"Planet ISKCON" - 45 new articles
H.G. Sankarshan das Adhikari, USA: Saturday 14 August 2010--Physicist Says Universe Came Out of Nothing--Disagreement With Your ...
Stephen Hawking, a world famous theoretical physicist who has been described as the greatest mind on the planet, states "...the universe was spontaneously created out of absolutely nothing." But all around us we see that things came from something. It has never been scientifically proven that something can come out of nothing. So why should accept that...
For five days, the small Utsav-vighraha functional Deities (Sri Sri Radha Krishna) are taken from the altar and placed on an elaborately decorated swing in the temple room.
After receiving the traditional arati worship, the Deities are pushed on Their swing. Members of the congregation are invited to participate. Each person offers flower petals and personal prayers, and then pushes the swing as the other members chant Hare Krishna, Jaya Radhe Jaya Krishna Jaya Vrindavan, or Jaya Radhe, Jaya Jaya Madhava dayite in kirtan.
The atmosphere of this festival is especially sweet as everyone has the chance to intimately serve Radha and Krishna. So please join us and participate in this intimate pastime of Their Lordships.
This 7-days long festival will be held from the 9th till the 15th september and features classes by H.G Bhurijana Prabhu, a full day of japa meditation, dawn-till-dusk kirtan and ends with the festival of Sri Radhastami.
I've added a new category to my blog: "Devotional Dawkins".
In this category I will be posting a series of articles examining the congruence between Richard Dawkins' empirical interpretation of the mundane world with the Vedic worldview that underpins Krishna Consciousness.
I personally think that while we have a number of congruences with Christian philosophers, on the matter of empiricism the Vedic worldview is more congruent with modern science than it is with Creationism as a scientific doctrine.
While it is tempting to join the Christian Crusade against Professor Dawkins, and many within ISKCON obviously think it a good idea, I personally will not be joining.
My observation is that many of the congruent points that we share with Professor Dawkins are points that Creationists would also wage war on us for - for example, the idea that there is a single common ancestor, and a limited set of common ancestors of all living beings, which I discussed in my previous post. This would be grounds for Crusade against our worldview by Creationists, whereas it is a point of agreement with Dawkins.
One of the major reasons why Dawkins' worldview is more congruent with the Vedic worldview than the Creationist one, is that Dawkins' area of authority is the phenomenological world of mundane experience. Just as Buddhist philosophy and psychology is compatible and very similar to Krishna Consciousness up to the point of nirvana, similarly Dawkins' worldview is compatible up to the limits of empiricism. His worldview does not contain the soul, and thus represents a subset of the total Vedic worldview.
Creationism, on the other hand, already has the soul within it. This is a point of congruence with the Vedic worldview. However, Creationism mixes the concept of the soul and the body, making it incompatible with both Dawkins and the Vedic worldviews.
The beginning of knowledge, by the Vedic standard, is understanding the difference between spirit and matter. Whereas Dawkins' biological worldview is devoid of the concept of spirit, and thus offers the potential for a synthesis, the Creationist worldview has the concept, but it is erroneous. Thus their world view offers neither empirical rigour, nor metaphysical rigour by the Vedic standard.
When I say empirical rigour, I am referring to what Dawkins calls "the explanatory power of Darwin's big idea.
Studying books such as Dawkin's watershed work "The Selfish Gene" reveals that Darwin's big idea explains the material world in terms that are congruent with the Vedic world view - the material bodies are machines manufactured by the material energy, and are vehicles for material desires which are a completely separate agenda for the higher-order beings (ourselves) who find themselves manifested within them for a limited span of time.
This is completely at odds with the worldview of Creationism - another powerful example of our affinity for Dawkins over the Crusade against him.
Professor Dawkins' statements about religion are outside the scope of his work on biology and empirical science, and fall more into the category of sociology and psychology. In many of those cases I also happen to agree with him. In the area of metaphysical statements he also exceeds the scope of empirical science, and these are again in another category. In that category I feel he speaks with more certainty than is warranted by the available empirical evidence, and also borrows from his authority in other areas to lend more credence to his ideas there, than they would otherwise merit in isolation.
Readers who made it this far in this article may also be interested in my category "Dawkins", where I posted two years ago a series of posts analysing Dawkins' debates with various religious representatives.
- Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale, p 7
- Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale, p 40
The Vedic idea is that there is a limited set of common ancestors of all living beings, descended from the single common ancestor and called the prajapatis. The way the story is commonly recounted, the prajapatis are born of the original common ancestor, the prajapati-pati, and their wives give birth to all the various living species. The exact details of how they do this are not given, and trying to imagine how one lady gives birth to millions of different species can sometimes be a factor in someone going: "This is too fanatastic, I'm giving up this Vedic narrative for some rational science."
However, if you actually follow through on inquiry in the rational scientific school, and sit at the feet of the master of rational science, His Eminence Professor Richard Dawkins, studying his works such as River Out Of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, and The Ancestor's Tale, you will gain a scientific understanding of exactly how this is so. The Vedic literature compresses geological ages into sutras, and presents the conclusion in a way that can be comprehended by pre-scientific people.
All living beings of the various species that we see today have a limited set of common ancestors, and ultimately a single common ancestor.
The background stories in the Srimad Bhagavatam, about creation and the structure of the universe, are the same as the background stories in all the Puranas. They represent the cultural context of the civilisation that produced the Puranas. Their scientific understanding of the material world is presented in the poetic and metaphorical language that they used and understood. However, each of the Puranas differs in the metaphysical message that accompanies this cultural context. The message of the Bhagavatam is not about the prajapatis, and the prajapatis and the prajapatih-pati appear as background for specific stories, such as the Marriage of Kardama Muni and Devahuti (as SB 3.20), which carry the real import of the work.
I woke up at 1:00 A.M. and began my chanting. I had some mental distractions but pushed them aside. They are like the interruptions of Baladeva from Trinidad coming up while I was writing a poem. I heard him open the loud door at the bottom of the stairs. Then his steps came up the stairs. Then his intrusive face was staring at me, and he asked me if I wanted my letters printed out. He caught me like a deer in the headlights, with my earphones on. I could not get back to my train of thought in the poem. The distractions that come while chanting japa are like that. They break up your momentum. But fortunately, you are able to push them aside, like dirty things in the Ganges, and get on with your bathing in the maha-mantra. The mind can be controlled. I have chanted my full 16 rounds all at once, and that is very satisfying. I did them with attention to the syllables and in a steady flow of accumulating numerical strength. I count these among the good days, although they could be better. They lack the deep bhava of attachment and fervor of emotions. They're chanted in hours of peaceful solitude in my Viraha Bhavan. There are no waves in this ocean, but there should be. In the ocean of bhakti as described by Rupa Goswami there are movements of waves, ecstatic symptoms, and my ocean is too calm for that. So I yearn for more movement in the inner world while chanting.
Sixteen rounds, the vow
Prabhupada is in a rough, austere setting, preaching outdoors in a tent. The weather is cool, and the people are dressed warmly. Prabhupada has his right hand in his bead bag and his left hand in the jnana-mudra. He is speaking to a small, simple-looking group of men who have gathered at his feet. He is not at one of his comfortable ISKCON temples but at a camp, like a mela. This appears to be not a main lecture but an informal, extra talk he is giving to this group that has somehow gathered to see him.
Prabhupada was always ready to speak to an interested audience about the importance of Krishna. He doesn't appear to be speaking from a particular sloka of Srimad Bhagavatam but perhaps giving them an introduction talk on the science of bhakti. This is the pious land of Bharata-varsa, where young men are willing to gather and hear a learned discourse from a reputed acarya.
"Then he says, 'By understanding
"A riotous, joyous way. Not the
"Please excuse me please
"His bicycle parked nearby,
"Don't you matter, we will get a new
"Blow wind and scorch your cheeks
"Why not just say, 'I tried'
How simple it is.
Dan's wife, Sara, asked her husband if she could have a meeting with Rupa Swami.
"Why?" asked Dan.
"Well, he's become your good friend, and he's had a good influence on Bob. There are some things I would like to talk with him about. Of course, one of his men would be present when we met."
"It's all right with me," said Dan. "If he can help in our relationship, I would be all for it."
Sarah was in her 50s, slightly plump but well-preserved. She wore her dark hair long and dressed in a plain black dress when she went to the Healing House.
"I'm a Catholic," she introduced herself to Swami Rupa, "and my husband told me you used to be one too. You've become a little like a priest to our family, and I wanted to talk to you confidentially. Is that all right?" Nara was present in the room reading a book.
"Yes, I'll keep your talk confidential," said the Swami. "Although Dan and I have a pretty tight relationship."
"That is just what I want to talk with you about, my relationship with my husband. It is not going so well in recent years in certain areas. A lot of it has to do with money. He sees me as always nagging him–that's what he says. And I see him as spending money inappropriately."
Sarah spoke quite openly into the issue that divided them. She said that she goes to church every Sunday and was hurt when her husband stopped going. She continued to go and took the children, but now that the children are teenagers they are protesting that they don't want to go to church anymore, like their father. Except for rare occasions, the children don't go anymore. Sarah said that she still goes, but it has taken away her enthusiasm and she feels alone.
"And the other issue is his wasteful spending of money. He is a sportsman, a hunter. He buys guns, and he recently bought an expensive ATV to drive into the forest."
Her interest is to save money for their retirement, and she is anxious he will leave them poor.
"I didn't know he was a hunter," the Swami said soberly.
"Oh yes, he hunts deer, and sometimes he goes with his friends to gun shows and buys guns."
"Why are you worried about your retirement?" Swami Rupa asked. "You shouldn't be so anxious. You should be dependent that God will take care of you."
"I do have faith," she said. But she seemed embarrassed. "We have to be practical too. We have to put our savings into retirement."
"Won't God take care of everything?" asked Swami Rupa.
"Yes, but . . . It's just that . . . " Her sentences became disjointed. "You're right, I should have more faith. And my husband tells me he's aware of our retirement needs. He said he's not neglecting it."
"I don't think that hunting is a good sport," said the Swami frankly. "It's violent to innocent animals. But I don't think it would be easy for you or me to change Dan on that. But I think you are being too anxious about your future. You should take your ultimate shelter in God."
"That may be easy for you to say," said Sarah, "as a retired mendicant. I have a family of four . . . But I appreciate what you say. You are right. I should have more faith." Sarah said something about familiarity breeding contempt. She said that when couples grow older, then love life grows cold—but this was something she didn't think she could talk to Swami Rupa about. It was another issue, however.
"There are different ways to show affection," said Swami Rupa. He said Dan was a wonderful man, husband and father, and she should feel grateful.
"You're right," she said. "I do. He's right, I do whine and nag. It's my nature."
"Maybe you could make a prayer to be more appreciative, give your husband some slack."
"Yes, Father . . . uh, Swami," she said contritely. Ollie entered the room with some snacks.
Sarah was talkative. She mentioned how her son was doing so well in school and had a better attitude in helping around the home. Janice was getting a little distant, but they were trying to be understanding, knowing she was becoming a teenager. She was actually a very good girl. Swami asked Sarah what she did. She said she took yoga lessons twice a week from Keli, Saci's wife. She liked the people at the yoga studio, and sometimes she went to the kirtanas.
"We have kirtanas here every night at 6:30 for half an hour," said the Swami.
"Oh. Maybe I'll come sometime. My priest said it was all right, yoga and all. They even do it in the church." She talked on. After two hours, Nara said maybe Swami Rupa should end the meeting so he didn't get a headache. The Swami explained his weakness and begged off. Mrs. Shields seemed pleased with the visit and to have gained a little solace. She left and made a general invitation that the Swami should come to their house for supper sometime soon.
Rupa Madhurya das, TX, USA: Lecture - Prahladananda Swami - SB 9.11.26 - Lord Ramachandra didn't have an iPad
Lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 9, Chapter 11, Text 26 titled "Lord Ramachandra didn't have an iPad" by Prahladananda Swami.
During the reign of Lord Ramacandra, the streets of the capital, Ayodhya, were sprinkled with perfumed water and drops of perfumed liquor, thrown about by elephants from their trunks. When the citizens saw the Lord personally supervising the affairs of the city in such opulence, they appreciated this opulence very much.
We have simply heard about the opulence of Rama-rajya during the reign of Lord Ramacandra. Now, here is one example of the opulence of the Lord's kingdom. The streets of Ayodhya were not only cleaned but also sprinkled with perfumed water and drops of perfumed liquor, which were distributed by elephants through their trunks. There was no need of sprinkling machines, for the elephant has a natural ability to suck water through its trunk and again throw it out in a shower. We can understand the opulence of the city from this one example: it was actually sprinkled with perfumed water. Moreover, the citizens had the opportunity to see the Lord personally supervising the affairs of the state. He was not a sleeping monarch, as we can understand from His activities in sending His brothers to see to affairs outside the capital and punish anyone who did not obey the emperor's orders. This is called dig-vijaya. The citizens were all given facilities for peaceful life, and they were also qualified with appropriate attributes according to varnasrama. As we have seen from the previous chapter, varnasrama-gunanvitah: the citizens were trained according to the varnasrama system. A class of men were brahmanas, a class of men were kshatriyas, a class were vaisyas, and a class were sudras. Without this scientific division, there can be no question of good citizenship. The King, being magnanimous and perfect in His duty, performed many sacrifices and treated the citizens as His sons, and the citizens, being trained in the varnasrama system, were obedient and perfectly ordered. The entire monarchy was so opulent and peaceful that the government was even able to sprinkle the street with perfumed water, what to speak of other management. Since the city was sprinkled with perfumed water, we can simply imagine how opulent it was in other respects. Why should the citizens not have felt happy during the reign of Lord Ramacandra.
Download: 2010-07-08 - Lecture - Prahladananda Swami - SB 9.11.26 - Lord Ramachandra didn't have an iPad.mp3
1965 August 13:
1969 August 13: "So your endeavor to induce the Beatles to cooperate with us is successful. I am very glad to learn that George Harrison was playing on harmonium and guitar and that this record is being played on first class radio stations all day. This is very encouraging."
1969 August 13: "In the Kingdom of Maya you cannot stop the onslaught of her activities. The only protective measure is Krishna Consciousness. Otherwise there is no alternative."
1974 August 13: "Regarding moneys collected, do not keep this money. Immediately spend on printing books. This should be strictly followed: 50% for printing and 50% for building. No money should be invested for any business."
1974 August 13: "Regarding the society's leaders emphasizing business, you should understand what is the meaning of business. Business means to help the preaching. Preaching needs financial help - otherwise, we have no need for business."
1974 August 13: "Our book business is sufficient to support our movement. I do not want the preaching to be at the expense of managing. Manager must also be a preacher - otherwise who will want to follow him?"
1974 August 13: "Regarding sales figures, please endeavor in this way. The sales figures - this is the only solace in my life. When I hear that my books are selling so nicely, I become energetic like a young man."
I am watching this one hour video of Srila Prabhupada around the world. Check it out! I love it.
Most people around the world know Vaisesika das an amazing book distributor! However, last year in Toronto, we were very fortunate to experience a different and very special side of Vaisesika das - his amazing kirtans and bhajans!
Maybe this is why I always feel so light-hearted when I’m in south India?
Srila Prabhupada writes in his commentary of the Fourth Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam:
Resist an impulse to do anything else until you complete your chanting.
This is an edited music video showing not only the 2010 LA Ratha Yatra, but some of the setting up of the Rath Carts, young Dhruva's annual kids Ratha Yatra, Snana Yatra, and a few scenes of the Festival area and packing away the Rath Carts. The music track is "Jagannath Astakam" from the Album "Illuminize" by Shabda Hari Das.
Filmed & Produced by Prananatha das
I found that when sastra talks about ‘devotee’ it can mean either someone who is practicising sadhana-bhakti or someone who is a pure devotee. How can one ascertain which ‘devotee’ the sastra is referring to from context to context?
By Vinayasheel devi dasi
When I was teenager, I used to think Why do I have to ride my Scooty, and I don't have a car instead. Or, you can understand how cribbing I was, as I recollect my thoughts in past. So these mundane thoughts were kind of ghosts influencing my subtle body.
By Lakshman das
Hariyali Teej is a festival celebrated in Shukla-paksha in the month of Shravana (August) during the rainy season. In 2010, Hariyali Teej is celebrated on 12 August. Hariyali relates to green and teej represents three
By Prayag Narayan Misra
Healthy Living Camp was organized at ISKCON Phoenix Hare Krishna Temple, Chandler recently for kids aged five years to 12 years in cooperation with health and wellness company Whole Body Fitness, LLC.
Kisori dasi: Situated in a beautiful beachside location in central business district, thriving business with surronding high rises and cafes. Regular clientele, large customer base
Timesofindia.com: 'Pretty Woman' star Julia Roberts, who recently converted to Hinduism, says she took up the religion because she was intrigued by it. In an interview to fashion magazine Elle, Roberts had admitted that she became a practising Hindu after visiting India
Dandavats.com: Devotees With Marriage Questions: Four things that can destroy any relationship and how to avoid them
Grihastha Vision Team: The Grihastha Vision Team presents to you our monthly FREE teleconference call where people can call in and ask questions and listen to everyone's answers about Grihastha asrama. This call takes place EVERY THIRD WEDNESDAY or THURSDAY of every month and is on varied topics relating to marriage and family and is for one hour
We waited. And waited. It was a sweltering summer day in the Florida panhandle. The morning sun glared through the expansive windows of an airport departure gate. There, a young blond haired lady, neatly uniformed with a blue vest over a pressed white shirt and matching blue pants, stepped up to the counter, timidly surveyed the room, then announced a one hour delay. Passengers sighed, edgy to escape from the heat and travel north. With cellular phones pressed to their ears, they persistently glanced at their wristwatches.
Among them stood a middle-aged woman. She had nicely coiffed reddish-brown hair. Her dress and demeanor hinted that she was a lady of wealth and taste. Suddenly, she flushed red, flung her boarding pass and screamed, "No! You can't do this to me." Her outrage jolted the assembly. Everyone stared as she stomped to the counter, stuck her finger in the face of the receptionist and shouted, "I warn you, do not anger me. Put me on that plane, at once!"
The airline hostess cowered. "But ma'am, there's nothing I can do. The air conditioning system of the plane has broken down."
The woman's lips quivered. Her eyes burned and she screeched louder, "Don't you fight with me, you stupid child. You don't know who I am. Damn it, do something. Now! I can't take it." She ranted on and on.
After finishing her verbal lashing, she fumed and scanned the lounge. Her eyes landed on me sitting alone in a corner of the room in my saffron colored swami robes. She stormed toward me while everyone looked on. Now, standing almost on top of me, her face distorted with anger, she yelled, "Are you a monk?"
Oh God, I thought, why me. I really didn't need this. After an arduous week of lectures and meetings, I just wanted to be left alone.
"Answer me," she persisted. "Are you a monk?"
"Something like that," I whispered. The whole room watched, no doubt delighted that I got to be the lightning rod and not them.
"Then I demand an answer," she challenged. "Why is my flight late? Why is God doing this to me?"
"Please ma'am," I said. "Sit down and let us talk about it." She sat beside me. "My name is Radhanath Swami," I said. "You can call me Swami. Please tell me what is in your heart?" I have asked this question thousands of times and never know what to expect.
She said her name was Dorothy, that she was a housewife, fifty-seven years old, and lived on the east coast. She had been living happily with her family until…then she started to weep. She pulled tissue after tissue from her purse, blew her nose, and wept some more.
"It was tragic," she said. "All at once I lost my husband of thirty years and my three children. Now I'm alone. I can't bear the pain." She gripped the handle of her chair. "Then I was cheated. The bank put my house into foreclosure and kicked me out on the street. You see this handbag? That's all that's left."
Looking more closely at her face, I noted that beneath the well coiffed exterior her complexion was pale, her eyebrows tense, and her lips slanted down in sadness. Dorothy went on to explain that, if all that sadness were not enough, she had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She had one month left to live. In a desperate effort to save her life, she had discovered a cancer clinic in Mexico which claimed they might possibly have a cure. But she had to be admitted today. If she missed her connecting flight in Washington, D.C., her chances of survival were finished.
One of my duties is to oversee spiritual services in a hospital in India. I have ministered to victims of terrorist bombs, earthquakes, tsunamis, rape, trauma, disease, poverty and heartbreak of all sorts, but I cannot remember more anguish written on a human face than Dorothy's. "And now this flight is late," she said, "and there goes my last chance to live. I tried to be a good wife and mother, I go to church, I give in charity, and I never willfully hurt anyone. But now there is no one in the world who cares if I live or die. Why is God doing this to me?"
Minutes before, I had been cringing at her obnoxious behavior. How easy it is to judge people by external appearances. Understanding what was below the surface flooded my heart with sympathy. When she saw tears welling in my eyes her voice softened.
"It seems maybe you care," she said.
What could I do? I felt too weak to do anything. Closing my eyes, I prayed to be an instrument to help her. "Dorothy, I do feel for you. You're a special soul."
"Special." she huffed. "I've been thrown out like a worthless piece of trash and I'm going to die. But I believe you think I'm special, and I thank you for that."
"There may not be anything you can do about what has happened," I said, "but you can choose how you will respond to what has happened. How you react can affect the future."
"What do you mean?"
"You can lament how cruelly the world has cheated you and spend your days cursing life, making others uncomfortable, and dying a meaningless death. Or you can go deeper inside those experiences and grow spiritually." I remembered her comment about going to church.
"Doesn't it say in the Bible, 'Seek and ye shall find' and also 'Knock and the door will open'? Would you rather die in depression or in gratitude? You have that choice." Her hand trembled and she grasped my forearm.
"I'm so afraid, Swami. I'm so afraid of dying. Please tell me what death is." Her face had all but wilted. What could I do? I felt so incompetent. If only I had the power to heal her disease. But I didn't. Still, my years of training in Bhakti had taught me that we all have the power to soothe another person's heart by accessing the love that is within ourselves. I felt like a surgeon in an operating theater and silently offered a prayer before speaking again.
"In order to understand death," I said, "we must first understand life. Consider this question: Who are you?"
"My name is Dorothy, I'm American…"
"Dorothy, when you were a baby, before you had been given a name, were you not already a person? If you were to show me a baby picture today, you would say, 'That's me.' But your body has changed. Your mind and intellect and desires have changed. When was the last time you craved your mother's milk? Everything about you has changed, but yet here you are. You can change your name, your nationality, your religion, and with today's technology you can even change your sex. So what part of you does not change? Who is the witness of all these changes? That witness is you, the real you."
"I'm not sure I understand what you are saying," Dorothy said. "What is the real me?"
"You are the conscious person, the life force, the soul within the body, who is having the experiences of this lifetime. You see through your eyes, you taste with your tongue, smell through your nose, you think with your brain—but who are you, the person receiving all those impressions? That is the soul. The body is like a car and the soul is the driver. We should not neglect the needs of the soul. We eagerly nourish the needs of the body and mind, but if we neglect the needs of the soul we miss out on the real beauty of human life."
"Go on," Dorothy said.
"Animals and other non-human species react to situations according to their instincts. Lions don't decide to become vegetarian on ethical grounds, and cows don't become carnivores. Essentially, beings other than humans are driven to satisfy their needs of eating, sleeping, mating and defending according to the instincts of their species. A human being is entrusted with a priceless gift, which can be utilized for creating the most profound benefits or the worst disasters. That gift is free will.
"But with the blessing of free will comes a price, namely responsibility. We can choose to be a saint or a criminal or anything in between, and we are responsible for the consequences of those choices."
"You're talking about karma," Dorothy said. I was surprised by her knowledge of the word. "I've never really understood that idea," she said.
I explained that karma is a natural law, like gravity, which acts irrespective of whether we believe in it or not. As ye sow, says the Bible, so shall ye reap. Or as they say back in Chicago where I come from, what goes around comes around. If I cause pain to others, a corresponding pain will come back to me in due course. If I show compassion to others, good fortune will come my way. Dorothy didn't seem encouraged, and I began to feel like I had taken the conversation in the wrong direction.
"That sounds like a justification for becoming callous and judgmental about suffering," she said. And she was making a good point. Sadly, I had witnessed within myself as well as in others a tendency to do just that.
"Dorothy," I said, "the devotional tradition in India teaches that karma and other mysteries are not intended to discourage us into thinking we are helpless victims of a cold and cruel universe. Rather, we should feel encouraged to take responsibility for the choices we make knowing that how we live can make a difference. For myself, I have discovered that spiritual truths lead me to the joys of compassion and devotion, starting first of all with myself. Charity begins at home. Once I can forgive myself for not being perfect, then I can begin to look upon others with similar compassion. Bhakti has taught me that we are all related, in our happiness and our distress."
"So just what am I supposed to take away from that?" Dorothy asked. "If everything that has happened to me is my fault, my karma, I don't see how I can avoid drowning myself in guilt."
Dorothy was emotionally starved and I felt that meeting her was a test of my own spiritual realization. "Instead of drowning yourself in guilt, you have a precious opportunity to bathe in grace. The philosophy of karma is meant to lift us up and encourage us to make the right choices in both joy and suffering. Depression impedes our progress. In whatever situation we find ourselves we have the opportunity to transform how we see that situation. Devotional life doesn't make every crisis disappear, but it can help us to see crises with new eyes, and often that deeper vision leads to a more content frame of mind. I've been practicing that for many years, and I know it has helped me to see the hand of God in all things…"
"Swami, don't give me any religious dogma. I had enough of that as a kid. In church they taught us that the good go to heaven and the bad go to hell. The last thing I need is more of that. Tell me what is really in your heart."
She was doing a good job getting me to explain things that can't be physically seen such as the soul, the law of karma, and reincarnation.
"Tragedies in this life can sometimes be attributed to things done in previous lives. Because the soul is eternal, we carry those consequences from this life to the next." That really got Dorothy angry.
"It shouldn't matter what we did in some other life. Why should we believe that God is merciful when we see in this life that good people suffer and wicked people prosper?"
"Years ago," I said, "an old recluse in the Himalayas shared with me an interesting analogy. It is quite simple but it sheds some light on the subject." Mentioning that I had spent time in the Himalayas must have captured her fancy because for the first time I noted the trace of a smile on Dorothy's lips.
"The yogi gave the analogy of a farmer who puts excellent grains into his silo but then adds rotten grains on top. The silo empties out from the bottom, so when the farmer goes to sell his grains the healthy grains come out first and for a while he wallows in prosperity. But with time his prosperity will end and poverty awaits him.
"Then the yogi gave the analogy of another farmer who fills his silo with rotten grains. Eventually he learns to do better and begins pouring only fresh wholesome grains into the silo. He may be presently suffering from his past deposits, but a glorious future awaits him.
"We humans create our own destiny. We are free to make choices. But once we act, we are bound to the karmic consequences of what we have done. You may choose to get on an airplane to Washington, D.C., but once the plane takes off you have no choice about where you're going to arrive…"
Suddenly, the voice of the airline hostess came through the speakers announcing a further delay of another hour. Dorothy whimpered. I gave her a sympathetic smile.
"Here is that choice again, either to focus on the miseries of our fate or transform how we see our fate. Most of us have a huge mixture of karmic seeds of fate waiting to sprout. But the most important teaching of the Bhagavad Gita is that we are eternal souls, transcendental to all karmic reactions. That's a very reassuring thing to know. Even in the midst of great distress, people who live with awareness of their eternal nature can be happy. The Bible tells us that the kingdom of God is within. True happiness is an experience of the heart. What is it the heart longs for?"
Dorothy's sad eyes searched mine. "My heart aches for love," she said.
"We all do," I said. "Our need to love and be loved originates in our innate love for God." I quoted words that Mother Theresa from Calcutta had spoken to me years before. "The greatest problem in this world is not the hunger of the stomach but the hunger of the heart. All over the world both rich and poor suffer. They are lonely, starving for love. Only God's love can satisfy the hunger of the heart."
"You're a Hindu and I'm a Christian," Dorothy said. "Which God are you talking about?"
I looked out the window at a blazing summer sun. "In America it is called the sun, in Mexico, sol and in India, surya. But is it an American sun or a Mexican sun? The essence of all religions is one, to love God—whatever name we may have for God—and live as an instrument of that love. To transform arrogance into humility, greed into benevolence, envy into gratitude, vengeance into forgiveness, selfishness into servitude, complacency into compassion, doubt into faith, and lust into love. The character of love is universal to all spiritual paths."
Dorothy really didn't look like any of this was reaching her.
"Someone told me," she blurted, "that the reason I'm suffering is that God wants to experience the world's suffering through me. What kind of a God is that?"
"People have been inventing ideas about God for a long time," I replied. "In the Bhakti tradition we have three checks and balances for true knowledge of God: guru, sadhu, and shastra. Guru means spiritual teacher. Sadhu means holy people. And shastra means scriptures, wisdom revealed by God. Throughout history different scriptures have been given according to time, place and the nature of the people for whom the teachings were intended. The ritual parts may differ, but the essence of true scriptures is always the same. However, because people tend to invent meanings, followers of Bhakti receive their understanding of scripture from a guru or teacher coming in an authorized succession of teachers. The Bhakti lineage traces its origin back before recorded history, a succession of realized souls who have preserved the original spirit of the teachings throughout the generations. The company of sadhus is important because with people who are also on the path to God we can share our understanding and realizations…"
Dorothy was not convinced. "What do your Bhakti teachers tell you about why God gave us free will when it makes so many people suffer?"
"In order for there to be love," I said, "there must be free will. You can force people to obey but not to love. Without that freedom there would be little meaning to love. When we choose to turn away from God, we enter the material world and forget our original loving nature. We become covered by a cloud that camouflages the real nature of things."
"Like a veil?" she asked.
"Yes, like a veil."
"Well, I think I'm wearing many veils."
"We all are. The veil is called maya, illusion, in which we forget our true identity and wander birth after birth chasing superficial pleasures. The real substance of happiness is within our own hearts. Please understand, your situation is an opportunity…"
Dorothy moaned. "How is suffering an opportunity?"
"May I tell you the story of a famous lady saint?"
"Her name was Queen Kunti a most pious and devoted lady. She underwent unbearable miseries. Her husband died when she was very young. As a widow she raised five small children. The eldest was meant to inherit the throne when he came of age. Because her children were so popular for their virtue and skills, a rival burned with envy. That wicked man seized the crown and ruled. All of Kunti's property was usurped and her children were banished. They faced repeated assassination attempts and constant persecution. In the end, her persecutors were brought to justice and her eldest son was enthroned. At that time she prayed to Lord Krishna, 'In those calamities I had no one to turn to but You. In that condition I had no other shelter but to call your name, and calling out to You meant I was remembering You at every moment. Thank you, my Lord, for my suffering was also the source of my greatest happiness.'
I mentioned the work of a famous doctor, who said that sometimes patients come to him to say that having a heart attack was the best thing that ever happened. How is that? Because it took a crisis to get them to rethink their appreciation for life, their habits, their priorities, and see the blessings that they had always undervalued. That seemed to register with Dorothy.
"Bhakti doesn't necessarily make our material situation go away," I said, "but at the very least it gives us something more than our bitterness to focus on. And more important, when we open up to the possibility of some explanation other than cruel fate, we just may find that there is a loving Supreme Being looking out for us. In your present condition, Dorothy, you can turn to God like practically no one else can do."
She closed her eyes she asked, "In your tradition, do you have a meditation to help us turn to God?"
"There are many forms of meditation," I told her. "I have been given one that has, since ancient times, been practiced for awakening the dormant love of the soul. May I teach you?"
"This is a mantra. In the Sanskrit language, man means the mind and tra means to liberate. The mind is compared to a mirror. For more births than we can count, we have allowed dust to cover the mirror of the mind—dust in the form endless misconceptions, desires and fears. In that state all we see is the dust, and so that is what we identify with. The chanting of this mantra is a process for cleaning the mirror of the mind and bringing it back to its natural clarity where we can see who we really are, a pure soul, a part of God, eternal, full of knowledge and bliss. As the mind becomes cleaner the divine qualities of the self emerge while ignorance and all of its cohorts fade away. As we approach that state, we can experience the inherent love of God within us. As love of God awakens, unconditional love for every living being manifests spontaneously. We realize that everyone is our sister or brother and a part of our beloved Lord."
The speaker system crackled and everyone in the room perked up, staring at the airline hostess almost like prisoners would look at a parole board, yearning to be released.
"I'm sorry," she announced, "but they haven't yet fixed the air conditioner, and there will be another hour delay."
Dorothy slapped her forehead, "Swami, teach me the mantra."
"Please repeat each word after me," I requested. "Hare… Krishna… Hare… Krishna… Krishna… Krishna… Hare… Hare… Hare… Rama… Hare… Rama… Rama… Rama… Hare… Hare…"
Dorothy shook her head and shooed me with her hand, "I'll never remember that."
"Would you like me to write it down for you?"
She reached into her purse and pulled out a slip of paper and a pen. "Yes, but it doesn't interest me unless I know what it means."
After writing it, I explained that these were names of the one God. Krishna means the all-attractive, Rama means the reservoir of all pleasure, and Hare is the name of the female, compassionate aspect of God. Dorothy took the paper and immersed herself in chanting the mantra over and over. I borrowed her cellular phone and walked away to call a friend with news of the indefinite delay.
When I returned and sat beside her, Dorothy had closed her eyes. She was leaning back and taking deep breaths. She looked at me and asked, "Where do you live?"
"I travel a lot, but much of my time is spent in Mumbai, India."
"How many people attend your lectures in Mumbai?"
"On Sundays, maybe two thousand. During pilgrimages it's closer to four thousand."
"Where are you going now?"
"To a temple in Hartford, Connecticut. But like you I missed my connecting flight, so I'll probably miss giving the lecture."
"Do you go there regularly?"
"I've been invited for several years, but this is my first opportunity to visit them."
"How many people are waiting for you?"
"I think about a hundred."
Again she took a deep breath. Then, as if purging anguish through her breathing she released the words, "Now I understand." To my surprise, her lips stretched out across her face into a blissful smile and her eyes twinkled like a child.
"The flight delay was my good fortune," she said. "I bet thousands of people would give anything to sit with you for even a few minutes. I have you all to myself—and for hours!"
I have to admit, I teared up. "The delay is my good fortune," I said. "There is nowhere in the world I'd rather be than here with you, right now. You are a special soul."
Dorothy wiped a tear from her cheek. "Yes, now I understand. This is a blessing of the Lord." I moved to another seat to give her some private space. Of course, I really needed it, too.
Finally, after six hours of delays, came the announcement everyone was waiting for. The same young lady in the blue uniform announced, "The flight is now ready to board. Anyone who wants is now invited to board."
"We've been waiting six hours," a passenger yelled out. "Why would anyone not want to get on?"
The flight attendant looked at us sheepishly and said, "In the process of fixing the air conditioner, the toilets stopped working. There will be no toilet facility on this flight. You are requested to use the airport restroom before boarding. Especially please take your children as this is the last chance until we arrive at Dulles airport in Washington, D.C. But the good news is that the air conditioner is working."
The passengers jumped up and rushed to the restrooms. A mother pulled the hand of her four-year old boy. "Come on Timmy, let's go to the potty."
"But mommy, I don't have to go."
"You have to go," the mother corrected. "Come on." She grabbed the boy's hand and dragged him to the toilet.
"I don't have to pee-pee."
"You're going anyway…."
It was a fifty-seat commuter jet. The good news was that the plane flew. The bad news was that the toilets were boarded shut, the lighting did not work, and the air conditioner, after all that time, still didn't work. It was a ninety-five degree day. The plane was hot, muggy, dark, and Timmy decided he really did need to pee-pee and cried the whole trip. By the time we landed, every passenger was miserable.
As we trudged down the steps of the plane and onto the tarmac, there was Dorothy sitting in a wheel chair that she had requested, smiling and waving as everyone rushed by. The passengers were stunned to see one among them who could be so happy. I stopped to say farewell.
"Swami," she said, "I chanted the mantra nonstop throughout the flight. I can't remember being that happy in a long time." She handed me the slip of paper with the mantra. "Will you write a message for me to remember you?" Taking her pen, I wrote of my appreciation for her and a little prayer. She pressed the note to her heart and smiled while tears streamed down her cheeks. Then she said something that I will never forget.
"Now, living or dying," she said, "is only a detail. I know that God is with me. Thank you."
I hurried into the terminal and looked up at a monitor. My airlines had one last flight to Hartford. It left in ten minutes from another terminal. There was still a chance. Have you ever seen a swami galloping across the corridors of an airport? One man yelled at me, "Why don't you use your magic carpet?"
As I was running, it struck me that I had forgotten to take Dorothy's cell phone number. How would I ever find out what happened to her? To this day I regret my foolishness. I made it just as they were closing the gate. Five seconds more and I would have been too late.
At the cultural center in Hartford, my hosts had adjusted the schedule to accommodate a late start time. I asked if there was a particular topic I should speak on.
"Anything you like," was the reply.
"Tonight's lecture," I announced, "is called 'Why I am so late for the lecture.'"
Added a switch to the battery pack for the Shure wireless headset mic receiver, just in time for tonight's Harinam. 7pm outside Govindas, downtown Brisbane, Australia, every Friday.
Siddhanta das: It is with pleasure that we announce that the "Memories of Srila Prabhupada" series has now made it to 50! This two hour DVD has incredible stories never before heard that give us insight into how to live our lives according to the example set by Srila Prabhupada and gives us glimpses into the glories of His Divine Grace
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