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[This is republished from August 5th 2014, which I publish today, on Father's Day, as my tribute to my father. Though he was the tragic figure of his worldly drama, I know he loved me and did his best to raise me. He went to the temple at my first wedding, loved prasad, and said Hare Krishna frequently to shock his friends and acquaintances about the strange group I was part of. So he was blessed in many ways.]
[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!]
August 3rd will be 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 those of you who are married). 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.
I love to write and am doing my best to speak more. Regardless of how inspiring or insightful I may, or may not, be, if my words don’t inspire the audience or readers to take practical action, the benefit will be very brief. Have you ever been to a seminar, workshop, or class, or read a book, where you felt very inspired, only to have it fade because you didn’t put into practice what you heard? I know I have!
Many people know what their problems are, but are unwilling, or don’t believe it is possible for them, to do the difficult work of change and transformation. Or there may be too much secondary gain for staying the same, regardless of their unhappiness or dissatisfaction. We may wear our past wounds like a badge of honor, hoping to get sympathy strokes from others, as in “woe, is me.” Being creatures of habit the thought of change, even positive, beneficial change, is challenging for most people, even if they are currently miserable, and think they “should” change—maybe tomorrow, or that faraway place in the ocean, “Someday Isle.”
What we currently have, or are as a person, is a known reality, but if we change our situation or environment, that is unknown, and takes a leap of faith to embrace. However, we should know that leading a successful life in either the material or spiritual realm requires us to change for the better. As it is said, there isn’t much different between a rut and a grave—only two sides.
LOVE, LEARN, PRAY, GIVE, ACCEPT, RELEASE, LET GO, and CELEBRATING and EMBODYING GRACE AND SHARING THAT WITH THE WORLD
LOVE, LEARN, PRAY, GIVE, ACCEPT, RELEASE, LET GO, CELEBRATE: I often think about how to express the most important aspects of life that can most benefit us all. The following is one perspective and attempt to do this. We begin by sensing that love is our nature and that which we most hanker for. When we discover that our capacity to love in this world, and the capacity for others to accept the amount of love we are capable of giving, is limited and ultimately unsatisfying, we can begin our quest to realize our spiritual nature as beings of eternity, wisdom, and love.
We discover that the fulfillment we seek is only possible when our spiritual nature is gradually awakened, since this nature is who we truly are. There are many stages of this divine awakening which will be promoted by those who seek the goal their path offers. According to the bhakti Vedic scriptures, the highest stage is when our loving propensity and full consciousness is reposed on the Supreme Original Person, God, or Krishna.
When we love Krishna, then we always know what to do. This is true learning and practical wisdom. Krishna teaches in chapter 15 of his Bhagavad Gita, that when we know Krishna as the Supreme Original Person, without doubting, then we know everything that is necessary.
In our endeavor to learn to love Krishna (bhakti) we learn that prayer—through chanting the holy name, reciting prayers in the scripture and by great devotees, and our personal prayers—is our connection to God and leads us to serving and remembering him. We also learn that by serving, loving, and giving to others in the spirit of service to Krishna, we grow spiritually and help others as well (para-upakara). We can’t separate Krishna from his devotees.
SEEING CANCER AS A MESSENGER, NOT AS THE ENEMY and FOR SPIRITUAL ADVANCEMENT CHANGE AND TRANSFORMATION ARE REQUIRED:
SEEING CANCER AS A MESSENGER, NOT AS THE ENEMY: As it is said, don’t shoot the messenger, but hear the message. Cancer is an effect of something much deeper and primal, pointing to something beyond it. In the alternative cancer treatment world they say that we aren’t sick because we have cancer, but we have cancer because we are sick, or we have a compromised immune system. Exactly why we do is a question for deep contemplation and prayer for the ability to be completely honest and open to hear something uncomfortable about ourselves.
I have mentioned that I see any disease as having a physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual aspect or reason for its existence. However, to me the spiritual reason is really at the root, and without dealing with the root of any problem it will keep returning. If you have ever had a boil and not gotten out the root or core, you know what I am talking about. The Shrimad Bhagavatam gives the analogy of bamboo: if only the visible part is burned down (as with jnana), the plant will return, since its roots are still in place (which will only be eradicated with the power of bhakti). This perspective can also be applied to any disease or problem in our life. Only dealing with the effects, or visible symptoms, as often done with modern medicine, will only be temporarily helpful, if at all.
I am addressing the physical aspect by diet, pranayam, exercise, and herbal treatments, and see the mental/emotional as relating to the spiritual root of my cancer. I have a secondary tumor in the lymph node, near the 5th or throat chakra, with the primary tumor in back of the nose, close to the 6th or third eye chakra. From my introspective and prayerful investigation of myself, I have to speak and communicate more (5th chakra) my inspiration of essential truth (6th chakra).
[updated with new material and corrections] I am feeling very enlivened this morning having a few realizations which are fine tuning, or refinements, of ideas I have been thinking, speaking, and writing about for a long time. It is as if they unlocked an inner door that touched my heart with more and more practical understanding about my life (the “aha” factor). As always my intention is to share ideas that could be helpful for you as well. Conceptions that we may believe in a general sense are always abstract until they are applied and demonstrated in our own lives.
My basic thought for today's contemplation is that whatever we struggle with in regards to our relationships, family, occupation, state of mind, attitude, or spiritual practice, are feedback that these challenges are not to be ignored. They are life lessons shouting at us: "Pay attention here! You are required to understand why you are experiencing repeated conflicts. Please look within yourself to correct what are actually imbalances in your life, or unhealthy habits." We live in a purposeful universe, and thus every situation and every person in our lives or whom we may encounter are there for a very good reason. Our life is full of teachers who give us good feedback on how we are meant to change and improve.
There are no accidents, and those events, people, or states of mind that we struggle with or want to avoid, sometimes thinking they are the enemy, hold the key to our personal happiness and fulfillment when coupled to our spiritual practices which are designed for bringing out the life of the soul. Spiritual life isn't meant to be an excuse for not learning our life lessons or a method to hide from them, but these lessons, when learned, give a balanced support to our divine journey of awakening.
One of the most memorable experiences during our last visit to Houston was our trip to the Estelle Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice near Huntsville, Texas on September 19, 2015.
Although we had not planned it into our schedule, Krishna apparently had, so we went along with Krishna's plan. It's always good to cooperate with Krishna's plan.
The Gita teaches us that the soul’s amazing!
Though when I am trying to get up
I don’t feel very amazing.
It’s twenty before three in the morning—
I should get up before the alarm rings.
It’s five before three in the morning—
I should get up like I say I want to.
The alarm annoyingly rings at 3:15 am.
I want to leap out of bed like I used to,
though I’d rather sleep more.
I throw off the covers.
When I bow down to Prabhupada
I want to sleep, but I can’t, I must arise.
Feeling tired and not very amazing
I still push myself up, helped by the wood chest.
Walking to the toilet to relieve myself,
I say, “At least I’m up before 4 am.”
Back in my room I fold my bedding
thinking that even in my foggy condition
being alive and trying to wake up is amazing!
A few months after I started working with ISKCON Prison Ministry, I received a letter from an inmate which helped drive home to me the nature of this service and just how important it is.
“I only know what I read in your letters and Prabhupada’s books,” was part of his response to me, regarding my reply to a question he had posed. His words brought me a sudden, clearer understanding and. I’ve often since reminded myself of them.
Today, how shall we give
and whom shall we love?
Count the ways to be thankful.
First, decide to be happy.
Think of the reasons why not,
remembering that happiness
is a moment by moment choice
just as sadness is a question of focus.
Why give more reasons
to be unhappy than happy?
Why wait to be happy
till achieving some goal,
or lament what you don’t have
when you can happily achieve
or even fail temporarily
learning valuable lessons?
Tomorrow we get to try again!
The above reflection is for anyone,
but if you are a bhakti practitioner
we can add to the mix, the goal of Krishna.
The following blog was one of my very early ones I posted in 2007, which I included in my book, Give to Live. I post it again because of my thinking this morning on the importance of seeing our life--with its many ups an downs--in the best light possible. This is true even as we strive to improve and may still feel bad about the mistakes of the past. Part of the spiritual and human journey is feeling our life has value, and in making the best use of it, even as we have to cut the karmic cords that bind us through forgiveness, acceptance, and prayer.
I share with you here four quotes from people glorifying the telling of our personal stories (and then comment on the general idea) from the introduction to the "4th course of Chicken Soup for the Soul" series (copyright 1997 Jack Canfield). If you like, you can call it "Chickpea Soup for the Soul."
"Everybody is a story. When I was a child, people sat around kitchen tables and told their stories. We don't do that so much anymore. Sitting around the table telling stories is not just a way of passing time. It is the way the wisdom gets passed along. The stuff that helps us live a life worth remembering. Despite the awesome powers of technology many of us still do not live very well. We need to listen to each others stories once again." Rachel Naomi Remen