PRAYING FOR BETTER RELATIONSHIPS AND HEALING OUR HEART: Yesterday we celebrated the disappearance of Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur and Gadadhara Pandita and honored our relationship with them, and as we contemplated our independence (July 4th) from the material modes of nature, we contemplated the subject of relationships in general, since life is about relationships. There is nothing like relationships to severely test our ideals and demonstrate the spiritual work we have to do with ourselves.
We hunger for those who love and understand us, who nurture us, bringing out our best qualities, but also allow us to be ourselves, imperfections and all. However, if we are to have good relationships with others, we are required to have a good relationship with ourselves. For those of us who are theists, self-acceptance is greatly helped by our acceptance and positive relationship with our Source, or God, to me, Krishna. Self-acceptance and positive self-esteem are intertwined with our loving relationship with God, who we are part of.
Relationships open a door to reveal who are and what we are made of, being compared in the past to a threshing floor for separating the wheat from the chaff. Love and acceptance have been compared to the wheat, whereas our self-centered fears and criticism are like the chaff. By our endeavor aided by prayer we can crack the protective husk of our fears and release the delicious, nourishing essence. We could also think of relationships to be like a laboratory which can produce both useful and harmful chemicals.
Yesterday I had another PET or full body scan. I rose around my usual time but had to be especially focused on finishing my morning duties before I had to leave at 7: 15 AM. Thus I chanted my japa, or my morning meditation on the names of God, first thing, read for a few minutes, and jumped into the shower. Donning devotional attire and tilak I went downstairs to wake the Deities with official prayers, and then offering my prayers for the day and my life—to offer it for the best service possible and to benefit as many people as possible.
I began my morning worship of my shilas and all our Deities. Preparing their breakfast and then offering my Lords their bath, arotik, and food offering, I removed the worship paraphernalia and offering trays from the altar and washed everything. I packed up what was now Prasad, or sanctified food, since I had to fast from food and drink. Then I packed all the herbal remedies, potions and pills, and changed into my regular dress. I packed my computer, iPod for listening to lectures, and books to read and distribute. Saying goodbye to my wife and making my last prayers to our Deities that they may accompany and guide me, I was out the door and on the road, on time.
Driving can be a time for listening to lectures and contemplate what I hear, and also a time for deep thought about my life, and life and death in general. We are bombarded with reminders of the four fold miseries (re-birth, old age, disease, and death) on the Net and throughout our day. I am supposed to be happy that the US Air-force killed 250 ISIS fighters, and sad with the unfortunate death of 50 persons at a night club in Florida.
What about all the bugs my car kills on my windshield or grill, or the many animals or “roadkill” splattered on the side or in the middle of the road? Down the road GMO corn is grown, while the bee, song bird and frog populations are diminishing as Roundup poisons go into the groundwater and forests are made into paper. Problems are everywhere.
Part 1 FINDING OUR MATERIAL SELVES TO HELP US FIND OUR SPIRITUAL SELF and Part 2 FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT
Part 1 FINDING OUR MATERIAL SELVES TO HELP US FIND OUR SPIRITUAL SELF: I have thought and written much about what it takes to stay the course in bhakti for our whole life, as well as to how not to settle into a comfortable religious life not intensely focused on making spiritual advancement. They are related subjects though usually spoken of separately. I am thinking mostly about what kind of unique guidance should be provided devotees of different ages, needs, and personality types.
Everyone is best served by tailor-made guidance which takes into consideration a person’s age, years of spiritual practice, material necessity and nature, and all-around maturity. I bring up the topic because most of us didn’t receive this type of guidance and suffered accordingly. I am challenged to succinctly present this in the bite size form of a blog, as there are so many aspects to consider, so please take this as food for thought to be expanded upon.
When I and those of my generation lived in ashrams during our young and inexperienced years some of us just plugged into the bhakti process without really understanding our nature and if we could live primarily spiritually focused for the long haul. To learn how to center our lives totally on active seva is valuable, though it’s often unsustainable due to our surfacing desires and conditioning. This should be made clear to every new devotee, so they don’t feel guilty if they have to leave the ashram, or need to address some pressing concern in their marriage.
THE SEARCH FOR POWER AND DISCOVERING ITS REAL SOURCE and AFFIRMING AND GIVING THANKS FOR OUR HEALING
THE SEARCH FOR POWER AND DISCOVERING ITS REAL SOURCE: In addition to the ultimate life lesson that we are incompatible with matter and need to be in a spiritual environment to realize our true fulfillment and source of power, we also have to deal with our relative life issues. They need to be sorted out so we won’t be distracted and drained by them. From my perspective and experience, this work is favorable for bhakti, and is part of being a balanced human being with the ability to give our whole heart to bhakti. I realize that many of my recent blogs have a similar theme, the reason being that these topics are so important to understand. I see the great need for this inner work to be accomplished for all, and I am also engaged in it. I consider helping those involved in bhakti or interested in spiritual life part of my life's mission. I pray that you seriously think about what I write about here. So please bear with the repetition as I bring up new points each time.
Otherwise, our failure to uncover and work through our life lessons and unhealthy conditioning keeps us spiritually stuck. We see too many examples of this, I think because there has not been enough emphasis on exactly how to do this work. Such endeavors are really “anartha-nivritti,” since unhealthy, reactionary, unexamined habits, cause us to not hear our inner guidance or deal properly with others with the tendency for aparadha and offensive chanting--the root of all offenses is inattentive or distracted chanting. The great Gaudiya Vaishnava teacher or acharya, Shrila Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakur outlines stages of spiritual advancement as well as obstacles we must face in his book Madhuya Kadambini. There and throughout Prabhupada's writings the main recommendation for spiritual advancement is pure chanting of the holy name and having advanced Vaishnava association, or sadhu sanga. Whatever endeavors at self-improvement we make are to better facilitate these practices. Add to this our regular prayers for spiritual progress. We have to begin where we are, as in praying for the desire, to have the desire, to make progress on the road to Krishna prema, or pure love of God.
Many of our karmic issues are highlighted by our family of origin. It’s worthwhile to reflect on this, especially when we become aware of dysfunctional and troubling patterns in our life that bring us distress in relationships, complicate making our particular contribution, and in feeling satisfied with the direction of our lives. The excuse that sometimes comes up in therapy that “this is just the way I am,” is a very poor justification for bad judgment and unkind or aggressive behavior. While we all have particular personality types, certain learned survival behavior is not helpful for our progressive life, or in being kind, loving, and compassion persons, and realizing our full potential. Sometimes a major crisis or illness is required to help us examine our lives and how we are required to change--one of which I am currently in the midst of.
(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.)
[This is republished from August 5th 2014, which I publish today, on Father's Day, as my tribute to my father. Though he was the tragic figure of his worldly drama, I know he loved me and did his best to raise me. He went to the temple at my first wedding, loved prasad, and said Hare Krishna frequently to shock his friends and acquaintances about the strange group I was part of. So he was blessed in many ways.]
[An interesting fact is that other than a few baby pictures with my parents, I only have the above picture and one other of them together during my childhood, and they both show my father pretending to be attacking my mom--but in fact, that was the nature of their relationship. I also have no pictures of my father and I. Life leaves us many clues!]
August 3rd will be the death anniversary of my father who, as we devotees say, “left his body” in 1986. “Leaving our body,” means someone, the soul, has left the physical covering behind and moved on. I don’t remember many dates, but this one is etched in my memory—along with a few birthdays, and my wedding anniversary (very important date for those of you who are married). When I was with my mom in her last days in 2010 I obtained his death certification and some family memorabilia—presently of interest only to me, as the last surviving blood member of my family. This should tell us something about such memorabilia!
My mom was a collector, and saved even her baptism certificate, though she was an unbeliever, brought up by a strong religious mother, and, as fate would have it, had a Hare Krishna son! We are strongly karmically connected to our parents and children. Part of a successful life is to make peace with our past and current life—since our present is very much a reaction to our past, and our present choices becomes our future. Thus, part of bhakti is cutting the worldly cords of attachments by attachment to the spiritual via the “cords” of our beads which we use to chant the maha-mantra, as well as all the practices of devotional service.
I wanted to at least say a few words about this day to honor the lessons I learned from my “dear old dad,” though mainly to share some perspectives in dealing with the death of loved ones. Though the soul is eternal, due to our bodily dress, we calculate the age of the body. So he isn’t really old in a physical sense, but he died when he was 65—you could say he retired his body to ashes (he was cremated) at the age of retirement, since he was tired of living.
I love to write and am doing my best to speak more. Regardless of how inspiring or insightful I may, or may not, be, if my words don’t inspire the audience or readers to take practical action, the benefit will be very brief. Have you ever been to a seminar, workshop, or class, or read a book, where you felt very inspired, only to have it fade because you didn’t put into practice what you heard? I know I have!
Many people know what their problems are, but are unwilling, or don’t believe it is possible for them, to do the difficult work of change and transformation. Or there may be too much secondary gain for staying the same, regardless of their unhappiness or dissatisfaction. We may wear our past wounds like a badge of honor, hoping to get sympathy strokes from others, as in “woe, is me.” Being creatures of habit the thought of change, even positive, beneficial change, is challenging for most people, even if they are currently miserable, and think they “should” change—maybe tomorrow, or that faraway place in the ocean, “Someday Isle.”
What we currently have, or are as a person, is a known reality, but if we change our situation or environment, that is unknown, and takes a leap of faith to embrace. However, we should know that leading a successful life in either the material or spiritual realm requires us to change for the better. As it is said, there isn’t much different between a rut and a grave—only two sides.
LOVE, LEARN, PRAY, GIVE, ACCEPT, RELEASE, LET GO, and CELEBRATING and EMBODYING GRACE AND SHARING THAT WITH THE WORLD
LOVE, LEARN, PRAY, GIVE, ACCEPT, RELEASE, LET GO, CELEBRATE: I often think about how to express the most important aspects of life that can most benefit us all. The following is one perspective and attempt to do this. We begin by sensing that love is our nature and that which we most hanker for. When we discover that our capacity to love in this world, and the capacity for others to accept the amount of love we are capable of giving, is limited and ultimately unsatisfying, we can begin our quest to realize our spiritual nature as beings of eternity, wisdom, and love.
We discover that the fulfillment we seek is only possible when our spiritual nature is gradually awakened, since this nature is who we truly are. There are many stages of this divine awakening which will be promoted by those who seek the goal their path offers. According to the bhakti Vedic scriptures, the highest stage is when our loving propensity and full consciousness is reposed on the Supreme Original Person, God, or Krishna.
When we love Krishna, then we always know what to do. This is true learning and practical wisdom. Krishna teaches in chapter 15 of his Bhagavad Gita, that when we know Krishna as the Supreme Original Person, without doubting, then we know everything that is necessary.
In our endeavor to learn to love Krishna (bhakti), we learn that prayer—through chanting the holy name, reciting prayers in the scripture and by great devotees, and our personal prayers—is our connection to God and leads us to serve and remembering him. We also learn that by serving, loving, and giving to others in the spirit of service to Krishna, we grow spiritually and help others as well (para-upakara). We can’t separate Krishna from his devotees.
SEEING CANCER AS A MESSENGER, NOT AS THE ENEMY and FOR SPIRITUAL ADVANCEMENT CHANGE AND TRANSFORMATION ARE REQUIRED:
SEEING CANCER AS A MESSENGER, NOT AS THE ENEMY: As it is said, don’t shoot the messenger, but hear the message. Cancer is an effect of something much deeper and primal, pointing to something beyond it. In the alternative cancer treatment world they say that we aren’t sick because we have cancer, but we have cancer because we are sick, or we have a compromised immune system. Exactly why we do is a question for deep contemplation and prayer for the ability to be completely honest and open to hear something uncomfortable about ourselves.
I have mentioned that I see any disease as having a physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual aspect or reason for its existence. However, to me the spiritual reason is really at the root, and without dealing with the root of any problem it will keep returning. If you have ever had a boil and not gotten out the root or core, you know what I am talking about. The Shrimad Bhagavatam gives the analogy of bamboo: if only the visible part is burned down (as with jnana), the plant will return, since its roots are still in place (which will only be eradicated with the power of bhakti). This perspective can also be applied to any disease or problem in our life. Only dealing with the effects, or visible symptoms, as often done with modern medicine, will only be temporarily helpful, if at all.
I am addressing the physical aspect by diet, pranayam, exercise, and herbal treatments, and see the mental/emotional as relating to the spiritual root of my cancer. I have a secondary tumor in the lymph node, near the 5th or throat chakra, with the primary tumor in back of the nose, close to the 6th or third eye chakra. From my introspective and prayerful investigation of myself, I have to speak and communicate more (5th chakra) my inspiration of essential truth (6th chakra).
[updated with new material and corrections] I am feeling very enlivened this morning having a few realizations which are fine tuning, or refinements, of ideas I have been thinking, speaking, and writing about for a long time. It is as if they unlocked an inner door that touched my heart with more and more practical understanding about my life (the “aha” factor). As always my intention is to share ideas that could be helpful for you as well. Conceptions that we may believe in a general sense are always abstract until they are applied and demonstrated in our own lives.
My basic thought for today's contemplation is that whatever we struggle with in regards to our relationships, family, occupation, state of mind, attitude, or spiritual practice, are feedback that these challenges are not to be ignored. They are life lessons shouting at us: "Pay attention here! You are required to understand why you are experiencing repeated conflicts. Please look within yourself to correct what are actually imbalances in your life, or unhealthy habits." We live in a purposeful universe, and thus every situation and every person in our lives or whom we may encounter are there for a very good reason. Our life is full of teachers who give us good feedback on how we are meant to change and improve.
There are no accidents, and those events, people, or states of mind that we struggle with or want to avoid, sometimes thinking they are the enemy, hold the key to our personal happiness and fulfillment when coupled to our spiritual practices which are designed for bringing out the life of the soul. Spiritual life isn't meant to be an excuse for not learning our life lessons or a method to hide from them, but these lessons, when learned, give a balanced support to our divine journey of awakening.
The Gita teaches us that the soul’s amazing!
Though when I am trying to get up
I don’t feel very amazing.
It’s twenty before three in the morning—
I should get up before the alarm rings.
It’s five before three in the morning—
I should get up like I say I want to.
The alarm annoyingly rings at 3:15 am.
I want to leap out of bed like I used to,
though I’d rather sleep more.
I throw off the covers.
When I bow down to Prabhupada
I want to sleep, but I can’t, I must arise.
Feeling tired and not very amazing
I still push myself up, helped by the wood chest.
Walking to the toilet to relieve myself,
I say, “At least I’m up before 4 am.”
Back in my room I fold my bedding
thinking that even in my foggy condition
being alive and trying to wake up is amazing!