Be Tolerant than the trees, beware of their suffering, and be intertwined like the Redwood trees

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Chaitanya Mahaprabhu urges in the third verse of shistashtakam taror api sahishuna be tolerant than the trees. Observing the Redwood trees in Muir Woods, Srila Prabhupada teaches us why the trees are so tolerant, and His Holiness Radhanath maharaj teaches us where the tolerance and strength of Redwood trees come from.

In The Hare Krishna Explosion, Hayagriva maharaj writes that once when Srila prabhupada visited Muir woods in San Francisco with his disciples, he enlightened them that the souls that were now standing as tall Redwood trees were too much engrossed in sexual pleasures in their previous lives. Their rebirth as trees was a result of their over indulgence in sex.

Srimad Bhagavatam reveals how the two sons of Kubera were turned into trees when they behaved shamelessly in Narada muni’s presence. Those who like to flaunt their naked bodies are given the bodies of trees in their next lives. This is to teach them what it is to be naked under the sky all their lives. The trees have to tolerate all types of weather conditions. They even have to bear with human onslaught on them. The life of a tree teaches a soul’s tolerance and penance. It teaches us not to be extravagant with our dark desires, rather we should be miser in fulfilling them. Just like we are conscious about spending our money only on the things we really need, we should be contemplative about whether sex is for pleasure or for procreation. We like to spend our money not only on the right things but in the right way too. This should be our approach about using our bodies as well.

His Holiness Radhanath maharaj teaches us that although the roots of Redwood trees are not deep in the earth, these trees have been in Muir woods at their respective places since thousand of years. In their lifetimes many kings of the world were born and died. They won and lost many wars, marked boundaries and removed them. History changed so many times in the lifetimes of the Redwood trees, and it will keep changing. Maharaj teaches us that the strength of these trees lies in their unity. These trees have shallow root system, but their roots are intertwined with the roots of other Redwood trees, 100 feet from the base. Like these trees we should be together through thick and thin in life. No matter what, we shouldn’t cut our roots that are intertwined with roots of other devotees through Bhakti.

The acharyas show us different aspects of the truth in a bonfide way. They teach us how to assimilate our understanding and apply it to improve our devotion. May lord Krishna bestow us with the ability to see things as our acharyas want us to see.

“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.