Saturday, February 28, 2009

Teachers, Leave Those Kids Alone!

Take Back NYU

Following up our previous post on the NYU student occupation that made national and international news headlines, we gave a little bit of shelter to some of the suspended students at our regular Starving Students dinner program at 26 Second Avenue.

Knowing a lot of these kids from our cooking program on the campus of NYU, and knowing that they were in a delicate situation with the university (suspended with a chance of being expelled, kicked out of their dorms, etc), we simply wanted to show them a little good ol-fashioned Vaisnava compassion and at least give them a place to come and get warm, and meet together over subji and halava.

While it's very easy and painfully obvious to make fun of these students as being naive, childish, and ill-informed in their activites and aspirations (and there is some justification to some of these observations) we have a duty as their friends and even spiritual guides to give them refuge and comfort.

In our own preaching aspirations, in the mood of Prabhupada, it's the least we can do so that some of these students might take the opportunity, through our programs, to go a little deeper into what is real revolution in today's world, a revolution of the soul.

These kids are frustrated and bewildered that those behind their process of education alienate them and practically treat them as terrorists, hostage-takers, and no-good rabblerousers. They don't want to be part of a culture that treats them as nothing but numbers and commodities designed to consume and obey.

Of course, we agree with them, knowing the various vagaries of the realities of the material nature, and in due time, as friendships and relationships continue to develop, their questioning and activist mindset could help lead them to the real solutions that Prabhupada gave us. I know as much because this is my own history in coming to be a devotee.

On Thursday evening, the students all learned, while at our dinner program, that the University was lifting their suspension, and that they could get back to work in thei student and activist lives. We hope that the warmth we shared with them will help to bear some fruits of bhakti in the near-future.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Compassionate Reflections #7

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

In his article "Prayer As The Groundwork of Preaching", Maharaja writes:

"Prayer is a mysterious practice...Every serious preacher knows just how dependent he or she is on Krsna. Each serious preacher knows his or her own inability to change anything or anyone in this world. Therefore, the groundwork of preaching is prayer."

Or as HG Gadadhara Pandit (The NYC Pandit) put it recently, to successfully preach means to rely on the 2P's: prayer and prep. Recently I spoke at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey at the intro of their Bhakti-Yoga club, where I conveniently forgot these two P's and stumbled my way through an indirect and rambling treatise on the most sublime processes of self-realization.

It wasn't a total disaster. The prasad was great, the students were sharp enough to catch on to the few coherent and inspiring points I was able to give out, and the program goes on, strong and growing.

My problem was that my prep was not in the right mood and not thorough enough, but more importantly was that I didn't pray enough to have the ability to speak nicely and in the right mood. I was distinctly over-confident, thinking I could joke and sloke my way through it all.

Now I realize more that I'm not much of a realized speaker, and I certainly can't fall back on my own limited merits. To pray, to beg and plead for the mercy of our beloved acaryas to flow through us, is something that can't be ignored or neglected, or stumbling and rambling will result.

Deep, focused, sincere prayer allows us to receive the realizations we need to preach effectively, and his prayer also allows us to become competent enough, to rise above our own limitations, to deliver this message to our widespread, diverse audience. Maharaja writes:

"Compassionate prayer is a broad concept, and it means more than the recitation of standard prayers. Vaisnava prayer is the begging for the heart of bhakti and then the willingness to let that flow move out towards others in some form or other. The Goswamis exemplified this mood. We cannot imitate them, of course, but we should not exclude their example from the example or instructions Srila Prabhupada gave. Prayer and the development of ones internal Krsna conscious realization-even up to the ultimate understanding-is part of the groundwork of the preacher's life."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Television That Is Vital

Our Tuesday program here at The Sanctuary in Manhattan in hitting the city airwaves!

Click here to head over to ISKCON News to read all about it!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Soul of Merton 2-23-09

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

The need for a spiritual guide, a spiritual master, in our lives as aspiring devotees and human beings is of the utmost importance. Of course, I don't need to tell you this, but it is always good to reflect on our sublime relationship with the acarya, whom, by their mercy, is giving us everything we need to know to transcend our mundane selves.

From Contemplative Prayer, Thomas Merton echoes to us that the acarya is there to keep us firmly on the straight and narrow:

"Hence the traditional importance...of the spiritual father, who may be the abbot or another experienced monk capable of guiding the beginner in ways of prayer, and of immediately detecting any sign of misguided zeal and wrong-headed effort. Such a one should be listened to and obeyed, especially when he cautions against the use of certain methods and practices, which he sees to be out of place and harmful in a particular case, or when he declines to accept certain experiences as evidence of progress."

We may have the tendency to think we can advance quicker that we are capable of i.e taking on extra austerities or trying to read pastimes beyond our comprehension. Recently in the ashram here we discussed whether we could take on small austerities such as chanting extra rounds on certain days such on Ekadasi without being ordered to by any particular authority.

We came to the obvious conclusion that it certainly depends on the individual's ability in time, place, and circumstance, and above all, that pride must never come into the equation. A few extra rounds doesn't make one the jagad-guru.

Our own guru or authority may or may not have time to give us direct instructions on such matters, so we have to use our best and most sincere judgment.

Our spiritual master, through his personal example and instructions, is the lifeline we hold onto to become mature and steady in our realizations. As Merton writes, the duty of our teacher\s is practical and heart-rending:

"The work of the spiritual father consists not so much in teaching us a secret and infallible method for attaining to esoteric experiences, but in showing us how to recognize God's grace and his will, how to be humble and patient, how to develop insight into our own difficulties, and how to remove the main obstacles keeping us from becoming men of prayer."

Merton's main point here is that one must always keep himself with the understanding that he is a spiritual "beginner", and through this humble and submissive attitude before the teacher, one will not fall into the various traps of insincerity that line the razor's edge. Merton writes:

"One cannot begin to face the real difficulties of the life of prayer and meditation unless one is first perfectly content to be a beginner and really experience himself as one who knows little or nothing, and has a desperate need to learn the bare rudiments. Those who think they know from the beginning will never, in fact, come to know anything...We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life!"

In this way, we can lay ourselves as atoms at the lotus feet of our guru, Prabhupada, and Krsna, and beg simply for causeless devotional service life after life. Whatever ability we recieve is Krsna's mercy, and we must never think we are the ones who "know" how to do anything. We are simply instruments.

Here is Prabhupada fully crystallizing this sublime sentiment in his purport to BG 4:34

"Satisfaction of the self-realized spiritual master is the secret of advancement in spiritual life. Inquiries and submission constitute the proper combination for spiritual understanding. Unless there is submission and service, inquiries from the learned spiritual master will not be effective. One must be able to pass the test of the spiritual master, and when he sees the genuine desire of the disciple, he automatically blesses the disciple with genuine spiritual understanding. In this verse, both blind following and absurd inquiries are condemned. Not only should one hear submissively from the spiritual master, but one must also get a clear understanding from him, in submission and service and inquiries. A bona fide spiritual master is by nature very kind toward the disciple. Therefore when the student is submissive and is always ready to render service, the reciprocation of knowledge and inquiries becomes perfect."