Saturday, February 21, 2009

No Dark Sarcasm In The Classroom
Take Back NYU!

We've heard that about half of our students who usually attend our Monday night cooking class at NYU we're involved in this "occupation." (Must be the turmeric!)

All joking aside, it's quite a shame that this all has to happen, that this is symptomatic in many senses of what the American\Western educational system represents. It's a shame that these students have to pay upwards of $50,000 in tuition and then have to resort to these kinds of tactics to get their voice heard.

It's a shame than the University itself is lacking in open dialogue, communication, and trust between its administration and its student body. Education is a very delicate and intimate exchange of values and experiences, and efforts to insure this positive atmosphere are often put aside in the name of corporate and business interests.

Of course, looking back on my own activist days, I have to roll my eyes a little bit at all of this. In one sense, it's inspiring to see this kind of action and passion with the goal of creating a more open and trusting vibe, but because of the isolated, scattered, and over-provocative nature of their cause and tactics, these students will struggle to have the kind of power and influence they need to affect the changes they want.

It's not the smartest or most productive way to try to change the culture of your school. These students don't lack in spirit-but they are lacking in the spiritual. Whatever revolutionary urges I've had in my life are certainly becoming satisfied by signing up for Lord Caitanya's army.

In every sense, fighting for change in this world is such a great struggle. It takes great intelligence and perseverance and internal strength to bring real light into the darkness of our times.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Soul of Merton 2-18-09

Inspired by my readings of "Contemplative Prayer" and "Contemplation In A World Of Action" by Thomas Merton

Here's a quick follow-up to yesterday's post, as Thomas Merton again, in his own Mertonian logic, spells out the exact mood we are living by here at the Bhaktivedanta Ashram: a mood of dynamic creativity, spiritual strength, and enthusiasm for spreading the gospel of self-realization to all with a kind heart, that is helping to restore Prabhupada's vision of brahmacari life in North America

This is from p.23 of the opening chapter to Contemplation In A World Of Action:

"The monastic movement needs leaders who must come from the new generation. These must have the patience to undergo the testing and formation without which their ability cannot be proved. No one will entrust himself to the guidance of men who have never had to suffer anything and have never really faced the problems of life in all their bitter seriousness. The young must not be too ready to give up in despair. They have work to do!

Fotunately there are creative forces at work. There are communities and superiors who are fully aware of the real nature of the monastic vocation, not simply as a summons to become a cog in the instutional machine, but as a charismatic breakthrough to liberation and love. It is more and more clearly realized that fidelity to monastic tradition no longer means simply dictating preformulated answers to all the questions of the young monk and forcing him to look at his life through somebody's else glasses. Tradition is not passive submission to the obsessions of former generations but a living assent to a current of uninterrupted vitality.

What was once real in other times and places becomes real in is today. And its reality is not an official parade of externals. It is a living spirit marked by freedom and a certain originality. Fidelity to tradition does not mean the renunciation of all initiative, but a new initiative that is faithful to a certain spirit of freedom and of vision which demands to be incarnated in a new and unique situation. True monasticism is nothing if not creative"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Soul of Merton 2-17-09

Inspired by my readings of "Contemplative Prayer" and "Contemplation In A World Of Action" by Thomas Merton

In the opening chapter of Contemplation In A World Of Action, Merton speaks about the concerns of the monastic renewal occurring across the Christian world in the period following WWII.

He makes it clear that there are few sure answers on how to restore the monastic life in the Western world, saying that there must be a balance between a moderb updating of the institutional and the external structures, while keeping at the essence the focus on the internal spiritual development of the fortunate individuals who have taken to their calling from God.

Above all, he calls for a re-focusing on the engagement of the monk with the secular world in service, making sure that the new orders do not fall into the previous traps of becoming "retirement homes."

We face a similar process of monastic renewal in ISKCON, especially in North America, where a small but brave group of souls attempt to restore the peerless purity of brahmacari life in service to Srila Prabhupada.

In the three short weeks since I've been here at the Bhaktivedanta Ashram on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the feeling is strong that we are on the cusp of a real explosion of outreach and connection with the spiritual peoples of this concrete jungle.

We've even been inspired by the association of HG Ramesvar Prabhu, Prabhupada disciple and former BBT head, who said to us that the flavor and potency of our ashram fills his heart with the same mood of his glorious days with Prabhupada. We do all we can to live up to such lofty standards.

Merton's own insights into a healthy, vibrant monastic atmosphere parallel the mood we are trying to create, as individual renunciates and as a community. He writes:

"The charism of the monastic life is the freedom and peace of a wilderness existence, a return to the desert that is also a recovery of inner paradise. This is the secret of monastic 'renunciation of the world'. Not a denunciation, not a denigration, not a precipitous flight, a resentful withdrawal, but a liberation...The monk simply discards the useless and tedious baggage of vain concerns and devotes himself henceforth to the one thing that he really wants: the quest for meaning and for love, the quest for his own identity, his secret name promised by God"

In the wilderness of Manhattan, we echo in action Merton's pleas for the balance of the external and internal: a desperate, focused intensity on our sadhana, combined with traditional outreach such as book distribution and college outreach spiced with bold and aggressive progressive programs such as our Tuesday and Fridays "Experience Transcendence" community get-togethers, as well as spiritual newspapers and open mics.

Above all, inspired by the love and brotherhood represented by the brahmacaris of ISKCON Chowpatty under the guidance of HH Radhanath Swami, we strive to create the same bonds of care and intimacy, automatically attractive, just like Krsna, to anyone who wants to experience it.

Merton writes of community:

"The monastic charism is not, however, one of pure solitude without any community. It is also a charism of brotherhood in the wilderness...This closeness is understood as being, at least ideally, a very human and warm relationship...a grace of communion in a shared quest and a participated light...of special love and of mutual aid in the attainment of a difficult end...Monsatic work, obediance, poverty, chastity, are all in some way colored and tempered by the communal charism of brotherhood in pilgrimage and in hope."

It is essential and clear that, in this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, that if we don't restore and\or create the community of brahmacarya, then it will be quickly swallowed up the vagaries of attractions and attachments.

Merton also hits the nail on the head to the mood of our ashram when he writes:

"The new monastic communities will need to be much more democratic than in the past. The abbot will have to be a spiritual father, not a prelate, a police chief and a corporation president rolled into one. The monks will have to have much more initiative in running their own lives...The superior can no longer arrogate to himself the right to do all his subjects' thinking for them and make all their decisions for them."

In our own ashram, HG Yajna Purusa Prabhu gives us fully his heart and his wisdom in leadership, soft as a loving father but secure and strong enough in his own convictions to provide this ideal vision and to prevent it from coming out of balance. He lets us explore our own individual talents and capacities in service to Krsna whilst always making sure we never stray from our core.

As you may be able to understand, my inspiration in all this sharing of the soul of Merton is that his writings are clearly in line with the vision and mood of what I am experiencing now here in NYC, and with what we as a community are trying to do.

His vision is universal, mature, and dynamic, and holds no major conflict with Prabhupada's own vision of a powerful brahmacari force spreading Krsna Consciousness far and wide in the Western world. We simply and humbly walk in their footsteps.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Compassionate Reflections #6

Inspired by my reading of "Vaisnava Compassion" by HH Satsvarupa Maharaja

In conjunction with our recent pieces from Thomas Merton on the importance of depth and sincerity in prayer, Maharaja's piece on "Trusting Krsna" opens up the reality of our relationship with Krsna, and how it is a fool's lament to feel that Krsna will ever abandon us in our times of need and joy.

Of course, we know that we should never see Krsna as an order-carrier, there simply to fulfill our whims and urges. Our prayers to Krsna should be simple and selfless: O Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage Me in your service.

From that foundation, our self-realization can only deepen, and we can begin to understand the never-ending and unyielding compassion Krsna has for us at every single moment.

Indeed, He is always trying to deliver us. In the purport to S.B 8.3.17, Prabhupada writes

"He is within our hearts and is not at all inattentive. His only aim is to deliver us from material life. It is not that He becomes attentive to us only when we offer prayers to Him. Even before we offer our prayers, He incessantly tries to deliver us. He is never lazy in regard to our deliverance."

Imagine that. Krsna doesn't even need our prayers to make the attempt to deliver us, so if our prayers to him are selfless and sincere, then His efforts to bring us back home will be even more potent.

As Thomas Merton mentioned, for some, this is actually too intense, because it means Krsna will carry away any material impediments we may have to loving and selfless devotion to Him. If we are too comfortable in our material lives, then certainly our prayer will not come to this level of intensity and sincerity.

But it is to our ultimate benefit to go deeper, for it is through our prayers that we make the vital connection to Krsna. Maharaja writes:

" Prayer is a flexible concept. It is the state of Krsna consciousness behind any activity we perform that helps us break through into emotion into Krsna. It is the activity that carries us past the mechanical into the feeling."

Our intellectual and close-hearted tendencies will leave us only with an impersonal realization of who Krsna is and what He wants to do for us. This is also the result of mechanical chanting, prayer, service mood, etc, and we have to go beyond this. Maharaja writes:

"If we are open to Krsna's presence in our creativity and in nature, for example, we will feel grateful to Him for His mercy. We will be able to see His compassionate nature to our prayers, and we wil give up our narrow-mindedness in deciding how we expect Him to act on our behalf. We will grow past our stereotypes of who Krsna is, and we will learn to see Him as a person"

He is our best friend, our ever-well wisher, our most beautiful companion, truest guide, and wisest giver of knowledge.

We should never forget our gratitude towards Krsna's compassion for us poor, conditioned souls, and we should always try to return the favor, by serving each other, serving Prabhupada's mission, and trying to serve every spirit soul by helping them to remember Krsna and the love He has for them.