Tuesday, September 30, 2008

In Love With Reality


I'm falling in love with India.

A friend of my parent's who has known me since birth once said, "Oh Bhakti, knowing you, you won't experience culture shock when you go to India. Actually, it will feel like going home. The real culture shock - at least for me - was when I returned to America. That was the real shock."

I'm beginning to understand his words... and I haven't even returned to America.

In my various forays into Mumbai, I have witnessed birth, death, disease, and old age whirl before my very eyes. Trash, slums, starving women, hollow-eyed beggars, distorted limbs and faces... It's there. It's real. To me, this isn't culture shock. It's just reality.

Folks, welcome to the material world.

And when I return to the temple of Radha Gopinath at the end of the day, a sense of relief and peace washes over me... it's like I have entered the spiritual world, that I've returned home. More than just enough food or a place to sleep, I feel the deep concern for the welfare of my soul - not just my body - by the devotees here.

I feel such a deep, deep appreciation to whatever karma or sukriti gave me such wonderful parents, who are devotees of Krishna. Where would I be without the mercy of my parents? Krishna consciousness is the key for the solace of my soul, and I truly feel it here in India, surrounded by the rawness of the world.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Windows to Chowpatty

These snippets are from my journal, so I invite you to be transported to Chowpatty, Mumbai...


So here I am in the temple, writing in soft golden light. Someone just turned the overhead lights off in anticipation of Sayana Arati. High-speed fans and hums of voices fill the air. When I glance back, I see a little sea of faces, all turned to the altar, waiting.


I went down to Chowpatty beach today, and although it was quite filthy, I just stood on the shore and listened to the sea. Such a great, wild sound, so unlike human noises. The great sea air tangled through my hair and pressed on my sari. And I wonder what it must have been like in ancient times to stand on that beach.


So Harinam and I turned a corner... and there was Ban Ganga - a vast ghat that is fed by a crystal clear spring. We walked down the steps and crouched before the water. I felt so at peace there, watching the wind create ripples on the water. The world seemed to quiet a little. Various temples by various sampradayas (lineages) encircled the ghat, their architecture carving the sky like they had been for hundreds of years.


I am writing this in my room in Chowpatty; the fan is whirling above me, and rain pours in heavy whispers outside. Metallic drips sound through the window as water falls from the roof. A picture of Radha Gopinath is hung on the wall above me, and They seem to give Their blessings. And an old maroon copy of Srila Prabhupada's Lilamrita sits on the bottom shelf of my bookshelf, quietly telling me Srila Prabhupada's story, and that he is the reason I am even here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Magic of The Simple Temple

In 2003, Radhanath Swami invited me to Chowpatty, India.

So. Five years later, I have finally come. I don't know what the next five hours will bring, what to speak of tomorrow, or a week from now. So I simply live in the moment, step by step.

I breathe in the rich, musty air. The roar as waterfalls of rain drench the world - people dashing from cover in their saris or dhotis. Orange cloth (lots of it) billows from bamboo rafters high above, drying in the sun. Rain patters through the fresh green leaves, and there, the pujari is a silhouette from the candlelight inside the little Laxmi Narayan temple.

Chowpatty works a slow magic. I knew it would take time, I knew I needed to be patient - this is a community based on relationships, and relationships take time. And so day by day, the petals of this community blossom for me... so very slowly.

A staggering number of people attend a morning program infused with devotion. This is not simply the dazzled observation of a newcomer. The kirtans are melodic and sincere; everyone dances together, and everyone raises their arms when they sing Hare Krishna. I sense a deep, deep connection with Krishna Consciousness here. And somehow, SOMEHOW, their enthusiasm remains fresh, even after so many years.

Ah... I sense the hands of Radhanath Swami here.

And have I mentioned that every single kirtan is beautiful? The singer, the mridanga, and the kartalas are all eloquent and expert with so much heart. And when everyone sings in response, voices flood the templeroom. Okay, I know, I've mentioned this, but kirtan is a big deal for me, and I am deeply impressed.

I don't know how I will ever attend a morning program again without remembering the soulful kirtans and japa of the people here in Chowpatty.

To those who have given their prayers and assistance for me to come to India, I offer my deep gratitude to you. The blessings of the Vaishnavas allow me to taste the magic here.

Note: The DVD on this community, The Simple Temple, is available from Krishna.com. I guarantee you, it does not exaggerate. This place really is that amazing.

So what are you waiting for? Click here to order it. Or, better yet, click here.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.