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.


Nitchi said...

Happy "1st" Birthday! That was beautiful, thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Happy Happy Ist Birthday to you. It is very nice. Krishna Consciousness is the only vaccine for destroying the material diseases.


Bhakta Nabakishore Das, Silchar, Assam

♥ Braja said...

Congratulations, Bhakti lata :) And welcome to the world of writing....


ARUN .K. AGARWAL said...

Congratulations Bhakti mataji. You are incing close to home with each passing second....I think half the journey is already completed with a new name and initiation. May you have a safe and quick second half.
Arun Agarwal.

Vinod said...

Congratulations for the 2nd B'day too ! Every person who counts 16 malas every day is a hero for me . But for slaves like me who have sold their time to their organizations it is the organizational goals and their level of ach that fills our minds. So ??!!

To write is to dare the soul. So write.