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!
The famous best-selling book and movie Heaven Is For Real describes the experiences of Todd Burpo's son, Colton, who had a NDE (Near Death Experience). Therein the young boy describes the spiritual world, the kingdom of God and also the instructions that he had been told by the divine personality, Jesus.
Magical Mystery Tour, Part 2, Tijuana Cancer Clinic, and Giving Class at the Temple, plus video link
One theme for my journey West, which includes my whole cancer journey to date, and entire life when looked at with a spiritual eye, is a statement used by HH Bhakti-tirtha Maharaja that he learned from his very spiritual mother: “I am blessed by the best and I am praying to pass all my tests!” May we all adopt this vision to view our lives in the most positive light!
After arriving in San Diego a friend picked me up at the airport. He took me to the US-Mexico border, since it is quicker to walk into Tijuana, than to drive. I will stay with him overnight upon my return to San Diego. Having not seen one another for many years we enjoyed catching up on our respective lives. He prepared some Prasad according to my diet and I was so grateful. Krishna’s prasadam (sanctified food)is life giving in all circumstances, but under certain conditions we may appreciate this fact more. For me, after a long flight and only eating nuts, it was like breathing in new life. What can I say? I relished it and felt blessed!
After a long drought the heavy rains I saw were welcome, though even in a normal year, they’re rare for Southern California. As a result there was a good deal of flooding—too much of a good thing! Fortunately the rain let up for a while as I walked over the border into Customs. As I walked I did my best to take in the scene. There were lots of people wandering around and it was very commercial. I was struggling a bit since my bags were quite heavy. In addition to my checked suitcase, my carry-on bag was overloaded, as was my computer bag. Space in the two large bags was full of organic vegetables, grains, instant organic meals, and cooking utensils for the 6 day stay at the clinic, and for my trips north. Believe me, I will travel much lighter next time I visit here!
After checking into Customs, I made my way to the cab stand for the short trip to the clinic. Tijuana reminds me of a
As I prepare to share more about my trip to Mexico and California, which I have dubbed, "My Magical Mystery Tour," I have understood that my whole life has been a magical mystery tour because the various events in my life, both desirable or challenging, and wonderful and enlivening, have all added a shade or color of who I am today. Is our childhood or any other period of our life sad, or happy, or whatever label we may give it? Our opinion is very subjective and depends what measuring stick we use and general attitude we have.
I have shared that my story growing up seemingly was a sad story, as many of us also have personal experience,and yet, with my current "optimystic" eyes, it was the perfect situation to help me grow as a person and be sufficiently frustrated to foster an existential crisis to propel me on a search for a higher meaning of life, or a spiritual one. There is something to be said to have the child like eyes of curiosity, though mixed with a maturity that comes from material experience and a reawakened urgency for spiritual practice and obtainment. My current life is a testimony to that. How much this may be true is relative, but to me, it is a profound time in my life. With this in mind I wrote this free verse poem as an introduction to my latest trip West.
MY LIFE IN A NUTSHELL—TO KEEP ME ON TRACK
My Magical Mystery Tour,
when it truly began
I can’t fully comprehend
yet I know for sure
they’re multi-purpose plans
set in motion eons ago
MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR, PART 1, FLYING TO SAN DIEGO: PRAYING TO BE ALL I CAN BE TO REALIZE MY HIGHEST POTENTIAL
Sometimes I don't know if I should be sharing about my inner thoughts and heart yearnings, and yet, I also feel it is important to do, with the hope that we may all be benefited. Thus I take the risk of being criticized. However, sometimes we have to bet our lives on following our convictions due to pivotal events in our lives. For me, the realizations I have acted on from my cancer diagnosis feels like a huge juncture in my life, or a “perfect storm” if you will, which is setting the direction and mood for the rest of my life—at least it seems that way.
Thus, I keep returning to the same themes that inform and inspire my life. Every day I begin with reading and thinking, showering with water and prayers, waking our home Deities, and then praying my heart out for my present aspirations, in the mood of "What do I want, and what do you aspire for, that will be of the most benefit for everyone and most pleasing to my gurus and Lords of my heart?"
Facing death, means stripping aside the unessential, and looking at my attachments, even as I strive to be the best person I can, and more, by the infinite grace of the Almighty. Praying and writing helps me strip away my facade to look at my bare desires and who I am now—and pray to be—since we are our faith and attachments. I find it a powerful process, and recommend it to all who believe in a higher power, or God, whom they have an intimate relationship with. We are all near death after all!
I am a mercy beggar being, in my own estimation, quite insignificant, and yet I am tired of being mediocre, reserved, disengaged, indifferent, withdrawn, or in general, a casual bhakti practitioner (or devotee of Krishna). The remedy is to improve by changing for the better. Part of the solution is intense prayer to take inspired action. I love to pray