Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lessons Series: Promises to Oneself

That time of year is almost upon us...the beginning of the New Year. It appears to be one of the few times that society in general takes a quick breather to take a look back and reflect upon the year that's passed by. Remarks like, "I can't believe it's gone by so fast," fill the air and there is a sense of disbelief and awe.

It's also the time when New Year's resolutions get thrown around. "This year I'm going to do x, y and z," are easily proclaimed and are even more quickly forgotten. As someone who has broken countless promises to herself, it saddens me. Why do I not take myself seriously?

As a child, and even now, my favorite book of all time has to be the Mahabharata. It has it all- intrigue, comedy, friendship, romance, drama and so much more. If I had to pick my favorite tragic hero in this great story, it would have to be Karna.

A striking incident that happened in Karna's life explains why. When Karna was born, he was adorned with a protective armor and earrings. It was said that it would always protect him and he would never die if he didn't take it off. Knowing this, Lord Indra (the father of Arjuna), schemed to part Karna with these protective features. Knowing that Karna had a weakness for brahmanas and that he had vowed he would always give whatever someone asked of him, Indra disguised himself as a brahmana. Receiving Indra, disguised as a brahamana, very nicely and serving him, Karna asked him what he could do for him. Indra at that time asked for his armor and earrings. Karna explained what these ornaments meant but Indra was insistent. Without hesitation, Karna cut off these ornaments from his body and laid it at Indra's feet and thus satisfied him.

That's how important it was for Karna to keep his vow. It meant so much to him, that he was willing to do whatever it took to keep it. Such was the character of Karna, what to speak of so many other exalted personalities in the Mahabharata and in our Gaudiya Vaisnava lineage.

In my opinion, this is the greatest strength of character- to keep promises to oneself. I know that I have argued on several occasions that it's easier to keep promises to others because they will catch me if I hesitate or break them, but it's just an excuse. We are always held accountable by the Supersoul. Krsna is watching everything we are doing and he is watching every time I break a promise I've made to myself.

I too would like to imbibe the genuine meaning of what vow actually means. The great soberness and heaviness that comes attached with it is something I am fearful of but I am actually the fool if I think that it isn't possible to accomplish. The entire Guru parampara is there, just waiting to help if I ask for it. As HH Bhaktimarga Swami once said during an initiation ceremony, "You have joined the strong, so you have no excuse to be weak."

I'm done with being weak. I want to become strong.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lessons Series: Filling in the Gaps

Ever try to really focus at a task at hand? So difficult! As aspiring chanters, we get a daily reality check when we sit down to chant our japa. Is it any wonder that we either can't focus, get easily distracted or even worse don't even bother attempting?

Chanting is a reflection of how determined and how sincerely we are attempting to become conscious. Even in doing seemingly "mundane" activities we often hear others bemoan that even simple tasks take them so long because it's impossible to focus. I realize that in myself it's not even a question of trying sometimes, but more a matter of simply giving up.

I was mentioning this to a senior devotee today. In my efforts to become more determined and directed in my life, it's hard to be patient when we are endeavoring for something. "There's only so many hours in a day I can try to focus, if even that!" I proclaimed. Sympathizing with me, she stated, "The most important thing is to fill in those gaps of time, when we are not focused on a specific task, properly. We must do our due diligence in endeavoring, but it's when we don't utilize the remaining time in strengthening our sadhana, that's when doubts may start to creep in. An idle mind is a devil's workshop."

Reflecting on her powerful words, I realized my problem. It's not only about focusing on one's efforts on specific tasks, it's about always endeavoring to remain focused. Oftentimes I say to new people, "Krsna consciousness is a way of life." But am I living the statement that I make? It should mean that every "gap" I have in my day should be used more productively. Whether it be reading, chanting or listening to Krsna katha, it's our choice whether we want to be focused.

Of course one should not artificially try to jump to an elevated level, but recognition is the beginning. Little by little, even if it is in increments of five minutes a day, switching from space out mode to KC mode can make a huge difference. It's my hope and goal that I can fill in the gaps by becoming more Krsna focused which will naturally help me become more Krsna conscious.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lessons Series- Tolerance

Every moment, every encounter and every situation is actually a lesson if we just take the time to recognize it. Personally, I think I am afraid of lessons for the simple fact that I'm afraid to fail. So instead of recognizing it as an opportunity to grow and learn, I instead try to ignore it and pretend they don't exist.

Sometimes, however, no matter how hard we try to run and hide, Krsna arranges a situation where you can't help but introspect. Yesterday that lesson was tolerance. I was getting onto a bus mentally preparing myself for a five hour drive. I carefully tried to pick a seat and prayed and prayed that nobody would sit next to me. Just as I thought I was in the clear, someone sat down. "Grumble, grumble," was the state of my consciousness.

Resigning myself to the fact that this was the way things were, I settled in for the ride. Immediately my ears were assailed by really loud music. I'm not talking just loud- it was ear-splitting. Twisting myself in my seat, I searched for the source. Behind me, earphones in his ears was a gentleman playing music on his laptop. What could I say? He had earphones in his ears and yet the music was blaring.

Fuming silently, I mentally was wondering "Why, oh why, did I choose this seat? Why am I being subjected to this?" As I was wondering, it suddenly dawned upon me- he wasn't just listening to any music but some Gospel music talking about the power of God.

Although it was loud, and one could argue intrusive to the others surrounding him, it made me realize how little tolerance I have. I wasn't in a situation where there was jarring rock music pounding in my ears or even worse a string of obscenities blasting out, instead the refrain kept repeating "The power of God, the power of God."

In his own way, this person was sharing the Lord's glories. Instead of looking at the positive, I was absorbed in my own comforts and was failing to recognize that. As I pulled on my own headphones and searched for some kirtan, I realized that tolerance is not something superficial. It means having true understanding and respect for others. Although I am not tolerant and didn't practice tolerance in that situation, I got a glimpse of my own progress in that regard.

Apparently though, Krsna didn't think that was enough! My strategy when taking long rides is to sleep. An ignorant escape, but at least one that makes the time pass by faster! As I listened to some kirtan, I slowly fell asleep only to wake up suddenly. There was a tapping noise that persisted.

Barely containing my frustration, I didn't know what to think. On one hand it sounded like someone was pounding on a keyboard and typing very quickly. Immediately I assigned the culprit to be this poor gentlemen behind me. Turning up the volume, I tried to escape. Slowly, intelligence sunk in and I realized that I had assigned blame too hastily. Indeed, it was the chair I was sitting in and no one else!

There was no where to move and nothing to do but tolerate. Such a small thing that could cause me to react so drastically internally. There was no way to take it other than recognizing it was Krsna's arrangement.

Upon reaching home, I could only laugh. Krsna is such a trickster! Normally I would do everything in my power to try to change or get out of a situation that requires tolerance, but he kept me trapped. Looking back, I recognize it was great mercy. I had an opportunity to listen to kirtan, try to absorb myself in some lectures (as a means of escaping the tapping sound) and introspect. Things I like to do, but often "don't have time to do."

I pray that I develop this most valuable jewel of tolerance. As aspiring chanters, it is the ornament we all must wear that will enable us to chant constantly.