Monday, July 28, 2008

Coming Full Circle at Arlington Yoga Center

In 1969, when Marinda Hollar first moved to Dallas from small-town west Texas, she remembers seeing a Hare Krishna on the street, which made her happy and realize she had moved into a "real city." Little did she know then that almost 40 years later, she would own a yoga center and host a Hare Krishna kirtan there.

In the same vein, I also did not realize that when I first came to the Arlington Yoga Center in early 2000, I would be organizing the aforementioned kirtan at the center 8 years later.

When I walked in, I was looking for some relief. My mother had recently passed away from cancer, and it had been a stressful year taking care of her before she left her body. Treating my physical body by doing yoga and attending dance classes was just what I needed. Being a massage therapist always looking for a good barter, I convinced Marinda, the owner and main teacher, to exchange massage for classes. It was a situation that benefitted both of us, and we became good friends. I learned a lot from her, and eventually we realized that I had something I could teach her as well.

On the spiritual side, I was committed to no particular path at that time. Though I had been involved with Krishna Consciousness off and on to varying degrees for 15 years, it held no distinct attraction to me any more than any of the other spiritual paths I had been exploring. I didn't present myself or think of myself as being a devotee of Krishna. But of course, once you have tried Krishna, nothing else really satisfies, which I was about to learn.

After a few months, I became a part of the community that Marinda worked very hard at cultivating. In the spring, I learned about a national Yoga conference that Marinda was attending. She had received some promotional materials and posted them in the center. The theme of the conference was "Bhakti," and who was on the poster, none other than Lord Jagannatha Himself smiling away! I remember smiling back at Him, recognizing such a sweet and familiar face.

When Marinda returned, she was very fired up to share what she had learned. She had attended a workshop on "Sanskrit chanting," and told me how much she enjoyed it. Unfortunately she could hardly remember how to pronounce them, and handed me a paper with several chants on it. I told her I was familiar with Sanskrit, as I used to hang with the Hare Krishnas. I said I could help her out with pronounciation, and would try to find some recordings of the chants so she could learn them.

I can barely remember now what most of the chants were, except for "Sri Isopanishad." However, that was good enough to make me pull out my recording of "Radha Krishna Temple," which I hadn't listened to in years. It felt good to hear it after such a long time. Krishna was already starting to call me back to Him.

I brought the recording to the yoga center and went through Sri Isopanishad with Marinda and a few others. Marinda was always open to new classes, and always wanted to promote what she called "true yoga." The idea came to her that I "teach" a class in Sanskrit chanting. Eventually, I taught Sri Isopanishad to them, along with the Govindam prayers and part of the Guruvastakam. The class only lasted a few weeks, but more importantly, it started me seeking out recordings of chants, kirtans and bhajans. I wasn't particular about who was singing them, or to whom they were singing to, but it was all I listened to for a long time, and I know it purified me.

Time marches on, and things have to change. Eventually, I ended up leaving Arlington Yoga Center to do other things, but being there had changed me. Marinda's openness to exploring chanting at her center had re-kindled something inside me. Even though it took some time to come to fruition, I can now see a direct connection between seeing Lord Jagannatha's face on the yoga poster and my eventual open-hearted return to the Dallas Temple and to Sri Sri Radha Kalachandji in 2002.

It is now 2008, and things have changed even more. I am now an initiated devotee, and when possible, I like to arrange preaching programs. Through a so-called "chance" meeting with one of her students at the temple, I reconnected with Marinda in 2007. The Arlington Yoga Center is still going, and earlier this year, she brought a group of her students to the Sunday Feast. I brought up the possibility of bringing our Kalachandji's youth bhajan group to her center for a kirtan and she liked the idea.

So, a few weeks ago, that's what we did. Marinda's teacher, Guruji, was visting and holding yoga workshops, so we came to close the Saturday session. About 30 of her students stayed for the kirtan program, which in total lasted about an hour and a half.

Halfway through the first bhajan, led by Haridas, the devotees and most of the female yoga students, including Marinda, stood up and danced. Afterwards, Gopi Gita led another bhajan in which everyone was asked to chant one Hare Krishna mantra. Not one student refused to chant! It was very enthusing to see such participation from the students. I credit Marinda for that, as she keeps the feeling at her center very open-minded. She allows people to feel safe about exploring and expressing spiritual beliefs, even if they aren't totally the same as her own. I felt it when I first met her in 2000, and here again, in 2008, I felt it once more. Things had come full circle.

So, I want to thank her, as it was having that freedom of expression which was such an integral stepping stone on my path that eventually allowed me to come back to Krishna.

Below is video highlights from the program:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Twelve Month Sandwich

In effort to compete with Sabjimata Mata and Kurma Prabhu's delicious prasadam blogs I hearby submit our twelve month sandwich. There are five main cooks who are always involved. The first one is Gaurachandra and on His right side stands Nitaichand and His left side stands Gadadhara. Nearby cooking is Advaita and Srinivas is holding the spatula. Sweet Mrdanga sauce is mixed in with spicy kartals accompanied with side orders of conch and bells. All the demigods headed by Lord Brahma line up to get an opportunity to relish this sandwich. In fact the flavor of this sandwich conquers the flavor of millions upon millions of curd sabjis. Lord Shiva, Sukadeva Goswami, and Narada Muni are all there and are choked in ecstacy to get but just a taste.

This sandwich is what we have had the pleasure to honor for the past twelve months. The ISKCON sandwich. During Srila Prabhupada's time he established a program of spiritual purification by which one can make steady progress in Krishna Consciousness. It was nicknamed the ISKCON sandwich, a Krishna Conscious Program of bhajan, kirtan, artik and class every morning and every evening. Many devotees eager to rapidly expand Krishna Consciousness asked Srila Prabhupada if it were ok to miss the evening program in the event of late evening book distribution and other such outreach functions. However when such late activities were decreased also the habit of returning back to regular programs in the evening waned. Instead of live chanting during the Gaura Artik more often it would be found that there was simply a tape playing. This one slice sandwich was not enough to fill up the spiritual staved soul therefore the devotees decided to return to the healthy diet of the double slice, Mangal mustard, Gaura Artik greens and a class ever few days for proper nutrition.

We have seen many health benefits to this diet given by Srila Prabhupada. Even our restaurant customers are finding new energy in their spiritual attraction. Before, in the evening, if they ventured into the temple they were greeted only by an electronic kirtan, hardly enough to encourage one to start singing with full lungs. But now we are serving the real organic kirtan, fresh from the hearts of the devotees. And as they say local is more healthy, these local lungs are inspiring to hear for all who enter. So whether you are at home, at the gym, watching TV, or out on book distribution make sure to get some daily doses of the ISKCON sandwich. Thank you
Hare Krishna
Your humble servant,
Nityananda Chandra Das

* for an actual translation of the Gaura Artik song click here.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Urge for Urj

His Grace Urjasvat Prabhu has been leading devotees in the chanting of the Holy Names since the early 70's. His blissful and soulful chanting has inspired devotees all around the world. Perhaps you know his singing of the "Govinda Jaya Jaya, Gopala Jaya Jaya" track on the first New York Kirtans album or perhaps you know his kirtans from New York or LA Ratha Yatras. He helped organize wonderful harinams and sankirtan at both the LA and New York Temples. Well anyway he is a wonderful devotee.

So about a year ago I received a phone call from the temple line. It was an older gentleman and he had many wonderful questions regarding Krishna Consciousness. He told me his very nice life story about how in the 70's he joined the temple for perhaps 8 months and had the time of his life. He said that Urjasvat Prabhu was his Bhakta Leader (spiritual coach) at the time and that he really valued that time he spent with Urjasvat Prabhu. At the time he was just getting out of the military and was getting much more interested in spiritual life. At some point he moved out of temple due to some previous attachments but later became ordained as a Catholic priest. His said that it was only due to remembering the instructions of Urjasvat Prabhu regularly that he was able to stay a celibate Catholic monk for 11 years. He said, "Urjasvat Prabhu may or may not remember me but I know that when I die and leave this world I will probably be thinking of him." This gentleman called again a month ago and randomly came across me, he was calling temples to chit chat about Krishna. In his call he lamented about not being able to make advancement and surrendering and was comforted when he was told that Krishna is very kind and looks for any excuse, without breaking the rules, to take us back to the spiritual world. This is what the Lord revealed to Gopa Kumara in the Brhad Bhagavatmrta. This story and another one as well brought him to tears of joy, jaya. His 3 children are all grown up and he is now getting more encouragement in chanting Japa. He was a very pleasurable man to speak on the phone with.

His Grace Urjasvat Prabhu in the last two months has suffered from two strokes. The first one took place while he was giving class at the temple in Phoenix Arizona during one of of his preaching tours. These strokes have impaired speech so currently he is not giving classes nor is able to lead kirtan. Please pray for his speedy recovery so that we all can benefit from hearing from this great soul.

Hare Krishna

Your humble servant,

Nityananda Chandra Das

P.s. Got another call today from a middle aged women who asked in regards to how she could get the Hare Krishna Ashrama experience.

*Photos by Rupa Madhurya Prabhu

**"Urge for Urj" is what devotees in Dallas say when they are longing to hear kirtans lead by Urjasvat.

Yoga with the Yogis

Yoga with the Yogis meaning: Connecting (Yoga) to Yoga people (Yogis)
I am taking classes at BKS Iyengar Yoga school here in Dallas
and they are going quite nicely. I am training to become a teacher.
There is a great demand for yoga classes here at the temple. 100% of
the yogis at the classes either love Kalachandji's or long very much to
visit. Many, after the class, come up to me to request cards for the
temple and restaurant. One such a person came up to me today and told
me that she was just simply fascinated with Krishna. She told me about
how she went to India and learned that Krishna is greater than any of
'them' even 'the three' (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva) and about how she
interested in the Bhagavan feature. She also explained that she enjoyed
reading the Bhagavad Gita. I responded that I also enjoy reading the
Bhagavad Gita and I that I regularly give classes on the Bhagavad Gita.
She said, "Oh you should teach classes here." It was nice to hear that
from one of the teachers in training. We are actually going to be
hosting a Kirtan concert at the studio with Temple Bhajan Band and Amala
Kirtan Das. I am always now since the classes, running into on a
regular basis, students from my classes. Mostly business people in
their 40's and up and knowing them from the classes makes for a nice way
to connect with them again at the temple. The following is a shloka
that we chant before class followed an excerpt from the explanation
given by BKS Iyengar's daughter Geeta S. Iyengar perhaps you will like it:
Yogena cittasya padena vacam

Malam sarirasya ca vaidyakena

Yopakarottam pravaram muninam

Patanjalim pranjalir anato'smi

Abahu purusakaram

sankha cakrasi dharinam

sahasra sirasam svetam

pranamami patanjalim

Hari Om

"Let us bow before the noblest of sages Patanjali, who gave yoga for
serenity and sanctity of mind, grammar for clarity and purity of speech
and medicine for perfection of health. Let us prostrate before
Patanjali, an incarnation of Adisesa, whose upper body has a human form,
whose arms hold a conch and a disc, and who is crowned by a
thousand-headed cobra."

From the explanation:

"The two slokas (verses) that we chant to invoke Lord Patanjali begin the Bhojavritti, Bhoj’s commentary on the Yoga Sutras. It says, first of all, that Lord Patanjali is considered to be the incarnation of Adhishesha, the cobra, which is the seat for the Lord Vishnu, the very creator of this world. It is said he took birth three different times, giving three different sciences for people to improve themselves. The first is yoga.....
...We chant so that at the very beginning that feeling of sanctification
comes from inside, with the feeling of surrendering oneself, because
nothing can be learned in this world unless you have the humility to
learn. So the moment you think of the Lord at the beginning of doing a
practice, you know that you are very small in front of that greatest
Hare Krishna
Your humble servant,
Nityananda Chandra Das

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

New looks, lots of books and a new haircut

Supersoul I was extremely delighted upon opening our book boxes from BBT, like a young boy on Christmas, to come across our new printed books. BBT has reprinted some of the most classic texts with some very nice bright covers and bright vivid illustrations pieces inside as well. (my suspicions are that some of the younger devotees are involved in this) Prabhupada's book
Although the KRSNA book looks blue in the photo it is actually a very attractive purple. This great book has 6 sets of photo pages of about 8 color pages each. All this was really exciting for Indranuja Prabhu and his wonderful wife Gita Govinda-san (-san=-ji in Japanese) had invited me to come out on books with them at the Warped Tour coming up this week. A total of 12 devotees engaged in sankirtan at this event. From Dallas Bhaktine Angela Bhaktine Angela Distributing Books and myself were accompanied by Indranuja Prabhu and Gitasan. And visiting we had many wonderful devotees. My godbrother, Omkara Prabhu from LA, the long time Warp tour sankirtaneer Anandavidya Prabhu, the top book distributor North America Parameshvara Prabhu, one who is not to far behind Murti Prabhu, Dvarkesh Prabhu, and from Eastern Europe Avaita Prabhu. Traveling along with Murti Prabhu was the long time book distributor Bhakta Phil and his newly wedded wife Ahaituki.
So everyone showed up on Thursday and we all went out on an ecstatic day of sankirtan starting at 8am. Srila Prabhupada books were eagerly accepted by the youthful masses, adorned in what seemed to be a flashback from the 80's, and no not punk rock eighties, but neon amd other fashions that you would never think would ever show their ugly face again. It was quite funny but anyways as usual the crowds were very friendly and remarked about the books that they had received in the previous years. One person mentioned to one of the devotees that last year she bought an a amazing book that she had read cover to cover, she tried to pronounce it, "Bahhh gah vaa dd geda." She said, "I read it cover to cover and it was simply amazing." At the end of the day all the devotees distributed about $5000 worth of Srila Prabhupada's books, and many have received the thousands of flyers for the temple here in Dallas that were distributed. Youth from all around Texas and even other states travel far to attend this event.
Before returning to the temple we invited some local ladies who were working at a pollution free energy booth to visit the temple. Upon returning to the temple at 9pm, we all partook in the delicious prasadam from Kalachandji's restaurant. And the we decided to have a bhajan, well some exhausted from the 12+ hour day took rest, but rest of us and as well as visiting guests had hour long bhajan in the temple room. Here is a 30 sec video of the bhajan. (the visiting ladies had already left when I took this video)
The next morning there was little lake of saffron in the morning class which was nice. As they say, "Saffron is a spice in Alachua," we too here also have just a few in saffron. By the devotional shakti of these Vaishavas I believe came the inspiration of Bhakta Ruben. Who is Bhakta Ruben? He is the new haircut. That day Bhakta Ruben, who has been to the temple twice on Sunday came and asked if he could wear a shikha if he follows the four regs and chants. I told him that he sure could. And with a little joking from the shaved brahmacaris (they asked him, "Are you sure you wanna do this, you know it will never grow back again.") we were off to shave his head. Here is the before photo Bhakta
And the after Myself and Ruben Prabhu well I forgot the before photo but here is the half way one. Half doneBhakta Richie kindly gave him a dhoti and He was then taught by Omkara Prabhu how to put on a kaupin, and dhoti and then I showed him how to put on tilak and tie his shikha. Omkara, Richie, and Ruben After spending some time with devotees, meeting the temple president and also HH Keshava Bharati Maharaja, Bhakta Ruben had to go to work. He was insistent however on staying dressed in Dhoti and kurta for he works a phone job. Since that day I see him almost every day at the temple, it seems that the only thing he ever wears now is dhoti and kurta.
The day ended with the Independence day fireworks, which could be seen very easily from the park that was south one block from the temple, followed by a spontaneous kirtan lead by youth while the Dallas onlookers watched and listen with with wonder. Hare Krishna
Your humble servant,
Nityananda Chandra Das