Viewing entries tagged with 'vedicsoc'
I hosted what will probably be the last of my Saturday Feasts in Manchester yesterday. There were a total of eight people present (much to my surprise everyone I invited came and some people brought friends along - and there was just enough prasadam to satisfy everyone). On the menu:
- cumin basmati rice
- chickpea, roast potato, tomato stew (from the Yamuna's Table cookbook)
- sweet potato pie (from Great Vegetarian Dishes)
- apple chutney
- leaf salad with carrot strips, roasted pumpkin seeds, roasted sesame seeds and coconut (with a lemon juice dressing)
- fruity chamomile with orange juice (which surprisingly tastes a lot like it has ginger and cinnamon in it, even though it doesn't)
After lunch we all chanted one round of the Hare Krishna Maha-Mantra on beads. We then engaged in a lively discussion on: SB 4.22.45.
Since only a person who is completely educated according to the principles of Vedic knowledge deserves to be commander-in-chief, ruler of the state, the first to chastise and the proprietor of the whole planet, P??>thu Mah?r?ja offered everything to the Kum?ras.
Srila Prabhupada makes several statements in the purport which are against conventional so-called wisdom. Some people might even consider such statements controversial. However, I find the plain-spoken tell-it-like-it-is nature of Prabhupada's statements highly refreshing, enjoyable and philosophically sound.
After a discussion that lasted a little over an hour we had a stand-up kirtan. Everyone seemed to really enjoy that. After that, a little general talk and saying goodbye to everyone and the last meeting in Manchester came to a close.
Unfortunately, Vedicsoc Manchester is now no more.
I hosted another Saturday Feast at my flat today. The last time I hosted a feast I was a bit late cooking. I guess my multi-person cooking skills were a bit rusty, since it had been a while since I had done something like this. However, I seem to have gotten the hang of it again. Today I was a lot quicker. I got the lunch finished right on time, on the dot. 2.5 hours from start to finish to prepare the meal.
Unfortunately, no one was there to eat it. At first I thought I had made the classic mistake of establishing a precedent of actually starting 30-minutes later than I advertise (Sitapati talks about this common practice and its ill effects in his "preaching on purpose" eBook). However, it turned out that everyone was genuinely delayed for a variety of reasons. I had 5 guests in total.
On the menu for lunch:
Fennel Basmati White Rice
Seychellian Carri Coco Curry
South China Stir-Fry
Baked Potato Wedges
Banana Vanilla Soya Milk Drink
Pictures of the meal (click on the pictures for a full-size version):
One guest always asks me in amazement if I make the chutney myself or rather, buy them in a shop. They are really not at all difficult to make. So, if you're reading this, the recipe for tomato chutney is on page 80 in the "Great Vegetarian Dishes" cookbook by Kurma dasa (order from BLservices in Europe, Krishna.com in the USA, Amazon.com, or Amazon.co.uk).
After lunch we chanted one round (108 mantras) of the Hare Krishna mantra on beads in unison. Usually we have a kirtan, but today almost everyone brought their own japa beads, so I thought we might as well use them.
We then discussed the four seed verses of the Srimad Bhagavatam (2.9.33, 2.9.34, 2.9.35, 2.9.36). These verses are the first instructions that Krishna gave to Brahma, the first created living entity in our universe. From these instructions Brahma could expand the purport of all the Vedic literature. This discussion culminated in the need to gain this knowledge by disciplic succession. It is impossible to speculate and attain knowledge of the true personal form of God (the highest one can come with speculation is to the point of realizing that everything is "one"). Knowledge about Krishna must come down from Krishna himself, there is simply no other way to attain it. Just like an ant can't gain knowledge of the Large Hadron Collider by its own capacity.
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.
Just two people for the last session before the easter break. I discussed a little bit about the story of Srila Prabhupada and all the amazing things he did. We also discussed some general questions and answers.
Use of technology: everyone is really impressed by my using the Apple Remote to effortlessly control the background music of the yoga. Since the thing is so small that it can be concealed within the palm of my hand, it appeared that I was controlling the sound by the power of my mind. Doing the same thing with one of the Windows Media Center remote controls that come with some PCs would have been impossible.
Realization from the last few weeks: 2 hours are is long for a session. I was okay last year, but now almost everyone excuses themselves after 1.5 hours and leaves. Some people can only stay for 1 hour. Better to have fewer shorter sessions for the busy people of today's world that are under the illusion that 2 hours is too long to spend doing any one thing in any one place.
3 people for this week's session. One new person (though not the person from last week). The new person was a medical student and frequented Brahma Kumari silent meditation sessions. She said chanting Hare Krishna was comparable with mindfulness and other meditation techniques she was used to.
I kept our group chanting going for 20 minutes, because everyone seemed quite alert and was chanting strongly.
We then discussed the second verse of the beautiful Light of the Bhagavad: a book of Chinese Gongbi art, poetry from the Srimad Bhagavatam and purports of Vedic philosophy by Srila Prabhupada.
"The scorching heat of the sun evaporates water from the seas, rivers, and reservoirs, and there is little water anywhere. The people become thirsty and always look overhead for rain, but in despair. Yet just at the right moment, torrents of rain begin to fall everywhere in the land, even on the hard stones, and the land becomes overflooded."
Taxes should be collected in good times and redistributed back to the people in times of necessity. However, corrupt politicians disturb this process by profiteering from the tax collection. In a democracy the blame for this lies squarely with the people. Unqualified people elect unqualified leaders. If the people were qualified God conscious individuals, then they would a elect a qualified God conscious leader. However, as it currently stands, they people elect a leader who is just as stupid as they are. So, the presence of rampant cheating and corruption should be of no surprise to anyone.
"Taxes should therefore be spend to build the character of the people in general. That will bring happiness to the citizens of the state."
5 people for this week's session, including one new visitor. We did some gentle slow-deep stretch yoga to help heal everyone's bad backs. The then did mantra chanting, as usual. The time passed surprisingly quick. Chanting for 10 minutes seemed like a flash.
We discussed: entanglement.
- What entangles us in the thorn bush of material world? (desires)
- Why it is difficult to escape? (the more we struggle, the tighter the vines/ropes/modes bind us)
- How to get free? (practice karma-yoga (BG4.14) (BG4.22))
- How to practice karma yoga? (offer the results of action to Krishna (BG5.12))
- How to learn how to sacrifice the results of action? (get help)
- How to get help? (surrender unto a bona-fide spiritual master (BG4.34))
Now, after the session, the following quote from a conversation with Prabhupada in the Science of Self-Realization comes to mind:
Mr. O'Grady: The problem is to find this spiritual master.
Srila Prabhupada: That is not the problem. The problem is whether you are sincere. You have problems, but God is within your heart. Isvarah sarva-bhutanam. God is not far away. If you are sincere, God sends you a spiritual master. Therefore God is also called caitya-guru, the spiritual master within the heart. God helps from within and from without. Everything is thus described in the Bhagavad-gita. This material body is like a machine, but within the heart is the soul, and with the soul is the Supersoul, Krishna, who gives directions. The Lord says, "You wanted to do this; now here is the chance. Go and do it." If you are sincere, you say, "Now, God, I want You." Then He will give you directions. "Yes, now you come and get Me like this." This is kindness. However, if we want something else, that is all right. We can have it. God is very kind. When I want something, He is in my heart directing me and telling me how to have it. So why should He not give directions on how to have a spiritual master? First of all we must again be eager to revive our God consciousness. Then God will give us a spiritual master.
One person revealed a significant source of entanglement for her: a property developer was in the process of dispossessing her of some land she owns. This kind of thing might be expected in a place like Kazakhstan, but not in a place as supposedly civilized as the UK. So, what to do? A long entangling bureaucratic legal fight to the death, or give up and let them have their way?
Any advice? What would you do?
Either way, this situation may be a special favor from Krishna. Krishna takes everything away from those devotees that he especially favors (SB10.88.8). And ultimately, as time, he takes everything away anyway (SB9.4.53).
No one came.
Four people told me the couldn't make it because they had injured their backs in unrelated incidents. Maybe it was some strange astrological configuration that caused the whole world to experience back injury (?).
I decided to move the Vedicsoc session from Tuesday to Thursday. A number of people told me they could no longer make it on Tuesday and a number of potential people said they never came because they couldn't make it on Tuesdays.
People are so busy.
Two people came. One new person coming for the first time emailed me asking why no one was there on the Tuesday.
We did a little bit of physical yoga and discussed current events from a Vedic perspective.
For this week's Vedicsoc session we got two of our regulars. We discussed prison.
I asked: who wants to be imprisoned? Who wants to be restricted in their activity? Who wants someone else constantly telling them what to do? Who wants their life dictated to them? Who wants to do the same things over and over and over again?
Well, guess what? That is our present situation in the material world.
We all must suffer birth, death, disease and old age. We don't have a choice. The various sense objects control us.
(have you ever done anything you knew was bad for you?)
Breaking the four regulative principles of freedom imprisons us because we turn into animals without free will. Drunkards (and other drug addicts) can't control their senses and become utterly predictable in their behavior. A gambler can't help but gamble his wealth away. Eating meat turns people into violent wild beasts. And finally, illicit sex is the strongest of all. It makes up the invisible bars in the prison of the material world. It makes us desire to remain in the prison even if we know better, let alone if we are completely under its sway.
Even discounting all that, we still can't do what we want. Material nature and our previous activities (karma) control us. I told the story of the blood donor scandal in China that caused millions of people to become infected with HIV and hepatitis. Listen to that story here (really shocking). These people didn't choose their plight, and yet material nature forced it upon them. Again, no freedom.
So, what is the solution? Eliminate desire altogether? No! That is impossible (BG3.5).
The solution is to control the senses by following the regulative principles of freedom (BG2.64). We must act without attachment to the fruit of our work and practice karma yoga (BG3.19). And ultimately, if we do this, Krishna will help us out and free us from this prison (BG7.14). After all, he is the director of the prison (BG9.10).
I ended by telling the story of King Citraketu. He desires a son and gets lots of joy, followed by even greater misery. However, this learning experience motivates him to become self-realized (after some preaching by Narada Muni). He is later cursed by Uma (Siva's wife) to take birth as a demon. However, he doesn't mind at all. As long as he can remember Krishna, birth in a demon body is irrelevant for him. Siva's response: "just see, such is the character of a devotee".
Tvasta summons this demon now named Vrtrasura to kill Indra (because Indra beheaded Tvasta's son Visvarupa). The demigods attack the giant demon but have all their weapons eaten by the monster (which is kind of depressing for them). Indra consults Visnu who tells him to construct a weapon from the bones of the sage Dadhici. Dadhici is quite happy to sacrifice his body for the higher purpose of killing the demon. He doesn't mind at all. Visvakarma (the architect of the demigods) then uses the bones of Dadhici to construct a lightning weapon for Indra (Indra is the same guy who is known as Zeus / Jupiter in Greek / Roman mythology - hence the thunderbolt).
The demigods once again attack the demon. This time there is an evenly matched fight between Indra and Vrtrasura.
Indra throws his club, but Vrtra catches it with his left hand and smacks Airavata (Indra's mighty elephant). Indra heals Airavata with his magic hand. Vrtra throws his trident, but Indra blows it up in mid-air with his thunderbolt and cuts off Vrtra's arm in the process. Vrtra then uses his remaining arm to attack Indra with his mace and manages to knock his thunderbolt away. Indra is disheartened and wants to give up, but Vrtra preaches to him and tells him to pick his weapon back up and continue fighting. Vrtrasura says:
Everything is controlled by Krishna: only a fool thinks he is in control. If we understand the power of Krishna then we get freedom from distress, happiness, fear, etc. No one wants death, yet is comes; everything is dependent on Krishna, so don't worry: see fame/infamy, victory/defeat, life/death as all the same and know you are just an observer, not the material body.
Encouraged by the sage/demon's words, Indra resumes fighting. He manages to cut off Vrtra's other arm. Vrtra uses his mahima mystic perfection to grow in size and swallows Indra. However, Indra is protected by Narayana-Kavaca which he obtained in a previous story. He cuts a hole in the belly of Vrtrasura and cuts off the demon's head.
Indra and the demigods win the day, and Vrtrasura, the reincarnation of the pious King Citraketu, goes back to Godhead.
3 new people this week. However, two of them had to leave within the first 10 minutes. They had just wanted to buy a mantra-meditation kit to practice some chanting at home (fine by me).
I did some chanting with the one person that stayed and we also discussed a little bit of the basic Krishna conscious philosophy.
I'm thinking of moving the Vedicsoc day. Tuesday seems to be difficult for lots of people. However, it is good to keep a consistent day for the occasional people that show up out-of-the-blue. In any case, I sent out a few emails to past attendees asking them which day they would prefer. We will see...
Only one guest this week. It was a student from Iran who came because I advertised that this week's discussion would be on "nuclear weapons". With the controversy over Iran's nukes in the media he came to hear the Vedic perspective.
He had visited the local temple 3 years ago for a new years party and told me that he still remembered the meal. He raved about the amazing beverage he was served. He said he has never tasted anything like it.
We did a bit of yoga. I then explained the meaning of the maha-mantra and how and why it was compatible with Islam. We chanted together for a bit.
After that we discussed all sorts of things: big media manipulating people's thoughts by propagating a one-sided view of Iran, different conceptions of God and the nuclear weapons described in the Srimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata:
I told the story of Robert Oppenheimer, the chief scientist who developed the first nuclear bombs in the United States. When he saw the first bomb test he quoted a verse from Bhagavad Gita:
kalo 'smi loka-kshaya-krit pravriddho
lokan samahartum iha pravrittah (BG 11.32)
Later when asked if this was the first nuclear explosion he replied:
"Yes, in modern times, ..."
What Oppenheimer knew was that there were descriptions in the Vedic literature of warriors using nuclear weapons over 5000 years ago. Just as scientists now use high voltage electric sparks (and other methods) to start the chain reaction that results in a nuclear explosion, the most skilled ksatriyas (elite warriors) of the Vedic times could use special sound vibration (mantra) to either fuse or slip atoms and thereby achieve the same explosive effect.
Here is a passage from the Mahabharata describing a nuclear attack:
...a single projectile charged with all the power of the Universe. An incandescent column of smoke and flame, as bright as the thousand suns, rose in all its splendor...a perpendicular explosion with its billowing smoke clouds...
...the cloud of smoke rising after its first explosion formed into expanding round circles like the opening of a giant mushroom...
It was an unknown weapon, an iron thunderbolt, a gigantic messenger of death, which reduced to ashes the entire race of the Vrishnis and the Andhakas...the corpses were so burned as to be unrecognizable. The hair and nails fell out; pottery broke without apparent cause and the birds turned white. After a few hours all foodstuffs were infected...
...to escape from this fire the soldiers threw themselves in streams to wash themselves and their equipment.
In the Bhagavatam there is a description of the misguided warrior Asvatthama being chased by the more powerful Arjuna and, out of desperation, launching a nuclear attack against his enemy. However, Asvatthama didn't know how to properly control the weapon and the chain reaction cascaded out of control, threatening to destroy the entire world. Arjuna, on Krishna's advice, released a nuclear weapon of his own, merged its explosion with that of Asvatthama's weapon and then slowed the joint reactions and retracted both weapons, saving the day.
Point: people who can't property control the great power of nuclear energy shouldn't have access to it, but nukes are perfectly alright for those people of high moral and intellectual standard (which is practically no one today) like Arjuna who can utilize the power properly.
Just one person for Vedicsoc. It was exam time, so a low turnout was to be expected.
I taught a simple but grueling slow-deep aerobic yoga class. 16 minutes of aerobic exercise were, according to the one guest, "the most difficult thing he had ever done".
We then discussed a wide variety of topic, all referencing the Bhagavad-Gita. From the four regulative principles of freedom to the three modes of nature. It was fun.
In the last Vedicsoc session before the christmas break we talked about the controversial topic of human origins.
I talked about the established theory of Charles Darwin and why it (seemingly) makes a lot of sense. We then watched a part of the Mysterious Origins of Man documentary and I gave examples of some other archeological discoveries and so-called paranormal physical phenomena from Michael Cremo's books: Hidden History of the Human Race and Human Devolution: a Vedic alternative to Darwin's theory
We then discussed why the concept of the "knowledge filter" which prevents idea that radically contradict established ideas from being taken seriously. People naturally think:
"Modern humans, millions of years old? No, that is clearly impossible, otherwise I would have learnt about it in school. There must be some mistake. Let me ignore the evidence."
We concluded by discussing the Vedic alternative explanation: humans aren't ascended apes, instead we are actually fallen angels. The Vedas contain detailed genealogical records documenting human origins from "angels" (sophisticated living entities living on other planets and/or in other dimensions). But those are just absurd children's stories, right ... ?
The result: (much to my surprise) everyone attending the session agreed. "Wow, yes, the Vedic version makes a lot more sense."
Only 2 people for Vedicsoc this week. It was raining very (!) heavily.
I asked what they wanted to do. The request, to my surprise, was kundalini yoga. They really liked that. One person again said that the minute they closed their eyes in savasana they saw a bright green light.
We then discussed Ayurveda. Principles of Ayurveda:
- Eat consciously. Chew food well and pay attention to eating. No eating mindlessly while doing something else. Enjoy the food.
- Eat a proper regulated times. 8am, 12am, 5pm are the ideal times. (Snack of some fruit at 3pm is good, too). The main thing is to always eat at the same time each day. The exact time that is doesn't matter so much.
- Pass urine after a meal.
- Drink plenty of water, but not one hour before or one hour after a meal, since that will drown out the fire of digestion.
- Once or twice a week self-massage with cold-pressed sesame oil (or almond oil for vata bodies and stressed people). Apply a thin layer all over the body.
- Don't repress the 13 body calls.
- When sick eat the right things according to your body type (and no meat, fish, eggs, deep fried, microwaved, processed, or fast-food; regardless of body type)
Amazing that this medical knowledge had its origin:
2000 years before Buddhism
1000 years before the Greek civilization
1000 years before the first Chinese dynasty (Xia)
1000 years before the Mayan civilization (and interestingly according to the Mayan Long Court system of recording time, the current cycle of this world began in 3114 BC, almost the exact time of Krishna's leaving the world)
500 years before the Egyptian pyramids
Of course, the Vedic culture is the origin of all the world's civilizations, so, in that sense, it makes perfect sense.
Just 3 people for this week's Vedicsoc session. Last week's power yoga session may have been too intense. Then again, it was probably just a case of exams and coursework stopping many people from coming.
Yoga was a relaxing slow-deep stretch. Comments afterwards:
"While lying in savasana I kept seeing all kinds of strange colors flashing before my eyes."
(I related to story of Prabhupada telling a young hippy to "just keep chanting, it will go away")
"I've done yoga before, but never like this. I definitely feel something is happening to me."
Atmayoga is very good at making you feel its effects. Other yoga styles may be more austere, more intense, faster paced, more interesting, more expert, or better exercise, but in my option, Atmayoga excels in creating strong feelings in the bodies of the practitioners (which does not, of course, exclude any of the other benefits from accruing).
Then, as I say almost every session, I explained: "if you think this yoga is powerful, just think what the actual recommended process for this age, the chanting of Hare Krishna, will do for you?" Sadly, yoga, being on the bodily platform, is more instantly accessible and attractive. Nevertheless, we did some chanting of the Maha-Mantra and the people seemed to like it.
We then discussed "happiness". The group admitted that they generally were not very happy. I presented how material happiness is temporary and therefore not worth pursuing (referencing BG 5.22). Everyone could agree on that.
However, when I came to a solution to all this misery, I didn't take peoples previous conditioning of the structure of the universe into account enough. Everyone tends to believe the (mostly nonsense) they have been taught in school by their (mostly ignorant) teachers. It's natural to do so. So, breaking the conception that human life on earth is the be-all and end-all is difficult. More faith in the brilliance of the Vedic scripture is needed. However, faith is a dirty word these days.
I taught a full 90-minute power yoga class to 5 eager students for this week's Vedicsoc session. The session was no walk in the park. I certainly was pretty tired afterward and woke up a little sore the next day. I dread to think what it did to everyone else. We'll find out next week.
Yoga can be really (!) intense exercise. No need to go to the gym. The human body has everything it needs to achieve fitness built right into it.
Not much time for anything else after the yoga. I offered a collection of various books for (possible) purchase, but no one was all that interested.
This week's vedicsoc session brought 7 guests. Just the right amount. 5 new visitors. I fail to understand the dynamics of the fluctuating visitor number. Students especially are quite unsteady in their attendance. I do what I can.
So, this week I focused on the theme of Mystic Powers (!). I taught a pseudo-kundalini yoga class, complete with every weird breathing technique you can imagine. I think I've finally also figured out how to teach it so it isn't so weird that people are scared off by it (we'll see next week).
I got a comment from the last session by one person. He said that after the class he felt like liquid fire was literally running through his veins. I know yoga creates heat, but that sounded quite dramatic. Anyway, he seemed to be amazed at the effectiveness of the practice. It certainly increased his faith in the Vedic version of reality from what I could tell and he was back for more.
I interlaced the poses with stories of great yogis of the past. I told the story of Dhruva Maharaja, Hiranyakasipu, Prahlada Maharaja, Markandeya Rsi and Saubhari Muni. I had meant to also speak about Kardama Muni, Vrikasura, Daksa, Siva, Valmiki, Bhismadeva and Haridasa Thakura, but didn't have the time.
There was an intelligent "crowd" gathered. One lady guest guessed that the nature of Krishna and the living entities was like the trunk of a tree to the leaves. Impressive.
One guy had been practicing chanting 1 - 3 rounds every day and found it was helping him giving up smoking. Two people who had practiced Buddhist meditation commented on how much easier chanting the Maha-Mantra was compared to concentrating on the breath. My response:
"yeah, I don't know why the Buddhists insist on making life so difficult for themselves".
I was asked loads of questions and given some friendly challenges: why is this better than Buddhism? How is no blind faith required if you are telling us these fantastic sounding stories? Isn't this basically Hinduism? Are these stories meant to be taken literally? Do you have a disciplic succession, I've heard that is quite important in these kinds of things? Isn't everything being one and everything being nothing (illusion) basically the same thing, or at least very similar?
I answered all the questions, but as usual, probably went a bit overboard. Too much information for the audience to take in all in one session.
We finished with some vegan, wheat-free banana and sunflower seed cookies and a preview of next week.
This week 9 people came to Vedicsoc. It was just the right amount of guests.
I taught a fairly mellow slow-deep strength class (someone commented how they were paining for days after the aerobic experience of last week) and afterwards we all chanted the maha-mantra together on beads for about 10 minutes. A few people said they had been trying the chanting at home.
We carried on to discuss times people act from their outer shell and times when they genuinely act from the core of who they really are. I had one guest read out two verses from the Bhagavad-Gita (13.21 and 13.22) which explain how material nature is mostly controlling all our actions and how we can regain control - act from the core - by taking to a practice of Krishna consciousness.
The next day after the session I attempted to re-register Vedicsoc as an official University society. After filling in all the paperwork and submitting it to the University societies office I get a call from the lady running the office. Apparently, the computer says I'm not a student, so I'm not allowed to register a society. I phone and visit the student services center (multiple times) and eventually find out that because I registered in April and the University switched over to a new computer system in September my registration status is incomplete on the new system. "Not to worry", they say, "it will all be sorted out next April if and when you re-register". I go back to the societies office and tell the story, but the administrator there doesn't believe me. She demands proof that I'm a student. Otherwise, anyone could come and open a society. Not even a proof of attendance or my valid student card will satisfy her, since the computer says I did not pay my fees. I could well have a valid student card, but might not have paid my fees and could therefore have been expelled from University. By this time both offices close (and I waste most of my day). Next week I'll have student services phone the unrelenting societies officer and (hopefully) tell her that what I say is true and that I am a registered student.
I hate this British bureaucracy!
This week's Vedicsoc session was, once again, a bit of a surprise for me. 18 people showed up! Some from previous sessions, but also lots of new guests.
I taught a Slow-Deep Aerobic yoga class (everyone nearly died during the aerobic part), which went well. One lady asked me afterwards how long I had been practicing, since it seemed like I had been doing it since early childhood (if she only knew...).
Then some chanting of the Maha-Mantra on beads (though I ran out of beads, not expecting such a large crowd).
Then a discussion. I tried to make the discussion interactive and engaging, but the group was just the wrong size. Too large to personally interact with each person and too small to allow people to become anonymous in the group and feel safe to interact with me in that way.
I ended up talking for only a short while, explaining how we are not the body and giving an overview of the Bhagavad-Gita. I then randomly divided people into groups of four (making sure to mix people together who did not know each other) and told them to socialise, get to know each other and talk about whatever they like. While they were talking I walked around distributing prasadam to everyone. Very soon everyone was chatting, laughing and having a good time.
After about 20 minutes of small group chatting the session naturally came to a close. Everyone thanked me and the students headed off back into the material world.
Nearly everyone bought a set of beads.
It seems I may have been a bit too direct after all. This week only one person of the 21 that came last week came back. Three other new guests also came for the first time.
I was not intending to teach any yoga (which might also have had something to do with the low attendance), but since that was the main reason these three new guest came, I taught it anyway. Then chanting, a long discussion of desire and prasadam.
I asked people to write down:
Choices made in the past that significantly affected your present situation.
Choices you are making right now that will significantly affect your future.
If you could have anything you desired, what would it be?
And the discussion went from there. Here some of the desires people are having deep down in their hearts:
- lots of money
- nice car
- being popular
- passing exams
- glamours life
- perfect friends
- perfect family
- no violence
- no fear
- no difficulty
Vedicsoc has reincarnated. Yes, we just had our first session. 21 people came; with a roughly 4/1 female-to-male ratio.
We started off with some Power Yoga. I modified the class structure to avoid poses that take up a lot of space (anticipating a large initial crowd). So, no "hero sequence" for example. The room would not have been big enough. The yoga went well. People can relate to yoga.
We then moved onto chanting two Vedic mantras for 5 minutes each (not the maha-mantra). I asked for questions and feedback. That also went well. Some questions I didn't answer straight out, but promised to answer later, explaining that the answer requires some background to fully understand.
The third phase of the session was the discussion. I asked if anyone knew what the word "Yoga" actually meant. No one knew (it means "to connect", by the way). I then asked what makes a car move, proceeding to explain the nature of consciousness, the complete whole we are all a part of and the dual personal and impersonal nature of that complete consciousness. Yoga, I said, means to connect to the personal complete consciousness named "Krishna".
I proceeded to give some more background and respond to questions. My aim was to dispel doubts, fears and misconceptions. So, I explained the authorized origins of the teachings, the fact that they required no blind faith, but can be scientifically verified by entering the Vedic laboratory. I said how there was no need to stop any current (so called) religion anyone may be practicing. I also strongly encouraged people to voice doubts, concerns and questions. "Questions are good, we like questions; no force, take as much or as little as you desire" (to dispel the idea that Vedicsoc is some dangerous money-grabbing, soul-eating, loony-fanatic cult).
I was amazed how I was directly advocating Krishna consciousness to these students. I had not planned to speak so plainly. My plan was to gradually introduce the more unfamiliar notions of the Vedic knowledge, but here I was, pulling no punches (in a nice way).
I was similarly amazed at some of the questions people asked. This was one intelligent group of students. One girl asked:
"So is connecting with Krishna like having a perfect relationship?"
We finished with some prasadam cookies (which went down well) and a chance to purchase some introductory literature. 15 people bought books (Perfection of Yoga or Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers).
And that was that. See you next week.
[Oh yeah, I recorded the session using the (horrible quality) built-in mic of my MacBook Pro. It is good enough for recording speech directly at the computer, but it is not made to record an entire room of conversation. I tried to clean the audio up as much as possible in a sound editor. It is still far from ideal. Anyway, enjoy (if you can).]
A new University semester is upon us and Vedicsoc is back in business!
We just had the Fresher's Fair at the University. Up to four days of hoards of students being induced to join every kind of club or society one might imagine. I chose two days in the prime location (UoM Academy) for Vedicsoc's recruitment efforts. Kamren helped me.
We distributed loads of prasadam (Coconut Ice and Chinese Almond cookies), as well as 1000 flyers (and foolish me thought I had printed too many). 166 interested people put their email address down to be put on our mailing list.
On advice from Joy I added a timetable of events to the back of the flyers. A definite schedule of interesting topics should hopefully attract more people. I also set the price at ?£1 per session, pay-as-you-go. People liked the cheap price for a two hour long session, as well as the fact that they didn't have to commit to anything.
The fair itself was pretty intense: loud noise everywhere, wall-to-wall people and discarded flyers all over the place.
- Asian people are becoming more interested in yoga/meditation. We had quite a few Chinese and Japanese students come by, ask questions and sign up. In previous years there was zero interest from students from those countries.
- Students are getting older. Excessive sense gratification is prematurely aging young people. I remember when the freshers at University looked like little kids. Now I can hardly tell the difference between someone who is 18 and someone who is 28. All their innocence has been lost long long ago.
- (As my spiritual master also has said) men are generally spaced-out and women are angry. Indulging the senses destroys a man's intelligence and he becomes a spaced-out zombie. Women hope to get some emotional fulfillment from sense indulgence and are (inevitably) disappointed and angry when it does not result.
I tried to capture some of these ideas with my camera as I was distributing flyers and shouting at people trying to get their attention so they would join Vedicsoc. You can view the result of my photographic endeavors here. I think the pictures nicely illustrate the sad and sorry state of the student community (if I accidentally took a picture of anyone reading this blog entry and you don't want it displayed, please email me and I'll remove it).
Sorry for the low quality of the pictures. It was quite dark in the room and I had to resort to less than ideal ISO settings and shutter speeds.
On another side note: I've been watching the Radiant Vista Daily Critique. It is an excellent daily 5-minute video photo critique by master photographer Craig Tanner. He takes viewer/listener submitted photos and gives some encouraging words, as well as suggestions for improvement. I've learnt a lot about photography from these podcasts. I've implemented some of what I've learnt in this latest series of pictures. Further comments and suggestions are, of course, welcome.
Just got word that Hitesh has been initiated by his spiritual master (Devamrita Swami) during the recent festival in New Vraja dhama, Hungary. His initiated name is Radhikesa dasa. I'm really happy for him. Who would have known that a photography student from Manchester would become such a great humble servant in the Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya?
Here is a picture from the ceremony:
Another week, another mid-summer Saturday Feast. This time was relatively small: only 4 people came. On the menu:
- Simple carrot and ginger soup (the blending of which cracked the glass jug of my blender. Oh, they just don't make kitchen appliances like they used to...)
- French braised summer vegetables
- Tofu, tomato and spinach subji (foolishly forgetting it was caturmasya)
- Yellow rice (with turmeric)
- Vegan mango lassi (foolishly thinking that the mango would be so sweet that only very little extra sugar was needed)
- Carob, date and nut balls (which didn't quite stick together the way I had hoped)
After lunch we did some chanting (kirtan) of the Maha Mantra, as usual. It was a little strange for J., who had not experienced such chanting before. But anyway, he'll get used to it.
We talked about the invocation to the Isopanisad. Superficially translated it makes no sense whatsoever:
"Complete, perfect, that, perfect, this, perfect, complete, is produced, complete, complete, taken away, complete, even, remains"
However, when translated by an expert like A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada the actual meaning is revealed (I'm paraphrasing): the personality of Godhead is so complete that even though billions of self-sufficient universes come out of him, he is not diminished in any way. Spiritually, one plus one equals one and one minus one also equals one.
We also chatted about the nature of the illusion/reality we live in. Is maya real or not? The answer is quite simple. This world exists, but it is temporary, so it might as well not exist. How useful is $1 million if you only get to keep it for 10 seconds? This world is like that. So, better to do as Krishna advises and chant Hare Krishna in order to escape the burning house that is this world. That certainly is more appealing than going on the same old fleeting merry-go-round time and time again life after life.
Another day, another Saturday Feast with the Vedicsoc crew.
Lots of people this time (for my standards): We had J. N. F. B. T. and H.
We discussed the first verse of the Upadesamrta (Nectar of Instruction) by Rupa Goswami. It points out that unless there is control of the senses, there cannot be spiritual success, nor can their be material success. Only someone with controlled senses is eligible to instruct disciples. That is, one should not learn from someone who can not even control of their own speech, thoughts, temper, hunger and lust (i.e. don't listen to the "good advice" of most people).
The verse also gives quite a heavy analysis of the uselessness of Mayavadi philosophy and materialistic life.
In the end, it recommends the nice, easy and tasty (!) process of taking prasadam to control the tongue. Then all the other senses can easily be controlled. Sense control begins with the tongue.
Naturally, we engaged in some of that style of practical sense control. On the menu:
- Quinoa Tabbouleh salad
- Spicy Bengali potatoes
- Green beans with cauliflower, carrots and eggplant
- Tomato relish
- Fennel basmati rice
- Gluten-free vegan carrot and walnut cake
- Old fashioned homemade lemonade
The last session of the term. That's it. Vedicsoc is over for the year.
400 people subscribed to email list
~50 different people chanted the maha-mantra and took prasadam
Several sets of beads distributed (I didn't count)
15 small books distributed
5 big books distributed
In the last session we discussed "happiness". V. has written an essay for on the topic for her philosophy course: "The nature of happiness ??" whether happiness is a psychological state". We talked about how material happiness is indeed a state of mind, while spiritual happiness is transcendental to any mental joy or sorrow. With Krishna consciousness you can be happy regardless external circumstance. The body and mind will endlessly yo-yo: happiness/distress, pleasure/pain, joy/sorrow; but Krishna (and his part and parcels, the surrendered devotees) are always happy (sukhi).
Initially only F. came. We discussed several things what were on her mind. In particular she mentioned, and gave me a copy of, a conversation with Sankaracharya (the current one, not the original teacher) in which he glorifies A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
T. arrived after some time to join us. We discussed the various divisions explained in the 17th chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita. People in different modes of nature eat different types of food, perform different types of sacrifice, austerity, penance and give different charity. I explained how to perform all those activities in the best way (goodness).
The guests literally devoured the vanilla flavored almond cookies I made. Between the two of them they almost finished the entire batch. Prasadam is powerful.
We ended the session with some chanting of the maha-mantra while a crazy punk-rocker next door was jamming on his electric guitar and singing (badly). However, amazingly, we did not notice his music playing at all while we were chanting. As soon as we finished we were all amazed at the sudden loudness of the electric guitar.
No yoga this session. B.'s body is not very well suited to it and everyone else who came wasn't too eager for bodily exercise either. In all, 4 of our regular guests came.
We chanted "om namo bhagavate vasudevya" for a while. J. commented afterwards that he really relished it. He said he was meditating on the story of Dhruva Maharaja (which I read out during the relaxation period of the yoga the previous week) through the chanting.
We then chanted the Maha-Mantra. I found that super blissful. F. commented that, since the mantra was quite new to her, she had to concentrate very intensely to get it right and keep up with everyone. I pointed out that, although she might not realize it at the time, that kind of intense meditation results in huge spiritual benefit. It was very inspiring to see her try so hard.
After the meditation we talked about the 3 modes of material nature, as explained in the the 14th chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita.
I played six different pop songs and everyone guessed which of the three gunas (modes) each song induced. Can you guess? The songs were (note: you need to have iTunes installed for the links to work):
- Superbeast by White Zombie
- Human Behaviour by Bj??rk
- Agnus Dei by Libera Boy's Choir
- Aria: Gott ist unser Sonn und Schild (God is our sun and shield) by Johann Sebastian Bach
- Punk Rock Song by Bad Religion
- Ray of Light by Madonna
We then proceeded to each read a verse of the chapter until the end. The conclusion: overcoming the modes is easy. Just practice bhakti-yoga.
Once again, hosted a Saturday Feast at my flat. 5 guests attended. It was K.'s and F.'s first visit to my place. On the menu:
- gem salad with cherry tomatoes
- bengali sak spinach
- mixed vegetable curry
- sweet potato pie
- clove basmati rice
- vegan sesame seed digestive biscuits
I had planned to finish the meal at 14:10, but alas, you know what they say about the best made plans. It took me 3 hours to cook everything and we ended up eating a very late "lunch" at 14:40. On the positive side, at least everyone was really hungry.
F. was amazed at the taste of prasadam. Prasadam is spiritualized food that has been offered to Krishna. The food becomes non-different from God.
Some people ask to see God, but why should we limit ourself to just using only that one sense? Eating prasadam is, quite literally, tasting God. I remember the first time I had prasadam, I ate soooo much. It is quite an other worldly experience. No one will argue that point. Proof by direct personal experience.
After prasadam we chatted for some time. The Krishna conscious knowledge was bubbling out of Nanda Sunu, he impressed everyone with his broad, brahminical understanding; he then also lead a very nice kirtan. I learnt that one of the reasons F. was attracted to Vedicsoc was the cleverly worded answer to the question "Do I have to give up anything?" on the Vedicsoc website. Then we read the story of Madhavandra Puri, who's birthday it was.
We also spent quite some time singing the glorifies of the new Apple Macintosh computer I recently acquired (more on that later). It is a very impressive, elegant and powerful machine. Apple certainly has put lots of love, devotion and attention to detail into its design. I used it to magnify and display the story of Madhavandra Puri on screen, so everyone could follow along as we took turns reading.
After an enlivening, blissful 4 hours of each other's association, we broke up for the day. F. left carrying two volumes of the Krishna Book!