A Godsister, Mohanasini devi dasi, sent me a Facebook post requesting the bona fide story of Lord Ramachandra returning to Ayodhya. This is a blessing from her since it allows me to research, read and write the gems given to us by our merciful Guru, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada.
Just as many western holidays have become commercialized, so has Diwali. It is associated with crass materialism with some born in the land of Krishna and Rama more concerned about fireworks, gambling parities and food then meditating and worshipping on this important day. Of course now with the mercy of Srila Prabhupada there are many people born inside and outside of India that will spend the day glorifying Lord Ram accompanied by prayers, kirtan, ghee lamps and ending the evening with a prasadam feast.
The first quote I have chosen is from a letter from Srila Prabhupada to an old friend and Godbrother, Hamsaduta. An excerpt from that letter states:
"Diwali ceremony can be observed in the temple by illuminating 100's of candles, in different parts of the temple, and offering special Prasad to the Deity. This ceremony was observed by the inhabitants of Ayodhya, the Kingdom of Lord Ramacandra, while Lord Ramacandra was out of His Kingdom due to His 14 years banishment by the order of His father. His younger step-brother Bharata, took charge of the Kingdom and the day on which Lord Ramacandra took back the charge again from His brother, and seated on the throne, this is observed as Diwali function. This is the original idea of Diwali, and Dipabali. Dipabali means the same thing—Dipa means candles, and bali means numerous. When numerous candles are lighted it is called Dipabali. In India, this Dipabali function is celebrated in a special auspicious occasion."
Indeed there is not requirement for write up on my part to fulfil the request for the bona fide story. I will simply repeat what we find in the ninth canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam. SB 9.10.33: When Lord Rāmacandra returned to His capital, Ayodhyā, He was greeted on the road by the princely order, who showered His body with beautiful, fragrant flowers, while great personalities like Lord Brahmā and other demigods glorified the activities of the Lord in great jubilation.
SB 9.10.34: Upon reaching Ayodhyā, Lord Rāmacandra heard that in His absence His brother Bharata was eating barley cooked in the urine of a cow, covering His body with the bark of trees, wearing matted locks of hair, and lying on a mattress of kuśa. The most merciful Lord very much lamented this.
SB 9.10.35-38: When Lord Bharata understood that Lord Rāmacandra was returning to the capital, Ayodhyā, He immediately took upon His own head Lord Rāmacandra's wooden shoes and came out from His camp at Nandigrāma. Lord Bharata was accompanied by ministers, priests and other respectable citizens, by professional musicians vibrating pleasing musical sounds, and by learned brāhman as loudly chanting Vedic hymns. Following in the procession were chariots drawn by beautiful horses with harnesses of golden rope. These chariots were decorated by flags with golden embroidery and by other flags of various sizes and patterns. There were soldiers bedecked with golden armor, servants bearing betel nut, and many well-known and beautiful prostitutes. Many servants followed on foot, bearing an umbrella, whisks, different grades of precious jewels, and other paraphernalia befitting a royal reception. Accompanied in this way, Lord Bharata, His heart softened in ecstasy and His eyes full of tears, approached Lord Rāmacandra and fell at His lotus feet with great ecstatic love.
SB 9.10.39-40: After offering the wooden shoes before Lord Rāmacandra, Lord Bharata stood with folded hands, His eyes full of tears, and Lord Rāmacandra bathed Bharata with tears while embracing Him with both arms for a long time. Accompanied by mother Sītā and Laksmana, Lord Rāmacandra then offered His respectful obeisances unto the learned brāhmanas and the elderly persons in the family, and all the citizens of Ayodhyā offered their respectful obeisances unto the Lord.
SB 9.10.41: The citizens of Ayodhyā, upon seeing their King return after a long absence, offered Him flower garlands, waved their upper cloths, and danced in great jubilation.
SB 9.10.42-43: O King, Lord Bharata carried Lord Rāmacandra's wooden shoes, Sugrīva and Vibhīsana carried a whisk and an excellent fan, Hanumān carried a white umbrella, Śatrughna carried a bow and two quivers, and Sītādevī carried a waterpot filled with water from holy places. Ańgada carried a sword, and Jāmbavān, King of the Rksas, carried a golden shield.
SB 9.10.44: O King Parīksit, as the Lord sat on His airplane of flowers, with women offering Him prayers and reciters chanting about His characteristics, He appeared like the moon with the stars and planets.
However before ending this post personally for me Diwali has become synonymous with Damodar lila. In the past few weeks during preaching engagements I have had the fortune to repeat Damodar lila and as confirmed in Srimad Bhagavatam 10th canto, Chapter 9 "Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Thākura, quoting from the Vaisnava-tosanī of Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī, says that the incident of Krsna's breaking the pot of yogurt and being bound by mother Yaśodā took place on the Dipavali Day, or Dīpa-mālikā"
More of this nectar can be found in last year's Diwali post by clicking [here]Also on a personal note, if you are interested in how we celebrate Diwali in our home, Indresh did a a post about it last year. Please click [here]Happy Diwali! Wishing everyone a year filled with Krishna Bhakti and the mercy of Srila Prabhupada! Jaya Sita - Rama!Can't wait to wish you a Happy Govardhan Puja tomorrow!
Last October, during Kartik, we launched the blog. In fact only a few months prior to that we launched this web site to keep alive our memories of Srila Prabhupada as well as share our family's spiritual journey and the nectar of the ever merciful Sri Sri Radha Shyamasundar.
Somewhere along the process we got roped in to Facebook as well. It was actually the attempt to get some Vrindavan pictures from Gaura Mani and some local pictures from Rishi that got the whole Facebook thing started.
So it has already been a year. A few hundred posts later as well as a few thousand friends on Facebook and blog readers it is time for some evaluation.
The stats are difficult to understand. So far this year it shows 36,681 unique visitors. Not sure if the unique aspect refreshes daily or monthly but that would make around 37 hundred unique visitors a month. There have been 52,941 visits so far this year to the site with 104,187 page views. And there is still 2 more months left in the year. On top of this many people read the posts on other sites like Planet ISKCON, Facebook, etc. So not sure what to even make of the numbers.
We do know there has been some earnest inquiries from people interested in learning more and in a few cases we have been able to send them to a local ISKCON temple.
One of the most valuable parts of this process has been connecting and getting the association of old devotees and new devotees. Srila Prabhupada's followers are in many "stripes" and many have not met or been initiated by Srila Prabhupada but are diligently following Srila Prabhupada's instructions, in some cases even more so than some that had the mercy of being initiated by Srila Prabhupada. Of course it is also nice to connect with Godbrothers and Godsisters that have been at it for 30 or 40 years and still going strong in conviction and service.
We have kept the blog positive since as devotees within Srila Prabhupada's movement we represent him and just like tilak the blog must represent what we personally stand for. Of course there is the occasional humorous view point or jab in the form of observation or potential improvement.
However the most important part of this process has been the personal spiritual journey. Just like we do japa or arati everyday there is another component which is to blog. Some days we are not able to blog because we may be focusing on our sadhana, busy with work, research or preaching or simply have nothing to blog about. However most days there is something to blog about, especially on festival days. In past years many days on the Vaishnava calendar would some a go but now it forces us to meditate upon a great personality, research, consult scripture and write some glorification and in this way we celebrate festival days and increase our pursuit of Krishna Consciousness. So this is the personal spiritual journey and we are thrilled that so many have chosen to share it with us by reading these posts....Thank you for your association!
Hare Krishna & All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
Below we are sharing the post from a year ago...
The simple act of lighting and offering a candle during Kartik brings peace and bhakti into the mind and heart. The 7 of us 2 seniors, 2 mid-age and 3 young kids stand in front of Sri Radha Shyamasundar with small candles an simple prayers knowing it brings an abundance of spirtual benefit and immediate tranquility.
During the month of Damodar not only are we supposed to offer a flame but also listen to and recite Damodar Astaka. His Grace Shabda Hari das has a beautiful and clear rendition complete with verses and translation.
Meditate, enjoy and repeat as he repeats every verse...
My daughter, Minakshi devi dasi was doing some research at my request for an upcoming discourse and she stumbled upon the following letter from Srila Prabhupada. It is a short letter but anything from Srila Prabhupada is pure nectar and mercy.
It will be added to the "Letters" link on the website shortly. Actually there are a few updates due on the site including "Recent Pictures" link as well as the "Janmastami" link to upload 2011 pictures which was probably the grandest celebration for Sri Sri Radha Shyamasundar in recent memory. There is also more Prabhupada nectar that has been located so please check back in the coming months to see additional content on the website.
In the mean time here is the "forgotten" letter. Srila Prabhupada indeed did visit our home in 1975 and 1976. There was no next visit by Srila Prabhupada but we like to think he stayed with us through his books, vani, memories and instructions.
29 December, 1976
Don Mills, Canada
My dear SubhaVilasa,
Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated Dec. 9, 1976 and have noted the contents.
Thank you for helping in this way by taking signatures in support of our movement from the Indian people in Toronto. Yes, I will be happy to visit your home again next time I come to Toronto. In the meantime, please give whatever assistance you can to help manage the temple affairs there.
Hoping this will meet you in good health.
Your ever well-wisher,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
Once again today's Vaishnava calendar has a festival date marked. The appearance day of Sri Virabhadra. There may not be a grand festival at the local temple but we can take a few minutes to learn the meaning of this day. So once again we turn to the authentic source provided to us by Srila Prabhupada. In Caitanya Caritamrta Adi-lila we find the glorification of Sri Vīrabhadra Gosāñi.
CC Ādi 11.8: After Nityānanda Prabhu, the greatest branch is Vīrabhadra Gosāñi, who also has innumerable branches and subbranches. It is not possible to describe them all.
[An excerpt from the purport] Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura writes in his Anubhāṣya, "Vīrabhadra Gosāñi was the direct son of Śrīla Nityānanda Prabhu and a disciple of Jāhnavā-devī. His real mother was Vasudhā. In the Gaura-gaṇoddeśa-dīpikā (67) he is mentioned as an incarnation of Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu. Therefore Vīrabhadra Gosāñi is nondifferent from Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
CC Ādi 11.9: Although Vīrabhadra Gosāñi was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He presented Himself as a great devotee. And although the Supreme Godhead is transcendental to all Vedic injunctions, He strictly followed the Vedic rituals.
CC Ādi 11.10: He is the main pillar in the hall of devotional service erected by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. He knew within Himself that He acted as the Supreme Lord Viṣṇu, but externally He was prideless.
CC Ādi 11.11: It is by the glorious mercy of Śrī Vīrabhadra Gosāñi that people all over the world now have the chance to chant the names of Caitanya and Nityānanda.
CC Ādi 11.19: When Vāsudeva Ghoṣa described Lord Caitanya and Nityānanda while performing kīrtana, even wood and stone would melt upon hearing it.
Today is the auspicious appearance day of Radha Kund. Above is a video transporting you to the banks of Radha Kund no matter where you may be.
The great "kata" of Radha Kund is that one demon named Aristasura, in the body of a bull, was killed by Krishna. The gopis told Krishna that for killing a bull, He had to purify Himself by visiting every single holy place in the three worlds. "If you take bath at all the holy places, You will be relieved of the offense of killing him.”
Krishna then said, “Why should I visit all these places, I will just bring the water from all these places here and then bathe in them.” Krishna then struck His heel on the ground and all the waters of all the holy places entered into Syama Kund. Krishna then bathed in Syama Kund.
After bathing, he said that the gopis had become impure because they had sided with a demon, even though he had been in the form of a bull. The gopis led by Radharani then dug another pond nearby with their bangles. There was no water in the hole, so the gopis formed a line to Manasa Ganga and began to fill the hole they dug by passing water from one gopi to another. Then a representative of all the sacred places told Radharani, “Our lives would be successful if we could enter Your pond.” The holy waters from Syama Kund then flowed into Radha Kund with the permission of Radha. So Radha Kunda is the holy waters from all the sacred places.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada who gave us this spirtual treasure!
The past times of Radha & Krishna ki Jaya!
The appearance of Radha Kund ki Jaya!
Today is the disappearance day of Srila Narottama Dasa Thakur, the embodiment of Krishna Prema. Part of the process of learning Krishna Consciousness is to repeat, repeat, repeat, like we repeatedly sing the glories as bhajans penned by Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura. I would like to repeat a posting from February including a purport and bhajan sung by Srila Prabhupada. In this way we can hopefully understand the "sum and substance" of Srila Narattama Dasa Thakur's message of making advancement in Krishna Consciousness through association and mercy of the acaryas.
Every day in hundreds of temples around the world Srila Narottama Dasa Thakur's nectar filled prayers are sung to the presciding dieties and the assembled Vaisnavas. These songs express great love for Krishna and Gauranga and provide devotional inspiration.
What is very unique is that Srila Prabhupada not only made many of Narottama Dasa Thakur's song and part of our siddhanta but also reffered to the wording and meaning of these bhajans in many talks and lectures. So in this way we can understand the importance of Srila Narottama Dasa Thakur's wirtings and how they tugged at Srila Prabhupada's heart and perhaps drops of this nectar can pass on to today's assembled Vaisnavas reading this blog post.
Today we were reading through the "Songs of the Vaisnava Acaryas" and in reading Savarana-sri-gaura-pada-padme Prarthana, there is a purport by Srila Prabhupada. In the last paragraph Srila Prabhupada states,
After the six Gosvamis, the next acarya was Srinivasa Acarya. Actually, Narottama Dasa Thakurawas in the disciplic succession after Srinivasa Acarya and was almost his contemporary, andNarottama Dasa's personal friend was Ramacandra Cakravarti. Therefore he prays, "I always desire the company of Ramacandra." He desires a devotee's company. The whole process is that we should always pray for the mercy of the superior acaryas and keep company with pure devotees. Then it will be easier for us to advance in Krsna consciousness and receive the mercy of Lord Caitanya and Lord Krsna. This is the sum and substance of this song sung by Narottama Dasa Thakura.
Last week Jagjit Singh passed away. Many devotees in North America may not know who he is or that he was a great support of ISKCON. Below is a video of him performing at ISKCON Mumbai (Bombay) at the Juhu temple including chanting the maha mantra.
In the 80s we had some interactions with Jagjit and Chitra Singh and their support for ISKCON was unconditional. In fact for a New Vrindavan fund raising and promotion video they lent their faces and voices in directly appealing to the Indian community to support this ISKCON project.
So despite many personal challenges Jagjit Singh did use his talent, energy and time to propagate the sankirtan movement and for that we are honored to be able to honor him in one of his finest moments performing at the home of Sri Sri Radha Rasabihari.
Yudhishthira maharaj said, Oh Madhusudana, what is the name of the Ekadasi that comes during the light fortnight of the month of Ashvina (September - October)? Please be merciful and disclose this truth to me."
The Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Krishna replied, "Oh king, please listen as I explain the glories of this Ekadasi - Papankusha Ekadasi - which removes all sins. On this day one should worship the Deity of Padmanabha, the lotus naveled Lord Vishnu, according to the rules of archana viddhi. By so doing, one achieves whatever heavenly pleasures one may want in this world, and at last attains liberation from this world thereafter. Simply by offering one's humbly obeisances unto Lord Vishnu, the rider of Garuda, one can achieve the same merit as is gained by performing great penances for a long time restraining and controlling the senses. Although a person might have committed unlimited and abominable sins, he can still escape hellish punishment just by paying his obeisances to Lord Sri Hari, the taker away of all sin."
"The merits gained by going on pilgrimage to the Holy Tirthas of this earthly planet can also be achieved simply by chanting the Holy names of Lord Vishnu. Whosoever chants these sacred names - such as Rama, Vishnu, Janardana or Krishna - especially on Ekadasi, never sees Yamaraj, the king of death's punishing abode. Nor does such a devotee who fasts on Papankusha Ekadasi, which is very dear to Me, see that plutonic abode."
"Both the Vaishnava who criticises Lord Shiva and the Shaivite who criticises Me certainly go to hell. The merit obtained by performing one hundred horse sacrifices and one hundred Rajasurya sacrifices is not even equal to one sixteenth of the merit a devotee is able to attain by fasting on Ekadasi. There is no higher merit one can achieve than that attained by fasting on Ekadasi. Indeed, nothing in all the three worlds is as pleasing or as able to purify one of accumulated sin as Ekadasi, the day of the lotus-naveled Lord, Padmanabha.
"O king, until a person observes a fast on the day of Lord Padmanabha named Papankusha Ekadasi, he remains sinful, and the reactions of his past sinful activities never leave him like a chaste wife. There is no merit in all the three worlds that can match the merit that one gains by observing a fast on this Ekadasi. Whosoever observes it faithfully never has to see death personified, Lord Yamaraj. One who desires liberation, elevation to the heavens, good health, beautiful women, wealth, and food grains should simply fast on this Pashunkusha Ekadasi. O king, neither the Ganges, Gaya, Kashi, nor Pushkara, nor even the Holy site of Kurukshetra, can grant as much auspicious merit as this Papankusha Ekadasi.
"O Maharaj Yudhishthira, protector of the earth, after observing ekadasi during the daytime, the devotee should remain awake through the night, absorbed in hearing, chanting and serving the lord - for by so doing he easily attains to the Supreme abode of Lord Vishnu. Not only that, but ten generations of ancestors on his mother's side, ten generations on his father's side, and ten generations on his wife's side are all liberated by a single observance of a fast on this Ekadasi. All these ancestors attain their original, four armed transcendental Vaikuntha forms. Wearing yellow garments and beautiful garlands, they ride to the spiritual realm on the back of GaruDa, the renown great enemy of the snakes. This is the benediction My devotee earns simply by observing one Papankusha Ekadasi properly.
"O best of kings, whether one is a child, a youth, or in old age, fasting on Papankusha Ekadasi frees him from all sins and makes him immune to suffering a hellish rebirth. Whosoever observes a fast on the Papankusha Ekadasi becomes free of all his sins and returns to the spiritual abode of Lord Sri Hari. Whosoever donates gold, sesame seeds, fertile land, cows, grain, drinking water, an umbrella, or a pair of shoes on this most auspicious of Holy days will never have to visit the abode of Yamaraj, who always punishes the sinners. But if a resident of earth fails to perform spiritual deeds, especially the observance of a fast on days such as Ekadasi, his breathing is said to be no better, or of as much use as the breathing/puffing of a blacksmith's bellows.
"O best of the kings, especially on this Papankusha Ekadasi, even the poor should first bathe and then give some charity according to their means, and perform other auspicious activities in accordance with their ability.
"Whosoever performs sacrifices and benefits the people, or builds public ponds, resting places, gardens, or houses does not suffer the punishments of Yamaraj. Indeed, one should understand that a person much have performed such pious activities as these in the past life if he is long lived, wealthy, of high birth, or free from all diseases. But a person who observes Papankusha Ekadasi goes to the abode of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Lord Sri Krishna then concluded, "Thus, Oh saintly Yudhishthira, I have narrated to you the glories of the auspicious PApankusha Ekadasi."
Thus ends the narration of the glories of the Papankusha Ekadasi, or Ashwina-shukla Ekadasi,
from the Brahma-vaivarta Purana.
It was a surprise to hear about the passing of Steve Jobs yesterday at the age of 56. Of course by now many have heard the quote from Steve Jobs about taking prasadam from the local Hare Krishna temple.
Steve Jobs: "... I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on..."
A nice quote from Srila Prabhupada from a lecyure in Detroit in '75... “The process is wonderful, the process itself. You have to simply accept; then your life will be successful. It is not... it, then your life is successful. This is the secret of success. Chant, dance, take prasadam, live very happily, and look very brilliant, and next life go back to home back to Godhead.”
So Steve Jobs was fortunate to take prasadam in this life and in this way begin his path towards Krishna.
Of course Steve Jobs added a lot to the world of technology and today in this technology is being used in Krishna Consciousness publishing, marketing and communication. As Srila Prabhupada said in February 1975:
"If the telephone and the telegraph, television is used for propagating Krishna consciousness, then it is all right. But they are not doing that. We are utilizing the modern press facilities for printing Vedic scriptures. But they are utilizing the press for sex literature, Freud's philosophy."
So with that we pray for Steve Jobs as his soul continues the path...
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a 3-part series on Chris Fici’s personal journey as a monk of the bhakti-yoga tradition. To read the first part, please visit [here] The Brahmacari Life: Introduction
Before I go further, let me explain what makes up the form, content, and experience of the monastic life in the tradition of bhakti. The traditional name for those in the monastic order of life in the bhakti tradition is brahmacari. The lifestyle of abrahmacari appears within the larger scope of the social arrangement of the Vedic spiritual culture known as varnasrama. The term varnasrama denotes an arrangement of society consisting of four varnas (occupational/work related divisions) and fourasramas (spiritual divisions), in which one lives, works, studies, and prays according to one’s natural propensities, with the central idea being to offer all the fruits of one’s individual and collective efforts to God. Within the varnasrama model, this ideal road to elevated social and spiritual life begins for the individual in the brahmacari asrama. Bhakti Vikasa Swami, a leading student of Swami Prabhupada, writes in his book Brahmacarya in Krsna Consciousnessabout the material and spiritual benefits of the brahmacari asrama. He states: “Practice of brahmacarya gives good health, inner strength, peace of mind, fortitude, and long life. It helps to conserve physical and mental energy. It augments memory, will-power, clear thinking, power of concentration, and ability to grasp philosophical subjects. It bestows physical strength, vigor, vitality, courage, boldness, and strength of character. To one who practices brahmacarya, divine knowledge comes as if naturally. His words convey meaning and authority, and leave an impression on the hearers.” (Swami, Bhakti Vikasa, Brahmacarya In Krsna Consciousness, Bhakti Vikasa Trust, 2003, 2-3)
In the traditional Vedic model, a young man enters into brahmacari training at the age of five years old, and spends twenty years, or the first quarter of his life, in the residence (gurukula) of his teacher, or guru. In this tender and impressionable time, he is taught the fundamental aspects of a life devoted to God, including extensive study of the scriptures, development of a mood of humble service, and dependence on guru as the key authority and link to God. These are the foundational cornerstones of bhakti-yoga, and the character of the young brahmacari becomes rooted in this devotional mood. The tradition and lifestyle of the brahmacari has seen a determined yet challenging transition into the 21st century, a transition which has required a serious questioning of values and methods to keep this tradition alive and meaningful. My experience so far is that the traditional life of the brahmacari as servant, student, and teacher, is not only possible in our contemporary times, but it also provides a meaningful vision of spiritual life that is quite profound and practical despite its seemingly antiquated and anti-social arrangement. Within my experience here, I have been able to perceive and experience a dual-sided strength and inspiration coming from our work and service, based on a renewed commitment to the traditional foundations of brahmacarya alongside a careful, energetic, and open-minded approach to sharing the wisdom of our ashram and tradition to the cosmopolitan peoples of New York City and beyond. Making this work requires a careful balance, in which a strict adherence to the traditional standards of austerity, celibacy, and study provide the sturdy ground to stand on for the urban monk. In this way he may proceed with his duties to teach, share, and guide with a greater sense of urgency, clarity, purity, and genuine inspiration and compassion. The Mood of the Brahmacari The mood of bhakti manifests in the life of a brahmacari in three ways. As a servant, student, and teacher, the brahmacari creates a dynamic offering through the interplay of these three roles, helping give access for the people he meets and serves to the deep well of wisdom he is developing through his intense study and renunciation. As a servant, he practices and imbibes deeply the mood of bhakti, developing within his fellow community of brahmacaris a caring and conscious mood of being the “servant of the servant.” This humble position helps the brahmacari to overcome deep-rooted conditioned feelings such as pride and envy toward others, and this service mood also gives real depth to the intimate relationships and friendships he develops amongst his fellow monks and the community at large. Bhakti Vikasa Swami writes: “Real friendship between devotees is deep and profound. It is most important that brahmacaris develop great love, trust, and friendship with one another, based on the mood of each wanting to be the servant of the servant of each other.” Although the members of the Bhaktivedanta Ashram come from many different ethnic, economic, and sociopolitical backgrounds, we find ourselves united in an intimacy of purpose to serve God, each other, and our fellow brethren. Often I say that the only reason we are able to live as monks in the middle of New York City is because of the strength of our communal bonds and atmosphere. We can overcome any external and internal challenges through the trust we have formed, and for younger monks such as myself, having the living examples and experiences of the senior monks in our community are invaluable guideposts on the journey we are taking. As a student, the brahmacari is attempting to focus his intelligence through a daily practice of study and meditation known as sadhana, on the vast wisdom of the bhaktitradition as it is presented through the Vedic scriptures. The brahmacari gives his full attention to the purports and commentaries of the previous teachers and gurus of thebhakti tradition, such as Swami Prabhupada, choosing to receive this wisdom by a descending method (knowledge received from realized contemporary and historical sources) rather than by the ascending method (knowledge received by one’s own mental and philosophical speculations). This understanding of the preferred standing of the descending method of knowledge is important, because the proper import of the wisdom of the bhakti tradition must be passed to the student through the medium of guru. The guru, or realized teacher, has already assimilated this complex and dynamic knowledge in all practical aspects of his/her own reality, and he/she can thus guide the student through their own misgivings and misunderstandings that arise from the student’s undeveloped mental and cultural understandings of deeper spiritual truths. As a teacher, the brahmacari is enlivened by his responsibility to share the wisdom he is receiving from his own study and experience with any receptive and sincere audience that he can attend to and serve. Essentially, a brahmacari must not keep the light of bhakti within him. By sharing it, within the scope and necessity of his renounced life, he strengthens his own conviction and faith, and makes himself very dear to Krishna Himself, as Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita: “For one who explains this supreme secret…pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me…There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.” (A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Bhagavad-Gita As It Is (2nd Edition), (Chapter 18, Verse 68-69), Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1983)
These activities of outreach are the engine which helps make the Bhaktivedanta Ashram run. The bulk of my own services in the ashram deal in this outreach, ranging from vegetarian cooking classes at New York University to the person-to-person selling of Swami Prabhupada’s books to the public for donations to help support ourasrama. I also help to run formal and informal classes taught to community and congregation members alike on the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita. The benefit that we find in these activities of outreach is an opening of the heart in selflessness towards others, through the services of relationship-building and personal care, combined with a practical development of communication skills that help us to spread the message of bhakti to receptive audiences, and which are essential to our own development of love and understanding of God. A Country Boy And A City Slicker In the fall of 2006, my life had reached a crossroads I never imagined I would ever find myself at. As with many who make the break from the material to the spiritual, there was a definite need for a new experience that would challenge and hopefully inspire, and be nothing like I had ever experienced before. Initially, through my contacts and friends in Swami Prabhupada’s movement, I was invited to join the Bhaktivedanta Ashram in Manhattan, which had already developed quite a reputation as a standout facility for young monastic men, but my mind was drawn to another facet of Swami Prabhupada’s mission. Our current trend towards sustainable modes of civilization and community has its roots in the traditional societies of our collective histories, such as the Native Americans and the Vedic culture that Swami Prabhupada was firmly rooted in. Years before the contemporary environmental movement was taking shape, Swami Prabhupada was calling for “simple living and high thinking.” Essential to the vision of his mission were rural communities based on self-sufficient food and energy production which would free his students and followers from the inhumane demands of what he called the “motorcar civilization,” allowing them to find the space and freedom to develop deeply-rooted spiritual lives. Drawn by my own need for escape into the spirit, and intrigued by the possibilities of Prabhupada’s spiritualized rural vision, I moved to the New Vrndavana ISKCON community in West Virginia, where I would spend the next two years. In that time I would get a taste of all that is enlivening and also much of the frustration that young men and women like myself encounter upon the attempt to devote their lives to the service of God and to the mission of Swami Prabhupada. While in New Vrndavana, I would learn how to grow, harvest, and store a wide variety of organic vegetables, and how this natural cultivation of our essential foodstuffs is a subtle yet powerful manifestation of material and spiritual revolution against the dehumanizing forces of resource repression and control that define much of the instability and injustice plaguing the planet. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in one sense, I also began to explore the personal communication of the blogosphere, where I started a website, “The Yoga of Ecology” (http://yogaofecology.blogspot.com), devoted originally to detailing the day-by-day work on our farm and our spiritual aspirations and connections thereof, and which has now evolved into a provocative and informing aggregate of articles and essays on progressive and spiritually-inspired ecological action and thought. I also began to participate in the services of college outreach with my fellow resident monks, traveling to nearby West Virginia University, Ohio University, and the University of Pittsburgh, where we engaged whole groups of students in the delicious arts of vegetarian cooking and culture and the joys of meditation and spiritual musical collaboration, or kirtana. My time at New Vrndavana formed the foundation of my own commitment to the life of a brahmacari and to the bhakti tradition. The existential crisis I found myself facing as a post-graduate with unshaped and undeveloped ideals began to dissipate in the daily whirl of service, study, and relationships that gave meaning to my life, and answers to so many of the questions that I had. In the wealth of experience and warmth I found in the many long-time residents there, I began life-long relationships which continue to define and inspire my own spiritual journey, showing me some of the realized potential that had come of the work of Swami Prabhupada’s original students and disciples. As with many of the original temples of Swami Prabhupada’s institution, of which New Vrndavana was one of the first, having been formed around a simple, small farmhouse in those same West Virginia mining hills in 1969, problems and inertia of varying personal, political, and social dynamics have slowed or stalled the impressive growth that surrounded the first ten years of Swami Prabhupada’s mission in the West, before his death in 1977. His institution, ISKCON, now faces something like a mid-life crisis, trying to maintain the foundations that have been created while finding new platforms of innovation to share the wealth of bhakti to new and interested audiences. Echoing the frustrations of many young devotees like myself finding themselves inspired but without clear visions or facilities to cultivate that inspiration, I began to explore, in the summer and fall of 2008, the other facets of ISKCON for a more stable community and inspired imagination. This led me back to the possibilities of life in the Bhaktivedanta Ashram. The major personal lesson I had learned in my time at New Vrndavana, in terms of my own needs of spiritual development, was that without a strong brahmacari atmosphere and community, I would not be able to develop into the kind of person materially and spiritually that I hoped to become, and that I hoped to become to please Swami Prabhupada and his many committed followers. It was with a heavy heart but a firm commitment that I decided to leave New Vrndavana and move to New York in December 2009, knowing that this was the best possible atmosphere for me to develop as a brahmacari and a devotee of Krishna, and so far, that decision is something that I certainly do not regret. Chris Fici is a writer/teacher/monk of the bhakti-yoga tradition. He has been practicing at the Bhaktivedanta Ashram in New York City since 2009. After receiving a degree in film/video studies at the University of Michigan, Chris began his exploration and study of the bhakti tradition. He currently teaches classes on the culture and art of vegetarian cooking, as well as the living philosophy of the Bhagavad-Gita, at New York University.