My guru, Shrila Prabhupada taught us that the appearance and disappearance of the guru are both equal, since there is no death for anyone, and what to speak of our guru. In addition our guru lives on through their instructions and disciples and how we relate to both. Of course within the oneness of these occasions there are different flavors. We may remember how we first met our guru, and the impact their leaving this world has had on us. In his or her absence we can talk about worshiping them in separation, which is considered even a higher and more powerful meditation then physical presence. On these days we often remember endearing stories of our association with our guru. While these stories are often touching and inspirational, I have been reflecting for the last few days, that for me, more important then the stories themselves, are what we have become by following Prabhupada’s teachings and example.
We just observed the celebration of Govardhana-puja or the worship of a special mountain in Vrindavan, India (the land of Krishna’s birth or appearance) which is considered non-different from Krishna. It is a festival of simple, though elegant pomp and gaiety that teaches us many practical lessons about living in balance with Nature and God. For the festival a hill of sanctified food (prasadum) is created with Krishna on the top to recreate the hill. These festivities commemorate this occasion, and help us meditate on its meaning. We hear about what happened, along with plays reenacting it, worship of the cow, and circumambulating the hill as was done 5,000 years ago. We also pray to enter into the deep, yet simple, essential message of this blessed event.
It often happens in our modern, youth oriented and scientifically informed culture that people consider an ancient scripture like the Shrimad Bhagavatam an irrelevant, old book, good--at best--for a doorstop. Anticipating this bias I thought I would try to help you enter into the world of the revealed spiritual literature of India, the Vedas, and specifically the Shrimad Bhagavatam.
The Vedas were originally an oral tradition compiled or put into written form 5,000 years ago by the legendary Vyasadeva, the literary incarnation of God. Books then are considered a sign, not of advancement of human beings, but an indication of our deteriorated intelligence and memory. In any case, after finishing his great work, which included the four main Vedas, 18 Puranas, 108 Upanishads, and such epics as the Mahabharat and Ramayan, Vyasa was still not satisfied.
Govardhan Puja is just a few days away, and I have always been in love with the part of that children’s Govardhan Puja song that goes, “Dear father please prepare, rice, dahl, halava, puri, pakora, laddhu, rasagulla, sandesh, sweet rice meant for the brahmanas. Meant for the brahmanas, chanting the vedic hymns, decorate the cows, feed them well, keeping them in front, circumambulate the hill. Govardhan Puja, Govardhan Puja.” It seems that there is supposed to be a feast on Govardhan Puja, because when I looked in the Krsna Book, all of the preparations in the song were mentioned.
During every Japa Retreat we have the opportunity to formally write down our prayers to the holy name. We are again reminded that the holy name is a person, or really the combined persons of Radha and Krishna. Our Christian brothers are fond of offering their followers a relationship to their conception of Divinity in the shape of Lord Jesus Christ. Gaudiya Vaishnavas are also offering their followers a relationship with Radha and Krishna through their holy name, as revealed through Gaura-Nitai and their representatives. We worship and praise One God in multiforms and expansions, and we especially esteem those we represent them.
In the stars at birth, a picture is taken
revealing if we are blessed, or perhaps forsaken;
a chart plotted, the future is told
will we become ill, die young or grow old.
So although many of us may be very familiar with Indian cooking it can be somewhat intimidating for those of us who are not so familiar with it. For this edition of the newsletter I would like to share the things that I would recommend you keep in your kitchen for those days when Indian food is on the menu.
First and most importantly, let’s talk spice. There are a few spices that I recommend every well stocked kitchen cooking Indian food must have.
I love, love, love vegetable soup in the winter. Often, I will make a big pot of soup one day and then have enough left over for dinner the next day. Although it may not be absolutely ideal to have leftovers for dinner, what is a busy mother to do? Actually, I often find that soup tastes even yummier the next day, and no I’m not just trying to make myself feel better about serving leftover soup to my family. If you decide to also serve soup two days in a row my tip is to mix it up a bit, serve the soup with bread one day and rice the next day.
After returning from the Japa Retreat enthused and divinely touched by sharing such potent spiritual practices in uplifting company my wife and I also received another type of mercy: the flu that some devotee inadvertently gave us. Sickness, although never sought after, often teaches us about the dual nature of the material world (happiness and distress) and its temporary nature. If we are a “spiritual possibility thinker”, then every situation can be favorable, helpful, and instructive for our holy aspirations to make progress in “shuddha Bhakti” or pure devotion. What follows are some of my thoughts from being sick and having reduced capacities for living.