Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Unfurling Flower

December 1st, 2008  

I feel the sweetness of Vrindavan emerging.

Two weeks have passed since the last night of the mayhem of the holy month of Kartik. Temples buzzed with activity from the wee hours in the morning to the wee hours at night. Pujaris worked 'round the clock, distributing mahaprasad or herding hundreds through their temple. All of Vrindavan bustled with thousands of people from every corner of the world eager to pay homage to the holy places of pilgrimage (and Loi Bazaar).

But in all that mayhem, the delicate sweetness of Vrindavan was lost to me.

And now, that sweetness is unfurling like a flower. I feel it in the way the villagers smile, the milk-seller invites me to sit and stay awhile, and suddenly I can see the devotees of Krishna praying so quietly in a temple or along the Yamuna River.

Vrindavan seems to beckon: come, stay awhile.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My First Class

Early Memories of My Guru
One: My First Class

All my life I’ve grown up listening to class. But actually, I never listened – I was just bored or zoned out the whole time. In the gurukula day school, class was a requirement, and day after day I would arrange my skirt around me in a perfect circle out of sheer boredom.

But one memory stands out in my childhood.

About 14 years ago in New Vrindavan, when I was 8 years old, I attended a sleepover birthday party. We had so much fun and stayed up so late that upon the mischief and inspiration of my elder sister, who was 13, we decided to set out on an adventure: Mangala Arati, the early morning service.

So at around 3 in the morning, about five of us girls grabbed our blankets and flashlights and walked up the arduous mountain road to the temple of Radha Vrindavan Chandra. When we arrived, the temple was empty and quiet. No one was even up yet.

We tiptoed into the templeroom, but we had an hour to go until the service began. So with our blankets, we all slid under the giant, hand-carved wooden rathayatra cart for a nap.

Of course, we slept through Mangala Arati, and we groggily woke up during darshan arati, the 7am service. Upon the admonishment of my mother, we moved to the side lobby to sleep on the couches.

This side lobby is situated just on the other side of the templeroom wall, and actually a portion of the wall is cut out to accommodate a giant window which looks out into the templeroom. A speaker installed in a corner transmits audio from the templeroom.

Most of the girls in our ragtag party went back home, but my friend Joyful and I stayed. We were sleeping in this lobby when class began. I expected to be lulled back to sleep, but I found my ear drawn into the story. Joyful and I glanced at each other at times – we were both listening.

I remember feeling amazed. I never liked class. But somehow, here I was, and I was captivated. “Who’s giving class?” I asked Joyful.

She got up and peered through the glass window into the templeroom. “Radhanath Swami,”

“Hm,” I said. She returned to the couch and we sat up, still wrapped in our blankets, and listened. At times we laughed, or commented to each other.

I still remember the gist of his class. He was speaking about compassion; he told a recent story about a man who was tending to Tulasi devi. Somehow, there were bugs that were eating her leaves, or ants were invading the garden, but the man had felt such a respect for life that he had dealt with the insects with compassion – he hadn’t killed them – yet he still saved Tulasi devi.

When Radhanath Swami finished speaking, I wanted to hear more! I had never felt like that about class. Over the years I would sometimes recall that memory of how it felt to listen to a class given by Radhanath Swami.

I was 8 years old at the time – I didn’t know the function of a guru, or that the study of scripture is important, or that to take shelter of a spiritual master is essential to spiritual life. I simply remember that someone touched my heart.

14 years later, I have found that Radhanath Swami is the guru of my heart – because I chose him – and the guru of my soul – because he has been my spiritual master all along.

I realize that the guru-disciple relationship is within the heart in the form of a seed, and it blossoms over time with the water and sunlight of sincerity, the sincerity to seek the truth.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Installation of Radha Damodar

After thousands of pictures and traveling around the world with me, my camera died upon my return from India. (and may it rest in peace!)

So this is my first photo session in more than six months. My gratitude goes out to Aradhana das from DC, who simply gave me a camera when he somehow saw that mine had broken.

This installation of Radha Damodar and Lalita Vishaka was blissful. I felt inspired to see two of my gurukuli peers take this essential step of the grihastha ashram (married life) by welcoming Krishna into their home.

These final three photos were taken by my friend and roommate, Jivana Krishna. The first photo is of the two gurukulis, Adigopi and Kulavir, who welcomed Krishna into their home.

Their two children will grow up in celebration of Radha Damodar.

I was invited to dress Lalita devi.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Gift of Renunciation

The Ganges River
photo courtesy of

In Radhanath Swami's autobiography, he writes how after a month of solitary meditation, he decided to renounce his most prized possession and talent - his harmonica - because he realized that it was drawing him away from his spiritual path. He threw the harmonica into the Ganges River. After it had sunk, he received the maha mantra from the Ganges River.

Frankly, his experience confounded me.

So when two friends and I had a darshan with Radhanath Swami on the Thursday of KulimeLA, I asked him to clarify his mystical experience.

"Had you heard the mantra before? How is it possible you could hear the mantra for the first time, and hear it clearly... in the swishy sounds of water?"

"It's very possible that I had heard the mantra before. But when I was sitting on the rock in the middle of the Ganges, and I was listening to Her flow, I heard the mantra for the first conscious time in the roar. Maybe others wouldn't have been able to hear it. But I could hear it, clearly."



"How mystical," I murmured.

Radhanath Swami smiled.

Venice Beach
photo courtesy of behance.vo

The next evening of the KulimeLA, I decided to not go to the Ford Theater extravaganza. I was too exhausted from the first two days of the Mela, and I knew that if I went to the extravaganza, I wouldn't be able to properly do my service for the festival. I had decided even before I came to the Mela that my service took priority over entertainment.

It was a wrenching decision, one that I knew I would feel twinges of regret for years to come, but I stood by it.

So while the block emptied out and headed to Hollywood, Gopishvari and I caught a bus down to Venice Beach. In the cool evening, she swam in the Pacific and I took a japa walk down the beach. I pondered the waves. I thought about how I was missing the extravaganza, an event I had looked forward to for months. But I felt peaceful in my heart to be walking along the sand, and I knew I had made the right decision. When I returned to where Gopi was swimming, I sat in the sand to chant and closed my eyes. The evening sun soothed my face.

I listened to the ocean.

I wondered, what if I could hear the maha mantra in the roar of the waves? I imagined what the mantra would sound like, whispering through the roar. I listened and listened, but I was mystified at how impossible it was to hear a word, what to speak of the maha mantra.

But I was grateful I had the peace of mind to even chant.
Radhanath Swami had given up something so dear to him - his harmonica - because it was drawing him away from his spiritual life. I realized that with his sincere renunciation, he had been given something much, much greater - the holy name.

I now realize that because I had forgone the Ford Theater, the next day I could do my service with patience and with a smile because I had slept properly. The gift of my renunciation was nicer service. And hopefully, if I can serve the Vaishnavas, I will be able to humbly hear the holy name. If not from a holy river, or the ocean, at the least may I sincerely hear Krishna's name from my own mouth.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

KulimeLA LIVE: A Profound Connection

I just met the oldest gurukuli in ISKCON. Her name is Kalimba, and she's 46. She told me beautiful memories of her experiences with Srila Prabhupad, right here in Los Angeles.

Over thirty years ago, her mother Kasturi was the one to inspire my parents to become devotees of Krishna.

Kalimba told me that this is the first gurukuli reunion she has ever been to in her life. And I realized, as we were talking there in the California sun, that I would not be here, in Los Angeles, in Krishna Consciousness, if it wasn't for her mother's profound impact on my parents.

We wept and we embraced. It was like discovering a member of my family I never knew existed.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.