Sunday, December 26, 2010

River of Prayer

I sit in the corridor of a thousand pillars in the Ramanatha temple in Rameshvaram. I overlook a great pond which is filled with delicate pink lotuses. A cement platform extends out over the pond, and high up on the ledge, men toss down metal buckets into the water over and over again, reeling them up expertly. The men splash that holy water onto the heads of swarms of eager pilgrims who flow out onto the platform.

This is only one stop in the maze of 22 holy wells within the temple complex.

I feel like one of the columns here, watching and watching, very, very still. I have begun to see the moods of the variety of pilgrims who come - most people are rushed and a little frantic in their quest to visit all 22 holy wells; some arrive with creased eyebrows, some demand more water.

But every so often a group of Vaishnava devotees will come. They smile from ear to ear and chant Hare Krishna, sometimes with arms upraised or palms folded. Ha! A crowd of devotees just arrived, grinning and jumping, chanting "Haribol! Haribol! Haribol!" They are so happy, so in bliss! They receive the water on their heads and dash off with the cry, “JAI!!!"

Every day, day in and day out, people come to receive the holy water. The people change, but the lake remains, the columns remain. Upon closer inspection, I see that the columns are pockmarked with graffiti. I see names, numbers, dates... actually, the pillar in front of me has a faded heart with two names inside scrawled in Telugu.

Amazing. No matter the country or language or culture, people will graffiti monuments, buildings, trees, or even bathroom stalls and picnic tables. People want to leave a mark that will live on long after they're gone.

Isn't that the nature of the soul, to be eternal? It is so painful to die. We all want to live on forever.

But the truth is, we are all like someone in this river of pilgrims who come to receive their splash of water. Our time in this world is just for one fleeting minute. And some of us arrive with arms upraised or palms folded, smiling, chanting the Lord's name… and maybe that's all I can ask of this life.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Owner vs. Thief

Mayapur doesn't care if I love it here or not. Mayapur doesn't care if I'm a devotee or if I'm a dog.

Mayapur just loves me.

Mayapur didn't have to steal my heart. Mayapur owned it from the moment I stepped upon the ground of soft dust here on my first moonlit night.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


It was my last night in Vrindavan, and I wound my way through the bustling temple grounds to the rooms of Srila Prabhupad. When I entered, I felt washed with that clean scent of home; wherever Srila Prabhupad resides is where my heart finds refuge.

I chanted for awhile and was about to leave when a brahmachari came and turned on a CD of Srila Prabhupad singing the Brahma Samhita. Prabhupad's tone was so grave. The brahmachari set down an arati tray, and everyone stood up.

I decided to stay. I gazed upon Srila Prabhupad's writing murti, which captures the essence of his mood so exquisitely.

Then my eyes fell on several framed photos hung on the wall across the room. I believe they were all of Srila Prabhupad here in his house. In the photos he was singing, conversing, taking prasad...but the last photo of the series jarred me a little - it wasn't sweet, happy, or even meditative. It was actually stark and intense, and seemed out of place. It was a photo of Srila Prabhupad lying on his deathbed in this very room. He was covered in a blue blanket, his face was sunken, his eyes were closed, and two disciples were watching over him.

I crossed the room to get a closer look at the picture. I saw something close up that I had not seen from a distance.

A reference book lay open on the side table.

Someone was holding a dictophone up to his mouth.

Chills raced all up and down my body. That photo brought my heart to its knees. In that moment, I glimpsed just a spark of Prabhupad's purity and his beauty; he was thinking of all of us with his dying breaths. Tell me, who will pray for you when you are on your deathbed?

Tell me, who?

Tears were streaming down my face. I gazed and gazed at that picture, listening to the arati bell and Prabhupad's grave voice. In those moments, I felt as though I had been picked up and placed in the hands of Srila Prabhupad, and he would protect me forever.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Live Forever. Die Tomorrow.

"Live your material life like you will live forever; live your spiritual life as though you will die tomorrow."
 - Unknown

Tomorrow I leave for India.

It was around 5pm this evening when I pressed "Send" on my last school assignment of the Fall 2010 semester. I was a week early. In every area of my life, I have striven to tie up all loose ends by December 8th. I even registered for classes for next semester, and I have my weekly schedule mapped out.

But this evening, I've put it all aside for a month. I bundled up in the bitingly cold weather and drove over to the temple for Sayana Arati to bid goodnight to Radhe Shyam one last time. Only two or three people were there when the curtains gently swooshed open, and I sang for Them.

I prayed and prayed to Radhe Shyam to please protect my heart on this voyage to India - I prayed that I would not be a tourist, that I would not socialize, and - because this is one of my greatest challenges - I prayed that I would gain even a morsel of appreciation for the holy dham.

And then I meditated on the above opening quote - I have planned out my material life... so now how do I live my spiritual life?

After all, like a countdown, my last day in this world will come. On the eve of my departure from New Raman Reti as I sang for Radhe Shyam, I imagined that I would never return. I imagined that this would be the last time I would ever get to offer my obeisance when the curtains swoosh open, and this would be the last time I would sing for Radhe Shyam.

This is my last time. 

Suddenly, the pain of the moment became as beautiful as cut glass.

I pray to live every day like my last.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

An Unexpected Guru

The bench in front of Turlington Hall

This afternoon on a break between classes, I sat down on the big circular bench in front of Turlington to eat some pretzels. Just around the curve of the bench, I saw a young man absorbed in a small black book with gold on the edges of the paper. I felt washed with curiosity.

For several minutes, I debated whether I should begin a conversation. The young man closed his book and sat back to gaze at the sky with a ponderous tone. Finally I thought, What do I have to lose?

So I picked up my backpack and sat 3 or 4 feet away from him. "Excuse me," I said. "May I ask a personal question?"

He turned his gentle brown eyes to me. "Yes," he said.

"Why do you read the Bible?"

The young man's balance and grasp of the Bible and Christianity was like clear, clean water. And yet he maintained that he still has many questions, like "Why would God allow suffering in the world?" "Is there any second chance at salvation?" "Why are we here?" I believe that Krishna Consciousness answers those questions, but I never replied.

I simply inquired. I simply listened.

I never brought up my religion, or that my views of love and faith come from Krishna consciousness. Even when he asked me if I was interested in reading the Bible, I kept out any mention of the scriptures follow. I inquired purely as a seeker.

I'm not sure how long we sat there beneath the giant oak tree in the midst of the whorls of students all rushing to their business. Time seemed to suspend in the presence of such a timeless conversation.

But the most timeless moment came when the young man said, "The Bible describes a standard, and I strive to live by that standard every day. But... I fail. Every day, I fail. And yet God loves me anyway. To me... that is how God becomes more and more beautiful, every day."

We were silent for several moments. Then he asked me, "What are your thoughts on all this?"

I collected my thoughts and said, "It almost brings tears to my eyes..." and then tears stung my eyes, "... that we are so undeserving, but God loves us anyway. That if we surrender, the Lord can become more and more beautiful every day." I wiped away my tears.

The young man asked, "What is your name?"

"Bhakti," I replied.


"Yes. It means 'devotion'." I said. "What is your name?"

"Cory. I don't know its meaning, though." He smiled.

"Thank you for sharing, Cory," and with that I packed up my things and we said goodbye.

That may be the last time I ever speak with or even see Cory again.

Of course I did not agree with a lot of the Christian philosophy we discussed. But I did not ask questions to find out what I disagreed on. I asked questions to seek the essence, to inquire into the beauty of his faith.

And I truly feel that I found it, I found a drop of essence.

I just did a Google search on the meaning of the name Cory, and it means "God's peace." So thank you, Cory. Today you gave me a sense of peace that God is present in every faith. Today you were my guru.


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Politics of Inspiration: Narayan Maharaj is coming to Alachua next week...

To write is to dare the soul. So write.