Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Kartika Series: Learning the Ropes

I was going. It still hadn't sunk in. As the last week of September came to an end and the chilly breezes hinting of October started to billow in, I realized it was time!

Thursday morning- I hurriedly packed my bags, in my typical last minute fashion, and settled on the train heading to Montreal. The excitement finally started to settle in. I was going to be going on the altar that very night! For the next few days, I would be shadowing Tulasi Seva devi and watching her dress Sri Sri Radha Manohara in the morning and the evening.

I quickly took a shower upon arriving and made my way to the temple room. As I chanted my rounds and stared at Radha Manohara I still couldn't believe it. I was totally unqualified. Were they really going to be letting me come near them?

It was the same feeling I got whenever I traveled to the holy dham. Would Krsna really let me enter? I never really believed it until I got there. Entering the inner sanctum of Sri Sri Radha Manohara's altar is also a holy dham and so the feeling resonated with me. Anything could happen. After all, we're talking about a tricky blue-hued cowherd boy. ;)

As the last notes of the evening aarti came to a close, I followed Tulasi Seva devi onto the altar. Expertly and efficiently she started removing the jewelry and other paraphernalia decorating Their Lordships. As I stood there watching, she encouraged me to help her and so silently we worked in tandem. It was actually happening.

Returning back to the pujari room, she gave me a tour of Radha Manohara's dressing room. Preparing for the next day's dressing, she effortlessly and gracefully moved around the room showing me different items and giving me pieces of advice. Upon finishing, she smiled and said, "See you in the morning," and left leaving me with my thoughts.

As I made my way back to the asrama, I was in a state of shock. I actually got to help dress Manohara! Brimming with anticipation for the next morning, I set my alarm clock for 3:45 am. Despite very little sleep, I woke up alert and ready. Mangala aarti came and went and it was time again to go back on the altar. As I watched Tulasi Seva devi and assisted her once again, I kept taking mental notes. I knew that the moment I was left alone on that altar with Radha Manohara any sense of competency I felt would instantly vanish. As we finished dressing, she looked at me and said, "Would you like to paint Manohara?" "What?" I exclaimed as I know I'm definitely no artist. She laughed and said, "Sure, go ahead." I don't think I've ever taken so long to paint a few very basic gopi dots in my life!

I didn't really know what to think. So many experiences were happening in such a short period of time and apparently Krsna decided that he might as well throw me in the deep end when I could barely swim. Not even a few hours later, Tulasi Seva devi came up to me and asked, "Do you think you could dress Jagannath tonight?" Having never dressed Jagannath in Montreal before I was a little hesitant, but she casually brushed away my fears. "No problem," she said, and then added, "Also, do you think you could dress Radha Manohara tomorrow night?"

Having arrived on Thursday night, I wasn't supposed to be dressing on my own until the following Monday night. However, Krsna being all merciful and tricky apparently decided he wanted to speed things up. That evening I got the opportunity to dress Jagannath and nearly fell over picking up his gigantic turban! It was so wonderful.

The next evening I dressed Radha Manohara on my own. I remember feeling completely dependent and unsure. Krsna was letting me come so close to him and yet I felt so far away. It made me realize that this would be the theme for this month of Kartika- undeserving mercy.

It also made me realize that in learning the ropes, there's no better way than to just grab on and depend on Krsna.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kartika Series: The Hesitation

I'd like to dedicate this second piece of writing to my dear friend Tanya. Thank you for your continued encouragement and extinguishing any doubts I had.

The Hesitation-

I was on cloud five trillion. Who wouldn't be? I had been handed the opportunity of a lifetime- dressing Sri Sri Radha Manohara.

The more I thought about it, the more excited I became. But maya is sneaky because along with the excitement came hints of doubts. As I sat in the car, I reflected on my answer. After my initial outburst of "YES!" reality had set in and I realized that I couldn't commit without seriously thinking about this. It wasn't just an opportunity; it was also a huge responsibility. I wanted to make sure that I was 100% certain that I could do this, and so I had told Tulasi Seva devi that I would get back to her within a few days.

The time had come to tell my parents. As I excitedly and somewhat incoherently rattled off what had happened on the car drive home, I caught my dad's eye in the rear-view mirror. He didn't say much. All he said was, "What a wonderful opportunity. You must do this, after all Sri Sri Radha Manohara have done for you." And that was it. My mother, was equally thrilled but wanted to hear more details which I provided.

After reaching home, I started coming down from the initial high, and my rascal mind started entertaining more doubts. But what if I got a job during that time? What if I couldn't handle ashrama life in Montreal? What if I committed tons of offences and would have to suffer reactions? What if, what if, what if...the list continued.

This is the way the mind works. One can be given the greatest fortune, and even then the mind can come up with excuses. The longer one entertains these doubts/excuses, the more powerful it can become.

My main two doubts were that I would be offered a job during that time and secondly if I could handle ashrama life in Montreal. I spoke to my dad. He is one of the first people I always go to for spiritual advice being very sane and grounded.

I told him about my fear about getting a job during that time. He leveled me with a look, "Well what would you do?" He asked. I spoke honestly, "Well, I really feel that I should do this service for the whole month of Kartika....so....if anyone asked me to start during that time I would say I couldn't." He nodded his head in agreement. "Yes, I think so too. Radha Manohara will take care of you. Don't worry."

Well that took care of that. Although I didn't have complete faith, I knew it was the right thing to do. Besides, HG Laxmimoni prabhu's words were ringing in my ears. The last time I spoke to her she had said, "Why don't you just dedicate one year to temple life?" Well here was my chance...it wasn't one year, but at least I could try to dedicate one month of my life to temple service.

Now, the big one. Could I handle ashrama life in Montreal? Krsna has been very merciful to me. I had the opportunity to live in the ashrama in Radhadesh when doing Bhakti Sastri and it had been a wonderful experience. But that was just it- I had never really served in a temple in North America. Europe and India yes, but not yet North America.

But who could I ask. Tanya. The first person who came to mind. Tanya is extraordinary. Working full time at Concordia University she spends six days a week at the ladies ashram here in Montreal and does a whole gamut of services. Hesitatingly, I approached her. "What's it like in the ashrama? How's the morning program? Is there heating?" Yes, I actually asked that. Is there heating? LOL. She very patiently answered all my questions, despite how preposterous they were.

Yet still, I was hesitating. It was Krsna working through Tanya who really pushed me, and for that I will always be indebted to her. She would not give up on me. Using whatever leverage she could find she would send text messages asking when I was coming, telling me that Radha Manohara were personally inviting me to come, going as far as to say I was crazy to not be calling Tulasi devi back to inform her I was coming.

There is only so much sweetness a person can take. Soon I hit my limit and said, "Alright Radha Manohara, I'm yours for the month." Calling Tulasi Seva devi I informed her I would be coming, but I told her I could only commit for two weeks but would try to be there for the whole of Kartika. Why? I wanted to make sure that I could handle it because with incredible mercy comes great responsibility. Working out the details, we decided it would be best for me to come a few days before she left for India so I could become familiar with everything.

The invitation had come and it had now been formally accepted.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kartika Series: The Invitation

For the month of Kartika I barely wrote. Not because I didn't want to, but because I was consumed. Consumed and utterly engrossed in service. Now that Kartika has come and gone, I am left with the deep impressions it has ingrained in my heart. Following in the footsteps of my dear friend Bhakti, I thought that the best way to share some of these experiences would be to write a series. The Kartika series.

The Invitation-

It seems almost a life-time ago, but this year's mystical Kartika journey began to manifest in early September. Jobless and slightly frustrated, I didn't have any hopes of going to India this year, but little did I know that Krsna had other plans for me.

Early September marked the Prabhupada Festival that the devotees in Montreal hold every year. Having never attended one, I had the great fortune of being allowed to go. Four days of intense Srila Prabhupada katha by HG Sruta Kirti prabhu. It was pure nectar. While being there, I hesitatingly asked if I could do any pujari service for the deities and Krsna being all merciful allowed me the opportunity to dress Sri Sri Gaura Nitai twice during my four day visit.

It was Saturday evening and I was standing on the altar, astonished that someone as undeserving as myself had been granted this special service. Having assisted Gaura Nitai get into their evening dress, I was standing spellbound in front of Sri Sri Radha Manohara.

Radha Manohara have an extremely special place in my heart. Not only are they mind-numbingly beautiful Deities, but they are the Deities that I grew up with. Before I was born, my parents lived across the street from the temple in Montreal and when I was 10 days old they brought me to the temple on Janmastami. They are not just Deities for me, but a part of my family. As I was flooded with memories, I was praying, "Oh my dear Radha Manohara, please allow me to dress you one day." As I continued to steal a few extra minutes on the altar to absorb this extremely rare and close-up darshan, I kept praying, "Please let me dress you one day."

The next morning I just happened to be in the kitchen, watching in awe as the devotees expertly and speedily were preparing prasadam for both the breakfast offering and the boat ride later in the day. As I was hanging around, the head pujari HG Tulasi Seva devi suddenly asked me, "So are you working these days?" I told her no, at the moment I wasn't. She fell quiet and something inside me prompted me to ask, "Why?" Looking up from the pot she was stirring she said, "Well, I'll be going to India for about a month and we need a pujari to help out here. Would you be able to come and help out for sometime?" I stood there stunned and distinctly remember asking, "You mean helping to dress Radha Manohara." Cheerfully she laughed and said, "Yes, it would mean dressing Radha Manohara everyday during the week, morning and evening."

There it was. The answer to my prayers. Not even twelve hours before I had been standing in front of Radha Manohara asking them if they would allow me to dress them and here was their dear and long-standing devotee asking me if I could come and dress them, not just at any time, but for the auspicious month of Kartika. The time when I am longing to be in Vrndavana.

This was it. The invitation I had been longing for.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Harinama Addict

It's been way too long since I've written and I can feel all the experiences I've had so far this Kartik just longing to tumble out of my fingertips.

This year, Krishna in his most beautiful form of Manohara, has brought me to Vrndavana in a very unique way. I got to skip the grueling traveling of 16 hours + and instead was allowed to come to Sri Sri Radha Manohara's temple in Montreal. Although I would love to be in the physical geographical location of Vrndavana, the mood and consciousness of the dham are being manifested right here in the increasingly cold climate of Montreal.

So far, I have been lucky to go out on harinama almost five days a week. A few sincere and dedicated devotees go out nearly everyday despite rain or shine but always with the attitude of determination to present the public of Montreal with the nectarean sounds of the holy names.

Truth be told, I like harinama. Occasionally. LOL. It's not something that I have ever done on a regular basis, but I'll say one thing. Just like this beautiful Manohara here finds tricky ways to get you super attached to him, it's the same deal with harinama. You get hooked and fast. It's almost like an addiction. The day just doesn't feel the same without going out on harinama.

It's also the most revealing experience on both the internal and external level. On the internal level, just like everything else in devotional service for the neophyte practitioner, there are days when the mind just doesn't feel like it. It will come up with every excuse in the book not to go out. Or even worse is when the enthusiasm to go is there in the beginning and once you are out on the streets it just suddenly fizzles away.

Or if you ever have an opportunity to lead. Wow! If you want to get a good glimpse into your level of devotion, leading a harinama is a good way to find out. My ideal meditation is to dedicate this service to my Guru Maharaja who used to go out on books and do harinama in addition to all the deity service when he used to be at the Boston temple in the early days. His sincere desire to serve Srila Prabhupada is so inspiring. But try keeping that meditation with people bustling past you, horns honking and the ever dreaded making sure the melody you picked is one others can follow.

On the external level it is amazing to see the modes are at work. One can actually see how the material world really is one of suffering. Rarely does anyone look happy as they walk by, unless they happen to catch a smile of a devotee and per chance return one. Everyone looks stressed, tired and worn out. And of those who are driving, many are irate, upset and frustrated at the others who are sharing the road with them.

So in the midst of the chaos and confusion the sweet sound of harinama pierces through the thick curtain of mixed consciousness. It jolts passers by out of their I, me, my worlds and catches them off guard. So the next time someone says, "Let's go on harinama" don't think twice. Just go. Whether it be three devotees or 300 devotees, it's not actually a numbers game. It's the best gift you can give to yourself. This is an addiction you you want to take up.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Krishna is Present With Us At Every Moment

This is an excerpt from a lecture that HH Radhanath Swami gave. I found this to be so beautiful and relevant that I wanted to share it. You can find the complete lecture transcription at www.radhanathmaharaj.net/node/5

So we find here, Gajendra in his condition has complete faith. He’s not offering a prayer that "Maybe the Lord will come, I hope He comes, I hope He hears me, I hope He exists." Have any of you chanted with that frame of mind? You chant in a very very dangerous situation. We’re chanting the Holy Names and we may be thinking, "I hope Krishna exists, I really need Him and I hope He hears me and I hope He reciprocates." In other words we are practicing bhakti but we don’t have complete shraddha, nista. Nista means very, very deep and strong faith. This is preliminary to bhava or to love awakening within our hearts. We have to have very strong foundational faith in whatever we do. When we’re making a garland, we have such faith that Krishna at this very moment is accepting my service or we’re sitting in Bhagavatam class, when we’re chanting our rounds, when we’re doing kirtana, when we’re sweeping the floor or washing the walls or whatever service we’re doing, management or book distribution or taking care of our child or our parents or studying in school with a spiritual purpose. Whatever service we may be doing it’s important that we have complete faith that here and now at this very moment, Krishna is present. Present in my heart, present in between every atom, present in the effulgence of Brahman, present in the moon and in the sun, present watching, hearing, responding, accepting my efforts and if I’m doing it properly, Krishna at this very moment is pleased with me. That is bhakti. Not that, "I’ll please Krishna tomorrow, today there's just some other things I have to deal with in my mind." Tomorrow never comes in that sense.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What Kind of Love?

This weekend I had a wonderful opportunity to attend Russell's revived "Riverfest". Russell is a small town about a half an hour from Ottawa. My godbrother Kacper was one of the key players in reviving this little festival which consisted of showing Russell's artistic talent. The festival took place in a small parking lot which overlooked a small ravine/hill where the centre stage was set up.

In the parking lot there were different booths set up including the small Russell newspaper, different artisan craftsmen showcasing their wares as well as a booth for Govinda's! Kacper had the brilliant idea of having Govinda's provide hot meals for the festival. As my dear friend Vraja put it, "Prasadam has now hit Russell!"

The event was really sweet. Being a small town, everyone is so friendly, obliging and welcoming. There were two highlights for me though. First of all, being allowed to help serve out prasadam to those who had never received it was truly mind-blowing. Secondly, I had an opportunity to spend time with my senior godbrother- HG Paramahamsa prabhu.

Paramahamsa prabhu is hands down one of the most inspirational devotees I have the good fortune of knowing. He is a gentle soul who truly practices the art of sadhu sanga. He is dedicated to serving our beloved Guru Maharaja and the vaisnavas through body, mind and words. Never wanting to be in the spotlight, he is the seemingly invisible mover and shaker who gets things done and is an incredible father as evidenced by his two wonderful children Agata and Kacper.

As the day progressed, I had an opportunity to hear some of his realizations and one of them really struck me. He was speaking about co-operation and was quoting Srila Prabhupada's famous words "You can show your love for me by how you cooperate with one another."

As he was speaking about cooperation, he brought up a very insightful point. He was saying that as devotees it's not enough that we simply cooperate. We need to take a good and hard look at how we cooperate. For example, we can simply tolerate one another, forget to value and appreciate each other and say, "Yes, I'm cooperating!" But Prabhupada said that our love is shown by how we cooperate. Is that the kind of love we have for one another then? Simply using each others' time, energy, talents and resources in the name of service?

We need to value and respect one another. Of course, we may not always agree, but respect and affection must be there. It should be the basis of all our dealings as bhakti yoga practitioners. How can we expect to go back to Godhead if our dealings with one another here are any representation of how we would act if we went back to the spiritual world? I don't think Krishna wants that kind of love.

Prabhu went on to say that the vaisnavas are the most valuable gems that we have. They are our lifeline. Without them we would be lost and so it is most imperative that we learn to how to interact with one another properly. If we do so, then not only can we cooperate nicely but we can truly show Srila Prabhupada how much we love him.

Thank you Paramahamsa prabhu for showing by example what it means to love Srila Prabhupada.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Engulfed in a Memory

Have you ever been engulfed in a memory? Somehow just whisked away and dropped into a moment that was long forgotten? Yesterday I was carried back to Italy.

During the summer of 2005, my best friend Sudevi and I traveled through different parts of Europe attending different festivals. Upon arriving in Venice-Treviso, we had to take a train to get to our next destination of Trieste. Since neither of us spoke Italian, both of us were utterly confused and so what should have taken us moments to figure out ended up costing us minutes.

I still remember how we were waiting in an impossibly long line to get our tickets when we heard an announcement saying the train we were supposed to be on was about to leave. Considering the fact that we had to catch a bus leaving that night from Trieste to Zagreb, Croatia, this left us in a dilemma. On one hand we had no ticket in our hand and on the other hand we HAD to make that train.

Within seconds I found myself running after Sudevi who was running for the train. My Canadian mentality was thinking "We don't have a ticket! How can we get on the train!?" A few minutes later a weary and exhilarated Sudevi and I found ourselves on a moving train towards Trieste.

As we caught our breath, we saw the ticket inspector walking around. As I calmly started panicking, Sudevi remained cool. In an off-handed manner she reassured me that in Europe you can just buy your ticket on the train. So when the inspector came to us, we somehow managed to convey to him that we needed to buy a ticket. Consulting his clipboard he informed us that it would cost us each 30 Euros. What? It didn't make any sense. At the station the ticket would have only cost us 5 Euros. The inspector nodded and said that this was the penalty for buying the ticket on board. He then gave us two options: 1. we pay the outrageous price or 2. we get off at the next stop, buy the ticket at the station and take the next train.

Considering we were traveling on a very meager budget, the choice was clear and so we disembarked at the next station. This was the exact moment I was carried away to yesterday. A flashback of Sudevi and I sitting on the pavement at this remote station somewhere in Italy, after having bought popsicles. The early evening sun shone upon us and we were giggling at the predicament we were in.

These are the special moments. Moments where you remind one another that this must be Krishna's arrangement and you take the time given to you to talk Krsna katha rather than curse the universe for not allowing your plans to work out the way you want to.

I had forgotten that moment. I had forgotten the muggy air, the 45 minute wait for the next train and the joy of eating a popsicle with my dear friend. As I sit recollecting now, we never did make the bus that night as that second train ended up getting delayed. Instead we had to spend a night in Trieste where we ate some gelato and wandered around the beautiful seaport city before heading to Zagreb in the morning.

I still don't remember exactly what we spoke about that day, but the image still brings a smile to my face as I think back to two girls, a remote train station and peals of laughter piercing the Italian evening air.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

You've Joined the Strong...

Initiations are a time for a reflection, introspection and gratitude. It is the time when the bhakti yogi is formally "beginning" their spiritual life and is connected to the great teachers of the disciplic succession.

I personally love attending initiation ceremonies because they act like little alarm clocks. An alarm clock "wakes" us out of the illusion that we can continue to sleep for hours blissfully in ignorance and jolts us into the reality that we need to wake up and perform our duty. Similarly, initiation ceremonies shake me out of my complacency and once again make me conscious to the gratitude that lies sleeping in my heart that my own spiritual master has granted me shelter at his lotus feet.

HH Bhaktimarga Swami gave a beautiful initiation talk speaking of various different points including the importance of the holy name, taking shelter of Srila Prabhupada and the importance of taking formal initiation.

One point, however, just jumped out and has now taken up residence in my heart and my mind: "By taking initiation you are now aligning yourself with Srila Prabhupada and the Guru parampara. You've now joined the strong, so there is no excuse for you to be weak."

It is SUCH a powerful point. "You have joined the strong, so there is no excuse for you to be the weak." Firstly, this statement shows how strong HH Bhaktimarga Swami's own faith is in Srila Prabhupada and the Guru parampara as through his own actions we see how he always remains strong and steady in his service to his spiritual master.

Secondly, this is a statement we should all inscribe onto our own hearts. It doesn't matter what happens. It doesn't matter what maya throws at us. We have joined the strong side which means we don't have any more excuses to give. Why? Because if we become weak and start giving excuses it simply means that we are not tapping into the oceans of strength that are there for our disposal.

We have the best support system in the entire creation. We have Srila Prabhupada, Rupa Goswami, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu etc, etc. All of these great stalwart and amazing personalities are on OUR side and are just waiting to help us out. It is only due to our own lack of faith and trust that we would ever dare to think that we are alone and cannot overcome any obstacles and anarthas that we face.

I feel humbled and unqualified to think that I have "joined the strong" because I see how weak I am. However, I am so grateful that I was allowed to be present at this wonderful event and I am so grateful that somehow Krishna allowed me to hear this life-changing statement. I may be weak, but I too will become strong.

To all the initiates, including my dear friend Radha-prema who received the beautiful name Radha Krishna devi dasi, congratulations! You have joined the strong and we all pray that you may feel the gratitude, love and strength that you are feeling now and will continue to inspire all of us in your service to your guru and Srila Prabhupada.




Friday, August 21, 2009

Roller Coaster of Faith

The Ride of Steel at Darien Lake

This past week I went to two amusement parks. Back to back.

It's been close to ten years since I've been on a roller coaster and for the past few years I've been wanting to go and it never ended up working out. So this summer, I suggested going to Darien Lake with a friend of mine for our yearly road trip. A few days before the big day, I was speaking to another friend who asked if I wanted to go to Canada's Wonderland the Monday after Darien Lake. I thought, "Why not? Let's do it."

Needless to say, it was an exhilarating experience. But I was caught off guard as it also ended up being a surprisingly revealing one as well. I've always loved roller coasters. The higher the better.

Two of the most memorable coasters were the Ride of Steel at Darien Lake and the Behemoth at Canada's Wonderland which both drop the the rider close to 70 m down during its first drop. It's definitely an "intense" experience.

But more fascinating than the actual ride itself was the feeling I experienced standing in line and finally getting onto the coaster itself. I kept thinking, "There is no guarantee that I'll get out of this alive. Why am I doing it? It means that I'm putting all my faith into a man-made machine."

That's what really struck me. I put my faith in chance. My faith in chanting the holy names and knowing that Krsna is looking out for me tends to drop up and down, just like a roller coaster. It is so easy to put faith in other things because they seem to be more tangible.

But I did learn one thing from this experience. My faith that I would be safe on that roller coaster was strengthened by the fact that those riding it previously came back thrilled but unhurt. Similarly, my mentors and fellow bhakti yoga practitioners, who I am blessed to have in my life, show me daily the amazing results of putting one's faith in Krsna.

As for the ups and downs of faith I experience, well its just like a roller coaster. Ultimately it winds down and becomes steady and firm. The only difference is that most rides last less than a few minutes to come to that steady state. My journey in becoming firmly fixed in my faith may take a little longer. But I know it will. In the meantime, I know I can count on it being a wild ride.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Dust of Bliss

For a few years now, I’ve had the great privilege of being part of the festival organizing committee in Toronto, where I was for Krishna’s appearance day this year.

What does the festival organizing committee do? Well, it’s comprised of about 4-5 members who take the initiative to help make each festival a little more special. It may mean putting together a mini audio visual movie, choosing a theme for the festival, ensuring that the festival is accessible to a newcomer coming for the first time to the temple, organizing logistics such as projectors and screens, as well as various other odds and ends.

Now that I’m not living in Toronto anymore, I’m not necessarily on all of the festival calls and so I wasn’t aware of what was being planned for Krishna’s appearance day. In fact, I wasn’t even supposed to go to Toronto for this festival, but at the last minute there was something that pulled me to go to there.

As I was one the train, travelling to Toronto, I had only one desire- I wanted to do some service for this extremely special day. Praying for that opportunity, I entered the temple with some committee members. As they each scattered off to check up on last minute details and make sure everything was in place, I stood there feeling a little lost.

It was a strange feeling. For a good thirty seconds I felt totally out of place. Everyone seemed to have their task but me.

I turned to my friend Recha who was still standing next to me. For the first time ever, she and another devotee were going to dedicate their entire evening in helping to arrange shoes. Close to a thousand, if not more, people come to the Toronto Hare Krishna Centre for Krishna’s appearance day.

In previous years’, the shoe room has been a disaster. Imagine piles of shoes scattered in every direction. Visitors, in their enthusiasm to join in the festivities would kick off their shoes any which way, resulting in a total chaos. What to speak of those who came a little later. One wouldn’t be able see the floor and most people would end up walking on the shoes strewn about.

Inspiration and trepidation hit me simultaneously. On one hand this would be an amazing service. What could be a better service than to welcome visitors in and help arrange their shoes for them? On the other hand, I was wearing a brand new outfit and the selfish part of me was thinking, “But you’ll miss the program! You’ve journeyed all this way. It’s not fair if you miss the festival.” But something louder was screaming, “Help out! You won’t regret it!”

I asked Recha who very eagerly welcomed the help. And so it began. From 5pm-2am, save for a quick fifteen minute break to catch some fresh air and another fifteen minute break to see the deities in their beautiful flower outfits, I stayed in that shoe room. At first I was giving out numbered tickets to everyone and passing on their shoes to the other wonderful volunteers who were attaching the corresponding ticket and placing their shoes in the cubby holes. As the hours passed, the shoes kept flooding in and the team of six volunteers just couldn’t keep up. As the night passed, we all kept trading places and soon I found myself sitting in a pile of shoes, trying to tag them and trying in vain to keep a semblance of order which just wasn’t going to happen!

But the reciprocation that each and every one of us in that shoe room felt- well, nothing can ever replace that feeling. Even though our system wasn’t working out as well as we wanted it to, everyone was so appreciative. I don’t think I have ever received so many blessings as I did that night.

What made it even more special was how dedicated all the helpers were. Nobody left. That didn’t mean people didn’t want to. I personally experienced an entire spectrum of emotions from enthusiasm to frustration to numbness to tiredness, but you couldn’t have got me out of there even if you tried. Each particle of dust on each shoe that came in was imbibed with bliss. I have never experienced that kind of satisfaction in my life. The dust of bliss.

Later on, a few of us were speaking about our experiences in helping out in the shoe room. Somebody recounted a beautiful anecdote that further imprinted this experience in my heart. Apparently in another place of worship, people will actually fight to help arrange the shoes. It is said that the Lord comes disguised as a visitor and so one lucky person may actually get to personally serve the Lord. Wow! How amazing is that? Whether the Lord personally came and allowed us to take his shoes, I don’t know. But one thing I do know. We got to serve his beloved servants and because of that got to experience the dust of bliss.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Look Within

We live in a society that places a great deal of emphasis on the external. Whether it be looks, material possessions, jobs or status, the list can go on and on. As a bhakti yoga practitioner, we have an idea of how these things may be assets but they are not the goal of life. In fact it can detract one from the ultimate goal- bhakti.

Now we may understand that both theoretically and practically, but do we actually guard ourselves against being influenced by it? I know that I've fooled myself long enough into thinking that I am immune to these factors. It wasn't until recently that I realized that I'm not actively working on guarding myself against this kind of an influence.

But first and foremost, it's important to recognize the symptoms of being infected by this disease. What is the result of that influence? Feeling as though "something is lacking my life." It seeps into one's consciousness and pervades it completely until one ends up feeling sorry for themselves and are not able to recognize all the valuable gifts they are blessed to have received in their life.

But how does this happen. How do we go from seeing or hearing something to all of a sudden feeling unsatisfied? I've noticed in my life, one thing plays a huge contributing factor- comparing myself to others.

That's it. It may seem naively simple or mundane, but I know that when I compare myself to others, I end up feeling unsatisfied. It's a sure fire way of becoming the root cause of your own suffering. The mind is very tricky that way. It focuses on the external and then automatically starts to compare it with whatever it is used to.

And then, most dangerous of all, when it does this, feelings of envy can start to burn inside one's heart. "I want that. How come I don't deserve that?" Which can lead to the most dreaded of all, "How come Krishna doesn't let me have that." It's a very dangerous and slippery slope.

That's why Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita advises Arjuna to remain equipoised in both happiness and distress. One of the reasons why it can be so difficult to do this is because the mind is always accepting and rejecting, which is exactly what happens when you compare yourself to somebody else.

Instead, we should look within. Krishna is within us. Even if we can just theoretically accept that Krishna is looking out for all of us, then we can find some solace in that the next time the mind goes crazy. We can also take steps to catch ourselves when we start comparing and even more importantly take everything we hear with a grain of salt.

I'm sure everyone in their lives have heard a parent, a sibling or someone near and dear compare you with somebody else. It can be very discouraging and hurtful because it can make one feel, "I'm not good enough."

That is not to say that we should not try to improve ourselves, but there are better ways to do that than by comparing oneself to someone or something else. Instead, one can try competing with oneself. I used to do that a lot in university and it worked really well. You know that you can always do better, so what better yardstick to measure by than yourself?

Most importantly we should trust that everything that is happening to us is what's supposed to be happening right now. Instead of comparing and driving yourself insane, grab your beads and chant. Pray for the strength to find happiness within. We've all looked for happiness in different places for so long and have been so disappointed. It's time for a change.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Let it go...

....all the plans, the expectations, the hopes and the ideas. Just let it go. I've been trying to do that for some time now. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't HAVE plans, hopes and ideas, although it is best not to have any expectations!

We can have the rest, but we shouldn't hang on to them. It's hanging on that causes confusion, disappointment, lethargy and pessimism. The plans, expectations, hopes and ideas envelop us into a falsely secure bubble. It can make us feel that we are visionaries that are always moving forward. But in reality they stump our spiritual, emotional, material and physical growth.

Most often, they can prevent us from seeing the "Krishna factor." When we face challenges or flat out failures in achieving or implementing our ideas, those very same ideas don't allow us to see the numerous other possibilities that are available and instead makes us focus on what WE didn't get.

Instead of becoming broadminded and creative, we become pigeon-holed and boring.

But how can we break free of this cycle that sometimes consumes our lives? Change. Changing our patterns and delving deeper into our relationship with Krishna. Changing our patterns may mean letting go of certain ideas by physically or symbolically cutting them out of our lives. But more importantly, on the positive side, it means forming new patterns. It may mean associating more with people who live in the moment as opposed to constantly dreaming about the future.

With respect to delving deeper into our relationship with Krishna it may mean taking a long and hard look about how much you allow Krishna to guide you in your life. Are rounds your priority? Are you actually genuinely asking Krishna for help or simply imposing your own ideas and asking Krishna to fulfill them? On the most granular level it means taking stock of your own consciousness. Are you trying to Krishna-ize it or are you still burning in the fire of your own material desires?

For some lucky souls, they never plan. They simply go with the flow and are able to recognize Krishna's hand guiding their lives. For others, it's a process. But it's important to remember that the journey is oftentimes more important than the destination. Our journey in learning to let go will help us become mature and sincere bhakti yogis.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Putting Krishna Back Into the Equation

For the past few days I've been taking advantage of one of the things I love about Ottawa— the winding, scenic walking paths. It allows me to escape into the serenity I am searching for.

As I've been taking these long japa walks, I've noticed that a lot of realizations have come bubbling to the surface. Although I have been searching for answers and guidance, I realize now that I'd been searching for it externally. Why? Because it is just so much easier!

As an aspiring bhakti yogi, I practice mantra meditation, associate with other bhakti yogis and try to perform as much bhakti yoga as possible. It's easy to fool myself into thinking "I try to work very hard on my internal spiritual practice," when in reality I'm just running on automatic pilot.

The problem is, like everything in life, things start to become routine. But that's just it. This is a perfect example of imposing a material perspective on a spiritual practice. Bhakti is NOT a routine. It is ever-fresh and full of bliss. While engaging in my sadhana and practices, I albeit unknowingly, take Krishna out of the equation!

How is that possible, you might say? Well it can actually be pretty easy. It's when we take Krishna out of the equation, that everything becomes dry, routine and tasteless. It becomes just like any other job you've ever had.

The only way to put Krishna back into the equation is by re-focusing. Nothing is as important as chanting the maha-mantra. Nothing. But it just can't be any kind of chanting, it has to be chanting with emotion.

Now if you are like me, most times when I chant the only emotion I feel is "eager anticipation." Not the eager anticipation to please Krishna, sorry folks, but the eager anticipation to finish my sixteen rounds! Sad, but true.

But the path of bhakti is amazing. Despite any handicaps one may have, there is a way! In this case, just channel any emotion you feel into your chanting. If you are eagerly anticipating finishing your rounds, then eagerly anticipate to hear at least one mantra properly. If you are feeling sad, then pray to Krishna that one day the intensity of the sadness you are feeling at that moment may one day be the intensity of love you will feel for him.

We can all experience guidance and strength. It's within our capacity. We just need to put Krishna back into the equation and get rid of the "I'm too busy," or, "there's no time," that prevents us from feeling it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Getting Back to Nature

Recently I got an indication that I should spend sometime with Nature.

Being in Toronto with its towering buildings, bright city lights and fast-paced lifestyle, always surcharges me with lots of energy, but it also does a number on my subtle consciousness. Being a person who is always trying to control things (I'm working on it!) and likes to keep active, I oftentimes lose perspective that I am just a mere instrument who is trying to remember Krsna.

Now that I'm back in Ottawa and removed from my "natural habitat" of whirlwind chaos, I am trying to ground myself again. It's funny, when I once approached my Guru Maharaja asking him what to look for in a spiritual master, he told me, "You need someone who grounds you." It's true, we all need that.

Not only do we need people in our lives who help to ground us whether it be emotionally, mentally or spiritually, but we also need to seek out personal time to indulge in this very necessary practice.

One way is to get back to Nature. One can experience so much support and strength just by sitting in the grass. The earth is always supporting us whether we realize it or not. Similarly, what better way is there to hear music than to listen to the chatter of the birds, the humming of the bees or the rustling of the leaves. In fact, sometimes they make the best accompanying instruments for a kirtan!

Most importantly of all, Nature can help us remember Krsna. Krsna's favorite haunts include his Vrndavana forest, the flowing river Yamuna and the beautiful forest animals.

We are so lucky to have these gifts which are not only so valuable but also freely available to us. Our lives are filled with so much chatter and it makes it very difficult to hear what the soul is crying out for. It also makes it very difficult to hear what suggestions Krsna is revealing to us within our hearts.

So, whether we live in a huge metropolitan city or a small farm, take the time to spend some alone time with Nature. You'll never know what you'll hear.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Encouragement and Confirmation

After the wonderful Ratha Yatra/Yoga Meltdown that took place this past weekend, I've been spending a lot of time reading, contemplating and meditating on my Guru Maharaja, Niranjana Swami. Specifically, I have been reading one of his books books: Collected Letters Written to Friends and Disciples.

You see, I'm one of those people who is always wondering if they are doing the right thing. I am always questioning, "Is this what I'm meant to be doing? Is this what Krsna wants me to do?" Yesterday when I was reading, I came across something that answered this question which I'd like to share:

Maharaja was quoting from the purport of Caitanya Caritamrta, Adi-lila, Chapter 1, Verse 60 where it states, "Unless one gets this spiritual encouragement by following the instructions of the spiritual master, it is not possible to make advancement."

Maharaja goes on to explain that this encouragement which Srila Prabhupada refers to in his purport must also come from within. The Lord as Supersoul, gives direction and encouragement from within- to those who are eager to please Him by serving the instructions of a bona fide spiritual master. The spiritual master instructs from without, delivering the conclusive truths from both scriptures and the previous acaryas, and he also guides from within as the Supersoul, who is a manifestation non-different from the instructing spiritual master.

Therefore, Maharaja goes on to instruct, that we should especially focus on Srila Prabhupada's words, the statements from the Srimad Bhagavatam and Caitanya Caritamrta and then try to listen for some confirmation within our hearts of what they are all saying. It may not come right away, but if you desire the confirmation and intensely pray for it with steady determination, it will surely come when the time is right. This encouragement must be an ongoing process, and it is connected with the resolute desire to "stick to the instructions enunciated by the spiritual master.

Powerful, isn't it? Personally, these statements by HH Niranjana Swami bring to light many aspects that are required for one to become eligible to receive this type of confirmation and encouragement. For one thing, it is not something that comes very cheaply. The key to become eligible is the "resolute desire to stick to the instructions enunciated by the spiritual master."

Alongside this desire, patience, sincerity, determination and faith are all required. Especially patience! LOL! I know that oftentimes I pray for confirmation and many, many times it doesn't come right away and I get disheartened. But it is so important to remember that "...it will surely come when the time is right."

Who are we to know when the time is right? Krsna often tests to see how sincere we are and how determined we are. How often do we fail those tests? We are so lucky to have such a wonderful Lord who keeps trying to help us no matter how ungrateful and impatient we become.

So there is hope! And much of it! All it requires is that we steadfastly hang on to the instructions of Srila Prabhupada and the guru parampara and try to execute it to the best of our ability. Through this endeavor, both Guru and Krsna within our heart will guide us.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

37th Annual Festival of India (Ratha-Yatra) Commerical

I am so grateful to be part of such a progressive and innovative team of individuals who are trying to share the beauty of bhakti-yoga. Below is this year's commercial which will be seen by millions in Toronto, inviting them to take part in this event.

Kirtan- Toronto Style!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Power of Observation

I was taking a long japa walk today and realized something. I've stopped noticing or looking at anything. In my "busy and chaotic" life, I've turned into a numb robot. LOL! The irony of it all is that my academic background is Science and I've spent more than five years of my life doing research which is all about observing things! :P

For example, think about the last time you went to the temple. Pop quiz: what colour were the Deties wearing? I'm lucky because for once in my life I actually remember. Sri Sri Radha Kscira Cora Gopinatha were wearing orange and red this past Sunday. For those of you who live in Toronto, no cheating! (I say that because the pictures of the Deities on Sunday are always posted on www.torontokrishna.com)

But all jokes aside, think about it even in your day to day life. Seemingly inane things like the colour of your neighbor's hair or the name of the florist shop by your house do come in handy. How? Well if you are an aspiring bhakti yogi, it helps you practice seeing the power and beauty of God in everything you see.

Krishna's beauty is everywhere to behold and becoming more attuned to his opulence's and becoming more observant actually allows us to experience Krishna at all times.

Also with respect to relationships, it helps us to become more compassionate and selfless individuals. Observing others reactions to the things we do helps us to improve our relationships and makes them flourish.

So, next time you are walking in your neighborhood, look around. You'll be surprised at how much you've never noticed and find that Krishna is everywhere you look.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Simply Sing

It has been way too long since I've written anything and I can feel my fingers itching to transfer everything that has been locked up in the recesses of my mind. However, it seems that time has been my number one enemy. With so many thing going on including the upcoming Toronto Ratha Yatra/Yoga Meltdown, traveling, various other services and looking for a job, there just aren't enough hours in a day!

But that being said, I remember a promise I made to myself that I would try to write at least something everyday. So this is my humble attempt to keep that promise.

Today I got a glimpse of how wonderful it is to simply sing for the Lord without any pretense, show or any motivation. I had the great fortune to sing during mangala aarti for Sri Sri Radha Gopivallabha, who are the keepers to my beloved Guru Maharaja's heart. It was very simple. With almost nobody else in the room with me and just keeping a basic beat on a pair of kartalas, it was a magical moment. It was a moment to simply be there, not ask their most beautiful Lordships for anything, but simply sing the praises of their dearmost devotees.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Power of Sankirtan!

This past weekend ISKCON Toronto was blessed to have the association of HG Vaisesika Prabhu. Prabhu came from ISKCON Silicon Valley to give a small seminar on book distribution.

For those who haven't had the fortune of hearing Vaisesika prabhu, please find a way without delay! He is so inspirational and so humble. He is truly a role model for both the younger generation of aspiring devotees and the advanced senior ones.

After a Friday night presentation talking about how we should all become "Ambassadors of Good Will" and techniques on how to distribute books, devotees left the temple feeling exhilarated and inspired! The following day, over 30 devotees came for the second part of the mini-seminar....to hit the road!

After a training exercise on how to approach individuals and present the books, devotees were divided into teams and headed to four different spots in the city for a day of book distribution.

The day was so INCREDIBLE! Vaisesika prabhu spent approximately 1 hour at each location and would then head to the next one and so all the devotees got to see the Master in action! In fact many devotees would just stand and watch, wanting to see how Prabhu would speak and enthrall the passer-by's!

Prabhu's incredible compassion and enthusiasm to give Krsna to everyone was so palpable. Everyone was overwhelmed by how people would reciprocate as Prabhu established heart-heart connections with the people walking by.

Book distribution is so dear to Srila Prabhupada and it was truly a privilege to learn the art of sharing this transcendental knowledge from a devotee who has made this their life's mission: to fulfill Srila Prabhupada's greatest desire of making sure everyone in this material world come in contact with his books and get an opportunity to re-develop their relationship with Krsna.

Thank you Vaisesika prabhu for giving us all a glimpse into how nectarean sankirtan actually is! Sankirtana yajna ki JAI!

Check out the pics below of the happy devotees out on the streets!








Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Essence

As an aspiring bhakti yogi, what would you say is the most important thing in your spiritual practice? Would you pick service, the association of like minded bhakti yogis, the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, prasadam, kirtan or something else?

As I was chanting the maha-mantra today, I realized how far I am from being a true bhakti yogi. The essence of bhakti yoga is to always remember the Supreme, Krishna, and to never forget Him. The prescribed method to do this, is to chant the Holy Names of the Lord.

I chant the maha-mantra everyday, but the quality of my chanting is far from desirable. My tendency is to focus on service, associating with other bhakti yogis, eating prasadam or joining in a great kirtan. But....if one seriously thinks about it, the practice of all these other spiritual activities can be deepened and more fully experienced when we become fully dependent upon the chanting of the Holy Name.

How does that happen, you ask? Because the Holy Name is non-different than Krishna. By developing our relationship with Krishna, by chanting the Holy Name in a mood of separation and longing, all our other activities become even more spiritually surcharged.

One of my spiritual mentors, HG Brhat-mrdanga prabhu, once said, "It is hypocritical to think that we are doing service if we do not chant our rounds. Chanting our rounds is our service."

I beg and pray to the Holy Name to please give me the desire to chant with more sincerity, with love and with a great desire to re-establish my eternal relationship with Him.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Yoga Meltdown!



Whew! It's been awhile since my last post and the reason for that is Yoga Meltdown has taken over my life!!! What is Yoga Meltdown you might ask? It is an initiative that Toronto's Ratha Yatra (which is celebrating its 37th year!) has come up with.

There is a burgeoning yoga community that is growing in Toronto, which is a phenomenon that happening everywhere. More and more individuals are taking interest in yoga and Yoga Meltdown is a mini-festival within the 37th Annual Festival of India.

On July 19, 2009 (the second day of our two day festival) we are inviting all yoga enthusiasts to come and join us on Centre Island, Toronto to experience a yoga revolution. This is an opportunity to introduce many to not only the benefits of yoga itself but more importantly the spiritual side to yoga and more specifically bhakti yoga.

The event will be highlighted by numerous free activities such as:
- Non-stop outdoor yoga classes and demonstrations
- Vegan and vegetarian cooking demonstrations
- Mantra meditation
- Power-packed chanting and kirtan
- A non-stop stage program including drama and theatre
- An all-you-can-eat, free vegetarian feast, presented by Festival of India
- A South Asian Bazaar and much more!

For more information please visit www.yogameltdown.com. Please also visit our official Ratha Yatra website at www.feedyoursoul.to

Please help to spread the word and invite one and all to this yoga extravaganza and an opportunity to introduce many to the spiritual side of yoga!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Beautiful Nrsimhadeva

I think my love affair with Nrsimhadeva began when I heard the words of HH Sacinandana Swami. It was a few years ago when I was fortunate enough to be celebrating Nrsimha Caturdasi at New Simhacalam in Germany. Nrsimhadeva there is unlike any other. In fact, that murti is one of the few, if not the only one, where Prahalad Maharaja is actually sitting on his lap. As we were celebrating and meditating on Nrsimhadeva, HH Sacinandana Swami said that we should always think of Nrsimha as our benevolent father. Yes, he can be fierce and very angry, but just like a lioness provides all affection and protection to her cubs, he provides all strength, shelter and love to his devotees.

Those words had a very deep impact upon my heart and so for me, that Nrsimhadeva in New Simhacalam is like a father to me. He is sweetly fierce and extremely merciful.

Fast forward another three years, when I had a chance to attend my first Nrsimha Caturdasi with the beautiful and wonderful Nrsimhadeva in New Vrndavana. We have always had a picture of this Nrsimhadeva on our altar ever since I was little, but I rarely ever had a chance to spend a lot of time with him in person. He is so regal and majestic and as my friend Mandali puts it, "He is a warrior!" This year, I got to render some very special service for him and got to know him a little bit better. He is very soft-hearted and listens very attentively to the heartfelt desires of his devotees.

But now any meditation Nrsimhadeva is not complete without remembering the active and wonderful Nrsimha in Mayapur. For close to 4 months, every morning I got to pray and marvel at that multi-armed ugra Nrsimhadeva. Although many find him extremely fierce and angry, I have always found him to be so cool! He always looks like he's going to jump off the altar. How wonderful would it be to have the eyes to see him dance jubilantly in the Radha Madhava temple room. He is always dressed so beautifully, but my favorite outfit is when he's wearing his pants. It gives the devotees a glimpse of how spectacular he is.

After spending so much time in Mayapur, I started developing the desire to worship Nrsimhadeva. He is my ever-protector and I wanted to reciprocate by serving him more personally. Then somehow through the mercy of the devotees, he came in his sila form. And so now, I'd like to introduce the newest member of my family: Sri Sri Lakshmi Nrsimhadeva. Although I thought that he would protect me and take care of me, apparently my dear Lord had other plans. Instead he is my baby Nrsimhadeva who is constantly demanding my attention and time. I personally think he's speaking too much with my Radha Damodara who are exactly the same way!

But its so wonderful to be able to serve him everyday. If I learned anything from HG Jananivas prabhu and HG Pankajanghri prabhu it is that the murti of the lord and the lord are non-different. That's why we can have different relationships with different deities and all of them are perfect. The lord likes to reveal himself in his different forms. All we need to do is become aware and conscious of that. I am definitely light years from realizing that the lord is a person but it definitely helps to have role models in your life to help show you the way.

Nrsimhadeva Bhagavan ki JAI!

New Simhacalam, Germany

New Vrndavana, West Viginia

Sri Mayapur Dham, India

My beautiful Lakshmi Nrsimhadeva

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Taking the Opportunity

Sometimes taking someone up on an offer to ride along with them to get some groceries can be the best thing that you do.

After a wonderful Festival of Inspiration 2009, I am now back in the comfort of my parent's home here in Ottawa. The past few days I've been talking with several friends about what were the highlights of this year's FOI. There were so many...in fact I think I will dedicate the next couple of posts to reflecting about many of them. But I found it funny that it wasn't until yesterday that I remember truly appreciating and reflecting about how one conversation with a good friend of mine really made this year's FOI very special for me.

It was the day of Nrsimha Caturdasi. Already the anticipation and excitement of a festival day was upon everyone in New Vrndavana. However, that being said, since most of the celebrations were taking place in the evening, I found myself meandering around the New Vrndavana grounds that afternoon. As I was chanting and wondering what I should do, I ran into my friend (and little brother) Jettu.

Immediately upon seeing me he asked, "Hey, do you want to come along with me to the grocery store? My mom wants me to buy some bhoga to offer to Nrsimhadeva." I asked how long it would probably take to go and come and Jettu said about an hour or so. I didn't even have to think, saying sure, we got into the car and off we were to the grocery store.

Jettu is one of the wonderful "younger devotees" in ISKCON Toronto. A kirtan enthusiast, quick witted and extremely funny individual, he is also one of my friends who I just never get a chance to spend a lot of time with. But here was an opportunity and I grabbed it.

There was never a dull moment in the car with us alternating between laughing and making fun to talking about serious and thought provoking realizations. It made me appreciate how special and unique every devotee is. Although in age Jettu may be younger than me, there is still so much that I can learn from him and so much to appreciate about him. Of course, I'll always take the opportunity to lecture him or make fun of him in a sisterly way, but its so nice to have someone like that.

Although I am an only child I have rarely ever felt it. I've always had plenty of younger/older brothers and sisters. Such is the gift that Srila Prabhupada has given all of us. It's up to us to take every opportunity we can to get to actually spend time with one another and get to know each other.

So thanks Jettu for asking me to come along for the grocery ride. I don't think I've ever had so much fun picking out fruit. :D

Sunday, May 3, 2009

What Role Does Astrology Play In My Life?

What role does astrology play in a devotees' life? Well, it depends on who you ask. My personal opinion is that astrology can be very useful, IF you have a good astrologer. In fact in Srimad Bhagavatam it states:

Whether one has a short life or a long life, one must suffer the threefold
miseries of material life. Therefore any gentleman, dhira, must be
interested in jyotisa, astrology (Bhag. 10.8.5)

But that being said in the Bhagavad-gita it also states:

"If you become conscious of Me, you will pass over all the obstacles of conditioned
life by My grace. If, however, you do not work in such consciousness but act
through false ego, not hearing Me, *you* will be lost" (Bg. 18.58)

So how to reconcile these two statements? Well, I heard something very profound that made a lot of sense to me. Astrology gives you an idea of the environment that you have to work with. But it doesn't mean that something WILL happen because there is always that Krsna factor that can change everything.

That once again puts the responsibility on you. I think sometimes getting an astrological chart done makes someone feel that "Ok, this is what is going to happen. I don't need to do anything." That is such a fatalistic attitude that completely disempowers an individual.

We always have free will and the entire purpose of material existence is to become educated. Educated that we do not belong here. The planets are simply teachers that help us in our education. If however, we learn our lessons voluntarily, then we do not need those lessons and hence sometimes those things that are predicted in our charts do not come true. There is no point in teaching someone something they have already learned.

So yes astrology is useful, but more important than astrology is self reflection and dependence on Krsna. By self reflection and association with devotees, Krsna will give indications of those things we need to work on whether it be cultivating humility to becoming a compassionate individual. If we voluntarily start to work on our anarthas, while keeping Krsna in the centre, then Krsna will personally help us. If, however, we want to learn the hard way then the planets will happily teach us by arranging for us to learn our lessons.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Service For Who??

We always hear about it....it is the service attitude that Krishna is actually looking for. Of course, the ideal situation is having the right service attitude and offering him the results.

But that being said, it's sooooo easy to forget about cultivating and maintaining the right service attitude. How do I actually focus on the fact that this service is for Krishna's pleasure instead of being preoccupied with the results? I was reminded once again of how far I am in achieving my goal of constantly reminding myself, "Who is this service for? It's for Krishna." My normal thought process stops at "Who is this service for?" and unfortunately most of the time I never get to the second part, reminding myself it is all for Krishna.

So what happens when I don't answer my own question? I start worrying about the results and I instead focus on my own limited capacities. The result of that is I don't end up being a conduit for Guru and Krishna's mercy.

Case in point today. I am blessed to be heading up a mini-festival called Yoga Meltdown which is part of our large Toronto Ratha Yatra Festival (which by the way is celebrating its 37th year!). I was doing some service today which involved promoting the festival. After I finished my service, I had an epiphany. I did not ONCE think about how this festival is to help others come in contact with the highest teachings of bhakti yoga- love for Krishna. Instead I was totally focused on whether I was saying the right words and how effective I was as a promoter.

Definitely that is an important aspect. We should be focused on our service and always try to improve. But the point in this case is that I wish I could have even taken a few minutes before to chant and pray to my spiritual master to be an instrument in his hands.

So I'm grateful for the mercy of Guru and Krishna to recognize this. Next time before I do anything, the first thing I'm going to do is thank my spiritual master for the most precious gift he has given me, the holy name, and sincerely pray that I may assist him in spreading it around.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Looking for Every Opportunity to Learn

People often come up to me and ask, "How do you feel now that you've finished your Masters?" I typically give the answer, "I'm SOOO happy! No more school." Which is often followed by a long pause and then, "Well, at least for now!"

But thinking about it, we never actually finish school. At least not if one is an aspiring spiritual seeker. We may think of school as a physical building with desks, computers, exams and stressed out students. While that maybe true, that misconception can lead us to forget that our sojourn through material existence is actually the true "SCHOOL" so to speak.

We are always in school, every moment of every day. The question is are we looking at every situation and circumstance as an opportunity to learn or, as it so happens so many times when we are physically in school, just try to get by without learning the true lesson.

This rings true for me. In school I would always get by, trying to cram at the last minute just so I could do well in the exam. See, the way schools here in the material world assess us are completely different than Krsna's way. There is no way to cram for the lessons Krsna is hoping we will learn and implement. It comes only by becoming conscious that we are having an exam at every moment. And what is that exam? The result is measured by our reaction. Is it Krsna conscious or is it self-centred?

I pray that I can develop this vision and get rid of my tendency to simply cram and hope for the best.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Exploitation

Today HH Devamrita Swami gave the morning Bhagavatam class here in ISKCON Toronto. Maharaja was speaking from a verse talking about Jada Bharata and how his brothers exploited his nature. Maharaja brought out many wonderful points throughout his class but as always, for each individual person a certain something always stands out.

For me, in this case, the point of exploitation stood out. Maharaja spoke of how even when devotees are doing service, the tendency to exploit can creep out. We may see someone else is more "successful" than we are in their service and so we may belittle and impede their service.

Maharaja brought out several points as to why this happens. First of all who are we to judge what "success" actually is? It is up to Krsna to judge whether our service is successful and Krsna specifically defines what it is that makes it successful. It is the attitude, not the results. The results are a bonus but that is entirely up to Krsna, the only thing that we are in control of is our attitude in executing that service- with humility and completely relying on the mercy of Guru and Krsna.

Maharaja also said that this exploitation occurs when we see that someone else's results, and we feel that it takes away from what we could do. Maharaja brought up an interesting point in this regard saying that we are actually limiting Krsna by thinking in this way. We are indirectly saying that "I can only be successful if I get the same kind of result as that other person." We are not giving Krsna enough credit that first of all, once again, he is in charge of the result and secondly, we are being so narrow minded that we are only measuring results from one perspective. Krsna, being all knowing and so broadminded, can give results that we could never even dream of.

These points were so powerful. So simple yet powerful. We should simply focus on our attitude and not the result and secondly, let's not limit Krsna by our narrow vision.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The HighEST Taste!

India was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I learned so much, got so much mercy and feel so grateful for all the blessings I received. But when I left it was with a specific purpose: to receive, rather than to give. Now, I know that's not the best attitude to have, but I'm a neophyte devotee and after being given the opportunity to assist so many others in their services in Toronto, I was feeling a little tapped out before going to India.

Ever since I've been back, my meditation has now been, "It's time to give everything you have received." That may sound very noble but please don't be mislead. It's actually for very selfish motivations. You see, a senior devotee once said a very wonderful phrase that has become ingrained in my consciousness "It is not possible to receive more mercy if you do not empty what you're holding in your hands. Where is the room?" So in order to make room and get more mercy, I've been really wanting to be a transparent medium and instrument to give whatever I've received.

Krsna is always listening and tonight was proof once more. I was attending a talk by HH Devamrita Swami on Spiritual Economics given at the University of Toronto to a crowd mainly made up of Certified Management Accountants. After the talk I was asked to mingle amongst the guests and talk to them. I turned to my friend Rashi, who was also requested to do the same, and said "But I don't speak Accounting," to which she replied, "No problem. Just got up to someone and say 'Hi, my name is Vinodini. I don't speak Accounting.'" LOL!

And so I started to make the rounds around the room when I saw one girl about to sit down holding a plate of prasadam. So I introduced myself (skipped the whole not speaking Accounting bit :D) and asked her what she did. Lo and behold, as it so happened she was high school math teacher! Some relatively common ground as I love teaching and have been contemplating on being a teacher in some type of capacity. We talked about how she finds teaching high school to be somewhat repetitive and how she feels unfulfilled.

As we continued to talk, I asked how she heard about the talk and from there the conversation totally took a turn to so many different topics. We spoke of Hinduism/Vaisnavism, karma, destiny, free will and how to connect to God. In fact when we were speaking about free will she said something really amazing. She said, "Yes I know that we have some control, but I don't like thinking that we are in full control. I also want to feel God's hand in everything." WOW! So wonderful! And so I was able to give the analogy of the two birds on a tree representing the atma and paramatma. She seemed to really like that analogy and remarked that her friend always says, "Let go, let God" but she went on to remark how difficult it is. At this I remarked that it's difficult because we have so many material conditionings and to actually "let God", so to speak, we need to get rid of them. This gave me the opportunity to speak about how the Hare Krsna mantra is the maha mantra and how it helps to dissolve all these conditionings.

She seemed very receptive and said she would try chanting and then went on to remark how the prasadam is so wonderful and how she really wants to go veggie. At the end of our conversation I felt so enlivened and realized how truly fallen I actually am. There is no higher taste in life than to share Krsna with others. In fact it is our sense gratification as aspiring devotees to give Krsna to others. We are spoiled and the sooner we realize it the better. To be miserly is of no use. The best thing we can do is to pray to Srila Prabhupada and the Guru parampara that we can somehow be utilized in their service.

mukam karoti vachalam
pangum langhayate girim
yat-kripa tam aham vande
shri-gurum dina-taranam

"I offer my respectful obeisances unto my spiritual master, the deliverer of the fallen souls. His mercy turns the dumb into eloquent speakers and enables the lame to cross mountains."

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Dialogue With My Mind

Lately, I've been feeling like I've been spinning one spot. Spinning since I have millions of ideas and goals and thoughts and feelings all whirling through my head as to what I want to do in life....but unfortunately I feel like I'm in one spot because I haven't acted on any of those things.

But what can you do when it's one of those things you can't actually muster up the courage and determination to do something about? Yesterday I finally got my answer: I need to get to the heart of the problem. And interestingly enough, that was my biggest problem of all. See, I thought that my spinning around with uncertainty as to what I want to do and how I want to contribute to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's mission was actually the problem. But it's not.

At the end of the day, the number one obstacle that most people face in their lives is fear of failure and doing the wrong thing. And what is the result of this "seemingly insurmountable hurdle to overcome?" Not doing anything at all.

So, most people have probably heard of this very common expression "an idle mind is a devil's workshop. Well I'd like to add, "an overactive fearful mind is like being in solitary confinement." It feels like you're being caged in with you own worst enemy, the mind, who is always bringing up the dreaded statement of doubt, "But what if you're doing the wrong thing? What happens to all the effort?"

So now, after having gotten to the heart of the problem, I answer, "O mind, the result is not our worry to deal with! Leave that in the very capable hands of our dear Lord Krsna. Our only worry and concern is to set an example of being a humble devotee and finding ways to spread Krsna consciousness."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Ways of the Material Energy

Ever noticed that when you want something really bad and try really hard to go for it, more often than not, the harder it is to attain it? Also notice when you truly give up something, often times it come back or is easier to get?

Such are the ways of material nature. At least, this is what I have experienced in my own life. It has often confused me. How in the world do we aspire or endeavor for anything if it just ends up eluding us most of the time? Oftentimes in my enthusiasm or intense endeavors for the achieved goal or result I forget the key principle: I have all rights to endeavor but I have no claim over the result.

It is actually the desire for the object/achievement in question that actually gets in our way most of the time. That attachment is often two-fold. An attachment for the actual object/achievement and also the attachment to actually gain the object/achievement. Both of these attachments can blind us to opportunities as well as huge signposts indicating that "yes, this is a good thing" or "stop, this isn't good." The trick is to follow Krsna's advice (He really does have all the answers, doesn't He? :D). To simply work as a matter of duty and to leave all the results up to Him.

Definitely something that is easier said than done but as all things in life it's a matter of practice. As I've completed my wonderful sojourn in the holy land of India, I'm at a stage where I'm left contemplating many things. One of those things that is at the top of my list is "What am I going to do now?"

This concern and solution has thus been swimming around in my mind. That whatever new steps or endeavors I pursue, I should definitely do it with a full heart, a full heart that wants to devote whatever comes of those endeavors to Guru and Krsna. In this way, I can channel my enthusiasm in the correct way. At the end of the day Guru and Krsna are interested in the attitude and consciousness that goes behind everything, the result is just a bonus if it comes. That being said, sometimes under the pretense of saying everything is for Guru and Krsna our own material consciousness rears its ugly head and we become result conscious instead of Guru/Krsna conscious.

I pray that I can keep this at the forefront of my mind. I truly do want to devote everything to Guru and Krsna and I pray that I can do so by "Consciously knowing that everything depends on Krsna and acting as though everything depends on me."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Setting An Example

yad yad acarati sresthas
tat tad evetaro janah
sa yat pramanam kurute
lokas tad anuvartate

Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues. Bg. 3.21

For the last few months I've been thinking about this, about how we can set an example. For one thing, it was a huge theme in our Brahmincal Culture and Education course of how a brahamana/brahmani should by their very lives set an ideal example. Now one could argue, that I do not have second initiation and therefore I am not a brahmana, but Srila Prabhupada in the first canto of Srimad Bhagavatam says something very heavy. He writes in the purport to SB. 1.2.20 "So one cannot be a devotee unless one at least qualifies as a brahmaṇa."

Whoa?! What does that mean? But what if I'm not second initiated? Prabhupada in his infinite mercy also explains what it means to be a brahmana.

"Perfection of human life is attained when one can understand that he is not the product of matter but is in fact spirit. And as soon as one understands that he has nothing to do with matter, he at once ceases his material hankerings and becomes enlivened as a spiritual being. This attainment of success is possible when one is above the modes of passion and ignorance, or, in other words, when one is actually a brahmaṇa by qualification. A brahmaṇa is the symbol of sattva-guṇa, or the mode of goodness."

Here Prabhupada is clearly stating that being a brahmana means to actually develop and practice the qualities of a brahamana. Furthermore Prabhupada goes on to say,

"The devotee is already a brahmaṇa by action. But that is not the end of it. As referred to above, such a brahmaṇa has to become a Vaiṣṇava in fact to be actually in the transcendental stage. A pure Vaiṣṇava is a liberated soul and is transcendental even to the position of a brahmaṇa. In the material stage even a brahmaṇa is also a conditioned soul because although in the brahminical stage the conception of Brahman or transcendence is realized, scientific knowledge of the Supreme Lord is lacking. One has to surpass the brahminical stage and reach the vasudeva stage to understand the Personality of Godhead Kṛṣṇa."

But just like we can't skip grade school and immediately enter high school, similarly here Prabhupada is laying out the path for us. It's like this: one can be a brahmana and not a vaisnava, but a vaisnava is automatically a brahamana.

This means that yes, it is still very important to aspire for and take second initiation, but at the same time it doesn't mean that upon receiving it that we are now a brahmana. Srila Prabhupada states very clearly that "a devotee is a brahmana by action." It is not simply because one is given gayatri mantras and chants them 3 times a day that one is now a brahmana. Yes, that may be part of it, but a brahmana is recognized by being in and acting in the mode of goodness.

Acting in the mood of goodness is like anything else in life, a choice. We can choose to be equipoised, gentle, compassionate and regular or we can choose to get upset, act according to our own self-interests and disturb others. Sometimes it is difficult to choose to act in goodness but remembering this will help.

What do we as devotees ultimately want to do? We want to please Guru and Krsna. So, what pleases them the most? Bringing others to the lotus feet of Krsna. And the easiest way to do that is to be exemplary. Being happy in Krsna consciousness ourselves is the best way to preach to others. So many devotees have said that the reason why they joined Krsna consciousness is because the devotees were happy. They also wanted to experience that happiness.

So it's our choice. We can set the ultimate best example for everyone, by practicing these qualities:

"Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness — these are the natural qualities by which the brahmanas work." Bg. 18.42

And of course we must possess the most important quality of all- the quality of being attached to chanting the holy name of the Lord. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Krsna Takes Care

Well I'm finally home after 5 1/4 months of traveling. Still a bit jet-lagged but considering I've been traveling for over 24 hours+ what can I say. A good excuse for me to be a bit lazy. :D

I had a very comfortable and hassle free flight all because of my beloved Radha Damodara which I can officially say are now my traveling deities! :D On Thursday night (the night before I was to leave) I was on the phone with my dad. After talking about a few things he finally said, "Is there anything else?" To which I replied jokingly, "Well I would love to be upgraded to first class!"

My dad is one of the sweetest people you'll ever meet and constantly surprises me. Instead of laughing and saying yes that would be nice, which I expected him to do, instead he said, "Well first class might not be possible, but why don't you see if you can get upgraded to business class. Don't worry, I'll cover the difference." I was really touched.

So when I checked in at Bangalore airport I casually asked if there were any seats available in business class. The lady at the counter said yes but we don't take cash or credit to upgrade at the counter. So that settled that. After waiting for about 3 hours at the airport, I boarded my World Traveller Class (I love how that's how they call economy class :S) window seat and settled in for the next 10 hours.

Upon reaching Heathrow airport, I had another 5.5 hour wait before catching my flight to Montreal. After walking around, finishing all my rounds and experiencing some crazy culture shock, "What do you mean 350 pounds for a handbag???" it was finally time for my flight. As I walked to my gate in Terminal 5, I realized that it was a gate from which we had to take a bus to board the aircraft. So this naturally took more time as everyone had their passport and boarding pass checked and then were slowly ushered onto the buses.

When it came to my turn, they took my passport and my boarding pass and for some reason took my old boarding pass actually issued me a new one. I didn't pay much attention to it as the person surveying my passport was speaking to me. It was only when I got onto the bus that I noticed that my seat had been changed from 17K to 12J. I was really confused and a bit upset as I figured out that J was probably a middle seat. :S

But I couldn't do anything about it as I was on the bus. Also I had this strange feeling that I should just wait and see what would happen. So when I boarded the aircraft, I checked out my seat and guess what? It was a business class seat! :D For whatever unknown reason they had upgraded me to business class and I didn't even have to pay for it!

I know it's all thanks to my Radha Damodara. They are so present in their beautiful deity form and I know that my Damodara is always listening to me. And here was another example. Even though I had no expectations, somehow he arranged that I could fly comfortably. Even more so they arranged it in such a way that I didn't even notice that my seat had been changed because if I had, I probably would have opened my mouth and ruined it for myself asking why my seat had been changed! LOL!

So it just goes to show, Krsna takes care. :D

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Packing

I am currently sitting in my Aunt's place after a tiring day traveling around Bangalore by auto rikshaw shopping for last minute items. WHEW! But even coming home to my Aunt's place is no reprieve because surrounding me is all my luggage and all the items I still need to pack... :S Blah!

I hate packing...both my belongings and this trip. It signifies so many things for me both symbolically and practically. Most of all it signifies change. Change is always slightly scary and totally unpredictable. We never know what is going to come. More scary for me is the realization that everything that happens can ultimately benefit me, it's just up to me to make use of all opportunities that Krsna sends my way. That realization is a significant and sobering one.

No more can I complain and just say that it had to happen that way. Krsna sends us different situations according to our past karma, but we still have the free will to decide what we will do in those situations.

So I guess I'm also hoping that in the midst of this packing, I can also pack up my own misconceptions and bad attitudes and throw them out. Because that's also part of packing, as I'm beginning to realize due to my overweight luggage problem! Packing just doesn't just mean an end, it also means new beginnings that (hopefully!) will be free of anything that weighs us down unnecessarily.

So as I now sit down in my room and begin to pack and try to get rid of whatever I don't need, I'm praying that I can also see this as a new chapter of my life. A chapter of new beginnings, new attitudes, implementing all the new things I've learned and sharing all the gifts and mercy that I've been given.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Random Musings...

So...it's my second last night here in India...tomorrow night I'll barely get a chance to sleep because I have to leave ridiculously early on Friday morning to get to the airport.

It's been such a sweet experience. There's so much I've experienced and felt and did in the last 5 and 1/4 months. So many friends, so many lectures and so many moments of unadulterated mercy. It's hard to think it's coming to a close.

One thing I know for certain. I've changed. It happens with every trip I take. But I've also noticed that with every trip that change has become more and more subtle.

This trip has given me a lot of things to reflect on like how I can actually become more conscious of Krsna? Deity worship is such a wonderful gift that our acaryas have given us. One of the most important and key elements in deity worship is manasa puja. That is offering and performing the entire puja mentally before physically beginning the worship. Our minds are so fickle and restless and even though we may get the opportunity to render this incredibly personal service, still the mind (at least mine!) still runs away. Manasa puja forces the mind to be conscious and to focus on the Lord.

It helps one to become conscious. It's the open secret in Krsna consciousness. To actually be conscious of Krsna! That no matter what service we are performing that this is for the pleasure of the Lord and the devotees. It is for NOTHING else. It has nothing to do with me and my pleasure and everything to do with the Lord's pleasure. Throughout my travels the greatest gift was to associate with wonderful devotees who are rendering their varied services with this proper consciousness.

In particular, I'll never be able to repay HG Pankajanghri and HG Jananivas prabhus. Their exclusive devotion to the Lord has shaken me to my very core. Their constant and steady service and their complete joy in teaching others will always be such an inspiration. I pray that I too can perform all my services with the steadiness and proper consciousness that these two incredible vaisnavas maintain and exemplify.