Karnamrita.das's blog

Reflections at a Wedding Reception: How Bhakti Adapts to Every Generation's Needs

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[Gaurangi Priya Gopal photo credit above]

On New Year’s Day my wife and I drove two hours to the Hillsborough NC temple to attend a wedding reception for a new couple, Amala Harinam and Nadiya Mani Darling. Amala, who we have known for years, is the brother of a dear friend (Gaurangi Priya), and we are also close with their parents, so we really desired to go. The actual wedding took place a while back in England (since Nadiya is British), but they wanted to have something in the US for Amala’s friends who grew up with him, or have known him over the years. The previous day was a 12 hour kirtana. This was a fitting way to prepare for the reception since both husband and wife are accomplished kirtaneers. The reception turned out to be an event we were grateful to have attended. It consisted of a Temple arotik, a video condensing the 6 hour wedding into 45 minutes (yeah!), a short talk, blessings and marital advice from the assembled devotees, a play, and dance--which was a fitting crescendo to the reception activities. After that a delicious feast was served which many in the wedding family labored hard to prepare.

Thinking of how many of our second generation devotees (our children) are involved in a kirtan revival due to the popularity of kirtan in the Yoga world, I reflected that the Hare Krishna movement was birthed by profuse chanting of the holy name on streets throughout the world. Thus it would seem we are going full circle, though with a different flavor. The early days of Prabhupada’s movement were a time of low temple overheads, simplicity, natural humility, and a focus on chanting Hare Krishna in sankirtan (group chanting). I first encountered devotees when they were chanting in San Francisco at Market and Powell streets, which became known as the “Krishna corner.” Although I initially thought devotees were strange with their shaved heads and flowing robes, after my life transformed a few years later, I became attracted to the idea of becoming a monk in some tradition.

Part 2—The Interior Castle and Part 3—Saved From Quicksand

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Part 2—The Interior Castle

We want the same things:
to be loved, understood, valued
it’s only a question of degree—
are we spiritually/psychologically healthy
satisfied in sadhana and who we are,
or needy from a dysfunctional past
meeting intense cravings unhealthily
unable to uncover the soul’s joy in service?

Desiring to share our inner life
to be accepted for our dreams, even darkness
but prevented by mutual walls and ramparts

Part 1. Introduction to Completion—Where and When Does a Circle/Cycle Begin?

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Writing about it
Every time I write about writing, I think of adding, "although I have already written too much about writing". Yet today, I have a different angle of vision. I'm thinking that it is natural to speak about what we are preoccupied with. Can we write too much about life, death, or spiritual practice? I think not, and still, I feel somewhat apologetic for writing so much about writing as if I have justify it to my readers. Whatever my writing is, good, bad, or mediocre, I write on topics that capture my interest and attention, that I feel inspiration for, and that I pray may be of some use to you on your life's journey of awakening. I have broken this off from a much longer poem, that is now in 3 parts, which perhaps is kinder to you, or at least is more focused.

The blank page beckons
inspiration’s door opens a crack
will it open wide or crash shut?
giving uncertainly whether to begin—
so I pray to the Source of all, learning:
endeavor & grace create possibilities
faithful effort always bears fruit
the poem reveals itself to openness.

Searching for Our Authentic Story—The Holy Grail of the Seekers Quest

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Each person is a walking story—or many stories walking, or blending together. We could think of our combined story like a painting built of layers, upon layers of mixed colors, creating something totally new, and yet the result of what has gone before. Our current life’s narrative is informed and in response to past stories, both our foundational background of growing up, and how we have adapted that story to various stages of our development, leading up to our sense of “now.” Our current now becomes our forthcoming story and is the intersection between the past and future. This is important to consider from the spiritual perspective because our identification with our material story defines us, covering our soul, and keeps us building new stories, or looking for others more appealing.

Think of how you define yourself. Isn’t a big part “who you think you are” your personal story, or the past emotional drama that has created the lens you use to see, or sense, the world? Although our previous lives have scripted our current story (our parents and others are instruments of our karma), we have to deal with our current life’s manifestation of that past karma, and live in present. While it is true that we may have to look back to resolve certain life issues or relationships, our main focus should always be in the present, informed by our spiritual goal. This means that everyone is responsible for their present actions, regardless of karmic inherited tendencies. Otherwise we can always blame the past, cruel fate, or someone else, and be powerless to change, or move forward. Ultimately the problem and solution to all problems is within us. We can choose what story we allow to define us and what story we aspire to be part of spiritually, or everlastingly.

And Then You Die...(Imagining the World Through the Eyes of Illness)

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I began this blog with the first part of the title before I contacted an “industrial strength” flu, which then gave me illness eyes to emote through. Practically our entire community received this illness gift from a visiting sadhu, and many of us have been under the weather for 12 days or more. In any case, I have combined the two blog ideas since they are related. In other blogs (included in my book Give to Live) I have spoken about the positive and negative impetus for practicing bhakti. While today’s title emphasizes the negative, it is within the context of a positive, spiritual, worldview and an understanding of the blissful nature of the soul engaged in loving service to Krishna. Until we are self-realized devotees of Krishna, we have to continually be reminded about the shortcomings of the material world and the fallacy of trying to enjoy our senses. Why? Since we are all addicted to pleasuring our senses and material conceptions, we often have a difficult time breaking these bad habits. However, we can apply the adage, “Repetition is the mother of skill,” and gradually find our spiritual footing.

In this spirit, the statement, “and then you die,” can be added to any ordinary material activity or accomplishment in order to put life into a spiritual context. In other words, from the perspective of the eternality of the soul, how much value does a particular action or achievement have? Reading the obituary column is interesting from this perspective, since often the authors of the “accomplishments” of the so-called deceased, make quite a stretch in their praise, like looking for straws--at least it seems this way to me. If we were merely a temporary conglomeration of chemicals, then yeah, such narratives would be important, since that would be all there was to a person’s existence. One life and then you die—end of story! And even if, from a worldly or religious perspective, they are significant milestones, or extraordinary achievements, how much difference do they make spiritually? To me, that is the fundamental question to be asked in thinking of a person's, or our own, life. We all have things we feel compelled to do, and yet, as aspiring devotees, the art is to connect them to Krishna. As souls with a spiritual purpose to wake up from our conditioned dream, the only thing that truly matters is our real lasting enlightened self in a relationship of loving service to our Source, God, or Krishna.

The Quest for Power over Things and Others

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Proud of our body
Superior soul energy lives within
animating matter’s lower vibration
being naturally unfulfilled in a body
driven to search for fulfillment

Oblivious to its real nature
looking without instead of within
trying to be somebody special
in a fool’s make-believe paradise

Covered by illusion’s dictates
trying to be pleasured
repeating the hackneyed routine
avoiding pain by numbing

Govardhana Puja as "Super" Thanksgiving—Much More than Shopping!

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This year Govardhan puja and the secular (slightly religious) holiday of Thanksgiving (in the USA), are celebrated during the same month, and are only days apart due to the Vedic extra month coming in autumn. Although it must have occurred before, this is the first time I remember this happening. As a result of this unusual juxtaposition, I have naturally compared the spirit of both days. While there is some similarity with the idea of giving thanks for the bounty of the Earth in a very basic, down to earth way, Govardhan puja also has a deep philosophical meaning.

Conventional thinking about religion merely colors our human life with a Godly brush, rather than placing God in the center by endeavoring to love, serve, and please Him on His terms as the goal of life. Thus, the tendency of ordinary religionists is to see God as the order supplier and giving thanks when our desires are fulfilled, is a bit one-dimensional and problematic. When the good times roll, and we have an abundance of stuff, or things to consume, with ideal conditions in which to be peaceful, happy, and enjoy material prosperity, then God is good. However, such persons can be greatly challenged when it “rains on their parade,” or their home, job, possessions, family or nation, etc., are destroyed or damaged, or killed or injured. They may question why God is “doing this to them,” not having knowledge that the nature of the world, being an artificial plane for the soul, is problematic and unnaturally temporary for the eternal soul.

Others are able to tolerate reverses or problems—or these days, trying to be a martyr in response—with the promise of a future happy afterlife in heaven. This is still promoting the same materialistic perspective of seeing this world as meant for material enjoyment, just putting it off for a while.

Thoughts on Shrila Prabhupada’s Disappearance Day

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PhotobucketOn Prabhupada’s disappearance day, so many thoughts, remembrances, and feelings are washing over me. Looking back at my spiritual foundation and roots; reassessing my present consciousness, and looking toward my highest spiritual ideal. I think of my whole life, and how, as a dissatisfied youth (even though I have shared this many times here, it expresses how I was upliftend from what appeared to be almost a non-exisitence--we have to always remember where we were before we took up the path of bhakti), I was driven to a spiritual search. There was no evidence of any inkling of this tendency as a child and teenager. In retrospect, my life was rather blah, but I had no frame of reference at that time to really see it in perspective, and yet at a certain point, in conjunction with the youth movement of the 60’s which impelled me to drop out of the status quo, I felt adrift in a vast impersonal ocean. This was Krishna’s arrangement to facilitate the reawakening of my previous life’s unfinished spiritual journey. Before this time my life seemed pointless and shallow. Looking ahead at my potential, I couldn’t imagine going forward without any real meaning in life. I was acutely aware of something missing—and it wasn’t small, but major, foundational, the basis for my existence.

Nature seemed the only thing that made sense, and I saw that modern culture and its people were divorced from what I saw as their roots in the natural world of forests, stars, sun, moon, and the seasons—manifestations of the Sustaining principle in the Universe. This was something I had never considered before as I went through the motions of growing up, and now, by some force of destiny, I felt adrift in vast sea of pointlessness. I began looking for a compass to find my bearings.

Being Run Over by Time or Keeping our Head Amidst the Tempest

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Uncontrollable time

Two weeks have passed since my last blog. During this time, I have reflected on the illusive, uncontrollable (though we try to use it) nature of time, of which life, as we known it, is inextricably intertwined. Hopefully we will be drawn to question the force of natural laws on us, and think of their purpose, and controller—the Law Maker. We have our individual life’s timing for significant or insignificant events—sometimes lethargy or stagnation—and then the larger field of our immediate surroundings, our country, and the whole planet, all of which can influence our decisions and how we go about things. We may feel like we are in a stagnant pool, going nowhere fast, or being diminished daily, while at other times we seem to be swept away by events much larger than ourselves or our family concerns. For Gaudiya Vaishnavas, the chaos that may surround and seem to threaten us, points to the lasting spiritual peace within, and the love of the soul for Krishna which enlivens us. Thus the blessing of upheaval or problems can be a motivation for spiritual practice. Life in the material world is always uncertain and changing, like unstable shifting sand, and still we try to avoid, or find shelter from this truth. Firm ground is the soul and its relationship to God.

Thoughts About Consciousness, While Being Present in the Moment

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Airborn
When we see our life as a part of the greater cosmos, individual, but always in relationship to both the world, and the consciousness that animates it, we find important lessons everywhere and clues pointing to our Source. In North Carolina, on the East Coast of the USA, we are presently in full blown autumn. Changes in Nature are a frequent source of thoughtful reflections by writers and philosophers, and autumn is an interesting juncture between two very different seasons, summer and winter. Autumn is harvest time for some crops, so it is natural to think of this time of year in terms of what we are harvesting in our life, both in the immediate present, and in the larger picture of a lifetime. This season is also unpredictable in regards to the weather and may fluctuate 50 degrees in a single day, so we might see this as an opportunity to go within to find the everlasting principle which brings about these changes, and yet is changeless. If we are interested in spiritual growth, transformation, and a rebirth, we are taught to shed our old ways of thinking—like the leaves falling—to make way for luxurious growth—in the spring.

As I sit on our deck I listen to the soothing swishing, and watch the gentle flight actions, of the wind with the leaves—one of my favorite experiences in Nature. During the autumn the wind carries the special sound of crisp leaves blowing, falling, and rustling on the ground. As the wind escorts the leaves from up to down, so we are carried by the unseen hand of destiny, which gives both welcome and regrettable changes. Nature’s effects are endlessly mutable, plastic, and changeable, while the spiritual consciousness whose laws govern it is constant and unchanging in constitution—yet simultaneously dynamic and blissfully increasing in love. Everyday we have the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of life and our place in the world and Universe, especially if we are familiar with spiritually philosophical texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, which explain how to live in the world for a transcendent purpose. While there are ideal conditions for contemplation, by practice, we can experience a spiritual outlook under any circumstances, whether at work or educational pursuits, amidst family, or what have you. Every person, or every situation, can be our teacher.

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