Designing the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium

The latest design for the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, based on the architecture of the U.S. Capitol building, has been subject to a lot of controversy since it was shown to the world through this video on Dandavats.com. The groundwork for the construction of this temple is due to begin very soon.

This week, a serious call to change this design has begun to circulate. The call has been put out by Tattvavit Dasa (disciple of Srila Prabhupada and editor) and Janaki Rama Dasa (recent PhD in Science and Religion from the University of Oxford). They present 9 reasons to change the design.

One of the main arguments, put forward by the design team, in favour of keeping the present design for the temple is that Srila Prabhupada wanted the temple to look like the U.S. Capitol. In their call for change, Tattvavit and Janaki Rama present the three available quotes in which Prabhupada mentions the U.S. Capitol in relation to the temple, and they argue that it cannot be proved that Srila Prabhupada favoured a temple that looked so much like the Capitol. They also include other quotes which suggest that such a design would not meet Prabhupada´s expectations for the temple, and show that, even after making his statements about the Capitol building in relation to the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium, Prabhupada was enthusiastic about quite a different design.

Tattvavit and Janaki Rama have also written to the GBC executive committee to propose that this issue of changing the present design be put to a vote at the upcoming GBC meeting in Mumbai in October. Bhanu Swami has supported their proposal. Whether or not this issue will make it to the agenda for the October meeting will be decided by the GBC Executive Committee in about two weeks from now.

A public ballot is now underway to gauge public opinion on the matter, in the hope that a significant number of votes for changing the design will influence the GBC to accept the proposal.

The letter that includes the call for change, the 9 reasons, instructions on how to place a vote, and the Prabhupada quotes can be found as a pdf file here.

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JIVA – a bhakti training course.

In July I spent a week at Pandavas Paradise, a retreat centre/nature reserve/temple in the most beautiful surroundings at Chapada dos Veadeiros, Goias, Brazil. I was helping to teach the JIVA course (Jornada Intensiva de Vaisnavismo), a one-week intensive training course for people who want to learn more about Krishna consciousness and how to practice it at home.

jiva_group.JPG

The topics covered included basic philosophy from the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam; how to prepare, offer and honour prasadam; Vaisnava etiquette; temple songs; deity worship etc. The course was the first of its kind here in Brazil.

The participants came from various parts of Brazil, from the very North to the very South, and they were of various ages, from fourteen to almost fifty. They were extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn, and the transformation in them was clear by the end of the week.

Some had not chanted even one round before the course, but, during the week we were there, they chanted 16 rounds every day. Some were eating meat before the course, but they went home not only as vegetarians but as prasadatarians. One of the students had been around devotees, attending Sunday Feast etc., for over 20 years, but somehow had not taken the next step. By the end of the course, she too felt transformed and expressed that she now felt that she was able to practice Krishna consciousness fully.

Click here to see the course photos, including some shots of the beautiful natural environment and wildlife at Pandavas Paradise.

Here is a video (in Portuguese) with some testimonials from the participants, filmed on the final day of the course.

Sign up for next year´s course here (in Portuguese).

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Video conference class

Last night my home was blessed by the virtual presence of a very special virtual guest, His Holiness Hridayananda dasa Goswami. We also hosted 10 other devotees from Brasilia who came to hear his class via Oovoo and Skype. Other devotees in various parts of Brazil, namely Recife, Salvador, Marilha, Niterói, and Pindamonhangaba also gathered in their respective places to hear the class via the internet.

Hridyananda dasa Goswami via Oovoo

Currently, Skype only allows video conferencing between two users, however with Oovoo it is possible to link up to six users. We haven´t had much luck with the sound quality of Oovoo, so for last night´s class we used Oovoo and Skype simultaneously – Oovoo for video and Skype for audio. We could see and hear His Holiness and he could see and hear us. Well, for part of the time we were on audio only because there were too many groups. Also, as you can see from the picture below we had to watch the last part of the class on a small laptop screen after the large screen stopped working for some reason!

Brasilia group

There were plenty of technical difficulties but it worked out well and Maharaja gave a great class to about 50 eager devotees. He described Krishna consciousness as the perfect, rational alternative to (1)violent, fanatical interpretations of religion and (2)the idea that religion is a psychological tool and whatever makes you feel good is therefore the highest truth. At the end of the class, Maharaja answered questions from the various groups.

Now we are experimenting with some other internet options so that future classes can be broadcast more widely, to anyone around the world who wants to see and hear the class, while still retaining some interaction with specific groups.

Here in Brasilia, after the class finished we sang some bhajan, led by HG Sadhu Sanga dasa . Finally I fed the assembled devotees with samosas, tomato chutney, halava and lemonade. I think they were satisfied.

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YouTube and Krishna

Sometimes, when I am in the mood for a brief distraction, I search for videos about Krishna on YouTube. I hadn’t done that for a while, but the other day I did, and I was happy to see that the number of Krishna conscious contributions has grown, although there is still scope for a lot more.

As an astrophysicist and as someone who has been studying the Fifth Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam quite a lot, I was particularly pleased to find the Universal Form on YouTube. Here is the video from Ben Loka who gets his information from the Second Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam:

The First Stage of God Realisation

OK, so it probably won’t win any Oscars, but I think it is a valuable contribution to YouTube and to spreading knowledge of God around the world. It has over 10,000 hits.

Here is the comical introduction in which Ben Loka apologizes for playing God’s part in the video:

Intro to Universal form video

(well, it made me laugh).

Ben Loka has several entertaining videos and he is quite a popular YouTuber. Here are some more videos he has made with a connection to Krishna consciousness (these links will take you to the videos on YouTube):

A report following his first stay at the temple (the Soho Street temple in London).

Transcendental frog.

Hare Krishna mantra (rock style).

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I love New Vrindaban

I’ve been here for less than 24 hours but I’m already in love with New Vrindaban. Being in the countryside is great and the people all seem to be very friendly and there is even wireless internet (intermittently in my room). The deities are amazing. Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subadra are HUGE. In general there seems to be a happy, relaxed and Krishna conscious atmosphere here. Malati Prabhu is the perfect hostess and thinks of everything. This morning I had the best breakfast ever – I only tried the kitchri, yogurt and bread but it was totally delicious.

This is an ideal place to visit if you want to be Krishna consciousness. Here it is easy to find someone or something at any moment to remind you of Krishna and remind you of what it means to be a devotee of Krishna.

In the next couple of days many senior devotees and scholars will be arriving, and I am looking forward to their association.

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Going to New Vrindaban!!

Today I start my long journey to New Vrindaban and I am very excited about it, especially since I’ve heard they have cows and goats and peacocks and swans and raccoons and deer and cats and even a donkey! Of course I am looking forward to seeing the beautiful deities and associating with many wonderful devotees too.

I am going for the second international conference of the ISKCON Academy of Arts and Sciences (IAAS) which I am helping to organize next weekend. The theme of the conference is “ISKCON Scholarship and the World: Academic and Cultural Contributions”, and it should be very interesting. The conference participants are devotee scholars who are involved in academics. The schedule and abstracts etc. are here. The conference is by invitation only but its not too late to apply for an invitation if you meet the criteria specified in the first announcement and you’d like to come along.

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Repetitive tasks for Krishna

For the past few days I have been taking digital photos of each page of an old Bengali book. The book is so old and crumbly that I have to be very gentle, and using a scanner would be too damaging. I take photos of about 40 pages, then transfer the photos from my camera to my computer, rename them for future reference, delete the photos from the camera (it has a small memory), check on the computer that the photos are not blurry (I am not a good photographer), re-take the photos for any blurred pages, transfer the new shots to the computer, rename them, then start the same process again with the next 40 or so pages. I can think of nothing more mind-numbingly boring to do and it is hard for me to understand how some people actually like to do this kind of thing and even have full-time permanent jobs that involve such repetitive tasks that require so much attention to detail.

The only thing that is keeping me going, and the only reason that this hasn’t driven me complete mad yet, is knowing that this book is written by Bimalaprasada Siddhanta-Sarasvati (aka Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur) and that I am helping to preserve our Gaudiya Vaisnava heritage.

The book is the Vrihaspati and it is dated 1897. In this book, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur provides Bengali translations and commentary on the Goladhyaya of the Siddhanta-siromani of Bhaskara, as well as the Laghu Jataka of Varahamihira, and he also gives some astronomical tables that I presume he calculated himself.

I suppose that the moral of this blog post is that unbearable tasks become bearable when done for Krishna. This reminds me of the time when I took some students from the University of Southampton to Bhaktivedanta Manor for the weekend and their kitchen service was to cut up big blocks of cheese into lots of small cubes. One of them remarked that “I never knew that cutting cheese could be so much fun!” – they had understood that doing something for Krishna is quite different to doing something for material gain. I have had similar experiences rolling hundreds of puris for the Sunday feast.

Still, if I had to do this book photography for more than a week, I doubt that my surrender or devotion would stretch that far. Hopefully I will finish in the next couple of days.

When I have finished taking the photos, I will try to get the book preserved because this may be the only remaining copy of the book in existence. I’ll also try to find someone who can translate the book from Bengali to English so that the book can be used for research purposes for the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapura, but it is a very difficult translation task since the translator must know Bengali, Sanskrit, English and mathematical astronomy. Please let me know if you have ever met such a person!

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My personality DNA report

I have decided to break my silence on this blog to announce my personaldna.com personality type, following in the footsteps of the great Vaisnavas that have gone before me (Sitapati, Candidasa, Dave Jorm).

According to the test I am a “respectful inventor.” The full report is here.

I think it is mostly accurate. The part that might surprise some of my friends is where it says I am laid-back and easy-going, calm and centered. Although my natural condition is like that, I haven’t been so much that way for a while. I would say that this is due to my not being properly situated. The term properly situated is a bit of an ISKCONism. To me it basically means being in a situation that feels right for me, where I am more easily able to progress materially and spiritually. It means being involved mainly in activities that suit my propensities (personality) and having a living arrangement and lifestyle that matches too.

When a person is improperly situated for a long period of time, they are very likely to become stressed, even if they are by nature quite laid-back and easy-going. Sitapati wrote a good article (here) on his blog about the need to work according to our natural tendencies, or in our zone, as he puts it. I have been mostly outside my zone for quite some time now, but i am working on getting back into it.

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Humanity’s greatest challenge

What do you think is humanity’s greatest challenge? The X Prize Foundation is running a video contest to find out.

“The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational nonprofit prize institute whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity.”

Sounds a bit like ISKCON.

You can see some of the entries here. I would like to see some Krishna conscious entries. Any devotees out there with video cameras want to try?

It would be nice to see some more Hare Krishna devotees out there in the Vlogosphere. There are some videos of devotees chanting at festivals and some videos of Prabhupada, but not much in the style of a Vlog. The closest thing I have seen so far to a KC Vlog is a couple of Hare Krishna’s in wigs playing guitar and singing Hare Krishna like some rock stars (here). It was quite amusing but we also have a serious message to communicate and the Vlogosphere does seem like a powerful medium. Oh yes, and I recall seeing some devotees from Brisbane chanting. But we need more! Speak to the camera and speak to the world!

Video Blogging Week 2007 is coming up very soon. So, any devotees out there with a video camera, now’s a good time to start. Pretty soon people all over the world could be watching your KC Vlogs on their mobile phones.

Now I have almost convinced myself to get a video camera.

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Recommended book for learning Sanskrit

Sanskrit book

I’ve been brushing up on my Sanskrit recently. I did take some lessons a few years ago but I didn’t use my knowledge much since then, so now I needed a refresher course as I am preparing for graduate studies on the Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam). I have been using “Beginning Sanskrit” by Dermot Killingley and it is going well. He goes quite slowly but you learn to use your knowledge straight away with helpful excercises and lots of repetition. I have tried Coulson’s “Teach Yourself Sanskrit” before but I didn’t like it and didn’t get very far with it. Killingley’s book suits my way of learning and I would definitely recommend it to others.

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