Monday, October 24, 2011

Tears of Love

"When will my eyes be decorated with tears of love when I chant Your holy name?" - Sri Shikshastakam, 6th verse

I never quite know what to expect when I come to the temple of Radhe Shyam. Each visit is a gift, each visit is an adventure. I never know who I'll meet, what conversations I'll have, what experience shall wash upon the shore of my life.

This afternoon, one wave came that washed my soul in stillness.

In the velvet quiet of the temple room, I settled to the marble floor to chant japa. The only other person there besides me was an old Bengali woman. I have seen her around the temple many times with her daughter and grandchildren. She doesn't speak a word of English, but we have always exchanged smiles.

My japa felt especially deep this afternoon - so much that I felt inspired to set my beads aside for a little while to pick up the harmonium and sing "Krishna Deva Bhavantam Vande." This bhajan contains a line that especially resonates with me, and I paraphrase the translation in my heart when I sing it: "Oh Krishna, I possess only a sesame seed of bhakti. But You make the impossible possible, so please grant me the grace to devote my soul to You."

The old Bengali woman wandered over to where I sat. She didn't know the words, but she swayed and clapped off-beat, absorbed in the bhajan. We exchanged a smile. Then I pumped the harmonium one last time and picked up my beads again to chant.

Time meandered by and the old woman settled close to the altar to gaze at the forms of the Lord, Radhe Shyam. And then, with simple grace, she offered her obeisance with her whole body, as if she had collapsed to the floor.

For a moment I was stunned - the thought crossed my mind that maybe she had come to the temple to leave her body, so different was this obeisance, so profound in surrender did it strike me.

The woman slowly got to her feet. When she turned I saw that her face shone with tears. To my surprise, she walked right over to me, knelt, and we embraced. She was weeping and weeping - I could feel her chest gently heaving. We came away from each other to look into each others' eyes - her eyes were shining. We embraced again.

Her bhakti surrounded me like a warm woolen shawl.

When the woman pulled away with her arm still around my shoulders, she gestured to Radhe Shyam and murmured, "Oh Krishna! Oh Krishna!" She brushed the floor and touched her hand to her head in rapture. She rose to her feet and faced the Lord with her arms upraised, still weeping.

I folded my palms and bowed my head to this woman. I wept simple tears, deeply humbled.

This woman doesn't speak a word of English and we shall probably never engage in a full conversation, ever. But the connection of our hearts said more than words ever could; the tears in our eyes united us beyond barriers of age, language, race, culture...

Oh Krishna, thank You. Today You made the impossible possible - through Your beloved devotee, You gave me a glimpse into the mystery of bhakti

Monday, October 10, 2011

What is the Seed?

At last I have published a page on my blog to describe the philosophy of the "seed of devotion." Below is the new text.


The morning that I was born I was given the name Bhakti lata bij which, in the ancient Sanskrit language, translates as "the seed of the vine of devotion."

This bhakti lata bij is very special and rarely given. It is described in ancient scriptures that the living entity has been wandering the universe for millions of years, so very, very lost, so heartsick in his search for love. But somehow, by the grace of the Lord and a loving spiritual master, the living entity receives within his heart the bhakti lata bij, the seed of devotion.

This seed of devotion must be tended to with great care. One must water the seed by serving the Lord and His devotees.

One must receive proper sunlight through the chanting of the holy name.

One must dig out all of the unwanted weeds within the heart - pride, lust, envy, and so many others.

I find it very curious and very profound that the plant in this metaphor of devotion is not a stately banyan tree or a divine lotus. It is a vine. And what is the most important feature of a vine?

It must always rest upon something else to grow.

In this metaphor, that "something else" is the Vaishnavas, the devotees of the Lord.

Then with proper cultivation, love, and grace, resting upon the strength of the devotees, this vine of devotion may wind up and up and up to at last reach the feet of the Lord Himself.


brahmanda brahmite kona bhagyavan jiva
guru krsna prasade pay bhakti lata bija

"According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service." (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.51)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Profound Interview

My fellow writer, Madhava Smullen, is writing an article for ISKCON News ( on the phenomenon of gurukulis (second generation devotees of Krishna) who have received formal initiation. He interviewed me and quite a few others via e-mail.

His questions have prodded me to reflect deeply upon the commitments I have made.

Who initiated you?
Radhanath Swami

Where and when did you get initiated?
Alachua, Florida, May 31st, 2010

What age were you when you got initiated?

What were your full names before and after initiation?
My name before initiation was Bhakti lata bij, and after initiation my name became Bhakti lata.

Please explain in a detailed, thoughtful way why you made the decision to get initiated.
        I often hear parallels between marriage and initiation - both are very grave steps in life that involve very profound vows. Of course, marriage is more of a common phenomenon, something that humans can universally relate to, so I'll start from there. So one may ask, why get married? Why make those vows when you can just live lives together as a very committed couple? I have come to the conclusion that there is something about taking those profound vows in front of the world and in front of God that gives the couple the strength to weather the storms.

In very related respects, I was born to devotee parents who gave me a spiritual name at birth. I have followed the four regulative principles my whole life, and Radhanath Swami loves me unconditionally, whether I would have ever received initiation from him or not. So one may wonder - why take that formal step of initiation? For me, it was about committing to those vows in front of the world and in front of God. The vows of initiation are so powerful that sometimes I feel chills to meditate upon them. Those vows carve and shape my life, and give me a safe place to fall. Receiving initiation is like marriage in the sense that now I belong to someone, now I can rest my soul, knowing that I am connected to a family who can carry me in the fiercest of spiritual storms.

What major and subtle changes have there been in your life now that you are initiated? What do you think initiation will continue to change in your life?
        The most profound change I experience is the peace I feel in my heart. I feel settled. I feel grounded and sure and safe. I feel strong - I no longer am only accountable to myself, I am accountable to my spiritual master, to Srila Prabhupad, to all of the devotees. That accountability gives me great strength to set an example for others. I feel that initiation will continue to change my life by giving me the sureness and strength to offer every breath of my life in service, knowing that it shall be offered in the right direction, like water not just poured upon any soil, but soil with seeds underneath.

Why do you think gurukulis have typically been slower about getting initiated? Do you think that is changing now, and if so why?
          I sense that gurukulis have been slower about receiving initiation because they're already immersed in Krishna culture. What's the point in making such heavy vows when one is already IN the flow, chanting, doing service...?

         But the biggest reason for the slower movement towards initiation, I believe, is chanting 16 rounds. It's a huge commitment. For me, getting to the point of actually steadily chanting 16 rounds every day has been the greatest challenge of my entire life, and it still is. I chant a lot slower than even most people, so it takes me around 3 hours every day. And although gurukulis love to chant in kirtan - sometimes for 24 hours straight! - there's something very austere about chanting japa for us. Several years ago, Radhanath Swami once gently commented to me (after I had told him yet again that I was still struggling with chanting), "Yes, you gurukulis would rather feel sincere about japa all the time, or not chant at all."

        I think the trend towards initiation amongst gurukulis is growing, but only very slightly. In my experience, most gurukulis ask this question: "Why initiation?" and usually don't feel very satisfied with the answer.

A question and a concern that the older generation often have is, will gurukulis step up and continue this movement when they are gone? Do you think more gurukulis getting initiated means positive things for the future of the movement?
         I'm not sure if initiation will address the issue of succession. But I do know that where powerful vows of commitment are made, vigor and strength naturally follow. I personally find it incredibly inspiring to witness my peers take to this process so seriously. It gives me hope that my own children shall take to this process naturally as well. That yes, Krishna Consciousness is the nature of the soul, and the process that Srila Prabhupad has given us is complete.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.