It’s Kartika, Damn It!
By Tulasi-Priya dasi
According to Vedic astronomy, the day begins at sunrise, so I can pretend it’s still yesterday, the first day of Kartika. It’s late at night and I may not be at my most coherent, but it’s also the time when the mind is most free, the unconscious sprinkling its droplets of intuition, dreams, poems, visions, and hopes like a fine autumn mist on one’s awareness. Yes, I’m sure I sound deranged, but bear with me for a moment or two more. Then I’ll go to sleep, to dream in earnest.
It’s Kartika, damn it!
This is the time of year when the efforts we make in spiritual life—our sadhana, our devotions, our prayers, our study of sastra, our kirtana, and our service—reap extra rewards, far, far out of proportion to what we might expect in ordinary hours. Of course, it’s all causeless mercy anyway; it’s not as if we usually punch some bhakti-yoga time-clock and God hands out our weekly paycheck.
But still, Kartika is special. During this month, the supreme personality of Godhead, Krishna, turns up the mercy knob to 11, maybe even 12 or 13, depending on how much He thinks we can handle. Devotees choose to perform vrata, or vows, to take advantage of this “clearance sale.” “Buy one, get one free.” “No offer too low, all the mercy must go!” We might decide to read more, chant extra rounds, eat only once a day, go on pilgrimage, do extra service. There are really too many choices to mention.
One of the rules of Kartika is that you’re not supposed to advertise your vow, at least not too specifically, lest others get some of the credit for your austerities. I think the threat of losing some of the credit is intended to prevent people from trying to fatten their false egos, even as they restrict themselves in other ways: Oh, me? Oh, ha-ha, I’m not doing much, just chanting sixty-four rounds. No, really, I’m not advanced at all, just a worm in stool . . . Stop! You mustn’t touch my feet (hops from one foot to the other to avoid being touched), etc., etc.
I don’t know if such scenarios have ever played out in real life. In my head they do, all the time. It’s the struggle between the desire for worship and the hunger for humility. Still, I’m going to share with you my vrata, because I think it might help somebody. I’ve got several going on, but this is the most important:
Do the thing you find difficult to do, and do it for Krishna.
That’s it. All day, every day, for thirty days, do those petty, mundane, boring, non-nectarean household chores, procrastinated projects, and tiresome tasks that you just don’t feel like doing. Dirty dishes in the sink and it’s not your turn to wash them? Wash them, and let your scrubbing be a bubbly glorification of the Lord. Is it your day to do your cardio workout but you’re just too tired? Do it for Krishna, every drop of sweat the evidence of your surrender.
It’s not that we shouldn’t read verses, or chant extra, or any of those other goodies we never seem to find the time for except during Kartika, and it’s not that there’s anything inherently spiritual about scrubbing out the toilet, but it’s interesting how we think we get to choose those ostensibly spiritual activities, as if they’re chocolates in a Godiva sampler and not the very staff of life, spiritually speaking. We decide how we’re going to serve Krishna, but what if Krishna has other plans? He usually does, doesn’t He?
How much of an austerity can something be if we get to decide when, where, and how much to do? Maybe that’s part of the mercy upgrade, we get an energy burst to do (some of) what we ought to be doing all the time. But those other things we ought to be doing, the ones we tell ourselves we have no choice but to do and then avoid anyway . . . well, we keep avoiding them, or we do them with a bad attitude, or else we just don’t see how Krishna is connected to them. But if He’s not connected to the wet laundry waiting to be hung, then hanging it is just srama eva hi kevalam, useless labor.
We’re going to die, and sooner than we think, and clean sheets will be the last thing on our mind then. But how will we surrender to Krishna in the form of death, if we can’t even surrender to Him in the form of laundry piling up while we’re still alive? This is the “yoga of the everyday”:
For me, that kind of surrender takes the form of dealing with lawyers, tax professionals, credit card companies—this week. Next week the austerity will be trying to chant my quota of Hare Krishna mantra while visiting my husband’s family for a few days. This is what life throws at me. I can either see the Lord’s hand in it, always, or I can spend my life resisting what is. The “what is” is always Krishna. That’s what “absolute truth” means.
For most of my life I’ve avoided doing those things that make me too uncomfortable, with the result being that I’ve accomplished very little, for all the dreams I’ve had, and for all the potential my teachers in high school told me I embodied. The potential I was full of has turned to something else with the passage of years: regret, excuses, and general BS. I have served neither God nor man nor even my own senses to the degree I’m capable of. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura expressed it well:
After being born, my childhood was spent simply playing around frivolously, according to the nature of children. Then my youth quickly passed by in executing many different obligations according to social customs. All those days having been wasted uselessly, I now suffer old age in the end as my only reward. (Ami Ati Pamara Durjana)
As I see how little time I have left in this life, I’ve started making more of an effort. Moving out of my inertia was painful, but only briefly, like getting a rusty wheel to turn. It makes a lot of noise at first, but then it develops momentum. The funny thing is that it’s not any harder than whining and worrying. With a little help from my B-complex vitamins, I’m actually feeling more energized by doing all this unpleasant stuff than by avoiding it.
At the risk of losing more Kartik Kredits, I’ll tell you that my main vrata this year is to keep my hand in the beadbag whenever it’s not required elsewhere. In spite of having a lot to do, I managed to fulfill my quota today. But if I happen to remember at 11pm that there’s a load in the washer that is on the verge of mildewing (not that that happened tonight, for example), I’m not going to resent the boring necessity of hanging them up for taking me away from my chanting. It’s Kartika, damn it! This is my opportunity to surrender to what ever life-fate-Krishna dishes out, and get the big bhakti bucks back for doing so.
Today I surrendered to laundry, online shopping, and talking to the tax man. What did you surrender to today? What did you not surrender to?
The URL for the article is http://www.easternside.com/