Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bereft

I wrote this several days ago in my journal:

This morning Manorama Prabhu received a text message that the beloved illuminary of service and devotion, Mother Yamuna, had left this world. Right now we're singing kirtan in her honor, and the voices of everyone encircle me in an embrace.

Life is tottering like a drop of water on a lotus petal.

This morning I have experienced that fragility of life. As we sang the Vaishnava song of mourning, I saw people cry that I have never heard or seen cry before. When we sang the Govindam prayers in her honor, many wept. I wept. The voice of Mother Yamuna has been embroidered upon the heart of every person on this bus as well as thousands upon thousands of others.

I do not want to take a moment of this life for granted, and yet all too soon that drop of water shall fall from the lotus petal. Am I ready? Am I ready?

"We must live our material lives as though we shall live forever; we must live our spiritual lives as though we shall die tomorrow." - Unknown

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Moment of Liberation


For the past several week, I have experienced a sort of stillness in writing - like a book that has been sitting on the shelf and has gathered dust. So much is going on in my life, but I haven't been in the mood to formulate my thoughts into words to share with the world.

Last night, though, in the thrumming whorl of Gaura Vani's and Madhava's kirtans here at the Festival of the Holy Name, I felt the murmurings of a desire to write. I was surrounded by a beauty that begged for expression.

Undulating waves of the holy name washed all around me and through me. I felt like a rough stone in the midst of great waterfalls of the holy name, and by the constant flow the rough edges of my heart became smoother and smoother.

At one point in Gaura Vani's kirtan, I experienced every single molecule in my body rest at peace. I tilted my head upwards gently into the light, and my eyes were closed. I lifted my palms skyward. And I experienced: this is the perfection. This is the perfection.

The holy name filled something deep inside of me, a yearning that I realize I am searching for in my life; I've been searching for this for lifetimes.

I observed a sign on the wall (which I shall paraphrase):

Chant the holy name in bliss. This is liberation. - Srila Prabhupad

I felt as though for those indescribably beautiful moments, I had experienced that liberation Srila Prabhupad spoke of, even if for only a moment. I pray for those moments to become my lifetime. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Conversation with God

A week or so ago, a friend of mine recommended that I read the book Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch. Basically, it's a guy who sits down one night, picks up a pen, writes down a question, and God responds through the guy's pen.

You know, a conversation.

Yes, Neale Donald Walsch had a conversation with God. If you don't believe me, go read the book yourself. All I can relate is my own experience in reading it, and for the past two weeks I feel like I've been going through life in technicolor. It's like every moment is a jewel because it has been given to me by God.

And tonight was a jewel!

For one of my college classes, I have this assignment to attend various events with high school age kids. The catch is that it must be different from my own upbringing. Nervous that the assignment deadline is approaching, I finally did some Google searches today and found a youth Bible Study in Gainesville. I decided to go tonight - hey, carpe diem!

So at around 7pm, I walked through the doors of The Rock school/ministry. I felt a little nervous yet also happy to have an excuse to dive into another world. I struck up some conversations and immediately felt at home.

The evening began with worship - a rock band played a devotional song and everyone sang along. I was surrounded by teenagers with rapt expressions on their faces, eyes closed, their palms raised to the sky.

When the song ended, the pastor got up to announce the subject of tonight's Bible Study: hearing the voice of God.

I stood there, gaping in shock. Whaaat?

He told the story of how many years ago, he couldn't sleep and he felt that God was trying to speak to him, so he sat down and wrote and wrote - four or five pages, he just wrote everything he felt God was trying to tell him. He saved those pages, and many years later he still lives that timeless wisdom, and how what he wrote has come to pass.

Just like the Walsch guy, I thought.

We broke off into groups, and I followed the 11th and 12th graders upstairs. We arranged our chairs into a circle, and the young woman leading the Bible Study group asked the first question: "Describe a moment when you think God was trying to speak to you."

The entire Bible Study, I just sat there dumbfounded. I contributed at times, but mostly I was absorbing every single word said. Some teenagers were more outspoken than others - they spoke in such a real way, that God was a part of their everyday lives, and how they listen to their intuition. I felt so deeply humbled - although I am chronologically older, I experience these young people as having such a deeper connection with God in their hearts.

There was no sacrilege here to say that one can hear the voice of God. Frankly, it was conversed about in the most chill, down-to-earth way - even encouraged. "I listen to the voice of God. God is real, God is in my heart," one girl put it so simply.

Of course, not everyone felt such a connection, which brought us to our next question: Why is it sometimes difficult to hear God's voice?

"Movies, bad music, bad habits..." some teens volunteered. "Maybe we ignore the voice of God, so our channels get clogged up... If we are an instrument, we must be properly tuned to hear the Lord's voice."

When the leader of the group asked if anyone would like to add anything, I decided to speak up. "You know, I'm actually college age and I come from a different spiritual tradition, but I would like to express how grateful I feel to be here with all of you. This has been an important experience for me for the past two weeks or so, about listening to the voice of God. I feel that God has directed me to this very room to be here with all of you tonight. Every word that you've shared I've taken it to heart, you have all been my teachers. I realize how God transcends all boundaries. God is in my heart, He is your heart. I feel humbled. So thank you!"

A boy or two began to applaud, and then everyone applauded, smiling. I grinned in surprise and did a little bow where I was sitting. "Thank you!" I said again.

What an adventure life is when every moment, every breath is infused with God... including this one! The Lord in your heart has brought you to these very words.

So what are you waiting for? Go have a conversation with God!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Tears of Love

"When will my eyes be decorated with tears of love when I chant Your holy name?" - Sri Shikshastakam, 6th verse

I never quite know what to expect when I come to the temple of Radhe Shyam. Each visit is a gift, each visit is an adventure. I never know who I'll meet, what conversations I'll have, what experience shall wash upon the shore of my life.

This afternoon, one wave came that washed my soul in stillness.

In the velvet quiet of the temple room, I settled to the marble floor to chant japa. The only other person there besides me was an old Bengali woman. I have seen her around the temple many times with her daughter and grandchildren. She doesn't speak a word of English, but we have always exchanged smiles.

My japa felt especially deep this afternoon - so much that I felt inspired to set my beads aside for a little while to pick up the harmonium and sing "Krishna Deva Bhavantam Vande." This bhajan contains a line that especially resonates with me, and I paraphrase the translation in my heart when I sing it: "Oh Krishna, I possess only a sesame seed of bhakti. But You make the impossible possible, so please grant me the grace to devote my soul to You."

The old Bengali woman wandered over to where I sat. She didn't know the words, but she swayed and clapped off-beat, absorbed in the bhajan. We exchanged a smile. Then I pumped the harmonium one last time and picked up my beads again to chant.

Time meandered by and the old woman settled close to the altar to gaze at the forms of the Lord, Radhe Shyam. And then, with simple grace, she offered her obeisance with her whole body, as if she had collapsed to the floor.

For a moment I was stunned - the thought crossed my mind that maybe she had come to the temple to leave her body, so different was this obeisance, so profound in surrender did it strike me.

The woman slowly got to her feet. When she turned I saw that her face shone with tears. To my surprise, she walked right over to me, knelt, and we embraced. She was weeping and weeping - I could feel her chest gently heaving. We came away from each other to look into each others' eyes - her eyes were shining. We embraced again.

Her bhakti surrounded me like a warm woolen shawl.

When the woman pulled away with her arm still around my shoulders, she gestured to Radhe Shyam and murmured, "Oh Krishna! Oh Krishna!" She brushed the floor and touched her hand to her head in rapture. She rose to her feet and faced the Lord with her arms upraised, still weeping.

I folded my palms and bowed my head to this woman. I wept simple tears, deeply humbled.

This woman doesn't speak a word of English and we shall probably never engage in a full conversation, ever. But the connection of our hearts said more than words ever could; the tears in our eyes united us beyond barriers of age, language, race, culture...

Oh Krishna, thank You. Today You made the impossible possible - through Your beloved devotee, You gave me a glimpse into the mystery of bhakti

Monday, October 10, 2011

What is the Seed?

At last I have published a page on my blog to describe the philosophy of the "seed of devotion." Below is the new text.

***

The morning that I was born I was given the name Bhakti lata bij which, in the ancient Sanskrit language, translates as "the seed of the vine of devotion."

This bhakti lata bij is very special and rarely given. It is described in ancient scriptures that the living entity has been wandering the universe for millions of years, so very, very lost, so heartsick in his search for love. But somehow, by the grace of the Lord and a loving spiritual master, the living entity receives within his heart the bhakti lata bij, the seed of devotion.

This seed of devotion must be tended to with great care. One must water the seed by serving the Lord and His devotees.

One must receive proper sunlight through the chanting of the holy name.

One must dig out all of the unwanted weeds within the heart - pride, lust, envy, and so many others.

I find it very curious and very profound that the plant in this metaphor of devotion is not a stately banyan tree or a divine lotus. It is a vine. And what is the most important feature of a vine?

It must always rest upon something else to grow.

In this metaphor, that "something else" is the Vaishnavas, the devotees of the Lord.

Then with proper cultivation, love, and grace, resting upon the strength of the devotees, this vine of devotion may wind up and up and up to at last reach the feet of the Lord Himself.

***

brahmanda brahmite kona bhagyavan jiva
guru krsna prasade pay bhakti lata bija


"According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service." (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.51)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Profound Interview

My fellow writer, Madhava Smullen, is writing an article for ISKCON News (news.iskcon.com) on the phenomenon of gurukulis (second generation devotees of Krishna) who have received formal initiation. He interviewed me and quite a few others via e-mail.

His questions have prodded me to reflect deeply upon the commitments I have made.

Who initiated you?
Radhanath Swami

Where and when did you get initiated?
Alachua, Florida, May 31st, 2010

What age were you when you got initiated?
23

What were your full names before and after initiation?
My name before initiation was Bhakti lata bij, and after initiation my name became Bhakti lata.

Please explain in a detailed, thoughtful way why you made the decision to get initiated.
        I often hear parallels between marriage and initiation - both are very grave steps in life that involve very profound vows. Of course, marriage is more of a common phenomenon, something that humans can universally relate to, so I'll start from there. So one may ask, why get married? Why make those vows when you can just live lives together as a very committed couple? I have come to the conclusion that there is something about taking those profound vows in front of the world and in front of God that gives the couple the strength to weather the storms.

In very related respects, I was born to devotee parents who gave me a spiritual name at birth. I have followed the four regulative principles my whole life, and Radhanath Swami loves me unconditionally, whether I would have ever received initiation from him or not. So one may wonder - why take that formal step of initiation? For me, it was about committing to those vows in front of the world and in front of God. The vows of initiation are so powerful that sometimes I feel chills to meditate upon them. Those vows carve and shape my life, and give me a safe place to fall. Receiving initiation is like marriage in the sense that now I belong to someone, now I can rest my soul, knowing that I am connected to a family who can carry me in the fiercest of spiritual storms.


What major and subtle changes have there been in your life now that you are initiated? What do you think initiation will continue to change in your life?
        The most profound change I experience is the peace I feel in my heart. I feel settled. I feel grounded and sure and safe. I feel strong - I no longer am only accountable to myself, I am accountable to my spiritual master, to Srila Prabhupad, to all of the devotees. That accountability gives me great strength to set an example for others. I feel that initiation will continue to change my life by giving me the sureness and strength to offer every breath of my life in service, knowing that it shall be offered in the right direction, like water not just poured upon any soil, but soil with seeds underneath.

Why do you think gurukulis have typically been slower about getting initiated? Do you think that is changing now, and if so why?
          I sense that gurukulis have been slower about receiving initiation because they're already immersed in Krishna culture. What's the point in making such heavy vows when one is already IN the flow, chanting, doing service...?

         But the biggest reason for the slower movement towards initiation, I believe, is chanting 16 rounds. It's a huge commitment. For me, getting to the point of actually steadily chanting 16 rounds every day has been the greatest challenge of my entire life, and it still is. I chant a lot slower than even most people, so it takes me around 3 hours every day. And although gurukulis love to chant in kirtan - sometimes for 24 hours straight! - there's something very austere about chanting japa for us. Several years ago, Radhanath Swami once gently commented to me (after I had told him yet again that I was still struggling with chanting), "Yes, you gurukulis would rather feel sincere about japa all the time, or not chant at all."

        I think the trend towards initiation amongst gurukulis is growing, but only very slightly. In my experience, most gurukulis ask this question: "Why initiation?" and usually don't feel very satisfied with the answer.

A question and a concern that the older generation often have is, will gurukulis step up and continue this movement when they are gone? Do you think more gurukulis getting initiated means positive things for the future of the movement?
         I'm not sure if initiation will address the issue of succession. But I do know that where powerful vows of commitment are made, vigor and strength naturally follow. I personally find it incredibly inspiring to witness my peers take to this process so seriously. It gives me hope that my own children shall take to this process naturally as well. That yes, Krishna Consciousness is the nature of the soul, and the process that Srila Prabhupad has given us is complete.

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Freewrite Poem for my Spiritual Master


Thank you

I would be stumbling
stumbling
stumbling
in the jungles of my mind
searching
searching
frantically
searching for love
My soul would be weeping
weeping
every day
weeping
Thank you for giving me
a reason to live
a way to die
at peace
I would be so lost
so lost
searching for love
in all the wrong places
sinking in quicksand
sinking
I would be trying
to capture the moon
in a mirror
I would be clawing at my face
searching for beauty
I would be so lost
so lost
seeking guidance
in a broken compass
I am weeping
weeping
knowing that your love
gives me strength
to live
I am humbled
by your love.

Thank you. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Beauty of Fragility

Today I have felt like spun glass that keeps getting cracked. My body feels frail because I'm getting sick, my computer is probably headed to the grave, schoolwork is crashing into my life in an avalanche, and I'm tired and woozy and disoriented.

You know, one of those fragile days.

Krishna Lunch is a program I like to go to on school days - I get to sing kirtan and then be with devotees in the chaotic whirl of school. And of course, the prasadam.

But today I didn't want to go - I didn't want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to be my spun glass little self and silently get through the day. You know, survive.

But the desire for good food drove me to Krishna Lunch anyway.

Man, does prasadam work wonders. After I ate, it was all quiet so I decided to sing, if just for a little while. The melody that came to me, unbidden, quieted my heart. I closed my eyes and forgot I was on campus, forgot I was getting sick, forgot about my computer, forgot about schoolwork, forgot about everything. All that existed was the gentle sun shining on my face and the holy name.

When I finished singing, I said to Anthony, "You know, this is a special melody,"

"How so?" he replied.

"There is a song that one sings when someone leaves this world, it's a song of separation and grief. I sang this maha-mantra kirtan in the melody of that song."

"Oh really? I didn't know you could sing Hare Krishna when someone died," a girl commented.

"Oh yes, you can sing and chant Hare Krishna at any time, in any place. It is the most beautiful thing one could do. And when I was singing this kirtan just now, I was meditating that we are all destined to die. So how do I utilize this moment and every moment? To not waste away my life? I just want to chant. I just want God."

I write this only a half an hour later in the library, wondering why I've taken time to narrate this simple experience. Maybe because when I am closest to my frustration with the world is when I feel closest to my realization that I need God.

I need God.

That is the beauty of fragility.


My Eyes So Soft

Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God
Absolutely
Clear.

- Hafiz

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Bus Tour Dive

In the sultry Dallas night, a crew of people craned their necks up to a figure standing upon a ledge. She was staring out into the abyss.

"You can do it!" someone shouted out.

"We're all looking for an experience, aren't we?" I murmured to my friend Vrinda. "We don't want someone to tell us how it feels to jump off a cliff. We want to experience it for ourselves."

"True, true," she murmured back.

"It's all about the fall, man, that insane feeling in your gut when you're falling into nothingness."

With that, the girl leaned forward and fell head-first to the ground; the bungee cord pulled her back with a violent bounce. Cheers flew into the night like little victory flags.

"What about you, Bhakti? You gonna jump?" Gopal asked me.

"Nah. I have no desire."

"Really?"

"It's too short. It's all about the fall, and this fall is too short. But I'm totally down for skydiving!"

I remember that night so clearly on the Bus Tour, maybe because the Tour itself was reaching its final days, and I was reflecting upon our travels. We had traversed from the majestic beaches of Mexico to the freezing snows of Mount Rainier; a chilly Rathaytra in San Francisco to the sunswept parade down Venice Beach; whitewater rafting in Colorado to bungee-jumping in Texas...

And yet although every day we would wake up to a new destination and a new festival, somehow the ultimate adventure lay amongst us 45 people.

One night we would all lay awake and make up "ghetto" names for each other, and another night we'd tell blonde jokes over homemade pizza.  Some days we would play dadhi banda on the beach from sunup to sundown, and other days we would chant japa together all morning in silence. Some days we would sew marigold garlands until our fingers were dyed orange, and other days we would dance the night away in downtown Vancouver to the beat of the mridanga.

The Bus Tour is all about the people, the people, the people.

I have traveled around the world on my own and also with thousands of people, and I must say that there is nothing quite like the Bus Tour. Nobody can really tell you about the Bus Tour. You just have to experience it for yourself.

You just have to jump.

Trust me, the Bus Tour is not a bungee jump. It's a sky dive.

















Monday, August 29, 2011

Give Love, Give Love, Give Love

"99% of one's spiritual progress comes from bowing down." - Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur

San Francisco is a cold and wacky city, but it holds a special place in my heart. My parents were attending UC Berkeley - aka Bezerkely - in the 70s, and they frequented the Hare Krishna temple for cheap, good food. Gradually, the philosophy and the people won their hearts and transformed their lives. Already married for several years, they became devotees of Krishna together.

In a way, I feel like I connect with my roots when I visit. The air is filled with history.
 
This year, the Bus Tour stopped through San Francisco for the Rathayatra festival in Golden Gate Park. After the festival, as part of my Bus Tour duty I pulled on some oversized yellow gloves and jumped in to the organized chaos of takedown. 

I was in the middle of dismantling a tent when two women called out to me. I walked over to them.

"Are you Bhakti?" the elder of the two asked.

"And is your mother Brihan?" the other asked.

"Why yes," I replied, startled. "How do you know me and my mother?"

"Well, your parents were the apartment managers of my building many years ago," the younger one said. "People weren't so clean back then, so when I was to move out, I decided to leave my place spotlessly clean. Your mother was so impressed that she wanted to talk to me!"

I laughed. My mother is still today, as I affectionately think of her, a clean freak.

The woman continued, "I was the first person to converse with her about Krishna."

"Really?" I asked.


"Yes. But when I had to move from the city, I entrusted your mother to my mother," the woman said, then gestured to the other.

"What are your names?" I asked.

"I'm Madhavi," the daughter said. Her eyes were bright blue.

"And I'm Kasturi Manjari," the mother said. "But your mother would know me as Karuna Avatar, and my daughter as Tamra. We have not seen her since then."

"So wow, you were the first people to speak with my mother about Krishna?" I felt awed.

"Well, yes. It was a gradual process. Your parents came to the temple for prasadam while they were going to UC Berkeley. And we were there."

"What year was that?" I asked.

"1981, I believe."

30 years ago, I thought.

"Wow, what shakti you both possess, that you encouraged my parents to become devotees. Amazing. I feel so honored to be standing here and speaking with you both."

I folded my palms and bowed my head.

I felt a physical veil of awe and gratitude fall over me. By the grace and open hearts of these two women, I was standing here before them. I had a reason to live, Krishna was in my life, I could truly love others, I could chant the holy name.

As I stood there with my head bowed in silence, tears came to my eyes.The two women murmured and stepped forward to embrace me. I wept in their arms.

Then I took a deep breath and stood straight. "Thank you. Thank you so much."

"We are only doing our best to share the love and teachings of Srila Prabhupad and his representatives," Kasturi said. "All the credit goes to them."

"Please," I said. "Please bless me that one day I may also share this great gift with others and be able to change hearts to love Krishna, like you did with my mother."

"Oh Bhakti," Madhavi said. "I don't have much, but with whatever I do have, I give to you to touch others' hearts."

I paused for a moment. "What does it take?"

The two women glanced at each other and smiled. "Courage, knowledge... and naivete!" Madhavi laughed.

"And love?" I said.

"Oh, love is the source of all of that," Kasturi said. "Love is the reason we want to share Krishna with others anyway."

"Give love, give love, give love," I murmured.

"Yes," Kasturi said, "Give love."

"Thank you." I folded my palms and bowed again. "Thank you."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Searching the Stars



(I wrote this about a month ago, before I left for the Bus Tour.)

Ever since I was a young teenager, I remember gazing up at the glittering stars in Hawaii and I would feel this empty space in my heart. Naturally, I dreamed of stargazing with my husband one day. I felt that if I could share the stars with someone, especially my husband, I would feel complete.

Back in February, one evening I was driving home from school and I began to sob and sob because I felt such a deep pain and loneliness. I didn't know who I could talk to, I felt so alienated from everyone and everything. I had communicated this loneliness to my spiritual master a couple weeks before. He had looked into my eyes with such understanding and said, "Bhakti lata, that loneliness you feel? It is actually a great gift. Not everyone feels that loneliness. It is your heart searching for Krishna, the Lord."

I began to look for Krishna when I gazed at the stars, but still I felt that loneliness.

This evening I met up with my friend Mia at the temple, and she asked me, as many people are asking me lately, "So what are you up to in life?" Somehow when she asked me that question, it really struck through to my core, and it's even the seed of the reason I am writing this now. I smiled and replied as I've replied all summer, "Spending lots and lots of time with myself."

"How are you keeping busy, though?"

"Well, I teach writing classes, I dance, come to the temple, but mostly I'm spending time with myself and spending time with God. You know, I'm really enjoying my own company. For so much of my life I'm always running around, and now I'm just... being."

We spoke for a bit more. When we walked out to our cars, I said, "I'll always remember your prayer when you offer obeisance when you come in to the templeroom... what are the exact words?"

"God, please fill me with your presence," she said.

"God, please fill me with your presence," I murmured.

We bid goodnight and I headed out to the sandy temple road to chant the Lord's name. I began to meditate on how for this summer I feel such a deep stillness within, such an ocean of quiet. Realizations come to me in waves. I'll spend hours writing in my journal, or I'll listen to the same song 20 or 30 times in a row in meditation. On days when I'm not teaching, sometimes I don't speak with a single other person. I am not lethargic; I am active - I dance, write, interact with friends, sing, teach, etc., but I don't feel frantic. I feel quiet.

This evening I meditated on one of the qualities of Krishna - that he is atmarama, or self-satisfied. He does not need anyone's love, but He wants our love. As Eric Fromm would say: "I need you because I love you."

More than ever this summer I am reflecting on marriage, and the significance of sharing my life with someone. I want to be a whole person to share myself with another whole person. To be truly self-satisfied, I realize that I need the Lord.

I walked for a long time under the stars, barefoot in the sand. The universe seemed to open up tonight in such breathtaking silence.

Just as I was about to head home, I remembered Mia's prayer. I murmured it to myself in obeisance: "God, please fill me with your presence." I searched for that empty feeling in my heart, but I did not feel it. I only felt peace, and such deep gratitude to be chanting the Lord's holy name, barefoot, under the stars. And one day my husband will not fill that space in my heart, but share it with me.

***

Related Posts:
The Essence of Marriage: "A man must be willing to die for his wife." - Radhanath Swami...
The Wedding of Jackie & Parama Karuna: Yesterday at the wedding of Indradyumna Swami's brother, Maharaj spoke some cool stuff about marriage. Once he was on a plane and encountered a couple in their 90's and they were heading out to celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary. 75 YEARS...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Eternal Question

The morning of Los Angeles Rathayatra, Mother Kosha Rupa approached me. "Bhakti, would you like to do an hour in the Question and Answer booth?"

I paused for a moment. LA Rathayatra is one of the largest Rathayatras in North America with outreach to thousands of people. The Question and Answer booth at this particular Rathayatra is an intense experience - crowds of people from Venice Beach flow in and out of the tent in waves and questions are asked that spark fires. In previous years, I've usually just passed by, even a little intimidated by the intensity.

But this Bus Tour is an adventure in surrender. So a smile blossomed on my face and I replied, "Yes, Mother Kosha Rupa, I would love to!"

So after the exhilarating parade down Venice Beach in the hot sun, I wove my way through the crazy crowds to the Q&A tent. I was introduced by the host, Akruranath Prabhu.

Then with a deep breath, I slowly sat down in the hot seat... and looked up to the crowd of people who faced me, their heads cocked with curiosity.

"So," I said. "Does anyone have a question?"

A man towards the back raised his hand. Sternness was written all over his face. He called out, "Why is God so great?"

I took a deep, deep breath. I felt the heat rise to my face. People kept gathering, stopping and crowding around the tent amidst the bustling Venice Beach sidewalks, curious to see what this young girl would say to such a question. I called out to my spiritual master and Prabhupad in the silence.

And then I spoke.

As I unraveled words that I didn't even know I had inside of me, the man's stern face slowly, slowly softened. At last I asked him, "Does that answer your question?"

His expression told me more than his words as he nodded, "Yes, yes it does."

That was just the warm-up question.

"Why is it implied in the Bhagavad Gita that women are less intelligent?"


"Is the Hare Krishna chant the only way to develop love of God?"


"Why have you fallen in love with Krishna?"

After one hour passed and I stepped aside for the next speaker, I felt a little woozy and unsteady on my feet, like I had just stepped off of an amusement park ride. Aaahh!! I had just been given license to dive into mysteries of the soul, existence, love, God, creation, and even the controversies of my faith. And at the times when I wanted to melt into a puddle on the floor, I called out to Srila Prabhupad and Radhanath Swami to please guide me. And the words that came out of my mouth were simply not my own.

I have attended countless Rathayatras over the years. And yet this LA Rathayatra, as I walked away from the tent amidst the bustling festival once again, I felt like I had just tumbled into a new world with fresh eyes.

As a friend of mine shared with me a couple days ago, "Life isn't so much about the answers we get but the questions we live in."

Krishna Consciousness is a question I want to live in forever. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Note from Mexico

I write this at a cafe in Mexico overlooking the glimmering Pacific Ocean. I feel strange to be writing this on a computer, connecting with the world.

Not even 24 hours before the Bus Tour pulled out of Alachua, Manu invited me to hop on. In a spirit of pure adventure, I worked out the kinks in my life and finances and bam, I jumped on.

I feel like I've been in Oz for the past week and a half. Every morning I wake up to a new adventure amidst 50 other youth as we travel across North America.

Right now we're off to dance and sing in the streets of Ensenada, and I must go. Many stories and pictures await.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Moment of Rapture

December 11th, 2010

After more than 7 or 8 excruciating hours in the taxi from Delhi, the road sign finally came at around midnight: 



How does one have a highway sign for the holy land of Vrindavan? Vrindavan is not so much a geographic location as a place of the heart. So every time I see that sign, I never cease to shake my head in wonder.

Then we passed the magnificent Krishna Balaram temple, whose white marble spires seemed to glow against the black silk of the night sky. All was quiet. We turned down the tiny alley which leads to the MVT guesthouse and the taxi rumbled to a stop.

We all let out huge sighs, as if exhaling the 24 hours of travel in our blood.

I remember how long ago, I once envisioned that when I would finally enter Vrindavan for the first time, I would get out of the car and roll in the dust, weeping. That's the traditional vision of someone who has longed to visit the holy land and has finally arrived.

But when I came to Vrindavan for the first time two years ago, I was overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle and repulsed by all the noise and pollution. I thought, rolling on the ground is definitely reserved for the saints.

But tonight was quiet. When I stepped out of the taxi, I felt overcome by a spontaneous desire. I slipped off my shoes and knelt right there on the cobblestone ground. The cold of the stones seeped through my clothes and pressed against my fingers and forehead. I savored the chill. I breathed in deep - I could smell the rich scent of cow dung and dust and smoke in the ground.

I didn't want to get up. I just wanted to keep kneeling and keep breathing in the scent of Vrindavan.

***

Related Posts:
Mystic Moment: I sit upon the stone ledge in the temple of Radha Raman. The sun slants through the courtyard and holds my face...
Refuge: 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...

Monday, July 11, 2011

My Body is a Temple


Ever met a Hare Krishna and wondered what in the world was on his or her forehead?? And why

Tilak is a marking that Vaishnavas apply to the forehead with sacred clay. As a kid I wore tilak but rebelled against it as a teenager. I didn't want to be labelled as "one of those Hare Krishnas." Besides, I didn't really know how to put it on and I always ended up with mud all over my face. 

Then a couple years ago I had a very odd inspiration. The tradition for the holy month of Kartik (October-November) is to make a special vow, or vrata, and surrender that effort to the Lord. So I decided to do the unthinkable:

Wear tilak every single day. 

To school, to gatherings, and even - who woulda thunk? - to the temple. I figured that a) I would get over my tilak phobia, and b) I would become a killer tilak artist by the end of the month. 

So for the first day of Kartik, yes, my tilak was all over my hair and forehead in messy streaks, even after spending ten minutes trying to perfect it. When I went to school, I thought I would get weird looks. But I didn't. What I got were questions. And the question always came: "Why?"

As the month progressed, I began to enjoy answering these questions because they would always stir up a conversation about God. And when the last day of Kartik rolled around, sure enough, my tilak phobia had vanished. 

And, if I say so myself, I was a killer tilak artist. 

Over the years as I've traveled around the world with tilak upon my forehead, I've been asked that question countless times: "Why?"

Inspired, today I wrote this concrete poem as one of my answers.   


Related Posts:
The Chosen and The Choosers: The Youth. The Future of the Movement. Descendants of the Demigods... 
An Unexpected Guru: 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...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Long-Awaited Photo Essay



My friend Balaram has been begging me to post my pictures from South India for the past seven months. I'm not kidding - 7 months. As a running joke, he has tried every trick in the book: random text messages, bribes, philosophical arguments, and just plain old-fashioned begging. 

Finally, this morning I just buckled down to edit and post them!  

Amazing how photos can transport us to another world, another time, another place. So I was quite stunned to find myself in India this morning. 

What pulled me there was the people; I experience the people in India as so unguarded. To lock eyes with total strangers is normal; laughter is full and rich; devotion is expressed openly. 

If you haven't noticed yet, my joy in photography is to capture the Incandescent Moment - the soft and unexpected moment of poetry. Just by being aware and observant, I get to distill the beauty and essence of life into an image. With photography, I get to view every moment of life as a work of art.  (You can view my Incandescent Moment photo essay here)

So thank you, Balaram, for encouraging me to revisit my surreal experience on the South India Yatra.

To conclude our joke, after I had posted this album, I asked him: "Okay, so where's my bribe money?"

He replied: "How can I pay you for something that is priceless?"

Bravo. Point taken.   


 






























Radhanath Swami with the leaders of the Ramanujacharya line

one of my favorite places in South India, the Corridor of a Thousand Pillars


Related Posts:
Countdown of Fate - "This is a screenshot of the countdown gadget on my Google homepage. I put it there about 120 days ago..."
River of Prayer - "I sit in the corridor of a thousand pillars in the Ramanatha temple in Rameshvaram..."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Graveyard Scene

I love to give homework to my writing students. (At last I can give homework instead of receive it, ha HA!!) We're studying ancient Greek literary devices, so I assigned them the task of looking up famous quotations that utilize these devices.

One student, Bali, has a tendency toward the dark and brooding, so he brought in: "To be or not to be, that is the question."

I laughed in recognition of the famous line from Hamlet. "A famous quotation indeed, Bali," I said. "Do you all know of this play?" I described my favorite part of the whole play: the graveyard scene. Hamlet picks up a skull, and the gravedigger lets Hamlet know that he's holding the skull of a jester. With shock Hamlet realizes that as a little boy, he used to ride upon the shoulders of this very same jester.

And yet what remains? A skull.

Indeed: "To be or not to be, that is the question."

What is the point of life?

We then continued on with our writing class, and that discussion about Hamlet evaporated from my mind. Or so I thought.

When driving home, I passed a graveyard - a graveyard I have passed literally hundreds of times - and I felt this powerful urge to go inside.

The urge mystified me. I even passed the graveyard, shaking it off as silly. But then I slowed my car to a halt and turned around.

I pulled into the cemetery slowly.

I randomly stopped my car in the bright afternoon sun. I felt this sensation of surrender: "Krishna, please give me whatever realizations you want to give me."

I got out of my car. Immediately I was greeted by one very broad gravestone, which marked the graves of a husband and wife. The wife had died over ten years ago. But curiously enough, the husband's name was imprinted upon the gravestone with his birthdate, but the death date was still blank.

I realized that his grave was empty. This man was still alive, simply waiting to die to join his wife... wherever her soul had taken her.

I sat there for a long while in the sun, meditating on the connection of these two souls.

I wandered through other graves. I saw one of a 9-month-old baby girl - such a little gravestone. But she had died in 1932. Maybe old age would've claimed her by now anyway if she had lived.

What struck me the most was that husbands and wives were buried side-by-side, even if the husband or wife had died 20 or 30  years later. Not friend next to friend, or even parent next to child. Yes, families were buried together, but not side-by-side. Not with the same gravestone.

As I left the graveyard, the thought settled over me - life comes. Death comes. And all that matters, what most people in this world will boil down their entire existence to, is a relationship with their husband or wife.

But ultimately, I won't be buried in the ground next to my husband. My body shall be burnt to ashes and cast to the wind or the ocean or a river. I shall not even have a gravestone to mark my birth and my death, and who I shared that birth and death with.

All that shall remain of me is memories within the hearts of my loved ones, but even those shall fade with time.

So what is the essence? Why am I alive?

Only when I was leaving the graveyard did I remember the conversation with my students from this morning: To be or not to be?

That is the question.

I found the answer in a poem my father once wrote:

So far away
I am still so far away
I need to cross the ocean
walk millions of miles
and fly through the sky
until one day
tired of this body
I will lay down
and pray
and remember
who I am
where I came from
My body is dust
but my soul
is the light of the sun
the flame that burns incessantly
inside my heart.
Only Your name will be left
upon my lips
like a kiss
like a blossom
Krishna.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Marriage of Two Traditions

I had the honor of being present for the two wedding ceremonies of my friend, Gokul Vilasini. One honored the Sikh tradition of her family, and the other honored the Vedic tradition in Krishna Consciousness.

By the time the sun set, I was immersed in the intensity and solemnity of each tradition.

I present to you a photo essay of the bangle ceremony, Gokul's Sikh wedding, and a glimpse of the Vedic wedding.



 father

  mother



queen

chanting on her way to the Gurudwara

begging for blessings from Malati devi


Sikh Ceremony

Vedic Ceremony












"In the first round of the marriage ceremony, the Lord gives you His instructions for married life. Instead of performing rituals by routine, embrace the righteous life of Dharma, and do nothing that separates you from God. Meditate on God's name." 
- from the Anand-Karaj, the Sikh wedding ceremony

"Who has given this heart and to whom? Love has given unto love. Love is the giver, love is the receiver. Love has entered the ocean of love. I receive you through love. Oh love, this heart is yours." 
-  vow from Kathaka-Samhita, the Vedic wedding ceremony

To write is to dare the soul. So write.