Found in Sanga, Sanga 2003.

Q. Why, in addition to genuine and purely spiritual teachings, universal in their source, do you use and promulgate, before an audience of Westerners, Sanskrit words, practices and technical terms derived from Indian culture that are of no special spiritual significance (to Westerners) apart from their exotic provenance? Why are purely cultural expressions retained and promulgated along with the spiritual including, as one prominent example, the name “Swami Tripurari?” If you are, as you write, Western-born, why not use your birth name or some name that may not be seductively exotic in a way antithetical to simple and direct spirituality, without pretension, ego, and status? In my experience adopting the language, dress, and practices of a foreign body of spirituality all too often becomes simply a nest for a hidden egoism, a “spiritual materialism.”

A. Sanga is not only for a Western audience. We have many readers from India who subscribe to Sanga as well. Furthermore, the Western world, especially the United States, is as much a melting pot of cultures today if not more so than it was in the past. Indeed, we are living in times that represent the end of a predominantly white America, and Southeast Asian culture is playing a considerable role in this new world mix, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area where I reside. Here Indian restaurants, cultural presentations, and spiritual programs are in abundance.

In terms of spirituality, the West is considerably influenced by the discipline of yoga, and a fair amount of Sanskrit spiritual terminology associated with yoga has found its way into the Webster’s Dictionary. These terms are there because there are no English equivalents for them, yet they are in use in places as American as TV and radio talk shows. Terms like karma and nirvana are not without “special spiritual significance” save and except for “exotic provenance.” They have precise meaning that is now part of many Americans’ spiritual worldview, their dharma.

It may be true that these terms and other cultural accouterments are sometimes used inappropriately resulting in a form of “spiritual materialism.” However, I do not believe that this is the case with our presentation of Sanga. Again, our audience is mixed, and furthermore we are presenting universal spiritual principles through the framework of a particular spiritual tradition of Indian origin in consideration of modernity.

Although I was born in the West, my guru, who I consider my spiritual father, was from India. He gave me the name Swami Tripurari in the context of spiritual initiation, and I think it is appropriate for me to use it as I serve in the capacity of a spiritual teacher under his guidance. From a cultural point of view, I feel myself to be a combination of both Indian and American culture. Although born in the West I have lived a good part of my life in India.

I am not advocating that spirituality requires one to change cultures, but rather that a spirituality that is truly universal can be inclusive of elements from all cultures that serve to promote the essence of spirituality.

Q. If I am supposed to be a devotee, is it wrong of me to want a nice house and nice belongings? Am I not supposed to care about material possessions?

A. At this stage of your devotional practice you should not be troubled by the fact that you have such desires. Everyone needs a particular level of material comfort from which to cultivate spiritual life relative to one’s psychological makeup. Secure a standard of living that suits you and engage in spiritual practice. As you advance you will find that your material needs will diminish naturally. Don’t be artificial with regard to renunciation.

Q. My mother and father are Hindu Brahmanas and they naturally expected me to marry a man of the Brahmana community. However I met a Catholic man in college four years ago and over time our relationship took off and developed. Now, it’s as strong as ever.

We are color-blind toward one another and our different religious upbringing does not affect our relationship, as we were able to support each other through soulful conversations, openness to learn from one another, and true companionship with each other.

He is a good-natured, kind man and his respect for Mother Earth has influenced me enormously. He has also instilled compassion in me and made me a better person. What more could I ask for?

But our parents, bound by their traditions, are not at all happy about our proposed union. My parents, as Hindus and Brahmanas, are totally upset and have threatened many times to disown me and never speak to me again. I love, respect, and adore my parents with all of my heart and I want my parents to be a part of my future children’s lives and to teach them about Hinduism. My parent’s words have made me so sad, so heartbroken, and entirely confused. Please share your thoughts with me on this, Swami. I do not have anyone else to advise me about this.

A. In the Skanda Purana there is a well-known statement, kalau sudra sambhavah, “In Kali-yuga everyone is born a sudra.” If one is to be a brahmana in our present age (Kali-yuga), this will not be determined by one’s birth, but rather one’s qualities and activities. Indeed, Sri Krishna speaks for all ages when he says, catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah: “I created the socioreligious system of varnasrama in consideration of one’s qualities and actions.” Thus if we find brahminical qualities in someone (forgiveness, honesty, knowledge, etc.), we should consider his or her socioreligious status in light of these qualities regardless of their birth.

Compatibility for marriage is a major socioreligious concern. It is largely for the likelihood of compatibility that a girl from a brahmana family will be encouraged to marry a boy from a brahmana family. However, if you have already found someone who is highly compatible, then this concern is met, and if his behavior and habits are good, and above all if he is spiritually inclined, I believe your parents should be compelled to embrace a more essential sense of brahminical life over one of mere formality by allowing your friend to enter their family.

The most important thing in life is spirituality. By your example encourage your parents to think spiritually, not biologically. This is the standard of the brahmana.

Q. I am a disciple of Prabhupada and past fifty years old so I decided to separate from my wife and move into an apartment near the temple so I could be more involved in spiritual life. The problem is the temple here is not as active as it was during the time of Prabhupada and no one except myself is going to the morning program. The rest of the day I do service and present Krishna consciousness on the Internet, and devotees do come to the Sunday feast but most of the time I am alone. I am tired of being alone, so can you give me some advice?

A. My suggestion is that you relocate to another ashrama/temple where there is a more spiritually vital atmosphere with sufficient association and association with advanced devotees in particular. This will alleviate your loneliness and call your progress at the same time.

Q. My question is about guilt. I am so pained by feelings of guilt that I am often cursing myself. I feel useless in comparison to good devotees and these negative feelings are driving me further away from spiritual practice. I tried to examine the nature of my problem and, in gaining knowledge of what it means to be a pure devotee, I also came to understand more clearly my own dismal position.

My position is such that I have never had a taste for chanting japa, which I find tedious. When I try to chant my mind won’t stop distracting me so eventually I give up. I can’t ever see myself chanting sixteen rounds in this lifetime and I feel so discouraged by my inadequacies that I sometimes become depressed. Maybe I’m succumbing to narcissism, I don’t know, but I don’t feel capable of making spiritual advancement and this causes me to feel more and more guilty. I feel very bad that I don’t love Krishna and keep thinking that Krishna is upset with me. I don’t expect you to wave a magic wand but I was hoping you might help me with some insight.

A. You should not feel guilty because you have no taste for chanting Krishna nama or that you are unable to pay attention while chanting his name. Don’t be discouraged either. Krishna is not upset with you. If you cannot pay attention while chanting japa on beads, try chanting in kirtana instead. As you become purified through kirtana, you will be better able to pay attention while performing the japa of Krishna nama. If it is difficult for you to perform kirtana, engage yourself in self-sacrificing activities in which the fruit of such activity is offered in the service of Krishna and his devotees. This will purify your heart and enable you to engage more readily in hearing and chanting followed by remembering (japa). Over and above this, seek out holy association and try to find an advanced Vaisnava in whom you can take shelter with full faith and be guided by.

Q. On the recommendation of my friends I visited your website and I decided to write you because I am so impressed by your natural courage and ability to address controversial topics. I also would like to ask you a question on a controversial topic.

During a temple lecture a devotee referred to women who had abortions as baby killers. I had an abortion seven years ago and this is something stored very deeply in my memory. Afterward I was convinced that I was a murderer and felt very deep sorrow for my action. I still have so much sorrow that sometimes I begin helplessly weeping when I remember my abortion. Moreover in general I feel guilty and disgusted about my past because I did a lot of wild and crazy things. I feel guilty even though I was totally ignorant about proper conduct and did not know anything about spirituality and transcendence. Can I ever have a close relationship with Krishna after an abortion and all the disgusting things I did? What does scripture say on this issue?

A. There may be extenuating circumstances under which abortion is permissible and some of the scriptural narratives could be construed to give qualified support to certain abortions, but on the whole it is not morally correct to take the life of the child within the womb at any stage of his or her development. According to scripture, life in the womb begins at the time of conception, and sexual intercourse is something that should be regulated within the context of spiritual practice. If society were truly organized along spiritual lines, abortion would be of rare occurrence in consideration of extenuating circumstances at best.

In your case, whatever your past may have been, it has little bearing on your present life of spiritual culture, especially when any immoral acts performed were done so out of ignorance. In general no past is so dark that it can overshadow sincere spiritual practice, particularly that of chanting Krishna nama. We should not judge others by their past, but rather their present, and more so in terms of their future—their ideal. Make your ideal that of going back to Godhead.

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