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

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.

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.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.