Monday, March 28, 2011

Happy 4th Blogiversary!

Exactly four years ago I coined the name "Seed of Devotion" (which is derived from the name given to me at birth, Bhakti lata bij) and I opened up blog shop on March 28th, 2007.

I had no idea where my blog would take me - all I knew was that I needed to share my inspirations. I felt that purity and good writing was the force, and if people wanted to read my blog, they would come. For over a year, my subscriber base hovered at around 15.

Then one day after I had reported live from the KuliMela Festival in Belgium, I checked my subscriber count and froze in shock. Overnight, subscribers had nearly doubled, and in the following weeks they tripled. To my amazement, that number began to grow and grow over the following months and years. People from all over the world whom I have never even met have contacted me to express their appreciation for this service.

With so many readers, I began to deeply reevaluate the purpose and mission of Seed of Devotion.

I have concluded:

* Seed of Devotion is not a platform to air out my opinions, and it is not a news agency.
* This is not a place where I declare heavy grievances or make political statements.
* Seed of Devotion is a service.
* This blog strives to share only experiences and realizations upon my spiritual path to the Lord.
* Seed of Devotion is an expression of my heart.

This is who I am. Thank you for sharing the journey with me.

"Whenever you find time, you write. Never mind, two lines, four lines, but you write your realization."
- Srila Prabhupada
Los Angeles, August 14th, 1972

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Stumbling Upon the Sun

"If you think that this Krishna name is not very suitable, you can accept any name. That doesn't matter. Our proposition is you chant God's name. That is our proposal. Therefore it is universal. If you like, you can chant Jehovah or you can chant Allah, but we request you that you chant God's name." - Srila Prabhupada, 1968


Last week, my friend Shalagram and I decided to explore and admire the campus of the University of Florida under the stars in the lamplight. Then Shalagram pointed to the magnificent building that I pass every day.

"Have you ever been inside?" she asked.

"Actually, I have not," I said, taken aback. "That's the music building."

"You want to explore?"

"Why not?" I said.

So we crossed the street and entered through tall glass doors. Other people were also coming in, walking upstairs with a purpose. I felt a little intimidated. "What if someone demands to know why we're in here?" I muttered to my friend. "We're total sneaks!"

"Just act like we own the place," Shalagram replied. We grinned to each other and straightened our backs. We followed the stream of people up the stairs. We could hear the tuning of a guitar and the rustle of a huge crowd.

Timidly, Shalagram and I walked up to the door that had to lead to an auditorium. A young man walked past us on his way in and I flagged him down. "Excuse me, um, what's going on here?"

"Oh, one of our bands is playing tonight," he replied.

"Our bands?"

"Yeah, one of our bands here at UF... this is Crusade for Christ,"

"Aha, I see... so this is a... Christian thing?"

"Yes," he smiled and went on inside.

Shalagram and I looked to each other. I knew it flashed across both of our minds at the same time: destiny must have brought us here. "Let's do it!" we agreed, and we plunged into the dark auditorium. Everyone was standing up in the pews to face a band on stage. We walked up as far as we could and slipped in near the stage.

Wide-eyed, Shalagram and I looked around at the vaulted ceilings, the majestic architecture, and the hundreds of college students standing in the pews and in the balconies. Most had their arms raised, their eyes closed, and were singing along with the band.

We joined in on the tumultuous song, for the words were projected on a screen near the stage. Looking around, I was astounded to see such enraptured faces. Those were the same faces that I see in a heart-touching kirtan.

Then the song ended, and everyone took their seat. "Should we stay?" I whispered to my friend.

"Why not?" she whispered back. So we sat.

A young man got up on stage to give a sermon. And what an eloquent, incredible sermon it was. He was practical yet poetic - he wove in the scriptural analogy of running a race to our lives as dedicated disciples in the race to the Lord. I kept glancing over at Shalagram and we kept nodding to each other; nearly every point that he touched upon there was an equivalent in Vaishnava philosophy. Through his words, I felt inspired in a way that I have never felt before to chant intense and dedicated japa the very next morning.

The young man drew his sermon to a close, and then the band sang a closing song. Everyone rose to their feet and raised their arms. I raised my arms, too. And when everyone sang out "Whoah oh oh oh...." I murmured softly to myself, "Hare Krishna..."

My spiritual master often says that the sun goes by many names in all the different languages of the world, but it is still the same sun.

It's the same way with God - He goes by many names, but He is still God. And in that dark auditorium last week, I felt that I had stumbled upon the sun.

[e-mail subscribers please follow this link to view the above video:]

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Chosen and The Choosers

The Youth.

The Future of the Movement.

Descendants of the Demigods.

kuli (n.) [abbr. gurukuli] non-joiners; inborn members who do drum wailing (see play mridanga) and have smart philosophical answers for everything. (definition by Madi)


I don't play the mridanga and I never went to gurukul. Nevertheless, all my life I have considered myself a gurukuli. But a curious thing happened to me last year - I had an identity crisis.

Last May I took a profound step in my spiritual life when I received initiation by His Holiness Radhanath Swami. But when I introduced myself to new people, I realized that because I had received initiation many assumed that I had come to the Hare Krishna movement as a newcomer.

It was unnerving. Alas, it was like I had been voided of my seniority and the cool factor of being a kuli. My pride stung.

So for several months last year when I met a new person, I used to add a disclaimer to my introduction: "I received initiation last year, but really I've been in this movement since birth."

I began to cringe at my own words. I realized that when I tagged on that little line, I simultaneously boosted my pride and invalidated the mercy of my spiritual master.

So when I flew to India last December, I decided to conduct an experiment: never mention that I've been in this movement since birth in any way, shape, or form. I revealed my plan to my friend Balaram, but he laughed. "Bhakti, people will know you're a kuli just by the way you dress, the way you talk, who you hang out with... you can't escape!"

I was determined to prove him wrong. For once, I wanted to blend with the crowd. I wanted to ask for no special treatment or recognition (which, sadly to say, I have felt entitled to my entire life).

I tried hard to not wave around my entitlement, but I failed rather miserably in the beginning of my trip. I kept striving, though, to shut up and blend. By the time I flew down to South India to join a yatra with 5,000 other people, I was getting better at shutting up and blending and swallowing my pride.

Actually, I found the humility refreshing to my spirit.

On the first morning of the South India Yatra, a thousand of us poured out onto the streets of Kanyakumari. I ended up walking next to a young woman by the name of Arati and we struck up a conversation. I asked her how she had come to Krishna Consciousness. She told me her beautiful story, but that sadly her parents were inimical to the devotees and to her choice.

Then she asked me the inevitable question: "So how long have you been around Krishna Consciousness?"

I paused.

"Well..." I stalled, trying to find the words. "Well... when, um... when I was 13, I decided to open up a... Vaishnava songbook. Does that make sense?"

She nodded.

"So I read the translations, and they were so beautiful! Then I read Illuminations from the Bhagavad Gita, which is a book of illustrated verses from Prabhupad's Gita. I was obsessed with those verses - I would type them up on the computer with some cool graphic designs, then tack them up all over the house."

Arati exclaimed, "It was like you found the meaning of life!"

"Yes!! Exactly! I had found the meaning of life!" We both laughed. "That is exactly it!"

Then came the whammy question: "May I ask, are your parents favorable to you being a devotee?"

I paused.

There was no way around this one. "Well, uh... actually... my parents are devotees,"

It took a moment for this to register. Then she said, "So you are a... gurukuli?"

I sighed. "I guess."

"Oooohhh..." she said.

I became a tad indignant. "But we must all make a choice, yes? We all make a choice to devote our lives to the Lord, no matter what walk of life we come from... even if we are born into this movement."

She smiled and nodded. "Yes. Absolutely. I was born into this Indian culture, but I have found the essence here."

"You see? The essence is that we both want to love God, whether we're Indian or gurukuli." I said. "So we are the same."

That wasn't just a smart philosophical answer. The words came from my heart. No mridanga required. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Perfect Words

I attended my first 24 Hour Kirtan over the radio.

In 2008 I was in Hawaii at my parent's, where I had just undergone foot surgery. I was bedridden. So I tuned into a rather thin online broadcast of the 24 Hour Kirtan in New Vrindavan; I expected a bunch of fancy melodies and fancy drum beats, and I was ready to tune out again.

But what came out of my speakers was the first time I ever heard a kirtan by Madhava. Goosebumps ran down my arms. The holy name was for real.

As I lay there in my bed, I wondered when I would attend a 24 Hour Kirtan. What would I do? I cringed at the thought of only going to socialize, like any other festival. I wanted to absorb myself completely in the holy name because after all, it IS a festival of the holy name.

I decided that I would take a vow of silence, mauna vrata, and speak only the holy name.

Over the past two years I have attended half a dozen 24 or 12 hour kirtans, and each time I have taken a vow of silence. Each festival, my experience of the holy name becomes more profound.

It has always been my dream, though, to share the beauty of this experience with others. But it's kind of a hard sell, if you know what I mean - silence for 24 hours at a major festival?? Impossible!

But last October, my friend Nanda Priya finally decided to take the vow with me at a 24 Hour Kirtan. Our experience was beautiful, and I felt so amazed to share this depth of the holy name with another person.


Last weekend, 30 youth boarded the Youth Ministry bus to head down to Miami for Rathayatra and the 12 Hour Kirtan. A bunch of us girls gathered around our bunkbeds and discussed the upcoming kirtan festival. I didn't even bring up the vow of silence - Nanda did.

"Mauna vrata is amazing," she said. "Someone asked me last October if I had had fun, but I just thought, 'No!' I didn't have fun. It was deep and profound,"

"I agree," I said thoughtfully. "It's not fun, it's deep."

We all engaged in lively discussion and suddenly - everyone decided to do it.

So when Sunday morning rolled around, six of us tied on our little wristbands that said, "Vow of Silence."

In all of my experiences of mauna vrata, the vow has been austere, deep, profound, and it has moved my soul. But suddenly, the vow DID become fun.

I had the time of my life!

Whenever the six of us would convene after hours and hours of kirtan, we would all just call out, "Krishna, Krishna! Radhe Radhe!" in varying tones of question or exclamation. We would laugh and gesture and say the Lord's name some more. At one point, it truly struck me how this is the spiritual world - everyone only wants to talk about Krishna.

And it never gets old.

On the bus ride back that evening after the festival, the six of us gathered around our bunkbeds to share our realizations. Everyone had had their own challenges, but we all drew a unanimous conclusion: We had not wanted the Festival to end. We had all wanted to keep saying only the Lord's name...

...if just for a while longer.

So, my dear reader, maybe the next time I see you at a festival of the holy name, feel free to come up to me and show me your wristband. I'm sure our conversation will be perfect.    

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Candid Conversation

February 26th

Dear Bhakti,

Why are you not writing anymore or barely writing? Your writings are very good and thought-provoking.

Your servant,
Partha-sarathi dasa

March 8th 

Dear Partha-sarathi, I've been thinking about this for a long while. Just now I went to Seed of Devotion, and for once I just observed my blog. I looked at the "Archives" side gadget, and I realized that since 2008 my number of posts per year have steadily decreased.

I'm not sure why.

I'll reflect on it.

Thank you for your encouragement, Prabhu.

Bhakti lata

March 8th

Dear Bhakti lata, your writings show the inner sentiments that belong to a second generation devotee (I hate the word gurukuli, sorry) who is trying to find her place in Krishna Consciousness... and along the way experiencing so much mercy.

I have followed your blog since it started, and I can see how your writing has become more thought-provoking and internal.

If for nothing else, write because Srila Prabhupada says that writing about Krishna purifies our heart.

Forgive me for writing to you, considering that I don't think we've ever met, but I hate to see talented devotees not using their wonderful talents more... if that makes any sense.

Your servant,
Partha-sarathi dasa

March  8th

This is beautiful, thank you. Actually, I feel through this conversation thread I have really stepped back and evaluated my journey with Seed of Devotion, and what direction I'm really going in.

You are right, Srila Prabhupad says we need to write our realization. It's scary to share our heart, but it's even more scary to let our talent to serve Krishna go to waste.

Thank you for your candid honesty.

Bhakti lata

To write is to dare the soul. So write.