Friday, December 21, 2007

Tonight on CNN...

Hare Krishna. The ISKCON Communications blog has been out of commission for some months; we are re-tooling and putting our energies into creating an informative website (which will include a blog) for IC. In the mean time, here is some news...

Yesterday afternoon, I got a call from a producer at CNN. She asked me to be a guest on a live Holiday Show, hosted by Christian speaker and journalist Roland Martin, on the subject of Christmas and the culture wars. The show is called "What Would Jesus Really Do?" and I will be part of a panel of representatives from other (i.e. - non-Christian) faith traditions.

The show is live, and is on tonight (12/21) and possiblly will be replay on Christmas Eve (12/24) at 8pm EST. Not sure about international airing.

I am excited and more than a little nervous. I've done media interviews on TV and radio before. But still, each time is like the first. The butterflies are already holding a Ratha Yatra festival in my stomach. Oh, and let's not forget... CNN is CNN.

I want to speak with integrity, warmth, and honesty. I want to communicate the essence of my faith's spiritual message, and do so in a way that comes from the heart as much as it does from my mouth. I want to be an instrument.

Dear reader, I know that I haven't been the best at keeping up my end of this blog relationship. Okay, okay: so I've been downright neglectful. But I hope that you will find it in your heart to tune in and say a prayer for me tonight. Under the glare of the hot lights, with cameras aimed at me, and knowing that millions (?) of people are watching me from the comfort of their living room couches... I will need all the prayers I can get.

More later, if I survive...


thank you for your patience


This Blog is under heavy construction. We will return soon with fresh news and views (and maybe a new address). Til then, please check back for updates and pardon our mess.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Closed for Summer

Hare Krishna! Apologies to the regular readers of the ISKCON Communications Blog for not having posted in quite some time. I have been in Italy - first for an ISKCON Studies Institute conference, and then for some personal holiday time. The trip has been wonderful on many levels, but my expectations that I would have time to blog and a dependable internet connection have both proven unrealistic.

Here in Italy, I have noticed that life moves at a different pace than it does in North America. For instance, walking and bicycling is more common, meals can last several hours, and it is not frowned upon for grown adults to make time for naps in the middle of the day. Along those lines, I have also noticed that a lot of businesses and services simply close shop during these - the hottest, slowest days of summer. I have even started to get used to the simple handwritten signs on the doors of shops, cafés, or offices: <chiuso per ferie> aka closed for summer.

Unapologetic, in August many Italians pack up, flee the cities, and head for the mountains and seaside for some needed rejuvenation. And the unadorned notes they leave behind simply state the truth - "We are taking a break right now. We will be back soon enough. The world will not fall apart without us here, nor will anyone forget about us. We need this time to ourselves, but we will serve you again."

Readers, please consider this blog post my "closed for summer" sign for the IC blog. I hope that when I am back in the States and have had a chance to catch my breath and deal with the overflow of emails awaiting me, I can get back to blogging with a new passion. I'm also excited to explore some new ideas - like making this IC a team blog and building a first-draft IC website.

But all of that will happen, I hope, in due time. Til then, please excuse the locks on the door and shutters on the windows.

Vyenkata Bhatta dasa

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Washington Post story on ISKCON's response to Hindu Prayer Disruption

This story appeared in the Washington Post, page A4, on Friday, July 27. I had worked with the reporter, Michelle Boorstein to help communicate ISKCON's response to the disruption of Hindu prayer. The article focuses on that fact that ISKCON Communications was one of the groups who wrote to political leaders to encourage them to support the Hindu community and condemn the bigotry.

Here is the article:

Hindu Groups Ask '08 Hopefuls to Criticize Protest

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2007; Page A04

U.S. Hindu organizations are urging presidential candidates to denounce the protesters who disrupted the Senate as the first-ever Hindu opening prayer was being delivered this month.

Ante Nedlko Pavkovic, Katherine Lynn Pavkovic and Christan Renee Sugar -- identified in the Christian media as a couple and their daughter -- were removed from the Senate floor and arrested by Capitol Police on July 12 after they began shouting, "This is an abomination," and asking for forgiveness from God.

The three, from Davidson, N.C., were arrested and charged with disrupting Congress, a misdemeanor.

A brief prayer was then delivered by Rajan Zed, a chaplain from Reno who was invited by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

Several Christian organizations spoke out against the prayer, before and after it was delivered. The American Family Association circulated a petition, urging its members to contact their senator to protest the prayer. "This is not a religion that has produced great things in the world," it read. The Rev. Flip Benham of Operation Rescue/Operation Save America issued a statement saying the prayer placed "the false god of Hinduism on a level playing field with the One True God, Jesus Christ."

Although the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington issued a statement July 17 saying its members were "deeply saddened" by the interruption, no senators present spoke out against it publicly, according to the Hindu American Foundation and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

Both organizations said they are disappointed with the legislators, and they sent letters this week to presidential candidates and senators, asking them to condemn the incident.

"We call on you to follow the example set by [Reid] and take a stance in defense of religious freedom and equality, in the face of opposition from extremists and fundamentalists," the ISKCON letter said.

A focus of the Christian organizations was the perception that Hindus are polytheistic. "Our national motto isn't 'In gods we trust,' " Janet L. Folger, president of Faith2Action, said the day before the Senate prayer.

However, the U.S. Hindu groups say this criticism reflects ignorance of the monotheistic underpinnings of their faith. Hinduism has many deities, all manifestations of one god.

Although there were only three protesters, said Ishani Chowdhury, executive director of the Hindu American Foundation, "if you look at it as a reflection of a larger number of people . . . we need people to condemn what happened and highlight the need for dialogue."

According to the foundation, there are 2 million Hindus in the United States.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Srila Prabhupada: "This Krishna consciousness movement is not a concocted idea..."

With Hindu prayers in the Senate, and the Hindu American Foundation including the persecution of devotees in Kazakhstan in their Human Rights report... some may wonder about ISKCON's relationship with the Hindu world.

That's a big subject, but one aspect of it is that sometimes devotees use Hinduism as a context to help others appreciate that Krishna consciousness is rooted in an ancient tradition, not a new-fangled cult. For instance, for years at the American Academy of Religion (AAR, the yearly convention of religion scholars) ISKCON and Caitanya Vaisnavism was discussed mostly in the "New Religious Movements" category. Today, due to the work of devotees in this area, the Hare Krishna movement is more likely to be discussed in the Hindu Studies or Eastern Religions section.

In this letter published in the Los Angeles Times, Srila Prabhupada refutes a claim (made by a professor at UCLA) that Krishna consciousness is a new concoction or a syncretic blending of Hindu and Christian traditions. Instead, Prabhupada points out, the worship of a personal Godhead (Krishna or Vishnu) has existed in the Hindu religion for thousands of years. Interestingly, here Prabhupada uses the context of Hinduism to help others (especially those in the academic community) better appreciate that Krishna worship is an authentic faith:

January 14, 1970
Los Angeles Times

Dear Sir:

With reference to your article in the Los Angeles Times dated Sunday, January 11, 1970, under the heading "Krishna Chant," I beg to point out that the Hindu religion is perfectly based on the personal conception of God, or Vishnu. The impersonal conception of God is a side issue, or one of the three features of God. The Absolute Truth is ultimately the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Paramatma conception is the localized aspect of His omnipresence, and the impersonal conception is the aspect of His greatness and eternity. But all these combined together make the Complete Whole. Dr. J. F. Staal's statement that the Krishna cult is a combination of Christian and Hindu religion, as if something manufactured by concoction, is not correct. If Christian, Muhammadan, or Buddhist religions are personal, that is quite welcome. But the Krishna religion has been personal from a time long, long ago when Christian, Muhammadan, and Buddhist religions had not yet come into existence. According to the Vedic conception, religion is basically made by the personal God as His laws. Religion cannot be manufactured by man or anyone except God superior to man. Religion is the law of God only.

Unfortunately, all the svamis who came before me in this country stressed the impersonal aspect of God, without sufficient knowledge of God's personal aspect. In the Bhagavad-gita, therefore, it is said that only less intelligent persons consider that God is originally impersonal but assumes a form when He incarnates. The Krishna philosophy, however, based on the authority of the Vedas, is that originally the Absolute Truth is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. His plenary expansion is present in everyone's heart in His localized aspect, and the impersonal Brahman effulgence is the transcendental light and heat distributed everywhere. In the Bhagavad-gita it is clearly said that the aim of the Vedic way of searching out the Absolute Truth is to find the personal God. One who is satisfied only with the other aspects of the Absolute Truth, namely the Paramatma feature or the Brahman feature, is to be considered possessed of a poor fund of knowledge. Recently we have published our Sri Isopanisad, a Vedic literature, and in this small booklet we have thoroughly discussed this point.

As far as the Hindu religion is concerned, there are millions of Krishna temples in India, and there is not a single Hindu who does not worship Krishna. Therefore, this Krishna consciousness movement is not a concocted idea. We invite all scholars, philosophers, religionists, and members of the general public to understand this movement by critical study. And if one does so seriously, one will understand the sublime position of this great movement. The chanting process is also authorized.

Professor Staal's feeling of disgust in the matter of constant chanting of the holy name of Krishna is a definite proof of his lack of knowledge in this authorized movement of Krishna consciousness. Instead of turning down the request to give Kary's course credit, he and all other learned professors of the University of California at Berkeley should patiently hear about the truth of this authorized movement so much needed at present in godless society. [Credit for the course was later established.]

This is the only movement which can save the confused younger generation. I shall invite all responsible guardians of this country to understand this transcendental movement and then give us all honest facilities to spread it for everyone's benefit.

A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
Spiritual Master of the Hare Krishna Movement

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Connecting with God in Crisis

I stumbled across some advice for dealing with crises of faith on Jewcy, a hipster Jewish community blog. I found it interesting for a few reasons:

  1. In advising Jews to not abandon their communities, the author begins with the blunt (actually, kind of rude) sentence: "Hare Krishna is not a good idea." Okay, so I'm tempted to be maha-offended, except that I try to understand it in context. First of all, the point being made (communicated cheekily, to be sure) is that in times of theological doubt don't be quick to jump ship and switch teams. Fair enough. And the fact that so many young Jews -- presumably some of whom went through theological crises beforehand -- did join ISKCON in the 1960s and 1970s makes it understandable why some Jewish people might harbor some particular mistrust toward us.
  2. A few paragraphs later, the author recommends that the crisis-faring Jew try yoga. Ring, ring, ring. What was that? I'm sorry I couldn't hear you, my irony alarm was ringing too loudly.
  3. Despite #1 and #2, it is the type of down-to-earth, simple, well-written advice that I'd like to see more of circulated within Krishna conscious circles.
Til then, I'm going to "Krishna-ize" this list. Yes, that means I will just jack the list and search replace KC terms for all of the Jewish ones. Bear with me.

(And if you'd like to see the list as it is, check it out here.) Okay, here it goes...

For a number of reasons I’m friends with a lot of people who are constantly being tormented by crises of faith. There are smart, educated, engaged Hare Krishnas who are passionate about Krishna consciousness most days-- until they find themselves rubbing up against the edges of acceptability within their own communities. Maybe they fall in love with someone who’s not a devotee. Maybe they become frustrated by a closed-minded understanding of sastric criticism. Maybe they have had a bad experience with a senior devotee, guru, or temple president. Maybe onion rings suddenly look really appealing. Whatever the impetus, the crisis it brings on is intense and frustrating. Men and women who have devoted years of their lives to Vaishnava study and education, who are active members of a community, who regularly pray, give donations to the temple, and are involved in various devotional programs, suddenly lose motivation, and feel alienated and angry. And for a few days, or a few weeks, or months, or years, they distance themselves from everything that they once used to identify themselves. Depending on their background, their families begin to freak out. Some of their friends edge away, suddenly uncomfortable with someone they’ve known for years.

Freak.  Out.: It's normal

Freak. Out.: It's normal

1. Don’t abandon your community
Chances are, this crisis is a temporary thing. Though you’re feeling tormented today, by next Wednesday, or a month from now, or next year, you’ll be over it. You might not end up in exactly the same place as you have been, but just in case, it’s important to maintain a connection to your community—whether it’s a temple, a bhakti vriksha group, a group of godbrothers and sisters, or the devotees in your neighborhood. You want to keep these people around for practical reasons . They will feed and comfort you in times of crisis, and cheer you on when things are going swimmingly. Alienating them will only end up badly. If you really can’t stand to attend Sunday Feasts anymore, or you’ve decided that gurukula ruined your life and you refuse to go back for a reunion, try to do something that keeps you in the loop—even if it means you’re consciously shifting yourself into a less public or involved position. Show up just for mangala arati on a weekday. Have prasadam with old devotee friends. Keep in mind that many of your friends have gone through similar ordeals, and they’re probably willing to be pretty tolerant of whatever you need to do or not do. As long as you don’t bring the onion rings to a home program, there’s no reason you can’t maintain your position in the community.

2. Don’t join another community right away
Returning to your Jewish roots is not a good idea. :-) Having a crisis at the Sunday Feast and then leaving Monday morning to run off with the circus is probably not going to turn out well. Respect the speed of your own transition, and accept that you may need some space from any kind of theological community for awhile.

3. Don’t use this time to experiment with new substances
Replacing a Krishna habit with a crack habit is probably not going to work out well for you.

4. Consider Krishna
For some reason, most of my friends who struggle with the pulls of Krishna consciousness and modernity don’t consider their struggles to have much to do with Krishna at all. And that confuses me, because it seems like Krishna is at the center of Krishna consciousness, and if I’m having a problem with Krishna consciousness it’s because I’m having a problem with either my own or someone else’s interpretation of what Krishna wants. Think about where Krishna fits into your religious life, and think about allowing space for a God that trusts you to live your life the best way you can. Consider that you might let Krishna down without being cast to the Hellish Planets. Consider how much you care about letting Krishna down—if at all. (I don’t mean this in a pretentious way. I frequently decide that I just couldn't do whatever I think Krishna expected of me. And I’m sorry about it, but I accept it, and move on, and hope that next time I’m more up to the challenge). If you don’t believe in Krishna anymore, try and pin down why, and whether or not you still want to be around/involved with people who don’t feel the same way. Just because you have doubts, doesn't mean that you cannot stay within the shelter of a devotional community.

5. Work out
Okay, this is kind of cheesy, but I find that going to the gym makes me feel calmer and more able to deal with my problems no matter what kind of crap is going down in my religious, academic or personal life. If you’re not too intimidated or annoyed by the idea of a hatha yoga class, I highly recommend them. To find a yoga studio near you, try talking with devotees who are involved in the yoga scene -- many of them incorporate bhakti-yoga and can also provide a devotional mood.

6. State your needs
I’m big on just asking for what you want instead of beating around the bush. When your theology is falling apart, think about what you want from religion. Do you want a comforting picture of the afterlife? Do you want Vedic culture and no religion whatsoever? Do you want to chant in kirtan, but no sense of obligation to the rules and regulations? Do you want the advantages of being a member of a tight-knit community? When you can state clearly what you really want from Krishna consciousness, and what you don’t want, too, then you can start looking for ways to maintain your identity as a devotee without ignoring the problems that brought you to the edge of your faith.

7. Stop worrying about being a hypocrite
Everyone’s a hypocrite. You need to be honest and dignified with yourself, but it’s completely reasonable to say something along the lines of, “I think the Vedic standards are really important, and not something that I’m comfortable disregarding, but I’m in favor of gay rights, gay marriage, and gay pride.” Accepting that you’re going to struggle with something is a nice way of keeping your head from exploding.

8. Respect your own decisions, and everyone else’s, too
You might decide that you can’t participate in a community because of its position on women, homosexuality, social justice, how to follow ekadasi…whatever. Flaunting your new self in the faces of former friends and acquaintances is a quick and easy way to burn bridges and look like an idiot. Try to be cool with people whose journeys haven’t coincided with yours. If you need to, I recommend spewing hatred into a journal. Harmless, but highly effective.

9. Seriously, chill out
It happens to the best of us.

originally by Tamar Fox; conversion by VBD

Monday, July 16, 2007


Check out this Day in Pictures from BBC News. (Click on Number 4.)

Just a little reminder that even in a day filled with heat waves, soccer games, forest fires, and political milestones, the Lord of the Universe finds a way to keep on smiling for the cameras.