Karnamrita.das's blog

Couple's Retreat in Gita Nagari October 2-4, 2015

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The Grihastha Vision is hosting its 3rd annual Couple’s Retreat, October 2nd to 4th 2015, at the Gita Nagari farm. Married and engaged couples are encouraged to attend who would like to deepen their connection to one another and to their spiritual practices. This is a special opportunity to nurture your relationship in a lovely country setting and spiritual environment with other couples similarly focused.

Struggling with Attentive Japa with a Practice to Improve Chanting

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Part I

Many devotees struggle with chanting on their beads (japa). Some devotees make a big endeavor to come to the standard of chanting 16 rounds with the goal of initiation, and then after initiation, find it too much work, and give it up. While I have been steady at my chanting since I took it up—which I consider has kept me a devotee—I can't say it has often been of a very good quality. At times it has been very challenging to continue the practice—yet I did.

Lately, I have been going deeper with my chanting by daily setting the intention to actually hear, and to chant purely, while endeavoring to be present to hear one mantra, or concentrating on one bead, at a time, and praying constantly for help. I must say this has made a startling improvement in my experience, though it takes continual effort, and my focus comes and goes. I had a very profound experience of this as I prepared for a wedding talk I recently blogged about, and I am continuing to build on that.

I think we forget, or don't know, what chanting is, that it's a prayer to make spiritual progress by taking full shelter of the Lord, like a child crying for its mother—an absolute feeling of dependence and seeking shelter. We are offering our heart and soul to Krishna. We are his and praying to remember. To facilitate this, I have made an experiment, by taking my beads out of my beadbag, so I can see one bead, and focus on hearing one mantra, one holy name, one syllable, at a time as I chant and pray on each bead: Let me hear, let me go deeper, let me glorify you dear Lord, etc. Try it!

This is our special, private time with Krishna. Just you and Krishna--and your mind, and desires, and sometimes those anarthas (unwanted habits) that bubble up into our consciousness. Not always pretty, but that is our spiritual work, and what we pray to have removed. So this is an essential practice, and one of activities we vow to do when we are initiated by a guru. For you kirtaneers, this practice of focused, mindful, prayerful japa, will greatly help your quality and presence in kirtan—japa and kirtan are like brother and sister, though for most devotees, japa is more difficult. We are in great need of the Lord's mercy, and in order to do this type of intense chanting, we have to remember this fact. Otherwise we will just try to get the rounds done so we can do other things.

Seven Marriage Tips--Aided by Humility, Tolerance, and Respect

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As an introduction to the Seven Marital tips, I would like to suggest the essential concept of the “trinad api marriage” (which my wife and I are teaching in the 3rd Annual Couple’s Retreat in October in Gita-nagari PA as part of the Grihastha Vision Team effort.) This is a relationship based on mutual humility, tolerance, and respect and is the spiritual basis for a successful marriage. All the other marriage tips that follow can be seen to revolve around this verse spoken by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. “One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor but is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord [or remain in a happy, spiritually vibrant, marriage throughout their lives.]

All devotees are recommended to wear this verse around their neck. In a similar way my wife and I recommend that all married couples wear this verse around their necks and think of how to apply it in their marriage, in their life, and in devotional activities. In a marriage we honor and respect one another as devotees (or as souls) and do our best to see to the ultimate welfare of our spouse and family according to their nature. Love and trust, given not only by Shrila Prabhupada but by many marriage authorities, are important qualities for long lasting, fulfilling, relationships. For this discussion, I would add that love and trust come from each person practicing the qualities of humility, tolerance, and respect. These qualities give life to our spiritual practices and marriage. Please keep this in mind as you hear the following simple, though profound, marital tips.

Tip 1: Be committed to personal growth work and the inner vision it fosters in order to become the best person you can. In the process of self-study, understand your life issues and how they can trigger reactionary conflicts in your relationships. Learn to be introspective and observe yourself, understanding both your attractions and repulsions. If you have negative emotional reactions toward certain persons, ask yourself why, and find help if required. Be open to discovering and letting go of those parts of your conditioning that are unfavorable for having happy, healthy, relationships. In short, “Know thyself,” (the age old recommendation) or your strengths and weaknesses, and strive to improve. We are always students of ourselves and on our spiritual journey. We have found studying the Enneagram a very helpful tool in both understanding ourselves and in others.

The Power of Intention, Being Present, and Prayer Part 1 & 2

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Part 1
[The following was a talk I prepared to give at a recent wedding at the Bhakti Center in NYC. It is a summary of what came to me during a 3 week period before the ceremony in the early morning. I chanted and prayed with the intense focus of speaking not just information, but truth that could be applied. As it turned out I had a profound experience which demonstrated the power of intention, being present, and in prayer. As a result I could write and speak about these topics with conviction and realization.] My wife and I have been entrusted to be the hosts or master of ceremonies of this wedding. We are more comfortable being facilitators, as we often are in workshops, rather than “masters.”

After meditating on the deeper meaning of our role, I came to the conclusion that my wife and my real function is to “hold the energy of this ceremony,” if you are familiar with this expression. I am a firm believer in the importance of setting intentions for each day, and every endeavor we make, so I would like to suggest to you that we share this intention of holding the energy of the wedding by offering our prayers and blessings throughout the ceremony. Thus, in addition to being a witness of this joyous celebration, please also make an intention to be a participant, by praying and giving your blessings throughout the ceremony, to help with the best possible outcome.

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We are actually an intentional community, though a temporary one, of shared purpose, consisting of our combined energy. To do this requires we are all as present as possible, or we could say that we must practice mindfulness, using this as a way to focus our mind on prayer and giving blessings. I like to ask myself at different times: Am I fully present? So I ask you to ask this question to yourself during the ceremony, and if you feel you are not present, to regroup, and pray to be present. You can also try a process I will give toward the end of my talk.

When Devotees Leave Krishna

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Sometimes we experience great surprise and intense sadness at the unexpected departure from the bhakti path of a devotee we may have been inspired by or respected. Or even if the devotee struggled to follow the basic devotional practices and disciplines, we can still be unnerved when they leave, and then denounce and attack what is still our faith, reinterpreting their stay in an ashram in terms of cultic manipulation and brainwashing. “What really happened?” me may wonder, and how could I have helped prevent this? Sometimes in the aftermath of such a sudden departure, some devotees worry and wonder if it could happen to them, as it brings up their own doubts. This scenario recently happened in a circle of devotees I know, and it caused me to reflect on what it takes to stay on the path, and the various reasons people leave.

When I was a new devotee I experienced one of my friends leave the temple. I didn’t see him again for three weeks until he came to the Sunday feast. Though I recognized him, I was startled to see his expression. He looked like a shadow of his former self when he had a bright faced countenance. Now he had a dark gloomy appearance and seemed unfocused and dazed. I wondered what had brought this about, as if he had just entered a self-created prison.

An Example of What’s Wrong with Modern Medicine

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When we are sick and not getting better we may imagine going to some kind of medical professional who is knowledgeable, compassionate, and knows something about our medical history—even about us personally. Today this seems more of a fantasy we cling to, or hope to encounter if we have a lot of money to spend for the best care available.

Some months ago I visited a clinic in the next county, as this was recently given to me by my new medical insurance. During and after this experience, I had firsthand experience of is wrong with the American medical system. Let me recount:

Walking through the door to the desk, a sign informs me that I need to sign in. After doing so, I look up at the busy workers behind the counter, hoping someone will notice me. The minutes tic off and I wonder if I am invisible. Closest to me are two ladies busily engaged, one on the phone, and another on the computer. Behind them are 3 other women busy with conversation, and behind them are 2 other ladies with their back toward me, busy with data entry. No one notices me. After about 8 minutes I am checked in and told to take my seat and wait for my name to be called.

In the building directory two doctors and nine nurses are listed with various titles. In the front office I counted nine office staff and there must be more inside. I wonder what the payroll is for all these employees.

Narada’s Previous Life Demonstrates His Dependence on Krishna

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[Originally published on July 24th, 2012](The final installment of the 3 part series.) One of my favorite accounts in Shrimad Bhagavatam is Narada’s sharing of his previous life with Vyasadeva in the first Canto. This volume was all of the SB that was published when I became a devotee, and I have read it more than any other passage. Still, even with whole 12 Cantos of SB in print, I still find this story very inspiring. I like biographies anyway, and “coming to Krishna” stories are especially interesting and relevant to sadhakas (practicing devotees of Krishna). Although Narada is an eternally perfected devotee, he still has this aspect of his life as a way to teach us about the essential importance of Vaishnava blessings and association to jump start our spiritual lives. Narada embarks on the pilgrim’s journey to attain spiritual perfection, and he seems like one of us as he faces a personal tragedy which catapults him toward Krishna. We read how he depended on Krishna in all circumstances and was not independent in his endeavor to successfully meditate, but had to abide by Krishna’s timing for perfection.

True Independence Comes from Dependence on Krishna Part 2--False and Real Independence Taught by Ajamila

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[Originally published on July 14th, 2012]After setting the mood with six verses and excerpts from Shrila Prabhupada’s purports in part one, in the next two blogs, I will do my best to unpack some of those ideas through appropriate stories from the Shrimad Bhagavatam. The foundational understanding to gain the most from this, or any Krishna centered talk or writing, is that our lasting identity is spiritual—we are eternal awareness, or a particle of consciousness imbued with the serving tendency. Presently, by identifying ourselves with the material body and mind and their attachments, we are forced to serve the needs of physical survival, and are also led to fulfill our desires for enjoyment and accomplishment. By conditioning, we think fulfilling our personal desires is freedom, yet our proclivity to be attracted to specific material tastes is relative to the type of body and mind we have—not to our spiritual selves, or who we truly are. We are the perceiver or animator of the body, but have a different nature than we are currently identifying with.

True Independence Comes from Dependence on Krishna

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[first published on July 8th, 2012]Since "Independence Day" in the USA was is July 4th, I gave a class about the idea of real independence from a spiritual perspective. I will share some of the points I made in this and a second blog. To begin with, material "independence" is an illusion based on our forgetfulness of our spiritual nature. Since we are tiny parts of Krishna, our normal condition is to be under a superior shelter. Therefore, we can only work under the power of His energies, either consciously through bhakti (internal superior energy), or unconsciously through the modes of material nature (separated inferior energy).

Spiritual dependence is the true reality and secret for peace, happiness, and fulfillment. Real independence comes from total dependence on Krishna by seeing Him as the Supreme Source of everything in our lives and the world. Krishna is the supreme proprietor, enjoyer, and dear-most friend of all. I explain these points through six verses from the Gita with some of Prabhupada’s purports and then I ran out of my allotted words, so I will give practical examples by sharing spiritual narrations from the Shrimad Bhagavatam in my next blog. I then end with some prayers from Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur that speak of how to practice seeing Krishna as our supreme maintainer and protector.

Date with Destiny--Saved from Death--Enlightened by a Deer

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 photo 11055331_10205628611428053_2405937437644898940_o_zpso1lbxysi.jpg[Reposting from yesterday a fictional retelling of an event I just experienced] Thursday is shopping and errand day when I travel a radius of about 20 miles to purchase some organic vegetables, dump garbage, occasionally give away stuff at the Goodwill, and take care whatever else needs to done in nearby, exciting Sandy Ridge—like go to the bank or post office. As I was driving away from the bank, I thought that this had been a normal day for me. Rising at 4:30 AM, I began by reading some of Yamuna Devi’s biography and then Shrimad Bhagavatam. As often happens, time seems to shoot by and I have to rush to take my shower and prepare to wake the Deities, and begin my japa, or personal chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra on beads.

By 6AM I was chanting. My wife joins me between 6 and 7. This morning I was happy to have almost finished my quota of “rounds” on my beads by 8 AM. At that time I begin the breakfast offering as part of my worship, and then bathe my Shilas, or sacred stone manifestations of Krishna. At slightly after 9, my wife and I honor the Lord’s prasadam or the food which has been prepared for our Deity’s pleasure, though according to our necessity and diet, while we get some morning sun on our deck. Then more reading, finishing my chanting, emails, making a few posts, and it is time to leave for my outing. Today I had to leave earlier than usual since the store I buy the organic produce at was closing early.

On the open road the sun was brightly shining with those beautiful, white puffy clouds, gently moving across the sky that inspire me so much. Another typical hot summer day. I was thinking about the fact that while I pray to be free from my anarthas or unwanted mentalities or attachments, sometimes my mind would like to have them. We have so many parts of our conditioned identity. While ideally we remain in our best or core self in the mood of goodness, sometimes our parts take a primary voice and role in our life and we may do, or at least think about doing, what isn’t helpful for our spiritual progress, even degrading.

As I was lamenting this fact in myself, I heard a loud thud, and saw a deer to my right that was obviously the cause of the sound, being hit by my car.

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