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Archive for the ‘Prayers’ Category

I have been delving into family history of late. It is, it seems a pastime of the middle-aged.

I did not have much to go on save a memory from the age of seven of meeting grand-uncle Larry who fought in the Irish war of independence. I got jaundice during that visit so I don’t remember asking any insightful questions, but rather being annoyed by the smell of turf smoke, the taste of sweets, and the presence of everyone I met.

A few years ago, with my mother’s help I started to meet relatives galore. My sister and I ventured to our family seat, an area I found out my family has been associated with from the 7th century. We recorded a 106 year old, filmed a 90 year old, and met the warmest and most affectionate people – all our own people.

I found out that Julia Roberts played my cousin in the film Michael Colliins, and we heard all kinds of funny, heroic, and tragic tales of people past. Maybe the most poignant was one during famine times when a relative, lost her husband and died in the workhouse. So much history, so many unmarked grave stones.

For me three people stood out especially, three nuns. My Aunt Nuala celebrated her 50th year of being a nun this year and invited me to read at her mass – even though I am a Hindu priest. And cousins Sr Stephen, 68 years a nun, impressed me with her humility and sharp intelligence, and Sr Kathy, 45 years teaching in Pakistan, with her dedication.

Three ladies of virtue have inspired me Lord. Three quiet and well-lived lives, expecting simple grave stones, but who have left a greater mark through their example of humility, strength, and commitment. May I follow in their footsteps. Hare Krishna.

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It all started as a small spillage, a half a cup of water accidentally splashed on the floor. After the usual mopping up we left a little damp for the summer heat to dry.

If you remember the summer you will understand why we were not expecting immediate results – and tolerated the fact that two days later the patch was still damp. Later the patch had expanded but that was no bar to the routine of a busy day. It got larger…and wetter. Then white mould appeared.

Of course Mildew is the death of fabric, so our routine was abruptly turned on its head.  We found the cause to be a pipe quietly leaking for months and forming a pool under our floor. We had to rip up carpets, clear rooms of furniture, and endure blowers, de-humidifiers, and malodorous mould.

This glorious day was the festival of Janmastami, Lord Krishna’s day. It was to be a spiritual retreat, of fasting, and chanting. It was also the beginning of a much needed holiday. To add to the woe, my wife, who has suffered from ME for 12 years, could not cope and I had to bring her to a nearby hotel. I felt like crying – when do you get a break?

At the temple, during the midnight Janmastami service, I realised that rather than being deprived of my desire I was being given an opportunity to serve. My wife was suffering more than I was so I decided to spend the next three weeks caring for her – and I did so happily.

Lord Krishna, my desire is to serve you, and I offer what I think is best. Please let me know what You desire, and bless me with the grace to accept what you think is best. Hare Krishna

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A rare adventure loomed, with twenty Irish pilgrims off to India – our destination, Mayapur, West Bengal. Our first stop in India was Vrindavan, the birth place of Lord Krishna.

It was an emersion in devotion, and often literally so in sacred rivers. Vrindavan is a town of saintly folk, temples, and chanting. So, we prayed, chanted, and prostrated ourselves from morning ‘til night. And then by plane to Calcutta, a train to Krishnanagar, bus to the Ganges (on the roof), a boat to Navadvip, and by foot to Mayapur, nestled in the middle of no where – yet teeming with pilgrims.

I was soon enjoying the grim delights of dysentery, nestled as I was in a room for six but inhabited by twenty. The night before the celebration of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the event we had travelled so far to observe, I went to bed aware that the temple opened at 3am. I awoke at 7am to an empty room.

How had I not heard the clamber of 20 Irish chaps arise, bathe and dress? I jumped up, showered, and raced to the temple to find it practically deserted and decorated with tired flower garlands. I rushed outside and asked the first person I saw where everyone was. He told me they were having the feast. “But it’s a fast day”, I cried. He reassured me that that was yesterday.

Indeed, I had travelled all the way to Mayapur only to sleep right through the festival day and beyond, over 36 hours.

Lord, I dash around with plans and schemes I think are great, but which sometimes go wrong. Although I have no control over my future I will take credit for any good result, which actually comes by your grace. Please help me to wake up. Hare Krishna.

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I hope you don’t mind me asking if you are over weight. If you are why don’t you answer my question in your head – there may be people around you who haven’t noticed yet.

Talk of weight passed me by until my late thirties when years of fried food and a sweet tooth began to catch up with me. It was slow at first, an ounce here, a pound there. Then as my forties caught hold a plate of chips guaranteed a thicker neck. ‘Just one more chocolate’ was my hopeful mantra as I put on two stone in two years.

My nephew, on my knee during a family reunion, snuggled against my chest, then sat bolt upright and announced to all and sundry that Uncle Shaunaka needs a bra. I was forced to face the truth – my nephew is evil. Well, of course he’s not but I knew the real truth to be that I was now officially fat.

Over the next few years as I tried the ‘lose-weight-without-any-change’ method, as I wore ever tighter clothes, and weighed myself to depression, I felt doomed. My lowest point was the day I weighed myself after a haircut.

Then a terrible sickness, loss of appetite and the weight fell off – a revelation. It betrayed a hard truth – my personal lack of discipline, and me a Hindu priest, the shame. It took time but I lowered my food intake, cut out the rubbish, and walked every day. At normal weight again I can say, “My name is Shaunaka. I’m an addict.” And its one day at a time.

Lord, simple truths are often as unpalatable as lack of chocolate. I am responsible to you for maintaining this body, which you have kindly supplied for my life’s journey. I will do so with discipline and gratitude for your gift. Hare Krishna.

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Today is the last day of the Diwali festival and the beginning of a new year. It is a time to make a fresh start in life, to be generous, and to consider how to act with as much goodness as possible.

I must admit that, aside from the religious side of festivals – striving to be a good chap and all – I think religious festivals are really great, whatever the tradition. But Hindu festivals take the biscuit for me.

Whether it’s the profusion of colours, brilliant and bright; the cacophony of music and chanting, laughter, alter bells ringing, and ankle bells tinkling; the smells of spices, food, and incense; the touch of flowers and garlands, of hugs, and rich dress; it’s a tasty dish, light, filling and healthy.

For instance, a few weeks ago, we celebrated the Navratri Festival, nine nights of music and dance centred mainly around God in female form.  Whole communities of grannies, aunties, parents, and the urban cool – our children, all dancing together for hours. They begin slowly in a Morris dancing mode but by the end of the evening it looks a bit more clubbing.

Just after Navratri we had Dushera where a giant effigy of the Demon king Ravana, who has just been killed by Lord Rama is burned to great jubilation. It signifies the hope that the dark Ravana inside us may also be destroyed by the goodness of Rama.

But, in August we had Janmastami, celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna, the mother of all festivals and probably the largest annual religious gathering in this country.

Thank you for these festivals Lord, the mothers of devotion, where we can remember you in all your variety, feel your presence, and have fun. Hare Krishna.

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More Prayer’s For The Day, BBC Radio 4, Broadcast over a week in October 2009. It is a nice slot and an opportunity for me to meditate on life and on connecting it with Krishna, as well as practising writing.

Today is the festival of Diwali, an Indian religious festival that has become famous in this country as the Hindu festival, although it is a special day for other traditions as well.

Originally, it is said, this festival was a vaishya festival, a religious celebration for the merchant, banking, and farming communities. Thus the emphasis on the worship of Laxmi,  the Goddess of Wealth, and the end of the accounting year for so many businesses.  The generosity of the vaishya community is also shown at this time by generous gifts of gold and jewellery, especially to the female members of the family.

But Diwali now has significance in many communities and cultures, not only in India, but around the world.  Last week, Diwali was magnificently celebrated in Trafalgar Square in London.  It has also been a traffic stopper in other parts of London, and in Leicester, and Birmingham.

Only a few years ago we had the first Diwali celebration in the House of Commons.  Now the main political parties are hosting their own vote-winning Diwali events – a few years being a long time in politics.

While I get invited to all of these events, I can still discern, in the mists of memory, a festival that drew family together as no other.  It was a time to spend at home, to think of God, to think of good, to give and receive gifts, and to massage family relationships.

As the Hindu community integrates more in Britain the nature of the Diwali Festival has changed.  It is bigger, bolder, and brighter, but I pray that as we celebrate we will remember to think of God, to commit to goodness in our lives, and to earn the respect of our family. Hare Krishna.

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Prayer 6 – Hope

The final Prayer for the Day broadcast in this series.

I didn’t know the man admitted in the bed opposite me in the ward. He had arrived in the morning with his wife and 12-year-old son.

Later my neighbour came over to say hello. He announced to me that he had pancreatic cancer and had three weeks to live. I was shocked, and I didn’t know how to respond, aside from a weak commiseration.

After some time I remembered that when I was fourteen years old my father died of pancreatic cancer – and the connection dawned. I approached my neighbour and told him that before my father passed away he gave me very sound advice, based on his life’s experience, which has sustained me to this day. I suggested that it may be important to offer his advice now, reviewing his life in these terms for his son.

My neighbour grabbed two chairs and we sat down and spoke of his need to communicate with his son something substantial of his life. It was a moving exchange where he did most of the talking.

Later I had the opportunity to be introduced to his son and I was able to share with him my experience that at his age my father had the same disease and how it was important for him now to listen to his father’s advice and perspective so that he could reflect on it his whole life, as I have. He was wide-eyed and appreciative and I know it gave him hope.

When my neighbour left we embraced and said we would meet again but we know we won’t, not in this life.

Lord, not every story ends happily, but even in the worst circumstances we will find hope. Please guide us to see the hope and to our part in this play. Hare Krishna.

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