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 …


TGIF: Radhanath Swami at Radha Govinda Mandir

Okay, okay... you got me. It's been a week since my last blog post. But, WOW -- what a week it has been! Where to begin?

Friday: Radhanath Swami at the Radha Govinda Mandir in Brooklyn, NYC. Orginally scheduled to be at the Astanga Yoga studio in SoHo, it was changed at the landolord's polite but firm request -- it turns out that when they say "maximum occupancy 80", they don't actually mean "cram in 150 to 200 people and have them all chant and dance along until 10pm." Hmmm, go figure.

I was a bit bummed about the change, because I've noticed that Radhanath Maharaj is so keyed in to the atmosphere and mood of the place where he speaks. When he gave the talk at the yoga studio on Tuesday, for example, he spoke on a topic and in such a way that would connect with any thoughtful open-minded New Yorker. Personally, I love those types of classes. So my fear was that at the ISKCON temple in Brooklyn, Maharaj's mood would be more in-house.

I have to admit that my fears were not entirely unfounded. Maharaj did give more of an in-house class on Friday, and went into a considerably detailed (but relishable) history of the original Govindadeva deity. But it was really good for me to appreciate that other side of him, and I have to say -- the class was just as exciting, enlightening, and generally mind-blowing as anything else Maharaj speaks about.

After a rocking kirtan and prasadam, I got to have a few precious seconds with Maharaj in the hallway of the temple.

Radhanath Swami: So tomorrow your mother will be re-born.

Me: Maharaj, is it okay if I still call her Mom?

RNS: Of course. Did you know that even after Lord Caitanya took sannyasa, He still called Saci Mata "mom?"

Maharaj has this amazing sense of humor and this way of giving me transcendental come-backs that leave me speechless!

...more to come...


Not a fashion

A spiritual master is not a fashion, that "Oh, I should have a spiritual master." People after fashion. No. One must be very much inquisitive to know what is the highest perfection of life. If one is actually inquisitive to understand about the highest perfectional stage of our life, then he should search after a spiritual master.

~ His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada;
lecture in New Vrindavan, May 22, 1969

Thirty-eight years -- to the date -- after Srila Prabhupada spoke those words, Krsangi and I sat in a SoHo yoga studio, along with about 149 other people, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Radhanath Swami, our guru maharaj who is visiting for a few days.

Krsangi later told me that she had an interesting episode at the program. She had been sitting next to an NYU student who is new to Krishna consciousness. When she told him that Radhanath Swami was her guru and that she only got to see him once or twice a year, he was flabbergasted. "But then, how do you actually learn from him?" She tried her best to explain, but it made her really think about our relationship with Radhanath Maharaj and how we can make sure we are not just following him as a "fashion" statement.

"...how do you actually learn from him?"

Its a good question, and sitting at the dining table last night, Krsangi, Mom, and I tried to answer it. Here's some of what we came up with:
  • Our relationship with Maharaj is based on following his instructions, the most important of which is to chant 16 rounds of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra every day.
  • To the extent that we are trying to imbibe the mood of a saragrahi vaisnava - living with humility, tolerance, forgiveness, appreciation, empathy, service - to that extent we are associating with Radhanath Maharaj. (The converse is true too)
  • The guru's instructions need not always be specific to the details of disciple's situation. Classes delivered or lessons imparted in a general setting (like a Srimad Bhagavatm lecture) can be just as meaningful and life-transformative as a personal one-on-one instruction.
  • If we are actually making spiritual advancement, then our relationship with our guru should be going deeper (though not necessarily more physical association).
  • Radhanath Maharaj wants us to serve and take shelter of the mature, caring, and dedicated devotees (like Yajna Purusa prabhu, for instance) who are able to counsel us on the day-to-day process of trying to make spiritual advancement. We must develop the faith to see our spiritual master's instructions in these devotees. And Maharaj is most happy when we are genuinely trying to be "servants of the servants."
  • Although everything above is true, it must never become an excuse for complacency. The instruction (vani) of the spiritual master is more important, but the physical presence (vapuh) should not be artificially neglected. We are personalists and should appreciate that physical proximity is a gift to be appreciated. So we should be very enthusiastic about hearing from Maharaj, seeing him, spending time with him, and most of all serving him, when Krishna gives us such an opportunity.
Other thoughts? Leave a comment.


Krishna Cares! - the photo essay -

Krishna Cares @ the AIDS Walk on Sunday, May 20th
~ a photo essay ~

Krishna Cares co-founder Bhaktin Nicole with her mom, Nancy. From the moment she proposed the idea of a Krishna Cares team to the very last step we took, Nicole has been instrumental in leading the project. Thanks Nicole!

Looking for a good grihasta activity? Forget the movies, consider an AIDS Walk instead.

Brahmacaris can have fun there too! Our lovable monk, NYC Pandit, chanting and walking in ecstasy.

Ari proudly carries the Krishna Cares sign, but the others are still "on the fence." (sorry for the pun, I couldn't resist)

...walk - chant - smile...

Q: Why is Pandit so happy?
A: Because he's never been able to convince so many devotees to put on saffron before!

An unlikely kirtan superstar: Geeta (and her crew) rock the mahamantra, Bhakti Tirtha e'shtyle.

Chant ... and be happy!

After crossing the finish line -- and we are ready to do it all over again!

... okay maybe not.


Krishna Cares!

Thanks to a delay on the F train, we are running late. By the time we arrive at Central Park, the crowds are swelling -- we started to see people wearing AIDS Walk NY t-shirts even on the train -- and I worry that we won't be able t0 find the rest of our team. My apprehension is unnecessary: our teammates are already wearing their bright orange Krishna Cares t-shirts, and are pretty hard to miss even in this crowd. With only a few minutes before the walk is to begin, Krsangi and I quickly transform into orange people as well.

We start to walk, except this walking is more like allowing yourself to be moved along in a tidal wave of bodies . The experience feels like a cross between a Ratha Yatra and Disney World the day a new ride opens. But soon the walkers are giving each other space, and everyone is going at whatever pace they feel comfortable with.

I feel a buzz seeing my devotee friends walking alongside (and in front of and behind) me -- unified in purpose and garb, the black letters against the orange fabric unabashedly spelling out "Krishna Cares" and "Hare Krishna - chant and be happy." The buzz blossoms into a thrill when AIDS Walk volunteers start to cheer us on by shouting out our team name and flashing us the "raise the roof" mudra. "Krishna cares!" they shout, and suddenly its not just our team-name; its a declaration that the Supreme Lord really does care for all of His children.

We walk-- some chanting on beads, others engaged in light conversations. At the head of our party, Ari happily bounces and bobs about while carrying a beautiful "Krishna Cares" sign. He looks like he will hardly break a sweat during the 6 mile walk, and I appreciate (and envy) his enthusiasm.

I originally thought it'd be nice for us to just walk like everyone else and not "demand" special attention by doing kirtan. But after walking like this for some time, I begin to grow tired of just shuffling along, and experience a need to chant the Holy Names. Its not an artificial, calculated, ploy; it is a real desire to chant and I start to feel it from the pit of my stomach. Apparently, others do too, and so we quickly devise a plan. Since none of us thought to bring instruments, our only musical accompaniment is the clapping of our hands. We try chanting a basic melody in unison. Our voices are loud but unsure, slightly off-key but brimming with sincerity.

We chant a few collective refrains and then fade out, resigned that there isn't much we can do without mrdangas and kartals. But then Geeta suggests a different tune. It is a well-known melody, one that the late Bhakti Tirtha Swami loved to use. In fact, as we spread the word through our team we refer to it that way: "Hey, lets try doing the Bhakti Tirtha Swami tune." I am still doubtful, and tell Geeta as much; she is undaunted, though, and -- surprising us all -- agrees to lead (with a little help from Krsangi and Nisha).

"Hare!" Hare...
"Krishna!" Krishna...

The energy is building; I shake off my doubts and start to smile. Our voices are stronger, and the walkers around us react positively-- some giggle, some cheer, some offer us a thumbs-up gesture. Now I am grinning, ear to ear, running in front of the group to walk backwards and snap photos. Ari is leaping in the air, the sign in his hand not weighing him down in the least. Pradyumna is chanting like an army drill sergeant, dovetailing his frat-house-honed energy in the service of the Holy Name. Nancy claps along, her small gold crucifix resting against the picture of flute-playing Krishna on her blazing orange t-shirt.

At a traffic light now; Geeta is in full force and I am positively giddy. A group of teenage walkers -- two Hispanic guys, a lanky Black girl, a sun-burnt blond -- seem drawn to the chanting, repeating the words as best they hear them. Pradyumna and I help them to listen and follow along, and after a few refrains, I ask the blond girl to lead. She is happy to oblige while her friends cheer her on as if she were on stage at a karaoke bar. Later, another teenage girl sends us a smile (her braces reflecting the sun's rays) and asks me to explain the significance of the mantra while she shoots some video on her camera phone. I tell her that it is a prayer to God, the all-attractive Lord of us all, to please engage us in His service. She likes the answer, and after a thoughtful pause she asks "So, you're helping people become spiritually empowered?" Haribol!

The streets are all blurring into one, the skyscrapers we pass indistinguishable from one another. I am vaguely aware of a soreness in my calves and a callous on the sole of my foot. Still, the Holy Name and the devotees walking along keep me going and I get my second (third?) wind. We are marching along the West side, when temptation strikes: an ice cream vendor is handing out freebies. Our kirtan troop collapses under the weight of the pressure, but soon enough we recover -- many of our soldiers now with a cup of sherbert in hand.

We switch up the tune again and keep chanting. Seeing the energy level dropping a bit, I turn my empty water bottle into a make-believe microphone and invite different devotees to sing into the mic. It is a silly gag, but seems to work in lifting morale. Ari leaps. Pandit twirls. Nicole and her mom are beaming.

"Krishna cares!" volunteers with bullhorns call out approvingly. The walkers, volunteers, and even the passing cars are all happy to see us and appreciate our enthusiasm. For them, we are ambassadors of spirituality and good energy. I think of what the girl with the camera phone said -- helping people become spiritually empowered -- and feel tinges of guilt for having doubted the potency of the Holy Name.

We snake our way back into Central Park and find ourselves before an archway made of balloons. This is it. To go under it is to complete the walk, to succeed in our mission of the day. We hesitate for a bit, and I try to delay the inevitable, try to convince my teammates to stay and do more kirtan at the threshold. I am voted down. And so, with chants on our lips and arms triumphantly raised, we cross over. We complete the walk.

It is only when walking back to the subway station, that I allow myself to feel exhausted.



twenty minutes away

I can hardly believe that my spiritual master, His Holiness Radhanath Swami, is twenty minutes away from me right now, staying at the home of one of my favorite godbrothers as he often does. I will see him tomorrow at the Ashtanga Yoga Center, where he will give talks on spirituality in the modern age.

Radhanath Swami is an amazing personality. In the 15 or so years that I've "known" him , he has been many things to me: a father, a guide, a teacher, a connection to Krishna and Srila Prabhupada, and even a dear well-wishing friend. Most of all, however, he remains for me an exemplar: proof positive that God consciousness is a beautiful, attainable reality. He embodies what "a blade of grass" actually means.

I feel torn right now. A part of me wants to sit here and write volumes and volumes about him -- who he is, experiences he's been through, instructions he has given me, and memories of learning Krishna consciousness under him that I hope to cherish until my dying breath. But another part of me wants to finish this post as quickly as I can so that I can log off and just enjoy the silence of this bitter-sweet meditation.

Apologies to the reader, but I am pretty sure which part will win. And I think I will now go and sit by the window and ponder the mystery of how twenty minutes can be an eternity. If I look hard enough, I may even be able to see Jersey City from here.



Walk This Way

Criticism: Religious people love to "talk the talk" but rarely "walk the walk."
Response: Pull on sneakers, grab a bottle of water, and hit the road.

Bhaktin Nicole, an enthusiastic member of the Krishna NYC community based at 26 2nd Ave. has put together "Krishna Cares," a team of ISKCON devotees and friends who want to apply their faith by reaching out to others for a good cause.

This Sunday, May 20th, we will be taking part in the AIDS Walk.

Working from home is great, but one of the downsides is that I can't exactly pass around the pledge-form at the water cooler. That is where you (dear reader) come in.

Please take a moment to visit my personal donation page and sponsor me!

I'll do all the walking for us, but please contribute towards this great cause. Every little bit helps.

I'll try to post updates as we count down to Sunday.




10 Things that Rocked My World During the Festival of Inspiration '07:
  1. Mahatma Prabhu's powerful presentation on keeping commitments and honoring vows. As a result, I have decided to get "re-initiated" (by the same Guru!) and re-new myself at the lotus feet of my Gurudeva. Oh, and I still can't shake that image of finally being face to face with Lord Krishna and Him saying "I don't know if I can trust you..." Blew me away.
  2. Saturday morning kirtan-- Vish, Gauravani, Sarvajaya... dancing like I haven't danced in a long time... feeling the holy name in every aching muscle and drop of sweat.
  3. Yadunath & Co. with their "Sense Enjoyers Anonymous" sketch.... priceless. You have not truly lived if you haven't heard Ekendra Prabhu's Bhakta Igor saying "Telewizion" or "Krishna should pop me like bubble."
  4. Being in awe watching Gaura (as frontman for his band The Fews) belt out heartfelt, confessional, rocking songs.
  5. The brief but undeniably wonderful time spent with Karnamrta... standing around outside a tent in the takes-you-by-surprise cold West Virginia night, delaying the inevitable, saying goodbyes repeatedly, wishing she could stay longer.
  6. Seeing Balaramacandra walking around with a megaphone announcing $1 ice cream sales, and then getting bombarded by frenzied kids waving dollar bills at him.
  7. Chanting circle and "japa-hoppa" with Caitanya, Mehek, Sneha, Gopisvari, and Krsangi.
  8. Spending my birthday having a killer ekadasi feast and chatting with Parijata, my "sister from another mother" -- somehow she and I have a bond and a kinship that I can't really explain, but I think we felt it, even way back in 1996. She is my original communications guru, an inspiration, and a big sister and great friend in every sense.
  9. Three words: Gourmet to Go.
  10. Being around devotees that remind you, just by the looks on their faces, that it is possible to be Krishna conscious in this life.
(Bada Hari prabhu Bhagavatam class, Friday morning)

(Bada Hari and Ananta - inspired, and inspiring others)

(Anuttama Prabhu reps communications at the IC table)


enter stage left: Old Age

"twenty-nine years and my life is still
trying to get up that great big hill
of hope
for a destination..."
(slightly paraphrased, 4 Non Blondes - "What's Going On?")

Happy Birthday to me! So this year's "big day" is bittersweet: sweet because I'm in New Vrindaban with my family, getting blessings from wonderful devotees, constantly being reminded of the important things in life; bitter because I suddenly feel old and a bit alone. I know, I know -- silly, right? 29 is hardly senior citizen material, and I have many loving friends and family members to be thankful for. Except that, no matter how hard I try, somehow I just can't shake the feeling.

When I was younger, I used to love my birthday... the excitement, the attention, the feeling that I was one year closer to whatever it was that I was rushing toward. But today, I'd just as soon as forget the whole thing. Not that I'm going to wear all black and write melancholy haikus about despair -- it's just that it suddenly feels silly for me to get excited about a day designed to recognize that I am getting older. It feels sort of like a shirt that doesn't quite fit anymore, uncomfortable in ways that the casual observer can't notice but that pinches the person wearing the shirt.

Last week I found a few new grey hairs. My body aches in ways that I can't find rational reasons for. I have to watch what I eat, and pizza-eating contests have been replaced with worries about how I'm going to digest all that cheese.

It is life -- dehino 'smin yatha dehe, kaumaram yauvanam jara -- Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita that the soul passes through different bodies even in this one lifetime, from babyhood to boyhood to youth and then old age.

There's a diorama display called "Changing Bodies" that makes the rounds at Hare Krishna traveling festivals. It depicts the soul's passage through various stages of life and finally to another body at the time of death. I can remember being a kid and analyzing the various figures to see which stage I was in.

I guess the problem with getting older is the awareness that it brings, however subtle, that Mr. Old Age is just the opening act for the Big D. Is that what we're all rushing toward?

And maybe that is where the cake, ice cream, games, and gifts come in -- maybe we need them to balance out the cold, hard facts. Maybe.

"Because I'm self-absorbed, I get upset
Mad at the world, how could they forget?
I was alone at birth, I'll be alone at death
Hope I won't be alone at my final destination...

Birth's a costume with a genetic script
We play some role that we'd like to fit
And never admit that we're full of it
And live life in some sort of dazed hallucination
I'll never lament because life is brief
Our bodies are changing like the autumn leaf
It's said that time is the greatest thief
And beats and cheats this entire population."

(Shelter - "Alone on my Birthday")


Festival of Inspiration

Today, the Festival of Inspiration begins. I think it is one of the most exciting and, well, inspiring events I get to attend all year. This year, the roster is intentionally full of devotees who are usually not given "top billing." Some may find that a turn-off, and there may be some grumblings about "second-tier" speakers or "not having enough sannyasis" there.

Personally, I think that this a great sign that the Festival is progressive, broad minded, and visionary. And there are so many wonderful devotees who have so much to share, and we rarely get to hear from them like this.

That is not to say that I don't miss the "big guns" being there. I'm particularly bummed that my spiritual master, Srila Radhanath Swami, will not be there. But I'm excited about attending seminars by Mahatma Prabhu, Rupa Raghunath Prabhu, and Yadunath Prabhu.

Hope to keep everyone updated, and to spread the inspiration around.



Car and Driver

The driver of the car is always important, either in the car or without the car, but people in general are giving importance to the car only. They have no knowledge of the driver. The car requires petrol and the driver requires nice food. So people in general, when they see that we are not giving petrol to the driver, they are surprised...

(His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, interview with the Associated Press on November 18, 1976)

Responding to an AP Reporter's questions about a Krishna devotee's view of the world, Srila Prabhupada uses a practical analogy: identifying with the body and denying the spirit is like paying attention to the car while ignoring the driver within it. Without the driver, the car -- whether BMW or Maruti -- is so much dead metal. Similarly, the body may do so many wonderful things, but without the soul, it is useless. Its a bold but, I think, necessary reminder to put life in its proper perspective.

In my own teaching work, I often repeat this example. "Real knowledge," I tell my Bhagavad-gita students, "begins when you realize that you are actually not your car!" That usually draws a few chuckles (especially from the male students, many of whom invest great pride and a lot of money into 'pimping their rides').

Still, there is jnana (book knowledge) and vijnana (realized knowledge) -- and the difference between them can be pretty embarrassing. Case in point: two weeks ago, I managed to slam my Corolla into a pick-up truck. I didn't end up with a scratch on me, but my poor car.... let's just say that the trunk came out looking like it had borrowed money from a mobster and it was payback day. I jumped out of the car, ran out to see that crushed metal and mangled plastic, and felt like I got punched in the stomach.

(photo: Caitlin Frazier)

And now, long after the shock has worn off and I've had time to come to terms with my insurance premiums going up (which they will)... I still feel a quiet, gnawing discomfort in my belly. Somewhere deep in there, despite having heard Prabhupada's example, despite having taught the example again and again myself, I haven't gotten it yet. Not even close.

My hope is that this uncomfortable feeling may be a glimmer of some genuine humility.

Krishna is kind, though, and He sends reminders in the most unlikely of places. When I took the car into the shop (appropriately called a "body shop") the young lady at the front desk winced when she saw the car, but then flashed me a sympathetic smile.

"Remember, the most important thing is that you weren't hurt," she said. "A car is just a car."



"Our belief hot ISKCON... and we believe in kill."

About a year ago, Children's Pressline (a "by kids, for kids" news agency) contacted me about doing a story on youth who mission (i.e. preach). I helped to set up interviews with two of our Pandava Sena all-stars -- Mohit and Gopika.The interviews were done and the story was eventually written.

While googling something the other day, though, I discovered that somehow the story made its way into a magazine in Holland. Gopika ran it through freetranslation.com and came up with the version below. I don't know why I find this so hilarious, but I do. Either it is a PR nightmare, or the most brilliant marketing that ISKCON has ever done. Anyway, here it is. Enjoy:

Mohit: Our belief hot ISKCON and we believe that there a god is. Our beliefs is a sect within the hindoeisme. As child read I the stories over Srila Prabhupada, the man that this godsclienst is begun. a,. I realized that all seen man so many can do, I then must help its belief to let survival. I want not that all its work for nothing is been. Therefore predict I my belief. I want the dividing with others and hope that the their lives luck will bring because summoned believe me also luck lifts brought. It is neit my intention men to convert, but they to let know that belief exists. If they not fortunately are then is honor and believe that them can help. If I make data an others clear, they can get more out the life.

Gopika: Vegetarian food is an also part of our religion. We do not believe in medeleven with all living wizens and we believe in kill. Also because we believe that we not really our bodies are, but souls and that each living orphans a soul lifts. Thus we do not believe in the dead of others

Mohit: My belief comes on the first place, even for school. Everybody know that my belief much considerablyer for me is then school or hobbies and that understand she also. And just because zed knowledge I become ate treated with more respect.

Gopika: I he bone normal school life. My friends respectern me round my religion and my belief and the work that I do.

Mohit: I do already from my fourth missionary work. It amazes men that I speak that I am so young and already so hardcore supporter. Others cannot differ it. They walk away, but that do not makes me out. My whole family follows my belief. They are all quite happy that I prepare be took the errand to proclaim. They support me 100 per cent.

# # #


Return of the April Fool

Happy May! Returning to the blog... feeling vaguely foolish for having ignored it for so many weeks, but old friends tend to be welcoming even when you've been gone for way too long.

For some reason, April ends up being my busiest month of the year. With every trip, meeting, and conference that takes me away from home, I fall off the face of the Earth a little bit more.

Some highlights of the month:
  • Had a chance to put first things first by attending a Japa Retreat at the Menla meditation and retreat center in Upstate NY. Words can't even begin to convey what an amazing experience that was. The phrase that I keep returning to is "life transformation." Hopefully, I can back-post some thoughts, notes, photos, and video (Badahari Prabhu, Varsana Maharaj) soon.
  • Went to DC and attended the 10th annual Vaisnava-Christian Dialog on "The Problem of Evil." The conference is really interesting and a chance to spend some quality time with people of faith -- devotees of Christ and Krishna alike. Plus, I got to hang out with my favorite Vaisnava-Christian couple (and their orthodox Jewish cat).
  • Back to DC for more interfaith fun. Helped to facilitate an intensive 3-day visioning retreat for the Religions for Peace North American Young Adult Network (website coming soon!) -- a dynamic group dedicated to grass-roots faith-based peace building.
  • Smashed the back of my car into a Toyota Tacoma (owned by a cop!). Damage done: violated trunk, crippled bumper, and a bruised ego. If I can get Caitlin to send me the pictures, I'll post them up for all to see.
  • Jetted off to Louisville, Kentucky (which, as far as I have been told is pronounced "Lew'll-ville") for the Religion Communicators Council yearly meeting. I love attending this, because it is a chance for me to connect with other people who do what I do for their own religious organizations. I learn so much from them -- it is inspiring (to see what they are doing), frustrating (because we're not doing it yet), and humbling (knowing that we have a long way to go, but that we can get there).
  • Attended an interesting workshop on blogging. According to the folks running the workshop, the number one rule of blogging is... to keep blogging. (Oops! I was afraid they'd say that.) Hence my triumphant return to a blade of grass.
And now, back home... for a while at any rate. Thanks for your patience, and hope to hear from and talk to you soon.

with love,