Friday, July 31, 2009

KulimeLA LIVE: Gratitude

For the past 3 days, it seems as though every single minute of my day is engaged in either service, some kirtan, or planned rest. KulimeLA is pretty insane. It's hard to find time to check my mail, what to speak of write a blog post. I hope to write a little more when I return home.

What I CAN say now is that when Gopisvari (my godsister) and I got to save a plate of prasadam for Radhanath Swami yesterday and personally deliver it to his room was the perfection of my service here at the KulimeLA.

I attended a seminar today by a very powerful businessman, and the most powerful effect he had on me was his devotion to Srila Prabhupad, to his spiritual master. When he speaks about Srila Prabhupad, his voice chokes up, every time. He lives his life by Srila Prabhupad. I can see that their relationship is rich and deep, built over many years of love and dedication. And the fact that Srila Prabhupad has been physically gone from this planet for most of their relationship has only strengthened it and made it more beautiful. I believe spiritual relationships are like that - they are eternal, unconditional, and ever-increasing in love.

I hope to live with that kind of dedication one day to my own spiritual master, Radhanath Swami, and to my eternal savior, Srila Prabhupad.

I also felt this deep surge to thank my dear parents, Brihan dasi and Mahesh das, for raising me in Krishna Consciousness. They have given me the most priceless gift in the universe, and so freely. I realized yesterday that I don't ever remember learning the maha mantra. The holy name is in my blood; I was listening to it in the womb. And my mother and father were the ones to give me the holy name. They are my original gurus.

I hope to write something a bit more over the course of this festival, but I realize it's a little out of my hands.

Thank you for reading. You are all a great inspiration to me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

KulimeLA LIVE - Day 2: Heating Up

Day 2: Heating Up

People from all over the world are flying in by the day, by the hour - I can already feel the electricity in the air. Waves of people will arrive tomorrow, and the KulimeLA festival will officially begin in the evening.

Shakuntala gave me the service of dressing Lord Jagannath for the swanky Gala event at the Ford Ampitheater on Friday. So this morning, I jumped in a van with my long-time friend, Krishna Devata, to whirl through the fabric district of Los Angeles.

What a tornado of color and insanity! Fabrics of every size, shape, and color imaginable festooned from shop windows and waved from the street. Ethnic and persuasive shopkeepers beckoned us into their shops. I was transported back to India. By the end of the day, Krishna Devata and I had secured all of our fabulous wares, but I was exhausted.

By the time we beat traffic back to the temple, I barely had time to grab a bite to eat before I then began intense discussions about festival logistics that lasted all the way until I retired for the night, just now.

I was in the middle of one such heated discussion when Radhanath Swami walked right up to our group to say hello. I was a little breathtaken to see him here. I had invited him to KulimeLA more than a month ago, but he had told me that he would be in India - because of his book launch - for the dates of the Mela. But somehow, he's here.


By his presence and by his blessings, I pray that this Mela will be a success in serving the Vaishnavas with tolerance and humility.

Monday, July 27, 2009

KulimeLA LIVE - Day 1: Welcome to KulimeLA

Day 1: Welcome to KulimeLA

Yesterday, while I was scoping out the logistics for the prasadam tents with some of the organizers, I remarked, "This is strange. It's so quiet right now. But what, in a matter of hours? this entire block is going to be... pulsating with hundreds of gurukulis,"

"Wall-to-wall," Bhima agreed.

"Wall-to-wall," I echoed.

Bhima and I both walked up the street a bit to get a perspective on the block, and to absorb the special KulimeLA street signs posted on lamp posts. Watseka Avenue is not that big. I've attended three different Kulimelas, all of which have been hosted in the countryside, with land and space to burn.

But Watseka Avenue? As I stood there with Bhima, I just had to shake my head in awe. Somehow, at times 600 - maybe even 800 - gurukulis are going to fit onto this block, here, in the thick of the city of Los Angeles. Not only are we going to fit, we are going to rock it - dance, sing, eat, produce a professional drama, host seminars and workshops, community plenaries with hundreds of people...

How are we going to do it?

Goooood question.

Stay tuned. Welcome to KulimeLA.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Wrinkle in Time

The pyramids of Tikal enchant me. They seem to glow with an ancient, kind wisdom, unlike the brutality of the Pyramid of the Sun (Aztec) or the lethal intelligence of Chichen Itza (Inca). Most of us on the Bus Tour take off to the western jungle, for there, perched on a distant mountain, towers a pyramid that rises above all, inspiring awe.

We wend our way through wide jungle paths. The hike up the mountain is twisting and arduous, and I exult in every step. And then at last - at last - I reach the summit of the crumbling pyramid.

I step out onto the pyramid's ledge.

My breath slips away in awe. In every direction, as far as the eye can see, the jungle flows into the horizon like an ocean, blue-green and mist-laden. In the distance, several pyramids regally rise from the forest, as though ancient guardians to a deep secret. I feel like I'm soaring over the world.

And so I take a seat there, atop of the world, and let my mind fall into repose. In places so majestic, I feel a deep connection with time. I ponder the great Mayan civilization that built this all, this thriving city, and now not a trace remains but crumbling stones, here to entertain little visitors like me.

I feel my own mortality pressing against my little chest up here on this pyramid. I am but a wrinkle in time in the vast fabric of the universe.

Radhanath Swami often says that humility is simply accepting the truth: we are insignificant, just a microscopic dot in the cosmos. It would be depressing if it weren't for the fact that we have a loving relationship with God.

And what could be more significant than that?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Powerful Blessing

Beautiful chaos reined on the grounds of the Atlanta temple on the final golden evening of the Panihati Festival. Grinning devotees paraded around with tiny clay pots and giant clay pots, offering chipped rice to everyone they met.

I caught sight of Pankajanghri Prabhu – the esteemed pujari of Radha Madhava in Mayapur – and wove my way through the melee.

When he turned to me with his light brown eyes, I took a deep breath and asked him, “Haribol Prabhu, I have a request,”

He raised his eyebrows. “Yes?”

“Well, it is my life goal to dress Radha Shyamasundar in Alachua. I would like your blessing that one day I may dress Them,”

“Are you brahmin-initiated?” he asked.

“Ha! No. I’m not even first-initiated. But nevertheless, I’m shooting for the moon, this is a life goal of mine,”

Sikhi Mahiti Prabhu, who stood next to the famous pujari, added in, “Yes, she’s been aspiring for Radhanath Swami for a few years now,”

“Hm, there’s quite a waiting period for Radhanath Swami, no?”

“Yes, Prabhu.”

So then he intoned, “May Lord Nrisimhadeva remove all of the obstacles in your path so that you may dress Radha Shyamasundara in Alachua,”

I fell quiet.

“Thank you, Prabhu,” I murmured. I folded my palms. He nodded to me, and we both parted into the festival melee.

I was in shock. I whispered his words over and over.

A blessing from a Vaishnava is more powerful than any prayer of my own. Now it is only a matter of time. 

Pankajanghri Prabhu worshiping Lord Nrisimhadeva in Mayapur

Radha Shyamasundara in Alachua

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Story of Bhelvan

[After I was transported to Vrindavan from Radhanath Swami’s class this past Sunday, I’ve been reading through my journals from my time in the holy dham, reflecting on my experience and my lessons. I wrote the following after I had been in the holy dham for one week.]

I shall now relate the story of Bhelvan, and the lesson of humility and surrender I learned about the holy land of Sri Vrindavan.

Along with forty other gurukulis on our Kartik Yatra, I jumped in one of three boats to ride and cross the Yamuna River. The sun rose higher and higher and the day got hotter and hotter, with no breeze. It was like getting roasted in an oven for two hours. When we landed on our shore, we trekked through sandy desert in the scalding sun until we reached the edge of the forest.

Man. We were on safari.

We all slowly trickled in to our destination – an ancient Laxmi temple shaded by banyan trees. We sang bhajan and kirtan, but everyone had rather wilted from the trek.

I looked upon the Laxmi deity and did not connect at ALL. I thought, She's just a statue worshiped for some superstitious, archaic reason.

But after kirtan, an elder Vaishnava who was our guide told us the story of this deity and of this temple. Laxmi devi is simply praying to enter the Rasa dance in Vrindavan. She cannot enter because she is the goddess of fortune - the requirement to enter the Rasa dance is simplicity, to abandon the riches of the world; be willing to make cow dung patties with bare hands. To renounce her post as the goddess of fortune was unthinkable for Laxmi devi, so she decided to pray here, at Bhelvan. She prays from this distance, so far away… and after thousands of years, she's still praying.

And I realized that the safari to come here was to impress upon me how far this place really was from Vrindavan… that this was the distance of Laxmi devi’s surrender, and her humility. She didn’t bang down the door of the Rasa dance, demanding entrance. She came here, to this tucked away forest, far across the Yamuna River, to pray.

I want this to be my mood. I cannot demand anything of Vrindavan. I can only simply pray from a distance to enter the holy dham. I can only pray that one day, I will surrender my life to the simplicity of love of God.

And maybe, the perfection is in that prayer.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Most Beautiful Class

This morning, while I dressed Radha Madan Mohan, I decided to listen to a class by my guru maharaj, Radhanath Swami. I've listened to it many times, because I consider it one of the most beautiful classes I have ever heard.

By the time I finished dressing, I had laughed, wept, and felt a determination well in my heart to return to Vrindavan.

Maybe when you listen to the class, you will too.

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To write is to dare the soul. So write.