Saturday, March 28, 2009

Happy Blogiversary!

Blogs are contagious. Say there’s a blog out there that's kinda cool, and you read it on a regular basis. You admire that it’s creative, it’s self-expressive, it’s international, and best of all it’s free. I can guarantee, before long, you’ll want to start your own.

That’s what happened to me.

A little over two years ago, I began reading a blog written by a couple of guys to document their journey to Vrindavan. When their trip ended, so did their blog, but the seed of inspiration was planted. I had caught the blog bug.

So on March 28th, 2007, I wrote my first blog post.

Two years and 130 blog posts later, I’m still writing. I hope I continue to summon the courage to keep going. Blogs – for all of their ease to begin – are tough to maintain. Ultimately, steady readers are the key to inspiration. 

Thus you, my dear reader, inspire me to continue on with Seed of Devotion. Thank you.

So maybe you'll catch the blog bug, too... and when you do, let me know your URL. 

Some Seed of Devotion stats:

* over 11,000 hits

* visits from over 100 countries

* around 60 subscribers

* over 100 comments

* most popular post: Liberation at 21 (over 1000 hits)

* post with most comments: take a wild guess

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My Life Is Like a Sari

My Life is Like a Sari
a birthday poem

My life is like a sari

My breaths
are the threads
woven in thousands of rows
upon the loom
of my body.

My life is like a sari

the first thread
and the last thread
          my first breath
          and my last breath
touch but in one moment

one moment

when the sariweaver
cuts me from the loom
and presses the edges
of my life together

My life is like a sari

I pray 
that the final thread 
is woven in the design 
of the name 
of God.

photos courtesy of blue mango india and

Monday, March 16, 2009

Touch of the Brajabasi: Epilogue

Touch of the Brajabasi: Epilogue

serendipity, n. An unsought, unintended, or unexpected occurrence, made by chance and good fortune

The Yamuna River is an enigma to me. She is considered so holy, yet she is so polluted. It was a paradox I never came to peace with while I lived in Vrindavan – I never took achman (a reverent sip), definitely never took bath… and I never even offered my obeisance.  

Until my last day in Vrindavan.

If I had had it my way, I would have fulfilled my important mission down by the Yamuna River in the bright afternoon, protected by the safety of the sun. 

But I didn’t have it my way. One by one, twists of fate fell like dominos, until at last I found myself walking down Seva Kunja Gully in the twilight, heading for the River, determined to complete my mission. But I was nervous. Very nervous. A woman alone in the dark in India is a dangerous idea.   

I began to realize that I would be a fool to go to the river without a man to escort me. I would have to cancel my mission.  

And then, serendipity played her card.

Through the mazelike, dusky streets, I saw a man in a yellow shirt. As he drew closer, I squinted and called out, “Bhakti?” 

Bhakti Rasa, a gurukuli and a good friend who lives in Vrindavan, called back, “Oh hey, haribol Bhakti, what’s up?”

I gasped, “You’re a man.”

He grinned. “I noticed that.” 

“I can’t believe this. Bhakti, please tell me you’re not on some urgent mission,”

“I’m not,”

“Would you accompany me to the Yamuna River? I leave tomorrow at 4am and must do something there tonight.”

He thought for a moment and then said, “Sure, I can come with you,”

I sighed. “Sometimes it’s so tough to be a woman in India. Thanks, Bhakti,” 

In the deep blue evening, we made our way to Keshi Ghat. We maneuvered the maze of ancient stairwells and balconies and at last descended the wide stone steps which led right down to the river. The Yamuna was whisper-still. 

So. My mission. 

I brought out three sets of japa malas (meditation beads) from my sack and set them upon the stone steps. It is Vaishnava tradition to immerse prayer beads in holy water, and I had been searching for the perfect beads for my mother, my father, and for a friend. For a month and a half I had searched, but to no avail. 

But only hours before, on my last day in Vrindavan, on my last jaunt to Loi Bazaar, and down a street I didn't usually pass through, I found the perfect beads. The shopkeeper had had only three sets left. Three. I took it as a sign, as serendipity.  I took it as a sign to come to peace with the Yamuna River and with Vrindavan. 

And so, with a reverence I had never felt before, I slipped off my shoes and knelt before the softly flowing river to immerse each set of smooth sandalwood beads. I prayed for my mother. I prayed for my father. I prayed for my friend. And then, lastly, I immersed my own set of beads. The cool water flowed over and through my hands.   
I wound my beads back in their bag and then settled back on to the stone steps. I sang the maha mantra and allowed visions of Vrindavan sweep over me. Gratitude for Srila Prabhupada fell over me in waves - I could never have appreciated Vrindavan without his vision. Radhanath Swami was my guide, and the Brajabasis were my teachers. 

And with gratitude comes respect. I will never forget the sensation of cold stone on my toes, forearms and fingers as I knelt upon the steps of Keshi Ghat. The cold seeped through my sari to my knees and the cold, gritty stone pressed upon my forehead as I offered my first respects to Yamuna Devi.

I do not profess that I loved Vrindavan, only that I had learned some respect for the holy dham and those who lived there. And that is all that I had wanted. Respect is the foundation for love, after all. 

I rose from my obeisance. Now, only a faint blue glow glimmered on the horizon. The sky was painted with stars. The river murmured. My quiet and fateful companion, Bhakti Rasa, watched all.   

“You know, Bhakti Rasa… I have just prayed for something I have not prayed for in my entire time in Vrindavan.”

“What is that?”

“I prayed to return.”

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Portraits of the Brajabasi: at prayer

 Portraits of the Brajabasi: at prayer

"Bombay is my office, Mayapur is my place of worship, and Vrindavan is my home."
- Srila Prabhupada, 1977

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Three: The Musician

Touch of the Brajabasi: The Musician

In Vrindavan, I had a policy: don’t give to beggars. I envisioned that if I gave to one, I would be swarmed with beggars from the entire street demanding their share. 

So I just didn’t give. I had lived in Vrindavan for over a month and I had not given a single rupee to a single beggar. I had planned to keep it that way. 

One amber afternoon, I climbed off the rickshaw and turned down the side alley of the Krishna Balaram Temple, on a mission to visit Srila Prabhupad's rooms for the first time. All was empty, all was quiet… except for a beggar.  

I had seen the beggar many times before; he sits in front of the security gate to the Krishna Balaram temple. He wears faded orange renunciate clothes, sings from a book opened on the cloth where he sits, plays a simple stringed gourd instrument with his right hand and with his left he keeps rhythm by tapping the gourd with fingers circled with bells. 

Before, the streets had always been a chaos, so I hadn’t stopped to listen. But now, in this empty, warmth-infused alley, I slowed as I approached him. I stood off to the side and observed the beggar – but no, I realized with a jolt, that wasn’t the word. He was a musician. He sang with such clarity, such rhythm... such depth

I felt a little nervous to be observing a beggar so much – surely he would turn to me and ask for money. But he never did. He just kept singing, gently rocking back and forth, absorbed in his prayers.

And then, I had an urge that I had not felt my entire time in the holy dham, my entire time in India: I wanted to give this man something. I reached into my purse – I had enough for lunch and the rickshaw ride home. 

I considered for a moment, and then I took the fifty-rupee note – my lunch money – and walked forward to place it in the musician’s tin. For a beggar, fifty rupees is a lot, but he simply nodded to me and continued on with his music. 

I continued on my way through the security gate, pondering music and beggars. 

But then my mind turned to Srila Prabhupad as, for the first time, I quietly stepped into his sacred rooms. I then settled down before the murti (statue) of Srila Prabhupad writing at his desk. The creamy light shone through the window and fell upon the murti and I could almost imagine that Srila Prabhupad was actually sitting there, writing his books. 

I closed my eyes, enveloped in peace to be here in Vrindavan, in the rooms of my savior, at the foot of the bed where he had left this world. 

And then, in that stillness, music wafted in through the window. 

The musician. 

I listened to the faint melody and tap of the gourd. With a blossom of realization, I realized that the musician from the street sang for Srila Prabhupad all day, every day. People would come and go – like me – but the musician would remain there, singing for Srila Prabhupad here, in his room. I imagined Krishna Himself to be so pleased with this musician who sang all day for the pleasure of His dear devotee, Srila Prabhupad. He sang without pride and without expectation of admiration… or even livelihood

My spiritual master often says that the Brajabasis are no ordinary people. Each and every one – from the beggars to the monkeys – are special and must be respected above all. 

I folded my palms together, closed my eyes, bowed my head and softly sang the classic verse of respect to the Vaishnavas, 

vancha-kalpatarubhyash cha 
kripa-sindubhya eva cha
patitanam pavanabhyo
vaishnavebhyo namo namaha,

I offer my respects unto all devotees of the Lord. They are like desire trees which fulfill the desires of everyone, and are full of compassion for the fallen conditioned souls.” 

Maybe if you, my dear reader, one day go to Vrindavan, you’ll make your way to Srila Prabhupad’s rooms on a soft afternoon. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll hear prayers drift through the window to where both you and Srila Prabhupada are listening. 

To write is to dare the soul. So write.