Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Vani and Vapuh [Day 2.2]

Later in the afternoon, the three of us wait in the living room for our scheduled darshan with Maharaj. Rupa and Nama chat, but I’m still quiet, meditating on my realization from this morning. I write down the questions I will ask in my gold diary, whittling my list down to the most important ones.

And then, Chaturatma motions to us that our time has come. I hold my breath as we step out into the warm afternoon. There is Indradyumna Swami, seated on a chair, the sun illuminating his robes. How simple and so sweet. I let my breath out.

The three of us settle around him, and he catches up with Rupa, his disciple of ten years now. As they converse, Maharaj amazes me with his memory and his desire to connect with his disciples despite the fact he receives a couple hundred e-mails per day. Yeah, just try that for a day. I barely respond to my friends.

Maharaj then turns his serious blue gaze to me.

Suddenly shy, I search for words that I had written down so carefully. “Maharaj,” I begin. I pause. And then, I say what has been on my mind every waking hour since driving up here. “Maharaj… thank you. Thank you for helping me understand what it means to be a disciple of my own guru maharaj,”

He listens. So kindly, he listens. He emphasizes that the instruction – or vani – of my teacher is the most important. But then he addresses my aching concern by mentioning that personal association – or vapuh – is also important, so he smiles and says, “Then write me. Please.”

“I will,” I reply, tears welling in my eyes. Aaaahh… a peace flows over me.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Love and Suspicion

"Pure love and suspicion cannot dwell together: at the door where the latter enters, the former makes its exit". Alexandre Dumas

In this funny limbo time before I am actually initiated by my guru maharaj, my mind roams free, my faith in guru riddled with holes. So I ponder and meditate and devote a crazy amount of mind space to understanding guru. Truly I want love, not suspicion.

So for the past several months, I have read this book, Welcome Home, by Radhanath Swami oh say, about nine times, to better receive vani, or instruction. I have a canto or two of the Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna Book, and several other intense spiritual books on my bookshelf... but this one stays by my bed, and I never tire of it.

[Sigh.] But sometimes in the throes of my doubt, I wonder: Yeah, I grew up with Radhanath Swami around, but do I even have a relationship with him? It's the difference between reading a textbook and learning from a teacher. There's probably amazing knowledge in the textbook, but it means nothing if I don't soak it in and understand it.

And yet, Radhanath Swami is one of the few people on the planet** that I actually like to listen to speak on spiritual life... even if I'm not there.

And read his book nine times.

And the one instruction he has given me has changed my life: Be an example.

[Grin.] Aye, Bhakti, you think too much. Just chiiiiill.

Slowly, I'm shooing suspicion out the door, and beckoning love to gently sweep in. Well, yeah, sloooooooowly.

**Radhanath Swami, Indradyumna Swami, Shesha Prabhu and Radhika Raman Das Brahmacari

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Abhishek of the Earth

There has been no rain for weeks - the drought has struck the entire Southeastern coast of the United States. The smoke from fires up north has chased down to Florida and has suffocated the air for weeks now - trees and people are smoky outlines. I have felt stifled and heavy from shallow breathing for too long. The previous day, the temple president had announced that we would sing as a community - I kid you not - 12 hours of bhajans every single day to pray for rain. We were to begin today. 

Yet as I pull into the temple for the Sunday Feast, little puffs of dirt rise from the parched earth as rain begins to descend. And when I offer my respects to Radhe Shyam in the templeroom, the downpour begins.

Aaaahh.... How exhilarating! At last, rain.

As we raise our voices, booming claps of thunder and the roar of rain resonate through the closed doors.

What am I doing inside?

So I step out onto the verandah, slipping along the wall to where I can sit down. I watch as devotees brave their way from their cars, dashing through the rain with tiny umbrellas and huge grins. And God Bless Alachua, but we overgrew our facility five years ago, so basically you're in the templeroom (dry) or on the verandah (wet). Or, like me, you're curled up in a tiny [slightly] dry nook, chanting.

I gaze out into the magnificent rain, the wind whipping the trees, and I close my eyes and bask in the glory of the thunderstorm.

I breathe deep, the sweet air soothing me. At last, at last. And then, as if a switch turns on, the sound of the temple kirtan threads its way to my ears. I envision the kartalas, mridangas, and the resonance of hundreds of voices suffusing the rain with sweetness. I smile - like rose water.

Hmmm... like abhishek of the earth...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Birth of Ramai Caju

The birth of Ramai Caju. How do I describe one of the most spiritual experiences in my life? I feel odd, trying to tell the tale online, for everyone to see. So I won't. Some things are meant for the eyes of only some, and I was one of the few - if the only one - invited to witness an event that stirred my soul.

All of my life, I have contemplated death. Believe me, death and I have become very close. When will it come? How will it feel? How long will it last? Will I be remembering Krishna?

And yet for the first time in my life, I witnessed a spirit soul just begin life. His first breaths, opening his eyes...

His journey has begun to remember Krishna.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Count down from ten...

What are the most important things in your life?

Good Question. So count down from ten.

10 Things People Wouldn't Guess Just By Looking At You
1. I’m a devotee of Krishna

2. I love to sing

3. I play an Indian drum (rudimentary, mind you!)

4. I am a teacher

5. I speak Spanish

6. I play a mad game of ping-pong (chess, too)

7. My Master’s will be in Education

8. I’m 20

9. I study classical Indian dance

10. I love to write

9 Things You Want To Do Before You Die

1. bathe in Radha Kunda

2. take darshan of Sri Radha Raman and listen to the flute player who comes every evening

3. perform Bharatanatyam professionally at least once

4. learn to sing classical Drupad style so that I can…

5. record a CD

6. write a book (young adult)

7. Revolutionize education through charter schools and empowering the student

8. take initiation from Radhanath Swami

9. play the bansuri flute like my father

8 Things You Say Everyday
1. the maha-mantra

2. haribol

3. dude

4. beautiful

5. hmmm… that’s interesting

6. oh man

7. Radhe-shyam

8. oh, jai

(damn, I must sound like Homer Simpson)

7 Things You Hate
1. people who don’t communicate

2. finding parking

3. traffic

4. ignorance

5. people who are stuck in their ways

6. pollution

7. mindless slaughter – animals and humans

6 Things You Love To Do
1. sing bhajan and kirtan

2. write about my life

3. TEACH – my passion in life

4. learn

5. dance – classical and spontaneous

6. chant the maha-mantra

5 People You Look Up To
1. Radhanath Swami

2. Indradyumna Swami

3. Jaya Radhe

4. Anapayani

5. Ganga

4 Places You Want To Visit Before You Die
1. Vrindavan

2. Mayapur

3. Chowpatty

4. Ahovilam

3 Things You Look For In A Partner
1. resilient character

2. dynamic personality

3. beauty

2 Things You Never Want To Do
1. Have sex before marriage

2. stop chanting

1 Person Who Has Changed Your Life For The Better:
1. Ganga

Friday, May 4, 2007

He's Still Here.

In the chill and dark morning, Rupa, Nama and I rushed about the guest house, groggily gulping down oatmeal and mumbling tilak mantras. We dashed out the door and made it in time to sing some morning bhajans while the people of the program began to gather.

At last, Indradyumna Swami joined us. Last night after I had picked up the mridanga, I had been so absorbed in playing it that I hadn’t fully appreciated Maharaj's special melody for Jaya Radha Madhava. And so now as he began to sing, tingles swept across my skin.

During breakfast, Rupa, Nama, and I discussed youth in Alachua and ISKCON. In the quiet mid-morning, we laughed and practically shouted out our jokes. Maharaj was still sitting where he was for class, chanting his japa intently with eyes closed. Suddenly he snapped them open and commanded the three of us.

“There is time for this later. Come, chant japa with me,”

Hushed immediately, we fetched our japa bags sheepishly. We settled around Maharaj, but then he commanded again, “Face me.”

We faced him. And in the current and wave of chanting, with Maharaj as my anchor, I tasted each syllable of the maha-mantra for the first time in months. I meditated deeper and deeper, as if drinking deeper and deeper.

When Maharaj rose to finally take some breakfast, the others dispersed. But I stayed, transfixed.

He’s still here, I murmured to myself. My hair stood on end. Even though he’s gone… I’m going to keep chanting.

My mind turned to my own guru, Radhanath Swami, and how most of my life he’s not there. 

Suddenly I made the connection that Radhanath Swami is my inspiration, my map, my compass… but I must captain my own ship. I must rise to the challenge; take responsibility for my spiritual life.

My guru is there in my heart, asking me - commanding me - to chant. That is how he will always be there, sitting across from me, inspiring me to go deeper and to never stop chanting the holy name.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Be Quiet!

On the ride up to Atlanta, I had one meditation: silence. I want to listen. For once I want to just be quiet and observe. Instead of jumping at every opportunity to hammer out questions and playing deaf to their answers, I want to soak in Indradyumna Swami's association. Serve. Watch. Listen. Just be.

So one evening when Rupa, Nama and I returned from a japa walk, the street was filling with cars. A twinge of excitement fluttered in my chest. I calmed it immediately though. Just observe, Bhakti… for once in your life…

While bhajans rocked the house, I sat down modestly in the back of the room. But then, when one devotee finished singing, people started to beckon me to sing. WHAT THE…?? I had never been to Duluth, Georgia in my LIFE, I had never met 99.9 percent of these people, and they were summoning me to sing??

Rupa just grinned her huge grin and nodded her head really fast in her Rupa way. “Yeah, yeah, go Bhakti! … Hey! Bhakti’s going to sing,”

So with a smile to myself and a shake of my head, I settled in front of the harmonium. I looked across to the mridanga player and beheld a gentle, wise man that I knew but his name escaped me.

I began to sing and couldn't help but smile. The rhythm began to groove, voices rose in enthusiasm, and suddenly the most hilarious thought hit me: Quiet. ME. This is ridiculous! This is the farthest thing from quiet I could possibly get! My voice literally broke as I sang because I couldn't help from laughing. Rupa made it worse by laughing along with me.

And just as I swung into the high register, the beat went double time, and the room started to clap, Indradyumna Swami entered. In a wave, everyone offered their obeisance. I looked up to see him observing the room in his regal, serene way.

Drawing the bhajan to a tumultuous close (in which I threatened to break down laughing again), I felt the room grinning.

“Good evening,” Maharaj said smoothly. He picked up a pair of kartals and began to sing.

My eye was drawn to a lone mridanga just begging to be played. Realizing how hilarious this was getting, I motioned to Satvata that I wanted to play. He handed the drum to me. I turned to face the gentle man, and he nodded and smiled as we played in sync.

Then the rhythm picked up and with a shout, people jumped up to dance! I’m sorry, but I simply cannot watch others dance in a kirtan, and so I handed off the drum and dove right in. Out of my penchant for leading the way, I directed the women to dance in a circle, then lines, then the bridge!

Maharaj ended the kirtan in a beautiful crescendo. Breathless, we offered obeisance. Rupa, Nama, and I glanced at each other in between our hands, grinning ear to ear.

[SNORT.] So much for being quiet.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.