Life continues to drag on through these winter months, marked by the coming and going of coursework deadlines and the slow passage of the pale sun. Thankfully, I am the recipient of a great many blessings that nourish me in a very tangible way. They come in different forms, some obvious, some less so. Some present themselves as fresh opportunities, whereas some take the shape of inspiring conversations or a few encouraging words from a close friend or mentor. Some are fleeting – glimpses of beauty or momentary breaks in the heavy cloud. Of these, I feel the greatest blessing is that of the maha mantra. Over the last two years, I have somehow acquired some taste for chanting and it seems that the more I chant, the more I am presented with opportunities to chant. There’s a Bengali saying- ‘Kanu bina gita nahi’, -‘Without Krishna there is no song’. I meditate upon this more and more these days, as the sound of Krishna’s name, whether sung out loud, or quietly whispered becomes more and more attractive to me. Without Krishna, there is no song, and song without Krishna is hardly song at all. I’ve noted with great interest as my taste for all other music has almost effortlessly begun to wane lately. I’m not making any conscious effort to renounce it, I think I’m just experiencing in a very practical way, the effect of getting even the tiniest hint of a higher taste.
Last weekend, me, Tulasi and our friend Radhika drove up to Oxford to lead their monthly kirtan program. It’s the second time we’ve done it. At the beginning of this year we did it for the first time, and it was slightly scary, but really fulfilling. This time was no different, if anything more relaxed as we knew what to expect this time. We arrived in Oxford early, to have a delicious lunch at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies with our gracious and esteemed hosts, Shaunaka, Keshava, Syama and Gopal Hari. They showed us around the town a little and we got to go inside Gopal’s college – Queen’s. It was quite fascinating. I’ve been around Cambridge, but have never really seen much of Oxford. You can almost taste the knowledge percolating in the air, through the high stone walls of every college and library. It made me lament slightly for the university education I might’ve had, if I had perhaps been more ambitious three years ago. The system of learning at both Oxford and Cambridge is held in such high esteem because it is so unique. Teaching is only done through one-to-one tutorials – unlike almost every other university in the world, including mine, which sees me sitting through a bland Power Point and reading a few hand outs twice a week, then churning out some essays every few months. Still, no point in complaining – I’m almost finished, and life is a continual process of learning, so it’s not as if learning will finish, come graduation day.
After spending far too long examining the underground passages of the library at Queen’s, we realised we only had five minutes to run down the road to the program and had to make a dash for it. We arrived puffing and panting to a roomful of people, waiting for us to begin.
The next two hours were really enjoyable, as we led three kirtans, speaking a little bit inbetween. I really agonised about speaking beforehand. I’m not confident at all when it comes to presenting even the simplest concepts of Vedic philosophy, so I tend to shy away from any opportunity to do it. There’s also the fact, I suppose, that many youth who have grown up in the Hare Krishna movement, have never been systematically trained to present Krishna consciousness to others, or even been taught systematically themselves – therefore I think there’s a distinct lack of expectation amongst others in our society that we should have any enthusiasm, or ability to do so. Still, I have found the experience of actually making that first step (through the gentle yet persuasive encouragement of mentors in my life) both enthusing and educational. As the old saying about teaching goes (badly paraphrased), when you teach something to others, you learn to an equal degree.
Of course, all I said was a few words about chanting. Once I started speaking, I forgot anything I had planned to say, and clutched desperately for the right words. But it was alright. People smiled and listened. I think the greatest benefit of being young is that people are still forgiving, and appreciate the effort, even if it is humble.
So what’s next? On Monday I’m flying to South Africa to take part in their first ever youth kirtan retreat, held a few hours outside of Johannesburg. I’m feeling quite guilty about getting to go, especially as I don’t know how these opportunities keep falling into my lap, but I’m incredibly grateful to the South African devotee youth, and Gaura Vani and the As Kindred Spirits family, who have given me this chance to serve them in a way I have some capacity for. I’m flying out with my violin of course, and assorted textbooks – I have a deadline as soon as I get back, and there’s the small matter of the fact that I haven’t even told my university I’m going to be away for two weeks. Just as well I don’t go to Oxford eh?