Tuesday, August 30, 2011

TEXAS FAITH 46: How do you interpret the Genesis creation story?

Dallas Morning News,
Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

Gov. Rick Perry made plenty of news last week, including offering the observation that creationism is taught alongside evolution in Texas schools.
He later was corrected about that point. The state's science standards do not require a tandem approach.
But certainly there have been battles to teach the creation story in Texas schools, as well as elsewhere. And, naturally, there has been plenty of pushback against linking them, including from some religious leaders.
The back-and-forth could go on for a long time. Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says the evolution debate goes to the heart of Christianity. And Gallup reported back in 2005 that 40 percent of poll respondents thought competing views of the origins of humankind matter a great deal.
With that as the background, here is this week's question:
How do you interpret the Genesis creation story?

NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas 

I am not sure what I make of the Genesis creation story. To me, much of it is quite vague and too open to many interpretations. This contrasts with the fact that the Bhagavatam and other Vedic literature discuss creation in great detail in volumes of literature.

Why is understanding creation important? It is not enough to understand that God is great. Rather endeavors should be made to understand how great God is.

TEXAS FAITH 45: Modern connections between religion and art

Dallas Morning News,
Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

Despite the economy, it's likely that many Americans still toured Europe this summer. While there, they surely went into some of Europe's great cathedrals to view their towering architecture, stained glass windows and ornate statues. And they likely took in one or more of Europe's impressive museums, viewing works of art that often had a religious connection.
Even if many Americans didn't make that trek this summer, it is one that countless Americans have made over the years. In their tours, they were steeping themselves in the connection between religion and art.
But here's this week's question:

Where would you take a visitor today to see a modern connection between religion and art?

If you have an idea in mind, please explain why you would take a visitor there. If nothing jumps to mind, what do you think that says about the modern relationship between religion and art?


NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas 
Vrindavan would be my first choice. It's a town of 50,000 people with over 5,000 temples. Some of them are over 500 years old and some more than thousands of years old.

The place is rich in art and architecture but the main feature is the culture. Everyone in Vrindavan is constantly singing the glories of God, from four in the morning to the late hours of the night. Even when the rickshaw driver is asking you to move out of the way he says "Radhe! Radhe!" (a name of God's feminine aspect) instead of chanting, "Go, Go!"

This town of Vrindavan has been celebrated in the scripture and in history as the most sacred place in India for over 5000 years.

From Moses to Mahaprabhu

by Srila Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1838 –1914)

bhaktivinoda.gif - 23543 Bytes

If the reader carefully considers, it will be found that the spiritual science gradually evolved from ancient times and became more simple, more clear and more condensed. The more impurities arising from time and place are removed, the more the beauties of the spiritual science brightly shine before us. This spiritual science took birth in the land of kusha grass on the banks of the Sarasvati river in Brahmavarta. As it gradually gained strength, this spiritual science spent its childhood in the abode of Badarikashram, which is covered with snow. It spent its boyhood in Naimisharanya on the banks of the Gomati river and its youth on the beautiful banks of the Kaveri river in the province of Dravida. The spiritual science attained maturity in Navadvip, on the banks of the Ganges, which purifies the universe.

By studying the history of the world, it is found that the spiritual science reached its peak in Navadvip. The Supreme Absolute Truth is the only object of love for the living entities. Unless one worships Him with attachment, however, the living entity can never attain Him. Even if a person gives up all affection for this world and thinks of the Supreme Lord, He is still not easily achieved. He is controlled and attained by transcendental mellows alone. These mellows are of five types - shanta, dasya, sakya, vatsalya and madhurya.

The first mellow, shanta, is the stage in which the living entity surpasses the pains of material existence and situates himself in transcendence. In that state there is a little happiness, but no feeling of independence. At that time the relationship between the practitioner and the Lord is not yet established.

Dasya rasa is the second mellow. It contains all the ingredients of shanta rasa as well as affection. "The Lord is my master, and I am His eternal servant". This type of relationship is found in dasya rasa. No one cares much for any of the best things of this world unless they are connected with affection. Therefore dasya rasa is superior to shanta rasa in many ways.

Sakya is superior to dasya. In dasya rasa there is a thorn in the form of awe and reverence, but the main ornament in sakya rasa is the feeling of friendship in equality. Among the servants, one who is a friend is superior. There is no doubt about it. In sakya rasa all the wealth of shanta and dasya is included.

It is easy to understand that vatsalya is superior to sakya. A son gives more affection and happiness than any friend. Therefore in vatsalya rasa we find the wealth of four rasas. Although vatsalya rasa is superior to these other rasas, it appears insgnificant before madhurya rasa. There may be many secrets unknown between father and son, but this not the case between husband and wife. Therefore, if we deeply consider, it will be seen that all the above-mentioned rasas attain perfection within madhurya rasa.

If we go through the histories of these five rasas, it is clearly understood that shanta rasa was seen in the beginning days of India. When the soul was not satisfied after performing sacrifices with material ingredients, then transcendentalists like Sanaka, Sanatana, Sanat-kumara, Sananda, Narada and Lord Shiva all became detached from the material world, situated in transcendence and realized shanta rasa.

Much later, dasya rasa manifested in Hanuman, the servant of Sri Ramachandra. That same dasya rasa gradually expanded in the northwest and manifested in a great personality named Moses.

In the age of Dvapara, Uddhava and Arjuna became the qualified authorities of sakhya rasa. They preached this rasa throughout the world. Gradually that rasa expanded up to the Arabian countries and touched the heart of Mohammed, the knower of religious principles.

Vatsalya rasa manifested throughout India in different forms at different times. Among the different forms, vatsalya mixed with opulence crossed India and appeared in a great personality named Jesus Christ, who was a preacher of Jewish religious principles.

Madhurya rasa first shone brightly in Braj. It is extremely rare for this rasa to enter the hearts of conditioned souls, because this rasa tends to remain with qualified, pure living entities. This confidential rasa was preached by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the moon of Navadvipa, along with His followers.

Till now, this rasa has not crossed beyond India. Recently a scholar from England named Newman realized something about this rasa and wrote a book about it. The people of Europe and America have not been satisfied with vatsalya rasa mixed with opulence as preached by Jesus Christ. I hope, by the grace of the Lord, in a very short time they will become attached to drinking the intoxicating nectar of madhurya rasa.

It has been seen that any rasa that appears in India eventually spreads to the western countries, therefore madhurya rasa will soon be preached throughout the world. Just as the sun rises first in India and gradually spreads its lights to the West, the matchless splendor of spiritual truth appears first in India and gradually spreads to the Western countries.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Birth of Janmastami, Krishna’s Appearance Festival


This is an excerpt from the Hari Bhakti Vilasa: Sri Janmastami Vrata Fifteenth Vilasa, Volume Two beginning with text 249

Sri Krishna said: O Yudhishthira, after I had killed the demon Kamsa, Devaki embraced Me, placed Me on her lap, and wept.  When the wrestling was over she stood up in the grandstand. The Kukuras and Andhakas praised her.  Her affectionate kinsmen and their wives surrounded her. Vasudeva came, embraced me, said, "Son! Son!" and wept with a father's love.  His eyes filled with tears, he embraced Balarama and Me. In a choked voice he said, “Today my birth has born fruit. Today my life is lived well. Now I have met my sons, the two glories of the Yadu dynasty.” O king, seeing My parents' happiness, everyone else became happy. Bowing before Me, everyone spoke these words: “Today we are happy. Today Krishna is born. Today the demon Kamsa has fallen in a wrestling match.  O Lord Krishna, please glance at the people in this festival. Please give Your mercy to them and to others also.O Krishna, O Lord who removes all sufferings, please give to us the day when Devaki gave birth to You. We will celebrate a festival in Your honor. O Krishna, please be kind to Your sincere devotees.” Filled with wonder to hear the people speak these words, and the hairs of his body now erect in ecstasy, Vasudeva glanced at Balarama and said:  “It should be so. Please tell the people.”  O son of Pritha, then, on My father's order, I revealed the vow of Janmastami to the people of Mathura. The brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, shudras, and all others who are pious, from the age of eight years and older, should observe Janmastami. (ekadasi is followed at the same age as well.)  O people, during the monsoon season, on the ashtami of the dark fortnight (krishna-paksha, of the month of Bhadra, when the sun was in Leo and the moon and the star Rohini were both in Taurus, in the middle of the night I was born as the son of Vasudeva and Devaki.  This day will be known in this world as the vow of Janmastami. On this day celebrate a great festival honoring both Me and the goddess. First this festival will be celebrated in Mathura. Later it will become famous in the whole world.  Hearing of this festival, the people began to observe it. May there be peace amongst them. May they be happy. May they have good health.  This festival should be observed every year, for that is pleasing to the Lord. The scriptures also describe some offenses in its observance. 

In the Skanda Purana it is said:

Prahlada and other great kings very faithfully observe the auspicious vow of Janmastami, which is dear to Lord Krishna. Their purpose is to please Lord Vishnu

It was nice noticing Lord Sri Krishna’s prediction that this festival would be celebrated all over the world.  Hare Krishna

Monday, August 8, 2011

Weekend Teachings

As the days get closer and closer to Janmastami our temple and activities become busier and busier.   Last Saturday morning I performed a Nam Karan Yajna, a ceremony by which the newborn baby’s name is decided.   The name chosen was Lalita Devi, the dear friend of Srimati Radharani.   The baby was born during Ekadasi last month right near the Visakha Nakshatra (Visakha is the dear friend of Lalita) and later on found out that her aunty, who is a nice devotee, also has the name Lalita.  Also the beautiful baby looked just like little Lalita in the Little Krishna cartoon.

After finishing that program I went to what I thought would have been another home program.  I was invited a few weeks ago to come and speak at a Bhagavata Saptaha that a Nepali man was organizing.  Much to my surprise there were well over 300 people at this event.  It was held at the Nepali Cultural Center in Dallas.  Entering in the building reminded me of India.  It was about 110 F outside and the building’s AC was struggling.  AC water dripped from the ceiling as the hundreds of Nepalis approached the altar and vyasasana for blessings.  Even with the AC maxed out it was quite hot inside.  There was a big platform and canopy as a vyasasana and I was motioned to sit and speak.  The host asked if I could explain the essence of the Srimad Bhagavatam and its glories.   I spoke at first about so called “material qualities” of the Bhagavatam.  That there is a chapter wherein it is discussed the the smallest calculation of time based on atomic interaction.  Or that there are accurate measurements to the various planets in our solar system, or that you can find accurate descriptions of the growth of the fetus.   Then the discussion let to why the Bhagavatam was produced, the story of Vyasa’s spiritual maturation and finally the goal, Bhakti.   One could see the appreciation that all the Nepali devotees had hearing Bhagavatam Katha.  We followed by inviting them to come to the Janmastami festival.   Later that evening the whole family and I attend a great lecture by His Grace Manonatha Prabhu who led a question and answers session on Veda and Vedanta and spoke about his upcoming Yoga Sutras discourse.  

On Sunday morning we had another very nice program.  I was invited to speak at the Christ United Methodist Church in Plano.  A church with a membership of about 8000.  Murari Vallabh Prabhu, accompanied me on this trip to their beautiful facility.  The building must have had at least 40 class rooms.  We were invited in a room wherein sat fifty 60 year olds.  It was to be a class on Hinduism 101.  We first gave the explanation of the word Hindu and gave a basic Bhagavad Gita 101.   The class was very well received.  Many came to thank us after the class and particularly a gentleman came to me and reading his notes stated, “We are a soul in the vehicle of the body, wow this REALLY puts perspective on things.”  The day was then followed by a wonderful kirtan led by Urjsvat Prabhu at the Sunday Feast.