Karnamrita.das's blog

Govardhana Puja as "Super" Thanksgiving—Much More than Shopping!

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This year Govardhan puja and the secular (slightly religious) holiday of Thanksgiving (in the USA), are celebrated during the same month, and are only days apart due to the Vedic extra month coming in autumn. Although it must have occurred before, this is the first time I remember this happening. As a result of this unusual juxtaposition, I have naturally compared the spirit of both days. While there is some similarity with the idea of giving thanks for the bounty of the Earth in a very basic, down to earth way, Govardhan puja also has a deep philosophical meaning.

Conventional thinking about religion merely colors our human life with a Godly brush, rather than placing God in the center by endeavoring to love, serve, and please Him on His terms as the goal of life. Thus, the tendency of ordinary religionists is to see God as the order supplier and giving thanks when our desires are fulfilled, is a bit one-dimensional and problematic. When the good times roll, and we have an abundance of stuff, or things to consume, with ideal conditions in which to be peaceful, happy, and enjoy material prosperity, then God is good. However, such persons can be greatly challenged when it “rains on their parade,” or their home, job, possessions, family or nation, etc., are destroyed or damaged, or killed or injured. They may question why God is “doing this to them,” not having knowledge that the nature of the world, being an artificial plane for the soul, is problematic and unnaturally temporary for the eternal soul.

Others are able to tolerate reverses or problems—or these days, trying to be a martyr in response—with the promise of a future happy afterlife in heaven. This is still promoting the same materialistic perspective of seeing this world as meant for material enjoyment, just putting it off for a while.

Thoughts on Shrila Prabhupada’s Disappearance Day

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PhotobucketOn Prabhupada’s disappearance day, so many thoughts, remembrances, and feelings are washing over me. Looking back at my spiritual foundation and roots; reassessing my present consciousness, and looking toward my highest spiritual ideal. I think of my whole life, and how, as a dissatisfied youth (even though I have shared this many times here, it expresses how I was upliftend from what appeared to be almost a non-exisitence--we have to always remember where we were before we took up the path of bhakti), I was driven to a spiritual search. There was no evidence of any inkling of this tendency as a child and teenager. In retrospect, my life was rather blah, but I had no frame of reference at that time to really see it in perspective, and yet at a certain point, in conjunction with the youth movement of the 60’s which impelled me to drop out of the status quo, I felt adrift in a vast impersonal ocean. This was Krishna’s arrangement to facilitate the reawakening of my previous life’s unfinished spiritual journey. Before this time my life seemed pointless and shallow. Looking ahead at my potential, I couldn’t imagine going forward without any real meaning in life. I was acutely aware of something missing—and it wasn’t small, but major, foundational, the basis for my existence.

Nature seemed the only thing that made sense, and I saw that modern culture and its people were divorced from what I saw as their roots in the natural world of forests, stars, sun, moon, and the seasons—manifestations of the Sustaining principle in the Universe. This was something I had never considered before as I went through the motions of growing up, and now, by some force of destiny, I felt adrift in vast sea of pointlessness. I began looking for a compass to find my bearings.

Being Run Over by Time or Keeping our Head Amidst the Tempest

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Uncontrollable time

Two weeks have passed since my last blog. During this time, I have reflected on the illusive, uncontrollable (though we try to use it) nature of time, of which life, as we known it, is inextricably intertwined. Hopefully we will be drawn to question the force of natural laws on us, and think of their purpose, and controller—the Law Maker. We have our individual life’s timing for significant or insignificant events—sometimes lethargy or stagnation—and then the larger field of our immediate surroundings, our country, and the whole planet, all of which can influence our decisions and how we go about things. We may feel like we are in a stagnant pool, going nowhere fast, or being diminished daily, while at other times we seem to be swept away by events much larger than ourselves or our family concerns. For Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the chaos that may surround and seem to threaten us, points to the lasting spiritual peace within, and the love of the soul for Krishna which enlivens us. Thus the blessing of upheaval or problems can be a motivation for spiritual practice. Life in the material world is always uncertain and changing, like unstable shifting sand, and still we try to avoid, or find shelter from this truth. Firm ground is the soul and its relationship to God.

Thoughts About Consciousness, While Being Present in the Moment

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When we see our life as a part of the greater cosmos, individual, but always in relationship to both the world, and the consciousness that animates it, we find important lessons everywhere and clues pointing to our Source. In North Carolina, on the East Coast of the USA, we are presently in full blown autumn. Changes in Nature are a frequent source of thoughtful reflections by writers and philosophers, and autumn is an interesting juncture between two very different seasons, summer and winter. Autumn is harvest time for some crops, so it is natural to think of this time of year in terms of what we are harvesting in our life, both in the immediate present, and in the larger picture of a lifetime. This season is also unpredictable in regards to the weather and may fluctuate 50 degrees in a single day, so we might see this as an opportunity to go within to find the everlasting principle which brings about these changes, and yet is changeless. If we are interested in spiritual growth, transformation, and a rebirth, we are taught to shed our old ways of thinking—like the leaves falling—to make way for luxurious growth—in the spring.

As I sit on our deck I listen to the soothing swishing, and watch the gentle flight actions, of the wind with the leaves—one of my favorite experiences in Nature. During the autumn the wind carries the special sound of crisp leaves blowing, falling, and rustling on the ground. As the wind escorts the leaves from up to down, so we are carried by the unseen hand of destiny, which gives both welcome and regrettable changes. Nature’s effects are endlessly mutable, plastic, and changeable, while the spiritual consciousness whose laws govern it is constant and unchanging in constitution—yet simultaneously dynamic and blissfully increasing in love. Everyday we have the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of life and our place in the world and Universe, especially if we are familiar with spiritually philosophical texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, which explain how to live in the world for a transcendent purpose. While there are ideal conditions for contemplation, by practice, we can experience a spiritual outlook under any circumstances, whether at work or educational pursuits, amidst family, or what have you. Every person, or every situation, can be our teacher.

Impurely Imitation, But Eventually Waking Up

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By participating in regular spiritual practice we learn to see through the scriptures and to think spiritually beyond the material duality of good or bad, happy or sad, etc. What might seem to others like an ordinary life of work, school, and/or family, is for a devotee of Krishna, full of meaning, with lessons everywhere—if we are willing to look. Our ability to look for the seeds of instructions and mercy depends to a large extent on our positive absorption in Krishna thought and remembrance, or we could say our attitude toward life—what we look for or give energy to. On the one hand we see everywhere the shortcomings of matter in a life with no spirituality (or even how material attachments and desires in ourselves slow our spiritual progress). On the other, we also see the arrangement of Krishna, and how we are being guided and helped.

Though there are perhaps unlimited perceptions of a life, in general we could say that there is a negative material perspective, and a positive spiritual one. By this I don’t mean to imply that difficult challenges or seemingly “bad” things don’t happen to a devotee, but that an advanced devotee always knows that behind the problematic situation is an important lesson which may lead to more dependence on Krishna. Depending on Krishna means a less stressful life and a life lived in increasing happiness and devotional advancement. Everyone on the path of bhakti knows that the goal of Krishna prema (love for Krishna) is the highest ideal. To the extent that we realize and act on this, to that extent we will experience deeper joy, and even ecstatic moods in our spiritual practices. If our spiritual life seems stagnant or stuck, we can take note of what we are doing that doesn’t foster our spiritual life, and increase or begin those recommended practices for being Krishna conscious. Our life can seem complex, and yet the solution to our problems is simple, requiring that we believe in the possible by the power of grace as we focus on the holy name and devotional service.

Visiting a sadhu (more than meets the eye)

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Associating with those who have spiritual standing, or are advanced in their devotional feelings for Krishna, is a principle way for us to make spiritual advancement. From such persons one can feel the "current" of spirituality. Hearing from them in the right mood can help one be free from any doubts and increase one's faith. By faith I don't mean belief, which is an activity of the mind, but faith is a symptom of spiritual standing which is trans-rational. The material world is the plane of misery and doubt, while the spiritual dimension is free from suffering (since there are no material limiting conditions, like birth, old age, disease and death), and is full of joy and faith. All the various stages of spiritual advancement given by Shrila Rupa Goswami (one of the principle disciples of Shri Chaitanya), are considered a deepening of this commodity of spiritual faith. To put it another way, spiritual realization means going deeper into this faith or attitude of acceptance and certainty which inspires one to serve. Doubt brings hesitation or inaction, while faith inspires one to give and serve Krishna and His devotees, and chant the holy name. Suspicion leads to suspension of our spiritual progress, while a drop of faith can overcome mountains of doubt.

The Blessing of Illness

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None of us want to be sick, and yet we all experience the occasional cold, flu, or something more serious. Some persons, like my wife, who have a weak immune system, deal with a body that is prone to catch whatever bug is going around. Having such a delicate bodily instrument, if they don’t eat and sleep properly they become more susceptible to illness. Thus my wife is a much greater expert than me in understanding the benefits of sickness to her spiritual life and how the body can be a great teacher. Never the less, I have a few experiences that have helped me appreciate the value of illness. Having a background in Krishna consciousness and a trained philosophical eye and heart helps us see everything—even great reverses—in relationship to Krishna and bhakti. Illness can bring us to our knees in surrender and teach us the smallness of our existence (even Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur glorified ill health for this very reason, and he underwent many bouts of sickness in his life). I was reminded of this after I ate something at Radhastami that didn’t agree with me, and have had the runs for the last 3 days. While not a pleasant experience on one level, I also practically experienced how sickness can be a helpful part of our spiritual journey.

Spiritual Work: Uncovering our Darkness, To Reveal our Light

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Every day as I sit to chant japa
my heart naturally empties,
showing me my anarthas
if I’m honest, without pretense—
my default conditioned desires revealed
past karma manifested in lust, enviousness
attracting me to fleshy illusions and plans,
castles in the air of past and present—
What about you dear friend,
have you stared into your heart
at your cherished illusory desires?

The Middle of “Nowhere” is “Somewhere” to Someone, and Two Other Short Essays

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I love sitting in our sunroom, really anytime. Rain or shine both have their special charms, though the variegatedness (a good devotee word) of storm clouds, rain, and exhilarating wind are far more interesting to write about. Actually this year is a very wet year, which makes the sky even more different and varied than usual at any time one goes outside--that is, if one takes the time to look up! In our society if you stare up at the clouds for more than a casual glance in a major city, people think you are on drugs! Sad testimony to society’s busy-ness or preoccupation with doing “productive” things—i.e., that are good for the economy, as if that were a key to an individual’s happiness. Where I live things are different—in what some would call the middle of nowhere. Maybe nowhere near some congested city, but very much somewhere. Just ask the trees, flowers, creepers, insects, deer, groundhogs, frogs and humans. This is the middle of their little piece of somewhere called home—and home is where the heart is.

The Way Out is Through

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This is a follow up to my last blog which spoke about how over-attachment to our family can distract us from spiritual practice. For the purposes of this blog, “over-attachment” is the key word, although in modern culture this term is practically unheard of—while at the same time “under—attachment,” or neglect of the family is also not recommended. I am speaking about a balanced approach to family life informed by keeping our spiritual goal always in mind, applying the maxim, “always remember Krishna, never forget Him.” In the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna teaches us how undue family attachment can cause our reluctance to serve Krishna—in this case to engage in his duty of fighting— because of his identifying his family as himself (my and ours) rather than seeing his family in relationship to his primary relationship with Krishna, or God.

Vedic culture is big on detachment and renunciation, but this has to understood properly and maturely through the eyes of devotion. In the early days of the Krishna movement, it was primarily composed of young single devotees with few married ones, and was strongly influenced by a culture that frowned on married life and all that went with it. Thus families and children suffered due to our immaturity and lack of mature elder guidance. Many individuals went into marriage feeling fallen into the “deep, dark well” of family life, being afraid to be kind and affectionate—so they wouldn’t get too attached—and were practically dooming themselves for failure. A more positive view of marriage and family has gradually evolved, though much work remains to be done to prepare the current generation of "grihasthas", or spiritually minded married couples.

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