Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My First Birthday

In Hawaiian tradition, when a baby reaches its first birthday, the family throws a huge luau and the whole community celebrates. When I lived in Hawaii, I didn't understand why "baby luaus" were so common and such a huge deal - I mean, the baby itself wouldn't even remember the event!

Then one day my mom told me, "Well, for a baby to survive its first year is a big deal. After that, the baby grows and becomes stronger and can contribute to the community. But that first year is crucial."

Suddenly I understood the tradition and culture of Hawaiian blessings.

In Vaishnava tradition, another term for a brahmin is "twice-born." When one receives initiation by a qualified spiritual master, the disciple transcends his or her material birth and takes spiritual birth. Thus, "twice-born."

One year ago, on May 31st, 2010, I received spiritual initiation by His Holiness Radhanath Swami. In many ways, I emerged from my initiation feeling so fragile, so not ready to take on the world and the internal challenges that the year ahead would throw at me.

Upon reflection, I realize that I am that one-year-old baby, so immature and dependent and young.


"Bhakti lata devi," Radhanath Swam intones into the microphone. "And also would her parents come forward."

Six or seven initiates have gone before me - my heart has been pounding with anticipation for what feels like forever. I rise from my seat and my parents rise from theirs. I feel numb that after so many years of prayer, this moment has finally come.

I settle before my spiritual master; someone hands me a microphone. I take a deep breath and say, "I vow to chant a minimum of - 16 rounds - " my voice chokes up, and heavy tears sting my eyes. My journey to chanting 16 rounds has spanned many years with many crises of faith in the holy name. Radhanath Swami himself has witnessed this journey every step of the way. I continue, " - of the maha mantra - every single day, for all of my life,"

In the silence, Maharaj gives me a playful smile. He teases, "It's not that hard."

Roars of laughter rise from the hundreds gathered in the templeroom. I begin to laugh too, but there's a part of my heart that sinks - It's not that hard? Are you kidding me?? Chanting 16 rounds not that hard? But - but - what about...? 

When the laughter subsides, Maharaj says lovingly, "Everyone's cheering you on!"

With that, cheers and the thrum of mridangas and kartals sweep through the templeroom. They rise and rise and wash over me in wave upon wave. My feverish heart cools and softens with the blessings of the Vaishnavas.

When the templeroom falls quiet once more, I finish my vows with a strong and clear voice: "I vow to follow the 4 regulative principles of no intoxication, no gambling, no meat eating, and no illicit sex. I vow to imbibe the mood of the servant and be loyal to Srila Prabhupad, Sri Guru, and all of the Vaishnavas."

Radhanath Swami smiles. He turns to my parents and glorifies their talents, their marriage, their devotion, and the way they have raised me. He turns to me. "Bhakti lata is an emerging leader in her community. She loves to sing, loves to serve, loves to dance... loves Krishna." He pauses and smiles. "You were born to love Krishna,"

I feel abashed and humbled.

In the tradition of love and respect, Radhanath Swami requests that I take the dust of the feet of my parents. I touch the feet of my mother and father and embrace each one. They are my original gurus.

When I settle before my spiritual master once more, he pulls out a pair of dark, rough wooden chanting beads. These are the beads that he chanted on this morning, and the beads that I pray to chant on for the rest of my life. "I don't have the heart to change your name, " he says, "So on behalf of Srila Prabhupad and the guru parampara, your name is Bhakti lata devi dasi,"

He holds out my beads, I hold out my palms, and I receive my chanting beads amidst an ocean of cheers and blessings.

Upon the strength of those blessings, I have held to my vows through beautiful pain and beautiful peace. I feel as though I'm throwing myself a "baby luau" in my heart, because somehow, I've made it!

Upon the strength of the guru parampara and the holy name, I've made it! Hallelujah!

I pray to become only stronger and stronger in my vows - yes, even chanting 16 rounds. I vowed to chant a "minimum" of 16 rounds - now I chant beyond that number simply because I want to. 

After all, it's not that hard.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Radhanath Swami's Magic

Over the past several days During Radhanath Swami's recent visit to Alachua, I have contrived so many reasons to keep my distance - he's too busy, I'm too mental and unqualified, etc.

My mind wants distance...

...but my soul wants closeness! Without fail, day after day, I am drawn irresistibly closer and closer to his beautiful presence, to listen closer to his beautiful kirtans, to soak in deeper his beautiful words... to laugh at his beautiful humor.

There is a saying, "We may forget what someone has said, we may even forget what someone has done, but we will never forget how someone made us feel." So while Radhanath Swami's words and actions guide my own words and actions on a daily basis, sometimes I forget all of that.

All I remember is how I feel when I am in his presence: bathed in purity. Inspired and at peace. 

This morning after Bhagavatam class, I simply walked up to him with a huge smile on my face; I expressed my gratitude for his class and his presence. I said, "I feel so grateful to be under your shelter, Maharaj,"  

He smiled in his effulgent way and said, "I feel grateful I got to serve you!"

I hope to serve him one day. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011



My feet are adorned
with the anklebells
of a thousand roads.
Where to walk
where to run
where to dance?
I trust not
the illegible directions
I have scrawled upon my hand
with the ink of my mind.
The dust of uncertainty
rises from these roads
to sting my eyes.
I must close my eyes
I must raise my arms
I must spin and spin -
the music
of my anklebells
shall swirl around me
in golden ribbons.
The music of God
is my map.
If I only
the world shall open
in a divine symphony.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thank God I'm Not Perfect

My entire college career I have earned straight A's. I find it almost mind-numbing to look at my transcript because the A's line up so perfectly. 

I believe that grades in school are a symptom of effort - when I put in the effort, I get an A. That simple. Sometimes that effort means camping out in the Math Tutoring Lab for days on end, or spending over 20 hours to write one English paper. But effort is effort, and I have always taken pride in my education as well as my grades.

Then, this semester blew all those notions out of the water. I devoted endless hours upon endless hours into two classes especially, and I would consistently get C's and even D's. Getting a "D" - after so many hours and hours of study and effort - just did not make sense. One day I walked into one of the professor's offices and I even cried in frustration. 

I kicked and I screamed for many long weeks.  

But by the end of this school semester, I surrendered. I realized that I cannot do more than my best. I know that I poured myself into school, and maybe it doesn't show up as another A in the long line, but I learned something even greater:

Do your best, Bhakti lata, do your best.   

My best is the real perfection. 

I must admit, I feel relieved now that the 4.0 has cracked. Of course, I will always strive for an A, because that is my best, but the real perfection is in the striving, not the letter. 

Isn't that how it is in spiritual life? We pour our life and soul into loving the Lord, loving His devotees, following the principles, etc. etc. etc. and it seems as though we're always getting C's and D's. 

And yet we must take solace in the truth of devotion: The real perfection is in the striving, not the letter. 

Below is a snapshot of only a portion of my transcript. You gotta admit, in contrast of all those angular A's, those last couple grades are kinda spicy. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Glimpse of Miami Rathayatra

(Tulasi Rani took this last picture.)

To write is to dare the soul. So write.