Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My India Diary-Part 13

Day 31 Chowpatty 1/6

HH Radhanath Swami Maharaja entered the esoteric realm of dreams during his Bhagavatam class this morning, imploring us to "Jiv Jago" from our attachment to so many plans, hopes, and enjoyments in the material realm. Even with some so-called intelligence, we understand the material world is a dream, but we think we can figure out the puzzle like some New-Age Bollywood plot with plenty of cheesy dances thrown in. We even decide to think we're God, trying to become transcendental to the whole affair, when we are not even transcendental to our own bladder.

Maharaja relates a story of a lot and hot harinama in Italy a few years back that ended with a refreshing dip in the sea. The only problem was that a million jellyfish were waiting to sting the tender skin of the devotees. So, the material world is like that. A shimmering, inviting illusion on the surface that hides a lot of pain below, and there is no escape in the material world from the pain, unless one dives into the ocean of bliss that is Krsna Consciousness.

I can't place what it is with the kirtans here-it's actually a combination of the effulgent exuberance of the devotees, the sheer number of jumping spirit souls, Maharaja's presence, etc...You actually FEEL that this is the Yuga-Dharma. No mental speculation. Just sweat, shouting the Holy Names, and hopefully no bruises or blood. All head games and other various flappings of the false ego disappear. It's true! This process really works! The devotees here in Chowpatty can show you if you dance with them.

Day 32 Chowpatty 1/7

It feels like we've always been here. Driving in the left lane, honking, traffic jams. The way people speak, shouting, holding hands like brothers. Cows in the street, even in downtown Mumbai. Everything's an austerity. Nothing is glossy except the plastic imported from the West. Krishna is here. He's on people's shop signs, in the movies, in the temples and homes, on their tongues and hearts. That's the nice part. When we touch down in Pittsburgh, PA, we'll be back in a land, where for now, Krishna is our secret that we need to share. The freeways will be smooth, quiet, and fast. The people not so warm and pushy. The temples instead huge football stadiums, the gods inside named Tom Brady. There will be big cinema screens too, but not even as big as India. Talk about culture shock.

Brahmacari class went on about the qualities of the soul, as described in verse 2:20 of the Gita. The discussion was very lively, and I did my best to keep up. Interesting questions from HG Damodar Gopal Prabhu: What are the desires of the soul? How do these desires become so polluted in our mind? What is the true form of the soul? Is is a spark or our svarupa? How can it change if it is unchangeable? All I know is that we have to re-program our mind through spiritual intelligence and strong sadhana (of which I'm no expert) and that this is the only way to answer any questions about the soul. The great souls here in Chowpatty are the most inspiring examples for me in this regard.

They even take us across town for another late-night dinner at Radhe-Shyam, a restaurant owned by a local community devotee. A nice experience-in the association rather than the cuisine. The microwave-style pizza and Velveeta-cheese pasta congeal in our stomachs, but the glorifications and the friendships made are the real nourishment. May we continue to save the world.

Monday, January 14, 2008

My India Diary-Part 12

Day 29 Chowpatty 1/4

Finally had a chance to read today, as I am a long-time nerd and this is my pleasure. I hang out mostly in the Vrndavana Gardens area, a picturesque replica of the Dham with many blooming and flowering plants, and a wonderful kadamba tree, which is right next to the Mandir building. HH Radhanath Maharaja would wander in every once in a while, so I tried to look like I was studying extra hard and not spacing out.

Had a nice talk with HG Karuna-Sindhu Prabhu, from Montreal, after an opulent Ekadasi feast. Lots of nice nectar, helping em to get beyond some misconceptions of brahmacarya. Brahmacarya is not just celibacy and no speaking with the ladies. Rather, it's pure, humble service-attitude, a great desire to give Krsna to others, and seeing all living entities as souls, especially by distributing books. I'm eternally grateful for devotees like him for helping me find out my own misconceptions that I didn't even consciously know I had. I look up to him and all the brahmacaris here with all humility.

We also went to a nice home program this evening at the home of another Caitanya Prabhu, a congregation member and architect who also spends time in NYC. Our Caitanya Prabhu, in his own American transcendental way, even got the big atheist doctors on the couch to chant the Holy Names. I've never heard such a transcendental motivation speech from Caitanya. Must've been his hunger, exhaustion, and exasperation when people don't chant during programs. I wish I would've recorded it. Anyway, after some nice, simple prasad, and cultured Mumbai association, it turned out to be a very warm and gracious experience for all involved.

Day 30 Chowpatty 1/5

It has been another successful year, for I am here celebrating my appearance day in the company of Vaisnavas. My gift to myself was another day of chanting Hare Krsna, which I did today on japa beads, playing guitar, through headaches and painful foot problems, etc.

HH Radhanath Maharaja spoke in Bhagavatam class on enemies the devotee has, which may seem like a contradiction since a devotee is not supposed to have any enemies. Of course, our only enemy in devotional service is our mind. Great demons like Ravana and Hiranyakasipu performed all pious deeds and austerities to gain what they desired, and once they gained what they desired their mind took over, and all inauspiciousness happened. Arjuna says that the mind is harder to control than the raging wind, like a hurricane. The mind is like a tiger, always looking for an opportunity to escape its pen and wreak havoc, because we don't build our fence high enough. What hope do we have?

Our only hope is constant absorption in Krsna, attentive chanting of the Holy Name, and surrounding ourselves always with the association of strong like-minded devotees who can inspire us and lift us up beyond the mundane.

We celebrated with a late-night feast at Govinda's, despite our previous stomach problems. The Vyasa-Puja offering was not words of appreciation, but gigantic slices of cake. Forced to make a speech, I said that the only measure of success in my life is that I always spend my birthdays filling my gourd with pizza with the devotees. Maybe after a few more slices of the chili paneer, I may come to some level of self-realization. In any case, please pray for my digestion.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

My India Diary-Part 11

Day 26-27 Puri-Chowpatty 1/1-2

Somehow we survive another journey and arrive back home, at Radha-Gopinath Mandir. We immediately take advantage, and I mean take advantage, of our one free meal at Govinda's. The only cost is some serious stomach problems the next morning....early the next morning, at 215 am. The added benefit is that I get most of my rounds done before mangal-arati, old NV style.

Later in the morning we are there for the revival of the brahmacari class, led by HG Govinda Prabhu. He speaks on speaking, on knowing how to speak the truth, how to speak it sweetly, and how to speak it absolutely. He says that we should understand that to correct someone on an equal platform is a subtle art that depends on our relationships, and the trust we have developed in these relationships.

As a preacher, we can either use the rose or the thunderbolt, depending on the personalities involved or the situation, but it is best not to imitate the heaviness of Prabhupada, as some devotees may be wont to do. HH Radhanath Maharaja joins us to add his ever-flowing nectar, saying that Prabhupada always used his chastisements to lift devotees up further in their bhakti. If we cannot lift people up through our concern or corrections, then we have no other alternative but to speak sweetly.

We also rendezvous with Govinda Prabhu for some katha in the afternoon. Govinda can do nothing but share and speak the Absolute Truth, so we are beyond fortunate. He speaks about the importance of proper training, applied strongly and consistently in order to make sure our preaching and sadhana is not just like a quick fire in the frying pan. I ask him about the difficulties of maintaining brahmacarya coming from a Western background, and Govinda gets lovingly heavy with me, saying there are hundreds and hundreds of examples of people, like Catholic monks, who have kept similar vows living in the West.

It is a mistake to think that because I'm a Western body that I cannot keep such vows, and if I am thinking in such a way, I am instantly disqualifying myself. He also says that the needed mental discipline for this process comes from sticking to the process with sincerity, faith, and above all effort. HH Radhanath Maharaja kindly interrupts us, and ends up asking Ghanashyam Prabhu to one day make bagels NYC style for the assembled Vaisnavas. When, oh when, will that day be mine??

Day 28 Chowpatty 1/3
Today we braved the hellish ride through the billboards of Mumbai to briefly visit the Gopal's Garden school, a very charming institution where the Vaisnavas of tomorrow are blooming. We then made the long trek to the Govardhan Farm Community. The tranquil, beauteous atmosphere shined this lad up real nice, with memories on New Vrindaban, sans 3 feet on snow.

We took darshan of Gaur-Nitai and the cows and headed to the river for a dip. I'm no Olympic swimmer, but thanks to a few sandbars I was able to be a big boy and swim across. Mauricio, also not a gold-medalist, made it about 3/4 of the way across and then came to a halt, saved by the hero of the day Justin. Never a dull moment with this crew.

We honored prasad and then got a short tour of the facilities, checking out the bio-gas set-up, in which the farm devotees supply their cooking and electricity needs through the methane gas produced by the piles and piles of cow dung. Caitanya and Justin, looking like a potato bandit, then took a spin on the temple motorcycle. Unlike Mauricio, they did not have any near-death experiences.

Tonight at radha-Gopianth there was a wonderful program celebrating the devotees' selfless service during the book marathon. Exciting stories and experiences were shared about the times in Dadar Stall and the equally hellish coal mines of Bihar. HG Mahamuni Prabhu shared some wisdom from New Vrindaban's very own HH Varsana Swami, in which Maharaja described the synergy of yoking two oxen together, getting the power of three oxen (via the power of Krsna). he compared this to the combined efforts of all the devotees during the marathon, saying the power of their combined sincerity and effort produced results beyond expectations, and more importantly, connected the devotees deeper and deeper.

HH Radhanath Maharaja shared his impressions of a Prabhupada lecture, in which Prabhupada spoke about the instructions of his Guru Maharaja ("If you ever get money, print books"), and of how deep Prabhupada's gratitude is towards us for being vessels of his Guru Maharaja's mission. An incredibly inspiring program. Devotional empowerment was passed freely to all assembled.