March 2009

At The Lotus Feet, Long Street, Cape Town


Another year. Another day.

What have we accomplished? Where are we going? When are we going to wake up and see this sleaze-bag western civilization for what it really is? Are we better people? Or are we just selling-out to “The Powers That Be” and their cheap world of brands, logos, mass-media, theoretical science and pseudo-religion?

Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur Maharaja – a great saint in the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition – expressed it so well, ‘Too long have you spent in the house of the prostitute.’ Too long, dear friend. You and I.

It’s closing time at the bar. But we want to stay! Oh…just one more drink…uhhh…uhhhh…uhhhhhhhh…

Sometime back Kadamba Kanana Maharaja lifted back the cosmetic veil of illusion with the following analogy. The material world is just like a party except at the end everyone is shot. No Bollywood romance, friend. Plain old stool. Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada repeatedly reminded us that this world is a place of birth, death, disease and old age. Who wants to get sick? Who wants to get old? And who wants to die? No-one. And why? Because we are eternal. We are spiritual beings just caught up in the mesh of this world of matter. Sometimes a fish, sometimes a bird. Sometimes a human being. What are you waiting for, old chum? Do something!

These, my dear readers, are the facts of life. Why live in denial? Why kid yourself into believing that there is anything worth holding onto in this world? Krishna explains in Bhagavad-gita that this world is asasvatam duhkalayam. It is temporary and full of suffering.

Acknowledged. Are you still with me? Temporary and full of suffering. If we are smart enough to take these realities seriously we want to escape, we want moksha (liberation) to end our sufferings. But moksha alone isn’t the goal of Vedic Culture.  The Aryan (‘Ar’ means ‘pure’ in Sanskrit and ‘Ya’ means ‘Yadus’ or the ‘pure path of the Yadus’/ Krishna-consciousness) culture was aimed – and is still aimed – at linking the soul with the Absolute or the Divine. That is called yoga. It is something higher than impersonal liberation, simply being free of material suffering. The pinnacle of yogic absorption is personal. It is the development in the individual soul of fully blossomed spiritual consciousness in a loving relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. This activity in Krishna consciousness is also called bhakti-yoga.

Where were we? Oh, we were describing how terrible this material world was and then we touched on some of the spiritual ideals…as described in the Vedas… and by the acharyas (saints who live according to the teachings of the Vedas and devotional writings). So where does that leave us fence-straddlers? One foot on land, one foot on water. One foot solidly situated in the material world; and the other stretching out, like a feeler, into the realms of spirit. Sometimes an angel, sometimes a human, mostly a beast. Meeow.

The great thing about the the path of bhakti is that it has been carefully delivered to us by the disciplic succession of gurus going back all the way to Krishna Himself. The process is very simple (especially in our present times). It is recommended in the Vedas that in the Age of Kali (this modern age) that we should simply chant Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada taught this process to the whole world. It is not a practice for spiritual adepts only. A child can chant Hare Krishna. And the process is the same for the beginner as it is for those reaching spiritual perfection. Just chant the Holy Names.

Another wonderful thing about Krishna-consciousness is that we have many spiritual role-models, both in the scriptures (like Srimad Bhagavatam) and in this world at this moment. Accomplished chanters can help us chant without offences so we can achieve life’s ultimate goal, pure love of God or Krishna-prema.

So, from Mukunda Charan, a happy, belated, beautiful New Year….

First Programme of Vedic City Project, ISKCON Johannesburg North, Parkwood, Johannesburg, Sunday 22 February 2009.

Our project was born on Sunday 22 February 2009.

Prabhupada was fond of saying that Krishna had taken birth within the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. And this is how it feels with our little project in Johannesburg.

We are simply servants of Krishna. Not perfect servants. But servants no less.

Saturday afternoon was a little frantic. Thanks to Tirtharaja prabhu I was able to fetch our guest, Sankirtan das, from the airport in a car. Our previous guest had to navigate the back roads of Johannesburg with me from O.R Thambo International, Kempton Park taxi rank through a commodius vicus of recirculation to Park Station and environs. Am I getting too Joycean now? Anyhow, we basically schlepped back to the flat that time…

I heard Sankirtan was fluent in Chinese, but got a real taste of it when he actually spoke to a Chinese traveller in the car park. This wasn’t book distribution Chinese (ni hao, che che, ‘buy book’ etc.). This was the real thing. (Sankirtan, in co-operation with Chinese travel agents, takes Chinese yoga students on pilgrimages to India. He explains to them the spiritual dimension of yoga as expressed through Krishna consciousness).

Sankirtan set his baggage down at the flat and offered obeisances to the Pancha-Tattva and Garuda. To my delight, he gave me some Giriraja Saonpapri – a delicious sweet from Govardhana,in Vraja. We then took tea, bread and date syrup on the otherwise empty floor of our Temple room. That was special.

I was freaking out because our cushions had not arrived. Luckily my parents were on holiday so we got some blankets from their house for the programme (I hope you not reading this, Mom).

Where were we? Ah, yes. Sankirtan. We had put out invitations – mainly to people I’d met in the course of my wanderings in the shopping malls of Johannesburg. It was quite exciting though I was also in a anxiety over last-minute details. Would our books arrive in time? Would our cushions arrive? We had gone to much trouble painting-up the place. Rasika Rai had spent the whole week embellishing the Temple Room walls. I didn’t want anything to go wrong.

Sankirtan, however, was very relaxed. Not at all demanding. The last thing I needed was a fussy guest. There was just too much to do, too little time and too little money. Sankirtan had called me from India and we had made all our arrangements by e-mail. We agreed that he would speak on ‘The Yoga of the Self.’ I had mentioned to him that we were going to invite several members of the Yoga Fraternity to the programme and, since he had written a book on the subject for Chinese yoga students, it would be nice if we could speak a little on the topic of yoga. One of the main functions of the Vedic City Project is education so I was happy we were kicking off this way.

I spent the next day running around…looking for plastic covering for the toilet floor…looking for couscous and vegetables to offer to the Lord and our guests…looking for heaven knows how many other things. Looking. Luckily I had the supermellow Tirtharaja tagging along my crazy trail. Thank you for being such a calming influence, Tirtha.

So, while Gaurashakti cooked, Arne cut out patterns for the toilet-floor, Tamal cleaned, Sankirtan freshened-up, Tirtha looked for the karatalas, early guests arrived…I was on the phone seeing who was coming, who was not coming, and thinking of anything we might have left out.

The programme ran quite smoothly. We had 16 guests. Hansa, who owns a florist downstairs, kindly sponsored flowers for the programme. And the guests liked the walls! Paisley patterns and mantras of ‘Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya’ in Sanskrit and English.

The Programme

Tirtharaj led kirtan (congregational chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra) for 15 minutes or so. Then Sankirtan spoke.

Sankirtan prabhu spoke a little about the Centre and how it was for the guests and for the devotees. He spoke about devotional service and various things we could do in terms of service to Krishna and Krishna’s Centre. While he was speaking I was thinking of the spontaneous offerings some of the guests had already made. There was Hansa and her flowers and dhokla; Giridhari and Estelle’s contribution of spoons and cutlery; and Richard’s gift  of a beautiful framed picture of Ganesh, the Destroyer of Obstacles.

Sankirtan then asked us to introduce ourselves and to tell everyone something about ourselves. I said, ‘My name is Mukunda Charan das and I like making friends with people.’ Sankirtan looked at everyone and said, ‘Is this true?’ Lungile said he liked, as I would have known, Prabhupada’s pastimes in New York City in the 60’s. Giridhari said he liked reading Bhagavatam. Govardhana liked being with devotees. Hansa liked cooking. Richard liked the Vedas. And so on. Sankirtan handled the group well. Everyone appeared relaxed.

Since I was up and down seeing to guests, seeing to prashadam – basically managing things – I did not get to hear all of the class. And Bhakta Arne, unfortunately, only captured 20 minutes on his phone. But I did catch the gist of the presentation. There were many processes by which spiritualists approached God, including varieties of yoga practice. These practices, however, brought the practitioners to the platform of Bhakti or devotion to Krishna. Sankirtan gave a simple, though scholarly, analysis of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras in relation to Swami Prabhupada’s presentation of Gaudiya Vaishnavism or bhakti yoga. Patanjali’s sutras give clear teachings about the physical dimension of yoga. But they are wanting in terms of the actual goal of yoga which is to ‘link’ with the Divine or Krishna/God (that is the literal meaning of the Sanskrit term ‘yoga‘). Sankirtan also encouraged us to work on our connection with Krishna as opposed to connecting with the Temporary. His talk was encouraging. There was some debate over the purpose and usefulness of Christianity during the question-and-answer-and-comment session. I was in the kitchen at the time, but heard that it was resolved on the Vaishnava platform ie. everyone was in agreement at the end. We served prashadam and the guests slowly, slowly took their leave.

Srila Prabhupada Ki Jaya! Sri Sri Pancha Tattva Ki Jaya!

Versatile South African astrologer, Richard Fidler, gave an enlivening talk at the Tuks Bhakti Yoga Society (BYS), in Pretoria, on 6 October 2008.

Richard explained that jyotish is considered ‘the eyes of the Vedas’. He explained that jyotish is connected to ayurveda (Vedic natural medicine). The sciences of the Vedas are interconnected whereas western understanding is compartmentalized.

How is jyotish related to Indian culture, destiny, spirituality (ie. Deities, spiritual paths, the guru and human relationships?

In Vaishnavism (God-conscious Indian spirituality), we see an ancient culture practiced in modern times. Richard went on to explain that astrological interpretation brings home ‘timeless truths of uniqueness of individuality’ to light. We are re-connected with rhythms of nature, the universe and Divinity. Astrologers see the karma (material destiny) of people and this gives them a sense of empathy for them.

Vedic concepts of dharma, artha, kama and moksha are revealed in a chart. Even if you are very spiritual, you need to eat food…you still need basic resources.

Another point that arose was that astrology can be an objective affirmation of a direction we are headed in. This is one use of astrology since so many scenarios arise. Reminds me of the point where the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, Swami Prabhupada, said of the usefulness of jyotish, ‘If you know it’s going to rain take an umbrella with you.’

Richard introduced me to a quote on astrology some time ago: ‘There are those who are born under the stars and those born born seeing stars. ‘ In other words, some are born ignorant of their destiny; while others ‘see’ theirs – through astrology.

After the talk, there was a question-and-answer session. Was astrology only applicable to individuals? Richard explained to the students that astrology was not confined to one individual. Astrology could be applied to ‘a state of energy’ and had political, religious and economic applications. There is an ‘astrology of world events’ or an ‘astrology of collective karma.’ Collective karma could pertain to families, communities and certain planets or universes (eg. the heavenly planets).

Another student asked about the different yugas (epochs described in the Vedas). Richard answered that the Yugas are, in a sense, part of astrology and time-cycles. He cited an example from the ancient Indian history the Mahabharata wherein mention of a solar eclipse is made.

Richard answered another question about the relevance of astrology in our lives. He spoke of the macrocosmic and microcosmic applications of astrology. The Moon is a jewel on lord Siva’s head. The cosmic machine is a little piece of the reality of the Devas (Demigods or higher beings that “run” the material manifestation on behalf of the Supreme Being, Vishnu). We find it difficult to understand the miracle of what it means to be a human being. With respect to astrology, Richard made the point that ‘God does not play dice’ and also mentioned that Jesus said that every hair on our head is numbered. The basic point being that astrology helps us understand the cosmic being we are part of. Cells serve the body; and we are meant to serve God. Astrology could be part of the spiritual path of the intellectuals and would help an organization like ISKCON in an individual and collective sense.

”Where does the observance of Krishna’s birthday come from?’ Astrology.

Someone asked a question about Vastu (Vedic architecture/feng-shui) and Richard gave some simple explanations about the Sun in the east being auspicious and Saturn in the west being inauspicious. He also spoke a little about Vastu grids (being based on jyotish).

Richard made some other points in the discussion after his talk about how astrologers generally accept that there is a higher intelligence governing the material universe. He also mentioned that most astrologers become more spiritual through the practice of the science. Western science teaches that consciousness is random and comes from matter. The spiritual world-view is different: consciousness creates matter. Consciousness reveals the relationship between the soul and the material form, since the gross manifests from the subtle.

Astrology helps us to re-define events. External, physical events are the result of consciousness and, therefore, have a relation to psychology.

Astrology is intimately connected to religion. Astrology assumes there is a God and that our worldly activities should be aligned with the will of God. Astrology is the language of God. It is not trying to be separate from God.

Hemant (one of the students) asked about having a ‘good day’ or ‘bad day’ in spiritual practise. Richard mentioned that there are various forces that influence us, such as the sun, earth and water. Astrology helps us to time things better – remember Prabhupada’s point about the umbrella? There is a reason that certain activities take place within a religious calendar. To create auspiciousness. In addition to this, your consciousness will have a lot to do with how you respond to certain ‘events.’ With respect to difficulties in the course of our spiritual lives, you may not be able to find an outlet for that energy. Richard made a cogent point, ‘Even relatively enlightened people have “off days”. It probably has something to do with the stars.’ He went on to explain that pujas (worship), bugles, astrological rings (ie. gemstones which correspond favourably to certain constellations or planets) etc. ‘deflect bad energy, like a lightning rod on a house.’

After the question-and-answer session the devotees, students and Richard all took some prasada (vegetarian snacks offered to Krishna).

Thank you Richard. Hare Krishna.