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:(;

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

***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.