Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Standing Rock: An American Kumbha Mela

I want to acknowledge the boldness, heroism and humility exhibited by the US veterans, both men and women, and including Tulsi Gabbard -- a warrior and congresswoman. In solidarity, they joined the Native Americans and many others at Standing Rock. They are truly warriors and leaders. I practice the Vaisnava/Krishna tradition. And these vets, and indeed all who have gathered at Standing Rock, are for me paragons of my tradition. Three reasons:

1- There’s a Krishna prayer that "one should think of themselves as straw on the street, be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of false ego, and ready to offer all respects to others." That’s what I see happening in these photos of the vets.  

2 - In my tradition, it’s also explained that you should leave a place cleaner than you found it. So rather than thinking ‘I didn’t make this mess. It’s not my problem’ one should think ‘Ok, there’s a mess here. I didn’t make it,  but I take the responsibility to clean it up.’ So these vets are ready to do whatever they can to bring about healing in our nation, even to humbly submit themselves before others. This is courage.

3 - Finally, the Native American elders said their gathering was not a protest, but rather a gathering for prayer to protect the river and the land. This is in keeping with the long spiritual history of India. At Standing Rock I see the spirit of Kumbha Mela, a pilgrimage held every twelve years, by sacred rivers, welcoming all people everywhere to attend. The Kumbha Mela has been going on since time immemorial. The event takes place in northern India in January, the coldest time of the year. 

There, and at many other events, people have gathered in large numbers for prayer, chanting the sacred names of God for the benefit of all and the protection of Mother Earth. These gatherings also give the attendees a chance to perform austerities in the form of fasting, bathing in the river's frigid water, facing a harsh climate, and sleeping on the earth rather than in a soft bed. I’m sure those who have gathered at Standing Rock know what I’m talking about.

America, and the world, sorely needs these types of examples more than ever. But warriors have to be leaders and courageous and generous, all at the same time. It’s not easy. The responsibilities of a warrior/leader are brought in sharp focus in the ancient epic Mahabharata.  I think Mahabharata is one of the most valuable stories for healing and for seekers of spiritual wisdom in our time.

The story is about five warrior brothers - the Pandavas - struggling to stand up to tyranny and at the same time keep their humanity. There’s a monumental battle that takes place. One of the most important things for them is to abide in the Dharma, to live with integrity. They strive to live in the courage, justice and humility that is required of them.

But just like the rift in our nation, the Pandavas don't always see eye to eye. They have their contentious moments, but they work through it. This is the very task set before us today. In closing, I humbly request of those who are organizing various events to include prayer, chants, and sacred ceremony as a show of unity among all spiritual traditions. Mitakuye Oyasin.  

PS: I have been on a journey with Mahabharata for over three decades; first offering it as a full-length drama and later as sacred storytelling and more recently in a 'fast-paced, cinematic' book.  For more on his award-winning rendering of the epic see

The Mindfulness Dilemma

“I’m making a failed attempt at mindful dishwashing,” exclaims an exasperated Ruth Whippman in an Op-Ed in the New York Times:

What’s this world coming to when we’re having a ‘mindful moment’ and we still feel miserable, not having found the happiness we think we deserve? What’s the value of meditation if it only makes us all the more aware of our mundane reality?

Is it any wonder that we would want to retreat from a world that offers news of constant strife? What have we to look forward to? A world of uncertainty, a lackluster economy, a people divided, everyone talking past one another, hurtling slogans and accusations, and never connecting nor really listening to one another.

With these burdens weighing upon us, meditation doesn’t seem to be enough. Maybe it’s downright ineffective! At the end of her article, Ms. Whippman evokes some studies which conclude that the results of meditation are “underwhelming” and that it might only “bring some small benefits. . . . compared with pretty much any general relaxation technique at all, including exercise. . . .”

Uh-oh! I can see millions of folks bailing. Is the multibillion-dollar meditation industry about to implode? Haven’t we already had enough game-changing moments this year. Maybe we’ve forgotten what meditation is for. Or perhaps we never fully understood it’s purpose to begin with. This is a opportunity to take a closer look at what meditation is all about.

“Mindfulness,” explains Ms Whippman, “is supposed to be a defense against the pressures of modern life.” Well don’t tell Arjuna that. His mindful meditation took place on a battlefield. The Bhagavad Gita, which was spoken by Sri Krishna to the warrior prince Arjuna, is the original and superlative guide to meditation. A few points:

* Firstly, the Bhagavad Gita helps us understand that our existence is beyond the temporal body and mind.
“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. 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.” Gita 2:12-13

* At Arjuna’s inquiry, Krishna goes on to describe the qualities of those who live the spiritual life, so that we may ourselves understand what to strive for.
“One who is not disturbed in spite of the threefold miseries, who is not elated when there is happiness, and who is free from attachment, fear and anger, is called a sage of steady mind.” Gita 2:56
“One who can control his senses by practicing the regulated principles of freedom can obtain the complete mercy of the Lord and thus become free from all attachment and aversion. For one who is so situated in the Divine consciousness, the threefold miseries of material existence exist no longer; in such a happy state, one's intelligence soon becomes steady.” Gita 2:64-65

* Meditation helps us to regulate our senses and mind to attain inner peace.
“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires—that enter like rivers into the ocean which is ever being filled but is always still—can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.” Gita 2:70
“For one who has conquered the mind, the Supersoul is already reached, for he has attained tranquility. To such a man happiness and distress, heat and cold, honor and dishonor are all the same.” Gita 6:7
“He who is temperate in his habits of eating, sleeping, working and recreation can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.” Gita 6:17

* The Gita gives us a true understanding of detachment from worldly affairs and provides insight on how to rise above the dualities of life.
“The intricacies of action are very hard to understand. Therefore one should know properly what action is, what forbidden action is, and what inaction is.” Gita 4:17
“He who is satisfied with gain which comes of its own accord, who is free from duality and does not envy, who is steady both in success and failure, is never entangled, although performing actions.” Gita 4:22
“The Blessed Lord said: One who is unattached to the fruits of his work and who works as he is obligated is in the renounced order of life, and he is the true mystic: not he who lights no fire and performs no work.” Gita 6:1

* Meditation helps us to see God working in our lives and to reawaken our relationship with that Supreme Transcendent Personality.
“That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend; therefore you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.” Gita 4:2
“For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” Gita 6:30
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” Gita 10:8

My article is not meant to criticize Ms. Whippman. Her general assessment is correct. The meditational process is difficult and even Arjuna has his doubts about it. But Krishna goes on to explain how we can achieve success in our meditation. He puts it quite succinctly to Arjuna in several places in the Gita. most notably: 

"And of all yogīs, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all." Gita 6:47

“Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” Gita 9:14

In our times, the kali-yuga (the age of rampant quarrel, greed, cheating and hypocrisy), the most potent and satisfying meditation is meditation on God’s holy names. God’s names are abundantly found in traditions all over the world. Especially recommended is the maha-mantra, the great mantra of peace: Hare Kṛiṣhṇa, Hare Kṛishna, Kṛishna Kṛishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. It’s freely given. It can be sung, chanted softly on pray beads or it can even enhance one’s silent meditation by saying the mantra in the mind. The meditation is most effective when performed with humility and gratitude, and complimented with works of devotion.**

All quotes from Bhagavad Gita As It Is by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Sankirtana Das, (ACBSP) is an award-winning author and storyteller. For more about his book Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest, a ‘cinematic’ rendition of the ancient epic, see

Friday, November 25, 2016

Four Excerpts from my Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest

Bhima Fights Baka:
Bhima, however, grabbed the Rakshasa’s throat with one hand and held him at bay while he reached for yet another tasty item. Baka was incensed. With his face contorted and his red eyes bulging and his black, matted hair flying and showing his four rows of teeth, he raised a blood-curdling scream. Bhima threw him to the ground.  Baka quickly rebounded and uprooted a nearby tree and hurled it at Bhima. Bhima dodged it, and in an instant, they both ripped trees out of the ground and charged at each other, smashing one another relentlessly.  After those trees were shredded, they uprooted more trees, hurling them at one another.  The forest around them became decimated and the Rakshasa turned to find another tree. But he did not get far. Bhima jumped and rammed his knee into Baka’s back and broke his spine. Baka fell flat on his face. As he tried to get up, Bhima quickly twisted his neck. The Rakshasa’s eyes bulged out. He vomited blood and fell dead.

The Pandavas Enter The Himalayas
The way was steep and treacherous. All around them the skies darkened. Fierce winds were suddenly upon them and enveloped them in a dust storm. They lost sight of one another.  The winds howled so fiercely that the Pandavas were nearly swept off the mountainside. The group held on tightly to boulders and scraggly trees as the winds ripped at their faces and took their breath away.  Angry winds lashed at them from one direction and then another. But soon the winds ceased as suddenly as they had come.
The Pandavas felt relief only momentarily.  Pounding rains came fast upon them as thunder flashed against distant clouds. The group scurried higher, frustrated and in tears and not knowing where to turn.  Out of nowhere, or perhaps as if the Celestials had placed it right in their path, they came upon a cave. There they took shelter from the storm, which continued to rage throughout the night. 

From Gita
Arjuna asked, “What are the qualities of one who is in divine consciousness? How does he act?”
 Krishna spoke, his voice serene and majestic. “Such a person is not disturbed by the constant changes of this world. He is beyond the dualities of success and failure. Beyond profits and losses. Beyond pleasures and pains. Beyond the constant flow of desires which come and go like the waves of an ocean.  He is forever free from fear and anger.  His senses are restrained.  He eats, speaks, sleeps and works in moderation. He is not attached to the results of his work, but neither does he try to avoid work. He sees that all worldly pleasures, which first appear sweet and alluring, ultimately sour. They have a beginning and an end, and he does not strive for such things.
“Rather, he is situated in the pursuit of transcendence. He is happy from within. He rejoices and is illumined from within. Gradually his heart opens.  He sees all beings with equal vision and acts for their welfare. And he sees Me dwelling patiently in the hearts of all as the Companion. He is centered in knowledge, peace  and compassion. A person in this consciousness remains fixed, even at the moment of death. Such a rare soul readily attains Vaikuntha, My supreme spiritual abode, free from fears and anxieties, and above heaven itself.

The Battle Begins
In the heavens, Siddhas, Gandharvas, and Charanas gathered to watch the battle below. A moment of silent anticipation descended upon Kurukshetra, a moment which hung heavy, a moment of waiting, of postponing death a little while longer, and then drums and bugles sounded and warriors blew their conch shells, and Time once again ground forward as battle cries arose from the ranks of the armies and rolled across the valley, and like a great beast stirring from its slumber, the warriors shook their weapons and rushed at one another and collided together with a thunderous force. 

Copyright, 2013, Andy Fraenkel 

To see acclaim by scholars, another excerpt and to order go to

Special Offer

I hope all is well. This holiday season I am offering a special discount to devotees looking for gifts for friends, family and especially for people you’re cultivating. My book Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest has received a 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Award - awards for independent publishers and authors.

And my CD Hanuman's Quest received a 2016 Storytelling World Resource Award - in the category 'Good Resource For Any Age- kids, teens, adults.' Also have two other CDs - Sacred Voices – stories and poems from the world’s sacred traditions (great for interfaith contacts), and Brahma’s Song (stories of Brahma & Krishna). 
All prices below include shipping expenses in USA to one address.
Mahabharata: 6 copies for $72 (that's $12 each) and 10 copies for $100.
Any assortment of my three CDs: 6 for $42 (that's $7 each) and 10 for $65 ($6.50 each).
There is more information on the book and CDs, including my standard prices, at
My background is in theater and I have tried to use my dramatic skills to create these resources to both inspire folks and serve as a bridge to help people appreciate the Vedic/Bhakti tradition. My book is being used in several college courses. My CDs include music along with the stories for a great listening experience. Your purchase will support my work to prepare more books and Cds of this nature.
Take care, your servant, Sankirtan das (ACBSP) 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Election Day Blues and the Leadership Vacuum

Election day is upon us. The battle lines are drawn. Many voters are entrenched on one side or the other. Many more are yet undecided and perplexed  by the choice of candidates. 

Today, many people are angry by the failures or inaction of one side or other; angry with a do-nothing government which doesn't consider their needs; angry with the moral failures of leadership.  And rightly so. But anger and frustration don’t provide a platform from which to make a sound decision.

The Bhagavad Gita gives an ample description of what will happen. Krishna explains in the second chapter that if one gives way to anger it will  only blind them.  This leads to delusion and  bewilderment.   In this state one loses all intelligence. Around us we see people so frustrated they succumb to degraded activities in the form of  intoxication and violence. When people are angry and frustrated, their reasoning capabilities are diminished and they become susceptible to being exploited and lead astray.

To make a decision, voters must first understand what the qualities and behavior of a leader are.  A leader has far more responsibilities than the common person, and thus their decisions have far greater repercussions. Since a leader sets an example for others to follow, it would be prudent to seek someone who exhibits leadership qualities and proper behavior better than we do ourselves.   

The qualities of leadership are explained in the Gita and to a greater degree in Mahabharata. In Mahabharata these qualities are displayed by personalities like Yudhisthira and Arjuna who care for the citizens they govern and are in turn loved by them.  Leadership is also discussed at length by Narada Muni, Grandfather Bhismadeva and Lord Krishna Himself.  And leadership in all its negativity  is especially displayed by Duryodhana, who is greedy, envious and arrogant.  

Unfortunately,  proper understanding, as well as proper training in leadership, is sorely lacking in our modern educational systems.  How is a leader to be trained or to be recognized by the people who want to vote?  For this reason, the Mahabharata offers valuable guidance in our confused times. Therein, we are given not only instructions on leadership but examples of how a leader should and should not behave.

The leadership vacuum is not going to go away after election regardless of who becomes president. The so-called leadership of those who want to exploit their position, who only want to serve their own or their party’s interest, is worthless.

The schisms which have arisen in America and in other countries around the world can only further divide and alienate people. The hatred and distrust of government is unprecedented.  But government does and can work if run intelligently, even if we have to go back to ancient Greece or India to find examples.

Now is a time for devotees everywhere to serve society by providing a true and unbiased understanding of leadership, and not by being a sounding board for any one side. The devotees are trained by Srila Prabhupada as wisdom keepers and must humbly offer the wisdom of the Gita and Mahabharata for all to consider.   Now, in these confounding times of flux and turmoil,  let those who have receptive ears hear this philosophy and consider this process of Krishna Consciousness.

Sankirtana Das  (ACBSP) is an award-winning author and storyteller.  For more about his book Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest see