Tuesday, December 25, 2012

my inspiration for today

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." - Marianne Williamson

I remember the way I felt the first time I heard this, "Wow, that's totally applicable to me and everyone I know!" Years later, I've realized it's not only beautiful and inspirational but more importantly, it's a call to action for all of us. Krsna has given all of us unique abilities and talents and it is our service to culture, nourish them and offer it back in His service. om tat sat. :D

Sunday, December 23, 2012

in honour of gita jayanti: a new blog

Today, Sunday December 23, 2012 marks Gita Jayanti- the anniversary of when the Bhagavad gita was spoken over 5000 years ago on the sacred grounds of Kurukshetra.

The Bhagavad gita - as it is, is one of my favourite books. In fact, I often comment that it's "my hand book for life". If I have a question, a problem, am frustrated or am in need of some inspiration, the Gita is always there for me. I never need to worry that it's too busy or doesn't have time for me. In short, the Gita never lets me down.

I wanted to do something to commemorate this significant day and so for the first time in my life I consecutively read all 700+ verses - in English. I've recited all the sanskirt verses before and it was a wonderful experience. However, since my understanding of sanskrit is minimal at best, I could only appreciate the beautiful sound vibration of the mantras and not the essence it contained within them.

That's why I challenged myself to read the English translation of all 700+ verses. At some point in time between Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 an idea came to me. Well...it was more like a challenge: write something about every single verse in the Gita. A verse a day on the importance of the topic discussed, the way it makes me feel reading it or perhaps even a question that comes to mind.

And so here I am at the start. Today marks the beginning of diving into THE greatest yoga text. I invite you to join me... www.gita-asitis.blogspot.com

Sunday, December 9, 2012

At Every Moment

In an age where the expectation is instant, whether it be in attaining gratification, results or service, it's no wonder that the path of Bhakti may seem difficult for some. And when I say some, I mean me!

This type of inculcation by modern society results in the mind becoming weak and susceptible to the notion that surrender to Krsna is next to impossible. Why? Because surrender is an active process that requires strength, faith in Krsna and most of all the realization that it is not a one time deal. Surrender to Krsna is something we must practice at every moment.

I remember when I first heard this. It instantly sat right with me. But then as time went on and the actual work needed to get started, I wasn't so keen anymore. Surrendering at every moment starts with becoming more conscious of Krsna. Specifically it means being able to see the Krsna conscious perspective of a situation and learning to let go of what "I think is right" and seeing through the eyes of sastra (i.e. seeing through the lens of what Krsna and his authorized representatives have told us).

Surrender is also difficult because it involves our free will, which is something some of us are not very good at utilizing. Normally we use our free will to protect the ego and defend our actions. Surrendering at every moment means we now have to choose between what's best according to Krsna, guru, sadhu and sastra and choosing to act according to what our mind thinks is best (which is normally the easy and "instant" way out).

Old habits are hard to overcome. After lifetimes of choosing "my" way, is it any surprise that we now grapple with utilizing our free will properly? But as I often have to tell my mind, it's not an excuse to give up. Like anything, this struggle can only help us become stronger if in conjunction we are practicing a strong regimen of chanting, serving the devotees and eating food offered with love to Krsna.

It's like lifting weights. I remember when I first started a year ago; it was embarrassing how weak I was! But when I made a commitment to go regularly, eat better and rest properly, I was surprised to see that I was making progress. In fact, the time soon came where I felt the need to increase the weight since it was getting easy.

I'm no expert on surrender, in fact I'm probably in the pre-school class, but it only makes sense that the proper diet and lifestyle change would need to be accompanied in the "Surrender program".

We always need a challenge, whether we realize it or not. So what better way to challenge oneself than increase the frequency by which we surrender to Krsna! Krsna says He helps those who help themselves, so what are we waiting for? Let's go grab that help!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Defence strategies

Last week pretty much anything that could irritate or annoy me became irresistibly attracted me.

Whether it be a person who had just finished smoking sitting next to me on the bus (when there were clearly other available seats) to my least favourite exercise instructor (who thinks screeching is a form of encouragement) subbing in for my favourite one- the list goes on and on.

It was tough. Nothing drives me crazier than feeling like something is out of my control (I know, I know- welcome to the material world!) But it was more than that.

Normally I try not to let the small things get to me, but I really felt like I was being ganged up on! It wasn't just an isolated incident here or there. Oh no. It felt like everything was happening just to purposely annoy me.

As I sat and silently fumed throughout my various experiences, I also sought for a deeper explanation. It suddenly hit me. I try so hard to avoid getting into situations that cause me to react in a negative way that when the inevitable happens, I'm forced to realize that I spend a lot of my time defending. In fact I think I spend more time defending than I do eating.

What is it that I'm defending? Well, for lack of a better term- "my mental sanity". In fact, I'm pretty expert at strategizing game plans in order to avoid having to deal with an irritated mind. It was a powerful realization. We often hear that there's more to human life than "eating, sleeping, mating and defending". The first three are pretty self-evident but I've always wondered about the "defending" aspect.

Well wonder no more. After last week's experiences I realize I'm a defender. But, just like with everything, there is no perfect defence strategy and part of being a spiritual warrior (which I can only hope of aspiring to become one day) is also realizing what is the best defence.

The best defence is to realize my defence strategies are full of flaws! LOL! I'm no match against Krsna's energies, especially when He wants to teach me something.

And so toward the end of the week, instead of just mentally flipping out, I caught my self taking some deep breathes. It's OK. Everything is happening for a reason. So there is some irritation...it's ok. It's an experience.

After all experiences are not about whether they are good, bad or just plain irritating, but what you get out of them.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Gita Nagari Illuminations

This past weekend I had the incredible opportunity to attend a retreat in Gita Nagari. Aptly named "Jewels of Gaura lila" it was approximately 3 days filled with exuberant kirtans, heart-melting talks and beautiful devotees thirstily engaging in blissful sanga. And what better way to kick-start the festivities than by being witness to over 40 devotees receiving initiation! Just beautiful.

I myself haven't been to Gita Nagari in over 20 years. Although I don't remember much from my childhood visit, it felt like I was returning home. The beautiful breezes, the gentle cows, a dirt road to meander on, and stunning fireflies illuminating the pitch black nights. Of course nestled in this oasis are Their most glorious Lordships Sri Sri Radha Damodara.

Being there reminded me of being back in Mayapur. A simple life that consists of hearing, chanting, feasting and devotee association. That's it. No extra comforts or unnecessary technology. No phone calls, Skype video calls or texts to try to schedule some time to catch up with a friend. Instead you got to see everyone face to face. How refreshing!

I realize that it's only when everything is stripped away and I'm left with the bare minimum that finally I get a glimpse into what's really important and essential. In such an environment, the mind quietens down. Well...at least in my case, it started to quieten down! As soon as we started to enter Buffalo on the way back, along came all the crazy thoughts that had been kept at bay.

It really goes to show how sensitive we all are to our environments. In fact just today I was looking for quiet place to chant that was out of the house, yet out of the sun. By no means an easy feat! I finally happened upon a flat boulder located on a quiet path. As I settled myself in and enjoyed the respite provided by the shade and cool winds, I noticed the large trees located directly in front of me. As the breeze blew through, each and every leaf readily swayed. It's not as though one leaf was thinking "Well I don't feel like blowing that way so I'm going to try with all my might to just stay still!" Instead all of them blew in harmony.

It made me realize how much I have to learn from these trees! Instead of adjusting and moving in tandem with Krsna's plan, I tend to fight it. In fact, that was one of the jewels I took home with me from Gita Nagari- doubting Krsna wants the absolute best for me and thinking "I'm right" causes me to become my own obstacle in bhakti. Just like the trees who surrender to the breezes, it's actually easier to just go along with Krsna's plan.

But how? That's always my question. Well...I had a slightly bewildering realization this weekend. I actually knew the answer the whole time. :S It's specifically through reading that we can get rid of these doubts and crazy ideas the mind comes up with to not trust Krsna. Reading Srimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita actually acts as a soothing balm to calm the ridiculous mind. That same mind that is forever speculating and causing trouble instead becomes chastened by the weight of Vedic knowledge.

So the eternal quest continues...to become like the leaves of the humble leaves and not just willingly, but happily, sway to the expert tune of Krsna's melody He has for each and every one of us.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Utilizing our talents...

Have you ever felt like you had certain gifts to offer the world, but something was holding you back? If so, you're in good company.

For a few years now I've been feeling that way. In many ways I feel that Krsna has blessed me with different talents, to the extent that it makes me feel confused. In fact, I often look at those who have one specific talent that they are exceptional at doing and think, "I wish I was like that." Why? Simply because it seems like they have it easier; key word of course being "seems".

For those who are exceptionally gifted in one sphere or arena and genuinely love it, their path appears, at least to me, clear. Their direction is set if they choose to follow it and so their purpose in life (in terms of sharing Krsna's blessings upon them) is clearly outlined.

However for those who maybe able to do many things, sometimes the waters may seem more murky. "What should I focus on? Kirtan, writing, speaking, photography? Some of these things? All of these things? Should it be one at a time or simultaneously?" To the extent that these questions can just leave one staying on the mental platform without doing anything. Why do I say this- because I speak from experience!

Recently I've figured out how I would like to utilize whatever little talents Krsna has given me in a meaningful way but in the process have realized enthusiasm is not enough. It'll have to be a combination of hard work, determination, discipline, a LOT of prayer, guidance and ultimately the unshakeable convocation that it's the right thing.

I think that's what separates those who succeed from those who don't. The ability to remain unaffected when criticism, thinly veiled negativity or even worse, a lack of interest/enthusiasm is exhibited by others towards your venture.

And so I am trying to actively do something and get out of my head. In speaking with a well-wishing friend, they referred to my desire to contribute as an offering. What a beautiful thought. Instead of saying, "this is what I want to give to the world," my mind-set has changed to "this is what I want to offer to the world." Just that slight change in word helps me to remember that I just want to be a worthy receptacle that Krsna can use in service. Furthermore it reminds me that an offering implies another accepting out of free will whereas giving can result in "I'm giving so you must take" attitude.

So I pray. I pray to all of you, my readers. Please bless me to have single-pointed determination, discipline, guidance and the rock-solid conviction that I am doing the right thing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A road less travelled

Almost everyday I take myself out on a walk in my neighbourhood. Beads in hand and Krsna's name on my lips, I wander about the various streets, paths and parks that make up the area I live in.

One afternoon last summer I was pondering a saying that I had heard (and I paraphrase): The same thoughts running around the hamster wheel of our mind, results in the inability to change. That thought fresh in my head, I made a promise to myself that sunny afternoon. Whenever I go out for a walk, I will find a new route to take. Challenge in mind I started my walks.

It was about a week and a half later that I started to get a bit worried. "There are only so many ways that you can walk around your neighbourhood, it's just not possible to come up with new and unique routes," said my mind. I started to think that it was true and that this exercise was nice but not very practical. Upon commencing my walk that day I suddenly realized something - I always walked in the same direction. I was so habituated that my feet would just lead me in the same direction! It was only now, when I was consciously trying to seek out new walking paths that I realized this.

It's been a simple yet valuable lesson. I've come to notice that I get habituated to a certain way of thinking or feeling. It's just become my default setting, so to speak and I don't really realize it. Similarly, as numerous thoughts flow through our mind, it's not often that we consciously choose to think of certain things and so the same recycled ideas keep floating around. And then I wonder why I can't change certain habits! It seems silly when I think about it now.

It's been over a year since I took up this challenge and would you believe that I still unconsciously follow this challenge? Everyday when I go for my walk I now naturally pick different routes, change directions and even walk off the beaten path and wander into the grass just to prove to myself that there are indeed innumerable walking paths that I can create even within a limited environment. Truthfully speaking, that's the real lesson I've learned- it's only as limited as I make it and as I venture beyond my "usual" boundaries that I impose on myself, my eyes become open to the numerous possibilities.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Facebook Validation, Anyone?

I don't go on cnn.com very often, but two days when I was randomly glancing at various articles on the website, one caught my attention. It was an opinion piece titled "Facebook threatens to 'Zuck up' the human race."

It began by speaking a little bit about Facebook's IPO (yawn), but then it got interesting. The article quoted a Professor who said, "There's a "shift" from an analog world in which our identities are generated from within, to a digital world in which our sense of self is intimately tied to our social media presence." That's a lot of big words, but essentially it boils down to this: we have stopped looking within to discover who we are and instead are dependent on external sources of validation (i.e. number of likes, friends or posts). Instead of being true to our own ideals and own sense of self, this constant need for validation is fuelled by social media such as Facebook.

Now, I think most of us need this validation to varying extents, with or without Facebook. Memories of high school anyone? My parents never fail to remind me how much money they spent on me (until I got my own job!) so that I could wear the right clothes from the right stores. But before, that was where it ended. What you wore, who you hung out with, what car you drove...it was the external packaging that mattered. Now, it's all that and how much influence you have in the world of social media.

Now, I must admit that I am a Facebook user and I too have succumbed to the infatuation from time to time. Ever put up a status post and then check back every so often to see how many likes/comments you've gotten? Then you too have been bitten by the bug of needing social media validation. That being said, like everything in the material world, social media is also ensconced in duality. These negative effects can be argued against the positive of being able to reach so many people in pursuits of sharing bhakti yoga. But like everything, it's all about balance.

I found my balance awhile back when I noticed something. The more time I spend on Facebook, the less satisfied I feel. It's true. It causes me to compare myself against others which makes absolutely no sense. I am an individual soul that has certain things that are to come to me and to learn in this lifetime. Comparing myself to others is like regressing back to high school where looks mattered and nothing else.

Bhakti teaches us that happiness is found within and has nothing to do with the externals. It has to do with simplicity. The simplicity to realize that "Hey, I'm a tiny spirit soul that needs Krsna to do everything! I am in this particular dress for now, but it would be wise if I don't get too attached to it." So if Facebook can somehow remind us of that, it's a useful tool. But beware! It's easy to get lost in the world of likes, comments and Timeline.

Monday, May 28, 2012

My Trusted Travel Companion

As most people who know me well will tell you, I tend to travel. A lot.

My love of travel was developed at a young age. Growing up I remember travelling at least once a year if not more. I still recall my first travel by air "by myself" at the age of around 14. Hitting my early twenties the travel fever hit me full force landing my in amazing places like Belgium, Croatia, England, Germany, India etc etc...

Nowadays whether its travelling by air, the local bus, in a car or by my own two feet, I have one steady travel companion. This travel companion is the perfect friend. They never complain when I toss them unceremoniously into a bag at the last minute or when they are jolted around in the bumps and turns that accompany travel. They are always there, patiently waiting for me to pay some attention to them. Never demanding but always ready.

They are my japa beads. Rarely do I leave the house without them. They accompany almost everywhere I go whether it be to work, a walk or a four month trip to India.

Without them by my side it feels strangely unsettling. It doesn't mean that I always turn to them and engage in any active conversation, it just means that they are with me. One of those rare friends that does not expect anything but is faithfully around. In travel there are so many unexpected surprises, I'm so grateful to have a trusted friend I can always rely on.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Like a Blade of Grass

I keep getting opportunities to experience "feeling humble like a blade of grass" and 99.9% of the time I blow it! My false ego always gets in the way and the humbling experience is lost. In its place I experience frustration, hurt, outrage or numerous other emotions.

But today something happened. I encountered a situation where I just handled everything badly. You know one of those situations where everything you say just comes out wrong and your good intentions are just not conveyed? Yup...it was one of those. Normally in these situations, I naturally take my own side by thinking, "It's not my fault. I was misunderstood." As I was about to begin that journey in trying to make myself feel better and shift blame, I felt something change. It was like suddenly seeing another path I never noticed before and something inside said, "How about being like that blade of grass?"

The grass never complains. It just remains in its constitutional position of being a blade of grass. So I asked myself, "How about it? How about using this situation as an opportunity to experience your own constitutional position of being a small spiritual part and parcel." Instead of getting huffy and trying to protect my ego, why not just let it go. It's ok. I can instead learn from this experience. And that's just it- in order to learn, one needs to be humble. I'll never learn if I simply assign blame. And besides, where is that going to get me at this moment? Maybe some temporary satisfaction, but it's not going to help in the long run.

Certainly this being the eve of the most munificent appearance day of Lord Caitanya, I can only understand this to be his causeless mercy. I'm certainly not realized enough to act like this EVER! Just goes to show, mercy can appear in all sorts of shapes and form. Today it appeared in the form of a dose of humility. But the most amazing thing is that it was revealed and experienced due to Lord Caitanya.

All glories to Sri Sacinandana whose beautiful smile and magnanimity is unlimited! Wishing everyone a most auspicious and joyous Gaura Purnima filled with kirtan and lots of mercy!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Now and Later

Frustration. That's what I think of when it comes to my mind. Having lived with mine for several decades, it still gets the better of me. Over and over I have succumbed to its desires. What can only be described as the pitiful cries of my intelligence become continuously swallowed by the blaring horns of the mind which screams only two words- now and later.

Sad to say but those two words, in the hands of my mind, lead to my downfall almost every time. So surreptitiously does the mind know how and when to use them. "Oh come on. If you don't eat this now then you may never get a chance again." Ever hear that running through your head just before you reach for that extra slice of pizza or helping of shrikand? Your intelligence is fighting to get a word in edgewise but the savoury scents and cajoling of that voice in your head prompt you to ignore all caution. It's all about the now and besides, it's prasadam, right? And so you convince yourself until the next morning when you hit the snooze so many times that you barely have time to make it to the bus and that fantastic plan you had yesterday of completing at least half your rounds before work is shattered to pieces. It's back to chanting rounds in the evening after a long, exhausting day when all you really want to do is just sleep.

If the "now" ploy doesn't work, no worries for my mind since it has the "later" arsenal at its disposal. "It's the weekend, relax. You can chant your rounds later. You work so hard all week, it's ok." As I'm writing this, I'm shaking my head. How pathetic. I crumble at the mere words now and later. There's really not much else to it. This is the reason regulation in one's life is so important. I think back to the times when I was much more regulated and notice the one thing that was different- the placement of these words.

It was about "Chanting your rounds now and putting everything else off until later." Amazing isn't it, what a change in placement can do. Now and later, although powerful when put to selfish use, can actually help to put what is important in perspective.

This is what I LOVE about writing. Typing away a few thoughts can turn into illuminating realizations. Now and later which I earlier said were hinderances in the hands of my mind serve as a metaphor to remind me that everything is not black and white. It's not about simply eradicating something that seems negative but instead putting it in its proper place. That's the true art of bhakti.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

In Honour Of...

Yesterday I heard the shocking news that three devotees passed away. I was left feeling hollow, especially upon hearing that one of the devotees is the husband of a friend who constantly inspires me with her devotion and dedication to deity worship.

As the day crawled by, my thoughts were mixed. Although I did not have the great fortune of knowing these three devotees, it became resoundingly obvious how much they were loved and how much they loved to serve. It made me reflect- one could argue that these three devotees had achieved the perfection of life. They had touched the lives of so many people around the world by giving them Krsna in different forms.

We do not consider the perfection of life to be measured by money, followers or power. Although alluring to many, they are vacant and useless substitutes when compared to love for Krsna and the devotees as well as the desire to share Krsna with others. That is what will remain a lasting legacy and that is ultimately what touches the souls of others. It's becoming more and more apparent that this is the great wealth that these devotees have inherited.

I'm sure that we all, in this huge vaisnava family of ours, have been touched by the lives of these devotees, whether it be direct or indirect. Our hearts and prayers are with the family and loved ones of these devotees, knowing full well that they have simply moved on to continue to render more and more service to Srila Prabhupada and Lord Caitanya.