“I’ll observe fast only after you are gone”

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These were my words to my mother on the second Ekadeshi of January 2013. It was my 3rd or 4th Ekadeshi fast, and I was struggling with my hunger; with the idea of remaining empty-stomach until noon. Ignoring my stomach’s hungry rumblings make me angry, and I end up saying things that I wouldn’t want to say even in my dreams.

That morning, my mother was like her usual post-illness self and I screamed those words in my own helplessness. God knows what came over me and I blurted out “I won’t fast anymore. What’s the point if I scream at you like this? I’ll fast only after you are gone!” The arrow of my words pierced my own heart as soon it left the bow of my tongue. I came back to my desk and looked at Krishna’s brass statue in helplessness, anger, a drop or two of tears in my eyes. I asked Him why couldn’t He help me control my anger? Why couldn’t He find some help for my mother so we could spend the remaining time—few months–of mother’s life peacefully?

Krishna is devoted to His devotees no matter how imperfect they are. Before my next Ekadeshi fast, a caring lady (Shiela) offered to take care of my mother’s daily rituals till 4/4.30 pm every evening. This lady used to work with my sister a couple of years ago. My sister had been trying to contact her for a long time but Shiela’s number must have changed … One day, when my sister was thinking about Shiela’s availability, her doorbell rang and there Shiela was!

My mother’s health had been deteriorating fast since the last quarter of the last year and that always made me think that 2013 would be the last year of her life. 2013 is also the 66th year of her life. Her departure from this world in the 66th year was the other coded message of the number 66 synchronicity.

April 22, 2013 was Ekadeshi, and both my sister and I fasted. I observe Ekadeshi fasts to increase my devotion for Krishna. My sister fasted for my mother. In the two weeks before this Ekadeshi my mother would spend most of her time sleeping. We got all the prescribed health tests done and all the reports were perfect. They were so perfect that she could actually stop taking the medicines she had been on since her paralysis in October 2009.

On April 21, 2013, she opened her eyes and talked to us briefly in her broken voice of which we could understand only a few words. She had lost the ability to speak a couple of months ago. Her words would never come out clearly, and after two or three words her voice would become inaudible.

It was around 8.30-9pm when I returned from the Love Feast program that takes place every Sunday on the ISKCON temple’s site near my home. I had brought with me garland prasad. Everyone including my mother smelled the garlands to take in the fragrance prasad. While I was placing the garlands on her pillow, a thought struck me…what if it’s the last night of my mother. Anyway, everyone was relieved to see her awake… I asked her lightly where she had been all these days, in her dreams. After a short silence, she mumbled “Krishna Bhagavan”. I became curious and asked her to tell me more. Her words were inaudible after she spoke the Lord’s name. I asked repeatedly what about Krishna Bhagavan, but my father asked me to help my mother finish her dinner first. So I nipped my curiosity in the bud.
On the morning of April 22, Shiela was giving breakfast wheat porridge to mother and that’s when I asked her again about her last night’s …”Krishna Bhagvan”…. I asked her if He appeared in her dream. She nodded “yes”. “Did He say something”?, I asked. She nodded yes. “What did He say?” I asked. To this she said “Worship Me.” I asked her if Krishna Bhagavan asked her to worship Him. She nodded “Yes”. “Did you see His face?”, I asked. “No”, she said. “Then?” She said that she heard His voice.

On the afternoon of April 22, when Shiela was feeding lunch to her, my mother’s breath became heavy with phlegm. She tried to say a long sentence but it remained stuck in her throat; sunk in phlegm. Gurgling was what we could hear. I looked at her face and chanted the Hare Krishna mahamantra quietly. “Try to throw the phlegm out, mummy.”, I said. She couldn’t. Papa and I waited for a minute but nothing happened. Sheila resumed feeding lunch to mom. Papa went back to his room and I to my desk. I didn’t resume work and instead started chanting the Hare Krishna mahamantra on my Tulsi beads. I must have chanted only for a minute or two and when Shiela called me to give tissues to her as my mom was throwing up phlegm finally. Finally …

Instead of taking out the tissues from the kitchen drawer, I went to the other side of the dining table and tried to tear off the newspaper as I could see mom was throwing up lots of phlegm. With Tulsi beads in my right hand, it became hard for me to tear the paper…why the hell I was trying to tear it off? Why couldn’t I just take the whole of it? It was just a newspaper! Shiela panicked and asked me to bring it fast. I gave her the whole piece while Tulsi beads still in my right hand. Mom’s face was down. Shiela put her hand on mom’s forehead to raise it and there her neck fell back. All I could say was “Mommy? Mommy?” I checked her heart beat. There was none. I put my finger below her nose to check if there was any sign of breath. None. Her soul left through the mouth; one of the nine gates in the body.

My sister, brother-in-law, and father took her body to the hospital. Doctors confirmed she was gone. On the day of Ekadeshi her soul left my mother’s body. There are several instances in the Vedic scriptures about the importance of the day of Ekadeshi. It is said that when a soul leaves its body on this day, it goes straight to a Vaikuntha planet and all her karmas are burned due to such a death. Lord Krishna turned my anger-filled statement into a boon.
All the signs about her death were auspicious. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says yogis leave their bodies when the sun moves northward (Uttrayan) and during a day of Shukl paksh (bright moon). Krishna arranged everything.

In the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 8, verse 24, Lord Krishna says:

agnir jyotir ahah suklah
san-masa uttarayanam
tatra prayata gacchanti
brahma brahma-vido janah

“Those who know the Supreme Brahman pass away from the world during the influence of the fiery god, in the light, at an auspicious moment, during the fortnight of the moon and the six months when the sun travels in the north.”

Once I heard an ISKCON devotee say that when we take one step toward Krishna, He takes thousand steps toward us. My mother’s divine departure is Krishna’s gift to us.

PS: Shiela reminded us that a few weeks before my mother’s death, mom was saying something like today is Ekadeshi and both my daughters are fasting. It was not Ekadeshi that day and my sister never fasted on Ekasdeshi so we ignored her comment. But on her last day on earth, on Ekadeshi, my sister WAS fasting! My mother knew when she would leave us …

The Source of Love

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We try very hard to love others when there is not enough love in our repository. We believe we are the source of love. No, we are not. We are channels of love. The source is Krishna. Just like we need a powerhouse to supply us with electricity, we need to connect to the source of love so love could flow through us incessantly. When we connect to our Krishna, the unlimited amount of love flows through us so we can share it with others. There is no dearth of love when we acknowledge its source and become receptive as its channel.

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My Heart’s Pilgrimage

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My Heart’s Pilgrimage.

Are You Lonesome Tonight?

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Are you feeling lonely? You are not alone!

More than half of the world runs emo-men-tional (emotional-mental!) marathon to escape the grip of that which I’ve finally managed to embrace. In the waking hours and during sleep, the atoms of loneliness dance inside our heads and hearts. So persistent, so omnipresent.

Loneliness. A blissful state born out of necessity.

It took me all of my youth and half of my life to cozily embrace loneliness. No, I won’t tell you my story; for the two reasons I won’t tell you. One, it’s not just a plain and simple story. There are stories within stories within stories. And there are characters within characters. Two, just like your story, the plot of my story also revolves around happiness, sadness, faith, hope, doubt, hurt, and all. So why bother you with my story-ies.

My thoughts and feelings are suffocating due to the lack of words, but I have to say something here. Anything. You can choose to read what I am going to say. Or, you can simply skip this post.

Let me tell you that I feel at home at home and don’t make desperate attempts anymore to run away from my family. No mindless escapades to movies, malls, markets, and so on. The time I have invested in myself has made me strong enough to accept and confront my dark side(s), and it has also helped me see through the truth of others. Those who appear so complete and fulfilled may only be feeding themselves on the energies of other people, and those who are feeding others are feeding themselves on some others’ vitalities, and so on. It’s a chain. A vicious circle. Compulsive social networking, do-or-die dating, Mrs. Dalloway-style parties, vanity-driven kitties, and pointless outings serve us well as distractors.

Why should we stop loneliness from blooming into solitude? I often dig my mind for a different answer than what I usually receive, and sometimes, I coerce others for an honest answer too. People are scared of the loneliness which greets each one of us in the moment of quietude. People are scared of themselves. I too once was scared of myself. We are scared of ourselves because we don’t find in us what we have been looking for outside of us. We are incomplete beings until we transform our loneliness into solitude.

Just like caterpillar becomes butterfly, an incomplete person is bound to become complete – not by finding a crutch in another person. Not by living like a needy person who sucks energies from others, but by acknowledging and internalizing the truth that the world exists only in relation to us, and only we can make our world beautiful and rich. A graceful acceptance of life’s offerings is what makes us complete. I have been able to accept what life has offered to me so far. The bittersweet offering. Sometimes it is a sweetmeat of likeminded company. On many occasions, it’s a bitter herb of suffering. After every major encounter I find that sweetmeats in my life come with bitter coating, and the bitter herbs leave a sweet taste in my mouth. I have been doing a good job of enjoying both tastes: bittersweet and sweetbitter. The key is to accept everything without creating attachment to its existence or aversion to its loss. The key is not easy to find.

Loneliness transforms into solitude if we give it a leeway to grow, and it so richly deserves it! Much suffering goes into this process – caterpillar suffers too, doesn’t it? The pair of suffering and transformation is as necessary to our existence as are the couples of heat-cold, night-day, desert-sea, shadow-light. The process of becoming a human butterfly sometimes requires scathing of temporary relationships and readjustment of expectations/understanding of this world.

My loneliness is flowering into solitude, although my efforts have been quite imperfect. Incessant self-questioning and probing of what lies beneath the pleasant facade of relationships or situations that leave us lonely is an essential step in this process.

We can’t plan this transformation. Nor can we dare chart our sufferings. Our kaleidoscopical reactions to the events of our lives lay the milestones of what-becomes-of-us-everyday-over-the-years. Not every moment makes us feel fulfilled. Though over the years, more moments turn out be surprisingly fulfilling than we can imagine.

In my moments of awareness, I witness the limbs of my loneliness dissolving. One by one everything which once constituted of loneliness disappears from the scene. What happens afterward feels so much like solitude. It is like a beautiful butterfly, which may not live long enough. But, as long as the butterfly lives, it is a legend of beauty born out of suffering which the caterpillar had to live through alone.

Enjoy Your Solitude Tonight. Everyday.