Saturday, April 2, 2011

Modernity, Memory and Mantra

Went to my first ashram last weekend, a Ramakrishn­a Vedanta one. I was so impressed by some of the members who could chant any part of the Gita if given the number of the chapter and shloka. Inspires me to try the same some day. (But I want to attempt the Hanuman Chalisa first!)

Anyway, I found this article on the Huffpost that talks about the practice of memorizing and chanting the Bhagavad Gita:

Mantrajapa (chanting of mantra) simultaneously engages three of the eight limbs of Yoga -- namely pranayama (breath control), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (devotion or meditation on the Divine). It has also been referred to as the Yoga of Sound, with scientific studies enumerating its medical benefits, which include lowering blood pressure to producing endorphins and supporting healthy metabolism. But science is not what is on our minds when we lose ourselves in the power and beauty of the Gita. Perhaps it is the knowledge that these are the words of Lord Krishna. Or maybe there is spiritual power in the intonations and rhythmic patterns in which the Gita is traditionally chanted. Could it be the recognition that we are connecting to millions now and before us who have indulged in this primeval spiritual practice? Whatever the reason, my family is experiencing something deeply moving and profound.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

And speaking of transiency...sheeze!

As I had mentioned earlier, the design company I had been working for these past 12 years, Brady Communications, closed its doors last week. The owner and founder John Brady had lost a three-year fight to cancer this February and the company couldn't move forward without him. It was a sad time for all of us, but as one of the long-time veterans, it was especially sad for me. I had been

Well, last night I had a dream that another design firm bought all the company assets (such as equipment and furniture) and was going to move into the space. And the new name was going to be (Something) Brady Communications. And they wanted me to work for them. But I wasn't crazy about the idea. And I wasn't crazy about the name of the new firm either. Without John Brady, or the employees, or the clients, there was no reason to keep Brady in the title. A company is more than just it's equipment, furniture, and space.

Well, I woke up, and immediately the dream made me think more about transiency. It both made me think how fragile a company is, and how that space we had inhabited for 12 years will soon be inhabited by a new client. It was quite unsettling. Somewhere this company and space concept relates somehow to reincarnation and the transmigration of souls. But it's not a perfect metaphor.

A more perfect metaphor is how we transmigrate within this life between different jobs, roles, situations, homes, etc. Leaving this company is just one of the many environments I have lived within, loved, and eventually left. Childhood family homes. Grandparents homes. Elementary and secondary schools. Summer camps. College. Being in and directing high school plays. Different workplaces. And summer vacation houses.

I even have bittersweet memories of a nearby video game store. I visited there very often for years, sometimes just to talk to the employees I got to know so well. But, eventually every one of those employees moved on. I still buy my games at that store, but the place doesn't feel the same.

Well, when I sat down at the computer this morning, one of the sites I visited was my new Twitter feed I had created last night to coincide with this blog. I followed a few spiritual tweeters. But I guess by mistake, I also followed Roger Ebert. Well, he had posted a link to a set of photographs a photographer had taken where a subject would pose in the same postion, clothes, and environment they had done in a childhood photograph. My immediate impression, of course, was sadness to see how much all these kids had grown up. Again with the transiency!

As you can see, I have a problem with change. Attatchment to people and places is definitely one of my strongest "attachments." I hate to leave people and places, and I hate to see people go. And as much as I am giving this leap of faith into Hinduism a go, I am not 100% convinced that reincarnation happens. So it is of no comfort. I still fear all the people I have lost, and will lose in the future, have or will cease to be. And the same goes for myself. I hope reincarnation is real. But until I believe it 100%, or some diving revelation happens, I will be subject to the winds of change.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Andy Warhol Museum and the transiency of life

I had a interview at a design firm today, but couldn't find any parking in downtown Pittsburgh. So I parked across the river in a parking garage next to the Andy Warhol Museum. It was a nice walk across the bridge, to and from the interview. And the interview went very well, though they are not hiring at the moment.

When I returned to the other side of the river, I wanted to take an hour or so at the Museum. I used to work next door to the museum about a decade ago, and had at that time visited it many times. But I hadn't been inside since. Just about all the exhibit floors have changed. There was also an interesting traveling exhibit by the artist Sandow Birk called American Qur'an, which is a series of hand-rendered passages from the Qur'an accompanied by mundane scenes of American life.

As I was looking at photos and videos of Andy (who's one of my favorite artists), I got a little bit sad. There were all of these images of him vibrant, alive, and happy. (Well, as happy as Andy got.) But now he's gone.

Then I got to the floor that contained samples of the magazine he published, Interview. And on one wall was a collection of covers from throughout the magazine's history. And the thing I noticed most was most of the celebrities that were on those covers, were now either dead, forgotten, or irrelavant. There were only a few, one of which was Alec Baldwin, that was still prevalent in our pop culture.

This wall of faces also made me sad. And it made me realize how fleeting fame, beauty, riches, and not to mention, life is. And as "real" as something may be, just give it a few decades and you'll see how "unreal" it really is. And when I saw how fragile the past it, it reminded me how important living in the present was.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Perhaps I need to become a devotee of Kali as well

After a 12-year stint, the design firm with which I was employed shut its doors. This is obviously a shock. But ever since I received the news, I tried to not let my faith waiver. I also tried to make it a point to not deviate from my primary goal of drawing closer to God. I specifically did not want to make the selfish request of finding a job my new primary goal.

But, as the week drew to a close, and I still do not have a job, it should be of no surprise that I am concerned. And I have been praying to Hanuman, Ganesh, Lakshmi, and anyone else who will listen, that I find employment soon.

Well, tonight I did what I have been doing the past few months. Retire to my office, light the candles and incense, and spend some time with God, whether it be through prayer, japa, meditation, or some other spiritual activity.

Well, tonight I chose to listen to another lecture by one of my favorite Ramakrishna swamis, Swami Mahayogananda at the Vedanta Center in Washington DC. The lecture was about Swami Vivekenanda's devotion to the Divine Mother Kali. I thought the lecture was quite beautiful.

And in one part of the lecture, he recalled the time that Swami Vivekananda asked Sri Ramakrishna to ask Kali to solve his family's financial problems. But the Master sent his young disciple to the Kali temple to ask her himself. But as soon as he got to the temple, he could not ask for such a selfish request, and asked for the higher goals of knowledge, love, etc. This happened repeatedly. But eventually, Sri Ramakrishna helped Swami Vivekananda and prayed to Kali for the young man's sake.

Because of have been a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna for years, I could not help have some attraction to Kali. And this lecture, I know, both brought me closer, as well as made it clear to me that I must pay attention to and call on her more. When I was Catholic, I did have a strong devotion to Mary. And when I converted to Reform Judaism, I learned about the Shekhinah, i.e. the feminine aspect and presence of God. And when I learned about Neopaganism and Wicca, I called upon the Great Mother. Now I feel that all these, including Kali, are one and the same.

And I also feel that it would be right to ask Kali to take care of my family's challenging financial situation. And I do plan to do so.

Incidently, the lecture also contained a poem Swami Vivekenanda wrote about the destructive side of Kali. And the verses eerily reminded me of the disaster in Japan. But that is a deeper subject for a later post.

(Also, the light-hearted interpretation of Kali in this post is from a book called "The Little Book of Hindu Deities" by Sanjay Patel, an animator for Pixar Studios.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My new Hindu altar

For the past month or so, I've been committing myself to following the Sanātana Dharma, that is, Hinduism. I was involved with it may years ago, and for some reason, I've found myself within it again. However, at that time, I did not have an altar. But my brief exposure to Neopaganism last year made me accustomed to having an altar, so it only seemed natural to create a Hindu one now.

As you can see, it's a small, humble one. But right now, it has what it needs. Picture, statues, candles, incense, and a bowl for offering.

At first, I had wanted to get a Krishna statue. So I looked online. Of course, most were a little more than I wanted to spend. Then I had been able to stop in one of the local Indian grocers where they have some religious items. No Krishna statues, but they did have some pictures like the one you see on the altar. Except they only one I liked was of Hanuman. I've always been fond of Hanuman, so I took him home instead. And, since Hanuman is the perfect devotee, I figured it was a good idea to focus on Hanuman first in order to be brought closer to Rama, that is, Krishna, that is, Vishnu, that is, God.

There is also a small color print of Krishna and Arjuna that I had mounted onto foamboard at work. It's one of my favorite paintings of Krishna I've seen and have a closer cropped version of it on my phone. You can see the entire picture below:

Next, I stopped in another Hindu grocer, looking for either a Hanuman or Krishna statue. They had a few great Hanumans, but not as cheaped as I would like. Especially now that I am unemployed. But they did have a nice, small, brass Ganesh. I was ready to get it when I noticed a really cool puja set that not only had both a Ganesh and Lakshmi statue, but a TON of other worship items, mostly stuff to be offered the two deities as part of the pujas to them. The kit also had a guide and CD that taught you how to perform the puja. I've yet to try a puja, but you can see the two brass deities and three of the many candles from the kit.

I also stopped in a local thrift store, looking for small brass bowls or trays. I found a few, including a tray I'll probably use for offering flowers, which is at the bottom of the altar. I also found (not in the picture) a container that's the perfect size for holding either a votive candle or burning incense.

Next, I will continue to look for statues or pictures of Hanuman, Krishna, Ganesh, Rama and Sri Krishnarama, as well as brass containers in other thrift stores. I will also probably add fresh flowers to either side of the altar.

Currently, I use the altar mostly for silent meditation, japa recitation, but mostly just sitting in front of while one of Krishna Das' many kirtans play. I keep the larger candles lit any time I'm in the room. I burn incense, either when I'm sitting at the altar doing one of the actions above, or when I just want to smell incense. But I only light the three candles at the top when I'm sitting at the altar.

I also hope to slowly work into doing some kind of simple puja in the morning. I am going to keep it simple at first, offering something like Mini M&Ms to Ganesh, rice to Lakshmi, and grapes to Hanuman.

If any of you have would like to share some advice on how to perform simple pujas, as well as Hindu devotional practices in general, please leave a comment.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Ravi Shankar playing "Dhun"at Monterey

Just discovered this video of Ravi Shankar at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival. Was wild to see Jimi Hendrix listening to Ravi. A neat slice of life of the 60s. Though, the members in the crowd don't look too much like today's hipsters.

(Course, wasn't this the festival where things got all crazy with the Hells Angel security?)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spiritual blogger experiencing one religion a month for a year

Spiritual writer Andrew Bowen has embarked on the ambitious quest called Project Conversion, in which he is immersing himself in one of world's major relgions every month for a year. So far he has experienced Hinduism and the Baha-i faith. But now he is in the midst of the Zarathushti faith and is having trouble.

What is unfortunate his that after his experience with Hinduism, he expected to be better prepared for experiencing other faiths. He wrote in his blog the following:

"Hinduism blew the door of my understanding of the divine off its hinges so that when I left, I was prepared to see God in whatever form presented itself."

But as much as he tries, with the Zarathustri faith, he cannot get past the feeling of being an outsider. And he is having trouble connecting with God.

As a fellow spiritual seeker (I was raised in Catholicism, but have participated in Judaism, Deism, Judaism, Atheism, and for the second time around, and presently, Hinduism), I find his situation interesting. And I am going to leave a comment on his blog sharing my thoughts. (And reproduce the comment here as well.)

The article in which he explains his current dilemma can be found here.