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It’s Kartika, Damn It!

Saturday, 23 October 2010 / Published in Articles / 3,388 views

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.

The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead.

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”:

Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform — do that, O son of Kuntī, as an offering to Me.

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/

9 Responses to “It’s Kartika, Damn It!”

  1. Jaya Vijaya Das says :

    Hare Krsna Mataji…

    Dandavat/Pranam…AGTSP.

    Thank you for your well written article how nicely you woven your personal life with sastra with reality!!! But some devotees were offended by the word “Damn It”, especially if they were brought up in a strict Catholic tradition where using those words was always a “no-no”!

    Anyway, please have a happy Kartika as you are blessed being able visit Bharata-varsa during this month.

    Jai Sri Radhe!

    Ys, jaya vijaya das

  2. tulasi-priya says :

    Dear Jaya Vijaya prabhu,

    Namah, namah. Sri Sri Guru-Gauranga jayatah!

    Thank you for your kind words. I understand completely what you mean about the phrase “damn it” being a no-no. Frankly, I shocked myself a little when it came to me. But as I considered the propriety of using such words, I reminded myself that the purpose of my writing vrata is to get the words out, and not to be mental about what others will think. It was a way to make an emphatic statement. If I could have thought of another way to put it that expressed the same idea, I would have done so.

    sreyan sva-dharmo vigunah

    para-dharmat sv-anushthitat

    sva-dharme nidhanam sreyah

    para-dharmo bhayavahah

    It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.

    (Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 3.35)

    I am perfectly prepared to accept criticism for the choices I make in my writing, but I can’t allow the fear of what others will think to dictate my choice of words. If I succumb to that fear, as I have so often in the past, I will never do anything. But I hope that whoever is offended will understand and forgive me. Hare Krishna.

  3. Patita Pavana says :

    Dear Prabhus,

    Kartika is non-different from Krishna Like many others, I also found the usage of “damn it” to be disparaging to a holy month, and therefore inappropriate language. Neither do It feel Prabhupad would have liked pairing the sacred month of Kartik with an expletive. Sure, he said, “you can do anything damn thing for Krishna.” But knowing when an how to “do any damn thing for Krishna””, that is the technique. Neither does it take being an ex-Catholic to feel this way . Many raised as Hindus or Jews will feel the same way.

    Here are a few definitions of “damn” (condensed) given from the online dictionary:

    Verb:
    1. to declare (something) to be bad, unfit, invalid, or illegal.
    2.to condemn as a failure: …
    3.to bring condemnation upon; ruin.
    4.to doom to eternal punishment or condemn to hell.
    5.to swear at or curse,…
    7.(used as an expletive to express anger, annoyance, disgust, etc.)
    Noun:
    8.the utterance of “damn” in swearing or for emphasis.
    Adjective:
    9.something of negligible value: not worth a damn.

    —Synonyms
    2. berate, censure, denounce, disparage, blast.

    Probably the author meant “damn it” as per meaning number 8 above. But considering the other several interpretations of damn as in “damnation” or “condemned to hell”, she should have re-considered the usage of words (and avoided offending devotees). The title of an otherwise fair article could have been constructed to celebrate Kartike, to rejoice that this sacred lunar month has finally arrived. That would have been just as effective.

    As Prabhupada warned, Vaishnavas must be very careful about what they write and print. Once printed, such misjudgments as this one cannot be un-printed.

    -Patita Pavana das Adhilkary

  4. Dhanesvara says :

    Tulasi Priya, your writing is so artistic! This was such a joy to read that I went to read your blog, and found more beautiful art over there. You have such a gift that I subscribed to your blog – the first time that I’ve done such a thing.

    Please write a book, or two, or more. Books have a greater reach, and I am sure that they will touch the hearts of many!

    Thank you for sharing your gift!

  5. Tamal Krsna dasa says :

    I don’t feel it necessary to harp on the usage of the word “damn”. That word prompted me to read the article. While I might have chosen a different word, I am able to understand M. Tulasi’s intent as a literary device. Rather than nitpicking over the use of one word, perhaps we can try to focus on the essence of the article. If we do that, we may be able to take a lot from it to help us get the most out of this holy month. Thank you Mother Tulasi. Your article was very timely for me.

  6. tulasi-priya says :

    Hare Krishna. This will be the last comment I make on the subject of “damn it.” As Patita Pavana prabhu correctly surmised, the intention of my use of “damn it” was indeed that of the definition #8, emphasis, which I believe I also mentioned in my comment to Jaya Vijaya prabhu. But even if I were cursing someone or something, what is being “damned” here, anyway? Certainly not the holy month of Kartika! Even a casual reading would relieve anyone with a half-decent reading level of that anxiety. What I was cursing was the lazy, stubborn mind, which we are exhorted to beat with shoes and brooms for its lack of willingness to surrender. If one were beating a stubborn mule, one might let fly with a “damn it,” and a few other choice words as well.

    A word may have many meanings, but usually not all of them used simultaneously in a single instance. To attribute all the possible meanings to the word as the writer’s intent is not only odd, it’s unfair to the writer, and to the reader as well. To focus on one word at the expense of the larger theme is to cheat oneself of what was intended for the reader to receive. If a reader can’t—or won’t—understand what’s being said in the article as a whole, it’s better to chalk it up to a difference in literary taste and read only those writers who appeal to us. Hare Krishna.

  7. tulasi-priya says :

    Thank you, Dhanesvara and Tamal Krishna prabhus, for your kind words, and to Patita Pavan prabhu for your friendly warning. Hare Krishna.

  8. abrennan says :

    Please accept my humble obeisances
    All glories to Srila Prabhupada

    Hare Krishna

    I did a search in Vedabase and found that Srila Prabhupad uses the term “damn” on a number of occaisons. “Damn cheap,” “Damn Hare Krishna’s,” and more. He uses the word mainly in two senes. One being the sense in which it was used in this story, and the other in the sense of damnation. “Damn rascals” for example.

    Srila Prabhupad, as many will know better than I, maximised his use of the English language to get his point across. He knew the word Damn was not an expletive and he used it in exactly the way is is used in this story.

    “Any damn place, you cleanse it, it becomes home.”

    >>> Ref. VedaBase => Prabhupada Visits Palace and Garden — June 22, 1976, New Vrindaban

    I don’t say this to offend you,but to clarify, so please don’t try and find something in what I write to be offended by.

    I never use the word damn myself, I prefer other ‘emhatics.’ Suffice to say this is a damn good story Tulasi-Priya dasi has presented for us. She’s a damn good writer, we don’t hear enough from her damn it.

  9. Patita Pavana says :

    Thank you, Tulasi Priya devi,

    …for accepting my comments with your characteristic Vaishnava humility and intelligence.

    For those who do not know the story to the Damn Cheap Babas, here it is as told by Shrila Prabhupada: Westerners upon visiting India’s bazaars become astonished at the great bargains and are heard exclaiming “Damn cheap. Damn cheap” Thus they have become known among the baniyas (merchants) as the “Damn Cheap Babas.” Little do they (we) know that these damn cheap bargains are double what the locals pay. Prabhupada taught this story to us Damn Cheap Babas in order to keep us from being hoodwinked by crafty merchants.

    “Doing any damn thing for Krishna” might be said to have its roots right at the beginning of Shrimad Bhagavatam. There Shri Narada advises the doleful Vyasa, “Does not that very thing which causes a disease also cure the disease in another form?” Hence, those condemned activities that have entwined us to samsara for millions of births can also be the cause of our salvation. It is simply a matter of adding Krishna consciousness, serving Krishna rather than Maya with our thoughts, words and deeds.

    Please continue to write for Krishna.

    With due respects to the Vasinavas,
    Patita Pavana das Adhikary

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