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Pandavas Paradise Celebrates 3 Years of Activity

This last weekend, we celebrated the third anniversary of Pandavas Paradise.

Pandavas Paradise is a retreat centre/nature reserve/temple in the most beautiful surroundings of Chapada dos Veadeiros, Goias, Brazil, a famous eco-tourist region of Brazil, about 3 hours from Brasilia. My spiritual master, Srila Hridayananda Das Goswsami, asked me to establish a holy dhama there and that has been one of my major efforts over the last 10 years.  After much meditation, praying and planning, we opened our doors to the public in January 2006.

This picture was taken this weekend by my wife - it's one of 339 species of birds found in the region.

We have continued to expand, building many new guest facilities, a small temple and improving our organic vegetable patch and orchard during these last three years.

Our main focus has been our retreats. Last year we had eight retreats (4 outright bhakti retreats and 4 retreats better suited for newcomers).

To celebrate the anniversary, we invited Srila Param Gati Maharaja and had a weekend long retreat with 20 people, with a big Festival saturday night with a further 60 people from Alto Paraíso. Param Gati Maharaja can really get a party going with his youthful, blissful mood!

Param Gati Maharaja also blessed us with an inspiring lecture series based on SB 1.1.17-20 during the retreat.

Though it’s the rainy season, we still managed to get some sun for a splash in our waterfalls after a long walk in one of the many trails in our 800 acre nature reserve.

We pray that we may continue in this service to Srila Prabhupada, and that Krishna may grant us more enthusiasm and resources for continued improvements.

For more photos of the retreat, click here.


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Fanatical Religious Views Losing Ground in America

A very interesting poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows that the sectarian message of radical evangelicals, who claim “Jesus is the only way”, remains unpopular in America.

The question the pollsters asked was this, “Which religions other than yours can lead to eternal life?”.

A surprising 65% picked a combination other faiths, such as Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Islam, and even atheism and agnosticism! Yes, even atheism!

You can read an editorial on this, published in the New York Times by Charles Blow here. There you can see these graphs with the results of the poll:

This is similar to what the Gita says, for Krishna explains that those in the mode of goodness rise (though not to eternal life), without any theistic requirements (Bg 14.14). Americans are thus in tune with the general conception that being good will bring you good results after death, no matter what your exact theology is.

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Porto Alegre 2 – Gita, Mantras from the Center of the Universe, Book Fair

On Sunday I gave class a Gita class (10.9) at the local restaurant/temple complex, where Their Lordships Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra, and Gaura-Nitai live. At the request of the devotees and leaders, a large portion of the class was dedicated to sharing with them the latest teachings of Srila Hridayananda das Goswami Acharyadeva.

The restaurant/temple attracts about 100 people a day. On top of that, they have a snack bar (burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, samosas, sweets, etc.), that attracts maybe another 100 a day. It’s located in a strategic area, near the city park and on the street that holds a famous handicraft fair and farmer’s market every Sunday. The temple is on the second floor.

In the last years, the entire preaching in the city pretty much centered around this restaurant/snack bar, where Lila Prabhu interacts with the customers. He’s not hidden away in the kitchen or some office, but right there behind the counter! He’s the pioneer and leader of KC in this state and continues to attract excellent devotees to the Movement, due to his mild and charming manner, good intelligence and loving devotion to Krishna and Prabhupada.

He’s just there, available to all, 6 days a week, pretty much all day long. He quickly strikes up a conversation, engages people in talking about themselves and is able to talk on any subject, be it different philosophers, religions, ideas, etc., never trying to push KC, but just presenting it in the course of the friendly exchanges. The maha-prasadam is cheap and good. The friendship and chat are great. A simple winning formula! I was really impressed with how many smart and enthusiastic devotees had joined there, just as a result of this one preaching technique!

On Monday we had a program in Lila Das Prabhu’s home, in a nearby city, Cachoeirinha. I did my “Mantras from the Center of the Universe” workshop. The devotees really loved it – this is a fairly new workshop but it´s turning out to be very popular.

On Tuesday I gave a lecture at the 54th Porto Alegre Book Fair, in a beautiful cultural center, converted from an early 20th century bank. Huge marble halls, stained glass, art exhibits, etc. I did an 80 minute lecture on the Yoga Sutra. Afterwards, I had a book singing session for 30 minutes.

Overall, it was just a wonderful trip in all regards. I thank Krisna and Prabhupada for the opportunity, association and service.

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Ambarisa and the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium

In response to Tattvavit and Janaki Rama Prabhus’ effort to have a GBC resolution to change the design of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium (ToVP), Sriman Ambarisa wrote a heartfelt response, which you can read here.

My first impression on reading his response was of empathy. I put myself in his shoes and felt the exasperation and impatience of having spent millions (!!!) of US dollars on a project that turned out to be unusable, and now another several hundred thousands US dollars, to again hear cries for change. I completely identified with his message of “hey, look, this is what we’re doing, and if you don’t like it, find someone else to do it!”. I personally feel that I would have walked off the program several hundreds of thousands of dollars ago. So, in the end, my respect and appreciation for his service increased even more.

Having said that, he did seem to open a window of opportunity for some change on the design, in regards to exterior facade, dome shapes, etc. (though he seemed quite adamant in not changing the structural aspect or footprint of the design, which, I believe, will influence the GBC to NOT request a significant change of the design, despite popular appeals).

So, I pray that Krishna grant him and his team the extra patience and insight to at least re-design the exterior of the current project, taking into consideration public opinion.  After all, there is no such thing as serving Prabhupada, if you don’t also satisfy Prabhupada’s servants. People from all around the world, from GBC’s to bhaktas, from scholars to simple folks, are requesting a change of the design. To ignore this, seems to me, to risk staining the herculean task Sriman Ambarisa has taken on.

What kinds of change? Well, for one, many people have remarked that the current domes look very “mosque-ish”. Prabhupada did not approve of this.  Here is the exact reference from Vedabase:

“My Dear Kirtanananda,
Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated January 20th. and February first along with your enclosed plans of the Radha Govindaji Temple in New Vrindaban. From these plans everything seems to be in order except the domes are making the temple look like a mosque.

Therefore you please eliminate these domes and consult the Mayapur plan which can be obtained by writing Calcutta for design of the domes. ”

– Letter to: Kirtanananda  —  Sydney 18 February, 1973

I thus suggest that Ambarisa Prabhu and his team take seriously the popular outcry for change and accommodate it in their service, within the boundaries of their patience and the reality on the ground. They should propose new exterior designs, show it to the public, ask for their opinions, etc. A website could be set up, where the public could vote on different design choices created by his team. They could open a direct channel to the general public, where devotees could send in their comments and suggestions on different aspects of the design.  By taking this approach they would have very little to lose and a lot to gain.


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Advancing our Understanding of Srila Prabhupada

Click here to watch the video.

In this brilliant Srimad Bhagavatam class, broadcasted live by Srila Hridyananda Das Goswami, a very delicate subject was discussed: how to properly understand the words of the guru, what to speak of the founder-acharya.

One approach is to not distinguish and simply accept every word, every statement with equal emphasis.

Another approach is to distinguish between those statements which are based on scripture and those which are not. Those which are based on scripture should be accepted as the perfect absolute truth. Those which are not, must be accepted in the proper context of other verifiable sources.

Srila Hridayananda Maharaja points out that since Srila Prabhupada emphasized that his words are important only because he is repeating shastra, we must take that seriously and thus use the second approach.

He went on to show that Prabhupada was more than willing to change his mind or his views on subjects of the material world, when given a better source of information. He explained that some subjects (not spiritual of course) are simply appropriately studied and analyzed by science, and thus, should be accepted as is and should take preference over the statements of the spiritual master. He gave a simple example: if the disciple is driving his guru to a certain destination and the guru says “turn left”, when the correct route is to turn right, it is appropriate and correct for the disciple to point this out and actually turn right.

This sober, down to earth, interpretation of Srila Prabhupada’s comments allows us to truly present a spiritual science.

Enjoy the class!

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