Monthly Archives: October 2007

No Pleasure in the Material World


My husband has been gone since mid-day Friday.

Since his departure, these are the highlights of our life:

*Madhumati pushed a triplet from the top of a staircase
(I caught the baby midway down)

*Madhumati fell down our staircase (she grabbed on to a step and resisted the inertia half-way down)

*Venumahdava totally freaked out when left with my mom Saturday evening

*The kids freaked out M. Taruni when she watched them for 2 hours Monday by throwing books and cars as well as going outside barefoot

*Practically every time I get out of the shower there is a chorus of crying and/or screaming

*I tried to take a nap and was awakend by Venumadhava saying, “I flushed the toilet and the water kept going all over the place.” Consequently, the bathroom and the temple room were flooded.

Right now I wish I could be impaled by one of Krishna’s shark shaped earrings. Or maybe eat some gunja berries (are those things poisonous?).

Maybe if I put enough wood in the woodstove I will dehydrate. Better yet, maybe I will evaporate.

If only I had money I would buy a tv. No make that a room full of tv’s. Wait, I mean a house. Yes, I would build a house from tv’s. My kids would be forced to watch it, lulled into a hypnotic trance and I could plug one in and drop it into my bath.

Okay…maybe this post should be called “Suicide Solution.” At least I was able to put a smile on my face. Sometimes a woman needs to nourish her inner 15 year old.

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Sadhu Sanga

Today Venumadhava was telling me all about Kuvalapida.

I was surprised that he knew Kuvalapida was a demon elephant. I asked him how he knew so much about Kuvalapida.

“From Narayan.”

Narayan is 7 months senior to Venumadhava, lives in my hometown of Sayreville,NJ and attends O.L.V. (Our Lady of Victory)Catholic preschool.

I’m glad my son found some good association for himself.

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Can’t Keep Up

So, here I am, in New Jersey. My home state but definitely not my home.

Thursday we stayed at the Sadowski residence. Friday we went to Brunswick Square Mall because I forgot to pack my husband’s pants for the plane. We don’t get out much, especially to malls, particularly to those malls with that distinctive Jersey flavor. An experience in sensory overload to say the least.

LOUD MUSIC! PLUNGING NECKLINES! SIX FOOT TALL TWO DIMENSIONAL CLEAVAGE!

After the mall I had to stop by Shoprite for some drinks and snacks. Inside I was not prepared for the magnitude of it all. Aside from the crowds of people shopping midday during the week, there was the shock of an eyeglass store as well as a jeweler’s shop. Only in Jersey (or Walmart) do people find pleasure in the sheer convenience of buying all their crap in one place.

I grew up in love with New Jersey. The butt of many jokes, I defended New Jersey. From where I stood, the state had everything going for it. Easy access to the beach, mountains and New York. A good highway system. Cheap gas. Lots of hardcore bands and shows.

But now when I visit New Jersey I find very little defendable about the place. While the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania may be populated with hicks, they are at least, for the most part, pious hicks. Unfortunately, I found that the people in the stores I visited in New Jersey reminded me of the parents-turned-pigs in “Spirited Away.”

The roads are overcrowded and everything seems to be moving on passion’s adrenaline and the swipe of a credit card. True, I have to travel 30 miles to get to the nearest Walmart, the closest store around. But to get anywhere in New Jersey takes at least fourty minute drive anyway because of the traffic.

At least we got to stay with devotees.

Friday nite was a bhajan program organized by Kalpa Vrksa Prabhu at a yoga studio. Kisori’s brother even went. As we were driving to the program I was thinking how so much spiritually is going on in New Jersey. Saturday there was a home program and Saturday nite was bhajans for Kartik at Brooklyn (ok, not NJ but still within the 40 minute driving radius). I began to lament not living here. And not being able to ever afford living here, a place where teeny tiny two bedroom houses go for $350,000.

We kept driving. And driving. And driving. It took us an hour to get from Kisori’s to the program. It was 8 pm by the time I got my two kids out of the car and up the stairs to the yoga studio. Many devotees were there as well as people from the yoga studio. Kalpa and Kadamba led melodious chanting. Dhokla was had by all. But it was so late at nite and my kids were so freaking out. And that’s when I began to curse New Jersey. Terrible New Jersey. Moded New Jersey. Suburban sprawl New Jersey. New Jersey was keeping my kids up late, making them cry. New Jersey was leading me on, tricking me into thinking that my kids would be able to handle a late nite program. After all, all the New Jersey devotee kids were doing okay.

My kids were not okay and neither was I. We will recover, however, when we go home to our quiet house shaded by old growth maples, heated with the radiant warmth of our wood stove. Sometimes it is difficult for me to articulate the benefits and pleasures of the austerity of living at Gita Nagari. Sometimes caught up in the cliche of mode of goodness I take for granted that we are living a life much more in the mode of goodness than my suburban counterparts.

The cost of living in Juniata Valley is drastically lower than the cost of living in New Jersey. Heck, even North Carolina. Our Gita Nagari house is $100,000 less than our North Carolna house making it possible,had we actually gone to India, for my husband to take off 3 months from work and still, by year’s end, make ends meet.

New Jersey requires a faster pace of life. This means more energy expended to make money and therefore, more energy expended to enjoy the fruit of one’s toils. With so little time on one’s hands, the culture is a culture of convenience. For this reason, packaged food seems to make perfect sense in this context. At the same time, I see how having premade, prepackaged food also deadens the awareness for what people eat. Without the effort going into actually cooking and preparing the food, there is very little effort put into eating the food. Rather, people tend to mindlessly consume.

This phenomena occurs everywhere, be it rural, suburban or urban, however I know that out in the country where I live I am not the only one making jam. Preserving and drying the harvest. Fresh baked breads, cakes and pies. Even boiling down your own maple syrup. All of this goes on with frequency in the country. Not only does eating food you took the time to actually cook slow you down at the dinner table but it also helps reduce packaging and consequently post-consumer waste.

At home I take my bucket to the barn and buy my milk, saving the landfill of 5 gallon jugs a week. I make my own yogurt, bake my own bread. We snack on homemade popcorn, fruit and freshly baked pastries. We get clean tasting water not from the store but from our well–free of flouride and chlorine, no plastic bottle required. Fifty pound bags of sugar and 25 pound bags of flour aren’t a problem to store in our almost 3,000 sq. ft. farmhouse. And our mortgage (including taxes) is less than some people’s car payments.

I’m not trying to brag about our wonderful life out in the middle of nowhere. It has its drawbacks, for sure. But I see how Krishna is showing me the beauty of it. As winter nears and everyone prepares to hibernate around their wood stoves, I have this visit to New Jersey to compare my life against. New Jersey has two things Gita Nagari may never have–shopping and people. But Gita Nagari has my values and my heart.

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Hearts on Fire

Last Saturday we celebrated Rama Vijayotsava Dasera at Gita Nagari. While the grand finale of the festival was the burning of Ravana, the pyrotechnics did not overshadow the the true highlight of the evening: the association of HH Varsana Maharaja.

Everyone was feeling enthused knowing that Maharaja was coming to give the class. Only days before the festival we were asked if he could stay at our home. With great pleasure we said yes. Kiriti and Radharadhya were going to stay with us for the festival and I knew they would be just as excited as we were that Maharaja was staying at our home.

We weren’t quite sure when Maharaja would arrives since he drives himself, his health is poor and he has to make many stops along the way. Happily, he arrived a little more than an hour before the start of the program. Although he has a restricted diet, we were unable to get much information on it besides no wheat, only brown rice and salt free of iodine.

When Maharaja arrived at our home I felt so much pleasure and relief. His smiling face and strong upbeat voice flooded our house, immediately putting us at ease. Usually I am nervous in the prescence of sannasis but with Varsana Swami I felt like I was around someone very familiar. This must be because I listen to the dual Mp3’s of Maharaja’s lectures with great frequency. His Gaura Lila classes are perhaps my favorite by which to cook.

As ridiculous as this sounds, I was expecting Maharaja to be unintelligable in his speech since his reputation as an avedhuta proceeds him. For some reason I thought he would be so engrossed in Gaura Lila that we wouldn’t be able to have a recognizable conversation with him.

My husband would say, “Maharaja, would you like to freshen up? Here is the bathroom.”

And Maharaja would answer, “Yes, the kirtan was especially sweet today. Let’s all go to the Ganges and cool off.”

But of course, this was not the case. Maharaja was totally in the here and now, speaking sweetly to us and the children. He was so friendly that I spontaneously told him that I listne to the double Mp3’s all the time. That these were my favorite cd’s to listen to. He had no idea that these classes were being circulated. His response, “I’m horrified! How Horrible. Who would want to listen to such a thing!”

When my husband asked him if he would like to take prasadam now or after the program, he responded with honest humility that we should do whatever is most convenient for us. My husband again asked him if he would like to take prasadam but this time he insisted we do what was going to work the best for us.

I went into the kitchen to make his plate and then took the kids outside so he could eat in peace.

At the temple HH Varsana Swami gave class on destroying the demon of lust in the heart, complete with Rama pastimes. Longer than a usual Gita Nagari class, Varsana Swami was merciful with his association. Afterwards we had a harinama procession out to the cow field where a huge 10 headed Ravana, built by Acarya Prabhu and his son Vraja Krishna (Mother Leslie made the heads), stood doused in gasoline.

With a flaming spear in hand, Varsana Swami pierced the demon in the heart. Instantly Ravana went up in flames. All the devotees were assembled on the road in front of Ravana, about 40 feet away. Guests had travelled from State College and Harrisburg to witness the burning. I, along with a few other parents, stood directly in front of Ravana with my kids to view the inferno.

And that’s when we realized that the whole thing was loaded with rockets. Not only was Ravana burning but he was shooting explosives from his gut. Suddenly the scene became vibrantly crazy as Ravana burned, rockets burst forth into the air exploding with no predictability, rainbow colored sparks raining down from the sky onto the drought inflicted earth. Children writhed and cried, burying their heads into the armpits of parents. It was when a rocket shot onto the road and a young Indian woman in a chartreusse synthetic punjabi barely missed being ignited that we decided to head back to the car and back to the house.

Kiriti and Radharadhya met up with us there and we ate the feast cooked for Varsana Swami. Eventually Mahraja came back to the house and different devotees kept stopping by for darsana. Vrindavani, Mahdumati and Venumadhava were running wild having a great time. My husband then asked Maharaja what time he prefers to take rest. My husband assured him that we would have the kids settled down by 9.

With a look of horror on his face, Maharaja earnestly said, “Don’t let my life interfere with their’s!”

We really appreciated Varsana Swami’s great humility and compassion. I don’t think I have ever met a renunciate so mellow around kids before. We have served our fair share of Maharaja’s in our 6 years as grhastas and can truly say that Varsana Swami was the easiest of all. He required absolutely nothing, travelling with his own beat up, flattened pillow. His tolerance of the children was obviously a manifestation of his great respect for all of Krishna’s devotees, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

We are eagerly awaiting Mahraraja’s next visit to Gita Nagari. Hopefully, he will not be too shy and humble to give us his association.

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India Trip

Well, at least one of us is on our way.

Friday me and two sleeping kids dropped my husband at Newark for his journey East. As we approached the airport exit regret that me and the kids weren’t going surfaced. But with my soon to be four year old acting like a terrible two year old and the question mark of a room awaiting us (or not awaiting us) inside the gates of Sri Dhama Mayapur, there were just too many wildcards stacked against us.

Cancelling our part of the trip was the logical thing to do. But three thousand dollars lost in cancelled tickets? Logically speaking, I cringe.

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To the Slaughterhouse

The other day we drove to State College to look at the Montessori School of the Nittany. The ride is exactly one hour from our door to the parking lot of the school, which sits a bit on a hill and is a converted suburban house. The Director reminded me a bit of Diane from ‘Cheers,’ except she wore flowing purple crushed velvet.

We told her we came from Port Royal and she asked us if we were part of the community there. The Hare Krishnas? Indeed. That’s when Diane from ‘Cheers’ in the flowing purple crushed velvet told us about a former teacher that worked at the school. His name was Robert, he was a devotee and he taught there for 8 years.

When we pulled into the driveway we saw a heavy set blonde woman with long dreadlocks getting out of her “Support your local midwife” bumper stickered car. She was there with her baby in tow to pick up her kid. In the playgound, which featured an unusual team unicycle merry go round, I spoke with another mom who was rather well off but very down to earth.

Between the story of Robert and the blonde dreadlocked midwife, were were feeling pretty positive about the school.

After touring the facility filled with beautiful colors, work stations and children’s art, my husband was convinced that we would not be able to offer our kids the same positive stimulation in a home schooling environment. What to speak of the social.

Sending our kids to Montessori is a whole paradigm shift for me. My plan was to keep the children amongst devotees, developing their identities as Krishna Bhaktas. We bought land in Alachua. Moved to Hillsborough. Our search for the perfect community to raise the kids ended at Gita Nagari, a place which makes us happy but lacks social opportunities for the kids.

Last week I spoke with Mother Arcana Siddhi and although she favored the idea of moving to Alachua–something my husband and I really don’t want to do–she didn’t think it was so bad to send the kids to Montessori. The point she stressed was the importance of practicing Krishna consciousness at home. That if my husband and I find joy in Krishna seva, than our kids will too. Also, she pointed out that at this age, the children’s days are so structured that the social interaction is limited.

Our plan is to reevaluate the situation regularly, with the onset of pre-teenhood as a major milestone. My husband hopes at that point to travel with Venumadhava to India and make him a man. Not really. But recognizing that other traditions such as Judaism see the age of 12 as a time for taking on the adult responsibility of one’s faith, my husband would like Venumadhava to participate in a devotional samskara at this age.

If I thought my kids were headed for life in the asrama, then the zombie box would be a good route. But so far, there has been no bells, fireworks or astrological predictions of that kind.

Mother Samvit, who may be the best homeschooling mom in the world, is wonderful. She is able to raise her kids in a glass box, surrounding them with Krishna consciousness but also opening the world up around them. Maybe because she is like a genius but never pursued higher education, but she has a terrific thirst for knowledge and takes great interest in learning alongside her children. The other day, while studying fingerprints, she discovered how hermaphrodites happen. A few months back, she helped Hanuman make cheese for a science fair. Her family is always reading Prabhupada’s books along with Greek Epics.

Her love of learning and her love for her kids combines to form an environment of shelter and stimulus for her family. She has encouraged me all along, saying that she isn’t special and anyone can do it.

As my kids get older and get personalities beyond my control, I see that I have to adjust. I have to make intelligent decisions that are going to benefit their personhood. I don’t want my kids to be Hare Krishna zombies raised in a box. I want them to develop their intellect, creativity and personality. I want them to become people they themselves will like. Personally I see how my spiritual life is changing now that I am taking my service into my own hands, creating and contributing in ways that inspire me and hopefully others (like my kids!).

I want them to participate in Krishna consciousness by adding to the movement, not the stagnation.

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Blessings

Tonite I finally got on the phone sanga. Hearing him preach from Govardhana fed my soul but also my regrets that I wasn’t going to India. Tonite’s class was so relevant as Maharaja spoke about grhasta asrama, attachment and Deity worship.

Maharaja always gives the devotees an opportunity to give a shout out at the end of the call. Of course, I said Haribol. To my surprise, Maharaja said he would call me in about 10 minutes after the call wrapped up.

I hadn’t talked to him since Vyasa Puja and even then I didn’t get the chance to speak much with him. This was to my relief because I always feel terribly embarrassed and self conscious when I speak to him. I can’t help but feel like I am a terrible waste of his time.

He called and I tried to be relaxed but that usually means I do the dumb thing of talking over him and interrupting him. He is so patient with me. If he minds, he doesn’t let on.

He asked me about India and I was afraid he was going to chastise me for being unreliable but on the contrary,he told me that I would be foolish to leave Gita Nagari during Kartika. And then he blessed my endeavors in jam and writing and encouraged me to resist my karmic inclination towards wanderlust and embrace and develop the opportunities coming my way for service.

It was an inspiring phone call and just what my heart needed.

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