inherently do? It causes us to feel that they can't change. But life is dynamic and things are always changing and developing. What happens when we label someone or something is that although that thing/person may change, our perception of them doesn't. That's very dangerous because we are not actually seeing the reality in front of us. Instead we are the ones who live in the past.

So the lesson for me today was "try not to label." Of course we should see things as they are, but we should always believe in change.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Celebrating Vyasa Puja Everday




Yesterday all the disciples of HH Niranjana Swami (in Mayapur) got together to celebrate in our beloved Guru Maharaja's glorious appearance day. The program was very sweet as so many of Guru Maharaja's godbrothers and sisters came to speak some words. My godsister Krtamala and myself had just been discussing the night before how happy we were that so many senior devotees were coming because (at least speaking for myself) I really don't have any real gratitude or appreciation for all that HH Niranjana Swami has done and continues to do for me. But somehow through the words of Guru Maharaja's godbrothers and sisters, I somehow get a glimpse of the great fortune I have to even be remotely associated with such an incredible vaisnava. Over and over the same words were repeated, of how HH Niranjana Swami will go out of his way to help others and how it is not limited to just his disciples but to any person who he comes in contact with.

It's such an important characteristic to have as aspiring servants of Lord Caitanya's sankirtan mission. I long for the day that I can be so loving and compassionate that I don't even think twice to help another person. Instead I'm normally of the mentality of "what's in it for me." It's so horrible actually. How can I hope to actually become a vaisnava if I have this useless mentality? But Krishna is so merciful because I have such wonderful role models. Role models in my beloved spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada and in all the other vaisnavas who emobdy these qualities.

These were just some of the gems I received from yesterday's Vyasa Puja celebrations. Seeing how much I gained I've decided that I'm going to celebrate Vyasa Puja everyday! I may not be able to celebrate it on a grand scale but I can celebrate by offering gratitude to my spiritual master and share in some guru katha with my godsisters. In this way I hope that I can also imbibe the wonderful mood of my spiritual master.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Reclaiming my Liberation!

Today I had another opportunity to realize how little I actually know about practically applying Krsna Consciousness in my life. The topic was karma. I was asking the question of how I can practically reconcile the fact that my karma can't change on one hand but on the other hand I still have the ability to take charge of my life. This is the answer I got: Karma simply means the parameters that we have to deal with. In other words, due to our past reactions we are given a certain set of parameters that we need to work with. For example one might be extremely good with languages and mathematics but they might have an innate fear of water. So these gifts and handicaps will colour the vision of such an individual. However, that doesn't mean that their life is determined because of this. Depending on the mode of nature they work in, even a handicap can turn into a greatest blessing. For example, one girl who was deathly afraid of water turned into a championship swimmer. When asked if she was still afraid of water she said yes, but the point is that she didn't allow her fear to overtake her life.

Similarly we all have various handicaps and gifts that we have been given. But how many of us actually take use of these handicaps and turn it into an offering we can present to the Lord? Moreover, how many of us fall into that "comfortable understanding" of karma as something that "Krsna has given so just accept." I'm guilty of subscribing to this definition. But now I have seen the light! NO MORE WILL I SUBSCRIBE! This is only half true! Yes, we have to accept our karma. That part is true. We have to accept because we made certain choices in the past that have now given us these fruits. But just accepting this is so fatalistic and so dis-empowering. How can anyone feel motivated to do anything then? But the part that "Krsna has given" is totally untrue. NO! We have given it to ourselves due to the choices we have made. This understanding forces the individual to take responsibility for their past and future deeds instead of simply thinking "Ahh...well I can't do anything now."

The correct understanding is that we had the free will to make those choices that resulted in the karma we are experiencing now AND still do have that same free will to make choices each and every second. That is the real understanding that will help us. To act. That at every moment Krsna is giving us a choice. We can choose to be pulled by the modes of nature and act the way we have been habituated to act (which normally doesn't help us and tends to land us in trouble) or else we can choose to act in the most Krsna conscious and correct path which will take more effort.

That is true liberation. To rise above the modes of natures that trying to pull us down. Instead if we choose to act in a way that Krsna will be pleased then we don't have to worry about past or future karma. So let's reclaim our liberation. That choice we have every moment is either liberating or binding. So choose liberation and become happy!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kirtaniyah sada hari

First of all I would like to offer a lot of gratitude to a dear friend of mine: Rashi. It was her brilliant idea that I start a blog chronicalling all my adventures, experiences and thoughts while I am here in Mayapur. She was telling me that this would be a great medium for me to jot down all my thoughts and at the same time it would save me time because I wouldn't have to e-mail a million people this way. Truth be told, at that time what appealed to me the most was the reduced e-mailing time it would take! But now, I see that writing everyday is really the best thing I can do. As Srila Prabhupada once said, "Everyday, just write."

So at that time when I was trying to figure out what title I should give my blog, this verse came to mind "kirtaniyah sada hari." Why did I chose it? Probably because I love to sing and participate in kirtan so much. It's the best way to constantly chant the holy names. But what does "kirtaniyah sada hari" actually mean? Due to the mercy of all of our teachers at Mayapur Academy I'm starting to get a glimpse of the true purport of this popular verse.

One thing that struck me during one of the first discussions we had on the verse trnda api sunicena was the fact that HG Adi Purusa Prabhu said, "Note, that Mahaprabhu did not just say kirtaniyah sada hari but instead he qualified it with four characteristics." Interesting no? Lord Caitanya could have easily JUST instructed that one continuously chant the holy names of the Lord. But he didn't.

So what does that mean? It means that trnad api sunicena taror iva sahishnuna amanina manadena is the starting point. These four qualities of humility, tolerance, pridelessness and offering all respects to others are the foundation that needs to be built. Or else how can one even THINK of beginning to chant the holy names of the Lord continuously. Of course we can "think" of wanting to chant the holy names continuously, but as it so happens there are so many other material desires and issues that tend to creep in and that wonderful desire can get buried under a huge pile of other desires.

So it all begins with humility. Ahhh...that illusive quality that I just can't seem to get a grasp of! LOL! What does one think of when we hear the word humility? The funny thing is that every devotee will have a different definition depending on their nature, their level of advancement and also by how much they have read. Over numerous years now I've heard so many definitions (all of them correct) but nothing I could tangibly understand. Why do I say that? Well if I understood it, then there should be some observable change. But nope. I'm still just as proud and not humble as I've ever been.

However, there is hope! Recently I just heard a definition of humility that HG Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami gives: trnda api sunicena actually means aham brahmasmi. Or translated, humility means to know that I am spirt. The key word being know, which indicates realized knowledge NOT just theoretical knowledge.

But what does knowing I am spirit do to one so that they become humble? Well, if I realize that I am a spirit soul then I actually have nothing to be proud of. Why? Well if I am spirit, why would I be proud of anything material since it is inferior to spirit. That is in actuality what I am proud of when I am in my current stage of identifying with the body. Some material prestige, name, fame, the list can go on and on. So true humility can be summed by not identifying and seeking praise for something that I am not (i.e. matter).

Naturally with humility comes pridelessness, tolerance and giving all respects to others (because they are also spirit souls). So this is the platform on which I can hope to chant the holy names of the Lord constantly. But if I keep letting my ego get in the way which is trying to convince me that "I am this body and that this body deserves respect" then where is there room for Krishna?

Kirtaniyah sada hari is the ultimate goal. One needs to have intense greed and desire to work on this foundation of humility so that when the holy name constantly dances on our tongue, we'll have a foundation that's strong enough to support it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Turbans!

For the past couple of weeks we've been starting to learn how to make turbans. I've consistently forgotten to bring my camera but finally remembered today! Check out the turban I was able to make with the guidance of our "turban guru" HG Kurma Caitanya Prabhu.

No Right to Complain

Today I heard something really wonderful in class that I sincerely hope I can remember and apply in my daily dealings. HG Jananivas Prabhu was talking about how a brahmana becomes empowered by developing good qualities. When he spoke about the quality of austerity he said that, "We in the Krsna conscious movement have voluntarily accepted austerities. Since that is the case, what right do we have to complain?"

That REALLY struck me! It's so true. Everything in Krsna consciousness is voluntarily. In fact that's why Krsna has given us this minute independence: to either choose him or not. I know that I often complain about services, getting up early, this that and everything under the sun. It's such a bad habit. But if I really look at it IT'S MY CHOICE. So if it's my choice then I have no reason to complain.

Furthermore Prabhuji was saying that if we become fixed in our devotional service then we'll stop looking at it as an austerity. Krsna has been so merciful that the few times I have actually done this I can now look back and see that it really was such a pleasure. I forgot all about the things I could complain about and was just able to focus on the service. Hand in hand with this is of course the right attitude.

HG Adi Purusa Prabhu was saying the other day that we can do service for millions and millions of lifetimes without ever developing prema for Krsna. Why? Because we just dovetail our propensity for fruitive work in Krsna consciousness. We become result oriented. This may be ok initially, but true Krsna consciousness is about the inner mood. What do you actually think about when you are doing the service? The ultimate goal should always be "this is for the satisfaction of Guru and Krsna" and never for self-aggrandizement and recognition.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Alankara

Since I've been here in Mayapur I've been reading a lot more. I'm also happy to say that along with reading Srimad Bhagavatam and attending various classes by senior devotees, I've gotten into the habit of writing something almost everyday. In order to write, I am constantly referring back to the notes I keep taking. So in this way this also forces me to review the various things I have heard.

Looking back at my notes, I came across something that caught my attention today. Mahandhi Swami was saying that we as Vaisnavas "wear our religion." What does that mean, you ask? Well, Maharaja wasn't referring to the fact that devotees wear tilak, dhotis, saris etc etc...This is a fact yes, but Maharaja was referring to the fact that OUR BEHAVIOUR IS OUR ALANKARA.

Alankara is the sanskrit word for decoration. So this means that we are decorated and are identified by our behaviour as vaisnavas. Srila Prabhupada also oftentimes said that a devotee would be recognized as being the perfect gentlemen/gentlewoman.

So what is this ideal behaviour?

titiksavah karunikah
suhrdah sarva-dehinam
ajata-satravah santah
sadhavah sadhu-bhusanah

The symptoms of a sādhu are that he is tolerant, merciful and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures, and all his characteristics are sublime. (SB. 3.25.21)

These are the decorations that a devotee wears with with honour. Maharaja continued by saying that religion thus means ideal behaviour infused with prema, or love, for Krishna. I pray that I may oneday soon be decorated by these beautiful ornaments and offer them in the service of my beloved spiritual master.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Can I Actually be an Instrument of Change?

Have you ever asked this question to yourself before? I constantly do....as devotees it is ingrained into our psyche that "we have to spread the mission of sankirtan yajna" but many often times doubt that they can be a part of helping to achieve that.

Today we had a really illuminating class by HH Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami on the importance and necessity of varnasrama. Maharaja was saying that to actually implement varnasrama the process begins with self-realization.

But what does self realization actually mean? The most important definition for devotees is that we are not the body, we are the spirit soul and are the eternal servants of Krsna. However, Maharaja brought up an interesting point. For most of us just knowing this is not enough because we understand this on the theoretical platform. Self-realization also means we have a proper understanding about our mind, body and intelligence as they are also included in the definition of atma (or soul). Therefore true self-realization means have a proper understanding of all these four levels.

So what does this have to do with being an instrument of change? Well normally the biggest stumbling block (at least I have) when I am faced with being an instrument of change is the excuse "but in order for me to be effective then I need to have an environment that is conducive to do that." But this is actually a huge cope-out. Just like Maharaja was saying that the first stage in implementing varnasrama is self-realization one can actually extend concept. The first step to being an instrument of change is also self-realization. This puts the responsibility on the individual because self-realization is a process or journey that is dependent only on one person: you. No one else... Of course others may help along the way, but other than Krsna, no one knows you better than you. :D

And what does self-realization do? It allows you to figure out your nature, how you work, what makes you tick and all these practical tools that allow you to interact properly and harmoniously. This is the second step that is most essential in being an instrument of change. To effect change one needs to interact with others. But when one has clear understanding of one's self then it becomes much easier to interact with others. Often times we can see that people have such nice intentions but it is because there is difficulty in interacting with others that that the positive intention cannot come to fruition.

Therefore YES! Of course anyone can be an instrument of change, but at least for myself, I am convinced that self-realization is a neccessary step in order to achieve success in being a proper instrument.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pridelessness and Humility

Yesterday during Mahanidhi Swami's Caitanya Bhagavat class a devotee asked an interesting question. Krsna in Bhagavad Gita lists pridelessness and humility as two separate processes of knowledge and so the question was, "what is the difference between the two?"

Interesting question no? They are very interrelated.

Maharaja gave a really nice response. He said that humility means knowing our real position which is that of being an eternal servant of the Lord. The natural position of a true servant is that he doesn't demand any recognition because anything he does is simply his duty. Pridelessness is slightly different because it indicates that one possesses qualities of which one actually has a right to be proud of YET he is not proud of them.

So this is what I got out of it: humility is not demanding any recognition whereas pridelessness is realizing that even if others see something good in me, it is not actually mine to be proud of because it is simply coming from Krsna.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Who is in control of my satisfaction?

We have now begun a new module in the 4 month deity worship course here in Mayapur. This module is called Brahminical Culture and Education and we are exploring all the internal qualities that a pujari needs to develop in order to properly serve Krsna.

One interesting point that came up in today's class was about satisfaction. The western conception of satisfaction is that it is something that happens TO me, but actually in the Gita Krsna states that satisfaction is a conscious act that arises due to the effort of the individual. In Bg. 17.15 Krishna states that "And satisfaction, simplicity, gravity, self-control and purification of one's existence are the austerities of the mind." This indicates that satisfaction is the austerity of the mind and that we are in control of it. This verse is also in a series of verses that describe austerities that are performed in the mode of goodness and thus it goes without saying it is only possible to become satisfied when one cultivates the mode of goodness.

Pretty cool huh? It totally changes one's perspective when one thinks of being satisfied as an austerity.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tapasya is a Burden of Love

This morning we heard a wonderful class given here by HH Mahanidhi Swami. Towards the end of the class the topic turned towards the fact that today is Mokshada Ekadasi. Most people who read this may have already celebrated this very incredible Ekadasi but I'd like to share something that HH Mahanidhi Swami asked us to do.

Maharaja was saying that in the Padma Purana it states that on an Ekadasi that if one makes a sankalpa (which is an intention) that "If I may derive any benefits/punya from following this ekadasi let it go towards this individual" then that particular individual will get the full benefit of your vrata. AND it is stated that YOU will get 100x the benefit! Maharaja was saying this is to encourage compassion and mercy towards others as the living entity can be very selfish and miserly at times.

So Maharaja was encouraging all of us to give all the benefits of this ekadasi that we follow to HH Jayapataka Swami. As most may already know, HH JPS requested a few days ago that devotees all over the world pray that he may walk in 10 days time. So HH Mahanidhi Swami requested all the devotees in Mayapur to not only give all the benefit of following Mokshada Ekadasi to HH JPS but also to follow Nirjala Ekadasi if possible. Why? Because by willingly undergoing some austerity/tapasya we can show our love for HH JPS. Tapasya is a burden of love that we all willingly undergo because HH JPS is near and dear to our hearts.

So for the next Ekadasi that comes up, please do this if it is possible. Make a sankalpa and pray to the Lord that for the next ekadasi that all the benefits you may get go to HH JPS so that he may become free from any discomfort he is facing and that he may return to us quickly. HH Jayapataka Swami ki JAI! Ekadasi vrata ki JAI!

Thank you Srila Prabhupada


As I sit here in Sri Mayapur dham, I am astounded by everything I see and hear. Here, in this remote area of West Bengal there is fusion pot of various culture all coming together to partake in Lord Caitanya's sankirtan movement. How fortunate are we to be here, just a mere few hundred years after the Lord was here on this earth. We are so lucky! We can come and take the dust of this holy tirtha and help spread this knowledge of how to become truly blissful to everyone we see and meet.

Similarly I am overcome with admiration and happiness when I get e-mails from the devotees back home in Toronto hearing what new and innovative things they are doing to share their love of Krsna with others.

That link, that bond, that is so strong that connects these two places that seemingly have no connection is Srila Prabhupada. By his magnanimity, compassion and mercy we are seeing the yuga-dharma of harinam sankirtan being spread all over the universe. How fortunate are we that Srila Prabhupada came to save us all.

So today I would like to give thanks to His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanta Swami for showing us what true compassion and love is. Thank you for building a home that we can all live in and thank you for connecting all of us with others around the world to create a sanga of devotees that can relish and come together to chant the holy names of Sri Hari.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Manipuri Outfit!

On the most auspicious appearance day of HH Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Swami the most beautiful Radha Madhava were offered a manipuri outfit!




Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Simple living...

Have you ever washed your clothes by hand using a bucket? And I'm not taking about that expensive "hand wash only" cashmere sweater or linen blazer. I'm talking about saris and shirts and all that other day to day stuff one wears. Well, before coming to Mayapur I could probably count on one hand the number of times I've ever hand washed my clothes. Outside of India, I never hand wash (if I can help it!) and even when I'm India most of my relatives have washing machines and so I just take it for granted.

But now almost 3 times a week I'm forced to hand wash my clothes. And you know what? Why don't I just "get it washed" you may ask? Well the facility is available but it's actually said that a pujari should not wear clothes that are washed by a washerperson. So although I'm not necessarily going on the altar to worship, this course is preparation to be a pujari in all respects and I just feel that I would that it would be defeating the purpose of attending if I'm not trying to follow as much as I can.

So despite grumbling about how it takes up my time and how its a pain to fold up a sopping wet sari and hang it on a line, it's actually very peaceful and sattvic. It also makes me feel very productive. So not only does Mayapur dham allow me to become closer to Krishna but it also allows me to get back in touch with a simpler way of life. Mayapur dham ki JAI!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Parikrama!

Today after so many days, I had a few hours to myself! JAIHO! So Apurva Nilacala and I decided to make use of the time to go to the various pastime places that are close by to Mayapur Chandradoya Mandir.

First stop was the Yoga Pith. I had never been to the Yoga Pith before and it was just so amazing to be at the actual birthplace of Lord Caitanya. The deities there are also so beautiful. The style of deities here in Navadwipa is gorgeous as most deities are made out of neem and they have such a unique style and mood.

As it was my first time going there, I was trying to really be in a prayerful mood. For the past few weeks HH Mahanidhi Swami has been giving classes on Caitanya Bhagavat and he said something really wonderful about the pastime places that we visit. He said that the reason why devotees go on parikramas and yatras is to actually go and beg the dust in those holy places to give us the eyes to actually see the unmanifest pastimes that are still taking place today. It is that dust that was witness to the pastimes that took place over 500 years ago and therefore it has the potency to give us the vision to see those pastimes today.

So trying to remember that, I was praying to the dust at Srivas Angam (the next place we visited) to please give me the vision to see the ecstatic kirtans that Lord Caitanya is participating in.

After Srivas Angam we went on Govardhan Parikrama! We went to the bhajan kutir of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, Govardhan hill, Radha Kunda and Shyama Kunda. Mayapur dham is non-different from Vrndavana and Bhaktisiddhantha Sarasvati Thakur said that if one circumambulates the smaller Govardhan here in Mayapur 7 times it is as good as doing the full Govardhan Parikrama in Vraja. Jai! So we sang a few verses from the Govardhanastakam and then sang Jaya Radhe Jaya Krishna while circumambulating Govardhan about 9 times.

After that we went and took the waters of the topmost of all places in the world: Radha Kunda. It was so wonderful and it was just the time to chant gayatri, so in the scenic and peaceful atmosphere of Radha Kunda we both chanted gayatri. After that, I remembered what HH Niranjana Swami did a few years ago when he was in Radha Kunda. He paid obeisances there for many many minutes just praying and asking Radha Kunda to bless all the devotees. So trying to follow in his footsteps I was praying to Radha Kunda to bless all the devotees that I know.

After that we visited Shyama Kunda and once again took drops of water on our heads. Here I was praying and praying that Shyama Kunda would give me attachment and service to Radha Kunda. That concluded our morning "yatra" and this afternoon we'll be heading over to the Jagannath temple.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A lesson in Service

As I previously mentioned, this week I had the nerve-wracking and incredibly ecstatic opportunity to perform my 16 upacara assessment in front of HG Jananivas Prabhu. For those who don't know, HG Jananivas Prabhu is the head pujari here in Sridham Mayapur and for me he is the ultimate role model in devotion to the deities and in his behavior as an extremely dear devotee of Sri Sri Radha Madhava. Just being in his physical presence is enough to melt stone and so my iron heart is being slowly chipped away. Everyday I learn something new and relevant that I can apply in my dealings as an aspiring devotee.

I was fortunate to learn an extremely valuable lesson this past week. After my assessment, Prabhuji was distributing the mahaprasadam that I had offered during my worship of Sri Sri Gaura Nitai. I was one of the last devotees to hold out my hand so that I could receive a piece of fruit from this wonderful devotee when he looked up and saw that it was me and stopped and said, "You got to do the service, that was your reward." But despite saying that I still received a piece of maha from him. :D

But that one small sentence he said...I don't know why but I just kept meditating on it. It affected me so much. "You got to do the service, that was your reward." After meditating and meditating on it I realized that Jananivas Prabhu was saying indirectly that as a pujari there is no need to be "extra hungry for mercy."

See, the pujari has the extremely rare and privileged opportunity to render such intimate service to the Lord and at the same time has very close access to those "maha pieces of mercy" that everyone is extremely greedy to get. But one of the qualities of the pujari is also compassion, not greed. The pujari is a very dear preacher of the Lord in his/her own right. The pujari preaches by making sure the Lord is being served very lovingly, that the Lord is being dressed beautifully so as to attract the visitors who come to the temple and most importantly the pujari is the one who can give the maha prasadam of the Lord.

So it is the duty of the pujari to ensure that everyone else gets the maha prasadam of the Lord (whether it be in the form of maha foodstuffs, garlands, paraphernalia etc...), he/she should not be greedy and think "I have access to all this maha! Wonderful! I can take it all for ME!!!" That attitude is not pleasing to the Lord and it is also reveals a very selfish attitude. AS A PUJARI YOU GOT ALL THE MAHA MERCY ALREADY! You got to serve Krishna personally!!!! Krishna is much more happy if you distribute the mercy as opposed to hording it all up for yourself as a miser. Jananivas Prabhu shows this so beautifully by his example. He NEVER EVER EVER sets aside any maha for himself but is always so happy to distribute it to others.

Of course one may try to argue but even as a pujari "I am so fallen." Yes, that maybe true, but consider this: You maybe fallen but Krishna still allows you to serve him so personally. What about all the others who don't have that opportunity?" Still feel as though you are "the most fallen???"

I feel so fortunate to be the recipient of such a valuable lesson and I pray that I can apply this lesson in all my services.


My Role Model and Teacher -HG Jananivas Prabhu

Friday, November 28, 2008

Whew!

It's been a busy couple of days. Between classes and preparing for the 16 upacara assessments and the morning program and rounds its been VERY hectic! This week we started to look at how to put together turbans in our dressing classes. We started learning the art of "how to arrange mukut pieces."



In the picture above, Amrta Sakhi, Apurva Nilacala and I are trying to evaluate where this mukut piece would fit without making looking the "paper turban" too heavy. :D

That was a nice reprieve from the memorizing and constant practicing for the assessments on offering the 16 upacaras to Sri Sri Gaura Nitai. The assessments began yesterday and I was the second person to go. It was a bit nerve wracking as the first two people had to perform their worship in front of the entire class, Jananivas Prabhu, Pankajanghri Prabhu and Nrsimha Kavaca Prabhu. Due to the mercy of all the devotees it went really nicely and now it is really relieving and wonderful to watch all the other devotees go through their assessments.

Check out all the ingredients and items that we use!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Don't Take Krishna Out of Vrndavana!

Today we had an incredible class on the glories of Tulasi Maharani (Please visit www.mayapuracademy.wordpress.com to find out more details about the class).

As we were listening to the class and were hearing about how exalted Vrnda devi is and how she is the personification of humility, Jananivas Prabhu said something really interesting that caught my attention. He was describing how Krishna never leaves Vrndavana. He also mentioned that anyone who claims to be a devotee will never take Krishna out of Vrndavana.

That got me thinking. Srila Prabhupada was so munificient and magnanimous that he brought Vrndavana to so many places around the world. In fact, we are often told that Vrndavana is not just a physical location but a consciousness. Our temples, in particular, should be Vrndavana. That got me reflecting even more. Do we as individual devotees help to contribute to the Vrndavana atmosphere in our local temple?

When we go to the temple our attitude should become, "How can I serve the guests and wonderful vaisnavas." Instead sometimes we find that the temple becomes the "social scene." LOL! Our material inclinations and tendencies that we try to leave behind tend to creep up even in our devotional practices and activities. I know that I am guilty of just "hanging out with my devotee friends at the temple." Not really talking or thinking of Krishna but just talking about all sorts of unrelated topics.

But this point of "If we claim to be a devotee, we should never take Krishna out of Vrndavana" got me really thinking. What more can I do in my local temple to help Krishna feel "at home-in Vrndavana." Sitting here reflecting it comes to me that it means that I become more Krishna-centred and less self-centered. Being here in Sridham Mayapur constantly hearing about Krishna, I am begining to experience some glimpse of how happy one can truly be when one just focuses on Krishna and less about one's own self.

Wishing all of you success on making Krishna feel at home-in Vrndavana.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Who Can I Go To With My Desires?



I have to confess. When I'm at home I don't normally read or hear Srimad Bhagavatam daily. I'll try to listen to lectures daily but that habit of reading and hearing Srimad Bhagavatam (specifically) is something I've never really done.

But after listening to Srimad Bhagavatam class here in Mayapur for over two weeks and studying the fourth canto I've become addicted! The jewels that come from the Bhagavatam are so relevant and important in our lives. Sometimes I have felt "How can the instructions of the Bhagavatam be relevant to me today, in Kali-yuga?" This morning I got an answer to that question- "Just as Bhagavatam is coming from Krishna, isn't Kali-yuga also coming from Krishna?" WOW! I had never thought of it that way. Yes, this is true. In that case since Krishna is the supreme and perfect teacher, wouldn't he ensure that whatever lilas he enacted and words that he spoke be relevant and not be subject to the limitations of time?

If we accept that as the basic premise, then the Bhagavatam becomes this chest of knowledge that can help us with every single aspect of our lives.

Take for example Kardama Muni praying to the Supreme for a good wife. One could argue that it was wrong for Kardama Muni to pray the Lord for something that could be categorized as a "material desire." But we also hear that the stories narrated in the Bhagavatam are those of the great devotees of the Lord. If that's the case how can a great devotee be praying to the Lord for material things?

This is the beauty of the Bhagavatam because just as we can perceive that devotees are on different levels, similarly the Bhagavatam shows us examples of devotees on different levels and the progression of such devotees. That's why we only hear about the vrajavasis, the top-most of Krishna's devotes, all the way in the 10th canto. That's why we are also encouraged not to "skip" cantos.

So although Kardama Muni is a pure devotee, through this lila he is teaching someone like me a very important lesson. Even if I have a material desire, I should take it to Krishna for it to be fulfilled. Trying to satisfy my desires on my own doesn't work. Believe me, I've tried! At the same time I shouldn't take the attitude of, "But it's a material desire and I shouldn't approach the Lord to ask him for material things." That's also an incorrect attitude. Why is it a wrong attitude? I heard a great analogy this morning with respect to this which I'd like to share.

Grade 1 math is not very difficult, right? Introduction to calculus at the university level is definitely quite advanced. But in order to do calculus we need to understand grade 1 math. So similarly if I want to get to the stage where my desires are centered on Krishna and not on myself I need to start somewhere and going to Krishna is a great place to start. If I go to Krishna with my material desires at least it shows Krishna that I at least recognize that I do not have any capacity or ability to fulfill my desires and that I am dependent on him.

In return, when an aspiring devotee turns to Krishna (and most devotees have had this experience) he tends to satisfy your desire in such a way that you will never want it again. Alternatively he satisfies your desire in such a way that it is very beneficial to your advancement in Krishna consciousness. In this way we can slowly graduate to the point where we will approach Krishna and only ask him for service to his devotees. Nothing more.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Regulated routines are boring...

Ever feel like its just absolutely impossible to get to bed at a decent hour so that you can wake up early in the morning and chant some really good quality rounds?

I'm sure every aspiring devotee has gone through that phase. And that's exactly what it is for some...a phase. But for others (shudder!) it seems like a way of life that they desperately want to change but can't! Or perhaps you don't even belong to that category but belong to the category of "But that means I need to have a regulated routine and that's boring!"

Well....I belong to a bit of all three! For sometime I was quite regulated and even when I was living in Toronto managed to wake up at 4:30am and get at least 12 rounds done before heading off to school. That lasted about 2 months and then I got heavily involved in service and I started going to sleep later and later and later and sometimes got no sleep at all!

Then this horrible thought came into my head and implanted itself there for awhile. "Having a regulated schedule is so boring and it makes one so rigid and unbending. It means that one has to give up service opportunities and just BLAH!" LOL!

Coming to Mayapur, I go to sleep most nights latest 9pm, on average I go to sleep at 8pm! I have NEVER gone to sleep so early in my life! EVER! Sometimes I feel like I've regressed to being a 1 year old or fastforwarded to 80.

But its amazing. By going to sleep so early, I wake up like clock work at 3:30am. This allows me to get ready by 4-4:15am and get some rounds done before mangala aarti. And my biggest worry about boring- YAH RIGHT! Everyday is new and ever-fresh. Each mangala aarti is so unique, each darshan aarti, each Bhagavatam class and each day's events.

Regularity really also does wonders for one's consciousness. One has direct experience of being able to distinguish the mind's crazy demands and use the intelligence to curb its (the mind's) wild antics.

Of course there is always the argument, "But it's so much easier being in the holy dham." Yes, that is definitely true. But there are so many wonderful examples of devotees worldwide in huge metropolitan cities that lead regulated lives. We can take inspiration from all of them. Without good rounds and without regular hearing of Srimad Bhagavatam it's scary to think where our consciousness will be.

So regularity = boring? Not really. It's all a matter of consciousness. I choose to think regularity = a means of preparing my consciousness to think of Krishna as much as possible during the day.

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Usual Spot....



It's been a shade over two weeks now since I've been in Sri Mayapur Dham. I have been fortunate enough to attend mangala aarti everyday I have been here so far. I pray that this will continue! Being a creature of habit I've now fallen into a pattern as to where I stand during mangala aarti.


Needless to say mangala aarti here is very special because the aarti for both Panca Tattva and Radha Madhava take place simultaneously. But this also poses a bit of a problem since I can't expand and be in two places simultaneously. So this is what I do.

I begin mangala aarti by standing at the back of the of Radha Madhava's temple room. Why so far to the back? Because there is such a wonderful view of Radha Madhava surrounded by the astha sakhis. There I stay for half of samsara dava...up to the part where we sing Sri Radhika Madhavayor apara and then pay my obeisances and head off to see Panca Tattva. I stay there until the pushpa (flowers) are offered to the Lord and then head back to Sri Sri Radha Madhava and go right up to the front to get extra close darshan. This is perfect because by the time the aarti is over there is a mad dash to the middle of the temple room to take darshan of Sri Sri Nrismhadeva.

Complicated, yes a bit! But I get to have wonderful darshan of all their Lordships and its such a wonderful way to begin the day.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

New Blog to Check Out!

The Mayapur Academy for Deity Worship now has its own blog up and running! Everyday a student gives a writes recap of what students learnt and practiced that day. So please check it out at: www.mayapuracademy.wordpress.com

This is a great way to vicariously experience what the students are learning, get a better idea of the courses and topics that are taught and find out more information about this incredible program.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Applying sastra to your life...

The past couple of days have been simply incredible. Every night from 5-6pm, HH Mahanidhi Swami is giving classes on Caitanya Bhagavat. Maharaja is such an excellent speaker and the way he describes the pastimes, one can't help but be pulled into the lilas.

One thing Maharaja was speaking about really fascinated me though. Most devotees are familiar with the terms adiatmic, adidaivic and adibhautic. These normally refer to the klesas or miseries that one undergoes due to one's own mind/self, the demigods and other living entities, respectively.

However, these three different perspectives, one can say, can also be used to consider and view sastra.

-Adiatmic vicar refers to examining sastra in terms of WIIFM (what's in it for me!). This refers to how a pastime or lila can directly apply to oneself, living in present day 2008.

-Adidaivic vicar refers to the examination of sastra from the Lord's perspective.

-Adibhautic vicar refers to the elements of the story.

This is such a wonderful way to follow Srila Prabhupada's instruction of looking at sastra from all view points and perspectives. So next time you hear a pastime or lila try looking at it from these perspectives, you might get a wealth of realization.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Long acaman procedure

And so the first week of the Deity worship course has come to an end for me here....and what do I have to show for it...well...I can now do the long acaman procedure!

What is acaman? Well if you asked me this a few weeks ago I would say it's to clean your hands and the long version seems to be this extremely complicated and convoluted process with lots of mantras and symbols! But now, I have a much better understanding. Acaman is not about ONLY washing your hands...but it's about purification. And the mantras that you chant along with doing it...they are the most important element in the process. In fact I didn't know this before (and I would hazard a guess that perhaps there are one or two of you out there who may not know this either) but when putting the drops of water in your hand, you're supposed to look at the water and chant the mantras into the water. Otherwise there is no use! It is the mantras that purify the water, and upon sipping that water it can then purify you. Acaman is a way of purifying oneself on the subtle level and is also a means of purification when it is not possible to take a bath.

So whether you are doing the long or short version, remember that the purpose is purification. This way, no matter what we do for Krishna, we can try to do be as pure as possible and therefore serve Krishna the way he likes to be served.

Diwali at the Washington National Cathedral



Wow! It seems like Oct. 28, 2008 was years ago although its barely been a month. What was Oct. 28, 2008 you may ask....well for many around the world it was Diwali and for me specifically it was an incredible opportunity to associate with some incredibly talented devotees and do the thing I love most: sing!

Along with Gaura Vani and many other devotees who are part of As Kindred Spirits, we had the opportunity to lead kirtan at the Washington National Cathedral. This was all due to the hard work and efforts of Rukmini prabhu as well as Grace Ogden (our contact at the Cathedral). For those who don't know, the Washington National Cathedral serves as the official house of worship for the entire USA. So it was quite an honour to be invited to come inaugarate the celebration of Diwali at there.

Check out the pictures and recordings which are up at: http://www.gauravani.com/archives/471

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mayapur reflections...

We may have read about, dreamed about and prayed for the opportunity to experience what we read in sastra....about the cintamani gems of the spiritual world that fulfill all desires. Well....after years of searching I found it. Here in Mayapur. Really and truly.

The past few days here have been...well, indescribable! Its been a mixture of a little apprehension, a lot of excitement, a lot of gratitude, and a lot of prayer. The thought of four months in the holy dham for a city dweller definitely can warp one's mind a bit!

Already I have started to realize what an intensely passionate person I am. I just can't seem to sit in one place for too long without thinking that I should be doing something else and these past few days before I start the deity worship course, I've realized how much time I have and how much of it I normally waste! Here, despite my little trips to to the internet cafe, most of the time I chant, read, go see the deities or speak to devotees. That's my life. It's so simple and uncomplicated! It's so uncomplicated that I actually try to complicate it! Such is my restless nature!

But slowly, slowly the dham's magic is working away at this stone heart of mine, starting to chip away and starting to reveal that "hey, I actually have one or two spiritual desires!" For example, I wanted badly to go on parikrama for the past couple of years. This year I was hoping to go on the Vrndavana yatra but this amazing service opportunity came up to sing at the Washington National Cathedral (something I'm hoping to post next time) and so I decided to come to India later. But irregardless, just having that desire was enough and where did I find myself today? Joining in on the last couple of days of HH Romapada Swami's Mayapur Yatra! WOW! So amazing.

And so today I got to go to Champahasti where the beautiful Gaura Gadhadhara deities stand that belonged to Gadhadhara pandit's younger brother and is also the place where Jayadeva Goswami resided for sometime. Such an intensely spiritual and beautiful place. After that we headed to the temple where stood the deities of Nakula Brahmachari who Lord Caitanya personally empowered. Finally the last stop on our tour was Ambikakalana- the place where the beautiful Gaura Nitai deities of Gauridas jumped off the altar and joined in the Gaura Purnima festivities that Gauridas and his disciple Caitanya das put on. And when the deities started to run away, Gauridas started chasing them with a stick and where did Lord Caitanya hide? But in the heart of Caitanya das who later became known as Hrdaya Caitanya. Such an amazing pastime and even more amazing to actually be physically present in these beautiful lila sthanas.

I feel so intensely fortunate to be able to be here and experience this magic, this cintamani nature of Sri Mayapur Dham....but I'll state some well chosen words of advice a friend just gave me....be careful what you wish for, because it will come true! I pray that my wishes will be infused with the desire to serve the Sri Guru, Gauranga and the vaisnavas. Here's to hoping that one will come true too! Bolo Gauranga Mahaprabhu ki JAI!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Greetings from Mayapur!

I'm here! Finally in Sri Dham Mayapur! I was fortunate to arrive a few days back and now am trying to bask into the nectar of the dham. Yesterday was incredible as it was Gopastami! Never have I experienced Gopastami in Mayapur and it was certainly something I'll never forget. To see Sri Sri Radha Madhava and the Astha Sakhis dressed so beautifully AND to see the lotus feet of Srimati Radharani and her sakhis! WOW! And a little known fact for those who have not been to Maypur. If anyone has ever seen the altar for Radha Madhava there are two levels. The second level are where the deities actually stand. However, normally no one is allowed to go on the first level (just directly below)...BUT apparently on festival days the devotees and visitors are allowed to stand there and take darshan and WHAT A VIEW!!!! To see their Lordships so up close and personal. Something I will never forget. And to be able to actually feed and pet the cows in the Goshala here in Mayapur. It is so sweet and something that we often forget: the necessity for cow protection and worship. One of the points that stood out from the various classes that were given yesterday was said by HG Pankajangrhi prabhu. He was asking the audience what would you do if you were God? Probably not herd cows everyday right?! LOL! Yes, I agree...I probably wouldn't. But this is what Krishna does, everyday and he takes so much pleasure from being with his beloved cows. So prabhu was saying this is a good measure for us to determine if we will like the spiritual world. So the point is: if you love cows, the smell of cows, the village atmosphere and just want to serve Krishna, you'll fit in great in the spiritual world!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fountains of Mercy

As I continue my travels, I am now writing from Rockville, Maryland. Tomorrow, along with Gaura Vani and some other wonderful musicians we will be holding a Diwali kirtan at the Washington National Cathedral. Krishna never ceases to amaze me with the incredible opportunities that he arranges for me! WOW! But more on that later...

Right now I wanted to express my gratitude for the association Krishna has given me, throughout this lifetime, surely past lifetimes, and especially for the past couple of weeks. Ever since I finished my Masters thesis, I have had the opportunity to associate with the most amazing devotees: Pyari Mohan prabhu, my beloved spiritual master, devotees (in Ottawa, Toronto and Hartford), my parents etc etc... But, specifically I am grateful to have the association of senior, elevated vaishnavis.

Oftentimes when we speak of "amazing association" there is a tendency to think of saffron! And more specifically that "saffron" refers to one's spiritual master and/or the other elevated sannyasis within our movement.

But a lot of us have taken birth in a female body this time around and who better to help us understand and help us in our spiritual life but those incredible vaishnavis who have dedicated their lives to serving Guru, Gauranga and the devotees. In the past two weeks I have had the association of three remarkable vaishnavis: my mother, Jivanaushadi prabhu, and Rukmini prabhu.

From my mother I am constantly learning the lessons of patience and tolerance. She has to deal with me! That means she has these two qualities in abundance! :D

From Jiva prabhu I began to get a glimpse of what it means to be single pointed in one's devotional service. She is so strong and so steadfast in her services as a pujari, cook and a mentor.

From Rukmini prabhu, who I have the great fortune of staying with currently, I am learning what it means to love and give oneself without any pretense or agenda. She is so caring and warm.

Of course all of these amazing vaishnavis have numerous qualities, but these were some that really struck out for me. I pray that Krishna will continue to bless me with the association of these wonderful vaishnavis and others and that I may follow in their footsteps in my journey of becoming a devotee.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Back from their trip...

Radha Damodara are dressed in purple and yellow. :D


Losing my heart in Hartford...

Sri Sri Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra as well as Gaura Nitai-The presiding deities of ISKCON Hartford

Radha Damodara also got to be on the altar!


For the past three days I had the most amazing opportunity to visit ISKCON Hartford. Nestled in the small city of East Hartford, this temple (which is located in a house) is one of the most amazing places where I have seen Krishna consciousness being practiced.

The temple president, HG Pyari Mohan prabhu, and his incredible wife, HG Jivanaushadi prabhu, are living examples and role models of how one can practice Krishna consciousness in the society we live in today. Although a relatively smaller temple in terms of physical structure, what this temple has in abundance is the amount of love and heart-heart relationships amongst the devotees.

Both Pyari and Jiva prabhus have an incredible capacity to make everyone feel so cherished, welcome and loved. And the laughter! I have never laughed so much as I did in the three days I spent there. There was always the sound of laughter and giggles, jokes and witty comments ringing through the rooms and hallways of ISKCON Hartford. This was in conjunction with the service that was always being performed.

Both Pyari and Jiva prabhus are always engaged in service. Whether it be fixing the temple, cooking, cleaning, washing, chanting or taking care of the devotees....It was amazing! And Jiva prabhu is the most AMAZING cook. Not only does she make a great variety of different foodstuffs to offer to Krishna, but the amount of love and devotion she puts into the preparations can be tasted!

One of the most amazing service that they both provide is to take care of devotees. No matter how busy they both are, they take the time to listen, share, counsel and joke. It is such a wonderful example. Oftentimes in our lives we put service as the top priority and taking care of devotees gets put away to the side. But here, I witnessed first hand the example of how no matter how much service there was (and there's lots!) the devotees and visitors always came first.

In speaking to some of the congregation who attend the temple regularly, one thing was repeated over and over: How Jiva and Pyari prabhus always take care of them so nicely and through their example they inspire others to do service.

I was fortunate to be visiting Hartford at the same time as my very dear godsister Evelyne. We both were busy from the time we got up to the time we fell asleep (or at least attempted to!). Every night we had the the same conversation. How especially with Jiva prabhu (who we attempted to help in her services), we never felt any pressure to do service but just by watching her we felt so motivated and inspired to help!

I cannot glorify Pyari and Jiva prabhus enough. They are my role models and my most beloved mentors. If anyone is ever in the New England area, please go and experience the bliss of ISKCON H(e)artford.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Beautiful in white...





"When one worships a deity of Radha Damodara for the purpose of Radhika's happiness, then Damodara Hari becomes very satisfied. One worships Damodara by daily chanting Damodarastakam which attracts the Supreme Lord Damodara Himself." Hari Bhakti Vilasa 16.95-96

Monday, October 13, 2008

Kartik Vrata Time!

The auspicious month of Kartik is quickly approaching as is the time for singing the beautiful Damodarastakam and offering lamps to the Lord. But, let's not forget it's also time for Kartik vratas! From chanting extra rounds to doing extra service, these are some of the normal Kartik vratas one will encounter.

However, let's remember...we're not ONLY fortunate to be living in the golden age after Lord Caitanya's advent but also in this age of technology (well, I guess some people would debate that!). So don't be surprised to come across Kartik vratas that also include no Facebook, less e-mail, no TV (or less TV), no MSN etc etc...

Although it may seem amusing, I think this is a great idea. It shows that devotees are identifying various distractions that eat away at their time. Not only are devotees striving to become more Krsna conscious but they are actually practically trying to do something about it.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Damodara masa and all success on their Kartik vratas! Damodara ki JAI!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Radha Damodara: Part 2

HH Sacinandana Swami meeting Radha Damodara for the first time

Radha Damodara at Govardhan dressed in outfits handmade by some wonderful devotees


...Continuing from Part 1

And so I had received these incredible deities. The first thing I did was receive permission from my spiritual master to start worshiping Radha and Krishna. It's one thing to be completely unqualified and have blessings from the spiritual master but quite another thing to be unqualified and have no blessings!

Upon receiving blessings, the next thing of priority was to get them painted. I have a wonderful friend in Radhadesh who is very expert in painting deities but the problem was I didn't have any immediate plans to go to Radhadesh. Knowing my ineptitude, Radha Damodara made the most perfect of arrangements.

At the end of November 2007, a dream of mine came true....I was to go spend two and a half weeks in Vrndavana! And inspiration struck...perhaps someone in Vrndavana could paint Them! In speaking to a very dear god sister of mine, Yugala Piriti, she told me about her friend Shatadhama who resides in Vrndavana and whose main service is to paint deities!

After that everything really happened on its own. Since I'd only be in Vrndavana for a short time, one of the first things I did upon arrival was to find this incredible devotee- Shatadhama dd. Seeking the help of some resident Vrajavasis I have the honor of knowing, my best friend Sudevi and I went in search of Shatadhama in the holy dhama of Vraja. I was told that she might be away on parikrama or doing other services but Radha Damodara arranged everything so perfectly that when we arrived at her place she was there. Not only was she there, but even before I could properly introduce myself she asked, "You have deities for me to paint?" WOW! How amazing. Really Vraja dhama is cintamani...

So the next day I introduced Radha Damodara to Shatadhama and left Them in her loving home. A few days later she called me back to see Radharani and it was incredible...love at first sight! Her beautiful big blue eyes just captivated anyone who looked at Her. However Damodara was another story. Even after thoroughly bathing Him, Shatadhama told me of how there were all these marks on his body and suggested that He be painted black!

So having gotten my first glimpse of Them, I left to go on both the Varsana and Govardhana retreats. Shatadhama told me she would bring Them to me in Govardhan and so on the last day of the retreat she came looking effulgent and brought my beautiful Lords back to me....WOW! I couldn't imagine a more fitting place to receive Them. At the most merciful place in the universe- at the feet of Giriraj. I was totally stunned and felt so tiny and unqualified. How lucky am I to be the servant of these beautiful deities.

HH Sacinandana Swami had just finished his class when I had received Them and so I brought Them to him to get his blessings and introduce Them to him. He said that They reminded him of his own incredibly beautiful Radha Kanayalal and that Radha Damodara were deities "you could grow old with".

As if this wasn't amazing enough...some devotees were making beautiful outfits for Radha Kanayalal and upon seeing Radha Damodara they so lovingly made outfits for Them too.

I beg the blessings of the vaisnavas that my service and love for Radha Damodara will ever increase.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Appearance of Radha Damodara: Part 1





Many people have been asking me how Sri Sri Radha Damodara manifested in my life. I personally love hearing how the Lord has appeared in the lives of others and so I thought this might be a nice way to glorify my beloved Lordships.

The story of their appearance to when I began to start worshiping them is a LOOOOONG one! So I thought that I would write a piece of that story everyday. This way no one will have to spend 20 min reading a novel!

It all began in New Vrndavana....I was attending the Festival of Inspiration in 2006 and was speaking to a dear friend of mine, Mandali, who I had the opportunity to see after a long time. We were speaking about a beautiful Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra arca vigraha she had obtained from India when another devotee, Harinama, came and joined our conversation. We were speaking about deities and deity worship when I just happened to mention that I really wanted Radha Krishna deities. Harinama, who has known me my entire life, asked me why i didn't get Them myself. I quoted what many senior devotees had told me that "Radha Krishna should come to you." Without batting an eye, Harinama immediately asked Mandali to take me to the Palace of Gold. I was in shock....I didn't know what to think...did I dare...was Harinama going to give me Radha Krishna?

The walk to the Palace was sweet torture...I still couldn't believe it. Once we were there Mandali picked out a set of beautiful Radha Krishna deities and as we were walking back down to the temple I was in complete shock. I was carrying Radha Krishna in my arms!

As we walked to towards the temple an incredible sight greeted our eyes: Sri Sri Radha Damodara from Gita Nagari about to leave New Vrndavana. Mandali smiled and turned to me saying, "I think your deities just named themselves!" I didn't know what to say. In my heart I had wanted to ask my spiritual master to name them, but I felt what she was saying was right. It couldn't be coincidence that Sri Sri Radha Damodara were leaving as I came with my new deities in my arms. Radha Krishna had finally come to me in the form of Radha Damodara!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Home is where...


I "officially" moved from Toronto back to Ottawa yesterday.

On the train ride to Ottawa I was either lost in sleep (lol!) or lost in reflections. One thought kept cropping up and that was the idea of "home." If the definition of "home" means a physical location where you reside for an extended period of time, then in my lifetime I have had four homes: Montreal (where I was born and grew up for ten years), Ottawa (where I attended high school/university and really started to become interested in spiritual life), Radhadesh (where I learned about Krsna Consciousness and the importance of devotee association) and Toronto (where I continued my lifetime learning of KC and had the opportunity to share what little I have learned with others).

I consider all four places home. They have all given me something that no other place could give me....but even then I feel this definition of "home" is very restricting. What about all those other places where I felt "at home" which are way too numerous to name....don't they count?

With all these thoughts churning inside my head, it reminded me of an exercise that we did at the last japa retreat that I attended. We were asked, "What is your safe place?" and immediately the word home came to mind. However, I become confused and was wondering where to choose and it was at that moment it hit me. Borrowing the words of a friend who is constantly badgering me to "think outside the box" i realized home doesn't HAVE to mean a physical location....what if it means a situation or scenario instead? Immediately an image came to mind....sitting in a rocking kirtan lead by my beloved Guru Maharaja....that is HOME.

Why? Because I am surrounded by devotees and the holy name. That is why Montreal, Ottawa, Radhadesh, Toronto and all the other wonderful places that have felt like home, truly are home....because the devotees and the holy name are present there. It is the common link and it is why we can have some small glimpse of the spiritual world right here...because that's what is going on in the spiritual world: the chanting of the holy name in the association of the devotees.

So to answer the question of "Home is where?" Home for me will always be where the devotees are chanting the holy names of Hari.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

sad vidham priti laksanam

dadāti pratigrhnāti
guhyam ākhyāti prcchati
bhuńkte bhojayate caiva
sad-vidham prīti-laksanam

Translation: Offering gifts in charity, accepting charitable gifts, revealing one's mind in confidence, inquiring confidentially, accepting prasāda and offering prasāda are the six symptoms of love shared by one devotee and another. (NOI. Verse 4)

I've always noticed: It's one thing to spout off philosophy but its another to actually experience it first hand. It's the difference between jnana and vijnana. I consider myself intensely fortunate, as I have been blessed to experience these six symptoms of love shared amongst devotees.

Just this past Friday my wonderful devotee friends here in New Remuna dhama (Toronto) threw me a farewell party. I will be leaving Toronto (at least physically) this coming Wednesday....back to Ottawa and then off to Mayapur for 4 months where I will be attending the deity worship course.

The night was so incredibly special. Two wonderful devotees had just moved into their new apartment on Thursday night and I later found out that they eagerly volunteered to hold the party at their place the very next day. Moving is always an inconvenience and its hard enough to get oneself settled, what to speak of hosting a party for over 25 people the very next day. I was so touched. It is the nature of a devotee to always set aside personal inconveniences for the pleasure of others and this was no exception.

And the prasadam....wow! Despite having a long Friday at work and school, another group of devotees made a feast of veggie burgers, french fries, salad and for dessert an incredible banana and carob cake. And these are devotees who not only go to school and work but during the week are involved in running and organizing yoga programs, university programs and so much more.

The evening was filled with soul-stirring kirtans, laughter, feasting, joking and touching realizations.

Who am I to be the recipient of so many blessings because that's exactly what it is. Krishna consciousness is about loving exchanges and most importantly loving exchanges amongst devotees. But it can be hard. Amongst working on our own anarthas, surviving in the material world, juggling that balancing act amongst maintaining our spiritual and material needs and taking time for ourselves it can be very hard to cultivate relationships. That's why devotees sometimes feel burnt out and comment that its easier to have relationships with those who are not devotees.

Toronto is a jewel-filled mine in that respect. There are so many wonderful younger devotees who are willing to give their time and energy not only for doing service but more importantly in making sure that devotees are being nurtured on an individual level. Slowly but surely devotees here are trying to become more and more person-oriented and friendships that are heart-deep are forming.

I cannot describe the loss that I feel knowing that I will be away from this incredible sanga....but I know that no matter where I go that these devotees are more than my friends...they are my family....and Toronto will always be home.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Working on my Servant's degree...

Today was a whirlwind of a day...But a wonderful day! It started off bright and early where I attended a fall retreat arranged by Urbanedge Yoga. It was fantastic. A bunch of yoga enthusiasts, a day full of activities and the main facilitator: HH Bhaktimarga Swami. Need I say more? It was amazing. And sharing realizations about Krishna with others....I gotta say, there is no greater high than that!

There were many highlights to my day...one of which was a very nice conversation I had with HH BMS. Maharaja is one of the most amazing, humble and genuine devotees I have ever met and I feel so lucky that he is one of my mentors. I was telling him that I had just finished my defense and had received my masters and he said something really interesting....."So now that you've obtained your Masters degree....what's next? Working on your Servant's degree??" We had some nice laughs at that...but what a deep and significant underlying meaning...how presumptuous is it in modern academia to present one with the title of Master? It conveys the "I am the controller" attitude that surrounds us daily.

Instead I am proud to say that yes, I AM working on my Servant's degree....it will be a lifelong (perhaps many lifetimes long) journey, but I know the goal at the end of it will be the sweetest of all...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Freedom!


Whew.....It's been 2 days now since I defended my Masters thesis...something I worked on for over 3 years....

Funny thing is I don't know how I feel...guess the best word to describe would be overwhelmed! So many thoughts and emotions....However one emotion I feel very strongly and that is.... I get to spend more time with my beloved Radha Damodara!!!

And that's exactly what I did this morning....yesterday I went to the house of a very dear friend who is about to leave for India today....and what did she send me home with?? A bag of fresh, huge, beautiful tulasi manjaris! She has two gorgeous tulasi plants which she takes care of with a lot of love and devotion....and so today my beloved Damodara got a beautiful garland of these manjaris....Sri Sri Radha Damodara ki JAI! Srimati Tulasi Maharani ki JAI!

Friday, September 5, 2008

My most beautiful Damodara

Beginnings....

So I never thought I would succumb to writing a blog....but as the next couple of months are bringing new adventures and beginnings I thought it might be a nice idea to write down my realizations and thoughts. Pls feel free to comment and share your realizations! Hare Krishna!