Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Clean and Happy

"This is my favorite activity" she said while loading sheets into her washing machine, "I just love having everything really clean."
"That's a nice thing to enjoy" I commented.
While visiting friends last weekend, I helped my hosts take sheets off the beds for laundry day.
While I also appreciate cleanliness, the act of cleaning is just a chore to get done. Here is someone who likes 'clean' so much, that cleaning makes her happy! She smiled and sang to herself, turning knobs on the washing machine and adding soap, a happy moment in her life."I really like this." She repeated, just in case I hadn't gotten it the first time.
Our quality of life is directly related to what we take pleasure in.
People struggle with addictions, their lives compromised by guilt or legal issues simply because they desire the wrong things.
-Impure desires always lead to suffering.
-Pure desires always bring happiness.
Unfortunately there is no washing machine we can throw our mind and heart into.
Our desires must wash themselves.
It begins with an initial desire to improve.
The next step is to humble oneself, understanding we need help from others.
The process is very pleasant and you may find yourself saying, "I really like this. This is my favorite activity."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Yard Sale Lesson

“You don't need a new backpack." Maharha reminded me, "Gaura Narayan is moving out next year. You're not going to be camping anymore.” 
I had picked up the backpack at a yard sale a few blocks from Nilamani's home in New Jersey. (We spent last weekend at a wedding in NYC)
“OK, I'll take it back.”
On the walk back I thought about what she'd said.
Years ago we had 2 boys at home and a shortage of backpacks. The request stayed in my head and when the opportunity arose I acted on it, even though there was no longer a need for a backpack.
“How many outdated, irrelevant desires am I still carrying?” I wondered.
The empty pack weighed nothing on my shoulders.
I remember carrying 40 or 50 pound packs on week long expeditions.
It was always a relief to take off such a heavy pack.
Walking would feel like floating.
“Why burden myself any longer with unnecessary desires?”, I thought.
“This is the beginning of a new me. I release everything.”
Yeah right. If only it was that easy.
At home we have a cedar chest. Although we've washed it, aired it for weeks, it smells like mothballs. Anything we put in there smells like mothballs. Because of that, we don't keep anything in there.
Desires can be like that. No matter how hard we try to shake them, the smell remains and pollutes everything we do.
What to do with desires that serve no useful purpose?
Religions, philosophies, psychologists, counselors, deep thinkers, parents, teachers and law enforcement agencies deal with this single question.
What to do with desires that serve no useful purpose?
The answer is simple, but the application is individual and unique in all cases. Like stopping a train, momentum pushes us forward long after we apply the brakes. We may do everything correctly, but it takes time to see results. Don't give up. 
Bad habits (desires) are broken by forming good habits. 

Different Vehicle Required

"If you're traveling by car and reach the ocean, you need to change vehicles to continue the journey. A car cannot carry you over water.
At some point in study of Bhagavad Gita or other wisdom books, you have to leave reasoning behind and take a different vehicle.
Even in science we do this to reach our destination. There are so many things that are unknown about light and electricity, yet we still use them in Science."
(A software engineer's contribution to a Gita discussion a couple weeks ago.)
The Gita teaches us that we suffer due to desire and anger. By analysis we learn to detach ourselves from these emotions, thus attaining our true, happy nature. Taking God's help makes this journey much easier. This book is so accommodating that even for those who have difficulty accepting a personal God, the Gita says, “OK, try it this way....”
“Reason is in fact the path to faith, and faith takes over when reason can say no more.”
― Thomas Merton

Granny Wisdom

"There's no issue that can't be resolved."
"Do you really believe that?" I asked. I was speaking with a family friend, a grandmother. She's raised kids and faced severe challenges. I wanted to hear her 'granny wisdom'. 
Did she honestly feel there is hope for everyone?
"Yes, I thoroughly believe it." she replied.
She's hasn't led an easy life, much of it spent as a single mom.
"How? After all you've been through? I don't want to cause doubt in your mind. If I understand your conviction it might affect me."
"Inside everyone there is a place" she answered," that's not touched by darkness.You can call it God, Krishna, Common Sense, Your Inner Self, whatever you want to call it," she continued," but it's there in everyone. It responds to love."
Her conviction had the effect I was hoping for.

I'm confident you will find similar teachings in every Wisdom Book. Bhagavad Gita's conclusion advises us to fully deliberate on the lesson and then do as we choose. But like a doting father sending his child off into the world, Krishna nudges us and winks, "Follow my advice and you'll have nothing to fear." Then He pulls us close, whispering in our ear with emotion, "Hey, I really love you and am always here for you."
He's addressing that place in us that is not touched by darkness.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 18, text 63- 66

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

If Elephants Could Fly

“We know we should be grateful for everything. What if a bird poops on you? Do you have experience of that here? While standing under a tree...?” The speaker imitates , looking up, wiping his shoulder with disgust. “How would you feel grateful for that? Anyone...? Who can answer this?”
35 young smiles respond, shaking their heads, admitting they don't have an answer.
I'm at a youth retreat in Atlanta, sitting on the cool marble floor of the temple room. The speaker is from ISKCON's World headquarters in Mayapur, West Bengal.
“A grateful person would consider, 'I am very glad that elephants don't fly.”
We laugh, glancing at each other in the colorful temple room.                                
"Now let me tell you another story of gratitude.” he continues,” A man bought tickets for the maiden voyage of the Titanic. He was not a rich man. He invested all his savings so his family could have this once in a lifetime experience. Unfortunately one of his sons was bitten by a stray dog just the day before the journey. He was unable to go. The whole family couldn't go. The man was furious. The tickets were non refundable. He had spent all his savings for this trip and some stupid dog had ruined their plans..... When he learned what happened to the Titanic, he wanted to find that dog and feed it, to show gratitude.”
Everyone nods in appreciation as Naru Gopal continues, story after story, advising the audience on proper conduct, proper attitude and goals.
This is an easy situation for me to be grateful. My 18 year old son is part of this group of high achieving kids, studying medicine, engineering, some having already graduated and begun their practice. No matter how tight their schedules, they give 5 days a year for this retreat. They organize it themselves, invite speakers from around the world, arrange cooking and accommodations.
On our drive home I notice a sign in front of a church, “What if you woke tomorrow morning with only the things you have given thanks for today?”

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Every 17 Years

We had a visitor from town last weekend.
"What's that sound?" She asked, "Is it somebody's car alarm?"
"No.It's the Cicadas. Don't you have them in Winston Salem?"
"Yeah, but not like this."
"There's a lot of trees here, and not much other noise, so I guess they're louder than you're used to in town."
This brood of Cicadas comes out of the ground every 17 years.
About a week ago they emerged. They were all over the road, climbing out of their old skins, drying in the sun, then flying into the trees where they begin singing.
Without the aid of internet or cell phones, every last one of them made their emergence within two days.
Soil temperature and biological change signal it's time to come up, time for metamorphosis.

As humans, many of us feel an urge to meta-morph into something better. We feel an urge to improve, that there is a higher level to pursue.
Insects are programmed to respond to urges and external stimuli.This insures the specie will survive.
Humans are similarly programed to mate and hoard food and possessions as much as possible.
Progress begins when we transform those urges into sharing and loving.
This is just the beginning.
There are multiple skins to grow out of, unhealthy habits and thought patterns to leave behind.
This happens automatically as we grow. If you pull the skin off a cicada before its time, the cicada will die. As it grows, the skin naturally sheds. As we develop spiritually, we naturally leave behind unwanted habits.
 A step by step progression has been described;
1) Faith and understanding that you are a spiritual being - Adau Shraddha
2) Find inspiring friends- Sadhu Sanga
3) Engage in a Spiritual Practice - Bhajana Kriya
4) Clearing stage, bad habits drop away- Anartha Nivrtti
As difficult as it sounds, there comes a time when all bad habits are left behind. The practitioner is rid of them forever. The rare people who achieve this stage are naturally attractive, as the good qualities inherent in all of us, are able to shine through, unimpeded. This appears to be an International phenomena manifest in all cultures and traditions, which gives us faith that it is attainable, that the goal does exist.

The next brood of 17 year Cicada will appear in 2030.
How will you evolve by that time?

Water Deeply

This morning I walked by a neighbor watering her garden.
"Water deep", I advised
"Really?"  She's a city girl, new to gardening, new to the backwoods of North Carolina.
"Yes. If you water lightly, the roots grow close to the surface. When it gets hot and dry, your plants will die."
"Oh..." She had been sprinkling a bit, wetting the surface, then moving on.
 "Water deep and the roots will grow deep,where they belong, where they can survive."
"OK, that makes sense. Thanks!"
Seeds of love and understanding sown in our heart also need regular, deep watering to grow. A recommended "watering" process is to hear or read books like Bhagavad Gita in the company of loving devotees.
We often see inspiring slogans and think, "That's nice. I'd like to imbibe that and be influenced by it." Because it doesn't seep in, there is no permanent change. It takes a while for the message to penetrate. Leave the hose at a trickle for a long time, let it saturate to where healthy roots will grow, you'll see a difference. Water deep.

In Costa Rica during the dry season last year I noticed a lush green spot at a neighbor's pasture. He had a watering trough for his horses supplied by a constantly running spring. The patch of tall grass contrasted with the rest of the dry field. Even with horses grazing, the grass stood over my head. It grew faster than they could eat it because of the regular supply of water.
You can see a similar contrast in your own life by deeply studying Wisdom Books of your tradition. We have unlimited access to media, yet feel 'dried up', uninspired. The fleeting messages we receive from the media don't nourish our heart. We require deep watering, don't just wet the surface.

What Can Repression Accomplish?

I've noticed that bean vines in my garden always wrap in a clockwise direction as they climb the poles. All vines in our area move in the same direction, like the threads of a screw, always clockwise.

 While assisting bean vines to climb their poles, I take care to wrap them in the proper direction, otherwise they get confused and undo any help given. While bean vines are not particularly smart, they do have a specialized skill, something that no one else can do. They create beans.
If we are to help anyone, we must observe their nature. Help offered must be in tune with their nature, otherwise we waste time and cause confusion.
Have you ever given help or advice to someone who didn't appreciate it?
Have you ever endured a good teacher who worked against your grain?
"Even a man of knowledge acts according to his own nature, for everyone follows the nature he has acquired from the three modes. What can repression accomplish?"
Bhagavad Gita 3/33


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Irrational Behavior

Potatoes are cheap, why should I go to the trouble of planting them? A more productive use of time would be to make money and buy potatoes as I need them."
Such thoughts went through my head last Friday as several friends and neighbors came to help plant 200 pounds of potatoes.
"This is a lot of work, and it's only part of the job. We still need to hill them up and cultivate the weeds as the plants grow, then dig them up in the hottest part of the summer. Most people just buy potatoes in the store. Why do I go through this every year?"
Nine of us shoveled manure into the trenches cut by the tractor. Even 3 year old Audrey made herself useful, gently placing potatoes into the row.  The tractor covered everything up again and in a couple hours we were done, Everyone had a great time, Jago the donkey munched grass nearby. Perhaps he'll help with cultivation if we can find a harness that fits.
From a financial perspective, it makes no sense to grow a garden, yet we feel compelled to plant every year. Sometimes the deer or bugs eat everything, one year it flooded and we lost everything. When things go well, even the surplus can be a problem.
You've got to love it.
 For those who don't, our behavior appears irrational.
"Who Is Crazy?"
In 1965, Prabhupad was 'fresh off the boat' from India. After spending his first Winter in poverty, observing the people of NY, he wrote a short essay. "A materialist will think the spiritualist is crazy, while the spiritualist will think material pursuits are vain. Who is correct? Who is actually crazy?" This essay was printed and became the first Hare Krishna flier to be handed out to the public.
Imagine yourself in 1966 as a monk hands you a flier with "Who Is Crazy?" in bold lettering. Very provocative.

Love will cause us to act irrationally.
I think everyone will agree however, that a life without love holds little value.

Further Irrational Behavior
June 22 we are planning a Full Moon Festival, an overnight campout in the garden, under shade trees. A drama troupe will  perform in the Moonlight as we feast on freshly dug potatoes and garden vegetables roasted over a fire.
Why would you want to sleep outside, under the moon and stars, when you have a home and comfortable bed?
To be rational at all times seems crazy to me.
If you agree, please join us in June.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Scary Dream

Attacked by an unseen force I called out loudly until I awoke to Maharha shaking me,” Wake up! Wake up! It's OK! You're here!”
“That was SUCH A WEIRD AND SCARY DREAM. I'm glad you were here to wake me up.”           
“I've never heard you scream like that. There was terror in your voice.”                 
“Sorry about that. It must have been scary for you too. In the dream there was no one nearby and I had to shout for help. I haven't been scared in a dream like that since I was a little kid”

I was a afraid to go back to sleep again. Instead, I looked up the following quote from my guru, written in 1962;

"A forgetful, conditioned soul is fearful. But a liberated soul is never fearful, just as a small child completely dependent on the mercy of his father is never fearful of anyone. Fearfulness is a sort of illusion for the living being when he is in slumber and forgetting his eternal relation with the Lord. Since the living being is never to die by his constitution, as stated in Bhagavad-gītā (2.20), then what is the cause of fearfulness? A person may be fearful of a tiger in a dream, but another man who is awake by his side sees no tiger there. The tiger is a myth for both of them, namely the person dreaming and the person awake, because actually there is no tiger; but the man forgetful of his awakened life is fearful, whereas the man who has not forgotten his position is not at all fearful."
AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Srimad Bhagavatam 1/14/38 commentary

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Chase Your Shadow

One day my mother suggested,"Go outside and run around the house a few times. See if you can catch your shadow."
 Our house in Hawaii wasn't very big, but for a 5 year old boy this was an adventure.
"Mom knows what she's talking about." I thought, "I'll catch my shadow and bring it back to her."
 Part of the yard was like a jungle with Bird of Paradise plants towering over my head.
After circling the house a couple times I realized I would not be able to catch my shadow.
By that time I had found something else to do, my mother had rescued me from boredom.

We spend much of our life chasing insubstantial things.
When we meet frustration, we give up for a while, then resume the chase.
A hunger for happiness drives our pursuit.

Material pleasure is described as sruti-sukha: "Happiness that one hears about, but never fully tastes because it stays just out of reach."
At some point we realize the futility of chasing things,
the best things in life are not 'things'.