Karnamrita.das's blog

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.

Utilizing the Time of our Lives for the Best Purpose: Appreciating the Value of Prema Part 2

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[for information about the above painting please visit: http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/12406215_jose-maria-romero-the-writers-muse]

My Muse, Sara: Hey, Karnamrita. Haribol! Thanks for publishing part 1. I found it very clear and concise, but I see that you’re having problems finishing this series.

Karnamrita: You would know, as by the grace of my gurus and the Lord of my heart, along with prompting from you, I have generally been inspired to write my blogs over the last seven years. However, these days my writing is going slower than usual. I know there must be some reason for this, and so I have been praying for guidance to understand my next step. I have learned that in making spiritual progress we have to practice both elimination of the old, and acceptance of the new, in order that we may grow into our full potential, and not remain stuck in old habits. In this vein, I have a number of possible book ideas that I haven’t spent time on. While this is an untried venue for me, it may have a wider audience. What do you think? I am wondering if I should focus more on writing books.

Sara: That is an area to be explored, and I am sure you will gradually know what to do—but for now, why don’t you complete part two. I have a few questions which might help you finish. Human life without some type of connection to God through religion or spirituality is similar to animal life in meeting survival needs.

Karnamrita: Your questions would surely help, but should I say anything about you, or not?

Sara: Why not, as the readers may just consider this a writing ploy, or think that it is interesting that you have a muse you can converse with. Anyone who has had to write will at least appreciate the idea and possibility.

Karnamrita: Well, you're usually not that easy to speak with, and mainly give inspiration, but I like the idea of having talks with you, and adding that to my posts. Thank you for helping! In any case, go ahead and ask.

Sara: What is it that causes an ordinary person to take up some type of practice centered around God?

Utilizing the Time of our Lives for the Best Purpose: Appreciating the Value of Prema Part 1

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Although we may die at any time in youth or old age, the older one is the more possibility exists that this day will be our last in our current body. Many accounts have been written about the regrets of those on their death beds. Most people don’t bemoan their lack of social standing, accumulated money, or accomplishments, but are focused on feelings of regret about how they used their time, or their unresolved conflicts in close relationships. Such unsettled emotions are centered on actions they did, or should have done, words they said, or should have said, etc. Our sense of regret or incompleteness partially makes up our desires which combine with our good and bad deeds to fuel our future births.

In my training in hospice work one service we learned to offer to the dying was to help them make peace with their past, or we could say, to have a life review before death. Eastern religious traditions speak about how at the time of death one experiences a panoramic life review from the soul perspective. This perspective has been strengthened for some people by the convincing testimony of those having near-death experiences. At such a time one can experience what is truly important (according to the level of one’s wisdom and guidance), and are reminded that whatever we do comes back to us in kind, and that there is a higher purpose to life than one’s personal selfish agenda. Therefore, the time we have in our life is a very valuable asset and needs to be used in the best possible way for the advantage of all. Hierarchies of benefits exist, from levels of material blessings to planes of spiritual obtainment, culminating in prema, or pure love for God.

When I'm Sixty-Four: Aging Gracefully with a Spiritual Purpose--or Not

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“Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four?" - PAUL MC CARTNEY; JOHN LENNON

Sunday June 22, is my 64th birthday. Growing up in the 1960s I naturally remember the Beetle’s song, “When I’m Sixty-Four.” Yeah, after 44 years of bhakti practice those old songs (and ad jingles!) are still floating around in my subconscious mind. This Beetle’s ballad is a love song about staying together despite aging that Paul McCartney wrote at the advanced age of 16. As a person involved in marital and premarital education this is an important topic for me (and my wife of 24 years). When I was 16 I couldn’t even imagine being 25, what to speak of 64! I was an only child with very limited experience with older persons. After living in Berkeley, California for a few years and then moving into the temple, when we went to San Francisco for street sankirtan (group chanting), I was taken back seeing all the old people! Berkeley is a college town and I was hanging out with only the young, and when I moved into the temple, the oldest person was 23

In any case, anticipating my birthday, I thought the subject of aging, suffering, and being 64 would be a good blog topic. Of course, most anything can be grist for the writer’s mill (we usually notice those things we are focused on), but this one was a natural candidate. Thus I wanted to find the words to the Beetle’s song, but before I began my Internet search, my dear friend, Dulal-Chandra Prabhu, sent me the lyrics and wished me a happy birthday. I wished him a happy birthday back, since his birthday is the same as mine—with THE SAME YEAR! How interesting and rare is that—especially among close friends! We celebrated our 60th birthday together, and amidst fun and games, we went around the room to compile a list of shared personality traits and devotional histories. Though we have a number of differences, our wives and friends found an amazing amount of shared traits and experiences.

My general thoughts when writing are to share what I am going through, experiencing, thinking about, or inspired by, in a way that I pray may have relevance to you, my readers. Birth, disease, old age, and death, being shared by all embodied beings, are very rich and important topics. Called the four-fold, or four, miseries of material life, they are listed in the Bhagavad-gita verses (8-12) from the 13th chapter, as part of understanding the process of spiritual knowledge.
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Since the soul is eternal and is never born or dies, speaking of these four miseries isn’t considered by devotees to be morbid or a topic to avoid in polite conversation.

Uncovering our Soul's Nature in Bhakti: What Have We Signed Up For?

(this blog is recorded on the full page: quick time player is needed; works best with Firefox or Explorer; if you are using Google Chrome it will automatically play, so if you don't want to listen, mute your speakers.)Which head is real? photo Towheadsarebetterthanone_zpse9a9416d.jpgThere are many ways and varieties of motivations by which people take up the practice of Krishna bhakti, or any path. Whatever way, and for whatever reason, one turns toward God are all good since we all have to begin somewhere on our spiritual journey. Well, we don’t have to begin anything. However, the premise of the Vedas and many religious texts is that the ultimate purpose of life is not only understanding our true nature as part of God (and our relationship with Him), but includes putting that knowledge into practice by serving God in pure love with our heart and soul.

In regards to the type of people who come to Krishna, there is no specific type, or class, from the worldly point of view. Anyone can take up the path of bhakti, provided they have the “qualification” of having faith in it. There are many gradations of this faith as we’ll discuss. To have faith in bhakti, there has to be some background, or blessings from a saint, or some act of devotional service from this or a previous lifetime, often unconscious (ajnata-sukriti). Observably, externally, we may be born in a devotee family, be attracted to the qualities or looks of the devotees or those in the congregation, or be searching for relief from our suffering; we may love kirtan, the food (prasadam, or mercy), the philosophy, the general spiritual atmosphere, how we feel when we visit, or some combination of reasons with varying mixed motivations. Perhaps we like belonging to a group, being around people from our ethnic background, or are looking for customers for our product or service; or we may be hoping to find a girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse, etc. Regardless of one’s intent, Krishna bhakti is like fire, and it will eventually act.

However, though there are many indirect reasons that bring us to Krishna, at some point one has to consciously choose to embark on it for its own sake, beyond circumstance, convenience, or to fulfill some material purpose. If we are actually a spiritual seeker—or aspire to be—it behooves us to understand what the ultimate goal of the bhakti path is. This will help us get the most out of our time and endeavor by inspiring us to put our heart into the spiritual practices while praying to have the best motivation. This, in turn, will give us a spiritual vision enthusing us for the long term, beyond any fleeting material reasons that initially brought us.

The Importance of Trained Counselors and Mentors

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This last Memorial Day weekend my wife and I attended the 2014 Sadhu Sanga Retreat, located near Boone, NC. Conveniently located only 2 hours plus 15 minutes or so from our house in North Carolina, the retreat center, situated on a high ridge, featured a panoramic view of the surrounding area in a stunning secluded setting. The Vedic style architecture of the facility felt very friendly and appropriate. All the events were held in a spectacularly spacious hall that could comfortably accommodate thousands. While the four day kirtan event was itself enticing for us to attend, we came mainly to promote our Grihastha Vision Team’s [GVT’s] new book, “Heart and Soul Connection”, (which gives tools to improve marital and family relationships) and to invite couples to our September 12-14 couple’s retreat in at Gita Nagari, Pennsylvania.

I talked to many devotees throughout the retreat, selling about 70 books. I spoke to spouses having difficulties in their marriages, and to those devotees who were trying to help couples in their communities but didn’t have the training to really help counsel them. These conversations reminded me of the critical need in our devotional communities for mental health services, couples counseling, and the training of mentor couples. Temple leaders should have basic training as to when to refer devotees with mental health problems to appropriate professionals and have available trained mentors to help couples having marital difficulties.

Remembering My Mom, and My Shortcomings as a Son, on Her Death Anniversary

just after my mom left her body photo 538125508_1902862482_0.jpgMay 20th was my mom's death anniversary. Every year I do my best to post something meaningful to honor her, with the intent to prompt you to think about your relationship with your mother and parents so you can ponder its meaning. How has it affected you, your relationship to others, and your spiritual life? I was a bitter young man for many years until I came to realize that my mom did the best she could, and was struggling in a very abusive relationship. Thus with maturity and knowledge I gradually forgave her for leaving me with my dad--I came to find out that he had threatened to kill both of us if she had tried to get custody. He had a gun and a very bad temper, so it didn't seem an idle threat. As I have shared often, when I became a devotee in 1970 and moved into the temple ashram as a monk, I was not very sensitive and thoughtful in my dealings with my mother. While in the ultimate sense we are souls with nothing to do with the body, we still have to deal with our material life responsibly according to our realization--and this certainly includes being kind and understanding to others who aren't on our path, and/or who raised us.

As a lad of 19 years coming from a shallow understanding of the counterculture of everything young and anti-establishment, I had no common sense, or practical experience. Plus I had no wise devotee elders to soften my fanaticism, but only other very young persons to teach me, who although sincere, didn't have a balanced perspective. In general, the culture at that time in the Krishna movement was very black and white--you either lived in the temple, or you were in illusion (maya), and if you were a devotee you were good, and if not, you were bad and to be avoided. In the beginning while we were trying to gain faith and experience in bhakti, this "all or nothing" attitude had some utility, but for most of us, in the long run it wasn't helpful in our relationships and in dealing with the material world. I would, of course, do things much differently now if I could live my life over, but what was done can't be changed. Still, for future generations I write much about my mistakes and immaturity with the hope of educating others.

As an interesting aside, this last weekend my wife and I performed a wedding, and met the parents of the bride and groom. Plus many children and their parents attended,

A Mixed Bag of Material and Spiritual Tendencies

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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 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 experienced, mature teachers can be so valuable. Personally, I continually return to my spiritual roots to deal with the ups and downs of life. I do my best to be spiritually fixed, but if I am unable to, I still feel a hand helping me up if I extend mine up to accept assistance. I am on the path for the long haul and know I need help to stay the course.

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