Our Journey Needs to Begin Where We Are, Not Where We Ought to Be

Suppose while driving to a destination, we take some wrong turns and end up far away from our goal. We may feel irritated, and understandably so. But if we keep beating ourselves up for losing our way, that won’t get us anywhere. We need to resume our journey by accepting where we are and taking the best way ahead from there.
During our life-journey, we sometimes take wrong turns. We make mistakes, indulge in immoral pleasures or get caught in harmful habits. These take us away from our life’s purposes and principles. On undergoing the consequences of our actions, we may start resenting ourselves. But resentment leads to no improvement; if we keep resenting, we waste our time, our energy, even our life. The Bhagavad-gita (18.35) indicates that such negativity characterizes the mode of ignorance.
Accepting our present situation, instead of resenting it, characterizes the mode of goodness. Therein, we see the reality of our material situation, and also see that reality is bigger than our material situation. Guided by Gita wisdom, we see that we are spiritual beings, eternally related with the supreme spiritual being, Krishna.
We can situate ourselves in our spiritual identity by practicing bhakti-yoga. By thus drawing strength from our devotional relationship with Krishna, we can resist our conditionings and rectify our mistakes. With such spiritual determination, we can take steps, even if they be small, from where we are to where we aspire to go.
While reorienting ourselves and resuming our journey, our connection with Krishna gives us energy and enthusiasm to keep moving forward. As we connect with him and relish the sweetness of that connection, the journey itself starts becoming joyful, what then to speak of the destination: uninterrupted loving absorption in him, which is eternally and supremely joyful.

Wish you all a very happy Krishna Conscious New Year

A very happy New Year to all of you!

This celebration marks the end of the present year and entrance to the following one – our entrance to a new cycle of time. Time is like a river, continuously flowing and we all are floating in its current. In this way time takes us through childhood, boyhood, youth and old-age. When we get the human form of life, we are meant to utilize our time in developing our relationship with Krishna, our Supreme Lord and master, dear-most friend and caring father.
Time is an expansion of Balaram, the original spiritual master, whose main business is to take us to Krishna. So, let us flow through the time, especially now that we found our ultimate destination, the lotus feet of Sri Krishna. Let us have the full conviction that if we remain fixed in our goal, then someday, time will take us to that destination. And as we are floating in the current of time through different phases of life let us sing the glory of the Lord and dance in ecstasy for receiving this golden opportunity to reach our ultimate destination.
Thank you very much.

CAN WE FORGET DEATH?

Although they forget death, death will not forget them. Suddenly they will be kicked off the platform of a peaceful family life. One may forget that he has to die, but death never forgets. Death comes always at the right time.

Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.9.6

You are thinking, “Now I have arranged everything. Things are going very nicely. Now I’m very happy.” But, all of a sudden, the death comes. That you cannot avoid. All of a sudden. That is… Death is described in the Bhagavad-gita. What is that death? That death is Krishna. That is stated in the Srimad-Bhagavad-gita: mrutyu sarva-haras ca aham. That means death will come, your all asset, your so-called children, your family, your bank balance, your friends, your country, your leadership, your pride and everything will be taken

A DEEPER PURPOSE

Vedic culture is all about dharma. The Kshatriya is not to become non-violent but they should use their violence only to protect the principles of religion thus they are protectors and not aggressors – not just big guys with big muscles; big bullies where you cross the road when you see one coming down the street. No, this is a Sudra with muscles and there are plenty of them. It is not that everyone with big muscles is a Kshatriya. The proof of that is Ekalavya who was practicing shooting targets with arrows and wanted to be a disciple of Dronacharya. The story goes as…

Once when the Pandavas and Dronacharya were on a forest excursion hunting, they had a dog with them. At one point, the dog targeted Ekalavya who was dressed in animal skin. The dog was barking at Ekalavya and Ekalavya shot an arrow and wove through the lips of the dog and sealed its mouth! This was quite an extraordinary feat so when Arjuna saw this, he said to Dronacharya, “You told me that you were going to make me the greatest archer in the world but look at this!?”

Then Dronacharya asked Ekalavya, “So, how have you learn this art of archery… who is your teacher?” Then Ekalavya bowed down and said, “It is you who is my teacher!” Long before, Ekalavya had gone to Dronacharya to be accepted as a student and Dronacharya would not accept him, subsequently Ekalavya had made a statue of Dronacharya, worshipped that statue and continued his training in archery and had become very expert at it.

So when Ekalavya said, “You are my teacher, Guru Maharaj!”

Then Dronacharya said, “You didn’t give me any dakshina!”

Ekalavya, “Whatever you desire…”

Dronacharya, “Give me the thumb of your right hand!” and Ekalavya cut his right thumb and gave it!

So this is a bit gruesome, how could Dronacharya act in such a way? Is this Vedic, is this brahminical… Was there no love… Couldn’t he just accept Ekalavya as his disciple after all his effort and happily say, “You did well my boy…” For all his dedication what did Ekalavya get!? Losing the thumb of his right hand! Was Dronacharya a ruthless brahmana?

This is a bewildering pastime in the Mahabharata but if we look a little deeper, then we understand that Kshatriya is not about muscle or arrows or archery… being a Kshatriya is about dharma and dedication to dharma then the power, muscles, weapons and violence are meaningful! Violence without adhering to dharma is dangerous. Therefore Dronacharya was not cruel, he understood, “If I let this man out in the world without appropriate dharma, today he closed the mouth of a dog, tomorrow God knows what he will do this ability…”

So Ekalavya gave his thumb and was no longer a great archer but he became a true disciple of Dronacharya but at a price. He was not an archer but he got something else – he got the mercy of Dronacharya. By this sacrifice, he became elevated. In this way, we can see that ultimately Ekalavya got the benediction of what he desired.

GOPAL BHATTA GOSWAMI IN HIS CHILDHOOD

When Mahaprabhu stayed at Venkat Bhatt’s house, Venkat Bhatt washed the Lord’s feet and the whole family drank the water.

Venkat Bhatt’s son was named Gopal. The moment he drank Mahaprabhu’s charanamrit, sacred love appeared in him. Even though he tried, Gopal could not stay calm. His hair stood on end, and his body was shaking with joy.

Gopal was extremely beautiful. He looked like a beautiful golden champa flower. He had such a beautiful face, like a lotus blossom… such large eyes, arched eyebrows, graceful nose and bright tilak. How sweet were his ears, cheeks and neck! His arms and chest were strong and waist thin, legs and lotus feet lovely. He always wore beautiful clothes and jewelry.

Gopal’s beauty just increased from moment to moment. There was a powerful aura around him all the time, and whoever saw him was dumbstruck. Gopal served Mahaprabhu constantly, according to his father’s instructions.

Gopal loved to serve Mahaprabhu all the time. He was completely immersed in his seva. He didn’t want to do anything else. Gopal didn’t like to see Mahaprabhu as a sannyasi. When he was alone, he often cried. “Why did Fate make me born in such a faraway place?” He thought. “I never got to see my beloved Mahaprabhu in Nabadwip.”

“In Nabadwip he enjoyed life, with his beautiful curly hair and lovely dress, but now everything is opposite. His hair is shaved and he wears a monk’s robe. He has to face so much hardship as a sannyasi. How can I see him in pain?” Speaking thus, two big tears fell from Gopal Bhatt’s eyes.

Then he said, “O Fate, it is not your fault. I must have done something in my previous life to deserve this.”

Gopal never said anything to Mahaprabhu about his feelings, but Mahaprabhu knew his innermost heart. One night, “Mahaprabhu came in Gopal’s dream, looking just the way he used to look in Nabadwip. He looked like a dancer, with long curly hair and beautiful clothes.

Gopal filled with bliss to see his Beloved Mahaprabhu in that form. Then Nityananda and Advaita also came and hugged him. But as soon as he got their embrace, his dream broke and he woke up. Realising it was a dream, and remembering the reality, Gopal Bhatt ran crying to Mahaprabhu. He could not keep calm anymore.

But suddenly he saw it was Krishn himself standing in front of him. That cowherd-boy charm, that ravishing dress, that peacock feather, that melodious flute! Then suddenly the colour of his body changed from dark to golden. It was just like the form Gopal had seen in his dream. The same golden skin, gorgeous curls, jasmine garland, tilak of sandalwood paste and eyebrows like Kaamdev’s bow. And when Mahaprabhu smiled, it was like a rain of nectar washing over Gopal Bhatt’s soul.

Gopal was overwhelmed and fell at his feet. But when he looked up, he again saw Mahaprabhu as a sannyasi.

Mahaprabhu then began to teach Gopal the path to Eternal Vrindavan. Gopal listened closely to what Mahaprabhu said, and kept every word in his heart.

Mahaprabhu told him that later on, he must go to Vrindavan. There he would meet Shri Roop Goswami and Sanatan Goswami, and receive the priceless treasure of their association.

“Together you will reveal my heart’s desire to the world. And one day, this world will be filled with your disciples.”

Saying this, Mahaprabhu took Gopal Bhatta in his arms and bathed him with his loving tears. Gopal didn’t tell anyone what had happened, but he was full of joy inside.

Govardhan Puja

Goverdhan Puja, or Annakut or Annakoot (translated as “a mountain of food”) as it is also known, is a Hindu festival in which devotees prepare and offer a large variety of vegetarian food to the murtis of Paramatma(God) as a mark of gratitude. For Vaishnavas, this day commemorates the incident in the Bhagavata Puran when Krishna lifted Govardhan Hill to provide the villagers of Vrindavan shelter from torrential rains. The incident is seen to represent how God will protect all devotees who take singular refuge in him. Devotees offer a mountain of food, metaphorically representing the Govardhan Hill, to God as a ritual remembrance and to renew their faith in taking refuge in God. The festival is observed by many Hindu denominations, but is particularly prominent among the Vallabh Sampradaya (Pushtimarg), the Gaudiya Sampradaya of Chaitanya, and the Swaminarayan Sampradaya. The Annakut festival occurs on the first lunar day of Shukla Paksha (bright fortnight) in the Hindu calendar month of Kartik, which is the fourth day of Deepawali (Diwali), the Hindu festival of lights, and also the first day of the Vikram Samvat calendar

The 2017 date for this observance is October 20.

KARTIK-VRATA

Kartik is the best and most glorious month, purest of pure. It is particularly dear to Lord Krishna, because it is the month of Srimati Radharani. This month is full of love of the Lord towards His devotees. Any vow followed in this month, even a small one, brings tremendous results. The essence of Kartik-vrata is to satisfy Sri Sri Radha-Damodara with our more and better devotional service to them.

Kirttika is the name of the third daughter of Prajapati Daksa. It was a custom in Vraja to name girls after Daksa’s daughters. So the name of Radharani’s mother was Kirttika (or Kirtida) and Radharani became known as Kartiki, which means “born of Kirttika”. Sri Sanatana Goswami gave us the key to understanding the significance of the Holy month of Kartik. Krishna says: masanam marga-sirso ‘ham – “Of months I am Margasirsa (November-December)”. Kartik precedes Margasirsa. Therefore, Kartik represents Srimati Radharani.

Kartik is a month of a special vow, Kartik-vrata (Damodar-vrata, Urjja-vrata, niyama-seva-vrata). One of the names of the vow is Urjja-vrata. Urjjesvari is one of the names of Srimati Radharani, meaning “Mistress of Urjja-vrata”. The word urjjah means “wealth”, “power”. All the wealth and strength manifest in Her for serving Sri Krishna. She manages all the wealth and power that are meant for serving the Master of Her heart. So Urjja-vrata followed in the month of Kartik ascends to Urjjesvari, Sri Radhika, and therefore Vaisnavas attach very great importance to Kartik, especially in trying to satisfy Srimati Radharani to gain Her service and thus service to Her beloved Sri Krishna.

In addition, this month gopis worshiped Katyayani*, with the innermost intention to please the highest goddess Srimati Radharani. Nanda-gopa-sutam devi patim me kuru te namah. Such was their inner prayer to Katyayani * (SB10.22.4):”O goddess Katyayani, O great potency of the Lord, O possessor of great mystic power and mighty controller of all, please let us serve the son of Nanda Maharaja the way our heart desires. We offer our obeisances unto you.” With this prayer they perform the Kartik-vrata. (* Katyayani is one of the manifestations of Yoga-Maya in Sri Vraja Dhama. Katyayani-vrata continues in the month following the Kartik).

Therefore there is a particular importance for this last part of the caturmasya – Kartik-vrata. This month is exclusively connected with serving Krishna’s beloveds – Radharani and Her gopis – and Krishna. Srimad-Bhagavatam also inspires to imbibe the mentality of the gopis worshipping Katyayani.

Kartik is also known as the month of niyama-seva. Niyama means “rules” –additional prayers, pujas, reading, preaching, extra service to Lord Hari, Spiritual Master and the Vaisnavas. And thus this vow of niyama-seva inspires the sadhaka to dedicate this time to a special service regime, when he uses every minute for his highest good. Our aspiration should be such, most especially in this month, and Krishna likes it very much. If we do this to please Radharani, Krishna will be pleased even more so, because it gives pleasure to His most exalted devotee. And Her happiness attracts Krishna to us. When Radha is pleased with us, She will compassionately cleanse us and make us worthy to gain our eternal service in the groves of Vrindavan in the mood of Her friends.Satyavrata Muni says: namo radhikayai tvadiya priyayai – “I bow down to Your dearest beloved, Sri Radhika.” With this, he points out that the only engagement during the Damodara-vrata should be worship of Sri Radha-Damodara. The caturmasya-vrata is considered complete only if it’s last month of Urjja-vrata is observed. Last five days of Kartik are called Bhishma-Pancaka. And some vows are followed in those days.

Some of the observances for Kartik-vrata prescribed by Hari bhakti Vilas and Skanda Purana:

  • Rise at brahma-muhurta and attend mangala-aratika – attain spiritual world.
    Offer incense, ghee lamp, flowers (malati, lotus, rose, jasmine, lily) and camphor lamp three times a day.
  • Daily ghee lamp to Radha-Damodara (any Radha-Krishna Deity or picture) and sing Damodarastakam.
  • Maintain akhanda ghee/sesame lamp before Deity, base of Tulasi, hang in the sky – attain the spiritual world. Just by offering a ghee lamp to Sri Krishna, one attains perfection and goes back to Godhead.
  • Offer sweet rice mixed with ghee, tasty food and varieties of fruits.
  • Mandira-parikrama four times daily while reciting prayers – get the merit of a horse sacrifice with every step.
  • Offer water and prasada to ancestors.
  • Offer camphor lamp with aguru oil esp. on Ekadasi – no rebirth.
  • Offer fresh flower garlands (rose or lotus) and sanadalwood paste.
  • Offer new clothes.
  • Offer one lakh of Tulasi leaves to Krishna
  • Daily offer incense, ghee lamp and flowers to Tulasi and circumambulate her.
  • Relight another person’s ghee lamp – attain unlimited merit and not see Yamaraja.
  • Offer water to the moon.
  • Offer floating ghee lamp.
  • Enthusiastically dance, sing and play musical instruments, and recite prayers before the Deity – attain spiritual world with your ancestors.

THE STRENGTH TO BE OPEN AND HONEST

According to the cosmic cycle described in the Vedas, we are living in the most corrupted epoch. Four fundamental principles underpin any functional society, organization, family or group; self-control, cleanliness, compassion, and truthfulness. When individuals wholeheartedly embrace these virtues, success is guaranteed on every level – physically, emotionally, socially, and most importantly, spiritually. The analysis of the sages, however, reveals that three of the four are practically obliterated, and society now delicately hinges on the single principle of truthfulness. The irony – to conceal our frail character and avoid exposing those predictable deficiencies, we end up fabricating lies, lies, and more lies. The tendency towards deceit and dishonesty then, is the proverbial nail in the coffin.
One of the biggest criteria for deepening our spirituality is the strength to be open and honest. Instead, however, we are often closed and pretentious. In the name of saving our face, we kill our soul. Sometimes we invent, sometimes we withhold, sometimes we exaggerate, sometimes we stay quiet and let the lies roll – a variety of ingenious ways in which we compromise our integrity. When asked, “What is a lie?” Augustine responded: “Any statement meant to deceive another.” It’s scary to think how much of our day could be spent lying – rehearsing future conversations, rehashing events of the past and reconstructing inaccurate projections of the present self.
We all know the value of meditation, yoga and wisdom study in our spiritual growth. Let us, however, not underestimate some of the more ordinary disciplines and human qualities that can prove equally valuable in this profound journey. Truthfulness is undoubtedly one of them. Every time we are untruthful we create an alternative reality. We force ourselves to live in two worlds – the real and the apparent. When we choose honesty in all aspects of life, including our family, our work, our spirituality, and all our relationships, we live the same life wherever we are. Simple, stress-free and sublime. By living with honesty, we create opportunities to become all the good things lying helps us pretend we already are. Confronting our imperfections, instead of dodging them, unmasks defects which we then have the opportunity to change.
I’ll never forget a saintly mentor who once said: “if I spent as much energy in truly becoming humble, as I do in portraying an image of humility, I may well have developed some humility by now.” His honesty, in great humility, rang true as my reality.

Work not to run away from yourself – work to realize yourself

Work can be a responsible-seeming way to stay irresponsible. When we become workaholics, we use work to neglect our life’s other important aspects such as our relationships.
We may have dysfunctional relationships at home, but instead of investing the effort necessary to improve those relationships, we may use work as a respectable excuse for running away from those issues. Little do we realize that we are running away from ourselves, from our spiritual potential to find lasting fulfillment. Instead of striving to become better human beings, we slave to become better performers at our workplace and pat ourselves on the back.
But such self-congratulation can’t help us when our loved ones, being repeatedly neglected, leave us – or when our body, long battered by excessive work, refuses to work anymore. Lonely and sickly, we are left with nothing to live for. The Bhagavad-gita (18.24) cautions that excessive work signifies infection by the dark mode of ignorance.
Of course, work itself is not bad. It is an essential means for sustenance (03.08), and it can be a tool to transcendence (18.46) – we can worship the Absolute with our work, thereby attaining perfection.
To help us find work-life balance, Gita wisdom offers a holistic understanding of ourselves. It explains that we are more than our work, because we are more than our bodies and minds that do the work – we are souls who long to love and be loved. We can fulfill that longing by directing it towards the all-attractive, all-loving Supreme, Krishna.
Through such spiritual redirection, the Gita helps us re-envision work as a means to use our God-given gifts, be they talents, interests or positions, in a mood of service to him. By work done as devotional contribution, we come closer to Krishna, realizing ourselves as his eternal blissful parts.

Cow Protection

“Holy Cow!” We’ve all heard that expletive enough times, but what on earth is holy about a cow? To find that out, we need to go to India.

In the Indian villager’s agrarian lifestyle, conserving natural resources is an integral part of daily existence. He uses nature’s gifts directly to manufacture all his necessities, from his mud hut dwelling to his home-spun clothes. But the most important feature of village conservation is protecting cows. Each homestead keeps at least one cow, and the animal is considered the most useful of all domestic beasts. In fact both cow and bull are seen as indispensable in rural India, in other words to 90% of the country’s population. Eating only grass, which costs nothing to produce, the cow in turn produces milk that provides nearly all the nutrients we need. One cow produces more milk than a whole family can drink in one day. What is not drunk is turned into yoghurt, cheese, butter and ghee (butterfat) – the latter being the basis for so many exquisite Indian sweetmeats and savouries.

Because cows supply milk, in Indian culture they are accepted as our mother, and therefore worthy of reverence. How many babies are raised on cows ‘milk?

In India it is well known that even the stool of the cow has antiseptic properties. Furthermore, in any Indian village you will see cow pats drying in the sun, ready to be used as fuel for cooking. Cow urine is prescribed in Ayurveda as a medicine, and when the cow finally dies she gives her skin for shoes and bags, and her horns for other implements.

The majestic bull can be seen in Indian fields, pulling the plough. Slower than tractors, but he does not compact the soil and reduce its productivity like other mechanical methods. Nor does such ploughing kill so many earth dwelling creatures. And of course, the more we use machinery in the place of working animals like the ox, then the more we become encumbered with the need for so many subsidiary industries to make and maintain those machines.

The bull is still used throughout rural India, and he is therefore seen as a father, working hard to produce man’s food. And as a father he too is considered worthy of reverence.

There is a symbiotic relationship between men and cows. If we take good care of them, ensuring they are sheltered, fed and protected, they happily produce more than enough milk for their calves, and we can take the excess without harming them in any way.