sri vyasa puja: #ddsvp2014

yesterday was the celebration of my guru's birthday, otherwise called sri vyasa puja. it was a great day spent glorifying his kindness and mercy. here is my offering to him for this year.


Dearest Srila Guru Maharaj,

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada. All glories to you!

As I write this, it has been less than a week since I was fortunate to spend the weekend in your association at the annual Bhakti Immersion retreat. As I’ve settled back (unfortunately) into material life and the spiritual haze has (unfortunately) lifted, I keep coming back to one moment during the weekend…

It is late Sunday morning – the last maha-kirtan of the weekend. I am standing in the back, not dancing in ecstasy like everyone else. Though I am chanting and clapping, I am mostly just watching. Towards the end you come over to me and tell me how happy you are that I am here. At first I think you are probably just saying this to be polite – not that I am doubting your sincerity, but it is more that my insecurity tells me there’s no reason for you to actually be happy about me being around. But then you say something that is so simple, but goes right to my heart: “You’re really a part of this now. I’m so glad because this is what I’m about,” you say as you point to the kirtan, “this is who I am!”  I choke back tears. I’ve done nothing to deserve such kindness. This is truly your mercy.

When one first gets to Vrndavan sometimes the actual arrival is mundane – perhaps just pulling up in a Tata Sumo and finding a room at the MVT. But you always say that a person has to actually enter the dhama – through kirtan and sincere prayer. And that moment, when it actually happens – entering into the dhama – is an amazing feeling. That’s what this moment from the retreat felt like – as if I had entered, somehow, some deep part of our spiritual relationship.

I have struggled a lot recently with the idea of bhakti as love, and what that means in a practical way and also spiritually. I heard several times over the days of the retreat how this bhakti-love is not a feeling that washes over you like in an illusory romantic kind of way, but that it is cultivated and develops over time. I often doubt whether I am capable of giving or receiving such a deep kind of love. It seems so complicated and unreachable. And just see how easily you gave it to me.
I feel like I say this every year, but it is truly the thing I am most grateful for: Thank you, Guru Maharaj, for never giving up on me and keeping me around, despite my attempted escapes. I can only pray to continue to receive your mercy and love.

Always your servant,

Kadamba Mala devi dasi

photo by kisori radha devi dasi. the look on maharaja's face cracks me up!


a book review: the palace of illusions by chitra banerjee divakaruni

here's something I don't usually do: a book review.


well, actually, if you already know the story of the mahabharata, one of india's oldest and longest epics, then there really isn't much to spoil. if you aren't familiar with the story, this might give a few things away, though maybe not too. but what I will warn is that some of the things that I will talk about don't happen in the real mahabharat, so that might spoil a few things if you're going to read it. 

the other thing I want to say before I do my little review is that there are two ways to look at the story of the mahabharat: reality or mythology. the book I am reviewing here, the palace of illusions, has "a novel" as its subtitle, which indicates that it is meant to be read as fiction. that's cool. I get that. personally, I believe the mahabharat is a true historical story. I also believe krishna is god, soooo, those things kind of go together. some people don't believe that and approach this story and the included sub-stories as fiction. I respect that. it's just like people who don't believe the bible is historical. but I think it's important for you, my dear reader, to know that I don't have that view. just, you know, to set the tone.

I'll present my review in two sections - what I liked and what I didn't like. but first, here's a little background.

in the palace of illusions divakaruni presents the story of the mahabharat from draupadi's point of view. she is one of the main heroines of the mahabharat story. it is told from her perspective from the time she is born until she leaves the earth. if you want a true synopsis of the book, you can follow the link to amazon. but this is pretty much the most important piece - that draupadi tells the story.

I believe in saying something nice before giving criticism, so here is what I liked about the book:

divakaruni is an amazing wordsmith. the entire book is so poetic - but not in an unapproachable way. and I loved (for the most part) draupadi's narrator voice and the energy she carried throughout the novel. I've only read kamala subramaniam's translation, which is a very easy read and I highly recommend, but poetic is one thing it is not. I haven't read krishna dharma's verison either, but I've read bits and pieces and felt like it tried hard to be more poetic than subramaniam's, but falls short. so I really appreciated the over-all flow and tone of divakaruni's telling.

I also liked how she didn't end the book after the war at kuruksetra. she brought it through to the end of draupadi's life, with nice details, including draupadi meditating on krishna at the time of death. I really liked that.

here's what I didn't like:

I know that this was meant to be a novel and a piece of fiction - a "half myth" as is stated in the amazon synopsis, but divakaruni takes some liberties that I found really disturbing. at one point I actually considered stopping and not finishing it. ok, so here are some things that might spoil the book, just fyi.

first, she made draupadi obsessed with karna. like secretly in love with him. this doesn't happen in the real mahabharat. draupadi was chaste to all five of her husbands in body and spirit, always. I actually did my senior thesis for my undergrad degree about how insanely chaste draupadi was. trust me, she was not secretly in love with karna. like not even close. this bothered me the most about the book. and in the end, when draupadi goes to "heaven" so ends up with karna... yea, no. that didn't happen. and it's a totally weird liberty to take. 

in the same regard, she made kunti's character really mean spirited. she made it out like kunti didn't like draupadi and that draupadi didn't like her. hello, queen kunti is way too awesome to be the jerkface mother-in-law that divakaruni made her out to be. not even possible.

that pretty much sums it up. I mean, I guess I'm glad I read it. but in the end I was bummed about the novel-esque-ness of it. I'd give it 2.5 stars if I had to. like if there was a gun to my head or something. read it if these things wouldn't bother you. but if they would, don't trouble yourself.


not even the unexpected.

I've been thinking a lot lately about what my problem is. I mean, duh, I have a lot of problems. I know that. but I mean the problem with why I get frustrated and stressed out so much. and I think I've got it. or maybe at least a big part of it.

I expect.

it's not even that expect too much. it's that I expect at all.

as a very elementary (but not necessarily real) example, if I say "Hi!" I expect a "Hi!" back.

and you see, this is the problem. because expecting leads directly to disappointment almost all of the time...for so many reasons.

first off, who am I to expect anything from anyone? as if I am somehow entitled to or owed something, anything, at all. I think, though, my expectations don't come from entitlement. because I never expect something, don't get it, and feel like what is due to me has not been delivered in like a toddler-tantrum kind of way. it's different. I almost feel like I don't know how to explain it.

maybe it is egotistical and narcissistic of me to think/say this, but I feel like I'm a giver. I'm not saying I'm not a taker. I do my fair share of taking. but more often than not, I give. and give. and give. and sometimes my giving feels more like a blood letting. like I'm not always handing candy out. sometimes mo'fos just snatch it right outta my bag. (ok, that was weird...)

it just gets draining I guess. doing, doing, doing. and I don't do things thinking to myself "oh, I'll get THIS in return." but when I get nothing after an extended period of time, I am absolutely worn thin and down to the bone. and I break. and the breaking isn't pretty. in fact, it's usually followed by ugly crying, which almost always leads to a few sties in my eyes (this is a new phenomena. every time I cry now I seem to get a sty. it's like my body is rejecting my one fulfilling release. I really can't win.). and the cycle seems never ending.

maybe this is the thing: if I do something for someone, a "thank you" would be nice. if someone hurts my feelings, intentional or not, just an acknowledgement would go a long way - I'm not even asking for an apology. just a freaking ACKNOWLEDGMENT.

that's it too. like, I'm here. I exist. I'm sorry if I expect people to act like human beings. I know, it's craziness. but I'm here. I'm a person. I have feelings. I see you. I see your feelings. I try hard, so very hard - harder than you can see or know - to be a good friend, wife, mother...a fucking human being. like I try to at the bare minimum to be a human being. is that crazy? is it crazy to want to be treated like one? that if you hand me a piece of paper and in my accepting it I accidentally get a paper-cut you simply say, "hey, I'm sorry! totally didn't mean that. I know, paper cuts can be the worst." it's really that simple.

but honestly, don't even expect the unexpected. because even that shit will disappoint the hell out of you.

tard also expects nothing. I, on the other-hand, totally expected people to notice the tigers on my shirt.
no one did. what was I thinking?
(photo by kate manna)


poem: poem for her, poem for self.

because sometimes I'm talking to you and my self at the same time.

poem for her, poem for self.

I see you
when you think
no one is looking,
and for a moment
all of the hurt
melts away.

in your face
I recognize
the sadness,
feel its depth,
know it
at its core -
like looking in a mirror,
I think to myself,
we are more the same
than different.

if only you’d stop
chasing your own tail,
stop running
towards what you
think you know
but don’t.
if only.


poem/prose: forgiveness

found in my phone notes, from 8.6.13, 7:41pm.


he ruined forgiveness for me the minute he hit her, said he was sorry, and then did it again and again. decades later I tell my therapist that I cannot forgive him, because to forgive means to say it is ok. she tells me that forgiveness does not have to mean concession. it can just be letting go. I try that on for size. at first it is too small. then it is too big. and then, somehow, as time goes by and the pain fades slightly, the fit is ok.
now, as the tables have turned, and I am the one who has done wrong, the one who has plunged the knife of hurt into another, twisting it one time too many, packing the wound with the salt of my selfishness. it becomes hard to breathe under the guilt. I stuff it down as deep as I can. and although it is heavy and weighted, it floats to the surface. it bubbles over.


here are some random quotes from a podcast/forgiveness seminar called "The Life of Forgiveness" by Mahatma dasa. I never finished listening to the whole seminar series. I should really do that.

"forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past."

"resentment is a weapon you use to punish the other person."

"mercy makes up for what we lack."

"an unforgiving heart is attached to hurting another person because we were hurt by that person."

(if you search Mahatma on itunes, I'm pretty sure you can find the podcast - I really do recommend it!)