Living a story

There are different ways of learning, but there is one way of learning that is very effective with devotees. It’s experience. Being put into hard situations where we somehow have to learn how to swim.

I have been quiet for some time now.

It’s because I’m living a story now. A story that is changing me. How I am. How I deal with things. I’m not the same person I was just six months ago.

I think the hard part of the story is over now.

Now I’m dealing with the aftermath. I have to work out a new way of being, of living. I loved my life before “the big paradigm shift” happened. Now I have to figure out a new way of happiness because I’m different.

This is how change works. I would never be able to write this blog if I didn’t have the ability to change. So please bear with me and forgive me. I’m on my way back to you. I wonder how my association with this blog changes. It will be exciting for me to see.

For You

By Madan Oppenheimer

I write for you seekers,
for I’m one of you;
I share things found on the way.

I search for the exit,
the way out of matter;
imprisoned in night and day.

I try to be honest,
and filter out falsehood;
for me life isn’t a game.

I write for you seekers
so I’ll feel less lonely;
I’m hoping you’ll feel the same.

Source: Waves of Devotion

Constantly chanting

13177750_10208391170194310_732364206427738780_nI was introduced to Krishna consciousness when I was 17, and got into it immediately. I quickly understood one was supposed to chant all the time – literally. I was new – I was pumped with enthusiasm and I was blissfully unaware and ignorant of what spiritual life really was.

I tried to chant, but was not good at it. I tried to remember to always chant, but I was completely unable to do so. I didn’t understand that I had no qualification to chant much and I couldn’t understand why it didn’t happen. So in the end, I got upset with Krishna and told him in no uncertain terms that I should be chanting the maha mantra mentally, continuosly, without stop.

……….. and I was heard.

It’s such a long time ago, but I think in the beginning I was pleased. My mind was chanting the maha-mantra on it’s own. My mind was taken over by this process which kept on chanting. It took over all my capacity. Sure, I was able to do things, but the mantra was shouting in my head, not letting me go. The hours past, a day went by. I don’t know how long I lasted.

In the end I was exhausted. I wanted my mind back. The mantra was so loud in my mind, it didn’t let me think of other stuff, it left no room for other things than the mantra. I ended up praying to Krishna to please take the mantra away. I couldn’t take it anymore.

…. and the mantra let go of me. I sighed in relief. It was finally quiet in my mind again. Now I could fill the mind with whatever I wanted.

Years went past. I had similar experiences without me needing to ask for it. The mantra came into my mind and lodged itself there.

At some point I recognized that something new had happened – that the mantra had spawned off as it’s own process in my mind. I could be doing something, thinking on whatever – and suddenly realize that I was chanting. The chanting process was working on me even if I had completely forgotten it and been focusing on something else for a long time. Then a moment of recognition came when I realize that the mantra was still doing it’s work.

But I still had the same experience, the mantra at some point exhausted me and I had to ask it to please leave. At some point even though the mantra may have been soft, it felt like it was shouting in my mind and I just wanted some peace of mind.

More years went by, and I haven’t really paid much attention to this mantra process and it has been taking a back burner. Though, it have been as recently as this year that I still had to ask the mantra to leave me.

But I have also not been satisfied with my japa efforts. I have tried to get back in the saddle and do well for a small amount of time. Then I accepted that I’m not in a place where sitting down to do japa is what I need to do now.

So what was left?

I haven’t consistently chanted 16 rounds of japa for years and years. But then the thought struck me – if I just keep on chanting in my mind all day long – what is the need for sitting down to do japa?

I remembered all my failures at mentally chanting. Then I thought that it didn’t matter anymore.

So I began to chant mentally. This time I had to work on the mantra. It didn’t come to me and lodged itself in my mind. But the mantra was soft, a nice whisper in my mind and as I was going about my day, the mantra was with me. Sometimes I got so immersed into what I was doing that I forgot the mantra. Then I just began the process again.

Sometimes I was immersed in my activities, only to realize that the mantra process was still there without me even “hearing” it.

Then the moment came, where the mantra was so loud in my mind. It was shouting and it made me tired. But this time I had a plan on how to deal with it: I asked Gurudeva and Krishna to please soften the mantra in my mind. I didn’t want to loose it, just that it took a little less space.

…….. and I was heard.

This has been going on for a week now I think. I don’t count the days, because this is of no effort to me. Only once have I needed to ask the mantra to please soften.

It doesn’t feel intruding anymore – instead its soft, quiet, calm. It gives me space. It keeps with me, it leaves me. I just chant and get it back on track when I notice it. Hours turns into days.

And somehow my qualification to chant continously took twenty years. Anything worth doing requires a lot of time and troubleshooting to get qualified. It requires that we recognize our limitations and work within them. And when we see our limitations and start to think of how we can move around them – that’s when the breakthrough comes.

Interlude

I don’t like myself right now. I don’t like this person.

I don’t like that I’m not working on my sadhana. I don’t like that I’m not working on progressing spiritually. Sure, I’m staying connected, even if it means just one maha-mantra a day, but there is no realizations. Nothing. This is not the person that I am.

My faith is the most beautiful about me, and its not even mine. It was given to me by gurudeva. This faith is still there, shining so very brightly. Still I’m so out of touch with it.

I miss being a devotee. I really need to be under Didis guidance and supervision right now.

This is one of the reasons why it’s so important to be under guidance. Sometimes we become lost and we need a little help on the way.

 

What kind of devotee do I want to be?

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I’m focusing on one verse for the moment:

teṣāṁ satata-yuktānāṁ
bhajatāṁ prīti-pūrvakam
dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ
yena mām upayānti te

teṣām — unto them; satatayuktānām — always engaged; bhajatām — in rendering devotional service; prītipūrvakam — in loving ecstasy; dadāmi — I give; buddhiyogam — real intelligence; tam — that; yena — by which; mām — unto Me; upayānti — come; te — they.

To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.

Bhagavad-gita 10.10

Why do one have to be constantly devoted to be given understanding?

I don’t think it’s true that Krishna only give the understanding to those that are constantly devoted. We have been taught that if we give one percent, then Krishna will help us with one percent as well (does anybody have a reference to this?).

But it also begs the question: What kind of devotee do I want to be? How do I want to be devoted?

“Do I want to be a devotee “is a  yes or no kind of question which gives no information. But the “how” on the other hand  can say a lot about me, where I’m at.

Cows are sacred for us, and they are truly beautiful. But I don’t want to live in a temple, shuffling cow shit or cooking prasadam with my lousy cooking skills. Most devotees have mystic interests and go to healers and shamans and the likes. I consider many (if not all) of the healers etc. to be crooks and have no interests of it.

I like to travel, but I’m not a person who want to do any kind of distribution work, talking to people about Krishna.

I love the association with devotees, as long as I can go home to my own privacy. It’ so easy to define what I don’t want. There is a kind of an expectation of what devotees should be like, always ready for service, whatever that service may be. Then I look at myself and see that I don’t comply to this image of a devotee.

I love quietness, being out in the nature. I would have loved to be payed for studying the sastra. That Didi said that I should share my realizations everywhere, was a true blessing because that’s what I try to do on this blog. It doesn’t mean I represent didi or this tradition (or even Gurudeva). Sharing my journey means I also share my tough times, my struggles, doubts, the conditioned being that I am, my incompleteness which may result in realizations over time.

I love writing all of these things down.

I would like to be a person who takes care of my beautiful deities and work on my japa.

Who I am now is not a “constantly” devoted anything, but the “hows” above is the way I want to approach devotedness.

This begs the next question: How is this service to Gurudeva?

It may be service indirectly. All of my wants is tailored to my nature and not neccessarily to what Gurudeva wants. But how do I know what Gurudeva wants from me? I don’t and I’m not sure that I would be able to fulfill what he wants from me either. So therefore the answer of what kind of devotee I want to be, tells a story of how I want to enjoy devotion.

And truly, I want to enjoy being a devotee. I want to celebrate being a devotee with quietness,  being in nature, studying, chanting, writing, deity care and association.

I used to think that we shouldn’t enjoy being devotees, but now I disagree with myself. I think we should embrace the enjoyment of it fully. The enjoyment indicates we have gotten closer to our true nature.

What problem?

After being denied control over my sleep, denied the ability to control sounds around me, denied privacy. I get away from it from some days, and I think: How small my problems was before. How I wasted my time, always attached to some problems.

I have my health, I’m not in physical pain, may be my punishment is not so bad. I go crazy with no sleep over a long time, but still… I am healthy. When dealing with a narcissist, you are not powerful in the doing. You are powerful in ignoring whatever adverse situation there is. You can only accept (and buy custom made earplugs made for sleep).

Even if he kills living beings, he who is free from the ego of being the doer and whose intelligence is not attached to the results of his activities does not truly kill, nor is he bound by the result of his action.

Bhagavad-gita 18.17

How I have wasted my life with this incessant worry over insignificant problems. Creating problems of my own.

I, who have been expert at solving whatever problems I have. I’m expert at learning skills and employing them – going so far as learning to service my own car, do home renovations, sound proofing. What is it that I can’t figure out and deal with?

But this need to control sleep, sound, the thoughts of the mind and privacy is dictating my inner environment. But I am not powerful in the doing. I am powerful in the being, accepting, to continue living a life that is really extraordinary for me. I have been given a gift disguised as poison. It’s just been a lot of work trying to unwrap this gift. Understanding it. To blossom (/not dying) under extreme adverse conditions.

Krishna is really making me work hard for him. The funny thing is: How easy it is for Him to maneuver me into evolving. How He must enjoy this and laugh of me, knowing I have no choice than to evolve. That my childish rage and disobeyment is of no consequence.

I used to think that Krishna would have a hard time to evolve my subtle understanding when I came to such a mentally healthy place, really enjoying life. How naive I was, how wonderfully, blissfully ignorant I was.

Instead I’m amazed at Krishna’s ingenuity. What a genius move! How assured He must be in knowing I will not leave.

I am not powerful in the doing.

What a powerful lesson I’m learning.

krishna_arjuna_Mahabharata-Kurukshetra1

Are we brainwashed?

Whenever I hear preachers giving Harikatha, they are enthusiastically talking about how Krishna will support us, the maha-mantra will deliver the whole world, we are so fortunate to have association with pure devotees etc. I find myself looking at their enthusiasm with a bit of an unbelief. Do they really believe what they say? Wholeheartedly? I see the enthusiasm, I see the glimmer in their eyes, and I wonder. How are they able to do that?

I wouldn’t be able to preach something I don’t believe. I question everything, including myself. One of the main mysteries is simply this: Why do I keep on believing in Gurudeva and Krishna consciousness? I don’t understand what drives me forward. Really.

The vedas said that Vishnu grew the universe from a lotus from his navel. I mean, if I were a designer, sure – why wouldn’t I create the universe from a lotus from my navel?

Bhu-mandal is like lotus petals – why not a rose? Isn’t this a sign of lack of creativity using the lotus parabole again and again? Lotus eyes, lotus feet.

And the feets. I bow down to feets, wash, massage, a speck of dust from the feets. I mean, this is a language of reverence telling us how to view everything as holy. The language itself is set up to brainwash us. Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Goswami Maharaja tridandi…. the titles themselves take up so much space that you hardly see the person. The language hides the person behind all the titles. It creates awe, reverence, a bit of fear of what the person might know (about you).

We walk around and bow down to a bush, for christ sake. The dolls on the altar are real. I will give you all these details about a fairy tale, and if you just believe hard enough, you will get there like in the Wizard of Oz.

Yet… when we discuss sastra, we do it logically, based on sastra. We look at the arguments and try to find holes in them.

The truth is, the reason we keep on working on our bhajan is an emotional decision. When we need to defend our reasons, we do it logically even though it’s an emotional decision behind it.

When things are incredibly hard, why can’t I give it up? I want to eat meat because it’s convenient, but every time I actually contemplate it I become so grossed out. I can’t imagine a life without Krishna, though I find it so unfair that he makes it so hard to reach him. It takes millions of lifetimes to reach him – I mean, this is ridiculous. He will never show himself to us unless we are 100% devoted – I mean, this is ridiculous. Why not before so that I’m motivated? It’s cruel to make it so hard. Why can’t I enjoy my moccas while serving him at the same time?

Why do I have to become 100% brainwashed before He “proves” himself?

And yet.. this is still the deal I have signed up for, and I think it’s fine. I will just continue like before and if He wants me He will get me there. If not, well, fine.

Why do I keep on believing in Gurudeva and Krishna consciousness?

All I can say is that it’s an emotional decision. Brainwashed or not. But I still question everything.

 

Why do bad things happen to good devotees?

18422_496260270410358_1689781222_n1When hardships befall us, it’s easy to blame Krishna. I do. Krishna takes control of our lives, so that means that whatever hardships that happen is because of Krishnas will. That’s a hard opinion to have, but I do. I did. I also say Krishna takes control of our lives – not Guru. It’s easier to blame Krishna, than Guru. Guru becomes too personal, I don’t want to weaken the bond.

In the beginning I thought that when we got initiated that Guru took away our karma. Now I know that he doesn’t. Guru engages us instead in devotional service that destroys karma. It is said that chanting one Nama removes sins from countless lives. So why do bad things still happen to good devotees?

Karma in the life of a devotee is a very complex subject. Insastra it is said that chanting a mere reflection of the holy name of Krishna (namabhasa) has the power to destroy one’s manifest (prarabdha) karma.

Karma and Sri Guru

Wouldn’t our chanting lessen the burden to the degree that bad things became obsolete in  devotees?

Now I understand that karma in aspiring devotees are instead lessened, not removed. It means bad things will still happen, but the effect of it will be lessened. Last for a shorter time.

Hearing and chanting about Krishna under the guidance of sri guru combined with the guru’s grace destroys one’s karma. Of the two, effort in sadhana and the grace of the guru, the latter is more important, linga bhuyastvat tad hi baliyah tad api(Vs. 3.3.45).

So as long as we keep on serving our own interests, karma will be on our tail. Karma still can’t be proved in any way. It’s still a theoretical knowledge to me, but I guess all of this philosophy is. Knowledge without realizations.

So how can this help us in our understanding of hardships? For me it soothes a little bit knowing that my karma has been lessened. By understanding this I take away a little of the blame I’m placing at Krishnas feet.

This relation I have to krishna now – the anger, the blame, the disappointment. There isn’t much aishvarya there. This is personal. This is my heart. He has to take the good with the bad, just as I am right now and in the future.

I can’t see how these hardships will strengthen our bond, how this will make me closer to Him.

But of course, you can’t see that when you are in the middle of it. Only long after the dust has settled.

 

Karma bullshit

KRISHNA’S MERCY IS ALWAYS THERE FOR THE DEVOTEE

“O Madhava, Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord of the goddess of fortune, if devotees completely in love with You sometimes fall from the path of devotion, they do not fall like nondevotees, for You still protect them. Thus they fearlessly traverse the heads of their opponents and continue to progress in devotional service.” Srimad Bhagavatam 10.2.33

I realize that I have had a superficial look at karma. When it comes to karma, we have a theoretical approach to it. Mine was: “The unjustness of the world is proof that karma exist”. Fairness is a universal expectations everybody have…. except of course life is anything but fair. So what when that unfairness strikes hard at devotees?

[The Visnudutas to the Yamadutas]: Authorities who are learned scholars and sages have carefully ascertained that one should atone for the heaviest sins by undergoing a heavy process of atonement and one should atone for lighter sins by undergoing lighter atonement. Chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, however, vanquishes all the effects of sinful activities, regardless of whether heavy or light. 

So if one has chanted for years, then experiences some heavy duty karma. It doesn’t exactly looks as if the mantra vanquishes anything. If we do talk about karma in such a situation then it’s still superficial. Whatever happens to us, we just superficially attribute it to karma. But we can’t prove karma in any way, it’s just guesswork.

I’m not so sure I believe in karma anymore. All the talk about how wonderfully beneficial it is to chant and devote ourselves to Krishna – I don’t see or realize the benefits.

A spiritual vacation

“You have just taken a spiritual break”, my friend told me over the telephone as I was laying out my usual tale of woe. “Just keep on maintaining the connection, and you will get back to it”. I have maintained my connection by sometimes just chanting the maha-mantra once a day, do some prayers and lately by doing my gayatri every morning. That’s it. I’m keeping the connection, but I am little beyond it.

“Krishna must want a BIG change from you” another friend told me. These words are circulating in my mind – not letting me go. Because I think they are right and it scares the shit out of me.

AlbertEinsteinI’m unable to get a job. I’m only some quick months away from two years, and by then I will loose my unemployment benefits and I will go into crisis mode.

I have gone into interviews and they just don’t work. The chemistry is not there. I used to be really good in interviews and now I’m like shit. Whatever I am doing is not working at all.

It’s getting to the point where only one option is left for me to do, and I don’t want to do it. I really don’t. Why does Krishna keep on pushing me so hard? He always give me lessons way beyond my ability and then I have to struggle so hard to catch a breath. I want my life to be easy, effortless.

This is so unfair.

DISTURBANCES MUST COME by Srila B.R. Sridhar Dev-Goswami Maharaj
Our karma has come to face us, to surround us, and we can’t avoid it.These disturbances are a result of our own karma; they came from within us. So, we must not quarrel. We must act properly in dealing with that. We have to scrutinise more accurately what we thought we understood. Everyone must ask himself, “Where am I? What is my real need? And how much am I hankering for the real thing?” All these things will be expressed, and made public. So, this is the real field of sādhana, or practice. Our practice, our advancement, needs all these difficulties. Otherwise we may not know what is progress.We will become hypocrites and give the same adulterated thing to others. So, to purify ourselves it is necessary that so many disturbances come.
(from Sri Guru and His Grace)

Financial freedom – A new obsession

hqdefaultWhenever people left the KBM ashram during my stay, Didi always said goodbye to them. During my whole stay, I think she told me every day and sometimes multiple times during the day that I had to come back at least once a year. My reply was always non-committal: “if Krishna wants, hopefully, I can try..” etc. The reason was that my life is not straight-forward and getting both the money and the time to come can be challenging. So she was asking every day, multiple times and I was always skittish in my answer. Imagine having at least 5 minutes talk with her every day about you coming back, multiple times a day. I mean – she was being insistent and working hard on getting through to me. Then it was my turn to leave and she came to say goodbye.

Didi: Your stay has been like a dream that ended too soon.
Me: Give it time, and that dream may become permanent.

That just blurted out of me and I have no idea from where, but it felt so right when I said it. I didn’t really realize what I had said until one devotee said to me: “Now you have said it to Didi, so now it has to come true”.

In hindsight I’ve been thinking how utterly cheezy and stupid that line is. It’s like a small kid of two years old telling a professor that “I’m coming”, except I’m 38 years old and should know better. I’m not really that poetic in language either unless I’m blogging (but even here it’s not much poetry).

My life before and after have been a prime motivator to get out of this material conception – except that I’m so mired into it now that I’m losing the battle. Maya is winning and sadhana is put on hold indefinitely.

Maya is so successfull with me that I have gotten a new obsession – financial freedom. What does it take to quit the rat race of working and to retire well before the expected age?

One of the things I have been curios about is how people afford to live in Vrindavin. What is their income? During my stay I tried to ask a little bit around on this, but I didn’t really get a good answer. It seems like people get there in different ways. One of my friends said that one could live well in Vrindavin on 150 USD a month. That is not a lot of money.  So I did my custom google whenever a problem comes up, and this time it was a combination of Mayas punishment and crushing credit card debt looming over me.

Enter – Mr. Money Mustache. Considering how we devotees are supposed to be liberated from material needs and desires, this guy preaches frugality the way devotees understand. Only spend on what you really need, cut your spending in creative ways (my goal for this month is to cut my utility bill with 25% and I’m doing good). Pay down your mortage and invest your money wisely. Let whatever money you have be your productive employee who makes money for you. Goal: Early retirement by cutting spending and investing your money until your investments matches all your living expenses.

After spending a whole lot of time reading up on his blog, I now see that early retirement is an achievable goal. I have a credit card debt I need to pay off etc., but I’m working on scaling down my life. And I’m excited about it! The thought of bicycling to buy groceries put me off initially. But after spending time outside with my son every sunday (no matter the weather) and cleaning the car: I suddenly imagine that cycling with him to purchase groceries will be lovely. We both love to be outdoors and being active. If we go on bicycle runs together, he will be ecstatic! He is already ecstatic every time I say we are going to wash the car.

So I have already began the process of scaling down my life and I’m doing very well for now. The thing is: you just have to learn about investing and Mr. Money Mustache sums it up easily in this post. I found a stock index fund I began investing a small amount of money on. Right now I have two priorities: Pay off my credit card debt and save a symbolic amount of money monthly in the index fund (just to feel that I’m moving forward in my dream and have some employees working for me). After a while I will begin investing in a dividend paying fund, but that is for later after I have stabilized my financial situation.

It takes very little money to generate 150 USD a month. That means the fund have to generate minimum 1800 USD a year (150 usd x 12 months). Just take a savings calculator and plot in the numbers. The average I use is 7% (though right now we are in a dip and the number is lower). The return on your savings is the magical number that should amount to 1800 a year.  If you save 3000 dollars in 5 years, you have the magical amount easily. 3000 dollars is not much a year if you go into super saving mode.

In my case I own my own apartment. If I sell my apartment even now, I probably could retire in India if I wanted (though it would be too little investments to feel comfortable if the market drops a year). And I have a son – my priorities is with him for now which means no eloping anywhere.

Now I have kind of put Krishna on ice, and there is very little written on the vedic viewpoint of evil. But when I think of what I want in my future, there is still only one thing I see. I will live in India most of the months in the year, and spend a few months either in Norway or travelling elsewhere. I can’t imagine living alone without association like now.

And now I have finally understood how I will get there. Which means a whole lot of the job is already done. And may be that is one of the things Krishna is wringing out of me rather forcefully.