Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Your Shore

Your Shore
dedicated to Radhanath Swami

Your shelter soothes me
moves me
like the moon
on the tides.
Your guidance shines on me
and aligns me
like the sun
on the earth.
Your example
is my compass
my North.
And if one day
I fall away from you
spin away
Please allow me
one day
to wash upon your shore
once more.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Convince Me

Nrityagram dance ensemble

I’ve been teaching my roommate, Shalagram, how to convince people to do stuff. You know, things they kinda wanna do and they would be so thrilled if they did, but they don’t (catch that?). So they need some persuasion.

So she was trying to convince me to attend her Odissi dance class. I refused. She tried several of my tactics – reverse psychology, reassurance: there’s no intense footwork, etc., – but I still refused.

Finally I said, “Look, Shalagram, I’m not going, okay? I had two exams and a presentation this morning and I’m exhausted." Then I paused. "But… if I were you trying to convince me to go, this is what I would say:

“Look, Bhakti, it’s the last time you’ll be able to come with me to dance class. It’s such a beautiful dance form, and my teacher is excellent. You haven’t danced in so long, and you won’t have to stress your foot out. And look, once you get dancing you’ll forget you were tired, you’ll be so thrilled to dance once again. When will you have this chance again?” I said. Yeah, that's what I said.

Shalagram just looked at me and started to grin.

I shifted in my seat, starting to smile, too. Then I laughed. “Um… wait… what do you wear? Same as for a Bharatanatyam class?”

So in a stuffy, carpeted, and tiny living room, I learned the base steps for Odissi.

My muscles were thrumming, my mind alive! At one point, the three other students transitioned into more intricate steps, so I simply stepped back to watch.

I found myself not calculating movements and timing and examining the students’ posture. I just watched, mesmerized. Every girl, no matter their physical appearance, held me spellbound by their grace. The movements so fluid, so full of grace, so drawn from a deep and ancient culture… these are the things that had me utterly devoted to Bharatanatyam, so completely in love with dance.

My eyes shone, and my body kind of numbed up, too, as it feels like when your whole body is crying as well.

Dance. Dance with discipline.

I swear to you, I felt connected with my soul in that stuffy little living room, moving my shoulders, creating circles, listening to the teacher speak out the rhythm, and feeling the blood rush through my veins… with a gentle smile on my face as I danced.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dancing with Mother Mitravinda

I wrote this last night...

Mother Mitravinda passed away this morning. Gaura Shakti held bhajans at his house in honor for her this evening.

And as Jagi settled down to the harmonium to sing, he said, "So this was Mother Mitravinda's favorite tune," he paused and everyone went quiet. "I went to go visit her and I was singing this tune. Then she said softly, 'It's not fair,' and I asked, 'Why is it not fair, Mitravinda?' and she replied, "It's not fair because this is my favorite tune... and I want to dance but I can't,' She then bagan to weep,"

When Jagi sang the first mantra, chills ran down my spine. Everyone sang so deeply and so beautifully and my face shone with tears to remember Mother Mitravinda dancing. Her spirit moves me, even now as I write this.

I remember the very last time I danced with her - it was the Sunday Feast before she would go to the hospital to begin treatment. I was elated to still see her at the temple. At one point in the kirtan, we both raised our arms as we sang. And as we faced each other, the expression on Mother Mitravinda's face took my breath away. Her intensity, her prayer to Radha Shyamasundar, hit me like a wave, enough to bring tears to my eyes... much the same tears I wept at bhajans tonight. And suddenly I knew - this is the last time I will ever dance with Mother Mitravinda.

And so it was.

Now I am realizing, though, that really she hasn't stopped dancing. I know this sounds all poetic, but I believe that she dancing in the hearts of all the lives she has touched.

She's dancing in mine.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Wedding of Jackie and Parama Karuna

Yesterday morning Jackie and Parama Karuna legally became husband and wife, most importantly to accommodate Jackie's parents (they plan to hold a Vedic wedding in the fall). I felt touched to see two people so compatible and willing to strive towards Krishna together.

So reflecting on marriage, last year I wrote this:

Yesterday at the wedding of Indradyumna Swami's brother, Maharaj spoke some cool stuff about marriage. Once he was on a plane and encountered a couple in their 90's and they were heading out to celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary. 75 YEARS. And so Maharaj inquired, "I am often the priest for many weddings, and I also give a speech. So please tell me, what are some words of advice that I can give to newlyweds? What has held you both together for so long, and so happily?"

They both replied at once:

"Give more than you take."

I realize that this applies to all of our relationships, especially with Krishna. To love is to give... to serve.

The Wedding of Jackie & Parama Karuna

Friday, April 18, 2008

Politics of Inspiration

But then even within a certain religion, people will say, "My certain branch is the best," and even within that branch, people will say, "My teacher is the best." But really, it's just an extension of our own ego - that anything is relation with me must be the best. But it is an illusion! - Radhanath Swami

Narayan Maharaj is coming to Alachua next week and almost half a dozen people have approached me - including my unofficial siksa guru, Indradyumna Swami - and have expressed concern that I want to go to his festival or that I casually encourage others to do so as well.

But I have a different perspective. I grew up spiritually in Hawaii with no "ISKCON" temple. Narayan Maharaj, Bodhayan Maharaj, Paramadvaiti Swami (my brother's guru), and other visiting saints were my source of inspiration in a land of very little Krishna conscious resources. I never encountered an "ISKCON" guru when I lived in Hawaii. So I believe that spiritually, I grew up around my cousins. I feel a great appreciation for their perspectives and branches.

Where I receive inspiration is completely personal. No one can tell me where to find it. I have gone to a Buddhist service, a mosque, a Baptist church, a Catholic service... and for each one I gleaned some beautiful wisdom and the essence of religion: love and service. 

And yet sometimes I find that the most heated arguments and debates occur amongst people of the same religion with simply different branches. Amazing!

So I offer my respects unto all the vaishnava devotees of the Lord, those who specifically love to serve Krishna and His devotees. A vaishnava is a rare and precious person to find in this world. Personally, I pray to somehow transcend all these politics of inspiration.

Paramadvaiti Swami, my brother's guru

Puri Maharaj, a godbrother of Srila Prabhupad

Bodhayan Maharaj; he often visited Hawaii and is the disciple of Puri Maharaj

Narayan Maharaj

Indradyumna Swami, an inspiration

Radhanath Swami, my spiritual master and life and soul

Srila Prabhupad, the ultimate inspiration

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Meditation on Distance

dedicated to my dearest friend, Ganga, who now lives thousands of miles away
The waves of this world
cover me
wash over me
bathe me, drown me

and you and me

we’re just like driftwood

riding and drowning
amidst the waves of this ocean
crying and shouting
to hear one another
vying and grasping
to catch a glimpse
of one another
and when at last
we touch
but for one breath
one caress
we let go
of one another
amidst these waves
that cover us
wash over us
bathe us, drown us
and I continue to yearn
for that moment
when I breathe
and you’re here.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Letter to an Inspiration

I wrote the following letter to Mother Mitravinda, an inspiration in my life, during her final days. So often we appreciate people when they leave us, so I wrote this letter to give her my appreciation and went to visit her in hospice. I was thinking I would just give it to Raghu (her son) to read, but when I arrived she asked me to simply read out my own letter. So I took deep breaths and began...

Dear Mother Mitravinda,

I feel such love and appreciation when I can simply gaze at Radha Shyamasundar and know: Mother Mitravinda dressed today. Your elegance and sincerity in your service has always inspired me in my spiritual life. Receiving your compliments after dressing Radha Madan Mohan was the ultimate sign that I was on the right track.

I shall never, ever forget the moment you asked me if I wanted to make Lord Nityananda's turban for Janmastami. How you believed in me, inspired me, and then guided me to serve the Lord.

And I shall never forget clasping each other's hands, tears in our eyes, as the curtains swung open on Janmastami day. A beautiful feeling of gratitude washed over me: Mother Mitravinda has helped me serve the Lord.

Thank you. Thank you for your service, your spirit when we dance, your example, our kinship... you are deep within my heart. Maybe one day, Radhe Shyam will allow me to dress Them, and I shall pray to you, here in my heart, to serve Them with sincerity and devotion.

And one day we'll be clasping hands as the curtains swing open and Radhe Shyam and Gaura Nitai smile upon us.

With love,
Bhakti lata dasi

It was the last time I ever saw Mother Mitravinda. Thank you, Krishna, for the blessing of her association.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.