Thursday, April 18, 2019

Refining My Gifts

"This... is my classroom," I swung open the metal door and stepped inside. My friend Rukmini followed. We both stood in the sunwashed Middle School English Language Arts room on the second floor of St. Brigid School, the colorful posters that festooned the walls brightening the stillness of an empty classroom.

"Wow," Rumini exclaimed. "And this is your room?"

"My room."

"You get to run it how you want?"

"Yes, I do," I replied. I grinned and felt a swell of pride. "Here is the library I helped to build! Those are the instructional posters I designed." I gestured to the sunlit trees in the golden afternoon. "And out of these windows, you can just see the Prabhupad Tree in the park," 

"Amazing," Rukmini remarked. We both peered through the windows. 

"Indeed, whenever I doubt myself in teaching, I just remind myself of the insanity of the fact that the Prabhupad Tree is outside of my classroom window, that Krishna must have arranged this."

In some ways, my spiritual life right now seems to be like the tree in Tompkins Square Park - I can just see it from my classroom window. Distant yet present.

This blog is entitled Seed of DEVOTION but the fact is that I have little to share on here regarding reflections on devotion. My head rushes with thoughts of persuasive essays and booking field trips and classroom management while my heart hibernates regarding the holy name and spiritual association and service. 

What can I say? That swell of pride I felt yesterday afternoon to give a tour of my classroom felt golden and powerful. I experienced this sensation that I was making Krishna proud. Like, I am doing my part to refine the gifts that God has given me.

Who knows where my life shall go after I finish my Master's degree, Literacy Institute fellowship, and high school student teaching. I'm excited for what the future holds.

I only pray that my heart comes out of hibernation.

Varnashram Dharma: "Get a life and remember Krishna" - Mother Mrigakshi


Monday, February 4, 2019

I Can't Help Falling In Love With You

Like a river flows
surely to the sea
darling so it goes
some things
are meant to be...

I can't help falling in love with you. 

I'm on the subway, listening to this song, and in the darkness of my closed eyelids, a glowing image emerges.

And while yes, that song does conjure up images of my beloved husband, Ghanashyam, another images always comes to the forefront.

My body goes still.

An image of statues emerges in the dark - one is of a young woman, the other a young man - and they're standing side by side, wearing lovely, draping silks. They glow. The woman is an iridescent, pearly white marble, her eyes luminous. The young man is of ebony marble, his arms forever poised to play a flute, his eyes reaching out through time and space. Their gazes touch mine.

A wave of emotion rolls over me and tears flow from my eyes.

The short song ends, I open my eyes to tap repeat on my phone and the wave of emotion dissipates. Then, the guitar begins, I close my eyes, and in the darkness of my closed eyelids, the glowing image emerges again.

I can't help it.

I just can't.

I can't help falling in love with you, God.

Radha and Krishna - Radhe Shyam.

Ever since I was a little girl, I've been gazing up at deities of Radha and Krishna, and in the eyes of an innocent girl the statues on the altar were simply God. There were no mind games and philosophical manipulations to wonder how God could fit on an altar and be four feet tall. God stood on that altar because that way we could see each other, and that reason made the most sense in the world to a little girl.

And to the woman I am now, I guess it still makes sense.

Now the altar is in my mind, and I can't help falling in love with those smiles. Those eyes.

When my stop comes, I open my eyes and the lights of 181st Street Station spill into my brain. I ride the wave of people who disembark the train. I wipe my cheeks of the wetness from the tears.

Unbidden, my mind jumps to the moment when I shall leave this world, and a profound peace falls over me. For maybe when I close my eyes for the last time, the image of Radhe Shyam shall be imprinted upon my closed eyelids.

God is magnificent, God is great, God is powerful. God makes the mountains tremble and the tsunamis crash and the earth spin and the sun blaze.

But God is also this beautiful boy along with a beautiful girl who smile at me in the dark and make me weep at their beauty. Krishna makes me fall in love with him, even in some underground tunnel riding a train.

So take my hand
Take my whole life too
For I can't help 
Falling in love 
With you

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Folded-Palms Thingy


The stampede of students flew down the stairs - the end of the school day had arrived. "Hey, Mrs. Caruso," Charles*, an 8th grade student, called out to me with a grin, breezing past, "you have 180 youtube subscribers!"

"Wait, what? I do?" I replied, shocked. "How do you know??"

"We were all just checking it out in Mr. O'Connor's* class,"

"You mean, right now?"

"Yeah. We saw you singing. And dancing. You were playing that piano thingy..."

My mouth was agape. "That's called a harmonium,"

"Yeah, it was cool. A Simple Post? That's the name of the video? Pretty cool,"

"That was like, six years ago! My youtube channel is mainly a teaching tool for singing...!"

"I know, I know. And what was that thing that all these people were doing - " Charles motioned his hands up into a kind of prayer position, " - you all came in and bowed..."

Bewildered, I said, "Uh, I don't know!" My initiation? But that's not on my youtube channel.

Then the student swept on by. I glanced around in shock to other 8th grade students who had overheard us and they just nodded, grinning too. They also bounded away, carried away in the exultation of the end of the school day. Obviously they were in on this and had seen all the hullabaloo on Mrs. Caruso's youtube channel.

I walked back up to my classroom, dazed.

Naturally, I looked up my youtube channel. I looked at it through the eyes of my eighth graders. Mind you, I work at a Catholic school and I'm the Religion teacher to boot. So these kids are looking at a teacher who has all of these exotic videos of India, putting on some strange draped garment, wearing red dots on her head, performing some intricate and foreign kind of dance, being proposed to in front of an exotic priest in orange cloth, singing some kind of ancient language, and on and on.

Must be weird.

I then came home and kept watching and watching, no longer seeing through my students' eyes, but seeing through MY eyes, the eyes of a Bhakti lata who has been removed from her culture and active spirituality for a few years now. In all of these videos, I'm seeing a common thread - even the ones where I'm just demonstrating the structure of a Hare Krishna melody:


I'm peering into another world, another person's life.

And it's beautiful.

I keep remembering when my student Charles said that he had watched A Simple Post, which I had posted 6 years ago and was just me singing Hare Krishna in my cluttered living room. He had expressed genuine appreciation for that video. It wasn't some fancy edited video, I wasn't doing anything that dramatic. But his eyes had softened when he said, "Pretty cool,"

Some 8th grade boy thought that was pretty cool? Why? No seriously, why? Not just because of the cool harmonium thingy. Not even the foreign language I was singing in.

There must have been something else that was cool.

The holy name.


A hunger for something beyond this world. A hunger for a love to satisfy the soul.

In this quiet space before I jump into the whirlwind of work tomorrow, I feel this tender spiraling of my heart, this yearning to... to... be a devotee. To express my longing for God with all of my heart.

Oh Krishna. Please draw me home to You.

And if you so desire, may I play the piano-thingy and may I come to you with the folded-palms thingy.

(If you are an email subscriber, you may click on the links below the videos to view)

A Simple Post:

Dina Doyal:

Welcome to Mayapur:

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Vyasa Puja Offering 2018

Radhanath Swami Vyasa Puja Offering, 2018

Once upon a time there was a little oyster who lived with her colony along the coral reef off the coast of Tahiti. The colony was growing and thriving amid the swirling, brilliant turquoise ocean, where streams of golden light danced along the ocean floor. Little Oyster was happy.

One day, the water darkened to a blackish blue and turbulence swept through the colony. To Little Oyster’s shock and dismay, she saw oysters being uprooted and swept into the maelstrom. She huddled with her neighbors. They sucked more tightly to the rocky ocean floor, screwing themselves into the ground, hunkering down. But Little Oyster was not so strong. When the maelstrom approached, the sand filled the water in vicious swirls -- she choked. “Help!” she cried, but the oysters were all hunkered down. With one last SHLOOP she was sucked off of the floor and flung into the whirling maelstrom.

Little Oyster was swept through the ocean and she was utterly disoriented. Oysters are sedentary creatures. She had never heard of oysters being swept away into the ocean.

At last, at last, the roar of the storm softened and finally settled to a whisper and she was deposited upon a foreign floor, alone.

She shivered and glanced about her. She had somehow landed among a forest of kelp, the green leaves around her swaying gently and spiraling up toward the white and blue sun above In this undulating forest, she saw no other oyster. The image of her colony all shut down against the maelstrom - and her cries for help - flashed in her mind. Her heart stung. Little Oyster wept and her tears dissolved into the salty ocean.

Soon, the moon rose and shone in silver spears through the water, and still the pain did not go away.
The day dawned, the golden sun shining through the waters of this foreign, ethereal place, and still the pain did not go away.

Several days went by, and the pain worsened.

A passing swordfish heard Little Oyster’s cries and swam closer. “Hello little oyster, what brings you such tears?”

“Well, my heart is hurting,”

“Your heart? You know, I know a pretty good doctor, he’s just on the other side of this kelp forest,”

“A doctor?”

“Yes, he’s one of your kind, an oyster,”

“An oyster doctor? That sounds impossible,”

“It’s true. I’ve even known octopi who go visit him for help. I once helped a clam get to him, because clams are like you too, you know, a homebody and I had to carry him in my mouth. You know, you guys really should get around more,”

“Would you… would you take me to the doctor?” Little Oyster asked tentatively. “The pain is getting worse. It’s a physical pain deep inside, and I think there’s something going on for me, but I don’t know what it is. I need some help,”

“Sure Little Oy, I’ll take ya,” the swordfish said jovially. And with utmost care, he maneuvered his body to be horizontal with the ocean floor, gently moving his fins to precisely position his mouth around Little Oyster’s spine.

Suddenly, she was lifted off of the ocean floor. She gasped. She felt dizzy. She was so not meant to be gallivanting off into the ocean like this. This was crazy.

The swordfish swam through the undulating kelp forest, and gradually Little Oyster’s mind fell quiet, mesmerized by the beauty of a world she had never seen before. They swam past jewel-toned reefs and golden fish and bright red fish dashing in and out of their homes. Many smiled from their doorsteps and called out, “Good day, Swordfish!”

They reached the outskirts of the forest and the Coral City.

Swordfish brought her around the corner to a seemingly forgotten nook.

Little Oyster was surprised. She saw a whole motley crew of creatures lined up outside of this little cavern – a gangly octopus with his undulating arms and big, bulbous head, a jolly bright clownfish striped in a brilliant white and orange, and even a gigantic black manta ray, undulating across the ocean floor, his tail a deadly arrow behind him.

To Little Oyster’s astonishment, she saw that the multifarious creatures that were leaving the cave of the heart doctor carried iridescent white spheres that glowed.

“Swordfish, what are those white globes?”

“The heart doctor. He gives them away. They’re called pearls,”

“Pearls? And he gives them away?” Little Oyster exclaimed with a gasp. “They look… priceless.”

“They are. They have healing powers. When you hold one of those pearls, the pain in your heart kind of… dissolves.”

“Wow,”’ Little Oyster murmured. The pain in her heart was getting more and more acute, and her little oyster toes curled.

When their turn came, Swordfish and Little Oyster slowly entered the cave, and she was astonished to realize that the cave was glowing with the silvery glow of hundreds and hundreds of pearls.

And there, nestled among the glowing orbs was the heart doctor. Her heart leapt to see another oyster – she hadn’t realized how lonely she had felt these past several days. He was quite large, his rippled shell an iridescent saffron that glowed. The doctor looked at her with his golden oyster eyes and Little Oyster became shy.

“Hello doctor,” she said shyly.

“I am so happy to see you, Little Oyster,” he said kindly.

“And I am grateful to see you,” she said.

“I see you have a pain in your heart,” he said gently. His voice carried through the water in soft reverberations.

“Yes, doctor.”

“Please tell me what is hurting for you,”

“Well, there was this maelstrom that hit my colony about a week ago, and I was displaced, and my heart has been hurting ever since,”

“Hmmm…” The doctor murmured. “When do you remember the pain hitting you especially?”

“Well, there were clouds of sand… I called for help, but everyone had already closed their shells –“

“Ah, clouds of sand,” the doctor murmured, and his brown eyes shone. “A little grain of sand from those clouds entered your heart and is the cause of your pain. This pain you feel is the pain of betrayal. Betrayal is sometimes worse than death.”

Little Oyster fell silent, stunned with this diagnosis.

The doctor turned and placed his oyster foot upon several different pearls, seemingly testing each one, and at last he selected one and then held it out to Little Oyster. It was rather small and although it glowed it looked very old. “This is for you,”

“For me? This precious pearl?”

“Yes. Hold this pearl and you will experience healing. This pearl is prayer made solid and is medicine for your soul,”

Little Oyster gingerly held out her foot and felt the smooth, slightly rippled surface of the pearl.

“I will tell you a secret, little one,” he said suddenly, somberly. “All of these pearls come from my own heart,”

“Oh wow,” Little Oyster murmured, somewhat shocked. “Your, um, heart?”

“Well, near it, anyway. You see, Little Oyster, we are humble creatures, but there is something special about us. When some pain enters our heart, like that grain of sand in the maelstrom that fateful day a week ago, if we turn to the Lord with sincerity and gratitude for healing, then he gives us the power to create a coating around the shard that is giving us pain. This coating is called nacre. And if we continue to turn and pray to the Lord again and again, we can repeatedly cover that shard with this iridescent nacre so much that layer after layer after layer… this moonlike pearl emerges,” The doctor smiled gently and gestured to the glowing pearl that Little Oyster held in her feet. “Prayer made solid,”

Little Oyster stared at the pearl and back to the doctor, then back to the pearl.

“At the core of this pearl that you are giving me…” Little Oyster murmured, “is a shard of pain that was lodged in your own heart,”

“Yes,” he chuckled. “That particular one I’ve been saving to give to someone special. When I was just a young oyster, a friend of mine - a clam - told me that his whole family hated me and that one day, he would hate me too, just because I was an oyster. A shard of pain entered my heart that day, the shard of betrayal by a friend, the deepest pain anyone could experience. Worse than death,” his voice dropped low. “I prayed and prayed for understanding. The pain softened and softened until one day, I scooped this pearl out and laid it here in this cave with me. It was waiting for you all these years,”

“That is a sad yet beautiful story, doctor,” Little Oyster said. “Do these all come from shards of pain that were lodged in your heart?” Little Oyster gestured around her to the glimmering pearls that filled the cave.

“Everyone has shards of pain in their heart, little one. These pearls come from prayer and the Lord has made them. I am only the vehicle. What is more, Little Oyster,” the doctor leaned in and gave a small smile, “You can also create these pearls from your own heart. You are an oyster, too. If you turn to the Lord with sincerity and gratitude right now, the Lord can give you the nacre to coat that shard of pain in your heart. And one day, you will have something so beautiful and wondrous to share with the world,”

“You are saying that the grain of sand that entered my heart in the maelstrom can become… this?” Little Oyster held out the old, iridescent pearl, trembling.


“But… why do you give all of these pearls away? I see so many leaving this cave with a pearl. And it took you years to make even one pearl!”

“People come to me for healing, little one, and the healing they seek is to be understood in their pain. These pearls offer that understanding, that compassion,” the doctor said. “I hope one day you will see that the pain in your heart may become a great treasure to offer the world one day,”

“Thank you, doctor,” Little Oyster brought the pearl to her shell and could feel some gentleness from the pearl reach out to caress her heart. A tear seeped into the salty ocean that surrounded her. “Thank you for your gift of understanding and prayer,”

The doctor only smiled.

Little Oyster requested to Swordfish to please take her back to her oyster colony. She shook with nervousness all the way, but clutched her prayer pearl for strength. At last, he dropped her off, and they nuzzled briefly. “Thank you,” Little Oyster said. “Thank you for all that you’ve done for me. The maelstrom lead me to you and to the heart doctor. I am grateful,” as soon as Little Oyster said the words, she felt a softening in her heart, a kind of milky suffusion that gave her peace. She realized that the grain of sand in her heart was being coated with nacre. After several minutes, the pain in her heart came back, but less sharp.

Through the heart doctor’s guidance, Little Oyster learned to pray. She lived among her colony, and every time the memory of that dark maelstrom haunted her heart, she would pray to God for healing and understanding, and the coating of nacre would cover the shard of pain. Again and again and again, coating after coating of prayer. She began to smile and sing again in her colony.

Two years later, held in Swordfish’s mouth, Little Oyster returned to that little nook beyond the kelp forest and entered the cave of pearls. She approached and held out her oyster feet to offer a shimmering white pearl to the heart doctor. The doctor’s eyes gleamed in the glow of the pearls in the cave, and he took the pearl in his feet. “Very beautiful, Little Oyster,” he murmured.

“Doctor,” she said, “I was hoping that if someone comes to you that needs this pearl, that you would give it to them for healing,”

“I shall,” he replied. “Thank you,”

And he placed her pearl in a little alcove behind him.

Thank you, Radhanath Swami, for the priceless gift of your compassion and prayer. You teach me and the world through your own example how to turn even the most painful experience into a pearl by turning to God with a heart of prayer, again and again and again. You teach me that there is no wasted pain in this world, only opportunities to pray and turn to Krishna.

Thank you for gifting me with a life of integrity, gurudeva.

Your loving oyster daughter,

 Bhakti lata dasi

Related image

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Me, At the Core

I am teaching my students how to write a five-paragraph essay. Because I work at a private Catholic school, I get to bring up God all the time. The special feature of Catholic schools is that people from all walks of life attend this institution. For the final exam for my 7th Grade, I created an exam that they would read an article about theism, atheism, and agnosticism, identify with one, and then write a five-paragraph essay to explain their reasoning. Their responses have been enlightening.

I decided to write the essay myself.


I glanced at the grinning faces of all the ladies surrounding me, and when the music in praise of God rose to a crescendo, we all spontaneously began to twirl, our arms raised. Our skirts flared like blossoming flowers, and my feet turned upon the warm wood floor in swift movements. My face lifted and my whole face smiled and I felt my whole body alight with a joy beyond this world. In my religious tradition, we sing and we dance, for we believe it is the natural proclivity of the soul to sing and dance in the joy of God’s love. Even when my mind doubts stories and is disgusted by the horrible things done in the name of religion, these deep, powerful experiences of joy tell me that God exists. I am a theist because I believe in sacred objects and rituals, I follow a God-centered moral code, and I experience religious feelings.

I believe in God because of my experience of the supernatural through sacred objects and rituals. In my tradition, we worship a special statue of God, called a murti, because in this way we are meant to develop a sweet and intimate relationship with Him. In the article “Who are atheists and agnostics? Are they religious?” on, the author states, “Sacred means that something is very special and worthy of respect. In religion, people might think sacred things are connected to God or gods.” When we worship this murti of God, we hold it very special and offer it our deepest respect. This quote says that people might “think” that something is connected to God, and I would take this one step further to say that I have “experienced” that this murti is connected to God. I have experienced that when I look into the eyes of this statue, I feel that I am seen, and I feel loved and accepted for who I am, unconditionally. I have never experienced this by looking at any ordinary statue in this world. It is actually said in my tradition that the gaze, or the drishti, of the murti actually has this effect on the heart - a sense of peace and a sense that “everything is going to be okay.” I believe that this object is sacred and connected to the supernatural which gives me conviction that God exists. 

Another reason that I am a theist is that I follow a God-centered moral code. When I took vows of spiritual initiation, I promised to follow four moral codes plus a commitment to meditation that would guide my life. The article states: “Think of a moral code like this: it is a set of rules about right or wrong behavior.” One code that I vowed to follow is to take no intoxicants - this means to not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or take any sort of drug. I believe that this moral code to not take intoxicants helps me to live a life that is awake and present. This moral code is communicating that I do not need some material substance to be happy and that ultimately my only, true happiness can be found by loving and serving God. To me, this is "right" behavior. This moral code, as well as the others that I follow, allow me to live a present, conscious life and to love with my full heart.

A third reason that I consider myself a theist is that I experience religious feelings. Religious feelings are more of an undeniable experience of something beyond this world, and no one can take that away from me The article states that “These feelings might include awe, adoration, or guilt. If you believe in religion, the feelings are usually connected to the presence of the supernatural.” I have experienced awe by participating in religious rituals and singing God’s praise. I have experienced adoration, affection, joy, peace, and humility through my religion. I have never experienced the depth of these kinds of feelings from anything in the ordinary material world, such as from watching a great movie or even spending time with my family. The depth and power of these religious feelings have only been felt when I am connecting to God and the supernatural through scripture, and spiritual song and dance. Ultimately, even when my mind rejects God, religious feelings and experiences are what make me come back to God and believe and trust in Him.

In conclusion, I am a theist at my very core. I could share many reasons, although the ones I highlighted here are that I believe in sacred objects that connect me to the supernatural, and that I follow a moral code that is connected to God. What binds all of my reasons together to be a theist is that I experience religious feelings, which always pull me back, even if I wander away from God for a long, long time. I would say that right now, I have distanced myself from the externals of my religion. But I have conviction that I will sing and dance in praise of God again and my soul will lift beyond this world to experience a joy that can only be felt within God’s embrace.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Closet Catholic

I entered the church and the vaulted ceilings lifted my breath and my gaze and my mind.



The morning light filtered through the high windows and stained glass. Warm pools of light illuminated wooden pews, cream-colored pillars, and the massive murals of Saint Brigid and Saint Emeric. The cloth of their painted robes billowed in an unseen breeze, their faces gentle.   

That day was our School Mass for the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which takes places several weeks before Christmas.

Although filling with children from ages seven to fourteen, the Church echoed with only quiet shuffles and murmurs. I paced down the center aisle then directed my eighth grade class to file down the wooden pews. When everyone had settled, I took a seat and gazed up at the giant effigy of Christ on the cross.

The service for this special day was filled with devotions for Mother Mary, songs and prayers in her honor. Towards the end of the service, I rose to direct my students to file out of their pew to receive the Eucharist, the sacred wafer that represents the body of Christ. I approached the priest and folded my arms across my chest, which is a sign that I won't receive the Eucharist itself as I am not Catholic, but I would like to receive a blessing. (As a note, one may receive the Eucharist even if one is not Catholic but for now this is my preference.) With a soft smile, the priest put down the wafer and placed his hand on my head in blessing. I felt warm all over. 

I walked back to my pew and took a seat. I could see many students had taken to kneeling again. Their elbows were placed on the pew in front of them, their palms folded, heads bowed in silence.

I swung down my kneeler with a soft clunk and knelt on the padded bar. I followed the lead of my students and also placed my elbows on the pew in front of me and clasped my hands together. I bowed my head. Sudden tears came to my eyes.

Thank you, Mother Mary.

Thank you for bringing me to this school to serve and to learn about you and your son, Jesus Christ.

Thank you, Lord, for always protecting me with your loving arms. 

I cannot escape You. You will always come for me, even if I do not ask you to come. You have come for me in the form of this position as the English Language Arts and Religion teacher. Every day I get to talk about you and learn about you and share your love. I didn't ask for this, but you guided me here.

That is grace. 

What an unexpected, undeserved gift. 

Thank you Lord, for showing up in my life, unconditionally. No matter the form you may take, you are here, you are here. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My First Love

When I was 11, I sketched a self portrait with the thought bubble emanating from my forehead:

Should I be a scientist?

Or a singer?

I find it fascinating that I felt inspired at that age to pursue a musical career when the extent of my singing was to burst into song alone in the woods (a la Snow White), and of course, the shower.

As for scientist, um, yeah. No idea where that one came from.

Over the years, that thought bubble has spiraled from my mind again and again:

A teacher?

A photographer?

An environmental ecologist?

A small business owner?

A mother?

A writer?

Recently I've been inspired by Marie Kondo's book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. The title of the book is no joke. I have systematically gone through categories of my life, from clothes, to books, to closets of storage, and more. Bags and bags, boxes and boxes: donated, gifted, discarded.

The criteria for what to keep:

Does this item spark joy?

In the process of clearing away extraneous stuff that has been piling up for years, I am rediscovering my first spark of joy, my first love:


Funny how my first official contemplation of what I should be when I grow up was through the medium of paper and pen. Since I was a little girl I have sought solace, connection, joy, and community through the written word.

For so long now I have neglected to share my creative heart through writing.

Maybe we all have parts of our true selves that we neglect because of lack of time, money, committment, and encouragement. Today, for the kajillionth time, "write blog post" was on my To Do list. As the day wore on, I began to sense with growing dread that once again, it would be put off to some nebulous day in the future, some writing utopia.

Suddenly, I decided to honor my word to myself.

I would write a post.

In the process of writing this post my completed drafts got deleted TWICE. So this is literally the third time I'm writing this. It's taking waaaaaaaaaay longer than expected.

That said, here I am.

Here's my heart.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.