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 …



Went to see the Namesake last night, Mira Nair's well-made film adaptation of Juhmpa Lahiri's superbly written novel.

The film chronicles the Ganguli family, tracing their journeys from the arranged marriage of Ashima and Ashok to the relationship issues that haunt their son Gogol. Tabu was amazing as Ashima, Irfan Khan played a subtle and admirable Ashok, and Kalpen Modi (Harold and Kumar's Kal Penn if your prefer) did a decent job being Gogol, although at times he seemed to revert back to playing Kumar the stoner kid. Anyway, the film differed from the novel in many significant ways, and I honestly found myself a bit disappointed at times. But still the crux of the theme came through powerfully, and the film sparked a lot of interesting thoughts and ideas without succumbing to the usual "Alas, am I Indian or American?" formula.

Although religion was only present in the film in certain external or superficial ways, I thought that a subtle but profound kind of spirituality permeated the film. At one point, when a teenage Gogol visits Calcutta, he looks out the window and is drawn to the singing of some Baul wanderer below. It is a quick moment and it passes, but I think that wandering spirit is still present throughout the film, hiding behind all the mundane questions and tensions.

As both an ABCD and a card-carrying Hare Krishna, how can I not be fascinated by identity issues and generational or cultural shifts?

Not surprisingly, a short -- seemingly insignificant -- sentence in the novel (not depicted at all in the film) drew my attention. The author described how Ashima, a recently arrived immigrant housewife walking around 1970s Boston while her husband was at work, would sometimes pass the "Hare Krishnas pestering her with their literature."

Somehow I doubt that in those brief encounters either Ashima (who will soon raise two Indian-American kids) or the probably-over-zealous Krishna devotees (themselves American born "children" of a Bengali immigrant) realized just how much their lives had in common.


PS: While we were watching the film at the Angelika in Greenwich Village, this was going on a few blocks away.


Spring Forward

"Of seasons I am flower-bearing Spring."
(Sri Krishna in Bhagavad Gita, 10.35)

Not many flowers yet. Still, today feels oddly, surprisingly, and wonderfully like Spring. The sun is out, the air is warm, and I can't help but feel up-beat.

Strange how something like the weather can affect my mood so strongly. It brings to mind another allusion that Krishna makes to seasons in the Gita:

"Oh son of Kunti, the comings and goings of happiness and distress of this world are like the changing Winter and Summer seasons. They are temporary and relative to your perception, O scion of Bharata, and you must learn to tolerate them." (Bg 2.14)

The seasons (and the feelings they carry with them) come and go. The unforgiving heat of the summer, the blistering cold of winter, the joys of lazy July afternoons around the pool, the elation of December's first snowflakes gently falling on your tongue... happiness and distress, honor and dishonor, success and setback. The wise, Krishna says, learn to tolerate the flickering dualities of the material world.

That may strike us as odd -- does "tolerate" mean you have to walk around stone faced, an emotion-less Vulcan too transcendental to give a damn about the workings of the world around you?

A sage was once asked to explain tolerance. He paused to gather his thoughts, and then spoke in a soft but confident voice: "Tolerance means that on winter mornings you still take a cold bath, and on summer afternoons you still cook your lunch."

Good or bad, rain or shine -- the spiritualist sees the bigger picture, focuses on his dharma, and perseveres.

Still, we have to be honest with ourselves and our level of detachment. I think I'll go outside for a japa walk.


Our Aspiration: a blade of grass

What is envy? Envy means, "I want to be seen as important and great and if anyone is a threat to my own egoistic idea, then there is negativity towards that person, perhaps in my thoughts, in my words, in my actions." But if devotees put as their goal -- as their aspiration -- humility, then there is no question of envy. Therefore the cardinal principle of Sri Caitanya's teachings is this verse from the Siksastaka:

trnad api sunicena, taror iva sahisnuna
amanina manadena kirtaniya sada harih

This is our aspiration. We cannot enter into the higher realms of consciousness, until we develop this as our consciousness, of striving as the goal of our life, to be more humble than a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree, to be ready to offer all respect to others, to expect no respect for oneself and in this way with a clean and sincere heart, to chant the name of Krishna constantly. This is our aspiration. Not to be a sannyasi, not to be a leader, not to be famous, not to be married in a wealthy family, not to be a president or a GBC or a sankirtan leader. These are all services, necessary services, which we should accept simply to assist our Guru's mission. But it is not our aspiration.

Our aspiration is to be more humble than a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree, to offer all respect to others and expect none in return and in this way to chant the name of the Lord constantly. And whatever our service may be, we should humbly execute our service, with this goal as our ambition in life. And if all of us, whether we are pujaris or cooks or whether we are sankirtan devotees or whether we are grihastas living outside having gainfully employed services to society and coming and chanting and making our families Krishna conscious, whatever our function may be, if we all unite under this aspiration of trnad api sunicena, there will be no envy. There will be sincere unity and then great progress can be made individually and collectively. And all sincere and innocent people of the world will be attracted to the atmosphere, where devotees are humbly coming together to chant the holy names of Krishna.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

It is our great service to the Vaisnavas, by our example, by our words, to encourage and enthuse devotees in this direction.

~ His Holiness Radhanath Swami



It took an army to do it, but I've finally been driven from my office. Okay, so it was an army of ants, but still... it was pretty traumatizing to have to flee with my laptop under my arm and my tail (or was that the adaptor cord?) between my legs.

While googling ways to launch a humane counter-strike, I am also trying to meditate on whatever lessons Lord Krishna wants me to learn from all of this. So far, I've come up with :

1. Appreciation. Although I constantly complain about how hard it is to work for home, I have (had) an opportunity to treat my service with the professionalism and dignity that it deserves. I could have seen this office as a gift from Krishna, a tool to get serious, and an external reminder of the kind of consciousness that I should be cultivating. Instead I let my mind (cluttered with laziness, childishness, and procrastination) ruin the office. I let the desk pile up with papers, the voice mail fill with unanswered messages, the "things to do" dry-erase board gather dust and stare ashamedly untouched back at me. I took my little haven for granted, and so perhaps Krishna gave it to those who can make better use of it.

2. Humility. Ants are tiny. In fact, when I noticed the first one marching across my desk a few weeks ago, I was more amused than startled. There was no way such a puny little creature could do any damage to me, even if I did (theoretically) accept the fact that within that fragile ant body was a spirit-soul that spiritually equal to me. A Vaisnava saying exhorts devotees of God to bow down with humility to all beings, "from the powerful demigods to the tiny, insignificant ant." To learn that lesson, along with my office space I've had to surrender my ego at the feet of these ants.

3. Tolerance. Just when I had started to settle into my ergonomic chair and get a bit comfy, Krishna threw me a curve ball. It seemed to be His clever way of chiding me: I bet you didn't see that one coming, did you? My child, there will always be something wrong, some problem or situation that is less than ideal, just to remind you that I am in control, not you. At those times, remember Me, let the world see how a devotee of Mine acts when faced with a challenge, and -- for My sake -- at least maintain a sense of humor about the whole thing! Srila Prabhupada famously wrote "One's greatness has to be estimated by one's ability to tolerate provoking situations." I have to admit, I didn't exactly handle this test with grace. I flailed my arms around, cursed, forgot what I had planned to do, and generally got thrown off my game. I've got a long way to go.

I write this blog entry from the safety of exile in the guest room. In my former office, now the headquarters for the Ant Liberation Movement, a charismatic young queen ant (I imagine her wearing a Che Guevera beret) directs the coup. I just hope that if she draws up strategic plans on the dry-erase board she doesn't use permanent markers.