Thursday, 23 April 2015

Three Steps

The three steps of anything: 1) Initial enthusiasm, 2) doubts, disinterest and struggle 3) eventual reward for the committed. This seems to be the standard pattern for most things in life: studies, career, relationships, hobbies, and yes, even spirituality. The beginning of our spiritual journey is often characterised by idealism. Everything is fresh and fascinating, a whole new world to explore and unlimited opportunities to pursue. We can’t imagine any problems, since it all seems so simple and straightforward. We have finally found what we’ve always been looking for.

Unfortunately that honeymoon period doesn’t last forever. Now familiar with the externals, one is forced to dig a little deeper to maintain their commitment and dedication. What in the beginning seemed so natural, now requires a good dose of discipline and determination to maintain. As we situate ourselves in the external world of spiritual practice, the internal world of chaos begins to reveal itself. Over time, we realise we aren’t as saintly as we thought, our hearts riddled with weakness, frailty and stubborn material stains. Welcome to the stage of realism – where the gap between the ideal (of where we’d like to be) and real (of where we actually are) becomes strikingly apparent. The gap is indeed uncomfortable, and different people attempt to close it in different ways. Some quit the process altogether (forget the ideal), while others compromise the purity of their expectations (lower the ideal). Both of these approaches cheat us of the invaluable gift of pure spiritual happiness. Only the brave accept the third way: to accept the gap, admit one’s flaws, and undertake the step-by-step process to refine their character (raise the real). It requires incredible commitment, buts it’s the rewarding path that leads somewhere significant.

To tread that path we need to move to the stage of optimism. Embracing the hard work required to raise our character towards the ideal, is only possible as we develop great hope in the spiritual process we practice. We can survive for three weeks without food, for three days without water, but not a moment without hope; it keeps our spiritual journey alive. That hope is cultivated through observation (appreciation of how we’ve developed our spirituality to the current point) and application (the feelings of reciprocation and reward we feel in the current times). Nurturing unbreakable hope is the hallmark of an advanced spiritualist. For one whose spirituality is fortified by such hope, quitting is not an option. Such dedication cracks open the divine treasure-house.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

New Book – IQ, EQ, SQ

Download “IQ, EQ, SQ” by clicking here (right click and "save link as...")

IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests are famous for assessing logical, mathematical and linguistic skills. We all wish we were in that top bracket of Mensa elite who have an IQ in excess of 140 – unfortunately only 0.5% of the population make it! Developed intelligence empowers one to gather, process and analyse information effectively. The intelligent can think in abstract ways and learn from their experiences. Despite this, history shows that the intelligentsia are not always the most successful, happy and influential people in the world.

Psychologists and neuroscientists are increasingly talking about the need for Emotional Quotient (EQ). Those with high EQ’s are emotionally balanced, able to maintain composure in the chaos of life, and great at relating with people in appropriate and inspiring ways. EQ empowers the successful utilisation of IQ – people act irrationally when volatile emotions hijack their mental state. Thus, EQ measures the human side of life and our interactions with the immediate environment.

While IQ and EQ help us to function in our present situations, SQ (Spiritual Quotient) is all about ‘thinking out of the box.’ People often come to the point where they begin to question life, the universe and everything – who am I, why am I here, what is my purpose, what should I strive for, and what will make me happy? By exercising their SQ an individual can discover deeper meaning, purpose and direction in life. Often, we are busily engaged in chasing things without seriously considering whether they are necessary, fulfilling and really adding value. Our daily endeavours are usually focused on asking the question ‘how,’ but SQ is all about asking the question ‘why.’

We hope this collection of articles will stimulate your SQ and offer some ‘food for thought’ in a world that (consciously or unconsciously) yearns for fresh perspectives and newer paradigms.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

People Problems

Conflict, friction and human disagreement is, unfortunately, a major part of daily life. Whether it’s the erratic driver who cuts in front of you on the high street, crafty and cunning work colleagues pulling a fast one, or ungrateful and insensitive friends, unsavoury interactions can spoil our day really quickly. Fortunately for us, the great saint Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur offers invaluable wisdom to help handle these daily challenges:

"When faults in others misguide and delude you - have patience, introspect, find faults in yourself. Know that others cannot harm you unless you harm yourself."

Patience - the first moments of a conflict situation are crucial. Be tolerant and patient. The art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but sometimes to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment. When negative emotions hijack our mental state, chances are we’ll act and speak irrationally. One who is patient in a moment of anger, saves themselves days of sorrow.

Introspect – take some time to consider the situation. Beyond the perceived idiocy of actions and words, try to understand what is driving someone to do what they do. What is the hidden background? If we can identify that, we hold the key to progress. In human dealings the golden rule is this: seek first to understand, then to be understood. We could also consider how important the conflict really is – most Issues can easily be dropped or ignored, but often our emotional engrossment keeps us doggedly fighting till the last breath.

Find faults in yourself – every experience we encounter is ultimately an opportunity for self-growth. Provoking situations act as a mirror to better understand our weaknesses and faults. When we can identify and accept our own imperfections, we’re better placed to considerately deal with others. Else, we may fall into the trap of being very good judges for other people’s mistakes, and expert lawyers for our own.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015


Last week I drove into Central London at 4.00am. It was refreshing - no cars, no traffic jams, no stress. Unfortunately it didn’t last very long. Cruising toward my destination I unexpectedly encountered major roadworks and got stuck in a huge tailback. Despite the strategic timing of my journey, I still ended up delayed! It reminded me of the challenges encountered in our early morning spiritual practices. Every day we dedicate the two hours around sunrise to focused personal meditation. Through the process of mantra, we whisper the sacred names of Krishna and try to conscientiously hear that transcendental vibration. Attentive aural reception frees the mind, cleanses the heart, and brings us in contact with the spiritual reality. You simply have to focus on the vibration. Nothing else. Sounds simple, but in reality quite problematic, since the mind is notoriously difficult to control. One thought leads to another, which leads to a third, and soon we are drifting off and straying far from our purpose.

The early morning hours are considered the most conducive for spiritual practice since the mind can peacefully flow toward the spiritual goal. However, just as early morning road works slowed down my car journey to London, mental agitation can similarly inhibit the strength of one’s spiritual connection. As I sat down this morning in preparation for my chanting, a million things were going through my mind. There were doubts and uncertainties about pending situations. There were quarrels and conflicts of opinion on pertinent issues. There were worries about friends and pressures of expectation from respected associates. There was also excitement about future opportunities, a sense of pride at this week’s achievements and anticipation at the day ahead. What can I say... the mind is a busy place! How in the world would I be able to put this all to one side, pacify the mind, and concentrate on the task at hand – to simply hear the mantra and focus on the eternal reality?

I tried to cultivate a broader mindset. Everything in my life can be resolved if I deepen my spirituality. The problem is not other people – but it’s actually my lack of tolerance, empathy and sensitivity. The problem is not the situations I find myself if in – but it’s actually my rigidity, stubbornness and lack of broader vision. It even occurred to me that all my aspirations and dreams can manifest beyond my imagination, but only after I fine tune my motivations and eradicate my ulterior selfish motivations. Everything is resolved through spiritual purity, and spiritual purity comes from determined and focused spiritual practice. As I sat down I thought to myself - “let me just focus on this mantra for the next two hours. After that, life will look quite different - situations and perspectives will change.”

It worked. Bucket loads of mental energy saved, and substantial solutions found. I’ll try the same tomorrow. Wish me luck.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

New Book - CC Compact

Download “CC Compact Preview” by clicking here (right click and "save link as...")

The full book is available at Bhaktivedanta Manor reception.

We will be having a short course on the CC Compact at Bhaktivedanta Manor – click here for more details.

Throughout cosmic history, Krishna periodically descends to Earth and reveals knowledge of the eternal reality. He re-establishes genuine spirituality and teaches the practical means to develop God consciousness. In 1486, Krishna appeared as Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. While a renaissance of philosophical and theological thought was going on in the world, Shri Chaitanya ushered in a spiritual revolution through His personal interactions, philosophical discourses and most importantly His joyous public chanting and dancing. He established a process of God consciousness that was open to everyone regardless of caste, colour or creed. He went beyond ritualistic worship, dry philosophising, and materialistic piety, instead emphasising the very essence of religion – unmotivated and unconditional love of God.

Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami’s Chaitanya-Charitamrita is considered the most accurate, authentic, and philosophical biography of Shri Chaitanya. At present, however, it remains a relatively unexplored literature. Since the studies of Bhagavad-Gita and Shrimad-Bhagavatam are vast in and of themselves, many neglect the opportunity to bathe in the delightful narrations of Shri Chaitanya’s life. CC Compact does not fully describe each episode of the Chaitanya-Charitamrita, since Shrila Prabhupada’s translation does that perfectly. The key objectives are as follows:
  • To present an easy-to-follow overview of Shri Chaitanya’s life.
  • To provide a road-map and framework for anyone who desires to explore the Chaitanya-Charitamrita in greater detail.
Above all, this book has been compiled in a spirit of self-improvement, with the ardent desire to increase my meditation on Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. I am far from qualified to write about this elevated subject matter, but my attempt is simply to encourage the reader to approach the original source of knowledge: Krishnadasa’s devotion-filled words translated by Shrila Prabhupada. Please forgive any mistakes I may make, which are likely due to my limited knowledge and lack of spiritual depth.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Coming Back Soon

After a month in India, my spiritual vacation is coming to a close. Vrindavana is beautiful, endearing, and we wish we could stay longer and longer. Living here for even a few weeks makes the rest of the world seem like a distant reality. It’s a place where spirituality is naturally woven into the fabric of daily life. Admittedly, however, there were times when I didn’t feel so holy in these sacred surroundings. I wished every day to be a magical experience and amazing revelation, but some days just weren’t. Yet the soul-searching, introspection and awareness of my spiritual deficiencies on those days was rewarding in its own way. As with every spiritual trip, I’m sure I’ll only fully appreciate the extent of these divine gifts once I leave and reflect back on the experience. I hope these sacred impressions will remain etched within the heart, nourishing my enthusiasm for many years to come.

Srila Prabhupada called Vrindavana his home. He lived here for many years in a humble temple which he identified as the “hub of the wheel of the spiritual world”. It’s hard to imagine how, from a remote village so seemingly disconnected from the urban matrix, he singlehandedly masterminded a spiritual revolution which continues to impact mainstream society today. In 1965, he left India as an ambassador of Vrindavana, intent on inviting the whole world back to this most special place. He wanted everyone to experience the magic of Krishna. His unforgettable sacrifice is an unending source of inspiration, and thus we can only hope to do something to assist the realisation of his dream.

This time has been humbling, but simultaneously encouraging. I’m feeling fallen but hopeful. I am becoming more aware of my obstacles, but the ultimate goal is slowly capturing my imagination. I’ve spoken to, observed and heard about the saints, now I’m challenged to renounce my pride, develop that spotless character and follow in their footsteps. I’ve heard hours of insightful lectures and read pages of profound philosophy, now I’m challenged to develop the simplicity and unpretentiousness required to realise that transcendental information. Gratitude for my elders, who performed unthinkable austerities to give us access to such spiritual treasures, has risen to new heights. Now I’m challenged to ‘up the game’ and sacrifice my own easy life to reciprocate with them.

I hope I’ll be granted entrance here again. I hope I’ll come back with a better character. I hope I’ll have some useful report for Srila Prabhupada next time, who may well ask – “what did you do to remind the world about Vrindavana, the eternal home of Krishna?” 

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Living the Dream

There seems to be a tension between comfort and aspiration in our lives. We seek to explore, to grow, to achieve, yet we also desire security, safety and certainty. It’s clear, however, that we often have to sacrifice one to get the other. If we opt to remain in the comfort-zone, we may have to live with the inevitable feelings of being humdrum, run-of-the-mill and unexciting. On the other hand, if we dive for our dreams we’ll have to ready ourselves to brave the rocky road of uncertainty and opposition. Every significant achievement has its price tag.

In reality, we usually go for something in between. Decisions on where to pitch our life are largely based upon the prevailing social mood of the day. What is everyone else doing? What are the expectations of society? What will keep everyone happy? Breaking free of such barriers and pursuing our ‘inner calling’ is a tough job. As life responsibilities increase, it’s easy to get boxed in, sealed tight and shelved up. Shifting the daily routine becomes more and more taboo. Doing something different may be seen as unintelligent, rash and irresponsible. And even when there are no grounds for such accusation, we conveniently accept those opinions just to reinforce our comfortable life and maintain the status quo.

Life has its way of grounding us down. Very few people have a dream, even fewer seriously consider how to fulfill it, and only a rare soul actually has a decent shot. In an age where security, establishment and balanced prosperity have become the guiding beacons for our comfortable life, a pause for thought may be worthwhile. The Bhagavad-gita reminds us of a broader vision that needs to be etched into our consciousness. The inevitable laws of nature mean we come to this world empty-handed and we leave empty-handed. Everyone, without exception, is guaranteed to lose everything. Although our temporary constructed situations of life seem so real, they are all washed away by the ruthless waves of time. We’re building castles in the sand. It sounds counterintuitive, but I’m trying to invest quality time in developing this “vision of eternity”, hoping that it will make me a whole lot more dynamic in this temporary phantasmagoria.

As I wander around in the spiritual hub known as Vrindavana, I’m reminded of a local saying which is beginning to make more and more sense to me: “All reality outside of Vrindavana is actually a dream, and all dreams in Vrindavana are actually a reality.”

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Good Old Days

I couldn’t imagine winter in India would be colder than London. I was wrong. The misty chill of a Vrindavana morning penetrates your bones to the core. The stone floors and absence of heating systems mean there is no respite – inside is usually colder than outside! Nevertheless, the devotional fervour and busyness of Vrindavana never diminishes. Pilgrims stream in every day, each with a spiritual goal in mind: most visit for personal inspiration, others come to engage in some austerity and rigorous vow, while the elderly usually come to live out their final days in preparation for death. We’ve come for the first, we’re involuntarily doing the second, and he third… well, that’s not in the plan for the time being at least…

Every day I do my early morning chanting in the courtyard of our temple. It was a 3.00am start today. Although it’s early for my standards, every day I’m blessed with the company of the same elderly faces, who, tightly wrapped up in multiple shawls and scarfs, wholeheartedly prostrate themselves, circumambulate the temple, offer prayers and settle into rapt meditation. This is their life. Their dedication is unwavering, steady as a rock, seemingly oblivious to all obstacles which come their way. Despite their ailing health, the severe lack of material conveniences, and the seasonal climatic attacks, they are determined to end their days in complete spiritual absorption, diligently preparing for their imminent journey to the next world. After a lifetime of jobs, family, responsibilities and social interaction, they live as lone mendicants in this holy land, probably with a vow to never leave. They have realised this is the business end of life – this is where it’s make or break. After all, the Bhagavad-gita confirms that the consciousness with which we leave this world determines our next destination.

It prompted me to reflect on how our spirituality should intensify with each passing year. We have to build momentum, increase the urgency, and eagerly look for more and more opportunities to genuinely go deeper. Gradually, all the empty promises of the world that steal our attention should pale into insignificance, allowing us to focus on the essence of life. An elderly lady told me yesterday – “the good old days are not of the past, I’m experiencing them now, and I’m sure there are more to come!” A nice play on words, with a great meaning behind them. Though so many material limitations invariably arrive with age, the spiritually enthused soul is free to move in the skies of devotion. The later years of ones spirituality can open unlimited doors of experience and opportunity. I’m witnessing the living proof, and its giving me great hope.

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