Karnamrita.das's blog

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.

Fatal Attraction Part 2: Illuminating the Shadow of our Past

The basic premise of this series is to posit that our greatest challenges, problems, reverses, difficulties, hurts, or pain, have the power to crush us (if we let them), or offer the greatest opportunity for personal and spiritual growth. Specifically here, I am speaking of our childhood, and how huge a shadow it casts on our life—which could be good or bad, or likely, a mixture. Our parents are instruments of our karma and are meant teach us valuable lessons for living our lives. Many people don’t really worry about this and simply live without a lot of deep introspection about how their past has shaped them, which isn’t a bad fact if one is happy and fulfilled.

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(Fast forward sixteen years from the marriage spoken about in part 1.) This seemed like any typical San Francisco summer morning, foggy and cool, but it was anything but normal to Chris, who was going to do something he didn’t want to do, while his Dad, Johnny, was happy. They were driving to the courthouse for a divorce settlement. Parking, they walked up the stairs and into the building. John found the appropriate courtroom and they took their seats to wait their turn. Chris felt sick to his stomach and wished he could just run away, but knew he couldn’t, so instead, he retreated deeper into himself. It was like he wasn’t even there. Disassociation was how he survived childhood and it had served him well. While a good temporary protection strategy, it was a poor way to live at all times. Later in life, Chris would find his biggest challenge was learning to be present, and to feel, whether sadness or love, but depression became a way to be numb, though it gradually became his clue that something was wrong, very wrong.

For all practical purposes, the memory of this courtroom experience was gone, buried under the debris of pain and disappointment. He only knew it happened on the rare occasions his dad recounted how proud he was hearing that Chris, when asked by the judge, wanted to live with his father—which was totally untrue. Even though Chris couldn’t remember the last time his dad beat him, he still was afraid of him and on guard in case his father would become angry and hit him, so he didn’t speak his mind at court, or for that matter, much at all.

Fatal Attraction--Part 1

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Pattrica Ann Bailey stared mindlessly at the passing scenery as she sat in the moving train. She felt relaxed and glad to be away from Chicago and what seemed like a fixed future. In fact, the more miles away from the “Windy City,” the better she felt. While a fiercely independent and critically intelligent young woman, she couldn’t stand up to her mother Peg—still, after all these years! Patt (with two t’s please) had joined the Navy during the Second World War to escape her mom’s watchful eye, and even married, but then, after only a year she had to get a divorce. Her—now X—husband shocked her by revealing that he liked men better than girls and had no feelings for her. Thus, she was forced to return home in shame.

Although she had a very high IQ, Patt could be impulsive and over emotional at times. Thus her mom had never quite trusted her decisions, and was worried about her future. To “help” her daughter make a better choice in picking men, she invited a good looking, wealthy, navy captain over for dinner. He was nice enough Patt had thought at first and so they began dating. Before she knew it she was engaged, which she had agreed to do at the insistence of her mom. And the major problem was not only that she didn’t love him, but as she shared years later, “He was boooor-iiiiiing,” and Patt had a weakness for exciting men and doing fun things her mother didn’t approve of.

Let’s be Against Something! Yeah!

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You might consider this blog as a mirror, or opposite, of my last one on amazing things. I have often noticed how it is easier for people to be against something, than for something, and was reminded of this topic by a few comments on some Facebook posts. One person was upset with my “amazing topics” blog that I didn’t include something he was attached to, and then someone complained about my Bhagavad Gita quote, since it is a translation by Prabhupada with certain editing they don’t approve of. While I understand their complaints, I post on my Facebook page and share my Krishna.com blogs to (hopefully) inspire devotees and as my service to them—certainly not to upset them, though hopefully to get them to think—which is, of course, hard work, while reacting is easy, and is the just the opposite. Anyway, along with being a tad annoyed, I had to laugh at human nature (always a good idea), and was grateful for a blog topic that I think is quite interesting.

If you want to get a big group together in “agreement,” find something to be against, some pending problem or disaster, or the shortcomings of a public leader, and you will likely be successful. This is why negative political ads work. Even though the general population says they don’t like them, they still listen. Another way to "unite" people is to discuss, or complain about, the news! Bad news and scandals' sell and make headlines, while good news or stories of a Good Samaritan are often hidden inside the paper or website. If they do make the front page, they are only one out of twenty stories.

News is business, and a news business means readers or viewers are require to make money. Thus they want to give people news that gets their attention through being sensational, or shocking, which in reality doesn’t often reflect the sum total of what is really going on. And the result of constantly hearing bad news is that people become more afraid, cynical, and negative about life.

What’s Amazing? Everything! Really? YES!

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Part of the downside, or the disease even, of being an adult in the modern industrialized world, is to lose the amazement and curiosity of a child, becoming almost oblivious to our surroundings in the name of time management, progress, or efficiency. We become jaded by familiarity or thinking we understand things. We also live in a world of overstimulation, and infatuation with newness and change. Our modern gadgets seem to save us time, but then they force us, and we are expected, to move faster and do more, in less time. Many people can’t sit still and “smell the roses,” finding it necessary to multitask even when on vacation, or accompanying their small children to the playground. What used to be part of life’s simple pleasures, like taking a walk in the park, or just quietly sitting, seem like a luxury or waste of time.

I have been blessed with a life which isn’t hurried and is surrounded by the beauty of the countryside. I only have to go out a few times a week, and can be focused on my spiritual practices, service, and self-improvement. We have lived in rural North Carolina for ten years, and I have gradually noticed a change in me. I have slowed down and am more in tune with my environment than I was when I lived in Baltimore and was busy with work and the fast pace of modernity. This is part of the reason that I can write and consider so many topics. As it is said, 50% of life is just showing up. To me, part of showing up, is to slow down, or be present enough, to observe our surroundings—or as Ramdas said many years ago, “Be here now,” or we could refer to this as mindfulness.

Contemplating Temporal and Eternal Family

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Family blood ties are impelling
we give them energy and attention—
whether they’re compatible or caustic
blissful or fairytale sounding to others—
we can’t change, or bring back, our history
or modify time we’ve spent together
so we tolerate or emphasis the best
though we may try to forget
or laugh at the pain of our shared issues
our experiences together still shape us
as our basic foundation in this life;

our past lives have created our present
which can soften bad feelings, or victimhood
since everything happens for a reason
and no one is completely innocent
in family dynamics and interactions.

For the purpose of a family reunion
we drive 12 hours to South Florida

The Inner Life of a Devotee: Energizing the Best Thoughts, Feelings, and Intentions

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All there is in existence is Krishna, which includes His unlimited expansions and energies. I have experienced how seeing everything externally and internally as different types of energy can be helpful in life and service. I am speaking about developing sensitivity to what we are taking in, or being affected by, and what we are giving out, focusing on, or contributing…I will explain. The soul is one type of energy, matter another. Let me direct you to two Gita verses which show the broadest divisions of matter and the soul which animates them, [Bg 7.4-5]: “Earth, water, fire, air, ether, [and the components of the subtle body of] mind, intelligence and false ego – all together these eight constitute My separated material energies. / Besides these…there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities[the souls]who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature.”

All living physical bodies are a particular combination of material elements (energies) revolving around the mind, uniquely combining together to facilitate the desires and destiny (karma) of the soul. Of more importance for this blog is that not only is the body energy, but it is an energy generator and receiver. We have to be careful of what we allow to influence us as we endeavor to be absorbed in spiritual consciousness. Here I am going to emphasize the importance of what we focus our mind on even when we may be externally engaged in devotional activities or visiting a temple or holy place.

Our intentions, or reasons for acting, are all important, as is what we are thinking about, or are focused on while chanting the holy name or engaging in any of the nine main limbs of bhakti (hearing, chanting, remembering Krishna, etc.) This mental culture of bhakti is sometimes assumed to be in place, yet neglected, especially if we are very busy or rushed for time, don’t have a good spiritual foundation, don’t regularly study and hear the philosophy of bhakti, or have developed bad internal habits. I am speaking from personal experience.

Why Chant Japa?

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My wife, Archana-siddhi, a veteran facilitator of the wildly successful japa retreats of some years ago, presented a class on japa at our small temple. After our signature arotik and kirtan with guitar, mandolin, and vocal harmony, she began her talk in her favorite facilitator style by asking the class to write down why they chant japa. Fortunately, as she discovered by asking, everyone present chanted japa on their beads at least some days if not regularly. Then, as she had hoped, we all found the shared answers inspiring, hearing some perspectives we hadn’t considered in the exercise, but thoroughly appreciated.

While we generally cite certain verses in Vedic scripture proclaiming that Shri Chaitanya, the avatar for this age, came to propagate the congregational chanting of the holy name, chanting japa is a very important aspect of the life of a sadhaka, or spiritual practitioner in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Lord Chaitanya and his followers all took a vow to chant a certain amount of japa. The general principle is to always remember Krishna and never forget him, and it could be argued that the holy name is the same whether in kirtan or in japa—and for many devotees, kirtan is easier to do than japa—which brings us to today’s topic, of why should we chant japa.

Those who chant 16 rounds of japa on their beads find it takes from 2-3 hours, so why can’t we just do kirtan for that time? Certainly we can do that if we have a taste, and yet, we find that new initiates take a vow to chant a certain amount of rounds of japa, rather than to do a certain amount of kirtan. From this we can conclude that chanting japa is not less important than kirtan. Many of the leading kirtaneers consider that their focused japa helps the purity and taste of their kirtan.

Seek the Sky while Knowing The River

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I am returning here after some time, and I am sure I miss my writing more than you do, but that is OK, and just the way this blog space, and life, works. I share a free verse blog poem I began over a month ago. This poem is about being caught up in life, so much so that I couldn't write much during the last two months. From a writer's perspective, this is funny, because there was so much "grist for the mill" or interesting events for possible writing material. While I did begin a few other pieces, I wasn't able to finish them. I am not speaking of "writer's block," but of feeling caught up with circumstances and pushed in many directions. While these pushes were not bad in themselves, somehow they weren't conducive for my writing practice. As a result of what seemed to be impediments for creating blogs, I was reminded of how much time and energy it takes to regularly write and to publish it here.

According to the Bhagavad Gita we aren't the real doer, and our will is only one of five factors of action [Bg 18.14]. Thus we are never independent, even in the simple (not so simple) maintenance of our body, and what to speak of accomplishing anything of value. From a spiritual perspective, we have to be "empowered" just to live and breathe. And this is more obvious to me in any creative pursuit like art, drama, writing, or what have you. Personally, without making writing a priority I can't consistently write, or write well enough to connect with my audience.

While I admit to being a mediocre writer when compared to the masters, I love to do it, and generally feel what I say, which I pray will be communicated to you. If I am successful, then my words have power and utility. I have found that my free verse poems generally are read less than my regular blogs. I have developed a free verse style over the last 6 years on Krishna.com that works for me, and those I have heard from. Admittedly you may be required to read a line or series of lines a few times to have a sense of the flow--whether a line is a complete thought or goes on for several lines. However, I am not trying to confuse you or make you work too hard (which I think some poets do), but to be as clear and concise as possible. Call it shorthand, codes, word pictures, sutras (to be generous), etc., my endeavor is to share what moves me in various ways.

Homage to Shrila Prabhupada, in the presence of his followers

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Someone asked me to share my Vyasa-puja (as the appearance day of one's guru is called in Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition) offering. While I didn't write a formal one this year, and mainly recalled the times I spent with him, I looked up an old offering I wrote on behalf of the Baltimore temple in 1998, and found it still expressing my deep feelings, though today, with even more urgency, not only for ISKCON devotees, but for all those who follow the teachings of Shri Chaitanya. Like my last "blog" on the modes of nature, this entry is rather long, but I hope you will keep with it, and that you will find it relevant. It expresses my hopes and prayers for deep and meaningful devotee relationships and the spirit of cooperation and understanding based on the teachings of our guru(s), saintly person's input (sadhu), while confirmed by Vedic scriptures (shastas) and one's purified heart.

Dear Srila Prabhupada,

Please accept our humble obeisances at your lotus feet, O great savior of the fallen souls. All glories to you and your divine mission, which we have been entrusted to carry out!

Though there are many holy days to inspire us, today is a day like no other. This anniversary day of your appearance in this world also reminds us of your appearance into our lives, as well as who we have become because of you. Though we follow the bhakti path imperfectly, somehow we are in Krsna's loving network. How amazing! Amazing grace! If you had not compassionately, valiantly, and determinedly come to the West, where would we be today? Upon what would the foundation of our lives rest? What standard would we use to evaluate the value or use of anything? Where would our consciousness be and in what direction would we be going? After our body's demise, what would be our ultimate destination -- the sum total of our life's endeavor and thought? We can only shudder to think!

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