Karnamrita.das's blog

Utilizing the Time of our Lives for the Best Purpose: Appreciating the Value of Prema Part 1

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Although we may die at any time in youth or old age, the older one is the more possibility exists that this day will be our last in our current body. Many accounts have been written about the regrets of those on their death beds. Most people don’t bemoan their lack of social standing, accumulated money, or accomplishments, but are focused on feelings of regret about how they used their time, or their unresolved conflicts in close relationships. Such unsettled emotions are centered on actions they did, or should have done, words they said, or should have said, etc. Our sense of regret or incompleteness partially makes up our desires which combine with our good and bad deeds to fuel our future births.

In my training in hospice work one service we learned to offer to the dying was to help them make peace with their past, or we could say, to have a life review before death. Eastern religious traditions speak about how at the time of death one experiences a panoramic life review from the soul perspective. This perspective has been strengthened for some people by the convincing testimony of those having near-death experiences. At such a time one can experience what is truly important (according to the level of one’s wisdom and guidance), and are reminded that whatever we do comes back to us in kind, and that there is a higher purpose to life than one’s personal selfish agenda. Therefore, the time we have in our life is a very valuable asset and needs to be used in the best possible way for the advantage of all. Hierarchies of benefits exist, from levels of material blessings to planes of spiritual obtainment, culminating in prema, or pure love for God.

When I'm Sixty-Four: Aging Gracefully with a Spiritual Purpose--or Not

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“Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four?" - PAUL MC CARTNEY; JOHN LENNON

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.
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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.

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.

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,

A Mixed Bag of Material and Spiritual Tendencies

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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.

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

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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

Being Open to Learn Through Humility: Part 1

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I had the good fortune Sunday to spend time with a devotee friend and neighbor, along with her two visiting daughters—one out of college and looking for work, the other, soon to finish high school and already accepted at a college of her choice. I love to share my experiences and what I have found is valuable with others—anyone who is interested to hear and discuss—but especially to devotee young adults and teens. In my life growing up, and later as a devotee, I suffered for want of wise elder guidance, and basically had to wing it by trail and err.

Though my life has worked out well in many ways, I feel I could have had more skills to help others and be further along spiritually had I had help. Admittedly, we all have our personal journey and ways we are given to learn our own lessons (even with guidance) through personal experience and trying various endeavors. Never the less, I know that having supportive, kind, and experienced mentors can make one’s path more fruitful, one’s decisions better informed—if one is willing to listen. Remembering my own lack of guidance I feel inspired to share what I have learned in life, both my mistakes and successes. This is one reason I write, and in this case, enjoyed speaking to our guests.

I found the young ladies to be very open-hearted and humble. This caused me to think about the importance of humility on our lives. I have written a fair bit about this, as has my wife, but today I am looking at humility as a means of being open and grateful, and how there is real, and shadow humility. I shared with my two young friends that my behavior as a young devotee appeared to many to be humble, or unassuming, and I was willing to do almost anything. However, as I learned in my thirties, my so-called “humble” attitude was more a result of being beaten down by agents of the material energy as well as feeling bad about myself than arising from any spiritual understanding.

Leaving Aside, or Letting Go, of the Unessential

An important goal is to live a life with a focused and joyful purpose, and thus letting go of the unnecessary. While I will speak briefly about this in a subtle way regarding what we give our time and energy to, this is also true in regard to our possessions, which is this blog's main topic. One of the best ways to reevaluate what is truly important in regard to our “stuff” or possessions is when we have to move and thus need to go through our things to decide what can be left behind, or should be kept. Sounds easy enough, but not for everyone! Of the many ways to classify people, one of them is in being a “collector” or “thrower-outer.”

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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?

Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s Appearance—The Exoteric and Esoteric Reasons

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There are many ways to know a person. One can know a person by guessing what they might, or should, be like, study the person from a distance—say from the Gossip column, Internet, or Facebook— hear about them from others who may, or may not, know them, or we may directly experience the person through a loving personal relationship. The last way is the best because if we love a person we will discover, and they will reveal to us, all their secrets. It is similar with Krishna. Even though he is both infinite and inconceivable he has the prerogative to reveal himself to those who love him purely and selflessly. In regard to Krishna, and specifically Shri Chaitanya, there is both an exoteric (apparent) as well as an esoteric (hidden) reason for his appearance.

The closer we come to Krishna the more we will know about him, by his grace. And there are many ways to explain the necessity of the Lord’s various forms and energies. For example, great devotees have looked very carefully at Krishna, and discovered another person, Radha, or devotion personified, who is most dear to Krishna. There is Krishna, and his energies, all of which come from Radha. And looking even more closely at the Divine Couple, pure devotees have found that Radha and Krishna have combined together to become one, in the person of Shri Chaitanya. Such pure souls, such as the Six Goswami’s of Vrindavan, Shri Krishnadas Kaviraja, and others, have shared their experience with us in their writings, and given us the logic of their love, referenced by the Vedic scriptures.

If we study the lila, divine activities, of Radha and Krishna as revealed in the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Chaitanya Charitamrita commented on our Gaudiya Vaishnava acharyas including Shrila Prabhupada, we will understand that there must be a Lord Chaitanya to fulfill Krishna’s unmet need. Krishna is perfect, complete, and full in himself, so when he wants to experience something, he manifests a situation and spiritual body accordingly.

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