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


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



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