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Struggling with Attentive Japa with a Practice to Improve Chanting

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Part I

Many devotees struggle with chanting on their beads (japa). Some devotees make a big endeavor to come to the standard of chanting 16 rounds with the goal of initiation, and then after initiation, find it too much work, and give it up. While I have been steady at my chanting since I took it up—which I consider has kept me a devotee—I can't say it has often been of a very good quality. At times it has been very challenging to continue the practice—yet I did.

Lately, I have been going deeper with my chanting by daily setting the intention to actually hear, and to chant purely, while endeavoring to be present to hear one mantra, or concentrating on one bead, at a time, and praying constantly for help. I must say this has made a startling improvement in my experience, though it takes continual effort, and my focus comes and goes. I had a very profound experience of this as I prepared for a wedding talk I recently blogged about, and I am continuing to build on that.

I think we forget, or don't know, what chanting is, that it's a prayer to make spiritual progress by taking full shelter of the Lord, like a child crying for its mother—an absolute feeling of dependence and seeking shelter. We are offering our heart and soul to Krishna. We are his and praying to remember. To facilitate this, I have made an experiment, by taking my beads out of my beadbag, so I can see one bead, and focus on hearing one mantra, one holy name, one syllable, at a time as I chant and pray on each bead: Let me hear, let me go deeper, let me glorify you dear Lord, etc. Try it!

This is our special, private time with Krishna. Just you and Krishna--and your mind, and desires, and sometimes those anarthas (unwanted habits) that bubble up into our consciousness. Not always pretty, but that is our spiritual work, and what we pray to have removed. So this is an essential practice, and one of activities we vow to do when we are initiated by a guru. For you kirtaneers, this practice of focused, mindful, prayerful japa, will greatly help your quality and presence in kirtan—japa and kirtan are like brother and sister, though for most devotees, japa is more difficult. We are in great need of the Lord's mercy, and in order to do this type of intense chanting, we have to remember this fact. Otherwise we will just try to get the rounds done so we can do other things.

Seven Marriage Tips--Aided by Humility, Tolerance, and Respect

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The Joy and Effort in Marriage photo Marriage ceremony_zpstxaeao9v.jpg (picture from http://lotuseyesphotography.com/)
As an introduction to the Seven Marital tips, I would like to suggest the essential concept of the “trinad api marriage” (which my wife and I are teaching in the 3rd Annual Couple’s Retreat in October in Gita-nagari PA as part of the Grihastha Vision Team effort.) This is a relationship based on mutual humility, tolerance, and respect and is the spiritual basis for a successful marriage. All the other marriage tips that follow can be seen to revolve around this verse spoken by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. “One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor but is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord [or remain in a happy, spiritually vibrant, marriage throughout their lives.]

All devotees are recommended to wear this verse around their neck. In a similar way my wife and I recommend that all married couples wear this verse around their necks and think of how to apply it in their marriage, in their life, and in devotional activities. In a marriage we honor and respect one another as devotees (or as souls) and do our best to see to the ultimate welfare of our spouse and family according to their nature. Love and trust, given not only by Shrila Prabhupada but by many marriage authorities, are important qualities for long lasting, fulfilling, relationships. For this discussion, I would add that love and trust come from each person practicing the qualities of humility, tolerance, and respect. These qualities give life to our spiritual practices and marriage. Please keep this in mind as you hear the following simple, though profound, marital tips.

Tip 1: Be committed to personal growth work and the inner vision it fosters in order to become the best person you can. In the process of self-study, understand your life issues and how they can trigger reactionary conflicts in your relationships. Learn to be introspective and observe yourself, understanding both your attractions and repulsions. If you have negative emotional reactions toward certain persons, ask yourself why, and find help if required. Be open to discovering and letting go of those parts of your conditioning that are unfavorable for having happy, healthy, relationships. In short, “Know thyself,” (the age old recommendation) or your strengths and weaknesses, and strive to improve. We are always students of ourselves and on our spiritual journey. We have found studying the Enneagram a very helpful tool in both understanding ourselves and in others.

Krishna Kirtan’s Continued Journey

For those of you who read the previous IPM NEWS, you will remember that inmate bhakta, Richard Chase—affectionately nicknamed “Krishna Kirtan”by Sarva-drik prabhu—was very well situated in a prison in Petersburg, Virginia where he had started what became a very successful and popular Hare Krishna program at the chapel library. Last year, however, he was transferred to a prison in Lisbon, Ohio where the chaplains were quite inimical toward Krishna Consciousness and who prevented him from starting a Hare Krishna program at their chapel.

The Power of Intention, Being Present, and Prayer Part 1 & 2

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Part 1
[The following was a talk I prepared to give at a recent wedding at the Bhakti Center in NYC. It is a summary of what came to me during a 3 week period before the ceremony in the early morning. I chanted and prayed with the intense focus of speaking not just information, but truth that could be applied. As it turned out I had a profound experience which demonstrated the power of intention, being present, and in prayer. As a result I could write and speak about these topics with conviction and realization.] My wife and I have been entrusted to be the hosts or master of ceremonies of this wedding. We are more comfortable being facilitators, as we often are in workshops, rather than “masters.”

After meditating on the deeper meaning of our role, I came to the conclusion that my wife and my real function is to “hold the energy of this ceremony,” if you are familiar with this expression. I am a firm believer in the importance of setting intentions for each day, and every endeavor we make, so I would like to suggest to you that we share this intention of holding the energy of the wedding by offering our prayers and blessings throughout the ceremony. Thus, in addition to being a witness of this joyous celebration, please also make an intention to be a participant, by praying and giving your blessings throughout the ceremony, to help with the best possible outcome.

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We are actually an intentional community, though a temporary one, of shared purpose, consisting of our combined energy. To do this requires we are all as present as possible, or we could say that we must practice mindfulness, using this as a way to focus our mind on prayer and giving blessings. I like to ask myself at different times: Am I fully present? So I ask you to ask this question to yourself during the ceremony, and if you feel you are not present, to regroup, and pray to be present. You can also try a process I will give toward the end of my talk.

When Devotees Leave Krishna

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Sometimes we experience great surprise and intense sadness at the unexpected departure from the bhakti path of a devotee we may have been inspired by or respected. Or even if the devotee struggled to follow the basic devotional practices and disciplines, we can still be unnerved when they leave, and then denounce and attack what is still our faith, reinterpreting their stay in an ashram in terms of cultic manipulation and brainwashing. “What really happened?” me may wonder, and how could I have helped prevent this? Sometimes in the aftermath of such a sudden departure, some devotees worry and wonder if it could happen to them, as it brings up their own doubts. This scenario recently happened in a circle of devotees I know, and it caused me to reflect on what it takes to stay on the path, and the various reasons people leave.

When I was a new devotee I experienced one of my friends leave the temple. I didn’t see him again for three weeks until he came to the Sunday feast. Though I recognized him, I was startled to see his expression. He looked like a shadow of his former self when he had a bright faced countenance. Now he had a dark gloomy appearance and seemed unfocused and dazed. I wondered what had brought this about, as if he had just entered a self-created prison.

Even the lion cannot kill unrestrictedly

Śrīla Prabhupāda explains how the tiger or lion, although a killing machine, is restricted by Mother Nature in killing. So similarly even though this dentist desires to kill his ability is now being restricted.

Here is the quote

Experiencing Krishna while Living in the World

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Krishna is the taste of water photo Krishnaisthetasteofwater_zps85d68b30.jpg [Originally published on July 1, 2013, though the topic is timeless, the endeavor constant]Two of the top difficult things to understand—out of many—for new readers of Bhagavad gita are the personhood of Krishna, and his Universal Form. Of course they are related, since Krishna reveals that the Universal Form comes from him, and is a manifestation of his energy as the material world. In particular this display of the Universal Form (there are others), though inspiring to show the greatness and inconceivableness of God, is also at times ghastly and fearsome, and as a form of time, “the destroyer of the worlds,” all of which may be disconcerting. While Krishna is both the creation and annihilation of everything he is also the seed of all existence, the life of all that lives, and the soul of our souls, so we have to look at the whole picture before being able to evaluate who Krishna is.

Krishna could have demonstrated his nature as the creator and maintainer by showing baby animals, lovely human children, beautiful scenes in Nature, the universe being incredibly sustained and flourishing, but specifically to get Arjuna’s attention, he wanted to encourage Arjuna in his duty of fighting by showing him that the great warriors he had to fight were already killed by Krishna’s power--in fact we all must die, our bodies that is, at our allotted time. For conditioned living beings, the Universal Form teaches us that the material world is temporary, and not really suitable for eternal souls to live, since bodies, planets, and the entire Universe are constantly changing, and will ultimately be vanquished. The point is that Krishna is present in all things and, through his energy, is everything. His greatness is all-sided and unlimited, manifested in the subatomic dimension and as the whole universe—in the micro and macro-cosmic level. For us imperfect and limited souls, he can be experienced in what we can observe. Though we can’t perceive his spiritual form, or even our own souls, we can, by the grace of the Bhagavad Gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and the mercy of the devotees who live by such revealed Vedic literature, “see” him, specifically in “…all opulent, beautiful and glorious creations…”[ Bg 10.41].

In what follows I will share some highlights of these manifestations of Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita, which is another version of the Universal Form, or Krishna’s material form.

An Example of What’s Wrong with Modern Medicine

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When we are sick and not getting better we may imagine going to some kind of medical professional who is knowledgeable, compassionate, and knows something about our medical history—even about us personally. Today this seems more of a fantasy we cling to, or hope to encounter if we have a lot of money to spend for the best care available.

Some months ago I visited a clinic in the next county, as this was recently given to me by my new medical insurance. During and after this experience, I had firsthand experience of is wrong with the American medical system. Let me recount:

Walking through the door to the desk, a sign informs me that I need to sign in. After doing so, I look up at the busy workers behind the counter, hoping someone will notice me. The minutes tic off and I wonder if I am invisible. Closest to me are two ladies busily engaged, one on the phone, and another on the computer. Behind them are 3 other women busy with conversation, and behind them are 2 other ladies with their back toward me, busy with data entry. No one notices me. After about 8 minutes I am checked in and told to take my seat and wait for my name to be called.

In the building directory two doctors and nine nurses are listed with various titles. In the front office I counted nine office staff and there must be more inside. I wonder what the payroll is for all these employees.

Narada’s Previous Life Demonstrates His Dependence on Krishna

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[Originally published on July 24th, 2012](The final installment of the 3 part series.) One of my favorite accounts in Shrimad Bhagavatam is Narada’s sharing of his previous life with Vyasadeva in the first Canto. This volume was all of the SB that was published when I became a devotee, and I have read it more than any other passage. Still, even with whole 12 Cantos of SB in print, I still find this story very inspiring. I like biographies anyway, and “coming to Krishna” stories are especially interesting and relevant to sadhakas (practicing devotees of Krishna). Although Narada is an eternally perfected devotee, he still has this aspect of his life as a way to teach us about the essential importance of Vaishnava blessings and association to jump start our spiritual lives. Narada embarks on the pilgrim’s journey to attain spiritual perfection, and he seems like one of us as he faces a personal tragedy which catapults him toward Krishna. We read how he depended on Krishna in all circumstances and was not independent in his endeavor to successfully meditate, but had to abide by Krishna’s timing for perfection.

True Independence Comes from Dependence on Krishna Part 2--False and Real Independence Taught by Ajamila

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[Originally published on July 14th, 2012]After setting the mood with six verses and excerpts from Shrila Prabhupada’s purports in part one, in the next two blogs, I will do my best to unpack some of those ideas through appropriate stories from the Shrimad Bhagavatam. The foundational understanding to gain the most from this, or any Krishna centered talk or writing, is that our lasting identity is spiritual—we are eternal awareness, or a particle of consciousness imbued with the serving tendency. Presently, by identifying ourselves with the material body and mind and their attachments, we are forced to serve the needs of physical survival, and are also led to fulfill our desires for enjoyment and accomplishment. By conditioning, we think fulfilling our personal desires is freedom, yet our proclivity to be attracted to specific material tastes is relative to the type of body and mind we have—not to our spiritual selves, or who we truly are. We are the perceiver or animator of the body, but have a different nature than we are currently identifying with.

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