Karnamrita.das's blog

Saintly Association and the Power of Urgent Hearing

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One of the principle ways we make spiritual progress in unalloyed devotion (uttama bhakti) is by saintly association, or sadhu-sanga. We are advised in the Vedic scriptures to not just see a saint, but to hear from them. In a general sense we tend to become like persons we spend time with, and specifically if we associate with saints, we can be affected by their faith, taste, and spiritual standing, according to our receptivity and the condition of our spiritual heart. This means that to actually benefit from the company of a sadhu, or sadhvi, we are required to carefully listen to their realizations with faith, and thus appreciate them beyond external appearances, or without our ordinary worldly judgment of attraction or repulsion based on the desirability or undesirability of the body, or personality. We may, by conditioning, upbringing, or religious bias, think a saint must appear or speak in a certain way, or be a particular age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sect, or any numbers of what are actually material conceptions, rather than the primary quality of purity and spiritual standing.

Another way of saying this is that we may construct, even unconsciously, a particular external criterion, or lens, for recognizing a saint which has the undesirable effect of excluding persons who don’t fit what may be a rigid conception from ecclesiastical edicts, or bad or limited experience. Human beings seemed wired to simplify things through labels, like creating an internal file cabinet with so many folders. Thus we create one folder for saint, and other for non-saint. Then we don’t have to think about those in the non-saint box, since we believe they are a known quantity with so many reasons not to listen to them.

According to Shrila Rupa Goswami in his UpadeshAmrita text 6, a pure devotee may have a “body born in a low family, a body with a bad complexion, a deformed body, or a diseased or infirm body,” or, we may infer, have mental quirks or personality eccentricities. He compares such a pure devotee to the Ganges River, which during the rainy season may contain bubbles, foam and mud, and yet is still considered pure.

The Rama Green of Spring Inspires

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Lord Rama

Krishna is Flower Bearing Spring
an easy time for reflection
encouraged by saintly company,
both are heart opening
by accepting the spiritual goal—
not officially, but determinedly—
then the world changes toward us
everyone becomes our teacher
no situation is unfavorable
as informed by scriptural study
taught by spiritual adepts
we keep fixed in practice
regardless of our work.

In the gardening planting flowers
hands & knees on the moist Earth
biological "grounding" created
attunes me to country living

Shri Chaitanya Continues to Give the Holy Name

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43 years ago, from out of the blue
a radical change took over me
everything else fell away:
girlfriend, college, bad habits;
giving away my possessions
spiritual thirst became my life
ancient wisdom informed me
the forest my classroom study
my heart yearned for truth
my prayers to transcend the world
I thought, “I must become a monk”
Shri Chaitanya answered me
thru Prabhupada’s loving disciples
the holy name knocked at my heart
through tumultuous street (san)kirtana
inspiring me to follow their example
I began my journey with japa.

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Being Challenged to Grow Spiritually—Being Fixed yet Flexible

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After reading, and remembering, very heated discussions—often intense arguing or worse—between those with seemingly great differences of opinion, I was reminded that often the issues are not that important in the larger scheme of devotional, or spiritual, advancement. Such conflicts are often more about both person’s ego of being right, than in trying to understand the real truth—which, after all, one already has. It is sad that for the most part no attempts are made to understand the other person, find a middle ground, respectfully agree to disagree, or sympathetically search to discover if there could be value in the other position. The study of psychology has revealed that we tend to find what we have defined as our aim, or what we’re focused on. If we are not careful, we will only notice what supports our premise, perhaps missing an important opportunity.

I am reminded of a story Shrila Prabhupada tells to outline how stubbornly opinions can be held: “One man declared that a piece of paper had been cut with a knife. A second said no, it was done with scissors. An argument ensued, and the first man, being stronger, took the other to a river. There he told him, ‘Now, if you don't agree that it was a knife I shall throw you into this water!’

“The other man boldly continued to insist, ‘It was scissors!’

“So the ‘scissors advocate’ was tossed into the river and began to drown. Still he would not concede. As he disappeared for the last time, his hand emerged from beneath the surface with two fingers moving together like a pair of scissors, while he kept thinking. ‘No, it was by scissors! It was scissors!’ " And so he died for no good reason except to be right.

Country Living, The Holy Name, Merciful Deities: Snapshots in Bhakti

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Every day my short evening walk to and from the temple is different for many reasons. The subtle changes in the seasons provide an interesting backdrop for my trip, and of course the weather either brightens or clouds over the vast sky and blinking stars—or rains/snows on my foot parade. When I began the evening readings it was pitch black as I left the house, and then gradually the sky has become lighter with the horizon illuminated increasingly, day by day. Such simple pleasures can give great joy, and are an opportunity to remember Krishna, feel gratitude for His rich bounty , and for finding our path to Him. We live only by mercy!

If I come up with a tune for chanting in the shower or in the beginning of my walk, I sing to myself, and listen to the sounds of nature, along with my steps punctuated by the thrust of my staff, which leads the way. In the silence of the country, even small sounds can be fascinating, while loud ones seem booming—like at one house, there are two very excitable dogs that bark aggressively at any person. Even though the barking isn’t esthetically pleasing, I have had to accept it as part of country living, since in a radius of a mile there are often barking dogs which are part of the night.

City jokes abound about slow country bumpkins, and yet in my experience slowing down to notice our surroundings and their lessons is very helpful for developing a progressive, awakened life—many drops of experience, make the ocean of a rich life! I have discovered how living in the country and being apart from the ever increasingly fast pace of modern society, is so spiritually beneficial, and even for the health of the mind and body. While devotees should be everywhere, including the cities, the question is: What will be our consciousness, or how much are we remembering and serving Krishna and His devotees with feeling?

Mindfulness, Coming Attractions, The Life of the Soul

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Sometimes I am aware of the great number of things that can happen in a day, building step by step into a week, month, year, and then years, and it seems time is flying by. In life’s fast forward blur we may wonder where our life has gone. If we can stop our harried pace, rewinding to look back, awake with grateful vision, we can see the rich tapestry of our life, appreciating our many blessings. This will help us live more fully in the eternal, “now,” which as many have said, is all we have. Mindfulness, or being as fully present in the moment as possible, although considered a Buddhist term, is very much an aspect of bhakti yoga; it's part of having a full life when used in relationship to service to Krishna. Seeing, or sensing, Krishna in our life means appreciating how minute details are actually significant, and combine together, as colors, to create a painting of devotion.

For a devotee of Krishna, mindfulness means not just being in the present as an end itself, but to facilitate remembrance of Krishna, with the sense of being His, and our guru's, servant. In this spirit of mindfulness, and service, I share my thoughts about life, and the details of what I go through. My prayer is that by reading the reflections I make about life, you will be inspired you to appreciate the spiritual opportunity you have and how those can be dovetailed as devotional service. Life, after all, isn’t lived well as a spectator, or to be merely entertained through made up tales, at the cost of our valuable time, and future destination. Unfortunately, the modern world is awash in media in movies and TV, providing endless distractions with narratives about other people’s lives. Rather than having meaningful relationships or endeavoring to solve our own problems, we are tempted to watch how badly or fantastically other people live. We live vicariously through others, rather than making our life the best it can be.

Meditating on Religion, and Shri Advaita Acharya, on his Appearance Day (reposted)

Worshiping Shri Advaita

Shri Advaita Acharya is a very important person to understand in the Krishna consciousness movement. His appearance day is tomorrow, or on Saturday, February 16th, 2013. (This is a blog I am "recycling" from 2 years ago. At the end, I also give links to two other blogs about Him) He is in the category of God, yet is also a great devotee of God. He is one of our many superlative family members and spiritual superheroes! Before I briefly speak on this, I thought it would be important to consider what someone from another religion might think of this day, and why: On appearance days, or so-called, “birth” anniversaries of great manifestations or incarnations of God, someone from another religion may criticize the observance. They may say, chidingly, “O, they are celebrating the birth of another one of their many Hare Krishna or Hindu gods”. Many people think that Hinduism (as the Vedic path is called in modern times) is about worship of many gods—and often strange ones at that! Or they may think we are animalist or worship forces in Nature and so on. Actually, the heart of the teaching of the Vedas, or Sanatan Dharma, is that there is one supreme spiritual force or God in the Universe and beyond it.

Part 2—What is Real?—Using our Conditioning for Krishna, or Remaining Stuck

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I have experienced a few periods of my life that were pivotal to self-awareness, renewal, and divine life. Looking back these were times of special blessings and guidance where I came to think differently and thus change the course of my life. I briefly mentioned in Part 1 of this series about the effect of out of body and near-death experiences on my outlook. As a result, beyond what might have been expected from my history growing up, a spiritual necessity awakened with openness to explore different possibilities. This was a new energy which led me to begin my spiritual search culminating in the path of bhakti.

It was a natural endeavor, practically effortless, reminding me now of a verse in the 6th Chapter of Bhagavad Gita, about the future life of an unsuccessful transcendentalist: “By virtue of the divine consciousness of his previous life, he automatically becomes attracted to the yogic principles -- even without seeking them. Such an inquisitive transcendentalist stands always above the ritualistic principles of the scriptures.” [Bg 6.44] And very soon I became self-realized—well, not quite! We learn from Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur about the zig-zag process of spiritual advancement, which isn’t a straight line, but is like going up and down the foothills before scaling the largest peak, the final goal.

What is Real?

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As a child, regardless of the condition of our life, it just seems usual, ordinary. We have nothing to compare it with. It is often only as adults that we can have some perspective. Then we see our life narrative in relationship to what society considers normal and healthy, or dysfunctional and abnormal. For me, growing up in an “abusive alcoholic family” was just what my life was. I had no terminology in which to think about, label, or describe it, and thus didn’t have a judgment about it one way or another. It wasn’t good or bad, it just was life. Though I didn’t like my parents fighting or my dad’s fits of anger, I also didn’t have any conceptual tools in which to think about it. Our parents are instruments of our karma to teach us many things. (I hope you will think about this in your own life.)

Fortunately, it would seem that at a subconscious level (we could say Supersoul’s guidance) I did understand the possible negative effects of living in a tumultuous family environment. Thus, I was guided to use my particular karmic nature to defend myself. My strategy was to withdraw, or detach myself from potentially painful situations. Even though I have spent years learning to be more present, or “in my body,” I still can seem aloof occasionally. It has utility, but isn’t a good way to live in all times and places. Regardless, the aloofness I had in youth protected and helped me from possible emotional harm. Not being present, or having my heart withdrawn, seemed normal and real.

The point in bringing this up is that it is helpful for our peace of mind and happy relationships to deal with our past by understanding how certain conditioning impedes our harmonious interactions. Such endeavor can help us live in a way that is the most favorable for our spiritual life and being a balanced human being. Admittedly, negative habits or perspectives are difficult to overcome especially when they are intertwined with our spiritual foundation. However, by becoming aware through introspection and prayer we can gradually change, over a long time. I have found such work very useful on my journey to Krishna.

It wasn’t until my late teen years after high school that I was able to really examine my life. Out of body, and near-death experiences radically changed how I saw life, and what I thought was real.

Struggles and Steadiness in Japa

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Hearing from the Sadhus
Will I survive or perish?
Fighting for each step
on the road of cleansing —
howling wind-spirits push me
flaming tongues burn my feet
the abyss beneath beckons
lusty beings offer temptations
demons create obstructions
relief is promised if I give up.

Grasping the sword of Truth
I move the demons backward
ignoring obstacles surrounding me
slowly progressing toward freedom
if only I can stay awake

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