Sunday, December 16, 2012

Nonviolent, Local Hero

In town, the news is in your face. The front page shows a death toll and a frantic woman on her cell phone. When I come to town I realize how isolated we are, living in the country. Insulated may be a better word. The event is on our mind, but not 'in our face'.
I observe the people in Winston Salem, recent events hang over them like a shadow.
'Old Salem Tour' was written on what looked like a ski lift ticket, clipped to a man's jacket.
“I see you've taken the tour of old Salem. How did you like it?” This is a friendly town, it's easy and natural to start conversations with strangers.
“They're a very interesting group.” he replied, “Very communal. I wonder how much of their culture is still in place at this time.”
“I've been there myself, walking around talking with the people in their period dress. I think everyone was communal 300 years ago, you kinda had to be.”
“I mean the Moravian culture, have they been able to incorporate it in modern society? You know Andy Griffith, of the Mayberry RFD TV show ?”
“Yeah, great show. From the 60s?”
“I learned today that Andy Griffith was a Moravian. He didn't talk about it or preach about it but you notice in his show that he never carries a gun. That's one of their principles.”
“Yeah, come to think of it that is odd for a Sheriff.”
“In all other cop shows, they use violence to solve problems. They carry guns and use them.”
“Andy Griffith was an actor, did he control the content?”
“He wrote a lot of the scripts. It was his show.”
“I remember, who was that guy, the goofy guy, Don Knotts?”
“Yes, Don Knotts.”
“I remember him getting excited, pulling out a gun and loading it up, but then Andy would say in a calm voice,'Put that thing away. We're gonna try something else here.”
“Yep, using a gun was shown as a reckless, thoughtless act. Recently I've heard that if you eat junk, you'll feel like junk. What we read about or hear about or watch on TV is another form of eating. Media is supplying society with violent entertainment. It's natural that some will turn to violence. It's portrayed as glorious, fun, exciting, entertaining.”
“That's why I've come to town with these books....”, I replied. The discussion went deeper with the new material.
Later that day.....
“Excuse me. I'm showing these books to people with tattoos.”
A man in his mid twenties stopped,”Uh OK.” and accepted a book from me.
“Does this tattoo mean anything?” I pointed to a rose permanently drawn on his arm.
“Yes, it marks a period of transformation in my life.”
“And what was that, if you don't mind sharing?”
“I was able to break my addiction to dangerous drugs.”
“How long have you been free now?”
“Five years.”
“Congratulations! Is this an improvement?”
“Can we say that by practicing self discipline you experience greater freedom?”
“Yes, certainly.”
“We all practice self control. Imagine if you see someone eating a jelly filled doughnut. “I'm bigger than her, I'm just going to take that.”
My new friend laughed at the thought.
“Such a person would not have much freedom. Very soon he'd find himself locked up. There is a wide range of thoughts and actions that we can gain control of . Once we do, we experience freedom beyond our imagination. That's what yoga is about, that's what this book directs us toward.”
“I like the pictures.”
“Perhaps your next tattoo will come from this book if you find it transformational.Transformation goes on for a long time. We have a lot of cleaning to do, it seems endless, but there is a point where bad habits are cleared entirely. At that stage we gain access to a higher platform.”
I hand him another book,”Bhakti is a sanskrit word. It means love. 400 years ago, the author of this book defined love as the highest goal, beyond anything else one could aspire for such as fame, money, physical strength,skills..”
“I agree. There is a girl that I've been seeing, we've been sharing things..”
“Yes, that is a glimpse of what is discussed here, but until we become pure, what starts as love can easily degrade into selfishness.”
He nodded in agreement. I was surprised how thoughtful people are today, sharing wisdom and taking lessons.
That evening, I visited my friends at Kindred Spirits Gift Shop on Trade Street. A variety of bumper stickers were on display, one of them read,”There is no violent solution.”
I thought about our local hero. Folks around here are 'right proud' of Andy Griffith. He's from right up the road in Pilot Mountain. He exhibits the good qualities mentioned in Bhagavad Gita, keeping his cool under pressure, not acting out of anger, being resourceful. He resisted the flow of society to quietly make a subtle point.

“Well good for Andy, sticking to his principles. He made a great show without giving in to society's demands.” I thought,"I can learn something from that."

Met a Christian Today

Steve arrived this morning to install a heating system at the Krishna Road Temple.
"Back at the office, they had no idea what ya'll are about." he said,"I showed Melody your most famous song, My Sweet Lord and told her I used to see you people when I went to Chapel Hill University in the 70s."
He mentioned the robes, drums and cymbals. He also mentioned he is a follower of Jesus Christ. He said this in a kind manner, not at all implying that I had gone astray.
While measuring the building, calculating the load for heating and air conditioning, our conversation touched on music and mutual people we know in the area.
I could sense he wanted to go deeper. I don't like to bombard people with more information than they want.
"Steve, do you read your bible much?"
"No, not really. Sometimes people ask me to speak, like at a funeral or something. I tell them all I know are two verses."
"What are those?"
"Jesus said you should love the lord with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind, and that you should love your neighbor as yourself. That pretty much sums it all up."
Steve appeared to have imbibed that lesson.
"That's all one needs to know about the bible really. I don't care to study the history of the church and who believes what or how. That's the one lesson Jesus wants us to learn."
"Steve, I think you've done well."
"It has served me well. I feel comfortable wherever I go and in this discussion with you."
It did feel very natural. Neither of us were trying to come out ahead, we were simply sharing.
"Knowing a lot can make one proud." I commented," Even if it's scripture. Pride will keep us from loving and knowing God. I just heard a story recently that I think you'll like."
"Yes, go ahead, please."
"A friend of mine contracted a severe form of hepatitis. He had a lot of students that looked to him for spiritual guidance and advice. Although he knew he would be passing away in a short time, he remained jolly and loving, never complaining about his situation. To some new students he explained, " This disease affects my reasoning powers, making it difficult to do even a simple math equation. Sometimes I have no idea where I am or what is going on. This has been a great blessing for me because at these times I can only turn to God (Krishna) to guide my heart. That is all I have. I cannot give you any practical guidance in your life, I can only guide with my heart."
"That's the kind of teacher we can all learn from." Steve commented

Monday, October 22, 2012

Real Progress

"My heart was broken in the 6th grade." the Swami said with a grin, "The girl I was interested in went off with a boy from High School." We find this news amusing as we consider Swami to be above these human emotions.
"My mother saw my condition and attempted to comfort me, to see the 'bigger picture'. These things happen frequently, to everyone.In time you get over it.
'This is really useful' I thought, 'seeing the big picture, I don't need to suffer anymore.' I say this out of respect for my first guru, my mother."

45 heads nod in agreement, some touch their chins, pondering how the story links to his deep, technical presentation replete with Sanskrit terminology. I wonder how many are able to grasp what's been said. "The lila purushottama has become the prem purushottama, the ashraya has become the vishaya."

Our 17 year old son is in the crowd listening attentively.
He has accepted Swami as his guru.
Next week there will be a ceremony for him and others who will be taking initiation.
17 year old Narayan listening to his guru.

"No one wants to be controlled by others.", Swami continues, "There are 3 ways of being controlled. Physical control means you are tied by ropes and forced to act, threatened with punishment. Mental control means you've been convinced by someone's words to act. Your friends can see you're being manipulated, they warn that this is against your interest.
To be controlled by love is the best. When you are controlled by love, you readily give yourself with no thought of getting anything in return. This is how Krishna wants to control us. He can easily use the other two methods, that's nothing for Him.
Once you allow yourself to be controlled by Krishna in love, He becomes controlled by you. That's a problem for Him. He can't help Himself."
I feel a smile stretch across my face, ' How can this be a problem? How can Krishna, the Supreme Lord have any problems?'
Swami elaborates on this point for another 20 minutes referring to Shruti, Smriti and Puranas, covering all aspects of evidence from the Vedic texts.
"Any questions?"
A young hand goes up,"Yes"
"How does one find their guru? How do you know which one to choose?"
Swami's answers are not brief. This could easily fill an hour or two, but it's getting late.
"Guru is not for everyone. The Vedas say it is for one who wants to make a comprehensive solution to all problems of life, to see the 'bigger picture'. This is for one who is very serious and determined. When you hear someone speak and it resonates with you, 'this person is articulating something I've been feeling, he or she is able to put into words what is in my heart, define it and give it direction.' That's a good indication.

Also, the guru should be deeply immersed in spiritual understanding and able to convey that in words, Shrotriyam brahma nishtam. to help you see the 'bigger picture.'

When you are moved by such a person, the student approaches, 'I've been moved by your words and want to give my life to you', the student become a 'problem', because the guru will want to give his life in reciprocation.
Our Western Civilization looks down on this, we have a bad experience of being manipulated by others. Because of this we are shut down, our hearts are closed. "
I know that Swami has given himself freely to our guru, Srila Prabhupada. He speaks from experience. Since 1977, we served together in Berkeley and Chicago. Swami's surrender was an inspiration at that time and continues to inspire hearts to open.
I'm grateful my son has access to what was available to me in my youth.
He's getting a jump on me, I was 18 when I met my guru.
Good things should increase, get better with every generation.
That's real progress.

Friday, September 7, 2012

"My Mind Has a Mind of Its Own"

"When I pray or chant, other thoughts come up. It's as if my mind has a mind of its own."

"Your mind has a mind of its own? I like that phrase. Did you just come up with it?"

Twice a week a few friends gather by phone to discuss Srimad Bhagavatam.
The voice from Florida responded," Yes, I think it just came up now. But it's true. My mind is very distracted. No matter how hard I try, I can't chase distracting thoughts away."

"So you're unable to drive them away?", I asked.
"Yes. The harder I try, the stronger they become."
"They sound like my son's goats."
"Your son has goats?"
"Yes, two very nice goats. Almost every morning he brings me a quart of fresh milk, still warm."
"Wow, that's so nice."
"Yes, it's like a tonic, full of vitamins and enzymes that you don't get from processed milk. But these goats like to eat my bean bushes and Maharha's rose bush. We would chase them away, waving a stick. The more I'd try to get them away from our plants, the more interest they had in them. I thought they were evil.
One day while visiting my son's home across our gravel road, I watched the goats nibble weeds and underbrush, turning useless plants into milk. As I walked away, they began to follow me. They simply wanted to be with me. You cant' chase goats away I realized. You must lead them where you want them to be. Our thoughts are similar. We can't chase bad thoughts away, you have to lead them somewhere good"

"Thank you. That's very helpful.", came the voice through the phone.

"Here's another comparison that you may find helpful." I continued, "You can't remove darkness from a room. You can try to fan it out, or carry buckets of darkness away, but there will be no improvement. Simply bring in light and the darkness will leave automatically.
You can't drive darkness out of a room, you can't chase goats away and you can't push negative thoughts out of your head.
These things are not evil. The mind is innocent, like goats. It simply needs to be lead in a healthy direction.
It's like a child, with little direction of its own.
Take it by the hand and lead it to what inspires you.
Before starting your prayers or meditation, consider where you want to lead your mind. If you go there first, your mind will follow you.
Keep a journal of things that inspire you. That will be a lifelong resource. Don't keep track of what is bad, you'll lead those goats of your thoughts right back to where you don't want them to be."

"That's so true." the voice had become animated and hopeful. "I can't wait to try this out! Thank you."

"And thank you for bringing up the topic. The discussion has lead my mind to a happy place. Now shall we read more from Srimad Bhagavatam?"


Join our Srimad Bhagavatam conference call
7 PM Every Mon. and Thursday

(209) 647-1000
Access Code: 585332#

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rainbow Gathering Tennessee 2012

"You said in your email you'd be surprised to see me here."
63 year old Vijay was one of the last people I'd expect to respond to my invitation to join me at the Rainbow Gathering.
"Yes, Vijay, I'm very surprised!"
He had already taken a position in the kitchen, serving kichari as people came forward with bowls and makeshift plates torn from cardboard boxes.
"Hold your plate here, is that enough? Come back if you want more."

"Shower the people you love with love"

A crowd gathered under our tent as the rain increased. A guitar player sang a James Taylor song "Shower the people you love with love, show them the way that you feel." Repeating the chorus several times as the crowd sang along.  I joined in, singing a harmony. When the song ended, we sang a Hare Krishna Kirtan to the tune of 'Little Wing', a Jimi Hendrix song. With the excellent musicians on hand it went over better than expected. Lots of smiles and heads nodded in appreciation.

As the sun returned, our visitors moved on to explore other events stretched over the five mile muddy path.

I sat with Vijay during a quiet moment.
"What are they doing here? What is the event? Is a major activity planned?", he asks.
"They are here, simply to be together.", I reply "There are about 10 thousand people camping. They are here to share food, music, ideas, love and inspiration."
Rainbow Warrior shows his camp stove made from tin cans
Vijay runs an accounting firm in Cincinnati. He notices things I don't. Such a large event would usually require a huge expenditure.

One of the free kitchen
Food service, sanitation, security, housing and entertainment are all free, provided by volunteers. Multiple kitchens provide free meals for the pilgrims, everyone is requested to help dig latrines and carry out trash when leaving. This is what the Rainbow ethics stand for. I repeat to Vijay what I'd heard from a 'Rainbow Warrior'. Rainbow Gatherings were started in the early 70s by Viet Nam Veterans who wanted to heal from atrocities they had witnessed and taken part in during the war. Native Americans predicted a new tribe growing out of the frustrated western civilization, a nomadic tribe carrying few possessions, living in what is left of our forests.

Walking the muddy path in front of the Krishna Kitchen is a constant stream of this 'new tribe'. You occasionally see these people in town, with long, knotted hair, colorful, loose fitting clothes. Now we are in 'their town'. This is their convention.

  Some have come from California, Oregon, Maine and Florida. Cameras and electronic devices are frowned upon, pictures are taken only after receiving permission. I feel as if I'm in a scene from a distant planet in a Star Wars movie. People wear odd hats, some carry staffs with large crystals and feathers attached, some wear nothing at all.

"MYSTIC STORY TELLING, COME ON IN",  a sign on the side of the path invites us to sit beneath a large tent. Garuda, also known as Soaring Turkey, tells wisdom stories from multiple cultures. He has lived in the New Vrndavan community for some time and now hosts an ashram near Atlanta.
"Today is my last day here." he informs me, " I'm doing a marathon. Speaking until 4 AM tonight."
I take over for a half hour to give him a break.
Garuda, also known as Soaring Turkey
The group listens attentively, asking thoughtful questions. They are familiar with Sanskrit terms and we are able to cover a lot of ground before Garuda returns. The sun is going down, as he sets up candles, one of his guests brings the small fire to life and gathers more wood in preparation for the long night of hearing. I continue explaining that in our tradition, it is considered a blessing to have a thirst to hear and learn. Hearing wisdom stories is the way to water and nourish the plant of love in our heart.

As Garuda resumes his perch for the night, I run back to check on my guest, Vijay.
He has come unprepared for camping, wearing only a tee shirt and shorts. It's cooled down because of the rain.
"Vijay, are you going to be OK?"
He's been blissfully washing pots, cutting vegetables, serving whoever comes along looking for something to eat.
"I'm fine. Everyone is taking care of me. I could use a flashlight, just to get my bedding together."
"Are you glad you came?"
"Yes! These people are so nice! This reminds me of my childhood in India."
I agree,"This is a unique crowd. Ordinarily I may meet one or two people in a month that I can share a discussion on Bhakti. Practically all these people are on that level."
"Why do you think that is?"

 "They have little interest in gaining worldly possessions. They've seen the futility in that. They see love as something higher than possessions. That's a good starting point for spiritual progress. That is a lesson we can all learn."

A yogi demonstrates a pose to open the heart chakra,"Palms down, fingers together, arms in a straight line."

"I am eternal. My soul has been around since the beginning. I promise I will never die.My energy will resonate throughout the universe forever.  Peaceful Lion "

Lotus grew up in the Rainbow Family and is now a Krishna Devotee. He did a lot of the cooking and organizing. His wife and baby daughter were always as peaceful as you see in this photo.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hare Krishna Youth Bus Tour 2011

My son Narayan decided he wants to go on the bus tour this year. The tour has been described by many of my younger friends as a "turning point " in their own lives, a defining event that shaped their future, created opportunities and clarified their intention in life to act as a devotee of Krishna.

 The tour begins in Alachua Florida, home of North America's largest Hare Krishna Community.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

24 Hour Kirtan Event in West Virginia

The following was written by RadhaGovinda dasi.
Her family hosted our visit to Panama last winter.
She attended the 24 hour kirtan in New Vrndavan, West Virginia last week and took the time to write of her experience. I think you'll enjoy it,especially if you go to this link
and play number 07 Madhava while reading.

"Using our 14th Wedding Anniversary as an excuse, we traveled to New Vrindavan for the Annual 24 hour kirtan. Before even setting out we were tested as Prahlad vomited throughout the night and 4:30 in the morning we had to take him to the hospital. I'm always nervous about anything that involves being on time, a trait inherited from my Dad. We had to reach at the airport for 7 so I was in complete anxiety for both things. 
We did make it but I left with a very heavy heart. Sometimes I feel selfish that I leave them for attending kirtans but I convince my myself that they are taken care of so nicely  by my mother in law and Yolie. Prahlad was so cute that morning showing total dependence on us. My heart was melting and I got a realization. "Just like when a child becomes totally dependent on the parents their hearts melt, so if we become totally dependent on Lord Krishna his heart will melt for us!"
My heart was divided, wanting to be in the kirtan and longing to be with Prahlad. 
I'm now in the airplane flying towards Pittsburg. From the window below me are majestic mountains and untouched lands surrounding. Every minute passed I feel closer to attending the kirtan and somehow I'm thinking about just seeing everyone's smiling faces and feeling inspired. I feel as if I'm a part of a big happening. In my rush in the morning after returning from the hospital I forgot to take blessings from Lord Jagannatha. I mentally bow to him and beg him to let me get totally absorbed and take full advantage of the kirtan. 
11.00- Arriving at the temple we felt the mood saturated with happiness and we immediately snapped into it. I was not eager for meeting people as I felt that I didn't come for socializing but to try to get the full benefit of the kirtan. I reasoned that we spent so much money, left the kids, left the shop and came so better to take full advantage of what we went for. So when I saw some devotees taking a Mauna Vrata (vow of silence) I understood that I was not the only one thinking about full advantage. I didn't take a Mauna Vrata though as I didn't feel ready. 
Opening the kirtan is Madhava Prabhu. Just hearing the first chords of the harmonium I knew this was going to be special. The temple room is packed and I feel like an outsider, like a sinner not deserving enough to be among everyone. He is singing. Each devotee's expression is unique as I look at them I feel inspired to get into the mood like them and try to experience a drop of what they're feeling. A mother and daughter is hugging and singing. I see kids maybe as young as 4 chanting, I see old ladies pouring out their hearts chanting, I see from the highest rank devotee to the lowest (me) chanting. I close my eyes and try to feel Krishna's presence. I feel like a pretender but slowly I feel myself getting purified. The mrdanga beat and my heart beat becomes one. The kirtan starts off with a sense of yearning or longing then it builds up and the feeling of achieving comes, as if Krishna is going to appear any moment, and ends with a sense of yearning and longing again. My whole body and senses has become very alert and I'm aware of everything around me ... The touch of the kartals, each mrdanga beat, each chord strummed in the guitar, each note played on the harmonium and I'm totally absorbed in trying to think of Krishna. Then the unexpected happens to me, I start crying. I start missing Krishna, feeling as if I know him and want to be with him. I understand this has to be the devotees mercy around me because for myself I'm a hard hearted being and this is only because of the devotion surrounding me. I feel grateful for this experience and vowed to keep it etched in my mind for a long time. 

12:00 Kirtan by Bada Haridas Prabhu, 

His voice has a kind of melancholy sweetness, its simple but makes you feel as if you're floating in the sky. I look at his face when he sings and every one of his wrinkles join together and create a blissful face. He's also climbing the ladder gradually of longing, achieving and again longing. I entered the temple room more conscious about people around and feeling myself full of ego. However by his chanting I feel myself getting cleaner. I'm now focused of what's going on inside of me and I'm trying to savor every moment holding on to it. I don't want to be surrounded by goodness and get influenced by my spaced out mind. I'm surrounded by the best musicians, the best singers, the gorgeous deities, the beautiful ladies and the kids and my mind is battling to let it all enter at once. Prabhu has reached its peak in the kirtan  and the heights is a kind of un-explainable phenomena. Everyone is calling out to Krishna in loud voices and I'm thinking today has to expand himself to hear each one of his devotee's cries.

 3:00 - Heavy lunch so my mind is struggling to get into the mood again. Jagannatha Kirtan is singing one of my favorite tunes. I look at the devotees faces and try to catch some drops of influence from them. I realize I am so fallen and I feel myself getting purified just by being around everyone. Since the crowd is getting less (lunch) I gather my courage and put myself closer to the inner circle. I don't know if its a natural division but in the inner circle is sitting all the best musicians with their wives or girlfriends, the second circle one after that comes people who know them and aspire to get in the inner circle, the 3rd is the people who want to get as close as possible and the 4th are the Indian ladies and kids. I sat at the 4th as I didn't feel pushy now just for the moment :-) and seeing how expert the devotee musicians are I feel like an insignificant fly kirtaniya. So I backed out humble as I am... LOL.
You can listen to the entire 24 hours of kirtan at this site;

4:00 Kishori Yatra - 
Young kids have that attractive innocence and their combined singing sounds beautiful. I can see some are nervous to get in front of the microphone but they are being encouraged. I can see that this is Iskcon's future for sure. The mother's are all very proud seeing their kids singing and especially one Mom is almost flipping out in bliss seeing her daughter sing. 

4:30 - 
I did get a bit pushy so I asked if I could do some back up singing. I don't know what it is but being closer to the kirtan just feels right. As a kirtan leader I don't feel part of the whole thing if I'm not directly doing something. Alright so some devotees are doing japa ! I'm wondering if they're not sure if we're all singing Krishna's names. It shouldn't be bugging me but it is :-). I'm surrounded by loud kirtan but sleep is overcoming me. I'm looking at a mother putting her baby to sleep on her lap and I'm wishing that was me. I shake my body and try to focus.

6:30 Gaura Mani. 
She is one of my favorites. Her kirtan is like the rain falling and soaking us in bliss. When she sings, only beautiful thoughts can come to mind. She starts like the gradual opening of a lotus. Each petal is delicately opened and getting ready to offer to the Lord. Finally the summit when the lotus is ready to offer she blows our mind with Hare Krsna Kolaveri style. Super cool! I throw away my umbrella of false ego and feel the sky open and I get totally soaked by mercy. 

Kirtan classical style. The back up singer voice is out of this world! Each note she sings is nothing less than perfect. 

8:00 : Radhanatha Maharaj.
The temple room is jam packed and Maharaj floats his way through the crowd. He's singing a very mellow tune and the response is roaring. There's a group of devotees in black (Men in Black) obviously all Maharaj's disciples are all joined in hand in hand and dancing. Somehow the Indian crowd is going mad by Maharaj's singing. The ladies are dancing gracefully and with lots of devotion. After some time Maharaj encourages everyone to get up to dance so we're all shoulder to shoulder sweating and dancing. The atmosphere is full of energy and then he sings "Hare Hare" "Radhe Radhe" to which the crowd goes loco. Everyone abandons all reservations and starts shouting. Then I get carried away by the waves and I'm shouting, screaming, jumping. I'm feeling full of life and I'm giving myself fully to experience every moment. Maharaj has raised the kirtan to another level. There are 500 hundred people shouting and I'm trying to hear myself shouting so I'm really shouting Radhe Radhe and then obviously my voice gets sore. 

9:00 - Agnideva Das
I always marvel at his effortless singing. His voice sounds same on c.d and same in live. 

10:00- Gaura Vani 
His each and every note is faultless and after the jamming kirtan of Radhanatha M Gaura vani is doing it sweet and tranquil. 

11:00- Vish and Vrinda
Vish is  my favorite all time singer. I feel that he has perfected like we hear the description of the spiritual world of every word being a song. He's already there. His mood is always correct and one cannot help but appreciate the beautiful couple they make. Every time I see them I feel like blessing them to remain together forever! 

12:00 - Slept till 3.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mr. Enthusiasm

Hare Krishna Youth Bus Tour 2011 in L.A.
The day before last year's Los Angeles Ratha Yatra festival, the temple neighborhood was buzzing with activity. The kitchen had been cooking for thousands, vanloads of flowers were being delivered to be strung into garlands to decorate the carts in the parade. Happy reunions were celebrated with hugs, visitors wandered in amazement. In the midst of all this, our two busloads of Krishna teenagers enjoyed the excitement and the opportunity for the boy's bus to mix with the girl's.
Vaisesika approached such a mixed group,"I've got a challenge for you, an assignment. Are you up for it?"
"What is it? What do you want us to do?" Teenage giggling, boys trying to look cool...
"Well, I can't tell you unless you agree first that you will do it and try your best."
He had captured their interest, their curiosity and sense of adventure.
"What is it?"
"I can't tell you, it's against the rules."
They looked at each other, smiled, laughed. They were here for fun. If helping is fun then we might as well."OK"
"Great ! Welcome to team potato racket ! Put your hands in."
They made a circle, putting their right hands in. In that huddle Vaisesika gave their running orders as if they were in a spy movie," We need you to locate appropriate boxes from the recycling bin for all the potato rackets in the kitchen."
They don't know where the kitchen is, the recycling bin or even what a potato racket is, but the presentation is so much fun, they all laugh, ready to go.
"Now the record for this was set last year at exactly...", Vaisesika glances at his watch,"..47 minutes and 14 seconds. Do you think you can beat that ?"
They run at full speed, gathering the boxes and filling them with crunchy potato rackets, a snack item to be served at the next
day's festival. 

An hour later I see Vaisesika organizing several devotees to make packets of books to be given away. "This is the No Book Left Behind program established by our president."

  Wherever he goes Vaisesika infuses the situation with his contagious enthusiasm. Because of this, a crowd gathers around like clouds around a tall mountain. I've never seen them appear disappointed, he never fails to deliver.

Vaisesika will be in Hillsborough for a brief visit. The purpose of this visit is to inspire us to present spiritual books to complete strangers.Even if you have no intention of following through in this adventure, you are welcome to this seminar and get the opportunity to meet him face to face.


Friday, June 29 - Sunday, July 1 2012
We are excited to announce that Vaisesika Dasa will be visiting North Carolina to train devotees in the fun and glorious art of book distribution. He will not only conduct seminars and give practical tips about book distribution, but he will also give devotees a chance to taste the sweetness of distributing transcendental literature through direct experience. He has been described as a "spiritual sonic boom" and "book distribution incarnate." Srila Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of ISKCON, states that "Book distribution is the greatest welfare activity to this world". People are eternally benefitted by these books, both the distributor and the receiver. Don't miss this opportunity to relish the nectar and spiritual benefit of giving Krishna to others!

We are building a team and taking down names of people who would like to join the Monthly Sankirtan Festival on an ongoing basis, beginning with initial training by HG Vaisesika Dasa. If you are interested in joining or would just like to know a little more about it, please contact Lila-sakti Devi Dasi at or 919.448.5178 cell/919.883.2204 hp.  

Vaisesika Prabhu is a disciple of ISKCON Founder-Acarya His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. For thirty-six years Vaisesika Prabhu has been traveling, lecturing, counseling and inspiring devotees and other serious aspirants of spiritual life throughout the world. Vaisesika Dasa is founder and inspiration of many projects including the National Sankirtan Team, Sankirtan Strategies Foundation, Motel Gita, Monthly Sankirtan Festival, Weekend Warriors, and many more. http://v

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Rainbow Gathering Pennsyslvania 2010

 I love to be in the forest, in natural surroundings, while at the same time, I also love places like New YorkCity where I meet so many interesting people.
The Rainbow Gathering is the best of both worlds. I would estimate 10 to 20 thousand people were there,with campsites scattered throughout the hills.There were no sidewalks,no vehicle traffic,no industrial sounds or amplified music, simply people walking around , sitting under trees sharing food , music and conversations.

Shakti Pati and I chose a shady spot near the "Main Circle",spread a tarp on the ground and decorated the area with pictures of Krishna,a few books and incense.
Shakti Pati opened a bucket of Halava and offered spoonfuls to passersby.
There was constant foot traffic.
Occasionally someone would ask me to play the Mitratar.
When I would comply,the foot traffic would stop and we would soon have a large crowd watching and listening.
(If you haven't seen my home made instrument,the Mitratar, here is a video I recorded a few months ago.)

This would often lead to a question about one of the books on display, whereupon I would invite them to sit and read or discuss for as long as they like.
Some people would request a kirtan, which would again draw a crowd who would sometimes sit for a very long time as this cycle of music, discussion and kirtan would repeat again and again until 1 AM when we would walk to our campsite with only flashlights to help us find the way.

Bear Attack !
The first night we noticed our campsite very different from the way we had left it. Apparently a bear had gotten into our things.We learned that the bears in Pennsylvania have no appreciation for Mangoes.The bear also paid no attention to the Karela (bitter melon) and left them on the ground after tearing the bag open.
We were let off pretty easy with no real damage.Our only loss was a bag of cookies my wife made for us and the two apples.
As we zipped up the tent and laid down on our sleeping bags,we wondered if the bear would return that night.
"You can't outrun a bear.",Shakti Pati said.
I remembered an old joke,"Shakti Pati, I don't need to outrun the bear, I only need to outrun you"
"Mitra,if a bear turns up, there is no way anyone is going to outrun me."
We had a good laugh and slept well without another thought of the bear. We woke the next morning to a nice breakfast of mangoes after cleaning them and cutting out the portions that had been pierced by the bear's claws.It looked like a pencil had been driven through them,I considered what damage such claws could have on my skinny body.
From that day on , we hung our food supplies high in trees and had no more visits.

Roots Acoustic Kirtan 
Nada,from Dallas,invited us to his campsite for kirtans.
We went the first couple of nights and made a lot of friends there.
It's comforting to see how so many varieties of people have incorporated kirtan into their life.

Ovens built on site
Lovin' Ovens is one of the public kitchens.The photo shows four ovens made of 50 gallon drums built into a clay and mud foundation.The cans on top function as chimneys.Fires are built below the drums,in back of the oven. They make rolls and pizzas all day giving them to whoever shows up. They also bring a large supply to serve at the main circle for the evening meal.
This is the first time there was no Krishna Kitchen, I had numerous inquiries where we were set up,as we have a reputation for the best food at the Rainbow Gathering.The devotees who normally do this had been caught up with several other festivals this year.Somehow this one slipped by them.They were certainly missed by all.

Bumper Sticker Wisdom

Leaving was difficult.We had developed a schedule, a routine, and fallen in love with it.The constant cycle of music,discussion and kirtan for hours and hours kept us going with very little need for sleep or food,hiking up and down the steep trail carrying heavy loads of books and halavah(the next week I felt it though).
I learned a lot from the questions of these sincere people.Some had sat for hours patiently waiting their turn to ask a question such as,"What is the nature of reality?"or,"Is it absolutely necessary to have a guru?"
As we drove down the unpaved road I noticed a bumper sticker that read"If things can go really well, they will"
"That's the opposite of Murphy's law. I like it"
"Who's law?"
"Murphy's law.You've never heard that one?'If anything can go wrong it will' "
"This one sounds a bit more positive"
"Yeah, these hippies have to protest against everything."
"Well let's see if they're right.Let's see if we can find our way out of here"
The roads were mostly unmarked,we had had a very difficult time finding our way in.
The directions to get us out proved to be entirely inaccurate and we found ourselves somewhere very different from where we were supposed to be.
"Don't forget, 'If something can go really well, it will'"
"I don't know if that applies here.We're lost"
We found someone on the roadside who was able to show us on the map how we were on the best path home.Somehow the imperfect directions had given us the most direct route.
"I guess that proves it"
"Proves what?"
"If something can go really well,it will"
"Yeah,let's keep that in mind"

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Healthy Thirst

“It’s just sugar water. They make it seem like something really good. Look at this one,'Don’t think of that cylindrical thing as a straw,Think of it as your pipeline to instant liquid refreshment !"
We glimpse the outside world by the litter left on the roadside. I had an interest in archeology and anthropology in my youth and read of scientists putting the puzzle together, trying to learn something of a long lost society from bits of trash.
My son and I are on our daily 3 mile walk, trying to absorb ourselves in our mantras.
“How could we change that to make it relate to what we do?” I ask.
“Don’t think of that string of beads as a… string of beads, but uh….”, Narayan begins.
“A pipeline….an instant connection to… hey look at this one. 'It's the tingle of the bubbles on my tongue and the cool blast of refreshment that makes this beverage....."

I find this interesting. They create a thirst for something entirely useless, something that gives no relief and no nourishment. Why put this advertising on the package? The purchase has already been made. They want repeat customers, so they create a mental situation to augment the experience of drinking flavored sugar water. Why not use this technique to increase a thirst for something substantial?
“In moments Krishna will be dancing on your tongue. Can you stand the wait?” A devotee sees the world in connection with Krishna by utilizing everything in His service. Marketing and advertising techniques can be used to draw the mind away from shallow attractions and focus on more substantial themes.
The Srimad Bhagavatam begins with a similar technique. Text 3 encourages us to drink (Pibata) the juice (rasam) from this tree ripened fruit. The text claims that the book has grown on the tree of the Vedas, and what you hold in your hands is the fruit, the essence of all the sweetness the Vedas have to offer. Not only that, but the fruit has been made even more tasty because of its being spoken by Suka.
"Get Quenched" a paper cup advises as I walk by.
We do most of our 'drinking' through our ears and eyes. One must make healthy choices. When we hear of gossip, or disappointment, we never 'Get Quenched', rather, we feel unhappy.

Hearing about love will awaken love in our hearts. Other emotions are pale in comparison.
On Mother's day, we heard a Swami speak. We learned that the love a mother has for her child is the purest form of love in this world. She gives everything for the child's happiness, abandoning her own pleasure. In return, the child gives dirty diapers, drool and vomit. To the mother, these things appear as Sandalwood, Musk and Camphor. He spoke to a crowd of 400 devotees, giving several examples of selfless motherly love.

He told of an 85 year old woman who came to the 'Eye Camp' in Varshana. If they could remove a cataract from only one eye, she would be happy, as she would again be able to cook for others. Just talking about it made her so happy, she began to sing and dance. Soon the entire clinic was dancing with her.
Our thirst is to have such love as hers, to be happy to serve and care nothing for our own situation. That is how we will 'Get Quenched"

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Hare Krishna Food"

"Hare Krishnas have the good food. I learned that right away."
Mathura is helping shovel a load of mulch out of my truck. It's a beautiful Spring day, the new Pear trees are looking happy, the garden is coming in and a neighbor has dropped by to chat.
"My sister used to go to the Dallas Temple on Sundays with her friend." Mathura continued," She told me about it. I went to the Rainbow Gathering in Missouri, that's where I first met the Krishna People."
"Missouri Rainbow Gathering? What year was that?"
"Uh, let's see, I was 18, so it was uh, '94 or was it '96? Anyway, they were nice people and seemed happy to feed me."
"They make you feel like you're doing them a favor by eating there."
"Yeah, there was this monk from Russia, he seemed really happy to see me come by and eat every day. He was glad to feed me."
We had been talking about this weekend's plan. A few of us are meeting at the Shakori Hills music festival.
We'll be cooking 'Hare Krishna Food' for the staff and performers, about 400 people. We're doing this as volunteers, simply because we enjoy it, as Mathura had mentioned. Hare Krishna people enjoy feeding everyone.

One of the volunteers for this weekend's adventure, Jagad Guru, cooks and delivers Hare Krishna Food to 4 or 500 Chapel Hill University students every week. This has been a tradition for over 20 years at UNC.
Recently, Jagad Guru has begun a similar program at Duke University where 3-400 students come for the meal.

Why do we do this for no pay? What's the motivation?

I started asking this of myself. It may be due to social training. It's something that all Hare Krishnas do. We imitate behavior of those we are surrounded by and it becomes part of our nature.

My wife Maharha never goes to town empty handed. She keeps a stock of homemade cookies, small cakes or other snacks to give to anyone she contacts while on her excursions.
Seeing her example, our 4 year old son Narayan, would offer guests a Vitamin C or a raw potato. I remember one guest very graciously accepted the raw potato. After praising both Narayan and the home grown potato, ate it on the spot, raw.
Maharha pauses for a moment...
..then back into action

Where did this behavior originate if we're learning this from others?

When Srila Prabhupad came to New York City in 1965, he brought this concept from India. Visitors would receive 'Prasad' from his hands. When guests began to increase, he would cook and feed everyone although he had very little money.
12 years later, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness had grown to over 100 temples. Prabhupada sent a notice that at every temple we should be ready to give a full meal to any visitor at any time of the day. He advised to not worry about the expense or any other consideration. I remember hearing the letter read out loud for the morning announcements in 1977. The program was instituted. In a recent visit to the temple in Berkeley California, I saw happy to see that it has continued, this time I was on the receiving end.
When I visit homes of friends from India I get similar treatment. It is their culture, their training, to feel genuine pleasure when there is an opportunity to feed a guest.
Feeding strangers can be an adventure, you never know what the outcome will be.

This Summer, the Rainbow Gathering will take place somewhere on the East Coast. I will at that time invite  you to join in setting up a Krishna Kitchen to feed hundreds of spiritual seekers camping in a national forest around July 4th.

Beyond the good will of sharing food, there is another element to Hare Krishna Food. The intentions of the cook will infect those who eat. Temple cooks are trained to prepare meals as a meditation. They are cooking for the pleasure of God. The meal will ultimately be eaten by Him as a ritual. These godly thoughts have an effect on those who partake of this food. 
You are taking in more than simply calories and vitamins.
Food prepared by very pure personalities is seen as particularly valuable for this reason.

This is something you may experiment with on your own, with or without elaborate rituals. No one needs to know about it for it to work. Try it for a week or two and watch for results. You may decide to make this a habit.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Beautiful People in Winston Salem

"May I hear a G please?"
"No, G"
There are a variety of accents from India.
Someone suggests,"G, as in God"
"Ah, OK", Rajen plays 'G' on his harmonium, and the song begins.
Akhilesh supports the rhythm on tablas.
I select the 'G' flute from my collection and follow the melody.
This is true Folk Music, the music of the people.
Some are trained in the Indian Classical system, some sing what they have learned from childhood. All of them sing from their heart while the group responds as a chorus. Moments of the performance may be praised in midstream, "Bahut Accha He !", raising a hand while slightly tilting the head to one side.
These people have kindly accepted me as if part of their family.
It is a very tightly knit group. For years they have been gathering regularly to sing and play music of India.
Today is an annual event at Praful's home, celebrating the appearance of Hanuman, the monkey warrior servant of Lord Rama.
Way back in December, Praful urged me to reserve the date to sing a bhajan and give a brief talk.

It is a bit intimidating to speak or perform before such a talented group.
"Mitra, it is your turn, please speak something"
"10 minutes?"
"Yes, 10 minutes, then bhajan."
That is more time than anyone else had taken. I'd better make this good. I've learned so much from these people and want to give something back.
"It's been a year since our last gathering here. I've had a wonderful year, full of growth, learning and opportunity. I hope that your year has also been so eventful." I scanned the audience, many of them senior to me, Mathematicians, Physicists, Nano-technicians, nodding their heads in agreement, still learning, still growing.
"I've been studying habits. They are stored in the basal ganglia region of the brain. Once an action is learned, we don't need to give it much attention. We tend to brush our teeth in the same pattern or tie our shoelaces in the same order every time. Driving a car is so easy for us. Remember when you first learned, how difficult and scary it was to approach an intersection? Now, most of you probably don't even remember driving here. The functions were taken over by the basal ganglia while your mind absorbed itself in other topics." Again, heads nodding in agreement, smiles remembering early driving attempts.
"Studies have shown however, that when people are on vacation, they tend to alter their patterns for brushing their teeth. The stimuli have changed. This is a good time to change habits. We can use this to our advantage.
"Yesterday I was reading about Shabari. She had left home at a young age to live in a hermitage accepting spiritual guidance from the sage Matanga. One by one, the sages achieved perfection, leaving this world. Matanga asked Shabari to remain at the ashram as Lord Rama would be coming to visit, she will get the opportunity to host Him.
Shabari took this service, daily collecting flowers to decorate the path, thinking that "today may be the day when He will arrive". She would collect fruits, tasting each one, discarding those that were not sweet enough. After many years, Rama and his brother Laxman arrived to accept the hospitality of this elderly woman. As she offered the fruits, Laxman questioned,"Why are you eating  food which has already been tasted by this woman? This is impure."
Rama replied,"I have tasted many different things in my life, but never have I had anything like this. You must try some."
The Lord has no need for our offerings, rather He accepts our devotion. The devotion of Shabari surpassed that of the followers of rituals. When Laxman tasted the fruit, tears came to His eyes, understanding the intention of His brother."
The body language of the audience showed they felt the same as I do about Shabari, inspired by her example.

"When we chant mantras, the mind considers, 'OK, we already know how to do this.' The basal ganglia takes over and the mind is free to wander. Shabari put everything into her service, it was not simply a habit. For this kirtan, we will try to break our routine. We will try to keep the mantra in the forefront of our mind, as if this is an entirely new experience. Raise your hands to shoulder height, palms upward, asking for blessings. Keeping them like this will help keep your mind from wandering. Taste each mantra, as Shabari tasted each fruit to see if it was sweet. Offer each sweet mantra to Lord Rama and wait patiently for His arrival."
I was surprised to see everyone cooperatively holding their hands up as requested, eyes closed in expectation,"OK Rajen, key of E"
"No, E.... as in elephant"

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friendliest Place on Earth

"That makes 100% so far."I commented,"Every car that's passed by has waved at us. Of all the places we've been, we haven't seen anything like this.."
"It would be hard to do that in New York City.", Narayan imitated waving to everyone in sight in Manhattan,"Hello, Hi, hello, hello, hi , hi...."
My son and I had walked halfway across Panama, over the back roads  of Costa Rica and into the subways of New York.

Everywhere we've met friendly, helpful people, even in the 'dangerous areas' in Panama City we'd been warned of.
Today we're walking on familiar roads close to home in North Carolina, where everyone waves, where neighbors come out to greet us and ask how we've been. There have been two grand festivals in our community since our return last Tuesday. More festivities are scheduled for this weekend. Home is certainly 'the friendliest place on Earth', though there are challenges here that one will not encounter on the road. A host may tolerate my ill behavior as I am only passing through. My wife and close friends don't have that option. The danger here is to neglect those who are closest, and overlook their favors and courtesies, taking them for granted.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Vampire Bats and a Visitor from Transylvania

“I noticed the light was left on in the barn the last couple nights.”
“Yes, it’s to slow down the vampire bats.”
“Whoa! We’ve got vampire bats here in Costa Rica?”
“Yes. They aren’t too much trouble for a full grown cow, but can do some damage to a calf if they’re left out on their own.”  Gaura's Canadian pronunciation sounds like ‘oot on their oown’. Carrying a bucket of milk from the barn, with his ragged flannel shirt and unshaven face he looks like a rather thin Canadian lumberjack climbing the hill to the temple kitchen. 
Gaura the Canadian

A few days later, another Canadian appeared.
We soon learned that Teo is from the province of Transylvania.
“How do Romanians feel about Dracula’s fame?” I had to ask,” Is there any truth to the legend, any accuracy in the movie?”
“They’re not too happy about it. Actually, Dracula is kind of a hero in our country. He was a brutal leader, but very fair and just. There was no crime at all under his regime. If money was found in the street, no one would dare take it. It would be turned in to the guards for fear of punishment.”
“What kind of punishment?”
“He was known as Vlad the Impaler. He would leave the bodies of his enemies on display, impaled on spears as an example to anyone who would disobey the law.  It was a very slow and painful death, as I’m sure you can imagine. However, he also did a lot of good for the country. He conquered the neighboring enemies, fixed the economy, eliminated corruption and brought peace and prosperity to the region.”
“But you say he was fair?”
“Yes, because he would punish only those who deserved it.  There’s a story of a visiting merchant who heard of a rather fat coin purse that had been turned in to the guards. His greed must have got the better of him because he actually decided to swindle Vlad and claim it for his own.
 “How many gold coins are in the purse you’ve lost?” Dracula asked him. “100”, said the merchant who had been tipped by the guards. “Count it and make sure it is yours.” Dracula said after adding an extra gold coin. The merchant counted and succumbed to his greed once again, pretending not to notice the extra coin. “Is this correct? “ Dracula asked, “Yes”, “Then go”. Unfortunately for him, Dracula signaled the guards behind his back and as the happy merchant approached the door, he was stopped by the guards who drew their swords.  It is said that the merchant’s wail of terror was heard throughout the entire province when he realized the fate that now awaited him.”
“Out of greed for one gold coin, the merchant lost his life. We live in a brutal world Teo, this is a good lesson for keeping our integrity at every moment."
"Yes, the laws of nature can be brutal, but they are always fair.", replied Teo as he sank his Transylvanian teeth into a Costa Rican melon.
"One who does good is never overcome by evil",quoting Bhagavad Gita(6:40) I commented, "A power stronger than Vlad the Impaler is keeping the balance. Our only concern is to keep proper conduct, we'll get all we deserve."
Teo sunk his Transylvanian teeth into a melon.
"We must have done something good to deserve these melons"