a blade of grass

… he told me that perfection could be learned from nature. be more humble than a blade of grass; more tolerant than a tree. give respect to others freely, without expectation or motive. in such a state of mind, stripped bare of your false pretenses, call out to your Lord eternally.

i’m still working on it …


The Essence of Religion

H.H. Radhanath Swami
Sri Sri Radha Govinda Mandir (Brooklyn, NY)
Sunday Feast Lecture – September 10, 2006

The Essence of Religion:
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:
How merciful is Krishna? Who else can I take shelter of? Putana, the sister of Baka, came with a serious intent to murder Him, but Krishna saw the potential within her. He saw one little spark of affection within her heart, because she did approach Him as a mother. And after He eliminated all the anarthas from her heart, all was left was the affection. He saw that ‘She is just like My mother.’ And He gave her liberation – not impersonal liberation – liberation to become His own nurse in Vaikuntha! How merciful is Krishna! And I am so fallen, I need that kind of mercy. One who can give shelter to Putana can also give shelter to me.

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.

... to be continued ...


need to prioritize

read this today and it hit me like a brick wall...

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.

(His Holiness Radhanath Swami)

News: Protests over dressing up of Krishna idol

What in the world is going on in Vrindavan? Amul or Chaitanya... please comment with some accurate info...

from DNA - India:

Protests over dressing up of Krishna idol

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].



A Letter to Bhakti-tirtha Swami

A Letter to Bhakti-tirtha Swami

Kyoto, Japan
August 2006

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)

World Assembly

more backposting...

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.


The Best Meal I Never Ate

The Best Meal I Never Ate

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.



Hiroshima to Kyoto

I'm back in the States, but backposting old posts from my journal in Japan. Hope you like them...

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.

tricycle remains from the bombing

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.