Adventures in Humility

News, Views, and Chews on spiritual issues.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Ratha-yatra LONDON! (sort of)

I have felt very blessed recently. After suffering and then recuperating from a fever, I was unable to visit the temple for a long time. Still, whenever my parents went, they brought back the maha-prasad for me so I was never deprived. I was very thankful to eat such holy food, that has been touched by the Lips of Krishna.

Today (well, yesterday) was the famous London Ratha-yatra. I had been looking forward to it for weeks since this is one of the most enjoyable occasions in the year. From all over the country the devotees come from their temples to celebrate this big BIG Ratha-yatra, which has three carts for Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra, and the procession is from Marble Arch to Trafalgar Sqaure. Winding it's way through the heart of London with police escorts, it is indeed a very public and joyous occasion. Every year I volunteer my services and so I have a little administrative position in regards to crowd control.

Unfortunately I was not able to attend this one since I was not feeling very well in the morning. Add to that the fact that we have been enjoying (almost unbearable) heat this summer, it's probably likely that I would have suffered from nosebleeds or heat stroke. And of course the usual sunburn. Actually the sunburn thing is quite funny. We all have to wear tilak and so when I get sunburnt the tilak protects the small path of skin, so when I wash it off later it looks like I have a permanent tilak on my skin! My devotee friends used to laugh about this and say that I must be some big devotee! Nothing I did to prevent sunburn worked, I used to wear shades, bandanas, caps, but I still got sunburnt. Oh well...

So I was feeling very bad about not being able to attend this year's festival. Hey, it's ok, because there are 'localised' Ratha-yatras all over the country this summer so I could attend any one of them, but there is a special quality about the London celebration due to it's huge pomp and circumstance. I never got the chance to meet Gopal Krishna Gopswami either. Oh well, I heard he's left for Moscow by now. Anyhow I decided to go to the Manor. I was not very keen on attending the Manor as I figured that all the fun would be at Trafalgar Square. In any case, it turned out that the crowds from Traf. Sq. were actually returning to the Manor for darshan and prasad! Of course, because Bhaktivedanta Manor's deities are the most beautiful. ;-)

I don't usually take my japamala to the temple because I always get called away to do some seva or other so I don't get much time, but today I figured that it would be "relaxed" and I could just sit on a bench and chant away. In any case, I really enjoyed my japa today. Japa brings you the peace, but the mind is still very difficult to control Spiritualists all over the world would agree, concentrating the mind on the Lord is hard when the mind is accustomed to thinking of "material" things. It made me realise that I, like everyone, have a long way to go before I can satisfactorily concentrate my mind on Mahaprabhu's Golden Lotus Feet. Of course I can do it if I really concentrate, but to enjoy that kind of concentration takes practice.

So, funnily enough, as I was doing my japa, I decided that I would not do my usual seva of Temple Room crowd control but would help out in serving the prasad. They always have a few guys to do the crowd control anyway, even if everyone is at Traf. Sq., so I am usually superfluous these days unlike before when I was practically managing the whole thing. It turned out that this was a wise decision because they did not have enough people to help serve the prasad. Initially I was serving both the bhaji and the salad until someone came forward. I figured I wanted to serve something important like the bhaji because:

  1. My personal sense of spiritual ethics makes me determind to do my seva before I eat my own prasad. Unlike other people who satisfy themselves with food before serving or leave their seva halfway through to eat their food, I do not feel that Mahaprabhu would approve. I have felt this way every time in all the other religious organisations that I have attended. Throughout my life whenever I have done seva, there have been extremely rare exceptions where I did not perform my seva according to my own sense of spiritual ethics, usually due to circumstances. I do not intend to disparage anybody (even though they know who they are), but I do believe in good hard honest seva that will bring a smile to Mahaprabhu's face. Possibly a laugh, best not to expect too much. :-) What if Mahaprabhu was there and watching your every move? Do you think He would approve if you ate beforehand or left your seva midway?
  2. The second reason why I decided to serve bhaji is that it is an 'important' dish and it is unlikely that we would run out of supply. I really hate serving things like salad and puris which are things that run out and your seva has ended prematurely. I really get a satisfaction out of staying till the end to make sure that everyone has (possibly!) eaten before you and that I am more or less among the last to eat. I have observed that principle even in my seva in other organisations. I do believe that some kind of discipline is necessary to make spiritual progress. After all, there are very good reasons to get up early in the mornings and chant, as compared to the rest of the day!
I personally don't care if the food runs out before I eat, or even if the "good stuff" has finished and I am left with a few scraps of what is left over. I am left thinking that I have done my duty by Mahaprabhu and that I have acted rightly and honestly and I did it as best as I can. In fact, sometimes I even feel a little guilty because I am surely not the last to eat, there will always be someone after me who has come late or whatever. Some people even make sure that they take their share of the "good stuff" and keep it aside so that, no matter what, when their time comes to eat then they have a full plate of food. I'm not sure I agree with that either although I understand the rationale behind it. I have done this on several occasions myself even though I know that it is being deceptive to Mahaprabhu. In some cases my own spiritual discipline has relaxed in recent years especially when I am influenced by what other people do. I see so many devotees hoarding the goodies for themselves and I feel a sudden impulse to do the same thing. Of course this is only at festival times when they make a huge amount of good stuff anyway, but I don't believe in being overly greedy. If you absolutely must, yes, take a little aside and keep it for yourself if you really feel that you will die if you don't get a piece of that chocolate cake, but it's not good to get greedy and HOARD the stuff for yourself and your family because other people will be deprived of it. The general rule should be "first come first served", and I genuinely feel that this is Mahaprabhu's way in terms of honest ethics.

"So you didn't get any cake? Tough luck, and there's no reason why anyone should keep a piece for you either. Just because you think you're some kinda bigshot doesn't mean you can jump the queue or get the best foods. Go and join the queue like everyone else!"

Looks like I'm heading off on a tangent with my rant, so let me get back to it. So as I was serving the bhaji, it looked like some television crew came by and were filming us as we served. Hey, looks like I'm gonna be on TV! Although this is hardly likely and they were just taking some raw footage that would be edited, there's a chance that I could appear on TV serving the food! Woo hoo! I was unable to get any details about the programme or when it would be broadcast, so I'll ask a few people. But it's kinda funny, I had to think that this was Mahaprabhu's "reward" (I really hate saying that word*) for doing some good honest seva and trying something different instead of my usual kirtan/crowd control duties.

Funnily enough, the devotees from the Rathayatra had brought back some maha-prasad. I don't know how it happened or who took it or who gave it, but we ended up coming back with a plastic lunchbox full of chocolate cake! Wow! That's not the sort of thing I expect, but I really felt that this was some kinda consolation for not going to this year's Rathayatra. It made me feel that I don't have to go to Trafalgar Square to see Jagannatha; He is always with me.

Sei Gaura - Sei Krishna - Sei Jagannatha! the bhajan goes...


* I say that "rewards" are "bad" because I don't like the idea of taking "rewards" from Mahaprabhu even though it's perfectly possible that He gives them to me out of His own sense of grace. It goes along the lines of what Prabhupada used to say (and I paraphrase): "Service should be done without expectation of reward". The secret is that service done without expectation of reward brings the reward! After all, such service is ahaituky apratihata and performed with pure motivations with nothing except just the desire to serve, and this is what pleases Mahaprabhu! So it's perfectly natural that Mahaprabhu will reward the acts done without any agenda or motivation, and I don't like advertising myself as a recipient of Mahaprabhu's rewards regardless or whether or not He is giving them to me, but I personally don't like the idea that Mahaprabhu is "rewarding" me. I feel shy about it.

But I should actually talk about that some more in separate blogs when I have time. By that, I mean that I would like to talk more about seva and the correct attitude to performing it. "10 Ways To Make Mahaprabhu Smile" or something.


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