Sunday, May 31, 2009

Golden Moonrise

By Chris Fici

Consider this: Hundreds of thousands of people, five hundred years ago, the streets of Navadvip, West Bengal, a torchlight procession, drums thundering, feet and hands in a wild, transcendent, eternal, ecstatic dance, marching to the Chand Kazi's estate, marching with one purpose in mind, to have the exalted and inspired right to chant the names of the Divine to their soul's content. This is no regular protest, not your ordinary rebellion. This is the spiritual revolution, its thunder resounding throughout the dance steps of our history

The revolution must take place in men before it can be manifest in things.

  • Graffiti written during a French student revolt, May 1968

The sacred and the profane. Two dogs barking in our hearts, demanding our attention. Which one do we feed? In our constant struggle to define a blissful, loving state of humanity, we do most anything and everything to attract and achieve liberty, justice, and equality on this globe so blue. How do we achieve a real revolution? How do we go beyond the “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” syndrome.

We get a clue from that torchlight parade of the ecstatic chanters and dancers, the sankirtana party, from the streets of Navadvip, led by the great spiritual inspiration of the saintly, supreme activist Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The spiritual predecessor of such great personalities as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Mahaprabhu's mission was to freely give us what we have forgotten, the connection to our higher self, our identity as eternal spirit soul, beyond this temporary suffering body, to each and every living entity, without discrimination, through the vessel of the chanting of the Divine Holy Names, the maha-mantra, the Hare Krsna mantra (Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare)

In our temple here in the East Village, we carry those still-lit torches, trying our humble best to carry the message of Mahaprabhu forward in these post-modern, hodge-podge times. The message can be boiled down to this:

We know our human condition, our human society, desperately needs change, and is on the cusp of an upheaval that could either liberate us or destroy us. To make that collective decision for our future, we have to change our heart first, before we can change any external situation. We must clean the dust off our souls and find the internal strength that is the essential foundation to our external battles against the oppression and injustice of this world.

This chanting of the maha-mantra, Mahaprabhu's great weapon of redemption, stands, in our own experience as his devotees, as a very direct and very easy way to bring the spiritual revolution to our hearts and to the world. All we can ask of you, when you see us on the transcendent parade in these very streets of NYC, is to give us the chance, give it a try, give it your heart....

Rebellion without truth is like spring in a bleak, arid desert.

The real revolution of our times must have a spiritual foundation. It must begin not with impulsive violence, or posturing of conceit or and hypocrisy. We must fight the oppressor within our own heart first. To do otherwise, as the ordeals of our history have shown us, leads to disappointment and failure for ideals both lofty and sincere. What our planet, what our people need now, first and foremost, is an internal revolution, a revolution of the heart and soul.

If we want to clean up our environment, and the cultural atmosphere we live in, we must begin by tending to our own internal environment, our own internal atmosphere. This is the first and most fundamental step.

When Mahaprabhu's ecstatic parade came to the house of the Chand Kazi, the despotic ruler threatening to smash the drums of the sankirtana revolution, he simply offered his saintly personality and his firm grasp of the universal truths of the spiritual heritage we all share. By his logic and his clean, clear heart, Mahaprabhu convinced the Chand Kazi to allow the chanting of the Holy Names to be free and available to all. No need for guns, hateful rhetoric, or political intrigue. Just soul.

This may sound naïve, too soft in the gut, as ifnd asking to be beaten and bullied by the big schoolyard kids with their missiles and gold. However, the challenge remains dangling for the hardened cynics to answer. Like the succulent ghee that comes from clarifying butter, the impurities in our own heart must be removed to give us the chance to win our countless external battles for truth and well-being for all.

This search for real truth, for internal depth and meaning, for the right to think for ourselves and to live in a world based on justice and equality, leads us to a deeper questioning of the fundamental nature of reality. What does our spiritual nature have to do with all of this fussing and fighting, pleading and demonstrating?

Why did we feel an urge to restore our relationship with the Divine as a way to take part in this vision of a better world? The more we think about it., the more we understand that we must put our souls into the fight, that we must rely not only on each other, but on the spiritual energy that surrounds us and pervades us.

Our people power needs this boost, a very real boost that must be experienced and put into practice. The internal, transcendental strength it gives us is the power and the fearlessness we must wield against an all-pervading culture of greed and selfishness that threatens to devour our every waking and dreaming moment.

In every sense, fighting for change in this world is such a great struggle. It takes great intelligence and perseverance and internal strength to bring real light into the darkness of our times. This light is something we can constantly access if we turn inwards, and try to personally become, to the deepest part of our being, the change and restoration we wish to see in this world.

From In the canyons of Manhattan, to the agricultural, sun-baked horizons of India, as the voices of shattered discontent rise from the streets of Greece and England t, oin the brave blogosphere of democratic hopes in China, and the still simmering realities of ghetto strife in Detroit, Los Angeles, and Paris, the plea for the birthright to the human vision and our spiritual heritage rises up beyond stereotype and stagnation into the ethers of our daily lives. It demands to be answered.

As the humble practioners of the lifestyle of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, we answer by loudly chanting the Holy Names. It is what we do, with all of our honesty and sincerity, our offering to the tidal wave of change on the horizon. All we can ask of you, when you see us on the transcendent parade in these very streets of NYC, is to give us the chance, give it a try, give it your heart....

Consider this: NYC, Lower East Side, a March night with spring sneaking in, drums thundering, feet and hands moving in the ecstatic, transcendent trance dance, marching in the concrete canyons, selflessly giving the gift of the Holy Name.. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare... The STOMP sign on 2nd Avenue coincidentally announces ussays...but we were already there. Black, white, Indian, Vietnamese, some all mixed up, all of us all clear in heart, the real United Nations. This is the spiritual revolution, its thunder still resounding throughout the dance steps of history.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Faith and Flavor: The Taste of the Gita

Aditi Sriram graduated from Columbia University in 2007 and has been working in New York City as a consultant since then.

Her spiritual heritage and contemporary search for truth and wisdom has led her to a time-tested source, the Bhagavad-Gita.

Here, she shares some of her dynamic and sincere insights and personal inspirations.

Before I turned 18, I lived in 4 countries and attended 6 schools. Transition, adjustment, flexibility – these were concepts I understood and embraced. It was after I settled into a dorm room at Columbia University as a freshman that time stopped moving so quickly, and my attitude started to shift from adaptation to identification and independence. I was no longer living with my parents, so obedience and duty had to come from within. Suddenly I was relying on my conscience instead of my parents to discipline me, and navigating a moral code for the sake of principle and not deference. College juxtaposed endless opportunity – hundreds of academic majors, internships and lectures – with inescapable mundanities – assignments, alarm snooze buttons, laundry – and it was up to me to prioritize all my activities in the way that best expressed my identity.

Inevitably I signed up for a class on Middle Eastern and Indian Civilizations, eager to see my culture in a glossy textbook. Conversations erupted about religion, caste, education and the controversies embedded in these constructs. I’d contribute with personal experience, having lived in India, but 21st century Bombay does not explain sati (self-sacrifice) very effectively. I remembered what my father would always say to my siblings and I when we had questions about specific Hindu teachings – why isn’t there an equivalent Brahmachari Puja (celibate monk life) for women? What are the differences between Shaivites (worshipers of Shiva) and Vaishnavites (worshipers of Vishnu)? – and were not satisfied with his answer: Go to the source, go to the texts. All the answers are there! Don’t make judgments before you have fully sought out an answer.

Study which texts? Pray to which Gods? Visit which temples? Where did one start? Hinduism is overwhelming in the plurality of ways it can be approached and analyzed in order to understand, embrace, and live by it. Yet Hinduism appeals to people the way Krishna appeals to the Gopis (Krishna's milkmaid servants): by calling out to the curious individual, singling him out and welcoming him. The umbrella of Hinduism is as all-encompassing as Mt. Govardhan (a Vaishnava holy site); everyone can find their patch of shelter underneath it and, once ready, Krishna guides them out with a customized path to help them advance through the religion, always with love and encouragement.

My foray was an on-campus discussion group that involved copious amounts of free, Indian, vegetarian food and two very friendly Hare Krishna monks in saffron robes, armed with many copies of the Bhagavad Gita. The crowd was casual, the conversation comfortable and the food consummate! Perhaps my priorities were misaligned at the time – my focus being more on the food than on the text – but a fulfilled stomach abets a fulfilled mind, and I was moved to speak up, when my mouth was finally empty.

At first, I felt like I knew more than my counterparts since I knew the premise of the Gita, the principal characters and the subsidiary myths, but with each verse that we explored, I became less concerned with the pace of the pack, and more disarmed by the language of the Gita. Love everyone the same way – your mother the way you would a neighbor, and a stranger the way you would your mother? Dust off the layer of lust that coats your heart and turns love into attachment? The Gita chastised human temperaments, without temper, and revolutionized our discussion group’s thoughts, without starting any fights: we were all Arjunas and Sanjayas, blessed with Krishna and his words just inches away from our ears (next to our plates of pasta and halava!). I was amazed at the potency of the words.

I had encounters with realized souls that demonstrated karma to me just the way Krishna, Narada and others created circumstances for their devotees to interact in and learn from – twice with Radhanath Swami and once with a complete stranger on a New York City bus who, after telling me that my guru would find me, told me that he could see “right through” me, that he knew who I was. I realized that for every thought I devoted to cultivating a consciousness and formulating an awareness, I was being rewarded. A summer internship in India exposed me, once again, to the harsh juxtapositions of luxury and poverty, religious adherence and intolerance, and the frailty of life in a country of 1 billion. I

I questioned Hinduism still further, and received patiently responses from the same monks at Columbia, who helped me put life, mortality and meaningfulness in the perspective of karma and dharma (duty). We glorify the Lord to practice compassion and humility, and Krishna glorifies us for our efforts, creating distractions from the maya (illusion) that surrounds us and allowing us a glimpse of pure interaction.

It was easy to compartmentalize my Gita study into a weekly activity and keep busy with academics, other extra-curricular activities, and the wealth of distraction that New York City had to offer.! But after graduating and starting a full-time job, my thoughts seemed to toggle between tasks at work, and subsequent fatigue at home. Having spent the day staring at a computer screen, I was too tired to read at night. My copy of the Gita sat on a shelf, collecting its own proverbial layer of dust, hiding from me its potential to lessen the stress from my daily routine. This could not last forever, of course; circumstances found me at the Hare Krishna temple, hungry for halava and an honest discussion. I

I found the energy to pick up the Gita again, determined to read it from Chapter 1 to Chapter 12. Comparing the examples of service and compassion in the Gita to my varied interactions at work have shown me how power and control wrongly dominate the workplace – and how easy it is to get caught up in it. Every visit to the Hare Krishna ashram is personal and intimate, while the office can feel like a maze of cubicles. I have re-prioritized once again, to define my attitude towards work with the determination and humility I draw upon when discussing the Gita. I am hearing its language – or noticing its lack thereof – in newspaper headlines about greedy leaders, in lust-filled enterprises, and rejoicing in the examples the Lord puts forth to his devotees when we most need it. I have tasted the endlessness of the Gita, and I have returned to it!

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Real Prankster

From our "Reflections On Friendship From The Monks Of The East Village" series

by Ghanashyam Dasa

Friendships are generally based on a common interest or aim. What is my aim in life? This is the all-important question that will determine the quality of our friendships. The higher the interest or aim, the stronger the bond. At least, this is my personal experience.

In high school, the common interest I shared with a group of friends was to have a good laugh at the expense of another friend. Unlike most teenagers, I couldn’t wait to get to school on Monday mornings. Sunday nights I would sit in my room in full concentration, thinking of a plot and devising a plan to "set up" a "good friend" for a devastating embarrassment. Not very deep, but back then I somehow lived for those moments. My mother was so proud to occasionally see me in my room preparing for the next day at school. I sat there at my desk, pen and paper in hand, thoughtfully gazing out the window, excitedly writing down any breakthrough ideas. My mother would sometimes bring me a hot chocolate. When the plan was executed, success would be determined by the look of shock of the surrounding people, and the laughs that were produced from my friends who weren't targeted.

Here's a sample: I was keen to observe that during gym class, one friend of ours would leave his locker unlocked. He was quite different from the rest of our crew, in that his personal life-style of choice could be understood by the term Death-Rock. He had long hair, played electric guitar, decorated his body with silver spikes, and wore all black at all times. His least favorite class was gym. He hated sports, but more importantly, everyday for one hour, he hated having to change from death-mode to little blue shorts, a white T-shirt, and clean white tennis shoes.

One day he returned to his locker after gym class to change his clothes quickly. But to his surprise, his death-metal wardrobe was nowhere to be found. It was replaced by a pink swimsuit and a mexican sombrero. His high black combat boots were replaced with yellow beach sandals. He became angered, but soon composed himself, all along hoping, and perhaps praying, that it would be just a few moments before his things were returned. But it wasn't so. We would sometimes take things too far. And because our "set ups" were a group activity, we could always protect ourselves with our famous line: "Sorry Steve, but it wasn't me." "I'm not sure who did it." This was our saving grace.Needless to say, most of those friendships didn't continue after high school. Our common interest was shallow, and therefore our bonds were weak.

Fortunately, in college my activities became a little more normal. But still, I could see that, though the form had changed, my aim was the same: It was egoistic and self-centered. Upon a little inward reflection, it seemed that in all my relationships, the motivating factor was my own self-interest. I began to wonder if it was even possible for it to be otherwise. Later, I understood that for the time being, it might not be possible to immediately change this. But there is one secret that I have learned, and am now trying to practice.

There is one self-interest that doesn't harm friendships but strengthens them. What could that be? It is when the common interest of our friendships is self-purity. What could be more healthy for a friendship? When friends are united in trying to uproot their own unhealthy tendencies, truly deep relationships can be born and maintained. Before we can genuinely love one another, we have to be able to love. We each have many things within us that block and prevent us from loving one another. But if friends become determined in this higher aim of self-purity, then even the setbacks and failures can act as opportunities to practice the virtues of humility, love, and forgiveness. When this is our aim, and our attitude is right, nothing can be an impediment. Everything teaches us, helps us.

Of course, to find such a place or community may not be so easy. But such places do exist and I've been fortunate enough to discover one. I am presently living in an asrama on the Lower East Side with a group of people dedicated to such an ideal. Even here, my pranks continue, but they are secondary to a deeper aim. That deeper aim includes acts of devotion and service to one another. There's one monk here who, on occasion, very happily makes a delicious pancake breakfast for the pleasure of all the others.

Recently, I was inspired by his enthusiasm to serve everyone, and so I decided to help. As I mixed bananas and blueberries into the batter, I was suddenly struck with a breakthrough idea that must have come from the Supreme Lord Himself. I thought, "I can make one special pancake with a long hot chili pepper in the middle." "And if I mix it with the others, it will be very exciting to find out which monk will become the lucky reciepient of this flavorful delight." As I waited in silent anticipation after serving out the first batch, a jolt of fear entered my heart. "Oh no!" I thought, "What if an older, more serious monk gets the hot pepper?" "Maybe this wasn't God's idea." It would surely be harder for a more senior monk to appreciate my strange sense of humor. Now in total anxiety, I served out the second batch. I was trying to think of what to do or say if the wrong monk got the hot pepper. But I was drawing a blank. Finally, I heard a murmur from a monk in the far corner of the room. "Why are these pancakes spicy?" he said. Everyone just ignored him, as it apparently made no sense to anyone else. Internally I was laughing, externally I was passing the maple syrup. He took another bite. A few seconds later he loudly shouted, "These pancakes are hot!" I knew that with his second bite he really got a good chunk. It happened to be the youngest monk in the room. I therefore knew, beyond all doubt, that it was in fact the will of the Lord. I felt great relief and the young monk vowed to get revenge.

I still play around like this sometimes, but unlike the past, these friendships mean everything to me. They are fun, yet profound. And they are always meaningful and fulfilling. Of course, there are struggles. We have many short-comings. But they are overlooked and overcome for the sake of these higher aims: compassion, self-purity, and service to one another. Even just striving together for such aims brings greater understanding and joy into the heart. Our bonds are strengthening, and as those virtues of purity actually begin to reawaken, the bonds of friendship can become unbreakable. When self-interest starts to slacken, we finally begin to understand what it means to love.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dancing Around, Bouncing Off One Another, Like Atoms Inside a Molecule

From our "Reflections On Friendship From The Monks Of The East Village" series

by Ari Weiss

It was my freshman year of college and I was on the phone with my girlfriend, Ella.
“While I was in class today, I was thinking of you practically the entire time!”
Ella lived upstate, a good five hours from NYU, and I was real good at getting sappy with her about that.
There was silence on the other end.
“Well, what about you?” I provoked.
“I enjoyed a nice lecture on the evolution of the wombat.”
Silence on my end.
Then: “You didn’t think about me at all today?”
“Ummm… I didn’t say that.”
“Well did you?”
“We’re not going to talk about this now.”
“Why not?”
“I have an idea!”
“What?” I growled.
“Why don’t you listen to how cool wombats are?”
“I don’t think that’s appropriate…”
“Why not?”
And we’d be shouting again.
I wish I could say that it was all in good fun. The messier truth is that, regardless of how it may come off in retrospect, it wasn’t all that much fun back then.

Sitting at the foot of the dorm-room door, the only relief came when the surgeon knocked. Her name was Jesse and she was also a freshman. Jesse had dark brown hair and a kind face that begged for sympathy, though she could attract more friends than anyone else on our floor.
Jesse liked to knock. She didn’t mind that I was sitting with my arms hugging my thighs outside the very door she knocked on.
“Hey Jesse.”
“Hey Ari. How’s it going?”
Cellular phone clutched in my right hand, the LCD screen glistening with sweat beads, Jesse didn’t really have to ask.
“Okay,” I said with a little mustered cheer.
“I brought you some CDs.”
“Oh, no way!”
From beneath a violet cloth, she unsheathed six Tori Amos albums and a Talking Heads album which I hadn’t yet snagged for my collection.
“Nice!” I shouted. “Hold on, one second,” I said, scrambling to my feet.
I reemerged from my dorm room with a fistful of discs that doubled hers, all meticulously labeled with multi-colored markers.
Her face lit up.
And we’d proceed to talk about Ella, Bowie, and our hopes and dreams that night until the dawn threatened to creep up on us. Jesse sewed up my wounded ego every time I needed it. She had a superb sense of timing. There was nothing romantic about our relationship, except that it fit precisely my romanticized ideal for what a deep and sincere friendship should be. I loved Jesse as my ideal friend and I loved Ella as my ideal beloved.

Then one day, each of them vanished. Spontaneously, as if they’d never been there in the first place, they entered into the boundless realm of memory. I often drove myself to distraction. ‘How could this be?!’ I could apply no sound logic to placate the mind or coax the heart out of its existence. One day, these ladies appeared both so real, as was the affection I wielded in their direction. Then the next, they were gone and I had to redirect my feelings elsewhere, or render my heart more callous.

In the months that followed, I alone went up against the whole of New York, simply searching for a good friend. And somehow, as a starry-eyed student, I’d managed to find myself “bonding deeply” with a new best friend… every week.
The indigestible fact was that even with all of the unlimited possibility that lay vibrantly in wait, there was only limited outcome. What I wanted, very matter-of-factly, and what I believed, deep down, every NYU student who’d enrolled alongside me in the fall of 2002 really wanted, were meaningful relationships saturated with warmth, trust, humor, and identity.

Either, we’d all gotten on the same train, then gotten off at different stops along the way, or I’d brilliantly gotten myself onto the wrong train altogether. Nevertheless, there I was, freshly on the cusp of living 18 years, ardently seeking hominess in a gaping city that overflowed with individual potential pursuit, and ever so subtly, forcing myself into the recognition that we were all, the whole lot of us, dancing around, bouncing off one another like atoms inside a molecule. There were no actual bonds formed, only intersections of time and place, surcharged with emotion.

No one stopped to tell us that in the midst of all the wondrous madness, we human beings could scarcely see one another, what to speak of getting to know one another. Not that we’d have heard it. We presumed “getting to know someone” meant spilling our guts when drunk or stripping our clothes in bed. At best, it meant simply doing the same things together… There was no real heart. The soul was a formidable myth. Taste defined life.

Aesthetics were not just valued, they were worshiped. But no one wanted to admit the sheer religiosity of their aesthetic ideology, least of all my own self. And yet, I did feel something, even if most notably in retrospect. Neo’s “splinter in the mind” had struck me – something was off - and I’d not simply allow it to fester.

In course of time I came to befriend, casually at first, a humble group of lively monks. I gradually began to appreciate that their relationships had little to do with the style one wishes to project or ambition one wishes to achieve. Instead, they achieved a depth by putting themselves second to others. They valued performing tasks that reduced pride by serving each other in menial ways without expectation of returns. Cooking, cleaning, taking out the trash. Done without self-interest. Without entitlement. And most difficult of all, with affection. When I began to see that this was indeed possible, and even pleasurable, my life’s pursuit of romantic ideals became more about becoming the ideal, for the benefit of others, than receiving it for the gratification of my own self.

Ella graduated from school without my seeing her again face to face. She moved back to her hometown in California with a replacement college sweetheart. It seems, by her Facebook profile, that they broke up within a month of settling in together.

I never found out why Jesse stopped knocking on my door. But I ran into her a couple of times throughout my NYU career. Once on West 4th Street overlooking Washington Square Park. Once in the science building, while hastening myself to get to an environmentalism class. And once while tipsy at a party. Each time I’d meet Jesse, I I’d scan her eyes, desperate to detect anything mysterious. Then she’d twirl her dyed-brown locks of hair. And I’d wonder if she’d listened to my R.E.M. CD yet, or if she ever planned on giving it back. The “how are you’s” were brutal. The “good’s” were worse. Before I could ask what classes she was taking, she’d lightly smile and walk away.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Yoga, Choice, and Destiny

Yoga, Choice and Destiny

By Raghunath Das (Ray Cappo)

My entire face puckered and my gag reflux kicked in as I slugged down a two ounce shot of wheat grass juice. "I know this is good for me! I know this is good for me! Just deal with it...antioxidants, chlorophyll, essential amino acids, B vitamins. Just swig it down!" I swallowed. Even my neck seemed to pucker as this lawnmower smoothie dripped down my throat. "Aaaahg. I know there's a greater good coming from that gulp. This is a miracle healing food!"

That was 25 years ago and I remember that first wheat grass juice shot like it was yesterday. I was outside of a health food store on 6th avenue in Manhattan. There was a greasy pot bellied man with a fat neck and eating an equally greasy sausage-like something who was propped up against the wall observing me. He had to say something. "Hey dude - why go through all the trouble? Have some reeaal food." And when he said "reeaal" he pushed the greasy sausage thing towards my head. I mumbled and half smiled at him before I turned and walked away. A quote came to mind: Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freewill and thus our destiny. 25 years later I'm glad I made that choice not to put greasy sausage things in my body and instead to search out seek things that heal me and protect me from instead of causing the dreaded "fat neck syndrome."

It was at that time I had embarked on a spiritual journey that brought me around the world. I had become a yogi and my bible of choice was the Bhagavad Gita, India's foremost book on universal truth. I was all about transformation, change, and evolution. I wanted to transform. I wanted to see if Ii could change the current of where Ii was headed genetically, spiritually, & culturally. I remember the conversation I had about it with my mother a, short old Italian lady from Willliamsburg, Brooklyn.

"We take on different bodies according to our desire and our meditation." I said, paraphrasing the Gita.

"Do you mean we are going to die and come back as a cow or something?!"

"No mom, don't even think of it like that. We don't die. We just observe. Always. Our bodies and the minds just change according to our activities, our passions, and our habits."

It's really easy to dismiss something like reincarnation as other worldly, far fetched or new agey when you think of dying and coming back as a cow, so Ii pressed on, giving a more down to earth analogy that she could relate to.

"Remember when I was little and you'd warn me about hanging out with bad kids - because they'd have a bad influence on me.?"

She remembered and immediately said repeated her famous quote in her Brooklyn dialect, "If you hang out with trouble, -you become trouble! It's true!" she warned as she had since I was 6 years old.

"Exactly! The company we keep creates our consciousness. Our friends, our spouse. Whomever we have in our circle of close people influences who we are and what we become." This time she nodded.

"But it's not only that," I continued, “, "everything that we consume creates us. It creates our new body and mind. As soon as we are hungry we have a choice (here's that 'stimulus and response' quote from above). Whatever we choose to eat creates us and either assists us to evolve or devolve on an evolutionary scale." I was on a role so I didn't stop. " It's not only what food we eat but what we put in our eyes. Our ears. The movies we watch. The books we read. They are all creating us. They are all creating our new bodies and mind at every moment. We are changing every moment and creating a new body with every thought, morsel of food, sound and activity.

"Sound makes us change bodies?!"

"Sure. Don't you think hearing the sounds of Brooklyn every day are going to change your consciousness as opposed to you growing up in.....the Grand Canyon. Don't you think you create a different mind growing up in peace? Sound too creates us."

I think she got it.

There is a concept taught in the ancient histories of yoga. It's said animals get no karma or reactions for their actions. If I slap a tiger and he bites me he doesn't get any bad karma for biting me. That's what tigers do. In the in the human species we are responsible for our actions. If somebody slaps me, I have an opportunity to react in many ways. I could slap him back. It could come from a base feeling of revenge, anger and hostility. It could be rage. Or I could give a thoughtful stare. I could wonder what got into this guy to make himthem slug me, and I could ask him if he is alright. Ask him how he is. Each choice grants me a different reaction. Advancing in the yoga system means training ourselves to take more space after stimulus and , before response - to act in a way that let's us evolve. Can we use our higher consciousness instead of our lower consciousness?. Be in control of our thoughts, our choices, instead of acting on auto-pilot?. If so, we can evolve instead of devolving.

Yes, you can devolve. I've had days, even years where Ii felt, "God! I've really devolved this year! I use to be up there but now I'm down here! What's happened to me?" It's true, we can either grow intoas more conscious, caring, enlightened beings, or we become more bound toup in the material world. More animalistic (in every bad sense of ‘animal’). More reactive. Impulsive. Trapped. More frustrated within our bodies and minds. Frustrated by lower passions and desires that produces grief and disappointment.

Therefore the yogi is constantly thinking, "How can I live in such a way to surround my senses with things that will enlighten my consciousness and not degrade the consciousness? What am I letting into my universe? Into my senses? Whom and what do I have to cut out and what do I have to add in order to grow? To evolve? How can I create more space between stimulus and response?

ex-punk, ex-monk, yogi, husband, father to four, inversion ambassador. detox junkie. evolution assistant. coalesced by kirtan. cacao consumer. reciter of Gita. animal friendly. transcendence in training. full contact fighter. devours durian. likes to chant. likes a challenge. servant of the servants. harmonium hugger. conscious of Krishna.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Spiritual Stimulus

Rasanath Das, our good friend and spiritual guide from the East Village Temple community, explains from his own unique perspective, as a former member of the Wall Street elect, that we need to look into our heart and find a place for "A Spiritual Stimulus"

August 2nd, 2007. There was excitement in the air. The décor in the ball room at the Times Square Hilton was exquisite, the populace dressed in crisp business suits, shaking hands and introducing themselves, and right on the center of the far wall, the projector screen proudly displayed “Bank of America. Higher Standards.” As the fresh batch MBAs from top business schools walked into the room, the mood was clear. The long-cherished dream of working on The Street (also known as Wall Street) had finally come true for the many aspiring bankers and traders assembled.

As we settled down, my mind flashed back to the yesteryears. As a 9th grader, I was an ardent fan of Charlie Sheen in “Wall Street”. The momentum that was generated 14 years ago had finally met with success. I was one of 13 associates about to start an exciting career in Investment Banking (oh, those big bonuses!) with the Technology and Media group of Bank of America. The Global Head of Investment Banking, Mr. Brian Brille opened his address to the class with the statement, “You are all starting here at a very historic time….” Exhilarating!

Flash ahead-The saxophone loudly played the title music of “The Titanic”. The faces of the people walking out of the building with card board boxes said the story. The moment was historic. September 8th, 2008 – I stood outside the Lehman Brothers building at 745 7th Avenue, as the street artist waved dry erase markers at passers-by, urging them to express “words of gratitude” on his painting of the Lehman Brothers CEO, Mr. Richard Fuld. The excitement was over, the bonuses had evaporated, and two Wall Street giants - Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers - had met their end. The remaining had been severely battered.

It all seemed like a dream. Emotions ran high through my head as I walked past Times Square– disappointment, anger and embarrassment. As the newspapers played into the blame game voicing the opinions of the general public on people working on Wall Street, Wall Street had become something like a criminal’s haven overnight. I felt it when I introduced myself to my neighbor on the Amtrak train, “Oh! You are one of the guys responsible for this mess”, he said with a wry smile. I had my own blame list too, which I used to defend myself. But something did not reconcile. It was true mean, I worked with many of these very people. They were good people – inspiring, driven to succeed, hard working and charitable too. What went wrong?

Over the last few months, some deep thinking , some sobering and heart-felt conversations with empowerment gurus has seemed to provide the much needed answer and possibly a long-term solution to a problem that had always existed through history and now had manifested itself in a different form - the problem of collective greed, or more simply put, greed itself.

It seems like a regular Bible lesson – something that I had learned as a 4 year old kid, too. Only that it took me 24 more years to realize what its unfathomable power can be. As individuals, we don’t seem to think lightly about it in ourselves. When my cousin ardently pointed out that I was being greedy when I took up my job on The Street, I made light out of it, “Well, a little greed does not matter much. After all, there are so manpeople out there who are doing the same. The world will come to a stop if we start thinking so idealistically!”

Greed is an addiction – it starts out as an innocent desire to be comfortable and live comfortably. But somewhere along the way, instead of us controlling money and position, they begin to control and dictate our lives. As my ethics professor at Cornell University once put it, “Watch out when you tell yourself ‘I deserve it’!” And there are hundreds of ways to justify it too – after all logical rationalization seems to be the biggest gift that college education has given us. But as greed grows stronger by the day, fed by our own justifications and inattention, it becomes a way of life.

And when things are going wellgood, it seems too unimportant to notice, as was my case during my brief stint on The Street. We unconsciously became part of a system that has been built oncollective greed (after all the first “commodities” to trade on Wall Street in the early 17th century were human slaves!) and glorified the system when the music is playing well.

But it is when the music stops that reality dawns, of course only after all the anger and frustration has been released and we are ready to honestly look inside our own selves. True, our contribution to this crisis maycould have been insignificant, but if we are not honestly spending time cleansing our own hearts, we just have tomust mentally prepare ourselves for much more of the same. As we vent our frustrations on the Thains, Fulds and Madoffs during of this crisis, it is also important to realize that they were just reflections of the very same greed within our hearts - perhaps only nurtured by more sophisticated and favorable education, power and circumstances than what we may have had. It could have been any of us.

What may be needed in this time of crisis, along with a monetary solution to bail us out of it, is a program to help us monitor, take personal responsibility for and possibly eliminate the greed from our hearts– a Spiritual Stimulus if I may call ityou will. We all want to see this situation change, but to prevent this situation from reoccurring, we need a deeper change. As Mahatma Gandhi wonderfully put it, “Be the change you wish to see in the world!” How we do it, time will tell. But let us use this time to at least resolve (unlike our ‘serious’ New Year Resolutions!) to rid our heart of the pollution of greed. It can be a big step in creating a better world for our children.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Economics According to the Vedic Way

By Stephen Knapp
Courtesy of his website

Economics According To The Vedic Way by Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana Das)

This is a simple explanation of how we should view economics according
to the principles of Vedic Dharma. First of all, the higher vision of
Vedic understanding is that we see everything as the energy of the
Supreme Being. If we can see the Divine in all of life, meaning in all
beings, we must understand that there is a way of conducting business
between each other that upholds and advances our perception of this.
Conducting business or managing economics in a way that deliberately
cheats or exploits others will harden our hearts and our sensitivity
so that we become unable to perceive the Divine in all living beings
and even in ourselves.

The point is that there must be integrity in all transactions and
business relations. If we use the above mentioned principle, then by
seeing the Divine in all living beings, we must realize we are not
merely doing business with another person, but we are also doing
business with the Divine within that person. This means that the
Supreme is also observing our every act, not only from within us but
from within the person with whom we are dealing. If the relationship
has integrity, then that is fine. We will continue in our spiritual
development even while doing our business.

But if there is dishonesty and cheating in our involvement, then the
quick profits we make will only pave our way downward. This will not
be helpful. So we must conduct ourselves, even in business, with the
foundation of the Dharmic principles.

We have easily seen that companies with power may produce various
foods, drugs, beverages or devices that are said to be of great
benefit or are healthy for us, or help us solve our problems with no
side effects or unexpected problems. Yet time and time again we learn
that different kinds of products have indeed been pushed on the public
and have caused harmful side effects, much to the dismay, suffering
and frustration of the people. In fact, However, the company or even
government may deny any such possibility of injury. However, you must
always bear in mind that a story presented as factual from an entity
or company whose purpose is power, control or profits is often a story
not to be trusted.

For example, in today’s world, the use of paper currency, which only
represents a value rather than being a tangible item like gold or
silver coins, may be convenient to the user. But those in positions to
set the value on such currency can also more easily manipulate it.
This creates abstractions in the link between the paper representation
and the actual gold it is supposed to be representing. At other times
the combined confidence that people and governments place in a
currency may fluctuate greatly, making it especially vulnerable to
times of political upheaval or war. Such currency can then become
completely worthless.

The fluctuating character of this type of currency also helps separate
society from nature. Nature requires balance in the environment to
operate properly, while currency that only represents what is supposed
to be tangible values is more easily manipulated. It is the
adjustments in currency and interest values which often create
stressful fluctuations for the ordinary consumers and for the general
mass of people. People who are most implicated in these fluctuations
are less likely to advance economically, as are those who are in
positions to claim profits from the same adjustments or manipulations
in the markets and economy. This is the difference between those
involved in the global monopoly game, which is artificially propped
up, and those that depend on real value, such as the gold standard or
genuine real estate values.

In this way, the gold-standard currency is based on falsehood because
the currency does not accurately represent the reserved gold. Because
the money value is inflated, prices on commodities rise. The only way
to reduce inflation and have an honest currency is to use that which
has intrinsic value, such as when trading something of equal value as
in bartering or using real currency like gold and silver coins. That
is an honest system.

Real prosperity flourishes on the natural gifts of nature, or God’s
gifts to us. Villages and towns and their local economy will flourish
when there is plenty of grains, vegetables, herbs, trees full of
fruits, rivers flowing with fresh and clean water, and hills full of
minerals. When this is the situation, there will be plenty for
everyone. If society has sufficient natural resources in this way,
then why should it endeavor for huge industrial complexes that require
the labor of numerous men by sending them into dark factories where
they spend their lives in exchange for inflated dollars, and then have
to pay a sizable portion of their earnings for government taxes?

Industry produces so many items that are in demand only because of the
advertising they show use to convince people that they need to
purchase the item in order to be happy. Essentially, the more society
depends on artificial necessities, the more vulnerable it becomes to
artificial crises. Thus, civilization suffers and the economy slows
whenever there is not enough oil, gas, electricity, or when the prices
of such modern commodities become too high. When there is a loss of
oil, gas, and other such necessities, or when there is an electrical
blackout, so many activities are forced to stop. So many machines and
appliances are but recent inventions, but now we have become so
dependent on them that without them we think we can no longer
function. Thus, people become trapped ever more deeply in the struggle
to earn more money to buy more things that they are convinced they
require to live happily and comfortably. In this way, they are tied
and enslaved to a system whose goal is profits rather than really
benefitting to society. In such a system, humanity loses its
sensitivity for their finer intellectual development and has neither
no time nor and no taste for any spiritual pursuits, except possibly
for the most elementary levels of moral standards.

In the natural form of economy, which is the Vedic system, the basic
principle of economic development is land and its produce. Whoever
controls land controls food. Whosoever controls food and fuel controls
the world. This is why land should always be in the hands of local
farmers, so that everything is shared and all people everyone can
prosper. Once large industrial or national complexes take it over,
such large tracts of land are no longer in the hands of a local
economy, but are controlled by large companies who have their own
concerns and plans. Then land becomes another element by which to
manipulate profits, resources, people, and even other communities and
global markets. History has also shown that such companies are often
connected with crooked politicians, or their networks that want more
and more power.

By developing the land properly for vegetable and grain production,
society can solve its eating problems. By producing enough cotton,
wood, minerals, and additional resources from the land, humanity can
work out its economic problems without depending on an artificial
economic or political system.

Those who do become wealthy by honest means can more easily
acknowledge his or her opulence as gifts from God. Thus, one’s
business, if done morally, can be a way of invoking the principle of
Dharma. Such gifts or blessings also come in the form of one’s own
intelligence and ingenuity for devising wholesome ideas and needed
products for the benefit of others, and from which one’s business will
expand. Thus, without the blessings of God in every way, we cannot
progress or be happy. All things, from wealth to , health, good birth,
beauty, good education, etc., are all examples of gifts from God.
Therefore, we all must acknowledge our gratefulness, especially those
who have become more successful. When a family or society offers such
acknowledgment, their success and happiness can increase in a balanced
and moral way.

In conclusion to this line of thinking, we must recognize that one of
the greatest forms of pollution in this world is that of competition--
competition for position, power and money. It is natural to work at
devising better ways of doing business and producing more effective
products. Whoever has what is best will more likely succeed.
Competition based on envy, jealousy, and deviousness, or simply for
more money, makes individuals and companies resort to dishonorable
means to get ahead, to get more market share, more customers, and ways
of making products more cheaply. This also adds to social stress
levels by forcing people to increasingly think increasingly in terms
of growing profits and income, while and lowering expenses. This takes
away from the peace in the world, and often adds to the pollution in
the environment by using resources in less eco-friendly ways.

Because we have forgotten our true spiritual nature, we are stressed
and crying over small and unimportant problems that have little to do
with our real identity as spiritual beings. Because such difficulties
are not connected to who we really are, they actually have little
relevancey to our spiritual nature. But because we are so attached to
our temporary and bodily identity, we are greatly affected so much by
these ephemeral and superficial troubles. This is not how we are meant
to proceed through life. We should not get entangled in such a way
manner to this illusion. It wastes our time and distracts us from the
things that matter most.

We may have made so much technological progress and have numerous
facilities added to our comforts of life, yet we can still see so many
people suffering in this world. This is primarily because money, and
people who are greedy for money, rule the world. Not everyone is
cruel, but who cannot see how the misery of many people in this world
is caused by the greediness of others? The perverted politicians and
rulers in various countries have created so much trouble that almost
all of the torment of people who are poor, starving, or even being
slaughtered or enslaved into prostitution to do the wicked bidding of
others, has been due to the unending selfishness and greed for money
and power. Do you think this is the way of a truly progressive world?
We can plainly see that it is increasingly becoming more godless and
thus more hellish. If this trend continues, society will lose its
moral values and respect for life. People will become progressively
more desperate and the world ever more lost.

A new influence must rise to purify this world from the rulership
kingdom of money, dirty politics, and a false and misguided economic
system. We must feel the influence of spiritual knowledge, for only
then can society know what is real peace and happiness, and live
together cooperatively. It is knowledge and awareness of our spiritual
identity and our connection with the Supreme Spirit that will fill our
hearts with the deep inner peace and contentment that we are looking
for. If we can progress in this way, our own happiness and peace can
spread to others. That i’s how we can become the peacemakers and help
fill society with the tranquility of such self-sufficient happiness
and contentment. Then our only concern will be how to relieve the
suffering of others. The more people reach this state of
consciousness, the more beautiful society will become beautiful and
the world will be wonderful. Then Tthe tendency for war and the
manipulation over others because of greed for money and power will
cease, and the world will live in peace. We have to be strong enough
to make such a change.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

MGCA (Matchless Gifts Conscious Arts) on You Tube!

MGCA (Matchless Gifts Conscious Arts)!!
The name says it all...gifted, spiritual, deep, funky, profound.

Don't let your computer be a tool of material mayhem!
Tune in to the MGCA YouTube channel for all the latest sights and sounds from our open mics (every last Thursday of the month, 7pm, The East Village Temple, 25 1st Ave), kirtans, freestyles and more.

We'll have a link to the MGCA YouTube channel up now in the links portion of Spirit Matters online. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Conquering The Enemies of The Mind

by Bhakti-Tirtha Swami

How To Avoid Anxiety
How do we break the pattern of constant worrying? How can people who have protection of the greatest shelter, spiritual shelter, still worry so much? Although we can endlessly worry and consider ourselves to be at the mercy of circumstance, we understand the influence of karma, which refers to any material action that brings a reaction, binding us to this material world. We also understand that higher authorities, our spiritual guides and even supernatural sources such as angels, also have control over all things.

Considering these factors, where does all the worry stem from? We should never think that our higher spiritual guides have left us alone without any help or guidance and without any way to get us out of our problems. We want to find ways to break the worry habits before they break us. If we do not stop such habits, our fears can easily overwhelm us and even turn into chronic depression, phobias, panic attacks, and compulsive behaviors.

We have all seen people who worry about every little detail. If we simply present them with an idea, they will immediately try to show point out its fallibility. They have an insecurity complex along with an existential mood about life, feeling . They feel defeated before they even start. Since they will not take the risk, they lead a life of great boredom, frustration, and mediocrity, which also means less ruci or spiritual taste. We do not want to fall into these destructive patterns; therefore, we want to offer the following techniques to help rescue our consciousness from such a negative mentality.

Do Not Fear The Future
We should try to avoid any worry that revolves around fears of the future. As we live each day, we should simply do our very best today and let the future take care of itself. When we worry too excessively about the future, we often fail to take the necessary actions that will lead to an auspicious future. In many ways, the future is an extension of the present along with influences from the past. Our own mind can create the exact situation we wish to avoid, and an unhealthy mental culture often blocks the divine power that can work through us. When we worry about the future, we do not offer our best today.

Collect The Facts And Then Act
We should get all of the facts. People often try to make decisions before they have a sufficient amount of information about the problem or issue. This lack of knowledge will definietely result in anxiety. We should look at the entire issue and then develop a plan. We should not avoid problems; instead we must recognize the need to work through them in ways that can help us accelerate our spiritual consciousness. When we find ourselves absorbed in worry, we should take the time to reflect on the actual variables involved in the issue because this might help us develop a clearer insight and find a more positive way to respond to the situation. At the very least, we should clearly understand the reasons for our anxiety.

Keep The Mind Busy
Keeping the mind busy is a valuable technique. Plenty of action is one of the best therapies or cures for a worrying mind. Many times we get absorbed in our anxieties because we do not have anything productive in which to engage our minds and bodies. All that loose energy needs to go somewhere. Therefore, a simple technique is to look at our use of time. When we are engaged in a healthy way, we will not be subject to such excessive amounts of anxiety.

Avoid The Trifles
We should carefully avoid worrying about the trifles that can ruin our happiness and faith in the Divine, our spiritual guides, and other saintly personalities. Sometimes we have to be practical by trying to understand the probability of our worst fears actually happening:. What are the chances that I will actually fall down and break my leg? It could definietely happen,s but what are the chances?

Help And Serve Other People
An even greater way to avoid anxiety involves utilizing that energy to think of ways to help another person. We can put so much of our energy into finding ways to serve or assist someone else. There will always be another person whose problems far exceed our own. If we can relinquish some of our selfishness by trying to help another person in distress, we will not waste unnecessary energy in creating the exact problem we want to avoid. By thinking about another person, we will naturally take our focus away from our own appetite and concerns, and this will actually cause to us become more powerful.

If we think too much about ourselves, we actually become powerless because we block the Divine from channeling coming through us. As our selfishness increases, we will correspondingly lose our power in spiritual life because we will check the Divine's real sakti or spiritual power from coming through in our lives. We will prevent the miracles that can occur when we remove our mental and physical disturbances and embrace divinity.

Friday, May 8, 2009

God Talk

From the Think Again blog by Stanley Fish from the New York Times

In the opening sentence of the last chapter of his new book, “Reason, Faith and Revolution,” the British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed. “What other symbolic form,” he queries, “has managed to forge such direct links between the most universal and absolute of truths and the everyday practices of countless millions of men and women?”

Eagleton acknowledges that the links forged are not always benign — many terrible things have been done in religion’s name — but at least religion is trying for something more than local satisfactions, for its “subject is nothing less than the nature and destiny of humanity itself, in relation to what it takes to be its transcendent source of life.” And it is only that great subject, and the aspirations it generates, that can lead, Eagleton insists, to “a radical transformation of what we say and do.”

The other projects, he concedes, provide various comforts and pleasures, but they are finally superficial and tend to the perpetuation of the status quo rather than to meaningful change: “A society of packaged fulfillment, administered desire, managerialized politics and consumerist economics is unlikely to cut to the depth where theological questions can ever be properly raised.”

By theological questions, Eagleton means questions like, “Why is there anything in the first place?”, “Why what we do have is actually intelligible to us?” and “Where do our notions of explanation, regularity and intelligibility come from?”

The fact that science, liberal rationalism and economic calculation can not ask — never mind answer — such questions should not be held against them, for that is not what they do.

And, conversely, the fact that religion and theology cannot provide a technology for explaining how the material world works should not be held against them, either, for that is not what they do. When Christopher Hitchens declares that given the emergence of “the telescope and the microscope” religion “no longer offers an explanation of anything important,” Eagleton replies, “But Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place. It’s rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster we can forget about Chekhov.”

Eagleton likes this turn of speech, and he has recourse to it often when making the same point: “[B]elieving that religion is a botched attempt to explain the world . . . is like seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus.” Running for a bus is a focused empirical act and the steps you take are instrumental to its end. The positions one assumes in ballet have no such end; they are after something else, and that something doesn’t yield to the usual forms of measurement. Religion, Eagleton is saying, is like ballet (and Chekhov); it’s after something else.

After what? Eagleton, of course, does not tell us, except in the most general terms: “The coming kingdom of God, a condition of justice, fellowship, and self-fulfillment far beyond anything that might normally be considered possible or even desirable in the more well-heeled quarters of Oxford and Washington.” Such a condition would not be desirable in Oxford and Washington because, according to Eagleton, the inhabitants of those places are complacently in bondage to the false idols of wealth, power and progress. That is, they feel little of the tragedy and pain of the human condition, but instead “adopt some bright-eyed superstition such as the dream of untrammeled human progress” and put their baseless “trust in the efficacy of a spot of social engineering here and a dose of liberal enlightenment there.”

Progress, liberalism and enlightenment — these are the watchwords of those, like Hitchens, who believe that in a modern world, religion has nothing to offer us. Don’t we discover cures for diseases every day? Doesn’t technology continually extend our powers and offer the promise of mastering nature? Who needs an outmoded, left-over medieval superstition?

Eagleton punctures the complacency of these questions when he turns the tables and applies the label of “superstition” to the idea of progress. It is a superstition — an idol or “a belief not logically related to a course of events” (American Heritage Dictionary) — because it is blind to what is now done in its name: “The language of enlightenment has been hijacked in the name of corporate greed, the police state, a politically compromised science, and a permanent war economy,” all in the service, Eagleton contends, of an empty suburbanism that produces ever more things without any care as to whether or not the things produced have true value.

And as for the vaunted triumph of liberalism, what about “the misery wreaked by racism and sexism, the sordid history of colonialism and imperialism, the generation of poverty and famine”? Only by ignoring all this and much more can the claim of human progress at the end of history be maintained: “If ever there was a pious myth and a piece of credulous superstition, it is the liberal-rationalist belief that, a few hiccups apart, we are all steadily en route to a finer world.”

That kind of belief will have little use for a creed that has at its center “one who spoke up for love and justice and was done to death for his pains.” No wonder “Ditchkins” — Eagleton’s contemptuous amalgam of Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, perhaps with a sidelong glance at Luke 6:39, “Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?” — seems incapable of responding to “the kind of commitment made manifest by a human being at the end of his tether, foundering in darkness, pain, and bewilderment, who nevertheless remains faithful to the promise of a transformative love.”

You won’t be interested in any such promise, you won’t see the point of clinging to it, if you think that “apart from the odd, stubbornly lingering spot of barbarism here and there, history on the whole is still steadily on the up,” if you think that “not only is the salvation of the human species possible but that contrary to all we read in the newspapers, it has in principle already taken place.” How, Eagleton asks, can a civilization “which regards itself as pretty well self-sufficient” see any point in or need of “faith or hope”?

“Self-sufficient” gets to the heart of what Eagleton sees as wrong with the “brittle triumphalism” of liberal rationalism and its ideology of science. From the perspective of a theistic religion, the cardinal error is the claim of the creature to be “self-originating”: “Self-authorship,” Eagleton proclaims, “is the bourgeois fantasy par excellence,” and he could have cited in support the words of that great bourgeois villain, Milton’s Satan, who, upon being reminded that he was created by another, retorts , “[W]ho saw/ When this creation was…?/ We know no time when we were not as now/Know none before us, self-begot, self-raised” (Paradise Lost, V, 856-860).That is, we created ourselves (although how there can be agency before there is being and therefore an agent is not explained), and if we are able to do that, why can’t we just keep on going and pull progress and eventual perfection out of our own entrails?

That is where science and reason come in. Science, says Eagleton, “does not start far back enough”; it can run its operations, but it can’t tell you what they ultimately mean or provide a corrective to its own excesses. Likewise, reason is “too skin deep a creed to tackle what is at stake”; its laws — the laws of entailment and evidence — cannot get going without some substantive proposition from which they proceed but which they cannot contain; reason is a non-starter in the absence of an a prior specification of what is real and important, and where is that going to come from? Only from some kind of faith.

“Ditchkins,” Eagleton observes, cannot ground his belief “in the value of individual freedom” in scientific observation. It is for him an article of faith, and once in place, it generates facts and reasons and judgments of right and wrong. “Faith and knowledge,” Eagleton concludes, are not antithetical but “interwoven.” You can’t have one without the other, despite the Satanic claim that you can go it alone by applying your own independent intellect to an unmediated reality: “All reasoning is conducted within the ambit of some sort of faith, attraction, inclination, orientation, predisposition, or prior commitment.” Meaning, value and truth are not “reducible to the facts themselves, in the sense of being ineluctably motivated by a bare account of them.” Which is to say that there is no such thing as a bare account of them. (Here, as many have noted, is where religion and postmodernism meet.)

If this is so, the basis for what Eagleton calls “the rejection of religion on the cheap” by contrasting its unsupported (except by faith) assertions with the scientifically grounded assertions of atheism collapses; and we are where we always were, confronted with a choice between a flawed but aspiring religious faith or a spectacularly hubristic faith in the power of unaided reason and a progress that has no content but, like the capitalism it reflects and extends, just makes its valueless way into every nook and cranny.

For Eagleton the choice is obvious, although he does not have complete faith in the faith he prefers. “There are no guarantees,” he concedes that a “transfigured future will ever be born.” But we can be sure that it will never be born, he says in his last sentence, “if liberal dogmatists, doctrinaire flag-wavers for Progress, and Islamophobic intellectuals . . . continue to stand in its way.”

One more point. The book starts out witty and then gets angrier and angrier. (There is the possibility, of course, that the later chapters were written first; I’m just talking about the temporal experience of reading it.) I spent some time trying to figure out why the anger was there and I came up with two explanations.

One is given by Eagleton, and it is personal. Christianity may or may not be the faith he holds to (he doesn’t tell us), but he speaks, he says, “partly in defense of my own forbearers, against the charge that the creed to which they dedicated their lives is worthless and void.”

The other source of his anger is implied but never quite made explicit. He is angry, I think, at having to expend so much mental and emotional energy refuting the shallow arguments of school-yard atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins. I know just how he feels.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Ravindra Svarupa Dasa (William H. Deadwyler) joined the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in 1971 in Philadelphia, PA where he has served for most of his devotional career. He is an initiated disciple of ISKCON’s founder-acharya, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Ravindra Svarupa dasa earned his B.A. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in religion from Temple University. He has been a member of ISKCON’s ecclesiastical board, known as the Governing Body Commission, since 1987. He is an initiating guru for ISKCON and is the temple president of ISKCON of Philadelphia.

Check out more of his writings at his blog So It Happens

Doubt is the motor of the modern mentality, the indefatigable engine that drives the spirit of our age. Such doubt was honored with an early recognition in the essays of the Renaissance courtier Michel de Montaigne: “We are, I know not how, double within ourselves, with the result that we do not believe what we believe, and we cannot rid ourselves of what we condemn.”

During Montaigne’s time, religious wars of unbearable cruelty rent Europe. The absolute certainty of the raging antagonists began to taint conviction itself with bad odor. But Montaigne saw deeper. He descried the doubleness within the very certitude of the religious partisans. He recognized their zeal as a kind of cover up, overcompensation for a hidden, an unacknowledged, lack of faith: “We do not believe what we believe.”

In modern times, disbelief has so far entered into the essence of our existence, that both faithlessness and faith have become fundamentally two varieties of faithlessness.

It is the secret unbelief of true believers that energizes the armies of the night in Mathew Arnold’s poem of 1867:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

William Butler Yeats delivers the ominous news in his prophetic, apocalyptic 1919 poem “The Second Coming”:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Others, of course, celebrated unbelief—it bestows liberation—and proselytized it. Leave it to Friedrich Nietzsche to push it as a jagged little pill: “Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.” (Aphorism 483, Human, All Too Human: 1878 )

So it happened that, as a child of the times, and all too human, I swallowed the pill. I served at the altar of doubt. Unbelief became my credo.

It took half a dozen years in academia for me to recognize that unbelief—skepticism, relativism, nihilism—had itself become dogma. Departments of religion were pledging themselves en masse to the hermeneutics of suspicion. To confess any conviction other than mistrust of all convictions was to court anathema.

All joined in choir to hymn unwavering faith in faithlessness. This dogmatism began to rankle me. Something was wrong. I brooded, irritably.

And then, my breakthrough: We doubters were failing at doubt. We had failed to take our doubt far enough. If we are going to be thoroughly skeptical, then we must be also skeptical about our own skepticism. If all things are relative, then so must be our relativism itself.

I stated my case at an informal religion department gathering.

“You must feel like you’re walking a tightrope over an abyss,” responded a fellow grad student, only recently a nun.
“Yeah, but I’m not sure there’s a rope either,” I said. Everyone laughed.

Let us be bold enough to remove the very ground we stand on and miraculously levitate on nothing.

And so we come full circle. Doubting our own doubting, we find a surprise awaiting us: a tiny crack opens for the possibility of faith.

Just the possibility. Even less—just the openness to the possibility.

This turns out to be a crack even God can squeeze through.

One thing led to another. Several years after the manifestation of the crack, I joined—to my permanent amazement—a high-demand “organized religion.” A religion committed to preaching. Labeled by one academic as “evangelical Hinduism.” (For a systematically misleading expression, this is spot on.)

Then came a time, fifteen or twenty years later, that I realized that I was utterly and completely certain that, as they say, “God exists.” (For a systematically misleading expression, this is spot on.) I did not merely hold that a feasible case for divine existence could be made, that “God exists” can be reasonably affirmed, that the assertion is true with (of course) the possibility that it just might be false. Not at all. I was absolutely, totally certain.

This upset me.

I’m still a modern person. I assailed my own conviction: How could I be so sure? What right did I have to be so certain? How was it possible? How was I entitled to such a degree of certitude? What was wrong with me?

I attacked my own faith, and it repelled my assaults. I couldn’t shake it. It was as if it were simply there of its own accord, an irrevocable fact; it really didn’t depend upon me.

I put the matter before some judicious devotees. “It’s Kṛṣṇa’s causeless mercy,” said one. “It’s a gift,” said another. A Ph.D. who once taught Christian theology to divinity students, she cited the distinction between certainty and certitude.

These conversations relieved me of my anxiety and allowed me to accept the gift wholeheartedly.

Yet—not to look the gift horse in the mouth—I found myself still impelled to understand better what I had been given.

I began my inquiry with this question: Is there anything at all that every person can be absolutely certain of? The question, of course, summoned me back to the origins of modernity, to the very “father of modern philosophy,” Rene Descartes, who turned Montaigne’s doubt into a methodology. Sweeping away, in his Discourse on Method, everything dubitable, he was left with only his own indubitable existence as a cognizant being. He could doubt everything except that he was doubting. Cogito, ergo sum, he famously wrote: “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes explained that by “thought” he meant “what happens in me such that I am immediately conscious of it, insofar as I am conscious of it.” His own existence as a conscious subject was absolutely certain.

Here I got my own clue and cue: Start, like Descartes, with myself.

But in this, it seemed to me, I was able to be more clear that Descartes. To “start with myself” means, to be precise, to start with ātman, the conscious self.

We commonly use the English “soul” or “spirit soul” to denote the same entity, but without the same clear meaning. The Sanskrit word ātman (in the root form) or ātmā (in the nominative singular), is a noun meaning “the self.” (The same word also serves as the reflexive pronoun, the “-self” in words denoting myself, yourself, herself, etc.)

When I take note, as Descartes did, of my own consciousness, I understand that I am aware, at least to some degree, of the ātman, of myself as a conscious, experiencing living being, now bearing and animating a certain material body and mind.

For two decades preceding my own Cartesian investigation, I’d been engaged in spiritual practices amounting to researching of ātman. To try to understand my own certitude about God, I began to reflect upon those practices.

Ātma-tattva, the science of the self, like any science, presents itself first as a theory, as kind of picture, or conceptual map, of spiritual reality. A theory, like a map, is the fruit of the experience of previous researchers, prepared as a guide for later explorers. The only purpose of theory is to guide practice, just as a road map is drawn up to facilitate a successful automobile journey.

Ātma-tattva also includes practical instructions on how to undertake the spiritual journey, how to use the map correctly. It is, in this way, an applied science dedicated to the clarification and expansion of consciousness.

We do not find any enterprise like this in modern Western philosophy. Modern philosophy certainly speculates endlessly about consciousness and experience, about knowledge and the knower and the known, but it has lost the applied element so prominent in the ancient classical traditions of Pythagoras, Parmenides, and Plato. There is now no distinctive “philosophical way of life.” It’s just another job.

I had taken up a tradition from India, yet it returned me to the very foundations of Western philosophy. When I recognized this, I felt that I’d come back home.

The applied knowledge, the spiritual way of life, requires a commitment to a relatively rigorous and demanding discipline. This is called yoga. The discipline is required to remove the material veil so that one can attain direct experience of spiritual reality: of the ātmā, the self, and of paramātmā, the superself or God.

The necessity for such a disciplined life is stated succinctly in Bhagavad-gītā (14.17): spiritual knowledge depends on goodness, on sattva. If our awareness is covered by the material modes of passion (raja-guṇa) and ignorance (tamo-guṇa) we will not be capable of direct perception of ātmā and paramātmā. Therefore, we who undertake this project live a regulated and radically simple life designed to minimize the demands of the senses, to decrease lust, anger, greed, and so on.

Modern materialistic culture fosters values and activities that expand the modes of passion and of ignorance, so it is necessary to insulate oneself from its influence. Spiritual culture has the contrary aim of developing goodness and reducing passion and ignorance.

After several decades of practice in ātma-tattva, the science of the self, my own consciousness had become somewhat clarified and expanded. I had gained at least some awareness of my own spiritual identity, and, along with that, of God.

A master of yoga named Kavi has stated (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.2.42) that for one practicing properly, three things develop simultaneously: devotion, direct perception of God, and detachment from everything else. This happens in the same natural way that for a person who is eating, satisfaction, nourishment, and relief from hunger increase together with every bite.

In the yoga discipline, the practitioner realizes his or her own identity as ātmā and also encounters God initially as paramātmā, as the interior, guiding superself, the self of all selves. In this experience we find the Cartesian key. For knowing God, the paramātmā, is something like knowing our own self. Thus the experience engendered total certitude in the experiencer. As one cannot doubt one’s own consciousness, when that same consciousness has expanded somewhat, God becomes known as I know myself, for God is the very self of my self. Then I can no more doubt God’s existence than I can my own.

I can, of course, doubt my experience of objects perceived in this world. It is possible, Descartes noted, that one is being deceived by some evil demon. (Here he anticipated the premise of The Matrix by some four centuries.) Even so, one still cannot be deceived about one’s own consciousness.

Knowledge of God is not like knowledge of the external world, of this table I write on, of the garden outside my window, of the people relaxing in the garden. In this case, I am spirit knowing matter. There is a far more intimate connection between me and God: Not only are ātmā and paramātmā of the same spiritual nature, but ātmā is part and parcel of paramātmā. For this reason, once there is experience of paramātmā, doubting God becomes impossible. After that expansion of consciousness, God remains part of the content of every experience I have. I experience my own being as part of God’s being.

It is not that in this experience, I perceiving something novel, like a new next-door neighbor or the latest cool thing from Apple. Rather, with consciousness purified and expanded, I now perceive what had always be there, merely unnoticed, unrecognized, unacknowledged.

In this state of expanded consciousness, I am aware that I cannot see anything without God’s seeing it first, hear anything without God’s first hearing it, and so on. I cannot doubt God’s seeing and hearing anymore than I can my own.

The experience of ātmā-paramātmā, which renders doubting God’s existence as impossible as doubting one’s own, is evidently not exclusive to my own or historically related traditions. A natural and unwavering certitude concerning God has appeared in advanced practitioners in many theistic traditions. Those traditions may have various theories (theological doctrines) about God and the worshipper, but, so far as I can see, the simplest and soundest explanation for the experienced certitude of advanced practitioners everywhere is found in the understanding of ātmā-paramātmā.

We can also conclude that we are made for belief, for conviction. There is no way around it.

Herein lies the foundation, I propose, for authentic conviction, for conviction arising from the opening up of the self. Without that, we seem contemned to verify Montaigne’s observation: “We are, I know not how, double within ourselves.” Authentic conviction may serve as antidote to the current global wars between modes of doubleness: Militant belief born from despair at its own unbelief clashing with militant unbelief born in denial of its own belief.