Viewing entries tagged with 'krishna'
I have created a proposal to create a new Question & Answer website for Hare Krishna devotees and need your help.
The proposed website will be built on the same software as stackoverflow.com, a hugely popular site where over seven million computer programmers help each other with difficult programming problems. On Stack Overflow the audience votes for the best answer. Answers with the highest number of votes automatically rise to the top, to be read first. People answering questions gain reputation from each "up" vote for their answer, encouraging them to answer questions well. I can see this proposed site turning into an equally amazing resource.
We need a certain number of people "following" the proposal before the people who run StackExchange see it as important enough to make it into a real website. So, please help out and click the "Follow It" button on this website and enter your email address:
Please forward this to all your devotee friends and get them involved, so we can get our Q&A site launched very soon.
Detailed information about what I'm trying to do here:
The primary aim of the site is to give devotees a way to get good answers to all kinds of questions, as well as for more learned devotees to share their knowledge. If an answer is online, then google can find it and it becomes a permanent record for the future. That is much better than a devotee answering the same question over and over again on various forums. It is also better for the person looking for the answer, because the voting highlights what the best answer is, placing it at the top.
I got the idea for this kind of website after a conversation with another devotee. We were talking about facebook and blog controversies and the inability of devotees to do much about them. I thought about this a lot and had the idea for a devotee Q&A site that could address both local and global controversies in an authoritative way that doesn't look like it is just one person's biased opinion. A good answer on such a site will visibly have the stamp of approval from a whole group of devotees. Then, a few weeks ago, this StackExchange thing came along and did all the hard work of designing such a site for us. So, I'm very keen to take advantage of this opportunity.
To my knowledge every other devotee attempt at an online community either gets neglected over time, limited to a few hundred people, or has a confusing interface which is too bewildering. This is not any individual's fault. The fact is that building a website that people will use for valuable high-quality social interactions is very difficult. The best essay on the topic is this one "A Group is its own Worst Enemy"
The author explains in great detail why so many social websites fail. The StackExchange model is exactly in line with the principles recommended to make a site successful. It is expertly designed with identity (once the site is launched, anyone that contributes needs to have an identity and is therefore accountable for what they write - no anonymous answering), voting (the community polices itself), reputation (a way to identify those members of the community that are in good standing) and a barrier to entry (you need a certain good reputation to be able to vote to determine what is a good answer). All this means that a website based on the StackExchange technology can still be useful and manageable with millions of users.
Please help make this amazing resource a reality by clicking "follow" on the proposal and writing some good and bad example questions to go on the site. Bad questions are those off-topic questions that we don't want appearing on the site to keep the site focused on topics related to Krishna consciousness. We need examples of such bad questions in the proposal stage to define what the site will be about.
(sign up to the site using your Gmail or Yahoo email address - that is what is meant by OpenID).
I recently gave a talk at the Krishna Fest at Gaura Yoga on the "Vedic System of Self-Development". Thanks to Sivarama Swami for the inspiration for this talk.
or download the source AAC file vedic system of self-development.m4a
or download the source MP3 file vedic system of self-development.mp3
I was listening to the following podcast:
The title is deceptive. It is more about analyzing a market or activity holistically and reinventing it to taking into account the complete picture. With a complete view of all the factors, motivations, desires, side-effects and intentions, one can transform into a truly customer focused organization.
Darrel Rhea gives example how he helped do this for Apple Retail Stores, Electrolux Kitchen Appliances, the Australian Tax System and Hospital Stroke Treatment.
How about we think about the classic Sunday Feast in this way? In New Zealand the Sunday Feast has already been adapted and reinvented to a certain extent to make it more accessible to newcomers, but without changing any of the core values of Krishna Consciousness. But more can always be done to improve it even further.
(Learn more about the "Krishna Fest" as it is in Wellington, New Zealand: Gaura Yoga - Festivals)
Think of the usual kind of person that might attend a Krishna Conscious center: curious, wary, ignorant of any kind of philosophy, averse to ritual, averse to religion, proud, attached to the opposite sex, not able to sit on the floor for long periods of time, short attention span, self-conscious (unless intoxicated), concerned about spending too much money and concerned about the environment (although not actually doing much about it).
So, using that picture of the typical guest, how would you reinvent the Sunday Feast with a fresh outlook, unencumbered by past traditions? Things that might be changed: name, time, music, types of events, sequence of events, physical layout of the room(s), decoration of the room(s), devotee numbers, devotee dress & accessories and devotee language & attitude.
Please leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
I just got back from a 10-day Christmas retreat. Most of the Hare Krishna devotees in New Zealand attended this festival of inspiration, rejuvenation and association. Over 100 devotees were there, in total.
The retreat was held in the Otaki region of New Zealand (1 hour North of Wellington). We rented out two retreat centers: Riverslea and Waihoanga; and also used our own retreat center Gaura Haven for accommodation.
The 10-day passed quickly. There were so many brilliant talks, inspiring presentations, delicious spiritual food (prasadam), and nice people to talk to. A slight downer was that everyone (and I do mean everyone) got sick. A nasty flu virus managed to infect everyone's bodies. It lasted about four days in most people. Nevertheless, it was a brilliant time.
I took about 900 photos over the course of the retreat. A selection of images is available in my picture gallery.
I have been taking some pictures in and around Gaura Haven / New Gupta Vraja, located in Otaki (about an hour's drive outside of Wellington). Here is a gallery the best photographs, the so-called "glory shots".
I'm relatively new to landscape photography. So, advice and suggestions are welcome.
Additionally, I gave a photo presentation about Gaura Haven at our recent Vyasa-Puja festival in honor of Devamrita Swami.
On the weekend of the 25th of October, 2008 the majority of practitioners of Krishna consciousness in New Zealand (and a few from Australia) went to a retreat center in Inglewood, NZ called Vertical Horizon. There we celebrated the Vyasa-Puja (birthday of the spiritual master) of Devamrita Swami.
It was a grand festivals. Nearly 100 devotees were present. It was expertly organized by Visnumaya and Gopal Guru. So many great activities, presentations and speeches. The spiritual food (prasadam) was over-the-top great. I also really enjoyed seeing and speaking with many, many old friends.
I took over 800 photos. You can view a selection of the best shots here:
(the images 0.8-megapixel images in the gallery are fine for viewing on screen, but not nearly detailed enough for large prints. If anyone wants to print out any of the images, please email me and I can supply the original full 14.6 megapixel images from the Pentax K20d)
In this talk at Gaura Yoga in Wellington, New Zealand I discuss a topic that has confounded many statesmen, philosophers and theologians. Why do bad things happen to good people and why do good things happen to bad people? I give an overview of different so-called answers that people try to give to this question. I then explain how the science of Krishna consciousness gives a much more satisfying and sensible answer than any other source of knowledge. There are lots of questions in the end.
or download the source AAC file bad things.m4a
or download the source MP3 file bad things.mp3
or download the slides as a PDF file bad things.pdf
In this talk at Gaura Yoga I give some practical advice on how to give an interesting and inspirational Krishna conscious presentation.
Download the talk as an enhanced podcast (slides synced to audio) in AAC/M4A format (35 minutes). This file is playable in iTunes or on iPods.
Or, if you can't play or don't like Apple's media formats, here is the audio of the talk in MP3 format.
You can also download the slides I used as a PDF.
This PhD degree has been the greatest austerity I've ever undertaken. It was often frustrating, demotivating, felt like it would never end, caused my body to frequently fall ill and resulted in a huge amount of worry and pain.
However, the austerity of this PhD have been child's play compared with what a sage named Markandeya Rsi went through. (His story is told in the 12th Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam. I'm recalling it in my own words here):
Markandeya was meditating on the Supreme Personality of Godhead in his small heritage for many years. He was very strictly and sincerely meditating. So much so, in fact, that Indra, the King of Heaven (aka Zeus), became worried that this Markandeya might become eligible to take over his position soon. Indra therefore sent a team of people to break Markandeya's meditation.
He sent Cupid along with the best of the heavenly singers (Gandharvas), the most beautiful of the heavenly exotic dancers (Apsaras), the season of spring, a gentle cool breeze, intoxication personified and greed personified (the mode of passion and the false ego of thinking in terms of "I" and "mine"). A celebrate monk's worst nightmare. All these together were to create a situation where Markandeya would be tempted to stop his meditation and enjoy materially.
However, faced with these allurements, Markandeya wasn't even slightly shaken. He remained completely steady and fixed in his worship.
Markandeya Rsi's austerities were so powerful, in fact, that the members of Indra's assault team began to burn-up within (similar to what happen when Kapila Muni was attacked by the sons of Sagara who thought he had stolen a sacrificial horse).
Eventually, while Markandeya was meditating in this way, the Nara-Narayana avatar came and visited him. Markandeya immediately recognized the Supreme Lord and worshiped him with expert poetry.
The sage explained: Krishna is like a spider, He creates everything within the universe like a spider creates his web, and then He retracts it all back within Himself. Through Krishna one can conquer material misery, death and even time itself. Time is so powerful that even Lord Brahma (the oldest and most intelligent person in the universe) fears it, but Krishna's devotee need not fear time. The devotee knows that his self is not the body. The modes of nature generally bind us to the material world, but the devotee knows how to use the mode of goodness as a launch pad to blast himself off on a trajectory back to Godhead. Because of their perverted and sinful activities, materialists cannot understand Krishna. So material philosophers therefore come up with so many different theories, doctrines and religions. These are created to match their particular mix of the modes of nature (satva-, raja- and tama-guna), but have no real substance.
After hearing this nice prayer by Markandeya, Nara-Narayana offered him any benediction he might desire. The sage answered that just seeing his worshipable Lord was all he desired. He could imagine no greater gift. However, he was curious about the illusory energy (maya). He asked to understand how it could bewilder so many people into thinking material life was the one true reality.
The Lord ruefully promised to fulfill his wish and then disappeared.
Markandeya went on meditating for a few years when suddenly strong wind started to blow. Soon after, it started raining very heavily. The intense rains caused severe flooding. This hurricane went on continuously for many years. The intense weather eventually caused the entire surface of the earth to become flooded. Practically all species died off in this intense atmosphere. Gigantic sharks roamed the wild waters. The flooding even spread to the higher-dimensional space of the heavenly planets. It was the devastation at the end of the day of Brahma.
Markandeya was swimming and drifting throughout all of this. He lost all sense of orientation, he felt intense hunger and thirst, he got attacked by sharks, he felt extreme pain from various injuries, he was completely exhausted continuously fighting for his life, he frequently fell ill, he felt lamentation, happiness (when he temporarily escaped some danger), fear and misery. This went on for many, many years, all throughout the night of Brahma (4.32 billion years).
After an extremely long time drifting in the waters of devastation, Markandeya spotted a small island with a banyan tree growing on it. In one corner of the tree he saw a young child. As he swam closer to the island he noticed the wonderful beauty of the child. He noted his blackish-blue skin, wonderful jewelry, shark-shaped earrings, auspicious bodily markings and nice cosmetic decorations.
Then, suddenly, the child inhaled and began to suck everything surrounding him into his mouth. Markandeya also got sucked into the mouth of this wondrous child. Within the mouth he saw his old hermitage, the waters of devastation, the heavenly planets, the creation and destruction of the universe, everything, the entire universal manifestation; he even saw time itself, past, present and future, all at once. The child then exhaled and Markandeya found himself spat out back into the waters of devastation.
As he once again began to struggle to keep his head above the waters, he suddenly found himself transported back to his old heritage, as if nothing had happened. He then realized: "oh ... so this is the power of the illusory energy!".
And I realize: a PhD is nothing compared to that.
There are so many different religions and spiritual systems out there. Which should you choose and why?
In this talk at the Gaura Yoga centre in Wellington, New Zealand I give some criteria by which one can judge how bona fide a spiritual system is. I conclude by explaining how well Krishna consciousness does when judged by these criteria.
Download selection of the presentation slides [24 MB].
Download just the audio of presentation [34 MB]
Download version formatted for iPod/iPhone [153 MB].
Download highest-quality version [262 MB].
I have uploaded a photo album of some of the pictures I have taken here over the last month. The images are of the events, activities and prasadam (food) in and around the Gaura Yoga center.
All shots were taken with a Pentax K20d D-SLR. I continue to be amazed at the quality of images this camera produces. Infamous photographer Ken Rockwell preaches that the camera doesn't matter. He argues that just like owning a B??sendorfer piano will not magically make you into a great pianist, similarly owning a good camera does not automatically mean you take great pictures. The folks at the Luminous Landscape respond by saying that the camera does matter. They argue that it is critically important. A good set of tools can turn a okay craftsman into a great one.
I think both viewpoints have some truth to them. A good camera does not automatically result in better pictures, but it does definitely allow one to take pictures in more demanding situations (less light, fast moving subjects, far away subjects, distracting backgrounds, etc.). Even in ideal situations, a good camera and lens combination can turn a good photograph into a great one. However, the best equipment alone will, of course, not magically turn a run-of-a-mill photographer into Annie Leibovitz. Artist's consciousness is ultimately what creates the artwork. The tools are just instruments through which the artist manipulates the world of matter around him or her. A better tool allows for more detailed precise manipulation of matter.
So yes, I like the K20d. Check out the new pictures.
I have moved from Manchester, United Kingdom to Wellington, New Zealand. Last Sunday I gave the Krishna Fest presentation at the Gaura Yoga center here in Wellington. The topic was the "Science of Happiness" (analyzed using the teachings on the three modes of material nature from the Bhagavad-Gita: As it Is by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada).
Download and view a higher quality (800x600) version of the video here [124 MB].
It is well known that the aging population of the western world is increasingly placing a huge burden on all nations' health-care systems. Medicine is finding better and better (and more expensive) ways of stopping people from dying. As medicine finds new ways of curing the existing diseases, people's bodies find newer and newer ways of malfunctioning, costing evermore and more money.
I was listening to a panel discussion on what the heath-care issues will be in the upcoming 2008 US presidential election (wait, don't click that link, the discussion was pretty boring). Naturally, the issue of increasing cost and dilemma of how to ration health-care was a hot topic. Surprisingly, one expert explained, that the problem is not the evil pharmaceutical industry that many people like to blame. Drugs makes up just 8% of the total cost of health care in the United States (a "mere" $600 billion). The other 92% are the hospitals, ambulances, doctors, nurses, machines, administration, services, etc. So, even if all the pharmaceutical companies were to give away drugs for free that still wouldn't come close to solving the problem of health care costs spiraling out of control.
Professor Rustum Roy (amazing, the guy has over 1000 publications!) suggests the idea of "dying a good death", as presented in the spiritual teachings of India, as an idea that should be seriously considered (and, of course, everyone else in the panel discussion promptly ignored this idea...)
I certainly think that the Vedic knowledge of ancient India can provide some significant help for solving this global problem. Practitioners of Krishna consciousness could take an active role in advising governments on this issue. Here some of my thoughts as to what could be done:
- Take care of the body in this life: all too many people are abusing their bodies with drugs, intoxication, meat-eating, and sense gratification. Bhagavad-Gita explains that this is due to self-envy (BG16.18). Hate of the supersoul in one's own body and the bodies of others. A person beginning to practice Krishna consciousness will gradually stop destroying their body in order to squeeze some enjoyment out of it. They learn to relish spiritual pleasure, and no longer long for temporary material bodily enjoyment. The result: lots of people living a healthier lifestyle and not getting sick (i.e. less heart disease because more people are vegetarian, less cancer because fewer people smoke and more people have a good diet, fewer strokes because people are less stressed, less liver cirrhosis because fewer people drink, less homicide because more people value the soul in all living beings (SB5.5.26), less suicide because people are happier with themselves, less HIV/AIDS because of less illicit sex, etc. etc.).
- Death is not the end: Krishna describes in the Bhagavad-Gita the the consciousness lives on after the death of the body (BG2.20). Death is natural part of life in the material world. Everything that is born is sure to die eventually (BG2.27). Indeed, as the material body grows old, breaks-down and falls apart, the consciousness transmigrates into a new body, just like one might change out of some old clothes into new ones (BG2.22). Such a reincarnation is not a cause for alarm, but a natural part of life (BG2.11, BG2.13). The result: less bereavement and intoxication when a friend or loved one dies.
- The purpose of work is not to enjoy the fruits: practically everyone works to get money to get enjoyment. However, people are becoming more and more depressed and insane because of too much work. If, as recommended in the Bhagavad-Gita (BG2.47), one works and offers the fruits of such work to Krishna, not trying to enjoy them for oneself, then one can attain unadulterated peace (BG5.12). The result: mental illness is drastically reduced.
- Die in a sound state of mind: King Kulasekhara gave an example of how to die in a sound state of mind (SB 4.23.13). He wanted to die while he was still young and health, so that he could remember Krishna better at the time of death (note: he wasn't suicidal, he's primary concern was simply remembering Krishna, not forever clinging to his dying body). The result: more people choosing to die "naturally" and not be forever hooked up to an expensive life-support system (similar to a low-tech version of Darth Vader).
- Look forward to the next life: if one's life is filled with spiritual activities meant to produce a high-quality body in the next life (ideally a body of pure consciousness), then the next life is something to look forward to. Moreover, in such a case, even the current life is highly enjoyable. As stated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (SB4.27.12), a sage practicing Krishna consciousness is blessed by saying that he may either live or die. It does not make a difference. Either way there is happiness. The result: less depression as disease and old age set in.
I have been reading an excellent booklet entitled "Taking Care of Krishna's Devotees" by H.H. Niranjana Swami. It outlines his experience and advice regarding the counseling system successfully used in Chowpatti Temple, as well as in many parts of Russia. The following is a summary of some of the book's presentation. I recommend reading the complete book since it contains much more detail and inspiration.
Everyone needs to take shelter of something. Everyone needs friends in Krishna consciousness. Everyone needs spiritual strength. Spiritual strength comes from Balarama. Balarama's representative is the guru.
A good Krishna conscious leader gives encouragement and care to his dependents. He or she is interested only in other people's Krishna consciousness; not in exploiting their skills, their money, etc. Therefore, the essential ingredient for a successful counseling system is: caring (thinking of the welfare of others).
Counselors are not official authorities. They are simply friends. They give advice only when asked and don't force their counselees to do anything these strongly resist doing. Some pushing may be there, but only out of concern and love. Aspiring devotees should deal with their counselors not because they have to, but because they want to. Devotees should trust their counselors. This is, after all, a volunteer movement. There should be no arm twisting or threatening. Devotees should not feel like they are constantly under the Sword of Damocles.
Inspiration should be the first principle, the organized system can come later. Prabhupada wrote in a letter: "This is the duty of the leaders to bring up this voluntary spirit and to fan it so that Krishna consciousness becomes an ever-fresh experience." Devotees can best inspire others if they themselves are highly inspired.
It is not so much a counseling system; it is rather more a means of establishing friendships / loving relationships. It has to come naturally and cannot be forced by the temple authorities. If someone is forced to accept someone as a counselor then they will not necessarily trust the counselor's advice; they suspect that the counselor has some hidden agenda. True friendship is secret of the success of the counseling system in a place like Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha Mandir in Chowpatta, Mumbai. Devotees there love each other and that makes all the difference. They chant together, associate together and thereby learn to see each other's good quality. They are one family.
Fault finding can manifest if devotees associate only for the purpose of service. Therefore, in addition to service, there needs to be association in kirtan, study and support for a nice community to develop. If this is not there then association with materialists starts looking more and more attractive to the aspiring devotee.
Counselees should use meeting with their counselors to benefit personally. The meeting should not be used to complain about other devotees. Bhaktivinoda Thakur said that if someone speaks about others with an attitude of pride or envy, they cannot fix their mind upon Krishna. So, meetings should only be used to discuss personal problems, both material and spiritual, as well as general Krishna conscious philosophy.
It is not that a devotee should only associate with those devotees whom he likes and avoid those whom he does not get along with. That is a kanista (neophyte) mentality. Instead, all devotees should chant very attentively, learn to see each other's good qualities and bring out the best in everyone. There must be an emphasis on internal transformation as well as external distribution. Both must go on equally.
The devotees who take up the position of counselors should expect nothing in return for their service. They should be materially stable with an honest source of income. Counselors should also be stable in their particular ashram (ideally as a householder), so they don't misuse their position of authority. They should be inspiring preachers who lead by their own example.
The counselors should ideally not be involved in temple management (or, if they are, be able to clearly distinguish between the needs of the temple and the needs of their counselees). They should be free thinkers (although strictly principled), who may, in certain circumstances, disagree with the management's ideas and plans. Management should not only appoint counselors who are sympathetic to them. Otherwise, if the counselors are simply an extension of the management, their counselees will doubt their commitment to their dependents' best interest. If a counselee cannot trust his or her counselor then the counseling will be ineffective.
Important qualification for counselors are:
- Counselors should have a nice understanding of the philosophy and practice of Krishna consciousness.
- They should have been active within ISKCON for a reasonable length of time.
- They should be able to give balanced advice according to time, place and circumstance.
- They should not be prone to taking extreme and controversial positions on issues..
- They should be willing to extend themselves to help others and have a spirit of sacrifice.
- They should be compassionate and have a genuine concern for the welfare of devotees.
- They should be good listeners. They should be able to listen to the people they are trying to serve.
- They should be mature and sober.
- They should demonstrate a good standard of sadhana, etiquette, behavior, and commitment to serving the mission of Srila Prabhupada.
- They should be stably situated within their own ashram.
More information on the counseling system from H.H. Radhanath Maharaja is available here: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=1378
Another review of the book may be found here: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=1421
An electronic version of the complete text of the book may be found here: http://www.dandavats.com/wp-content/uploads/tckd2_web.pdf
Printed copies of "Taking Care of Krishna's Devotees" are available for a very reasonable price by contacting Lila Smarana devi dasi at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I was listening to an interview with radio talk show host Michael Krasny. Among other things, he talks about his interview with James Watson and Edward Wilson, which he writes about in his new book (Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life). He recalls both saying that they have little concern over the risk of genetic tinkering (whether it be recombinant DNA or genetically modified food). Krasny puts this down to both men's "faith in science".
I found this interesting. Both of these researchers have a great deal of faith in their scientific work. They have worked so long in their area that they have developed not blind faith, but realized knowledge. Based on their life-long study of genetics they have firm unshakable faith that genetic engineering is both safe and useful. As a result, when they speak, they do so with such confidence that people are impressed: "oh, these people know what they are talking about. I feel I can surrender to such powerful gurus..."
Now, we can argue about whether or not genetics will save or destroy the world. However, it strikes me as ironic that these great men of science are gloried for the exact same thing great religious leaders are gloried for, namely, their firm conviction.
Of course, scientists would have us believe that all religionists are sentimental quacks, who blindly believe in some flying spaghetti monster, without any real evidence to back it up. However, this attitude is just plain wrong. It comes from a lack of knowledge.
Any bona-fide spiritual science, such as Krishna consciousness, is the "perfection of religion", because it "gives direct perception of the self by realization" (BG 9.2). Meaning that it provides means of experimentally verifying the statements made in the scripture. All that it takes is a willingness to go to school and learn the science. Just like the aspiring geneticist must study biology for a number of years, the aspiring spiritualist must study Bhagavad-Gita for a number of years. The study is both theoretically (reading, hearing lectures, etc.) and practical (meditation, karma-yoga, etc.). In the end, the result of years of applied spiritual science is: faith in Krishna.
I've heard a number of people express their intuitive belief in some kind of universal mind, great mysterious force, universal super-consciousness, or great white light. This mysterious energy guides us all and can facilitate the fulfillment of our desires, as well as provide great artistic inspiration.
This perception is, in fact, an amazingly deep intuitive understanding of the true nature of the universe. However, while intuition is well and good, intuition coupled with a scientific intellectual understanding of the "great mystery" is even better.
Maybe you think that it simply cannot be understood, or maybe you think it is different for everybody? However, judging by everything I've learnt, I believe that the science of Krishna consciousness can and does perfectly explain the "great mystery" and it does so in a completely logical left-brain way. At the same time, Krishna consciousness can also reinforce one's intuitive relationship with the "force". The end result is a complete realization of the nature of reality.
Many people these days are somewhat cynical of organized religions that demand faith in some kind of deity. They therefore prefer to believe in this somewhat undefined impersonal mystery. That is safe: the mystery doesn't make dogmatic demands, force you to surrender, etc. But have no fear: Krishna consciousness is different from "religion" as traditionally known. There is no blind following: everything has a good reason and purpose. In fact, all other spiritual traditions of the world make perfect sense when viewed under the Krishna conscious framework.
Different faiths exist for different purposes, mentalities, times, places and circumstances. However, Krishna consciousness deals with the eternal underlying reality. It is about engaging in a process of continuously deepening one's relationship with the "great mystery", becoming more aligned with its desires, intellectually understanding what it is and how it functions, feeling what it wants, etc. There is no blind faith, because one can experience the direct and indirect effects of this relationship on so many levels as one progresses in one's practice. One gets abundant sensory, mental and intellectual experience of the "mystery".
In order to get this experience, one needs to be willing to do the experiment and engage in Krishna conscious activities. Sadly, many people are afraid of doing so: "What if it turns out to be true? Will I have to change my behavior? Will I have to give everything up? What will become of my own personal wants and desires?"
(by the way, the answers to those question are (in order): You become happier than you've ever been. Only that which is causing you suffering. No. They remain eternally.)
So, the "great mystery" has a name: Krishna! And the relationship with Krishna is called Krishna consciousness. Krishna is described in great detail in the Vedic literature. He has many aspects. One such aspect is the great all-expansive impersonal force that pervades everything (it is called the "Brahman" effulgence). Another is a unified personal form that exists distributed inside of every living being, constantly guiding, facilitating and protecting us all, if we are only willing to listen (it is called "Paramatma" in Sanskrit - roughly translated as "super-consciousness"). The third and final aspect of Krishna is a supreme individual personal form known as "Bhagavan". This aspect is the person whom most religions refer to as "God". Brahman and Paramatma aspects both emanate from the original Bhagavan personality.
Re-connecting with Krishna is the literal meaning behind the word "yoga". It is much more than the physical exercise for which the word is commonly known. The Vedas teach that all living beings are made up of a physical bodily machine, a subtle (but nevertheless material) mind and a spiritual consciousness. Any physical techniques only affect the body and mind. Real holistic yoga deals with all three and particularly focuses on the consciousness.
Our consciousness has been dulled because of being covered over by varying degrees of material contamination. Just like a mirror covered by a thick layer of dust, our covered consciousness limits our ability to "see" ourselves. If the covering of the body and mind is removed, i.e. if we become more and more aware of the consciousness as a separate entity from the body and mind, then we see with equal vision. We can see everything and everyone in their true position as a unique individual living entity of pure consciousness that is part of Krishna. In this way we are all the same, regardless of different physical bodies (male/female, young/old, black/white, rich/poor, christian/muslim, chinese/american, etc) and mental states and abilities (artistic ability, creativity, intelligence, anxiety, depression, etc). We are one. However, at the same time we also retain our unique individuality.
The benefit of engaging in the various yoga practices of Krishna consciousness are many: by removing the material covering and uncovering the underlying consciousness we develop "full-brain" insight into "everything" (i.e. both matter and spirit). We also gain a deep sense of personal fulfillment and happiness that is independent of external conditions. No more: "I'm happy because I won an award and got a raise at work". Instead: "I'm always happy, regardless of the circumstances, because my motivation is completely in-line with Krishna's desires". Normally, doing the same activity over and over again eventually becomes dry. However, if one's motivation is connected with Krishna, i.e. if one is "Krishna conscious", all activities are ever fresh.
The Vedic literature, in my experience, provides the deepest, most scientific, most complete and most authoritative knowledge of spirituality in all the world. Nothing else even comes close. Here is a quote from the literature that explains the "super-consciousness":
"It is stated in Bhagavad-gita that a person who is always absorbed in Krishna consciousness is the topmost yogi. What is Krishna consciousness? As the individual soul is present by his consciousness throughout his entire body, so the Supersoul, or Paramatma, is present throughout the whole creation by superconsciousness. This superconscious energy is imitated by the individual soul, who has limited consciousness. I can understand what is going on within my limited body, but I cannot feel what is going on in another's body. I am present throughout my body by my consciousness, but my consciousness is not present in another's body. The Supersoul, or Paramatma, however, being present everywhere and within everyone, is also conscious of everyone's existence. The theory that the soul and the Supersoul are one is not acceptable because it is not confirmed by authoritative Vedic literature. The individual soul's consciousness cannot act in superconsciousness. This superconsciousness can be achieved, however, by dovetailing individual consciousness with the consciousness of the Supreme. This dovetailing process is called surrender, or Krishna consciousness. From the teachings of Bhagavad-gita we learn very clearly that Arjuna, in the beginning, did not want to fight with his brothers and relatives, but after understanding Bhagavad-gita he dovetailed his consciousness with the superconsciousness of Krishna . He was then in Krishna consciousness." [Srimad Bhagavatam 3.15.45 (purport)]
An upcoming film about a Buddhist cook. This begs the question: why didn't they make a film like this with the Hare Krishna's instead? What's the "kitchen religion" Buddhism or Vaishnavaism (Krishna consciousness)?
There is obviously a market for and interest in this sort of movie. It seems like a great way to present our philosophy. Kurma prabhu are you listening?
Corporations in the United States are increasingly hiring chaplains for the workplace. These clergymen come into the offices maybe once a week and employees can talk to them if and when they wish. The chaplains give confidential advice on all life's problems to those people that choose to take advantage of their guidance. They don't force themselves onto anyone who doesn't want their help.
A great benefit of the corporate chaplain is that in an increasingly dog-eat-dog world the chaplain is not some good-for-nothing boss, nor a double-crossing so-called mentor who really just has his own best interest in mind. Instead, he is there for just one reason: to care. And a little care and attention is really just all everyone wants, right?
The trend in the predominantly christian USA is to hire christian chaplains, but I see no reason why there couldn't be successful vaisnava chaplains, too. This is especially so in countries were the traditional churches are mistrusted or frowned upon. However, even in the USA the demand for corporate chaplains far exceeds the supply. There are just not enough spiritually educated people around who are will and able to genuinely care for others. It's a huge growth industry.
This makes me think of Ameyatma's article on implementing Varnashra Universities. But why establish external educational institutions that people need to make an effort to visit? Instead here is the possibility of meeting and helping people directly in their workplaces and getting paid for it too.
I think members of the Krishna consciousness network are ideally suited for this kind of non-sectarian, educational, care-given work. Indeed, employees who are getting guidance from Vaisnava chaplains are more likely to be able to lead a mode of goodness lifestyle, free from so many self-degrading activities. They can be happier, more productive and make spiritual progress, all at the same time. It's a win-win situation.
Someone should try this!
More information in the following articles:
Last Saturday I hosted a meeting at my flat. It had been a long time since I had done such a thing.
Just 3 guests came. Two regular friends and one friend of a friend: a German exchange student from Berlin who was new to Krishna consciousness.
We started off by having lunch and general chatting. On the menu:
- Sweet potatoes in cayenne, ginger and groundnut sauce
- Baked vegetables with rosemary (which I over-salted)
- Apple chutney
- Cashew basmati brown rice
- Chinese almond cookies
- Mango and orange nectar drink
After lunch we had a kirtan.
Then we discussed the second verse of the Bhagavatam (for 2 hours!). Actually, we only made through the first half of this verse. There is so much stuff packed into each Bhagavatam verse. One can talk about each verse for months!
The verse is:
"Completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated, this Bhagavata Purana propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are fully pure in heart. The highest truth is reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all. Such truth uproots the threefold miseries. This beautiful Bhagavatam, compiled by the great sage Vyasadeva [in his maturity], is sufficient in itself for God realization. What is the need of any other scripture? As soon as one attentively and submissively hears the message of Bhagavatam, by this culture of knowledge the Supreme Lord is established within his heart." (SB1.1.2)
All in all, every really enjoyed the afternoon of hearing, chanting and feasting. I must do this more often.
"The division of gross time is calculated as follows: two atoms make one double atom, and three double atoms make one hexatom. This hexatom is visible in the sunshine which enters through the holes of a window screen. One can clearly see that the hexatom goes up towards the sky." (SB3.11.05)
Scientists currently believe that the photon (also known as light) is the transmitter particle (gauge boson) for electromagnetic force. Photons supposedly have no mass and no electric charge. It is said that Einstein was the first person to theorize that these particles should exist (except he wasn't the first - not by a long shot!).
Photon (obviously) travel at the speed of light. They can be redirected by gravity (not because gravity attracts the photon like e.g. a magnet attracts iron, but because gravity bends the very space through which the photon flies).
Photons are strange because they behave both as waves and as particles at the same time (as demonstrated in the famous double-slit experiment).
Besides photons, which we "see" every day, there are supposedly a few other gauge bosons, or carrier particles for fundamental forces of nature. Specifically, there supposed to exist W and Z bosons (which supposedly cause the weak atomic interaction), gluons (which supposedly cause the strong atomic interaction) and the (totally speculative) gravitons (which supposedly cause gravity - although no one has ever detected a graviton).
Physicists are hard at work trying to figure out how these particles fit together in a grand unification theory. They believe that if they figure this out they will understand everything there is to know about the elegant universe with no need for primitive gods, deities and other "unscientific" stuff like that.
And here we have the Srimad Bhagavatam stating quite plainly and clearly, thousands of years before the advert of modern physics (or more precisely: the sage Maitreya speaking to Vidura sometime around the year 3102 B.C.), that the photon is actually made up of 6 (specifically 3 groups of 2) atomic particles. These Vedic Atoms (parama-anuh) are the true fundamental particles of nature. In different combinations these particles presumably also make up the other gauga bosons.
So, there we have the much vaunted unification theory.
Why do theoretical physicists not take notice?
Update: (disclaimer) My statements above are called into question by some good counter arguments in the comments to this post. This is not to say that the article is incorrect, but I nevertheless advise anyone reading this to read the comments and make up their own mind based upon what they think are the most reasonable assumptions.
This video site has a number of how to and self-help videos. For example, the hilarious: how to give a great man-to-man hug video. The videos are informative and often really funny. I could see this site becoming quite popular in the future. They have a niche beyond the usual youtube clone.
So, how about videos on: "how to offer obeisances", "how to ask a question to a senior devotee", "how to enter the temple room", "how to wear a dhoti", "how to eat prasadam", etc.
Such videos would be more accessible than a book and potentially even quicker to produce. All it would take is a video camera, some aspiring devotee actors and a computer with good video editing software (such as iMovie on the Mac).
(see also my previous post on video blogging)
After my stay in Wellington I went onwards to Auckland for a brief two day visit. I went to the Loft for one evening. It is very similar to Gaura Yoga in mood, style and popularity, although maybe a little more industrial looking. It is a very nice place that attracts many, many people to Krishna consciousness.
I went to visit the brahmacari monks living in "peaceful" South Auckland in a wonderful ashram environment. They live a very regulated life of distributing books (50000 Srimad Bhagavatam 1st Cantos in the warehouse, waiting to be distributed), studying books (2 hours each day), distributing prasadam (at the many Auckland universities) and chanting the Maha-Mantra (at least 16 round each day). Such wonderful character-building service to all of humanity! The brahmacaris also have a vegetable patch in their back garden. Such a moderately sized garden is enough to supply food for most of the year. So much so that they often have to give some away to the loft, because they can't eat it all. If it is so easy to feed 8 hungry men, then what is this non-sense about world hunger due to overpopulation (although granted, the population of New Zealand isn't exactly large)?
I also gave a talk about Krishna consciousness to students at Massey University in North Auckland. This was part of a series of activities the devotees had organized as part of a "spirituality week" that was going on there. Krishna consciousness was a welcome break from the legions of christians that jumped on top of every unsuspecting student that entered the main concourse the day before (I was told).
Just a few hours after that I was off on a 32 hour flight back to the UK.
Pictures from Auckland are viewable here.
A realization I had while reading the Srimad-Bhagavatam: the place commonly known as "hell" is not underground or anything like that, but in the sky. In the place between heaven and earth.
"Living entities who are associates of Rudra develop in the third mode of material nature, or ignorance. They are situated in the sky between the earthly planets and the heavenly planets." SB3.6.29
So, to me that means "hell", or the ideal living conditions for those in the mode of ignorance, is situated in space, on other planets in the solar system, on asteroids, etc.
While in Wellington (New Zealand) I gave a Sunday presentation at Gaura Yoga. I talked on Scientific Spirituality. I talked about science in general and how it works (or not). Then I went on to talk about Krishna consciousness explaining how it is a very scientific process of spirituality which is in many ways more advanced and beneficial than materialistic science.
View the video of my presentation:
After the amazing Bhakti-retreat I headed off to Wellington, New Zealand. I had stayed in Wellington for one year in 2003. So, it was quite emotional to be back.
Gaura Yoga is the main hub around which all Krishna conscious activities in Wellington revolve. All other outreach centers around AU and NZ are based on this remarkable establishment. Gaura Yoga is not a temple. Rather it has the look and feel of a high-quality caf?©. Yoga classes and seminars take place during the week and a three hour-long kirtan is held every Saturday, followed by a massive masterfully executed festival on Sundays. An average of 25 people attend each yoga night and 30 - 100 guests come to the Sunday programs (and these are paying guests wanting to hear about Krishna, not devotee staff).
I want to move to Wellington after finishing my PhD, so I spent most of my time looking for jobs while there. Lucky for me: there is currently a huge shortage of software engineers in New Zealand. I'm told it works something like this:
A while ago (during the .com boom) everyone in the world (and more than everyone in India) studied computer science even if they had no interest, talent or skill in the subject in hope of cashing in. However, now that the good times are over, suddenly no one in NZ is interested in computers anymore. CS student numbers have gone way, way down. Thus getting a job in academia is nigh on impossible at the moment. University departments are funded based on how many students they teach. Fewer students, means less money, which means no hiring of new staff. However, because no one is studying computer science, very few people are graduating with software qualifications (and even those that are, are mostly moving to the USA where salaries are much higher than in NZ). This leaves the NZ IT companies clamoring for every last software engineer they can get their hands on.
Most companies hire via various recruitment companies, so I got in contact with a number of these recruiters. They had a whole slew of companies they wanted to represent me to. However, they preferred to do this closer to the time of my actuall arrival. Nevertheless, I got three job offers from the different companies I interviewed with. So, I can pick my job.
Wellington, here I come!
After a short stay in Brisbane the devotees headed off to a retreat center two hours out of town on Mount Warning, Murwillumbah, NSW. The center had been shut down for many years, but the owner wanted to get it going again. However, fixing it up was a big job, which he could not have managed on his own. So, the devotees offered to help. It took many weekends of hard work to clean out the dirt and numerous living entities that had taken up residence in the abandoned buildings. Now however, looking at the results, one would never know. It is a very nice setting.
The bhakti yoga retreat was a wonderful program of getting up early, finding one's way to the main building in the darkness of the night using a flashlight, having a nice morning program, chanting the maha-mantra on beads, having another nice program, listening to inspiring classes by Devamrita Swami, having a nice healthy breakfast, resting, attending an occasional seminar, having a sensational lunch (taking into account all the devotees' health needs) and a nice evening program that usually lasted deep into the night and exhausted everyone with hours and hours of blissful chanting.
I finally got the opportunity to meet some devotees in person who I had previously only known and communicated with online. Plus, of course, all the great enthusiastic practitioners of Krishna consciousness I met for the first time.
The last day of the retreat was a particularly memorable one. We did a one and a half hour trek over the mountain to the New Govardhana temple. New Govardhana is a huge community of devotees, complete with wild peacocks, poisonous snakes and beautiful deities. The pace of the walk was hard and fast, yet Sitapati led a transcendental kirtan all the way (while carrying his son on his shoulders and accordion strapped to his chest). I had a hard time just walking!
Near the end of the walk the heavens opened and 15-minute rain storm swept over all of us. Everyone was drenched. However, we dried off soon enough when we reached the temple and carried on chanting for what must have been another two hours of kirtan. Then Devamrita Swami arrived at the temple, gave the Sunday Feast lecture and proceeded to have another 1-2 hour long kirtan. This one even more intense than the previous ones. Then, finally, a hugely opulent feast. What a day! (If only every day could be this wonderful...)
Many, many pictures of the retreat are viewable here.
The next destination in my travels (a short plane flight away) was Brisbane, Australia.
Brisbane is very different from Melbourne. While the climate in Melbourne is mild, Brisbane is downright tropical. I did not like it very much. Too hot. The city also has more of a never-ending sprawling feel to it, while Melbourne felt more like a central city with distinct suburbs.
I stayed in the temple in Brisbane. It is not as huge or impressive as Melbourne temple, but also managed very nicely by Tirtharaja dasa. Despite being in the city, the temple was surrounded by nature. For example: I was amazed that there were quite a few wild turkeys running around the temple's gardens. My stay was comfortable. The devotees were bending over backwards to host their guests.
Besides the temple there is a Govinda's restaurant in the city center. Close to Govinda's is Atma Yoga, Brisbane's outreach center. It has been in existence a bit longer than Urban Yoga, but is also still quite new. It is managed by the venerable Sitapati dasa and his team of expert devotees.
Unfortunately, I didn't manage to visit either of these establishments, but from what I hear, they are excellent places to be.
I stayed in the glorious Melbourne Mahaprabhu Mandir. It is a beautiful and amazing temple run under the skillful direction of Aniruddha dasa. The temple buildings were originally an old school complex situated in a rich suburb of Melbourne.
In addition to the temple, the devotees also run two restaurants in the city centre: Gopals - an up-market restaurant, and Crossways - a cheaper all-you-can-eat restaurant aimed at massive prasadam distribution. Both restaurants are within 1 minute walking distance from each other on one of the busiest streets in Melbourne.
Above Crossways is Urban Yoga, a newly opened outreach center. A place for yoga, meditation, discussion, cooking classes, etc. Tri Yuga skillfully manages this inspiring program. Many young people are taking advantage and developing an interest in Krishna consciousness in this convivial setting.
I took many pictures during my visit. They are viewable in the gallery section of this website.