Soquel, California — Thursday, April 22nd

Budding spiritual vision

There is a tangle of jasmine vines growing gregariously along the rail of the deck outside the front door of the Sri Govinda Seva Kunja cottage that is the residence of Srila Gurudeva here at the Seva Ashram in Soquel, California. Looking out the kitchen window, the thousands of white-petaled jasmine flowers — in full bloom now that it is spring — look so much like a fresh fall of snow that I am reminded of the my recent winter in Russia.

The slender, tender tendrils of the jasmine silently slither hither and thither through the railings of the deck, leaves lazily linking, slinking (at times shrinking), angling, wangling, entangling (even strangling!) each other, cautiously creeping, peeping, sweeping over the lumber in slumber as they slowly, surreptitiously tie the rails together in an inextricable Gordian knot.

But even before you see the jasmine, the alluring aroma forcibly draws your attention to this most fragrant of flowers. Which gets me thinking: How many other scents are there in the air that we cannot detect? Our senses are so limited! Imagine how many more scents are secret to us because we do not possess the keen olfactory sense of, say, an ordinary dog.

There are so many things that we cannot see, that we are ill-equipped to see, or that are simply beyond the purview of our vision. How then, can we be expected to see the soul?

In the Bhagavad Gita (15:8), after first explaining how, to use Sripad Bhakti Sudhir Goswami Maharaj's brilliant scientific aphorism, "the body is the biological expression of the soul's delusion," Lord Krishna tells Arjuna how the soul transmigrates from one body to another:

sariram yad avapnoti / yac capy utkramatisvarah
grhitvaitani samyati / vayur gandhan ivasayat

"When the soul (jiva) departs from the body (at death), her subtle body carries that conception from one body to another just as the air carries the fragrance of a flower."

We are fooled by so many things. When we are young and ignorant, we think that the earth is flat; later, when we study material science, we discover that contrary to our perception, the earth is actually round.

Similarly, only because of ignorance do we think that when the body dies, we die; later, when we study spiritual science, we discover that contrary to our perception, the spirit soul transcends physical death.

utkramantam sthitam vapi / bhunjanam va gunanvitam
vimudha nanupasyanti / pasyanti jnana-caksusah

"Fools cannot perceive the soul's departure from the body, residence within the body, or her exploitation of sensual objects, but those endowed with eyes of wisdom can see this clearly."

The spiritual world is dark to me (om ajnana-timirandhasya) because my eyes are covered with desire (caksur unmilitam yena). Let me therefore submit to my guru, my teacher (tasmai sri-gurave namah) who can remove my ignorance with the shining light of knowledge (jnananjana-salakaya).

Soquel, California — Sunday, April 25th

New layout

As you know, I have been messing with a few different layouts for this iMonk blog this past month — thanks for your patience and feedback! I was primarily concerned with trying to keep the look simple and clean (too clean, or "antiseptic" in the earlier versions, some of you said).

I use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) because they support sophisticated page layout and styling features efficiently and economically: file sizes are considerably smaller than regular HTML with tables, say. The problem is, all the web browsers support CSS differently.

I have tried to ensure that the layout of the page looks the same (or at least similar!) on all the popular web browsers (Internet Explorer, Netscape, Opera, Safari) and computer platforms (PC, Macintosh, Unix) — no easy task, I can tell you.

I have settled on this format, which I think is simple, yet elegant — and unique! — and will update the other pages on this site with this new format over the next few weeks. Thanks again for the feedback!

Soquel, California — Wednesday, April 28th

Going to the dogs

It used to be that you fed offal to the dogs: not any more. Now these gross butchered animal parts (brains, intestines, noses, tails, feet) are in vogue, and served in trendy restaurants from London to New York.

When yuppie yahoos at the swank New York Italian restaurant, Babbo, snuffle over an order of testa, they're pigging out on "a substance made by boiling the head of a pig, skimming off bits of brain, gristle, and other residue that bubbles to the surface, and turning it into a salami." Now there's a pig in a poke!

What induces supposedly sophisticated diners to slobber over this slop, or "variety meats," as the offal is euphemistically called? According to Slate, "there's an anti politically correct tendency among diners who want to outdo even ardent carnivores in sheer carnivorousness." How puerile!

The man allegedly responsible for "bringing entrails out of the abattoir and on to white tablecloths everywhere" is Fergus Henderson, a London chef whose cookbook, The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, "has earned him cult status among chefs on both sides of the Atlantic."

If a gourmet is a connoisseur of fine food, then what do you call these slop-sipping, swill-swallowing, entrail-eating vulgarians? If you are what you eat, I suppose one name for these testa-slopping hogs would be "swill-for-brains"...

Soquel, California — Friday, April 30th

Nothing lasts forever

The jasmine is dying. It seems like just last week (it was just last week!) that I wrote about the fecundity of that fragrant flower. Now the jasmine is fading fast (literally and figuratively).

The fragile, fragrant flowers, who just last week thrust their tender faces towards the sun, now eschew the enervating rays that wilt and wither their once white petals and ravishes their redolent raison d'etre.

It is startling to see this once solid white phalanx so precipitously decimated: the discolored flowers hang flaccidly on the vine, like crumpled tissue paper, and fall forlornly to the floor, the detritus of their beauty swept half under the hedge, like unsightly dirt hurriedly swept under the carpet...

O Jasmine! No longer does your fragrance fill the air. Your erstwhile, ephemeral beauty will soon be forgotten.

Estee Lauder, the vastly successful cosmetics queen who died last Saturday at the age of 97, made a fortune distilling you and your ilk's essence. Although she marketed her perfumes and cosmetics such as Youth Dew and Clinique as a defense against the marks of age ("Time is not on your side, but I am!") she, like you, has succumbed to inexorable Time.

Thomas Gray, in Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, had it right: nothing lasts forever.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave
Awaits alike the inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave

We see death all around us, yet we do not see. Indeed, when Yama, the Lord of Death asked, "What is the most wonderful thing in this world?" Yudhisthira Maharaj replied:

ahany ahani bhutani / gacchantiha yamalayam
sesah sthavaram icchanti / kim ascaryam atah param

"Every day we see all kinds of living entities entering into the jaws of death yet, even though we see this, we think that we shall live forever. What can be more amazing or more wonderful than our efforts to make a permanent situation for ourselves in this world of mortality?"

O fragrant, fragile flower! Your brief, beautiful existence forces me to confront my own mortality, just as the lethargic longevity of the eucalyptus trees that tower above you inspire me to live my life with some purpose. The future is now!

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Layout by iMonk — April 30th, 2004.