Thursday, July 24, 2014

Graffiti


    (photo by thingsnobodycaresabout.com)

I walk past the gutters
littered with trash
and the walls scrawled
with shapeless letters.
Music with no melody,
only beats and mutters,
blares from speakers.
Lined, unsmiling faces
and crossed arms
greet me on the platform.
The train arrives with
a blast and the rhythmic
ga-gumph,
ga-guuumph,
ga-guuuuuuumph...
The doors open with a hiss.
The floor rumbles beneath me,
we pass building
after building
scarified with
more
and more graffiti
that all looks the
same same same.
Graffiti scratches surround me
on the window and seat,
on the walls.
A man across the aisle
misses his stop, curses loudly.

I arrive at the Bhakti Center for a festival
drained
by the City.
Drained by the way
We
and I
graffiti our lives
with chitter and chatter
and curses.

I'm on the schedule to
sing kirtan in 15 minutes.
I heave a sigh and
head to the templeroom.
I am washed with the scent
of incense and
the holy name.
I thought that I had needed
to sleep
but after a half an hour
of singing
I just want to stay here
right here
in front of God
for the next seven days
and graffiti my heart
with the holy name.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pleading My Case

Last year in Mayapur...

The cold seeped into my fingers. I stitched away at the delicate needlework on the piece of cloth I was embroidering with beads. Other Mayapur Academy students were bent over looms, huddled in their sweaters.

Keshavi Mataji came around to clusters of students. She gathered several of us and said, "So, you are now going to write. You are having a conversation with Lord Chaitanya. You want to go back to the spiritual world, but He is skeptical. So have a conversation where you convince Him that you want to go back." Keshavi Mataji handed us lined pieces of paper, then moved on to the next cluster of students.

I stared at the blank sheet of paper, then went back to my needlework. How would I ever convince someone that I wanted to go back to the spiritual world when really I didn't care about going back? What was the big deal, anyway? Why can't we just live and love here? The spiritual world doesn't only have to exist when I die.

Time was ticking. Finally, I set aside my needlework and picked up a pen. I wrote the following conversation:

Me: You came for me, Mahaprabhu!
Lord Chaitanya: Yes. I only want to know how and why you want to come with me.
Me: This world... this place is not my home.
Chaitanya: You often forget that.
Me: I am realizing that the only place I can give love with no fear, with all my heart, is with You.
Chaitanya: Nice words. How about showing them?
Me: I have been on this path to You my whole life, Mahaprabhu. Lifetimes, actually.
Chaitanya: This qualifies you to come back to the spiritual world?
Me: No. I have no qualification.
Chaitanya: Then tell me how you can come with Me.
Me: Because You love me unconditionally, especially because I have no qualification.
Chaitanya: You're tugging at my mercy, Bhakti lata.
Me: Exactly. I am an impudent beggar. I have no right to beg, to be hanging onto the hem of Your dhoti.
Chaitanya: Indeed.
Me: I am demanding the highest gift, even though I have no right to demand. But I am lost without You. I beg You take me home.
Chaitanya: You don't need to beg, my dear Bhakti lata dasi.
Me: Really?
Chaitanya: I have wanted you to come home with Me for thousands of lifetimes. I just wanted to hear from YOU.
      Come [holds out hand], let's go home.

***

When I recited this conversation out at the end of class to my fellow students, my voice broke at the end. A hush had fallen over everyone during these readings, and a hush fell over my own heart.

Take me home. Please. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Morning in Mayapur

From a journal entry awhile ago...

Wow. I am so in love with Mayapur. The deities here emanate love. They emanate sweetness and magnanimity. Every single person that I meet is a true Vaishnava - an example of kindness, sweetness, patience, tolerance, and of paka principles.

I chanted japa in the temple this morning, I was a little out of it. But slowly, slowly, I warmed up. Some men sat down to sing the most heartachingly beautiful bhajans, and I let my mind absorb in that poetry of music. The music soothed my mind - so much that I didn't want to leave, just stay in the templeroom with the curtains closed. I felt such shelter from the world in the templeroom. No plans, no drama, no one to meet, no one to talk to... just chanting and receiving darshan of the Lord. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Tell Me Something About Krishna...

Over a year ago, I received a random text message from my friend Balaram:

"Tell me something about Krishna." 

I was taken aback. How often do I get asked that kind of question?? I wanted to just write back, "Um, He's God." But I took some time to deeply reflect, and then I sent him back a meditation.

Over the past year, Balaram and I have taken turns in writing the random text message: Tell me something about Krishna. Usually Balaram will ask me, and it always catches me off guard. Sometimes we share something silly, sometimes something profound.

Some time ago, I asked Balaram to tell me something about Krishna. Several weeks later, he finally responded.


"Krishna is in the rare moments when I truly connect with a person who is also in the pursuit of simultaneously living and understanding what it means to be alive.


That's one thing I can say about Krishna."

I can't help but feel that if you, dear reader, are in the pursuit of living and understanding what it means to be alive, then Krishna is alive and present in this very moment, as you read the words off this screen. I am honored to be in your association. Thank you.

It's your turn: tell me something about Krishna. Or better yet: tell the world something about Krishna.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Shelter

Growing up, I had intense issues with my skin. Rashes, lesions, weeping. One evening when I was around 14 or so, I ate something that disturbed my system, and the next day my face, neck, and chest were covered in searing rashes.

The pain was immense. Stinging, stabbing, red knives. I was screaming and crying, and my mother was also freaking out. I tried to drink water, I tried various salves on my skin, but each salve only escalated the pain. I tried ice, I tried showers. I may have tried some over-the-counter drug.

My mother was on the verge of calling the hospital.

Then something happened, and the moment is forever imprinted upon my memory. I was drinking a glass of water, and at the very bottom of the glass there was a black speck that was slowly, slowly drifting down.

I even stopped drinking - I just watched the speck drift. In those moments, I accepted my pain. The whirlwinds seemed to still be going on, my mother was still trying to call the hospital, but I became still.

My mother came over to see me and my face was utterly calm. She was bewildered at my shift in mood.

"Do you still want me to call the hospital?"

"No, mom, it's okay,"

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, it's okay."

The rest of the day I was nearly silent. When the stabs of pain would come, I would let them come. I didn't fight them. Just accept. I felt like in that strange moment of watching the speck float in my water glass, the Lord had given me a moment to regain some sanity.

This was not the last time I was faced with intense and powerful pain on my skin. I faced a similar trauma several years later - my whole face swelled, and I didn't even look like me. The pain, the sores, and the weeping lasted for several unending days. Drugs and cold baths and salves didn't work.

Only silence. And accepting the pain. Sometimes I would cry, but it would hurt to cry. So I just let it be.

I am realizing so much in my life now that when I surrender to what is going on for me, observing the motions of my life and heart and those around me, I find peace. I feel like the Lord in my heart protects me in those moments, he holds me and carries me

I want to take shelter of Him so much more. Every day. Not just for the pain, but for the joy and the peace and the love.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Gift

February 2013

I rarely sing kirtan nowadays. You know, with instruments, call and response, people. For some reason I'm avoiding kirtan situations where I could be asked to sing. I guess I feel this fear of failure - that I'll sing and feel incomplete at the end. Like I didn't connect, others didn't connect, I looked like a fool.

This morning, though, before class Adi Purusha Prabhu just walked right up to me with a pair of kartals in each hand.

"Yes?" I said.

"You can choose your pair to lead the morning kirtan," he said.

"Oh!" I said. I slowly reached for the pair in his left hand. "Okay..."

So I sang. My voice was low from being sick, and I ended up dropping into a tune that I had never sung before and had had no plan of even singing. It just came out.

Everyone was singing, I felt all of us in class calibrating on the holy name. I felt a lightness and peace in my body. I felt grateful to be surrendering to the random flow of the kirtan.

When the kirtan ended, Srimati Mataji came up to me and gave me a big bear hug, just enfolding me in her love. She murmured, still embracing me, "Never stop singing. Always sing, Bhakti lata,"

"Oh thank you, mata, thank you, I feel so blessed," I said. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and I gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Srimati Mataji sat  back down in front of me and I felt so moved. So moved. I feel moved right now. Krishna has given me a gift, and giving that gift as a service to others is the perfection of that gift. I've been selfish with this gift that Krishna has given me, avoiding kirtan because I'M scared of failure and not being seen as an expert musician and kirtaniya. But maybe that gift can become perfect if I'm willing to just let go. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Love Letter for Radhe Shyam



My Dear Radhe Shyam,

Oh magnificent Shyam! My gorgeous, life-giving Lord. Your Radharani is a moon in the dark night of my mind. Her beauty is unrivaled in this world.

I want to share that You both are my inspiration for connecting with God as a person. You have inspired me for so many years to connect with You through intimate singing, dancing in kirtan, everything to do with worshiping the Lord. You are woven into the fabric of my soul. When I am in Your presence, all worries dissolve, all of my wishes seem to be granted. I am at peace, satisfied.

You are the reason I attended Mayapur Academy in India to learn the highest standard of worship. You are the reason I received second initiation, so that I could step upon Your altar to worship You. I just want to worship You, care for You, learn how to love You.

When all seems lost in my connection to Krishna consciousness, I have only to sit before You and sing for Sayana Arati and the well of my soul fills with the sweet water of nourishment and realization.

You both are the monarchs of my heart. Always. Forever. You are so, so high above, commanding such presence and high level of worship. And yet You are also so divinely soft and loving - You allowed me to step upon Your altar a year ago to touch Your feet for the very first time. Absolutely mind-blowing.

I have sat before You literally thousands of times to chant, sing, and absorb Your gorgeous forms. A year ago I sat before you, writing in my journal. You were on the other side of the curtains, getting ready for bed. I did not know when I would return to You to sing You another lullaby. I still don't. My destiny is in Your hands. I am now in New York, praying that I may be an instrument of Your grace.

I love You. I miss You. May I eternally return to reside at Your feet, singing lullabies.

Love,

Bhakti lata dasi

(photos courtesy of Ragunath das) 



To write is to dare the soul. So write.