Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mahabharata: Work-In-Progress

For Gita Jayanti I’d like to share my opening of Mahabharata, (Copyrighted, 2007). I’ve been working on the manuscript over the last couple of years. It’s a fast paced, cinematic rendition and is a product of my work in the field of storytelling. Actually, my book is geared toward the storytelling community. Storytelling as an art form is lean and action driven. For a storyteller too much description or embellishment is gratuitous and indulgent. A story unfolds like a Zen painting where so much is suggested by one stroke of the brush.

Last year I was requested to perform a little of Mahabharata at an evening event for the 1000 attendees of the National Storytelling Conference and the response was amazing. In 2005 I received a West Virginia Artist Fellowship Award for literature and my work in storytelling and I’ve gotten several endorsements from that. So I’ve built some momentum and right now I’m half way through the manuscript which, when completed, will clock in at less than 200 pages. In the opening below, a variety of personalities and elements are introduced. For me, it’s sort of an adventure to put it all together and make it available for an American readership. But the work can only be completed, and my efforts can only be successful, with the blessings of the Vaisnavas.

The Mahabharata

“Your sons and their forces are ready, as ready as they’ll ever be,” Sanjaya told the blind king. Dhritarastra listened with both expectancy and with regret, hovering in a world of his own, molded of past and future. If only he had listened to Vidura, it would not have come to this. He feared for his sons. What would happen to them now? If he could, he would make Duryodhan give back all the land he had taken from the Pandavas. But of all his sons, Duryodhan, had always been beyond his control. Surely, Providence would now have its way.

Sanjaya sat in the royal palace at Hastinapura by the side of his king. Though his gaze was drawn within, he looked far beyond the city’s streets and walls. With Vyasa’s gift of mystic vision, Sanjaya beheld the valley of Kurushetra over a hundred miles away. There, as armies prepared for battle, Sanjaya could observe every aspect, and scan every detail. He could hear any conversation and even know someone’s thoughts.

“This is quite unusual,” Sanjaya continued, and then he paused, looking on in disbelief. Dhritarastra impatiently stamped his jeweled cane for attention. “What is it?” he insisted on knowing.

“Yudhisthira has stepped off his chariot. He proceeds eastward across the valley, toward your sons, on foot and unarmed.”

“Unarmed? Does he mean to seek a truce or to surrender?” Dhritarastra inquired. His mind hoped against hope. Could there still be time for reconciliation, for peace?

Yudhisthira walked toward the expanse of enemy warriors. The morning air was crisp. The army Yudhisthira beheld far outnumbered his own. In the distant ranks he spied Bhismadev’s splendid chariot, decorated with a variety of weapons, and headed straight for it. Bhismadev was the respected grandsire of the dynasty, the eldest and wisest. He was also Yudhisthira’s ever well wisher and like a father to him. Even now Bhismadev observed the solitary figure with pride. Yudhisthira took each step with such ease and grace. Bhismadev knew the last thing Yudhisthira wanted was this fight.

Bhismadev, in turn, was surrounded by men impatient for battle, for blood and glory, for the sweet taste of victory. Duryodhan, Dusasana, Karna, Sakuni, and Ashwattama. They had waited years for this moment. The horses drawing their chariots whinnied in anticipation. The nobles snickered upon seeing Yudhisthira approach. Maybe this would be easier than they thought. Had Yudhisthira lost his nerve when he saw the sight of their magnificent forces? After all, he had retreated to the forest to spend thirteen years in exile without a word of complaint.


Bhismadev’s mind drifted away from the moment at hand and settled into the past. How had he let it come to this? A civil war that would rip apart his dynasty. It was the one thing he sought all his life to avoid. His mind wandered back to his youth, and to his father, King Santanu.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

All They Are Saying Is Give Happiness A Chance

From The New York Times editorial page:(http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/12/opinion/12mon4.html);

By EDUARDO PORTER
Published: November 12, 2007

The framers of the Declaration of Independence evidently believed that happiness could be achieved, putting its pursuit up there alongside the unalienable rights to life and liberty. Though governments since then have seen life and liberty as deserving of vigorous protection, for all the public policies aimed at increasing economic growth, people have been left to sort out their happiness.

This is an unfortunate omission. Despite all the wealth we have accumulated — increased life expectancy, central heating, plasma TVs and venti-white-chocolate-mocha Frappuccinos — true happiness has lagged our prosperity. As Bobby Kennedy said in a speech at the University of Kansas in March 1968, the nation’s gross national product measures everything “except that which makes life worthwhile.”

The era of laissez-faire happiness might be coming to an end. Some prominent economists and psychologists are looking into ways to measure happiness to draw it into the public policy realm. Thirty years from now, reducing unhappiness could become another target of policy, like cutting poverty.

“This is another outcome that we should be concerned about,” said Alan Krueger, a professor of economics at Princeton who is working to develop a measure of happiness that could be used with other economic indicators. “Just like G.D.P.”

It might be a bit of a political challenge to define happiness as a legitimate policy objective. Imagine the Republican outrage when the umpteenth tax cut didn’t do the trick. Democrats would likely slam the effort as regressive, distracting from efforts to improve the lot of the less fortunate by more conventional measures — like income.

Happiness is clearly real, related to objective measures of well-being. Happier people have lower blood pressure and get fewer colds. But using it to guide policy could be tricky. Not least because we don’t quite understand why it behaves the way it does. Men are unhappiest at almost 50, and women at just after 45. Paraplegics are not unhappier than healthy people. People who live with teenagers are the unhappiest of all.

Happiness seems fairly cheap to manipulate. In one experiment, subjects were asked to answer a questionnaire about personal satisfaction after Xeroxing a sheet of paper. Those who found a dime lying on the Xerox machine reported substantially higher satisfaction with their lives.

Most disconcerting, happiness seems to have little relation to economic achievement, which we have historically understood as the driver of well-being. A notorious study in 1974 found that despite some 30 years worth of stellar economic growth, Americans were no happier than they were at the end of World War II. A more recent study found that life satisfaction in China declined between 1994 and 2007, a period in which average real incomes grew by 250 percent.

Happiness, it appears, adapts. It’s true that the rich are happier, on average, than the poor. But while money boosts happiness, the effect doesn’t last. We just become envious of a new, richer set of people than before. Satisfaction soon settles back to its prior level, as we adapt to changed circumstances and set our expectations to a higher level.

Despite happiness’ apparently Sisyphean nature, there may be ways to increase satisfaction over the long term. While the extra happiness derived from a raise or a winning lottery ticket might be fleeting, studies have found that the happiness people derive from free time or social interaction is less susceptible to comparisons with other people around them. Nonmonetary rewards — like more vacations, or more time with friends or family — are likely to produce more lasting changes in satisfaction.

This swings the door wide open for government intervention. On a small scale, congestion taxes to encourage people to carpool would reduce the distress of the solo morning commute, which apparently drives people nuts.

More broadly, if the object of public policy is to maximize society’s well-being, more attention should be placed on fostering social interactions and less on accumulating wealth. If growing incomes are not increasing happiness, perhaps we should tax incomes more to force us to devote less time and energy to the endeavor and focus instead on the more satisfying pursuit of leisure. One thing seems certain, lining up every policy incentive to strive for higher and higher incomes is just going to make us all miserable. Happiness is one of the things that money just can’t buy.


"One whose happiness is within, who is active within, who rejoices within and is illumined within is actually the perfect mystic. He is liberated, and ultimately he attains the Supreme." Gita 5:24

Monday, December 10, 2007

Storytelling - Written and Spoken - For All Ages

My Holiday Sale


All items below are written and produced by yours truly , recipient of WV 2005 Artist Fellowship Award.

Shipping in USA is $3 for 1st item and $1 for each additional item, or $5.00 max on one order. Contact me at story108@juno.com

***1) The Fish Who Wouldn't Stop Growing And Other Wisdom Stories From Ancient India ( 12 Stories) - Book $8

Internationally acclaimed storyteller Laura Simms calls it "A marvelous collection of stories resplendent with meaning, pathos, and joy."

***2) Sacred Voices - stories & meditations from sacred traditions w/music - CD $7

"Your Sacred Voices CD is a treasure. I love your voice." Jennifer Rudick, Storyteller & Workshop Leader

***3) Mahabharata - Story Concert of India's Ancient Epic w/music - Cassette $7

"Your Mahabharata has created a long lasting impression on our minds." Koti Sree Krishna, Hindu Society of Greater Cincinnatti

And Stories To Grow By Booklet Series

Shipping in USA, if only ordering items 4 thru 6, is $2 for 1st item and $1 for 2nd and/or 3rd item, or $3.00 max on order for all three.

***4) Flying Turtles & Frightened Elephants - 7 Stories of Wit & Wisdom From Many Lands (for grades 1 - 3) - $4

***5) The Magic Horn & Other Tales of Enchantment (six stories for grades 3 - 6) - $4

***6) Rime Of The Ancient Mariner - An exciting retelling of Coleridge's epic w/some of Coleridge's original poem sprinkled throughout. I've performed my story version to student's in 5th grade and up with tremendous response. Poem is usually studied in 11th or 12th grade - $4

"What a wonderful collection of stories! Storytellers, librarians, parents, grandparents, and more will be drawn to the simple yet direct style of how the stories are told. What I've seen in other collections doesn't compare to the manner presented here. I would highly recommend this collection to anyone." Kathy Maron-Wood, Senior Librarian, Children's Dept,Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

"This collection of stories is a rich treasure trove of traditional folktales crafted in a way that a child or young reader would want to hear them. The words lift up off the page like the sun rising in one of the stories. I recommend that you take these tales, spend a quiet evening with your kids, and watch the stories come alive." Kevin D. Cordi, Author, Teacher & National Co-Chair of Youth Storytelling Network

"These stories are wonderful, uniting the familiar rhythm of the folktale with liveliness and humor. The author's talent as a performer comes through in these stories, and it is easy to imagine that children would be entranced by hearing or reading these tales. I'm impressed with the author's selection of tales and with the polished nature of his narration." Dr. Julie Pfeiffer, Dept of English, Hollins University, Va.

And also available -

***7) Coaching On Writing, Theater & Storytelling - Hone your writing or performance skills - help with rehearsal techniques, strenghtening the voice, refining your performance or writing, promoting yourself - all at non-stress rates. Have also worked with high school and college students.

"Sankirtana Das is my storytelling guru." Sacinandana Swami

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Part 2 What the Students Really Thought

Dear Global Leadership Students,

I really enjoyed reading all of the papers. They were thoughtful and candid, and even humorous at times. I’d like to address a few of the points that cropped up in your reflections on your visit to New Vrindaban. I’ll try to keep my responses brief.

Student: “I still think the events of the 80’s and 90’s were beyond creepy, but I don’t think they define the religion.”

Thank you. Yes, the Movement allowed a lot of dumb and illegal things to go on. It is unfortunate and embarrassing. We were very na├»ve. Prabhupada had asked the devotees not to do anything that would embarrass the Movement. Most of these things happened in the 80’s and were brought to light in the 90’s. I think that devotees are working to right the wrongs and give people a better understanding of the Movement, but it will take a while.

Student: “One must remember that the Hare Krishnas follow Vedic law, and as such, their ideas on women’s roles in society are not exactly up to date.”

There has been, and perhaps still is, some confusion about the role of women because of the contradictory quotes found in Prabhupada’s writings. I think the role of women in the Movement has greatly improved since the 70’s. I don’t know what the official ISKCON position is or if there is one. I think Prabhupada himself broke the mold, so to speak, because he was the first to give brahman initation to women, making them priests. This was never done before.

Here in NV: the GBC rep is a woman; the temple had a woman president for a time; women sit on the executive and managerial boards; they give classes; the two gift shops, the health food store, and the thrift shop are all managed by women. I know several women who also successfully manage their own businesses outside the temple environment. In the devotee marriages that I know, the husband and wife view themselves as equals and share responsibilities of the household. Friendships and conversations do exist between men and women.

Student: “The devotees say you are ‘not your material body’ and ‘gender really is irrelevant,’ then why must men and women separate for kirtans?”

In the temple and in the presence of the monks, the women’s behavior is an indication of modesty, and should not be confused with being subservient. The Vedic understanding is that men have an obligation to protect the women, and women have an obligation to protect the men. Of course that “protection” should not be abusive, obsessive or paranoiac. But mutual protection is necessary to curb the tendency for promiscuous behavior which is blatant in the culture at large.

Student: “I could not understand why such a peaceful group of people would base so much of what they believe around stories of violence.”

The Krishna tradition is by nature peaceful, but it is not against violence per se. The Mahabharata and The Ramayana both describe monumental battles. Both books chronicle the victory of good (dharma) over bad (adharma). Krishna (God) actually treats everyone as a friend. So if someone approaches Him to fight, He will accommodate that person. If someone comes for enlightenment, He’ll enlighten. In whatever way you want, Krishna will reciprocate. Krishna’s activities are like a movie or a dramatic play. The drama creates some tension and conflict to get our attention, and the author will use that as a means to provide us with some food for thought.

Same student continues: “I felt the same way when I went to the farm for cow protection. (he protects the cows but his dog kills groundhogs).”

The Vedic injunctions allow one to use violence to protect one’s family, home and property. Balabhadra, in charge of that project, uses a dog to protect his garden from other animals. At our house, my wife tried having a vegetable garden but it was ravaged by deer and groundhogs. She gave up after two years. But Balabhadra’s lifestyle is more dependent on the land, and for him a vegetable garden is vital. The dog is their family’s assistant and is acknowledged as such. As everyone knows, living and working in the material world is not an easy proposition. So devotees have to utilize their intelligence in applying the Vedic understanding to their particular situation.

Student: “It (the slaying of Ravana) reminded me of something out of Lord Of The Flies or the KKK burning of the cross.”

The festival in question commemorates the slaying of Ravana by Sri Rama in the pastime of The Ramayana. The burning of the effigy of Ravana celebrates the victory of good over evil. A devotee relishes this event somewhat in the same way Bob Dylan, in his song Masters of War, relishes the death and burial of a wicked man:

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave'
Til I'm sure that you're dead

The main difference is that a devotee doesn’t really hate or condemn anyone. While seeing Ravana burn, a devotee prays that the sinful elements in his own heart will also be burned up and destroyed. A devotee knows that even a wicked man like Ravana, who was chastised by God, is ultimately benefited and purified. So it’s totally inappropriate to compare the festival of the slaying of Ravana to Lord Of The Flies or the KKK burning of the cross, which are acts of fear and hatred.

Student: “The Krishna lifestyle provided stability to the unstable, spirituality to the skeptic, and love to the lonely.”

I can’t disagree with this statement. I also like the way it’s put; its rhythm and balance. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains that the material nature is endlessly mutable. We are eternal beings seeking happiness in a temporary realm. It’s a paradoxical situation. Before I joined the devotees, I was perplexed as to why people struggled so hard to get ahead. I thought, “Even if you’re successful, so what? Is that it?” When I was 20, I sat with a 40ish year old friend in a bar. He was lamenting. He was the editor and publisher of a magazine and he was hoping to be rich and established by 40. He was still struggling. He felt that providence had passed him by and that he was over the hill.

People are desperate to get wealth, sex and fame. Sometimes they compromise whatever principles they have to achieve their goals. But even if you are successful and become rich and famous, the material world is not necessarily going to deliver the happiness you want. There’s a certain allurement to material nature, and the conditioned living being is enamored by the prospects, but they can (and often will) vanish in an instant. It’s no surprise that when people begin to understand the dynamics of the material nature they feel a sense of instability. And yes, Krishna provides stability to the unstable.

Student: “In Judaism one is not supposed to worship anything other than God (and not the statues of Prabhupada and the deities) which may be why I had such a hard time with these two practices.”

I think the hardest thing to understand about Krishna Consciousness is Deity worship. It was for me. But if you look at any religious tradition there is a point where the ‘spiritual’ spills into the ‘material.’ In every religion the church, mosque, and temple (even though made of bricks and timber) is a sacred place or a house of God. The Jews pray at the Wailing Wall. They leave notes there for God. Also, in Juadaism the Torah is kept on the alter. And just as the devotees adorn the Deities of Radha and Krishna with crowns and elaborate dress, in many synagogues the Torah is also adorned with a crown and wrapped in beautiful cloth. And when the Torah is paraded through the congregation everyone wants to kiss the cloth in great reverence, and sometimes they even get on their knees. Some one may look at this and wonder “What are these people doing? It’s just a scroll with some ink on it, wrapped in a piece of cloth!” But the devotees won’t say that this activity is wrong. Actually, it is correct. This is the claim of the Hare Krishnas (as stated in Gita and Bhagavatam) – that God is non different then His scripture, His temple, His name and His form. God is manifested in the material realm through these, and by serving these manifestations of God, one serves God directly. Thus, the Deities, etc, are revered and worshiped.

As for the spiritual master, that person is an ambassador of God. When an ambassador goes to a foreign place, he brings the presence of his own country with him. And the way that ambassador is treated and honored is an indication of what the people think of the country (and its leadership) from which he comes. In such a mood is Srila Prabhupada honored and worshiped.

In closing, I would add that Krishna Consciousness is very deep. You can’t understand everything over night. It’s an ever unfolding adventure and a journey. It’s like going down a wild river or crossing over a mountain range. Don’t let it pass you by so easily. Devotees who have been around for 30 and 40 years are still learning. Lord Brahma, the creator of this universe who has been around millions upon millions of years, still can’t fathom the full extent of Krishna’s personality and powers. If you are inclined, I simply suggest that for this coming year you take some time and continue to study Prabhupada’s books, especially Bhagavad Gita. And chant and meditate upon the Name. Hare Krishna.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What The College Students Really Thought About New Vrindaban

PART 1

Introduction

In October a group of about 25 students, along with their professors, visited New Vrindaban (NV). They were part of the Global Leadership Project at Ohio University. For their fall project, the students broke into groups of three and each group was assigned a devotee to interview and to write a paper on their devotee’s Conversion Experience. Caitanya dasa made sure that the devotees consisted of men and women, as well as older and newer devotees. Each group of students conducted several phone interviews with their devotee.

Also, for a month before their visit, the students extensively researched NV and gathered information from various sources. A number of students even read Monkey On A Stick. Then, for a weekend in October, the students actually visited NV to get a close up view of the community and also to meet their respective devotees.

Recently, professor Greg Emery forwarded me papers of the students’ reflections of their visit to the community. I thought the raw candor of their observations would be valuable to take a look at in helping devotees to understand how some visitors view the community. The following excerpts are from those student papers.

Please also see my comments in END NOTES after the excerpts.

In a few months, the papers the student groups wrote on their devotees’ Conversion Experience will appear on the Harvard Pluralism Project website at Pluralism.org

******

Comments About the Devotion of the Devotees

“Touring the Temple and Palace I was able to see the result of pure faith in one’s God. I can only hope to achieve something as magnificent as a result in my faith in something.”

“The practices of bhakti yoga, vegetarianism, as well as many other nuances of the religion were apparent in every single devotees’ life.”

“They offered love and a genuine sense of care for your well being… Once you ask them about the religion, they won’t hesitate to talk your ear off.”

“I appreciated the session on etiquette… the discussion helped me see that the Hare Krishna’s were not much different than anyone else, and that was very important to me… I wish the devotees the best of luck in their futures.”

“I could see that Chris is truly devoted to his religion. It’s amazing to me how much he knows about it, and I have been a Catholic all my life and still do not know some aspects of it.”

“It was amazing to see how dedicated and passionate Tapahpunja was about gardening and agriculture.”

“Getting a tour and talking with a women (Jamuna) who seemed to have a great influence on the community and who had been there for a long time was nice.”

“The most enjoyable part of the trip for me was the meditation during Damodar’s yoga class. It seems that each Hare Krishna, just like everyone else, has their own way to worship and practice their faith.”

About Kirtana and Dancing

“We saw the devotees having a blast and decided to join in and just by our participation they were successful in getting us engaged in their religion.”

“I was a bit unnerved at the fact that devotees would pull in non-participating people and force then into kirtana with them… Everyone knew they were welcome to join in if they wanted to…The chanting and dancing was fun. The kirtanas reminded me of taking communion in my church… the Hare Krishna faith is not far off from Christianity.”

“The chanting and dancing was simply a blast… Megan had said that the chanting and dancing made the dedication to Hare Krishna real, and now I knew what she meant… I found people extremely dedicated to their religion.”

“I danced and chanted my heart out in the Lord’s name…it felt good to let loose…I felt a sense of disconnectedness from everything else in the world… I was in the Hare Krishna “zone. … it felt tribal… far different from anything I have ever experienced inside a Catholic church.”

“Christianity on steroids.”

“Listening and dancing brought me great joy.”

“The trip seemed like a camping excursion, just with a lot more dancing and chanting to sweeten the deal.”

“I liked dancing with the Krishnas. It seemed to bring the temple alive, and for a moment I felt like I could understand their faith….. like a really, really bad camp that was the result of your parents’ good intentions.”

About the Role of Women

“One must remember that the Hare Krishnas follow Vedic law, and as such, their ideas on women’s roles in society are not exactly up to date.”

“I was disappointed when I found that there was no real place in religious hierarchies for independent, forward thinking women.”

“I felt like the only purpose for the women in this religion is to procreate and nothing more.”

“Hare Krishna is a very male dominated religion. Many of the women did not take part in the dancing.”

“I found it frustrating that men could express themselves more freely then women. I could never live in a community like NV… Listening and dancing brought me great joy… I felt somewhat sad. We were leaving this exotic place to return to the ‘real world.’”


Students’ Reflections On Their Visit

“An unforgettable journey ripe with valuable life lessons, unique encounters and cultural education.”

“I have a respect for the Hare Krishna religion, favorable acquaintances with several devotees, and an understanding of the lifestyle.”

“At the Palace rose garden, Chaitanya das held a rose in his hand and said, how could something like this exist without God? A little seed, some water, and then it rises from the dirt to be one of the most beautiful things, with a wonderful smell unlike any other… it did make me look at the beautiful surroundings of NV in a new way.”

“I appreciated what the Krishna Movement showed me about discipline… self discipline is one of the most rewarding qualities to have…it has helped me to be more aware of what discipline can bring to your life… I was able to pet a cow, experience a variety of new foods, meet some interesting people – fun stuff…New Vrindaban showed me another religious walk of life and helped me to experience it…”

“I loved the visit because I was able to gather thoughts and opinions by myself without having anything pushed on me…I will always have a certain attraction for the movement, but the weekend showed me that it was not for everyone. Hare Krishna.”

“My experiences were both enjoyable and challenging. It seemed that there was nothing that was not mentally stimulating …Completely out of my comfort zone to be worshiping false Gods… Krpamaya’s explanation changed me from seeing the deities as elaborately dressed dolls to statues that held a certain amount of credibility… 85% of the time I felt generally “creeped out.”

“My experience at NV was stranger than any other experience I’ve ever had…I talked with one devotee about the possibility of converting to Hare Krishna…They are living a life style that I could never imagine for myself, and I greatly respect them for their dedication and patience.”

“Even though I do not believe in the Deities, the devotees’ devotion and apparent love for them was inspiring.”

“The constant lecturing which continued throughout the weekend was probably the part I disliked the most…The Krishna lifestyle provided stability to the unstable, spirituality to the skeptic, and love to the lonely…there were things I did enjoy about the religion…the trip was one I will never forget or regret.”

“The devotees are charismatic, charming and fantastic storytellers. I value many of their philosophies and appreciate their sense of happiness. Nevertheless, I do not find myself converting to become a Hare Krishna anytime soon.”

“I have gained a better understanding of the religion, its practices, devotees, and unique qualities… but I would not say I would give NV a ‘glowing report.’”

“I in no way want to convert, but was able to understand why it was attractive to some people. I am not sure if I had a spiritual awakening, but it definitely was a spiritual vacation.”

“I would have liked to have more free time to walk around and talk to people rather than sitting and listening to lectures.”

“I came home exhausted, hungry, sore, and desperately wanting to eat something that was recently alive.”

“Go ahead and ask my bank teller, she can tell you all about New Vrindaban!”

"I felt welcomed and accepted despite living a life in almost perfect contrast to theirs."

About NV’s Past

“So it was never proven that the people of NV actually killed someone, but even a suspected murder was enough to put fear in my mind.”

“No murders had recently been committed…”

“I have to admit, I was a little scared and really didn’t know what to expect at all… I have gained a better understanding of the religion, it’s practices, devotees and unique qualities.”

“I had my doubts about Hare Krishna and NV… while some doubts were subsided, many still remain.”

“The experience was something I both anticipated and slightly dreaded…a week before our visit, I started to get a nagging sense of fear and trepidation… despite the worry, I came away from NV with a totally different perspective….I still think the events of the 80’s and 90’s were beyond creepy, but I don’t think they define the religion. The people we met were so open and willing to answer all our questions about the faith… I never felt I was being judged nor that the devotees were interested in converting me to their religion.”

“Nothing gave me the impression of a “cult-like” community… you can’t be a moderate Krishna like you can with Christianity…. I developed a respect for the Hare Krishna religion.”

About the Prasadam

“Although I enjoyed the food, I found the taste to be relatively bland in much of it.”

“Some of the food was not good at all. I really expected it to be amazing, (because of what I heard about Balaram Chandra’s cooking class on campus).”

“The food and people were fantastic aspects of my visit.”

“The prasadam reminded me of Christianity…just like when you eat the bread and drink the wine in Church, you are taking Christ into your body.”

“They served good food and the people were friendly.”

“Pretty much lunch was inedible.”

About the Cows

“Though I am not currently a vegetarian, the man (Balabhadra at ISCOWP) who led us around was very convincing. I wish that people everywhere would treat animals the way this man’s whole philosophy was about just loving cows and treating them with respect.”

“I was enthralled to actually get to pet and hug a cow and felt relaxed in the presence of this gentle giant….Walking through the grove with the cows made me feel happy and like there wasn’t anything else in the world going on. The idea that the cows were so gentle because they were treated with love and kindness was such a great message to take home.”

“Seeing a cow that huge up close was awesome.”

About the Skit for the Students

“The ‘spontaneous drama’ was blatant and over the top… about as subtle as the broad side of a barn… I felt overly proselytized to.”

“The event that really put me off was the small skit the devotees put on…. I found it offensive the way they portrayed students as drunken idiots and liars. I didn’t appreciate they way they singled us out…. Overall, visiting NV was a positive, life changing experience.”

“I was offended by the skit. It was painfully obvious that it was directed toward the students.”

About the Slaying Of Ravana

“The slaying of the devil was absurd and meaningless to an outsider.”

“I found it disturbing.”

“It seemed very cultish when everyone started to dance around the fire and scream the mantra… Overall it was an interesting and insightful weekend.”

“I didn’t like it at all … the message to kill contradicts my understanding of Vedic beliefs. It reminded me of something out of Lord Of The Flies or the KKK burning of the cross.”

“It was so much fun.”

END NOTES

The majority of the students walked away from their visit to NV with a positive experience. I think, if nothing else, the students (except for perhaps one or two) accepted the movement as a bona fide and respected religious tradition. It was great to see how often the students mentioned “Hare Krishna” in their papers.

It’s important to understand that even if someone has a negative comment or attitude, it doesn’t mean that they are against the movement or don’t appreciate it.. Some students went from negative or suspicious to favorable (i.e. one student wrote: “I found it frustrating that men could express themselves more freely then women. I could never live in a community like NV… Listening and dancing brought me great joy… I felt somewhat sad. We were leaving this exotic place to return to the ‘real world.’ “).

So we shouldn’t feel threatened by someone’s negativity, or feel that we have to defeat that negativity with argument. Usually people’s remarks are not inimical, but are made innocently. It’s important not to be annoyed by it, but to deal with each person patiently. Just imagine how patient Srila Prabhupada was with us. Dealing with so many guests, the devotees here in NV are especially cordial. The students appreciated the devotees’ hospitality and many commented on this (i.e.: “I felt welcomed and accepted despite living a life in almost perfect contrast to theirs.”).

Prabhupada wanted devotees to present Krishna Consciousness (KC) to academia. We have to use our intelligence in presenting various issues so that we can truly help people to consider applying KC in their lives. Also, anyone you talk to will in turn go home and talk to numerous people about their visit (i.e. “Go ahead and ask my bank teller, she can tell you all about New Vrindaban!”).

Work out a strategy and make sure all the devotees are on the same page. It was embarrassing to have a couple of devotees with little theater know how try to stage an impromptu skit for the visitors. If its important enough to do, than take time to prepare it properly. We can see from student comments about the skit that throwing something together in the last minute is actually counter productive.

Engage people in KC experiences. On one hand two or three students commented about excessive lectures and talks, but when we did not sufficiently explain about the slaying of Ravana, many students were critical of the event because they didn’t understand it. I take responsibility for this oversight. We need to have a balance in giving people both a proper understanding and the KC experience. And lastly, make sure prasadam is first class since taking prasadam is an important KC experience.

In PART 2 I will address some of the students' concerns and questions.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Experiencing India

Another ad in the NY Times caught my attention. It runs for a full three pages in the Sept 25th issue, touting the glories of India’s contributions to the world. There’s a bold headline: Experience India In New York, announcing a series of cultural events and conferences. The ad has its token images of sitar players and Bharatnatyam dancers along with pictures of business exec’s in ties. The ad’s real intent is not to introduce Indian culture to the West, but rather to broadcast how India is adapting to Western culture so magnificently.

There’s no mention of Gandhi, India’s acknowledged greatest figure of the past 100 years. Of course, no one would want to mention that Gandhi urged his followers to burn their British made clothes and reject British manufacturing methods and have Indians spin their own clothing. When asked about Western civilization, he said that he thought it would be a good idea. Gandhi wanted to strengthen the rural economy and small businesses of India, which echoes the intent of Thomas Jefferson who felt that the strength of America lay in the small farms and small businesses.

Gandhi and Osama Bin Laden are probably on the same page in regards to the West’s decadent influence although they obviously differ in their methodology. Had Bin Laden adapted Gandhi’s non violent tactics he may have had a far more reaching positive impact. But I digress. Back to my main point –

When Mark twain visited India over a hundred years ago, he recognized India’s greatness. He wrote, “India is the cradle of the human race, the birth place of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only. ”

But it would have been impossible to tamper with the greatness of Indian culture had not first the Hindus themselves tampered with and perverted their own tradition. Srila Prabhupada, the noble ambassador and scholar of India’s spiritual culture, explains that the Hindu caste system is artificial and many who were designated as low caste preferred to become Muslims. India’s spiritual heritage was being diluted. After the Muslims came the British. Finally, the multi-national corporate culture appears on the scene, and it will leave India only as a hollow shell of what it once was. Even now many farmers in rural India are committing suicide because they have fallen into debt to a duplicitous and unforgiving corporate structure.

Unfortunately, the real India, the Land of Dharma, is being covered over, and to experience it, one must somehow probe deeply into dharma, the principals of spirituality. Prabhupada has provided a wonderful service to humankind by making the real India accessible to all. Prabhupada, in the 1960’s, in an almost mythical journey at the advanced age of 70, almost penniless and under tremendous personal inconvenience, arrived on these shores on a freighter from India.

Just like Bush, who thought he would take his war against terrorism to the front lines, Prabhupada brought the fight against materialism to New York, the capital and epitome of materialistic culture. But unlike Bush’s war, Prabhupada did not need any bombs or armored vehicles or vast sums of money to entice the people or pay mercenaries. Prabhupada arrived in America armed only with the Holy Name of Krishna, with the sacred teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavat Purana, and with the blessings of the previous acaryas (spiritual teachers). He came to give us a true understanding of the soul, of who we really are as eternal beings, and to reawaken our eternal relationship with the Supreme Soul, Sri Krishna.

“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.” Bhagavad Gita 9:2

“Sanjaya said: 'Thus have I heard the conversation of two great souls, Krishna and Arjuna. And so wonderful is that message that my hair is standing on end.' ” Gita 18:74

Saturday, October 13, 2007

General Betray Us?

On Sept 10 MoveOn.org ran a full page add in the NY Times. There was a picture of General Petrarus, the man who’s heading up the military operations in Iraq, with the caption: General Petraeus or General Betray Us?

It seems the ad unleashed an outburst of criticism against both the Times and MoveOn.Org. And I also say, why pick on the General? He seems to be a decent guy. Aren’t we just making him the scapegoat? Indeed, the real culprit all along is not the General, but something far more sinister. The big news, which no one dares to consider let alone print, is that we are all being betrayed by our own senses.

Back in the 50’s and 60’s one company broadcast a catchy slogan: Progress is our most important product. For a while it seemed that way to many people. People were hyped up by the “fact” that all the new technological advancements would enable everyone to work less and make more money. Remember, we were supposed to have tons of free time on our hands. But that’s not the way it worked out.

And the war is not working out the way it was suppose to. The pattern repeats itself. I can hear the General say, “Be patient. We just need a little more time. It can still work out.” And just as the military tries to seek victory in Iraq, our senses try to extract some pleasure from material nature. We cannot help but to fall victim to material allurements. And we will even convince ourselves that it all will work out. But ultimately, any selfish pursuit for pleasure turns sour and we are left only with a sense of frustration.

Our senses are imperfect, prone to err, and they fall under illusion. The senses get fooled over and over again. How can we trust our senses if they continually betray us? And on top of that, people reach all sorts of conclusions and make all sorts of authoritative statements based on their fallible sense perception. Does that make any sense?

“An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. Such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.” Bhagavad Gita 5:22

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Life Not As We Know It

Back in the July 7th edition of the NY Times an article appeared called Scientists Urge A Search For Life Not As We know It by Carl Zimmer. A report published by the National Research Council explained that scientists are looking around the planetary system, and even on our own planet, for “weird life.” Surely, they surmise, there must be life forms that can function in bodies and environments totally different then our own.

I can safely say that I’ve encountered weird life. It’s no big secret. They’re on the news every night. The activities of these weird life forms appear as headlines screaming at us from tabloids and televisions. And as we listen, shaking our heads in disbelief, we’re hard pressed to understand how some of these creatures think and how they reach the decisions they make and how they do the things they do. They certainly have to be aliens because their actions defy human reason, logic, and compassion.

Even rats can exhibit more human kindness than humans. This is revealed in an article from July 10th entitled Rat To Rat, Kindness Takes Hold. Researchers trained rats to pull levers to supply food to other rats. The experiment was started with three rats in adjacent cages trained to be providers of food, and they were never rewarded for their behavior by the researchers. After a time one of the rats was replaced and the behavior was learned by the new rat from the remaining two. Eventually all the original rats were replaced, but the training to be providers was transmitted to the new guys on the block.

As human beings, harassed by the forces of the kaliyuga, we are being untrained in kindness, especially toward those not of our own tribe and species. Instead, we are being reconditioned to be unkind, greedy and totally self centered. Why is it that rats can learn to cooperate and help one another, but not the life forms who inhabit the White House or the board rooms of big corporations?

Another article, from July 24 entitled Smart Curious Ticklish, Rats, explains that rats and human beings have a lot in common. Rats, like human parents, like to tickle their little ones. Rats, like many humans, are “sociable, curious, and love to be touched.” When threatened with a shock, and the shock doesn’t come, rats, like some humans, are observed to breathe a sign of relief. And yes, they even anticipate enjoying sex, (as one researcher says “it’s not simply instinctual for them”). And get this - rats can distinguish between good and bad sex. (How the researchers have figured this out one may never know.) Another thing: “”One study showed that rats accustomed to good times tend to be optimists, while those reared in unstable conditions become pessimists.” Rats are also very adaptable. Rats raised in the lab and then released into the wild did just fine. And one final observation - rats, unlike humans, don’t lie. Really. That’s because they immediately express their likes and dislikes through their bodies and actions.

But getting back to the article from the first paragraph, this search is nothing new. For thousands of years, sages have been in search For Life Not As We Know It. And the good news is that it’s available without having to search on other planets. Another way to put it would be “A Search For Intelligence Not As We Know It.” We all have seen where the usual type of “intelligence” can lead us. The living entities who thrive everywhere – in the earth, water, fire; on all planets and in different shapes and sizes – all use their specific types of intelligence to gain control over their environments as much as possible, and desperately try to emerge as the lords of all they survey. They squabble, they claw, they growl, they roar, they bite, they gouge, they shriek, they swarm, they sting; all to protect their territories or their mates.

For the most part, humans use their intelligence in the same ways animals use theirs. It comes down to four propensities: we all eat, sleep, mate, and defend. And often enough it seems many animals have an edge over us on one or more counts. It’s a jungle whether the creatures are running on four legs or driving on four wheels. So the trick is to search for an Intelligence Not As We Know It, but rather the sublime, Transcendent Intelligence; the Supreme Intelligence; the All Knowing Intelligence, by whose grace we can extract ourselves from the multiple layers of material bondage which entangle us. The National Research Council’s report concludes that it would be a shame to encounter intelligent life and fail to recognize it..

“Now listen to the knowledge of yoga whereby one works without fruitive result. When you act by such intelligence you can free yourself from the bondage of works.” Bhagavad Gita 2:39

“I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My internal potency, and therefore they do not know that I am unborn and infallible.” Bhagavad Gita 7:25

“One who is transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything. He is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” Bhagavad Gita 18:54

Friday, September 14, 2007

London Bridge Is Falling Down, My Fair Lady

Don’t we just delight in books and movies wherein destruction wreaks havoc in one form or other, be it by nuclear bombs, disease, twisters, volcanic eruptions, giant creatures or alien invaders. If you do, then you’ll love The World Without Us, authored by Alan Weisman. Reviewed by Janet Maslin in The Arts section of the August 13th NYT, the book is a “what if” account of what would happen to the world if mankind would suddenly disappear.

How long would our cities and achievements last without us around to maintain them? Early on, Weisman describes the disintegration of an ordinary house - damage by water, by wind, by birds and animals. How everything rots and crumbles - the walls, the floors, the windows, the pipes, the roof. It’ll take about 500 years for it all to break down. It looks like he goes through the same thing with New York City (he thinks streets would collapse into the cavernous subway system in as quickly as 20 years).

The book, of course, is also about what we’ve done to the world. How much time would it take for the earth to replenish itself without our constant tampering? What will happen to the vast mounds of garbage we’ve dumped into the ocean, including all that plastic? The air we’ve polluted? The climate? The various species we’ve brought to near extinction? The war zones and nuclear reactors?

Weisman, however, does not touch upon accounts of ancient times which reveal cultures that understood the earth’s natural rhythms. The earth was perceived as a living entity. The wind, the fire, the rivers, the oceans are all personified. All to be honored since, as agents of the Supreme Lord, they supply our needs

Weisman, a veteran journalist, traveled around the world to interview people and check out various sites first hand. His research seems pretty thorough. The World Without Us is sprinkled with all sorts of tidbits of facts and figures. But the thing is, with or without human manipulation, this material world is constantly changing. The book’s most important theme, however, should give us pause. What are we humans struggling so hard to achieve? Why have our appetites run amok, leaving the environment in such turmoil? Is it preventable? What type of legacy will we leave for future generations?

I leave you with a story: Once there was a sage who lived by the banks of the Ganges River. The sage spent much of his time in meditation and he understood the difference between that which is ‘sat’ (eternal) and that which is ‘asat’ (temporary). Now he was destined to live until all the hairs on his body fell off. He is described as a ‘hairy’ sage. And only a single hair fell off during a life time of Brahma (which is millions upon millions of years). So this sage was going to live for an awfully long time. One day he was asked, “Why don’t you build yourself a nice home?” The sage replied, “Why should I bother? I’m only here temporarily.”

“Physical nature is known to be endlessly mutable. The universe is the cosmic form of the Lord, and I (Krishna) am that Lord represented as the Supersoul, dwelling in the heart of every embodied being.” Bhagavad Gita 8:4

“In charge of the various necessities of life, the demigods, being satisfied by the performance of yajna (sacrifice), supply all necessities to man. But he who enjoys these gifts without offering them to the demigods in return is certainly a thief.” Bhagavad Gita 3:12

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Summertime Blues Or The Winter Of Our Discontent

It’s Summer: Isn’t Anyone at Work by Lisa Belkin (NYT - August 9th) chronicles the author’s struggles to interview people and to write an article about the lack of motivation to do any work during the sweltering summer heat. During the summer more people seek diversions through online games or they call in sick on hot days. Another obstacle to getting anything done is that the youngsters are on summer break and the adults have to spend more time in tending to them and organizing activities for them.

But do you think people would take longer breaks or vacations? No way. They’re afraid to take anything too long because their boss might realize that they are not indispensable, or they might miss something important. So people are at the office more, and they might pretend to be busy, but they actually do less work.

It’s either a juggling act or a melt down. We’ve been juggling like there’s no tomorrow and our limbs are getting weak and we’ll soon conk out like some old junker that’s been on the road much too long. Actually, in the article, there’s an illustration of a guy with an ice cream cone as a dunce cap and it looks like his face (or his entire being) is slowly melting, forming a puddle on the floor. Is this the new everyman? People are just stressed to the max. I keep hearing that people want to retire early, that they can’t take it much longer. As a matter of fact, I'm hoping I can finish this piece before I melt away myself. But it’s no use. They say there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.

“The nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” Bhagavad Gita 2:14

Sunday, August 26, 2007

For "Honor"

It struck me like a sad little song. The article was only a measly paragraph, giving the bare facts, not saying much about the victim nor her killers. Maybe any more would have been just too much to bear. The piece, on page 6 of the July 27 NY Times, told of an ‘honor killing.” The culprit was a 70 year old grandmother of 16. I guess she thought she was doing right by her family. It was a Sikh family living in London, and grandma had arranged the murder of her daughter-in-law “because she was having an affair and wanted a divorce.” The victim, Surjit Athwal, was 27 and had been married for 11 years.

We periodically hear about these killings in the news. They probably happen more often than reported. Usually the killer is thinking that they are simply acting as God’s agent in the sordid affair, whether to punish a wayward family member or a suicide bomber against the infidels or the blowing up of an abortion clinic. I’m sure that in a court of law one of them somewhere has brought up the point that the sectarian state has no jurisdiction over them in the matter because they are doing God’s bidding.

But, in the Bible, God declares “Vengeance is Mine.” That means He wants to take care of it. And God has certainly had lots of practice. He’s been killing off people (the good, the bad and the ugly) since time immemorial. But we foolishly think that God is inept, that He can’t handle it or that He’s too busy with other things and that maybe He’ll forget. So we think, “I have to take care of it -why bother God? And I’ll get brownie points and it will look good on my resume when I get to heaven. I’ll have bragging rights.” This mindset only shows that one has very little faith. God is very capable of dispatching sinners and miscreants in His own way and in His own time.

Anyway, in this age, if He were to kill the sinners, He’d have to kill us all. So in this age, God has wisely developed an alternative plan. He’s appeared in the form of His Holy Name. The weapon of the Name is very subtle. Like an expert physician removing a cancerous tumor, the Name can destroy the miscreant mentality without killing the physical body. So yes, God wants assistants; not, however, to kill, but to spread love and mercy through the Holy Name. Like the Beatles sang: “take a sad song (the plight of the conditioned soul) and make it better.” It is written in the ancient texts: “In the age of quarrel and pretense (that’s this age – the kaliyuga) chant the Holy Name, chant the Holy Name, chant the Holy Name. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.”

So to any would-be avenger reading this: don’t worry your pretty little head. God is on top of it. No one is going to get away with anything.

“The Blessed Lord said: Time I am, destroyer of the worlds. I have come to engage all people.” Gita 11:32

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Horror!!!

People, we’re all being manipulated. It’s like right out of some horror movie. Our minds are controlled. Our bodies no longer belong to us. We are incapable of acting in our own self interest. We’re like the proverbial lemmings heading for the cliff.

In her article “In Parasite Survival, Ploys To Get Help From A Host,” (NY Times, June 26) Natalie Angier states that parasites are “an evolutionary force to be reckoned with, a source of nearly bottomless cunning and breath taking bio-inventiveness.” A chilling description of an alien foe worthy of stalking the pages of the best science fiction thriller.

Yes, it’s a sad fact. We, us humans, are not the only intelligent creature capable of making strategies and plans. But since the parasite doesn’t live very long, it needs to think and act quickly and effectively. There are numerous examples of a parasite growing in one bug or animal and then directing that being into the jaws of another where the parasite can continue to grow and thrive.

Case in point: One parasitic worm growing in a pill bug needs that bug to be eaten by a bird. A rational pill bug hides away in the day time only to come out at night. But the parasitic worm is working on that pill bug, eating away at its intelligence. Gradually, it begins to manipulate the bug to the point where that worm-infected bug defies all natural pill bug instincts and reasoning, and comes out in the day time to be devoured by a bird. Hint: parasitic worm equals lust.

“The senses, the mind and the intelligence are the sitting places of this lust, which veils the real knowledge of the living entity and bewilders him.” Bhagavad Gita 3:40

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Not Buying It

"Not Buying It" is an article from NY Times House & Home section of June 21 reported by Steven Kurutz. It’s about a new movement which has cropped up during the last decade in New York, and perhaps a few other cities, which rejects the consumeristic life style of buying the things we normally need and want. These folks merely live off the fat of the land; that is, off what other people or supermarkets or companies throw out.

The Hubbards (Harland & Anna) lived in that mood, residing on their small piece of land, known as Payne Hollow, away from the maddening crowd, on the banks of the Ohio River in Northern Kentucky by the Indiana border. In 1951, in their early 50’s, they built a home made from local stones and wood, and whatever they could scavenge. Harland said the river often supplied them with what they needed. They lived by a bend in the river and all sorts of boxes and things would naturally wash ashore at that point. The Hubbards passed away in their late 80's. One commentator wrote, “They lived the life that Thoreau wrote about but only lived for a short time.”

In the Vedic literatures we have the more sever example of renunciation in the “python” sadhus - monks laying on the ground in the forest, simply living off of whatever fruits and leaves fell around them. And it was said, some of them were rather chubby. We even hear about sadhus, up to the present day, residing in caves by the Himalayan mountains, wearing little or nothing, and nourishing themselves mainly on water and sun light, and living to be hundreds of years old.

The “sadhus” of NYC eat food found in the dumpsters behind supermarkets or bakeries, wear thrown away clothes, read literature and listen to CD’s retrieved from the trash, furnish their “caves” with items found on the street. The article says that “ some hold themselves to rigorous standards.” They are committed to not buying anything, or at least very little. These good souls are certainly focused and determined in their life style. They call themselves freegans and their philosophy is freeganism (a few web sites are devoted to the cause); surely a play on Reagan and Reaganism, which was the guiding beacon for the rising greed of the 80’s. That greed has since grown into a relentless force (a force more insidious than terrorism itself) with disastrous effects that are becoming more visible all over our social, political, and environmental landscapes. The freegans try to be the total opposite. Their commitment to their cause is a source of inspiration and at the same time puts me to shame. I need to have that type of commitment in my Krishna Consciousness, and that type of vision that our actions can and will change the world.

Of course, the advantage of practicing freeganism in NYC is the quantity and quality of the trash (in NYC the average is 6.1 pounds per person per day compared to 4.5 pounds nationwide – totaling 245 million tons a year for the country). And there are tricks of the trade (i.e. freegans check out college areas like NYU and Columbia at the end of the school year as students depart). They feel that their lifestyle will reduce the impact on the environment. They also believe in making a statement of noncompliance, since “the production and transport of every product contributes to economic and social injustice.” Most freegans are young, with a few middle aged folks who actually left comfortable jobs in the corporate world. Some freegans admit they still work, but they all must have some source of income because the caves in New York are not cheap.

I wonder how many freegans a place like New York can comfortably support. Right now there’s a mood of cooperation and camaraderie; people helping lift things out of the dumpster for each other, having feasts of free food together, even freely giving away things to one another. But what happens if they are successful and their numbers grow to a 1000 or 10,000? Will they form tribes and mark out zones for themselves in an effort to protect areas which include choice dumpsters and streets where the wealthy live? Such are the pitfalls of idealism.

“Attraction and repulsion for sense objects are felt by the embodied beings, but one should not fall under the control of the senses and sense objects because they are stumbling blocks on the path of self realization.” Gita 3:34

“There are three gates leading to hell – lust, anger and greed. Every sane man should give them up, for they lead to the degradation of the soul.” Gita 16:21



Saturday, August 11, 2007

Announcement

In Pursuit of Story: Coaching with Sankirtana Das

For writers, actors, storytellers, students and anyone wanting to explore
the use of STORY in their field:
*Guidance from the page to the stage
*Dramatic tension in performance & writing
*Help in refining your writing
*Voice and relaxation work
*Get proven rehearsal techniques under your belt
*Creativity through STORY

Sankirtana offers five hours of individual tele-coaching for $60, OR a six week intensive course with weekly tele-conferencing sessions for a group, long with individual coaching - about 20 hours of instruction, guiding you on a project of your choice - for the low cost of $125. Course limited to six.

For many years Sankirtana Das was involved in writing and performing devotional dramas, touring to temples, colleges and Off B’way. Today he continues to travel widely offering multicultural storytelling programs and workshops for schools, colleges, museums, churches and special events. He is a 2005 recipient of a WV Artist Fellowship Award. Also see his site at http://www.sacredvoices.com/


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

Appreciations:


Sankirtana Das is my storytelling guru." Sacinandana Swami

"The success of RCC 2000 was in no small part due to your marvelous workshop sessions." Dave Pomeroy, Religious Communications Congress 2000

"Sankirtana Das is a gold mine for anyone digging in the storytelling field. In addition, he is well equipped to provide the necessary tools for any prospector of tales. He has been my storytelling coach over the past ten years and has helped me tremendously. I have attended his workshops and have received private instruction as well. He offers a mix of humor, honest constructive criticism and knowledge of the art of storytelling. I enthusiastically recommend his services for anyone interested in developing their storytelling and writing skills." Kripamaya Das, Musician/Storyteller, West Virginia

"Although I’ve been writing and periodically telling stories for years, Sankirtana’s expert guidance has taken my creative abilities to a whole other level. His mentorship has been invaluable.Over two decades of performing, writing, and teaching have given Sankirtana the insight a master has of his subject, inside out and outside in. He recently helped this attached writer to learn to edit her work from an initially wordy and heavy script into an effective and fast moving tale that sacrificed none of the emotional content. What a difference this process has made in my ability to communicate in a compact and effective manner. THANK-YOU SANKIRTANA SOOOOOO MUCH!!!!!" Harinam DD, Storyteller/Writer, Flordia

"Over the years, Sankirtana’s coaching led to my landing parts and also getting into college, where I studied acting. More importantly, he was the first to introduce me to the concept of technique and stress its importance, in turn helping to shape my approach to all my work." Halavah Sofsky, Actor/Filmmaker, NYC

"I received many positive comments from the leadership team and others who attended your workshop." Jeff Lacaria, Conference Council On Ministeries, United Methodist Church, WV

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Awkward Years

In the Science Section of the New York Times of April 24 an article appeared entitled Treating The Awkward Years, describing a slew of physical and emotional issues which may beset kids during their adolescent years, ranging generally from ages 10 to 19. There’s even a new field specializing in adolescent medicine dealing with anything from shyness to sexual activities to eating disorders to pimples. During those years kids are “mystified and embarrassed by their changing bodies.”

The article’s main point, however, was the inadequate number of doctors who are trained and willing to treat this age group (sound familiar?) – about 40 million youths. One doctor described them as “they’re not big children and they’re not little adults.” Not many doctors want to deal with them because they take up a lot more office time and are more challenging than the "cute little kids." And the doctors don’t make any more money off the teenagers than they do in treating the younger kids. 75 % of pediatricians surveyed said they didn’t really want more patients from the adolescent group.

Prabhupada explains how there are three different stages in the first part of life ( from ages 1-5, 6-10, and 11 –16) and how a parent should relate to each of those age groups. Of course, this all has to be done in love and with the self-control and wisdom of a sage. At one point in the 1970’s and 80’s the prevailing philosophy in society was to let kids do what they wanted (on book distribution at O’Hare Airport in the 70’s I even met a scholar who was very adamant about this point). One comedian joked about this saying – “When I was a kid I had to do what my parents wanted and now that I’m a parent I’m told to do what my kids want. When do I get to do what I want???"

Some doctors are heeding the call and actually taking the time to listen to and talk with their teenage patients to develop trust and confidentiality. One doctor observes, "Adolescents are incredibly thoughtful, creative and absolutely challenging. They get when you're insincere really quickly." We may think we're teaching them, but in actuality, Krishna is using them to teach us. I think the trick is to have the ability to appreciate them and learn from the kids themselves; to learn who we are; to learn to make the endeavor but to be detached from the results; to learn tolerance and patience; and to not be afraid to see our own imperfections and shortcomings. That's why it's so scary being a parent or a teacher.

As we journey through the diverse stages of life, we grapple (sometimes desperately) with the various problems and issues of our minds, emotions and bodies. When we’re five years old we have a particular set of problems, and when we’re 15 and 45 and 65 we encounter different issues and problems, usually each one more perplexing then the next. And in the end we see that our lives have been consumed with all these intermediate or transitional problems, but never really understanding and addressing the root source of the problems. We need help in crossing this dangerous terrain to not be bewildered by the many changes our bodies go through, otherwise we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. When we understand that Krishna is sending that help in many shapes and forms then our precarious journey will take on a wonderous new meaning.

“As the embodied soul continually passes in this body from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” Bhagavad Gita 2:13

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Words Work Wonders

A New York Times article of June 21 entitled “50 Years of Heavy Reading” reported on a book club called the Friday Workshop, a group of ladies who had been gathering in Long Beach, NY for over 50 years. It started when they were in their 20's & 30's with small kids. The ladies "yearned for something more than just kitchen table conversation." They were determined. They set their mark high. Plato, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Faulkner, Shakespeare. A laudable list. Sometimes they even invited a college professor conversant with the author to lead the discussions. Over the years sickness, death, and moving away has reduced their numbers from 30 to about 10. The founder of the club, Fanny Marshall Cohen, passed away in 1994 at the age of 90.

It’s certainly fascinating how everywhere people are feverishly engaged in talking about something. Not just talking, but really hashing over things and analyzing it. Books, batting averages, football lineups, , the movies, the hottest stars, the latest rave in fashions, political spin meisters, televangelists, investment gurus, song writers, chefs. It’s a tsunami, a volcanic eruption, an outright epidemic! I wonder what type of energy would be available if all the talking could be harnessed? (You know what they say about the tongue being the most voracious and uncontrollable.)

The world is flooded with talking, gossip, chatter. Mark Twain once said, “I’ve been cautioned to talk but to be careful not to say anything. I do not consider this a difficult task.” It’s not about getting people to stop talking. The trick is to begin to redirect talking and hearing to something about Krishna. It’s time for devotees to seriously think about how to do this. Years ago, the temple president in Chicago informed Prabhupada that the schedule included reading Bhagavatam and CC in the morning, and Gita and Krishna Book in the evening. Prabhupada replied – Thank you very much. But let’s face it, not too many people are showing up at Bhagavatam class these days.

Besides distributing Prabhupada’s books, it would be good to connect people to discussion groups to facilitate the reading. Krishna Consciousness works best on a grass roots level. What’s needed is home book clubs and study groups, innumerable workshops, to read, study and discuss Prabhupada’s books, or to discuss contempary issues in the light of the Bhagavatam and the Vedic conclusions, or to learn vegetarian cooking and relish prasadam (a’la Kurma & Yamuna), etc, etc. Prabhupada said – “in like a needle.” Devotees are beginning to find their own needles to impact various segments of society.

“The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are surrendered to Me, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss enlightening one another and conversing about Me.” Gita 10:9

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

What's Wrong With This Picture?

The people in the companies never see the people who make the products. And the people that make the products will never have to face the people who use them. And the people who use them are not being protected by the people they’ve elected to do precisely that. People, there’s something very wrong with this picture!

On June 19th an article entitled Train Wreck told of a massive recall of wooden trains made in China contaminated by paint containing lead. Mums the word at RC2, the US company that orders the trains. The toy is just one of 24 kinds this year that have been recalled. Over the past year there have been other problems with products made in China: pet food, pharmaceuticals, toothpaste, foods, etc. I’m sure there are many other items just waiting to be discovered since only a small fraction of imports are examined.

Lured to China by cheap labor, it seems that companies are only interested in the bottom line. This means more $$$$ for their share holders and more for the company’s big guys. They’re too busy taking the loot to the bank to look at the long range picture. They are willing to forego quality control and jeopardize our health. They are responsible for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the States and thus a deterioration of the economy. What to speak of the burden it places on the earth with an ever expanding need for oil to ship products half way around the world. And I wonder what do they do with all these US rejects. Will they just send the trains back to China to sell since they have no restrictions on using lead paint in toys, or maybe they’ll donate the toys to kids in Africa. Or will they slice the trains into toothpicks and send them to Cuba.

“Those who are demoniac do not know what is to be done and what is not to be done. Neither cleanliness nor proper behavior nor truth is found in them.” Bhagavad Gita 16:7

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Observing the micro to understand the macro

In the Science Times section (June 5) there’s an essay entitled The Universe, Expanding Beyond All Understanding by Dennis Overbye. He quotes an article (authored by Lawrence Krauss and Robert Scherrer) in The Journal of Relativity And Gravitation which states that in 100 billion years from now we will be “incapable of understanding the true nature of the universe.” By then, they argue, all but a few of the galaxies in our ever expanding universe will have moved beyond our vision. And the further away the galaxies get from one another the faster they travel. One can only imagine that after the galaxies slip from view, our own galaxy will expand and unravel as the stars and planets travel away from one another. Pretty soon street corners will seem further away and it will eventually take ages just to cross the street. After that the -----l e t t e r s ----------- o -- n -- n --n -- n -- n ---n aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa p --a ---g ----e ------------------w ---- i ---- l ----- l
g e t -------------- s o o o o o o o o o -- o ----- o ----- o ----------- f a r r r r r - r - r - r --- r ---- r ----------------------------------a p a r t ------------------------- --that you’ll have to travel a million miles just to read one sentence. Edward Witten, one prominent theorist, said that a universe that expanded forever was “not very appealing.” Dr Krauss called it “the worst possible universe.”

But guys, don’t despair. According to Vedic understanding, the universe will eventually come back in on itself. These cycles of universal expansion and contraction are dependent on the outward and inward breathing of Maha Vishnu. Right now we’re on one of Maha Vishnu’s outward breaths wherein everything is expanding, histories are unfolding, countless generations and dynasties appear and disappear as they struggle within the material realm. The depth and scope of the universe is unimaginable. But when Maha Vishnu breathes in, the whole cosmos folds up. Then, when He breathes out, it starts all over again. To Maha Vishnu, our aeons of time are insignificant. For Him, it’s only one breath.


“Know that all beautiful, glorious, and mighty creations spring from but a spark of My splendor.” Bhagavad Gita 10:41

“With a single fragment of Myself I pervade and support this entire universe.” Gita 10:42


Friday, July 13, 2007

Listen, do you wanna know a secret

Several months back the Times ran an ad for a DVD of the book The Secret. The Secret is newest sensation and darling of the New Agers. It's beyond the New Age. I'm sure the Neocons are reading it behind closed doors. It's a hot seller with the Walmart crowd. Oprah, on her show, made a big deal about it.

I had an occasion to see The Secret video last year. I can only describe it as a testimonial to materialism. The height of Me-ism. At one point on the video there’s a women standing in front of a jewelry store longingly looking at a necklace displayed in the window. The next minute she’s wearing the necklace. There’s another scene where a kid wants a bike and then you see him happily riding the bicycle. This goes on to a woman being attracted to a man and later she’s walking with him hand in hand.

The Secret views the earth as just one big Kamadhenu cow ready and eager to supply everyone’s desire, as opposed to the paradigm of The Sri Isopanishad which tells us that everything in the world is controlled and owned by the Supreme Lord and that we should only accept what we really need for ourselves and not take anything unnecessarily, knowing well to whom it belongs. There is a delicate balance in nature and we should fulfill our needs and wants with the utmost care. Native American wisdom tells us that we must take into consideration the impact of our actions on the next seven generations.

But The Secret, endorsed by the "good guys," would have us believe that the earth can completely satisfy our every desire and that we can have a fairy tale life wherein all wishes are fulfilled (that may have been the case in the Satya-yuga). The ad in the paper reads that The Secret can give you "...unlimited joy, health, money, relationships, love, youth, everything you ever wanted." Yes. It's all yours!!!You have just hit the jackpot, won the lottery, beat out everyone on The Idol, been invited on Oprah, postponed death indefinitely, moved into a new mansion and made a million new close friends. (This sounds better than all the snake oil remedies the quack doctors used to sell in the wild west.)

In these times, however, is it responsible to have a mindset and live a lifestyle advocated by the Secret? This type of unrestricted consumerism is the very mentality that has put us in the precarious situation we’re in today. Is the The Secret going to stop the ice caps from melting or bring back the ozone layer? Is it going to stop people from getting blown up? Is it going to stop disease and death? The Secret doesn’t mention that ultimately we cannot control what happens to us. We can only control our attitude and our intentions. As the ancients, to live peacefully, we must learn self control, to conquer our greed and anger, to respect all life and the environment we live in, and to offer ourselves in service to the Creator of all things.

One of the appeals of a secret is that people like to be in on something that’s exclusive. The Secret is special, and they are special and their knowing the Secret gives them a special advantage over everybody else. Of course, everybody else is thinking the same thing. Basically, the secret of The Secret is the law of attraction, when you think positive thoughts you get positive results. And when you know this “secret” you can have it all. And to prove that The Secret is bona fide, the narrator in the video (DVD) summons up some of the big movers in history like Jesus, Buddha, Lao-tzu, Confucius, Socrates, Shakespeare, Newton. They all knew The Secret, and that’s what made them so famous, successful and spiritual. I wonder why they didn’t mention Gengis Khan or Rocky Balboa.

Because of its popularity, I think devotees have a great opportunity to offer people an insight into the real Secret (In marketing this is called positioning - that you position your product with, or against, a product that is popular). Real knowledge is not on how to acquire material things and get a beautiful body, but how to distinguish between matter and spirit.

“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.” Bhagavad Gita 9:2