Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My Mind is Yours, Lord Ganesha

Namaste readers, I'm not sure what inspired me to do so tonight, but I recently looked up what Hindu perspectives on mental illness were. The things I found were...interesting, though I'm not sure what to make of them.

For instance, I looked in an article in the very issue of Hinduism Today that I got published in, one that deals with Hindu perspectives on modern medicine. When I got to the section on mental health, I came across this passage which I found a little shocking:

"Many Hindus attach a stigma to mental illness and cognitive dysfunction. Many have a strong belief in the concept of the evil eye and may believe this to be a cause of mental illness."

To be honest, I'm not sure how true this is, at least in my case. Maybe my experience has been different because I've used my faith in Hinduism to try to combat my mental illness. If mental illness is indeed stigmatized in Hindu society, my guess is that it's more indicative of humanity's universal stigmatization of "different" individuals than as a result of Hindu religious doctrine. After all, even in Christianity it took a long time for churches, Catholic and Protestant alike, to recognize psychiatry and psychology as legitimate medical disciplines.

It is thanks to Hinduism that I've made strides in treating my own mental health, thanks to many factors such as the concept of dharma, the notion of replacing divine punishment with the math of karma, and of course my real life Hindu friends. But I still have a long ways to go, especially when it comes to those moments when I sink into an emotional abyss. There are times when I want to say to people "I can't get over it" in reference to my mental illness, but I've realized that it's not a matter of "curing" myself - it's a matter of accepting myself.

Perhaps that is why I feel so attracted to the Gods Ganesha and Saraswati...I need to know myself to accept myself. Sometimes, though, my mind works in ways I cannot fathom. It's times like this I wish Lord Ganesha and/or Goddess Saraswati would control my mind. I don't want to surrender my free will, mind you, but rather have them eliminate my mental flaws for me.

I don't know how to fight my inner demons effectively...which is why I pray for them to fight them for me. I have faith that they will succeed...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Book Review (Sort Of): The Science of Self-Realization

Namaste readers! Today I'm going to do something sort of useful with this blog, and review a book. This is a book I've had for a while and even though I've read it a long time ago I've only gotten around to writing this review now. Go figure. Anyway, the book I shall review is none other than The Science of Self-Realization by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (whew!). However, as I'm no expert on Hinduism, I can't really judge the worth of this book to those practicing Hinduism, and I can't really comment on the organization that published it, ISKCON (acronym for the International Society for Krishna CONsciousness). Therefore I put "Sort Of" in the title of this blog post to indicate that I'm not trying to be any sort of authority figure on this book or the subjects it covers.

However, I do feel I have some insights into this book that I think are worth sharing. For instance, the format of the book is a very good one - it's a compilation of articles, letters, and other writings either written by or about Swami Prabhupada that have been collected over the years before the first printing of the book. It actually makes it easier to read, contrary to what you might think, as even though the articles are grouped according to topic, you can go back and forth to whichever articles you want to read, in any order, and since they're all self-contained (after a fashion) you won't miss anything by jumping between them. It's like the perfect setup for those with short attention spans. I don't know if that says more about us readers in the USA or the authors of the book, but it still works.

Even though the book is set up this way, it still tells a cohesive story, at least in my view. Most of the articles in the book have something to do with Swami Prabhupada's attempts to spread the views of ISKCON in the United States. Many of the writings he pens in this regard express...deep reservations about even coming to the United States, and in one entry he even asks Lord Krishna, "why have You brought me to this terrible place?" In a later entry, though, he says in all the Western countries he's visited, ISKCON has been most successful in the United States. Take that as you will...personally, I like to think of this occurrence as proof that Sanatana Dharma is for everyone (i.e. for everyone who wants it), and anyone can have his or her heart opened to it. It's certainly a good takeaway message if there ever was one!

Lastly, even though I personally don't follow ISKCON, this book is still worth reading in that it espouses truths that are universal to every religion, not just Hinduism and ISKCON. The methods to find and realize God are different for every religion, but the end result is the same. I know Swami Prabhupada is one of the more controversial figures in Hinduism (or so I've heard...he's said some controversial things), but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Not saying Swami Prabhupada is a stopped clock, mind you - just saying despite his more controversial statements, he still says some things that are correct. Kind of like me and this blog. :-)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Something to Remember During These Times

Namaste readers,

I don't know how many of you have heard of the tragedy in Boston today. I'm going to ask that you look it up on Google if you're unaware...I don't feel like posting what happened again in my blog.

However, what I am going to post is a very good point raised by comedian Patton Oswalt. This was shared with me via a friend who follows Patton Oswalt's Facebook page, and I'm re-posting it here because it's very true, very well stated, and very well needed to be said in times like this.

Please read the whole thing, and share if you can. I know that sounds like a cliche mass email command, but I think in the case of something so true as this it's worth it.

Again, all credit for the following goes to Patton Oswalt:

Boston. Fucking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, "Well, I've had it with humanity."

But I was wrong. I don't know what's going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here's what I DO know. If it's one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."
Namaste - I look to the divine in all of you - and stay good, my friends.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Brief Rant on Global Warming

Namaste readers, in this post of Light Club I'm going to briefly talk about global warming. First of all, yes, I know global warming exists. I know it's real, man-made, and a threat to humanity.

But to turn it into a sensational, ratings-boosting profit vehicle by publishing doomsday proclamations and prophecies based on it is nothing short of unethical, in my humble opinion. I mean, have you looked on the Weather Channel's website lately? It's full of sensationalist apocalyptic stories based on the scenarios now being played out by global warming. Regardless of whether or not these stories are true (and they most likely are, sadly), the writing style and promotion of them reeks of Yellow Journalism.

Yes, global warming is a real threat that needs to be acted upon, and soon. But do we have to resort to such crude, unethical tactics to move the general public to action now? Perhaps the editors at the Weather Channel website have no faith in humanity, but their point gets lost when they lose their humanity in sensationalist doom-mongering.

If this is what it takes to move humanity into taking on global warming, then the cause is already lost.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Something About Bharatanatyam Clears My Mind

Namaste readers! This post has to deal with Indian classical dance, more specifically the portion of it known as Bharatanatyam. I'm posting on this because I had the pleasure recently to attend a Bharatanatyam performance in my local area.

According to those who practice and teach Bharatanatyam, there is a heavy spiritual aspect to the dance. As someone who watches it, and especially as a Westerner trying to embrace Hinduism, I would have to agree. I know there may be issues with that perspective - I've learned that sometimes the societal position with which I gaze at Bharatanatyam performance (or any other cultural aspect of a culture I'm not a part of) can tarnish my perception, and by extension my soul. I can accept that, but I want to emphasize that I genuinely want to appreciate (not covet, there's a huge difference) the beauty of the art form.

I think there's evidence that I can truly appreciate this ancient art: for example, I try to promote such events in local publications when I can, or otherwise help out with these events in ways which I'm capable. A couple of performers I know have appreciated my efforts in that regard, and I am grateful for their appreciation. But my ultimate test comes in terms of my mind and what it comes away with from the performance.

What does my mind take away? It takes away stillness and clarity. I say that because whenever my mind watches this art form, it becomes still, able to observe itself objectively. Does my mind wander when I observe Bharatanatyam performance? Yes, it does...but I'm able to observe this wandering, and for once accept that it happens, not to judge myself for it. After all, thoughts only get power if you let them gain it by focusing on them. As for clarity, this has to do with what I mentioned earlier about trying to promote these events; I feel that by trying to do my best to help these events out, I can look at my mind clearly and accept that yes, I do have a place in this world, somehow. Am I fulfilling this role perfectly? Of course not. But I still work at it, and that's what matters.

I certainly hope that my service genuinely helps Bharatanatyam in my area...because watching it certainly helps me.

Friday, April 5, 2013

By Popular Demand

Namaste readers,

I know many readers have complained about the black background of my previous blog layout. However, I couldn't find a suitable replacement until now, when I came across the beautiful picture of Lord Ganesha that you now see on the background before you. I forget who is the artist behind the piece, but the picture belongs to the Sanatan Society, and right on their website it says this picture is royalty-free and can be used in this manner. So kudos to them for providing free art to devotees. :-)

Monday, April 1, 2013

A New York Minute - My Guru Story

Namaste readers...I'm typing this at 3:30 AM Eastern Time in the US, so if I'm a bit incoherent, it's because I'm sleep-deprived. Moving on...

Some of you readers know that I follow the Art of Living and have His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as my guru. Well, this weekend in New York City, I got to meet him in person, if only for a minute. True story, and yes, I mean it. I met Guruji (as Art of Living followers affectionately call him) for a New York minute.

Even though it was only for a minute, I feel like I've walked away with something awesome. I have a story to tell, right now, and even though I forget what Gonzo Journalism is right now in my sleep-deprived state, maybe this can qualify, because this story was a roller-coaster for me, and I realize that's the hallmark of any good story. This one was a doozy, but it was worth it.

The reason I feel this way is because I've had both extremes of emotion during my trip. The time I met Guruji was in the Art of Living Center in New York City, where he held a satsang for volunteers who worked on the Non-Vio launch event earlier that day. On this particular day, I was anxious, but open to being happy, for lack of a better term. To quote the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was a man on the move, and just sick enough to be totally confident.

At the satsang, he greeted everyone who showed up, but for me, he stopped for that proverbial New York minute, and the (very short) conversation that followed went like this:

"How are you doing?" asked Guruji.

"Good," I replied tentatively.

"Are you happy?" Guruji asked me, with what seemed like genuine curiosity.

I must've resembled a deer in headlights for a moment, but I managed to stammer out "uh, yes!" He moved on at that point.

He gave a talk, which I don't remember too clearly at this moment, but as he was leaving the building like Elvis Presley, I managed to get his attention for one last statement from me - "yes, I'm happy!" If I wasn't earlier, I certainly was then.

The next day I went to the Non-Vio volunteer convention in New Jersey. That day, for reasons I can't clearly remember, I wasn't quite as receptive to being happy. In fact, as Guruji was giving darshan near the end to all the people crowding to get to him, I couldn't take the animated crowd and all the commotion. I developed a bona-fide panic attack and had to leave the presentation hall. The rest of the day afterwards, I was so on edge and anxious I could not calm down for the longest time.

No I was not happy that day. But I still thought on what Guruji asked me the day before - "are you happy?" With the overall experience of the trip, I'd say a resounding yes. If only for a moment, I was able to step outside my comfort zone, even though I couldn't do so for two days straight. For a New York minute, I felt like I truly went Gonzo...whatever that means.

I accomplished something. Maybe it didn't have quite the happy ending I was looking for, but the story still makes me happy for the fact that I can tell it.