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SHARING MY JOURNEY THROUGH HONEST REFLECTION IN WRITING, LIVING, GIVING, AND LOVING

Invisible, though, constant change photo TA0465_zps3849ee53.jpg
I have written so much about writing because it has helped me greatly in my development as a person and devotee. The process of writing forces me to think and reflect, an activity that doesn’t come easily for me. I rarely took time to think or ponder the deeper questions of life—or my life—growing up, and didn’t begin in earnest till my existential crisis between 18 and 19. Then, after taking up the life of bhakti at 19 ½ I went back to my old pattern of not thinking or reflecting about myself. This continued until I was forced to reevaluate my life and move out on my own at 33, which began my examining my life, trying to understand myself and healing from my past.

At that time, I began journal writing which was a process of self-discovery and beginning to find my passion (even as mine is very gentle and understated). I still have those journals which I continued for over 20 years, and I continue to keep one for helping me think on certain subjects. Writing a blog on Krishna.com 11 years ago brought my writing to another level, and while I don’t consider my writing very well crafted, it has improved greatly over the years

Writing for a blog forces me to think, so even if no one reads what I write, it is good for me. What is of primary interest is growth on the human and spiritual level and how those two aspects of a sadhaka’s (spiritual practitioner in bhakti) intersect. My wife and I joked last night that our household “news” was that we had to run the dishwasher—so that type of maintenance I don’t share unless it has implications for growth, or has created some kind of challenge or given me some insights.

Strengthening my Faith

Hare Kṛṣṇa, Mataji.
Dandavat pranams. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!

In prison my Kṛṣṇa consciousness has been truly "hands on" (isn’t it always? ). Sri Kṛṣṇa knows best and is always testing and strengthening His bhaktas. I truly feel that He has been especially and specifically helping me for the past twenty-six months I have spent in prison. I am a Naturopathic Physician and Ayurvedic Medical Consultant in my professional life and was brought here because of immigration issues with some of my employees.

Where there is Hate, Let us Sow Love--Love is the Answer part 2

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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension
[reprinted from 11-28-11, revised 8-2-18]
We continue our discussion of love and hate and their interrelationship, with the idea of sowing love where we find hate. When we feel unloved, and by extension, that life is unloving, we tend to deny the existence of love all together, and thus decry the reality of God. In such pain, it is easier to deny God and think that the Universe has no Source or ultimate purpose than to think that love could exist at all, and that God is merciful and kind. Such persons become cynical and angry.

Everyone has their conditioned angle of vision, and we tend to see life as we are, or according to our limited experience, forgetting that we haven’t experienced all of life. Thus we find that some children are taught by their parents and elders to hate other groups of people and see them as the enemy. This perpetuates the world’s conflict and strife, generation after generation.

Speaking theoretically of hateful people, although helpful in understanding this tendency in everyone, is easier than being personally before those who hate or resent us. On the road to realization we begin by being philosophical, and praying to respond, and not react in kind, to how we may be treated. In relationships we receive the opportunity to practice our spiritual ideals.

GOING BEYOND HATE

In the face of hateful animosity expressed toward us, we can rise above their negativity by praying to not take their expressions personally, remembering that as irreligion is the backside of the Universal Form of God, so hate is the backside of love. If we have any chance of positively affecting others it is by our spiritual advancement and being able to go beyond appearances, seeing that everyone’s suffering condition is coming from their forgetfulness of their joyful spiritual nature. We may not like everyone’s conditioning or behavior, yet we can practice loving them as spiritual beings.

Love is the Answer Part 1

(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player needed)
Pure children
[Originally published 11-22-11 and revised 8-1-18, though not reflected in the recording]
With the inspiration of Saint Francis, a great mystic in the Christian tradition, I am exploring his famous prayer since it seems very much in the mood of our great Vaishnava saints and bhakti yogis. I spoke of sowing peace in a recent blog which began my thinking of his prayer. Whereas peace may be a kind of passive, inactive state of being free of conflict, it requires to be coupled with love to realize its full potential.

A progressive idea of love is that love is an action word, or verb, and not merely a feeling, or noun. “Love is as love does,” expresses this idea, and is the basis of bhakti or devotional service, with the additional idea of being part of the soul’s spiritual relationship with God. If it is really true that “love makes the world go around,” or that hate is the basis of many world conflicts, then it is essential to think about and understand these opposite states or energies.

RESPONSIBILITY IS POWER

Many successful people, both religious and secular, accept the idea that we all have to take 100 % responsibility for our lives—though for many of us, this can be challenging at times. Responsibility means accountability in whatever situation we may be in for our behavior and its consequences. We may think the life circumstances we were born into were just a chance occurrence or our karma, but regardless of our perceived reasons for our birth, we are responsible for how we deal with our life in the present. We can bemoan our fate and blame God, our parents, or ourselves and remain stuck in a negative cycle, or decide to better ourselves regardless of apparent disadvantages.

One way to frame our lives is with the saying that, “What you are, is God’s gift to you. What you become, is your gift to God.” [though this saying may not be absolutely truth, I find it a useful construct for accepting my life, and my responsibility to change, regardless of my past.] In very dire circumstances this may be more difficult to swallow, and with a superficial understanding, calling it one’s karma may seem cruel in the beginning. However, to me, even accepting that our karma (which only means what we have done in the past, or cause and effect) is behind our current life environment and body, our past karma manifesting our life at birth is the same idea of everyday life played out.

Today, life responds according to our actions, attitude, and thoughts. The point is that even behind difficult life circumstances or results we may obtain is the Universal intent to help us rise above them and become better persons.

CUTTING LOOSE THE WEIGHTS THAT HOLD US DOWN

Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts
we’re just stuck in our old patterns.
Even we say we don’t like them
but they’re habitual, a natural groove—
such a strange aspect of life
how we empower our personal rut
while screaming our whine against it!

The essence of trying to go forward
is that change doesn’t come easy
unless we make a total commitment
and there is more pain in stagnation
then in changing for the better—

PRAY!

PRAY: This morning while chanting, I naturally remembered many of the aspects of life I pray for, which have come to me during japa, or in my introspective times during the day. What I pray for, is what I also teach about in my talks. In a general sense, I teach the necessity of calling out for help to our gurus, previous great teachers, and the aspects of Divinity we especially think of or attracted to, like Radha and Krishna, Gaura and Nitai, Prahlad and Nrisimhadeva, or those of your spiritual tradition, etc.

I share some of them with you for your reflection, and possible addition to your natural, daily prayers, or to encourage you to pray as often as possible. Although personal prayers should be a no-brainer, I have found it to be a rather neglected topic of conversation or in classes. After publishing this blog on Facebook, one devotee took great exception to my sharing my personal prayers, considering it not only unsanctioned by our acharyas and thus inappropriate, but also indicative of my great arrogance, and he kept it up even as I endeavored to explain myself.

I do consider the merits of criticism even if is seems unwarranted, and while I admit to being a mixed devotee, my writing is done as my offering to my readers in the service of Prabhupada, my siksha guru, our line of teachers, Shri Shri Radha and Krishna, and Shri Gaura and Nitai, the mercy incarnations for this age. I admit that I want my writing to be well received because this is feedback that I am on the right track. Whatever I am, and am becoming, I pray it will be helpful for my advancement and for those we read my posts or hear my talks, and for this purpose I pray for the Vaishnava humility (trinadapi etc) and spiritual advancement to not think I am the doer, or to be changed in success or missing the mark. From my perspective, my prayers show how far I have to go in my spiritual life, and yet, personal prayers have helped me so much, that I wanted to emphasize how much we can all benefit from the practice. My hope and prayer is that if you don't already, you will take up this practice. After this blog has its life, I may share the many posts I have written centered around prayer.

Why is personal prayer is so important? Our regular personal prayers reveal who we really are, deep down inside our conditioning. That is why I ask devotees, “What do you want—really want? Not what you “should” want, or what you think others think you should want, but what you really want, conditionally speaking? Our questions can give us many answers to our lives’ problems, and help us to be a creative force for what supports us, instead of merely putting out the fires of our lives.

Is Happiness a Choice? Part 1 & 2

Amazing sunrise on the last day of the year 2014 photo DSCN1523_zps3679e712.jpg
[reposted from 12-31-2014]
Part 1
In the midst of my sneezing and a hacking cough this morning I discovered a fantastically beautiful sunrise—breathtakingly inspiring for me—when I went downstairs to wake our home Deities. These days I am very taken by the natural world, the sunrise and sunset, phases of the moon, and my favorite for super variety, the ever-changing clouds. These daily occurrences are often missed in our hectic world, and thus it is no wonder that people are ever more depressed and lonely, feeling the cities are like a fast paced void. Behind Nature, and within it (and our hearts), is the Presence of the Almighty, patiently waiting for us to turn to him.

And when we are in the peace that nature can afford (if we can turn off our phone) we can feel closer to the Source of Everything, who for Gaudiya Vaishnavas, is the charming, extraordinarily gorgeous, irresistible flute player and cowherd, Shri Krishna. So I felt inspired and happy in the midst of a distressful condition—which gives a clue on how to be happy. This is the opening for today’s topic on happiness.

My wife and I gave a class last week titled, "Is Happiness a Choice?" guided by the 14th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita on the three modes, or qualities, that govern the material world. Our answer to this question was a conditional yes, since happiness is really an attitude toward life, and not the result of our material adjustments or attainments. Another way of thinking of happiness is that it is not a “thing” but a by-product of a state of consciousness. Thus we might reframe the question to read, “What state of mind is required to choose to be happy?”

From a higher spiritual perspective, one of the qualities of the soul is happiness, so the closer we come to the spiritual platform, the more joy we will naturally feel, and the less we will be searching for happiness in the world of ephemeral things. The potentiality of material goodness (sattva) is that it is the portal, or gateway, to the soul, since it can bring wisdom and spiritual illumination. The downside of material goodness—and all material qualities or things have shortcomings—is that one can become attached to being a happy, virtuous, and wise person, and remain materially bound.

The Power of a Family Prayer Group

Couple praying together
[reposted from 12-25-2009] At at a couple's retreat in South Africa in 2009 my wife and I gave couples different tools to help their marriages, and also different ways of thinking about themselves and their problems. One of my topics was family or couple's prayer. The subject of prayers groups I feel "passionately" about—i.e, strongly, intensely--since I have first hand experience of its power. Here is one way to think about prayer which might help you see it differently.
Everything is energy
Everything in existence is energy--even science tells us that--though as followers of Bhagavad-gita we understand that there is the spiritual energy behind matter. In the Gita's 7th chapter the material world is called Krishna's separated energy. Then this one energy as a whole is broken down into what we might call specific material energies of earth, water, fire, air, ether (or space), and the subtle energies of mind, intelligence and false ego, which is animated by the soul and God.

Matter can also be broken down according to the modes or qualities of nature [gunas] in terms of the energies of human emotions like the energy of lust, anger, greed, envy, love, compassion, kindness etc. Depending on a person's state of consciousness and interpretation of events they attract certain emotions which will color or impact their personal energy (their energy field or aura) and may dominate their lives at certain times--either degrading the soul beginning with undue material attachments (see BG 2.62-63), or elevating the soul by devotion to Krishna (bg 18.57-58 for example). This is important for couples to understand, because

Tears of My Father

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[reposted from 6-25-13] Two days after my birthday was my fathers’, or June 24th. This year I wanted to share some snapshots in my relationship with him, in the hope that it might be useful to you in your journey of self-exploration, making peace with your past (if required), or in general, having a balanced psychology so favorable for spiritual practice. Dear reader, I am indebted to you for taking the time to read this, and to think about your own relationship with your parents. What does it tell you about the nature of the material world of (re)birth, disease, old age, death and disappointment, and the importance of receiving the saving grace of spiritual knowledge and bhakti practices to uncover the eternal life of the soul?

I was running a preaching center on O Street in Washington D.C. in 1986. After leaving Baltimore with Maha-nidhi Swami to travel and preach, I gradually felt it would be a natural move to stay there. I had a small staff which fluctuated between 1 or 2 devotees. I also received some morale boosting, and financial support from the near-by Potomac MD, Temple from which devotees sometimes visited to chant, preach, or help cook. We held three feasts a week, mainly attended by college students and young people in the area. All was going fine for a few months after I settled in, and then, one afternoon between feasts, I felt like something ominous was in the air. It was a typical August sunny, muggy day, nothing unusual but this feeling. Although I couldn’t put my finger on the possible reason, I prayed for clarity to understand. As I was lost in thought, the ringing of the phone startled me. It was Barbara, my father’s current wife. She told me that my father had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

A long silence ensued. I didn’t have a personal reaction, being in shock, and besides, I wasn’t very good at dealing with others in such matters of intense sorrow. I was at a loss for words, thinking more about her, than for myself. Even today, it seems so inappropriate and trite to say things like “sorry for your loss,” or any number of socially correct statements. Finally, I was able to thank her for letting me know, and told her how sorry I was. Our conversation was awkward,

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