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Leaving Aside, or Letting Go, of the Unessential

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[Originally published on March 3, 2014--since we are now in the process of selling our house and letting go of more things this blog's theme is very appropriate]This morning, after rising, folding up my sleeping bag, and taking care of some natural necessities, I read some of Shri Chaitanya’s lila in Chaitanya Bhagavat. Such a nectar book of spiritual delight! Regular reading of scripture is one of my benchmarks for a successful day. I read about Lord Chaitanya’s (so-called) “birth,” heralded by the resounding chanting of the holy names, which was the custom during a lunar eclipse; how child Chaitanya, or Nimai, would cry and only stop when the ladies chanted the holy name; how mischievous he was as he grew older; how two thieves tried to take him away to steal his ornaments only to find themselves back in front of Nimai’s house; and how Nimai revealed his divinity to a visiting Vaishnava holy man staying with his family. These are very sweet lilas (pastimes), full of deep meaning, and providing me a great way to begin my day!

I have had continual interruptions, or necessary duties, in my regular attempt to write. Writing is a joy for me, but also a discipline; even though I find the effort relishable, setting priorities is required to make it happen—as we must, in the accomplishment of any valuable goal. Those who are devotees of a particular manifestation of God, or who have a spiritual orientation, will see the value of hearing about the activities of the Lord or great saints, and yet they are often understandably less interested in sharing about their own lives. However, everyone’s life is full of important lessons and inspiring events. We only need the right attitude to see this played out as we generally see what we are looking for. This is one of the reasons I write about my life—to show that even a regular person who is trying to live a devotional life has much of value to share. “Ordinary” or “extraordinary” are labels from a state of mind. We notice what we value, so what is going on in your life, right in front of you, that may be trying to get your attention?

Searching for Our Authentic Story—The Holy Grail of the Seekers Quest

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[Originally published on Sat, December 22, 2012 and republished here for new readers] Each person is a walking story—or many stories walking, or blending together. We could think of our combined story like a painting built of layers, upon layers of mixed colors, creating something totally new, and yet the result of what has gone before. Our current life’s narrative is informed and in response to past stories, both our foundational background of growing up, and how we have adapted that story to various stages of our development, leading up to our sense of “now.” Our current now becomes our forthcoming story and is the intersection between the past and future. This is important to consider from the spiritual perspective because our identification with our material story defines us, covering our soul, and keeps us building new stories, or looking for others more appealing.

Think of how you define yourself. Isn’t a big part “who you think you are” your personal story, or the past emotional drama that has created the lens you use to see, or sense, the world? Although our previous lives have scripted our current story (our parents and others are instruments of our karma), we have to deal with our current life’s manifestation of that past karma, and live in present. While it is true that we may have to look back to resolve certain life issues or relationships, our main focus should always be in the present, informed by our spiritual goal. This means that everyone is responsible for their present actions, regardless of karmic inherited tendencies. Otherwise we can always blame the past, cruel fate, or someone else, and be powerless to change, or move forward. Ultimately the problem and solution to all problems is within us. We can choose what story we allow to define us and what story we aspire to be part of spiritually, or everlastingly.

Hiranya-kashipu’s Disappearance Day (Lord Nrisimhadeva’s Appearance)

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Merciful Lord Nrisimhadeva
[This blog was originally written on Saturday May 5, 2012. This year this appearannce/disappearance day is also on Saturday, but on May 2, 2015]
I am only half kidding with today’s blog title, yet I am trying to make a point, as you will see. Specifically, this is the day we celebrate the devotion of Prahlad, his constant remembrance of Krishna, and Krishna’s assuming the fearsome, though ecstatic, form of Lord Nrisimhadeva to protect and glorify His pure devotee. However, we can also feel a kind of gratitude to Hiranya-kashipu, for without his demoniac nature, and trying to kill his son, we would have never heard of Prahlad, or seen the practical demonstration of the Lord’s love for his devotees. Great souls are glorified by their struggles and victory over adversity. In every great life story there must be an antagonist which allows the hero to shine. Although unimaginably powerful, Hiranya-kashipu also represents our tiny selves, or our personal rebellion against God, and—to put it nicely—those less than ideal qualities in our heart that we as devotees, or sadhakas, struggle with. Thus, in our material conditioned state, we can think of our dark side like a mini-Hiranya-kashipu, and pray that the Lord slay our “anarthas” or our unwanted conditioning, such as lust, anger, greed, enviousness, etc. We are fortune to have both good and bad examples in the scriptures, so we will know our ideal, and what we want to rise above. Everyone can be our teacher!

"Swanning"

Swan drinking[One of my earliest blogs and contained in my book Give to Live originally published on Fri September 14, 2007] No it is not a new dance step, but a process. I first heard the term from a devotee scholar who used the term to indicate the process of taking the best from any situation--in his case his educational pursuits. Prabhupada gives the example of the swan that can draw out the milk from a mixture of milk and water. We have to look for the nectar or the essence which can be used for Krishna's service.

A famous quote in Prabhupada's purport from the first Canto of the Bhagavatam [1.5.11] gives the same idea:

The Day the Sun didn’t Rise

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Finding the light
[One of my favorite free verse poem attempts--another meditation on what's really important in our lives. Originally published on 09-23-2011]

Today, the sun didn’t rise
I kept waiting, perplexed
the wind howled
rain came in sheets
electric power failed
no machines worked
not even computers
I lit candles
the ancient technology
altar Deities again illuminated
“O Lord, what is going on?”
Going upstairs, my wife vanished
“Such things can’t be happening!”

SURRENDER!!!! Do I have to? YES! Bummer!

Surrender
[Originally posted on January 22, 2011] Krishna’s final and concluding instruction in the Gita is that we should give up all materially motivated religions and just surrender unto him. Since surrender could be considered a filled out application for the keys to the Kingdom, so to speak, we need to really understand what “surrender” means. Admittedly the word surrender has a lot of baggage for most people. When the average person thinks of surrender, what do they envision? Something like the above picture of prisoners with their hands above their heads, looking none too happy. Surrender in this context means loosing or giving up one’s freedom to someone with more power than you. Most of the definitions of surrender imply forced surrender at the hands of someone else, though the latter ones speak of not giving into to something negative like despair or depression.

Bias—Part 1 and 2

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Part 1: Can Anyone Be Free from Bias?

There is a bias against bias. At one time we expected good leaders to be free from it. Though partisan politics have always been around, they seem worse these days in our polarized society. We hope judges are free from it, or at least can put it aside for the case, and great care is taken to eliminate jurors who would be biased against one view, or type of person or another. Political candidates may say they are not biased to get elected, but we are skeptical, and look to their past to determine their record on issues. People have their natural or learned biases, though some have less than others. Here is the dictionary (.com) definition of bias: “a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned; unreasonably hostile feelings or opinions about a social group; prejudice.” Is it possible to be completely free from it? My opinion is: No. To be human is to be biased in certain ways.

While human beings are touted as the “rational animal,” we are actually quite irrational (read, biased) in many ways. We often act on our feelings despite our thoughts about the right or wrongness of a certain perspective. Think about your attitudes toward race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, nationality, fatness or thinness—or a host of material dualities—food, color, or sports teams. You likely have at least a few biases in some of these areas. Thoughtful people, who desire to do the right thing, don’t want to have unfair bias, and while they may have fewer than less aware persons, they can’t completely give them up. So what about in the field of spirituality? To realize oneself as a soul should mean free from material bias—right?

Impurely Imitation, But Eventually Waking Up

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[Originally posted on October 10, 2012] By participating in regular spiritual practice we learn to see through the scriptures and to think spiritually beyond the material duality of good or bad, happy or sad, etc. What might seem to others like an ordinary life of work, school, and/or family, is for a devotee of Krishna, full of meaning, with lessons everywhere—if we are willing to look. Our ability to look for the seeds of instructions and mercy depends to a large extent on our positive absorption in Krishna thought and remembrance, or we could say our attitude toward life—what we look for or give energy to. On the one hand we see everywhere the shortcomings of matter in a life with no spirituality (or even how material attachments and desires in ourselves slow our spiritual progress). On the other, we also see the arrangement of Krishna, and how we are being guided and helped.

Though there are perhaps unlimited perceptions of a life, in general we could say that there is a negative material perspective, and a positive spiritual one. By this I don’t mean to imply that difficult challenges or seemingly “bad” things don’t happen to a devotee, but that an advanced devotee always knows that behind the problematic situation is an important lesson which may lead to more dependence on Krishna. Depending on Krishna means a less stressful life and a life lived in increasing happiness and devotional advancement. Everyone on the path of bhakti knows that the goal of Krishna prema (love for Krishna) is the highest ideal. To the extent that we realize and act on this, to that extent we will experience deeper joy, and even ecstatic moods in our spiritual practices. If our spiritual life seems stagnant or stuck, we can take note of what we are doing that doesn’t foster our spiritual life, and increase or begin those recommended practices for being Krishna conscious. Our life can seem complex, and yet the solution to our problems is simple, requiring that we believe in the possible by the power of grace as we focus on the holy name and devotional service.

The Appearance Day of Lord Ramachandra (Ram navami)

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baby Ram, napping
[This version was posted on 03-30-2012, which itself was reposted from 2009--recycling is good!] Saturday March 28th is the appearance day of Lord Rama (in the USA, please check your local Temple for other parts of the world). Such a day for any incarnation of God is not called a “birth” day since God is ever-existing and primeval. Their “birth” in the material world is only a superficial ruse, as much as an actor exists before going on stage. Queen Kunti in her prayers in the 1st Canto of the Bhagavatam explains this: ”Being beyond the range of limited sense perception, You are the eternally irreproachable factor covered by the curtain of deluding energy. You are invisible to the foolish observer, exactly as an actor dressed as a player is not recognized.”

"In the eighteenth incarnation, the Lord appeared as King Rama. In order to perform some pleasing work for the demigods, He exhibited superhuman powers by controlling the Indian Ocean and then killing the atheist King Ravana, who was on the other side of the sea." Shrimad Bhagavatam 1.3.22

Unlike conditioned souls such as ourselves who must take birth out of karmic force and necessity, incarnations of God manifest themselves upon the earth to execute many special purposes or “lilas” (divine activities). His lila is fully recounted in the great epic, Ramayana as well as briefer accounts in other Vedic texts such as the Srimad Bhagavatam. These lilas are not myths or just stories as the mundane, faithless scholars would have us believe. They are spiritually powerful pastimes of God, meant for our welfare and the benefit of the entire universe and great devotees never tire of hearing them.

No Outer Reflections—Only Inner Connection

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[What if this happened to you?] Hearing celestial sounds like wind chimes but with ethereal notes of cavernous resonance and depth that gave me goose bumps, I wondered if I was dreaming, or in some heavenly place. Rising up from bed, I was wide awake—at least I felt super awake, yet strangely for me, fascinated and enlivened. The unusualness and loveliness of the reverberations were quite astonishing, as was the fact that I couldn’t make out a direction from where it was coming from. I felt like I was wearing surround sound headphones or in a room with speakers in every direction, included up and down. Feeling joyfully confused I was curious if I was hearing through my physical ears, or from within? I couldn’t tell, though I knew this was an extraordinary, other worldly experience. Every cell in my body was also vibrating to the all-pervading concert.

I rose and turned on the light. Looking around, it was my room alright, yet it seemed it was breathing, or moving to the music. Everything was pulsating, contracting and expanding. I saw the room and its contents as moving flecks, atoms, I guessed, and the particles of air seemed like flowing, effervescent mist. No, I wasn’t on drugs—I know what that’s like from my past. This was not a chemical hallucination. I was so sure of that—as sure as I live and breathe and experience, but even more than that, as I was hyper alert, yet in the most natural way possible.

I went into the bathroom and turned on the light. There were no mirrors. Just the bare unpainted walls where mirrors had been. Instead of a mirror image, I could sense myself as a conscious being. Wow, that was quite an improvement! Actually everything seemed divine and in harmony. Every part fit with every other part. Nothing was separate from the Source, yet each thing had its own existence, but in perfect cooperation with the Center. I thought, “This is how life should be.”

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