Saturday, June 26, 2010

Offering Homage

My hair stood on end when I entered Tompkins Square Park. The Park was lush and green, but lined with derelicts on benches, muttering to themselves. Rollerbladers sped by, and children with balls ran past. Everyone seemed so relaxed, as if there was nothing remarkable about this place at all.

Deeper into the park, there is a certain tree that spirals into the sky. When I turned a bend and the majestic branches of that tree came into view, shivers rolled through my body. As if entering a temple, I slipped off my shoes and got down on my hands and knees to offer my obeisance to this tree.

Fresh and old rose garlands were strewn around the base of the tree. High up in the first fork in the trunk was a small, official green sign that read, "The Hare Krishna Tree".

This is where it all began.

I sat down on the uneven bricks and took out my journal to write:

Forty-five years ago, an elderly Indian gentleman sat down about where I'm sitting, right now. He sat under this tree with a little bongo drum and sang the mahamantra...

... and changed the world. 

People who sit on the benches in a ring around this tree have no idea that the young woman who writes in her journal is only here and breathing because of a man who came 45 years before. That he sat under this tree and changed the lives of millions upon millions of people by simply playing a bongo drum and singing an ancient mantra. 

Srila Prabhupad loves me so much. He thought of me and prayed for me before I was even born. He wanted to give me the gift of the holy name, and his only motivation was compassion.

Prabhupad blows my mind.  

I realize that there is no way to repay the debt of wealth Prabhupad has given me.

Well, there is a way: to chant the gift of the holy name that he came to the West to give. 

I offer my respects to this tree. It is a great devotee - it intimately served and associated with my beloved Srila Prabhupad.

Thank you, my dear tree. Thank you Srila Prabhupad. I owe you my life. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Hug from the Lord

I can't even count how many Rathayatras I have attended over the years. But I will honestly say that this morning was the most blissful Rathayatra experience of my life.

At Brooklyn temple the night before New York Rathayatra, I overheard a woman speaking to another devotee about decorating the carts early the next morning. A desire sparked to life, and so I tracked the woman down for more information.

This summer I'm traveling with the young-girls Tour, Kishori Yatra, so I proposed the idea to the group. At last one twelve-year-old girl, Sita, volunteered to come with me, despite all of my warnings about waking up early and serving for hours. She never wavered in her determination to come.

Saturday dawned cold and blustery. After catching several subway trains and walking many blocks, we arrived at the street where the giant Rathayatra carts awaited us. Only a few devotees moved amongst the carts, tying flower garlands and hoisting balloons.

Sita and I jumped in... and got lost in service. When other women arrived, we conferred and laughed about the decorations.

When the giant deities of Jagannath, Baladeva, and Subhadra arrived, I felt overcome with awe to be so close to Lady Subhadra. Several of us women gathered around Her and gushed about Her beauty.  A thought occurred to me: in Puri, the pujaris allow pilgrims to receive a hug from the Deities.

So I asked! The pujari grinned and motioned me forward. I called to Sita to step forward and receive a hug from Lady Subhadra, too. Then with a breath of excitement, I proposed that we could receive a hug - or at least touch the feet - of both Baladeva and Jagannath!

Sita and I danced to Baladeva's cart. People were starting to gather for the parade - time was ticking until the pujaris would put away the ladders. So we scaled the steps, bowed before Lord Baladeva, and then touched the wood of His feet. I told Sita to pray to Lord Baladeva for strength and guidance, because He is the original spiritual master. The moment was magic as we knelt there in silence, so close to the glowing form of Lord Baladeva.

We offered out final respects, then dashed to Lord Jagannath's cart. The kirtan party was building, the music of mridanga and karatalas resounding off of the buildings.

Only minutes left!

We climbed the narrow steps, and in all that building whirl of energy, we bowed before Lord Jagannath. We reached under His skirt to touch His wooden feet. We then knelt in silent prayer.

"Pray to learn to love and serve the Lord and His devotees," I murmured to Sita. I felt such awe and peace settle over my heart to be so close to the Lord of the Universe. 

When Sita and I climbed down, I knew that she had also felt the unforgettable magic of the morning.

Decorating the carts - doing some humble, simple service - allowed us to come so close and receive so much mercy from the Lord.

Service, association, and prayer.

What else IS there in life?

To write is to dare the soul. So write.