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. 


Babhru das said...

This is a great story, Bhakti. There's a point, I think (I hope?), when the "chosen" become choosers, when you make the culture we tried so hard to make avaliable to you your own. This seemed to happen with my older daughter after a sort of crisis of faith. After her brief struggle, Krishna consciousness was not just how we raised her, but it was *her* path, her life. That's a pretty cool thing to see.

Thanks for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

Nice article. However, I am not sure how the title or mridanga references relate to the essence of what is being stated, which I really like. No one really is a chooser or is chosen, unless Krishna personally chooses. Thanks.

Gaura said...

Great. Humility is the foundation and mother of all good qualities

Manivannan Sadasivam said...

Many more happy returns of the day, dear Bhakthi Latha. As your B'day falls on the same date of my borther's, I cannot forget it.

If u have time, do cheek out ma blog:

Today, I've dedicated a video 2 ma bro :-)

Hope ur having a wonderful time!

In Love With Krishna said...

@Bhakti Lata: You blew me away with this post!
i just saw it on my Dashboard, and oh! i have been through similar stuff in my life.
i was born into a Sri Vaishnava family, and, i did inherit my parents' devotion and devotional practices.
But, Krishna has been great experiences in life took me towards Him.
i pondered for a long time, my thoughts similar to yours...
i reasoned this way in the end: Krishna "chose" us to be born into the families we are born into.
It is His greatest blessing (coz i still remember my mom teaching me to say His name when i was scared as a kid).
For those of us who have "chosen" the devotional path, found it in life, even that was Krishna's choice.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.