Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Critical Moment

In the valley community of Nova Gokula in Brazil, electricity had been out all evening. I had just put my journal aside for the night and was about to blow out my candle. I looked at the flimsy column of wax and felt a flutter of unease. How easy to knock this candle over, I thought. I carefully waved my hand to extinguish the little flame and the room fell dark.

My mind was drifting off to sleep when bloodcurdling screams shattered the night. Shrieks, one after another after another.

I jumped out of bed, flung open my door. Across the way in the other half of the guesthouse, a woman burst from her door, screaming. Powerful orange flames poured from the door and window.

The woman dashed away and up the hill towards the temple.

The candles, I thought.

Immediately, instinctively, I knew that this fire was all-consuming. I gaped in disbelief. Parama Karuna, the gurukuli who owned the guesthouse, had also emerged from his room in his pajamas. It took several moments for the sight to register. Then, “No, no, no!! Senor Supremo, no!” he cried out. He tried to retrieve a water hose, but it was puny. I sensed that even if we had had fire extinguishers, they would have been useless.

I dashed back into my room, heart pounding. I grabbed my purse, chanting beads, passport – go, go, go, stuff my things in my suitcase and drag it out to the lawn. The flames climbed higher and higher and began to devour neighboring rooms. Wooden rafters began to cave and the ceramic roof tiles collapsed in crashes. 

Parama and his wife Katyayani began to dump out mattresses from the rooms. I also grabbed mattresses and whatever else I could. “Oh, Senor Supremo!” Parama kept crying out. He had grown up for some time here in Nova Gokula, Brazil. Only one week before, he and his wife had worked so, so hard to renovate this place as a service to the community. For a week straight they had worked sometimes 15 hours a day, painting, cleaning, buying everything brand new and beautiful.

And now… ashes.

From up the hill at the temple, repeated cries of the conch shell rang out throughout the valley. Help, help. Soon enough, devotees in their pajamas came running, their faces a mixture of shock and determination to help.

I was immobile. I stood at a distance in awe and fear at the awesome sight of the all-devouring inferno. The smoke and flames reached high into the black sky. I was standing so far away but still I could feel the heat on my skin.

I had these moments in the escape and in observing this fire that this is my moment of death. The house is my body, the flames of death are approaching.

The fear goes to the core.

I had had time to save my things tonight, but with death I can save nothing. Nothing. Death is unstoppable, there is nothing and no one for me at that time.

Only Krishna.

Soon enough, I was shaken from my reverie and I dove into the salvage efforts. By the time firefighters arrived, the fire had smoldered down to coals, leaving only a broken shell of what this place used to be.


NOTE: The fire had started from leaving a candle unattended. No one got hurt. 

Parama Karuna and his wife Katyayani are in the process of rebuilding the guesthouse. Their deep intention is to usher in fresh hope and energy to Nova Gokula in service of Srila Prabhupad. 

They will be rebuilding the guesthouse in a similar way as ISKCON's Life Membership program - people can invest in the guesthouse and stay for a portion of the year every year. If you are interested in this investment, please contact Vaikuntha Murti Prabhu at

Friday, January 10, 2014

On Purpose

Last summer, at a high-end salon school in New York City, I received a free haircut.

Hairdressers are famous for getting their clients to talk, aren't they? Amanda was a loving, soothing presence who got me to talk. I had gone to the salon in a purple sari, and so she inquired about my faith and I shared with her about my life, about Krishna.

In return, what Amanda shared with me felt like Paramatma, the Lord in the heart, speaking to me through her.

She shared about life purpose.

She had had a middle school English teacher instruct the class to write out their life purpose. Amanda had replied, "I want to be a hairdresser."

The teacher said, "Yes, but what's your purpose to being a hairdresser?"

"Well... to make people feel loved, nurtured; to feel absolutely beautiful inside and out."

"There you go."

That moment had changed her life.

For three hours, Amanda and I connected while she washed, cut, and styled my hair, her teachers looking on and scrutinizing her work. I felt deeply loved and nurtured by Amanda's gentle hands and thorough work. We were the last to finish for the day, and all the other student stylists exclaimed at my beautiful haircut and style, the teachers were impressed. I felt beautiful inside and out.

If this was Amanda's life purpose, she was living it.

Before I left, I said to Amanda,  "You want to know my life purpose? I want to be the teacher who asks those kinds of questions to people who were like you were in school."

What's the purpose behind being a teacher?

I want to inspire others to move along the path of love - to inquire, search, serve.

So... what's your purpose? 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Missing Puzzle Piece

My parent's deities, Sri Radha Raman, have needed a bath and new clothes for awhile. So this morning I polished Their brass forms with tilak and lemon juice. Cotton balls came away blackish. I dressed Them in fresh clothes. I had actually designed and ordered these clothes five years ago when I had been in Vrindavan, India. 

When at last I placed Sri Radha Raman back upon Their altar, I just sat there and gazed at Their bright faces. They looked so happy, so beautiful. 

I physically felt as though my heart became complete. There was this curious sensation in my chest, like a missing puzzle piece had just been placed there.  

To write is to dare the soul. So write.