Friday, December 28, 2012

Enough

My alarm clock tone is the 1966 track of Prabhupad singing pranam and Hare Krishna. This morning I decided to put in my earphones and listen to the whole track.

Prabhupad's voice filled my being.

The thought came to me how I want this track to be playing at the time of my death. Seeing myself on my deathbed did not feel morbid at all. In fact, I experienced such peace.

No matter how much my body may change, if I travel the world or remain in a small town, who I marry or if I ever marry, disasters or triumphs that befall me, who my children are or if I ever have children, what my career is, if I accomplish famous deeds or remain utterly unknown, whatever may transpire in my life...

... everything becomes so simple in those moments before I leave this body.

Prabhupad.

The holy name. Krishna.

Listening to Prabhupad sing this morning while I laid in bed, I experienced quiet moments of perfection. I don't need to prove anything in this life, to conquer the world or something. I just need to be me. I am enough.

Prabhupad will come for me.





[for e-mail subscribers, click on this link: http://youtu.be/NCusDs1scmY ]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wish Granted

From the moment I had woken up at 3:30 in the morning, I was an engine revving to go. Go, go, go! Go to Mangal Arati, go to the Mayapur Academy, go practice, go chant, go! Get everything done so that I could go hear my guru speak tonight.

Radhanath Swami had been here in Mayapur for almost a week, speaking every night to 4,000 people on the glories of Lord Chaitanya. Even though the pandal where he was speaking was only a couple hundred meters from where I was studying, I had not yet had time to spend one full night to listen. I was just so, so busy.

But tonight would be different. I was scheduling my day meticulously to leave school on time. Not only that, I was going to sit up at the very, very front and look at Maharaj's face the entire time!

Night fell. Despite my planning, I was still at school. Still practicing for my exam.

The lecture had begun. The pandal was so close by the Academy that I could hear the echoes of the microphone as Maharaj spoke. I felt spikes of pain to be so close yet so far. My hopes from the whole day crashed around me.

And yet at the same time, I knew that by being here, studying for Krishna, that was what Radhanath Swami himself would've wanted of me.

So I stayed.

Later that night, I was walking home from dinner with my friend Jahnava. We were turning a corner on the road when I saw up ahead a figure in orange, walking by himself, his orange cloth lit up by a streetlight behind him. At first I thought he was a brahmachari.

Then I looked again.

"Oh my, Maharaj!" I exclaimed. I immediately knelt to the dust to offer my respects. Jahnava also knelt.

By the time I had stood up, Maharaj had walked up to both of us, his eyes shining, his face beaming.

"Bhakti lata devi!" he said and looked into my eyes. "I have been yearning to see you."

I was speechless for a moment. "Maharaj... I... I've been yearning to see you!"

He was quiet for a moment, smiling, then he turned to Jahnava and asked, "What is your name?"

"Jahnava," she replied.

"Beautiful," he said, holding her gaze for several moments. He turned to me again and was quiet. Then, as if he had all the time in the world, he asked me gently, "How are you?"

"I am very well, Maharaj," I said, and I was thinking I would just end it there. After all, this was someone who only an hour before had been speaking to 4,000 people. Surely he had other things to do, other people to talk to. But I found no such mood of rush in Maharaj's face or his voice. He simply wanted to know how I was.

And so I shared with Maharaj a little about Mayapur Academy, and we spoke about how to learn the essence of every ritual we do. He said that he may come to my graduation in March to hand students their diplomas. "I may hand you yours," Maharaj said with a smile.

Then we folded our palms and bid each other goodbye and goodnight.

Jahnava and I continued to walk home, and my eyes were wide and shining.

The holy land of Mayapur seems to grant wishes.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Gift of Fearlessness

I was trembling. My heart was pounding.

I squeezed my way through the train compartment, people shouting and moving in every square inch. The devotee from the temple who was helping me carry all of my luggage finally settled my stuff on my bunk, Number 15. Then with a smile he said, "Okay, Mataji, I go now,"

Don't go, please don't go, I pleaded in my mind, but I spoke the words, "Oh, okay, Haribol,"

The devotee waved, and then he disappeared into the mass of bodies. He was my last link with the world I knew. I just sat there on my bunk in shock. I looked around and I saw men - all men - looking at me. I was going to be on this 2nd class train for 36 hours from Mumbai to Kolkatta. Alone. I had no phone. No access to anyone. I was cut off from the world. Anything could happen.

My mind whirred - I could still get off the train. I had 16 minutes to change my mind - grab all my luggage and somehow find a phone and get back to the temple. This was madness.

Suddenly, the train flooded with loudly chattering village women. They filled the aisles until there was barely room to move. I sat there utterly stunned. These women were joking. No way could they be riding with us.

But they were. When the train began to move, the women settled to the floor where they would be sleeping the night. I looked on in shocked disbelief.

I slept with my passport tucked into my shirt that night, murmuring the Nrisimhadeva Prayers for protection.

***

By the next afternoon, I hadn't smiled or moved from my bunk in over 14 hours. I had adjusted to the intensity of the train ride by putting up energetic shields and retreating deep inside of myself.

Towards midday, I was reading a book about Srila Prabhupad. There was this little girl trying to squish into my bunk (along with two other women). I decided to soften up a bit and give the little girl some space to lean her back against my bunk wall.

Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw this old guy across the aisle gesturing to the popcorn he had just bought, this big creepy smile on his face, trying to get the little girl to take some. She was refusing silently. He would reach towards her, and she shrank away.

I looked up from my book, sized up the situation, and stared daggers at the man. He still smiled, trying to get the girl to eat his popcorn. I said with knives in my voice, "Leave."

He smiled at me as if I was being silly - this little girl knew him.

So I turned to the little girl, gesturing, "Do you know him?"

She shook her head.

I turned back to the man and said in a deadly tone, "Leave her alone." It was incredible. I experienced profound and lethal anger surge inside of me. I suddenly found myself willing to fight for this little girl, and I didn't even know her name.

The other young girl on my bunk giggled at my intensity. I wondered for a moment if maybe I was mistaken - maybe the little girl did know the man and I was overreacting.

But I didn't care. I was doing my duty, since obviously no one else was protecting the little girl.

The man lost his smile and never bothered the girl again. I kept looking over at him, checking in to make sure, almost as if to say, "Just you DARE, you lowlife," But he never dared again.

Some time later, the little girl asked where I was from and where I was going, and I understood enough to respond simply.

But then I ended up connecting with the little girl, her name was Seetal, and the other young girl on my bunk, Kajal. I decided to teach these girls the most valuable thing I knew, so I taught them the Hare Krishna maha mantra. They soaked it up like sponges.

They chanted the mahamantra a few times. I could see delight shining on their faces, like they had just been given a special and mystical gift.

I explained in my limited Hindi that this mantra is bliss for the soul. And in a very grave tone, I also mimed that this mantra would give protection. When in fear, something frightful, chant this mantra. I thought of the lowlife man across the aisle who still sat there, and that there might be many more men like him in these girls' futures. I wouldn't always be there to protect them, maybe no one would be there. But if they remembered this mantra, maybe Krishna would be there.

The two girls took my explanation gravely and said the mantra again. Little Seetal said to me in English, "Thank you,"

I replied with a warm smile, "You are welcome."

I almost feel like those two girls were the reason I didn't get off the train last night. I was experiencing such fear at the beginning of this journey, fear of being alone, fear of being exploited. Everything had been stripped away from me on this train.

In the process of teaching these girls the mahamantra, I got in touch with the fearlessness in my own heart.


P.S. The next time I travel by train in India alone, First Class only!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Holy Dham

When I first came to Mumbai, all I heard was relentless car-honking, construction hammering, and shouts.

All I saw was trash in gutters, slums, the hollow eyes of beggars.

All I smelled was the sewer, the burn of gasoline.

Over the past month, I have learned to listen to the arati bell, the ocean of voices singing the holy name in unison, the murmur of my own voice chanting on beads.

I have learned to see the gold and brown sheen within the eyes the beggar child, to not let my eyes dart away. I have learned to see the names of God in almost every shop name in this city.

I have learned to smell the richly burning ghee lamps which illuminate the forms of Laxmi Narayan.

I have learned to remember the dozens of names of the people I have met. I have learned to lead a kirtan even when I'm nervous and I don't believe in myself.

I have learned to let go, receive, surrender.

I seem to have found the holy dham within this city of Mumbai. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lighting the Match



I've just come back from one of the most intense festival experiences of my life. I still feel the energy buzzing in my hands and feet, I'm still wide-eyed, stunned.

This afternoon I went for lunch here at the Chowpatty temple in Mumbai. Across the aisle, I saw an old acquaintance from South Africa who was visiting the temple for one day.

"Bhava Bhakti, there is this Ganesh Visarjan festival this evening, it's going to be crazy," I said, "Millions of people parade down to Chowpatty Beach to immerse gigantic deities of Ganesh into the Arabian Sea. Tonight is the finale and it's right here outside the temple. You wanna go?"

With such an intense festival, I honestly thought she would shrink away from the invitation. To my delight, though, she replied, "Yes, that sounds awesome!"

"Really? It's intense. Millions of people," I repeated. I almost felt like I was now trying to convince myself not to go.

"No worries," she said.

"And anyways, we'll just stand at the edge, just to see," I said. We both nodded in agreement to just stand on the edge.

Evening fell. Just as we were about to head out, a senior brahmachari (monk) of the temple, Radha Kunda Prabhu, who I also know on friendly terms, called out to me, "Bhakti lata, the Visarjan is going on!"

"Yes, yes! We're going!"

Bhava Bhakti and I headed out onto the packed streets, the energy washing over us in a sudden tidal wave. Oboes and snare drums saturated every molecule of air, the people milling about in rivers. The night seemed to pulse. Bhava and I laughed, catching the excitement in the air, and held onto each other's hands tight, moving further into the streets. We had only a faint idea where we were going.

Suddenly, we caught sight of four brahmacharis from the temple, including Radha Kunda Prabhu, all walking with purpose towards Chowpatty Beach. "Hey," I said to Bhava, "Let's follow them!"

So we followed them secret-agent style through the crowds, stifling our laughter and keeping a distance. Suddenly, a wooden shoe of one of the brahmacharis fell off. He turned around to fetch it and the brahmacharis all saw us and we all laughed. Not-so-secret agents.

In unspoken agreement, we became a part of their crew, following at a respectful distance. They would often look behind to check on us.

We all dove deeper and deeper into the whorls of people. I took deep, deep breaths, imprinting the colors and sights and sounds in my memory.

Trucks brimming with people, bright white lights, parades, calls on the microphone of "Ganapati Bapa - " And everyone in the streets would respond, "MORIYA!"

"Mangal Murti - "

"MORIYA!"

I grabbed Bhava's hand and, following the brahmacharis, we dove right into the thickest part of the crowd of thousands and thousands of people on Chowpatty Beach.

Lo and behold, we could now see the giant deities of Ganesh, slowly sinking into the Arabian Sea. We stopped moving to take it all in. The sight was surreal. The crowd of thousands had an eerie quiet to it, almost muffling out the deafening sounds of the city. Boats glided across the black water, weaving through the deities. Men swimming near the deities were stained with a  red powder all over their bodies. I surveyed the entire Bay, letting my eyes sweep from one end to the other, taking in the glittering skyscrapers and oceans of people.

Suddenly I felt the push of the crowd and I let out a yelp. So did Bhava. Immediately the brahmacharis surrounded us and cleared the way. "Follow," Radha Kunda Prabhu said. We made our way out of the crowd, and whenever the crowd would kind of push in, the brahmacharis behind us held out their arms and glared. They were like tough older warrior brothers.

When at last we emerged from the thickest part of the crowd, I let out my breath, "Holy holy moly," Bhava and I held each other's hands and walked behind the brahmacharis once again, looking at each other wide-eyed and talking about what we had just experienced.

We made our way through the buzzing streets once again to the temple. When we reached the wrought iron gates, we called out to the brahmacharis, "Thank you! Thank you!" And they smiled and folded their palms to us.

Bhava and I talked in the courtyard in exultation, letting the insanity of the experience sink in. There was no way on earth we would have ever dived that deep into the Visarjan festival without having followed the brahmacharis.

And what a sight, what a sight. Possibly once in a lifetime.

I now write this in my room, and even after writing this post I'm still buzzing. In the distance I can hear the music and the drums that saturate the city of Mumbai tonight. I am meditating on the prayers I made on the beach, praying for my enthusiasm for spiritual life to revive.

Well, I think the match just got lit.

(painting by DeviantArt) 

Monday, September 17, 2012

day 17: stirring the coals

Today is day 17 of my 30 day X-ray. And today is my final day in what I call the kingdom of Radhadesh - at the castle, nestled within the rolling hills and forests of Belgium. So right now I am gazing upon the landscape of my time here.

For the past several months I have experienced a deep kind of stuckness in my life. Like, the fire had gone out deep inside. I had all the right answers to all the questions you could ever ask - what do you want to do in life? what's your purpose? why are you a devotee? etc. - and yet I felt no fire, no zeal, not really. 

But travel has stirred up my spirits, like someone has been stirring the coals inside my heart. Being here in Radhadesh has gently stirred the coals. Many days I experienced pieces of pain rise to the surface, pieces of stuckness, and I felt grateful to let them be and let them go. 

Now that it's the evening of my departure, I feel such a deep warmth in my chest. It's a physical experience. I feel as though my heart has warmed through long walks through the woods, beautiful interactions with friends and devotees, really, really good food, and living within the loving glance of the deities here, Radha Gopinath. 

I feel that everyone has been so patient with me, and thus I have been patient with myself. I have lost track of time. I honestly couldn't tell you right now how many days I've been here. Each day has been a jewel that has lead to the next.   

Little flames are just now starting to flicker to life. I feel sad to be leaving, I truly do. I will miss this place, this sanctuary where I have connected with my own self again through patience and acceptance. 

Tomorrow I fly to Mumbai, India, and I honestly have NO idea what to expect or what's in store. I have NO plan, none, other than to learn how to love. That was my gameplan when I came to Radhadesh, and just look at the magic that unfolded. 

And maybe, just maybe, with some more gentle stirring as I continue in my adventures, the flames will stoke up to a blazing fire in my heart. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Shelter

In my life I have only vaguely understood why in Vaishnava tradition there is so much focus on the feet - how we surrender to the feet of the Lord, feet of the spiritual master, feet of the devotees. Feet are worshipable.

Um, why?

Just a short time ago, I got to stay at the Bhakti Center in New York City for a couple days. The first morning of my visit, I got to chant japa meditation in front of the deities of Radha Muralidhara. That morning I felt so raw and exposed in my faults and offenses, so stripped of my pride. Looking at Radha or Krishna's face almost felt too direct, too bold. So I had a curious experience - my eyes just kept returning to Muralidhara's feet.

There was something so safe about remaining there, like being held in an embrace.

Even now, when I'm in kirtan or I'm chanting japa, my mind often turns to the beautiful feet of Muralidhara. And I experience shelter.

(photo by Ravi Kishor)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

what is love? - a vlog post

I once heard that life is not so much the answers that we get but the questions that we live in.

Today I decided to venture around the Lower East Side of Manhattan to ask the most timeless and - in my opinion - the most important question ever.

So I ask you: what is love?

[if you don't see the vlog post below, click through to here: http://youtu.be/FhdbJ1h9PIw]


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On the Precipice


About four years ago, I ventured into an ancient, mystical village in India called Varsana. Palaces, temples, and shrines adorn the hills like so many jewels. In one particular temple, I found a stick of incense on the floor.

I tucked the incense into my journal, waiting for the special moment to let it burn. 

In my current upheaval of moving out, I came upon that stick of incense. And so just now, 2:13am on August 21st, I placed a flame to the incense and I am now watching it burn. Scrolls of smoke dance into the air. I am mesmerized and quiet. The unique fragrance brings me to faraway lands and faraway memories.  

Four years later, in four hours I shall embark once again upon a journey into the world. 

My life as I've known it has been packed away into boxes and carried away into storage. I am equipped with only a suitcase and backpack; these two bags shall contain the elements of my life until next April. 

I'm still in disbelief. 

I feel as though I'm standing on the edge of a precipice, like one of the mountains I stood upon in Varsana that overlooks a vast landscape of villages that stretch into the horizon. The breezes from up here twine around my body, the echoes of the mountains call me to jump, jump. 

Jump. Krishna is your parachute.  

Service, adventure, the holy name, and love is calling.  


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Birthday Party for God


(photo by Damodar Rati)

The clock is ticking down to midnight. I approach the glowing temple - I see hundreds of people inside all singing to the thrum of drums, and many more crowd outside on the verandah, peering in.

The time is coming! The curtains will open soon! I dash to the doors and slip inside.

I stand at the back in a pocket of space, exchanging grins with some friends. Suddenly, someone flips off the lights, which plunges the templeroom into darkness. Now all we can see is the glow that seeps around the curtains of the altar, which dimly illuminates the sea of people with upturned faces.

I can't stay at the back. No way.

I catch sight of a friend, and with a huge grin I motion my head towards the altar. "Let's go!" I say. Her eyes widen and she smiles back. I grab her hand and we weave our way through the densely packed crowds, all the way... all the way to the very heart of the templeroom.

The anticipation of hundreds of people to see the Lord washes around me like deep ocean currents.

Suddenly, three men emerge from behind the curtains and place conch shells to their lips. The sound reverberates like trumpets through the night and hundreds of voices rise in response.

Midnight has arrived. 

And when at last, at last.... at last the curtains swish open, hands rise to the sky in surrender, the entire templeroom is filled with cries of exhilaration and joy, every atom of my being seems to be ringing with awe. I raise my own arms. I feel as though a tidal wave of beauty is crashing over and around me.

I fall to the ground in obeisance. Cool marble tingles beneath my hands.

When I rise, I take in the breathtaking form of Radha and Krishna, bedecked with flowers and silks. So begins the midnight arati, the most spectacular kirtan of the year, for midnight on the 8th day of the waxing moon was the moment that Lord Krishna was born.

Just when I think I'm getting a little too overwhelmed with the sound and the heat and the crowds, I look over to see a group of women dancing with zero inhibition. Zero. So I head on over and jump in to the fantastic fray! The dancing spreads and spreads until the entire templeroom of people is dancing and singing at the top of our lungs. I experience all barriers, all judgments, all sins, all pain dissolve. We simply lose ourselves to the bliss and celebration of Krishna and His holy name.

We're throwing a birthday party for God - how can it get any better than this?



(photos by Jivana Wilhoit)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Wisdom of a Stranger

I sit on the porch of the Krishna House in Gainesville, reading. I look up from my book to the quiet street and see a man walk by. Something about his face speaks of such sadness, such... sorrow. I feel this urge in me to somehow walk out to him and hand him a plate of sanctified food, prasadam. Or ask him a question.


Something.


But he keeps walking by, and I feel very shy. How silly! Who am I to run out and start bombarding some stranger with food and questions?

He starts to disappear around a corner.

But a voice murmurs to me in my heart: When will this moment come again?

I put aside my book and dash off the porch, running towards the man. I call out, "Excuse me! Excuse me!"

The man turns, surprised to see a girl running towards him. "Yes?" he says gruffly.

When I reach him I say, "May I ask you a question?"

"Is this about parking?"

I take in his uniform, which I realize is a polo shirt which has embroidered on its front Parking Attendant. "Oh, no, this isn't about parking," I say.

"Then what? What's your question?"

I take in a deep breath. I look him in the eyes and say, "May I ask you what you feel is the purpose of your life?"

He furrows his eyebrows. "I need to work,"

"Work?"

"Yes, I need to go to work, I don't have time for this,"

"So you feel the purpose of your life is to work," I clarify for him.

"No," he says sardonically, "The purpose of my life is to be happy and make others happy,"

My eyes light up in wonder.

The man finishes, "Now if you'll excuse me I need to pay my rent,"

I fold my palms to him, smiling. "Thank you for your answer," And we part ways. I head back to the porch, reveling in the moment.

This parking attendant, who is a complete stranger to me, knows the purpose of his life. Just like that. The answer is clean and clear. His soul knows. I realize that we all know. The purpose of our lives is at the tip of each of our tongues. No need to force or debate or convince.

As the parking attendant put it so eloquently, "Be happy and make others happy."

Be happy and serve.

Something is amiss in this equation, though. I return to my spot on the porch to ponder. In my experience of this man, he was miserable. He knew and could speak the purpose of his life, and yet I did not experience him as aligned with his words.

I realize that to the degree that we're not aligned with our purpose, we cover it over with work. To the degree that we are not connected with the source of true happiness - God, Krishna - then we cover it over with work, work, work. Pleasure. Distractions.

I offer my respects to the man I met in the street today. He has taught me the simplicity of knowing the purpose of my life, and the lifelong adventure and challenge to align my knowing with my being.

And if I see this man again, the parking attendant, I think I shall go out and offer him a plate of prasadam.

(I feel moved to mention that this post is very much inspired by the Satvatove 3 course that I participated in this past weekend, which is facilitated by Dhira Govinda dasa (David Wolf) and Malini dasi (Marie Glasheen). I thank them for their guidance and compassion.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rebellion

Seed of Devotion.

I've loved the name of my blog since I created it over five years ago. Not only is it easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and sounds nice, the significance is beautiful and personal - this title is my name (Bhakti lata bij) translated from the ancient Sanskrit language.

Over the years in a natural evolution, I began to focus and share solely my realizations about my spiritual journey on Seed of Devotion.

Then, a couple weeks ago, I began to feel trapped by the name of this blog.

You could say I have felt trapped by my own name.

Bhakti - "Devotion".

I've been going through a period of rebelliousness and questions on my spiritual path - it's uncomfortable and painful, believe me. And every time I came to post on this blog, I felt physically nauseous at the thought of forcing myself to write something "devotional". What's more, I felt sick at the thought that people may think I'm so devotional (gag) because after all, that's the name of this blog.

Seed of Devotion, right?

So in all honesty, I created my sister blog and writing experiment, 30 Day X-ray, as my way of breaking free of the bounds I've created for myself. The premise of 30 Day X-ray is to write every single day for 30 days, an "x-ray" of my life, so to speak. I wanted to give myself the freedom to write about anything I chose, from umbrellas to romance to God.

Day 23 into my experiment and I just have to laugh.

Seriously, I've been chuckling for the past couple days.

All that I really want to write about on 30 Day X-ray is my spiritual journey.

[snort] Some rebellion.

Ultimately, spirituality is about being real, man. Just be REAL. Be HONEST. After all, isn't authenticity the seed of devotion?

So whether on 30 Day X-ray or on Seed of Devotion, I give myself permission to write about umbrellas and romance and God. After all, devotion to God is at my very essence, that is the nature of my soul. And your soul, too. There's no escaping bhakti.

Thank God.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Lollipop Fortune

Christmas Eve 2011, Mexico: The Santa-shaped pinata did not stand a chance against 30 youth all eager for candy. Sure enough, as soon as we saw the slightest sign of breakage, a mad rush attacked the Santa! We piled on top of each other in a giant doggie-pile. Candy flew everywhere. 

When we at last sorted out all our limbs and had claimed victory over candy, I held some odd Mexican tamarind candies and lollipops. 

Suddenly, a girl noticed that on her hand-shaped lollipop something was written in Spanish. The girl called me over and I translated the roughly-hewn words. A fortune! These were fortune-telling lollipops. Oh, this was too awesome.  

I opened up my lollipop. 

Lo and behold, this is what my fortune said: 


Translated: You will know love.

When I read it, I yelled in delight. The girls all crowded around for a glimpse, and I boasted a triumphant smile.

"You guys!! I will know love!"

Whether that's God, a husband, children, friends, or a favorite pair of shoes, I will know love. That settles it, there is nothing to worry about in life, nothing, zero. After all, what is life without love? My lollipop fortune has revealed my destiny.

I would've saved the lollipop out of reverence and joy, but it was too tasty. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Launch of Blossom of Devotion and Sri Brahma Samhita


Dear Reader, 

I feel shy. 

I am about to publish a new project/goal as well as a debut music track to the public, to all of you!

I have held off on publishing this for weeks now, I kid you not. There's something about sharing your dreams and your art with the world that feels so scary - it could get cut down or worse, dismissed. So I first approached friends and family to receive their blessings.

So with fortified courage, I present to you my project Blossom of Devotion, at blossomofdevotion.com


I created this website in dedication to my dream to study in Mayapur this fall. At the renowned Mayapur Academy, I shall learn the ancient and profound art of deity worship. The Academy program lasts for four months, and I shall graduate with a Diploma of Archana. With your blessings and support, we can make this a dream a reality.

I warmly invite you to visit blossomofdevotion.com and if you feel so inspired, to offer $10 or more for this cause under the Support page.

Second of all, I would like to introduce my debut music track, Sri Brahma Samhita. My friend Devananda and I worked for weeks in the studio to produce this track, and we had many, many learning curves. What an adventure in being an artist!

At last, we offered this music to the Lord on the altar one special morning, and now would like to offer it to you.

Please visit bhaktilata.bandcamp.com to purchase this track and give whatever you feel inspired to give. Any amount offered over $5 will go directly to support my endeavor to study in India this fall, as well as to support my attendance of Kirtan Mela in Germany this September.


Thank you so much for reading, listening, blessing, and supporting. I am honored by your kind consideration. 

Sincerely,

Your servant,

Bhakti lata dasi 

Friday, June 1, 2012

launch of 30 Day X-ray


I have been writing for Seed of Devotion for over five years. You'd think that I have no problem opening my heart up to total strangers. On the contrary, sharing my heart with integrity is one of the greatest challenges of my life, and precisely why I keep up Seed of Devotion. How am I to grow and expand my spirit if I don't challenge myself?

My theme is to express myself that anyone and everyone could get me - from little kids to elders, from Americans to Tanzanians. But when I hit dry spells, sometimes I feel that no one gets me. I feel lonely and frustrated.

Sometimes I just want to write, write, write, to feel the blessed freedom to write for the sake of writing for me. If I sound eloquent, great. If I would silly and awkward, wonderful.

So in a step of evolution, I have decided to set out on an adventure! I have opened a blog called 30 Day X-ray, which I shall post on every single day for 30 days straight. An X-ray of my life, so to speak.

I invite all of you, my dear readers, to check out 30dayxray.blogspot.com.

Adventures await.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Standing Up

In Hawaii, white people are the minority. There is actually a derogatory term for them: haole. The word could be said in a familiar and sometimes joking way, but other times in cutting spite.

One day I was going on a fieldtrip with my eighth grade class to a local park. I usually sit in the middle of the bus - not too nerdy in the front, not too popular in the back - but when I boarded the bus for this field trip, I decided to sit a little further back than usual. My friend Kristen sat next to me.

When the bus revved up and we pulled out onto the highway, the boisterous and popular Hawaiian kids began to loudly poke fun at Kristen, calling her a haole, laughing loudly. Kristen and I kept trying to converse normally, but my anger began to rush to my face.

I turned around in my seat. With flint in my eyes, I said with steel: "Stop making fun of Kristen."

Some of the kids did a kind of "Oooooooo,"

I turned back around. Kristen said, "You didn't have to do that,"

"It's just not right," I said.

But then the kids started in on me. They knew I was a Hare Krishna - I had come to school in a sari once or twice. They knew it was a tradition from India, and so they started making Native American "hi-yah, hi-yah" sounds.

Immediately I felt - they're mixing up the traditions on purpose.

On the moving bus, I stood up in my seat and turned around to face them. My nose was tingling, almost numb, as well as my hands, which were balled into fists. My face was hot. My voice rose over the entire bus as I said, "Stop making fun of my religion,"

One of the kids shot back something but I said more, "You don't even know what you're talking about."

The whole bus fell silent. Students swiveled in their seats. I kept expecting a teacher to come and break it up, but all was still.

I went on, "First you're making fun of Kristen, now you're making fun of me, and you don't even know, you don't even know what you're talking about! No respect! No respect." I turned back around and jammed back down into my seat, breathing heavily. Kristen was quiet.

The bus remained silent until we pulled into our destination.

I quickly got off the bus to go cry somewhere on a cement curb. Kristen came with me. I don't ever remember a teacher coming to ask what had happened, to mediate at all. What I do remember is that one or two of the Hawaiian kids came over to apologize - to Kristen and to me.

One of them even asked me if I wanted to come play tennis with her.

I took some deep breaths and decided to give it a shot. I sucked at it. But the girl and I traded smiles. Her name was Malia.

Over a decade later, this experience is seared into my memory. I am reflecting on what it means to stand up for what I believe in. Literally, stand up.

And tonight I wonder, what do I stand for? What gets every match inside of my body lit and I rise to my feet?

I am in that question.

"I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live." - Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Inspiration - To Breathe In

On Friday afternoon, I arrived into New Vrindavan for the annual Festival of Inspiration. I felt strange. I felt as though my mind and heart was riddled with faultfinding in every person I saw. I felt raw because I was finding fault with myself. 

That evening, I got to interact with my spiritual master, Radhanath Swami, for the first time in an entire year. He glowed with kindness and love. We spoke for about five minutes, and when I walked away, I felt reflective. 

I was tidying my bunk on the bus a little later, feeling a little hopeless about all of my faultfinding. But then I wondered, "What would Radhanath Swami do? What would HE say is the antidote to the poison of faultfinding?"

Glorifying. Appreciation. 

Suddenly a huge grin blossomed on my face.  I decided that I would dare to share my experience of someone's beautiful essence with at least 10 people, and then keep going so as to lose track. 

The next day, I had some trouble in my quest. I felt mired in my faultfinding, and it took me awhile to muster up courage to share my experience of someone's inspiring essence. To share my appreciation with my parents, who were visiting from out of town, was a special challenge.

But once I did, I began to pick up speed and more speed, to the point that appreciation was all I wanted to say! I began to feel connected to strangers, even. Words of appreciation would flow from my mouth before I could even think. 

On Mother's Day, I filled an entire booklet in my appreciation of my mother. And I kid you not, after I had finished I felt that I could have filled up an entire other booklet. 

So this Sunday morning when the Festival drew to a close, I sat on the empty, quiet bus, writing in my journal. I reflected that I felt as though I had taken a deep, deep breath of fresh air. 

I felt inspired.

Suddenly, I smiled. The definition of "inspire" is "to breathe in."

I feel as though I made a choice to breathe in the love around me and realize just how much love I can give every moment. Just as we have no choice but to breathe to continue to live, I believe that we get to make the choice every day to live an inspired life. And I discovered that the simplest (but not always the easiest) way to start the flow of love is to appreciate, to glorify. 

So go! Get inspired! 


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

3am Pilgrimage

I am beginning to write this blog post at 2:39 in the morning. I hear the heater whooshing throughout the house, and I sit in a pool of soft light in my kitchen.

It's like this at the conclusion of almost every school semester - all the tension built up over months just whooshes out of me, and I end up feeling hummingly quiet and peaceful at some crazy hour in the night. I just want to write.

At times like these my mind wanders to my moments in India in the holy lands of Vrindavan and Mayapur. I feel as though I'm actually there.

In Vrindavan, I smell the tang of smoke and cow dung, a smell like no other place on earth. Temples rise from horizons in the rose-colored haze. In Mayapur, I gaze at a universe of stars, and the moon shines down upon fields of banana leaves and gilds them silver.

I sit here at my kitchen table in my pajamas, so far away from the holy lands, and yet I am so close. So close.

Vrindavan




Mayapur





Friday, March 30, 2012

Chills


Chills are running all up and down my body as I gaze upon this picture of Srila Prabhupad.

I whisper the words, "You are my refuge, Srila Prabhupad. Thank you." 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Bliss of Devotion: Bharatanatyam


Bharatanatyam (bha-ra-ta-nat-yam) is an ancient Indian classical dance form. I have been trying to write a blog post about my love of this dance for years. Literally years - I have written several posts from years ago that are still in draft form.

And yet in writing this series on bliss, I knew that I needed to write about bharatanatyam. Maybe writing about my love of this art form is such a challenge because it's so close to my heart.

So I shall begin at where all great love stories begin - the moment the soul sets on fire. In my very first dance class at the age of 19, I knew I would be dancing this ancient art form for the rest of my life. Even when I faced foot surgery and was forced to stop my studies for two years, my fire never died.

The other part of my love story was when I donned my jewelry and dance costume for the first time. I transformed into a queen. It's not every day that a 21st century girl gets to be a queen.

When I wear the temple jewelry of a dancer and invoke the presence of the gods, I know that performing bharatanatyam is truly like no other experience on earth.

On the flipside, consider that hours, months, and years of a dancer's life are poured into those 10 (sometimes 20) minutes of a performance. I personally feel that there is no way for me to reach any level of excellence without experiencing utter devotion to God in my practice. I am always seeking the perfection in my lines, my movements, my expression, and yet I never, ever reach it. So humbling and so beautiful.

For me, there is simply no other reason to dance than to serve God, to offer my body, mind, and soul to Krishna.


I offer my love and respect to Anapayini dasi (front and center above, below), who is my dance guru, for without her the fire would not be burning within my heart. 









(watch this dance on youtube:  http://youtu.be/wpPDRqe5AV0)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Bliss of Devotion: Singing

Butterflies set in days before I was scheduled to sing for the 12 Hour Kirtan event in Miami this weekend. I felt nervous. Unprepared. My head knew I was singing as a service, but my heart was resisting. Year after year I go through this queasiness. Sigh. Would the Lord give me the shakti to lead others in a meditation on the holy name?

The morning before my fateful hour arrived, I sat inside the templeroom quite calmly. Inside, though, I was frantically praying: Krishna, please allow me to sing with love, humility, and soul. Allow me to sing from my heart as a service. I can't do this without Your grace.  

When I settled in front of the microphone and sang the first mantra, an unearthly peace washed over my whole body. The butterflies went away. The only thing existing was the holy name and those absorbed in the holy name.

When the deep and soulful kirtan came to a close, I experienced this: Singing is my bliss.

So unexpectedly, singing is my bliss. I feel so much joy when singing that sometimes I smile so big that I must resist the urge to laugh uncontrollably, especially when I connect with the other musicians.

Leading kirtan is such an enigma to me - I tend to always feel so shy about singing, and yet I uncover so much bliss when I do. I feel so deeply absorbed in the holy name and being present, here in the moment, of service to everyone.

My next prayers, I think, will definitely include: My dear Lord, when leading a kirtan please protect me from the giggles.



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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Bliss of Devotion: Kirtan

The Bliss of Devotion: Kirtan

"Follow your bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Last summer I was given the honor of being interviewed for the documentary Women of Bhakti, which will be premiering this summer.





(to watch it full screen: http://youtu.be/rhXgUjwnGr0)

Something magical happened for me this afternoon as I watched this trailer over and over. Bliss entered my heart! In the minute and forty-two seconds of this trailer, I felt as though my soul was resonating with a warm hum.

So for the next several posts, I feel inspired to share my bliss with you all. I'm not talking peace, enjoyment, or a thrill. I'm talking bliss - an experience that resonates all the way to the soul and throughout the body.

I'll begin with kirtan.

Since I was born, the way I have been given to connect with the Lord with love is through chanting His holy names. Last summer, amidst the rolling mountains of West Virginia in a spiritual community called New Vrindavan, I attended a magnificent celebration of the holy name called The 24 Hour Kirtan.

In the afternoon of the first day, a woman by the name of Acyuta dasi began to sing. I let myself get swept away in the music. I danced with other women in circles, and we played off each other in exquisite moves and expressions. Every note of the kirtan and every beat of the drum we followed with our bodies. Our smiles encompassed our entire face as we sang the holy name.

When Acyuta lifted her voice into an undulating improvisation, the drummers climbed in rhythm and we dancers began to spin and spin, our skirts rippling around us like blossoming flowers. The third or fourth time this crescendo of drums and voices and sheer energy rose in the kirtan, I was spinning and spinning and spinning. I raised my arms to the sky in surrender.

Euphoria washed over and around me in waves. Every bone in my body and every fiber in my being was singing and singing. I felt as though great shafts of light were playing through me and around me and the holy name was whirling around me in golden ribbons.

The words kept whirling through me: "There must be a God, and I must be a spirit soul. There is no way I could feel this kind of bliss without God. This is it. This is it. God must be real. And the holy name must be for real. This is my bliss. This is my bliss."

I am realizing that God is beyond vows and austerity, God transcends any particular path, God is beyond definition.

Loving God is about bliss.

So follow your bliss.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Humbled

About two weeks ago, I felt deeply provoked with anger, this white-hot rage.

I was in the computer lab at school. I opened my journal to write and write and write - I allowed myself to express the most hateful, spiteful words. I did not want to get up and leave the lab and actually I felt grateful to be surrounded by quiet. I felt no need to scream or to sob or run 5 miles. The anger rushed through me in tidal waves and I kept breathing and writing.

I read what I had written in my journal over and over and over. I felt this deep need to share this entry with someone, I needed it to be received by someone who would unequivocally accept my experience. So I transcribed the entry and sent it to my life coach and guide, Malini dasi.

A whole other experience descended upon me to read over the entry with the intention of sharing it. There in the computer lab, I was faced with the anger and hatred and pain in my heart, and that another human being would be witness to this.

Silent tears poured down my face.

In my experience of anger, there's a fall-out. And sure enough, the fall-out hit me as I picked up my things and headed out to my next class. I cried the whole way. I felt devastated. I felt smothered in that familiar experience - that I'm unlovable, I'm a monster, dangerous, unpredictable.

The next morning, the fall-out was still there. By God's grace, I was given the shelter of watching an Islamic song in praise of Allah. I wept and wept as I watched it over and over again, taking shelter in God's grace, His love and forgiveness. I surrendered my pain. I watched the song until the tears ceased to flow.

I felt clean. I feel clean.

From that fateful evening two weeks ago, I have felt so deeply humbled to experience my frailties. I am also realizing that lust, anger, greed, pride, illusion, envy and hate can never be transcended by being shoved away, pushed away, run away from.

I am finding that the only shelter is to embrace my frailties and allow Krishna to carry me.

My dear Lord, please carry me. In this vast ocean of pain, I am drowning and I can't swim. Please carry me. Only within Your arms do I find peace.

"But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form - to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have." - Bhagavad Gita, 9.22



link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dhwdEtO5fJE

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Song of the Gopis


"Tomorrow I will be visiting the holy land of Sri Vrindavan for the very first time," I told Radhanath Swami. We were sitting in his room on a bright morning in Mumbai. 

"The first time?" he inquired. I had grown up as a devotee of Krishna, and I imagine he found it surprising that I was 21 before I had finally come to make this pilgrimage.  

"Yes, Maharaj," I replied. "Would you please offer me some guidance on how I should approach the holy land?"

Radhanath Swami pondered for several long moments. Then his eyes held mine and he said in a deep tone, "Seek out those who live pure lives. You can socialize anywhere in the world, but the holy land is special. So seek the essence in your association." 


The very next day, the romantic vision of the holy land that I had grown up with came crashing all around me in a cold shock. One person who saved me was my friend Manjari. I lived with her for a month and a half, and on that fateful night of arrival, she welcomed me into the heart of Vrindavan.

Manjari is a beautiful young woman who long ago committed to the path of celibacy and has dedicated her entire being to the service of her spiritual master and to God. She is also an artist and a singer.

Many mornings, in the silky quiet, I would wake up to the soft, deep voice of Manjari in the room next to mine. She would be singing Gopi Gita, or "The Song of the Gopis". She would light two or three candles and sing to several sacred pictures. Then when she finished singing the Gopi Gita, she would fall into the resonant tones of chanting the Hare Krishna mantra.

During the day she would pour her soul onto canvas. For hours upon hours on end, she would immerse herself in the scene where Krishna comes to beg forgiveness from the gopis after they offer such heartfelt prayers.

I offer my deep gratitude to Manjari. She showed me a glimpse of Vrindavan that I never saw with my material eyes.



***

Below is a simple video I created that I have been meaning to publish for many months now in her honor.



Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lullaby

"I am drowning in this ocean of misery, my dear Lord. Please rescue me."

This is a line from one of my favorite songs, Dukher Sagore. I have sought solace in this song for many, many years, even when I was just listening to an old tape recording and didn't even know what the words meant. You could say that this sounds like such a dire prayer, but as time goes on I experience more and more peace and surrender in this bhajan whenever I sing it. Curious, huh?

Last night when I stepped inside of the temple, the muscles in my face went soft. In the winter quiet and stillness, I let my fingers flow over the keys of the harmonium. The curtains swung open and I offered obeisance to my Lords, Sri Radha Shyamasundar. I sang Dukher Sagore as an offering, a lullaby, and quiet and stillness surrounded me like a deep lake that mirrors the sky.

Maybe I find such solace in this bhajan because when I come before the Lord with soft eyes and a soft voice in prayer, I allow the Lord to rescue me. 


I was given the opportunity to sing for the 24 Hour Kirtan in New Vrindavan this past summer. I decided to sing Hare Krishna in the melody of this song, and below is a portion of that video.

I poured every moment and memory of lullaby into the kirtan.



or click here

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Grief

Three devotees left this world last night in a car accident. I knew all three - Tim, Yadupati, and Nitai.

I have had a hard time catching my breath all day. I feel dizzy. I've walked through my day here but not here, like my head is floating above my body. I've paced the house, my mind scattered into shards of glass thoughts. I have felt and heard my heart pumping all day. I want to be around people and I want to be alone. Prayers don't come to mind. Only memories and images.

This evening I left for the kirtan memorial at the temple, unable to bear being alone in my grief any more. I entered into the softly lit templeroom, the room resounding from wall to wall with the beat of the mridanga drum and hundreds of voices.

I settled in close. I closed my eyes and felt my tornado of confusion and sadness and anger all twisting and whirling about inside of me. The kirtan kept building. At last, at last, my body responded in a way my mind never could -

I raised my arms.

The only relief from the tornado was to raise my arms. Surrender. I don't know, Krishna, I don't know. I don't even know if You exist, but I surrender anyway.

When the curtains opened for all of us to receive the darshan of Gaura Nitai, Radhe Shyam, and Krishna Balaram, I felt the urge to cover my head and go right up to the altar. I leaned up against the wall in front of Gaura Nitai. I felt so fragile. I realized that my whole body was trembling.

Images of Tim, Yadupati, and Nitai kept flashing through my mind. All loved kirtan. All loved to serve. The three of them were probably off on some service venture when the Lord took them.

I remember Tim in kirtan - he seemed to be a man who lived and breathed off of kirtan, whether the crowd was in the hundreds or just the two of us singing on campus at Krishna Lunch. Yadupati was an older gurukuli who was also addicted to kirtan - I rarely saw him without a drum. I saw him always within the whorl of the holy name.

Nitai was a dear friend whom my family and I have known for many years, and he was also a godbrother, his face so effulgent. I remember him always - always - talking about Radhanath Swami and his next scheme to somehow or other serve his beloved guru. His smile and enthusiasm was contagious.

And now they're gone.

Gone.

I have just returned from the temple to write this. I do not know where to go from here. I just feel this need to write, to express grief.

Śrī Chaitanya Mahāprabhu asked, "Of all kinds of distress, what is the most painful?" Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya replied, "Apart from separation from the devotee of Kṛṣṇa, I know of no unbearable unhappiness." 
- CC Madhya 8.248


Tim



Yadupati


Nitai




Monday, January 30, 2012

Illuminate Me

I have sat before the Gaura Nitai deities in my living room for two and a half years to chant the holy name. I strive to wake up before the sun rises (recently this is quite rare!) and place myself before the altar. I'm usually half-awake.

For the first time in years, and maybe this only happens in the winter, this morning I noted something special. I was murmuring the holy name as the sun rose, and slowly, so slowly, light from the window began to directly fall upon the golden forms of Gaura Nitai. The light was soft and gentle and illuminated Their smiles.

I sat in wonder. 

I thought of The Sunrise Song (Udilo Aruna); the Bengali song describes Lord Chaitanya as He rises at dawn to give the holy name to all.

So for a little while, I set aside my beads and brought out my deep-throated harmonium to sing. 

"To bring joy to all souls, the Holy Name has descended into this world to remove the darkness of ignorance and to shine in the sky of the heart."

Chills rolled through my body the entire time I sang. When the last note of the harmonium rung out, my body tingled. Oh holy name, I whispered in my mind, please shine in the sky of my heart. 


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Adventure of the Soul



I write this in a mountain town of Mexico called Uruapan. As the Winter Bus Tour draws to a close, I reflect upon the journey that 28 of us have embarked upon throughout this magnificent country.

I am quieted.

I thought that when I boarded our bus on that now-faraway December night, I would be adventuring out into familiar pyramids, waterfalls, and beaches, then exploring far-flung villages to buy gifts and lots of earrings.And of course, throw in some kirtan for spiritual fun! As in previous years, I assumed a great outward explosion or curiosity and wonder.

Instead, the journey has turned inward. The wonders I thought I would be reeling in have lost their luster to me. It´s strange.

The true jewel has become the holy name. We sing kirtan every night for sometimes hours, and I teach sometimes hundreds of people to dance. I have witnessed miracles blossom before my very eyes - people weep in kirtan and smiles of the soul blossom on faces young and old. I have spoken with several people in my limited Spanish, and the words that come from their mouths are, "I am at peace. My heart is free! This is food for my soul."

I am humbled. This is my fourth Winter Bus Tour, but I realize that I´ve never dived into this country the way I have for the past several weeks. Some days I have almost felt disppointed to realize that Mexico is not about the pyramids or the waterfalls or beaches. And actually, I have not bought a single pair of earrings (oh my!).

Mexico is about the people; people who move my heart in a way no other people on earth have - people who have never heard of Krishna but as soon as they see His picture and chant His name, they instantly fall in love. Even the woman who collects highway tolls asked our bus driver today who Krishna is (since our bus is painted with the words Krishna Culture Festival Tour). We gave her a mantra card.

I am surrounded by people who simply love God and want to know Him and joyously chant His holy name.

Maybe because the holy name is so profound, I have found myself questioning the very foundations of Krishna Consciousness. The externals of my life seem to have been stripped away. I wonder at the purpose of service, and I question every direction in life I thought I was heading into. Some days I have retreated deep inside my heart, grasping and sometimes weeping for answers.

It´s a strange life I live - a day filled with questions while the night filled with answers. 

I have found that each morning that I wake up on my swaying bunk, I wonder what the day and evening shall bring. What adventure shall the holy name usher into hundreds of lives... and into my own?

To write is to dare the soul. So write.