Karnamrita.das's blog

The Spiritual Basics Must Be Mastered (And it takes a long time!)

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It’s the basics revisited
I write about it often
spiritual life 101—yet again
I know the theory by heart!:
“We are spiritual beings
covered by body/mind.”
Oh, it seems old news
I am such a mature devotee.

Though truth be told
realization is difficult
a long education process
of trial and error repeatedly,
naked truth of embodiment
the laboratory of life
hearing it frequently
thinking it over carefully.

Making Time to Remember Who We Are

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Soul taking off body close up

I am speaking to you—who are reading these words—I hope “to” you, and not “at” you. (In other words, I am doing my best to be relevant.)

Do I expect too much of what appears to be merely words on a screen, or can I somehow be embodied in these words, allowing us to have a meaningful conversation, and even a relationship? (My conviction is that there is life in these words as I share my experience, and more so to the degree that I am embodying the teachings.)

Can I speak to you as a human being, since we all want the same things if we dig deep enough: to be happy, fulfilled, avoid suffering and too much pain; to love, and be loved; to have family, community, meaningful work, and a sense of deeper purpose in life than just existing? (We are ultimately souls, yet we have to use who we are now, to realize our eternal nature--the way out is through!)

Many people and religions seek commonality on the human platform or as a living organism sharing the Earth—and this is very important, since sometimes spiritually interested people play this down, and are aloof physically, artificially, giving the slogan, “You’re not your body,” to somehow magically elevate everyone beyond material needs (which they may look down on) to the soul platform.(There is theory and realization, and much harm can come from immaturity in the guise of spirituality.)

Aspirations While Chanting: When Will This Day Be Permanently Mine?

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Japa Day

I didn’t begin with the idea that the fragments that came to me during a japa emersion day, now made into a poem, would be a continuation from my last blog, on “Identifying Our Self with Krishna,” but it has turned out that way. What I am exploring here, are my thoughts about what it means to be devotee of Krishna, why I chant the Hare Krishna mantra, and what I really want, in my heart of hearts—or at least, what I pray to obtain as a permanent condition. We are all a complex combination of many parts, which can sometimes compete for dominance, yet whoever I am as a human being is being changed by bhakti, albeit, very slowly. Still, it is nice to look at our most spiritual aspirations—not just officially, but truly—and really want to go there, and thus far beyond our materialistic qualities, like lust, anger, greed, enviousness, and all the rest. Looking at what we want to become, or our highest ideal, is like taking our spiritual pulse, because it gives us an idea of who were are, and will become. As Prabhupada taught us, through bhakti practices, we are in the bath of purification, scrubbing the dirt off our soul, and eventually, with the mercy of Guru and Krishna, our soul will awaken, and our material identity will be subservient to the needs of our soul.

Identifying Our Self With Krishna

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While chanting the maha-(superlative)-mantra this morning, or my daily meditation (japa), as I prayerfully petitioned my Radha-Krishna Deities for spiritual advancement, the topic of today’s blog came to me. Later I found sections in the Shrimad Bhagavatam to demonstrate how this great scripture can help us to be absorbed in remembering Krishna, and recreating ourselves, so to speak. As a preface, let me say that while some Krishna devotees speak in self-effacing ways, and it is popular to openly express humility, our words are easier to speak than to embody. Real or spiritual humility comes from realizing the mercy, greatness, beauty, and wonder of Krishna, in comparison to whom, we are like a blade of grass. As a result one is gratefully enlivened to serve. Despite my personal lack of realized humility I can admit, in all honesty, that my devotion to Krishna is greatly impoverished. I say this, not to berate myself, but to be reminded that although I have come far (when I think of so many species of life and meeting a pure devotee), I haven’t left the gravitational pull of the earth, and am sometimes more like a hovercraft, instead of a spaceship, on my flight beyond the Universe to the Krishna planet. Nonetheless, I remain hopeful about my steady progress, by the grace of Krishna.

This means that on the long flight of bhakti, we will experience many stages of development, as well as thorns, and periods where we don’t seem to be getting very far spiritually.

Praying to Awaken My Soul

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I am consciousness eternal
a spiritual spark of Divinity
equipped with all essentials—
no need of happiness outside
not titles, trophies, names, profiles—
instead, blissful awareness of Truth
natural identity and purpose
Spirit cooperator, giver to God—
selfishness isn’t a requirement
with no material necessities to covet—
ignoring soul satisfaction is darkness
the shackles of angry frustration
crushed dreams and dashed hopes
phantasmagoria, the will-of the-wisp
green paper appears valuable
what’s built up, crashes down
still we chase the mirage
betting our future on hallucinations
since material bodies hide our soul.

Our True Shelter Amidst Impermanence and Death

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Recently three devotees of Krishna were tragically killed in a car accident near Alachua, Florida, and this short poem was my response. I wanted to wait some time before publishing this, to at least let the grieving process begin for those directly involved. Spiritual philosophy will eventually soothe, but if presented without compassion, and prematurely, it can make healing more difficult in the short term. In spite of our human grief or sadness at such events, in the larger scheme of things, they are meant to help us examine our own mortality, the shortcomings of matter, and the fact that we have to leave behind everything material at death. It is natural that this is easier as we age, and seem to be materially closer to death, but one of these devotees was in his twenties, and newly married. Old means, one will soon die. Thus we can question, since we don’t know who among us will die sooner, who among us is old?

My teacher, Shrila Prabhupada, encouraged us to keep death before us, not in a morbid sense, but in the sense that life can be finished at any moment, with or without specific notice. Therefore, we have to all be serious about our spiritual life by giving it the attention and heart it requires. We don’t want to only have “smasana-vairagya,”or the detachment that may come at a cemetery or place of cremation (or at a funeral). Ideally, to fully live in the present, and for a spiritual purpose, we should have a constant remembrance that any day could be our last in our current body.

Coming to Krishna—and Staying with Krishna (Through Tests, Challenges, or Growing Pains)

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Prabhupada chanting japa
After the last two blogs, while further thinking about the topic of associating with advanced devotees, I also thought about other ways we can make connection to spirituality, since even those who are blessed to hear from and serve devotees of high spiritual standing don’t usually have that opportunity perpetually. In their absence, we can also serve the instructions of our guru, or someone who inspires us spiritually (a sadhu), and in that way feel their presence and blessings. On a regular basis we can adopt other devotional actions to keep the flame of spirituality alive within that first came to us by the grace of a devotee, either from their personal company, or through their recorded talks or books.

Such spiritual practices, or sadhana, include reciting scriptural prayers, or making our own unique outpourings. We are recommended to also regularly chant the holy name in meditative japa, or musically in kirtan, read the scriptures, give in charity or help spiritual people, prepare food for offering and then eating (honoring) prasadam (blessed vegetarian food). Additionally, we can visit holy places and temples,

Greatest Treasure—Accessible Saintly Association

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From a spiritual perspective “luck,” or good fortune, means having association with saintly persons. Even more fortunate is to have spiritual adepts who are genuinely and specifically interested in our progress in bhakti, and can give us unique guidance suited to our natures and circumstances. The opposite is also true: to be bereft of saintly persons in our life is most unfortunate. Why? This is accurate because to hear and ask questions to the saintly, or try to reciprocate with by pleasing a great soul, takes us much farther spiritually than by our own efforts. This is the version of the Vedic scriptures and my personal experience. Such association is really the key to our progress in bhakti, and the lack of it can stall our forward march toward Krishna. Although we have much to do in our spiritual life, bhakti is ultimately a path fueled by grace.

I am exploring this topic as a result of a question that arose from my last blog about living our life in the mood of a permanent pilgrimage. I was asked about how I remain enthusiastic, and what habits or type of negligence may contribute to a half-baked or mediocre bhakti practice.

Making Our Entire Life an Inner Pilgrim’s Journey

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Taking up the path of pure devotion, is to take up the pilgrim’s journey. “Pilgrim” is defined in the dictionary as traveling to a holy place. However, the Shrimad Bhagavatam advises us not merely to make an arduous journey for the sake of taking a holy bath, but to hear from saintly persons who embody the holy place and sacred teachings. Our spiritual awakening may include an outer expedition to leave the mundane and live sequestered from material life by becoming a spiritual hermit or monk, yet the real life of a pilgrim is a difficult inner voyage which turns out to be an adventure of self-discovery on many levels, both physically and spiritually. The externals of our life may or may not facilitate this growth. As obvious as this might sound to you, a theoretical understanding is much easier than applying it practically. For me, a great deal of maturing over many years by trial and error was required for me to really understand this.

I have lived as a monk and a family man, and both have been very helpful to me on my spiritual path, and in discovering the necessity of balance and authenticity. Timing, or at what level of awareness we do things, facilitates our understanding. In other words, what may work for us as a young person often no longer supports us as we age and change. Whether we wear saffron and live out of a milk crate in an ashram (as I did), or wear business attire and have a family, our external situation is meant to help us find support and peace for the long haul of a lifetime of endeavor in uncovering our soul, and our love for Krishna. Giving our life and heart to Krishna is a process, and for the majority of us it doesn’t happen overnight, in spite of our initial enthusiasm.

Practicing the Presence of God—(Our Walk with Krishna)

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The title of this blog is taken from a book which consists of conversations and letters written by a humble Christian monk, Brother Lawrence, during the 17th century about his practice of remembering, praying to, and serving God in all circumstances. I find it very similar to what bhakti, or devotional service, is all about—that is, to remember and serve Krishna in love and devotion in all circumstances, at all times. As so often happens, the seed for this blog came to me while I was “practicing the presence of Krishna,” by chanting His holy names during my morning devotional time. My life is dedicated to devotional practice, which we could call practicing the presence of God, not only at designated times, but always, or to the extent that I remember. In my retired life I am finding it more urgent than ever before to be absorbed in awareness of Krishna with feeling, studying the bhakti philosophy, keeping good association, and sharing my past and present spiritual journey—I pray—for the benefit of others.

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