Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Reflections on Connecting with the Holy Name

Every weekend I get to spend with the devotees is so special and leaves me with such a wonderful high that I just don't want to ever get down !

Add to devotee association, some gorgeous kirtan with Gaura Vani Prabhu, morning group japa with Yajna Purusha Prabhu, Prabhupad memories you can never get tired off by Mother Rukmini, fun filled activities with Yadunath Prabhu, the most fantastic Prasadam cooking with love by the devotees of the Philadelphia temple, Damodar prayers in front of Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha Sharadbihari, great loved filled tight hugs from Krsangi, debates and discussions about future of ISKCON with Vyenkatta[VBD] and not to forget, fantastic sandwiches and Prasad at Govindas and GTG.. that weekend becomes precious as the Cintamani Touchstone itself!

I am just back from the Cintamani Youth Retreat and I started to actually pen these down sitting in the airport as I waited for my flight to arrive.. I wanted to share some of my reflections about the retreat.

But as I sat down, I felt that I am really at the lack of words to describe what happened in those 48 hours in Philadelphia, where for the 47 hours it felt like time had no meaning, but at the 48th hour, it struck how fast the time flew. In those 2 days, all of us present there could experience sheer power, beauty, bliss, love and the personification associated with the Holy Name.

Personally, I understood what it meant to "Connect with the Holy Name" there. Its been around 10 years since I've been chanting and a few years since I've been chanting seriously, a few months since I've been chanting regularly and giving it top most priority. But first time, I realized that the Holy Name is LITERALLY the personification of the Lord. Else, why would our tears well up when we heard the blissful Kirtans, or why would hair rise in the ends during Morning Japa? It felt like Srila Prabhupad was smiling at us, and Radha Sharadbihari were enjoying the atmosphere in the temple room.

Two incidents I'd like to share happened which proved to me the power of the Holy Name and the effects of chanting it with devotees..

1. When I leave leaving Toronto, my room mate said, Are you sure you want to go this weekend, there is a forecast that it is going to rain all wknd in Philly. My relatives in Pittsburg whom I stayed with before the retreat told me the same thing. Infact, even on Friday, the first day of the weekend, it was a DOWNPOUR !! Every one predicted an overcast and a wet weekend and we were a bit disappointed as it would result in cancelling Hari Naam and all that jazz !! Saturday dawned with heavy rain, but by the time our morning japa was over, the clouds parted, the sun shine blazed through!! It was a perfect day, clear, a bit chilly, but nonetheless completely devoid of rain ! Who would have ever believed? THAT is the power of the Holy Name.

2. So finally the Sunday dawned, and I had to leave. I called my cab but as usual I hadn't finished packing till he came! He actually came earlier and said he'd go back to fill air in his tire and get back in 10 minutes. Though I wanted to stay with every one and not leave the wonderful atmosphere, I had to get back to Toronto to carry on my material commitments. I was a bit frantic so I called the cab company again and they said the cab would be there shortly. As the cab drove into the driveway, I had this urge to say bye to every one again, so I ran back in to give a one big hug to Krsangi and the rest and my Cab driver came out smiling. As I wiped the tears from my eyes and got back into the cab, my Cab driver asked, what was going on there? I said it was a Mantra Meditation Retreat. He was like, were you guys doing this together? I said Yes. He said, can I share with you something. I usually pick up people from religious gatherings, but the minute I stepped out, I felt something so positive, so powerful that I felt instantly happy. What do you guys meditate on?

Now I usually don't talk much in Cabs and not in a new place, but I felt this was such an oppurtunity to preach, so I tore out a paper and wrote the temple address and hte Hare Krishna Maha Mantra telling him thats what we meditate on. He started to chant the Mantra in the car! And then when dropping me off, he said, I was thinking when I saw you crying that you were in a hurry for me to come, but when I came you didn't want to leave. After hearing what you have and after feeling the power in the courtyard, I can safely say that true love and friendship still does exist.

To me, That was a clear proof of what happened during the Cintamani Retreat weekend, it was magical and unique, an experience one had to be there to experience. At the end of the retreat, it was almost as if the nectar of the Holy Name was so lovingly poured down our throats, the sweet after taste is being felt now. I wish this taste never dies.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Harry Potter or Hari Putr (Son of Lord Hari) ??

I confess, I am a HUGE fan of Harry Potter !! But unlike the 1000s and millions around the world who have a fascination for this bespectacled young wizard, I see it very differently. After reading the books very carefully, I conclude that there is a good underlying message of KC principles in this book.

Maybe I am just beating around the bush here and trying to say that reading Harry Potter is a good thing, but nonetheless, its always good to learn things from around our surroundings !!

So here I present 3 interesting principles I think what can be learned and implemented from Harry Potter.

1. Idea of Dementors: Dementors (forgive me HP buffs that I am going into detail here), are basically creatures that embody all sadness in life. They breed in the fithiest conditions and the purpose of their sole existence is to suck happiness away from human beings. Isn't that the whole point of all the qualities like Envy, Greed, Lust, False Ego, Pride etc. ? They breed in the deepest, darkest corner of our hearts and wage a constant battle with the "goodness" in ourselves and try to conquer our minds.

In Harry Potter, dementors are fought by thinking of good thoughts which produces a shield around you. Similarly, in KC, thinking about Sri Sri Hari, Sri Gaura Nitai, Lord Jagannath, Srila Prabhupad and all those devotees around the world and in history who give us true happiness, we can produce a shield around us. Most of all, chanting the Holy Name produces the strongest Patronus (Shield in Harry Potter lingo) to take care of us us and save us from the thoughts that induce happiness and keep us eternally happy.

2. Instructions vs Physically Presence: In the book preceding the final book, Harry Potters mentor and guide, Professor Dumbledore (my FAVE character from that book, has so many shades) dies. In the final book however, what saves Harry's life is his instructions showing that as important and as pure physical association is, it is non different from the instructions.

So many of us younger people keep thinking how wonderful it would have been to be present during Srila Prabhupad's time in this material manifestation. But we often forget that He is always there with us, in his books, in the Temples he established, in his wonderful disciples and in every single instruction he gave. If we want to conquer the evil, we need to take shelter of his instructions and try to follow them sincerely.

3. Concentration is the Key: The series end with the death of Voldermort (The most evil Dark Wizard in HISTORY !) by Harry Potter with the uttering of the unforgivable curse "Avada Kedavara" with utmost concentration and with the sole purpose to kill some one, only then will the curse be effective.

Similarly, if we want to kill the evil in our hearts and Destroy the Ravana within we need to sincerely chant, with concentration, focus and love for the holy names of Lord Krishna.

In the Kalisantarana Upanisad it is stated that:

hare krsna hare krsna
krsna krsna hare hare
hare rama hare rama
rama rama hare hare

iti sodasakam namnam
natah parataropayah
sarva-vedesu drsyate

"The sixteen words--Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare--are especially meant for counteracting the contaminations of Kali. To save oneself from the contamination of Kali, there is no alternative but the chanting of these sixteen words."

So inorder to destroy the evil and fight our inhibitions, we need to Chant the glores of Sri Hari.

There are a lot more lessons that can be learnt from the books, but I will stop at these three at the time being. Maybe next time, more lessons to be learnt ?!

On a closing note, from a sole marketing of the book perspective, the way these books became a revolution is interesting. Written by a single mother on scrap paper in a remote coffee shop in London to one of the most selling books in the world, its the stuff fairytales are made up off. What is there for us to learn from this is how to market out material better. What content we have in our books, in the ancient vedic texts beats the lessons which kids derive from Harry Potter ANY day! The action and drama seen in texts like Ramayan and Mahabharat are far more interesting and exciting than the countless fights Harry has and ofcourse, The Bhagavad Gita gives so much more crucial and critical knowledge about Good vs Evil, about Right vs Wrong and about how to achieve "success", all which HP fails to deliver! Yet, people are reading this and not our books. So, something for all of us to try to analyze.

How can we make this wonderful knowledge Srila Prabhupad has presented us in such a way that one day, at 4 00 am all around the world, millions of people wait, in front of the ISKCON temples, for the diety doors to unravel, for the arati bells to go off..

To get darshan of Lord Sri Hari !!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Real Beauty

When a friend of mine sent me this ad, my respect for Dove products increased immensely !! I still don't like that line of products as I don't think they work for my skin, but this ad had so much of Krishna Consciousness in it that I felt it had to be posted here.

From a broader perspective, the term "beauty" is often misunderstood. This point has been stressed since time and millennium and by various sources, by quotes that say "Beauty isn't skin deep", by TV shows like Ugly Betty, where the main protagonist is an unattractive yet brilliant young girl who gets a job with a fashion house where she proves her worth with her brain power.

Still, STILL, billions of dollars is spent every year in cosmetic industry, thousands of women go for botox and other surgeries and toxic methods to enhance their looks, teenage girls all around the world idolize Jessica Alba, Jennifer Lopez for their perfect 10 figures and not for the struggle they underwent to become successful. Looks, in particular, Good Looks still play a great role in peoples life.

Saying this, I will not deny the importance of looking good. But I do object to the hours and money spent on "looks" when it can be used for so many other purposes.

But what I object to the most is the fakeness in the obtainment of these good looks. As shown in the Dove ad, what is real beauty? Who are we to define real beauty? And what we see in todays "most beautiful women", is that real beauty?

On a more deeper level, this advertisement tells a lot about our "real" identity and gives a better perspective to answering the often questioned "Who am I". The girl stayed the same. Her real identity (soul) stayed the same through out the makeover (transition from childhood to youth to adult to old age) and though it was the same person, she looked so different. Can any one say that she is different from what she was before the makeover? No, because "she" is the same.

People are running all over to try to find the "real beauty" or the "real knowledge" in this case, but no one wants to stop and really look around. Just as the way people after seeing the ad would be searching all over for the "beautiful" girl but that girl was always there!

Besides, what beauty are people running behind? What is "Real Beauty" ?

In the Nectar of Devotion, Srila Prabhupad describes that All beauty is one the opulences of Lord Krishna. Seeing Lord Krishna in such a ultimately beautiful form, makes me wonder, why are people running around for true beauty, when the real beauty is found in abundance?

The name Krishna means All Attractive. If we need to be searching for anything, it should be searching to acquire the taste of the Holy Name that will inturn help us to increase our attraction for the all attractive.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Vege..what ?

When Payal sent me this cartoon to think of a caption for yesterday, I was remembering another cartoon I had seen recently about cruelty to animals.

This was sent to me by a co-worker, who was just adopting a vegetarian diet. His journey was very interesting. A few months ago when I met him, he used to eat meat and he felt that his life was incomplete without it. Over lunch one day, he noticed that all I was eating was salad and he asked. So when I told him I was a vegetarian. He said, "vege...what?"

Giving a smirk, he continued, "I don't get it, why are people vegetarian? I am sure you are one because your parents are Vegetarian too".

His taunt reminded me of all the times I had to tell people that I was a Vegetarian even without understanding what that word meant! Yes, maybe I was born a Vegetarian, but today, I believe in it strongly!

Back to my co-worker, after we spoke about the pros of a vegetarian diet and all the positive effect it has on you emotionally, physically, mentally and most important, spiritually. He listened, but I don't think I made an impact.

People say Love is a strong thing and he fell in love with a Thai girl who was a vegetarian, Vegan infact! She tried to talk to him, but of no avail, so she made him see a video which I am guessing is similar to the famous "Meet your Meat" production. After seeing it for 10 minutes, he stopped the TV and has become a devout Vegetarian since then.

A 180 degree change? You bet!! [Maybe I should try to get him to chant Hare Krishna next =) ]

After his transformation, we were talking about how much better it makes him feel and he brought up a beautiful point, which leads to my first cartoon posting, he said "I was such a hypocrite when I was a meat eater. I would sit and relish the carcus of a poor animal but if a kid were so close to even patting my dog too hard I would get angry. I would join organizations like K9 and other animal welfare organizations, but didn't realize that the biggest welfare we can do them is by treating them good and keeping them alive!"

How true!

So many people are hypocritical about Animal Welfare.

Want to see real Animal Welfare ?

- Become a Vegetarian
- Love ALL Animals
- Engage them in the service of the Lord, they enjoy it =)

Mostly, treat them with respect as you would another living being.

I am glad my co-worker had that transformation. If only more people owned videos like Meet your Meat....

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Step Away from Death...

People often talk about near - death experiences or times, when they felt their world crashing and everything just seemed void. Its these experiences that often force people to become more God Conscious because it is that point when they realize how volatile this life and in particular this body is, which in a minute can become useless.

Today, I had such an experience. Not once, twice.

I wish I was a more serious devotee that at the point it happened, I thought of the Lord. To be honest, the first time today, my mind just went blank. It happened at one of the busy intersections here, an intersection I cross almost a billion times each day. It was my right of way, and I was running to catch the street car. Suddenly, in a few mins, all I hear is LOUD horns, a screeching sound, a woman's voice screaming "what the h**l are you doing ??" and I am on the ground, not hurt, not flat on my back, but kinda squatted and my mind blank. All I remember was the driver of the street car getting out to see if I was fine. When I regained some sense, I tried to see if the driver of the car that almost ran over me was around, and to my extremely annoyance, I found out that the car just drove past me after seeing that I wasn't dead. At that point, I was just mad. Before that, my mind was blank.

As I sat in the street car, thinking of why people drive so silly and trying to chant to calm myself down, I realised that my round wasn't at all effective. Just then, my stop came and as I was about to step out, I was held back by someone and thankfully so, because another car, for no rhyme or reason, sped the way through the free lane where he was supposed to stop to wait for us to get off the street car.

Again, saved, just by an inch.

After such an adventurous 10 minutes of my life, I crossed the road and sat on the stair case of the University building, closed my eyes, trying to clear my head which had completely shut down and I felt cold. After a few minutes, as I slowly opened my eyes, the reality hit me that both times I was just a step away from "death", but both times, my mind just blanked out, didn't think even once about Lord Krishna.

Is that how its going to be when the final moment actually arrives?

Its a very scary thought. After hearing so many lectures, reading so many books, its surprising how in such a situation, our mind so covered by conditioning of this material world refuses to still go towards Lord Krishna. Even at such a pinnacle and brink of suffering, does it seek to enjoy.

To me today, it wasn't the fact that I was almost hit was shocking, it was more shocking to realize that I am not able to think of the Lord when I need him the most.

However, the most beautiful thing, which made today bring about a major spiritual realization is that He REALLY does have your back!! I mean, I was just a step away and even inspite of me not thinking about him, he cared so much that he ensured that I was all alive to be able to blog at this unearthly hour. He gave me a small slap on the head to tell me not to be proud of my spiritual life but to be happy and consider myself fortunate to be even worth of getting something so special.

I was indeed a step away from death, but today, I have taken a step towards trying to become more Krishna Conscious!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

7 Habits of Highly Effective People.. in Krishna Consciousness!

My father has always been on my case to read this book and I finally bit the bullet and read the book last summer. However, around this time, on a conversation with him about how this book helps us not only learn "powerful lessons in personal change" but help us move forward in our Spiritual life.

So, I am going to attempt to read the book again, and this time try to give a spiritual twist to each of those 7 habits, more for my own internal realization and for me to adapt it into my routine lifestyle.

Hopefully, I am going to try setting a target to finish it by the end of this month. Thats the only way I think I can motivate myself to read!!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Friday Night Fun .. ? Sure !!

I've always been a sticker for having the most fun on Friday nights! I strongly believe that after an entire week of studying, working, cleaning house, washing dishes and the other "routine" things of life, I feel that we NEED to wind out in order to be human.

The question is, "how" exactly we wind out.

Since University, my friday nights have always been eventful. Either they would involve watching some senseless Bollywood movie with my roomates or friends sitting in the comfort of our dorm rooms (now apartment living room) with popcorn and some pop to pass, or they would involve just taking a long walk outside. Sometimes, they did get onto the wilder side with parties, garba nights, bowling nights or just late nights outside.

However, for the past few months, most of my Friday nights have been spent in the Temple, some program or the other, or cleaning up, or preparing for the retreat, or just doing stuff around, never really got around doing other things. Yesterday, I was recovering from a serious sore throat and a friend calls, lets call them F.

F: Yo, wanna come tonight to A's house to chill?
M: Umm.. *cough* no, my voice is really bad. I didn't go to work for the past 2 days because I sound like a guy. Can you make out?
F: Ya, you do sound awful. Are you sure? Its going to be fun!! We'll prolly just like hang out and then I dunno.. chill a bit more..movie maybe? Clubbing.. if you are up for it??
M: *more cough*, seriously I can't !! Besides, I have the TM meeting to go for. I'll probably come home and sleep.
F: Fine..get well soon then. We'll definitely miss you!

On the second line, I get a call from a devotee friend, lets call her D:
D: Hari Bol! Tonight is Bhakti Marg Swami's Vyasa Puja. You are coming right?
M: *cough* Hari Bol! Seriously, I would love to, but I can't talk!
D: Okay, get well soon! Hope to see you at Sunday.

However, I did have a TM (Toastmasters - Public Speaking Grp.. I run the club at the university Campus..so have some meetings for that.aah all that jazz) meeting and after that, sitting in that Starbucks where we meet, I felt, let me go to the temple and get some darshan and possibly Prasad since I hadn't eaten. So, reluctantly I took a cab and went for the Program.

And it was AWESOME! Fantastic Kirtans, Glorious Darshan of the dieties and an Oh-So-Wonderful Cheese cake!!

On our way back home, still high from the Kirtans and the Cheesecake, at the Subway station, while Keshava drummed his Mrdanga a bit, on the other side we saw a few guys who were sneaking a few Vodka shots in the Subway Station not aware of any1 seeing them. Keshav remarked the irony that one side we are playing the Mrdanga and discussing our fave kirtans, the other side, young guys, who can be out doing anything else are getting wasted.

At that moment, I was glad to be on the correct side of the Subway, the side that would take me back home..

Friday, October 5, 2007

Looking back...Looking forward...

I can officially claim to be the worse blogger on the WWW considering I blog once in 6 months !! Its not that I am lazy to sit down and pen something down, its more like there is so much to pen down that its hard to figure out where to start!

Maybe to start off with a picture which I find very powerful, saying the essence of the Bhagavad Gita and the root teachings of our Philosophy.

I had this picture up on FaceBook and my room mate commented:

Subah hoti hai.....Shaam hoti hai.....umar yuh hi tamam hoti hai
[Morning comes... evening comes.. and in this cycle, life gets wasted]

Truly life is like that. Srimad Bhagavatam says that with every sun rise and sun set our time in this world is shortened. In this world, with so many difficulties where even so called happiness is derived from some one's pain, what is the solution to not seeing that this life doesn't go tammam [waste]?

Looking back, I think about all the stupid things I have done, the number of times I put things in front of my chanting, my devotional service and looking back makes me realize how many days I have wasted in pursuing false happiness, mere temporary enjoyment and the so called luxury of life? I think about the number of times, I questioned by belief system, questioned those around me..

But then today, I see a new hope. I think Srila Prabhupad has given us such a big reason to not look back but to look forward, not to forget what you did in the past, but to focus on your energy for the future, not to think about what we did wrong, but to think about what we can do right.

From now on, I want to look forward not look back...

And as I look forward, I see the sun rise and shine brightly on the future of our movement, I hear the beats of the Mrdanga, I hear the sounds of the Kartals, I hear ecstatic kirtans and as the clouds part, I see the smiling face of Srila Prabhupad with his hands raised high in the air and looking up there, I see the smiling face of Sri Sri Radha Kschirachora Gopinath!