How harmful can devotion be? – 12 Sep 12

Yesterday I wrote that religion manipulates your mind and thus makes you do crazy things that you would never do if you were in your right’s mind. People spends lots of money, go on pilgrimages and take pains to see so-called holy places and then there are even those who become terrorists because of religion. But maybe it is not actually religion that makes this manipulation, maybe it is devotion.

What is the difference, you ask? Well, actually I think devotion does not only have to be religious.

You can devote yourself to religion, to God, to a certain belief and all the rules and ideas that come with it, I agree. Devotion is when you not only love your God but dedicate your each and everything to him and put yourself into his hands. That may not harm anybody by itself – but if religion comes with its religious leaders, controversial advice in scriptures and outdated ideas on how you should live and how others should live, you get into that area where devotion becomes dangerous.

I have read first-hand experiences of women who were fully devoted to their guru and were thus exploited, humiliated and even sexually abused. Because they believed their guru to be God, divine and the one whom they should follow. They did whatever he said. And they regretted it once their devotion stopped.

Such danger exists with devotion not only if it is for something religious. Just look at someone who devotes himself to alcohol. He will get addicted and forget all sense and reason. He will harm first himself and maybe also those around him.

If you object now, saying that alcohol is a substance that anyway makes you addicted and behave in crazy ways, I can give you another example: people who devote themselves to work are not less harmful. Someone who is devoted to his work has only work to think about. He won’t hear the call of his body for rest and a proper meal. He will become a workaholic, he will be his work instead of himself – and harm himself and his family through this.

The only thing that I now believe you should be devoted to is love. Devote yourself to positivity, to being in love and spreading love. I don’t think you can do wrong here. You don’t need someone in between though, no master or guru. Devote yourself direct to love and not to a certain person of whom you think you learn to love.

What about devoting yourself to your partner though? I believe that this devotion has to be mutual. You have to devote yourself to each other because you have to be equal in your relationship. If only one of you devotes himself, one will be the master and the other one the follower. The follower will always be lower, less important and not able to take decisions. The master on the other hand will have too much responsibility. A partner may feel that the other one is too attached, too humble, not a personality by himself but completely dependent on him. No, a relationship needs devotion but it has to be mutual.

Only then, when you lose yourself in your devotion to love or your mutual devotion with your partner, you are able to keep reason and logic intact. You can turn crazy in love – but your partner will keep you from any harm.

How the subtle Manipulation of Religion makes you crazy – 11 Sep 12

Every evening we do a little walk in our Ashram where we have a wonderful way from the house to the gate. With Apra on the arm we go and sometimes stop at the gate to look outside. Apra loves watching the cars, bicycles and motorbikes drive by, the people come home from work or the pilgrims doing their rounds on the Parikrama Marg, the pilgrimage way around our town. Pilgrims and many local people do this walk daily, with bare feet and often reciting mantras. Some of them do even more: they lie down on the floor, get up, walk three steps and lie down again. In this way they do the complete Parikrama of about ten kilometers.

A few days ago we were standing there and watching traffic as usual when we saw one of those pilgrims lie down on the way, then get up, make a little dance and lie down again, obviously fully happy in his devotion. Ramona turned to me with the words ‘You get a bit crazy when doing this, don’t you?’ After a moment I answered ‘No, you have to be a bit crazy to do this!’

Before a storm of Hindu believers now rushes to the defense of this practice and before any of my friends shout ‘But you did it yourself!’, let me tell you that yes, I have done the Parikrama in this way and yes, my wife knows about this.

I know myself what my state of mind was in that time, just before entering the cave. From today’s point of view, if I met the man who I was in that time, I might easily call him crazy.

It is simply incredible what religious belief and a belief in God can do to your mind. There is just so much devotion and the conviction that this kind of action is good not only for you but for the world, that you don’t think rationally about it. In which way does it benefit your God if you spend two or three days on a road, lying down and getting up, hardly getting forward? They call it devotion but I would say it is a manipulation of the mind. When devotion gets to this level, it makes you blind. You don’t feel pain and you don’t think, it gets more and more crazy.

While I believe that this is a bit crazy, there are much crazier things that religion makes people do. It is the same feeling, the same manipulation by religion when a person believes it is something good to spend his last penny until a certain day on which he thinks the world is going to end. Or drink a deathly poison together with others of the same state of mind. It is also the same religious manipulation that makes someone strap a bomb around his waist and blow himself up in a busy subway, killing himself and dozens of other people. Or highjack a plane and crash it into a tower, causing grief to thousands of people who lost loved ones.

It is craziness. It is religion. Some of the effects are less harmful, some are more. You can tolerate it if someone does not cause damage or harm to others and no obvious harm to himself. Call him a little bit crazy. But in the end, it is religion that manipulated this mind into this devotional act.

Why do we need a tragedy to stop believing in God? – 23 Jul 12

It is now the month ‘Sawan’ or ‘Shraavan’ according to Hindu calendars, the monsoon month. It is considered as a very holy month and there are a lot of rituals and ceremonies that people do in this time. One tradition is to go to the river Ganges, get water and bring it to a Shiva temple to offer it there. This is how every year thousands of people make a big pilgrimage to the Ganges and back.

Last week I read about a village in the state Haryana that broke with this tradition. They had a Shiva temple in their village and every year a whole bus went from that village to the Ganges and back. Two years ago however the bus had an accident. In this accident the whole bus came off the road on the way back to the village and all 24 people of the village who were in the bus died. The whole village decided that there can be no God who lets this happen, that so many pilgrims die and even with the holy water in their hands! So they closed down their Shiva temple, stopped worshipping and don’t do any pilgrimage in this time anymore.

There are more such stories of people losing their faith in God after tragic events. Every year at bigger religious events, celebrations and on holidays, there is some temple or place of worship where too many people come together and for some reason they start running away, pushing each other, then some fall down, others run over them and there is a big mass panic. Many people die in such human stampedes which often abruptly ends the belief of their relatives.

Those are big events that kill the belief of many but there are also single accidents in which only a few people start doubting God. It happened to me, too. When my sister died in a car accident, it was a turning point in my life that brought me away from my belief in religion.

But why do we have to wait for an accident? Why do we need something drastic, tragic to happen for this change?

I recommend just looking at the tragedy of others to see that life is not predictable. You cannot make an astrological chart and predict the time of death of a person. You cannot look into the future and you cannot change anybody’s fate by telling them horror stories about when they are going to die.

You also cannot save yourself by trusting in God. All those people who were in that bus were faithful pilgrims. All those who were at those big temples and were run over by the masses were religious people. They all believed in God.

If you have trust in God, it does not mean that you can do anything and you won’t die. You cannot drive drunk and think that nothing will happen because God is with you.

It may seem a gloomy, negative opinion to you what I am writing but it actually is not. Once you go away from that belief, you will realize how liberating it is when you can take responsibility for your actions and their consequences yourself.

Temple Business – More God for more Money – 28 Mar 12

I read online reports about the Tirumala Venkateswaar Temple near Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh recently which told about the situation of the temple, about the devotees that go there and about the corruption that takes place there. It seems as though there is a lot going on that would normally annoy the general public but this temple is and remains India’s richest and probably most popular temple.

Every day there are about 65000 pilgrims who want to go inside the temple and ‘see God’ there. That is only an average number, it is up to 80000 pilgrims on the weekends and 100000 pilgrims and more on religious holidays. The numbers are amazing by themselves and obviously a lot of people think that this must be an amazing spiritual experience to go to a place where so many people worship. To be honest, I don’t think so.

The very first fact is that you have to deal with those huge crowds whenever you go there. Wherever you go, there are people and when you move through the gates and into the temple, you can be nearly sure to be in the middle of a crowd that moves on and so you have to keep on moving, too, in order to avoid being run over. Temple workers keep on pushing people onwards, driving them onwards so that as many people as possible can see the deities in the temple in one day.

You can imagine that with so many people walking through the temple you don’t really have time to sit down and say your prayers in peace while looking at the deities which you believe are God. No – the estimated time that the pilgrims get to see the statue of God is 0.80 milliseconds to 1.5 seconds! Do you still think that this is such a special experience? Are these one and a half seconds really worth everything that the pilgrim has to go through before?

Because there is a lot to endure before you get this special honour! There are so many people queuing outside the temple that it often takes 15 to 20 hours until they get to be inside the temple! There is a way however to get there more quickly – just pay a bit more! They have difference entry tickets and the more expensive ones are for queues that move faster. They are selling God. If you have money, you can buy the entrance to the fast lane towards God.

And if you have some more, you can even get to the bypass! You can directly go in if you have a VIP pass! Yes, that is right, this temple issues VIP passes. They are for governors, ministers, other important government officials – and of course for everyone who donates more than one crore Rupees, which is about 200000 US-Dollars. There are special hours in the morning and the evening when God is there only for them. An ordinary pilgrim will have to wait, for them the temple is closed in that time. So God is obviously happier about believers with much money – he lets them see his face more quickly and for longer. Temples and religious buildings are the centers of the business of religion where they see religious people as cows and milk them for money and donations, even by selling tickets.

Pilgrims don’t only have to face long waiting times, they also have to face the corruption which is obviously prevailing in the temple administration. For getting your entry ticket and accommodation, there is an official way, you can do it yourself and run from one office to the other. You will spend hours and maybe have no success. Or you can get close to God more quickly and take the help of an agent which will of course cost you the double amount of money. He has his ticket from the same place but he paid a bit more for it and now you have to pay him for his efforts, too. Is God creating jobs here or is it just a simple way of ripping off pilgrims?

To summarize this: if you are a normal person with an average amount of money, you can wait in a hot crowd in summer for 20 or more hours and then be pushed through the temple and maybe get a glimpse of God’s statue. If you are a VIP politician or officer or if you have lots of money to donate, God welcomes you right away. Isn’t religion a great business?

I have written about this temple before, too. I told about their wealth, wrote about big donations that they get and I have also mentioned other temples where similar things are going on. They get very big donations, they have tons of silver and gold and their priests and employees are often very wealthy. Millions of people go there every day and think they are doing something good for themselves, their Karma and the world. What they really do is contributing in corruption. Don’t you think God would be happier if you invested your time, money and energy in doing service for the needy and humanity?

Here are the Reports:

21-hour wait for fleeting darshan of the Lord at Tirumala

Is Lord Balaji temple at Tirumala only for VIPs?

Corruption is a way of life in Tirupati Tirumala Devasthanams

Be careful – Fake Ashrams in India can bring you in Trouble – 25 Oct 11

As promised, I want to explain you a bit more about the situation of Ashrams in India and especially the question of how much it should cost to stay in one, how high the expenses really are and what a tourist or traveller can expect when coming to stay in India.

When you come to Vrindavan as a pilgrim and find a priest to perform religious services, ceremonies and more for you, it can well be that this person is not a real priest. He could be a former office employee, as I already explained, but it could as well be a criminal. Are you surprised by this statement? If so, you may not know how easy it is for a man who is running away from the law to turn to becoming a Sadhu. It just takes a change of getup and he will look like a Sadhu, like a preacher or like a priest. Wearing the traditional clothing, putting on the religious make-up and wearing hair and beard long is all that it takes. Additionally some spiritual behavior, some malas, some prayers murmured and there you are – a new Sadhu or priest. There are of course also real Sadhus who have fully renounced from worldly life, but these usually don’t try to get tourists to pay them. In this Sadhu getup however they are respected by people all around.

This all is connected with the question of staying in Ashrams, too. Some of these people, criminals in religious getup, have built their own temples and Ashrams. They convert old temples into guesthouses, they illegally possess some building and make it their Ashram or guesthouse and they try to get tourists and visitors to stay with them. They get donations in their temples and get paid for the rooms.

While the local population of Vrindavan obviously knows about their history, tourists from outside don’t and they can be cheated easily by the deities in the temple and the religious behavior of their priest. Even if the Sadhu smokes drugs in front of their eyes, they think ‘Well, this is India, it is normal here and for them to take drugs to get into trance’. The reality looks different though. They can be criminals and getting in touch with such people can be harmful for you.

If this person has made his guesthouse, Ashram or temple on illegal property, you can get involved in a lot of trouble. Such cheaters obviously don’t pay any tax for having that land or running their business there. They have no registered charity to which you can give your donations. They have not even paid for owning that land, they just started living there and declared it theirs. If you are a foreigner and are staying there, they don’t actually have a permission to have foreigners there and they won’t bother to register you anywhere, which would be required by law. They might not even be paying for the electricity they are using. So if a police raid takes place and you are found on that property, living there and giving money to a criminal, you will spend some time of your holiday explaining that situation. There may be more things going on there that you are not aware of. It is a lot unnecessary trouble, even if you are not guilty of any crime yourself in the end.

I have experienced that, people who came here have told their stories and we get to know about such trouble that they had. This all is why I will always recommend tourists to stay in places that have a good reputation. I don’t want to make you afraid but I also don’t want you to come to India with much enthusiasm and great mood and then get into trouble. If you think now that it is not easy to know whether a place has a good reputation or not, just look at the obvious signs. How did you find that place? Obviously, an internet presence is helpful. How big is it? Is it frequented by others? Are there recommendations? Another question is, how did you get there? Was there a guy at the Chai shop at the corner who told you he has a cousin who has a great Ashram? Did he lead you through tiny streets into a back corner with no official sign of an Ashram? Don’t stay there, no matter how friendly this guy was, it most probably means that they don’t have any official Ashram or guesthouse there.

After this explanation, do you really think it is not worth spending a bit of money to stay in a place which actually is an Ashram and which is legally allowed to accommodate you? Now maybe you understand that such places have lower expenses than we do, with no official taxes, no staff to take care of and obviously most of the times much less comfort than in our Ashram. Wouldn’t it be worth at least covering our expenses so that you can stay here instead of in that dark alley?

Unemployed Office Workers become religious Preachers in Vrindavan – 17 Oct 11

Last week I explained that many westerners come to India looking for Siddhis and for those who have Siddhis and might show them how to achieve them for their own lives. As there is demand for such people, others make this offer and the number of gurus in this business grows daily. Not everybody starts showing off his fake Siddhis by magic tricks right away. Many begin their guru career as simple preachers and especially in Vrindavan we have many of those preachers.

We once had a person who worked on our website for us. That was before we took care ourselves of uploading pages on the website, updating content and making that content look nice online. He was the one who was supposed to do all that but after some time we noticed that he spent more time of the day downloading and watching movies than doing our work which is why any requested change on the website took rather long. We had to fire him and started doing this all ourselves which we are very happy about now.

Some time ago we got to know that our former employee was not anymore working on improving the websites of other people but had created his own website, had set up profiles on social networks and had started another business: he had become a preacher.

Online we saw pictures of him in full spiritual clothing instead of the suite that he used to wear, his hair grown longer and the make-up of a spiritual person in the face. For us it was quite funny to see this ‘holy’ getup and to read his advertising in which he of course told about his lineage, his guru and his tradition, his lifelong devotion to Hindu practices and scriptures as well as to the service of Krishna.

When he once came by at the Ashram again, I had some talk with him. I told him that I had heard about his new profession and asked how come he had started that. He answered ‘Well, you have to do something for a living!’

So you see, this is how dozens of preachers can be born in this town every day. They try to get a job according to what they have learned or what they know. If they have good qualifications, it can work. If it doesn’t, they often go into the preaching profession. Why? Because Vrindavan is always full of religious pilgrims. They come from all over India and from abroad on their pilgrimages and stop here in Vrindavan to do pooja at the river Yamuna, to go to the old temples Banke Bihari and Madan Mohan and maybe do some sightseeing at the ISKCON temple. And many love to have some extra program by hiring a priest or a preacher to tell them some stories of the scriptures, perform a ceremony with them or help them go to the religious places in town.

When you come as a pilgrim to Vrindavan, you come for your good Karmas. Doing the ceremonies and taking the services of a preacher to listen to devotional stories or to sing Mantras and Kirtan is part of increasing your good Karma. Someone who was born and grew up in Vrindavan usually has heard the main stories that are there to tell and some extra points for a lecture are quickly learned. Everyone can become a preacher and young people who want to start a business in Vrindavan often decide to go for this profession.

I do not want to blame anybody for taking up this profession because it is their way of securing their survival. They work for their living and it has to be appreciated. By explaining how they come into this profession I want to take the magic and mystery away from this idea of holiness that some people have. It is a business like every other. People learn a bit, there is demand and they make their offer in the market. They are not holy and they are not more blessed than you. Instead of calling them preachers, you should call them entertainers. Religious make-up and getup doesn’t make a person holy. Maybe some of them have worked in an office before. There could be some who actually devoted their lives but you might have to search for them.

Don’t fall for the illusion of holiness but dig deeper.

Modern Version of Religious Rituals – 13 Oct 10

It is Navratri right now, a Hindu festival of nine days. Hindus worship the Goddess Durga all over India but different regions of the country celebrate in different ways, with different traditions and ways of worship. This worshipping includes fasting, different ceremonies, rituals, dance and music.

Of course Vrindavan, as one of the most popular pilgrimage places, is also fully involved in the celebrations and many people do fasting here for the course of nine days. There are certain food types that people don’t eat and food prepared in certain ways which is then called fasting food. Unfortunately however nowadays they do it in the modern way: fasting food has become fast food! The original idea was to give your body a break, to make it feel light. Nowadays companies sell and make so many different fasting dishes and sell them like fast food!

I see how people here sometimes have a strange idea about this nine day celebration, when they suddenly turn religious for this length of time. Then they go to temples and worship and do fast. Normally they don’t care about religion, they even eat chicken and other meat during the year although Hinduism generally propagates vegetarianism. However for those nine days these people do their fast, they eat no meat of course and only fasting food. It doesn’t matter what they eat during the whole year, if they just manage to keep their fast for these nine days, the Goddess will be happy with them. Yes, I can see, they are some of the most religious people out there!

It is also usual and traditional that people go to do a certain dance in these nine days which is called ‘Garba’. Normally this is a dance in which you get high in your devotion and love. Nowadays people like to drink alcohol before they go to dance and think they have more fun like this. If you ask them if alcohol is not forbidden in fasting time, they say that it is anyway only fruit juice, wine made from grapes! So nothing wrong in that, it would be allowed during the fast.

Another news is that in this time the sales of condoms have increased very much! You can imagine how nicely and religiously people are fasting and full of devotion, full of love and full of alcohol they spread their love but at least they take care not to spread any sexually transmitted diseases along with it.

I anyway do not believe in any of these religious celebrations. If you want to do something good for your body sometime and decide to eat less or only fruit, it makes sense and is good. If you want to celebrate, you don’t need alcohol or a religious reason for it. However if you are following any tradition, please keep its value.

Yamuna Flood in Vrindavan is Getting Worse – 27 Sep 10

The situation of the flood in Vrindavan is getting worse and worse. As I told you, the water has entered the inner city and the Parikrama Marg, the pilgrimage way around the city has been impossible to walk for about a month now, since the water has flooded the streets. Hundreds of houses are in the water. In 150 temples, all rituals and worshipping had to be stopped as it is not anymore possible to access the altars. The schools of Vrindavan are closed on government orders.

Many parts of the town do not have electricity anymore and phone connections have not been working for a while. The whole city’s water supply is interrupted as the water pump is under water now. At the Ashram, too, we have not had water supplied for the last 4 days and needed to arrange tankers of water for us and our neighbours.

We are lucky to live a few meters higher so that the water could not reach up to us. It is now 400 meters away from us and we are happy to still have electricity and internet so that I can update and report about changes of the situation in my diary.

We will of course keep up the help. On Thursday we have plans to have another medical camp at the Ashram. In the last medical check-up, the doctor noticed that some of the children of our school may have tuberculosis and suggested to make thorough ultrasound examinations. After Thursday we will know for sure and can start the treatment for those who need it.

It does not seem right to continuously ask you for donations and I think everybody agrees that the Yamuna water has flooded Vrindavan for long enough now but that is nature and it has its own laws. It is the end of September which is usually the end of monsoon time. Now the water levels are still rising but we keep up the hope and our fingers crossed that it will stop soon. For now however people still need your support and your contribution is very welcome!

A lot of thanks again to everybody who has donated until now. I would like you to see what all your support until now has brought and that is why we keep our flood page updated regularly.

We are committed to give the flood victims our support. We want to ask you to keep compassion for them, think of them and send your wishes and prayers. Please spread the news to everybody who has not heard about it yet and would like to know about the flood in Vrindavan. Maybe some more of your friends and family would like to contribute.

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Corruption Leads to Misuse of Charity Supplies in Flooded Pakistan – 14 Sep 10

As I told you yesterday, we were warned that the water was getting more again and when we were at the spot today it was more than even last week. The parikrama, the pilgrimage way around Vrindavan, is now not passable anymore because parts of it are flooded deeply. Many people who have a daily routine of doing their pilgrimage will have to find another way now. But the water is still increasing and with it again the worries of those who live in the area. Sanju, who is now living at the Ashram, got to know from his mother that their house fell apart. It was one of the first to be standing in the water and of course is now flooded until the roof.

Everybody knows also about the bad situation in Pakistan. 20% of the country is flooded and millions of people are affected, many of them even fighting for survival. From all over the world people are trying to help and gave donations for support. It is great that there is some international support!

I read in the newspaper however that many of the government officials, who were in charge of helping the flood victims, did not always do that. Unfortunately the government body is very corrupt there. The country received wheat flour, vegetable oil and other supplies from all over the world to help those who are about to starve. These officials were found selling these supplies to shopkeepers! Those shopkeepers were of course very happy, they got cheap merchandise and can sell it in high prices because it is now rare. So the real victims, those who have lost everything, do not get all the help that actually reached the country. If they do this with the supplies, I cannot even imagine what will happen with the money! Usually these supplies are sent instead of money to make sure that money does not go into the wrong pockets however there even this is not a secure way to reach the victims!

It is sad to hear about this and to know that some people just take advantage of the helping hand that is reached to others. They misuse the charitable attitude of others! There are people who give with generous hearts and they want to help but it doesn’t reach there. Those who take advantage of the supplies are not really affected themselves. They are rich and live in good areas where no water reaches. Those who need it are those who are poor and who lost whatever they had.

When I see this, I am just happy that we are able to do what we can here. Yes, we are just a small group of people but for that reason we can just promise that we give all our help, as much as we can. For tomorrow we have again prepared medical support. I will write more about this project tomorrow.

You can see in the pictures in our gallery how bad the situation of the houses is.

Today my friend Michael and his family supported us by sponsoring the food on Michael’s birthday. We all wish him a great new year of his young life and send him our love!

You can see pictures of the lunch at the Ashram.




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Flood in Vrindavan on Krishnas Birthday – 1 Sep 10

Today is Janmashtami, Krishna’s birthday, a day that is celebrated especially in this region where Krishna was born. Many people make a pilgrimage to Vrindavan on this day which is why the inner city is very crowded. The Parikrama Marg however, the pilgrimage walk around the city is unusually empty today on this festive occasion. It seems like many people did not want to walk the way because of the water that has also crossed the pilgrimage walk at some points.

In the Hindu scriptures it is also mentioned that on the day when Krishna was born, the Yamuna had burst its banks. So it is the time of flood and everybody is hoping that the water will retreat now after this day so that people can return to their homes, start rebuilding, cleaning up and eventually get their lives back to normal again.

Unfortunately it does not look like it will be better very soon. Monsoon rains can come anytime and after a short shower yesterday, the rain was pouring down today for more than an hour. We can only imagine how the colonies must look like now. The roofs, which have been their living rooms and bed rooms for the last week, must be wet now, too.

I want to thank all of those who have donated today, too, and ask everybody to also tell friends and family about the situation here. Many of you have already been here and all of you can see the videos and the immediate help that we can provide with your donations. Spread the word and we will be able to help more!

Pictures of the flood

 

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