Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Where Am I?

Some people wonder where I'm at with my faith in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. 'Still a survivor' is something I'd say; I'm still keeping up with my practices and all but yes, I have significantly decreased my active participation in some of the prominent GV forums out there.

Why? Because of a mix of personal and external circumstances. Externally I am a very busy person and my time is taken up with a variety of personal and work projects, as well as things that I like to do in the precious free time that I get. Participating in an online Vaishnava forum requires commitment to the discussions, especially where there is group study of a scriptural text. If I cannot commit any time to participate in such discussions than I don't think anybody would find any value in my presence there, neither am I in the mood to hang out on the fringes.

The personal part comes from my own self-reflections and self-evaluation. I think that there is extremely little value in trying to garner knowledge with the purpose of "showing off" as I informally call it, whether or not this is done knowingly or unknowingly. There are some people out there who take a distinct pleasure in reading up on texts so that they may participate in debates and discussions and show off how smart they are. I have to admit that I have tried to do this in the past; sometimes basking in the joy of my own ego and at other times having egg on my face. There's no point in it all at the end of the day, you become burnt-out and exhausted and it becomes something of an addiction, just so you can be Mr. Smart Guy.

Well yes, of course there are people who know a lot of things because of their genuine thirst for knowledge and their own studies. Who is to say that they will not fall into the trap of punditry? Punditry has it's pros (does it really?) and it's cons, especially when the place turns into a back-patting mutual admiration society as Prabhupada used to call it, where everyone jumps on the bandwagon and praises the pundit's latest burp which is "full of timely insights for us to chew on", regardless if the opinion actually had any insight or not.

Punditry, like it or not, brings fame. Fame is something of a paradox for a Vaishnava; on one hand a real Vaishnava will automatically attain fame on account of his high level of devotion and other good qualities and yet it can also be a cause of horrendous falls from grace, not to mention the fact that it can cause quite a fascination with publicity. Fame is inextricably connected with the Smart Guy Principle - the know-it-all becomes famous for being a know-it-all, even though he can also become famous for being an annoying know-it-all. "We must go and ask this guy because he knows EVERYTHING!"

Gaudiya Vaishnavism has very important twin-principles: Humility and Tolerance. This is enshrined in the 3rd verse of Siksastaka. The aim of spiritual practice is to decrease our own transient desires and increase our own humility and tolerance, which is not going to happen if you're either chasing fame by gathering knowledge of if fame comes biting at your heels. Yes, take this verse and wear it around your neck! Punditry doesn't do anything except fulfil some vacuous need for attention.

So I am not interested in being a pundit these days, I am just a "neural surfer". If I have something interesting to say then I'll say it, without a need to try and act smarter than other people or that I know something that they don't. I consider meaningful spiritual practice to be more important than garnering knowledge. Whereas knowledge is itself important in the grand scheme of things (you have to know what you're doing), does it really matter that the square root of x combined with the square root of y is the sum total of z-cubed, and this is the scientific formula that proves God exists? How the hell is that going to matter when you're dying?

It is meaningful spiritual practice that is done with an attentive consciousness that will win through at the end of the day. People need to spend some serious time in deep thinking and serious self-reflection in order to sift the wheat from the chaff in their onw lifes, in a bid to sort out one's priorities so that self-growth can progress at a steady pace.

Look at this, I had some things I wanted to vent and I've started to preach from my pulpit. Let's just hope I don't become famous for it.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Eyes Of The Guru

I saw a programme on BBC1 today about Monty Panesar, the first Sikh to play in the England cricket team. Interestingly I found that whenever the camera zoomed in on his face when he was being interviewed, he had the most deep and soft brown eyes. Very nice eyes. It reminded me that Punjabi people in general tend to have very nice eyes, emotional eyes.

I then started thinking about how Sri Guru Gobind Singh must have looked, and I think he might have looked quite similar. He would have had very beautiful eyes anyway. It must have been a great wonder to be in his presence.

I have thought often about Sikhism. Being a Sindhi, it is notable that the Sindhis have a very close connection to the Sikhs and the Ten Gurus. Sindhis believe in the Ten Gurus (with emphasis on Guru Nanak) and think nothing of visiting gurdwaras to take part in worship services, what to speak of visiting Amritsar and seeing the beautiful Golden Temple. I have visited my local gurdwara for years on Sundays, though I cannot claim to be in complete knowledge about particular aspects of the Sikh faith. There are some aspects which I find slightly disturbing when comparing it with my Vaishnava faith, but I found it incredibly striking that 98% of the names used for God in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib are names of Krishna!

I would definitely like to visit Amritsar one day and see the Harimandir there. See, there's another one: the Golden Temple is actually called 'Harimandir', the temple of Hari, who is none other than Vishnu/Krishna. There is a prophecy somewhere in the Sikh canon that states that the Kalki avatar will visit the Harimandir. I thought that was interesting. According to Sri Rupa Gosvami (?), the Kalki avatar will be saktyavesa-avatar anyway.

Long ago I spoke to a Sikh friend who asked me the question: 'Who was the founder of Sikhism?' Naturally I replied 'Guru Nanak', who was the first of the Ten Gurus and was a very charismatic saint whose hymns and bhajans make up a significant part of the Sikh scripture. He said no, and that the founder was actually Guru Gobind Singh. Seeing my look of puzzlement he pointed out that whereas it was true that Guru Nanak founded the spiritual basis of Sikhism, it was actually Guru Gobind Singh who institutionalised it and provided all the rules and regulations to organise it into a system and to provide a distinct identity for it's followers. That has stuck with me ever since,

I used to have a couple of Sikh dagger-keychains on my keyring, but it got lost. I was disappointed at that as I thought it looked pretty cool. Maybe I'll get another dagger-keychain, both a single-edge and a double-edged sword.

I definitely need to brush up on my Sikhism. I have a book on the life of Sri Guru Gobind Singh which I've never got around to reading. The main problem is that wth all the work and university coursework that I have to do, I barely have time to keep up with my Vaishnava readings! They must be having great fun on Vilasa Kunja and I feel bad about not being there, but the study groups around a certain scripture involves a certain amount of commitment to the project. Not to fear, I'll soon be able to get back into the game and enjoy the benefits of sadhu-sanga again. For now I can just surf the web to find a picture of Sri Guru Gobind Singh with beautiful eyes.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Ramanavami 2006

Well, it didn't go as great as expected, but it was still pulled off in quite a way! First of all I was unable to take the day off and spend the day at the temple due to work commitments and also an essay was due in today which I had to complete. I had planned to complete it and then head off home for a change of clothes and then straight to the temple. Unfortunately one thing overran another and I ended up leaving around 18:30. :-( I managed to jump on the bus around 18:50! :-(

I knew that I was going to miss the Sandhya-arati and was very disappointed about that, but considering the Shayan-arati after the feast and things didn't seem so bad. A small consolation. And so we partook of the break-fast feast and I headed straight off to the temple room. Of course my main motivation was to take some nice pictures of the Deities as well as pay Shri Ramacandra (actually, Sri Sri Sita-Rama Laxman Hanuman) respectful obeisances on His holy appearance day. The line was pretty long and I managed to enter the temple at the exact moment of Shayan-arati! There was no kirtan as such because Gauranga das (from the Chowpatty temple) was still giving his lecture so I was alright to take pictures without too many people pushing and shoving me. Here are three of the pics that I took:

And here's a pic of the charming display of Sri Sri Sita-Rama in the forest:

What was interesting is that when Dinesh's nephew (i always forget his name!) came out with the maha-prasad tray, he was advised to go and leave it in the prasad room. However, Bhakta Peter informed him that the table was full and that he should serve it elsewhere. As I was following the nephew around to get first dibs on the maha-prasad (!) I suggested that they should serve it outside the temple room as on a normal Sunday. I even offered to do it myself. "Shall I do it?" I couldn't even believe that those words came from my mouth. I had absolutely no intention of doing any service; primarily because everyone else was engaged in it and they had been doing the worship/festivities the whole day and so I didn't want to deny anyone. But yes! Somehow the words came from my mouth and they agreed! So to top off a nice holy day, I was allowed to do a small seva by serving the Vaishnavas with maha-prasad! :-)

Usually when I do it the maha-prasad is all finished, but I don't know what happened today: There was still quite a bit left over by the time the arati had finished, and I managed to get a paneer-pakora for myself as well as a cupful of matar paneer! Wicked! And I love paneer too! Such holy prasad, made even more holy after having been touched by the lips of Krishna Himself.

Interestingly I also managed to have a small chat with an old schoolfriend of mine who I hadn't spoken to since she got married a few months ago. I asked her where she had been and she replied she's only been coming to the temple for about the last month or so. I joked with her about how her honeymoon was that long and we both laughed. I saw another old friend of mine that I hadn't seen in years, who is something of a TV star. Wow, that was something I was not expecting! She tapped me on the back to say 'hi' just after Dinesh's nephew handed me the maha-prasad tray. As it was obvious that I was occupied with this task I said we'd speak a little later. And so I did. Wow, my friend the TV star. Apparently she was so surprised to see me there and how I knew everbody, and I informed her that I'm a regular visitor to the temple and go there practically every week. Apparently she's coming again for another meeting in around 3 or 4 weeks time, perhaps then we can catch up properly. Such strange things are happening these days.