Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Milk-Water Tale

A common tale tells of a teacher who bids his student to fetch him a glass of water.

“Water? For my master? No, he deserves milk,” the student thinks, and so he fetches a glass of milk.

When the teacher receives the glass of milk, he rebukes his student, “True instruction is to follow the orders of the teacher, what pleases the teacher, not what you think would please the teacher. ”

Although I’ve heard this tale since childhood, I believe that to truly understand this principle of service, every sincere student must live this humbling tale, at least once.

So welcome to my tale.

When my spiritual master Radhanath Swami visited Alachua this summer, I took it upon myself to organize Wednesday bhajans – the nama hatta program of the gurukulis of Alachua – and invite Maharaj as the special guest.

The night before Wednesday bhajans, several gurukulis were gathered around Maharaj. The night went late, but we all wanted to keep talking, so we planned to fit in a darshan time for the following night, when we could talk about life and his book. Maharaj suggested a schedule that basically left no time for him to take prasad.

“But Maharaj, we planned for you to take prasad at 8 o’clock,” I spoke out.

He turned to me. “Then I will eat what everyone else eats.”

Pasta?” I asked.

He just chuckled and said, “Yes. We’ll all be like the cowherd boys, taking prasadam together,”

Everyone smiled and chuckled, but I thought, yeah right.

I brought the issue up with my friend Radhika Rani, and we both brushed aside Maharaj’s sweet but unrealistic desire to eat gurukuli fare. His health came first, and Maharaj’s health is possibly one of the worst in ISKCON. So we arranged a nice, healthy menu as a collaborative effort of wonderful cooks.

The following night when Maharaj came for bhajans, as planned we had a separate darshan time. Gurukulis were packed in, wall to wall. Maharaj’s bronchitis was so bad you could see the entire room leaning in to hear him speak. I worried about him, and was glad we had made a nice dinner.

After the darshan when most of the gurukulis had filtered away to head to the main house for bhajans – which were already in full swing – at last we got to serve Maharaj dinner. I placed the plate in front of him, and he turned to me and asked, “Is this what everyone else ate?”

“Um, no, Maharaj, they had pasta and watermelon,” I replied, taken aback.

“Would you get me some of that prasadam?”

Abashed, I rushed out to get Maharaj a serving of pasta. The pasta was cold and slippery, and we were running low on sauce so we had watered it down to runny red water. As I put a serving into a bowl, I just laughed and laughed. I knew Maharaj was chastising me.

When I set the bowl down in front of him, he turned and asked me, “So, is this exactly what everyone else ate?”

“Well, we were running out of sauce so we mixed it with water, but yes, this is what everyone else ate.” I said, embarrassed.

Satisfied, he turned to take prasad.

At one point, I asked Maharaj, “Would you like any water, anything to drink?”

And he said, “I am…” a smile twitched the corners of his mouth, “… intimidated by your hospitality,” he grinned then to see my speechless expression. He then laughed, his shoulders shaking, his whole body bouncing, and he looked at me with a sparkle in his eye. He added, “I’m just joking.”

I grinned in return.

When Maharaj and several other Prabhupad disciples had finished dinner, they all stood up to leave to attend bhajans in the main house.

I stayed behind to clean up.

I picked up Maharaj’s plate… and laughed and laughed to remember the Milk-Water tale.

Of the fresh dhokla, sweet potato soup, and organic brownies, he had barely taken one bite.

The pasta was finished. Only two or three wet noodles remained at the bottom of the bowl, along with some of the runny sauce.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Love Spell

You know how when you’re falling in love, you want to shout it out to the whole world?

Right now it is ten o’clock at night, and I was just about to go to sleep. But I jumped on my scooter (in my pajamas) and sped several miles to the nearest wi-fi hotspot because this news cannot wait until tomorrow:

For one day, the holy name stole my heart.

The Kartik 24 Hour Kirtan in New Vrindavan cast a spell on me, a spell that still lingers around the edges of my heart, like incense in a templeroom.

I chose to follow mauna-vrata (vow of silence) for the duration of the festival, and the magic of the holy name sunk deep, deep into my skin. Sometimes I forgot to eat because I was so enthralled in a kirtan. I cursed my need for sleep.

As the festival drew to a close, I had been hearing and chanting only the holy name for more than 24 hours. I felt as though my mind was bathed in stillness. Every time I heard someone singing the mahamantra, even someone in passing just walking down the hall, I would stop and close my eyes and listen.

It's like the Vaishnavas have cast a spell on me that I never want to fade.

note: e-mail subscribers need to click through to to view the above video. 

Entire audio track:

the perfection of silence

the perfection of silence

a reflection on the kartika new vrindavan 24 hour kirtan

the holy name
glows in the dark
like the field of flames
in the templeroom
which dance
in the hands
of devotees
of God

for one day
the holy name
resounds upon my tongue
and bathes my mind
in stillness

for one day
the sound surrounds me
and enfolds me
in rhythm
with my hearbeat

for one day
only Your name
dances upon my tongue

is the perfection
of silence.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.