Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Not This Not That

I find it VERY interesting that I continuously identify with things somewhat unconsciously.  This morning, I read an article about the Indian Holocaust - the murder of millions of Hindus by Arabs,Turks, etc over 800 years. And I'm thinking "How could they do that to us?"  

US?  Really?  Since when was I an Indian?  Sure, I've had a strong identification with the Vedic/Indian culture for decades and was initiated as a Brahminical priest 40+ years ago, in India,  but that doesn't make this American/Scandinavian-bodied white boy an Indian. In fact, the very purpose of my initiation was to recognize 'Aham Brahmasmi' - I am NOT this body, I am part and parcel of God, beyond all bodily designations.

And yet, that identification remains.

What is particularly ironic is, while identifying as Indian, the Indians simultaneously bug the heck out of me.  Not actually the Indians per se, but the fact that when I joined our Krsna movement years ago, there was hardly an Indian to be seen, other than the Founder/Acharya, Srila Prabhupada, who started it.  Now, at least locally, it is almost entirely Indian bodied souls who visit the temple, interspersed with a few whities like me. So, on the one hand, my ire is raised when I think about the Indian Hindus being slaughtered by the millions, the same ire is raised when I think that MY Hare Krsna movement has been conquered by those same Indians.  I really don't blame them. After all, it IS their religion, and I am a relative late-comer to the party.  But there IS that damned identification.

Similarly, I watched a video on how incredible efforts to build tiny house shelters for the thousands of homeless in California is stomped on by the local officials - confiscating the homes, breaking them, taking parts, etc.  Now, I'm certainly not homeless, nor do I live in California, yet still, I identify with the victims almost as if I am one of them. I'm not. Yes, there is certainly a healthy dose of empathy and compassion, which is good, but I don't need to identify myself as a victim. 

I am constantly identifying myself as one thing or another, completely in opposition to the idea that I am NOT this body or this mind.  But we WANT to identify with something 'out there': I am an old man; I am an American; I am spiritual but not religious; I'm a Hare Krsna; I'm an ex-hippie (more hippie than ex); I am This; I am That.  It's like there's this NEED to be a part of something - to have understandable parameters, boundaries, definitions - almost as if I NEED something to Defend!  

In Sanskrit, they say 'ahara, nidra, bhaya, maithuna' - we have a need to eat, sleep, defend and mate - they are the basic requirements/rights of every living entity - humans AND animals. Lately, they're even getting mixed together, as, in an attempt to improve my health, my doctor and my wife are trying to take away my "eats" (really 'treats'), and I am defending them to the max!  What good is this life if I can't enjoy my God given right to eat unhealthy food?  In fact, I even use my "I'm not this body" philosophy to defend my eating less than healthy food - "What does it matter if my body dies? I'm not this body!"

Even amongst my 'spiritual peers', those who share, more or less, the same Vedic philosophical background, there are huge gulfs between various factions - Where does the soul originate?; what are the true qualifications for the Guru?; what is the ultimate spiritual outcome?; etc etc etc.  And, the way in which these factions sometimes speak to, or about each other, you'd think they had stolen candy from a baby, and THEN kicked the baby in the head...repeatedly!   

Ultimately, what I'm finding, is it can often be very difficult to integrate any kind of belief system with a working and practical model for living. How do you 'believe' one thing, but act in another - something which is referred to as 'Cognitive Dissonance' - a tendency to either believe one thing but act differently, or even to hold two distinctly different and opposing beliefs simultaneously. It tears us up. 

A case in point - garbage.  No one WANTS to contribute to garbage, but it is virtually impossible to NOT create it. Buy ANYTHING and it is wrapped in plastic, put in a box, and then put in another bag, so you can carry it home. Sure, you can "bring your own bag" - Whoo hoo! - but there's still the first two coverings. I mean, for thousands of years, the vast majority of our history on our planet, there essentially WAS no garbage, at least nothing that wasn't for the most part biodegradeable and would simply disappear back into the earth in a few minutes, days, weeks or years.  Now, every one of us is producing huge amounts of garbage which sits for aeons, and it's almost impossible to avoid it. Our very lifestyles, even the simplest, is detrimental to our environment, if we're using electricity, any electronics, automobiles, even bicycles, which still require a manufacturing process to produce them.  So we fight to STOP garbage, and at the same time, our God-given right to produce it to the tune of 2.6 TRILLION pounds per year! How do we live with this? How do we live LIKE this?  But who of us is willing to go back to living simply, raising every morsel of our own food and making our own clothes, shoes, houses, furniture, wagons, candles, from materials in our immediate vicinity?  It is a post-modern dilemma!  And all because we identify with This or That.

But our identification, much like this rather rambling blog, is Not This, Not That! :-D




____________________________
हरे कृष्ण हरे कृष्ण कृष्ण कृष्ण हरे हरे    
हरे राम हरे राम राम राम हरे हरे


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Appearance Day of Lord Nrisimhadeva

Yesterday, May 20th, 2016 was Sri Nrisimha Caturdasi or the Appearance Day of Sri Nrisimha - the half man (nri) and half lion (simha) incarnation of God.

In Vedic and specifically Vaishnava theology, Nrisimha (alternately Nrsingha Narasimha Narahari etc.)  is the 4th of the Dasavatara or 10 predominant incarnations of Visnu - that go:
1. Matsya - the Fish Incarnation
2. Kurma - the Tortoise Incarnation
3. Varaha - the Boar Incarnation
4. Nrisimha - the half man/half lion incarnation
5. Vamana - the Dwarf Incarnation
6. Parasurama - the Warrior Incarnation (Rama with an axe-parasu)
7. Rama (Ramachandra) - the Kingly Incarnation
8. Krsna/Balarama - the Cow Protector Incarnation
9. Buddha - The Wisdom Incarnation
10. Kalki - The Redeemer Incarnation

(Some of the 'descriptions' are of my own making.)

What I've always found somewhat interesting, is that while most 'religions' have an issue with Evolution, if you look, you can see basically an evolutionary flavor to the list of incarnations, starting with a marine form, going to a reptilian, then mammal, then between animal and man, to a 'primitive' or small version of man, to a warrior, kingly man, simple village/forest dweller, an 'enlightened' being, and ultimately a redeemer!

Of course, God comes in a myriad of forms - said to be as endless as the waves on the sea. In fact, everything is to some degree or another, a projection/emanation/expansion of God.  And in Bhagavad Gita, Krsna says "Of all creations, I am the beginning and the end, and also the middle" (10.32) and later, "There is no end to My divine manifestations. What I have spoken to you is but a mere indication of My infinite opulences....Know that all beautiful, glorious, and mighty creations spring from but a spark of My splendor...But what need is there for all this detailed knowledge? With a single fragment of Myself I pervade and support this entire creation." (10.40-42)

In the case of Nrisimhadeva, the Lord acts as ultimate protector to those devoted to Him. While I won't go into the whole story in detail, (it can be found in the 7th canto of Srimad Bhagavatam) it tells of a very young boy (Prahlada) who is the son of the king of the demons (Hiranyakasipu). Prahlada is very devoted to God and even preaches to his classmates in the demon school.  His father upon hearing this makes numerous attempts to kill his own son, but in each case, the Lord saves Prahlada from certain death.

In the end, when his father asks, "Where IS this God of yours?"  Prahlada says, "He is everywhere, father!"  Hiranyakasipu then begins pointing at various items in the palace and asking, "Is he here? Is he HERE? Is he in this pillar?"  And smashes the pillar with his sword, at which point Nrisimha bursts forth miraculously, takes the demon upon His divine lap, and with His sharp nails proceeds to completely disembowel the demon!  (Yeah, I know. Pretty politically incorrect!)

To many, the whole scene seems ghastly - a demonic father trying to kill his own son, and God ripping out the demon's intenstines and wearing them as a garland.  I mean, gross, right!?  And yet, thousands, if not millions of people take great solace in this idea of God as ultimate Protector.  (In Krsna temples around the world, it's often one of the most popular holidays.)

But isn't it understandable?  We like to think this world can be all roses and sunshine, but the truth is, there is a vast amount of Evil out there. We tend to either ignore or hide from many of these truths, but brutal treatment, beatings, assault, rapes, murder are being carried out at every moment. It's happening RIGHT NOW, somewhere to somebody - much of it by religious, social, or governmental organizations that we like to think are doing good. But it's there, and it's NOT likely to go away any time soon, if ever. We like to think that we are evolving, but when you look at the state of world affairs, you sometimes wonder if we aren't devolving!

But, the story, ultimately points toward looking to God for strenth, shelter and protection; that we are NOT going to find it within this material sphere, where suffering and mayhem sometimes seems to be the daily fare!  Whether He/She will burst out of a pillar is up for speculation, but He IS ever present! He is closer than our own heartbeat; He is manifested everywhere and within everything....so we don't have far to look!  We just have to open our eyes and our hearts.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Loving God Simplified

When it boils down to it, the essence of it all, I have very little doubt that the end goal is Love!  But not just any old love - Supreme Love - Divine Love - Love of and for the Absolute Godhead!  What could be more sublime!?!?

BUT....Occasionally, I find myself overwhelmed by the amount of information available about the 'correct' method of developing love of Godhead! 

I can certainly understand some basic do's and don't's, most of which just make sense. And even some of those are disputable and vary from one group to the next; but as you go deeper, you find that there are more subtle rules and ideals that must be followed, and the deeper you go into a particular sect, the more specific those rules and principles become. And that's where I often start to become a bit disturbed - bewildered, if you will.  And that is ALSO where I begin to see clashes, disagreements between one group and another.

For instance, if I just say, "Hey, everyone...Do your best to Love God and love your neighbor," most religiously minded people will agree and give you a hearty pat on the back.  But if I say, "Love God, but you have to do it through 'This' person, or in 'That' way," then suddenly I find certain people love me and others, well.....not so much! 

I also believe that there ARE higher and lower understandings and approaches to God, and that certain elements may have subtle and powerful effects that we may not be very aware of in our mundane states.  Our diet, for instance, may very well impact the subtle energetics of our body, thus allowing (or preventing) certain 'flows'. 

Karmically, too, behaving in certain ways can hamper our 'evolution'.  Personally, I have not consciously eaten any meat in more than four decades, and can't quite ever see myself doing so. But I  also don't believe it is impossible to eat meat and love God. I have friends that do so. 

But I'm talking about even MORE subtle things - which Name of God you use, whether you turn clockwise or counter-clockwise, bow to the ground or just nod your head. It's like whether you use silverware or not when eating Pizza!  The POINT is to get the pizza into your mouth - NOT HOW you got it there!

Tolstoy tells a famous story known as The Three Hermits.  In extremely shortened form goes something like this:
There were three hermits who lived on an island, and had become quite famous as saints. The local bishop came to visit them, and  asked them about their spiritual practices. 
The hermits told him, "We simply pray, 'Lord, you are three, we are three, have mercy on us.'"  The bishop thought this was totally unsatisfactory and not in line with the church, and so spent some time teaching them the proper liturgies and prayers. 
The bishop leaves the island, and having traveled some distance from the island in his boat, soon sees a glowing light coming toward him, which turns out to be the three hermit brothers running ACROSS the water!  
"Father, father," they cry, "we have forgotten the prayers that you taught us." 
"No worry," says the bishop, "Our father hears your prayers. Please pray for me, a sinner!"

I love these stories of the simplicity of loving God.  I have many friends and acquaintences who like to delve deeply into extremely esoteric aspects of the Vedic and Gaudiya philosophies, and, in the past, I was much more enthusiastic to do such things myself.  But as I get 'longer in the tooth', though I still like to dabble, my real loves are the most simplistic - chanting one mantra, and reading one book.  For me, those are the Hare Krsna Mahamantra - Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Ksna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare;  and the one book - Bhagavad Gita. 

While, truthfully, I am slightly envious of those who have the mental and intellectual power to remember vast numbers of verses and repeat stories throughout the night, for the most part, I am increasingly contented to simply delve into those two things - mantra and Gita - and find that there are universes of truth and love in just those.  Or, as others have said, "Better to dig ONE hole, ten feet deep, than TEN holes, one foot deep." 

In our Gaudiya tradition, we revere a man by the name of Srila Haridas Thakur, a moslem by birth, who was so dedicated to the chanting of the Holy Names, chanting 300,000 names daily, that he is referred to as Nama-Acharya - The Teacher of the Holy Names. We know very little about him. I don't know if we even are aware of whether he could read or write - but he is famous, because he chanted the names of God - day and night! 

Or there is a story that when Lord Caitanya traveled through South India, he came across a brahman in the temple who was holding Bhagavad Gita, upside down, and tears were flowing from his eyes, while others laughed at him.  When asked, he explained that his guru told him to read Bhagavad Gita, but he did not know HOW to read, so he simply held the book and thought of the mercy of Lord Krsna in instructing Arjuna and his heart burst open with love. 

Many times while I was teaching Sanskrit, students would ask how important it was to pronounce the mantra exactly right.  My standard response was, and still is, Most important is your heart! Pronunciation is second.  God hears our heart more than anything, our words second.

So while it CAN be very fun and absorbing to learn the intricacies of various spiritual sciences, it CAN also be a distraction - just one more thing to absorb our mind, rather than focusing on the main goal, which is Loving God. And worse, it can be something to disagree and fight about, the need to be right, to defend YOUR viewpoint.  There's another famous saying, having NO idea who said it first, "You can be happy, or you can be RIGHT."  Because often they are NOT the same.  And you can be right OR wrong, and still be happy, because you recognize....It really doesn't matter.  What matters is...Did you get the pizza into your mouth!?  Or in other words - DId you develop Love for God?


____________________________
हरे कृष्ण हरे कृष्ण कृष्ण कृष्ण हरे हरे    
हरे राम हरे राम राम राम हरे हरे

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sorry I couldn't be there!

So, in the illustrious spirit of Mother's Day, just a few words about MY mother. Yes, there were certainly glorious things about her, and she worried...   OH...did she worry!  Even my father called her a "worry wort". But she was in a relatively loveless marriage with my father, who later left her for a woman closer to MY age at the time. 

I remember her telling me not to take any "cigarettes without names" as they MIGHT be marijuana cigarettes! (heaven forbid). But I DO apologize for her having to pick me up at a hospital when I was 13, having smashed up a pharmacy when high on acid. (guess the nameless cigarette thing didn't help much).

Yes, I WAS a bit of a wild child, and she absolutely gave her love to the best of her ability. And I DID tell her I loved her before she passed, for which I am very happy, as I know so many who DIDN'T and never forgave themselves. (So if your mom is still alive - make sure you TELL her you love her!)

My mother died a few days before my 30-something birthday. She found an old bunnny-rabbit birthday card in her junk, filled out a check, and wrote on the card:

"Sorry I couldn't be with you."

Addressed the letter; sealed it; put on a stamp, and went back to bed, and died!

I still have that card!  My brother who discovered her body found it ready for the mail.

Thanks, mom! I still love you, and you're probalby STILL worrying!

I'm okay.............REALLY!

____________________________
हरे कृष्ण हरे कृष्ण कृष्ण कृष्ण हरे हरे    
हरे राम हरे राम राम राम हरे हरे