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.