Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thousands joyfully march towards Krishna on his birthday

Hundreds of happy faces greeted me as I entered into the sanctum sanctorum of the Sri SriRadhaGovindatemple early in the morning. It was Janmashtami day, birthday of Lord Krishna, and the temple hall was buzzing with enthusiastic devotees - celibate monks in saffron coloured dhoti and kurta, other men in white dhoti and kurtaand women in sarees, all were present. Everyone had Vaisnavatilak on their forehead. Young, old and children all had come. Door of the altar was still closed but the celebration had already begun. 

Both the hands raised high in the air, swaying their body while moving rhythmically three steps forward and three steps backward all were joyfully singing - Hare Krishna Hare Krishna KrishnaKrishna Hare Hare/Hare Rama Hare RamaRamaRama Hare Hare. Mridangas were being beaten energetically, cymbals were being struck against each other briskly, and the lead singer was passionately singing loudly yet melodiously to the delight of all. 

The entire crowd was following the tune of the lead kirtan singer. Initially the beat was slow and slowly it picked the momentum. The devotional spirit of the devotees was rising with each beat. And soon everyone got into the mood of dancing. Holding each other’s hand devotees formed a big concentric circle. Within the big circle there were many small circles. Everyone was moving clockwise in the circle and was continuously crying the holy name. Few came in the centre of the circle and raising their handsthey spun in trance; some came in the centre holding the hands of their friendsand danced with grace.  There were 3 types of dancers: natural, shy and reluctant. Natural dancers spontaneouslycame in the centre and danced. The shy dancers wanted to participate but were not ready to take the initiative, they wished that someone pulls (or push) themin the centre to dance. Understanding this devotees invited them to dance and they happily responded. The reluctant dancers were mostly either first time visitors or not so frequent visitors to the temple. They either felt embarrassed to dance in front of a huge crowd or they just wanted to enjoy seeing the great dance for the pleasure of the Lord. Curious kids weren’t behind. They were too trying their best to assist their parents in the celebration. Men and women danced separately. At Iskcon, as per the Vedic tradition, a healthy distance is always maintained between the two sexes. 

As the conch shell blew everyone turned towards the altar whose door was still closed. Slowly the door of the altar opened, now only the large curtain remained between the devotees and the Lord. Again the conch shell was blown loudly as if informing all that Lord is now ready to receive and see all his guests. The kirtanwas at its peak now and the enthusiasm was at an all-time high. And then slowly the curtain was removedand everyone immediately fell flat on the ground to pay obeisances to the Lord. This is the Vedic etiquette of offering respect to the Lord when we see him for the first time. Some were reciting the Vedic mantras and some were saying their personal prayers to the Lord. Everyone has their own personal and unique relationship with Krishna and he being omniscient knows the heart of all his devotees. After paying their respects all got up to see the beautiful Lord – Sri SriRadhaGovinda - to their hearts content. Standing in a tri-bend form in a huge golden colour altar with his eternal consort SrimatiRadharani he looked beautiful.  He was donning a new colourful dress which was specifically prepared for him on his birthday. Holding the flute with both the hands, wearing multi coloured garlands, jewels and ornaments he was just smiling. Krishna was happy because all the assembled devotees were happy and the devotees were happy because they saw Krishna was cheerful. 

When a sincere soul enquired from Srila Prabhupada that how does Krishna look like? Then this great Vaisnava saint said that go and see Krishna at Sri SriRadhaGovinda temple at 3C Albert Road, Iskcon Kolkata. Krishna looks like that. Now who would know Krishna better than his pure devotee like Srila Prabhupada?This beautiful deity of Radha and Govinda at Iskcon Kolkata has been personally installed by this great sage. Here the ever smiling Radha and Govindaattract every individual’s heart. At timeswhile seeing the beauty of the Lord tears flow effortlessly from the eyes of the devotees but they try their best to hide it from others. 

Krishna has so many attributes that it is almost impossible to know all of them but the more we know about them the more we get attracted towards him. To enhance our understanding and our love for him three hour long Krishna katha (spiritual discourse on Lord Krishna) was organized. His various qualities and pristine pastimes were elaborately discussed. How one can come closer to Krishna and get a chance to enter his transcendental abode was also explained.  These details are there in the Vedic literatures and venerable sages have spoken a lot about it. 

Since morning scores of people were thronging the temple to take a glimpse of the Lord. Delicious sweet sabudana prasad was given to all who came. The entire day was packed with cultural programs, dramas, katha, kirtan and grand abhishek (bathing ceremony). A huge waterproof pandal was erected to make sure that rain does not dampen the festive atmosphere. Replica of forest groves of Vrindavan and Govardhan hill was recreated on the stage where abhishek had to be performed. The abhishek of Radha and Krishna was performed elaborately using milk, Ganges water, coconut water, fruit juices and colourful flowers.  Each of the ingredients was poured over the Lord one after the other and finally both of them were bathed with colourful flower petals. The expert singers kept the atmosphere surcharged by their sweet devotional songs. 

A meaningful drama “God of gods” was performed by Iskcon Youth Forum members. Through drama it was established that Krishna is in fact the Supreme Personality of Godhead and all other demigods like Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma are subservient to Him. 

Here at Iskcon one can find large number of youngsters from reputed educational institutions and many working professionals practicing spirituality. They did not take up devotional life because they were forced by their grandparents or parents or by society or because of some sentiments. Everyone has taken to this path because all are logically and intellectually convinced that Krishna Consciousness can only help them to lead a meaningful life. So some have completely dedicated their life for the service of Krishna and have become celibates. Whereas many others are householders who work outside and also simultaneously practice devotion, they try to balance their life in a way so that they can sincerely execute their worldly responsibilities and can also seriously practice devotional life. 

On days like Janmashtamiall devotees (celibates & householders) come together to celebrate the festival in a grand way. Their cooperation and love for Krishna is on full display on these special days. 

At midnight 12, the time when Krishna had appeared in this world, a magnificent mahaarati of the Lord ensued which was accompanied by dancing kirtan. Devotees who had completely fasted broke their fast after 12 by drinking caranamrita (sacred liquid which was collected during the bathing ceremony). Special sumptuous Krishna prasad was arranged for all.
On the Janmashtami day, in Kolkata there was taxi strike and in the night there was also heavy rain but the devotees of Krishna braved all the hardships and came together in thousands to observe the appearance day/ birthday of Krishna.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Madness for Material Positions, Possessions and Prestige Make All Mad

Too much obsession with oneself and with the material world makes people mad. It is not an allegorical statement but it’s a hard core fact. People actually become mad.
Once with few devotees I visited a psychiatric rehabilitation centre. Devotees used to conduct spiritual programs there helping patients to come out from their pathetic condition. The program comprised of spiritual discourse, kirtan and prasad (sanctified vegetarian food). The sight wasn’t pleasing. Few of us thought of speaking to some of them. One person who was in his forties looked well educated and was also decently dressed. He was sitting in a corner and appeared to be lost in thoughts. When we tried to interact with him, he spoke normally. I asked about his life and his problem. He said solemnly that he was a work-alcoholic and used to frequently travel throughout the world. His purpose was to earn lots of money. He mostly stayed away from his family and rarely bothered about them. Subsequently his family left him.  His wife divorced him and children went with their mother. Today he was all alone with all the money. By the time he realized that his madness for money had ruined his life, it was too late. He was finding it extremely difficult to come out of this difficult phase.
Another was a young man; he said that he was a painter. When we asked him, if he has painted something recently he immediately went and brought his drawing book. He had drawn few decent pictures which we appreciated. After seeing most of his drawings we handed him his workbook. And then he started crying! Every one of us was taken aback. We did not know what to say or do. After lots of prodding he said that we did not appreciate his work. We protested because we had done so. But he felt that our gestures weren’t sufficient enough.  He kept on saying that in this world no one likes him and his work. He fretted that no one has ever respected him in his life. We did not have any answer because none of our answers were convincing him.
One wanted to become extremely rich and the other was too self – conscious. Every one of us is also afflicted with the same disease although the degree may vary. Scriptures inform us that we came away from the kingdom of God because we wanted to be like God. We wanted to be famous, rich and powerful like him. So here we struggle hard to achieve these goals but our efforts rarely succeed. We may get something after tremendous struggle but our achievements never remain with us for a long time. Either we lose it in this very life or else the beautiful ruthless death drag us away from them.
Hungry and angry heart moan in pain
Since childhood it is drilled into us that the only purpose in this life is to become extra ordinarily materially successful persons. We dream of a day when the entire world will recognize us, eulogize us and revere us. We get obsessed with name, fame and money. During our struggle we lose peace, sleep, health, family, friends and most importantly happiness. Our dry heart continuously cries for attention and love. But we continue stuffing it up with lots of money, loads of worldly things and tonnes of pride and prestige. These things fail to please the heart. The carnal pleasure in this world is celebrated and so many go for it thinking it to be the mother of all happiness. These attempts instead of satisfying the heart makes it more agitated. It’s like drinking salty sea water upon being thirsty. Not just the taste is disgusting but it increases our thirst.
Here in this world we all are diseased and we need treatment. Krishna, the Supreme God and our supreme well-wisher, has spoken elaborately about the elixir which can cure us. But sadly in spite of His well-intentioned advice we refuse to live as per his expectations and thus we not just prolong our multiple sufferings but in fact worsen our condition. In Bhagavad Gita 16.23, Krishna describes the plight of a disobedient soul, “He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination.”
Calm the heart by culling countless material cravings
Scriptures constantly remind us that it is futile to think that material aggrandizement will ameliorate our life. These historical books ask us to not give in to the demand of the insatiable senses and uncontrolled mind. Slavery of the senses and madness of the mind make all crazy in this world. We today want instant gratification and is ready to do anything and everything to get what we want. In fact today’s society teach people how to become a supreme sense gratifier and become obsessed with wealth, women (or men) and wine.
Happiness and material opulence (or success) is not synonymous. Duryodhana is the best case study. He had succeeded in driving out Pandavas, though cunningly, out of the kingdom. And Pandavas lived frugally in the jungle in huts made of wood and mud but they were peaceful and non- complaining. But Duryodhana in spite of having all the comforts and luxury in his palace was in abject misery and in constant anxiety. Why? Because his heart was filled with envy, hatred and arrogance. Whilst the Pandavas were happy as love and piety dominated their heart. Love satisfies our heart and not lust. Satisfaction calms our heart and not material cravings.
No one is today told that real happiness is in being self-satisfied and in controlling and tolerating the countless demands of mind and senses.
Chaste senses & clean mind satiates the heart
In Gita 2.62 and 2.63, Krishna graphically explains that how a person falls down by contemplating on the objects of the senses. While meditating on sensual stuffs one develops deep attachment for it which gives rise to lust, greed and anger which ultimately opens the gateway to hell.
Scriptures compare senses to venomous serpents and asks us to eliminate all the poisonous substances from it. Lust, greed, pride, anger, envy and illusion are the toxic stuffs which need to be purged. And qualities like simplicity, tolerance, renunciation of the objects of sense gratification, absence of false ego should be preserved and nurtured.  We have to ensure that each and every sense gets sanctified because as one snake in the room will fill our heart with fright and fear similarly any one of the unrestrained senses will make us insane. In Gita 2.67 Krishna says, “As a strong wind sweeps away a boat on the water, even one of the roaming senses on which the mind focuses can carry away a man's intelligence.” Similarly we are asked to restrain our mind and not allow it to wander like an unchaste woman.
We can be in control of our life only if we can tame our senses and restrain our mind and not vice – versa. Once our senses become pure and mind becomes friendly then instead of making our life pathetic they will start enthusiastically cooperating with us. In fact each of the senses can be astutely utilized in perfecting our lives. Chaste and controlled mind will open a gateway for blissful life. Our heart will experience supreme satisfaction and our mindless obsession for the things of this world will wither.
Heart celebrates when we gravitate towards Krishna
However in spite of all our plans and preparations troubles and difficulties will do knock at our door because this world is an abode of misery, duhkhalayam asasvatam, Gita 8.15.
A person stuck in a marshy land will definitely get devoured today or tomorrow. If he simply stands there he will go down slowly and if he struggles hard then he will quickly glide down. His only hope of survival is if someone standing on a solid land extends any support and pulls him out. We are also dangerously stuck in this material pool. With our own effort we will not be able to rescue ourselves. Krishna can only save us and He is very eager to help. We just need to positively respond to his gesture. Being a caring father he has spoken elaborately how to get out of all the challenging situations.
    Following are Krishna’s advice to smartly confront difficulties:
  • Do 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. Gita 5.22.
  • To attain peace and tranquillity control the mind. A controlled mind will never be disturbed by happiness and distress, heat and cold, honor and dishonor. Gita.6.7
  • Appearance & disappearance of happiness and distress is like appearance and disappearance of summer and winter. So, as a sane man do not get too touchy about it and simply tolerate it. Gita.2.14
     Krishna has also given us formula to live peacefully in this world:
  • Krishna says in Gita 5.29, “A person in full consciousness of Me, knowing Me to be the ultimate beneficiary of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods, and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attains peace from the pangs of material miseries”.
  • In Gita 5.12 it is explained that a person who offers the result of all his activities to Krishna attains peace. But if someone is not in union with the Divine and is greedy for fruits of labour then he gets entangled in this world and does not achieve peace.
  • Krishna explains in Gita 2.70 that just like an ocean which remains undisturbed by the flow of multiple rivers into it similarly we should not be disturbed by the incessant flow of desires. If we always remain steady in all circumstances then we can achieve peace but if we start striving to satisfy all our desires then we will be always at war with ourselves.

Life is a series of choices. Our moment to moment decisions decide our destiny. If we become mad for material position and possessions then our future will be marred in miseries. But if we gravitate towards Krishna and live as per His guidelines then we can live happily here and at the end of life can get a ticket to go to the spiritual world, a place of eternal happiness. So, let us give Krishna the charge of our life and start living as per His wishes. We can then be sure of peace and bliss.
This article has been published in ISKCON NEWS:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Srila Prabhupada – My supreme well - wisher

Dear Srila Prabhupada,
Please accept my humble obeisances at your lotus feet. All glories to your divine self.

The entire world was eulogizing, glorifying and worshipping Hiranyakasipu out of fear. But a small little boy of just five year, Prahlad, refused to accept Hiranyakasipu as God which shocked, shamed and ultimately finished Hiranyakasipu.
Indians were enamored by the western way of living and had almost forgotten their culture. Not just this they were actively participating in demeaning their tradition and most importantly portraying Vedic literatures as the work of some lesser mortals. During these difficult times you Srila Prabhupada, just like fearless Prahlad, fearlessly challenged the might of the western educated (and influenced) intelligentsia with your supreme intellectual prowess. Your cogent and deep explanation of Vedic literatures and history removed the veil of ignorance and many started accepting and appreciating the meaningful messages of the wisdom literatures.

Srila Prabhupada, you travelled to the entire world to teach people to lead a God conscious life. Your teachings were completely based on the timeless teachings of Vedic literatures.  Many saffron robe wearing scholars had also previously gone to the west but there they did not speak the Vedic philosophy in toto. They in fact began to adjust (distort) the message of the wisdom literatures to come in good books of the western (and converted Indians) educated class.  But you never compromised with the philosophy and so wrote the book “Bhagavad Gita As It Is”. Here “as it is” means that Krishna’s message is being delivered to the people in an unadulterated form. Your book “Bhagavad Gita As It Is” is today’s world’s largest circulating Gita. It was because of your uncompromising integrity and deep faith in the words of Krishna that in a short span of time you were able to transform the lives of millions of people. In fact many of them did not even know who Krishna “is” and what were his messages. But your genuine compassion convinced them that you are their honest well-wisher who had come to help them to lead a meaningful life.

Through your teachings you weren’t merely theorizing but were practically demonstrating how to lead a God (Krishna) centric life. Most people have got this idea that spirituality means keeping the picture of a god or gods in a cupboard or hanging them from a wall, lighting an incense stick and reciting some mantras. After this they completely forget God for entire day.

But you taught us:

·         There is only one God and not many gods.

·         Krishna or his plenary expansions like Lord Rama, Lord Chaitanya should be only worshipped as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

·         Whatever activities we do, even whatever we eat should be done as an offering to the Lord.

·        All our dealings and livings should be as per the teachings of books like Bhagavad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam etc.

It is because of you that today we know how to celebrate festivals. I have seen that for most people celebrating festivals like Janmashtami or Ramnavmi means performing some rituals in the morning and in the evening and throughout the day they just watch television or movies or spend time in idle gossips. You taught us how to be engaged 24 hours in a day in remembering Krishna and being engaged in serving him.  You made things so crystal clear that even a neophyte (like me) can engage himself in devotional life completely. You made devotional life a joyful experience. Now Krishna and all his devotees have become a part and parcel of our life.

That the purpose of human form of life is to return back to the spiritual world would have remained unknown to us if you would have not revealed it. You not just told us about the kingdom of God but also explained in detail about that spiritual abode which inspires us to go there. When you were about to finish your earthly duties then devotees asked you if you have any wish. Then your prompt reply was Kuch iccha nahi (Do not have any desire). This is the quality which each one of us should be aspiring in our life – eschewing all material desires so that we become eligible to return to the spiritual world.

Kolkata is a special place for all Iskcon members because it is your birth place. The first Iskcon temple in India was established in Kolkata by you. When someone asked you how Krishna looks like then you said that go and see Sri Sri Radha Govindaji at 3C Albert Road Kolkata. That is how Krishna looks. I consider myself to be very fortunate to be connected to such a wonderful temple.  You have been guiding me through your hundreds of books and lectures. You have helped me to understand the true meaning and purpose of my life. My humble request at your transcendental lotus feet is to bless me so that I can follow you as it is and become an instrument in spreading the wonderful message of Krishna to all.  Along with this please purify my consciousness and strengthen my determination so that I can chant sixteen rounds of Hare Krishna Mahamantra daily with all seriousness and follow the four regulative principles of – no meat eating, no gambling, no intoxication and no illicit sex.   My earnest prayer to you is to shower your choicest blessings upon me so that I can continue practicing devotion throughout my life. I like writing and want to serve you by writing Krishna conscious articles. If you think that this service is suitable for me then please give me sufficient intelligence and enthusiasm to regularly write quality Krishna conscious articles which can inspire people to take shelter of Krishna’s lotus feet.

 Your Servant
Purushottam Kumar