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 …


What does this have to do with Krishna consciousness?

Two days ago, on a sudden inspiration, I started re-reading one of my favorite books, Memories by Satsvarupa das Goswami. Its amazing... an honest, bittersweet, struggling, comforting, challenging, collection of insights into a sadhaka's world, seen through the lens of his remembrances.

In a chapter where Sdg remembers listening to Coltrane's "A Love Supreme", he ponders the criticism that may arise from sharing such an apparently "mundane" memory:
When a practicing devotee asks the inevitable question: "What does this have to do with Krishna consciousness?" there are different ways to answer. We can be stern: "It has nothing to do with Krishna consciousness. It is maya and should therefore not be discussed." Or we can answer in another way: "Exactly. What does this have to do with Krishna consciousness?" Does the music have an inner form? Does it sing of an incoherent expression of love of God? That very question -- "What does this have to do with Krishna consciousness?" -- can become a search and a cry.
I've asked this question before. And as much as I've tried to rationalize it or explain it away by citing a busy schedule, the truth is that this same doubt -- What does this have to do with Krishna consciousness? -- has caused me to fall off the blogging wagon.

Thank you Sdg, for daring to suggest that we can answer that question in another way. Thank you to all those who have dared to risk being labeled a "deviant" by asking that question in their own lives.

Like them, I want very much to let it become a search and a cry.


Thursdays are for Bhakti Club

Today is Thursday, which means that for most of the day my consciousness is absorbed in the Rutgers Bhakti Club, our program to share the treasure of Bhakti Yoga with students at the largest university in New Jersey. Its funny, actually, because Thursdays used to be the day that Krsangi and I offered deity seva at the temple. A few months ago, we found that it was too much and that we needed some "time off" so we asked to be excused from our seva. At the time I thought it was an arrangement for us to calm our schedule down a bit; I see now, though, that Krishna had other plans. Krsangi and I hooked up with some empowered devotee students at Rutgers who were enthusiastic to start a club... and here we are.

So now Thursdays are for Bhakti Club.

When he heard, our friend Damodar half-joked that Lord Caitanya is making sure that we serve Him one way or another. "You guys don't want to dress or feed Me anymore? Okay, then go out and do some sankirtana, instead!"

Anyway, since today is Thursday and all, I thought I'd share a piece of writing I posted up on the new Rutgers Bhakti Club blog. Hope you like it...

Clearing Your Mind

After our last Bhakti Club lab on mantra meditation (which was awesome, by the way --- many thanks to those who joined us and took the plunge), a student asked me about clearing the mind. After all, she reasoned, isn't that what meditation is supposed to be all about?

My answer: yes and no.

If by clearing the mind, we mean turning it off, emptying it out, and becoming devoid of all thought... then no. First of all, it is nearly impossible to truthfully do; we usually end up thinking awfully hard about not thinking (quick -- don't think of a purple elephant!). Secondly, it is unnatural and, well, boring. Honestly... would you rather sit still and stare at a blank wall or watch the latest episode of Lost? Because the self is hard-wired to be active (to be, to love, to serve), the mind's got to do something. Starving it now will probably just cause it to freak out later.

Bhakti Yoga teaches that the mind can be positively engaged by focusing on the sacred sounds of the mantra. The great Bhakti mystic Sri Chaitanya wrote:

Chanting the Divine Names
allows one to clear away the dust
that is covering the mirror of the mind.

This is what we mean by clearing the mind. Right now, we peer into the mirror of our minds, but there is so much dust gathered there that we can't see much of anything else. A good mirror isn't one that is empty or reflects back nothingness; a good mirror is one which is clean and allows us to see ourselves as we are.

Mantra meditation is one practice that helps us to do some badly needed spring cleaning (from the inside out) by clearing away the layers of ignorance, selfishness, and materialism that prevent us from seeing our own potential and the beauty of the creation around us.

When we can do that, we will will be able to peer into the mirror of the mind, and see -- perhaps for the first time -- the true Self.

~ V.


"All monotheistic religions..."

A devotee forwarded this news item about Saudi King Abdullah's call for interfaith dialogue to me, wondering if there were a place for devotees of Krishna (Vaisnavas) at such a dialogue. It doesn't seem like it.

Despite the Saudi monarch's noble intentions to bring members of different faiths together, it seems that he may fallen prey to a common misconception, rooted in ignorance or stereotype: that only Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are "the monotheistic religions." The article says that the "Saudi king has made an impassioned plea for dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews" and quotes Abdullah as saying:

"The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions as we all believe in the same God."

It is true that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share common roots in Abraham, and it is true that they have been traditionally associated with a fierce (and sometimes violent) defence of monotheism among polytheistic neighbors. But because they are monotheists does not mean that they are the monotheists. Followers of the Vaisnava tradition (including ISKCON members) are staunchly monotheistic.

Of course, we can't really blame King Abdullah; even among the media, scholars, and interfaith advocates -- folks who ought to know better --the old "the three monotheistic faiths" line rears its ugly head from time to time.

So what can Eastern monotheists do to set the record straight?

Well for one thing, we need to gently (but firmly) educate those who may be unaware of monotheism east of Palestine. That means working proactively with other faith groups and writing in non-abrasive letters correcting reporters who got it wrong (and appreciating those who got it right).

For another, we must recognize that definitions are not set in stone and that perceptions can be changed. To do that, devotees of ISKCON (and other specific denominational Vaisnava institutions) may need to broaden their scope and re-connect with their identity as Hindu

Some devotees cringe at the use of the term, offering standard "Srila Prabhupada said we are not Hindus" reasoning to justify their stance. (See this presentation by Gauri Dasa for a more balanced view of Prabhupada's feelings on identifying and not identifying with Hinduism).

Scholars already agree that Vaisnavism is numerically the largest denomination within Hinduism. The fact of the matter is, if Vaisnavas want to help to shape how "Hinduism" is defined and understood (and not misunderstood), we have to be willing to reclaim our Hindu identity. If we want to be players on the world stage, those are the rules of the game that we need to accept.

King Abdullah is not likely to extend his plea to dialogue with a handful of Hare Krishnas, but he might find it difficult to ignore the united and articulate voices of Vaisnava Hindus.


like rabbits at His lotus feet

The great Vaisnava saint Parasara Bhattar* was told the story of a hunter in the forest who had caught a rabbit. The hunter was about to kill it, but it kept circling around him and it finally placed its head at the hunter's feet. The hunter's heart melted, and rather than kill it he offered it protection.

When Parasara Bhattar heard this, tears began to flow from his eyes, his hairs stood on end, and he fell unconscious. Seeing these ecstatic symptoms, his disciples became filled with wonder. They revived their illustrious master and asked him to explain why he had fainted. In a voice choked with transcendental emotion, the Acarya explained:

"The hunter was a low caste brutal person, and he had given no instructions and made no promises. The rabbit was a simple animal who studied no scriptures and performed no sadhana. Still, when the rabbit sought shelter at the feet of the hunter, he could not refuse. How much more fortunate then are we that the Lord has explicitly instructed us to surrender to Him and that He has promised us that He will protect us from all sinful reaction? Just see how merciful the Lord is! If even a common and lowly hunter will protect a creature that takes shelter of his feet, how can we possibly doubt that our Lord will take care of us if we take shelter at His lotus feet!"

Thinking of His beloved Lord in this way, Parasara Bhattar experienced ecstasy.

* = Parasara Bhattar was the divinely conceived son of the South Indian Vaisnava saints Kuresh and Andal and was personally installed as the next Acarya of the Sri Vaisnava Sampradaya by Sripad Ramaunjacarya.


On Blogging: "To Blog or Not to Blog..."

Madhavi said whatever happened to your New Year's resolution to get back to blogging?

So here I am (again).

Oh come on, stop rolling your eyes. Stranger things have happened. :-)