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The Negative Undercurrent in Communities—Acknowledging and Dealing with Relationship Conflicts

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This last Thanksgiving day at our small country temple we decided to have a day of japa as a way to show our gratitude for the holy name and those gurus who have given it to us. This is a practice we used to do monthly and are hoping to revive. During such occasions I’m reminded of the many japa retreats I’ve attended where participants were totally absorbed in japa, kirtan, and hearing about the Krishna conscious philosophy from saintly persons in front of beautiful Deities and our many gurus—in other words, the main practices of bhakti.

Some devotees chant 64 rounds, though the main emphasis is to increase our number of rounds beyond what we have vowed to chant, in the mood of surrender, praying for perfection, and to glorify the Lord and his devotees. We also share together at the end of our chanting what our struggles, positive experiences, and realizations were. I often write about whatever has come to me through the experience and this blog is based on those thoughts. My feelings and awareness during this time were also influenced by some serious drama and difficulties in devotee dealings over the last 6 months.

During the day I was appreciating how such regular shared spiritual practices bring the devotees closer together. There was obvious unity among the participants, at least observably. In theory we were also internally united in terms of our goal to perfect our lives by the holy name and Vaishnava seva. In addition to the power of sharing our spiritual practices, I was reminded that it is really our good will and affection toward one another that is the foundation of being able to harmoniously come together.
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Taking Advantage of Sadhu Sanga (Saintly Association)

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To help facilitate a Bhagavad Gita class or to put the Radha-Krishna Deities (Radha-Kanayalal) to rest at our country temple, I have been walking the 8 minutes there from our home, almost every evening for the last 2 years. I walk in all kinds of weather in both the light and warmth of summer, or the darkness and coldness of winter. It is the dark moon now, and except for the stars and ambient light from a few houses, the road is dark, but not unfriendly. In these dark conditions one’s eyes become accustomed to seeing in all but pitch black conditions when the sky is overcast. I look up at the stars and down at my white dhoti to get my bearings. A staff also helps guide me as I sometimes feel my way. Although I carry I flash light, I rarely use it.

As you know, due to the quieter conditions in the evening, sounds are much amplified. So as I walk I clearly hear my footsteps on the gravel road, punctuated by my large staff. The walk to and from the temple is a very simple activity, and yet it seems very primal, and full of meaning, as it is service related, and a time for contemplation on myself as Krishna’s servant. In general, living in a peaceful country environment helps one slow down and be more thoughtful. I often sing as I walk, or think of some point of philosophy. Since over the last two months we have had the opportunity to participate in sadhu-sanga at different locations, this evening, I considered the importance of saintly association, and thought of writing about it.

INMATES' and CHAPLAINS' APPRECIATION

Hare Krsna, dear devotees!
Below are some excerpts from inmates, as well as some Chaplains' appreciation for the work done by ISKCON Prison Ministry. I hope they bring you pleasure and inspiration.

INMATE'S EXCERPTS

Realizing Our Personal Life Adventure--Part 1 and 2

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Today has brought beautiful fall weather, with a cold morning, and now a warm—but not hot—day at 12 noon. I sit on the deck under a bright cloudless sky and appreciate the wonder of Krishna’s material energy, and his many blessings to me, pondering what is on my mind to share with you. I have been reading some fantasy and adventure novels to imagine what I might do with a book idea that has been percolating within me for quite a while now. This has been a useful exercise that has given me hope that I can write a novel meant for teaching about life and spirituality. Though I read many acclaimed books in their genre, I haven’t been very satisfied with them. Even when the characters, or the story line, are interesting and can hold my attention—and some don’t—I still feel sorry for want of a spiritual theme. Only occasionally God is mentioned, and usually not as a guiding principle of life.

Sometimes I think: “All that invested time for this ending?” or there is no ending, but just a lead-in to the next volume. To me, other than in devotional literature, I find there is little of specific spiritual merit, or personal benefit other than “entertainment,” or at best some moral message or social commentary. That has value, but is never enough for me, as a person concerned with meaning and purpose in everything. Yes, there are spiritually themed books which can inspire readers, but at this stage of the writing project, I have avoided them for contrast, and this endeavor has borne fruit, albeit, in ways I never imagined.

From my readings I became curious why we feel compelled to seek out entertainment and adventure—while I was reminded of my attraction adventure stories and the search for treasure, especially of the mystical variety. In a general sense what we have intense attraction to, or interest in, gives us hints as to an important aspect of our life direction. Part of the work of the spiritual aspirant is to make whatever we want or yearn for, part of our spiritual/Krishna conscious /yogic practice. Some spiritual paths shun all attachments and action, but in bhakti, we use our attachments and inclinations in relation to service to Krishna, and in that way purify them. Otherwise we may be diverted from self-realization by our unfulfilled natural propensities or inner conditioned compass.

Choosing our Focus in The World of Duality—Is it Terrible or Wonderful, Horrible or Beautiful?

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As my wife and I were preparing for a couple’s retreat we helped facilitate in Gita-nagari, Pennsylvania, last weekend, events conspired on our street to graphically demonstrate to me the importance of what we were teaching. I find that the power of focus often attracts lessons to demonstrate what we are thinking about, especially if we are teaching it. One important point in this blog is that what we focus on increases in power—like attracts like—whether we’re looking for the good or bad in the world, or in other people. Although I don’t share here exactly what we taught in our workshop, I speak in general about the importance of personal growth work—or the importance of self-examination and seeing our life issues clearly in order to spiritually advance and be the best person we can.

There are problems in the outer world and problems in our inner world. Both are important to deal with, though of the two, improving and purifying our inner landscape is most important, as it will help us in whatever work or service we do externally. The world reflects the consciousness of the people in it. We change the world one person at a time, and it always begins with ourselves. Thus if we improve the world, or our neighborhood, but don’t improve ourselves, our work is incomplete. Many persons and groups understand and teach this. The personal growth people who appear focused on material prosperity have taught me that it isn’t what one accomplishes, or how much money one accumulates, that is most important, but who we become in the process. Another way to say this is that in the pursuit of our life work or favorite cause, are we becoming more loving, kind, compassionate, and wise? What we keep in our heart, is what defines us, who we are, and who we become. Or, as the Bible teaches, “What profiteth a man if he gains the whole world yet suffers the loss of his eternal soul?”

Our Own Worst Enemy

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Stuck in an airport with a delayed flight I struck up a conversation with a business person:
“You want to know a secret?’
“Maybe?”
“I’ll take that as a yes. You are often your own worst enemy.”
Getting his attention, he turned toward me and said: “I think many people know this.”
“True, but there is another part to this secret: Most people don’t do anything about this, and aren’t motivated to change, or believe they can.”
Reaching into my computer case I take out some writing I did.
“What papers do you have there?”
“I wrote a blog on the topic of being our worst enemy, and what to do about it…want to read it?”
“Sure, looks like we have a few hours to kill, and besides, [the clincher, I guess] the Wi-Fi is down.”
“Let me know what you think.”

Our Own Worst Enemy

As I was thinking of the topic for this blog I found a graphic illustration to demonstrate what I wanted to say. Every week I go shopping to pick up organic veggies at a garden supply shop about 20 minutes from here. Sometimes there is a beautiful, young, though full grown, German Sheppard dog. Though he used to lazily lie around the shop, and then come closer wagging his tail to get petted, now he has taken up the startling, and for some, frightening, habit of barking loudly at shoppers—which hasn’t been real good for business. As a result he is now kept in a cage in the corner.

The Desperation of Suicide

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The Desperation of Suicide Fueled by Depression and Lack of Self Worth

In the midst of writing a blog about Shri Krishna’s and Balarama's appearance days, I was interrupted by the sad news of Robin Williams’ (the famous actor and comedian) suicide on Monday and was unable to continue. Since this unfortunate event has been on my mind for the last few days, I felt compelled to write about this topic for many reasons. As some of you know, my father committed suicide, but additionally, my wife’s older brother did also, and so our family has been greatly affected by suicide. Thus, Mr. Williams’ death hit a nerve with me, as did some of the rather harsh, uncompassionate, and frankly, ignorant comments I have read online.

Certainly Robin Williams wasn’t a saint. He had many imperfections and unresolved life issues, and his suicide seemed a terrible response, and yet, in spite of this, I found something very sincere, human, and compelling about him. Perhaps due to my past, I could sense some kind of pain beneath the surface of his humor. Admittedly, upon hearing about his cause of death I found it sadly ironic that a person celebrated for his humor would find no humor or value within himself. Later I learned that this isn’t as rare as I imagined for brilliant comedians. Someone even suggested that some clowns paint their faces to hide their melancholy. Whether true or not, I can say with certainty that people are not always what they seem, and are often full of duality!

Severe depression has become another modern epidemic and is one of the leading factors of suicide, though anger, social isolation, alcohol and drug abuse, need for control, impulsiveness, and certain medications, or chronic medical illness can also be factors. I find that people are complex and sometimes difficult to understand without knowing their often secret history.

Death, Dying, and Compassion--On my Father's Death Anniversary

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[An interesting fact is that other than a few baby pictures with my parents, I only have the above picture and one other of them together during my childhood, and they both show my father pretending to be attacking my mom--but in fact, that was the nature of their relationship. I also have no pictures of my father and I. Life leaves us many clues!]
Sunday (August 3rd) was the death anniversary of my father who, as we devotees say, “left his body” in 1986. “Leaving our body,” means someone, the soul, has left the physical covering behind and moved on. I don’t remember many dates, but this one is etched in my memory—along with a few birthdays, and my wedding anniversary (very important date for you married guys out there). When I was with my mom in her last days in 2010 I obtained his death certification and some family memorabilia—presently of interest only to me, as the last surviving blood member of my family. This should tell us something about such memorabilia!

My mom was a collector, and saved even her baptism certificate, though she was an unbeliever, brought up by a strong religious mother, and, as fate would have it, had a Hare Krishna son! We are strongly karmically connected to our parents and children. Part of a successful life is to make peace with our past and current life—since our present is very much a reaction to our past, and our present choices becomes our future. Thus, part of bhakti is cutting the worldly cords of attachments by attachment to the spiritual via the “cords” of our beads which we use to chant the maha-mantra, as well as all the practices of devotional service.

I wanted to at least say a few words about this day to honor the lessons I learned from my “dear old dad,” though mainly to share some perspectives in dealing with the death of loved ones. Though the soul is eternal, due to our bodily dress, we calculate the age of the body. So he isn’t really old in a physical sense, but he died when he was 65—you could say he retired his body to ashes (he was cremated) at the age of retirement, since he was tired of living.

Letting Go, and Letting Krishna--and Hanuman!

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Due to a compelling feeling that I needed to go, ten days before the Gita-nagari Rathayatra, I considered traveling there to help promote the Grihastha Vision Team’s new book, “Heart and Soul Connection,” and our September Couple’s Retreat. I don’t frequently have such inspired feelings to travel, but when I do, I try my best to act on them, since important results usually come. As it turned out, no one would have been available to man the table for very long had I not gone, and while I didn’t have a good spot to interface with a lot of people, I was able to talk with devotees throughout the day, sell some books, and interest a few couples in the retreat. Perhaps the biggest treat was spending time with my generous hosts and their family—Krishna serves many purposes with each endeavor!

Packing the night before, I brought the cases of books and my gear downstairs for easy loading in the morning. I am not the best organizer of time, and I ended up going to bed late, and getting up later than I had planning (cause and effect relationship, and thus my saying that “tomorrow begins the night before”). At the same time I have adopted an “expect the unexpected, yet everything always works out for the best” moto into my life and basic game plan for trips, as I am a “go with the flow” type person. This attitude helps me maintain my equilibrium and generally a peaceful disposition.

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