Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Made a Chair today

The machete works well for peeling the bark. Bugs will infest any wood with the bark left on.

Priya helped by carving down the ends. 

Make a square end to drive into a round hole. As the large piece shrinks, the hole will also shrink, making the construction tight.
Best practice is to use dry wood for the horizontal railings.

Empty rice hulls in a feed sack make a nice cushion.

Total cost, about 3 hours of pleasant labor and a couple nails.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Banana Technology

 This morning in Costa Rica I took a lesson in banana growing from one of the residents.
Bananas are considered a gift from the gods, as they require little maintenance and give much in return.  Place a bit of banana trunk in a hole during the rainy season. Nothing further need be done. In time the trunk produces a large female flower. Small bananas can be seen forming.
Female Flower
 The male, pollinator flower hangs below it. When the bananas are developed the male flower can be harvested. Raw, it tastes like a green banana peel. After soaking in salt water, and cooking, it resembles both artichoke hearts and mushrooms.
Each trunk produces one bunch of bananas. Multiple shoots sprout around it, providing a perpetual harvest. The leaves make elegant plates; the discarded trunk provides mulch and fertilizer.
 There are several types of bananas, some for cooking, some for raw eating, and some for cell phone use.

Lord Krishna makes a speech about the munificent nature of trees, recorded in the pages of Srimad Bhagavatam, "Just look at these most fortunate trees of Vrndavana. They have dedicated their lives to the welfare of others. Individually they are tolerating all kinds of natural disturbances, such as hurricanes, torrents of rain, scorching heat and piercing cold, but they are very careful to relieve our fatigues and give us shelter. My dear friends, I think they are glorified in this birth as trees. They are so careful to give shelter to others that they are like noble, highly elevated charitable men who never deny charity to one who approaches them. No one is denied shelter by these trees. They supply various kinds of facilities to human society, such as leaves, flowers, fruit, shade, roots, bark, flavor extracts and fuel. They are the perfect example of noble life. They are like a noble person who has sacrificed everything possible--his body, mind, activities, intelligence and words--in engaging in the welfare of all living entities." Thus the Supreme Personality of Godhead walked on the bank of the Yamuna, touching the leaves of the trees and their fruits, flowers and twigs, and praising their glorious welfare activities.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Krishna and the cows in Costa Rica

A full moon woke me at 4 AM, a good time to get up, and no need for a flashlight to find my way to the temple.
Passing through the banana patch I notice how the leaves of the banana tree look so nice in the moonlight.

The temple is a large screened in porch overlooking a steep hillside.

Monkeys warm up for their morning of howling and are heard in clusters in the distant valleys.
Meanwhile, our group sings Krishna's names, "Ravanantakara Makhana Taskara Gopijana vastra hari" This means Krishna took the life of Ravana, he stole butter as a child and also stole the clothes of the gopis. The next line says that Krishna steals everyone's heart by playing His flute. "Chitta Hari Vamsi Dhari"
Krishna and Balaram stand on the altar with cows and two stones from Govardhan Hill.

The attendees are not only devoted to Krishna and Balaram, they are directly involved in caring for the cows and the land, the same profession held by Lord Krishna and His brother Balaram.

Morning and evening we gather at the temple. Daylight hours are spent tending to the garden, the cows and fruit trees. The day's work is directly related to the worship. Three times a day a meal of milk,rice, beans,corn and vegetables, all grown on the 130 acres of land are offered on the altar.
"PRASADAM !" ,the cook calls from the screened in temple. We make our way up the hill.
The cooks are very creative with the available ingredients.
Yesterday we had dosa (rice and bean pancakes) with coconut chutney and sambar(vegetable bean soup). Every day there's been some kind of surprise, usually full of fresh cream or bits of fried curd, plantains, taro or yucca. The lemons here are particularly nice. The cooks make good use of them. Surabhi, the cow has been giving milk for a year and a half, she still yields well over 2 gallons a day of very rich milk, grazing the steep hills.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2012 The Year of the Tongue

December 31, 2011

"How can you practice sattyam (truth), priyam (pleasing speech) and hitam (beneficial speech) when you're dealing with your kids?"
She asked this in a joking tone as we waited in line for prasad. We had to lean close and speak loudly over all the other conversations.
"Catch them doing something right, then show appreciation for their proper behavior.", I suggested, and motioned to a young boy sitting nearby,"You're using your spoon properly and not spilling anything."
"My son is 19"
"Alright, it still works, no matter what age. Catch him doing something right, and show that you've noticed, let him know that you appreciate his coming home on time, or that he's done something that you've asked him to."
"My daughter is 30. She complains that I've only criticized her throughout her life"
"She will be surprised to see the new you. She will ask what has come over you. At that point you may tell her you are trying to improve and that you're very sorry for your dealings in the past."
My new friend looked very thoughtful, no longer joking,"Thank you, I'll try this."

I had been asked to give a brief talk for New Year's Eve. "Something about what you've learned this year and resolutions for the next, whatever seems appropriate to you." Offered Ramachandra.

I chose a verse from Bhagavad Gita describing temperance of speech.
Shri Krishna advises that our speech should not cause distress to others, should be Truthful, Pleasing, Beneficial and one should recite from the Vedas regularly.
Priyam, pleasing speech, is sought after by everyone. If you can give a few kind words to someone, a compliment, or express appreciation, this will be remembered and cherished more than all the gifts received at Christmas. There is no cost, why not take advantage of this? Be open and lavish with praise.  We are trying to develop good habits, these things take skill. Any skill, such as basketball or music, requires practice. You won't be perfect at every shot, but you must keep practicing. Eventually these become part of our nature. The most challenging people to practice on are your close family members, your children, your parents, brothers, sisters, your spouse. These are the most important people in your life, yet we feel that it is alright to vent our anger on them. We must also be kind to ourselves. Your inner dialog should also follow these principals.
Adopting these habits will bring about a change for the better in your life. Why not make 2012 the Year of the Tongue?

Damodar has been married recently. We began a conversation after getting our plates of prasad.
"Shall we sit here? It's a little quieter."
I joined him.
"I really liked your talk", he began, "My wife will be arriving from India soon. At that time my real married life will begin. Do you have any suggestions?"
His parents, had just been honored with an award for their 40 plus years of service to the temple and community of devotees. Samika Rsi, a surgeon, has given medical treatment to devotees free of charge. Their home has always been open as a retreat for ailing devotees or those simply needing a break from busy schedules in the large city temples.
"Just try to be nice." I suggested between spoonfuls,( I was really hungry and the prasad was very good.)
"The first few months with your new wife are foundational, they will set the tone for the rest of your time together."
Damodar looked apprehensive, even fearful.
"Don't worry, it will come naturally, just remember, try to be nice. It takes practice. I fail at it all the time, you can ask my wife. But like any skill, like basketball, the more you practice, the better you get."

After hours of convivial conversations, kirtans in the temple, midnight arrived. A rousing kirtan got everyone to their feet as we greeted 2012.
An idea came to me, "Come out to the lobby with me, I need your help"
A few devotees worked up a way to sing Hare Krishna to the Auld Lang Syne melody.

We sang it through several times to be sure we had it right, then returned to the temple as the final kirtan was wrapping up. Strumming the chords on guitar, not sure how it would go over, we all began. A resounding chorus joined, everyone recognized the tune.

5 AM the next morning, the tune was still in my head as we rushed to Newark Airport to board a flight to Costa Rica.
Our hosts had kindly packed a lunch for us, their son gave us a ride to the airport. I promised to not mention their names  publicly, as they are unable to turn a visitor away without tending to any and all of their needs.

Tonight we arrive in Costa Rica, Happy New Year !

First Day in Costa Rica

"It must be warm out there. That guy's not wearing a shirt."
As our plane taxis down the runway I catch a glance of the man that Narayan has pointed out.
He's wearing a reflective vest and not much more.
"I guess you didn't hear the pilot announce that it's 80 degrees out there."
We stepped down from the plane to the asphalt.
"This is what I remember airports being like when I was a kid, open air, walking across the airstrip to the terminal."
Checking through customs I couldn't help but worry, wondering if our ride was waiting for us.
Our flight had been adjusted, we were arriving 5 hours later than originally planned. We're in a foreign country, it's dark, we don't speak the language and don't even have an address for our destination.

Clearing customs we walk out  to find two devotees smiling and waving.
Audarya Lila is an old friend. We were bramacharis together in the Berkeley temple during the late 70s. He still looks the same.
"I would recognize you in a crowd."
Audarya says the same to me, though I think he's just being polite, he always has been polite.

The 2 hour drive sped by as we caught up on each others history and discussed our destination, Madhuvan.
"The electricity may be hit or miss. One of the batteries was installed backwards, it shorted out some parts of the system. Luckily they were still under warrantee so it's all back together now."

"You've got micro hydro ? How's that working?"
"During the rainy season there's no problem. During the dry season it slows down to a trickle. We've got some solar panels hooked up, but like I said, we've got some battery issues."
"We're in the dry season now?"
"Yes, don't expect to see any rain while you're here."
"What's the rainy season like?"
"It can rain nonstop for two weeks at a time. I haven't been here for that, only heard about it."
"I guess that's a good time for planting trees?"
"Yes, you see these tree lines along the road? They'll drive a stick into the ground for a fence post. Many of them take root and the tree grows around the barb wire."

Turning off the paved road, Audarya Lila announces, "6 more kilometers."
It's a rough dirt road, at times very steep, I see why they've got 4 wheel drive.
"I wouldn't want to try this in my truck. With 2 wheel drive I'd make it half way up, then have to back all the way down for another try. This must be a real mess when you get snow. "
"Yeah, snow would really make a mess out this place."

                                                                            The half moon showed outlines of mountains and farms, the headlights gave glimpses of tropical trees.
"That's Teak."
"The tree with the spines ?"
"Yeah, they grow a lot of it here. I guess they get pretty good money for them."

Arriving at the temple, I saw that teak is the main wood used for construction of the small building. We laid out on the dining floor. "Sorry, that's all we've got available right now. Mangal aroti will be at 5 tomorrow morning, then the monkeys usually start up."
"That's fine, we're glad to be here. We can sleep through anything."
Both temple and dining room are simply screened in porches surrounding a kitchen. A pleasant breeze is blowing through.
5 Hours later, a very loud conch shell blast announces Mangal Arotik. A pleasant kirtan follows, and as promised I'm able to sleep through most of it. Monkeys are in a tree almost directly above us. They make a sound unlike any I've ever heard from monkeys. It resembles a loudly amplified stomach growling. They repeat this sound several times, then get very loud when the kirtan is over. Their chorus is echoed by another group of monkeys across the valley. This is repeated several times, back and forth, sometimes louder than others. I see the branches moving, but don't get a clear view of them.

wikipedia gives a sound sample
Howler monkeys are widely considered to be the loudest land animal. According to Guinness Book of World Records, their vocalizations can be heard clearly for 20 miles (32 km). It is hypothesized that the function of howling relates to intergroup spacing and territory protection, as well as possibly mate-guarding.

We woke at 8:30 for a breakfast of watermelon, bananas and rice, all grown on the farm.
"Last October," I announced, "I ate the final watermelon of the season in NC. At that time I had a strong desire to go somewhere that watermelons would still be available. All I could think of is somewhere near the equator with no idea that it would actually happen."

After walking around, Narayan reported that he feels like he's in the Avatar movie.
"What's the name of that planet?", I ask.
"Pandora, and the people are called Na'vi."
"I can see why you feel like that.", as a group of monkeys howl across the valley.

New Jersey en route to Costa Rica

"Would you like to go on a japa walk?"
"Sure, a brisk one. It's pretty cold out"
Nilamani led me on a 6 mile walk down a bike path near his home in New Jersey. Train tracks on one side,
a crumbling concrete wall on the other, at least it was quiet away from the street traffic.

Japa is the practice of chanting a mantra, keeping count on a string of 108 beads. Initiated devotees chant at least 16 times around their beads daily. This practice takes about 2 hours.
The idea is to focus one's mind on the mantra and to still other thoughts. When done properly, this provides access to the personality of Krishna.
But I was a country boy in the city, taking in the sites, watching each train go by, speaking with others on the trail, observing the architecture,
"Coming up behind you!"
I moved to the right.
"Good hearing."commented the cyclist as he pedaled by.
"I don't think he was referring to my japa..."
Nilamani smiled at my statement. He was observing good 'japa etiquette', avoiding the tendency to hold conversations.
"...It would be a surprise to hear a deep voice from the sky, Krishna's voice, saying , 'good hearing'"
That drew a chuckle from Nilamani,"Yes that would be nice", he allowed, then resumed his own focused chanting.
Nilamani is the project manager for the proposed ISKCON temple project in Northern New Jersey. Although  land has been purchased years ago, they are running into problems getting permission to build. The neighbors are opposed to the traffic it will bring, there are environmental agencies that need to be appeased, the latest hurdle is an archeological study to determine if there may be any historical significance to the area. Although the area is surrounded by office buildings, fast food restaurants, parking lots and convenience stores they had all been built before these restrictions came about.
I'm glad that new buildings are put under such scrutiny, assessing their environmental impact, but we sense there are other issues at hand.

Later that day, I met with Devaki Nandan, involved with a similar project in South Jersey. Their difficulties are so similar, that for a while I'm thinking it's the same project being discussed.
"Our lawyer says that if it were a Christian Church there would be no opposition.The neighbors have researched the activities at the other 2 hindu centers in the area which are very busy. There is a very large Hindu population, they draw very large crowds."
"Of course they are busy. Where else are these people to go? Ask these neighbors what church they attend,", I suggested, "What if there were only two of your churches in this entire region? Would they not be crowded? Imagine if your attempt to open another such church were restricted due to the popularity of your group?"
"That's a good argument, we hadn't thought of that.", said Devaki Nandan.
"Not an argument, you don't want to fight with your neighbors. Ideally, they should see you as an asset, something that will benefit them in some way. You won't win this by defeating them."

A full day has been planned for Hare Krishna youth of New Jersey.
It's like a family reunion, old friends are spending Christmas break here, arriving from Boston, Houston, Baltimore, New York City and our local NC boy, my son, Narayan.
Arriving at Nimai's house, Narayan's entrance draws a chorus of, "Narayan! Narayan!", in imitation of the Bollywood version of Narada Muni. At 16, he is the youngest in the group. At 6 foot 5, he's also the tallest, which produces another chorus of comments. A similar greeting is repeated several times as vanloads of kids arrive with loud shouts in greeting, long hugs and animated conversations.
Some of them remember me as the counselor at Krishna Camp, 15 years ago, when we gathered at the Gita Nagari Farm in Pennsylvania for kirtan, sports and storytelling around the campfire. Some of them know Narayan and I from a retreat held in our village two years ago.
Today's activities are somewhat free form; eat and talk.
"Last night we got back pretty late." Chaitanya tells me,"The kirtan in Brooklyn didn't want to end. I was surprised how crowded it was. Anish sang Hare Krishna to Christmas melodies at one point. That went over really well. Silent Night, Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman"
Several agreed, then demonstrated the melodies.
"I can't believe there's been over 2500 views on Anish's youtube video. We just posted it last night."
There is a South Indian video of a song, Kolaveri Di with over 28 million views. Anish sang Hare Krishna to that melody.
  (9000 views currently)
The group relocated to Devaki Nandan's home for dinner and a discussion with  Vinit Chander, the Hindu Chaplain at Princeton University. All adults were asked to leave the room so the kids could speak freely.The subject matter was on the issue of finding your life's companion in an objective, reasonable manner. Vinit  is an initiated devotee and 'one of the gang', yet he is an engaging speaker. From upstairs we heard several bursts of laughter, he certainly held their attention.

Tomorrow, we'll be immersed in kirtan to welcome the new year, then hop on a flight to Costa Rica at 7 the next morning.
I hope 2011 has treated you well.
We are grateful for lessons learned this year.