Karnamrita.das's blog

It Was Only a Test

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From my youth during the 60’s I remember tests of the Emergency Broadcasting System on TV, where the regular programing was interrupted. A certain symbol was flashed on the screen with a jarring sound to wake you up and get your attention. After a few minutes, we were told that that this was only a test. If there had been a real emergency we would have been given appropriate instructions—like to go to bomb shelter or something. I thought about this idea of tests and being prepared—or not—for personal emergencies in relationship to my wife and my current illness of about a week now.

I have been thinking that this flu, or whatever respiratory infection it is, is only a test, not a nuclear attack, or earthquake—something that may cause death (which is like our lifetime’s final exam—because our consciousness, attachments, and good or bad actions determine our next birth). If I am still alive, that means I have more time left to be Krishna conscious or to go deeper into my spiritual path. No, our illness likely isn’t life threatening, though still plenty miserable. However, at some point in the near future, we will have to move on and out of our current bodily apartment—we are renters here, not owners. Had I died yesterday, save some special arrangement, I would be taking birth again still full of anarthas (unwanted mentalities or habits) and petty desires.
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So my lack of spiritual standing is sobering, but mainly when confronted with the possibility of my death at this moment—which is one reason we are meant to keep death—or the temporariness of our body—before our eyes! Otherwise, hey, I could live another 20 or 30 years, so no worries Mate, still plenty of time for spiritual progress, mañana! Could I use this as a new lease on the remaining days of my life? That would be a great outcome of feeling crappy. Still, I have to choose that outcome, as we tend to forget, getting absorbed in our regular life, job, and family.

Is Happiness a Choice? Part 1 & 2

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Part 1
In the midst of my sneezing and a hacking cough this morning I discovered a fantastically beautiful sunrise—breathtakingly inspiring for me—when I went downstairs to wake our home Deities. These days I am very taken by the natural world, the sunrise and sunset, phases of the moon, and my favorite for super variety, the ever-changing clouds. These daily occurrences are often missed in our hectic world, and thus it is no wonder that people are ever more depressed and lonely, feeling the cities are like a fast paced void. Behind Nature, and within it (and our hearts), is the Presence of the Almighty, patiently waiting for us to turn to him.

And when we are in the peace that nature can afford (if we can turn off our phone) we can feel closer to the Source of Everything, who for Gaudiya Vaishnavas, is the charming, extraordinarily gorgeous, irresistible flute player and cowherd, Shri Krishna. So I felt inspired and happy in the midst of a distressful condition—which gives a clue on how to be happy. This is the opening for today’s topic on happiness.

My wife and I gave a class last week titled, "Is Happiness a Choice?" guided by the 14th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita on the three modes, or qualities, that govern the material world. Our answer to this question was a conditional yes, since happiness is really an attitude toward life, and not the result of our material adjustments or attainments. Another way of thinking of happiness is that it is not a “thing” but a by-product of a state of consciousness. Thus we might reframe the question to read, “What state of mind is required to choose to be happy?”

From a higher spiritual perspective, one of the qualities of the soul is happiness, so the closer we come to the spiritual platform, the more joy we will naturally feel, and the less we will be searching for happiness in the world of ephemeral things. The potentiality of material goodness (sattva) is that it is the portal, or gateway, to the soul, since it can bring wisdom and spiritual illumination. The downside of material goodness—and all material qualities or things have shortcomings—is that one can become attached to being a happy, virtuous, and wise person, and remain materially bound.

Discovering and Using our Gifts--the Fruit of Inner Work and Prayer

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This blog is a continuation of the last two about undercurrents in groups and for each of us, personally. In a sense the fruit of dealing with our personal undercurrent, or unresolved life issues, is discovering and sharing our gifts, and the joy and fulfillment that ensue.

Many of us feel that being a soul in a physical embodiment is a strange combination. So strange in fact that some people, even without any spiritual awareness, have the experience of feeling they don't fit into the world, or are depressed for no apparent reason. A few of us have taken this angst as an impetus to search for the meaning of life beyond the status quo, finding the spiritual quest as the solution. I understand though, that being on the spiritual journey doesn't mean to deny the physical, or to just live our life waiting to transcend—as I did for many years as a single monastic (brahmacari). Awakening to our spiritual nature requires being fully present in the world and understanding our unique contribution to the family of the Earth while focusing on our Source through spiritual practice.

There are many dimensions to life. My feeling of emptiness and depression with the world led me to begin my spiritual quest. This search inspired me to regularly visit and live in the redwood forest, observe Nature, and read spiritual books. That led me to Krishna and I lived a spiritually focused life in various temples around the world for 12 years or so. That was good for me and gave me standing in, and a taste for, bhakti. Then I came to another dissatisfaction, or inner prompting, which led me to the journey of interfacing with the world and understanding that I was out of balance with my material self; I had to attend to what I would come to understand as my life lessons and "karmic mission."
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Both our spiritual practice and understanding what we need to do in the world are essential. It is better to live in the world near devotees hankering for our spiritual ideal (Krishna Consciousness), then to live in a temple, hankering for material facilities and wondering what is wrong.

Our Personal Undercurrent—And What We Can Do About It!

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As I was working on last week’s blog about undercurrents in communities, I also thought about a related, important topic concerning our personal undercurrent, and how that affects our life, relationships, and whatever groups we are part of—such as family, school, occupation, and religious organization. I did bring up the subject, without naming it, when I spoke about how devotee’s unresolved “life issues” or undiagnosed mental health problems can create difficulies in any group they are part of. However, that was about “them,”—you know, those “other” devotees that cause all the problems—and I wasn’t specifically addressing you, that saintly person who never causes any conflicts. (Smile!) Many “you’s” make up any group, and each person has an effect on the whole. We must soberly consider that we can’t change others, but only ourselves—and that with great difficulty and endeavor. Never the less, changing for the better, within and without, is our most important work in life, and specifically for those on the path of loving devotional service to Krishna, or our conception of Divinity.

If we are in a leadership position, we can carefully and lovingly point out problem areas we observe in others, or if serious enough, recommend they seek professional help. Ultimately each person has to accept their shortcoming and see the value of working toward improvement. Taking personal responsibility for relationship conflicts is the first step, combined with a willingness to do the difficult work of introspection and self-examination. I have written before about our “shadow” side, or those disowned or repressed parts of our psyche, that we don’t want to accept or deal with. “Undercurrent” is another way to label those problematic parts of ourselves and encourage everyone, in addition to spiritual practice, to be engaged in self-improvement and developing less reactionary ways of dealing with others. The principle to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” applies if we are to minimize our problems with others, and be a positive force in our family and/or community!

The Negative Undercurrent in Communities—Acknowledging and Dealing with Relationship Conflicts

((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.) photo 1317543852_sibling_bickering2_xlarg_zps14654503.jpgWhen good communication and regular appreciation aren’t shared there is bound to be an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, or worse, even feelings of anger and resentment. In a particular sanga, or group of devotees, the individuals have strengths and shortcomings, but if we become a harmonious team we help encourage one another in our personal growth and devotional goals; where one person falls short, another can provide that skill or need. An uplifting transcendent atmosphere based on good will, mutual respect, affection, and devotion, creates synergy and forward motion in spiritual progress, helping us deal with interpersonal conflicts which are bound to exist. In a sense the way we deal with difficulties or problems defines our success or failure, as that can really test our resolve to work together, or merely defend ourselves and criticize. By not ignoring challenges—which is often the easiest thing to do—but by working together to turn problems into service opportunities, we become stronger as individuals and as a group.

I have seen how open communication is complicated when one or more devotees have major unresolved life issues or undiagnosed mental health problems. At the same time even those with average mental health can have blind spots and emotional wounds that can be triggered by certain people. This fact brings up of the need, as I have frequently shared before, for trained devotee counselors who are also advanced devotees. We need competent mediators or counselors to help discover hidden or ignored conflicts and to resolve interpersonal problems—some way to assess the spiritual health of the group or community.

Taking Advantage of Sadhu Sanga (Saintly Association)

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To help facilitate a Bhagavad Gita class or to put the Radha-Krishna Deities (Radha-Kanayalal) to rest at our country temple, I have been walking the 8 minutes there from our home, almost every evening for the last 2 years. I walk in all kinds of weather in both the light and warmth of summer, or the darkness and coldness of winter. It is the dark moon now, and except for the stars and ambient light from a few houses, the road is dark, but not unfriendly. In these dark conditions one’s eyes become accustomed to seeing in all but pitch black conditions when the sky is overcast. I look up at the stars and down at my white dhoti to get my bearings. A staff also helps guide me as I sometimes feel my way. Although I carry I flash light, I rarely use it.

As you know, due to the quieter conditions in the evening, sounds are much amplified. So as I walk I clearly hear my footsteps on the gravel road, punctuated by my large staff. The walk to and from the temple is a very simple activity, and yet it seems very primal, and full of meaning, as it is service related, and a time for contemplation on myself as Krishna’s servant. In general, living in a peaceful country environment helps one slow down and be more thoughtful. I often sing as I walk, or think of some point of philosophy. Since over the last two months we have had the opportunity to participate in sadhu-sanga at different locations, this evening, I considered the importance of saintly association, and thought of writing about it.

Realizing Our Personal Life Adventure--Part 1 and 2

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Today has brought beautiful fall weather, with a cold morning, and now a warm—but not hot—day at 12 noon. I sit on the deck under a bright cloudless sky and appreciate the wonder of Krishna’s material energy, and his many blessings to me, pondering what is on my mind to share with you. I have been reading some fantasy and adventure novels to imagine what I might do with a book idea that has been percolating within me for quite a while now. This has been a useful exercise that has given me hope that I can write a novel meant for teaching about life and spirituality. Though I read many acclaimed books in their genre, I haven’t been very satisfied with them. Even when the characters, or the story line, are interesting and can hold my attention—and some don’t—I still feel sorry for want of a spiritual theme. Only occasionally God is mentioned, and usually not as a guiding principle of life.

Sometimes I think: “All that invested time for this ending?” or there is no ending, but just a lead-in to the next volume. To me, other than in devotional literature, I find there is little of specific spiritual merit, or personal benefit other than “entertainment,” or at best some moral message or social commentary. That has value, but is never enough for me, as a person concerned with meaning and purpose in everything. Yes, there are spiritually themed books which can inspire readers, but at this stage of the writing project, I have avoided them for contrast, and this endeavor has borne fruit, albeit, in ways I never imagined.

From my readings I became curious why we feel compelled to seek out entertainment and adventure—while I was reminded of my attraction for adventure stories and the search for treasure, especially of the mystical variety. In a general sense what we have intense attraction to, or interest in, gives us hints as to an important aspect of our life direction. Part of the work of the spiritual aspirant is to make whatever we want or yearn for, part of our spiritual/Krishna conscious /yogic practice. Some spiritual paths shun all attachments and action, but in bhakti, we use our attachments and inclinations in relation to service to Krishna, and in that way purify them. Otherwise we may be diverted from self-realization by our unfulfilled natural propensities or inner conditioned compass.

Choosing our Focus in The World of Duality—Is it Terrible or Wonderful, Horrible or Beautiful?

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As my wife and I were preparing for a couple’s retreat we helped facilitate in Gita-nagari, Pennsylvania, last weekend, events conspired on our street to graphically demonstrate to me the importance of what we were teaching. I find that the power of focus often attracts lessons to demonstrate what we are thinking about, especially if we are teaching it. One important point in this blog is that what we focus on increases in power—like attracts like—whether we’re looking for the good or bad in the world, or in other people. Although I don’t share here exactly what we taught in our workshop, I speak in general about the importance of personal growth work—or the importance of self-examination and seeing our life issues clearly in order to spiritually advance and be the best person we can.

There are problems in the outer world and problems in our inner world. Both are important to deal with, though of the two, improving and purifying our inner landscape is most important, as it will help us in whatever work or service we do externally. The world reflects the consciousness of the people in it. We change the world one person at a time, and it always begins with ourselves. Thus if we improve the world, or our neighborhood, but don’t improve ourselves, our work is incomplete. Many persons and groups understand and teach this. The personal growth people who appear focused on material prosperity have taught me that it isn’t what one accomplishes, or how much money one accumulates, that is most important, but who we become in the process. Another way to say this is that in the pursuit of our life work or favorite cause, are we becoming more loving, kind, compassionate, and wise? What we keep in our heart, is what defines us, who we are, and who we become. Or, as the Bible teaches, “What profiteth a man if he gains the whole world yet suffers the loss of his eternal soul?”

Our Own Worst Enemy

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Stuck in an airport with a delayed flight I struck up a conversation with a business person:
“You want to know a secret?’
“I’ll take that as a yes. You are often your own worst enemy.”
Getting his attention, he turned toward me and said: “I think many people know this.”
“True, but there is another part to this secret: Most people don’t do anything about this, and aren’t motivated to change, or believe they can.”
Reaching into my computer case I take out some writing I did.
“What papers do you have there?”
“I wrote a blog on the topic of being our worst enemy, and what to do about it…want to read it?”
“Sure, looks like we have a few hours to kill, and besides, [the clincher, I guess] the Wi-Fi is down.”
“Let me know what you think.”

Our Own Worst Enemy

As I was thinking of the topic for this blog I found a graphic illustration to demonstrate what I wanted to say. Every week I go shopping to pick up organic veggies at a garden supply shop about 20 minutes from here. Sometimes there is a beautiful, young, though full grown, German Sheppard dog. Though he used to lazily lie around the shop, and then come closer wagging his tail to get petted, now he has taken up the startling, and for some, frightening, habit of barking loudly at shoppers—which hasn’t been real good for business. As a result he is now kept in a cage in the corner.

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.

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