Sunday, June 29, 2014

TEXAS FAITH 132: Is religion to blame for the conflicts around the world?

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.

The military crisis in Iraq is typically described in religious terms – a millennia-old conflict between Sunni and Shia. No doubt the sectarian divide has fueled tensions and defined the war. It has given critics ammunition to argue against sending more troops into a religious civil war. There is an emerging view that we should just stay out and let the parties fight it out themselves, as they have done for hundreds of years.

For some, it’s hard not to blame religion. Religion is often in the frame of modern conflicts. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict predated the creation of the modern state of Israel. The civil war in Ireland pitted Catholics against Protestants. Religious tensions in Nigeria divide the country between the Muslim north and the Christian south. Hindus and Muslims oppose each other in South Asia. The conflicts in Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo involve Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim followers.

Religion seems to be connected with violence virtually everywhere. Critics of religion are quick to put the blame on religion. Advocates of faith counter with religion’s record as a force for peace. One 18th century writer said we have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.

As people of faith, how to we talk with those who say religion is to blame? How do we respond when someone asks if religion has succeeded in any of its efforts to unite mankind?

When a critic points to conflicts in Iraq, across the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe and says religion is to blame – how do we respond?

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

Due to a lack of spiritual intelligence, ignorant persons misidentify the eternal self with the temporary body and mind.  Such illusion does not only include ideas such as, ‘I am White’, ‘I am Black’, ‘I am American’, ‘I am Democrat,’ but also the illusion also includes ideas of, ‘I am Hindu’, ‘I am Christian’, ‘I am Muslim.’

For the person who has received spiritual training understands that, ‘I am not this body but rather I am an eternal soul.’  Therefore a spiritually wise soul does not discriminate against others based on temporary bodily designations but rather sees the soul proper.

“He who sees systematically everything in relation to the Supreme Lord, who sees all living entities as His parts and parcels, and who sees the Supreme Lord within everything never hates anything or any being.

One who always sees all living entities as spiritual sparks, in quality one with the Lord, becomes a true knower of things. What, then, can be illusion or anxiety for him?” - Śrī Īśopaniṣad 6-7

To see all responses of the TEXAS Faith panel click here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Our Cancún Trip–Part 2 Beach, Harinam and Book Distribution

On Sunday we were able to visit the ISKCON farm and we had just one day left.  So Monday we finally took our dip in the ocean.  We left out early to visit the clear ocean and do a little exploring. 

This guy was the smaller one.  Both were waiting near the bus stop.

In front of Plaza la Isla shopping center we got to meet this friendly spider monkey.   He was very friendly and climbed on our heads and our hands.   When some more kids showed up and started petting him he got a little nervous and bit Visakha finger.  He also doesn’t like cameras so he doesn’t look happy picture as well.   Here you can see him give an upset squeak to the camera.


It tickled.  As a Father’s Day present Krishna Mangala had me sit in one of these. 

We distributed a book to the guy running it.

After our little exploration we went to Gopal’s Vegetarian restaurant for some prasadam, harinam kirtan, and spiritual book distribution. Smile

The airport was like a shopping mall trying to confiscate the last of your money. 


The plane ride was wonderful.  I was originally supposed to sit next to this nice older couple but my seat was changed to sit next to these two young sisters from Austin.  One was 13 and the other was 15.  The older one started to ask me about my attire.   She then began to explain to me that she is doing a study on the nature of happiness.  From that point on we had a wonderful discussion about happiness, the soul, reincarnation, devotional service and the three modes of nature.   She told me that she is generally quite afraid of flying but did not think about during this flight because of the interesting discussion.   She was very happy to receive a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in Spanish.   It is always nice to bring some BBT books with you where ever you go.  This what she wrote me on Facebook

  Thank you. It was a pleasure to meet you as well. I enjoyed learning about the ancient Indian culture and I have different views of the world now. Thank you so much!
to see the pics that you missed click here.

TEXAS FAITH 131: In love and marriage, do different faiths really matter in America?

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.
Recently, I attended the beautiful wedding of two friends, one from a Jewish family and one from a Christian family. The ceremony largely followed the Jewish tradition with occasional mention of the bride’s Christian upbringing.
I began to wonder, witnessing this blending of two people into one couple bound under God, what place separate faiths really serve in our society. If we are honest, there is no justifying the fundamental difference in belief between Christians and Jews or the other major faiths. But in cases like these, it is our cultural homogeneity that is more important than the tenets of our faith.
Given that, what does faith really mean in circumstances like these? Is faith or religion simply ceremonial? Or are we overcoming divisions in the name of something greater – that is – love?
Read our panelists’ responses below.

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

Marriage is not just about an attraction of two parties but also those two parties working together to help each other to attain true happiness.  True happiness is found by connecting beyond the temporary to the Supreme Being.  Because marriage relates to that progressive spiritual advancement in the service of God, considerations of compatibility should not be ignored.  The spiritual ideology, or how we see ourselves at our core, and how we individually apply such spiritual ideology must be taken into consideration.  Incompatibilities certainly exist within those of the same tradition.  Therefore it is important in all cases to see that both parties can properly help each other's growth towards true spiritual happiness.
To see all responses of the TEXAS Faith panel click here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Our Cancún Trip–Part 1

Last Friday, the family and I took a nice trip to Cancún, Mexico.   A sweet Gujarati family had asked me if I could officiate their destination wedding in Cancún.  We arrived on Friday night with all the Vedic equipment in our suitcases ready to perform the wedding fire ceremony on Saturday.   We were to take care of all the wedding ceremony which included purchasing flowers for the wedding garlands.  

Uddhava kindly picked us up from the Cancún airport to take us to Gopal’s Vegetarian Restaurant. We were treated to a delicious meal of Mexican prasadam, and then we were off to the late hour flower shops to get ready for our Vedic Oceanside Weddings, or what Mother Kunti likes to call V.O.W. After a swim in the pool the next morning, we went to an organic restaurant seeking something suitable for Vaisnavas to eat.  There were no real supermarkets in the hotel zone so finding food was a little difficult.  Devotees working at the 5 star hotels said that even the more wealthy hotels did not have much to offer for the vegetarian and Hindu community.   After a short trip to Restaurante Natura, we got busy with all the wedding preparations.

The wedding turned out very nicely, and neat things happened during it.  During the wedding, I was playing a bhajan by Krishna Kisor that he performed at the Festival of the Holy Name in Alachua.  The bhajan was playing from a bluetooth speaker, and I would turn it up and down from my iPad while I was doing the arati to the fire.  Then something really cool happened. During the pronouncement of husband and wife, I turned up the kirtan and there was an ecstatic “Nitai Gaura Premanande Hari Hari BOOOOLLLL!! Nitai Gaurapremanande Hari Hariboolll!” Everyone in the audience followed in response.  The surprising thing was that it happened in the bhajan at the perfect time to complement the wedding.

In addition to the wedding, we were also asked by the local devotees of Cancún to do the foundation laying ceremony for the new upcoming temple at their farm community.   After getting all the details from Dallas temple President Nityananda Prabhu, the devotees decided to postpone the ceremony until they had the proper items for the ceremony.  However, they did invite us on a trip to visit the farm for kirtan and prasadam.   They are in the process of building a grand temple there. The farm has peacocks, and they grow okra as well. The prasadam was wonderful. They even had a swimming pool!  During the ride back, we were pleasantly surprised to see the well-attended open air churches from which we could hear devotional songs wafting into the air through the traffic of the night.


to be continued….

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mouthwash, Oral Cancer, and Distilled Essence of Rotten

Alcohol, or distilled essence of rotten (you must say it in an elegant and sophisticated accent), is known as a great sterilizer i.e. purifier, in our contemporary world.  In many places around the globe people do not feel the need to wash one’s hands with water after using the bathroom, when one can just squirt of foamy alcohol hand sanitizer.  However I always remember a class wherein Srila Prabhupada states that it does not purify but rather makes things impure.   Recent oral cancer studies had given some new insight.  But first here is an except by Srila Prabhupada. 
So the Vedic conception is completely different. The... According to modern science, they put things into alcohol to sterilize. Is it not?
Svarupa Damodara: Put alcohol in things.
Prabhupada: Yes. But it becomes more impure. Anything you put into alcohol, that becomes more impure, according to this.
>>> Ref. VedaBase => Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.52 -- May 14, 1973, Los Angeles
In the study done by Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology with assistance from Glasgow University's Dental School it is revealed that not only does poor hygiene contribute to cancer risk but also regular use of mouthwashes that contain alcohol.  
     The NPR article can be found here.
It is interesting to note that is found that other intoxicating substances such as tobacco and betel nut contribute to risk of oral cancer. 
Just as impure things cannot truly clean similarly it is stated that hearing kirtan of the Holy Names of Krishna or about Krishna from those who have no faith that Krishna is God cannot purify us in any way and can in fact sometimes be detrimental to our spiritual growth.  The old adage is that milk, although nutritious, when drunk by a serpent becomes poisonous.