Thursday, January 29, 2009

Touch of the Brajabasi: Introduction

Touch of the Brajabasi: Introduction





To begin my Touch of the Brajabasi series, I would like to invite you to Vrindavan, and what it means to go to the most holiest of towns in a humble mood. We can truly see Vrindavan through the mercy of the Vaishnavas, or, the devotees of the Lord. 

***

 There’s a gated corner of the Chowpatty temple grounds called Vrindavan Forest. It used to be a trash dump, but by the vision of Radhanath Maharaj, five years later it is now transformed into a lush, cultivated garden, landscaped with little temples and lakes. It is a haven in the city of Mumbai.

 One morning, Sita Lila, Kumari, and I sat nervously outside of Vrindavan Forest, waiting for Radhanath Maharaj to finish speaking with someone. I had promised Kumari that I would introduce her to Maharaj, but I was getting the jitters. We were so ambushing him. Why am I always ambushing Maharaj? I berated myself.

 Then he emerged, in his glowing orange robes. The three of us stood, and a smile warmed his entire face.

 “Please, come in,” he ushered us in to Vrindavan Forest.

 We all looked at each other, speechless, then followed Maharaj’s suit into the Forest. In the pavilion, we settled down into plush bamboo sofas. “Here’s for the full effect,” he said, and he turned on the waterfall as well as the recording of Vrindavan birds singing in the morning. He smiled and settled down across from us.  

 The three of us conversed with Maharaj for a long time, inquiring and discussing about India and guru and service. Then, Kumari admired a little lake off to our side, a sculpture of Krishna dancing on the hoods of Kaliya emerging from the water.

 “Ah yes, this is Kaliya Ghat,” Maharaj explained. “And next to it, that is Vrinda Kunda… And you see all of these temples? They are replicas of the actual temples in Vrindavan, and the devotees here in Chowpatty made them. And…” his enthusiasm seemed to overflow. He grinned. “Do you have time? Come, I’ll give you a tour,” he said.

 The three of us traded delighted glances, and then we all stood to follow Maharaj to the front gate, the beginning of the Forest path.

 “This is a tamal tree,” he began, placing his hand on the trunk of a blackish tree. And so for the next fifteen minutes, Radhanath Maharaj pointed out every sacred tree and its significance, or that little piece of stone that was an original fragment of a temple in Vrindavan, or who the personalities were in their little temples. He seemed to glow with the pride of a father introducing his children – he had planted nearly every tree and plant in this garden. 

 I had been living in Chowpatty for nearly a month and a half, my room a ten-second walk from Vrindavan Forest. I had taken dozens of walks around the garden. But I had never seen the tamal tree. I had never noticed the piece of ancient stone. I had never known that Maharaj had planted these trees himself.

 At the end of the Tour, a revelation had crept into me and I was in awe. As we circled back around to the pavilion to retrieve our things, I said to Maharaj, “It's amazing, Maharaj, that this used to be a trash dump. This makes me realize that no matter where we are in the world, we can always find Vrindavan there." I paused. "Thank you. You have opened my eyes. I realize that without guru, without teacher, I simply cannot see what is there. Thank you, Maharaj.”

 He turned to look at me. “You’re welcome.”

***

Please tune in for the next several posts for the Touch of the Brajabasi series. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

so you want to be a blogger...

I'm a huge believer that inspiration is contagious, and if we only took the time out of our lives to write and be vulnerable to share the inspiration in our lives, every single one of us would inspire others.

So. How to share your inspiration with the world?

A blog.

A blog is accessible to the entire world (113 countries have visited Seed of Devotion so far), it's fun (design your own site with Blogger or Wordpress), and it's free.

But what makes a blog... well, good? What makes people come back week after week, year after year?

A blog is about a) content - the special moments of your life, and b) style - the way you tell your story. 

Here are five points that I have gathered over my history as a blogger. 

5. Keep it short. 
 100 - 350 words (use your Word Count tool), or 2 - 4 minutes of read time. Internet readers want a snapshot, not a Hindi movie. Make every word count, every image and story captivate the reader.

4. Nouns and Verbs
What did you expect? Writing a blog is... well, writing, and one needs to know how to write well to sustain a successful blog. In my opinion (and Hemingway's), Nouns and Verbs is the golden rule. Strengthen your nouns and verbs, take out describers, and your writing will be clean.

And of course, write a first draft, then edit, edit, edit, which translates as delete, delete, delete. This post in itself has gone through about 6 or 7 edits. 

Also, if you have five minutes, check out some more tips for good writing here: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2006/02/12/writing-tips-for-non-writers-who-dont-want-to-work-at-writing/

Also check out the fantastic book, The Writer's Book of Wisdom: 101 Rules for Mastering Your Craft by Steven Taylor Goldsberry, on Amazon.com or your local library. It's fun and extremely practical. 

Ultimately, writing is an art.

"What is written without effort is read without pleasure." - Samuel Johnson

3. Be Personal
Blogs are for readers to peer into your world... we want to hear what's so special for you, what makes life tick for you (not a CNN wrap-up of the day). Don't shy away from sharing your adventures and realizations - that's what blogs are for.

2. Be Laser
Stick to one subject/theme or one story. Pick out one event or realization and weave in your personal experience. Blog posts are simply too short (and readers' attention spans too restless) to absorb all the facts and plot twists of a masterpiece.

The above four rules were made to be broken (case in point: this post is 506 words), but this last rule is the holy grail of blogging:  

Number 1 Rule: KEEP BLOGGING
The key is to find a rhythm. In my experience (and by witnessing others), I say: strive for once a week.

More than that and your blog will be a part-time job.

Less than that, and you'll forget your own URL. Your readers will forget it, too.

So make it a sadhana (regular practice).
So write.
And write. 
And write.
And did I say keep writing?

Have fun.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sing to God


In Chowpatty, one night I was chanting softly on my beads. After some time, my friend and roommate from Spain, Gopi Kumari, remarked, "You seem to sing the maha mantra. It's beautiful,"

"I never thought of it like that," I replied.

"It's interesting. In English you have the word 'chant' and the word 'sing'... but in Spanish, there is no distinction. It is simply 'cantar' for both," she said in a ponderous tone. 

"Very true," I murmured. When I was in Spain and I needed to go chant, I told my friends, "Necesito cantar," which translates as "I need to chant," but it can also be translated as, "I need to sing," 

How beautiful. Oh, how beautiful that as Vaishnavas, we take time out of our day to sing to God. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

LOL!

I know this post is a bit out of character, but humor me. I tend to be a very serious person (if you haven't noticed). But I am a huge fan of LOL cats. I think you will be, too, after checking out a selection of my favorites. 











Please tell me you're Laughing Out Loud. 

There, my day was successful!

Vote for your favorite. 

Friday, January 2, 2009

People First, Place Second.

So. 

I'm home.

On July 21st, I began my first mile of travel in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The next five months would whirlwind me across America, through Europe, within India, across the mighty Pacific and back to Hawaii on December 23rd. 25,000 miles - I circled the world. 

The places were magnificent. But I am finding more and more and more that travel is first about the people, and second about the place. Always.

Always.

I could have been in hell (aka: an airplane) but if there was someone cool to connect with (an English Muslim student on his way home to Pakistan) then I was in heaven. I could recount - literally - hundreds of examples of this rule: people first, place second. 

I encountered an ocean of people in my travels; some I got to know intimately, some I didn't even know their name. I still remember the beggar girl in Vrindavan who allowed my heart to soften, and to let go of my feverish attachments. And then I shall never forget my friend, Rupa Manjari, who reached inside my heart and flipped me upside down. Her intense, beautiful expression of service and devotion has humbled me.    

People don't fit into lists, like places visited or miles traveled. It just doesn't work like that. People are the breath of travel... people are the breath of life.

Thank you. If I encountered you in my travels - even just for a moment, the span of one breath - and you're reading this, thank you.

You were the reason and the perfection of my journey.   



To write is to dare the soul. So write.