Bhakti and the art of Cooking.

The Hare Krsna movement truly is a kitchen religion. At least for me the kitchen is a place where I can practically meditate and analyze our teachings, observe, and experience various steps in God realization.
Today I tried to philosophically see the steps towards self realization while cooking rice. Imagine if you may… .
Step one: gather materials in their raw state; pot, water, rice and perhaps more elaborate ingredients for elaborate rice. For now we’ll cook simple rice. The rice represents a person in the beginning stage of self realization; the pot represents the asram for developing self awareness; water represents the teachings, and of course we can’t forget the kitchen( place, temple for example),and last, the cooking spoon, representing situations that will adjust us along the way to self realization.
We are still missing one important thing- heat. Without heat we will have no cooked rice! Adding heat is the most necessary process for rice to come out cooked. Similarly, tapasya or austerity is absolutely necessary for deep spiritual cultivation. In fact, at the very beginning of creation, as Brahma sat in contemplation of the uncertain situation in which he found himself, the very first advice given to him came through a whisper-” ta pa” ( add some heat to it).
And having listened and allow that association to resonate within himself, he became aware of an ocean of truth and thereafter started to create the world we see today.
—– back to the kitchen—–
Starting the fire, adding enough water and stirring can be compared to beginning the Bhakti yoga process. In due course, as the water boils and the rice absorbs the water, the heat is lowered and the rice is allowed to simmer and fully cook.
In the beginning of spiritual life austerity is that voluntary acceptance of some inconvenience to experience something deep (heat added so that the water penetrates the rice). In due course the spiritual practitioner has to lower the heat and seriously digest what he/ she has practiced over the years. The heat is still present, but now in a non abrasive mood. One is not being stirred by the spoon of obstacles and other interactions, for the time has come to just stay on course until pure Bhakti develops- let it cook.
Otherwise, if the heat stays up and too much water keeps being added, you’ll end up with a mush; or too much heat with no water will burn the rice. Rupa Goswami calls this mistake niyama agraha, following rules too much without knowing why, or following just for the sake of following.
The simmering stage can be compared to the platform where one is rightly situated, no more agitation from the mind and senses, and one is well on the path of real loving service to Krsna.
Krsna, in the ninth chapter, second verse of Bhagavad Gita, calls this pratyaksa, or direct experience of the self through realization.

Spiritual life can be experienced directly when applied properly and under expert guidance. No food in any kitchen can be well prepared without a good cook; someone who is observing, adjusting, instructing, caring, etc.
Now having been cooked by the expert cook, the guru, the student can now be offered to Krsna for his pleasure.

That’s all for now, more from the kitchen as Red Ashram develops.

 

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A Spark of a Spark

Today as I cleaned up the kitchen I reached into the cinnamon jar and took a small stick to chew on. That small stick led to a deep appreciation of a spark of a spark of Krsna’s splendor. It took me back to the very first time I tasted cinnamon bark. We had gone to the well to fetch water for the night and by the well was a cinnamon tree. Of course I had tasted cinnamon in pies and other cooking, but tropical Liberia has a way of giving you a fresh experience of certain things. Why the well? It was in the middle of a civil war and so running water was cut off in some places. My friend pulled off some of the bark and chewed on it and beckoned me to do the same. Ah! The fresh taste running through those strands. A certain eagerness grew from then on to go to the well and get water; for an 11 year old to do chores so eagerly, cinnamon must be powerful.
Back in the kitchen today, with a little more knowledge on living entities and the different modes of nature, I could taste Bhagavad Gita in action. Each embodied soul has to express personality somehow or other. Some plants live in defense with thorns all around, some graciously spread their limbs with drooping fruits and shade ( and a place for young minds to climb and view the world), some give fragrant flowers, others, spicy presentations, etc. Each embodied being can exchange a type of rasa with others, yet, as Srimad Bhagavatam explains, deep rasas can truly be exchanged by members of the same species.
I can only marvel and bring it all back home to Srila Prabhupada for giving us a tour of Krsna’s splendor through his deep purports. These purports are available to anyone who is willing to step out of his every day, and waltz into Everland, where all water is nectar, every word is a song, every step a dance and all the spiritual entities are enjoyable and full of blissful mellows…

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Mother Yamuna.

I met HG Yamuna dasi on three different occasions, each sweeter than the last. First time was in Vancouver during Ratha Yatra; Karnamrta introduced me to her. She immediately embraced me with such a huge smile that I began to cry. All I could think of after that was how cool this devotee is.

Next was on the Bus tour when we went to Saranagati for a japa retreat. We visited her asram a few times for Kirtan, and each time I would just watch her intense meditation on the holy names. She would roll her head form left to right with eyes closed. At one point I was walking back to the Bus when she pulled over in her small car and encouraged me to take the holy name and go deeper with it so that my preaching will be more successful. It was at this second meeting she started callling me “my brahmacari ji” One evening we had a nice kirtan with her at the lake and after the kirtan as she got up to leave, she looked at the evening sky and turned to us and said “Krishna’s color is just like this, Prabhupada told me that. I missed the last night of Kirtans at her asram, but the guys told me that she sang the Govindam prayers upon request.

The last time I saw her again was in Sridham Mayapur. She had come form the 40th anniversary celebration of Radha Londonisvara and together with HG Dinatarini mata, Karatamisha prabhu and other devotees, for two weeks sang the songs of Bhaktivinode thakur and went on pilgrimage to places around Mayapur. Actually that meeting was sweetest because I got to taste her cooking. On Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s disappearance day shed made this sweet that Hari Bhakti was taking up to Nitai’s room. He happened to pass my way, and share one with me. After I nearly snatched the whole bag from his hands, he told me they were sweets made by Mother Yamuna. Then he informed me of the evening Kirtans that would be happening. I showed up that evening and after greeting everyone, she asked me who I was traveling with. I told her HH Jayadvaita Swami, and she said “ Go tell Jayadvaita Swami that his mother Yamuna wants him to drop everything and come to the Kirtan.” I promised to do so, and when I told Maharaj, he was a bit disappointed because of so much work to do with the newly forming BBT Africa. Every night I would go, and every time she would ask for maharaj. So finally he promised to come. He made the last three nights and wanted to come for more, but the party had to end somewhere. I had the good fortune of spending my Birthday with her and the the devotees which was perhaps the first time I actually had a “birthday party”.

Sometimes during these kirtans she would stay in her room due to a chest cold or something, but as we chanted, we would hear her happily chanting and screaming happily from her room. At one point she was dancing in her room.

One night a gurukuli friend came up to HH Jyadvaita Swami’s room and maharaj chatted with him for about an hour on various encouraging things. One thing I remember still was when he mentioned that we have to get the association of pure devotees. “Like Yamuna.”

One day I brought a photo book of HH Tamal Krsna Goswami for her to look at, and I left it there for a few days. When I picked it up that saturday morning, she had been a little ill, but came out to open the door. I felt bad for waking her up, and just wanted to take the book ad go, but she sat and talked with me for about an hour. She encouraged me to study the songs of the Vaisnava acaryas, preach boldly, and keep up the good energy through strong sadhana. She talked about her concerns about certain Kirtans happening now in ISKCON. She was worried that HH Jayadvaita Maharaj wasn’t pleased with the Kirtans we had been having at her apartment, but I assured her that maharaj loved it. How did I know? He jokingly chastised me for not telling him early enough about the Kirtans and why I only told him in the last three days about them. ( I had of course told him almost everyday before that). I then came to know that she had a similar Kirtan standard to that of HH Jayadvaita Swami.

I had to leave because of lunch at the Gurukul and when I told her, she said “ go to Gurukul swami with this message, that Srila Prabhupada is extremely pleased with what he’s doing. I haven’t been there yet, but I hear only the best accounts from devotees.”

When I told HH BVPS, he had this very humbling look on his face that made me want to cry. He said “ Yamuna’s here!?, how come no one told me? I guess I’m hiding back here, so I don’t get o know where all the action is.” The last time I saw her, was when I went to say good bye, and promised to come visit Saranagati again. She encouraged me to do so, but I didn’t get the chance to. A few weeks ago in Mayapur I continuously listened to the Govindam prayers for about 3 hours, and for some reason I thought she would be leaving soon, and I should relish her association more through the sound vibration. I didn’t think leaving soon would be this soon. I pray that I can honor her instructions properly and preach properly so that her work, cooking and pioneering Krsna consciousness may continue eternally. I pray to be a part of a crew that keeps the temple packed with devotees eagerly waiting to sing Govindam adi purusam as the curtains open to greet the lords.

Yamuna Devi ki Jaya!

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Long Overdue

Bilbo Baggins warned Frodo about stepping out his door; the road is windy and can take you everywhere. What started with a visit to a few places here and there to encourage a few people I knew in spiritual principles snowballed into a west coast to east coast to there and back again.

With the world running faster than the speed of mind, and people worked into a frenzy, I feel there is an overall underlying need for something deep. Something within. Matter can only satisfy matter, and the gap in our hearts is a spiritual one that can be filled only with spiritual cultivation. I spoke mostly on Srila Prabhupada’s “Nectar of Instruction” and Bhagavad-gita As It Is, discussing preliminaries to spiritual cultivation (NOI first four verses) and the understanding of the Soul. We did cooking classes in some places, japa meditation in others, hiked in the back mountains of Arizona, travelled the Avalon peninsula of Newfoundland, dipped in the hot springs of Oregon and just encouraged friends to calm the mind and put life into a more Krsna conscious perspective. Book distribution also took on a different look since I wasn’t standing much on the streets distributing books, but rather speaking to large or intimate gatherings and telling my experience of Srila Prabhupada’s books and society.

Now I have about three weeks left to go on this fun journey, am already planning for next year’s venues, and looking forward to rejuvenating in Vrindavan and Mayapur.

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Recharge Station

 

 

Traveling along the west coast of the US has been on my top priority of things to rekindle since I experienced traveling sankirtan to some extent back in Portland Oregon many years ago. We’d drive down to Los Angeles for Ratha Yatra and along the way distribute books, picnic, swim, and have wild car kirtans. We were a ragtag band of transcendentalists and as we drove along I would make a mental note of those places we didn’t visit and hope to see it someday. I have that opportunity now as I have embarked on a journey to reconnect, encourage and be encouraged, meet new people to share Krsna consciousness with, and most of all gain inspiration to deeply surrender to Krsna by taking the association of those who are surrendered to Krsna.

Two major places I have had the fortune to give and take association has been giving association to a group of yoga teachers in Arizona, and getting association and recharging my spiritual batteries in San Jose through the mercy of HG Vaisesika Prabhu and the devotees of ISKCON Silicon Valley, ISV, or as I like to call it, ISKCON Sankirtan Village. For this blog I will focus on the recharge part in San Jose.

It is said that association is like a crystal and that one begins to reflect the qualities of those one associates with. ISKCON San Jose reminds me of that abode made of transcendental gems emanating from conscious devotees who churn out the nectar of Krsna consciousness daily and practically. I have always envisioned this kind of association where the songs of the Vaisnava acaryas are sung regularly, reading of Srila Prabhupada’s books done with a deep study- in association of devotees, which make the churning part more enjoyable, especially when philosophical points come up and people have different opinions on the subject matter. Srila Prabhupada used to do this with his disciples; engaging them in spiritual debates, mock arguments, careful study, all with the aim of polishing and raising fine Vaisnavas who can present Krsna consciousness nicely not just through philosophy, but also personal action.

And although the program may last for three hours or sometimes more, I never feel tired! I can say, by my experience in San Jose, that when the crowd is right for hearing about Krsna, time stands still, and fatigue never shows its face. Its a mixture of singing, discussion, putting some people on the spot (like Vaisesika prabhu making me act out the Dasavatar strota), sloka learning, great food, happy faces, you name it, its here for the experience. There’s a room available to me when I do visit, but I fear the wrath of HG Giri Govardhana Prabhu, Braja Kishori and Lali Gopi if I didn’t stay with them. What to speak of the prasadam made by Hansapriya devi, or those devotees in the back ground who make the Sunday feast! So all in all When I leave San Jose I am recharged in many ways to get to my next destination and give Krsna to someone else.

This is indeed a personal philosophy, transferred from person to person through the method given by Srila Rupa goswami in the Nectar of Instruction, so the whole show rests on the head of our leaders to imbibe personal experience of Krsna consciousness. I must say, Vaisesika prabhu and Nirkula mataji embody leaders who are excited about Krsna, and their energy definitely rubs off on the whole community. What to speak of the distribution of Srila Prabhupada’s books; I could write a whole book about that one. How could His Divine Grace be anything but pleased with these people!

I have a bit of difficulty articulating how wonderful this community is, but I can say how exciting it is to come here, get association, recharge on spiritual energy, and then go out to give it to whoever might be willing to take it. I pray that I may stay in the shadows of such devotees so that when Krsna looks and smiles at their endeavor, by default, I may also get the mercy.

All glories to the devotees of ISV, Iskcon Sankirtan Village.

 

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Off track a bit

I posted this two years ago on my older blog, and for some reason it still gets a huge hit count. Thought I’d share it on this blog.

*********Be Happy With Your Underwear******************************

For my next series of blogs I’ll tell a story with a moral. People are naturally simple and can grasp great lessons out of simple stories, dramatic performances and folk song. Many indigenous cultures around the world still gather around and hear stories or sing songs that tell of how their ancestors overcame some tribulation or won some prize. As a child my mother would tell us many bedtime traditional stories, and for those who have spent some time with me at monasteries I’ve stayed at, you know that I may sometime retell a few of those stories.

Like the previous story about the mouse and the sage, we find another mouse and another sage, but this time, with a lesson of satisfaction with whatever little we may possess.

A very renounced sage lived in a cottage by the river with only a water pot and two Kaupins (monk loincloth) to his name. He’d wear one pair of underwear today and wash the previously used one and in this way, he had very little to worry about and enough time for deeper self realization. As time went by he began to notice that a mouse had been gnawing on his hanging kaupin and was creating tiny holes in it. To protect his underwear from further damage by the mouse he decided to get a cat. So a neighbor happily gave him a cat and the mouse was never seen again.

But the cat came with all its requirements- it needed milk.

So he got another gift, a cow, who needed to be milked and cared for.

“I need a wife to help me do all this”, he thought.

So came the wife, a beautiful lass from the village. The cow was daily cared for and milked, the cat was fed, the rat refused to come and bother the kaupin, which had been thrown away and a new wardrobe replaced it, just to please his wife.

Now the wife had her needs; a nice house, kids, and other things that would make them seem like a normal family and avoid bad talk from the neighbors.

As the struggle began to fulfil all these desires-desires of others, the sage began to reflect: ” I was happy in that hut until that mouse came along, and just to save my stupid underwear I now have everything else but the underwear”.

************************************************************************

Again, there’s so much to be learned from this story, but for me the most important is to be satisfied with whatever little one may have. The bigger the need, the bigger the problem. In this realm of matter where we struggle to exist, there will always be some difficulty. Either your mind will give you trouble, other living entities like tiny mosquitoes or mice will give trouble, or mother nature herself in the form of hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, to name a few.

Bhagavad Gita explains that true knowledge means to recognize these issues and then rise above them to a higher platform. From that higher platform called Brahma Bhuta, one can truly experience real spiritual bliss. The first experience on this platform is called prasanatma- transcendental happiness or spiritual satisfaction. Once satisfied then na socati na kanksati- no hankering for mundane things and no lamentation over the loss of mundane things. Next the satisfied spiritualist begins to see things with an equal vision- he begins to see the true spiritual nature behind everything, and the reason everything in this material world is so placed. At that time, mad bhaktim labhate param- he begins to perform only spiritual activities meant for the benefit of not just himself, but every living being.

Spiritual life teaches us to be satisfied and accept whatever our lot may be.

Material life means always hankering for things, not being fulfilled by those things and then hankering for more. But if we look at history, its hard to find a person living a life dedicated to satisfying the senses who can honestly admit actual satisfaction with what they have. Things can always be better; the grass is always greener on the other side.

But why do we hanker? Whats the root cause?

The Vedic knowledge tells us that the reason we look for satisfaction or happiness is not some abnormal thing- we’re by nature pleasure seeking entities. The only problem is that we’re seeking lasting pleasure or satisfaction from that which by nature cannot give it. Our very existence as eternal spiritual beings is now in an atmosphere of non-existence.

Krishna consciousness is the process by which we can find out about our real nature, experience that nature, and stay on that platform!

 

 

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A Prayer to Varahadev and Lord Caitanya

Dear Lord Varaha,

Mother earth was pushed down into the muddy dark waters of the garbhadaka ocean. Out of your love you took the form of a boar, to save your devotee. Yes, dear Lord, our consciousness is darker than those waters, thick with muddy thoughts of sense enjoyment. We worship you again today and pray that you may please pick us up and set us right with you again.

Dear Lord Caitanya,

To show greater mercy, you’ve descended again to this muddy place, this time to attract our hiranyaksa minds. Before, you killed this hiranyaksa; now with deep love even for our hiranyaksa minds, you have come to attract us to what we seek. We seek gold in this material world, we fight and kill each other for this gold, but you, or Mahaprabhu, shine more brilliantly than the yellow stool of this muddy place. Please become visible to our eyes so that we may lift our heads and run after you; forgetting any other “gold” this places claims to possess.

And as we chase after you, please help us become golden examples too. “Rub off” on us dear lord, that we may attract other souls, other hiranyaksas seeking useless gold in this muddy place.

Eagerly awaiting your mercy,

Jaya Kesava das

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