Karnamrita Das

Radha Gopinath photo DSCN2094_zpsvumsigf1.jpg
My journey in worship is an interesting and blissful one even amidst much anxiety. In my first months of taking to the path of bhakti, just after receiving initiation into chanting the maha-mantra, I was given the service to take care of our altar, which consisted of a large picture of Shri Chaitanya and his principle associates, also referred to as the “Panca Tattva,” and pictures of Prabhupada, his guru, and our line of teachers.

Although God is everywhere in his form as the Supersoul, or Oversoul of the Universe, we aren’t aware of his presence, except indirectly, and as the Witness he is generally neutral, though he becomes more accessible as we desire to make spiritual progress. On our Gaudiya Vaishnava path we prefer certain manifestations of God which offer the most possibilities for loving relationships as recommended in our line, first in a general way, and in more advanced stages in a unique way according to our developed relationship with him.

Some years later after I received seconded initiation, sometimes called “brahminical initiation,” which it’s really about deepening our relationship with the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, by the chanting of certain Gayatri mantras given in our tradition. This is in addition to what is universally called Gayatri within Hinduism, though every tradition understands its meaning through the lens of their ultimate goal. Soon after receiving this initiation, I began my formal service to various forms of Krishna in the old San Francisco temple on Valencia Street.

Throughout the years I have always gravitated toward Deity service, and many Deities toward me—by which I mean that I was somehow singled out to perform this worship without my seeking it, and sometimes without the devotees knowing my service, or seva, history. During a period of about 10 years my primary service was as a head pujari and head cook as I traveled around the world to Hawaii, Japan, India, New Zealand, Australia, and Berkeley, California.
Serving Radha Gokulananda photo DSCN2154_zpscmht3g16.jpg
I have traditionally been a very poor manager, either of myself, or others. Thus during my service as a head pujari I would adapt to whatever situation I was in, rather than understanding that part of my job was to improve the worship and enlist and inspire others to help—not just because I needed it, but for the devotees benefit. In order to truly serve in this capacity requires the help and support of many devotees including the temple managers, though in my immaturity I wasn’t able to communicate my need and encourage others to participate.

Thus a cycle would repeat: I would end up cooking most of the offerings, making the offering, and offering the arotik to the Deities, and in the morning I would bath and dress most of the Deities. This was do in part to my inability say “no,” or ask for help, or that sometimes saying “no” is important for ones long standing in bhakti. To me it was easier to do the service myself than to try to cajole others to help, so I sort of grinned and took the services on my head. Thus at some point, I would become overwhelmed and burn out, and would leave for another temple, only to gravitate to the same situation repeatedly.
Arotik in New Jagannath Puri photo DSCN2153_zpsqec9stqt.jpg
When asked how I was, I would say that I was too busy to think about being in the mood of devotion. In those days a person was either a book distributor or a temple devotee, and most temple devotees were involved in Deity service. Being rather shy and unassuming, I wasn’t adept at selling books, so I always ended up on the altar. As misguided and immature as I was, I also derived tremendous benefit from my Deity service and had some deep spiritual, blissful experiences. I give part of the credit to my remaining on the path of bhakti to the mercy bestowed on me from my years of such service.

When I finally moved out of the temple at 34 years old to marry and develop an occupation, I felt that I didn’t ever want to have Deities to worship. I had developed a bad association with worship, and didn’t want to feel overburdened by such responsibilities again. However, Krishna had other ideas. I married, Arcana-siddhi, which means the servant of the perfection of worship, or it could mean servant of the perfection of Deity worship—which seems to have been case for me. Thus gradually Deities began to come to us. Firsts our son’s Gaura Nitai Deities. Then we purchased a larger set of neem Gaura Nitai Deities and gave the smaller ones to another devotee.

Then we received a Prabhupada Deity for Christmas. A friend from North Carolina offered her Radha Krishna Deities to us, after hearing that my wife wanted to purchase a set from India; then in a few years we had to have a certain Prahlad Nrisimhadeva Deity we found in the New Dwarka gift store.
Prahlad Nrisimhadeva photo DSCN2111_zpsrhsxfidv.jpg
In Vrindavan India in 2001 I developed the desire to worship a Govardhan Shila, and expressed this to Aindra in front of the temple Deities. When we returned to our home in Baltimore within 3 weeks we received a frantic call from a friend asking if we could take a Shaligram Shila because she felt their current misfortune had to do with offending this Deity. I gladly agreed. Seven years later this scenario repeated itself, with a devotee asking me to accept 2 small shalagrams, and one tiny Govardhan shila. Again I agreed.

Then in a few more years, another devotee couldn’t continue his worship, so I accepted his 6 shilas. Caturatma Prabhu had told me that once you have more than one shila (sacred stone) then more begin to come to you. Realizing that this was happening, when more were offered, I said that I was done with accepting Deities, and could accept no more.
My special Shilas photo DSCN2124_zpsobincqc2.jpg
When devotees would travel to India or other places we would often “Deity sit” or put their Deities on our altar and include them in our humble worship. This happened with Radha Gopinath who were waiting to be installed at the main temple here, but had been in the care of various devotees in our community. We took in these magnificently lovely and charming Deities, while their pujari went to India. During that time my wife fell in love with them prayed they would stay, and that is exactly what happened. We then found a home for the other set of Radha Krishna Deities. It seems like whatever Deities my wife wants, come to us. This also happened with a Haridas Thakur Deity that was given to us by HH Giriraja Maharaja with my after my wife’s expressed attachment to him. Therefore she tries to be very careful with her desires!!!

So we have so many Deities—more than we would recommend anyone to have— and they inspire our lives and our chanting. Although I have recently thought about giving some away to make more time for writing, that thought gives me pain. They are part of our family, and we pray to please them and that they bless us with pure devotion. Some day we will have to give them to their new caretakers, but not for now.Our altar and inspirational center. photo DSCN2021_zpsanjnmcvv.jpg
Our home altar photo DSCN2145_zpshrdlohza.jpg