Dallas Morning News,
Dallas Morning News,
(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.)
Sunday June 22, is my 64th birthday. Growing up in the 1960s I naturally remember the Beetle’s song, “When I’m Sixty-Four.” Yeah, after 44 years of bhakti practice those old songs (and ad jingles!) are still floating around in my subconscious mind. This Beetle’s ballad is a love song about staying together despite aging that Paul McCartney wrote at the advanced age of 16. As a person involved in marital and premarital education this is an important topic for me (and my wife of 24 years). When I was 16 I couldn’t even imagine being 25, what to speak of 64! I was an only child with very limited experience with older persons. After living in Berkeley, California for a few years and then moving into the temple, when we went to San Francisco for street sankirtan (group chanting), I was taken back seeing all the old people! Berkeley is a college town and I was hanging out with only the young, and when I moved into the temple, the oldest person was 23
In any case, anticipating my birthday, I thought the subject of aging, suffering, and being 64 would be a good blog topic. Of course, most anything can be grist for the writer’s mill (we usually notice those things we are focused on), but this one was a natural candidate. Thus I wanted to find the words to the Beetle’s song, but before I began my Internet search, my dear friend, Dulal-Chandra Prabhu, sent me the lyrics and wished me a happy birthday. I wished him a happy birthday back, since his birthday is the same as mine—with THE SAME YEAR! How interesting and rare is that—especially among close friends! We celebrated our 60th birthday together, and amidst fun and games, we went around the room to compile a list of shared personality traits and devotional histories. Though we have a number of differences, our wives and friends found an amazing amount of shared traits and experiences.
My general thoughts when writing are to share what I am going through, experiencing, thinking about, or inspired by, in a way that I pray may have relevance to you, my readers. Birth, disease, old age, and death, being shared by all embodied beings, are very rich and important topics. Called the four-fold, or four, miseries of material life, they are listed in the Bhagavad-gita verses (8-12) from the 13th chapter, as part of understanding the process of spiritual knowledge.
Since the soul is eternal and is never born or dies, speaking of these four miseries isn’t considered by devotees to be morbid or a topic to avoid in polite conversation.
(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.)There 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.
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.
May 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,