In times of ….

One of the comforts of being religious is that in times of difficulties, one turn to ones faith. Though, in dealing with death I hardly find the scriptures comforting. On the contrary, I have so far found them to be full of scare tactics worthy the finest missionaries. So what are one to do when dealing with exactly that predicament?

I usually go scouring for vedic wisdom in times of difficulties, but now I have stayed far away from it. My mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in march, operated in april and the latest development is that the test results came back stating it was an aggressive form of cancer and the surgeons didn’t manage to take it all away.

So, what is one to do vedically in such a situation? If it had been me, fine. I have the maha-mantra to sooth me and I’m not afraid of death. On the contrary, I would turn to the story about King Parikshit when he was bitten by a snake and only had seven days left to live. And I would chant. Read, chant and I would probably become a lot tougher on only eating prasadam.

But it’s a different situation when it’s someone close. What should I do? What should I look into?

Love Reality

I’ve avoided the topic of love on this blog like it’s a plague. Not transcendental love (prema), but the romantic relationships formed here in this material world. This is the one area where I find it hard to maintain objectivity. So I will try to keep this as level-headed as I can.

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What love is not

When you fall in love, do you go “This person will serve my sense gratification well !” But isn’t that really what lies behind falling in love? If you don’t think this way, does your partner? We put a lot of expectations on our partner and how a relationship is supposed to be. You may want the partner to love you more than you love yourself. Then you need to begin loving yourself before entering a relationship, because the likelihood that it’s the wrong way to go is high. Do you need to relieve the loneliness? It’s very likely you will feel lonely even in the relationship. If there is some part of you that you don’t like or find difficult, a relationship will not mend it in the long term. It’s excellent in the short term, but then slowly something else happens that brings out what we don’t want. On the other hand, relationships are excellent opportunities for self-work. We will see that relationships doesn’t automatically heal what’s broken before entering it, and the stakes are usually a lot higher while in it.

Know thyself !

If you don’t know yourself, it will be hard to find the right partner for you. We are spiritual seekers, and what does that entail in real life? For me this comes as an insistent nagging. I need time alone/space to do some mental maintenance. I need space for my spiritual practices. If I don’t get it, the result is….. not good. Exhaustion, fatigue, irritability, anger. So when I (an introvert) was in a relationship with an extrovert, I was in trouble. He didn’t understand my huge need for space and time, and therefore he was unable to give it to me. Even flat out telling him I needed alone time, didn’t help.

And the insistent nagging just became stronger and stronger. We can’t turn off the spiritual side of us, it’s there and it needs to be fed. In the end I knew that this relationship was poisonous to me and I’ve concluded that most relationships fall within this category.

It’s so important to understand our needs and then have a partner that can respect and help us maintain that need. Relationships are hard, even if both are spiritual seekers. I don’t think it’s an easy walk.

Relationship isn’t (only) about love, it’s about personal growth

Do you have the ability to take a problem, and ask yourself, how do I solve it? Then do it.
Do your partner have this ability? Does the partner understand that if you have a problem, then (s)he has a problem?

If I’m the same person in five years as I am now, I have failed. The test of development is if you have changed (to the better). As a spiritual seeker, we are dedicated to change. Especially change of ourselves. If we enter a relationship with a person who isn’t spiritually inclined, then chances are we will outgrow the other person. We will not necessarily carry what the other person lacks, it will only make the distance much more obvious.

Even if the other person is dedicated to change, my impression is that if you are serious in your spiritual life; you will change so much more and so much quicker than the average person. You have Krishna on your side, hard at work on changing you. If you’re not in awe over the changes He has done with you so far in life, then you’re not serious enough. But that doesn’t stop Krishna.

Enter spirituality

I don’t know what a spiritual relationship is, but I bet it’s one where you both will increase your devotion towards Radha-Krishna. Imagine being in a relationship where both brings out the best in each other. Imagine both understanding that your partner actually isn’t the most important person in your life – RadhaKrishna is. Imagine both having this understanding, and then both taking joy in serving RadhaKrishna together. Imagine appreciating and serving the spirituality in the other person. And getting the same in return.

I have never experienced this, but this is how I think it should be. Relationships in this world has pretty much made me uninterested in entering a new one. I’ve learned by experience, but unfortunately I also know that the simmering interest isn’t scorched out of me. It’s there somewhere, but well out of view. If I never enter a relationship again, that will be fine with me. I can’t see how a romantic relationship in this world in any way will serve me. Though I do hope that Krishna aims to help me get closer to Him, so this need will not manifest again.

That is the only way I can imagine this working out. By letting my relationship to Gurudeva and RadhaKrishna go deeper.

Holy holiness

Radhanath-Swami-explains-a-devotional-principleIt used to bug me to no end when people took my book or chanting beads and take them away from the chair/floor and place them… somewhere else (still does). I get why they did it – we are supposed to revere these things. But really, there’s so much holiness around us that it just becomes too much. The beads are in the bag to protect them, but apparently the bag itself is so holy it can’t be put on a chair. The food is holy, so we are supposed to eat it all up. It doesn’t really matter how full we are – and that everybody seem so intent on placing more on the platter than what you want.

Hing is supposed to be so great that it replaces both onions and garlic (it doesn’t).

Then we are supposed to dress and act in a spiritual way. Wear saris and dhotis, say Haribol so enthusiastically. Always use tilak. Conform, conform, conform.

Again, I get why. My Gurudeva wanted the ladies to wear saris – so why didn’t I? I wore for the most time punjabis, and most of the other times western clothes (read: not a ladylike dress). I rarely put on tilak.

I don’t conform to other people’s opinion easily. I conform to what I am and who I am. What you see is what you get and telling me who I’m supposed to be, doesn’t sit well with me. Of course, this gives me no spiritual credit at all because spiritual people conform, right?

Once I sat in an assembly where my Gurudeva were. I was sitting in some chairs in the “male” section (which were the only place where there were chairs). Some guy apparantly found this inappropriate and quite rudely told me to go sit in the ladies section.  I made it clear to him that he could place his holy ass somewhere else because I wasn’t moving. I think he became very surprised that I showed no meekness in my attitude and he quickly dissipated from my view.

I never feel my gender more strongly, than in the assembly of devotees.
Which is troublesome because I’m mentally a man in a woman’s body. If I had been a man, I would have been a female in a man’s body. I have learned to embrace both my genders.

Group mentality is something I abhor unless I see logic and reason. Trousers and jeans are for me practical, therefore I wear it. Dresses and saris are unpractical, so unless I want to feel pretty I don’t wear it.

There’s so much holiness around us that I find it impractical at times. I know this is a luxury problem. If I walk in the mall and really take in the mentality of people, I see how poor they are and how rich I am. I have been entrusted with the biggest treasure ever to be gifted, and nobody knows it. I continue to explore this treasure and ever new things is revealed. A treasure chest with no end.

But with so much holiness around me, I get a bit blasé by it.

I know it’s vaishnava etiquette – but, Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Goswami Maharaja. If this isn’t a mouthful, I don’t know what is. So let’s add tridandi to it as well. Which is why I often just say Narayana Maharaja. Gurudeva certainly deserves all the titles awarded to him, I just find it a bit much so I think adding Maharaja to the end is enough. It’s just so so much – all the time. I certainly see the rightness of it – but all the time? It’s just so….. impractical.

Because of my views, I can’t really see how I would belong at a temple anymore. I think that me being on my own for so long is the best thing ever for me. I have a bit of a contrary mood which makes me question and not accept things at face value. I challenge peoples views and perceptions at times (in the nicest way I can). I conform to me.

I conform to me. The more “me” I become, the closer I get to Krishna. But you can’t really enter this process without it changing you.

The end game of conflicts

Recently, conflicts seem to chase me down and it’s fine. I’m dealing with it. It’s part of my life now, but it’s not a part of me. Despite my attempts at high mindedness in dealing with conflicts, what is left in the end?

I believe that we have to help people. I consider even helping people in their personal development to be indirectly devotional service. Everybody is a jiva with a birth right to spiritual life. Even if they in no way approach God, if I have somehow facilitated a person to increase their self reflection, tolerance, patience or whatever – I consider my life successful. I believe those qualities will follow them in their next life, because those qualities are also part of Krishna (and therefore spiritual).

But the thing is – conflicts are a diversion. In one sense I’m happy for the resistance I’m meeting because it makes me strive harder for God. But in another sense I see it for what it is: It’s a diversion from what I want.

It’s not even interesting. I don’t really see things as conflicts and quarrels anymore, all I see is a lack of different qualities in people. By all means, I can get angry like the next person, but I also see the lack of qualification in people that makes a situation to what it is. Understanding people takes away anger quickly. I see how little I can influence; it’s probably better to just leave it to Krishna.

But – if there is a problem we still have to deal with the problem and solve it somehow.

It’s just so boring still. It’s so temporary and uninteresting. We have gone down this path thousands of times before. Why don’t we go listen to some Harikatha instead?

 

The point of contention

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Kali yuga – the age of quarrel and hypocracy

The main quality I seek in people is self reflection. The ability to reflect on different situations and view oneself from perspectives that differ from one’s own. To look at a bad situation and see if one could have handled oneself differently. To view the other persons, make an assessment of who they are, what level they are at, the viewpoints they have and why. To come up with a different strategy if things goes awry.

I didn’t have these social skills at all during my childhood, adolescence and the twenties. I had parents with no social skills, so therefore I never had anybody who taught it to me. Fortunately or unfortunately, I’m a highly sensitive person, which mean I process more impulses than the average person. So I learned by people’s reaction to my actions. Of course, I didn’t understand their reaction then – I just saw it. I had to walk through depressions and burned outs before in the end of the twenties I begun to work on myself and slowly the puzzle began to take shape. I began to understand myself, my social skills began to evolve slowly, my ability to understand and (really) see other people evolved. There was a lot of self work involved.

The reason why I have so many opinions on how to deal with conflicts is because I’ve become good at it. I’m good at self reflection, and I’m good at dealing with other people. I’m able to take an argument and work on the other person. I might not see the change, but it’s usually there. I see it in the way we deal with each other afterwards. I see it in how the other persons dealings afterward with me. When I enter a conflict, I don’t enter the conflict itself – I start working on and with the other person (including myself if that is needed). Some may have a quarrel with me, but that doesn’t mean I have a quarrel with them. My goal is to teach and learn, and it also involves teaching people how to have an argument. I listen, really listen. And I give people resistance if it’s needed. Usually, people just need to he heard. Most people never ask for advice, so I just have to listen. It might sound strange, but I listen and perceive with my eyes, ears and skin. My whole body is involved. People never need judgment, but they do need resistance sometimes.

Kali yuga – the age of quarrel and hypocrisy. We take offense for the slightest misunderstanding and we expect more of others than of ourselves. Currently, me and a neighbor is in a disagreement about an area. The neighbor is struggling mentally and is not rational in her conduct, which manifests when we have a disagreement. So when she’s not rational, I call her out on it and explain why. When she began to utter a threat, I paid it no heed because I understood that underlying it was a lack of ability to come with rational arguments and solutions. She expects more of my social skills than she has herself and I take no offense to her conduct though it’s certainly unhealthy at times. It’s fine and in the end we are still amiable to each other.

Which is probably why I’m usually baffled with how devotees deal with conflicts. You would think that devotees have so much social skills, but instead I find devotees who have even less social skills than people in general. I’m beginning to understand why the view on conflicts seem to be childrens play. It’s because devotees are like children who have not learned how to deal with  conflicts and arguments – or even just proper conduct at times. No wonder the advices are on such a basic level. Sometimes during disagreements a devotee may say to another person that he will “do dandavats from a far”. I would never say something like that to another person. I would instead say that we disagree on this point and since we are not getting any further, just leave it at that. I have left arguments so many times because I see that the other person is unable to move further and see beyond his own world. I’m not even sure I have quarrels anymore, for me it’s just disagreements. When I display anger or negative feelings, it’s often a bit of acting behind it. My heart isn’t in it.

A conflict is a gateway to personal growth. Though it’s disheartening and sad to see the level people are at when conflicts arise.

Pratistha – we should avoid it like the stool of a pig

Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura