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Love is the Answer Part 1

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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.

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,

UNPRECEDENTED HARINAM!

EXCERPT OF LETTER from Bhakta Krishna Kirtan

We have a new bhakta. His name is Thomas Biers and he is the MOST sincere new bhakta I've come across since I've been practicing Kṛṣṇa consciousness (2009). He is very genuine and his bhakti was spontaneously awakened in his heart at the sound of the maha mantra. Lord Caitanya and Srila Prabhupada sent me a great one. I've known him for years. He became disenchanted with the Buddhists because of his belief in a creator and Kṛṣṇa consciousness resonated with him like nothing else!

THE BLESSINGS OR CURSE OF A LIFE--THE SEARCH FOR MEANING AND IDENTITY

[reposted from 12-24-16
and revised 7-3-18]
Who are we really—
beyond who we settle for
without thinking too deeply
as most just blindly accept
as normal, conventional identities
that we’ve learned from others
and from our educational system
so it must be true, right?

Is it really a fact that
we’re our past sad or happy history?
What about our genes, race, ethnicity,
our skin color, occupation,
economic status, religious
institution, sect, or sanga,
state or region, political party,
conservative or liberal bend,
or our nationality or home planet—
do they accurately define us?

What about our sexual proclivity,
desires, likes and dislikes,
skeletons in our closet,

A Mixed Bag of Material and Spiritual Tendencies

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[republished and modified from 2014-05-04]
While the experience that prompted this free verse poem wasn’t planned, it was welcome, and seen as an occasion for reflection. Association with saints is desirable for developing good qualities, and yet being with our peers or people in general can also foster our personal and spiritual growth, because in their company who we are as a person is revealed and we may discover part of the spiritual work we have left to do. Anyone can be our teacher if we have the humility to be open to learn, either how to act, or how not to act.

Every day we have the opportunity to learn from life situations, which include dealing with or observing others, whether at work, running errands, attending school or college, or interacting with our family and friends. While it is essential to learn about others, in relationship to them we will learn much about ourselves since people are mirrors in which we project our ideals or see our faults. From another angle of vision, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also considers our heart a mirror. This mirror is covered by the dust of our conventional (physical) ego and material conditioning which obscures our spiritual nature (soul). In all our dealings we can pray to remember that we are all souls having a physical experience and in this way part of the same spiritual family.

When we have made the decision to give our life to the pursuit of loving and serving Krishna, our life is forever changed. This is true in spite of our inability to walk the path in the most ideal way. To help us have a humble attitude we can remember our life before we began the spiritual quest, or that we all begin life in ignorance. We should know and remember the spiritual goal, and where we are on the map of our spiritual journey, in order to adapt the path to our unique life situation. This is why practical guidance from

Searching for Our Authentic Story—The Holy Grail of the Seekers Quest

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[Originally published on Sat, December 22, 2012 and republished here for new readers] Each person is a walking story—or many stories walking, or blending together. We could think of our combined story like a painting built of layers, upon layers of mixed colors, creating something totally new, and yet the result of what has gone before. Our current life’s narrative is informed and in response to past stories, both our foundational background of growing up, and how we have adapted that story to various stages of our development, leading up to our sense of “now.” Our current now becomes our forthcoming story and is the intersection between the past and future. This is important to consider from the spiritual perspective because our identification with our material story defines us, covering our soul, and keeps us building new stories, or looking for others more appealing.

Think of how you define yourself. Isn’t a big part “who you think you are” your personal story, or the past emotional drama that has created the lens you use to see, or sense, the world? Although our previous lives have scripted our current story (our parents and others are instruments of our karma), we have to deal with our current life’s manifestation of that past karma, and live in present. While it is true that we may have to look back to resolve certain life issues or relationships, our main focus should always be in the present, informed by our spiritual goal. This means that everyone is responsible for their present actions, regardless of karmic inherited tendencies. Otherwise we can always blame the past, cruel fate, or someone else, and be powerless to change, or move forward. Ultimately the problem and solution to all problems is within us. We can choose what story we allow to define us and what story we aspire to be part of spiritually, or everlastingly.

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