Karnamrita.das's blog

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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Sanatana Goswami approaches Shri Chaitanya in true humility photo SanatanapaysrespecttoLordChaitanya_zps88aa9202.jpg
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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Chaitanya and Krishna lila photo ChaitanyalilaandKrishnalila_zps0ffbcc5f.jpg

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.

Dreaming a Quest up the Relationship Mountain

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Amidst thoughts about my past in my Fatal Attractions series (still in process) and how it relates to my present, I have thought, and felt, deeply about relationships I have had, and endeavored for. In response to my contemplation I wrote this free verse poem. It is full of angst and intense emotion for my failed relationships, disappointments in good ones, and my hopes and aspirations. While most of us value relationships highly, they are also the source of our greatest distress and sadness. Everyone wants to be loved and understood, but it is never quite to the degree we want. Even in what seem the best of relationships we may be separated from our beloved through death, debilitating disease, divorce, or mental imbalances, as in dementia.

Examining the depth of my capacity to love, I question who in this world can we love and understand that is capable of fully accepting our heart’s gifts? At least in my experience, no one can completely satisfy either our desire to love, or to be loved in return. This could be depressing or could point to our goal of loving and serving Radha-Krishna with our spiritual heart and soul. The negative impetus for such love and service is our bitter experience, or at least disappointments, in worldly relationships, while the positive impetus comes from our taste in spiritual practices and eventually our pure love for Krishna, or prema. All relationships with others and our dealings with the things of this world are meant to point us in the direction of Krishna, as the source of everything, and the complete object of our love. Our desire for unending and ever-increasing love can only be fulfilled by the One who can accept our love unlimitedly, and that is Krishna, the fountainhead of all relationships (rasas), the cynosure of our eyes, heart, and soul.

I
I’m a disabled person
climbing a mountain:
my words are my hammer,
feelings are my spikes, and rope,
I know not if they’ll hold or help me up,
in giving me a grip on my steady journey
to avoid be hurled down by trolls;
I only have my effort and a prayer
with the aspiration to reach the top
where I find the entrance to your self-universe:

Just Because

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Just because something is
doesn't mean it should be.

Just because a poem is written
doesn’t mean it’s good.

Just because I have a manuscript
doesn’t mean it should be published.

Just because I don’t like a universal law
doesn’t mean it isn’t good, or I can break it.

Just because I own something
doesn’t mean I should keep it.

Just because it’s a cool techno gadget
doesn’t mean I need to buy it.

Just because I want to be humble
doesn’t mean I don’t need appreciation.

Fate Attraction Part 5—Coming to Krishna

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Devotees chanting on Med Cafe Mural in Berkeley CA photo MuralonMedCafeBerkeleyCA_zps87e4c4a5.jpg
Chris had come back from Muir Woods to Berkeley a few times to restock his food supplies and then return, but this time he felt he would stay in town for a while. He wanted to begin searching the library and alternative newspapers for information about different spiritual orders and groups such as the Trappist monks, Buddhists, and various yoga societies. Somehow to have a new life, a spiritual life, and one by which he could focus on useful life skills, being in harmony with Nature, and helping others.

In his second year of college he wasn’t impressed or inspired by his teachers. He reasoned that if he continued his education he would become like they who were merely part of the materialistic status quo. His teachers didn’t seem interested in changing, becoming better people, or most importantly, in their own souls. Chris felt completely estranged from his old life, apparently lost, even damaged from an external perspective, and yet he felt somehow guided in the process of finding his path. It had been a radical, unpredictable journey and there no end in sight, but his effort to find and live the Truth was worth it, even if his material progress was impeded or lost forever. Without realizing and living the purpose of life, what was the use of any other obtainment, even if praised by the World?

He simplified his life by giving away most of his possessions, and began sleeping on the floor. During the day he would sit on his folded sleeping bag before a small coffee table that he used as a desk. It was covered with stacks of spiritual/religious books, magazines, and notebooks. He dreamed of being a sage or monk, what the I Ching referred to as a “superior man,” not in vanity, but in depth of character. Chris had become a vegetarian rather naturally,

Fatal Attraction Part 4: The Awakening—Learning from Nature

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Growing up in San Francisco, Chris didn’t think it unusual or sad if the sky was overcast or foggy—it was just a different color sky, though he liked the sun too. In fact, in a general sense, even at the young age of four he began a lifelong pattern of not look forward to things, or thinking of too much about the past. Though he was learning to shut his emotions down as much as possible, in a strange way he lived in the present, at least his version of it, safe in his castle of neutrality, yet ever on guard so he could remain at peace, and not angry (like his father). He learned that if someone is angry that will mean pain, so he treaded life very gently. When his family moved from L.A. to San Francisco in 1954, he didn’t feel much different in his new neighborhood in the Sunset district than he had in his previous house in Van Nuys, especially after making friends—but at first he didn’t like the hills. When a neighbor began making skate coasters for the kids, the hills became an asset for fun.

In their flat on 9th Avenue, these were care free years for Chris, at least on the surface. He had a best friend, Michael Rivers who lived next door, and they played all day, coming home for lunch, and sometimes playing Monopoly. They were loosely under the watch of Michael’s mom, since Chris’s parents were at work, and sometimes there was a baby sitter, but in those times kids were just let out to their own devices without supervision. As they grew older they enjoyed roaming the neighborhood, finding homes under construction to play in, climbing the tree on the corner, or exploring the hill that steeply dropped down from 8th Avenue to the fast and busy street far below. Sometimes on the weekends they would walk over to Sutro forest and climb to the top with Chris’s dad.

Interestingly, from today’s perspective, in his youth Chris didn’t learn to make any distinction between the city composed of concrete, asphalt, cars, and houses, with the natural environment he encountered in his back yard, in vacant lots, or at Sutro forest. He hadn’t yet spent time in country settings which were at least partially undisturbed and full of trees, bushes and wildlife. Although later he and his friends spent time in Golden Gate Park, and had family vacations in scenic resort areas, he still didn’t understand that where a city now stood was once a scenic, natural habitat, free from human intervention and “progress.” To Chris, human beings seemed to be the center around which everything else revolved, while Nature and its laws were but an afterthought, or only of secondary importance to cities and their inhabitants. It was only when he was in his existential crisis at 18 that Chris really appreciated the natural world. He discovered a Nature that wasn’t secondary to human beings. Instead, humans were only a part of Nature. The natural world, the planet, and the Universe, were the basis of all life, having to be properly respected and cooperated with.

Fatal Attraction Part 3—Choosing the Path of Light

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An unusual cold, rainy day in Berkeley, California, but for a particular person, it was a fitting, useful, backdrop for an epiphany, or deep “aha moment.” Chris Cox, in a contemplative mood that was becoming almost normal, was sitting on the floor in his minimally furnished room. A single light bulb hung down from the ceiling by a cord speckled with white paint from an ancient paint job. Warming himself in front of the gas heater, he would occasionally look around the room or out the window at the gray day, as if looking for special meaning, or some clue about what was missing from his life. In fact he felt like he, himself, was an existential question waiting to be answered, and for the first time in his life.

Chris had lost his job and was getting food stamps. His hippie house was on “rent strike,” having banded together with other renters to withhold paying rent until the “pig landlords” lowered the cost, so he hadn’t paid his rent in months. Still, the electricity and water were on, and he had food and shelter. How was this possible that he could live here with no effort? He could just sit here and live, having time to read religious and mystical texts and think about the purpose of life. It all seemed magical, yet purposeful.

He didn’t know it yet, but he was experiencing how simple living can foster deep thought about life. As it turned out, this was a rare time when life conspired to make certain results more likely by arranging the environment like a perfect supporting cast.

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