Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reflections of Love And Character: Radhanath Swami's December 2009 Visit To New York City
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There is something about this city, New York City, that attracts the most intense energies of the known universe. What's a poor aspiring monk like myself to do? Where does one find the privacy of contemplation, the peace of silence, the inner will to push on against the currents of a culture going in the wrongest of directions?

I don't blame her...I don't blame the City. Her history and her purpose allows anyone and everyone to take advantage of her, so as even those most determined to squeeze all the possible juice out of the rinds of maya camp down and have at it, the facility is also there for the sincere spiritualist to ride these currents in a very interesting, influential way.

The story of this city is as spiritual as anything else. It's "ground zero" (pardon the term) for us humble Hare Krsnas, the sidewalks of the Lower East Side sprinkled with the eternal dust of the lotus feet of Prabhupada.

Our meditation is this: the world watches and follows what happens in the cauldrons of Manhattan, so what better arena for the sankirtana march, and what better time, places, and circumstances to reach hearts of all shapes and sizes in ways dynamic, enlivening, and engaging.

As Radhanath Swami descended on our maturing Bhakti Center/NYC/NJ congregation for the first week of December 2009, the hopes and visions of our mission here once again take on a nature tangible and visible. For once, the energy of the city is ours to fully shape, and the sweet rush of the adventure becomes irresistible.

Speaking personally, Radhanath Swami's presence not only brings a clarity to our collective efforts here, but also to my own personal struggles as a renunciate in the least renounced of atmospheres. My internal dialogue increases in pitch (an experience I know that all of us experienced) as to where we are, what we are doing, and how we are doing it in service to Radhanath Swami as his direct disciples, his aspiring disciples, and well-wishers.

The veil of complacency lifts and lifts. I find that in Radhanath Swami's presence, even though I have never been able, fortunate, or qualified enough to have much of his direct association or even chastisement, that his glances, smiles, words, and embraces not only give me sustenance, but also poke holes ever so gently in my false ego.

After all, with such a personality, why don't want to give your best, and/or why can't you give your best? The mood and the realization of Radhanath Swami allows him to act as a transparent instrument to fulfill the desires of Srila Prabhupada, and the light and clarity which comes through shines upon the darkness and dust still present in our own hearts.

This struck me particularly on the birthday gathering of disciples and well-wishers for Radhanath Swami that we held in central New Jersey during his visit. In the exchanges of experiences, revelations, and lessons learned, I was struck by how much love Radhanath Swami's disciples have for him, and vice versa, and how for me, this love is something lacking practically and philosophically in my own heart, not only with Radhanath Swami, but everyone in my life.

I've always admired Radhanath Swami's ability (and in extension, many of his disciples) to make everyone he encounters the sole object of his attention and affection. Glorifying his various victories as our spiritual father, I realized here was a personality in which the various barriers of impersonalism do not exist.

The duties and sacrifices made by those who follow him, sacrifices we are trying to make manifest and progressive everyday here at the Bhakti Center, are simply compelled by our simple and sincere attempts to reflect back at Radhanath Swami the love and admiration he has for us, to reflect back at him the same mood of selfless service, of total surrender, that he offers to us as our loving guide and father.

How do we do this? To myself, I thought how can I get past my own personal malaise, my laziness, my fears, my insecurities, and my unsteadiness to ever be able to offer any kind of useful, sincere service?

Through his own personal examples and stories of the incredible but endearing sacrifices he made personally in his devotional adventures through the woods of New Vrindaban to the streets of Mumbai, Radhanath Swami provides a simple formula, a committment to sadhana, to the Holy Name, to real and enduring friendships between devotees, and towards the removal of any ulterior motives as the way to becoming a transparent instrument of the Lord's will.

In his various dialogues and darshans with my fellow monks here this week, one key moral of the story stood out: that in our outreach, in our communications with the young, sincere, and seeking, that we must not consider ourselves better than them.

He gives the example of the instruction Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur gave to his adventurous and courageous disciples who traveled to Europe in the 1930's in the initial attempt to spread Lord Caitanya's Word to the Western World.

Knowing they would be facing up to peoples less cultured in many vulgar and subtle ways, he implored them to offer all respects to them and expect none for themselves, to use this humility to allow Lord Caitanya's mercy to flow freely through them with out being blocked by the force-fields of false ego.

It can be easy, for the neophyte on the bhakti path, especially in this City, to get a quick and sharp sense of superiority over all those flying and banging together on the rivers of passion and ignorance that run through the numbered streets and avenues.

But, as Radhanath Swami sweetly instructed us again and again, without a genuine feeling of humility, without a genuine desire to serve and elevate our community without discrimination and without judgment of the places they are in their lives (places I know I've been dug deep in), we will have no potency to guide and love.

Our ability to act as an instrument of Prabhupada's will, of the mission of the acaryas, will be like a muddied river if we are bereft of this humility. If those we are hoping to guide by trust, friendship, and love to devotional service do not see and sense a transparent and elevated character in us, our success in our service will be long in coming, if at all.

So, by his own personal example, Radhanath Swami showed us what impact someone can have when their character is clear, when their consciousness is simply focused on being the servant of the servant, when divine love is the driving force.

Beyond the respectful and necessary veneration we hold for him, the most potent and pleasing relationship we can have with him, and with any of our devotional guides and friends, is to learn how to be a vessel of the Lord's love, which inspires and challenges us to extend ourselves into the realm of making the impossible happen, such as spreading such spiritual gifts in such an environment as New York City.

I'll end by co-opting a wonderful statement written by my friend Yasoda-Dulal Prabhu ( hope you don't mind my using just sums it up all so well and poetic):

"The sunlight lasts only about 10 hours a day, but the plants soak in its energy and nutrients to last them through the long, dark hours, till it's time for the sun to come out again....."

To my Guru Maharaja, Radhanath Swami, I speak for everyone when I say that we feel the separation of your departure, and we eagerly work to improve our service attitude and our loving relationships with each other to please you upon your return to us soon, to push us forward and push us forward Prabhupada's mission here in New York City.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Rule of St.Benedict

From the Wikipedia page:

"The Rule of Saint Benedict (Regula Benedicti) is a book of precepts written by St. Benedict of Nursia for monks living communally under the authority of an abbot. Since about the 7th century it has also been adopted by communities of women. During the 1500 years of its existence, it has become the leading guide in Western Christianity for monastic living in community for many Catholic Orders, and in Orthodoxy (since The Great Schism), and the Anglican Church (since the time of the Reformation).

The spirit of St Benedict's Rule is summed up in the motto of the Benedictine Confederation: pax ("peace") and the traditional ora et labora ("pray and work").

Compared to other precepts, the Rule provides a moderate path between individual zeal and formulaic institutionalism; because of this middle ground it has been widely popular. Benedict's concerns were the needs of monks in a community environment: namely, to establish due order, to foster an understanding of the relational nature of human beings, and to provide a spiritual father to support and strengthen the individual's ascetic effort and the spiritual growth that is required for the fulfillment of the human vocation, theosis."

It is a simple, yet profound guide to the monastic order which has endured, through its common sense and chastity, through the centuries, and of which, in many of its parts, we also attempt to follow here at the Bhaktivedanta Ashram here in NYC.

Some excerpts:

Now, brethren, that we have asked the Lord who it is that shall dwell in His tabernacle, we have heard the conditions for dwelling there; and if we fulfil the duties of tenants, we shall be heirs of the kingdom of heaven.

Our hearts and our bodies must, therefore, be ready to do battle under the biddings of holy obedience; and let us ask the Lord that He supply by the help of His grace what is impossible to us by nature. And if, flying from the pains of hell, we desire to reach life everlasting, then, while there is yet time, and we are still in the flesh, and are able during the present life to fulfil all these things, we must make haste to do now what will profit us forever.

If we do not venture to approach men who are in power, except with humility and reverence, when we wish to ask a favor, how much must we beseech the Lord God of all things with all humility and purity of devotion? And let us be assured that it is not in many words, but in the purity of heart and tears of compunction that we are heard.