Monday, February 22, 2010

Let It Be

Several nights ago I took a japa walk along the temple road. My mind was on my spiritual master, Radhanath Swami, and I wished that I could be wherever he was.

I turned a bend in the road where the trees parted, and the universe unfolded above me to glitter in breathtaking silence. I halted in my footsteps, stunned. Suddenly, a wave of helplessness washed over me:

I miss my spiritual master, I miss Radhanath Swami, but there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. Nothing. He's across the world... as far as the moon... and I'm here. 

So I stood there under the stars, just stood there. Then I knelt to the ground and buried my head in my hands.

And I realized that that was a glimpse of how I will feel when my spiritual master leaves this world.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Glorious Encounter

(image by TrekEarth)

In Mexico, there is a mystical place called Agua Azul where a series of waterfalls cascade down a mountain. Once a year, the Bus Tour visits for one glorious day.

So after many adventures, towards evening I made my way to the main waterfalls to chant japa. Tourists crowded behind the railing, snapping pictures.

I grinned and ducked under the railing. I nimbly walked along a narrow strip of rock until it ended in a little spot just big enough for one person to sit. I had dubbed this The Radhanath Swami Rock, so named because once Radhanath Swami had sat upon a rock in the middle of the Ganges River in meditation for one whole month. When he had committed to a final act of surrender, the Ganges had given him the holy name, the maha mantra.

I settled on the little promontory. The majesty of the waterfalls enfolded my vision, and the roar drowned out the sounds of tourists. I unwound my beads from their bead bag and held them between my hands so that anyone who saw me would know I was meditating, and not just mumbling to myself.

I chanted and fell into a trance. I wondered if I listened closely enough the roar of the waterfalls would reveal the holy name to me. I've tried this a lot around large bodies of water ever since I heard Radhanath Swami's story, but mostly I just get an earful of water.

Suddenly, I heard someone call my name. I turned around to see a friend from the Bus Tour behind the railing, holding a plate of prasadam for me. I rose, walked to the railing, gratefully took the plate, and then my friend left. I ate the pasta as fast as possible - I wanted to return to chanting. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an elderly couple observing me in silence.

"Excuse me," the woman suddenly asked in Spanish, "But were you chanting 'Ha-dee Kish-na Ha-dee Kish-na...'" she recited the entire maha mantra.

Dumbstruck, I replied in Spanish, "Yes,"

"And you go around the beads 16 times?"

"Yes! How do you know this?"

"There are Hare Krishnas in Veracruz, where we are from," she said. "Wonderful people."

"Tell me," the husband asked. "What do you believe?"

I lowered my plate. "Well... Ah... This is the science of how to love God, and how to love one another. It is the same in all religions, is it not? This," I gestured to my beads, "is how I connect with God, by calling out His name with love. God may have many different names, but ultimately, God is God."

"Beautiful." the woman said.

"God is so miraculous, isn't He? He created all this," the man gestured to the panorama in front of us. The sun was setting behind the turquoise waterfalls, the jungles were lit in emerald, and the sun danced through the mist in golden clouds.

"God is amazing," I said.

"God is amazing," they agreed.

We bowed farewell to each other, enlightened. I threw away my plate and once more tiptoed out onto The Radhanath Swami Rock. Just as I had settled down, an undulating black ribbon began to stream from behind the waterfalls and fill the sky.

Bats! Hundreds and thousands emerged from the waterfalls in the twilight to loop through the sky in dizzy circles, and then flew off into the jungles for their evening hunt.

Had the elderly couple witnessed this glory of creation, too? I twisted around to look for the couple, but they had vanished.

I closed my eyes and began to chant. Suddenly I realized that the waterfalls had revealed to me the holy name - the elderly woman, in her broken way, had recited the entire maha mantra.

Even out here, in this far-flung country of Mexico, the mercy of Srila Prabhupad had found an elderly couple; and in the jungles of Agua Azul, that mercy had found me.

Sometimes I see so little difference between the glory of God and the glory of His devotee.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.