Going on vacation to visit family, one tends to expect drama. I did when my wife and I visited her family in Winnipeg last week, but instead I got dharma. Dharma seemed to follow us wherever we went. It first occurred to me at the Forks Market (a mall of booths and small shops). Winnipeg is a multi-cultural city and at the Forks, wares of various nationalities are sold. So I thought maybe there would be an Indian shop. I thought of getting a murti for my shrine/temple at home or possibly japa (prayer) beads to carry with me. My wife and I were talking about how there must be such a shop in the two levels somewhere, when we turned a corner and basically went right in the door of an Indian shop. I did indeed see many Ganesha, Lakshmi and Durga murtis. I did not get one (wanting to watch our budget) and I did not find japa beads. But it was nice to have that quiet moment of darshan with the devas/devis while the bustling marketplace vignette unfolded around me.
I had planned to visit the Temple on Ellice Avenue, and the next day we went over there when we had some time between visits with family, but we found the Temple closed. My wife was bummed for me, but I told her it was okay and reminded her how that morning as I lay not-quite awake in our hotel room, she had been flipping channels on the telly, and had let it sit for a long moment on a channel where a man was giving a “sermon” on Krishna consciousness. I say sermon because the structure of his talk sounded very much like the sermon’s I had heard in church growing up. Sometimes I wish the Temple priest would actually “preach” a little. Anyway I was thankful she left that “Vaishnava preacher” on that morning.
While I, my wife, and her sister walked through mid-town another day, a van drove right past us with a poster on the back advertising a “Krishna Festival.” My wife joked “it’s a sign” – a good pun, I thought, because yes, it was a sign. A big, colorful one. It gave the website of krishna.com, and I later looked it up and found out that, as I suspected, this was an ISKCON function. I am not too interested in ISKCON in general though I do appreciate Prabhupada’s “Gita As It Is” but I still thought it might be a memorable event for me. Unfortunately I found that the event was to take place on the afternoon of the day we were to leave.
Later, during some down-time at my brother-in-law’s place, I checked my e-mails because I was expecting some news from my job about an up-coming project. I got an email telling me that the project had been delayed, and that I would not have work for another month. I was despondent amidst the coming and going of various family members whom we only get to see once a year, including my new nephew who I was meeting for the first time. So I tried to keep it light-hearted, and my wife reassured me. That night I had a dream in which Ganesha, Saraswati, and Lakshmi visited me, drifting and hovering around my bed-side. I don’t recall them saying anything. But I knew they were there to reassure me. I felt this was a message from Swami Vidyadhishananda reminding me that I was to find prosperity in the coming months as he has assured me. (See Vidya and Adhish). The very next day I checked my messages again and found that I was being offered a chance to interview at a couple of different places once I got back from vacation. I was relieved and it helped me to look forward with peaceful confidence.
My wife and I were helping her parents clear out some of their belongings, which included going through a heavy back-log of photos. When I came to a book from Christmas of 2008 my heart felt an even further sense of peace. It was on that visit that I brought along a book that I’d just purchased, and began reading called “Man’s Eternal Quest”, a collection of transcribed talks by Paramahansa Yogananda. This book changed my outlook, and as I browsed the photos from that holiday, I could see the contentment in my eyes. I remember trying to emulate the “Mona Lisa smile” that Yogananda-ji always exhibited in all situations. It was a good reminder of how to be happy always.
I always bring books with me on vacation and last week was no different. Along with the Gita and Upanishads I had a collection of essays, diary entries and letters from Ralph Waldo Emerson. I loved reading his diary entries and seeing the very moment the teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita first entered his consciousness. As I read, I thought back to reading Emerson in high school, reading about Emerson and Thoreau and the “Transcendentalist” movement. I remember being extremely taken by the idea. I may have not fully understood the concept, in fact I am sure I did not at the time, but I do recall, in my own mind, beginning to think of myself as a “transcendentalist”. I wanted to make that ethic a part of my identity. I wanted to think and live that way. Maybe re-reading Emerson as an adult will help me back on that track.
On our very last night in Winnipeg, we again found ourselves sitting around the table at my brother-in-law’s house, chatting about family events. The topic of someone who had recently experienced a setback came up. Let’s just say it is the epitome of Greek tragedy as it seems that as many signs of its coming there were, it also seems as though it was completely unavoidable. My father-in-law addressed me directly, as I had noticeably kept my opinion to myself. He said “Let me ask you, what do you say about all of this, from a Hindu perspective?” My father-in-law is a Christian minister but extremely religiously liberal. He asked the question and I wanted to answer, but I never enjoy bringing up karma and telling people that they reap what they sow, etc. Everybody knows that. So I just pointed to the “mythology” that Saraswati (creativity) is the daughter of Shiva (destruction) and so, the answer to every problem is born from said problem. In other words “Life is Thirst and Water” I said, quoting my tattoo. I felt blessed that the one conversation that definitely had the potential to lead us to drama, ended with the opportunity to expound a bit of dharma.