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 …


When paradigms end

I admit it... I'm a bit obsessed with the notion of changing paradigms. As any one who has ever heard me give a Bhagavad-gita class knows, I invariably refer to buddhi yoga as the "yoga of shifting paradigms."

So, when I saw that Religion News Service was carrying an essay entitled The End of Modern Paradigms by Episcopal priest and inspirational writer Tom Ehrich, I was intrigued and decided to give it a quick read. I'm glad I did. Ehrich raises some very interesting points that I think have great relevance for ISKCON devotees today. Here are some excerpted paragraphs:

The end of a paradigm is a strange phenomenon to behold. First gradually, then suddenly, what had made sense no longer seems sensible. Structures and ideas that had made the world comprehensible longer convey meaning.

Even though it happens continually throughout history, the end of a paradigm seems surprising, a betrayal. Some look for a villain.

Their fading unsettles the landscapes of our lives and leaves us vulnerable to demagogues offering easy answers and the naming of villains, as well as charlatans offering escape. What are we to do?

I see two keys to dealing with dying paradigms.

One is to avoid absolutizing a paradigm, as if it were anything more than a convenient and valued method that no longer seems convenient or valued.

The other key is to avoid subsidizing the old paradigm. Institutions need to survive by serving effectively, not by exploiting nostalgia or guilt.

In the world of religion, we need to think deeply and humbly about the difference between a temporary paradigm and a timeless truth. This won't be easy for us, for we have been casual about absolutizing our preferences and traditions, and we find it hard to say "no more" to our own failing enterprises.

How much shorter and sweeter can we make Sunday worship, for example, before we realize that a 30 percent attendance rate means 70 percent seek meaning elsewhere? If parents aren't bringing children to Sunday school, we should stop cajoling and condemning them and rethink the enterprise of transmitting faith.

God is still God, but our paradigms for comprehending God might need some refreshing.

(Excerpted from The End of Modern Paradigms by Tom Ehrich © 2007 Religion News Service. All Rights Reserved.)


(Almost) Mangala Arati

Krsangi and I were determined to wake up early and start off the working week with a 16 round morning. Responsibly, we went to bed fairly early for us (before 11pm) and set the iHome alarm clock. And to get us into the right mood we set it to wake us up to the wonderful Morning Program sung by Sacinandana Swami and the other devotees from Govinda Verlag.

If you don't already have this CD, called A Day at the Temple, I highly recommend it. Each track -- from Gurvastakam (samsara dava) all the way to Prasadam prayers (sarira avidya jal) -- is expertly done and rich with feeling. The result is that you actually feel as if you are right there in the temple room.

In fact, the effect was a little too magical this morning. As the music began, my eyes began to flutter open. But then Sacinandana Maharaj sang the familiar mangala arati songs so sweetly that (in my sleepy state) I managed to convince myself that I must already be at the morning program! Krsangi must have been similarly convinced, because she also clung devoutly to her pillow. I think we finally woke up sometime after Tulasi Puja.

Tomorrow morning, I think we will go back to NPR.


Sick in Bed

Well, its official: I am ill. No, not ill as in the seminal Beastie Boys lp Licensed to Ill (by the way, in the Fight for Your Right video, Adam Horovitz wears a phys. ed. shirt from my high school). I mean, I am seriously sick. No, not Sikh as in a member of the faith tradition founded by Guru Nanak in the 16th century. Whatever, you get my point.

It started the day before yesterday with a soar throat that got progressively more painful. Then yesterday morning I woke up with the distinct feeling that my body had been repeatedly run over by a big Indian TaTa truck. I spent most of the day in bed, oscillating between being unconscious and coughing my throat red.

Determined to get better, I have committed myself to a potent chemical cocktail of Dimetapp, Vitamin C (as opposed to Vitamin-C who sang the mildly annoying Graduation Song), Grapefruit Seed Extract, and chyavanpraash (however you spell it).

Incidentally, for those of you looking for the Krishna conscious purport to all of this, I'm not sure that I'm up to the job. I find that with every cough, drip, and ache, I just identify more with this body. I guess this is also an important part of life in the material world: having to own up to the fact that ultimately this material body is pretty embarassing. Nothing deflates an ego quite like a steady stream of snot dripping from one's nose. Perhaps this is the Good Lord's way of forcing me to slow down, or be humble, or maybe just to take better care of my body.

Today is some mild improvement, but I'm still mainly hanging out in bed (who knew that laptops could actually be used on one's lap) . Hopefully in an hour or so (if I am feeling up to it)I will try to get some work done. And if I get anything accomplished, I guess we can call it Ill Communication.



Formula for Vrndavana

Five plus five is equal to ten. Two plus two is equal to four. So Krishna plus everything is Vrndavana. Do not forget Krishna, and you shall always be in Vrndavana.
(Srila Prabhupada: Letter to Ekendra, January 24, 1970)

Srila Prabhupada has this charming way of making everything seem so simple, so utterly do-able. Just when the goal seems beyond reach; when Vrndavana (the Kingdom of God) seems so distant and unattainable; when we manage to convince ourselves that maintaining a spiritual life is just too complicated... enter Srila Prabhupada. He speaks with absolute conviction -- what math teacher, however open-minded he might be, would entertain the notion that two plus two does not equal four? -- but is neither condescending nor dogmatic.

We can state with certainty that two plus two equals four because we have experienced it. Although we have long since outgrown the need to be conscious of it, somewhere in the reaches of our mind two apples are lined up neatly next to two oranges, and an invisible grocer counts out four fruits. A first-grader, on the other handd, may need to be shown the transaction, she may need to roll each spherical apple in her hands before she can surrender to the concreteness of it.

I believe that Vrndavana is as real as those apples and oranges, as real as Srila Prabhupada says it is. It is patiently awaiting on us to choose to remember Krishna (not just at the temple or while fingering our beads, but all the time and in everything we do). Plug in the right integers, and you arrive at it: poof, you are in Vrndavana.

Prabhupada could state it as a fact, because for him it was a fact. Spiritual first-grader that I am, I may not be able to do the math myself right now. Still, I have faith.


Thinking about Dallas...

Things I will miss about being in Dallas:

  • Amazing prasadam.
  • The breathtaking temple room, blue sky ceiling, and BG Sharma.
  • Radha Kalachandji in Their night dress.
  • Kalachandji’s salad bar, tamarind cooler drink, and cinnamon flavored sweet rice.
  • Hanging out in TKG’s VIP room.
  • Walking down the neat and orderly hallway in front of the temple.
  • Reading the “Wall of Fame” articles.
  • Bhaktimarga Swami and his welcoming circle kirtans.
  • The hospitality of devotees like Ross prabhu and Nityananda Rama prabhu.
  • Pre-mangal arati slumber party with Damodar.
  • Feeling like part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Things I will not miss about being in Dallas:

  • Being away from my family.
  • Feeling compelled to watch TV just because there was one in my hotel room.
  • The ghetto Howard Johnson dresser drawers that broke.
  • Meetings that had no specified end-time, and concluded only when other meetings started.
  • Not being able to get through a meal without getting drawn into conversations.
  • 5:30 conference calls during japa.
  • The loneliness that crept in when I wasn’t expecting it.
  • Damodar's crazy ghost katha.
  • Making comments that started controversies.
  • Feeling like the youngest and most liberal one at the meetings.
  • Having to confront my anarthas on a daily basis.


Animal Farm before the GBC Meetings

I’m not sure exactly when I first read Animal Farm but I do know that my older sister brought it home from school as assigned reading. I devoured the small paperback – partly because it was good, mainly because reading my sister’s books made me feel like I was at least as smart as she. It was only several years later that I would truly appreciate how profound and insightful Orwell’s “fairy tale” really is.

Last year while speaking on a panel at the Kuli Mela, I found myself referencing Animal Farm’s chilling conclusion to a roomful of second-generation Krishna devotees: we have to be careful, I warned, not to become the very thing which we are fighting against.

I had the sudden urge to re-read the book on Wednesday night last week, as if brushing up on Animal Farm would help me prepare myself for the North American GBC and Temple Presidents Meetings (they run from Thursday to Sunday) in Dallas. It made me think: will I attend these meetings and sound the horn (conch shell) of revolution year after year; slowly climbing the corporate ladder of ISKCON, only to wake up one morning (X years from now) transformed into the type of old-school, stodgy, out of touch ISKCON bureaucrats that I am constantly railing against now?

I wonder, for that matter, if some of those stodgy prabhus once raised their own flags and dreamt up their own revolutions. How many of them were forced to sacrifice their own visions and ideals on the altar of middle management? Were their weary eyes once filled with stars and fixed on limitless possibilities? I wonder if they started out determined to think outside the box, and unwittingly ended up becoming border police, themselves rigidly guarding the lines around a new box.

It is humbling. My false ego wants to convince me that I am a visionary or great strategist, and that, ultimately, I am the controller. But in these honest moments of reflection, I am forced to admit that I am not so different from those who I may critique. Those moments serve as reminders to act with humility, empathy, and detachment, and to vigilantly guard against arrogance.

Still, I am aware that even with the best intentions, time will have its way with me. I hope not, but if history is any indication, I am already well on my way to becoming a fossil waiting to be respectfully displaced by the youth of tomorrow. It is depressing, but – in a way – oddly comforting. I like thinking of the possibility that I may already be outdated; that somewhere out there, some new revolutionary may already be planning to better the world for Krishna, in his own vibrant way. I just hope that before he puts me out to pasture, he’s had a chance to get himself a copy of Animal Farm.



Eat Your Damn Onions

Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to find onion-free snacks these days? The World Onion Council is at it again!

technical difficulties

I've been blogging (or trying to anyway), but I think a corrupted file (the Mahabharata video for anyone who tried to tune in) caused the site to freeze and my posts to be lost. So, back to the drawing board.

I will re-consider the Vid of the Week category, and will get back to posting soon. In the mean time, please amuse yourself by reading this again.


New Years Retreat

New Year's celebrations have always been a let-down for me. The dinner parties my parents sometimes hosted in my childhood -- which ended with us kids sipping cheap champagne, getting tipsy but generic blessings from uncles and aunties, and then spending the first few hours of the new year cleaning up after everyone -- could not hope to satisfy. As I grew older I developed my own tastes; the cheap champagne gave way to gingerale, and the dinner parties to kirtans at the temple, but the whole thing remained profoundly un-profound, undenibaly anticlimactic. I can remember one year when everyone went by the clock in the temple room (which routinely runs about 10 minutes fast) and exploded into loud cheers of "Haribol" -- at 11:50pm. Somehow, New Year's Eve parties have been a flop for me.

With that in mind, Krsangi and I decided to skip the celebrations this year and intentionally ring in 2007 in a low-key way. Since we chose to spend our time blissfully off the radar screen, I thought I'd share some of our weekend here.

On Saturday the 30th, we packed some bags, turned cell phones off and set auto-response on email, and drove off to our "top-secret undisclosed retreat" location, a few hours away. Since it was ekadasi, a day when many Krishna devotees fast from grains and practice other austerities to increase their spiritual practice, we enjoyed a refreshing salad and mashed potato dinner, and chanted some extra rounds of the Hare Krishna mantra on our beads .

The next day, we spent the day (New Year's Eve) in more chanting, having a soy and tofu filled brunch, and taking in some beauty and culture at the local museum. The evening found us at the hometown ISKCON temple, filled with warm and friendly faces (some familiar and others new), sweet kirtans, and a very special darshan of the gorgeous Radha Krishna deities who preside there. Although it was hard to disengage ourselves from the many interesting conversations we kept finding ourselves having, we finally managed to say "goodbye" and break eye contact long enough to make it back to the car and leave.

By the time midnight rolled around, we were again alone (together). We entered 2007 quietly, watching fireworks hit the sky, expressing our gratitude to start another year side-by-side.

New Year's Day -- more chanting, soy prasadam, window shopping, and some New Year's resolutions aided by Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. By nightfall, we were back in New Jersey, renewed and ready to face another year.

Later, I checked my email and saw a message from a close friend who commented about our decision to spend New Year's weekend away from friends and family:

I know you probably won't get this message until you get back from your retreat, I hope you and Krsangi have fun, you guys deserve a break. Although I will truly miss you both at our New Years celebration here. I view New Years as a night you spend with friends and family (in this case our congregation); the atmosphere almost feels like "a new year is coming, we are all starting this new year together and will be a part of eachothers life in this new year." As you and Krsangi both will probably play a significant part in my life this next year, I wish I could spend New Years with you, but I also am glad you are able to get a break.

I was humbled by this devotee's genuine appreciation for the association (sanga) of those closest to her, and touched that she counted us within that group. After reading this, a small part of me felt that perhaps we had been a bit selfish in choosing to be alone, that we should have opted to surround ourselves with those who care for us and whom we care for and start the new year off in their company.

At the same time, however, I am grateful that we took the time to re-connect with one another and with ourselves; we both needed it. We want to care for others, but to do that effectively we need to re-energize and renew ourselves. We need to have something worthwhile to give.

I pray that 2007 will be a year when I can work towards being a servant. I would like to be more giving, open, humble, and tolerant. I would like to reach out to others -- not begrudgingly, or mechanically, but in a loving and healthy way. I would like to have something worthwhile to give.

Happy New Year.