Tuesday, January 3, 2017

An Old Friend

"The bus is only two stops away, honey," Ghanashyam said, glancing at his phone. "I've got to go."

"Yes, yes, coming!" I poured hot soup into my husband's thermos and twisted on a cap with shaking hands. I slid the thermos into his lunchbox and handed it over.

"Thank you!" he said, then dashed away out the door. I took a deep sigh and began to clean up the kitchen. I turned around to face another counter and my heart dropped. The inner cap of Ghanashyam's thermos. This would mean his lunch would be cold and worse, the soup would spill everywhere. I hadn't woken up at 5:45am to make fresh soup for this!

I grabbed the cap and raced to the door. "Ghanashyam!" I called out into the hallway. Silence. I prayed that he hadn't left on the elevator yet. Frantic, I took several steps into the hallway.

The door behind me closed with a thump that echoed off the walls.

I spun around. I stared at the closed door, frozen.

Oh no.

I was in my pajamas and a robe, barefoot, holding a thermos cap. It was 6 o'clock in the morning in winter, the world still dark and asleep.

If Ghanashyam hasn't caught his bus yet, he could give me his key! I thought. Without many other options, I raced down the hallway, the elevator, and through the cavernous front lobby, my robes flying about me.

I dashed right out into the streets.

Barefoot, in pajamas, in the cold, dark morning.

Man, I must've looked like a lunatic!

I sprinted to the end of the block and glanced at the bus stop across the street. No Ghanashyam. Oh dear. So I padded back to our building. I had closed the front apartment building door carefully so that I could still get back inside. Once inside though, I realized I had looked at the bus stop for buses going in the wrong direction! So I RAN BACK OUTSIDE - barefoot, in pajamas, to search the OTHER, correct bus stop.

No go.

This time, though, I hadn't shut the front apartment building door so carefully and it had shut (and locked) behind me.

Jai.

Now I was locked OUTSIDE in the cold, dark morning, barefoot, in my pajamas and robe. With a thermos cap!

So I waited and waited, but it wasn't too long before a lady came out the door on her way to work and I got inside.

So what to do?

The building superintendent. Maybe he had a spare key to our apartment. But it was so early, surely he was sleeping. I had no phone to call him, I didn't know which apartment he lived in. Barely anyone was out and about at this hour, and I did not want to feel like a crazy woman, tapping on my neighbors' shoulders begging for our super's phone number.

So I went up to our hallway and thought, hm, I could ask Eddie for help, our friendly neighbor in the apartment directly above ours. But it was just too early for EVERYBODY.

So what to do??

Wait.

I slid to the floor outside my door, the tile cold against my seat and feet. I put the thermos cap up on the doorknob to keep it off the floor and out of my hands. I took a deep breath and, keeping count on my fingers, I began to chant, "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna..."

It was a strange feeling, to be stripped of absolutely everything except the clothes on my back (and a thermos cap). I had nothing and no one to turn to in the world, everyone was out of reach. And yet what could never be taken away from me was the holy name. The holy name was there for me to keep me company. The holy name didn't care whether I was a billionaire in a mansion or some young woman with only the clothes on her back.

The holy name was simply my friend, unconditionally.

In the dark and quiet morning in our hallway, I chanted for about an hour and a half. I would regularly check the sky to see if the sun had come up yet. At last, I figured it was early but not too extreme, so I walked upstairs and rang Eddie's doorbell. Sure enough it took two times, as he was scrambling to wake up and answer the door. He called and texted the super to no avail, then he suggested going through the fire escape as long as my window was open.

Eddie climbed down to my place, opened my window, climbed through and opened my front door. When he did so, the thermos cap came tumbling into the hallway from its perch on the doorknob.

So there you go.

That was my morning.

When I settled once again on the warm couch in my cozy apartment, I reflected how in the chaos of the morning, I had experienced a glimpse of magic. I had connected with an old and beautiful friend who was right there in my heart and would be there until the ultimate moment when all trappings of this material world would be stripped away - death. He would be there even if I couldn't physically bring His name to my lips.

My dear Krishna, O Holy Name, thank you for being there, thank you for being my friend. Unconditionally.   

Friday, December 16, 2016

Tree of Trust


The leaves were a brilliant green in the park when I made my way to St. Brigid's School for an internship interview. I was early, so I wound my way over to the majestic Prabhupad Tree, whose proud trunk and towering plume of branches and leaves extended far into the sky. 

In my heart I wrestled uneasily with the prospect that this would be an unpaid internship. New York City is such a tough city to live. So I struck a silent bargain with the Lord in my heart. I pleaded with Him to please allow me to work at St. Brigid School and get paid for it. If He arranged for this, then I would come see Radha Murlidhara and the Prabhupad Tree every day.  

Fair and square. Right? 

I was interviewed. The principal and vice principal were impressed with my experience and my character. Then the principal dropped the bomb. "Yes, we'd love to have you. And just for clarification, this would be volunteer,"

My heart dropped but I kept my cool demeanor. "Yes, I understand. I'm still interested," Where were those words coming from?? I had known all along I would probably not get paid. But I had had a thread of hope. 

I walked out of St. Brigid with my head spinning, feeling sick. Tears unexpectedly poured down my face. Through blurred vision I made my way to the Prabhupad Tree. Fear overwhelmed my heart. 

I approached the great tree and sunk onto a park bench and wept. Working at St. Brigid felt so right, this was my dream school and opportunity. Yet without getting paid how would it be possible in this crazy expensive city? 

I looked up at the tree and calm settled over my heart. 

Everything will be taken care of. Just trust. 

I rose from the bench and walked over to the tree and gave him a long hug. His bark pressed against my hands and my forehead, his roots spreading out below me. 

On the walk back to the subway, I realized just how much I wanted this opportunity. I would talk about it with my now-husband Ghanashyam, but I resolved in my heart that no matter what the financial circumstances, I would come see the Lord and His devotee every day. 

Ghanashyam encouraged me, and we found a way to make it work. 

Over the past four months, I woke up glad to go to work at St. Brigid. Every day I would come say hello to Radha Murlidhara and the Prabhupad Tree, taking moments to reflect on grace.  

Now my internship is drawing to a close. Today I approached the tree in the park, his plumage long gone, his bare majestic branches reaching  up into the pearly sky. I gave him a long hug. For  four months I've been giving him a hug, and today I felt this affection well in my heart. 

My friend. 

Thank you. 

Although I do not know my next destination, my friend has taught me that everything will be taken care of. Just trust. 

My friend seems only to speak the words of the great soul who once stood beneath his branches by the name of Srila Prabhupad. That great soul was an unknown, penniless man who deeply believed that all would be taken care of. Srila Prabhupad just trusted, and he changed the world.

My dear Srila Prabhupad, may I trust the way you trust, and may my life's work bring me ever closer to your feet and the embrace of the devotees.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Goose Fable

A Goose Fable
A Story In Honor of Radhanath Swami for his Vyasa Puja, 2016


Once upon a time there was a young gosling. She would waddle around on the ground with her fellow geese, and there were even elder geese who waddled everywhere they needed to go, from pond, to forest, to field. But every so often, this little gosling would gaze up into the clear blue sky and see high, high above beautiful V’s of birds, stretching out into the sky like fluttering ribbons.

“What kind of birds are those?” she asked one day to an elder goose.

 “Geese,” he replied gruffly. 

“Geese?!” she exclaimed. “Like me? Like us?”

“Do not worry,” he said. “You have everything you need here on the ground. There’s no need to gallivant off into the sky like that. Those geese are eccentric.”

But the more the little gosling watched those birds fly by, the desire blossomed in her heart that she also wanted to fly. She felt that there was more to life than waddling around on the ground. After all, she had wings.

She began to feel the determination that surely the goose at the very tip of the V formation in the sky could teach her how to fly. So one day she stepped out into the wilderness to search for this V-leader.

At last, she came upon a great enclave of geese and was lead to a little clearing by the river, with some rushes laid out on the ground. When the little gosling saw the great V-leader goose, her heart trembled but she spoke out bravely, “May I be your student? Would you teach me how to fly? I know that my destiny must be beyond the ground, but I’ve only ever been told that everything I need is on the ground. I want to fly free, experience something beyond my little pond and forest.”

The V-leader goose observed her carefully. His golden-brown eyes seemed to twinkle and see straight through to her heart. “You were meant to fly, little one. I will teach you,” he intoned.

“Truly?”

“Yes!” He unfurled his great white and dark brown wings. “Let us begin!” Even though the great V-leader goose was responsible for an entire gaggle of geese, he would still take time out of his busy day to teach her the principles of flight and language of sacred honking. “Honk when you are in distress so that other geese may hear you and come for you. Also, We honk when we fly together, to keep our spirits up and unite our hearts,”

Finally, the day came when, with the goose leader and the entire gaggle of geese there as witness, the little gosling leaped off of a cliff. She fumbled and tumbled through the air. She honked and suddenly her wing caught on a warm updraft of air. She honked again and her wings righted and she rose high, high, high, up past where the great V-leader goose and the entire gaggle watched upon the cliff’s edge. Everyone began to honk wildly. She rose even higher and the little gosling felt as though she was being held in the arms of someone much, much greater than herself, that the longing she had felt all her life to be more than a goose in a gaggle was fulfilled.

Suddenly, the warm wind dropped away, and the little gosling found herself tumbling through the air. Terrified, she somehow kept her wits about her and remembered the teachings how to land. She shakily maneuvered back to where the great V-leader and all the other geese were waiting.

“How was it?” the V-leader asked gently.

“Amazing,” she said, wide-eyed.

“And?” he prodded.

“Very scary,”

“Hm. Now is the time to know that there is an even greater destiny than learning how to fly. You see, we geese are big birds. And we fly very, very far. Actually, to fly as far as we fly is impossible according to the laws of physics. “That is why we fly together in V’s. When a goose beats his wings, he sends an updraft of air behind him, which can then be ridden upon by the goose behind. Then the draft behind the wing of that goose helps the person behind him, and on and on until the end of the V. We can increase our range by many, many times over when we stay together.”

The little gosling was quiet, her mind awakening. “But,” she said quietly, “What about the goose in the front? There’s no wind for him to ride?”

“All will be revealed in time,” he replied mysteriously.

The little gosling began to learn from the other geese in the gaggle how to fly in V-formation. It was hard work, to figure out how to cooperate with others’ rhythms, and to work together. Soon, though, her wings became strong and she gained many flying friends.

One day she noticed that the great V-leader would often retire after long training journeys to his little clearing by the river. “Is our great V-leader okay?” she asked a fellow goosemate.

“He is very tired. To be at the tip of the V is so hard. He needs to create an updraft for all of us geese in formation to fly upon. He is trying to train more and more geese to fly at the tip of the V, but we can be slow learners. Many of us want to fly as far back in the V as possible. Being the leader may look glorious but it is the hardest work of all. And for our V-leader, he truly does his best to show us and train us and encourage us. So he continues on, year after year.”

A tear slid down the gosling’s beak and dripped off of the tip. “This sounds so terrible. Why would he do such a thing if it is so hard on him? Why?”

“Why don’t you ask him?”

So the gosling waddled over to the edge of the V-leader’s little clearing. He was resting in his spot, honking melodiously. The lines around his beak were pronounced, but his golden brown eyes were bright.

“Great goose leader,” the gosling said timidly. “I have a question for you,”

“Anything for you, little one,” he said and beckoned her closer with a great sweep of his wings. 

“How come you do it? How come you work so hard - and you are advancing in age – to lead the V when it is such hard work?”

The V-leader smiled. “I will share with you a secret. There is a greater fulfillment than flying, greater fulfillment than the fun and companionship of riding with other geese, greater fulfillment even than reaching our distant destination. The greatest fulfillment is to strain every muscle in your wings to create an updraft for the goose behind you until you do not know how you will beat your wing one more time. The greatest fulfillment is to honk the sacred song so that the others behind you are encouraged to keep flying, to honk until your voice is gone and you cannot honk anymore.”

“But why, great leader? Why?”

“Love. That’s all there is to it. I love each and every one of you. And, I am also glad that you are no longer stuck waddling around on the ground.” He laughed then, his wings rising and falling with mirth. Then his voice became soft, “In truth, I am not a leader at all. I am only your servant.” The V-leader fell quiet and turned to gaze off into the sky towards the setting sun.

“In truth,” he continued, “a V-leader cannot lead on his or her own. It’s impossible. The V-leader rides upon the wind of grace of our great Lord, who speaks to the hearts of all and gives us the strength to continue on.”

The V-leader became grave and he beckoned the little gosling a little closer. “Do you want to know an even greater secret?” She nodded, eyes wide. “We are all riding the wind of grace of our great Lord but most of us do not know it or feel it. But He is there, holding all of us in His arms.”

The little gosling remembered her first flight, and the feeling she had had of being held by someone so much greater than herself.

“The most beautiful secret of all is that you are learning to fly so that one day, when the time is right, the spirits of great geese will come for you, and then you may join their formation and fly up into the sky to never return to the ground. You shall be supported by the great souls and held in the arms of our great Lord forever.”

 The little gosling’s beak dropped open a bit in wonder.

“For now, though,” the V-leader said kindly, “Just try to beat your wings a little more nicely for the goose behind you.”

Radhanath Swami, thank you for showing me a destiny beyond waddling around on the ground of this material world forever, never using my God-given wings to fly. Thank you for teaching me that my greatest destiny is not only to fly, but to call upon the strength of our great Lord to encourage and support those near to me with love and compassion. I pray that one day I may serve in the way you serve.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Krishna Kid

The rhythm of the mridanga drum is in my bones. The harmonium is an extension of my hand. The Hare Krishna mantra runs through my veins.

In the morning I swim in a bikini. In the evening I dance in a sari. I pack for an international trip in two days, I stay with people I've never met before.

I have deep shallow friends all over the world. Within hours we've connected, like two plugs in the same wall socket, getting a jolt of electricity to be together, and then we've disconnected. Oftentimes, we're disconnected for months and years and years. But we always remember what it felt like to be jolted by the same electricity of connection. Maybe it was Krishna, or Prabhupad, or crazy good prasadam, or an electric kirtan.

We never forget.

I've traveled around the world and never paid for a hotel. I've lived on different continents with different communities with different cultures and friends and services. I have found found Home. I'm still searching for Home. Terminal wanderlust.

I want a competitive salary, to wear clothes from Ann Taylor, be LEGIT. I want to belong in the material world. I do. I want accolades, recognition, credibility. I want degrees. I do.

I want to live in the spiritual world. I don't want to GO there. I want joy, good food, music and dance all in praise of God. I want deep connection and love. I want to serve. I want to twirl in kirtan with a sea of ladies until our skirts all fan open like flowers. I want to throw my arms in the air and call out God's name among an ocean of voices. I don't want to go to the spiritual world.

I want to live there.

Bikinis and saris, degrees and initiation vows, traveling the world and finding home, belting out Beyonce and calling out to God. Sometimes it's all a traffic jam in my heart. Sometimes I'm lost, really lost.

When I look out and see other Krishna kids and Krishna devotees lost - sometimes painfully lost, sometimes joyfully lost - in the traffic jam of our desires and our lives, I don't feel so lost.

Family.

When you're leaving this world, I'll sing Krishna's name for you. You will be in my mind, in the temple of my heart. I may be across the world, I may have never met you, but I'll be there for you.

When I am leaving this world, I know you'll be there for me. You will sing for me, you will pray for me, I will be in the temple of your heart. Even though you're across the world, even though you may have never met me, you'll be there for me.

With you,

I am found. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Vrindavan Magic, Part 1 of 4

The sun rose on the eastern horizon. My taxi wound onward and onward through tiny villages of thatched huts and hand-painted advertisements towards the holy land of Vrindavan.

Five years.

Five years had spun by since I had last come to Vrindavan. My heart ached with prayers to see past the pollution and noise and Westernization to experience the essence of Vrindavan. The real Vrindavan. The sacred Vrindavan.

We edged closer and closer to Vrindavan and I folded my palms to sing and to pray. Tears came to my eyes. I wanted the real Vrindavan and yet I struggled with the possibility of what I was going to see. I would be in there for only three days, conducting both business and pilgrimage. Three days to get it all done, three days to get to the essence.

My second morning, I woke up scribbling shopping lists in my mind. By the time I walked over to the temple of Krishna Balaram for morning services, my mind was SWIMMING with stuff to get done in Loi Bazaar. I was eager to sit down and do a full inventory of all cash outflows on this trip, and my mind raced with plans.

While in the temple, I thought, "I know I have only chanted two rounds of japa meditation, but let me just spend an hour or two on this accounting first. Then my mind will be more at ease and I'll be able to be more focused in japa."

When I came back to my room, I felt: No.

Krishna is first. Krishna is priority. I must put Him first.

I decided to chant a minimum of eight rounds, sitting down, in my room, before doing anything else.

I realized that of course my mind is going to wander. I came back, came back to the sound. Every time I came back, there was this feeling of "whuuuumph" like my mind had been flying around and suddenly I was pulled down to land, whuuuuumph, back on the holy name. I could hear that whuuuuumph.

Shopping lists dissolved. My burning desire for that lovely scarf faded. 

I had thought that I had had important business to accomplish and to chant japa was a secondary chore. In those moments of listening to the sound of the holy name, I realized that chanting attentive japa actually empowers me to accomplish ten times what I thought I could ever accomplish.

Thus eight rounds became ten, ten became twelve.

In this simple effort of mine to chant the holy name and SHOW my sincerity, I believe that Krishna reciprocated tenfold and He gave me darshan - or divine vision - of Sri Vrindavan Dham.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Let Me Love the Way You Love (Part 2 of 4)

After chanting, my mind was razor sharp and I blazed through my accounting.

When I made my final calculation, I put down my pen and picked up my japa bag and headed down to visit the rooms of Srila Prabhupad. 

Whenever Srila Prabhupad came to Vrindavan in his later years, he would live in these rooms, and ultimately he left the world in these rooms. Just by walking through the doorway, my mind became as quiet and warm as when I was chanting the holy name.

Hung on the wall was a picture of Srila Prabhupad that sent chills racing through my body. 

Srila Prabhupad's body is emaciated, he is lying on his deathbed, which was in this very room, and a disciple holds a dictaphone to his mouth. He is giving commentary on the tenth canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam. 

In those final moments of his life, he was serving. Giving truth. Giving love.

Let me love the way you love, Srila Prabhupada.

I sat down to chant in front of his murti, or sacred statue, which was seated behind his original desk. In my short time there, I saw an elderly woman from Russia and a monk from India and a young couple from South America come to bow before him. I realized that his kind of love reached to every corner of the world. I want to love the way you love, Srila Prabhupad. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Tingly Prayers (Part 3 of 4)

When I left Prabhupad's rooms, I ran into a girl I've known for several years now, her name is Indulekha. I got to connect in with the friends she was traveling with, as well as her mother.

We all ended up having lunch together at the MVT restaurant. At lunch, I was told that tomorrow was the celebration of Holi - the festival of throwing colors - and it would be impossible to do shopping in Loi Bazaar. It would be dangerous. Scary. They told stories that sent shivers down my spine.

No way was I stepping out tomorrow.  

It dawned on me that I needed to squeeze in not only the rest of my business but all of my pilgrimage goals into one evening. That evening. Oh boy.

In the late afternoon, we set out for Loi Bazaar, the four of us a motley crew - France, Russia, and the US all rolled into one spicy mixture. We whirled our way through various stores, on a quest to discover an elusive item. At last we were triumphant at the new Ganga Prasad shop near Radha Shyamasundar temple. We high-fived each other!

When I was paying for the bill, I took out my business binder to account for this expense. The pen that I fished out of my bag was this gold pen that  I had brought to India to write elegant thank you notes and such. I wrote the mundane financial equation out in the glittering gold ink and Veni Madhava commented, "Hm, a gold pen,"

"Oh yes," I smiled a little bashfully. I put it back in my bag and fished out a blue pen.

Since we were so close to Radha Damodar Mandir, I declared how much I wanted to go there, and the other ladies were happy to go too. We entered the busy temple, which was blasting with music from the musicians who had set up in the courtyard. Holi was getting into full swing. Radha Damodar were holding little metal Holi syringes, and the other Radha Krishna deities were holding plastic ones! Temple-goers were splashed in bright pink and green and yellow and danced in circles.

The four of us headed into Srila Prabhupad's  humble rooms. His murti was there, also seated behind a desk, studiously bent over with his hand poised holding a pen. We commenced to chant japa. Despite the deafening music, suddenly the room felt quiet, like we were in a cocoon.

When the music paused, I said, "Hey, you guys, lets do a little kirtan while they've stopped their music,"

So we all started singing together, and immediately the music started blasting away again, so we just sang louder. We sang at the top of our lungs!! I suddenly realized that we wouldn't have been singing at the top of our lungs with such abandon, grinning from ear to ear, our hearts pounding, if that loud music hadn't been there. And so inside my heart I offered my gratitude to the musicians, for they had provoked our wild enthusiasm and love for Prabhupad with our chant of "Jaya Prabhupada Jaya Prabhupada Jaya Prabhupada Jaya Prabhupada!!!"

When we had triumphantly concluded our brief kirtan, something curious happened. Veni Madhava said to me, "Why don't you give Prabhupad your gold pen, and take the one he's holding?"

I was astonished, surprised with this idea. 

"Really? But I've already written with the pen I have, is that okay?"

"Sure," she said.

So with a big smile, I crept forward and replaced Prabhupad's simple ballpoint pen with my gold pen.

The significance of this hit me after we left the temple, and for hours afterward. Prabhupad had somehow guided me so that I would be given his pen, and in his rooms at Radha Damodar where he wrote such powerful scripture in his meditation to save the fallen souls. I am praying that I may follow in his footsteps and write as a service to Krishna.

When my friends left the room, I lingered to offer prayers for a soulful wedding and marriage. When I went to join them, they weren't waiting at the temple entrance. I realized that maybe they had gone to Prabhupad's kitchen. So I headed back inside the temple. My friends weren't there; nevertheless I fell to my knees to offer obeisance.

Propped up against the wall is a picture of Srila Prabhupad quietly eating lunch, taken before he had traveled to the Western world. He is gazing out at the samadhi of Rupa Goswami and his expression conveys his meditation on how to fulfill the Goswami's wishes to share Krishna with the world. So I folded my palms and my prayer came out as a mantra, "The holy name, vaishnava culture, the holy name, vaishnava culture, holy name, vaishnava culture, holy name, vaishnava culture, holy name, vaishnava culture...." I was tingling all over.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.