Friday, December 30, 2011

A New Year, an old resolution...

I've taken to people watching a lot these days. Just plop yourself in an area and just sit and look. It's amazing what you will see. People are fighting, smiling, conversing, hurting, shopping, crying, laughing, thinking... As I witness this, I often wonder about their lives. Some seem as though they "have it all". I've often noticed with myself that if I'm not careful, it's easy to get sucked into the polished veneer many present to the external world.

It's easy to compare and think, "Wow everyone seems happier than I am" but fortunately, as I'm getting older and getting to know many on a much deeper level, that illusion is steadily starting to crumble. It serves as a constant reminder to me that the western conception of satisfaction/happiness is something that happens at you, but that's not accurate. Satisfaction is actually an austerity that one has to practice as explained in the Bhagavad-gita.

It's so easy to put the blame on "the universe", Krsna or anybody else who gets in the way of our desires. But the only person we should hold accountable for our satisfaction, or more likely, lack thereof, is ourselves. Truth be told, that never sits right with me! LOL! I know it's the truth, but it doesn't and if I reflect I can only come to the conclusion it's because I don't want to take responsibility of my satisfaction. As almost everything else, it's so easy to put the blame or obligation on someone else.

So what to do if you're like me? Someone who knows that they are responsible for their own satisfaction but still finds it difficult to take full responsibility for it. The only conclusion I've come to is to associate with those who actually take responsibility for their satisfaction. You'll notice that those who do, spend much more time trying to help others by giving them Krsna who ultimately is the only person who can fill that Krsna sized hole in our hearts. Furthermore, they are grateful and positive. They don't focus on what went wrong or who supposedly caused them pain, but instead practically live the words Lord Brahma once spoke:

tat te 'nukampāḿ su-samīkṣamāṇo
bhuñjāna evātma-kṛtaḿ vipākam
hṛd-vāg-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te
jīveta yo mukti-pade sa dāya-bhāk

My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances with his heart, words and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim. SB. 10.14.8

It's December 30, 2011. As many prepare for tomorrow night's festivities or a quiet night in to ring in 2012, I'm revisiting an old resolution. I'd like to take responsibility for my own satisfaction and stop waiting for it to just "come to me." I pray that in 2012 I may develop the proper consciousness to serve the vaisnavas.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Patience and Enthusiasm

I’ve often been told that I’m extremely enthusiastic. Truth be told, at times I’ve wondered if that was a compliment or a backhanded way of saying something else!

In our Vaisnava tradition enthusiasm is one of the cornerstones that our bhakti journey should rest upon. I’ve always found it quizzical when the inevitable question comes up “How does one become enthusiastic?” There are several responses I’ve heard over the years but the one that always stands out is “Associate with those who are enthusiastic.”

Being enthusiastic, however, is not so difficult. One naturally becomes enthusiastic about something that motivates them, inspires them or enlivens them. I would argue that maintaining enthusiasm in our day to day sadhana and services is what is more challenging. It’s easy to feel enthusiastic for a second, an hour, a day or perhaps even a week. But we, in the line of the great Vaisnava acaryas, aspire for more. We aspire for lifetime upon lifetime of consistent and ever increasing enthusiasm to not only serve Krsna but to serve the Vaisnavas.

In a lecture I was recently listening to, the dual workings of patience and enthusiasm was highlighted and as the proverbial saying goes a light bulb finally went on in my head. I’ve often found it almost contradictory that both of these qualities are extremely important in the cultivation of bhakti. In my experience, being enthusiastic often results in me wanting something right now, whereas patience requires just that- patience which is something that I firmly believe Krsna has on his priority list for me to acquire right along with humility!

However, as was explained in the lecture, having one without the other can lead to a recipe for disaster. If one is simply patient and waits and waits and waits without investing any action, nothing will come of it. Conversely, if one is extremely enthusiastic and is not patient then if the results of one’s endeavor do not come immediately, one may become disheartened and give up altogether.

It is often proclaimed “Work as though everything depends upon you and pray knowing everything is dependent upon God (Krsna).” In that one sentence one can find patience and enthusiasm as the underlying seeds which need to be planted in order for the flower of Krsna bhakti to blossom. In fact, it will lead us to the coveted goal we should all aspire towards- steadiness in service, in sadhana and in our consciousness of Krsna at all times.

So the next time you feel yourself getting extremely enthusiastic or feel as though Krsna may be testing you by making you wait for something, remember that it’s not just patience or just enthusiasm that are required to advance. It’s both.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Knowledge vs. Realization

Jnana is defined as knowledge and Vijnana as realized knowledge. It's the difference between intellectually knowing that we are not this body and actually acting on the platform of "I am not this body." Tonight I was speaking to a very senior mentor of mine and in answer to a question he simply said, "You are on the mental platform." Agreed. I'm pretty sure I'm one of those people who is always on the mental platform! But it got me thinking- then where is the stepping stone between jnana and vijnana? As I began reading some excerpts from Srila Prabhupada's letters to various disciples, I felt I received an instantaneous answer:

"Keep on with the practice of writing articles; in the midst of your heavy duties go on writing something glorifying the Lord and put our philosophy into words. Writing articles means to express oneself how he is understanding the whole philosophy. So this writing is necessary for everyone." Letter to Giriraj, August 12, 1971.

In between the little knowledge that is in my head and (one day) the grace of Krsna actually giving me complete realization of that knowledge, is the stepping stone of understanding. We can understand knowledge to different levels but it may not still be completely manifested in our hearts.

Krsna is so merciful. He is always giving hope! Even if something hasn't fully become realized in our hearts, the process of Krsna Consciousness is so powerful that 1. Krsna in one second can give full realization if he wants to and 2. if we sincerely and seriously practice this precious gift of Krsna consciousness, our understanding will mature and one day bloom into the juicy fruit of realization.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Meager Offering

Dearest Srila Prabhupada,

Please accept my humble obeisances in the dust of your lotus feet.
All glories to your divine appearance!
All glories to your causeless mercy!

It's 10:54pm on the most auspicious occasion of your appearance and I am still in the process of composing what will probably remain an inadequate offering. My problem lies in the fact that it is impossible to express my gratitude in words and even harder to choose amongst your unlimited good qualities!

I was trying so hard to eloquently compose something beautiful when now, at this late hour, I am realizing I can only hope to convey what is in my heart. Srila Prabhupada, this summer, what to speak of this past year, has been so interesting. So many lessons, so many opportunities, so many challenges and most importantly so much mercy to absorb.

Amongst all that, one theme keeps coming up- unwavering determination and faith. Determination to serve for the sake of service without any preference or expectation for recognition. Determination to always behave like a vaisnava, which is actually extremely difficult for uncultured individuals such as myself. Determination to do one's duty and carry out the orders of the spiritual master without any expectation for the outcome of the results. And most importantly, faith that Krsna always knows what's best and to put full trust in Him.

You, my dear Srila Prabhupada, exemplify all this. You personify what Krsna speaks to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita:

vyavasāyātmikā buddhir
ekeha kuru-nandana
bahu-śākhā hy anantāś ca
buddhayo 'vyavasāyinām

Those who are on this path are resolute in purpose, and their aim is one. O beloved child of the Kurus, the intelligence of those who are irresolute is many-branched. Bg. 2.41

In the translation, you give us a beautiful definition of what vyavasāyātmikā means- resolute in Krsna consciousness. You personify this. Your resoluteness in Krsna consciousness is the reason why we are all here today. You faced what seemed to be countless insurmountable challenges, but you never wavered. You took so much shelter in the instructions of your spiritual master HDG Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami. In fact, you always said "My spiritual master is always with me."

Such faith and determination does not come cheaply. It is a result of great realization, trust and surrender. It is no doubt that you are a pure devotee who is so dear to Krsna and yet you came to the material world, undergoing all types of trials and tribulations just to save ungrateful individuals like myself who have no idea, even after so many years, what it actually means to be Krsna conscious.

My dear Srila Prabhupada, on this day of your glorious appearance, please first of all forgive me for procrastinating and only writing this offering at the last minute! Secondly, please give me that determination and faith you had in your spiritual master so that I too can follow in your footsteps and the footsteps of those who follow you. Please allow me to see every challenge or obstacle as a gift and allow me to feel gratitude and imbibe the lessons that Krsna is trying to teach me. Please allow me to have complete trust and faith in the Holy names of Krsna. I long for the day when I can say with full confidence and realization that everything is in Krsna's holy names.

Your aspiring servant and granddaughter,
Vrndavana Vinodini dasi

Sunday, August 21, 2011

We Get What We Can Handle

We've all heard the saying that "God only gives us what we can handle." I'm sure most would probably agree that sometimes we've felt, "I can't handle this. I don't know how true that statement is!" Of course whether we realize it soon after, or even in this lifetime, it's true. Krsna only does give us what we can handle whether it be in the form of glory, frustration, happiness or challenges.

I was speaking about this with a dear friend yesterday and we got to unpacking this statement. What does it actually mean? As she spoke about the lives of pure devotees and the tests that they face, a realization sprung up. Perhaps only giving us what we can handle doesn't only apply in the sense of our physical or emotional capacity, what if we looked at it from the perspective of learning lessons?

Personally, I have always looked at "Krsna's giving me what I can handle" from the viewpoint of strength- "Can I deal with this?" It's a valid perspective, especially when one is caught up in the moment.

However, when we look at the lives of those advanced bhakti yogis and yoginis, that's not their primary focus. Of course, that's not to say that we should imitate them artificially, but we can learn from them. I was recently reading HH Radhanth Swami's book "The Journey Home" over again and upon this second reading I was struck by the wonderful outlook Radhanath Swami takes. Never does Maharaja complain asking "Why is this happening to me?" Instead, Maharaja is always looking to understand how each circumstance is moulding him in his quest of self-discovery and finding the Absolute Truth.

Srila Prabhupada said during a conversation that took place in Teheran on August 11, 1976, "But before coming to the post of recognized devotee, Krsna tests very severely. That one has to pass." When we examine the lives of recognized devotees like Prahalad Maharaja we can unequivocally see it's not just because "They can handle it," it's because they know what to do with the tests- every test was an opportunity to turn to Krsna.

It's the same principle we hear in scripture of how the spiritual teacher will only chastise those who can accept it because for others that same chastisement may only serve to weaken or destroy their faith in Krsna. That acceptance may include learning we have certain anarthas and having to work on it, being corrected in our behaviour or even being properly trained in devotional service. As we imbibe this guidance we should always see it in context with our ultimate goal: to become staunch servants of the devotees and Krsna.

We are just like diamonds. The formation of natural diamonds requires very high temperatures and pressure, conditions I'm sure we've all experienced before! But, if we remain patient, like the diamond, we to will become something of great beauty and value that can be offered to Krsna.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Opportunities and Surrender

Opportunities and surrender. It seems to be the theme for this Summer of 2011. Opportunities to travel, to meet new people, to explore opportunities and most importantly to see the lesson in every situation.

That's become my definition of surrender- to see the lesson I need to learn in every circumstance I find myself in. What can I learn from this? What is Krsna trying to teach me? What unwanted qualities are holding me back from allowing me to embrace Krsna's plan for me?

Although it's so easy to compare and bemoan that Krsna may "appear" to be more merciful to others, it's actually the coward's way out. It's another ploy on the part of my fickle mind to shift responsibility and play the blame game. But what's the use?

Instead of feeling a sense of satisfaction, I feel a loss of control and instead of exercising the free will that Krsna has given me, I act like an ungrateful fool by trying to toss it back into His face.

I forget I have a choice. That free will can be spent in understanding that in spite of the choices I make, Krsna is so merciful that He is trying to take me back to Him. Whatever lessons, whatever successes and whatever failures, He is beside me. He is the one person who will never give up on me and will always be there to encourage me.

Little by little, I get glimpses of that encouragement when I step back and take stalk of what Krsna is trying to teach me. Although at times it can be exhausting, and definitely battering to my false ego, there is also a refreshing sense of freedom.

That freedom frees me from the false illusions that I have about myself and in turn presents opportunities that may have never come otherwise. It makes complete sense doesn't it? Only when we let go of those things that are holding us back can we be open to whatever will help us to move forward.

Although completely logical, it can also be hard to apply practically. That is why I'm so grateful to all my mentors, friends, parents and well-wishers who act as my role models in always seeking to find Krsna in all aspects of their lives. Thank you for giving me the inspiration and encouragement to follow in your footsteps.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rediscovering the Magic of Krsna Consciousness All Over Again

As an aspiring bhakti practitioner, I'm well aware of how easy it is to start seeing everything I do in my day to day life as routine. Chanting, deity worship, reading, associating with devotees- all of it can become mundane if we don't go deeper than the superficial coverings. Sometimes we may feel that Krsna consciousness has lost the "freshness" and have to seek ways to rediscover that feeling.

Recently, I was fortunate to go on a retreat facilitated by HH Devamrta Swami and HG Bada Hari prabhu. The retreat was for newcomers offering an escape from the rigamaroles of everyday material life and an opportunity to discover the great jewels bhakti has to offer in the forms of kirtan, prasadam and deep devotion-centric discussions.

Upon hearing about the retreat, I immediately wanted to invite three people. Two of them were ladies I had distributed books to and had developed friendships with. The other was a student who regularly attends the Bhakti Yoga Club at the University of Ottawa.

Upon inviting Marcelle and Geoff, both immediately said yes. Unfortunately, Nadia, whom I have the great honour of regularly reading the Gita with, was unable to make it.

The weekend of the retreat came upon us and I was both trepedatious and excited. The potential for this trip being a life transforming journey for both these individuals was unbelievable. How many relative newcomers to Krsna consciousness get an opportunity to get one-one time with devotees of the highest caliber such as HH Devamrta Swami and HG Bada Hari prabhu for two and a half days? Not only that, but to have the association of like-minded individuals with a genuine thirst to dive deeper in bhakti can be rare.

Although I was happily engaged either in kirtan or cooking for most of the retreat, two moments stand out for me during those two and a half days. Those moments allowed me to fall in love with Krsna consciousness all over again. One morning, over half the participants got up early out of their own volition and chanted japa. The main room where the programs were being held became completely surcharged with the vibration of the holy name. In that space, I'll never forget looking over the participants, and in particular Geoff and seeing him with eyes closed, a look of determination on his face chanting the holy names of Krsna.

The second moment was during the final kirtan. HH Devamrta Swami simply took us out of the material world with his kirtan. Every single participant, was dancing. It was as though no one had a say in the matter! Everyone had to dance. After dancing and dancing and dancing, finally the kirtan came to conclusion and sitting down everyone sang in unison, hands outstretched and a look of complete bliss on their faces.

That is what Krsna consciousness is all about. Feeling a sense of connection to the holy names and the devotees. Although I may have passed along the message and invited both Geoff and Marcelle to come, they gave me the greatest gift during this retreat. Watching their experiences allowed me to rediscover the magic of Krsna consciousness all over again.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Fully Present

Have you ever had someone's full attention? I'm not talking about the few flashes of eye contact you get while the person you're talking to you is simultaneously trying to have a bbm conversation with someone else. No. I'm talking about full on 100% attention.

It's so rare. The natural tendency of a living entity is to to love and be loved. In the process of trying to be loved and not attaining success, oftentimes the living entity tries to find some way to seek attention. Whether it's through laughter, dramatic story telling, looking beautiful etc etc, my realization is that all of these things we pursue are really for one thing alone- to be loved. We feel as though by doing something extraordinary then somehow the world we live in will wake up and finally pay us the attention that we're due.

But what happens when despite doing nothing at all, someone gives you that attention so freely and without any expectation in return? It becomes overwhelming. I had such an experience this weekend. HG Vaisesika prabhu and his wonderful wife Nirakula prabhu are two examples of individuals who give you their undivided attention.

When they speak to you, it's as though no one else exists. They fan any small spark or dying ember of any good quality that may be buried inside you and magnify it a million fold. It's actually unbelievable until you experience it for yourself.

What a gift! Persons who have been so fortunate to experience this type of undivided attention are often at a loss to describe what it feels like. It's so deep, so profound and gives a glimpse of how things must be in the spiritual world.

It also serves as a great inspiration as to what we should aspire for. We all should strive to ensure every interaction we have with every living entity leaves an indelible impression upon them.

All we need to do is remember Srila Prabhupada. Whether it was months of association, a one sentence instruction or even just a smile, those who came in contact with Srila Prabhupada have described how they'll never forget how they felt a deep sense of love and connection with him. It is our duty to not imitate but follow in his footsteps. After all, it's part of our family business to be fully present and conscious. :)

Monday, May 23, 2011


Ever get the feeling that you just don't belong? Maybe the last time was during your teenage years where you walked into a social gathering knowing no one at all. We all long for a sense of belonging, a sense that "we fit in".

For some time now I feel that I just don't belong. I have wonderful friends, a loving family and so many well-wishers that one might suggest that my problem is due to the fact that I'm not grateful for the gifts that have been given to me. That's very true. I'll admit I'm not a grateful person and it's something I need to work on, but lately I feel as though it's something more.

Deep down I believe this sense of "not belonging" is due to a lack of permanency. Not only the lack of permanency in my own life but the constant change that is constantly surrounding everyone and everything I am associated to and with. I know many others I have spoken to have also shared that they experience this. The material world is said to be real yet impermanent. My realization is that it is hard "to belong" to anyone or anything when an expiration date is part of the package deal.

Relationships, situations, perspectives....they all change. I guess that's the lesson that Krsna is trying to teach me and that I don't want to accept. That despite whatever I am experiencing, He is the one permanent person that will never change, never leave and will always be there. Theoretically the concept is locked into my brain but on the basis of faith, I think I have a long way to go. Ultimately that is the lesson, isn't it?

So despite feeling as though I don't belong and I'm not connected, I aspire to embrace these feelings so that I can depend on Krsna more. On the most Krsna conscious perspective (which unfortunately is not the one I'm operating on :P) this is the greatest blessing. Most of the time our problem lies in the fact that we feel that the material world is our home and that all our pastimes here is what can sustain us. Although I feel like a small ship that is being tossed about in the rough seas and winds of change and upheaval, I pray that the steady anchor of Krsna's mercy will provide a safe haven keeping me safely enveloped in His merciful glance.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Face-Face Time

At present when I look around me it's a bit jarring to see how the days appear to pass by in a blink of an eye. Everyone, including myself, is always "busy."

I notice that when I'm literally running through my week, this all feels normal. This is the way life is supposed to be, no problem. It's only when I take the time to reflect, does it feel extremely artificial. What happened to the days when you could just call someone without having to make an appointment with them or drop in just to visit?

I was at the wedding this past weekend and it gladdened my heart to get some quality time with some of my devotee friends. Instead of having to email, Skype or text someone to schedule a few minutes to hear their thoughts, realizations and engage in an emotional exchange, it happened spontaneously and organically.

That's what happens when everyone is together- there is a chance to actually connect. I have never personally been a huge fan of the telephone or email although its become two of the most convenient mediums to communicate through. There's something about sitting in front of someone and seeing their big grin, hand gestures, head nodding or toe tapping that just can't be translated via an emoticon no matter how creative they become.

These are the moments in time the camera of our mind captures. These are the things that will get us through the doldrums of material existence that each and every one of us will have to face. Whenever an opportunity presents itself to spend time with one another, we should try grab it. In order for us to love Krsna, we need to love his devotees. The easiest way to do that is spend time with them.

However insane my life gets, that's what I want to do. Prioritize spending face-face time with the devotees. Whether it be speaking Krsna katha over a plate of some yummy prasadam or hanging out in a hotel room catching up on on someone's life, it's a valuable gift. Thank you to all those I got a chance to serve with and speak to this past weekend. I cherish it and hope that the opportunity to spend time with you comes soon!