Thursday, January 31, 2013

soft heart

Verse 1.46: Sañjaya said: Arjuna, having thus spoken on the battlefield, cast aside his bow and arrows and sat down on the chariot, his mind overwhelmed with grief.

Today we reach the last verse of Chapter 1! As we end this Chapter, we are subjected to a moving scene. Arjuna, our valiant warrior has been speaking up to this point, and now due to mental turmoil he is setting aside his weapons and sitting down. This mental turmoil is a result of his soft-hearted nature. Soft-hardheartedness is a beautiful quality. Unfortunately though, this quality, like humility, is considered weak or useless nowadays. When expressing compassion for others, people will actually ask me sometimes, "Why do you feel sorry for them? They deserve whatever they get." Pretty callus, huh?

The heart of a bhakti yogi is naturally soft because such a person doesn't want to see anyone in distress. However, that doesn't mean that the bhakti yogi is naive or has blinders on to the world. Oh no. The bhakti yogi fully realizes that this material world is not a place of happiness. They understand that identification with the body, mind and ego is the cause of so many problems and challenges.

One could question, "How can one be soft-hearted if they know the reason for others' suffering? Wouldn't that actually make one's heart hard?" A soft-hearted person is not characterized by just feeling a certain way; they are considered compassionate if they actually do something about it. A truly soft-hearted person seeks to help others who are suffering.

My spiritual mentor is such a person. He travels all over the world, and not only presents bhakti yoga to hundreds of thousands of people yearly but cares for them. He listens to them. See bhakti yoga is not just about helping others through philosophy, its about being an instrument of God. That means that we are willing to be tested and molded into the very best that we can be.

Krsna has all this time been listening patiently to Arjuna. He has just been hearing. How amazing is that? What a good friend God is! He never interrupted, questioned, prodded or spoke up. He just quietly listened to everything Arjuna had to say. This is one of my favorite quality's of Krsna. It's something I too strive to become - a patient and empathic listener.

But soon, Krsna will be putting Arjuna in the hot seat. Arjuna is the perfect student and so Krsna will go about testing and molding Arjuna into the perfect bhakti yogi. If we hear Krsna's words as Arjuna does with an open mind and faith in our hearts, we too will uncover the mysteries of bhakti.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Verse 1.45: Better for me if the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra, weapons in hand, were to kill me unarmed and unresisting on the battlefield.

Sometimes when things are tough, we too say things like this. Things that we don't necessarily stand for but in the moment, we truly and genuinely believe in what we are saying. It symbolizes that we've reached the end of our tether and are crying out in need.

These times of crises are actually the times we need help the most. Sharing one's thoughts in confidence is essential to the bhakti practitioner. Just like Arjuna is doing now, we too should seek shelter in those who are more advanced and learned. That is why close friendships are encouraged within the practice of bhakti.

The difference between spiritual friendships and those in the material world is the focus upon which the relationship is based on. Bhakti-centered friendships are based on helping one another come closer to God, which naturally brings individuals closer together as well. It's an amazing phenomenon. Sometimes people become afraid when they hear that someone wants to become more God-conscious. They think, "If my husband/wife/friend/son/daughter becomes more God-conscious, then they will have no time for me!" Interestingly, one who becomes more Krsna conscious actually becomes more conscious in all spheres of their personality.

Material friendships, no matter how deep or sweet they may be are still prone to the "what's in it for me" mentality. Just ask anyone who has been friends with someone over a span of a few years. Both persons will say that there have been ups and downs in the relationship just because sometimes one person's needs have taken over the relationship. When the focus isn't on something outside of the individuals and when there isn't a common goal, then inevitably the focus tends to turn to oneself. It's not anyone's fault, it's just the nature of the material world.

The ways of the material world can easily get one down and that's why having those friends you can rely on in is so important. They help you get you out of your mental head space. I know that I have my handful of friends that I can always turn to when I'm starting to "mental out" (i.e. get wrapped up in my head). They'll commiserate with me for awhile and then bring me back to a Krsna-centric reality. They won't allow me to wallow and for that I am grateful.

So to all of my old friends and new friends out there - Thank you! Thank you for encouraging me and keeping me sane in my practice of bhakti.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

a reflection

Verse 1.44: Alas, how strange it is that we are preparing to commit greatly sinful acts. Driven by the desire to enjoy royal happiness, we are intent on killing our own kinsmen.

Currently I am in a state of being where even thinking simple thoughts is quite difficult, what to speak of enjoying! I'm totally congested, can't smell anything, can't taste anything and it takes me a long time to even express simple thoughts This is what happens when the body is unwell. So I would like to apologize for the brevity of my post today and just share something that struck me quite powerfully today.

Typically, most of us enjoy through our senses and when the use of those senses is hindered (i.e. nasal congestion) it prevents us from enjoying. However, the true bhakti yogi's sense of happiness and satisfaction is never altered simply because their happiness lies within. It lies in the knowledge that God is within their heart, guiding them, helping them and always wishing well for them.

I too strive for the day that my happiness comes from within. Wishing you all a wonderful Tuesday!

Monday, January 28, 2013


Verse 1.43: O Kṛṣṇa, maintainer of the people, I have heard by disciplic succession that those who destroy family traditions dwell always in hell.

Today we get to hear about a concept that is one of the predominating themes of Chapter 4 - disciplic succession. Disciplic succession, or line of teachers, is the process by which spiritual knowledge can be passed on from teacher to student. It is successive because once the student fully imbibes and realizes the knowledge, they then become qualified to teach other students and so on and so forth. This allows the knowledge to become untouched by personal speculation, additions or subtractions and remains - as it is. For those interested, at the very end of the Introduction to the the Gita, the entire disciplic succession of all teachers and students can be found.

Interesting to find that Arjuna is referencing something when he is speaking here, "I have heard by disciplic succession..." We too drop references when we are trying to make a point. Our conversations are littered with, "I heard so and so say that," or perhaps more commonly, "I just read that such and such reporter thinks..." It just goes to show our own society has "adopted" it's own version of disciplic succession. Unfortunately it's not as authorized or accurate, but it's there!

This reveals just how much we rely on what we hear to form our perceptions and judgement. That's why it's often advised in the bhakti texts that bhakti practitioners should seek out the association of those who are like-minded. This will directly influence how one grows in bhakti. Even more importantly, it's just as important to avoid those who are not just negative but worse, are offensive.

Hearing is in fact the first of nine processes of bhakti. In many ways it's the easiest. You don't need to know anything or do anything, other than listen. We forget that we give whoever we listen to a great amount of power. It's true that speaking (or writing) takes a lot of effort, but anyone can do it. The listener on the other hand, actually wields a lot more power. Just ask any college student who has fallen asleep in their class! Although they may be physically present, their ears were sleeping!

Something to think about since most of us forget the power we possess as "listeners". We have become so used to noise and a constant bombardment of information that we forget that filtering and only paying attention to what really is most relevant to us is actually what a good investment of time is all about.

Your ears are precious. Make sure you treat them with that which will help nourish you!

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Verse 1.42: By the evil deeds of those who destroy the family tradition and thus give rise to unwanted children, all kinds of community projects and family welfare activities are devastated.

This verse alludes to a concept that is very near and dear to my own heart and that is the concept of nature. In order for a community, and on a much larger scale, society as a whole to function, individuals need to feel rightly situated.

Now rightly situated may mean a lot of different things to various people. It may mean money, fame, power, situation, prestige etc... But I believe if you strip all of those externals away, at least materially speaking, rightly situated means knowing your nature.

This concept will be further explored in the Gita but I'd love to introduce it here. Growing up, I never really knew "what I wanted to be." Anyone else ever feel that way? I would always be in awe (and slightly envious) of those kids who would say with great conviction that they were going to be doctors, business folk or engineers.

I personally took the Science route in University just because my highest marks were in Biology and Chemistry when I graduated high school. I just figured that's what I was meant to be doing. It was only later on, in my study of the Gita actually, that I realized the answer I was searching for lay in its pages.

The Gita speaks of two things that help determine our psychophysical nature. One is our inherent tendencies and proclivities and the other is our karma. None of this: "Just because my dad is a professor I need to be one too," business. Although environment can play a role and being in a household where a parent is professor can influence a child to go that route, it doesn't necessarily seal the deal that professorhood is the path for that child.

Now here's the catch, you would think that having this knowledge would make things easier, but in actuality it can still be quite challenging. Why do I say that? Because people have forgotten to look inside themselves to figure out what they are really good at and how they really want to contribute. See, working with one's nature, as the Gita promotes, means to contribute to society and eventually purify oneself in the path of bhakti yoga.

There's a lot more that can be said about this subject, and believe me, I'll definitely keep writing more about it. But I leave you with this question today. What do you think is your nature?

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Verse 1.41: An increase of unwanted population certainly causes hellish life both for the family and for those who destroy the family tradition. The ancestors of such corrupt families fall down, because the performances for offering them food and water are entirely stopped.

It's something that we've all been told throughout our lives, "Look ahead. Plan for the future." However, when it comes to the most important things in our lives, all this planning and foresight seem to fly right out the window.

I think one of the biggest reasons why this happens is the fact that most people want to live "spontaneously." We want to live in the moment and experience the now. However, the funny thing is often the choices we make "spontaneously" lead us to living in the past wondering why we ever made them once we are faced with living with the consequences that have arisen from them.

This type of thinking is largely due to a lack of education. This whole, "You only live once" philosophy is greatly to blame for this type of whimsical attitude. As aspiring bhakti yogis it is important to take into consideration what the Gita says. Our actions and consciousness in doing things have an effect not only in this lifetime but in lifetimes to come. This effectively nixes the whole concept of "You only live once" and more importantly forces one to take responsibility for their actions.

See it's much easier not to take responsibility for your actions if you genuinely believe that after this life, it's not only all over but you don't need to be held accountable.

That's one of the responsibilities of human life; we are held accountable. Just something to think about as you go through your day today. Whether you believe in future lives or not, do you feel you're taking responsibility for all the choices you make and actions you perform?

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Verse 1.40: When irreligion is prominent in the family, O Kṛṣṇa, the women of the family become polluted, and from the degradation of womanhood, O descendant of Vṛṣṇi, comes unwanted progeny.

Today I have a choice. To face something head on or not to. What I mean by this is am I going to address the fact that Arjuna is speaking about women become polluted and degraded due to irreligion? I am. I'm going to face this head on because it brings up a very important point which has nothing to do with men, women or degradation but about context.

Context is so important and something most of us fail to consider unless we ourselves are taken out of context and portrayed in an unfair way. So many things are taken out of context and none more so than the concepts and principles that are associated with religion and spirituality. This is why one of the key, key KEY (have I reiterated it enough times?!) messages of the Gita is the necessity to inquire and hear from authorized and self-realized bhakti yogis.

Now by no means am I proclaiming to be such an advanced individual, but I can say that I have learned from and am trying to follow in the footsteps of several such esteemed personalities. So my qualification is one of trying to be a transparent conductor of knowledge that others have spent years studying and realizing.

See bhakti is not like a do-it-yourself manual where all you need are the instructions and you're left on your own to figure it out. Bhakti requires teachers, friends, mentors, well-wishers and so much more. Essentially, the practice of bhakti yoga requires a community. There are things that you can learn on your own but most lessons require personal guidance, clarification and role models. This is essential to not only following bhakti yoga properly but to understanding it with your heart and not just your mind. What I mean by that is you're not left only understanding it theoretically but realizing it practically.

So in the case of this verse it is important to understand context. Sometimes I hear newcomers or even those who have not had a chance to study bhakti texts ask, "What is the position of women in bhakti?" Sometimes reading such verses and only understanding them superficially can turn people away.

Now this verse can be analyzed on two levels - the material and the spiritual. On the material level, which, let's face it, most of us are on, the question of the role of women may be important to many. On this level, this verse is saying that the role of women is of paramount importance in society. Surprised? It's true. Just like a king in his kingdom should be loved and protected from all negative influences, similarly women should be loved, protected, cherished and held in the highest esteem. And who are those people who should be treating women this way? Other women for sure, but even more importantly, men. When men treat women as objects this can cause so many issues. We see it in our own society today. I can only imagine the dread that parents feel the first time they have to explain the wild promiscuity and portrayal of women as sexual objects in the media and the entertainment industry today. It's so unfortunate.

On the spiritual level, whether male or female, it is irrelevant. The soul, that eternal spark which is in all of us, is the most important thing. And if one realizes that, then any reference to any designation, whether it be male, female, cat, dog, whale, elephant, bug, Chinese, Swiss, Conservative, Liberal etc., is of little value. It's just an exterior shell that is carrying that which is most important- the soul. If that is the case, then every single living being should treat the other with respect and once again, that promotes equality. There is no higher or lower. All souls are equally dear to God.

So what does this mean? This verse is a call out to all of society to say, "Wake up!" We all have our roles to play and we need to acknowledge them and work cooperatively. Although ultimately our spiritual role of re-establishing our loving relationship with God is the most important, bhakti yoga does not promote neglecting our material roles of being a member of society, a daughter, son, mother, father etc. The true practice of bhakti should actually inspire us to become better members and contributors to society due to realizing we are all the sons and daughters of God.

Comments and questions are always welcome! Thank you so much for reading!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

just ask

Verse 1.39: With the destruction of dynasty, the eternal family tradition is vanquished, and thus the rest of the family becomes involved in irreligion.

In the case of spirituality and religion, tradition often plays a huge role. Dress, customs, food, practices - all of these can be considered part of tradition.

For practitioners of any spiritual path, this is oftentimes a source wonder. Why should we follow tradition? Aren't the principles more important? What's the reason behind this?

As opposed to the "Just because you should" or "Because I said so," answer that is often spouted, bhakti has an answer. The general answer to this question is that these spiritual traditions act as tools to help connect us with the goal of bhakti which is to re-establish our relationship with God and serve him with love. I give the general answer here for the sake of brevity, but rest assured for those who have very specific questions, very specific and detailed answers are available.

Ok, so we receive an answer, but then why is it so difficult to accept it sometimes? What most of us are blind to is the fact that our material perceptions and viewpoints often become incorporated into any practice we take up, like that of bhakti yoga. In many ways that's very dangerous because it prevents us from practicing the path of bhakti authentically.

Think about it. Sometimes the thing we most resist doesn't come from what is being presented, but is due to an experience we have had on the material level. That clouds our judgement. If we take family tradition, for example, if one rejects or was never exposed to it in their own lives, then it may pose a problem when they encounter it in the bhakti lifestyle.

Srila Prabhupada, the translator of the Bhagavad-gita as it is, and one of the foremost bhakti practitioners of our time, presents a solution to these challenges an aspiring bhakti yogi may face. Srila Prabhupada writes in a purport found later in Chapter 4 of the Gita that, "Blind following is condemned".

I remember when I first read that. It really struck me and the scientific minded part of me was jumping for joy. Yes! As a person who always asks the question "Why?" I had received confirmation that this was not only appropriate but encouraged. Of course as an aspiring bhakti practitioner the attitude in which questions are posed are really important. So it was even more helpful that Krsna actually speaks on this and teaches us that one should inquire with great sincerity from a reputable source (i.e. legitimate spiritual teacher or guru). Wonderful.

That's the beauty of practicing devotional service. There's an answer to any and every question you could ever dream of asking. So I encourage everyone, don't hesitate to ask. You'll never find what you're looking for if you don't inquire.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Verse 1.37-1.38: O Janārdana, although these men, their hearts overtaken by greed, see no fault in killing one's family or quarreling with friends, why should we, who can see the crime in destroying a family, engage in these acts of sin?

Greed. We all experience it and as young children are taught that it is unfavorable. But why are we greedy? If we actually stop to introspect, greed often arises from some unfulfilled need which we try to assuage by accumulating possessions or power.

Greed implies that we already have something. It does not arise due a lack of something but a desire for more. When I went to look it up, one of the definitions I found was this: excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions.

Interesting isn't it? Greed simply translates to excessive desire. If we stop and take a look, the entire world is operating on this principle. Families are broken up due to greed, relationships are destroyed and feelings are hurt. Take note of those who are affected by greed - living things. Those persons and living entities that we can actually have relationships with are the ones that are affected and hurt.

I find it ironic that material society promotes happy and meaningful relationships through consumer products, romantic comedies, happily ever after stories and even celebrities to some extent. However, on the other hand, this society also promotes overindulgence, consumerism and the "more is more" attitude. Essentially modern society is promoting the tools to undermine what people are hankering for - meaningful relationships.

When one is greedy it is impossible to be selfless. All the energy and concentration is being fixed on your desire for more which means that there's just none left to spare for anything or anyone else.

This, however, is with respect to material greed. Did you know that there is such a thing as spiritual greed? This is what makes bhakti so distinct; many of the negative qualities which we try to keep hidden away inside of ourselves can be spiritualized and thus made positive.

So instead of excessively desiring for material objects, we can excessively desire to connect with Krsna. We can excessively desire to serve other bhakti practitioners and chant with the mood of wanting to please Krsna. The list can go on and on...and you know what? This in turn will help us in our relationships with others. By pleasing Krsna, naturally one becomes blissful and that has a positive effect in our interactions and relationships with others.

Instead of trying to remove something, the process of bhakti can transform it. So what are you waiting for? Take the challenge to become spiritually greedy for Krsna bhakti!

Monday, January 21, 2013

where have all the saintly persons gone?

Verse 1.36: Sin will overcome us if we slay such aggressors. Therefore it is not proper for us to kill the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra and our friends. What should we gain, O Kṛṣṇa, husband of the goddess of fortune, and how could we be happy by killing our own kinsmen?

Where has society's morality gone? That's the question I'd like to begin with today. More so than ever the news is inundated with all kinds of disturbing events taking place all across the world. Where have all the saintly persons gone?

When I mean saintly, I speak according to the definition given in the Gita. A saintly person is one who is virtuous and who treats others with respect and compassion because they see that everything is a spark of God's opulence. By this definition, it is not a quality that is relegated to just a chosen few but actually a quality that all of us should practice.

Such attributes and characteristics do not just appear magically. They must be practiced. In fact, this actually reminds me of one of my favourite verses in the Gita. I know I'm skipping ahead, but consider this a little extra for today! ;) In Chapter 17, Verse 16, Krsna says, "And satisfaction, simplicity, gravity, self-control and purification of one's existence are the austerities of the mind."

I remember exactly where I was and how I felt when I was taught the full import of this verse. I was in Mayapur, India and was sitting in a room with about twenty bhakti practitioners from all over the world. I remember how the teacher emphasized the word austerity in this verse and a light bulb went off in my head. Austerity in this verse means to practice. Austerity implies some level of difficulty and the requirement of great mental determination in order to be successful.

Shocking isn't it? Take just the first quality that is mentioned in 17.16- satisfaction. It means that we need to practice satisfaction, what to speak of simplicity, gravity, self-control etc... This is just mind-boggling to the Western way of thinking, where satisfaction is something you either buy or something that happens at/to you, not something that you actually practice.

Similarly, saintliness is also a quality that must be practiced. But the question can be raised here. How can one practice a quality?'s actually pretty simple. Anyone remember what was mentioned yesterday as being the most important principle of bhakti? Always remember Krsna and never forget him. If we are aspiring to be in this consciousness then we realize that every living entity (please note - not just restricted to humans!) we interact with is also very dear to Krsna and every situation we face is due to the results of our past action.

Hence, we see opportunities to practice qualities like tolerance, patience, detachment, compassion, paying respects to others...all the qualities that make one saintly.

Bhakti teaches us to view things from a different perspective, that of "What can I learn from this moment?" This fuels and can give impetus to our determination to act properly.

It is also important to note that aspiring bhakti yogis don't just practice good qualities to become a good person since that can easily lead one into the trap of becoming proud. "Just see what a great person I am. I'm so patient and tolerant!" :P

No. They see this cultivation of good qualities as being helpful in their practice of bhakti yoga. It's easy to be a nice person, it's harder to see the practice of good qualities as a stepping stone to advancement in bhakti.

The goal of bhakti is not just to be a good person who exemplifies saintliness. The goal of bhakti is to uncover and fan our hidden love for God. How one can do this is coming up in the Gita, so stay tuned!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

free will/destiny

Verses 1.32-1.35: O Govinda, of what avail to us are a kingdom, happiness or even life itself when all those for whom we may desire them are now arrayed on this battlefield? O Madhusūdana, when teachers, fathers, sons, grandfathers, maternal uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law and other relatives are ready to give up their lives and properties and are standing before me, why should I wish to kill them, even though they might otherwise kill me? O maintainer of all living entities, I am not prepared to fight with them even in exchange for the three worlds, let alone this earth. What pleasure will we derive from killing the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra?

Ever hear someone say: "Whatever is going to happen, will happen. We have no control over it." For every person like that, there will be just as many who will say, "No way. Everything is dependent on you. You make things happen out of your own free will."

The path of bhakti yoga actually reconciles these two points beautifully. See, it's easy to think in black and white. Most of us, especially me, have been influenced by society to think in terms of duality. It's either hot or cold, good or bad, or black or white. We forget the fact that the spiritual path of bhakti may actually offer a different proposal. In this case, it means that both free will and destiny work hand in hand together.

I think it's very obvious to all of us that we have free will. We see it in babies all the time, what to speak of fully grown adults and we see it again here in this verse with Arjuna. He is speaking his mind at the current moment and exerting his free will. For all those who may think that God forces you to do something, just take a look at this verse. It's very clear that Krsna is not like that. Here's proof that, yes, we do in fact have free will and we have full reign to utilize it.

But let's come back to the whole free will vs. destiny aspect and how it practically applies in our own lives. Free will means that can make choices. However, the caveat that comes with it, is that we are also responsible for the results that come from making those choices. Those choices, in turn, will set up what will come to us in the future. This is the very definition of the law of karma. For whatever action you perform, you get a reaction.

This means that every single choice we make, every day, at every second will set us up for....can anyone guess? If you said, destiny, you're right!

The shroud of mystery that covers destiny is actually not very thick at all. It's because we are not conscious of the fact that our actions will result in various consequences that we are so stunned by the outcomes. Even more challenging is the fact that the results of our actions (i.e. our future karma otherwise known as destiny) may not come right away. This totally bemuses our minds because we are so used to having everything "now". It may come years down the line or even in future lifetimes. In fact many things and situations that present themselves now, are very likely the result of actions performed in past lives.

This results in what is known as the cycle of birth and death. We get trapped. Whether good or bad karma (your destiny) is supposed to come to you, if you haven't received it all in the current lifetime, you will need to take birth again to receive what is due to you.

However, there is a way to get out of this cycle of karma and that is what bhakti teaches us. By living our lives according to the principles of bhakti, the most important of which is to always remember Krsna and never forget him, we can incur no karma. That's right! There's a third option! Just by performing our day to day activities with the consciousness of gratitude that everything is coming from God, we can break this cycle of good and bad karma.

So what does this practically mean? It will mean we won't have to worry about all this free will and destiny stuff. We will be rightfully situated in our blissful, eternal and loving relationship with God.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

now vs. later

Verse 1.31: I do not see how any good can come from killing my own kinsmen in this battle, nor can I, my dear Kṛṣṇa, desire any subsequent victory, kingdom, or happiness

Here we see Arjuna ponder the question that we face on a daily basis. What's more important - immediate or delayed gratification ? Although everyone likes to say that it's the delayed or long-term rewards that are normally more important, it's very much easier said than done.

The main reason for that is because attaining delayed results requires sacrifice. It requires that we work, without necessarily seeing any results right away, and it also means we need to have faith that what we're doing is worthwhile. If there's no faith, then we'll lose the determination to continue on when we hit one of those "Why am I doing this again?" moments.

This point is so relevant to any aspiring bhakti practitioner because sometimes you feel like nothing is happening. It's very, very common. Long-time practitioners often say that when they first began practicing bhakti yoga it was like ambrosia. They felt the presence of Krsna, everything seemed to come so easy and they felt so happy. But then...the shoe dropped. All of a sudden everything became so difficult. They started seeing so many negative aspects of themselves, they found it difficult to follow various spiritual principles and were shocked.

What happened? The answer these practitioners gave was simple. See, Krsna is the ultimate salesperson. Know when you go to a store and they give you a free sample and you really like it? Well what happens if you want more? Sure maybe the really nice samplers might sneak you an extra one but if you really want more you have to pay. That's right! Where do you think that concept came from? Krsna of course!

So similarly Krsna will give you some free samples. He'll show you, "See how wonderful the practice of bhakti can be?" But then....he'll make you pay because nothing worthwhile is free. Krsna, however, doesn't want your money. He wants something much more valuable - your love. And how does that love practically manifest? Through time, patience, determination, service and all the other intangibles that we often take for granted. Of course, that doesn't last forever, but it's important to realize that when those moments do arise, it's so that we can grow and develop in our bhakti journey.

That being said, the practice of bhakti is also full of lots of immediate experiences and results. Ask anyone who has sat in a kirtan (the singing of mantras accompanied with music), it's instant bliss. Or another example is eating food that has been cooked and offered to Krsna with a beautiful consciousness. These are the things that always keep one going.

So next time it seems like the going is not only going to get rough but also tough, remember - great things come to those who wait (and persevere)!

Friday, January 18, 2013

material experience

Verse 1.30: I am now unable to stand here any longer. I am forgetting myself, and my mind is reeling. I see only causes of misfortune, O Kṛṣṇa, killer of the Keśī demon.

Yesterday we talked about how we are spiritual beings having a material experience. If you were wondering what the material experience is all about, it can be summed up by the phrase "It's all about me." That's the motivating force that drives one when they are entrapped in material consciousness.

The word material has now been tossed around a few times and you might be scratching your head wondering what exactly it means. Let's make one thing clear; I'm not talking about yards of cloth or the stuff you need to read and study! Material in the context of the Gita relates to that which is temporary and seeing the world as separate from its real owner and controller - God.

This material consciousness blinds us to what is actually real and permanent: the spiritual spark, the soul, which is our true self and our eternal, loving relationship with God. By forgetting these two things, we set ourselves up for disappointment again and again in everything that we do.

The problem is that we associate the me that's referred to in our "it's all about me" behaviour to the temporary material body. Since the body is temporary, all our efforts and plans to gratify and satisfy it are also temporary.

I'm sure you've had experiences of this....c'mon, be honest. We have and hear about experiences of this everyday such as the millionaire that's never satisfied. Everyone else wants to be him and he's thinking of how to get another hundred million more. Does he at least get to take it with him when he passes away? No. It's just temporary.

Trying to be happy with the temporary is like trying to convince a fish that it is natural for it to be happy living on land. The natural environment for the fish is in the water. Somehow though, we don't realize that this analogy perfectly applies to us. Our true self, the soul, is eternal, meaning that its natural for us to be searching for permanence in every aspect of our existence. However, the problem is that due to mud-stained glasses and some good old fashioned brainwashing, we are being convinced to think we can be happy with the temporary.

Arjuna right now is exactly where we are - identifying himself only with his body. He'll soon be informed that the first step to getting out of material consciousness starts by realizing that the actual "me" is the eternal spiritual spark that is within all of us, not the exterior covering called the body.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Verse 1.29: My whole body is trembling, my hair is standing on end, my bow Gāṇḍīva is slipping from my hand, and my skin is burning.

Your pulse starts to race, your mind starts to spin and your gripped in it's clutches. Fear.

The Gita is so invaluable because it teaches one to become fearless. The reason fear arises is due to our identification with the material. Namely, the material body. That's right, that prized possession of yours which you decorate everyday and identify your "self" with is the cause of fear. It actually makes sense if you stop and think about it. Every single thing we are afraid has some connection with our body. Whether it be direct physical harm to our bodies, a wrongful perception of our body, the bodies of those who are close to our body etc etc...

As a result of that fear, different symptoms start to manifest outwardly. And, as most of us have experienced, there's no way to prevent that from happening. Just like the the presence of heat in the body results in redness, similarly fear results in our body exhibiting that condition in multifarious ways.

Although many self-help "experts" and persons claim to have tricks for overcoming fear, they can't claim to eradicate it completely. Why? Because they are all presenting material solutions. Albert Einstein once said, "“We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Similarly, fear is a problem we have due to our identification with the material - our bodies. Hence, trying to overcome fear while identifying with the body is an futile attempt to solve a material problem on the material platform. Guess what? It can't be done!

Only spiritual intelligence and knowledge can present the solution. This is the gift that the Gita bestows upon the eager and sincere reader. It gives us the knowledge and evidence that we are not this body. We are spiritual beings having a material experience. Part of that material experience is having a material body which is a cause of so many of our problems.

Instead if we can actually realize that we are spiritual, it pulls us out of our illusion. It gives us a new perspective and more importantly, reveals to us our true identity.

Material identification is what binds us and now we'll find out how to break free.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

imagine this

Verse 1.28: Arjuna said: My dear Kṛṣṇa, seeing my friends and relatives present before me in such a fighting spirit, I feel the limbs of my body quivering and my mouth drying up.

Imagine that someone had wronged you your entire life. They always laughed when you fell, insulted you behind your back, went out of their way to make your life miserable and tried to harm those you cared about and were responsible for. Finally, imagine that although they were totally unqualified to be a leader, they assumed such a position through cheating and trickery.

Imagine that despite all your efforts to make peace, they rebuff you again and again. They want a fight and will stand for nothing less. Now the kicker - think about how you would feel if that person was a close family member.

This is the position Arjuna is finding himself in. As a leader and administrator he needs to protect those who are being exploited and that has led him here; to this moment.

As an advanced bhakti yogi who is naturally soft-hearted, what does he think of at this moment? He's not thinking about all the abominable and cruel things that have been done to his loved ones and dependents. No. Instead he is overcome with compassion for those who have wronged him.

This is the great quality of an advanced bhakti practitioner. Such a person can see all perspectives, not only his/her personal one.

Try remembering Arjuna expressing his compassion the next time you feel insulted or wronged by someone. You might find yourself reacting differently than you normally would.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

one of those days...

Verse 1.27: When the son of Kuntī, Arjuna, saw all these different grades of friends and relatives, he became overwhelmed with compassion and spoke thus.

When I first took up this challenge to read and write reflections on every single verse of the Gita, it wasn't without trepidation. I had good friends saying, "You're going to start at Chapter 1??" As you might have noticed, especially at the beginning of Chapter 1, the scene is being set as opposed to intense spiritual insights being shared.

So there are days when I read the verse and think, "I have no idea what to write about! Why did I ever attempt this project." Today was one of those days! However, I'm starting to realize that those days are often the best, just because it forces me to understand that actually nothing comes from me. I'm not actually very intelligent, realized or talented at all. It's only due to the blessings of my guru (spiritual teacher and guide) and the association of like-minded bhakti practitioners that I even realize that this path of bhakti is so precious.

All talents, all gifts and all intelligence comes from a source. That source is God. It is only when we recognize that we are small, he is big and we need his help that we can aspire to become a conduit of God's grace. I once heard a beautiful phrase - mercy (blessings) descends. It flows downward. Ever notice when you act all big and mighty that it's hard to listen to anyone else? Hard to hear anything when that ego is blocking your ears! Hence, mercy descends.

That being said, feeling small doesn't mean having low self esteem. In fact, feeling small on the path of bhakti means feeling supremely connected. It's super empowering since you know where to tune in to to connect to a higher power.

So that's my realization for today. I can't do anything by myself, but when I recognize it it becomes my opportunity to become a potential conduit for greatness.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Technology vs. Relationships

Verse 1.26: There Arjuna could see, within the midst of the armies of both parties, his fathers, grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, friends, and also his fathers-in-law and well-wishers.

It's amazing how large an extended family Arjuna has. It also makes me reflect on something my co-workers and I were talking about this morning - technology. How the "advancement" in technology has resulted in us becoming less personal and quite uncultured. I mean c'mon! It's becoming culturally acceptable for a person to be talking to you and texting someone else at the same time! :S

It reminds me of a comment that was written on my report card back in grade school. It was something to the effect of "Vrindavan does not look at the person who is talking to her." Interesting statement isn't it? Well...somehow it stuck with me. In fact, I now make it a pointed effort to look at whoever is talking to me.

The funny thing now is that most people don't look at you when you're speaking! Instead they are looking at their phone, tablet, computer, whatever. Things have replaced persons. If this is the way the world is going to continue spinning, I want to get off right now.

It's as though we are afraid of being personal. Instead it's much easier to hide behind a facebook profile, text messaging and other forms of communication that don't require any face-face contact.

I used to roll my eyes when my dad would launch into one of his "Back in my day...things were so much simpler and better." But you know what? I catch myself doing the same thing.

My childhood summers were spent outdoors all day. I would be out of the house at 8am and it would be surprising if I didn't return home before dinner. Nowadays, two and three year olds are becoming expert in manipulating iphones and computers. What about the sun? What about laughing and playing with your friends? It seems to have become a thing of the past.

Life isn't measured by the number of things we accumulate but by the lives we touch. It's obvious that Arjuna touched so many lives because he invested the time and energy to have meaningful relationships.

If you could only have one, what would you choose - technology or relationships?

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Verse 1.25: In the presence of Bhīṣma, Droṇa and all the other chieftains of the world, the Lord said, Just behold, Pārtha, all the Kurus assembled here.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could directly be told what to do or think by God? This is a question that's posed by everyone. Atheists, agnostics, scientists, bhakti practitioners, spiritualists, you name it and they've probably asked it at one time or another.

Let's face it. Life is complicated and messy. Oftentimes it's hard to know what's right or wrong because our minds are totally befuddled. There's so much information coming at us from all different directions that it's so difficult to even know what's relevant, what to speak of what's right.

So what's the easy way out? Have someone tell us what to do. But we don't want just anyone, oh no. We want someone who will be able to guarantee us that choosing that advice or course of action will lead to the right outcome. That's why we often hear people pose the question, "Why isn't God helping me?"

In order to answer that we need to figure out what makes us so different than Arjuna. How does he get Krsna's help? Now that's the secret of bhakti yoga. Arjuna is Krsna's friend. He loves and trusts Krsna and will do anything for him. Isn't it only natural then that Krsna, who has feelings and emotions just like us, will be inclined to help him?

Krsna wants to help us, but do we really want his help? That's another question we need to ask ourselves. See, Arjuna wanted Krsna's help and as we'll soon see, will ask for it with all sincerity. Now be honest with yourself. Do you really want God's help? Because if you really want it, it's already there.

It's already there because God resides in each and every one of us. He's sitting there in our heart acting as a witness to everything we do. What's more, he's privy to all our thoughts and intentions. Not just the one's we vocalize, but the one's that are there buried inside.

That's the catch. There's no fooling Krsna. He knows. And if we really ask for his help, he'll give it.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

true friendship

Verse 1.24: Sañjaya said: O descendant of Bharata, having thus been addressed by Arjuna, Lord Kṛṣṇa drew up the fine chariot in the midst of the armies of both parties.

Today we get a chance to understand what true friendship is all about. Here, we see Krsna, not just God, but the Supreme Personality of Godhead, taking instructions from his good friend Arjuna.

If you think about it, it's kind of wild. How often do we see someone who is influential and powerful taking a submissive role happily and voluntarily? Mind you, this is not a paid position! It's almost unheard of these days. Instead we have the experience of seeing anyone who has or is in any position of power hanging on to it for dear life and making it known to anyone who will listen to them.

It goes to show that one who is truly powerful, as Krsna is, has no qualms about letting go of that title. Krsna is so personal. He doesn't allow qualities such as power, fame and wealth to act as stumbling blocks or barriers in his relationships with others. Krsna is not about the external, he's all about the internal.

What a wonderful person Krsna is. He genuinely cares. That's the only motivation he has for, wait for it, serving Arjuna. That's what relationships and friendships should actually be centred on - service.

But what does service really mean? We see advertisements of different companies boasting that they provide the best service and hear of royalty having servants. Is that what service is all about? Being surrounded by false indicators of service where money is a prime driver, it's easy for us to be shocked when we hear how the bhakti texts describe that our natural inclination is to serve.

And that's exactly what we see here. Krsna is taking the position of a servant for Arjuna. He is his charioteer. Make no mistake, taking on the role of a charioteer is not very prestigious and in a battle can be extremely dangerous. So why is he doing it then? Because he is showing all of us that he is the friend of one who loves him. It's not a one-sided relationship where we're tiny and he's the man in charge.

This relationship we can all re-invest in with Krsna is one of love and closeness. As we continue through the Gita, we'll get a chance to see how much Krsna loves Arjuna. Personally, I've always found the relationship of Krsna and Arjuna to bring solace to my heart. It demonstrates without a doubt that Krsna cares and he's our friend.

Friday, January 11, 2013

the right motivation

Verse 1.23: Let me see those who have come here to fight, wishing to please the evil-minded son of Dhṛtarāṣṭra.

Today's verse reminded of a saying: Focus on doing the right thing, not on doing things right. This came to mind since Arjuna is stating here that he wants to see those who are wanting please to Duryodhana. Those who are not focused on doing the right thing (standing up for morality and righteousness) and instead are fighting their best (for the sake of honour and prestige).

Notice the difference in motivation. Just focusing on doing the right thing tends to result in doing things right. When we focus solely on doing things right, we may not recognize it, but subtly we're setting ourselves up for an ego boost. How so? Because for most people out there, the satisfaction in doing things right is the praise and recognition that comes along with it.

Part of doing the right thing also means having the proper motivation and conviction. When you ask someone why they do something, it's it's not uncommon to hear responses such as, "Well...because everyone's doing it. It's popular. It's the thing to do. It's cool..." Rather than think for oneself, it's easier to just go with the flow. This way you don't stand out and you're not left behind.

The practice of bhakti yoga is not about going with the flow. In fact, bhakti is quite the opposite of that. Bhakti is about taking a stand for what's right. It's about stripping away all the external wrappings and getting down to the essentials - our need to express and receive love.

However, where the practice of bhakti yoga differentiates itself from all other paths is that it teaches us how we can fulfill that need - through service. And, it teaches us how to reconnect with the supreme source of love - Krsna (one of numerous names of God). Engaging in loving relationships with others is good practice, but our need for eternal and uninterrupted love can only be satisfied by Krsna who is eternal and unconditional in his love for us.

Beautiful isn't it? But for many aspiring bhakti practitioners, including myself, it can be challenging. Why? Because we keep getting distracted by the glitz and glamor of advertisements and a society that keeps making empty promises that we'll be happy and satisfied by buying into consumerism and going with the flow.

So next time you do something, question yourself. What's your motivation? Are you focused on doing the right thing or just doing things right.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A practical guide to responding to challenging situations

Verse 1.21-22: Arjuna said: O infallible one, please draw my chariot between the two armies so that I may see those present here, who desire to fight, and with whom I must contend in this great trial of arms.

As I've mentioned before, I love philosophy and logic but above all what I cherish the most is practical application. Here we see Arjuna facing a challenging and adrenaline inducing situation in the midst of a large crowd. We've all been there before. Think back to when you last felt this way. Perhaps it was was when you were speaking in front of a large audience or perhaps you were running for the bus and tripped and fell in front a group of people (been there, done that).

In those situations, it's very easy for our minds to "freak out" and for us to react without thinking. We forget cool logic and taking those deep long breaths and instead get caught up in the excitement, anxiety, embarrassment or whatever else of the moment. This verse is a goldmine of information to teach us how we can handle such circumstances with grace.

Just see how Arjuna is so methodical. He not only wants to gauge the situation but wants to break it down so he can assess the important variables.

Firstly he asks Krsna to move him to the best vantage point, in this case between the two armies. Similarly, we too in any situation should try to move into the appropriate perspective whether it be mentally, emotionally, intellectually or physically. For example, when in a heated argument with someone, sometimes the best thing to do is politely excuse oneself. Cool off a bit and then come back once you've had a chance to look objectively at the situation. Or the situation maybe such that we need to "walk a mile" in the other person's shoes so that we can better understand where they are coming from.

Secondly Arjuna wants to understand the mentality of those present before him. As the saying goes, "The face is the index of the mind." The soul is sensitive by nature. We've all had those moments where we can feel that someone is being sincere and when they just want something from us. If we look for it, it's there. Paying attention and watching a persons's reactions when we interact with them will help us to determine whether we're getting through to them or if we need to find another way.

Finally, Arjuna then wants to figure out who the major players are. Who are the persons that he needs to watch out for. Brilliant! Arjuna is so intelligent. By identifying those persons, whether they be friends, allies or those who may challenge us, it can help calm our fears. How? Because we're not facing the unknown anymore. Instead, by recognizing their mentality and having a better idea of what they stand for, we will be able to better anticipate what they may bring to the table.

Amazing isn't it? I never realized that this formula for responding to challenging situations was here until reading the Gita today. Just goes to show that bhakti is practical and useful in everyday life. That's why bhakti isn't just a spiritual path, it's a way of life.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Verse 1.20: At that time Arjuna, the son of Pāṇḍu, seated in the chariot bearing the flag marked with Hanumān, took up his bow and prepared to shoot his arrows. O King, after looking at the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra drawn in military array, Arjuna then spoke to Lord Kṛṣṇa these words.

Bhakti is not about getting something, it is about seeking shelter. I know in my own life, the times I've felt the most confident and peaceful is when I've felt taken care of. At those times, doubts, confusion and even discouraging words of others have had little to no effect on me.

In this chaotic world we live in, there's a different mantra being tossed out. "It's on you to take care of everything. Don't depend on anyone else, you'll be disappointed." That's a lot of pressure. No wonder everyone is totally stressed out these days!

That being said, there is some truth to the second part of that thought. It's true that depending on others can lead to disappointment, but that's where intelligence has to come in. We should depend on those who are taking shelter of bhakti. Such persons, who already have shelter are the perfect one's who can give us shelter because they are not lacking.

Firstly, looking for shelter in objects, gadgets and places is useless since it is only meaningful relationships that can give us the guidance, personal interaction and affection that we crave. Secondly, when we seek shelter from people that don't have shelter themselves, it is like asking a poor man to give us money. We can only receive something from someone who already possesses it and furthermore someone who is not miserly.

I think of my own spiritual mentor who travels the world giving shelter to so many people. He doesn't ask for anything in return; all he wants is for everyone to experience the bliss of loving God.

Here we see that Arjuna is supremely sheltered. Not only does he have the Supreme Lord, Krsna, as his friend and chariot driver, but he also has on his flag a great devotee (follower and lover) of Krsna - Hanuman. It is because Arjuna seeks shelter in Krsna that he becomes peaceful and victorious.

We can learn from Arjuna one of the many secrets to being successful in bhakti - being properly sheltered.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

the subtleties

Verse 1.19: The blowing of these different conchshells became uproarious. Vibrating both in the sky and on the earth, it shattered the hearts of the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra.

The subtleties of bhakti can be very intricate. Take attitude for example. Bhakti is all about attitude. When scientific minded people hear that, it can sometimes be hard for them to accept. How can something that can't be seen, be measured?

Well, the thing is it can and most of us have probably even had experiences of it. All of us can be sensitive to the little things. It just takes practice. Just like in the Gita we will see how Krsna scientifically outlines the objectives, hypothesis, experiments and proposed results of bhakti, so too can we become attuned to the subtle signs around us.

Although I was brought up with the practice of bhakti yoga, it was only in 2004 that I started to explore it for myself. At that time, I was surprised to find that everything that aspiring bhakti yogis do, whether it be ritual or practice, has a reason behind it. That confirmed to me that bhakti really did have all the answers.

For example, did you know that the blowing of conchshells represents driving away all inauspiciousness? That's why for those who may have ever attended an aarti (welcoming ceremony), it is blown at the beginning and end of that service.

We too encounter many signs in our lives. In speaking with many bhakti practitioners, nothing brings me greater joy than hearing how they came to the bhakti path. Countless times persons have expressed how things just "lined up". They were searching and received a book, or met a person or received a card. Something extraordinary happened they were genuinely searching for something more.

These seemingly mystical and magical experiences happen when we sincerely look for and become disillusioned with the mundane everyday hamster wheels of our life.

If you have any stories of how you came to bhakti, please share them! We'd be honoured to hear it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

the five brothers

Verses 1.16-18: King Yudhiṣṭhira, the son of Kuntī, blew his conchshell, the Ananta-vijaya, and Nakula and Sahadeva blew the Sughoṣa and Maṇipuṣpaka. That great archer the King of Kāśī, the great fighter Śikhaṇḍī, Dhṛṣṭadyumna, Virāṭa, the unconquerable Sātyaki, Drupada, the sons of Draupadī, and the others, O King, such as the mighty-armed son of Subhadrā, all blew their respective conchshells.

Here we get to meet the rest of the five brothers. In the previous verse we met Arjuna and Bhima and now we are introduced to Yudhishthira, Nakula and Sahadeva.

The Gita is not only about the great knowledge of bhakti and its practical application, but about personalism. It teaches us that God is not only supreme, but that He is a person. We get our innate need for creating lasting relationships and meaningful interactions from someone, and that someone is God. Similarly, just like we have different names and titles, so to does God and one of his most beautiful names is Krsna which means the all-attractive.

So when we are introduced to other great persons here in the introduction of the Gita, I feel it is only fitting we honour them and get to know them. I especially feel this way about the five brothers known as the Pandavas who all were famous for not only being great bhakti yogis but for the special talents and characteristics that defined them.

Yudhisthira, the oldest was known to be righteous and truthful. He never spoke a lie and had a very beautiful quality of never harming anyone with his words, be they a friend or enemy. Yudhisthira was known to be extremely patient and well-wishing to all. Once when he was insulted by a King and was injured, he calmly accepted the rebuke with grace and ensured later on that the King was not taken to task for his insult.

Bhima, the second oldest, was as we heard in the precious verse, a voracious eater. However, he was also known to be the strongest and the performer of herculean tasks. At a very young age he was blessed to have the strength of thousands of elephants and was expert at wielding the mace. Once when he was escaping a burning building he carried not only his brothers but also his mother showcasing how strong he was.

Arjuna was the greatest archer. He was so determined to be the best that when he was young he would practice in the dark so that he would be as comfortable shooting irregardless of darkness or light. Once when he was in a class with his brothers and cousins, his military arts teacher, Drona, asked them all to shoot a wooden bird that was placed on a tree. When Drona asked each of his students what they saw while they targeted the bird with their arrow, they replied with different answers like, "the bird, the tree, the branch, the wing." Drona would not let anyone release the arrow at the bird. When he finally got to Arjuna and asked him, Arjuna replied, "I see the eye and only the eye," and was allowed to shoot it. Drona was so pleased as it demonstrated to him how focused and serious his student was.

Nakula and Sahadava were the youngest of the five and were twin brothers. Nakula was known for his great beauty and Sahadeva was known for his wisdom. Nakula was also expert in horse-keeping and once when the Pandavas had to go in hiding, he took on the role of taking care of horses. Sahadeva was also known to be a great swordsman.

Each of these brothers had great talents and strengths. Hopefully, the next time you hear one of their names you'll remember some of their unique characteristics and think of them as the great persons they were and not just names in a book.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Verse 1.15: Lord Kṛṣṇa blew His conchshell, called Pāñcajanya; Arjuna blew his, the Devadatta; and Bhīma, the voracious eater and performer of herculean tasks, blew his terrific conchshell, called Pauṇḍra.

The name of Krsna in this verse is very significant - Hṛṣīkeśa. Hrsikesa means He who is the owner of all senses. As I read the verse today, I discovered something very wonderful. This quality of Krsna is the first of many we will learn about in the Gita. In our own lives when we are introduced to a person we often hear about their accomplishments, personality and character. As we're now being introduced to Krsna the first thing we here is that He is the owner of all senses. Really serves to put in perspective all those other things we get easily impressed about!

This quality of Krsna is an important one to remember. As I mentioned before, the Gita is very practical. One of the things it will teach us is what constitutes our true selves; how we are actually not anything that we identify ourselves with. Our mind, intelligence, and even our senses are on loan to us. This name of Krsna confirms that. It's not our senses, they are being given to us to use for right now.

But what does that practically mean? If it's not my sense of sight, my sense of smell, my hearing...what does that mean in everyday life?

The aspiring bhakti yogi tries to spiritualize their senses by using them in bhakti (devotional service). See, even though the senses are not ours per say, we control the consciousness with which we utilize them. You may have practical experience of this. Think back to a time you cooked something (i.e. you were utilizing your senses) and you did so in a mood of wanting to bring joy to someone else. Now think back when you cooked something and you were anxious, upset or angry. Those who are sensitive can taste the difference.

Similarly we can use our senses for spiritual activities or material activities. What makes something spiritual or material? It's consciousness or attitude that goes into it.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

an introduction

Verse 1.14: On the other side, both Lord Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna, stationed on a great chariot drawn by white horses, sounded their transcendental conchshells.

Here we meet the most important personalities of the Gita - Krsna and Arjuna. In courts and days of old, important personalities would be introduced by the heralding of different instruments. It seems fitting that we meet these two great persons while the transcendental and auspicious sounds of their conches are being reverberated.

As aspiring bhakti yogis, we should offer a great deal of respect and gratitude to Arjuna. It is because of him that we are now the beneficiaries of the transcendental knowledge that is contained in the Gita.

One of the things I appreciate most about Arjuna is his desire to practically understand how to practice bhakti yoga. It is easy to get caught up and revel in the philosophy, but bhakti is about application and practice. Srila Prabhupada, the translator of the Bhagavada-gita as it is, often says, " Bhakti is not for arm chair philosophers."

Thank you Arjuna for being a perfect student and giving us the opportunity to learn from you. Get ready- the Gita is about to begin.

Friday, January 4, 2013


Verse 1.13: After that, the conchshells, drums, bugles, trumpets and horns were all suddenly sounded, and the combined sound was tumultuous.

Sound. It surrounds us wherever we are. As I'm typing right now I'm becoming aware of the hum of the heater, the outside traffic passing by, a door closing behind me and the clacking of the keys as I press down on the keyboard.

It amazes me how "normally" I am so unobservant to the different sounds that surround me. I've become desensitized. For example, when I enter a mall, I don't really notice the music playing in the background unless it's a song I know or a genre of music that's not really to my taste.

In the tradition of bhakti, sound is the basis of everything. In the ancient Vedic text called Srimad Bhagavatam, it is stated that of the five elements, sound (ether) is the first to be created (SB. 2.5.25). The vedic texts also state how one can become freed from illusion through hearing transcendental sound vibration.

Sound can thus serve to liberate and to entrap, it can be positive or negative and have a great impact on our disposition. For serious bhakti practitioners, they channel this powerful impact of sound by chanting (i.e. calling out the transcendental names of Krsna) everyday. In this way a spiritual atmosphere can be created whether one is living in a city or in a cave in the Himalayas.

If you're like me, however, it can be a challenge to chant properly. Chanting is easy, the tricky part is hearing the mantra you are saying. Hearing involves paying attention to what we're actually saying and not getting distracted by the wily ways of the mind.

The actions and habits that we develop in our daily routine seep into our spiritual practice. If one performs their daily tasks with attention, it is often easier for such persons to naturally be attentive in their spiritual practice.

It's my realization for today. I need to pay more attention to what's going on around me. It will serve as practice for what really matters.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

recognize compassion

Verse 1.12: Then Bhīṣma, the great valiant grandsire of the Kuru dynasty, the grandfather of the fighters, blew his conchshell very loudly, making a sound like the roar of a lion, giving Duryodhana joy.

The hearts of those who are filled with compassion always want to bring joy to others. As aspiring bhakti yogis, it is not only important to be compassionate to others but to recognize compassion in our own lives.

Oftentimes we get so caught up in our troubles and thoughts that we fail to recognize when we are are the recipient of compassion. This can pose a challenge since often it is only when we feel the compassion of others on us that it inspires us to become compassionate towards others. In this way we can ultimately "pay it forward."

I was a recipient of compassion today and it gladdened my heart. It was a cold day and after a tiring day of work I was walking to the bus stop. As I walked the stretch, I could see in the distance the bus I hoped to get on. The challenge I faced was that my stop was not only across the street but also on the opposite side which meant I was at the mercy of two traffic lights and the bus driver!

Luckily the light was in my favour and as I walked across the street and looked at the opposite corner where the bus was waiting, I kept wondering, "Will the bus driver wait for me?" As soon as the light turned, I hurried across and to my surprise the bus driver just waited patiently with the door open until I got on. "Thank you so much," I said with great gratitude as I plonked down on the nearest seat, after nearly wiping out on the slippery floor.

The greatest compassion we can give is to help others revive their dormant bhakti. However recognizing the little things, like the kindness and compassion of a stranger, will ensure that we always feel that too are the recipient of the Lord's grace.

So take up the challenge! Everyday reflect on a moment when you were the recipient of compassion. You'll find that the Lord is always sending some your way; you just need to wake up and see it!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Verse 1.11: All of you must now give full support to Grandfather Bhīṣma, as you stand at your respective strategic points of entrance into the phalanx of the army.

In my year's of practicing bhakti, nothing serves to inspire and motivate me more than encouragement. Just as we see here, Duryodhana is encouraging the other warriors by stating they must give their full support to Bhisma, similarly we too need great encouragement.

Although the path of bhakti may appear to be strewn with obstacles, challenges, impediments and disappointments, it's amazing what a little bit of encouragement can do. For many, our belief in ourselves is often close to nil when it matters the most. We may project an air of confidence, coolness and positivity when inside we are battling the grotesque demons of self-doubt, disappointment and lack of determination.

Although bhakti is an internal process that we must take responsibility for, being in the association of like-minded practitioners is so essential. It is in their midst that we can soak in the soothing balm of encouragement that we all crave and deserve.

Such friends see the best in us. They console us and sit with us in our times of crisis and need and are the first to applaud and embrace us in our moments of surrender and spiritual happiness. They are also the one's that tell us what we need to hear when we may not be so willing, but do so by sandwiching it in between inspiring words and actions.

Think back to a time when you were struggling and weren't sure you could make it through a situation. Wasn't it encouragement that got you through?

It's the start of the new year and so I invite everyone to start it off on the right foot. This week, encourage the heck out of someone! Ensure they feel your genuine faith in them and your conviction that they can succeed on the path of bhakti.

What goes around comes the more we encourage, the more we will receive it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Verse 1.10: Our strength is immeasurable, and we are perfectly protected by Grandfather Bhīṣma, whereas the strength of the Pāṇḍavas, carefully protected by Bhīma, is limited.

Happy New Year everyone!

We see how in this verse Duryodhana is putting his full faith in the protection of Bhisma. This got me thinking of how often I too, out of misplaced faith, think that I am protected or safe from an influence or situation. Too many to count!

Despite being let down so many times, I always find it incredible that I keep putting my faith in the same things over and over again. The ridiculous logic is, "This time it will be different. This time it'll work."

In talking with many aspiring bhakti yogis, many have expressed that they also find it difficult to put their full faith in bhakti. Funny isn't it? We get disappointed by doing the same thing over and over and yet we doubt trying something new.

I once heard a statement that has stayed with me throughout the years. "It's just as much a leap of faith to put your trust in maya (illusory or temporary affairs) as it is to put your trust in bhakti."

It's a new year. Time for a change; so this year why not put full faith in bhakti? In fact the path of bhakti starts with sraddha or faith.

It's time to take the leap. Are you ready?