Monday, September 14, 2009

Ecology of The Heart

by Palak Shah

It’s the question that drives me. It always has and always will. And it drives me toward true realization of my self. It's a natural calling that I have cultivated ever since I could think. For so long I was confused about who I was and what I was to do in this world.

If I had to pinpoint one moment where this inner journey began, it would be when I tried to convince my grammar school friends that the ant they were about to crush under their feet was ‘God’ or maybe a god or maybe one of God’s blessed creatures.

I didn’t really know and I didn’t have much of a chance to explain my confusion since they were still rolling in laughter. I was embarrassed but amazed that I was bold enough to say what I felt. I inherently believed that the ant had a purpose and that it deserved to see it through. I was a critical player in this ant’s environment and I had a choice to be a constructive or destructive piece in it’s universe.

I wanted to be constructive; a conduit for its journey. This experience gradually opened up in me a yearning to know more and be more than I was. I believed my journey culminated when I came across the deeply profound spiritual teachings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami in college.From these teachings I felt I got a deeper balance that has endured in my life.

After all, I survived childhood. I overcame the trappings of college life. I made my way into a decent career. I married a good woman. I even found spiritual fulfillment. Not a bad shake out of the quagmire of existence, especially at 31. Sure I could be richer, better looking, taller, more athletic, more popular, and have better digestion. But other than that, things are pretty good.

Yet I am afraid about something. What’s the deal? Why am I so afraid? Where’s the balance I thought I discovered? What is gnawing at my insides? Maybe too many bad headlines. Maybe too many doomsday movies. Maybe the economic pendulum is swinging way too fast. Maybe…I just can’t seem to get a grip on it.

And that is scaring me more than anything else. It’s coming from so many directions. But my thought process refuses to stop there and be satisfied with that. My incessant hunger to get to the root of my pre-midlife crisis melodrama usurps any gravitational pull to stick to the status quo. What is messing with my internal stasis?

I got a clue one fine Monday morning as I was headed to work. Like most mornings, as I was rushing down the stairs, strapping on my shoes, and grabbing the car keys, I hurried out the front door. I opened the back door of my Honda Accord and left my things in the back seat. Settling into the driver’s seat, I realized I still had to wait for my wife to come. I thought to myself, “Ok, you’ve got a few minutes to relax.”

But as I situated myself, I was feeling unusually uneasy. And I was uneasy about feeling uneasy since this was a pretty typical weekday morning. It definitely wasn’t the breakfast because I didn’t have any as I usually don’t so early and I certainly wasn’t feeling sick. So while I was introspecting on the source of my psychological nausea, my attention shifted towards steering wheel. I noticed it was made of leather. I thought, “Hmm, some poor cow probably suffered a lot so that I can have this nice steering wheel.”

My thoughts continued towards the other facets of this contraption. The tires, windows, door knobs, engine, seats. What did it take to make this car? The emissions from the multitude of cloth, steel, glass, plastic, and rubber factories required to produce every inch of this car would be astronomical. I started to feel guilty.

Growing up, I was always taught to have a grateful attitude, as so many are much less fortunate than myself. As I explained before, life is pretty good. But for the last post-college decade, I am observing gradually and increasingly that I am somehow and in some way I am responsible for the lack of good fortune for many of those less fortunates.

How did I come to this? Why is this true? Well, the statistics are out there. Article after article highlighting how our planes, trains and automobiles are killing this planet. How my consumption is unsustainable for billions of its human and non-human citizens. My mind was wandering to every facet of my life – my home, my work, my play.

Ok, I get it. I am becoming an eco-activist. Al Gore is my eco-shepherd and I love to garden. Right. Right? I care about what we have done and are doing to nature for the sake of a ‘better’ life. However I was being nagged by a pain that went deeper than the soil of the Earth. I wasn’t satisfied with just being Green. It somehow seemed to address only the external problem even though it is such a massive one. My intuition told me to dig deeper. I haven’t hit the root yet.

I knew this was getting philosophical. And if you know me, I have a penchant for metaphysical conclusions and assertions. But unlike other times when I try to intellectualize the problem to simply understand it better, this time I was feeling something. My Honda’s steering wheel made me cringe and squirm in my seat. It was an emotional and painful burst that swung through my body. But WHY?

As my wife got into the car, I continued to behave as if it was just another morning and drove off. But my mind was back there, immersed in those few moments of deep contemplation. After some time, prayer and introspection, it hit me that this whole matter was getting awfully personal. And there it was.

It was personal. A clear connection between my needs and the impact those needs were having on every facet of this world illuminated before me. I didn’t want to say it. I didn’t want to think it. I didn’t want to believe it. But, I was responsible. In playing my role as a trusted consumer of all that can be mined, manufactured and consumed, I was an active participant in the transformation of the planet and its citizens.

Now, many would argue that this ‘transformation’ is a good thing. A progressive step in evolutionary chain of being. Survival of the fittest. However, the statistics say otherwise. And so does anyone looking at the reality of it all will say otherwise. While Al Gore and eco-activists make strides to reshape the way we consume, I wonder how I got into this bubble in the first place. How is it that it took so long to notice that my behavior has such a direct and indirect influence on so much of this world?

While on one hand I am quite eager to unravel this mystery right away, I am also quite satisfied. I’ve ventured into myself in a meaningful way to begin mapping out the blockages to deep, spiritual fulfillment. And ultimately that is what I truly want. That is what I am chasing endlessly and sometimes fruitlessly through my TV, my MP3 player, my car, my friends, my family, my life – a communion with creation. Therefore, I am grateful for the introspective question that is like a spotlight on these profound experiences that unveil a beautifully challenging reality. And this is but only the first leg of an exciting journey.

Palak Shah contributes for us as the eco-columnist of the Spirit Matters staff.

A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, and currently a recruiter for a major IT consulting firm, Palak is always on the hunt for a good discussion on philosophy, the human condition, and society's spiritual evolution.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Make The Most Of It

by David Jenkins

Sometimes life puts you somewhere you never thought you would be. Sometimes you look back and think, "How did I get all the way over here?" Life has its twists and turns, no doubt, and even a boring guy like me has had his fair share. I'm guessing that it's probably safe to assume that maybe you've had yours. My parents split up when I was young, which was probably unexpected, but being three years old I don't remember much.

The Atlanta Falcons lost in Superbowl 33 to the Denver Broncos, which is something I definitely didn't expect (I lost fifteen bucks on that game). And, for the past four and half months, I've been living in New York City on the top floor of a six-story building in downtown Manhattan next to a tattoo parlor, which I guess on my list of places I thought I would be in life is somewhere near the bottom.

Not that I don't like New York. In fact, I love it. It's just not somewhere that as I looked ahead in life that I was planning to be. And depending how you look at, or rather depending on how I look at it, that can be a good thing or a bad thing.

Throughout my small journey, I've found that simply trying to eliminate all the twists and turns in life is not the key to peace and satisfaction, because life by it's own nature is a windy road. Somehow or other it seems that the joy of life can be found along those twist and turns, and for me, I've found it through the people I've met along the way.

My road starts back in Whittier, California, which is the home city of our former president Richard Nixon. In fact, my high school prom was at the Richard Nixon Library, where his childhood house is still available for tours. Whittier is right on the border line of L.A and Orange County, so technically speaking, I lived in the unincorporated district of L.A. county, which I always translated as "nowhere land."

While growing up, my sister and I lived with our mom who ran a public day-care center from her home, so I was always around other kids and people. I'm not really sure what it would have been like growing up with a dad in the house, but my sister and I got along well enough and our mom loved us enough that I was happy with just the three of us.

I even remember crying once at the thought that my mom would remarry and disturb our little world that I had gotten used to. All the while, the 15-20 other kids in the house definitely gave a bit of life to the whole scene. We lived right next door to the elementary school and only a few blocks from the junior high school, which I walked to and from each day with my best friend Chris Taylor as we carried our tenor saxophones that we borrowed from the school's music department.

Chris's mom actually used to drop him off everyday next door at our neighbor's house, who also ran an at-home day care center, but as we started to become good friends, we convinced his mom to start dropping him off at my house.

Chris and I would have breakfast together, watch an episode of Mighty Max, and then head out the door. Throughout elementary school, we went through phases of pogs (remember pogs?), marbles, Marvel comic cards, Magic the Gathering, and eventually degraded ourselves down to Garbage Pail Kids. Chris didn't get so in to marbles, but everything else we did together.

In junior high, as I mentioned, we both played the tenor sax, which means that every day during fourth period we got to sit next to each other and envy the alto sax players who always got the better parts and and burst up laughing as we compared the trombone player behind us to the sound of Chewy from Start Wars. It wasn't the nicest thing to do, but it was an honest observation of what she sounded like. (If you're reading this Denise, I'm sorry if we ever made you feel bad).

High school came up quickly around the corner for both of us, and as most of us have probably experienced, we don't always keep the same friends throughout our school years. Somehow or other, we had different schedules and started to move on with our own lives. We kept in touch, but not so often, and as far as I know, Chris is still living in Southern California working at a home loan office and making plans for his future dream to host his own late night T.V. show. He would be the perfect guy for the job.

As for me, I've somehow or other found myself clear across the country right in the heart of the big city. I make weekly trips down to Chinatown to buy groceries, stand in line every day to use the bathroom while my other roommates brush their teeth, and utilize the moments I have in between to connect in a personal way with the people around me who make my life meaningful.

If the truth be told, pogs were never really that fun to play with, Magic cards were always too complicated for me, and Garbage Pail Kids weren't really that funny (O.K., maybe some of them were). What made everything worth doing, and still makes it worth remembering, is the fact that it was something I got to do with another person.

My friendship with Chris, as well as many others, have helped me discover that the real reason why something in life becomes meaningful, is because there's someone there to share it with, either big or small. I've never been able to tell myself a good joke, surprise birthday gifts to myself are never the same, and playing a game of solo freeze tag gets boring really fast. Life just isn't the same by yourself. We really need each other to experience it, or at least I do.

The activities themselves can in a way be seen as a medium through which I've gotten to know and spend time with others, and that's where the real meaning, sustenance, and stability of my life can be found. When I look at it through that lens, all the twists and turns of my life just become details to decorate and frame the real painting which is the relationships with all the people I've met along the way.

So I do my best to make the most of it. In a city of over 8 million people where I'm constantly bumping in to, stepping over, and stacking myself on top of everybody else, the more friends the better. Or, at least, the closer I can come to the friends I already have, the better I can ride smoothly throughout each day, and try to live a more meaningful life.

David Jenkins (Doyal Gauranga Dasa) is a monk and vegetarian/vegan chef who runs weekly cooking seminars and meditation classes at Columbia University and New York University

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Welcome To Our Country

By Christopher Timm

It was at the peak of a sweltering-hot summer afternoon when our party of seven arrived at the New Delhi train station, headed north for cooler climates. The heat and humidity was so intense that we all sat down on the platform. Just standing is a work-out in that kind of heat. Added to the temperature was a hefty dose of culture shock for most of our party. I guess I forgot to mention things like stray cows walking down the train platform when I prepared them for the journey.

After a few minutes, our guide came over to me and spoke confidentially in my ear, "We weren't able to get tickets for this train," he said, "so I'm going to go see what I can do. If the train arrives before I return, just get on and get off at the Hardwar station." I looked at him blankly. Our flight had been delayed one day from the States—which is why he had no tickets—but if we missed another day it would upset our entire schedule. We had to catch this train.

He smiled and did the traditional Indian head wag. That's a thoroughly Indian gesture midway between yes and no that is as versatile as it looks: one can use it to mean yes, no, please, thank you, or I'm going out to play cricket now. Then he disappeared into the crowd. I looked at the students who had flown over with me for the excitement of visiting India, their foreheads sweaty and their eyes wide open, as they watched men with piles of luggage stacked on their heads, walking by with half-naked children tugging at their shirts. The adventure had begun.

Fortunately, our guide reappeared just as the train was pulling in. He corralled us into a car and had us stuff our bags into the little space between the train car and the bathroom. "No luck?" I asked, putting two and two together. "No problem," he replied, "I'll find us seats later on." Desperate not to delay our journey any longer, we squeezed tightly together as the other passengers pushed past us into their cars.

When the train departed, our anxiety broke and we began to laugh: At least we're going somewhere! After time, we discovered that our compartment's door could be swung open, giving us a nice breeze and a view of North India's lush landscape. Little by little and one by one, our guide found seats here and there throughout the train.

Still my mind kept churning about those tickets: What will happen when I run into the conductor? What if one of our party, separated from the rest, has a bad experience? I'm supposed to be a monk escorting students on a spiritual journey to India and now look what I've done! I stow away our whole party in a reckless moment for the sake of keeping a lousy schedule? Because a guide who I just met—and who was ready to abandon me a minute ago—says it's ok? They don't throw stowaways in jail, do they? After all, it is a third world country. The mind conjures up all kinds of scenarios when it wants to.

I tried to chill out a bit and just before we reached our destination I got my answer. The conductor came in and sat behind me in an empty seat. He made notations in a large book and conversed with the man next to him. Suddenly he turned to me and said something in Hindi. His manner was grave. Especially grave. Hindi can be a very grave language. "He wants your ticket" a man next to me explained. I thought for a moment and felt around my pockets for a slip of paper I knew I didn't have. "I'm with a group of others," I said, trying to find the American equivalent of that all-purpose Indian head wag. I was getting more concerned by the moment. Especially as I realized that saying "I'm with a group of others," was about to bring our whole party into the mix. I waited anxiously as it was translated back to the conductor.

The conductor blurted something out in a serious voice and then, suddenly, a smile filled his face. A few people around laughed and he turned back to his conversation. Just then the train pulled into our station and I gathered my things gratefully and went to make sure the rest of our little band had made it off the train as well.

When we got into the cab, one of our party, Arthur, shared his experience on the train. For me, his story has become an iconic description of the culture of India. A few minutes after our guide had brought Arthur to his seat, a gentlemanly-looking man came and squeezed in next to him. He spoke English, so they chatted. His new friend welcomed him to India and inquired about his origin. "Welcome to our country," the gentleman said, "You are our guest, If there is anything I can do for you, please let me know."

After fifteen minutes of talk about Arthur's travel plans, the conversation turned to the gentleman's business. Gradually, it was revealed to Arthur that he was sitting in this gentleman's seat! Horribly embarrassed at the mistake, Arthur got up to leave, but the man insisted, "No, I want you to sit there, please!" When Arthur protested, the man persisted, "You are our guest. Please, be comfortable!"

As the rest of our visit unfolded, we were forced to tolerate many of the disturbances all travelers from the West experience in India: Having to argue over the price of everything you buy; enduring the driving etiquette that, when someone goes to pass your car, they hold their horn down constantly from the time they decide to pass you until they are 100 yards ahead of you. I could go on but it would just convince you of how little I've been able to integrate the point I now wish to make.

At such times, I often remembered the incident on the train: The conductor cutting slack to a traveler who was obviously bewildered by the Indian Railway system; the passenger who took pleasure at giving up his seat for a guest. Again and again in India I saw this ethic of selflessness and tolerance manifest in moments where lower responses could easily be defended. I saw that in a land where there is so much potential for disturbance, this society has learned to accept such things graciously.

Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krsna movement, once said that a person's greatness is shown in their ability to tolerate provoking situations. What character it shows when even strangers sacrifice for one another happily! How your heart melts toward such people! And so far as I could see, the deeper the relationship was, the deeper the willingness to sacrifice. And as beautiful as this was to see, it also shed light on a much less palatable truth, as I saw my own short-tempered responses to the little struggles that country threw my way.

If my own trials weren't enough to see the contrast, fate handed me the perfect moment when I returned to the States. Landing in Newark with two overweight bags, I hadn't anticipated the $3 charge for a luggage cart. I had no American cash on me and as a monk I have no credit card. After a few minutes of struggling with my bags, I turned to an attendant who stood nearby, supervising the scene.

I explained to him my plight and with lightning speed he shot back the classic, rhetorical question in his New Jersey accent, "So what do you want me to do about it?" I waited for a moment to see if he followed it with a smile. It would have been so charming, wouldn't it have been? Of course, he didn't. As I tried to absorb the blast of Americana that just hit me, I thought: "Welcome to our country." What an irony. I just left a rich heart in a poor land and found a poor heart in a rich land.

Christopher Timm (Radha Vallabha Dasa) is a monk and filmmaker whose forthcoming documentary "Today We Have The Power" chronicles the spiritual aspects of contemporary activism.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


by Dr. William H. Deadwyler

Dr. William H. Deadwyler has a Ph.Din religion from Temple University, and is a leading member of the main ecclesiastical board of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.

An initiated disciple of A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, he has served his mission since 1971

For more of his writings, check out

The heroes of my youth were the great healers of humanity. While it’s true that in those days I could be seen with other American boys paying homage to the likes of Elvis Presley and Joe DiMaggio, I rendered them only lip service. My real—if somewhat secret—devotion was reserved for a pantheon of great medical pioneers like Edward Jenner, discoverer of the smallpox vaccination; Robert Koch, who identified the tuberculosis bacillus; and Ignaz Philipp Semmelweise, who crusaded to save women from childbirth infection by teaching doctors to disinfect their hands. I avidly studied the life stories of these saviors and dreamed of becoming like them by slaying some modern scourge—leukemia, say, or coronary thrombosis. In my eyes there was no higher calling than to wage war on behalf of humanity against disease and death.

I entered college intent on medical studies, but a little over a year later abandoned that aim. I had not been fatally disheartened by my encounter with other pre-med students, profiteers eager to mint gold from disease. A book, rather, had destroyed my vocation and my faith. Mirage of Health: Utopia, Progress and Biological Change is a pioneering study of medical history written in the late fifties by a physician named Rene Dubos. His conclusion devastated me: Progress toward some utopia of health is an illusion. Disease will never be “conquered.” Disease is so inescapable a part of our human condition that today’s remedies inevitably become the agents of tomorrow’s ills.

Using an abundance of historical evidence, Dubos shows how the diseases we suffer from arise out of the complex social, political, and economic dynamics of our particular society; as society changes, our ills change with it. Some diseases fade away, and others, out of the inexhaustible bounty of material nature, rise to take their place.

In modern industrial societies, as Dr. Dubos points out, we no longer suffer and die from smallpox, typhus, typhoid, diphtheria, and the other microbial plagues of the past. We have made “progress”: We suffer and die instead from cancer, coronary heart disease, emphysema, and mental disorders (with their attendant drug abuse and suicide).

According to Dubos’ analysis, even my boyhood heroes, those unswerving foes of deadly microbes, had little to do with the disappearance of infectious diseases. These afflictions were retired mainly by the social and economic reforms that followed industrialization. At the same time, that same process was ushering in a whole new set of scourges. And even those old diseases are by no means “conquered,” Dubos warns. They are merely held at bay (at a high price), and they can reenter human history any time the conditions are right.

I was undone by Dr. Dubos’ lesson. Medicine at once underwent a catastrophic devaluation in my eyes. I wondered why that should be. Dubos, of course, never claimed that medicine was useless, a waste of time. True, it may not save humanity, but it can save humans. That ought to be enough, I argued with myself. I could still live by ideals, modest though those ideals might be. Surely, real heroism lies in doing humbly what little good one can, without some fantasy of wide-screen, Hollywood heroics, soundtrack booming in the background. Be realistic: There are no saviors of humanity, because humanity will not be saved, and that’s that.

Still, I could revive no enthusiasm for medicine. The truth of the matter was that at heart I badly wanted to be saved from disease and death altogether, and I had possessed a real faith that scientific progress would, at the end of its struggle, win just that for all of us. To me it had been a foregone conclusion that through science and technology nature would be eventually conquered and tamed, made entirely serviceable to us, and we would live without worries in a man-made paradise on earth. Although I had never spelled out this conviction to myself, it had insensibly become my true faith, my religion.

How was it a religion? Religion and science—like faith and knowledge—are supposed to be opposites. Yet somehow science itself had become a religion—call it “scientism”—an ardent faith that progress in science and technology will so improve upon man and nature as to rid earthly life of all ills. This religion was—and still is—the true faith of America, the spiritual motor that drives its enterprises.

Where had I absorbed this religion? I had bowed before no altar, recited no creed, sung no hymns, enacted no rites. However, this religion does not need special buildings or ceremonies. As the true religion of America, it is woven completely into the fabric of life. I had absorbed it all along from my parents and teachers and friends, from the Cub Scouts and the Boy Scouts, from museums and theme parks, from My Weekly Reader and Reader’s Digest and Life and Post and Popular Mechanics. I had soaked it in from “Meet Mr. Wizard” and the unending iteration of corporate commercial slogans (”Progress is Our Most Important Product” and “Better Things For Better Living Through Chemistry“), from the biographies of my medical heroes, not the least from my hoard of science fiction paperbacks. The faith that formed America was a creation of the so-called Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Eager to extend Newton’s success in describing nature in rational, mathematical form, a coterie of European thinkers battled to dethrone traditional religion and morality and replace them with empirical science and natural reason as the valid guides for human activity.

Unenlightened and superstitious Christians believed in a future millennium, a thousand-year kingdom of God on earth that would start with the prophesied second coming of Christ. That belief had to go. Yet the savants of the Enlightenment replaced it with their own secularized faith, their man-made millennium: Steady progress in science and enlightened reason would gradually bring the natural and human world totally under rational scientific control. Nature and society will be consummately engineered. Free from drought and flood, poverty and crime, disease and even death, man will have established on earth the kingdom of God—without God.

This was my faith, and I had lost it. Science would not save us; there was no “progress.” That explained my strong reaction to Mirage of Health.

In the years since I read that book I have come to recognize the striving for release from material nature, the struggle against disease and death, as profoundly and essentially human. It’s a struggle we cannot avoid. Even though we may be unwaware of it, it drives and shapes our lives. For this reason, even popular culture is about serious things. It is not mere whimsy that leads people to describe Joe DiMaggio as a baseball “Immortal,” or makes them believe that Elvis Presley could not possibly have died. Operating with more sophistication, Enlightenment thinkers set themselves against religion, but they merely replaced salvation through Christ with salvation through science. They could not free themselves from the desire for transcendence, the urge to go beyond the limits of nature into everlasting life.

We are all transcendentalists at heart. The problem is that most of us are foolish ones, whose various schemes for liberation are doomed from the outset. We persist in worshipping idols and gods that fail. We engineer projects for salvation that only increase our bondage. Nature can send mile-high sheets of ice flowing over continents and level cities with a twitch, yet we embark on a quixotic war to conquer her. An anthill has as good a shot at it as “advanced civilization.” Or consider this: Survival is the primal urge of life, and for millions of years all organisms have struggled for survival, just as we now struggle. Now, look at the record. Where are the winners? In all of history, has anyone survived?

The death rate is one hundred percent. It is a foredoomed attempt, but we cannot help ourselves. We must be transcendentalists, but what makes us invest and reinvest in foolish, impractical schemes? Let me suggest the reason. At the root of our foolishness lies a dumb insistence in trying to actuate a self-contradiction, make real an absurdity: We want to transcend material nature, become free from her control, while at the same time we want to continue to enjoy and exploit her.

This was the answer I discovered. After my crisis of faith, I studied philosophy and religion for years; it was, in effect, a quest for successful transcendentalists. And I thought that I had finally discovered them at the vital center of the great spiritual traditions of the world. In spite of their differences in culture and style, they seemed unanimous in this: They agreed that to succeed in transcendence we must become free from the mentality of enjoyment and exploitation.

All of them recognized the systematic endeavor to gain mastery over the mind and senses, to extinguish material desires, as necessary for real salvation or liberation of the spirit. These successful transcendentalists understand very well that material nature binds and controls us precisely through our desire to enjoy and exploit her. That desire is, therefore, our ultimate disease. Cure that disease, we shall become free from disease and death altogether.

Eight years after Dr. Dubos destroyed my faith in material progress, Srila Prabhupada initiated me into the path of bhakti-yoga, transcendental devotional service. I was attracted by the magisterial way Srila Prabhupada exposed what he called “the illusory advancement of civilization.” On the street a Krishna devotee had handed me a tract containing these simple but impressive words of Srila Prabhupada:

"We are trying to exploit the resources of material nature, but actually we are becoming more and more entangled in her complexities. Therefore, although we are engaged in a hard struggle to conquer nature, we are ever more dependent on her. This illusory struggle against material nature can be stopped at once by revival of our eternal Krishna consciousness."

Srila Prabhupada hadn’t done the research of a Dr. Dubos, but somehow he understood it all. His clarity astonished me.

Attacking the idols of scientific progress and other ersatz religions, Srila Prabhupada did not compromise in presenting the truth—if we want transcendence, we must become free from material desires. He was the only contemporary transcendentalist I’d encountered who did not offer any cheating religion, an accommodation with material ambitions for cheap popularity among the foolish.

My heroes still are those saviors who wage war on behalf of humanity against disease and death: Srila Prabhupada, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Rupa Goswami, Thakura Haridasa, Madhvacarya, Narada Muni and many others form my pantheon. These heroes have won the war against death because they have mastered the actual science of transcendence and delivered it to humanity.

In the meantime I credit Dr. Dubos with a good deal of prescience. Events have proven him uncannily accurate. Even as researchers in high-tech laboratories feverishly sought the “magic bullet” to destroy cancer, a brand-new plague erupted, surprising almost everyone. Studies predict that Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome will have claimed about 400 million lives by the middle of the next century.

Like horror films that spawn even more ghastly sequels, some old-fashioned diseases have begun staging spectacular revivals: A new, drug-resistant version of Koch’s bacillus threatens a tuberculosis epidemic in North America, where a remake of the scarlet fever microbe is implicated in a run of deadly cases of sudden, massive septicemia. Pediatricians report a steady rise in children with chronic bronchitis and asthma, apparently the result of pollution. Indeed, a family of new afflictions of the immune system, all apparently related to man-made chemicals in the environment, has led to the establishment of a new medical specialty called clinical ecology. Some studies show that in the industrial nations up to forty percent of all diseases are “iatrogenetic.” That means “caused by physicians.”

In Pittsburgh recently, a man survived seventy-one days on an implanted baboon’s liver, which was still in good shape at autopsy. Transplant technicians are planning farms where genetically engineered animals will grow crops of organs for use in humans; biomedical engineers are machining body parts out of space-age plastics and microchips. They’re promising immortality by the end of the next century.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Conducting From The Heart

Conducting From The Heart

by Aditi Sriram

In his autobiography The Journey Home, Sri Radhanath Swami writes about his struggle with two inner voices, one from his mind and the other from his heart. They push and pull him towards yogic gurus, geographical adventures, mental purgings and diligent observation. He demonstrates repeatedly that when his mind seeks an answer, he is befuddled with the choices before him, but when his heart seeks a truth, Krishna responds with a sign.

The mind can only respond based on the way it has been conditioned, but the heart knows what is pure, since it houses the purest entity in all of us – our soul. Hearing a beautiful song fills the heart with peace and stirs the soul; a person can immediately sense when his heart is happy. But the mind is much more analytic, weighing the attributes and drawbacks of every situation, factoring in external reactions to internal choices, and is thus diluted in its stance.

Sitting in Lincoln Center, watching the London Symphony Orchestra tune their instruments, I am impressed by each musician’s independent talent. But the majesty of a symphony lies in musical collaboration. The individual instruments play their prescribed parts, but the conductor leads the entire operation. Valery Gergiev, a large, spirited Russian with wisps of hair that he whips back and forth when he moves, charges the performance with life: sweeping his arms over the stage, he offers it to something higher and larger than himself and the music on the page. He is the heart in this act, and his musicians the limbs that he breathes life into. Compared to the heart, the mind is limited by its functional capacity – a violinist can only play a violin and not a trombone – but the conductor rules over all the instruments, like the heart over the mind, to produce divine sound and generate divine thoughts. As long as the musicians follow their conductor and the mind surrenders to the heart, harmony reigns!

In this way, Service and Humility are born out of the heart. The mind may think it understands these attributes, but its comprehension is limited. The mind can just as easily convince a person to be lustful as to be respectful, or to continue eating when one feels full. A group of musicians could play their instruments together and produce a beautiful sound, but they are truly flawless only when they are led with conviction, by someone wholly convinced of the cause and effect of that music – and that is where the conductor is crucial. If the heart is the primary voice, it will always be the song leading the step.

Service, if done sincerely, never gets tiring: the heart knows infinity and the most intimate loving exchanges when it is engaged in its rightful service, so how can it feel anything other than bliss? A teacher loves teaching her students, day after day; a Broadway performer repeats the same lines and songs every night and a devotee serves the Lord as his servant without any doubt. Without a contented heart, the mind can provide only temporary guidance and stability, since it relies on the external for value and action. The heart meditates on the internal, the divine, and finds uninterrupted love.

The closer one becomes to God, the smaller, meeker and more insignificant he feels on Earth, even as his followers exalt him. This paradox seems to highlight the stark contrasts between the fame and conditioning of material life and the simplicity and single mindedness of faith – how wrongly we are going about Life and Love on earth! Mother Teresa exclaims that when her beloved leprosy victims see Jesus in her, it is a “miracle,” absolving herself of any ownership of such praise. She defines service by example, noting that there is no hierarchy in service: it can only be real when it is done with humility.

The orchestra accelerates over arpeggios and punctuates the air with vibrant, resonant sounds. My eyes are on each musician, and I nearly forget Gergiev! In fact, he is turned away from this audience, for his job is not for show or for praise. He serves his musicians and he pampers every musical note, cherishing each moment. Hearing the pristine music, the conductor is humbled – those are the fruits of his labor, not the subsequent applause. Gergiev keeps the tempo of the orchestra; he is their pulse, their heart, beating before them in their mind. And with eyes only for his musicians, it is clear who he serves.

The heart speaks the transcendental language of Love. Throughout his journey, Sri Radhanath Swami witnesses yogis, devotees and passersby moved to tears by some divine feat. Great gurus and meager followers are never shy to express their happiness with tears, which spring naturally to their eyes and flow like the rivers that led Sri Radhanath Swami to his guru. Tears are the universal sign of humbled bliss, grateful joy, earnest appreciation, and they come to Gergiev as well – his eyes mist and beads of sweat drop from his face as his orchestra comes to the resounding conclusion of the symphony. He has completed his musical journey, just as Sri Radhanath Swami has found his true inner voice.

Graduating from Columbia University in 2007, Aditi Sriram works as a consultant in New York City. Her spiritual heritage and contemporary search for truth has led her to the fountain of Vedic wisdom.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Matchless Gifts Conscious Arts: The Website

Our community crew of activist artists, of spiritual seekers, conscious and expressing on the cusp of the soul, of self-realization, with vital words, songs, tricks, beats, and rhymes, have created their own web page, a hub of all they do and all that is to come.

Click here to check out the website of MGCA (Matchless Gifts Conscious Arts)

Check out their other media and spiritual spices below:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Very Different Source

Excerpted from "Searching For Vedic India" by Devamrta Swami

A worldwide teacher of timeless Vedic wisdom, Devamrta Swami is a Yale graduate whose ability to share spiritual wisdom is immediate and profound

For more, check out

The exactitude of physical arrangements in the universe awes contemporary thinkers. To uneducated eyes, the properties of the universe and their interactions may appear arbitrary. But scientists know that the constants of the cosmos reveal an eerie precision that is quite startling. What we take as incidental conditions just happen to be minutely right for life.

Just consider what are deemed the four fundamental forces of nature: electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong and weak forces in the atom. Scientists are sure that any slight variance in them would render the universe - as we know it - impossible.

In the Vedic universe, just as variables of matter are micro-adjusted to a wondrous precision, so the reactions to consciousness are also minutely calibrated. The Vedic vision acknowledges a universal law of justice, exactly balancing the actions of consciousness with their consequences. Hence we should not anguish over why bad things happen to good people, or good things happen to the bad.

The sages of the Vedas urge wise persons to verse themselves in what is appropriate and inappropriate action - not according to their own intuition, but in line with the authorized texts of universal law. Consciousness is both causal and accountable.

We might consider: If the movements of matter in the environment cause such precise reactions, what about the movements of the most crucial ingredient in the ecosystem-consciousness? What are the natural reactions to the proper and improper use of consciousness? Who are the scholars who have catalogued the consequences of consciousness in its affair with matter? Where is the knowledge system to inform and guide us about the whole of existence, not merely the inert, insignificant energy of matter?

The Vedas hold that consciousness indicates the presence of the superior, spiritual energy. Therefore, without denying the implications brought on by the reactions of the inferior, material energy, the Vedic vision sees the actions and reactions of consciousness as paramount.

The Vedas certainly do not deny the field of material reaction; rather, they simply urge us to concentrate our major attention on the spiritual energy. Without contact with spirit, matter is inactive. Therefore spirit matters most, and the pollution of consciousness is recognized as the deadliest environmental problem.

From the Vedic perspective, just the concession that modern brains have endowed matter with inconceivable mystic potencies is a great step forward. The world can only benefit from a fair comparison between the two metaphysical views: modern materialistic science and the ancient spiritualistic science of the Vedas. Then we would probably want to consider: Where's the best bet?

Should we passionately throw all our support behind inanimate matter, or should we calmly investigate a hunch that consciousness - completely resistant to material dissection - may signal the reality of a spiritual energy, with its own appropriate laws of nature?

The Vedic literature reminds us of the havoc we bring down upon ourselves by not seeing the whole picture of the cosmos. This cosmic entirety includes consciousness and its laws. Without knowing the Complete Whole, all our best efforts at compassion, love, and humanitarianism are rendered utterly inadequate.

The Vedic literature says we need knowledge - full comprehension of the complete scene we call life and universe. Otherwise, our response - based on limited and incomplete knowledge of the cosmos - will actually harm, not help. Real human life is described as a quest for all-inclusive knowledge, a ready acquaintance with all the factors at work in the biosphere or the cosmos. Like the grand movements of underlying tectonic plates, the consciousness laws of nature - though we are oblivious to them - produce monumental effects.

Today's pundits put forth “laws of nature”. In this way they acquiesce to the reality of something ultimate ordering cosmic phenomena. But if we moderns cannot vault over the chasm between physical processes and consciousness, we will find that same insurmountable gap frustrating our versions of the “laws of nature.”

Eluding our attempts to discern overarching laws regulating everything in the universe, consciousness roams on its own - unexplained and unaccounted for.

The Vedas firmly tie consciousness to a spiritual energy, emanating from the Supreme. Tracking consciousness to its source in this way opens up an exciting realm of transcendental knowledge and experience. The ultimate causative principle that underlies reality is presented as a singular yet infinite self-conscious being, Krishna.

Full of limitless knowledge, pleasure, and potency, Krishna emanates matter, as well as minuscule subjective selves. These tiny, finite selves - in minute quantity - possess the same self-conscious, spiritual nature as the unlimited Krishna.

Decades ago, the Nobel Laureate and patriarch of modern physics Niels Bohr concluded:

“We can admittedly find nothing in physics or chemistry that has even a remote bearing on consciousness. Yet all of us know that there is such a thing as consciousness. Simply because we have it ourselves. Hence consciousness must be part of nature or, more generally, of reality, which means that, quite apart from the laws of physics and chemistry as laid down in quantum theory, we must also consider laws of quite a different kind.”

To that fine summation, we might add “We must also consider an ultimate source of quite a different kind.”

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Man Of The Hour

by Chris Fici

Chris Fici is an aspiring monk/writer. He is a member of the Bhaktivedanta Ashram, located in The Bhakti Center, East Village

We are surrounded by the echoes of the words and deeds of the great spiritual leaders of our time, such as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and other souls small in stature but great in heart. Hearing them, we seek proper guidance onto the path to push through the various storms that await us in our drive for the dawn of a new day

You can taste this desire, this urge, in the dust storms and mad beats and disguises at Burning Man. You can feel it in your head, the pushing of a new consciousness that may just keep life pulsing and grooving on this big, blue globe. You can see it in the dirt in your fingernails, returning back to the land, sustainable and organic, free from the chemical nightmares of corporate agriculture.

Spiritual leaders arise out of this mulch, dirt, sweat, blood and tears. How do we know who is genuine? How do we take advantage of our own inherent gifts of leadership to guide and shape the future we desire?

In his book Leadership For An Age Of Higher Consciousness, His Holiness Bhakti-Tirtha Swami, one of the leading modern teachers of the timeless art of spiritual devotion known as bhakti-yoga, speaks to the spiritual leaders of today when he writes:

“Many disturbances in the world are caused by a failure to seek unity with those who seem different. In your role as leader, the more you can identify common ground with others, the less you will be subject to conflicts caused by superficial differences.

Universal principles can help you discover the common foundation shared with others by reminding you that everyone originates from the same source and is seeking to return to the same home with God.”

We now look towards the halls of Washington D.C, not with the usual cynical disdain, but with a potent curiosity, anticipation, and even reverie at the ascendancy of Barack Obama to the American Presidency.

We wonder if he can rise above the ferocious fray of world politics as it is and provide the real inspiration for true happiness that his image and persona have implied and promised from the day he began his campaign.

To do this, he must fully embrace his spiritual side, and lead with all the courage, wisdom, and humility at his disposal. Even further, he must rely on the time-tested example of the great teachers and spiritual guides that have come before him. He cannot change this mess alone. We cannot change this mess alone.

The demand for authenticity is high for any leader, most of all for someone guiding us from an elevated platform of higher consciousness. As we understand from the timeless wisdom of the Vedas, a true leader must carry with him a humble, genuine plan of action that guides his/her peoples towards the ideal conditions of life, based on the liberty of the soul, and true justice and protection for all living entities.

This is an extra, immense burden that the spiritual leader carries, but it's one that can bring the most sublime and lasting results, as Bhakti-Tirtha Swami describes in his pleas to the spiritual leader:

“Too much is at stake for you as a leader to limit your view to the horizons of your personal, organizational or national agendas...The increasing interdependence of all forms of life on this planet requires a broader perspective that looks outward to embrace the entire globe, forward in time for future generations, and inward to honor the Lord in your heart.”

There is clear evidence that President Obama is approaching his current gig with a little more thought in mind than just the usual blend of bad cocktails lobbed at him by lobbyists and corporate heads. Throughout his campaign and ascension to the presidency, Obama has consistently called upon the American people to absorb themselves in the classical spiritual values of service, humility, and responsibility.

Carrying a statue of Hanuman with him for luck and wisdom, having been exposed to the Bhagavad-Gita as a child, and stressing interfaith community and communication in his messages of prayer, Obama is bringing a fresh consciousness to one of the most stale and musty environments in the world-Washington, D.C.

In an excerpt from his memoir The Audacity of Hope, President Obama shares his own realizations about the importance of the spiritual foundation in our progressive thoughts and actions when he writes:

When we abandon the field of religious discourse--when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations toward one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome--others will fill the vacuum. And those who do are likely to be those with the most insular views of faith, or who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.

Imagine Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address without reference to "the judgments of the Lord," or King's "I Have a Dream" speech without reference to "all of God's children." Their summoning of a higher truth helped inspire what had seemed impossible and move the nation to embrace a common destiny.


To make his image a reality means Obama will have to accept and express another attribute of the spiritual leader, which is the ability to dole out healthy doses of "tough love." After all, to call on an increased mood of service and sacrifice, along with the sweet sauce of humility, in today's "me-first" social climate can't be done with gentle hands and words. Bhakti-Tirtha Swami explains:

"Although truth can be painful, sometimes the desire to attain a higher good will require leaders to face unpleasant realities and act forcefully. Indeed, love is merely sentimental unless it is based on honesty. Leaders need a high level of knowledge, skill, and discernment to express their love appropriately according to the circumstances...At times, a leader may demand difficult sacrifices from others for their own well-being...Leaders must deliberately choose to maintain a level of consciousness that gives priority to what is best for others regardless of outward appearances."

This is Obama's challenge. Behind all his moves, policies, and speeches must be this sense of selfless love, the very heart of genuine spirituality. A love that is not some amorphous, impersonal, hippy-dippy romantic fling, but that which is deep, unyielding, challenging, and rewarding.

In order to change the course of our collective situation from one of impending catastrophe to one that reflects and expresses our aspirations for a world that reflects the best and deepest of our hearts, President Obama must lead the difficult charge to change our climate of life from one of selfish, destructive consumption to one selfless, beautiful sacrifice. To me, this is the measure of whether his messages of “hope” and “change” actually bear any fruit.


Whether we voted for him or not, whether we have an interest in his politics or not, President Obama's ability or inability to bring these higher values into his higher office acts as a reflection of our contemporary counter-cultural revolution, and its success or lack thereof in making our relationship with this planet more sustainable and spiritually connected.

It is also our duty to push the President and any spiritually-minded leader to live up to these high ideals. In the creative cauldrons of our own life experiences, we must demand a new and improved standard for those who run the show. To a man and woman, we are sick of the ultra-rich, ultra-removed personalities who try to rob of us of our heritage and birthright as spiritual beings meant for restoring our relationship with the Divine.

Our service to President Obama must be to keep him at this elevated level, for him to keep his foundational promises but also to make sure he is always looking deeper, to God and to the light and powerful inspiration that comes from Him which guides anybody, anywhere, at anytime, through the darkest hours.

B.T Swami lays it down for Obama and for all of us as spiritual leaders when he writes:

"Learn to love everyone dearly and allow this love for others to radiate through you. As you let the energy of love vibrate around you, all who align themselves with you will contract this contagious, sublime state and spread it enthusiastically to others."

This article is also directed at you, for although you may not be living in the White House, you too have the chance to make a deep, profound, and positive impact on yourself and those around you by stepping up to the plate, with your own divine energies of inspiration and guidance in your hands.

We lead by selfless loving exchanges, and we create real hope and change this way. Take it out of your minds, put it in your hearts, and create the vital action now, from Washington to your own concrete jungle.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Empowered Servant-Leader

The Empowered Servant-Leader

by Bhakti-Tirtha Swami

excerpted from his two-volume book Technologies For An Age of Higher Consciousness

The Servant-Leader

Dasanudasa: I like to think of a true leader not simply as a person who leads but as a servant-leader. In Sanskrit, a servant is called dasanudasa, literally “a servant of the servant.” He sees himself as a caretaker rather than a proprietor or dictator. Instead of waiting for someone else to do the needful, a servant-leader will step to the front and do it himself, especially when the people's welfare is at stake.

When a servant-leader is served, he himself becomes a better servant. The more influence and facility a servant-leader has, the more he uses them to give back to the people. A servant-leader is aware of what is going on around him. He also is persuasive, sharing his ideas with others and building stronger communities.

Ten Essential Technologies For Empowered Servant-Leadership

The metaphysical technologies listed here are simple yet profound tools that you may want to incorporate into your leadership style. To reap the greatest benefit from these principles, you can include a meditation on these ten essential technologies for empowered leadership in your daily regimen.

1. What of It? What For? So What?

This meditation is designed to help us realize that many illusions can influence us or enslave us. Leo Tolstoy once wrote about a transition is his life when he began to question everything, despite his great success. Following Tolstoy's example, in this meditation envision yourself as possessing great material abundance such as exorbitant wealth, worldwide fame, vast knowledge, or dazzling beauty.

Consider each of these areas in turn, and others if you wish, realizing that it cannot be the ultimate goal of lie. Ask yourself the questions, “What of it?” “What for?” “So what?”

2. Not This Body

This reflection helps us realize that we are more than just the physical body. Therefore, we should not overreact or be overly attached to material stimuli. The exercise consists of saying attentively: “I have a body-but I am not this body.”; “I have a mind-but I am not this mind”; “I have a job-but I am not this job”; or “I have a house-but I am not this house.” Insert any problem into this meditation to help yourself release any attachment to temporary phenomenon.

3. The Other Person's Point Of View

This practice helps us become more sensitive to another person's perception of the situation, particularly during interpersonal conflicts. Choose a conflict that has been troubling you. Write a letter to yourself as if you were the opposing party trying to convince yourself of the opposite point of view. Employ this letter-writing technique for any conflict.

4. Seeing The Divine Everywhere

This contemplation helps us give more of ourselves to others and receive more love from people in general. Practice seeing everyone as an energy of the Divine

5. Everything Has A Purpose

There are no coincidences. Because the universe is controlling higher agencies, each encounter has come to us for a particular reason. We are subject to a spiritual law similar to a law of physics: every action produces a corresponding reaction. Therefore, we can try to discover the lesson in every occurrence.

The exercise is to turn negative events into positive ones and positive events into even better ones. If we learn from all events, then everything that happens can become a positive occurrence because we have become wiser.

6. Accountability

The knowledge that we are monitored by the Divine will encourage us to live more righteously in order to be rewarded rather than punished. The exercise is to imagine that we are always being looked after by the Divine's presence

7. Call For Love

This practice helps us appreciate the many forms in which a call for help can come and reminds us to always examine ourselves to see how we have helped others. The exercise is to see all interactions as either a giving of love or a call for love.

8. Love In Action

This technology helps us shower everyone and everything in our environment with vibrant love. The exercise is to see ourselves as embodiments of love in action.

9. Near Death

Imagine that your doctor has just informed you that you have a serious disease, and that you are going to die in three months. If this were your fate, how would you live each of your last days differently?

This reflection helps remind us that we can never be certain how much longer we will remain in this material body. Therefore, we must not procrastinate or have a weak link of priorities. Important things-essential things-must be done now!

10. A Second Chance

We must live each day in readiness to depart if our appointment with death arrives. The exercise is to imagine that you are dying right now, and can see what you are leaving behind and the effect that your death will have on others. What are your last thoughts? What are your regrets? What things have you left undone? You should do these things today.

Get Down To The Soul

Our basic thesis is that true (and mature) servant-leadership is impossible without embracing a deeply developed form of universal spirituality. This is so because the mature servant-leader is a natural philosopher and spiritualist: these highly evolved components are as fundamental to his or her way of being as food is to any other living organism.

A true servant-leader assesses the primary needs of his dependents and compassionately serves them. For this to occur, the servant-leader must have a profound understanding of the highest good, which necessarily goes beyond mere material requirements.

Ultimately, a servant-leader focuses on our identity as spiritual beings, as people who undergo material experiences even though, at their very core, they are beyond matter. Thus, the mature servant-leader must assist in servicing the soul, the real identity of each and every individual. It is the soul that is the highest expression of humanity and mature servant-leadership has little meaning without recognition of this.

For more from Bhakti-Tirtha Swami, including lectures and his books, check out his website at

Friday, August 7, 2009

Spiritual Leadership and The Enron Debacle

Spiritual Leadership and The Enron Debacle

By Satyaraja Dasa (Steven J. Rosen)

Steven J. Rosen (Satyaraja Dasa) is an initiated disciple of His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He is also the founding editor of the Journal for Vaisnava Studies and associate editor for Back to Godhead magazine.

He has published twenty-one books in numerous languages, including the recent Essential Hinduism (Rowland and Littlefield, 2008) and The Yoga of Kirtan: Conversations On The Sacred Art of Chanting (Folk Books, 2008).

Several years back, I wrote a book on the life and times of Bhakti Tirtha Swami, an ISKCON spiritual master and close friend who passed away after a prolonged battle with cancer. In researching the swami’s life, I found his perceptions of “spiritual leadership” to be among his most significant contributions. Although he lectured and wrote extensively on topics ranging from mysticism and bhakti-yoga (the science of spiritual devotion) to leadership in the modern age, it was this latter subject for which he primarily became known.

Ken Shelton, editor of the professional journal Executive Excellence, said, “his work on leadership sets a new standard, expressly because it explores the spiritual dimension in ways that popular gurus like Stephen R. Covey, Kevin Cashman, and Ken Blanchard have not done.” And The Honorable Pierre Admossama, retired Director of the UN International Labor Organization, called the swami “an example in the truest sense of global principle-centered leadership.”

In essence, Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s teachings on leadership are based on those of the Vedic literature, harkening back to the principle-centered techniques of God-conscious kings, such as Maharaja Yudhisthira and Lord Rama. Basically, the techniques focus on ethics and morals, about putting the other person first, and about humility. Overall, it is leadership with God in the center, showing how to manage one’s kingdom, work environment, family, and life from a spiritual point of view. Since these principles were already found in the Vedic literature, what the swami really offered in his books were “modern technologies,” or practical applicative methods that modern readers could then use in their daily lives.

This came home to me just several months after writing the book. A then current issue of TIME Magazine (June 5, 2006) reported on an event that screamed for the swami's teachings. In an editorial about Enron, “the world’s leading energy company,” onetime Enron VP, Sherron Watkins, “blows the whistle” on an establishment that used to be her bread and butter.

But what could she do? History was already dubbing the Enron debacle as “the 9/11 of financial markets.” This is corporate criminality at its worst. Even while the company was going down, its leaders assured all involved that there was nothing to worry about — but thousands eventually lost their jobs, over 21,000 employees lost their pensions, and numerous investors were taken for a ride, ending up in the poorhouse.

In early 2001, it seems, Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, Enron’s longtime leaders — and the leading criminals in our story — unveiled a new mission statement; they wouldn’t settle for being billed “the world’s leading energy company.” They wanted to be “the world’s leading company.” Period. They were fast-paced, inventive, and on their way up. And they had no scruples whatsoever.

Watkins met with Lay on August 20 of 2001 to apprise him of Enron’s shady accounting and general deceitfulness in relation to its contemporaries. But her words fell on deaf ears. He already knew everything she told him, but was playing dumb. The organization was moving full speed ahead, even if countless people suffered as a result. That’s all he cared about. Here were leaders whose only principle was greed. For them, the principle of making money, it might be said, was principal.

With narcissism and fraud as Enron’s leaders’ only real legacy, they stand a long distance from the principle-centered leadership of Vedic monarchs, especially as espoused by Bhakti Tirtha Swami. In fact, Watkins articulated the problem much in the same way the swami would have, perhaps because of her Christian background. All spiritual knowledge comes from the same source, recognizes the same basic truths: “We want honest leaders,” she says, “who are decisive, creative, optimistic and even courageous, but we so easily settle for talk that marks those traits instead of action. Worse, we often don’t even look for one of the most critical traits of a leader: humility.”

Her words reminded me of Srila Prabhupada. Once, when a young hippie had attended a few Sunday feasts in the early days of the Krsna consciousness movement, he noticed that, when devotees became angry, they would say to each other, “Just chant ‘Hare Krsna.’” On one particular occasion, Srila Prabhupada was in attendance, and he had become angry about something. Seeing this, the young hippie naturally turned to Prabhupada and said, “Just chant ‘Hare Krsna.’” As the guru, Prabhupada could have become aggravated with the hippie; he could have ignored him, waving him off as little more than a nuisance. But, no. Prabhupada showed a wonderful sense of humility: he simply put his hand in his bead-bag and started to chant ‘Hare Krsna.” He knew the hippie was correct.

Another incident involves Srila Prabhupada at an airport, when numerous devotees came to greet him as he was about to board a plane. Apparently, his many disciples were blocking the aisles while enthusiastically chanting the holy name. To accommodate the airport custodians, who were having difficulty navigating their way around the devotees, one leading disciple stepped up on a seat and announced that all the devotees should move to one side. Upon hearing the announcement, the sea of of devotees shifted to a particular part of the lounge — including Srila Prabhupada. “Oh, you don’t have to move there, Srila Prabhupada,” said the devotee with the loudspeaker. “But I am also a devotee,” said Srila Prabhupada. This is humility.

“A humble leader,” wrote Watkins, “listens to others. He or she values input from employee s and is ready to hear the truth, even if it is bad news. Humility is marked by an ability to admit mistakes.

“There is no humility in either Skilling or Lay,” she concludes. “By ‘taking care of himself,’ Lay violated one of Jesus’ leadership lessons, found in Mark 9:35: ‘If anyone desires to be first, he must be last of all, and servant of all.’” Krsna consciousness teaches nothing if it does not teach how to be a servant — a servant of both God and humanity.

This is Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s main thesis — that we must learn to value the “servant-leader.” In corporate lingo, it’s the one who clearly demonstrates that the interests of the organization and its customers, employees and investors come first, not his own. As Watkins says, “Humility is a critically important trait in leaders. We have to ask ourselves, Is our society cultivating humility? Do we exhibit that trait individually and collectively as a nation? Will we stop and learn from the Enron lesson in leadership failures, or will we just shrug our shoulders and thank God we’re not Ken Lay?” By following the example of Srila Prabhupada, we can learn to live according to principles and qualities that could have saved Enron -- as well as many who suffer through these touch economic times. This includes humility, and so much more.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Drum Major Instinct

Excerpts from a sermon by Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, spoken at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia on February 4, 1968

Let us see that we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.

We begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby is a bid for attention. And all through childhood the drum major impulse or instinct is a major obsession. Children ask life to grant them first place. They are a little bundle of ego. And they innately have the drum major impulse or instinct inside them.

Now in adult life, we still have it, and we really never get by it. We like to do something good, and we like to be praised for it. Everybody likes it, as a matter of fact. And somehow this warm glow we feel when we are praised or when our name is in print is like the vitamin A to our ego.

There comes a time that the drum major instinct can become destructive. And that's where I want to move now. I want to move to the point of saying that if this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one's personality to become distorted. If it isn't harnessed, you will end up day in and day out trying to deal with your ego problem by boasting.

And then the final great tragedy of the distorted personality is the fact that when one fails to harness this instinct, he ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up. And whenever you do that, you engage in some of the most vicious activities. You will spread evil, vicious, lying gossip on people, because you are trying to pull them down in order to push yourself up. And the great issue of life is to harness the drum major instinct.

The drum major instinct can lead to exclusivity in one's thinking and can lead one to feel that because he has some training, he's a little better than the person who doesn't have it. Or because he has some economic security, that he's a little better than the person who doesn't have it. And that's the uncontrolled, perverted use of the drum major instinct.

But that isn't what Jesus did; he did something altogether different. He said in substance, "Oh, I see, you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you're going to be my disciple, you must be." But he reordered priorities. And he said, "Yes, don't give up this instinct. It's a good instinct if you use it right. It's a good instinct if you don't distort it and pervert it. Don't give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do."

And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness.

What I like about this perspective is that under this definition of greatness, everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Perfect Guide

Excerpts from a 1966 East Village lecture by His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, the world's most learned and profound exponent of the art of bhakti-yoga

By nature we are destined to follow some kind of leadership. Nobody is independent. And we are trying to join some group according to the similarity of thought and propensities. There are different kinds of association, various associations such as mercantile association, bankers' association, lawyers' association, and there is a leader. That is nature's way.

Now, the supreme leader is Sri Krsna, but we do not know that the supreme leader is the Supreme Divine Being, or Krsna. So we are informed of this in the Vedic literature, and in the Bhagavad-gitä also, the same thing is confirmed, that

ye yatha mam prapadyante

tams tathaiva bhajamy aham

mama vartmanuvartante

manusyah partha sarvasah

As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pṛthā. Gita Chapter 4 Verse 11

Especially Krsna mentions the manusya. Manusya means the human being. The human being is especially mentioned here because the human being is considered the highest perfectional stage of the living condition, and especially the human being has the prerogative to understand the supreme leadership of Sri Krsna. The animals cannot understand it, nor people who live in an animalistic way.

Therefore everyone is following the leadership or the representative of the leadership. So suppose a political leader or religious leader is there, and thousands of people are following him. What is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gitä, is that they are invested with certain power of Sri Krsna. So everyone is following directly or indirectly the supreme leadership of Krsna, and the perfectional stage of accepting that leadership is when we accept Sri Krsna as our direct leader.

This is the science of Krsna. So simply by knowing this science of Krsna, if we can get liberation from these material miseries of life, why should we not try for this? Let us try for Krsna consciousness. It is a very nice subject matter and very easy. You simply come and hear nice music and singing. And beginning with music, ending with music, some distribution of prasädam, with nice palatable dishes for eating, and everyone will like it. So Bhagavad-gitä says, su-sukham: "This is a process is very palatable and very pleasurable and very easy." And still, you get Krsna. It is the easiest process, with a most pleasurable and happy mood, and still you get the Supreme.

It is stated in the Bhagavad-gitä, once you begin, even one percent you can realize, and that will never be lost. That will remain a permanent settlement. Now suppose if you are trying for your BA examination, or you have passed your BA.examination. Now, with the end of this body, your qualification as graduate of Columbia University or any university is finished. Now your life begins in another body, and you have to acquire knowledge again to become qualified to graduate. But this knowledge is not like that.

Because it is spiritual knowledge, absolute knowledge, it goes with you, with your spirit. Because whatever you have learned, that remains an asset, and you will get another chance of a human body to begin from where you have ended in this life.

We are already under the control of some leadership. That is a fact. Why should we not take exactly, directly, the leadership of Krsna? This is the process. If you have got any doubt, that "Why should I take the leadership of Krsna?" the answer is there in the Bhagavad-gitä. This is the real study of Bhagavad-gitä. In the Bhagavad-gitä the Lord says that

sarva-dharman parityajya

mam ekam saranam vraja

aham tvam sarva-papebhyo

moksayisyami ma sucah

Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear. Gita Chapter 18 Verse 66

"Just give up everything, and just be surrendered unto Me. I shall give you all protection." So instead of accepting so many imperfect forms of leadership, let us accept the leadership of Krsna and make our life perfect. That is the whole philosophy.

That is the real aim of life, and Lord Krsna is personally teaching this in the Bhagavad-gitä. Why should we not take advantage of this? We should not refuse. We can refuse because we are individual souls with independence. If you like, you can refuse, but we should not refuse.

We worship leadership—why? Because we want something from that leadership. So it is possible that if we worship other demigods, we can get some temporary relief from our distress, but if you take to Krsna, then the relief is permanent, and we can give up this body and go directly to the spiritual kingdom to be associated with Krsna.