Archive for the tag 'journal'

Monday Morning Greetings #41 – On Criticism

October 10th, 2016

“The poison of that which you criticize comes to you.”
“Criticism is worse that throwing a spear in someone’s body, because the spear can only pierce the body, but criticism can pierce the heart.”
“Criticism is worse than envy. Envy is when it is in the heart. Criticism is when it comes out.”
I have often repeated these statements. I am sure I read them someplace, although somehow I can’t find their reference. I have no difficulty, however, embracing their conclusion. And here is one strong clearly referenced statement about the necessity to avoid criticism.
“Of the nine processes of devotional service, the most important is to always chant the holy name of the Lord. If one does so, avoiding the ten kinds of offenses, one very easily obtains the most valuable love of Godhead.” Cc Antya 4.71
It’s a good reference for the most serious of the ten offenses against the holy name is criticism. Of course, the word for criticism used here “nindā” is qualified by the word “sādhu” and there is also allowance for constructive criticism. We will get to that, but we need to realize that the stakes for an offender are high. You just won’t get “love of Godhead”. And for the devotee that is everything. Best err on the side of caution.
I struggle with that. So many people, devotees who are dedicated and senior, sometimes do things that disturb me. How can one not criticize? Be careful! If one’s criticism is not born of compassion, but even harbors a trace of ill will, that hate will certainly cover the soul, for the soul is simply consciousness meant for love and devotion.
And if I think about it honestly I also must do things that serve as fuel for the lower nature of others. We all struggle with our own impurities and conditioning and its bound to be just the thing that annoys another, especially one with a different nature. That is simply the way of the world. At all costs I just don’t want to be a self-righteous hypocrite that is always clamoring for justice for others and mercy for oneself.
But what about all the injustice? By all means speak up and speak up strongly, but first make sure there is no hate in your own heart, otherwise your kīrtan of others faults which merely embodies the impurities of your own heart will only spread hate of others and not love of God. We have seen too often that the modern champions of controversy mostly create threads that attract the bitter.
I remember reading in a history of the Gauḍīyā Math of a younger devotee who had a very critical intelligence. He would often see things that are wrong. He sought the counsel of a very senior and elevated Vaiṣṇava who gave him the very simple advice which he followed for the rest of his life, “Observe and don’t talk”. He followed that instruction and attained spiritual heights. Yes, it may be one’s service to point on mistakes. I just don’t envy that person and I pray they are fairly pure. Otherwise:
“We all become well-disguised mirror image of anything that we fight too long or too directly… Most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image to boot.” – Richard Rohr, Falling Upward
My prayer is to be a Vaiṣṇava. So many places in śāstra that is defined as one who is free from the propensity to criticize others. Who else can a Vaiṣṇava be other than one who has no hate in his or her heart? I hanker for such saṅga. And by Śrīla Prabhupāda’s grace there are many such souls. I just have to be the bee that seeks the honey and not the fly that looks for the sores.
To conclude with another oft-repeated statement of mine that has no reference, but I embrace whole-heartedly:
Bhakti is simple. Even a child can do it. What is difficult is avoiding offense.”

Monday Morning Greetings #39 – You’re Wrong!

September 26th, 2016

How we fight those words even when, well… we’re obviously wrong.

It was the early morning in the sweet land of Vṛndāvana during my japa meditation. As my concentration deepened suddenly some mistakes that I made drifted into my consciousness. I could have let those thoughts go, or at least I could try to, but the nature of those thoughts were forcing me to confront those mistakes, but before the pain of admission could pinch my ego, I heard a soothing voice come to the rescue.

“It wasn’t your fault! It was circumstantial. The mistakes were exaggerated. And you have accepted responsibility. You’re so humble…”

But just as I was rationalizing my faults, a more challenging and powerful message hit me. That week I had been teaching in my daily sat-saṅga the story “The Deliverance of the Wives of the Brāhmaṇas” from the tenth canto of the Bhāgavatam. I had just lectured on the part where the learned, austere brāhmaṇas were not only awakened to their own offenses, but also to the challenging realization of how paltry their spiritual attainment was as compared to their simple wives. They condemned themselves in the harshest way:

“To hell with our being initiated priests, our vows of celibacy, and our extensive learning! To hell with our aristocratic background and our expertise in the ritual of sacrifice! These are all condemned because we are inimical to the transcendental Personality of Godhead.” – Bhāg. 10.23.40

What struck me in this story was the Sanskrit word used for remorse that I gleaned to have the same root as tapa, which means “austerity” or “heat”. At least that’s how I read it. The story thus brought to my mind the point that embracing our faults is an austerity, a practice that burns our false ego – that cherished conception of being better than others as the controller and enjoyer.

So that day as I was watching the process of rationalization co-opting any sense of remorse I thought of this pastime and was inspired to just stop rationalizing and let the acknowledgement of my blunders burn the false ego, the insidious desire to be the controller. Internally I screamed, but at the same time the holy name became more and more the focus of my consciousness as I embraced the humble position.

“You’re wrong!” Oh how we hate those words, but at the same time how good they can be for us if we accept them properly. We have studied the teachings the Gītā so many times and we abhor the self-centered. Why then should it be so difficult to hear these words even for one fairly advanced on the path?

We have come to this world to seek our pleasure from enjoyment, not love. We thus seek power in the form of wealth, education, beauty, position, and so on to conform the world to our desires and a sense of superiority. As admitting our mistakes even to one other person or just ourselves means a diminishment of status or a loss of power, we fight that conception tooth and nail, even if it belies our core values and it is unbecoming to our spiritual life.

It is so counter intuitive, but all glories to “I’m wrong!



Monday Morning Greetings #38 – The Absolute Tooth

September 19th, 2016

I have been laying in the dentist chair for almost the last two hours here in Cali, Colombia. Oscar is drilling away. If he hits a nerve, he says, I may require root canal. Not really where I want to be, but I tolerate. What’s the use of studying the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, if you don’t apply it practically in day-to-day life? The drill seems to hit a nerve. I ask for anesthesia. Some thoughts come:

  1. The day before I went to the dentist, I had just finished a five-day course on bhakti here in Shyam Ashram in Colombia. I prepared a lot for the course not wanting to lose the opportunity to give my best to people new to the subject. After finishing the course successfully, I realized that I didn’t have pressing duties or problems to minister to and that I would now be able to just concentrate on chanting and writing, things that I most like to do. I thought to myself, “Finally a rare time where the world has conformed exactly to what I want. I can now really be free to enjoy these last two weeks here.” Bam! Immediately an unexpected trip to the dentist arose. Kṛṣṇa is so kind. Even on those rare occasions when the world finally seems to conform to one’s personal desires, he won’t let his devotee become complacent and fall into the illusion that he or she is the controller. This type of enjoyment is just simply too superficial, filled with the duality of temporality, and distances oneself from the selfless happiness of the soul. The drilling got a little more intense, but I tolerated thinking, “How merciful Kṛṣṇa is that as soon as I thought I was the enjoyer, He gave me a pinch to save me from complacency in this world of birth and death.”
  2. When I came into his office Oscar (my dentist) carefully explained to me the procedure and asked me if that was OK. I told him, “I am a soul surrendered unto you!” I thought to myself that this is what Kṛṣṇa consciousness means, that in every sphere of life, and especially spiritual life, there are people who are authorities in particular subjects. They know more than others, and thus the best way to avail oneself of their knowledge is to surrender to their direction. I don’t know if he was flattering me, but when I saw Oscar the next day he reminded me of what I said and told me, “You are my best patient.”
  3. Oscar was one of my students in the bhakti course, but now I was sitting in the chair helpless and dependent on him. He was sincerely trying to help me and I felt his care and shelter. My affection for him thus increased. I thought this is analogous to our relationship with God. When we realize that we are totally dependent on God and humbly take shelter of him with the faith that whatever he does is best, then bhakti naturally arises in the heart.
  4. If I didn’t get this treatment now, it is likely that I would have had to have serious dental work, or even root canal, in Vṛndāvana. That would obviously have been substantially more inconvenient and painful. These thoughts enabled me to sit, tolerate, and be grateful to Oscar although sitting in his chair was not fun. I thought how this was also analogous to the world. We suffer here, but our suffering is only to make the future better. Thinking like this enables one to be patient and tolerant amidst difficulty.
  5. To the extent that one practices the austerity of a relatively simple life, one will be able to extract oneself from bodily identification, and will be capable of tolerating the pains and pleasures of this world. While Oscar was working away, I saw that spiritual life enabled me to tolerate and extract my self from that pain just a little more than if I carelessly indulged myself in life. I gave myself a little pat on the back, although the pain really was minimal.
  6. The expectation of the pain from the dentist drill and its disturbing shrillness was actually worse than the actual experience of it. I thought this is also like the world in general where the expectations of pain and pleasure are generally more excruciating or pleasurable than the actual experience of it. This is especially true of the sensual and egotistical pleasures of this world.
  7. American cultural imperialism — Frankly, the expertise, equipment, office and care were far above anything I experienced in America. America has good facilities, but it is overrated, especially in health care.
  8. When you are a guru and go to a devotee dentist or doctor make sure to let them know that you are not transcendental to the pains and pleasures of the body so they are more inclined to help you numb the pain and that’s the Absolute Tooth.


Dhanurdhara Swami with Oscar

Monday Morning Greetings #37 – Are Vaisnavas Democrats or Republicans?

September 12th, 2016

Do Vaiṣṇavas have an ideology? Śrīla Prabhupāda had an interesting take in reference to the great Vaiṣṇava King Yudhiṣṭhira.

“Therefore there are so many states over the earth quarrelling because of ideological differences or other selfish motives. But a king like Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira had no ideology of his own.” (Bhag. 1.10.4, Purport)

Certainly Vaiṣṇavas strongly profess a particular system of economic and political ideals, an ideology called varṇāśrama.[i] How could Śrīla Prabhupāda describe a great Vaiṣṇava as Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira as having no ideology of his own?

The reconciliation is simple. Śrīla Prabhupāda is not saying that a Vaiṣṇava doesn’t have an ideology. Rather in describing a Vaiṣṇava as “having no ideology of his own” he means that unlike most modern day conservatives or liberals a Vaiṣṇava’s “own” conditioning does not bias his or her views. Rather a Vaiṣṇava’s opinion is informed by a detached judgment based on śāstra, not a predictable prejudiced “left” or “right” response regardless of the issue.

A Vaiṣṇava’s objectivity beyond bias is also described by Śrīla Prabhupāda in reference to the rule of Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira:

“He had but to follow the instructions of the infallible Lord and the Lord’s representative and the authorized agent, Bhīṣmadeva. It is instructed in the śāstra that one should follow the great authority and infallible Lord without any personal motive and manufactured ideology.” (Bhag. 1.10.4, Purport)

A learned Vaiṣṇava can thus not be pigeon holed politically simply as “left” or “right”. Śrīla Prabhupāda is a good example. Although in one sense he could be called conservative as he often espoused traditional mores in context of culture and civilization, he wasn’t limited by that ideology either. When teaching in the west, for example, he took a more liberal approach in terms of engaging and empowering women, although certainly not to the level of unabashed feminism. In other words, his views were not informed by his own ideology “left” or “right”, but by the authority of śāstra that advocated both a strong tradition and gave leeway for its practical application in modernity. Thus when in arriving in San Francisco and being shown by the devotees an article where Allen Ginsberg commented that he was conservative, Śrīla Prabhupāda was indignant that although he was conservative in the sense of restricting sex and drugs according to śāstra, “Conservative, we are not”. He went on to describe that although traditional sannyāsis like Śrī Caitanya would not even look at a woman, that he was accepting everyone “regardless of sex, caste, and position or whatever.” And later he would even engage those same women as head pūjārīs[ii] in his temples outside of India.

Are Vaiṣṇavas Democrats or Republicans? Such limited ideology born of one’s own material conditioning is just not how a Vaiṣṇava informs his or her views, nor does a Vaiṣṇava have faith that such a limited ideological platform of “left” or “right” would ever even come close to meeting any promises for a better world.

My views on the subject 13 years ago:

Are Vaiṣṇavas Democrats or Republicans? Part I

Are Vaiṣṇavas Democrats or Republicans? Part II

[i]  The social and economic system of traditional India.

[ii] The head priest of the temple Deities.

Monday Morning Greetings #36 – Giving Birth to Devotion

September 5th, 2016

I like the analogy of devotional activities giving birth to devotion like a mother gives birth to a child. One day there is no child and suddenly one is born. In the same way, although bhakti is generally a gradual process, bhakti can one day suddenly manifest or be born as a result of powerful spiritual activities.
In one song that highlights the potency of honoring special days of the Lord, like ekādaśī and Janmāṣṭamī, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura points out the possibility of such an unexpected surge in bhakti. He sings:
mādhava-tithi (the days of Lord Hari) bhakti-jananī (gives birth to devotion)
I would like to share with you my realizations of this principle in relation to our first Janmāṣṭamī here in the beautiful Shyam Ashram in Cali, both in this short post and the accompanying pictures to the event. First some background:
Our ashram is maintained by yoga and retreats, but we have Gaura Nitāi deities, and a mandatory morning program of maṅgala-ārati and japa for our small crew of resident teachers. There is plenty sat-saṅga, teaching and hearing śāstra (sacred texts), especially when either Kaustubha, Jaya Jagannātha or myself are here and quite substantial Gītā seminars by the trained residents when we are not present. The closest thing to Shyam Ashram would be The Bhakti Center in New York, a devotional cultural center that is increasingly attracting a professional class of people. By the location of our ashram and the type of outreach we do, we seem to cater to a very established class of people that have formed our growing congregation. The nice thing here is that, unlike many places, the well-to-do people here are generally pious Catholics, stable and family oriented, and thus naturally respectful and receptive to culture and people of devotion. Now the festival:
Although it was a first here, our festival was a typical Kṛṣṇa celebration. There were plentiful and stunning floral arrangements, a well-prepared bounty of tasteful foodstuffs offered to Kṛṣṇa, non-stop and melodious kīrtan, and a colorful abhiṣeka (ceremonial bath) of our Deities. I also gave a short talk to our first time participants explaining the relevance of the function. Most importantly the ashram residents and a core congregation were engaged non-stop throughout the day in devotional service preparing the elaborate celebration. My realization:
Flowers, food, and song offered in devotion embody the devotion that is created and offered with them. To see, taste, or hear them is thus not just a sensual experience. It is also an emotional or spiritual one because they project the potency of devotion that produced them. Our new time visitors were thus transformed by the overwhelming color, flavor, and sounds of our joyous celebration. I witnessed that and many also expressed that to me. The occasion was a substantial milestone for our project.
When I walked around Shyam Ashram early the next morning I saw Ximena (one of our directors), who worked tirelessly the day before the festival helping to prepare the festivities, sweeping and mopping the floor as she was chanting joyously. She has become dedicated in devotion, but her chanting this day had a special quality and depth. As she sang I could feel the extra devotion that had been born in her heart. I immediately thought of Bhaktivinoda’s song:
mādhava-tithi (the days of Lord Hari) bhakti-jananī (gives birth to devotion)
I thus became inspired to write this post. Enjoy the pictures!
Continue Reading »

Monday Morning Greetings #35 – More is Less: The Secret of Chanting

August 29th, 2016

When I am in America and not traveling, I live in Stuyvesant Falls — a quiet, small agricultural hamlet in Upstate New York — just two hours by express train from New York City. A converted barn is my Western bhajan kuṭīra*. I naturally chant more while there. When blessed, realizations come. I will share them here.

August 7

Realization I

Today the practice was better. I was more concentrated and chanted longer in the right mood without interruption. The real test of better chanting is the benediction of realization. I had one today: More is less. I am chanting more here, quite a bit more, but it feels easier, much easier than when I do less. More feels less. Why?

The saying goes, “Time flies when you are having a good time.” What is a good time? It is not what we usually think it is, a world conforming to our desires. It means living in the soul, which first awakens in gratitude and humility. In that place, one can live for forever, for gratitude is the basis of devotion, and love is the only place one never wants to leave for someplace else.

We feel time when we dwell in the past or the future. Focused in the present there is no time. When we live in gratitude and humility we are happy and present now, otherwise we lament (for the past) or hanker (for the future) and become oppressed by time. Chanting in gratitude and humility thus transcends time. If we are not concentrated in chanting and live in the future thinking, “When will I finish my chanting,” two rounds can seem like hours or more. If we are concentrated hours of chanting will seem like moments.

Am I there? I am practicing.

But by prolonged chanting when layers of ignorance are gradually pealed away, one may glimpse the soul. One may feel gratitude and humility and want to live in that place of devotion forever. Time then stops. So by chanting more and more, one feels less. Less doesn’t mean less chanting. It means one feels less of the oppression of time. So in good chanting, more is less.

Simple choice: Concentrate or be oppressed.


Realization II

A humble soul can feel God’s mercy and therefore respond by chanting with love and devotion. Humility is thus the key to chanting. Unfortunately, I need to be beaten by the world to be humble.

How? By having to confront reality.

What is that reality? It is the stark truth that the world moves at God’s whim and that I am not in control.

That thought is unnerving – that anything can happen. And it inevitably does. What a crazy world. It is hard to take. All I can do is take shelter. But that feeling of shelter, although inspired by apprehension and fear, is the greatest solace. That is the way of the world, to push us from ego to the lap of Kṛṣṇa. And I can stay there forever chanting the holy name.


* Meditation hut or humble place where one chants and hears about Kṛṣṇa.


Monday Morning Greetings #34 – Old Soul (And Body Too)

August 22nd, 2016

I went with Jaya Jagannātha to visit someone who is perhaps New York’s oldest living servant of Śrī Śrī Rādhā Muralīdhara. When I say oldest, I am not just referring to age, now past eighty, but years at Their lotus feet, now past thirty. Jayati Rādhikā has been visiting Śrī Śrī Rādhā Muralīdhara even before The Bhakti Center or The Sanctuary (its former namesake) existed, when they resided in a humble storefront on Manhattan Avenue in Brooklyn, only eight blocks from her home. But I think she must have worshiped Them even longer than that, perhaps for many lives. I see in her all the symptoms of an old soul.
Jayati Rādhikā was not a hippy, or a straightedge, or from the yoga scene, and certainly not born in the movement, or any of the prominent sources or veins from where Hare Kṛṣṇa devotees are usually mined. She was just a simple middle class New York housewife, a mother and a dedicated registered nurse, when returning home from work in 1981 she encountered a young Hare Kṛṣṇa monk on the street and purchased from him an Easy Journey to Other Planets, one of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s first books. When she reached home she read it from cover to cover, searched the address of the nearest ISKCON center, and that same Sunday visited the Rādhā Govinda Mandir. She never looked back, even though her family, although supportive, didn’t follow her on her journey.
Jayati Rādhikā is now bed-ridden, spending her last days in an assisted living facility in Western Massachusetts near the home of her daughter, but somehow she still greeted me with that same simple smile of contentment, a beam that had endured forty-eight regimens of chemotherapy over the last sixteen years and the constant pain of rheumatoid arthritis. That same smile had also belied her condition as she regularly trekked to The Bhakti Center every Sunday all the way from her home in Howard Beach, Queens. As we began kirtan, she closed her eyes and tapped her feet under the covers. When we finished the kirtan I began to reflect.
We read about advanced yogis who have practiced santoṣa (contentment). How many of them could have endured such ardor year after year without even the slightest scent of dejection or bitterness, not even when her husband fell ill in the last few years and was incapacitated mostly under her care. I inquired:
“How did you remain so joyful over the years despite the tribulations you faced and how do you remain so now even in the face of death and distanced from the association of devotees?”
She replied in her simple and guileless brogue, “Kṛṣṇa is in charge. Leave it to Him. Everything will be OK.”
I pressed further, “But aren’t you afraid of death?”
“People ask me that all the time. Not at all. I kind of look forward to it. I just know that Kṛṣṇa is in charge and if I leave it to Him, everything will be OK. I felt that from the first day I went to the temple.”
Although she spoke with such conviction, there was no alarm or drama in her reply. It was so matter of fact, almost amused, and certainly without fear. I pondered what she shared.
“Kṛṣṇa is in charge. Leave it to Him. Everything will be OK.”
What takes a lifetime of trial to realize, what is the essence of approaching the world and death with fearlessness, what is a realization so deep that it guarantees us entrance to the kingdom of God*, and a thought so transforming that it gifts us a heart of contentment and a smile of joy, was the property of this very simple housewife from the beginning of her spiritual life. How is this possible?
This is indeed a very old soul
* See Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.14.8

Monday Morning Greetings #33 – Sixty-Five is the New Fifty

August 15th, 2016

About 25 years ago one sādhu in Vṛndāvana told me why traditionally at the age of fifty a person would start considering a life of renunciation.
“The Hindi word for fifty is pachasa. Asa means hope. At fifty, one still has hope. Hindi for fifty-one, however, is ikyavan, van means the forest.  Go to the forest, renounce life, there is no hope.”
Although I had taken sannyāsa at the age of thirty-two, even at the age of fifty it seemed as if I still had hope, ambitions, and dreams connected with garnering distinction. Old age was thus still something in the future. Marc Jacobson of the New York magazine describes this phenomenon:
“Throughout my life, there has always been a number that sounded old. When I was sixteen, it was twenty-seven; at twenty-nine it was forty-two; at thirty-eight, it was fifty-two, at sixty-five, however, it was sixty-five.”
Sixty-five means the creaky knees and bad digestion and other creeping physical anomalies. It’s destiny representing the voice of God telling you loudly that the vehicle you are riding in, in my case a vintage 1950 New Yorker, has had its days. It is the stark realization that you just can’t trust the future, for no matter how much you calculate there are just a few more years.
But for me, more than anything else, it’s the stark understanding of what death means and the fear of facing that in ignorance expressed so clearly to me by a Vaiṣṇava scholar and friend:
“The pain of death is not the physical pain. For if that becomes too intense one will either automatically go into a coma or will be medicated. The real pain is the losing of all one’s attachments at once.”
Am I ready?
Another friend related to me a sobering thought:
“What we think of at the moment at death will be what our mind spontaneously gravitates to and not what we will because our body and mind will be too disturbed. Do you want to have a glimpse of what that will be? Just look at what you dream. It is directly analogous to what you will think of at death because, like death, your thoughts are not consciously directed.”
Now that is really a sobering thought! And more sobering is the fact that what we are putting in our minds now will determine what we think of when we die. How much is about Kṛṣṇa? And what else do we put in? At sixty-five this seems to really be the challenge — to consciously re-program the mind in an even more serious way than ever before, to significantly increase the download of chanting and hearing and to ultimately gauge the success of that programming by what I am dreaming now.
It’s strange, but at sixty-five I am being called to real sannyāsa, something I took 33 years ago, and something that should have been taken at least by fifty — not just the change of cloth and a new position, but the death of the ego, the chance to die while living so that I am detached at that stark moment when everything is ripped away.
I feel the need to get serious as never before.
Sixty-five is the new fifty.

Monday Morning Greetings #32 – Why I Write Monday Morning Greetings Every Week Without Fail

August 8th, 2016

  1. I write in service to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission to help transform people by educating them in spiritual values. Succinct, clearly expressed thoughts that are based on sacred texts are a very effective way to do this.
  1. Much of today’s communication on important topics, even in spiritual societies, is too polemical. I strongly feel the world needs voices of reason. I try my best to do that.
  1. One can’t write a meaningful article every week if he doesn’t have realizations. Writing forces me to practice spiritual life seriously. Otherwise there will be very little of substance to say and that’s hard for me to tolerate.
  1. To write effectively means to channel something beyond one’s abilities. Every good writer intuitively understands this. I understand this channel as God in the heart. I thus write for communion with God and to bolster my faith.
  1. I have responsibility for students. To move forward in spiritual life they need a regular dose of  “good ideas” to dwell on. I write to meet my responsibilities as a guide.
  1. I don’t work outside for living, raise a family, have many disciples, or have consuming managerial responsibilities. The voice of destiny dictates that I take up this service to stay fully engaged in service.

And another’s perspective on why one writes:


For You

By Madan Oppenheimer
I write for you seekers,
for I’m one of you;
I share things found on the way.
I search for the exit,
the way out of matter;
imprisoned in night and day.
I try to be honest,
and filter out falsehood;
for me life isn’t a game.
I write for you seekers
so I’ll feel less lonely;
I’m hoping you’ll feel the same.

Monday Morning Greetings #30 – A Sannyasi Walks onto a Train and Meets a Girl

July 25th, 2016

A Sannyāsi* Walks onto a Train and Meets a Girl

I can’t remember the exact train or time, but I do remember the girl. It was about two months ago on a crowded train from DC to New York. I got on early to get a window seat and hopefully sit by myself. A few minutes before the train was about to leave, I saw a young girl in her early twenties with much effort dragging her suitcase down the aisle. She was visibly exhausted and stopped when she got to my seat. Some good Samaritans helped her put her luggage up and she plopped down in the seat next to me. Seeing her condition, I guessed she didn’t have enough energy to go further. Otherwise why would she choose to sit down next to a fellow in robes and tilak. As she slumped down into the chair she frantically searched for a snack from her bag. It was as if she needed to eat something just to get enough energy to survive her ordeal. I overheard her on the phone: “I made it Mom. I’m OK.” Well, there goes my privacy, I thought. I continued my work.

The train drove out of the station only about five minutes when she mustered up just enough energy to ask me if I was a monk. We talked and I heard her very sad story.

She was a successful, young, athletic and gifted college student, who even managed to maintain her devout Catholicism in school, when she was ravaged by a severe case of chronic Lyme disease. She almost died twice, but her devoted parents stood by her side and nursed her to life. After a long bout fighting the disease she finally had enough energy, barely, to go by train and visit her boyfriend in Albany, also a pious Catholic from New England who had the character and devotion to stay with her. I don’t remember the details, but she suffered hell, and still does. Only her faith in God carried her through her trials with even a glimmer of hope and purpose. I encouraged her faith, which she said not many people do, and offered a few words of wisdom from what I learned from my revered teacher. She was grateful and took my card. Yesterday I received a letter from her. I thought what she wrote would be meaningful reading for our Monday Morning Greeting audience.


  This is Grace, from the Amtrak train, back in early May. I’m so sorry about the long delay in messaging. I have been meaning to write but keep getting distracted. (One of the many things I’m working on :).

  I wanted to keep in touch and tell you how much our conversation meant to me. I think you were right when you said God sat us together for a reason. As I mentioned on the train, I have been very sick with Lyme disease for many years now. It has tested me in many ways, but this experience has made me stronger both mentally and spiritually. It was such a blessing to talk to someone else who had an understanding of something greater.

  Many friends tell me they have no idea what to say to me, and many doctors similarly, tell me they don’t know what to do for me. I know God has all the answers and can heal me. Still, I have prayed so hard for God to let me meet someone “who knows more than I do.” I definitely feel that prayer was answered by sitting next to you. It was amazing how little we discussed the details of the illness, yet I felt so many of my questions were answered.

  It felt like a holiday having a conversation that lacked “small talk” and as I like to call it, “interviewing dialogue.” You seemed aware of my stress and physical ailment without me needing to explain it. I cannot tell you how happy and understood that made me feel. This may sound really silly but I’m usually the “you” in conversations. Picking up on signs such as, stress, mood, state; all while listening to the person. Receiving that sort of attention and understanding back was a true blessing I will always cherish.

  Since our train ride, I’ve been focusing more on getting off medications and healing naturally. It is difficult. It takes a lot of persistence and prayer but I know it’s what I’m supposed to do.

  I’ve been finding a lot of answers through Ayurvedic medicine. It just kind of makes sense to me if you know what I mean. I love all the warming spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, turmeric, and others. I’ve been cooking more often and supplementing with many herbs and vitamins. I’ll often read about natural healing methods and great herbs later to find it’s often used in Ayurvedic healing. I’m just trusting in God that what I find is what I’m supposed to do.

  Lastly, I wanted to ask a few questions. You mentioned meditating and prayer to me. At risk of sounding cliché or stereotyping does your meditation focus on breathing? Such as in yoga? Do you do yoga? I know there are different types. I’m finding my greatest struggle is the breathing. I’m having an incredibly hard time with it. I get tightness, headaches, stomach aches, etc. A lot of people talk about the breathing, but I haven’t found anything helpful yet. I’m not sure if you have any advice. However, if you have any input at all I’d to hear it. I feel my inability to truly breathe may be inhibiting my healing process.  

  Lastly, I wanted to tell you again how happy I am to have met you. You opened up my mind to many new ideas as well as confirmed many of my own beliefs. It was so good to talk about God with another person. Thank you so much for the prayers. I feel my body getting stronger and know that God is working.

  Please do not take the delay in this email as a lack of interest. I’ve written and edited it so many times and finally told myself enough is enough. I would love to hear back from you whenever you’re free. I’ll definitely do my best to reply much, much sooner. I hope you are doing well and I’ll keep you in my prayers as well.

 Thanks so much,

That’s about it. I am just happy that I can share with others what I learned in my studies and life and meet such good people as Grace. I also wanted to ask my audience to pray for her. Grace is a very sincere soul who wants God and wouldn’t mind good health to serve Him. Thanks for listening.

*A Hindu celibate monk.


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