Monthly Archives: July 2007

Chanting Like a Sixteen Year Old Girl

We here at Gita Nagari are fortunate. Even though the Samadhi Festival and Ratha Yatra have passed, visitors remain. There are a few car loads of devotees from Alachua here as well as a retired grhasta couple from South Africa. Not only do these devotees attend the morning program but their prescence inspires others to attend.

Despite this, there was no one willing to lead the 7:30 dhoop aroti kirtan. As the only Gita Nagari resident in the temple room, I had no choice but to take up the chanting. Opporutnity often arises for me to lead kirtan. That is just one of the realities of living in a nearly deserted community.

I began chanting, painfully aware of my untrained voice. I was praying that I was not paining any of our guests’ eardrums. The kirtans of Lord Caitanya are so beautiful that they melt stone. It is quite possible that my voice could petrify ice cream.

But as I was chanting, meditating on the disqualification of my vocal chords, I recognized that this self absorption was distracting me from hearing the Holy Name. Instead of worrying about my shortcomings, I would try to absorb myself in the vibration.

But where to begin?

“Regarding your question about feeling emotions during kirtana, these are real spiritual emotions. Spiritual emotions cannot be experienced by the fallen souls; but one who is feeling spiritual emtions is not actually fallen. That is the benediciton of this sankirtana movement that it elevates one to the highest positon of spiritual expeiences.” (SPL to Krsna Devi, 2 Nov 1969)

I would chant with feeling. A feeling of gratitude.

namnam akari bahuda nija-sarva-saktis
tatrapita niyamitah smarane na kalah
etadrsi tava krpa bhagavan mamapi
durdaivam idrsam ihajani nanuragah

O my Lord, your holy name alone can render all benediction to living beings, and thus You have hundreds and millions of names, like Krsna and Govinda. In these transcendental names You have invested all Your transcendental energies. There are no hard and fast rules for chanting these names. O my Lord, out of kindness You enable us to easily approach You by Your holy names, but I am so unfortuante that I have no attraction for them.

I looked intently at Bhaktisiddhanta Maharaja’s altar picture. But I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them. Please, give me that attraction.

At that instant I remembered a kirtan from 1997 at the Rutgers University program headed by Maha Muni Prabhu. This specific kirtan was lead by Dhanya Mataji, at that time Bhaktin Donia. It was spring and I had just begun coming to these programs which were only 20 minutes from my house. The programs took place in the basement of a dormatory in some sort of multi-purpose room. The surroundings were institutional. Blue indoor outdoor carpeting, flourescent lighting, no open windows or fresh air. It wasn’t exactly Vaikuntha. But preaching was going on; a group of young devotees, eager to get back to reality, had assembled to chant the Holy Name.

Dhanya was sixteen years old. Plain and devotional. She was six years younger than me and lifetimes more knowledgable about the bhakti-yoga process. A serious practitioner, at the time I saw her as having the affect of a small,pure, cloistered nun. She intrigued me as both a curiosity and as an example.

Maha-muni prabhu asked her to lead the kirtan. She picked up the kartals and began chanting Prabhupada’s pranam mantras, moving on to the Panca-tattva maha-mantra on through to the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Her eyes were closed in a tight squint and her voice quivered with her chanting. Droplets of tears hung on her lashes, discreetly sliding down her face, landing as darkened polka dots on her sari.

She was chanting with feeling, without inhibition and it was moving.

Looking back at that time I see we were all so young. Dhanya at 16, me at 22. Still, after all these years, I don’t know how old Dhanya was when she joined. I don’t know how many years she had been practicing Krishna consciousness before she lead that electrifying kirtan.

And it doesn’t matter. She was absorbed in the process of hearing and chanting and therefore her kirtan was absorbing. She performed her service with feeling and this elicited feeling from those surrounding her.

Thinking back to my 16th year of life, I remember the cliched emotional turbulence inherent to the period of adolescence. Relationships with my peers were absorbing and life felt rich and important.

As a teenager, I lived in the present moment. There was not much of a past to lament nor was my focus centered on the future. The moment was now and that was all that mattered. If only I had Krishna…

Accessing this memory of Mother Dhanya- young, enthusiastic, emotional- inspired and focused my chanting. Holding my son tight on my hip, I tried to follow in that mood of chanting like a sixteen year old girl.


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Jaya Jagannatha, Jaya Jagannatha, Jaya Baladeva, Jaya Subhadra!!!

*photo by mother ortrun gates

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Ratha Yatra: A Shower of Nectar

Two years ago, atop Govardhana Hill, the sky opened up and sheets of rain unexpectedly blasted down, bombarding Jagannatha and His devotees from every direction. This year, Ratha Yatra was 100% drier. The only showers experienced by the devotees were showers of pure, unrefined mercy coming from the Lord Himself.

Is it possible that in two days I experienced more spiritual growth than in the last two years? I think so. The mercy was just so potent.

My morning began picking vibernum and trumpet vine for the cart. The previous owner who did all the gardening is surely the recipient of some major agata sukrti. Our yard is full of wonderful plants which seem to always make it onto the altar at festival time. Then, after some initial setbacks due to lack of space and overall craziness in the temple kitchen, I cooked the raja bhoga at home. Nine preps in an hour and a half, by the mercy of Srila Prabhupada.

After the raja bhoga, the cart was brought to the temple to get Srila Prabhupada. We all headed down to the cabin to greet Jagannatha, who was wearing the most exquisite crowns from Mayapur. Usually Jagannatha wears turbans, but on this day new crowns decorated in rich blue sequins and two dimensional peacocks adorned His head. It was a very special and original look for Ratha Yatra. Without a doubt, the Lord showed He has great style!

The kirtan began with the chanting of that Bengali gurukuli from Potomac (with the really big sikha) who’s name I can never remember. The chanting was very melodious and everyone was dancing and, at the very least, swaying from side to side. When he invoked the names of the Panca Tattva, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine Mahaprabhu dancing in front of the Ratha cart. Once the Panca Tattva was invoked, off we went, pulling the Lord back to Vrindavan.

This year the cart took a planned detour off the road past the barn. Jagannatha got an up-close look at His cows before heading to Govardhana Hill. At the foot of the hill the cart stopped as my husband, the steerer, called for more men to help with the ropes. Advaita and my husband led a roaring “Hariboooooooool!!!” as the devotees charged their way up Govardhana. The roar of their labor crashed through the atmosphere, sounding like Nrsringhadeva breaking through the pillar.

On top of the hill a beautiful feast of fresh fruits, crackers, sweets and savories was offerd as aroti was performed. At this point Govinda Prabhu took over the kirtan and the Ghanain devotees cut loose, moving in ways otherwise thought impossible by most contortionists. By observing these devotees I can easily see that Krishna consciousness is not an artificial imposition on the mind. The devotees from Ghana have eagerly accepted the process yet maintain their own cultural flavor. The two are not at odds.

There was a very nice devotee passing out lemonade at the top of the hill with his son. The two of them eached lugged a 5 gallon bucket up the hill so that they could serve out juice to the festival attendees. Later, at the site, he was introduced as the biggest donor for the Ratha Yatra. I was so impressed by his service passing out juice, attentively fulfilling the needs of the sometimes demanding devotees. When I learned of his financial generosity, it occurred to me that a soul with a truly giving heart does not make distinction how to give.

Pandu prabhu spent the entire day cleaning up the devotee’s trash, sorting through it all to separate recyclables. He looked so happy doing this service, like Jayananda Prabhu. In fact, I told him that he made collecting the devotee’s garbage look so attractive, I want to do it next year.

Upon walking back to the temple, at the bend by the store, I met our houseguests, Pusta Krishna Prabhu, Dahu Brahman Mataji and their daughter Krishna Priya. Later that evening, after the kids had gone to sleep, we sat under the moonlight in our yard with Prabhu and Mataji for hours while the nectar flowed. We all went to bed at 1 in the morning.

Prabhu has an amazing mind. He served as Prabhupada’s secretary, travelling around the world with him. Taraka Prabhu was telling me tonite that he always thought of Pusta Krishna as the ideal disciple. He was always temendously intelligent and had a way of drawing forth more and more from Prabhupada from the intelligent questions he asked.

His children are very devotee identified, yet not in an institutional way. One of the things that impressed me the most about them as a family unit was their love for one another. The fact that they enjoy one another’s company was very obvious. The kids, 19 and 22, came out to sit and hear their father speak for hours about Krishna consciousness. They didn’t do it as some kind of external show of keeping up appearances. It was totally natural and unforced.

The next morning Prabhu gave class at the temple and everyone was so happy. A nice point he made in the class was to be in Krishna consciousness NOW! There are no prerequisites to becoming Krishna conscious. We do not have to give up anything to take up the process. We don’t need to worry about the future or lament the past. Simply we need to be Krishna conscious now. A very effective point.

I had to leave the class when question/answers began because my kids were getting restless. As I was leaving he said, “You don’t have to go. Stay. Let the kids play,that’s natural.” But we left because they wanted to play outside.

Fourty five minutes later devotees emerged from the temple, glowing. One devotee said to me, “I want to take him home with me!” Many people were saying it was the best class they heard in a long time.

There was a lot of purification for me between the lines of this entry. While some things are too complicated to get into now, I am sure they will work their way into my trickle down thought process known as my blog. One theme that seemed to reappear in surprisingly different forms throughout the weekend was, “vaidhi bhakti: know when to say when.” Thankfully the knowledge seems to be coming by the vaisnavas’ mercy…

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Tomorrow’s the big day….

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Snana Yatra (pictures from finish to start)

This past Sunday was Jagannatha Snana Yatra. Attendence was small since many devotees were in NY for Ian’s wedding, which apparently was a real life boogey down production. The mood was family (especially since Hari Chakra Prabhu’s clan was at least half the devotees attending).

We all bathed the Lord with a conch of either honey, ghee, milk or scented water while the kirtan glorified the Holy Name. Afterwards we escorted Jagannatha down to Prabhupada’s cabin along the bank of the Yamuna. He has been there since, enacting his “sick” pastime. Saturday we will all go with the Ratha to pick him up.

It was especially nice seeing Mother Kaulini with her Jagannatha. These were the Deities she took care of on the ladies sankirtan party and these are the Deities that she dresses every morning. Her happiness serving them is obviously not artificial.

This afternoon we visited her at the cabin with hopes of sneaking a special darsan. No luck today but we may try again tomorrow. Mother Kaulini was there with a Prabhupada lecture playing. I asked if there was any maha and she pointed me in the direction of a large tray of dried fruit, nuts, cookies and fresh apricots.

She bought the apricots at the Cheesnook the day before. A special purchase for Jagannatha. And then the servant of the Supreme Lord said, “Advaita said these are his favorite fruit. We have to remember that.” Even though she is more than fully engaged taking care of the Lord and His cows, she still makes that extra effort to render some service to the devotees, even if in this case it is just mentally.

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SB 5.19.25

An intelligent person does not take interest in a place, even in the topmost planetary system, if the pure Ganges of topics concerning the Supreme Lord’s activities does not flow there, if there are not devotees engaged in service on the banks of such a river of piety, or if there are no festivals of sankirtana-yajna to satisfy the Lord [especially since sankirtana-yajna is recommended in this age].

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Via Medium

(dedicated to ’97-’99. And the aftermath)

My heart had been stopped
for years
palpatating at moments
late at nite
in the back of my closet dark
alone or
in my husband’s arms
clinging why won’t you cling back

It once pulsed passionately
everything had a rhythm
mondrian birthday cake, marlboro mediums,
The Talking Heads, Sharon Olds, brown pants,
Hole, God, misunderstandings, the ocean,
driving, New Jersey, Chip Kidd, identity

I felt alive but then I found out
I had never been nor could ever be
without you
Not God but Same as God

My heart had been stopped for years
broken pained fractured weak
hardened black stone ugly
you know my heart
you are my heart

And then two years after your death
I picked up the phone
and got through
the metaphor

Live through this with me
I swear that I will die
for you

The internment is over
It has just begun

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