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Our Cancún Trip–Part 1

Uncovering our Soul's Nature in Bhakti: What Have We Signed Up For?

(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player is needed; works best with Firefox or Explorer; if you are using Google Chrome it will automatically play, so if you don't want to listen, mute your speakers.)Which head is real? photo Towheadsarebetterthanone_zpse9a9416d.jpgThere are many ways and varieties of motivations by which people take up the practice of Krishna bhakti, or any path. Whatever way, and for whatever reason, one turns toward God are all good since we all have to begin somewhere on our spiritual journey. Well, we don’t have to begin anything. However, the premise of the Vedas and many religious texts is that the ultimate purpose of life is not only understanding our true nature as part of God (and our relationship with Him), but includes putting that knowledge into practice by serving God in pure love with our heart and soul.

In regards to the type of people who come to Krishna, there is no specific type, or class, from the worldly point of view. Anyone can take up the path of bhakti, provided they have the “qualification” of having faith in it. There are many gradations of this faith as we’ll discuss. To have faith in bhakti, there has to be some background, or blessings from a saint, or some act of devotional service from this or a previous lifetime, often unconscious (ajnata-sukriti). Observably, externally, we may be born in a devotee family, be attracted to the qualities or looks of the devotees or those in the congregation, or be searching for relief from our suffering; we may love kirtan, the food (prasadam, or mercy), the philosophy, the general spiritual atmosphere, how we feel when we visit, or some combination of reasons with varying mixed motivations. Perhaps we like belonging to a group, being around people from our ethnic background, or are looking for customers for our product or service; or we may be hoping to find a girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse, etc. Regardless of one’s intent, Krishna bhakti is like fire, and it will eventually act.

However, though there are many indirect reasons that bring us to Krishna, at some point one has to consciously choose to embark on it for its own sake, beyond circumstance, convenience, or to fulfill some material purpose. If we are actually a spiritual seeker—or aspire to be—it behooves us to understand what the ultimate goal of the bhakti path is. This will help us get the most out of our time and endeavor by inspiring us to put our heart into the spiritual practices while praying to have the best motivation. This, in turn, will give us a spiritual vision enthusing us for the long term, beyond any fleeting material reasons that initially brought us.

Mouthwash, oral cancer, and distilled essence of rotten

The Importance of Trained Counselors and Mentors

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This last Memorial Day weekend my wife and I attended the 2014 Sadhu Sanga Retreat, located near Boone, NC. Conveniently located only 2 hours plus 15 minutes or so from our house in North Carolina, the retreat center, situated on a high ridge, featured a panoramic view of the surrounding area in a stunning secluded setting. The Vedic style architecture of the facility felt very friendly and appropriate. All the events were held in a spectacularly spacious hall that could comfortably accommodate thousands. While the four day kirtan event was itself enticing for us to attend, we came mainly to promote our Grihastha Vision Team’s [GVT’s] new book, “Heart and Soul Connection”, (which gives tools to improve marital and family relationships) and to invite couples to our September 12-14 couple’s retreat in at Gita Nagari, Pennsylvania.

I talked to many devotees throughout the retreat, selling about 70 books. I spoke to spouses having difficulties in their marriages, and to those devotees who were trying to help couples in their communities but didn’t have the training to really help counsel them. These conversations reminded me of the critical need in our devotional communities for mental health services, couples counseling, and the training of mentor couples. Temple leaders should have basic training as to when to refer devotees with mental health problems to appropriate professionals and have available trained mentors to help couples having marital difficulties.

Remembering My Mom, and My Shortcomings as a Son, on Her Death Anniversary

just after my mom left her body photo 538125508_1902862482_0.jpgMay 20th was my mom's death anniversary. Every year I do my best to post something meaningful to honor her, with the intent to prompt you to think about your relationship with your mother and parents so you can ponder its meaning. How has it affected you, your relationship to others, and your spiritual life? I was a bitter young man for many years until I came to realize that my mom did the best she could, and was struggling in a very abusive relationship. Thus with maturity and knowledge I gradually forgave her for leaving me with my dad--I came to find out that he had threatened to kill both of us if she had tried to get custody. He had a gun and a very bad temper, so it didn't seem an idle threat. As I have shared often, when I became a devotee in 1970 and moved into the temple ashram as a monk, I was not very sensitive and thoughtful in my dealings with my mother. While in the ultimate sense we are souls with nothing to do with the body, we still have to deal with our material life responsibly according to our realization--and this certainly includes being kind and understanding to others who aren't on our path, and/or who raised us.

As a lad of 19 years coming from a shallow understanding of the counterculture of everything young and anti-establishment, I had no common sense, or practical experience. Plus I had no wise devotee elders to soften my fanaticism, but only other very young persons to teach me, who although sincere, didn't have a balanced perspective. In general, the culture at that time in the Krishna movement was very black and white--you either lived in the temple, or you were in illusion (maya), and if you were a devotee you were good, and if not, you were bad and to be avoided. In the beginning while we were trying to gain faith and experience in bhakti, this "all or nothing" attitude had some utility, but for most of us, in the long run it wasn't helpful in our relationships and in dealing with the material world. I would, of course, do things much differently now if I could live my life over, but what was done can't be changed. Still, for future generations I write much about my mistakes and immaturity with the hope of educating others.

As an interesting aside, this last weekend my wife and I performed a wedding, and met the parents of the bride and groom. Plus many children and their parents attended,

Painting our body of the future with colors of the past

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A Mixed Bag of Material and Spiritual Tendencies

(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player is needed; works best with Firefox or Explorer; if you are using Google Chrome it will automatically play, so if you don't want to listen, mute your speakers.)
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While the experience that prompted this free verse poem wasn’t planned, it was welcome, and seen as an occasion for reflection. Association with saints is desirable for developing good qualities, and yet being with people in general can also foster our personal and spiritual growth, because in their company who we are as a person is revealed and we may discover part of the spiritual work we have left to do. Anyone can be our teacher if we have the humility to be open to learn, either how to act, or how not to act.

Every day we have the opportunity to learn from life situations, which include dealing with or observing others, whether at work, running errands, attending school or college, or interacting with our family and friends. While it is essential to learn about others, in relationship to them we will learn much about ourselves since people are mirrors in which we project our ideals or see our faults. From another angle of vision, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also considers our heart a mirror. This mirror is covered by the dust of our conventional (physical) ego and material conditioning which obscures our spiritual nature (soul). In all our dealings we can pray to remember that we are all souls having a physical experience and in this way part of the same spiritual family.

When we have made the decision to give our life to the pursuit of loving and serving Krishna, our life is forever changed. This is true in spite of our inability to walk the path in the most ideal way. To help us have a humble attitude we can remember our life before we began the spiritual quest, or that we all begin life in ignorance. We should know and remember the spiritual goal, and where we are on the map of our spiritual journey, in order to adapt the path to our unique life situation. This is why practical guidance from experienced, mature teachers can be so valuable. Personally, I continually return to my spiritual roots to deal with the ups and downs of life. I do my best to be spiritually fixed, but if I am unable to, I still feel a hand helping me up if I extend mine up to accept assistance. I am on the path for the long haul and know I need help to stay the course.

Killers don’t kill, so what then of the butcher? - Śrīla Prabhupāda

"He who thinks that the living entity is the slayer or that he is slain does not understand. One who is in knowledge knows that the self slays not nor is slain."  [Bg. 2.19]

“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.”  [Bg. 2.20]

Texas Faith 128: How should we suffer?

Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week.

Being Open to Learn Through Humility: Part 2 “The Glory of Humility, and Pride Precedes a Fall”

(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player is needed; works best with Firefox or Explorer; if you are using Google Chrome it will automatically play, so if you don't want to listen, mute your speakers.)
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We continue exploring what could be called the “glory of humility” in this blog with an emphasis that pride precedes a fall. I find much to celebrate about someone who is modest in their attitude, yet competent, and—or—hardworking and sincere. Such a person shines in whatever they do, whether as a great leader, or street sweeper. Even though you won’t find humility or modesty listed on the qualities desired for a job applicant, this quality has always been appreciated, and even more so today since modesty seems extremely rare—even quaint, or archaic to some.

Part of humility is also being authentic and honest in our life—or in our conditioned identity, work, and family, etc., neither vainly proud, nor full of self-loathing. Being authentic means being a balanced human being with a good understanding of one’s nature and a feeling of dependence on God. Unfortunately with the decline of good families and spiritual values many children are raised with glaring deficiencies and poor attitudes that as adults they try to over compensate for. I speak from experience.

With television, magazines, and frenzied social media all hungry for sensational stories, coupled with a busy population awash in (mis)information and infinite entertainment distractions, a “sound bite culture” has been created without much depth, but with much money invested in promoting it. Fame, though still rare, may be easily conferred on someone for insignificant reasons, and is often pursued for its own sake, rather than given, unsought, as an acknowledgement for special skills or good qualities.

On the other hand, persons who do have the advantages of beauty, wealth, social position, or acting or athletic ability, can be full of pride, conceit, boasting, or unwarranted audaciousness. Those in the limelight have special responsibilities because, as the Gita teaches us

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