Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Una nota de Tulum

La Aventura.

A part of me wants to stay in this, keep going and going and going with this otherwordly experience. The people, the places, and the gloriously stuffy, cramped bus. Ah yes, the last time I came on the winter Bus Tour I felt this way: I don´t want to go home.

Not yet.

I feel so blessed to chill with every single person on this Tour. All 23 of us. And at the same time, I feel as though we´re all like straws in the ocean, coming together for this incredible bonding experience... only to drift away once again.

Whatever the case, I have some incredible adventures that I´m sure you´re dying to hear.

But right now I´m at an internet cafe in Tulum and I gotta run.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Una nota de La Ciudad

Crazy breakdowns. Travel all day. Crazy getting-to-know-you games - I think I know TOO much now [laugh].

We're IN La Ciudad... but we're lost. It's 4:40am... in the deserted streets, we find a cop, who escorts us to the temple's street. It's 4:50am. The bus is still trying to park and Manu calls out, "Go, go!! The curtains are going to close - go see the Deities!" so we jump off the moving bus. Forget your shoes, just GO - so we dash barefoot through the courtyard. I hear a mrdanga and voices.

We billow in and offer obeisance to the Deities. And ahhh... it's like soothing water flowing around me as I bask in the Deities and the quiet of this moment in contrast of the craziness of getting here... of finally, finally getting here.

We're leaving now - five minutes. The adventure has begun.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


For the purpose of winter traveling, I shall be out of the country... and very much out of internet access. A sabbatical, shall we say.

Although I sense very few people read this blog, I would like to appreciate all those who do and encourage me to continue. I find that inspired writing is the most wonderful to read and the most wonderful to write.

So... thank you.

And that's all she wrote.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Radha Madan Mohan: December 9th

My shelter.

Tour of Alachua (5 of 5): Where Love Resides

"Whenever you give your time, you are making a sacrifice, and sacrifice is the essence of love." Unknown

I remember the very night that Sayana Arati flew into my heart like a swift bird and has lived there ever since.

I had just moved to Alachua two years ago, and the gurukulis were holding a meeting in the lobby of the templeroom, discussing our involvement in the upcoming celebration of Srila Prabhupad's Appearance Day. And then, a conch shell clarioned through the evening.

"What? What is that?" I asked, taken aback.

"Oh, it's the last arati of the day before the deities go to sleep," Raghu explained. We all flowed into the templeroom.

In that warm cocoon, the only lights on in the room were shining from the altar, illuminating quiet faces. Someone was singing a bhajan a bit off-key, with only kartals to accompany his song. Radha Shyamasundar were wearing gentle, flowing clothes, with no jewelry or garlands.

I remember the feeling. Something blossomed in my heart - a tenderness for deities of Radha and Krishna that I had never really felt before in all my life growing up around Them.

When the curtains closed, I wanted to return the next night. And the next. But being the new kid on the block in Alachua with zero form of transportation and few connections, several months passed. When I had settled into my own home and bought a car, one evening I wandered over to the temple to chant japa.

And Sayana Arati caught me by gentle surprise once again.

Like chanting my rounds, Sayana Arati has become a part of my life. I give this time to bidding goodnight to Krishna and I feel as though Krishna reciprocates with this sacrifice of time by giving me a foundation to love Him. Although I love the discipline of chanting my rounds every day, which is also a sacrifice of time, Sayana Arati is completely on my own whim.

When I miss too many nights, I feel as though something is missing in my spiritual life.

Ah, yes, the essence of love.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Tour of Alachua (4 of 5): The Templeroom of Radha Madan Mohan

Imagine the evening has settled in on Alachua and the stars twinkle on in the sky. Cars pull into Raghu's driveway, and gurukulis wrap scarves and sweaters tighter as they hurry into this warm templeroom.

It's 8:00pm. It's Kartik.

For the past four years, Raghu and Yamuna have hosted this tradition of singing the Damodar Prayers to his deities, Radha Madan Mohan, and we all offer a candle. (And can you believe someone different sings every single night?) I believe Radha Madan Mohan are the ishta-deva of Kartik in Alachua for the gurukulis. Well, that's certainly how I feel.

Now that Kartik has ended, Raghu's house has quieted once again. For the past year, I have come to dress Radha Madan Mohan every other Sunday morning. Even though I am not initiated and They are installed, somehow They smile, roll Their eyes, and allow me to dress Them anyway.

I feel this templeroom is an integral experience of Alachua for me. It is where I draw closer and closer to Radha and Krishna in Their deity form. On Sunday mornings I taste peace for two hours as I listen to soft bhajans or hum to myself, entranced.

Raghu makes much of his own jewelry for his Deities. These are handmade tikas, chokers, and bracelets for Srimati Radharani.

Even though this is my 19th time dressing (Raghu is militarily precise on these matters) it still took me three hours to dress my Lords.

Ah, whatever, time becomes irrelevant on these mornings anyway.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tour of Alachua (3 of 5): The Road to My Soul

I have walked this road hundreds of times. If a road had a personality, we'd be the most steadfast and deepest of friends.

I find it fascinating that this road is on temple property, and yet even on Janmastami - the biggest festival day of the year - I can still slip out to the hushed quiet of this winding road.

To the sunrise, the sunset, the stars, heat lightening, the full moon, a meadow of wildflowers, the whisper of Spanish moss... this is my escape.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tour of... Atlanta? Taking a detour.

They're calling roll call now, moving alphabetically. This is like a sea of people - of countries. My heart pounds pounds... They call Pakistan. Then -

"Palestine," the chair calls.

Caroline and I both stand. I say softly, with power, "Thank you honored chair, fellow delegates -" heads turn, "The Palestinian Authority is present,"

I don't think I have ever felt so nervous for a roll call.

I'm in the International Labor Organization Committee - it contains over 100 people, 76 countries - of 1400 people total at this conference in Atlanta.

It's 11:19pm right now, I'm in the lobby of the hotel, and the place is still buzzing with Model UN nerds working on Resolutions.

My professor sometimes refers to the United Nations like a giant marriage counseling facility. Air out your views, share ideas, talk...

Wish me - er - Palestine luck. I wonder if getting an identity crisis is covered in UN marriage counseling.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Tour of Alachua (2 of 5): Visions of Kartik

This is one of those tests: match the word Kartik with the first word that comes to mind.

Pause for a moment and really think about it.

Got it? Now, let me guess your word: magical.

And even if it wasn't your word, it's MY word.

The following are some of my favorite pictures I've taken in the past couple days. Kartik is like a photography-fest, it's such a beautiful time of year. Sri Sri Radha Damodar ki.... JAI!The kids in Alachua positively fall over each other to give achaman (purifying of the hands) and to give out these little ghee wick toothpicks to offer to Radha Shyamasundara.

an incandescent moment of a woman praying to Radhe-Shyam

The Deity Set-Up for Visvambhar's birthday party. We sang bhajans for - literall - hours and topped it off with a gorgeous Damodarastakam led by Vish.

And goodnight unto you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tour of Alachua (1 of 5): Wednesday Bhajans

I enthusiastically proposed to Bali that Wednesday Bhajans be hosted at my house with the ulterior motive to... well... clean the house. There's nothing like guests for motivation to clean.

So the three of us - Jivi, Shalagram, and me - did. 

I cringed, pinched my nose, and stifled screams a little more than I wanted to, but by the time cars started to line the road for a quarter mile come Wednesday night, our house was cozy, clean, and smelled of sweet incense and kitri.

I believe spiritual life is a bit like that. We all need each other to clean up our acts. That way, the temple of our heart can be clean for Krishna to come... and maybe sing some bhajans with us.

You can also check out more photos of Alachua at:

Alachua pics

Sunday, October 21, 2007

To dance is to... live?

I know it's silly. It's real for me, though.

My foot/leg misalignment persists, and I wake up with a stiff foot now most mornings (oh yes, thank you, garba, for your help in that area). Feeling like the energy in my life just took a major downward spike in the past several months, I visited Mother Madhumati for guidance.

I echoed Bali's thought, "Man, this is cause for my spiritual life going down the tubes," I grieved. "I feel as though the flavor has gone out of my spiritual life, and the flavor of my spiritual life IS my life."

Madhumati replied, "Yes, it's almost as if dance is one thing you can enjoy in Krishna consciousness, where you can express yourself, without rules and regulations... and inspire others, too!"

I sighed deeply. "Exactly! Krishna consciousness can be so austere. Roping in the mind for two hours every day to chant a mantra, service at the temple, watching out ALL the time for all the offenses I make to devotees, the Deities, the holy name... and so on... and so on...

"But dance! To just dance for the Deities, with other devotees, bharatanatyam... Oh Mother Madhumati, what do I do?"

I know, it's silly for my spiritual life to depend on dance.

Maybe it's not, because just writing about this has me somber and wanting to finish this post.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Sigh... politics.

Here I am at the Model United Nations conference, representing India. Right now a caucus is going on and my brain is fading on me. I’m losing my grasp on words and my sense of composure. I’m just tired and want to go chant my rounds in the templeroom and the winding sandy road on temple property.

All these politics are starting to seep into my skin. In a way it’s so superficial. Countries of the world can have nice intentions to help others in a restricted sense, but really, it’s all meaningless. “Philosophy has no meaning without good character” Srila Prabhupad said once. My guru maharaj, Radhanath Swami, says in his book Welcome Home that as long as the hearts of men are dirty, there will be wars and pollution and corruption.

I know everyone in this Committee by country. I know no one’s name, including Cambodia - who I've been working with hand-in-hand for the past two days!

I wrote the above during a recess at the Model United Nations conference I attended this weekend. I was starting to get fried. When you attend an MUN conference, you ARE your country. Your personal beliefs do not exist. This means you refer to yourself as your country and you refer to others as their country.

I think what tipped me into not caring a SHOELACE happened right after I wrote the above italicized comments, a guy walked up to my table and approached one of my partners with a grin on his face, "The Republic of the Sudan would like to ask the Republic of Cambodia if this is her gum," he asked. I laughed hysterically... and decided I was going to laser everyone with my OWN beliefs the next time The Republic of India gave a speech.

Fast forward one hour with formal debate back in session. "Thank you, Islamic Republic of Pakistan for your speech. Republic of India?"

I walked to the podium slowly, quietly. "Thank you honorable Chair." I turned to the thirty countries represented in front of me. "Good afternoon, delegates. A great saint from India, Srila Prabhupad, once said, 'Philosophy without good character has no meaning'. This means we may work as hard as we can to implement programs or funding, but when other countries take advantage of the poverty-stricken, we only exacerbate poverty. This... corruption fuels poverty. Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest proprietors of non-violence, believed that fighting a war with violence only yielded more and more violence. We must begin with ourselves.

"The Republic of India urges all countries to participate and contribute to the World Summit to take place in Mumbai, India, 2009. We must stop poverty at its root, and not feed the problem by exploiting those less fortunate.

"Thank you."

Countries (people?) were taken aback, I could tell (ha, especially United States). But I was disappointed with myself somewhat. I would have rather said, "cut through this crap, people, we need to set an example as OURSELVES! Stop trying to solve all the world's problems when we're feeding the problem, right now, me, you, John and Mandy!" But this diplomatic stuff was seeping into my skin. I did it without second thought, but I connected it with the Resolution we had been drafting for two days for a World Summit on Fair Trade.

But hey, at the nerve wracking voting session, our Resolution passed with the most outstanding voting record.

And I won an award for "Distinguished Delegation: India".

Sigh... politics. My name is Bhakti, by the way.

Monday, October 1, 2007

In Memoriam

Out of several colorful options of yoga, homework, or bhajans, I choose to drive to the temple to chant. When I pull in, I see the parking lot filled with cars. What's going on? I wonder curiously. As I circle around the temple, I see the room filled with people... in memoriam of Mother Srestha.

Stunned, I sit down in the very back. When Mother Sukhada comes around, I request if I could get up and speak after everybody else.

Over an hour and a half passes of people in her life speaking their memories and realizations. I keep flashing forward to an image of people gathered at my own memorial. I feel my emotions getting tighter and tighter. Finally, Sukhada calls me up.

In the silence I make my way to the microphone and gaze out at all of Srestha's Christian friends seated in chairs, the elder devotees present, and the serene Muslim man sitting in front - her husband.

I take a deep breath. "I didn't know Mother Srestha. Actually, I've never spoken with her in my life. Last year, my mother - who plays the orchestra harp - decided to play for Srestha's benefit concert to assist in her chemotherapy expenses. When my mother returned to Hawaii, I heard random snippets here and there of Srestha, but I never dwelt on it long.

"And then, it was Radhastami morning - " I breathe in deep, shaking, " - and I was taking a japa walk on this sandy road on the temple property. I've been pondering life and death very deeply for the past couple weeks and suddenly, completely unbidden... I thought of Srestha. I thought of her condition, and how she was coming along, and her realizations while having a terminal illness.

"And then, I saw Mother Rangavati approaching me in the distance, chanting. And I thought, 'If anyone knows how Srestha is doing, I'm sure she knows' and so I asked Rangavati, 'How is Srestha?'

"'Oh, she passed away this morning.' she replied.

"Completely stunned, I stood there in silence. Then I exclaimed quietly, 'What??'

"'Yes, I just found out about forty minutes ago.'

"'But, but... I have not thought about her this entire year. I've never even spoken with her. I do not even know her. And all of a sudden I feel concerned for her.' I pondered in disbelief.

"Mother Rangavati smiled. 'You must be tuned in, Bhakti,' and she twisted an imaginary radio dial. 'Amazing how precious and fleeting life can be, no?' she asked me. We conversed on realizations of life and death, and then began to walk back towards the temple for the noon arati for Srimati Radharani.

"We had discussed how a great saint in our tradition, Maharaj Yudhistir, was asked the question, 'What is the most amazing thing in this world?' and he replied, 'We see our family, our friends, everyone around us all dying, and yet we believe as though we shall live forever,'

"Yet Srestha still lives through her example and the way that I feel as though I shall remember and reflect on her for the rest of my life.

"I look around to see that her love of God has impacted all of us, no matter which path we may have chosen - Christian, Vaishnava, or Muslim - her own husband. She has united us all here today. This is her legacy. And what could I aspire to more than when I pass away I leave a legacy of love, appreciation, and cooperation.

"I apologize if I have taken up time speaking in lieu of someone who has known her more deeply. I wanted to share with you, though, how she has somehow threaded into my life, even by me being here tonight. Thank you."

As I sit down, my mind keeps returning to the thought that one day, people shall gather for my own small memorial service - laugh and cry... and then disperse for the night to return home and to life.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Symphony of Light

Bhakti Roberto
Professor Robitaille - ENC2305
September 26th, 2007
Descriptive Essay

I step out into the sultry night onto the winding temple road and let down my hair. I slip off my shoes and place them on the side of the road to return to later. 

I drink in the night. The moon embroiders the trees draped in Spanish moss with silver. The stars glisten. The sand warms my toes and the air is thick like velvet on my skin. 

Suddenly I glimpse a flash of light. Curiosity spiked, I scurry around the corner to clear the trees.

And there… out on the distant horizon loom kingdoms of clouds, rich and powerful, the color of Shyam’s monsoon skin. I gaze in wonder and then – there! The clouds seem to catch on fire, glowing golden in their bellies. No sooner does the flame race through the clouds does it snuff out.

My jaw softly drops. I witness the spectacle again and again, and it catches my awe every time. At one point I glance around, desperately searching for someone to share this with. Yet it’s just me, barefoot, loose hair, on some winding, starlit road.

So I walk a ways to find the perfect spot to settle down and watch the show. My heart quiets to take in the sweeping majesty of those clouds in the distance. They must be several miles high, billowing and dense like spools of black spun silk. What’s more, the sky opens up above me, utterly clear of the tiniest wisp of cloud. The moon smiles serenely and casts moon shadows everywhere.

The kingdoms of clouds pulsate with billowing flashes of golden light, and I immerse myself in the music of this symphony of light. I juxtapose the mischievous, irregular rhythm of the lightning with the still gaze of the stars and the gentle eye of the moon. How small I am! I simply watch as the gods play their silent symphony. I am just a grain of sand… watching.

I don’t know how long I sit there in the grass, my toes in the sand, entranced. I lose sense of time.

Deeper into the night, the symphony of light crescendos... and then falls away.

When I return to my shoes and braid up my hair once again, I feel an awe that I could be a witness to such splendor, and an ache that I had been alone.

I hope this essay invited you in.  

heat lightening, image courtesy of

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

In The Stillness

March 16th, 2006

The sun sillhouettes the tree moss in gold, and in the cool evening I make my way to the temple. Tents lay empty, and powerlines and lights are still strung about. Hundreds of people milled about on these grounds only last night for the Gaura Purnima festival.

Now, not a soul stirs in the stillness. Except... over there, on the verandah, a man reads a soul-searching book. I smile. I pad across the grass and enter the templeroom.

The deities of Radha Shyamasundara grace my eyes with Their splendor. I pick up the harmonium and place it close to the altar - I settle down and begin to sing a bhajan.

No one is here, only the Deities, and I sing the bhajan over and over again, Ohe Vaishnava Thakura. I don't even realize that I'm singing in a loop. So many times I've sung this song in the misery of living away from the devotees, always in some secluded place or along some abandoned road, wishing I could be whereever the devotees were.

And yet here I am, alone, and my soul is at rest.

But in Alachua, I am realizing, I am never alone.

ekaki amare nahi paya bala
Without you [the vaishnava] I have no strength."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Value of My Question

The morning after LA Rathayatra, I slept terribly. I awoke to a dark and silent bus at around 5am, and I was buzzing with raw nerves. I thought of how impossible it would be to get back to sleep, so I decided I would take a shower and go chant in the front of the bus.

As I went in to use the bathroom, Manu passed me (of all people, I swear, HE was up) and said, "Change of plans. Radhanath Swami is going to be on THIS bus, instead of the boy's, in about a half an hour. We're driving to the LA temple right now to pick him up. The bathrooms need to get cleaned."

That's all he said before he whisked in to clean a bathroom. I blinked in response. What?

Without thinking too much, I cleaned the other bathroom. I took a shower - which soothed my nerves - and dressed in fresh clothes. Outside a blue light began to filter through the world. Everyone was still sleeping.

With some hesitation, I slowly opened the door to the front of the bus. My heart skipped a beat. Manu and Radhanath Swami both turned around. I just sat down to write in my journal.

There I was in this cool, blue morning, driving along some California highway, sitting about two feet away from the very person who gives my life meaning. I stayed quiet, though. I wanted to ask Maharaj a question, but I wanted it to be thought out and real.

So maybe a half an hour went by while I gazed out the window to the eucalyptus trees and the golden light illuminating the rolling terra-cotta hills. I was meditating on a question the whole time. I couldn't decide. So guess what? I asked the question that I have been asking for years, to almost any bloke who crossed my path.


Radhanath Swami turned around. "Yes?" he replied.

"May I ask you a hypothetical question?"

The corners of his mouth twitched. He pronounced, "Yes, you may ask me a hypothetical question."

I took a breath. "Would you rather be blind or deaf?"

He paused and became serious. "Either way, as long as Krishna allows me to serve Him. I pray that being blind or deaf would only draw me closer to Krishna."

I laughed and dared, "Yes, but Maharaj, you've got to answer the question; you've got to choose one." I really wanted to hear Maharaj's choice. I'd been asking this question for so many years and had received so many different answers and reasons. His would surely settle the case.

But his reply shall remain with me for the rest of my life, precisely because I was not expecting it.

He spoke in return, "Yes, but I believe the value of your question lies in appreciating being able to see and appreciating being able to hear, and not so much that I must choose. Your question allows one to consider how important each sense is to live our lives."

I sat there, astounded to silence. I replied quietly, "You know, I've never thought of it like that,"

Maharaj then turned around and we all resumed our chanting of japa. I pondered his reply, realizing all these years that I've never felt fully satisfied with anyone's response, ever. There were always holes or counterarguments or debates that sprung up.

And yet there I was, void of all reprisal.

After awhile, Maharaj then turned around again. He said slowly, "Bhakti lata, your question is like having two daughters and asking me which one I would rather have die. Each one is so precious and unique." He paused. "Because of your question, I am now listening to the maha-mantra as we chant as I have never heard in my life, and gazing at these Deities - " he gestured to the framed photo of Radha-Madhava propped up on the dashboard of the bus - "with appreciation for Their smiles like I have never seen in my life."

He smiled. "Thank you."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Questions of Death

Death has woven herself into my life. As a guest, her presence allows me to appreciate life. I reflect on death pretty much every day, from snippets of a thought of five seconds, to a deep contemplation for five minutes. At least once a day I muse: If I died today, would I regret my life? my choices? What would I leave behind?

Would I remember my spiritual life? Srila Prabhupad? my spiritual master, Radhanath Swami? Would my soul come to find him for shelter again?

What would the last words on my tongue be? The last thoughts on my mind?

Krishna. Krishna. Krishna.

When the sun sets on my life, please allow me to return to You.


Is it possible for Alachua to get any sweeter? deeper? cooler?

As Radhanath Swami put it, "There's no where else on Planet Earth I'd rather be than right here [in Alachua], right now, with all of you."

This community makes my heart beat. The devotees, the temple, the Deities, Prabhupad...

This Janmastami stirred something within me.

photos courtesy of
Jahnavi Harrison

Monday, September 10, 2007

Reflections on 2004

Summer 2004 was incredible. I was browsing through some pictures from that summer and I felt transported back in time. Taking up Radhanath Swami even more as my teacher, teaching at Camp Govardhan in Saranagati, flying down to LA to perform with Krishna Devata, Karnam, Gauravani, and Anapayini; joining the Bus Tour for the first time in a whirlwind tour of the West Coast, then to end the summer on a grand note, Kartamasa and Radha's wedding...

... then back to zero devotees, festivals, sadhus, and temples in Hawaii.

decorating the rathayatra cart with pine boughs (Canada style ;)

Rathayatra began as a cloudy day in the valley, and then brightened up to smile on Lord Jagannath!

canoeing in the duck-poo lake in Saranagati.

chilling out after LA Rathayatra.

I dubbed this picture "Krishna Balaram"

getting ready... in a closet?
in LA, a day after our performance

mangoes in Mexico

a poetic moment on a japa walk on the beach, Baja California, Mexico
The Bus Tour performance.... Kapila was one lucky guy.

The bridesmaids at Kar and Radha's wedding.
The Saranagati Crew after the Feast!

On Janmastami... back in Hawaii.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.