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Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Tryst with the Lady of Liberty

It was a bright sunny day, a fine Saturday(24-May-2010) heralding the start of a nice weekend. I took the Metro-North train (supposed to come at 8.38 in the morning, thought I missed it, hoping to catch the 9.04am one I caught this :-) ) starting off to Grand Central. I met an Indian friend who gave me good company during the journey. We talked about weather, vacations, family, work life which kept us engaged throughout the journey.
I reached GC. The station looked wonderful, bristling with crowd - young, aged, multi-culture, mix of tradition and modernity -  a true statement to what this country USA represents.

I took the subway to bowling green and reached the battery park. My bro arrived with my aunt/uncle and his friend and mom. We were all equally excited. After the regular baggage/passenger screening process we boarded the cruise. When the cruiser started, I felt happy seeing the waves rising and falling, building receding far away and felt as if I was in the arms of the mother river and Hudson is truly majestic.

We reached the liberty island and spent glorious time clicking away pictures. Later we went to Ellis Island and learnt its history - how it had served as the immigration post and the life and times of early immigrants to US. the museum hosted some good pictures that took us back to early 18th century.

We returned back to NY city and truly it was a memorable tryst indeed !!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why Vegetarianism... Excerpts from the book 'Living with Siva'

I recently read on vegetarianism, its importance and why humans should adopt it. This is an excerpt from the book 'Living with Siva'.

Reasons for Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism has for thousands of years been a principle of health and environmental ethics throughout India. Though Muslim and Christian colonization radically undermined and eroded this ideal, it remains to this day a cardinal ethic of Hindu thought and practice. A subtle sense of guilt persists among Hindus who eat meat, and there exists an ongoing controversy on this issue. The Sanskrit for vegetarianism is shakahara, and one following a vegetarian diet is a shakahari. The term for meat-eating is mansahara, and the meat-eater is called mansahari. Ahara means "food" or "diet," shaka means "vegetable," and mansa means "meat" or "flesh."

Amazingly, I have heard people define vegetarian as a diet which excludes the meat of animals but does permit fish and eggs. But what really is vegetarianism? It is living only on foods produced by plants, with the addition of dairy products. Vegetarian foods include grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, milk, yogurt, cheese and butter. The strictest vegetarians, known as vegans, exclude all dairy products. Natural, fresh foods, locally grown without insecticides or chemical fertilizers are preferred. A vegetarian diet does not include meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs. For good health, even certain vegetarian foods are minimized: frozen and canned foods, highly processed foods, such as white rice, white sugar and white flour; and "junk" foods and beverages--those with abundant chemical additives, such as artificial sweeteners, colorings, flavorings and preservatives.

In the past fifty years millions of meat-eaters have made the decision to stop eating the flesh of other creatures. There are five major motivations for such a decision. 1) Many become vegetarian purely to uphold dharma, as the first duty to God and God's creation as defined by Vedic scripture. 2) Some abjure meat-eating because of the karmic consequences, knowing that by involving oneself, even indirectly, in the cycle of inflicting injury, pain and death by eating other creatures, one must in the future experience in equal measure the suffering caused. 3) Spiritual consciousness is another reason. Food is the source of the body's chemistry, and what we ingest affects our consciousness, emotions and experiential patterns. If one wants to live in higher consciousness, in peace and happiness and love for all creatures, then he cannot eat meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs. By ingesting the grosser chemistries of animal foods, one introduces into the body and mind anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, suspicion and a terrible fear of death, all of which are locked into the flesh of butchered creatures. 4) Medical studies prove that a vegetarian diet is easier to digest, provides a wider range of nutrients and imposes fewer burdens and impurities on the body. Vegetarians are less susceptible to all the major diseases that afflict contemporary humanity, and thus live longer, healthier, more productive lives. They have fewer physical complaints, less frequent visits to the doctor, fewer dental problems and smaller medical bills. Their immune system is stronger, their bodies purer and more refined, and their skin clearer, more supple and smooth. 5) Finally, there is the ecological reason. Planet Earth is suffering. In large measure, the escalating loss of species, destruction of ancient rainforests to create pasture lands for livestock, loss of topsoil and the consequent increase of water impurities and air pollution have all been traced to the single fact of meat in the human diet. No single decision that we can make as individuals or as a race can have such a dramatic effect on the improvement of our planetary ecology as the decision to not eat meat. Many conscious of the need to save the planet for future generations have made this decision for this reason and this reason alone. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Midnight Run - A run for service (7-May-2010)

Now that I've been associated with the First Presbyterian Church, Ossining for a month, I am getting some real good opportunities to do 'seva' and keep my soul and mind in right shape.

Yesterday, I volunteered in a unique program (very special for me to remember in my current life), called 'Midnight Run'.. now wait its not an overnight marathon of sorts which you may imagine ;-). It is just called so, perhaps, coz you race against/give up the comfortable sleep of midnight, to serve the homeless and needy who may actually have many sleepless/troubled nights due to their poor economic condition!

In this event coordinated by the Midnight ( here in Westchester, NY, our church FPC participated as a donor along with a few other churches like the Briarcliff one. We collect food materials, clothing, tolietries, medicines etc. to distribute among the homeless and needy right in the heart of the affluent New York city!

I was picked up by my nice friend, Bob Supino and his wife, a wonderful service-minded couple in the church with caring hearts. They've been coordinating this for years under the patronship of our church pastor, Lynda.
We arrived in the church by around 7.45pm. We could see a lot of items coming from different churches, family neighborhood arriving at the church. Then the activities begun.

(1) Make food packs - Take bread, cheese, ham, veg. leaves and make sandwiches (like in assembly there were some school/college going young boys/girls enthusiastically working their gourmet/packing skills ;-)), put some fruits, cookies, milk, etc. and seal them
(2) Organizing clothes - arrange by men, women and children clothing and label the sizes - shirts, pants, jeans, inner wear, blankets, jerkins, sweatshirts etc.
(3) Categorize toileteries - soaps, shampoo, oral care, medicines etc.
(4) Packing all into cartons.
(5) Preparing hot coffee/ veg. soup cartons.

After all work, it was time to start (about 9.15 pm). We decided to go as a team of 4 cars..with the relief materials. Lynda introduced all of us to each other, Bob read out the ground rules and safety instructions and finally Lynda gathered us in a small group prayer :-) (very touching)

Then we started off to New York city. I joined Rich (a financial investment consultant with wide industry experience of 20+ years). We discussed a lot during the 1-hour long journey - topics from church, religion, economic meltdown, India and emerging markets economies (and finally got close enough to discuss families :-) )

We reached Manhattan and per plan had four main places to cover - parks, cross-road junctions, church areas and under construction scaffolding where we can locate the homeless/needy. The moment our cars arrived and opened shop we could see streams of people pouring in. Bob told me that as it happened every year, people knew we were coming and also the areas we cover. (this means the same people can follow us and collect relief at all places, so beware ;-)..)

I was in the car, where we distributed sandwich packs, coffee, soup, shoes and blankets. I felt very happy when I gave things to them and was touched when they blessed me and my family !! :-) (i feel that the most precious thing we can ever get in this world is the heartfelt-thanks and blessings from people whom you may never know or see for the first time !!. we can never buy these things with money nor we can get the same love, peace and satisfaction through other means. This is what makes seva, a very special activity. I dedicate all these to Lord Krishna, who's been so kind to use me as an instrument to help the needy He wanted to..Hare Krishna!!)

In the final spot, I was moved to tears, to see people in huts, made of cardboard, paper cartons, stapled/taped together and sleeping under them on a thin rug spread on the pavement!! [However, I feel that the needy and poor in needy don't even have these !! :-( ]. I could see how much blessed we are indeed to have a family/home to return to and take shelter giving us enough hope for the next day to live.

I spoke to a variety of them - some complained about life, harsh govt, heartless people ; some full of thanks for us to come and see them and talk a few nice words to them as they've never been spoken to for months; some really moved to tears seeing us and asking for more support/some job we can find for them; some making fun of us and rather angry with us when we said we can't give more to the same person as we need to give others-- all kinds. I wondered the play of God, making people react differently for the same situation!!.

Life is the same. We all get born into this material world and die once. Same problems, same Maslow's needs, and same human deficiencies - ego, greed, fear, jealousy, at different ages.. but the same material world!!. I wonder how many human beings have undergone the same thing in this universe - but we still feel we are uniquely made by god by our own material standards!!

Are we really unique? Aren't our life cycle the same? I think I'm contributing uniquely, but am i not doing the same things others have done before albeit in different settings? Where am I in this universe? Am i a spiritual being having a human experience or am I a human being having a spiritual experience? Questions, questions and questions...doubts, doubts and doubts... Gosh!!

But summum bonum, this has enlivened my spirit. To see things in my life again in a larger perspective..perhaps those office problems - promotion, pay etc.. wouldn't bother me more than they really should do, perhaps I've to be more responsible to my family and towards myself, not take things for granted and realising the prime duty of seva wherever i am.

This experience is changing me slowly - for the better ..and I hope to participate in the next run !!