THE PAST CAN BE A GOOD PLACE TO LEARN, BUT IT'S A LOUSY PLACE TO LIVE and THE BLESSINGS OF SORROW AND DIFFICULTIES
THE PAST CAN BE A GOOD PLACE TO LEARN, BUT IT'S A LOUSY PLACE TO LIVE: One of the reasons I share my past growing up and my various struggles on account of it, is to show that we have to make peace with our history so we can move on, often through some type of healing, forgiveness, or various kinds of personal work, often with professional help. In spite of how horrendous our past might be, it doesn't have to define us or have negative power over our lives.
There are two extremes, one is to repress or not deal with our past and stay in reaction to it, and the other is to let it define and limit us by keeping us a tied down victim. We want to identify ourselves as a lovable part of Krishna, not as an incest survivor, child of an alcoholic, or what have you. Some people wear their past trauma like a badge of honor. At the same time, while spiritual advancement is the ultimate solution to all our problems, where we gradually realize and humbly identify ourselves as an effulgent soul beyond material designations or clinical diagnosis, it can be helpful to "name" our type of conditioning since we often identify with it as who we are and suffer accordingly. The way out is through! We aren't our life story, and yet within that story are keys to rise above it. Every negative situation carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater gain.
MAY WE BE BLESSED TO MEDITATE ON, UNDERSTAND, APPRECIATE, AND APPLY TO OUR LIVES, THE UNPARALLELED MERCY OF SHRI KRISHNA CHAITANYA MAHAPRABHU, THE KIRTAN AVATAR, ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF HIS APPEARANCE IN THE WORLD: For me, on appearances day of any incarnation of God, or great devotee, I question myself on how much I appreciate their special teaching and gifts to the world. Today, I am thinking of both the beauty and insanity of being in the material world, and what it would be like to have never met devotees of Shri Chaitanya, and taken to the process of chanting the holy name, engaging in devotional service, and aspiring for love for Krishna, or prema. Like many devotees, I wonder how I would even be alive, so intense was my dissatisfaction with the world, and how much I was looking for an alternative solution to that material status quo and to thus solve my existential crisis.
We can understand how much we have embraced this path by evaluating what our absorption is, and what we do with our time and money. Who and what do we love? What can we not live without? Where is our shelter and support? Is our spiritual life progressive, and are we praying with our whole heart, not merely officially, for spiritual progress? Considering these questions, where do we fall short, and what are we actively doing to change for the better?
TO REALIZE OUR SPIRITUAL SELVES AS TOTAL GIVERS--HOW MUCH DO YOU GIVE, AND HOW MUCH DO YOU HOLD BACK?: Although Krishna, or God, is the Supreme Enjoyer, he is also the Supreme Giver, which we should take note of, and pray to put into practice in our lives. Krishna naturally and effortlessly sustains, supports, and maintains the infinite universes and the souls who populate them ,even as he is the owner of everything and is meant to be served. As part of him, we are also by nature givers, but being covered by material bodies, we are consumed with keeping our bodies and our dependents alive through service.
We have to serve to live, and it is the "religion" of the soul to serve, just as honey is sweet, or chilies are hot. The perfection of service is to serve the interest of the Supreme Source, or Krishna. When we don't serve God, no matter how many souls covered by material bodies we serve, we will never be totally fulfilled, as that service is temporary and limited, and we have the desire to help others to an unlimited degree and forever.
I can say for myself that my desire to serve, help, and love appears much greater than my physical capacity. I see how selfish I am and how focused on taking care of my body and mind, especially in my current illness. As I have shared before, I have to spend so much time just to stay alive and improve my health. While I admit that this service can also be service to others since I can't fully serve with an unhealthy body, I also see how easy it is to not do more than this.
On my healing journey
to postpone my death,
I missed hearing the subtle
first murmurings of spring,
when Winter just begins to dream
of all that it can become—
through rest and rejuvenation,
during snow and freezing rain,
leafless trees and barren landscapes—
transforming into new life possibilities.
I first learned this sensing
on our forested, countryside land
after adjusting to the quiet
while quieting my city mind’s busy-ness
learning to be present and open
without imposing on the environment
THE BALANCE OF GIVING AND RECEIVING: Like breathing in life-giving air, and breathing out carbon dioxide that is needed by the trees and plants, we have to learn that while giving is more celebrated, it cannot exist without receiving--we can't have one without the other. The trees give what we need and we give what they require. Many people are focused on being active for others, often at the cost of their own well-being and health--they feel uncomfortable accepting praise or service from others even when they really need it.
If we aren't doing or being active we think we aren't living. This idea is like the air in our fast-paced modern society, and is often emphasized by religious leaders quoting scriptures. Devotees of Krishna and its institutional leaders also get caught up in this by measuring someone's worth by their visible service at a place of worship or in outreach. Some of us have learned the hard way that to be consistent givers, we need to be able to gauge our personal needs and attend to them, or we will often become resentful or burn out. It isn't just the giving that is important, but how we give, and the spirit behind it--that we are joyful givers who give in a way that is sustainable and takes into account our needs and stages of life.
Personally, throughout my life I have been more of a taker than a giver. Thus a big part of my present push to speak and write is my attempt to give to others what I consider most essential. As I write I have the pull of my necessity to chant and my family responsibilities, and my need to give to you through writing. My writing is both giving and receiving and yet I have to really make the time to write or it doesn't happen. Writing is self-expression and my attempt to encourage others. Speaking is more difficult for me, but is based on the same idea, that I have to do it for my fulfillment and peace of mind, as well as in the spirit of service to others. At the same time I have to fulfill other obligations to take care of my body and mind, and family responsibilities. Balance is required in every aspect of our lives.
DO WE PRAY FOR DIFFICULTIES, OR TO REMEMBER KRISHNA? and GIVE YOUR LIGHT and KINDNESS, NOT MERELY YOUR JUDGEMENT OR CRITICISM
DO WE PRAY FOR DIFFICULTIES OR TO REMEMBER KRISHNA?: A dear young friend of mine sent me a quote from a devotee who had noted that in happy situations devotees tend to forget Krishna, so his recommendation was for devotees to pray for difficulties so that can better remember Krishna. While Queen Kunti--a pure soul, by the way--prayed for difficulties, that were in a certain context, and to make a point. When the Pandavas and their Mother Kunti, were in difficulties they had Krishna's association and direct intervention, while at the time of her prayer, when life was good, Krishna was leaving them, so to her, problems and difficulties with Krishna were much better than a happy life without Krishna. She wasn't a lover of problems, pain, or difficulties, but of Krishna, and she was willing to accept any condition if it fostered her love and service for him. That is the lesson we are meant to learn from her prayer.
Thus, personally, I don't recommend devotees pray for difficulties or distress--those come naturally as does happiness--but to remember Krishna always; to be sincere; to make spiritual advancement so they can deal with any situation in the best way; and to see everything as favorable for service. While difficulties or distresses may foster taking shelter of Krishna and remembering him more, they may not. Whether they do or not depends on our level of spiritual advancement and the timing, or when it happens in our lives.
I know young devotees, who after hearing Queen Kunti's prayer, prayed for difficulties and distresses, but when they obtained them (be careful what you pray for!!!), they were not happy and more Krishna conscious, but were often simply bewildered, in anxiety, and became upset with Krishna. We have to be able to digest and know the meaning of the results we pray for. In a similar way I tell devotees not to ask their guru to answer a certain personal question if they aren't willing to accept advice that may go against what they want or feel they should do. On a certain level many of us just want to surrender, but to do so, well, we may not be ready to, and after doing the "surrendered action," resent having to do it. Therefore, we have to know ourselves. While we do want to stretch spiritually we don't want to break in the process, or become depressed.
I found the drive from LA to ISV, in Mountain View, CA, a scenic one once I was out of the city. About half the way there as I approached the top of a mountainous ridge at 4,000 feet, I was greeted by what I took as an auspicious sign for my current travel and talk the following day. Ahead of me was a rain storm with the beginning of a rainbow to my right. As I progressed, it became larger and larger, finally creating an arch from one side of the highway to the other, like some banner heralding a festival on a city street. My camera was handy and when I posted the picture on Facebook, some of my friends thought that if they didn’t know me, they would have assumed someone Photoshopped it. But no, it was the real thing, and from what I have heard, not a frequent sight. It was the first one I’ve ever seen, and it stayed with me for about 10 minutes or so.
I gradually descended into the San Joaquin, or central valley of California, which grows much of our Nation’s food. Crops and various fruit trees were on both sides of the road often stretching as far as I could see. As I was taking in the scene I remembered that the last time I was in the San Joaquin valley was 46 years earlier. A few devotees and I were on our way to be initiated by Shrila Prabhupada in Los Angeles. At the time I was staying at the San Jose temple, which was near San Jose State University. I rode with Chitsukhananda Prabhu along with some other devotees. His car was an old, brightly colored and exotically decorated station wagon that Prabhupada had called a “hippie car.” About half way there, the car broke down in the middle of the same valley I was now in, and we had to take a bus to LA.
At the time I didn’t really think much about it, whereas now, I would be wondering what the symbolism was, breaking down on my way to be initiated by my future guru, Shrila Prabhupada. Now I might consider that overcoming obstacles and staying the course no matter what was part of the message I could garner from the experience, but at that time, I wasn’t that observant or curious. My simple, accepting nature served me during my early years, and helped me focus on my service without being distracted, or criticizing others.
My journey in worship is an interesting and blissful one even amidst much anxiety. In my first months of taking to the path of bhakti, just after receiving initiation into chanting the maha-mantra, I was given the service to take care of our altar, which consisted of a large picture of Shri Chaitanya and his principle associates, also referred to as the “Panca Tattva,” and pictures of Prabhupada, his guru, and our line of teachers.
Although God is everywhere in his form as the Supersoul, or Oversoul of the Universe, we aren’t aware of his presence, except indirectly, and as the Witness he is generally neutral, though he becomes more accessible as we desire to make spiritual progress. On our Gaudiya Vaishnava path we prefer certain manifestations of God which offer the most possibilities for loving relationships as recommended in our line, first in a general way, and in more advanced stages in a unique way according to our developed relationship with him.
Some years later after I received seconded initiation, sometimes called “brahminical initiation,” which it’s really about deepening our relationship with the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, by the chanting of certain Gayatri mantras given in our tradition. This is in addition to what is universally called Gayatri within Hinduism, though every tradition understands its meaning through the lens of their ultimate goal. Soon after receiving this initiation, I began my formal service to various forms of Krishna in the old San Francisco temple on Valencia Street.
Throughout the years I have always gravitated toward Deity service, and many Deities toward me—by which I mean that I was somehow singled out to perform this worship without my seeking it, and sometimes without the devotees knowing my service, or seva, history. During a period of about 10 years my primary service was as a head pujari and head cook as I traveled around the world to Hawaii, Japan, India, New Zealand, Australia, and Berkeley, California.
BLOG THOUGHTS: FORMER WORKSHOP JUNKIE; ONE EVENT CAN CHANGE OUR LIVES FOREVER; MY STATE WHEN CHANTING;
I USED TO BE A WORKSHOP JUNKIE BECAUSE I NEVER BELIEVED I WAS ENOUGH TO DO WHAT I AM HERE TO DO: While I do recommend being educated in one's chosen field or calling in life, there are many ways to obtain this education. It may be through formal schooling or be driven by one's intense purpose in life and learned from life experience and "hacking" an education from books and mentors. Personally, although I would have liked to have training as a counselor, I wasn't able to travel this route and mainly learned by studying alternative healing methods like in Reiki, prayer, and Hypnotherapy.
Still, I have never actually earned my living through those practices. I never believed I was sufficiently trained, or more deeply, that I was "enough" to say I was a this or that. I always wanted to 'be somebody" (like all those successful people) who could help others, and I have been praying as intensely and sincerely as I can for years, even as I have endeavored to help and inspire through my writing--and, as I have fortunately heard from kind feedback, with some success...
Now, Krishna has given me a new identity and label, which has empowered me to have a vision of how to connect and help others--having a cancer diagnosis and being "near death" has helped me more than I could ever imagine. Somehow the idea of having a limited amount of time left to live has pushed me to do what I pray for now, not tomorrow, since I can no longer wait to be enough--since I have realized that this day will never come if I listen to the ego's self doubt and discouraging words. I have to live in the present and be a possibility thinker!
The most important aspect of my story is what is behind it. It isn’t just a listing of what happened, like a shopping list, as much as bringing out the fuel, or spirit—however subtle—behind it. Cancer has changed me in a fundamental way—or I could say, has brought out the essence of who I am, and what I am supposed to contribute to life with those who are receptive, if I'm not clouded by so-called physical necessity, or even normal every day, sometimes mindless, spiritual practice, or excuses why I can’t do what I do, or mental doubts or perceptions of limitations. I know I have a contribution to make that can be helpful to others, and with the urgency that cancer has forced upon me—well I could have failed to take its push and just become depressed, or not taken the cue to live my truth in a way that can be a lesson for us all, but in any case, my external journey is a reflection of who I am, and who I must be, if my life is to realize its full potential. That's the point!!! My hope is that by reading about my life, you’ll reflect on your own, and what your contribution to life is; how fulfilling your purpose and mission will enliven you, filling a part of you that can’t be touched in any other way, and this will also benefit others around you.
Visiting the temple in Tijuana, meeting and talking with the devotees, having the opportunity to speak, and participating in the kirtan, was a huge inspiration for me, and a super powerful way to begin my speaking tour on the West Coast. Facing death head on and joyfully embracing the possibility of having only a short time left in my body has been greatly beneficial to my life, like a lightning bolt of devotional and practical energy and guidance. Concerned friends ask me how I am doing, and my answer is “fine,” which means normal. Other than my cancer protocols, it is difficult to know that my body must be quite out of balance to have attracted cancer.
As it is said in the alternative treatment universe, I am not sick because I have cancer, but I have cancer because I am sick—which means a compromised immune system. However long I may live, I am taking the worst case scenario seriously and doing everything I can to strengthen my immune system and send the cancer cells elsewhere. At the same time, I am putting aside self-doubt, and embarking on speaking tours to share my realizations on the benefit of facing death so we can fulfill our personal mission, and practice what I think of as “essential spirituality.” I have also increased my writing schedule for producing a number of books. All in all it has been an incredible journey and is very exciting and enlivening—and this is only the beginning!