Prayer and Hope (Karttika 2012)

I’m beginning a daily blog in honor of Karttika, the holiest month in the Hindu calendar. During Karttika Masa, or Damodara Masa, it’s traditional for Vaishnavas to remember Sri Krishna as Damodara or Bal Gopal. I’ll share more on this story later, but in brief, it’s the story of Sri Krishna as a little child trying to get his mother to give him sweet butter and milk. In the Gaudiya Vaishnava lineage, we sing a particular prayer during Karttika called the Damodarastakam and offer an arati every evening. Many Hindus also observe particular vrats, or austerities, during this month.

This summer I was deeply inspired by the seriousness and faith by which my Muslim friends observed Ramadan, and I’d like to try to approach Karttika with a similar intention. Observing Ramadan calls for severe austerities in diet, habits, and prayer life, which even the strictest recommendations for Karttik don’t quite approach. The overall goal of observing a month of austerities – Karttika, Ramadan, or Lent – is to come closer to God, of course. The mood in which these faiths approach God, and thus the austerities and observances they recommend, are quite different, but for all of them it’s definitely possible to get caught up in austerities and standards and lose the intention of stripping the soul and coming closer to God. This is a strong tendency for me, so my challenge will be to observe Karttika with moral seriousness, devotion, humility, and austerity all at once.I think this blog will help me to do that. I struggle to maintain a daily journal, but making a commitment to a daily public journal will be at once easier and harder to maintain. It will certainly force me to be honest in a semi-public setting, and to weigh the comments and advice of others with humility and compassion. For that matter, I would very much like those following this blog to comment, perhaps especially during this time. I know that many of my followers are not Hindu themselves, may not be so familiar with the terms and conceptions I use, or may feel challenged by some of the meditations I share, but I ask that you follow where you can, look stuff up as you feel necessary, and read with an open mind and heart.

Karttika begins on Monday with Sharada Purnima, the full moon on which Krishna began the rasa lila. Today and tomorrow, I’d like to share my goals and resolutions for this month.

In the Japa Reform Notebook, Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami emphasizes the necessity of a period of introspection and reflection and a period of prayer before any reform or new resolutions are undertaken. The last month or so (since I returned to Princeton in September, really) has brought a lot of challenges for me and a lot of opportunities for introspection. The last few days have brought a lot of opportunities for deeper prayer. I hope that I can maintain this spirit of prayerfulness, humility, and willingness to see the “stains” that I often try so hard to run away from.

My deepest prayer this month is around my greatest challenge: my inability to trust God. Since I returned to Princeton, I’ve been running from a lot of fears, many of which revolve around my vocation and my duties, and have felt unable to rest and trust in God. Since I realized this a week ago, some close friends have done a lot to encourage me in faith, and I think I’ve come a long way from those handful of days of darkness a week ago when I had to face my fears. I know that finding faith isn’t my work to do – that it’s Krishna who nurtures the seed of faith in my heart – but my role in this is to mold my life to make faith possible.

Reform is a balance of consciousness. The word itself denotes a personal undertaking built on hope and striving, but faith also teaches that it is not we who work, but rather Krishna who works in us. I’m not sure how to understand this principle – I am responsible for undertaking reform with sincerity, but it’s not my doing. I’ve realized recently how self-centered my faith is, based on my own well-being and my own efforts, and often even based on how it makes me feel. I think it’s time to begin the “paradigm shift” of seeing the world not through my own eyes and my own colored glasses but remembering Krishna. It’s a difficult consciousness to seek; my own efforts, prayers, and austerities are a part of it, but sit within a broader context of Krishna’s work. I’m praying that I’ll begin to understand this a little with Krishna’s mercy.

During Karttika, I intend to observe the following:

–       A daily written reflection (this blog) on my spiritual self, my work in the world, and God’s work in me

–       Damodarastakam

–       Avoidance of sweets & spontaneous spending of money (and speech? And energy?)

–       Refraining from eating until evening, aside from fruits etc.

–       Try to not offend anyone.


–       Krishna is my Sustainer.

–       Krishna is my Protector & Guide.

–       My heart resides in Krishna.

–       Worship of Sri Radha Raman ji.

–       Absorption in the Holy Name.

–       I don’t need much à simplicity

–       Accomplishments are not mine à humility

–       Every person I interact with is a part of the Divine à compassion

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