I could hardly respond, except to thank him. As I sit and quickly type this (my bright red counter beads tell me that I have 14 rounds to go, so I will be signing offline soon) I am still amazed at this unexpected but badly needed guidance. I pray that I don't take it -- or Anuttama Prabhu -- for granted.
a blade of grass
i’m still working on it …
I could hardly respond, except to thank him. As I sit and quickly type this (my bright red counter beads tell me that I have 14 rounds to go, so I will be signing offline soon) I am still amazed at this unexpected but badly needed guidance. I pray that I don't take it -- or Anuttama Prabhu -- for granted.
Christmas 2006: We had dinner at Veggie Heaven, our favorite Chinese vegetarian restaurant in Teaneck, NJ, and then went to the nearby movie theater to watch "Fast Food Nation." Teaneck is a very Jewish neighborhood, and both the restaurant and theater were quite busy. I guess the stereotype is pretty accurate! Yet something else that Jews and Hindus have in common! Anyway, enjoy the song. Om, Shalom, and Merry Christmas!
So here I am. It is always difficult for me to return to the keyboard and blank screen after a period of inactivity. The screen and blinking cursor seem to demand a lot, and my insecurities take over.
Actually, it reminds me of the way it feels when you return to chanting a certain number of rounds on beads (or any meditative practice, for that matter) after not having done it for some time. The warm memories of what you used to do mingle with the akwardness of re-learning. You stumble a bit; the words don't roll off the tongue as smoothly as they used to, the beads feel clumsier slipping back and forth between your finger pads. Your fears and hang-ups follow you too, buzzing uninvited pessimistic warnings to your mind. How long will you last this time? Come on, face the facts. You tried and you failed, so why bother now?
Antidote: tell the mind to shut the hell up, and dive in to the meditation. The beads are comforting. The Names don't judge or deride you. They are the old friends that would rather give you a warm hug hello than make you feel bad about not having kept in touch. And if you can just be open to it, the conversation resumes right where it left off.
I hope that returning to writing will be the same way. As I recall, we had started a nice conversation some months ago. Now... where were we?
From Kurma Prabhu:
Those that subscribe to pure brahmana-style cooking of India, including myself, and Vaishnavas - followers of Lord Vishnu, Rama and Krishna - like to only cook with foods from the sattvic category. These foods include fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, dairy products, grains and legumes, and so on. Specifically, Vaisnavas do not like to cook with rajasic or tamasic foods because they are unfit to offer to the Deity.
Rajasic and tamasic foods are also not used because they are detrimental to meditation and devotions. Of course some of the Alliums have specific health benefits; garlic is respected as a natural antibiotic. In recent years, the cardiovascular implications of vegetable Alliums has been studied in some detail, although the clinical implications of onion and garlic consumption from this point of view are not well understood (Block 1992; Briggs et al. 2001).
Nevertheless, despite medical comings and goings, alliums are still avoided by spiritual adherents because they stimulate the central nervous system, can act as a natural aphrodisiac, and disturb meditation.
You may be aware that strict Buddhists also do not eat any of the Alliums for the same reasons as adherents of India's Ayurveda - they disturb meditation. If you visit any strict vegetarian Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, or Japanese restaurant anywhere in the world you will most likely find no Alliums in any of the cooking.
One reason is because in ancient Buddhist Tao writings, one sage Tsang-Tsze described the Alliums as the "five fragrant or spicy scented vegetables", and that each have a detrimental effect on one of the following five organs - liver, spleen, lungs, kidneys, and heart.
Tsang-Tsze said that these pungent vegetables contain five different kinds of enzymes which cause "reactions of repulsive breath, extra-foul odour from perspiration and bowel movements, and lead to lewd indulgences, enhance agitations, anxieties and aggressiveness," especially when eaten raw.
That in a nutshell is why I don't cook with garlic and onions.
It would be interesting to know whether Steven Rosen included in his book, all the remarks that Srila Prabhupada made about Hinduism. The Krishna Consciousness Movement is not a Hindu movement; that’s clearly the message we get from Srila Prabhupada’s various statements on the subject.
What is also surprising is that our leaders (GBC and temple presidents) have made official statements — at various times — alluding a clear connection between the Sankirtana Movement of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Hinduism. I wonder where do they that from?
Hinduism — the way it is presented by the Hindus themselves — is strikingly and unmistakably polytheistic and pantheistic, which are considered inferior forms of theologies among Western theologians. Actually, Vaishnava theology also considers such forms of theologies inferior to the exclusivity and monotheistic of bhakti.
I wonder what’s the benefit of the tendency to keep mingling Hindusim with the Krishna Consciousness Movement?
Of course, ykd108 is correct to point out that Srila Prabhupada made it clear that the Krishna consciousness movement is not preaching the Hindu religion -- but why stop there? In fact, Srila Prabhupada made it equally clear that the movement is not preaching any sectarian religion; Krishna consciousness, he boldly reminded us, is trying to share pure love of God (a supra-religious, transcendent, universal goal). As far as theological statements go, that is both accurate and powerful.
From a historical and sociological standpoint, however, it is just as accurate to identify the movement as representing the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya, a monotheistic faith with roots in what is commonly known as Hinduism. Thus it is entirely possible (and legitimate) to speak about our philosophy as being both non-sectarian or non-religious (in an absolute context), and being one of the "traditions [that] collectively constitute the numerically largest portion of the Hindu world" (in the -- dare I say, mundane -- relative context).
In expressing his fear of the "mingling Hindusim" [sic] monster that lurks beneath ISKCON's bed, ykd108 inadvertently highlights one (of several) reasons that devotees do need to participants in the Hindu world. "Hinduism" ykd108 informs us "...is strikingly and unmistakably polytheistic and pantheistic." And lest we fault him for this generalization, he quickly points out that this snapshot of the religion is "the way it is presented by the Hindus themselves." And that is precisely the problem. For who are "the Hindus" that ykd108 refers to? And by what process were they invited to be the unequivocal spokespersons for Hinduism? Surely, there are more than a few Hindus -- for example, my dear Sri Vaisnava friends (who follow Sripada Ramanujacarya’s teachings faithfully and also identify themselves as Hindus) -- who would beg to differ. Certainly, educated and realized ISKCON devotees -- folks like Satyaraja Prabhu, for example -- could do amazing service for Srila Prabhupada and Lord Caitanya by introducing people to the beautiful and theologically indefensible traditions of monotheism and devotional service within that vast Hindu culture.
But ykd108 seems content to surrender the task of defining Hindu to stereotype-fed indologists and an impersonalist elite (for instance, Swami Vivekananda and his neo-Vedantic progeny). Tragically, our consolation prize is the opportunity to bask in the conviction that "Vaishnava theology also considers such forms of theologies inferior to the exclusivity and monotheistic of bhakti" [sic], which puts us in the company of Western theologians (who, by the way, will likely still think of us as Hindus).
I think we can do better.
I truly believe that we can (and must) describe our tradition in an articulate, honest, and accurate way: by acknowledging the Vaisnava faith in its proper context, and by humbly sharing what makes being a follower of Lord Caitanya the most wonderful, unique, sublime process.
It may not always be easy, but to do any less -- even in the name of safeguarding the exclusivity of bhakti -- would constitute the real compromise.
H.H. Radhanath Swami
Sri Sri Radha Govinda Mandir (Brooklyn, NY)
Sunday Feast Lecture – September 10, 2006
The Essence of Religion:
Living up to Srila Prabhupada’s Expectations
(Please note: To retain the mood of the class, I have presented it in the first person. However, this is a summary re-telling of Radhanath Swami's class, based on notes I took while Maharaj was speaking. It is not a verbatim transcript of the lecture. In order to convert from spoken to written English, I have also made small edits where necessary. This is part 2 of 2.)
Srila Prabhupada explained that “Vaisnava” actually means unconditional, uninterrupted love of God. It is not just some category of religion; it is the essence, the goal. This is what he tried to give us, and he entrusted us with the responsibility to promote and uphold this goal in this world of conflict. We learn what a godly person is by studying the lives of such persons. Descriptions in scriptures of how we should be only really make sense when we study the lives of those people.
When Srila Prabhupada was on the Jaladuta, he revealed his mind to Krishna privately. I don’t think Srila Prabhupada ever expected that his prayers to Krishna would be circulated all over the world in songbooks! He was in a destitute position. He had nothing – just some rupees that couldn’t even be exchanged – and he didn’t know if anyone would be there to meet him. He poured his heart out to Krishna. And Krishna allowed us to have those prayers, so that we could see what a humble person really is. Not a haughty beggar, but a humble beggar – begging for the ability to awaken love in the hearts of others.
In 1980, the pujari of Advaita Bhavan in Shantipur came to Srila Prabhupada’s temple in Mayapur. In Shantipur, Sri Advaita Acarya prayed with tears in his eyes, in a loud voice, for Krishna to appear in this world to deliver the fallen souls in Kali Yuga. He was an avatar, and was not only seeing the present, but also seeing the future conditions. He could see that people become more and more atheisitic and materialistic; real culture seems irrelevant in name of progress. He saw that irreligion is taken as religion, and real religion mistaken for irreligion. He understood that people were so superficial – they were engrossed in ritual, and if other people had different externals, they labeled them as dangerous, satanic, agents of maya.
When we become too much concerned with external forms, we forget the real purpose of any ritual: to purify our hearts of all ego. The purpose of all religious rites – whether puja, namaaz, mass – is to humble ourselves before God, to take shelter and offer ourselves in humility. Offering arati is not just waving lamps and incense; every one of those articles is an _expression of our intent to offer our body, mind, lives, and intent for the Lord’s pleasure. Ritual is the form, but that form is meant to facilitate a particular meditation, or particular state of consciousness. According to the various times, places, and circumstances of history, there may be different rituals – but what is purpose of them? We must remember that just because we are Hare Krishna devotees, doesn’t necessarily mean we are better than anyone else! Bhaktivinode Thakura said that there will be those with kanthi beads, sikha, dhoti, but who will be agents of Kali. It is not the ritual, it is our intent. We have such wonderful rituals, such a beautiful culture, to develop and purify that intent. But the intent must be there, or else the rituals and culture bring disunity rather than unity.
So yes, Advaita Acarya saw what would happen in Kali Yuga even in the name of religion. He saw people would become so materialistically inclined that they could justify any sinful activity in the name of progress and “being normal.” Who will combat this? So he prayed for years and cried tears of compassion for you and me. Begging, “Krishna, unless You come personally, there is no hope for this world.” And Krishna fulfilled this prayer and descended as Lord Caitanya. Krishna wanted to experience Radha’s love, but he combined that with fulfilling Advaita Acarya’s prayer. He came to promote the Harinama Sankirtana movement, and taught how to develop that intent through chanting of names.
It was it in that place, Advaita Bhavan, that Advaita Acarya and Haridasa Thakura would meet. When Lord Caitanya appeared, Advaita Acarya and Haridasa Thakura met in Shantipur and danced ecstatically there, understanding that the Lord had come. Many things happened there, that’s another class. But in summary, Advaita Acarya wanted Lord Caitanya to punish him, because Lord Caitanya was treating Advaita Acarya as a senior. Most of us like to be respected as a senior, but Advaita Acarya hated it. He wanted only to be seen as the servant of the servant. But Lord Caitanya was teaching by His example amaninamana dena – to offer all respects to others, and expect none for oneself. And because Advaita Acarya was the godbrother of His guru, He would take the dust from Advaita Acarya’s feet. Advaita Acarya hated this. So he came up with a plot. He thought, “If I pretend to preach the philosophy that the living entity becomes one with God, that ultimately God has no form, that eventually you become Krishna instead of worshipping Him… then Lord Caitanya will come and smash me.” So Advaita Acarya carried out his plan, and Lord Caitanya actually became so enraged that slapped him. Advaita Acarya became the happiest man. “Ha ha ha,” he laughed, “where is Your formality now? Where is Your showing me respect now? One punishes a servant, not a master!” This beautiful pastimes happened at Shantipur.
So here was a pujari from Shantipur who came to Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir in 1980, and he told this story:
I have been the temple pujari at Advaita Bhavan since the 1940s and 1950s. During that time a Bengali householder would come regularly, and sit in the back of the temple wearing simple khadi dhoti and kurta. He wouldn’t say anything to anyone, but would spend hours and hours chanting on his beads. He chanted so deeply. Sometimes I saw tears falling from his eyes. I became attached to this man. He was genuinely absorbed in the Holy Names. He came every month, but because he came alone, I didn’t want to disturb him. Every time he left he’d say “Thank you” to me, bow down, and go. Then something happened. This man didn’t return for about ten years. But then I remember distinctly, in the month of August 1965, I saw a personality come in the saffron robes of sannyasi. He sat in the back of the temple, chanting on his prayer beads. I recognized, “This is my old friend, he has returned… but now he’s a Swamiji!” All day, he chanted in the back of temple room with tears falling from his eyes. Then he bowed down for a long time, got up, and came to me. He said, “Thank you for your wonderful service in the temple.” It was then that I asked him “Who are you? I remember you coming for so many years.” He responded, “My name is Abhaya Charanavinda Bhaktivedanta Swami, and I am a disciple of that empowered soul, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada, who has come to deliver world. I have been coming here because my gurudeva has given me an impossible mission to perform. He has ordered me to take the message of Lord Caitanya and the Holy Names of Krishna across the ocean to spread all over the world. I have no qualification, no ability, people in the western world have never heard the name of Krishna or who is Radharani. How to convince them? Therefore, for all these years, I have been coming here. Because this is the place that Advaita Acarya, Lord Caitanya, and Nityananda Prabhu are eternally present. They are planning to take the Holy Names all over world. I have been coming here, praying to Them to empower me to fulfill my guru’s order. Tomorrow I am taking a cargo ship to New York City. But I don’t know what I will find there. I don’t know how I will do it. So I am crying to my gurudeva and to the Supreme Personality of Godhead to empower me.” He asked for my blessings also, and then he left.
I spoke to Vrindavan Chandra De, Srila Prabhupada’s son, who was one of the five people who saw him off. It’s amazing—Srila Prabhupada was going to spread love of Krishna all over the world, and it wasn’t a big send-off. It was just his son, an employee of the company, and some other people he hardly knew. He had an umbrella, a change of clothes, some cereal, and his books. I asked Vrindavan Chandra De, “What were you thinking when you saw your father going up that plank, alone?” Vrindavan Chandra looked at me with tears in his eyes, and said, “I was proud of my father.” But still, even he could have never dreamed that anything would be accomplished except his coming home and saying “I met a few people.”
That pujari from Shantipur continued to tell the devotees:
Years later, I started seeing something very strange. I saw white people with kanthi-mala, shaved heads, tilak, dhoti, sari. They started to visit our temple here. I was a shy person, so I never spoke to them. But one day, after some years, one of these white people gave me a magazine, called Back to Godhead. On the back of the magazine, I saw a photo of the founder-acharya, and I looked at it – it was my old friend! He did it! By Krishna’s grace, he performed the impossible mission of spreading glories of Krishna all over world.
Srila Prabhupada was a man of substance. He expected all of his followers to live by the highest conduct of a Vaisnava. In one place, Srila Prabhupada challenged a PhD candidate, “What is use of philosophy without good character?” In fact, if we don’t have good character, then we actually destroy people’s faith. Srila Prabhupada expected us to take very, very seriously the process for purifying our heart and really seeking the essence. He expected that we not become diverted or disturbed by the peripheral arrangements that maya creates. And it can happen even in the name of Krishna consciousness; we get some advancement and all the fringe benefits come. Soon, we get attached to fame, position, prestige, and facilities. Facilities are great to use for Krishna, but we should never be attached to anything but the desire to use these things for Krishna.
The only way to not get diverted is to stay focused on essence. Therefore, it is so important to study Srila Prabhupada’s books. On every page, he is reminding us of the essence that we are meant to strive for.
We must regularly cleanse our hearts by chanting the Holy Names. The Holy Name is that medicine that can cure, not just the symptoms, but the very origin of all disease: forgetfulness of God, and false ego. False ego is the basic substance of all misery. How to reach that and cure it? In the age of Kali, the most powerful effective means is caling on the name of God. Namanama akari…
But there are many people who chant the name of God. Some people chant the Hare Krishna mahamantra to become God, to merge into the brahmajyoti. So the intention is so important. Therefore we chant Hare Krishna, but we need to study Srila Prabhupada’s books, to come together and discuss them, and to attend classes regularly.
Srila Prabhupada once told one of his godbrothers, “I have the formula for a tonic that gives us the ability to perfectly digest the Holy Name: trnad api sunicena, taror iva sahisnuna, amaninamena dena, kirtaniya sada harih.” To be humble, tolerant, eager happy to give all respect to others, and not care about getting respect in return. These three qualities – humility, tolerance, pridelessness – are the basic foundation of good character. Everything else follows from them. Why do we commit sin? Because we cannot tolerate! Why do we get frustrated? Because we are not humble! All problems are solved by this formula. Why? Because by living by these principles, when we chant Krishna’s name, Krishna will be pleased. And that is what all spiritual life is about. Krishna reciprocates with us because we have pleased Him. We want to chant the Holy Names to please God, and by His mercy the disease is cured. By His mercy eternal servitude, eternal love is awakened. But this is how we can please Krishna with our chanting. By living our lives developing a service attitude and the proper consciousness.
So yes, maya and the modes of nature are terrorizing us from within. Yes, lust, anger, greed…, they appear in disguises. “I am a friend, serve me.” And we do. We’re being used, becoming their agents… and yet, we think that they are our friends. But if we chant Holy Names through this formula, the terrorists in our hearts will be removed. And we can do something great for the world, as Srila Prabhupada did. He was begging us, and is still begging us, to assist him in this mission. How? Srila Prabhupada said, “Accept what I am giving you, and give it to others.” Accepting means that we are living up to his expectations of us. To reciprocate with gratitude, we must take his words very carefully. We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
That pujari from Shantipur was amazed to see devotees in Mayapur chanting and dancing. “My old friend did it!” And somehow by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada, we are also being allowed to participate. Thank you very much.
Sri Sri Radha Govinda Mandir (Brooklyn, NY)
Sunday Feast Lecture – September 10, 2006
Defeating the terrorists within the heart
(Please note: To retain the mood of the class, I have presented it in the first person. However, this is a summary re-telling of Radhanath Swami's class, based on notes I took while Maharaj was speaking. It is not a verbatim transcript of the lecture. In order to convert from spoken to written English, I have also made small edits where necessary.)
Usually when I come here, I’m unprepared and I give some spontaneous purport to Ramabhadra Prabhu’s announcement. And in his announcements, there is always a vast diversity to choose from. Today, he was speaking about watering the seed of bhakti, within own hearts and the hearts of others.
According to our scriptures, pure love of God, and of all living beings, is dormant within the hearts of everyone. To know God, to love God, and to be a perfect instrument in the hands of God, is everyone’s innate potential. Krishna tells in the Bhagavad-gita (15.7): mamaivamso jiva-loke jiva-bhutah sanatanah. All living entities are part and parcel of Krishna. Qualitatively, we are of the same nature as God – eternal, full of knowledge, full of bliss. Quantitatively we are like a sunray compared to the sun – just a very tiny particle. But the potential of each part is unlimited when it is connected to the supreme source of all power, Krishna or God.
As the Lord is supremely independent, as part of God we also have independence. And according to the choices we make at every moment, we create a particular state of consciousness, which evokes particular actions and words, which then creates our destiny for the future.
How is it possible for a pure soul, constitutionally the servant of God, to engage in abominable activities, and justify it in the name of doing good? It is our choice: to live in harmony, or to live according to our own egoistic aspirations.
Within the material manifestation there are three modes, which are like ropes that bind us when we choose to come under their influence. How powerful are these ropes? Lust, anger, envy, illusion – these are all symptoms of the essential disease which is the cause of all our suffering. That disease is forgetfulness of our eternal relationship with God. As soon as we forget, we start acting in various selfish ways for our own happiness. We become bound by these ropes; we become mad, intoxicated. Lord Rsabhdeva has said that when we forget God, we all become mad to different degrees.
For instance, when a person is affected by envy, what it can do to destroy all good sense? The false ego is a highly intoxicating substance. When a person is very deeply intoxicated, they forget who they are or what to do. They can become prone to violence and can act without regret or remorse.
Tomorrow is September 11th, the date where people all over the world will observe what happened here in New York City. Why? How is it possible that a spirit soul that is an eternal lover of God can become so corrupted, so polluted, that it can plot to murder thousands of innocent people, carry the plot through, and become proud that “We have done great things in the name of God.” This is the power of the human mind – it can justify anything under the influence of the anarthas. The mind simply becomes covered over.
Actually, in the Vedic scriptures we read about huge terrorists. One example: Putana. If al-Qaeda had her, they could take over the world. She was a massive terrorist, she had such powers. She was a Rakshashi who achieved immense powers through practicing yoga and then used them for her own evil egoistic purposes. And she disguised herself as the most beautiful woman. When she came to Vrindaban, she looked so sweet, so pretty, that everyone was giving her veneration. The simple cowherd men and ladies were thinking “Is she the goddess of fortune who has come to bless us?”
When someone gives love, they attract love; when someone gives hate, they attract hate. For example, when Krishna took birth, He was emitting such unmotivated love, it awakened the love in everyone’s heart. It was a wonder. Every mother and father loved Krishna more than his or her own kids! Even, Maharaj Pariksit couldn’t understand this! In my own experience— I was naughty, I didn’t get good grades, I was pretty useless. And some of the neighbors’ kids: they got good grades, they were helpful. But still my parents loved me more. Why? It made no sense. Because, I was their child. Srila Prabhupada said, “Even if your child is blind, you will call him padma-lochana [one whose eyes are like lotus petals].” So, this is natural. But the Brijabasis loved Krishna more than their own children.
And here is this strange lady, she just walked into the maternity house. And nobody tried to stop her; they thought, “She’s so wonderful, maybe she’ll bless Krishna.” She went to pick up Krishna and brought Him to her breast, and everyone thought “How nice, how nice.” But she had a purpose. She had a history. She had already murdered thousands and thousands of babies, and drank their blood and ate their flesh.
Everyone has to justify their activities as good. If someone did an analysis of Putana, I’m sure she could justify that her activities were for the ultimate good of humanity. So we have to be careful, because the ego can justify anything.
She was a most dangerous terrorist. Because a terrorist is most dangerous when they disguise themselves and you don’t recognize them. Then they can create havoc.
Krishna was so merciful. She offered Him her breast, but she smeared her breast with enough poison to kill hundreds of men instantly. But in Krishna’s case, He very enthusiastically sucked and somehow – some parental affection must have been there, because milk came out! Actually, when Putana first saw Krishna she thought “He must be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but still I must kill Him.” So, Krishna kept sucking until all that was left was her life. Krishna kept sucking, and she was in such pain. Krishna had little newborn baby fingers and with them He squeezed and she was screaming it was so painful. It was so painful that she ran out of the house, and into pastures. She resumed her massive form. Krishna did not change His size, and He was like a little speck on this great mountain. And He kept sucking, sometimes also kicking at her with His little feet. “Child leave me, leave me!” she screamed. But Krishna kept sucking, and finally she fell. When she fell, it wiped out a forest of trees, and it caused an earthquake as she screamed, her voice echoing in all directions. And when the brijabasis came to see, they found that Krishna was just playing, crawling around.
Yes, Putana was a serious terrorist. She disguised herself as someone who was good, but had diabolical intentions.
Years later, after Krishna had already departed, His dear devotee Uddhava was remembering this and chanted a beautiful prayer:
A devotee is always thinking from the point of view of that potential within everyone’s heart. Our only real remedy to the problems of world is to fan the spark of good in others. Security, punishment, defense – all of these things are very necessary when dealing with the symptoms. But there must also be those who are seriously seeking out the root of the problem, our forgetfulness of our real relationship with God. Krishna tells in the Bhagavad-gita (6.6): “For one who controls the mind, it is his best friend. But for one who cannot, it becomes his worst enemy.” Actually, the Srimad Bhagavatam explains that one’s own uncontrolled mind is the only enemy. Why? Because if we have proper control, we’ll see everything as a favorable opportunity to grow and learn and come closer to God. Both good and bad are for our growth if we have the right perception. But if we do not, then we will act in so many ways to incriminate and entangle us.
We have seen that the mind and ego are able to justify causing so much harm to others as doing the work of God. Religion is the greatest power in all of existence, because it gives us access to the supreme source of all power, absolute power. Religion also influences people’s faith. And faith is an amazing phenomenon. In the Bible, Lord Jesus Christ said (Matthew 17:19-20): “If you have faith the size of mustard seed, you can move a mountain.” Faith moves mountains; it is a fact. If you can capture a person’s faith, you can capture all of his energies.
Historically, when powerful people capture a person’s faith, they have been able to do great good or great evil to the world. In Germany, Hitler was a powerful speaker. He studied the mysticism of Egypt and India. He had scholars help him do this. And somehow or other he really believed that he was empowered by God and Christ to do the greatest thing for the world. He spoke with such conviction that he gained the faith of millions of people; because people really felt he was empowered by God. And what did they do? Yes, it is a condition of the world in which we live. The terrorist attacks of today are due to the fact that people gain other peoples’ faith, in the name of God. They convince them to give up their lives. They convince them to cause pain and destruction. And they tell them: “You are doing the highest welfare work on behalf of God.”
In Christianity, there were terrorists; we read about the Crusades. In Israel, when they wanted to get liberation from the British, some of the Jewish people resorted to terrorism. When India wanted to get independence from Britain, there were also terrorist groups among the Hindus.
And the United States – when we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how many of those who died were soldiers and how many were civilians? So many civilians just wiped out dead, children slaughtered, entire cities destroyed. It is terrorism. But we say it is in the name of war. “When there’s war, anything goes.” But the problem is that every terrorist says, “It’s a war.” That what al-Qaeda says. Yes, we can justify anything, when our hearts are impure, as being done in the name of God. So much bigotry, sectarianism, hate – all have been justified in the name of God.
Therefore, the Vedas explain Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana Dharma is the essence, that is true religion. At the beginning of Srimad Bhagavatam, the sages of Naimasaranya enquired from Suta Goswami. Their first question was (1.1.11): “There are many religions, many processes, many teachers. What is the essence? What is real dharma that is benefical to everyone?” And Suta Goswami answered (1.2.6): “The Supreme occupation for all humanity is loving devotional service unto the Supreme Lord. Such loving service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted.” This is Sanatana Dharma; it is the essence of all religious tradition. To become freed of lust, anger, envy. We have to clean the ecology of our hearts. Our hearts are currently polluted. Those pollutants have the effect of blurring our vision and so we may justify evil as good.
Even amongst devotees, we sometimes see. If we get fixed on some idea, we can build our whole way of thinking around it, and live for it, and die for it, and justify it… but we may be wrong. And then what?
Srila Prabhupada explained, “We’re not Hindus.” He wasn’t against Hindus. When he said that he was explaining – that as Vaisnavas we’re trying to go to the essence of what it means to be a Hindu, or a Christian, or a Jew, or a Muslim. Wherever we find love of God, there is true religion. Wherever we don’t – that is not. Sanatana Dharma means, the nature of the soul, that which is inseparable from our identity. We are eternal parts of Krishna. We are lovers of Krishna, servants of Krishna. Wherever there is even a glimmer of love of Krishna beginning to awaken in a human being, we can immediately see the symptoms: compassion to others, humility, respect to others, seeing the presence of God in all living beings. If you are seeing God in any way, then it is natural that you will see Him in all living beings. As it is said, one can judge a tree by its fruits. If we see pridelessness, self-control, being intoxicated by hearing and reciting the glories of the Lord, acting in a sprit of selfless service and compassion to others – we can understand. These are symptoms of one who is experiencing love of God. And if instead we see envy, lust, anger – what does this tell us?
If we are not part of the solution, we are part of problem. That is the way the world is. Srila Prabhupada understood the state of affairs of the world we live in. And he really wanted to make a serious difference. Srila Prabhupada said that there are so many philanthropic organizations, doing work. There are so many religious organizations, creating some piety and giving people something. There are organizations giving some morality. All are good, but none are giving the real solution. He saw that there must be a movement that seriously endeavors to awaken love of God in people’s hearts by teaching the highest standards of pure devotional service. Therefore we need pure hearted advanced leaders, who can give the essence and not succumb to the external superficial ritualistic differences.
Tomorrow never comes. The present moment is the only reality. Now is the time for God consciousness. It doesn’t mean becoming a devotee. It means, sincerely and intensely, as a devotee, calling out for Krishna, putting Krishna first in our life, first in our family, first in our business, first in everything. It means that there is nothing else so important in this entire creation to prevent us from associating with the Lord’s devotees and hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord in their company. Nothing is so urgent in this entire creation to keep us from faithfully chanting the Lord’s names each day.
What in the world is going on in Vrindavan? Amul or Chaitanya... please comment with some accurate info...
from DNA - India:
VRINDAVAN: Shopkeepers downed shutters as protests, against the alleged dressing up of Lord Krishna idol in the famous Banke Bihari temple here in T-shirt, jeans and holding a mobile phone in his hand instead of a flute, spilled over into the second day on Sunday.
A case has meanwhile been filed in court against the temple's caretakers for the allegedly sacriligious act.
Activists of saffron organisations like the Hindu Yuva Vahini and others took out protest marches and demanded action against the caretakers of the temple for the "sacriligious act" in this temple town, about 10 km from Mathura.
Markets wore an empty look as shops dotting the town's narrow and cramped lanes had downed shutters in protest against the incident.
A petition had been filed in the district court against the caretakers of Banke Bihari temple and the court had issued notices to the parties concerned, according to temple sources.
The idol was reportedly garbed in western attire on Thursday during Anand Mahotsava festivities and protestors allege that that temple caretakers were involved.Lakhs of devotees from around the world flock Vrindavan to pay obeisance at the temple considered auspicious for members of the Hare Krishna cult [sic].
Dear Bhakti-tirtha Maharaj,
Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada. All glories to Your Holiness.
I’ve been thinking of you a lot here, Maharaj, and so I decided to write. I’m at the World Assembly of Religions for Peace, being held in Kyoto, Japan. It is going well so far, but I admit that I am still very new to this type of preaching and am praying to be engaged properly.
I wish you were here. I believe that you would have been a perfect choice to represent Srila Prabhupada and our faith tradition at events such as these. You exhibited such a clear vision of taking the teachings of Krishna and Lord Caitanya far and wide, and were so bold in doing it. You risked it all – raising some eyebrows along the way – to show everyone that Krishna consciousness is not meant to be placed on some dusty shelf and locked up in our own temples, but it is meant to be relevant and alive and engaged in the world.
I imagine you here, walking with your head held high, looking regal in some “outrageous” outfit or another. I can see you holding your walking cane, the lion’s head on it making you look even more powerful. Would you wear one of those wild headdresses or turbans? I can see you, even as I type this, warmly embracing your African brothers – Muslims, Christians, and tribal – and being accepted by them. I can imagine the Hindu delegates, simultaneously bewildered by you and proud of you as an example of Srila Prabhupada's success; to them, a white Vaisnava is fascinating, but a black devotee is simply mind-blowing. I like to think of you answering questions strongly and charming people with your wit and sharp intellect. I know that you would have lit fires here, inspiring people to become stronger in their own faith and more committed to spiritually-centered activism.
But Krishna had other plans for you, and these are only day-dreams now. Still, a part of me cannot accept it so easily. Who else can carry on with the kind of amazing, sometimes inconceivable service you did? Was Krishna in such a hurry to have you back that He couldn’t even give us enough time to find your replacement?
I have to confess that there were times when, because I couldn’t understand things you did or said, I kept my distance from you. I didn’t allow my heart to open to you fully, and I sometimes allowed myself to become influenced by the voices of fault-finders and mud-slingers. I justified that in sharing silently in these critiques, I was not really being offensive. But I see now that it was sadhu-ninda. Please forgive me. Perhaps I’ve already been suffering the reactions of my offense in my inability to have had your personal association and instruction.
Anuttama Prabhu told me that he had spoken with you when I first signed on with ISKCON communications. He said that you were very happy to hear about it and gave your blessings. Thank you.
I miss you so much. I look around me now at this conference, and I realize just how much our Society, and the whole world, needs you today more than ever. You should be here, Maharaj. Your departure has left a void in ISKCON. And the truth is that, even if Krishna had allowed us all the time in the world, we could never find anyone else to fill that void.
With Love and Respect,
Begging to Remain Your Servant,
Vyenkata Bhatta dasa
(a fallen disciple of your maha-friend, Radhanath Swami)
The World Assembly
Back in June, when Anuttama Prabhu and I were discussing the possibility of me attending this event, I had voiced some concern as to whether it would justify the cost and effort involved to send me. I felt flattered to have been selected as a delegate, and eager to represent ISKCON in a positive and cooperative forum, but I also worried that this would end up being one of the hundreds of the feel-good hand-holding interfaith pep rallies that we have seen come and go with no practical action taken.
The Youth Assembly in Hiroshima convinced me that coming to Japan had been worth it, but with the World Assembly in Kyoto about to start the doubts had resurfaced. Those doubts were destroyed at the first session of the first day.
Held at the huge Kyoto International Conference Center, the 8th World Assembly of Religions for Peace was inaugurated with a speech by the Prime Minister of Japan himself. The event captured headlines in the city and all around Japan.
Seated all around me – some draped in clerical robes, saffron wraps, and conservative black suits – the world’s religious leaders, spokespersons, and activists gathered to pool their wisdom, experience, concerns, and desire to see God’s creation better off for our being in it. And somehow, for some reason, I could be there and sit at that table—honestly and openly as a devotee of Krishna.
Even without the media attention, big names, fancy hotels, and flashy bells and whistles – that is pretty awesome.
We read about the need of sanga, of association with like-minded individuals. We usually read passages exhorting us to embrace sadhu-sanga as referring to the association of other Vaisnavas. Indeed, there is truth in that – there is something uniquely profound about the bond shared between devotees of Krishna, especially those who share an exclusive understanding of His intimate personality as the beautiful two-armed flute-player Syamasundara. On another level, however, there is also great value in a more broad reading of sanga. At the risk of ISKCON heresy (or at least "getting smashed"), I confess that I find it enlivening to be in the association of other people who care deeply for God and His children, who want to dedicate themselves to treating others with love and compassion. There is something nice about being around people who are so driven to care for others; there is something particularly wonderful about being around such people when their drive is based on their faith in the Divine. And, yes, there is something heart-warming about being welcomed by such people.
No matter how much I may cherish Krishna consciousness and believe in its ability to bring one to pure love of God, I pray to also be humbled by, and appreciative of, these other people of faith as well.
This story is of the best meal I never ate. If that sounds confusing, I will ask your indulgence and patience – I hope to explain everything soon enough. But, first let me assure you that what is written about here is true. The photographic evidence is true. The names have been changed to protect the guilty. The experience was real. And, yes, it was funny. Our story begins, as most such stories often do, aboard a bus touring the ancient temples of Kyoto.
A small tangent: Kyoto is known the world over for its magnificent temples. The city was once the capital of the Japanese empire, and its rich cultural history is safely enshrined – literally. These structures are more than houses of worship – visitors can also see manicured gardens, gorgeous architecture and décor, and meditative ponds. In some of these ponds swim coy fish. That is to say, fish who are shy, reserved, and demure. Some of them may be Koi fish as well, but that’s neither here nor there (well, okay it might be there, but we’re getting sidetracked now). The whole experience is quite memorable, and on this particular occasion, I was quite happy to be there.
After the temple tour, our group was to be treated to an authentic Japanese lunch at a nearby inn. We removed our shoes, entered the small bamboo house, and were seated at low tables. Soon, those tables began to fill up with plates and dishes set before us. The kimono-wearing staff moved so efficiently, and seemed so, well, Japanese that I thought that this might be like one of those themed restaurants… like where the waiters dress up like cowboys or renaissance characters or something. But this was the real deal – every Japanese meal cliché I ever conceived of was suddenly right in front of my eyes. Amused, I started to chuckle softy. But as a wise man once said, “Those who chuckle too much get royally screwed.” (Okay, so I’m the wise man who said that, but that’s not the point.) My chuckles stopped short when I remembered another Japanese cliché: the Japanese are seriously offended if a guest refuses or rejects their food. For most—not a problem. But for a table composed of vegetarian Hare Krishna (no meat, fish, eggs, onion, garlic, or mushroom), fasting Jain (no meat, fish, eggs, root vegetables, green leafy vegetables), kosher Jews (no mixing of meat and dairy, no non-Kosher meat, and a host off other restrictions), Canadian allergic (no rice, noodles, pastas, boiled grain), this could spark an international incident and bring Japan into war after 60 years of peaceful existence.
With metaphoric straw between my teeth, I requested a vegetarian meal from my esteemed Japanese hosts. They looked at me with a smile and bow that made it clear that they understood nothing of what I had said. But, true gentlemen and ladies, they brought over an English translator to help. Through the translator we asked for vegetarian and other special options. They became flustered, and in an instant I knew that this feast had probably taken them all day to prepare and that there was no other food in the whole joint. I tried to downplay the whole thing, but by now the word was spreading like a bad rash. Disturbed voices whispered amongst themselves, and some of the organizers began to let us know that we were stirring up problems.
The Japanese hosts informed us of the many vegetarian preps in the dishes before us. “Thank you so much,” I exclaimed a little too eagerly, “This will be just fine.” They seemed appeased for the moment, but we knew that they’d be back to make sure that we weren’t just being polite. Which, if you need to be told, we were. One whiff of the bowls of rice, rolls, soups, and deep fried items, and I felt like I was in a fishing boat. I had been warned about the Japanese using fish oil for almost everything – even bejiteran item – and now I had irrefutable evidence of that shooting up my nostrils.
We quickly and silently decided, unanimously, that eating the food was simply not an option. Now that we had removed the possibility, all that remained was to somehow make it appear to our hosts that we had eaten and eaten well. My eyes scanned my surroundings for something that could aid in our mission. No napkins, no containers, no plastic bags, no open windows. No restroom in walking distance, no Halloween pumpkin basket, no place to hide. I spotted a dustpan at the far end of the room, but to involve it in the plan seemed too ambitious.
Time had joined the big bowls of food to conspire against us. The hands of the my watch seemed to race round and round, and the bowls of food remained untouched. In fact, I am fairly certain that they began to grow in size. Something had to be done, and it had to be done fast. The hosts were circling our way. Quickly grabbing my noodle and soup bowl, I held my breath and stuck my face close enough to the bowl so that it looked like I was drinking the stuff. The icing on the (fish flavored) cake: I made a surprisingly authentic-sounding slurping noise. My quick thinking: in Japan this noise is considered a sign of appreciation and enjoyment, and my hosts broke into big smiles and seemed satisfied enough for now. But what about when we would get up to leave?
And that’s when the group creativity kicked in. Seeing my friend “Carol” was done with her rice, I quickly switched bowls with her. Now I had an empty rice bowl, and she was content in eating another bowl of sticky Japanese rice (fish oil or not). That left the soup and other dishes. “Chirag” began to methodically re-arrange his portions, making holes in piles, drawing intricate patterns with the semi-liquid preps. There was a method to his madness, though: the portions seemed smaller. With no time to spare, and with chopsticks blazing, I began to imitate him. Noodles, I discovered, could easily cover large amounts of other items without appearing to change size. Dry items could absorb wet ones; dumplings could be cut open and re-stuffed with smaller items. Finally, as the finishing touch, I haphazardly re-arranged all my dishes, being sure to spill some stuff of the table in front of me and to leave my chopsticks methodically arbitrary I looked down at the unholy mess in front of me, and for a moment I convinced even myself that I had just eaten a meal. I quickly snapped this picture, and then got up and left, my hosts smiling and bowing as I fled the scene:
The funny thing, though, is that in all of that re-arranging of the food, somehow, my hunger was satisfied. I suppose that one some level, some very deep non-physical level, we did eat that food. Or maybe I just enjoy playing with my food. Either way, mission accomplished.
Our last day in Hiroshima – filled with an odd but fitting mixture of emotions. First, we received a sober reminder of war. After hearing a survivor’s first-hand account, we toured the Hiroshima museum, which offered a fascinating and well-crafted history of the city and its infamous bombing.
scale model of Hiroshima before the bomb was dropped
scale model of Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped
Walking through the museum’s many stark exhibits, I thought of the famous Bhagavad-gita verses – purportedly cited by Robert Oppenheimer at the first testing of the atomic bomb which would eventually decimate Hiroshima – "If the splendor of thousands of suns were to blaze forth all at once in the sky, even that would not resemble the splendor of that exalted being... Now, I am become Death [Time] the destroyer of worlds." (Bg. 11.12, 11.32) I have 11.32 tattooed on my arm -- I got it when I was 17 and thought the idea of Krishna being all-devouring death was cool -- but realizing what it actually means made me shudder.
Seeing the devastating effects of war only reinforced the need to work towards peace. And in that spirit of hope and optimism, we celebrated our last night in Hiroshima with a cultural evening hosted by the Japanese. The program included traditional Japanese music, dance (the Sikh brothers, of course, turned it into a bhangra party within moments), and a silly game where we were made to wear cardboard octopuses (yes, cardboard octopuses) on our heads and do a Macarena-esque line dance. Not quite sure how this help us to build peace, but I trust that it was part of my job description. Actually, I think our Japanese hosts made it up to amuse themselves at the dumb foreigners with octopuses on their heads. Perhaps behind their turbo-charged-politeness lies a wicked sense of humor. Whatever the case, I danced with the rest of them, although I declined to keep my cardboard octopus as a souvenir. I have some standard, after all.
The next day, we boarded busses and embarked on a many-hours-journey to Kyoto, where we would conclude the Youth Assembly pre-conference and then attend the World Assembly. The bus ride proved treacherous, as the generic boxed lunches provided did not seem to include a vegetarian option. Actually, the whole thing reminded me, in a strange way, of being part of the South India Yatra organized by the Radha-Gopinath temple community and hosted by my spiritual master, H.H. Radhanath Swami. I admit that I spent most of those bus rides – hours coasting along the bumpy Tamil roads in non-A/C coaches – mentally complaining about the rough conditions, while patting myself on the back for performing some austerity. Now, seated in this Japanese bus (with A/C), I longed to be on that primitive Indian bus again, pined to be heading off to Sri Rangam or Ramesvaram, lamented that I didn’t savor each moment when I had the chance. I remembered the boxed lunches that the prasadam committee gave us, and how I declined the mushy upma (“I’d rather fast than eat that,” I had thought). Where was that upma now? If only I could have that mushy messy funky wonderful offered sanctified mercy now! Appreciation is a thing that often manifests much too late.
Perhaps Krishna was pleased with my penitent thoughts, because He arranged for one of my colleagues to offer me a parantha that she had packed up from a dinner at an Indian restaurant the previous night. Accepting it, I placed the soggy flat-bread in its tin foil covering on my lap, mentally placed a big beautiful tulsi leaf on it, offered it silently, and – after a short period of respectful inactivity – ripped into the parantha with the enthusiasm of a starving man. I relished each bite of the plain and simple grain as if it were mahaprasadam taken directly off of the offering plates. Even when it became too dry and caused me to gag a bit, I reprimanded my throat to be more grateful and quit complaining.
I felt no hunger for the rest of the journey, and we arrived in Kyoto without incident.
Some think that I'm a P.R. man and that my job is putting a spin on scandals. Others imagine me sitting at the GBC table helping to make epic descisions to rule the Hare Krishna world. And some, I'm sure, think -- as one of my dear friends put it -- I just get paid for being a devotee.
The truth is that at times like this, hanging out in Japanese hotel rooms while "punched in" its sometimes even hard for me to remember what it is that I'm doing here.
Fortunately, Lord Krishna sends reminders. And so it didn't really hit me until the opening session, when I found myself seated in a special section of "delegates" in a huge convention center auditorium. I looked behind me and was stunned: the room was filled with hundreds, possibly thousands of people.
Sitting there, it started to sink in that I'm not here on a holiday or school field trip. This is what I do, this is my job. I am here to come together with other religious leaders, combine resources and ideas, and draft policy that will then be communicated to world leaders and the United Nations in order to stem the forces of war and violence and promote peace. ISKCON has something positive to contribute, and is also benefited by associating with other people of faith who are working towards spiritually informed solutions to the problems of the material world.
As I was handed a headset and given instructions to tune in to various translations being offered, I felt awed by the responsibility. I also felt proud to be here on behalf of Srila Prabhupada. One of my heroes, Srila Prabhupada had the courage to journey west to share Krishna with the rest of the world. He made it clear that he wished to see Krishna consciousness taken seriously by the "intelligent class" of people, world leaders and influential empowered people. Many devotees are working very hard to see that Prabhupada's desire is fulfilled, and it is an honor to assist and serve them.
My mentor, Anuttama Prabhu, gave me priceless advice during my first conference. He told me to always ask myself, in every situation or event, "Why does Krishna want me here? What am I meant to learn?" If I can take that advice to heart, I am confident that the Lord will reveal His plan for me, too. In the mean time, "getting paid to be a devotee" in Japan is a pretty good job to have. :-)
The prayers I recited were as follows:
purnam adah purnam idam
purnat purnam udacyate
purnasya purnam adaya
svasty astu vishvasya, khalah prasidatam
dhyayantu bhutani, shivam mitho dhiya
manash ca bhadram, bhajatad adhokshaje
aveshyatam no matir, apy ahaituki
trnad api sunicena
taror iva sahisnuna
kirtaniyah sada harih
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare
om shanti, shanti, shanti.
“The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the complete whole is also complete in itself. Because He is the complete whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance.” (Isa Upanisada, Invocation)
"May the entire universe be blessed with peace and hope. May everyone driven by envy and enmity become pacified and reconciled. May all living beings develop abiding concern for the welfare of others. May our own hearts and minds be filled with purity and serenity. May all these blessings flow naturally from this supreme benediction: May our attention become spontaneously absorbed in the rapture of pure love unto the transcendent Lord."
(Srimad Bhagavata Purana, Canto 5, Chapter 18, Verse 9)
“Let us aspire to be more humble than the blades of grass, more tolerant than the shade giving trees. Devoid of arrogance, let us offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind, may the Holy Names of God reside on our lips eternally.”
(Sri Siksastakam, Verse 3)
In the name of the Supreme Lord, let there be peace, peace, peace.
Day 2: Hiroshima
We got into Hiroshima last night via bullet train, a very fast ride that I mainly slept through. Sleepily wandering into the hotel lobby, I was stunned to see that I would be staying in a virtual palace. My service with ISKCON Commnications has allowed me to stay in various grades of hotels from time to time. But this is perhaps the nicest hotel I've stayed in. The hotel boasts everything from a gym and salon to an indoor mall and wedding banquet halls. As I took it all in, I started wishing for some time to relax at the hotel -- although looking at the conference schedule, that doesn't seem very likely. Anyway, at least I could enjoy the gorgeous view from my 22nd Floor room:
Hiroshima seems to be a beautiful city.... with greenery, modern buildings, and traditional Japanese structures all co-existing. Its too eay to forget that 61 years ago, the United States dropped the world's first atomic bomb on this same spot, decimating every building to ashes, killing and injuring thousands and thousands. Somehow, the Japanese people were able to recover and rebuild this city. It is amazing enough that a single tree or blade of grass was able to grow here -- let alone the whole parks full of lush vegetation that now marks the spot where the A-Bomb was dropped.
Taking a short walk from the hotel, I found myself face to face with an odd looking structure that resembled the skleleton of a domed building. I soon learned that this structure is the A-Bomb Memorial, a building that miraculosuly survived the blast.
It was hard not to let my mind drift to the irony that here I was staying in a hotel designed to gratify every one of my senses to no end, and yet was only steps away from an undeniable testament to the destruction and misery that is possible in this world. Luxuries pamper us and help us to forget the reality of this material world: that it is a place of birth, old age, disease, and ultimately death. Does saying that make me pessimistic? Maybe. Its hard not to be pessimistic when you realize you are standing on land that was the scene of indescribable violence only 6 decades ago. Or maybe its just being realistic... looking beneath the surface of the hotel with all its artficial niceties, and confronting the scary things we don't want to talk about.
Its humbling, and sobering. But I will probably forget it soon enough, distracted by whatever else comes my way. The acaryas describe this tendency as "funeral renunciation" -- the tendency to become very serious about one's spiritual life at the funeral, but then to get covered over again. For now, though, I'm trying to keep focused.
Still, sometimes I have little problem with this, sleeping like a log wherever I happen to lay down. Other times, I toss and turn and experience insomnia. My first night in Hiroshima fit into category #2. As much as I tried, I just couldn't get to sleep.
Q: What do you do when you can't fall asleep in a Japanese hotel room?
A: You watch Sarkar, Ram Gopal Varma's Bollywood remake of The Godfather, on DVD.
For those who haven't seen it, the movie stars Amitabh as a Bal-Thakeray-esque self-acclaimed don who rules Mumbai behind the scenes, and Abhishek as his conflicted son. From a critic's point of view, the film was okay -- horrible writing, a mediocre adptation of an American film classic, sloppy in many places. But Amitabh wears a black dhoti, Abhishek reminds us why he's the guy that girls want and guys want to be like, and the film has a scene with pujaris shooting someone with guns hidden under the cloth that covers the offering plates. Enough said.
By the time I had finished the film it was already close to 2:00 am, and I was hardly any sleepier. But I did manage to take this picture of Amitabh on my screen:
Govinda. Govinda. Govinda.
At a music instrument store, I got to sample the latest DJ equipment, including an amazing Technics CD turntable. I spent 30 minutes scratching, looping, and re-living my DJ college days. Because the Japanese are unbelievably polite, nobody bothered me, and a small crowd of Japanese children even gathered around me like I was a superstar!
But all that Dj'ing made me hungry. So, I head to the food court -- an impressive gallery full of Japanese and wannabe-American fast food.
Unfortunately Japanese food seems to favor meat, fish, and eggs without exception. A common dish is a mass of colorful noodles and seafood with a large sunny-side egg draped on top of it.
While I am on a 10-day business trip to Japan, attending the World Assembly organized by Religions for Peace, a powerful interreligious NGO.
I’m writing this from the famous Japan “bullet train,” which is carrying me and my Religions for Peace colleagues from Osaka to Hiroshima. A 5 hour drive, the “super-express” (which is what the Japanese call the bullet) gets us there in 2.5.
This morning, I imagined that I’d spend my first full day in Japan exploring ancient temples or photographing coy ponds. Instead, I had a day at Woodbury Commons.
Backtracking… after an uneventful plane journey from New York to Chicago and then on to Osaka, I landed up in Japan at 5:00pm yesterday (Japan time). As soon as I stepped off the plane, I was struck by how similar it felt to being in India. That same wall of thick, humid air that smacks into you when you step out, that same distinctively un-American glow that other airports seem to emanate. After exchanging dollars into yen (I figured out an easy way to convert – you take the yen amount and move the decimal two spaces to the left and that is the dollar amount, approximately), I got on a shuttle van to my hotel for a night. Osaka Kansai airport, supposedly the world’s biggest, is actually on a man-made island that includes a mall, hotels, and an observatory. As the van drove across a bridge towards the city of Osaka, I took in the beautiful view of the seaside town at near-sunset. The scenery and salty sea air reminded me a bit of Mumbai, specifically Marine Drive, and a brief wave of nostalgia washed over me. Before I could dwell on it too long, though, we were navigating our way through small alley ways and twisty roads, until we finally arrived to my hotel. The room was small, clean, and quite comfortable, and made for a decent place to spend a night.
This morning, after a shower and breakfast of Nurti-grain bars and crackers (thanks Krsangi!) I tried to plan out my day. Originally, I had welcomed the opportunity to have some down-time and had daydreamed about going for some sightseeing, chanting japa in a park, doing some writing, or catching up on emails. Unfortunately, though, yesterday the hotel concierge told me (in broken English) that I had to check-out by 11am. Since I had to meet my group at 4pm at the airport, that left 5 hours to fill without a home base. I checked out at 11am and tried to ask for some suggestions from the hotel staff of what to do.
Surprisngly, my stay in Osaka has taught me that most of the Japanese people I encountered don’t speak a word of English. Shocking, considering that in India just about everyone – even the common riskshwalla or dhobi – can at least manage some tooti-pooti Angrezu phrases. Not so in Japan.
The hotel staff proved to be particularly non-lingual. Somehow they managed to communicate to me that a cab ride anywhere with anything to do would cost me at least 4000 Yen (read: $40). But, they offered, a free hotel shuttle could take me to the nearby outlet mall. From the mall, the airport (where I was meeting up with the others) was a short public bus ride. Another plus point: the outlet could rent me a locker to stow away my two big bulky suitcases while I spent my day. Although I hadn’t planned on it, it made too much sense to turn down, so I boarded the shuttle and within twenty minutes found myself in…
… Woodbury Commons outlet mall. Okay, so it wasn’t called that. But it might as well have been. The same developer made this place (a world map showed locations of replicas all across the globe, including Woodbury), and apparently they like them to look uniform. It felt surreal, but there I was – walking along the rows and rows of stores, a lone brown face in a sea of Japanese teens and families.
The Japanese are extremely fashionable people. Nearly everyone was decked out in designer gear. Many of the men sported punk rock haircuts and vintage retro chic clothes, while their ladies opted for form fitting designer outfits and highlighted bone straight hair. I’ve yet to see a young Japanese woman who weighs more than 100 pounds. Also, I’m not sure why Japanese people are said to be “yellow” – they look more white to me, literally, than so-called white people (who should be perhaps called “peach”). Anyway, I spent the next few hours embracing Japanese culture – such historical locations as the Gap, Kate Spade, Armani, Versace, Eddie Bauer, and Nautica. After doing the customary price conversions (“Wow, this Guess sweater is 9,000 Y – wait, that’s $90 just like it is in the U.S.”), the novelty of going outlet shopping in Osaka wore off.
Soon I was hungry (24 hours had almost passed since my last meal on the plane, and I had been surviving on crackers and granola bars). Different devotees have different standards about their eating while traveling. Although at home I make it a point to not eat out frequently, and to only eat at vegetarian restaurants if I do eat out, while abroad this is not always so easy. Krsangi had done some internet research on vegetarian restaurants before I left, but both of the only two veg places in Osaka were closed today (it being Sunday). So, I decided to give the mall's food court a try. Unfortunately Japanese food seems to favor meat, fish, and eggs without exception. Desperate, I finally found a high-end Italian restaurant that seemed clean, had English speaking staff, and served a freshly made Margherita pizza. With my Japanese tour guide book, I was able to express myself (the Japanese word for vegetarian, believe it or not, is “bejiteran”). The pizza – a simple concoction of thin crust, mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes, and basil leaves – hit the spot.
And so, after spending my first Japanese day looking at American stores in a mall and eating pizza, I took a short bus ride back to the airport, where I met up with other Religion for Peace members. Together, the 14 of us boarded the train for a 2.5 hour to Hiroshima. And here I am, typing this in Word. I will cut and paste this once I can get online, and will try to write some more from the hotel in Hiroshima tomorrow.