Saturday, May 10, 2014

The One With The Leaky Faucet

[Krishna's lotus feet]“Spiritual realization cannot be attained by materialistic persons. For those who are addicted to sense enjoyment, spiritual realization is not possible. In Bhagavad-gita it is stated that those who are too attached to seeking material possessions and material enjoyment cannot reach yoga-samadhi, absorption in Krishna consciousness. Propaganda that one can enjoy this life materially and at the same time spiritually advance is simply bogus.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.20.53 Purport)

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Things were getting old around the Patel house. The family had lived there for almost twenty years, and many of the same original parts were still in place. The bathrooms, the kitchen, the basement, the paint on the walls - nothing had been changed. In fact many of the cars were the same ones owned when the house was originally purchased. So naturally, things started to break down.

The attitude of the parents was to replace something only as a last resort. With each problem, a workaround was implemented. One day it was the battery in the car. It was known to die every now and then. Every time the daughter, Smita, was set to go anywhere, it wasn’t guaranteed that her car would start.

“Dad, this car is ridiculous. Let me take it to a repair place,” she one day told her father.

“No, that’s okay. Just take this battery charger with you. Anytime you have trouble, open the hood and jumpstart the car. You should be fine,” he responded.

[portable car battery charger]Smita was not happy about this. She thought the process to be ridiculous. Nevertheless, she was respectful of her father, so she didn’t go against his wishes. She went to the supermarket that day, made her purchases, and her luck would have it that the car wouldn’t start as she was set to go home.

“Do you need a jump?” asked a stranger who was parked next to her.

“No, that’s okay, but thanks,” Smita replied, as she embarrassingly hauled out the battery charger from the trunk.

As the days passed, Smita tried to go to different supermarkets, not wanting others to see that she had to constantly charge the car. There were other similar temporary fixes in the house. The automatic garage door wouldn’t open, so the workaround was to leave the garage door permanently closed and go through the house in order to get anything from the garage. One day it was snowing, and so Smita tracked snow all through the house in putting back the shovel that she retrieved from the garage.

Another recurring problem was the dripping faucet in the upstairs bathroom. The hot water knob didn’t close all the way. Therefore there was a constant drip. The parents placed a bucket underneath to catch the drip. That bucket would be emptied periodically, especially when someone had to use the tub. One day, after finishing a shower Smita decided she wasn’t going to put up with the drip anymore. As hard as she could, she turned the hot water knob to the right. To her poor luck, the knob then broke, and so instead of the faucet dripping hot water, it was pouring it. It was like the faucet was permanently in an open position.

When her father came upstairs and saw the damage, Smita told him what she did.

“Dad, this is ridiculous. I figured instead of putting the stupid bucket underneath I would just close the knob shut.”

[Leaky faucet]“You can’t do that. We told you to use the bucket. Now you broke the knob.”

“Dad, you should call someone already. It’s not normal to keep doing these things.”

Just then, Smita’s mom walked in. She took the side of her husband, and the two reprimanded Smita for messing up the system they had carefully crafted.

Several years later those incidents reappeared in Smita’s mind when she was one day having a conversation with a friend over religious principles. This friend, named Swati, was wondering why Smita didn’t drink alcohol or eat meat.

“Is it a religious thing,” Swati asked.

“Sort of,” Smita replied. “Not that I think I’ll get in trouble or anything for violating the rules, but it’s more of a consciousness thing. I try to follow bhakti-yoga, which is also known as the science of self-realization. One of its core principles is renunciation.”

“What does that mean? Is that like giving up things for God?”

“Sort of. It is said that one cannot attain spiritual realization while remaining a materialist. It’s a little complicated, since this doesn’t just mean that you have to give up everything. The point is that in order to fix the problem of material attachment, you have to make some changes in your life.”

“And avoiding drinking and eating meat are two of the changes?”

“The change is in overall attitude, but those are two of the four basic regulations. You’re also supposed to avoid illicit sex and gambling. The idea is that if you have attachment to these four things, your mind isn’t any different than someone who is not trying for spiritual realization.”

“But do you think such drastic measures are necessary?”

“Well, I think I’ve told you about the stories relating to the old things in my house in recent times? There was the car battery that we wouldn’t replace, the garage door that we refused to fix, and the leaky faucet in the bathroom.”

“Yes, yes, you guys are too funny.”

“Right, well you can think of the four things to give up in bhakti-yoga in that light. If you maintain material attachment, you’re not fixing anything. You’re putting a bucket under the leaky faucet. You’re jump starting a dying car battery. The better way is to replace these things with fixes. With the fixes you have less things to worry about. In the same way, if you fix the consciousness by removing material attachment, you have more time to concentrate on your spiritual life. That is how you’ll advance. It’s like getting rid of weights that are holding you down.”

“I see. That makes sense.”

[Lord Krishna]“More importantly, the goal is to always think of God. He is known as Krishna because He is all-attractive. This doesn’t mean that Krishna is only for the Hindus, but still one should know without a doubt that no one is more attractive than God. Not surprisingly, the names used to address Him are attractive as well, as are the mantras passed on since time immemorial that contain those names. So the point to all of the regulations is to increase the effect of devotional efforts. Though I’m a dismal failure so far, I’m trying my best to limit my material attachments so that I can enjoy the bliss from chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

In Closing:

Material attachment and bhakti not to mix,

Like using old machine with fix after fix.


Better if with new one to replace,

So no more a constant worrying face.


In bhakti following principles four,

Easier for Krishna to adore.


Renounce today the temporary,

And keep Him no longer secondary.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The One With Pushing Boundaries

[Arjuna]“I can find no means to drive away this grief which is drying up my senses. I will not be able to destroy it even if I win an unrivalled kingdom on the earth with sovereignty like that of the demigods in heaven.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.8)

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[Bhagavad-gita, 2.8]Among many other things Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the best teacher. Both the content and the delivery style have to be ideal in order for the person being instructed to be benefitted. With Krishna, the message is perfect. It is the science of self-realization, and the self is the one object that trumps all others in importance. It is the lone valid basis for identification; all other identifications are temporary. Since Krishna teaches the science that allows the individual to make this identification and keep it, His knowledge is above all others. It is not surprising, therefore, that the knowledge is described as the king of education.

[Bhagavad-gita, 9.2]“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2)

Krishna’s delivery is flawless as well. The best teachers in life are those who can push the student past their own expectations. If a student feels they can’t do something, the teacher attempts to guide them in such a way that they can eventually do it. And when they do, they feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. They feel so appreciative of the teacher as well. Such was the case with Arjuna, who got past his own limitations through the guidance of his dear friend, the original teacher of the world, Shri Krishna.

[Arjuna]The same potency gets passed on to Krishna’s representatives. They are all able to push others past whatever limitations they thought they may have had, especially in relation to serving the Supreme Lord, which is what Arjuna’s dilemma was mainly about. Two friends, Doug and Ray, were once discussing this point. Doug was one day able to do something that he previously thought he never could. Afterwards, he remembered Arjuna and the help he received from Krishna. Doug told the story to Ray.

As you know, I’ve been attending this temple program regularly. I particularly like the kirtana portion, the congregational chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” At first I was drawn in by a book someone had given me. I wasn’t that interested in the chanting or much of the other festivities. But I liked the book very much, and so I had a fondness for the author. The author was the one who started this temple, so that’s why I felt it important to attend every week.

[Shrila Prabhupada]As is expected to happen, I picked up on a lot of the stuff that went on. If you go to enough baseball games, you kind of figure out the schedule. You know what time they open the gates. You know when it’s good to use the restroom and when it’s not because of overcrowding. You know what songs they will sing and at what time.

So by going to this temple program every week, I learned all the songs that they sing. I wasn’t trying to learn them. I learned almost involuntarily. The nice thing about this program is that it is very small. You don’t feel lost in the crowd. The negative, for me anyways, is that they constantly seek participation. There isn’t just one song they sing, and there isn’t just one worship. They start out by saying prayers to a plant named Tulasi. This is supposed to make everything else auspicious. You recite prayers, then you sing a song while walking around the plant. The worship of Tulasi is unique in that you don’t get anything else except devotion to God. In fact, if you don’t even have a temple, not even a single painting of God, if you have at least a tulasi plant you’re all set. You can worship it while remembering God and everything will be fine.

[Tulasi Plant]Next they do a similar worship of the spiritual master, or guru. It was this person’s book that I first read, and it was through his efforts that this temple was established. That worship has chanting as well, all of which is in call-and-response. Someone leads by singing a verse, and then the crowd responds. It’s actually a lot of fun.

Then there is a discussion period on a verse from the Bhagavad-gita, which also starts with singing. Then there is the main worship of the temple deities, who sit on the altar. That goes on for some time, and it can get quite boisterous. More people are in the temple at that time than any other. Following that is a song dedicated to the Supreme Lord’s unique form of a half-man/half-lion. Known as Narasimhadeva, He once came to this earth to protect the otherwise helpless five-year old devotee known as Prahlada.

It’s hard to rank this stuff, but for me probably these prayers to Narasimhadeva are my favorite. The way they are sung is very nice; the tune is especially dear to me. Anyway, so in going every week, I learned all the songs. It so happened that this past Sunday not many people attended the program. The person who leads everything is someone in the renounced order. They are known as a sannyasi, and they dedicate body, mind and speech to serving God. This person sings all the songs very well, and he usually leads.

[Narasimhadeva]On this particular Sunday, during the time for the prayers to Narasimhadeva, he asked me to lead. As you know, I am way too shy for that type of thing. I have trouble just showing up at these things and talking to people. But he insisted. In fact, he practically forced me. He said he had to take care of something in another room and that there was no one else at the program that day who knew the song. What could I do? If I refused then no one would sing to Narasimhadeva.

More nervous than I had ever been in my life, I took up a pair of hand cymbals and tried to play them as best as I could. The noise from the hand cymbals forced me to sing very loud. This helped to ease my nervousness. I don’t know what happened to me, man, but somehow I did it. I poured heart and soul into that kirtana. I felt like a kid who didn’t know how to swim being thrown into the water without any help. I was forced to swim, and I must say, it was great. I had never felt like this before. I surely didn’t do that great a job, but everyone was so nice that they told me I did. One person there told me, “You killed it, man. That was great.”

Anyway, on the way home that night I couldn’t help but think of how that swami had pushed me to go beyond my limitations. I was so benefitted. I didn’t think I could lead that kirtana, but due to his kindness I was able to. For sure I will be just as nervous next time, but at least I know I can do it if asked. It reminded me of how Arjuna got past his doubts and pushed forward in service to Krishna. The Supreme Lord knew how to inspire Arjuna, and that same masterful ability is passed on to the servants who are dedicated to Him. From that incident in the temple I gained so much more appreciation for this whole process of bhakti-yoga and the people who are kind enough to teach it to others.

In Closing:

So nervous and no ability too,

This chore not something I can do.


But when a successful attempt to make,

So much joy from the accomplishment to take.


All due to the teacher’s guiding hand,

That more ability in me they understand.


Krishna to Arjuna in this way led,

Pushed past his doubts and dread.


Vaishnava saints acting in similar way,

Healing when asking us holy names to say.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The One With The Pros and Cons

[Shri Hanuman]“It is not proper to speak with her while visible to the night-rangers. So now how am I supposed to proceed? I am indeed in great difficulty.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 30.11)

niśā carīṇām pratyakṣam akṣamam ca abhibhāṣaṇam |
katham nu khalu kartavyam idam kṛcchra gato hi aham ||

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Shri Hanuman is the dearest servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His famous incarnation of Lord Rama. Hanuman is full of good qualities. He defies logic by being able to accomplish the most difficult tasks while within the external form of a monkey. This paradox alone leads the less intelligent to believe that he is a mythological character. But in fact the more difficult thing to believe is Hanuman’s level of devotion to Rama. How one person could be so dedicated, casting aside fear, doubt, worry, and concern over his own fortunes, is beyond imagination.

Mary one time was in a situation of doubt. The uncertainty in this episode, however, gave her the great boon of learning about the divine monkey, who is the star of his own section in the ancient and revered work known as the Ramayana.

[Shri Hanuman]I was working as a receptionist at the time. It was a good company. I liked the people there. The office was very close to my home, so I could wake up before my two kids each morning, make their lunches, and then see them board the bus to school. As an aside, I’ll never forget the first day those little munchkins started attending school in this way. It broke my heart watching them leave the home. I couldn’t help but stare at the clock throughout the day, anticipating their arrival home, where I knew they would be safe and sound.

But by then I had gotten used to the routine. My husband’s job had a different schedule. He awoke before me even. He was already out of the house by the time the kids got up. So the job situation I had was ideal for my family’s needs. It provided a nice work-life balance.

Since I met so many people every day at my job, it was not surprising to get offers to leave. I tried to be as polite as I could to everyone. This is in my nature, so I didn’t have to try too hard. The customers that were pleased with my work would often ask me if I was happy where I was working. I always answered in the affirmative.

Then one day this lady offered me an intriguing opportunity. “If you don’t mind my asking, how much are you making here?” I told her. Then she responded with, “Well, not sure if you’re looking to move, but I could really use someone like you at my company. You’d fit right in, and the money would be great.” Though I wasn’t looking to leave, her offer piqued my interest. It was a job at a company that owned rental properties. I would be in charge of setting up appointments with prospective tenants and then showing them the units.

A few weeks later I officially interviewed for the position, and they liked me so much that they offered me the job on the spot. I asked them if I could have the weekend to think about it, and they said “okay.” It was going to be a tough decision. The job would pay significantly more money. It would be a step up in my career. The office was further away from home, however. The hours were also different; the morning routine would have to change, for sure.

Struggling with the decision, I called up my sister Teresa that night. She is very knowledgeable, as she is a professor of history at a prestigious university. Her academic expertise is strong, but I tend to forget about that aspect to her. To me she’ll always be my adorable sister.

“Teresa, I don’t know what to do, it’s a tough decision.”

“Yeah, it sounds like one. Did you talk to Todd [my husband]?”

“He said he will support whatever decision I make. He says we’ll figure something out with the kids if need be.”

“Well, you know what you could do. You could make a pros and cons list.”

“What is that?”

“Basically, you take a sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle. That gives you two columns. On one side is the pros. This is where you list the reasons for taking the job. On the other side you list the cons. There you’ll put all the reasons for not taking the job.”

“Oh, that sounds interesting. Maybe it’ll help me to see things clearer.”

[Benjamin Franklin]“Yeah, and you could go further even. You could start to remove items that cancel each other out. You could have a process of elimination, wherein you remove the items of least importance. You could give weight to the different items in each round. Not sure if you know this, but Benjamin Franklin, the famous Founding Father, invented this method. He described it in a letter to his friend.”

“Oh wow, I never knew that.”

Teresa then went into “history professor” mode and spoke in more detail about the system that Franklin used. I went ahead and made a pros and cons list the next morning, and it helped a lot. I still hadn’t made a decision yet when I met with my brother for lunch the next day. I explained to him about the pros and cons list, and I even threw in the little trivia that I had learned, that Ben Franklin had invented the process.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” said my brother. “That’s interesting. But actually, the same deliberation was done by a messenger a long time ago. He was sent to look for this beautiful princess. She had gone missing after an ogre stole her away in secret. This messenger took up the mission for the princess’s husband, whose name is Rama. At several points in the mission, this messenger, whose name is Hanuman, had to weigh the pros and cons to a specific action. The stakes were the highest, and he had no one helping him. So if anyone really invented the pros and cons method, it would have to be Hanuman. And in all situations, the ultimate decision always came down to whatever would please Shri Rama, who is God. God is one; He is not the property of any single group. Some may refer to Him in different terms, but it is still always the same personality. Since Hanuman was trying to please God, the Lord Himself helped him in making the right decisions.”

[Shri Hanuman]My brother continued discussing the glories of Hanuman, and the talk was so blissful that after a while I completely forgot about my dilemma. I eventually chose the new job, and things did work themselves out after a while. But what I remember most from that episode was the introduction I got to Hanuman, who I try to keep in my life as much as possible now, as he is so dear to Sita and Rama.

In Closing:

When tough decision to dwell upon,

On paper make a list of pro and con.


Better way for points to see,

Then knowledgeable the decision to be.


Hanuman long ago this deliberation made,

When finding Sita, who in Ashoka grove stayed.


Proper decision since heart in the right place,

His work always to put smile on devotee’s face.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The One With The Lost Cool

[Krishna's lotus feet]“While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.62)

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[Bhagavad-gita, 2.62]Two friends, Sarah and Sue, were having a discussion on the Bhagavad-gita. As part of their weekly meeting, they chose a specific verse to concentrate on. The verse for discussion this particular week related to attachment and how anger develops from there. Sarah had a story from her own life that she felt related to the verse very well.

It all started one day while I was cooking in the kitchen. It was a typical Saturday. My husband was in the backyard tending to his garden. This year, things were going well, as we were even eating some of the fruits he had grown. In fact, I was crushing some of the tomatoes from that garden for making sauce for pizza for dinner. My two boys were out playing tennis, as they typically did on a weekend.

At around seven o’clock, I heard the car pull into the driveway. Once they entered the front door, I knew things were not okay. I heard stomping of feet and yelling. I put down the pizza dough I was kneading to see what was going on.

[Homemad pizza]“The way you behaved today was reprehensible. I can’t believe the things you were saying,” shouted my eldest son Ashu.

“Me? Those shots you were playing were ridiculous. Don’t even talk to me, alright,” responded my youngest son Girish, who then stormed upstairs to his room and slammed the door.

“What happened? Why are you guys fighting?” I asked Ashu.

“Mom, Girish was out of control today. Everything was fine, but after about an hour, he started yelling and cursing. First he threw his racket a couple of times, but then he finally broke it.”

“He broke another racket?”

“Yes, and we didn’t have any extras left in the bag. We still had an hour left on the court time that we paid for. I wanted to stay and practice my serve. You know, to get our money’s worth. But he insisted that we leave. He has a major temper problem, Mom. You need to control him.”

“Well, I’ll talk to him, but you’re the elder brother. You’re not supposed to get angry at him. Go take a shower and then set the table. Dinner should be ready soon.”

After giving Girish a few minutes to cool off, I walked upstairs and knocked on his door. “Girish? Open the door. This is your mom. I want to talk to you. I want to see if you’re okay.”

“Leave me alone. I don’t want to talk.”

“It’s okay. I’m not going to yell. I just want to see if you’re alright.”

At this Girish finally opened the door. I could see that he was still upset. I asked him to sit down and explain to me what happened. In talking about it, perhaps he would be able to calm down.

“Mom, it’s just so frustrating sometimes. We play tennis all the time, but there are good days and bad ones. Yesterday was a really good one. I was hitting the ball so good. I felt like Rafael Nadal out there.”

[Rafael Nadal]“Then why did you break another racket?” I asked him.

“Because today wasn’t good at all. Suddenly I couldn’t hit a backhand. Every time it would go way out. It’s like I was thinking too much. It was so frustrating. After a while, I couldn’t help but throw the racket. And then Ashu yelled at me for that, which made me even angrier. I don’t need him telling me what to do.”

“Well, he’s your elder brother. You should respect him. Never mind now, I need you to take a shower and get ready for dinner. We’re going to eat together, like a family.”

At the dinner table, my two boys weren’t speaking to each other. I decided the time was right to set things straight. “Listen, Girish, people get angry. It happens. We get used to things going our way, and when they don’t, we get upset. I’m glad that you guys like the pizza tonight, but you should know that it took me a while to perfect this recipe. At the beginning the pizza would come out wrong so many times. Then there’s still the odd time that things just don’t work out. I’ll forget an ingredient or I’ll neglect the dish while tending to something else. Anyway, it doesn’t mean that when things don’t go our way we break stuff. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mom. I do,” he said.

“And Ashu, you should know better than to stoke your brother’s anger. You should set a good example for him to follow by not getting so upset. You’re making matters worse by doing that.” After a few days, things were back to normal, but that incident stuck with me.

[Hanuman burning Lanka]Sue enjoyed hearing this story from Sarah. They then discussed how the attachment to the good results for her son had led to the anger. They talked about how unmet desires bring anger, and from anger one loses their intelligence. With lost intelligence, anything is possible, including blaming an inanimate object like a tennis racket for troubles. They concluded that devotional service to the Supreme Lord, Shri Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita, is the only way to steer clear of harmful anger. They concurred that desires to please Him were spiritual and thus not in the category of lust. They remembered Hanuman, and how his anger was used in pleasing God. After chanting the maha-mantra in congregation, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, their meeting concluded.

In Closing:

Anger coming with a hefty cost,

Very soon intelligence lost.


When on desires mind set,

Then into frustration get.


By forgetfulness all started,

When from devotion departed.


Easy for situation to rectify,

Supreme Lord simply glorify.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The One With The Picture Frame

[Krishna's lotus feet]“O conquerer of wealth [Arjuna], there is no Truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.7)

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[Bhagavad-gita, 7.7]Amarnath was running late for work on this morning. There was construction on one of the streets he takes to get to the train station, so his short commute became a little longer. Running with his bag in hand, he just made it through before the train doors closed. Surprisingly, he was able to find an empty seat, where he sat down and prepared for his morning routine. He took out his Bhagavad-gita book from his bag and started reading as usual. At the next stop the seat next to him opened up, and a new passenger occupied it. Intrigued by the sight of the book, the man struck up a conversation with Amarnath.

“Is that the Bhagavad-gita you’re reading,” he asked.

“Yes. Do you know of it?” replied Amarnath.

“Oh, I love that book. Its wisdom is breathtaking. I read it a long time ago, and I go back to it every now and then when I get into trouble.”

“That’s nice. I try to read it every day on my way to work.”

[Bhagavad-gita As It Is]“That’s a good idea. I should try doing that. That book has helped me so much. Whenever I get stressed out at work, I remember the verses about staying detached. I try to do my job without worrying too much over the outcome. The lessons in that book are so great. Everyone should read it, especially people who are looking to succeed in their efforts.”

Amarnath then explained to the man that the essence of the Gita is devotion to Krishna, the speaker of the famous work. While there were many other lessons to take away as well, they all depended on the ultimate truth of Krishna being the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the person to whom everyone is intimately tied. To get his point across, Amarnath relayed a story from his personal life from a few weeks back.

It was his parents’ wedding anniversary. Amarnath and his brother Suresh were in a mild competition to see who could give the better gift. “What are you going to get them?” Amarnath asked one day. “I’m going to send them on a cruise,” responded Suresh. Amarnath told his brother that he was getting their parents an iPad and that they would like that gift much more than a silly cruise. In this way they poked fun at each other as anniversary day approached. On the day of, when the parents opened Suresh’s gift, tickets to the cruise, they were very happy. They thanked him very much. When they opened the iPad, however, they were a bit puzzled.

[iPad]“Thank you, Son, but what do we do with this?”

“It’s an iPad. You don’t know what that is?”

“We’ve heard of it, but you know how we are with technology.”

Amarnath then explained to them that they could use the device to browse the internet, video chat with friends and family, read books and check email.

“Oh, that’s nice,” his mom said politely, though still not showing much interest in the device.

“Mom, you can also use it to take pictures and video.”

“Oh, so it’s a camera?” asked his father.

“Yeah, but a lot more than that. I guess you could call it a camera,” Amarnath said regrettably. Suresh was chuckling in the background, having a little fun at his brother’s expense.

Amarnath came over to the house a few days later and noticed that the iPad was on a stand in the living room and automatically cycling through pictures. When she saw her son looking at it, the mother was happy to share her joy.

“Oh, you didn’t tell me that the pad thingy was a picture frame too. How great does it look? Now we can always have a new picture showing.”

“Mom, it’s much more than a picture frame. You can do so many other things with it.”

“Oh, that’s alright. We really have no need for email or those other things.”

A little later on, Suresh started ribbing his brother about the gift he got them. “Oh, they loved it for sure. That’s got to be the world’s most expensive picture frame, haha.” Amarnath couldn’t help but chuckle as well.

In relaying that story to the stranger seated next to him on the train, Amarnath explained that the Bhagavad-gita similarly has many uses. One could get knowledge on how to meditate in peace, on how to handle stress, and on how to stay loyal to their duties. But the true gem of the work is the ability to associate with Krishna Himself and to learn devotion to Him. That was the lesson Arjuna, the direct recipient of Krishna’s instruction, took away.

“Another way to think of it is like having a jar of honey,” Amarnath continued. “If you lick the outside of the jar only, you’re not getting the real taste. So if you simply figure out how to advance materially, you’re not getting the most out of the Gita. I’m not sure what translation you have in your possession, but the better ones are those authored by devotees of the Lord, people who taste the essence of the Gita and kindly show others how to taste it themselves. Devotional service is the true boon to an existence. It is the one occupation that you never have to give up. It brings more happiness than anything else, and so it’s no wonder that devotion is the predominating message of Krishna’s song.”

[Arjuna and Krishna]“Wow, I guess I totally missed that,” said the stranger. “I like your story, though. I’ll have to read the book again. Maybe I can read the translation that you have.”

Amarnath then insisted that the man borrow his copy. “You can give it back to me whenever. I have another one at home.”

In Closing:

If only outside of bottle to taste,

Then jar of honey goes to waste.


Gita’s wisdom like pearls on a thread,

In so many directions can be led.


But devotion most important to take,

For best use of Gita to make.


In consciousness follow Arjuna’s lead,

And think of Krishna when Gita you read.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The One With The Warring Friends

[Blackjack table]“Gambling of all description, even speculative business enterprise, is considered to be degrading, and when gambling is encouraged in the state, there is a complete disappearance of truthfulness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.17.38 Purport)

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“Dad, are you going to the casino?” Kay asked his father Hari.

“No, Son. Remember, I’m here on business.”

“But Dad, I notice that you never go to these casinos. Is there a reason?”

Hari then explained to his young son that he stayed away from gambling. No slots, no card games, no roulette, no lottery, not even participating in a fantasy football league with his friends. He avoided gambling as a principle.

[Fantasy Football]“How come? Is it bad for you, Dad?” Kay was not satisfied. He knew so many other parents who gambled frequently. His family was here in Atlantic City for the week, as his father had a business conference and thought it would be fun to bring the wife and kids along. He would be at meetings all day, leaving them free to go outside to walk on the beach, check out the sites, and just have a good time. “Let me tell you a story from my college years,” said Hari, as he decided it was easier to get the message across to his son using a tale from his own life.

In this particular year of college, Hari lived on a floor in the dormitory separate from where all his friends were. This was the best of both worlds for him. He had somewhere to go every day for leisure, and he also had his own area, his refuge for studying and resting. On one particular day, as he first entered the hallway where most of his friends lived, he could hear them speaking very loudly from all the way down the hall. He knew something was going on, and as he drew nearer, he soon figured out what it was.

“Oh man, nice shot,” said Matthew.

“Thanks. I got this guy, don’t worry about it,” replied Monty.

“Oh! Did you see that?” asked Jose.

“That was crazy. We’re about to win,” said Chad.

Each person was in their own room, but the rooms were adjacent to one another. They were playing an online fighting game. Hari had grown accustomed to walking into this scene, as this game was the latest craze within the dorms. “Are you guys playing that stupid game again?” Hari asked. “You only think it’s stupid because you’ve never played it,” said Matthew defensively. After trading a few similar barbs, their attention turned back to the game. Hari stayed for a while but then returned to his room.

A few days later, when visiting at around the same time Hari noticed that everyone’s door was closed. “This is odd,” he thought. “For sure I expected them to be playing that game again.” He knocked on Monty’s door, and Monty told him to enter. Hari saw that Monty was playing the same videogame, but was perplexed as to why all the doors were closed. Monty cleared up the confusion.

“Oh, we got into a huge fight.”

“What do you mean? What happened?” asked Hari.

“Well, everything was going fine. It was the four of us fighting against all these other guys online. We did so well that eventually it was just the four of us left. Then we had to turn on each other. Matt shot me first. I was so mad. It was like he stabbed me in the back. And then Jose shot Matt, and Matt then closed his door.”

“Wait a second,” interrupted Hari. “You guys are mad at each other over this stupid game?”

“It’s not stupid!” said Monty defensively.

“I don’t know, man. Seems kind of silly to me that you guys were all happy before and now you’re not even talking to each other.”

[Starcraft]A few days later Hari made his daily visit, and this time he saw that all was back to normal. The doors were open and the friends seemed to be getting along.

“What happened?” asked Hari. “You guys are friends again?”

“Yeah,” explained Matt. “We have this new strategy. Each of us goes in and makes friends with a random stranger online. We get them over to our side. We play for a little while this way and then we turn on the guys. It’s so much fun. They think we are their friends, but we’re actually just suckering them in. They get so mad when they see us firing on them. It’s great.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Hari.

“No, man, this is so much fun. You should see these guys cursing at us after we turn on them,” explained Monty, who was grinning ear to ear.

During that trip to Atlantic City many years later, Hari explained to his son that the dark side of gambling was that it took away one’s honesty.

“Just see how they were playing that game, Kay. They were having fun but then got mad at each other when there was competition between them. And then the only way they solved the problem was to team up against other innocent people, lying to them. So gambling of such sorts, even something innocent like a videogame, can take away your truthfulness. When you put money on the line, like at the casino, things get even worse. You have even more reason to cheat. At least that is what you tell yourself.”

Hari then explained the reason honesty was necessary to be successful in life.

“If you are honest, you can better understand God, who is the Supreme Truth. If you are constantly dishonest in your dealings, cheating others, then your mind will have a difficult time understanding God. Your mind will be caught between friendship and hate, winning and losing, and so you won’t think of anything else. You’re a little too young to understand all of this, I know, but some day you will realize that what I am saying is correct.”

“I think I understand, Dad. So you stay away from the casinos to remain honest?”

[Lord Krishna]“That and more, of course. By avoiding gambling, I am better able to attempt to serve the servant of the Supreme Lord. It helps me in my chanting of the holy names, ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.’ Again, you might not see the wisdom in my words right now, but you should always be careful to keep away from dishonesty, as that will hurt your chances for true success in life.”

In Closing:

To achieve self-realization’s gain,

Careful that in honesty always remain.


If truthfulness quickly to go,

Then also vision of God so.


As ignorance so easy to persist,

For clearing consciousness principles exist.


Chant holy names staying honest and true,

And soon vision of Shyamasundara to come to you.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The One About Following To Freedom

[Prabhupada]“Only by devotional service is the Supreme Truth, Krishna, pleased, and by His inconceivable energy He can reveal Himself to the heart of the pure devotee. The pure devotee always has Krishna within his heart; therefore he is just like the sun that dissipates the darkness of ignorance. This is the special mercy rendered to the pure devotee by Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.11 Purport)

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“It’s Saturday night, man,” Ishan loudly proclaimed as he entered his friend’s room. “We need to have fun. What are you guys doing just sitting around?” A junior in college, Ishan was the life of his friends. If ever they were bored, they knew that he would have some fun in store for them. The chain of events would seemingly repeat every Saturday night. After finishing their school assignments for the day, they would all meet up in one friend’s room in the dormitory. Ishan would then start his persuasion. This night was no different.

“Can we play just one game of Mario Tennis, please?” he asked.

“Dude, aren’t you sick of that game already,” replied one of his friends.

“Yeah, we played it for like four hours last week,” offered another.

[Mario Tennis]Ishan enjoyed playing doubles in that game very much, mostly because it allowed for spending quality time with his three other friends. On this night, he once again convinced them to play. The games were many, but the outcome was always the same. Ishan’s team won every single time. Sometimes the matches were won in dramatic fashion, with Ishan’s team coming back from a two set deficit.

After a few hours of playing, the friends knew what was coming next. “I’m hungry guys,” said Ishan. “Let’s go somewhere to eat.” On cue, everyone got ready. Ishan was the most excited, and he did his typical sprint out the door towards the car belonging to the friend who was driving that night. Just prior to running, he made sure to utter his now signature pronouncement. “Follow me. Follow me to freedom,” he said loudly while holding one hand in the air with the index finger pointing up. Ishan had picked up the line from a television commercial promoting a show called Sportscenter, which aired on the ESPN network. The commercial was a spoof on the upcoming Y2K scare, which was to occur at midnight on New Year’s eve of that year. One of the anchors for that show at the time, Charley Steiner, shows up at the end of the commercial holding a lantern and wearing his tie around his head. He then delivers that line that stuck with Ishan.

[Charley Steiner]As usual the friends got a kick out of Ishan’s exuberance, and on this night they would get another surprise. As it was the middle of winter, there was much snow on the ground. Just after Ishan made his proclamation, he wiped out, falling straight on his side. The friends got a good laugh out of it. While at the restaurant, Ishan realized he had lost his keys. The friends went back to help him look for them, but in the darkness of night there was no luck. The next morning, however, they were able to find the keys.

Many years later, Ishan was reminded of that period in his life when someone at work sent him a link to an online video showing the famous Sportscenter commercial. After getting a good chuckle, Ishan relayed the story to his coworker about how he used to repeat that line back in his college days. “Man, you must have been a lot of fun,” said this coworker. “I can’t picture you doing anything of the sort.” “Hopefully I’m older and wiser now, my friend,” Ishan replied.

On the drive home from work that day, Ishan couldn’t keep that line out of his head. “Follow me to freedom,” he kept repeating. Every time, it drew a chuckle from him, but then he began to meditate further on it.

“You know, these spiritual masters of the Vedic tradition actually do just that. They tell us to follow them to freedom. They calm the rough waters of the material ocean.”

[Narada Muni]Next his mind turned to one of his favorite writers, a Vaishnava saint himself.

“You know, look at Valmiki’s story. Poor guy was reduced to highway robbery. He thought it was the only way to earn a living. He had a family to support. In this way there was no freedom. Mentally, he was bound by this awful work. Then, as if by chance, along came Narada Muni. Without being forceful, without going into a long lecture on the need to give up sinful activity, Narada got him to change his ways. And the initial method didn’t even work. Narada wanted him to chant the name of ‘Rama’ over and over again. But the robber was so sinful that he couldn’t utter the name properly.”

Ishan’s appreciation then grew further as he realized that the success was due to the saint’s perseverance, his strong desire to bring freedom to the struggling robber.

“Narada wasn’t going to quit that easily. He then told the robber to chant the name of ‘Rama’ backwards. He tricked the poor guy into hearing ‘Rama’ anyway. And what was the result? The Ramayana, the book that I love so much. How great Valmiki must have felt in writing that. How great he must have felt sharing that wonderful poem with the rest of the world. Living in his hermitage, he had real freedom. It was all due to following Narada.”

[Valmiki]Upon reaching home, Ishan immediately read a few verses from the Ramayana, all the while feeling so thankful for the true freedom fighters, the Vaishnava saints. He again reflected.

“True freedom is love for God. It is the best gift anyone could ever receive. Material gifts have a shelf-life. Eventually they dissipate. The gift of Krishna-prema, or love for God, never goes away. It gives meaning to life, day after day. It is the only real definition to freedom, and the true saints of this world are those who lead others to this kind of freedom.”

In Closing:

For freedom’s horizon to see,

Take my hand, follow me.


The promise land to you I’ll show,

The Supreme Lord Krishna you’ll know.


Even if easy for you at start not,

To keep pressing you, I won’t stop.


Just His names chant in some way,

So happy when as His devotee you’ll stay.