A few months after I started working with ISKCON Prison Ministry, I received a letter from an inmate which helped drive home to me the nature of this service and just how important it is.
“I only know what I read in your letters and Prabhupada’s books,” was part of his response to me, regarding my reply to a question he had posed. His words brought me a sudden, clearer understanding and. I’ve often since reminded myself of them.
Today, how shall we give
and whom shall we love?
Count the ways to be thankful.
First, decide to be happy.
Think of the reasons why not,
remembering that happiness
is a moment by moment choice
just as sadness is a question of focus.
Why give more reasons
to be unhappy than happy?
Why wait to be happy
till achieving some goal,
or lament what you don’t have
when you can happily achieve
or even fail temporarily
learning valuable lessons?
Tomorrow we get to try again!
The above reflection is for anyone,
but if you are a bhakti practitioner
we can add to the mix, the goal of Krishna.
The following blog was one of my very early ones I posted in 2007, which I included in my book, Give to Live. I post it again because of my thinking this morning on the importance of seeing our life--with its many ups an downs--in the best light possible. This is true even as we strive to improve and may still feel bad about the mistakes of the past. Part of the spiritual and human journey is feeling our life has value, and in making the best use of it, even as we have to cut the karmic cords that bind us through forgiveness, acceptance, and prayer.
I share with you here four quotes from people glorifying the telling of our personal stories (and then comment on the general idea) from the introduction to the "4th course of Chicken Soup for the Soul" series (copyright 1997 Jack Canfield). If you like, you can call it "Chickpea Soup for the Soul."
"Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don't do that so much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way the wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us live a life worth remembering. Despite the awesome powers of technology many of us still do not live very well. We need to listen to each others stories once again." Rachel Naomi Remen
Lord Nrisimhadeva’s divine appearance day celebration is certainly one of my favorite occasions, and I am sure I am not alone in this. Our Christian friends are fond of quoting the Bible that “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” [John 3.16] and we could also say that God so loved his pure devotee in the world that he personally descended to give him all protection.
To this day devotees feel protected by this form of Krishna and pray to him to slay their “anarthas” or unwanted habits of thinking and acting, just as the Lord slayed Hiryanakashipu, the tormentor of his devotee, Shri Prahlad. While Gaudiya Vaishnavas can agree to having great faith in one’s particular agent of Divinity or conception of God—even thinking their path and face of God is the best—Vedic scriptures point to a more inclusive God that reciprocates according to one’s faith, and doesn’t condone fanaticism or war in the name of faith. There is only one God, though like a gem with many facets, the one God has unlimited expansions. “As they surrender to me, I proportionally reciprocate with them.” [Bhagavad Gita 4.11]
The “one path” to be celebrated would be pure devotion and not merely the externals of worship or which name of God one favors which, unfortunately, religionists fight over. How God reciprocates with those who worship him is expressed in many different forms in the religious world and to different degrees of purity. This is to be celebrated as the mercy of the Lord and the types of devotion that exist.
The topic of why I write and how my cancer diagnosis was the fuel to my publishing my new free verse poem book, My Yoga of Expression, serves as in introduction to the book, and my hope to give you sufficient reason to obtain your own copy. My purpose in writing, in addition to being my expression of service and giving, is fueled by my aim to give support and encouragement to those involved in bhakti, as well as to introduce seekers to new possibilities for their spiritual search. Additionally, it is a testimony that with every difficulty, reverse, or life challenge, there is always a gift to discover.
So I also write and speak with new urgency to demonstrate this--how cancer has become a great impetus for my fulfilling what I consider my life work. With a deeper, faithful, spiritual outlook, everything can be seen as mercy from the Lord. This I pray to convey so you so may think about dealing with a life threatening illness should you have to personally deal with one, or the illness of a loved one. Regardless, we all have to face biological or physical death.
In what follows, I show how I have grown from my upbringing and immature practice of bhakti. Now I see that everything in my life is by divine order to help me on the human and spiritual level. In that sense, it is all good! I am also stressing that everyone's life story is important to learn from. My hope is that learning about the diverse backgrounds of devotees will glorify the power of bhakti to transform one, and show how Krishna uses our often difficult past to help us come to him.
Ten years after taking up the path of bhakti, at 30 years old, I was given a journal. Over the next 20 years I regularly wrote about myself and events I was confronting. I discovered that by writing I was able to be in touch with deeper parts of myself. I began to understand my nature like never before,
WHAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT? I have thought about and discussed this general idea many times, yet to me, it is always super essential, as what is important to us--really, really important, not just in theory, but what we feel in our heart and emotions--defines us and tells us where we are going in life. At one point in my life, having a relationship was my all defining absorption, and I was always on the lookout for that. At another time, finding myself materially--who I was in this body and what kind of work I should do, consumed my thinking and hankering.
Now, after many years of living, of finding what for me as been an ideal loving relationship, and my work as a writer, speaker, and healer, now, as I still meditate on death, even as my tumor is shrinking, I look into my heart beyond just wanting material desires that just go with my conditioned identity, or the lusts of the flesh, which I acknowledge as one part of me, but have done my best to make it only muzak in the background, I have to say that my devotion to Krishna is the most important aspect of my life.
I consider this the fruit of my years of practice, even though it has not reached the pitch of an all-encompassing, self-defining state, I still feel it, as I do during my worship and at times throughout the day as I pray and call out, "Please help me," or "Let me realize my full devotional potential and my service to others," etc, and it gives me hope of the person I am becoming. I want to give this energy and focus, and not merely the insanity and scandals of the larger world, or our devotional world. While I acknowledge that there are many important causes that need to be addressed, and I am glad that some people are,
WHO IS THE PERSON YOU THINK YOU ARE, & DO YOU ASPIRE TO IMPROVE? and TALKING & PRAYING TO KRISHNA BY OURSELVES AND IN A GROUP
WHO IS THE PERSON YOU THINK YOU ARE, AND DO YOU ASPIRE TO IMPROVE?; NATURE VERSUS NURTURE, OR KARMA VERSUS FREE WILL?: At this point in my life I am doing my best to really understand what is true and what we can all do to be the best person possible, both on the human and spiritual level.
I know what it is like to either focus on the spiritual in theory while neglecting the material, as well as those whose total emphasis is on material progress, often at the cost of the environment and any possibility of spiritual growth and factoring God into their lives—and everything in-between. I have personal experience and life is full of teachers who model that which is to be avoided, and a few who model the ideal in various arenas, to varying degrees.
Spiritual growth isn’t about denying our material needs, and material life can’t be perfected without a relationship to God. We have to become masters of ourselves and our attitude and in creating a positive self-image that is realistic and full of promise, and incorporate this in relationship to making spiritual progress.
Many people have a very low opinion of themselves—almost everyone who comes for counseling—or they can hide this fact by showing an inflated sense of whom they actually are. In my view our character is everything, or how we walk our talk, or live what we speak and profess as our ideal.
LIVING SPIRITUAL PRACTICE AND OUR SPIRITUAL RESPONSIBILITY: Living spiritual practice means that we experience how Krishna consciousness works in our personal lives. It means knowing what we’re inspired by, and that we’re able to both determine and admit where we fall short—otherwise, how can we be helped? Then we have to believe, or pray to develop the faith, that we can change for the better—because we aren’t our past or poor opinion of ourselves—and are valuable and lovable as souls—spiritual positive self-esteem.
Knowing that we need help and encouragement, and being willing to ask—and pray—for it, is a big step in a successful and joyful life. As it is commonly said, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” We need to gradually take 100 % responsibility for our lives and yet be open to Krishna’s guidance and see the results of our endeavors as feedback. We both endeavor and pray. We act as if everything depends on us, while knowing that everything depends on the Lord’s mercy.
Our spiritual responsibility is to act with, or pray to act with, faith, devotion, determination, and confidence without attachment to the results, which we know come from Krishna. Practice with prayer makes perfect. Whatever results come we see as, and offer to, Krishna—if we do so we obtain, in Krishna’s words, “unadulterated peace” [BG 5.12]. “In all activities just depend upon Me and work always under My protection. In such devotional service, be fully conscious of Me.” [BG 18.57]