American Vedanta Blog

The latest news, sermons and resources from American Vedanta

Sunday Service: The Importance of Thinking for Yourself

Why you should think for yourself when it comes to spirituality.

March 13, 2016 by

Love

Sunday Service: Love as the Cornerstone of Faith

A senior Ramakrishna monk explains how to love without attachment or suffering.

March 6, 2016 by

Pickle

Sunday Service: Moving Beyond Preferences

Pickle could not keep me from my higher nature, but it tried.

February 11, 2016 by

Sunday Service: Better Understanding Karma

Week of Jan 10 – 16, 2016

Today I’m speaking at the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of the Philippines in Manila on the topic of “Making Vedanta’s Timeless Truth Culturally Relevant Today.” In the talk, I plan to discuss how Vedanta only becomes relevant and useful when it is applied to the societal and personal culture of the person in question.

The deepest truths must always be timeless if they are to be truth, as the famous Indian philosopher, Shankaracharya, has brilliantly proven. Yet, applying these truths to our lives is not easy. It requires taking the universal truth and mixing it with very impermanent daily life and values that are constantly changing.

The point of my talk will be that an American needs to contextualize Vedanta for his American culture to get the most out of it, and an Indian needs an Indian Vedanta, and a Filipino needs a Philippines Vedanta. It is the same deeper truth, but it is expressed slightly differently depending on your personal background and situation. This is part of the magic of Vedanta, and why it is still so relevant after thousands of years.

At the same time, not everything must be so deeply remixed; some concepts stay more or less the same no matter where you stand. The idea of karma might be one of those concepts.

With that in mind, this week we bring you an essay that explores karma. It was first published by the Ramakrishna Vedanta Association of Thailand, of which I’m deeply involved.

Speaking of which, I’ll be in India next week and back in Thailand starting February 1. If you live outside of the U.S., please visit the American Vedanta Tour page and see if we’ll be in a city near you. Each year we travel for several months outside of the U.S.–partially to see how others are contextualizing Vedanta for their community. We’ve just begun this year’s tour, which runs through June.

Enjoy!

Yours,
Peter Kowalke

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Karma: Cycle of birth and deathThis Week’s Spiritual Talk

Karma: Karma: How to Avoid Having Bad Things Happen to Good People

by Bindu Anand

Karma is a word that has truly entered the mainstream today. Some old ideas may still exist, but new meanings have been added as well. So, it will be helpful to revisit the definition.

Karma comes from the root word, “kri,” which means “to do.” Therefore, all action is karma. The result of an action is actually karmaphala (fruit of an action), but today we tend to use the word karma for both the action and the result of the action—which of course causes a bit of confusion. People tend to say, “This is my karma,” meaning the fruit, not the action itself.

From our everyday experience we believe that actions have consequences—that each action has a reaction. We throw a ball on the ground and we expect it to bounce up; we call someone and expect an answer; we work and expect to be paid. We hope that the actions we do will lead us to happiness and that we will attain the things that we work for with our actions.

We also hope that there is justice in this world: that if we do good deeds, it will lead to pleasant results, and if bad deeds are done, there will be punishment or consequences for those acts. These are the very premises that the karma theory is built upon.

When we use the word karma as the result of an action, saying “this is my karma,” when a good or bad thing happens to us, we should be forewarned that karma determines our experience, not our action. Thus if we do something, that is not our karma, but it is done by our own free will. The joy or sorrow that comes our way is karma, which is a result of our previous actions.

To delve into it a little deeper, action can produce two results:

(Read more)

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Video of the Week

The Difference Between Gradual and Sudden Enlightenment

The goal of both sudden and gradual enlightenment is to understand our larger spiritual nature. For one who is enlightened, however, practice is still important.

Finding lasting happiness. Applying the Bhagavad Gita to daily life. Learning about the history of Vedanta in the U.S. These are some of the topics covered at American Vedanta’s YouTube channel. We curate a list of spiritual videos that will help advance your spirituality and expand your mind. When wanting spiritual videos, give our YouTube channel a look.

We also recommend other resources such as Booksaudio lectures and web sites, among other resources.

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Spiritual Fitness

Do You have a Spiritual Routine?

Vedanta, if not practical, has no other relevancy. The key to practical Vedanta is an individualized spiritual routine.

There are six components of a good spiritual routine.

Swan1. Find a Community. If you have an existing church, temple or mosque, attend regularly. If not, join our Facebook group and see our list of recommended spiritual organizations.

2. Seek Guidance. Find a mentor within your existing spiritual community or contact us for a referral.

3. Attend Spiritual Services Regularly. If you don’t live near an appropriate spiritual community, we offer a weekly spiritual talk delivered by email, Facebook and Twitter. We also host a regular Vedanta Dinner for those who live in the New York City area.

4. Incorporate Individual Study. We keep a list of books and resources for your individual study needs.

5. Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Life. Read our talk about listening to your own inner compass and contact us when you have a question that your spiritual community isn’t answering adequately.

6. Leverage Rituals Thoughtfully. As an example, read our essay about the power of saying grace.

Our longer talk about spiritual routine can be found here.

Happy Sunday! Peace be unto you. Peace be unto all.

January 10, 2016 by

Anna Hazare mob

Sunday Service: Me and Anna Hazare

Week of Jan 3 – 9, 2016

The American Vedanta Tour continues. Tomorrow we head to Manila, where among other things we’ll be meeting with the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of the Philippines. Then it is on to India, where we’ll be visiting the home of the Ramakrishna movement, Belur Math in Calcutta, before visiting Vedanta monasteries in Delhi and elsewhere.

Please check out our calendar and reach out to us if you are in one of the cities we visit. And while American Vedanta does not keep a travel blog, per se, I do write about my travel experiences on my personal blog, Peterkowalke.com. So if you’re interested in following our journey across Asia, consider subscribing to my twice-monthly email newsletter.

All this travel reminds me of a trip to India that I took several years ago, back in 2011. At the time, I was visiting Delhi to spend several months living at the Ramakrishna Mission monastery there. On my way, I stumbled upon an Indian celebrity! This led to a tension between wanting to meet the celebrity, and sticking to my spiritual practices. I wrote about the experience at the time, and this week we feature this story as our spiritual talk of the week.

Enjoy!

Yours,
Peter Kowalke

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Anna HazareThis Week’s Spiritual Talk

Flying with Celebrity

by Peter Kowalke

The in-flight entertainment was quite extraordinary during my Kingfisher flight from Pune to Delhi. As me and my fellow passengers scrambled to our seats, all very Indian rush-rush, we were halted by the discovery that Anna Hazare was on our plane.

Anna Hazare.

I had never heard of the man, but clearly everyone else on the plane knew him. Driving home the idea that I had stumbled upon celebrity, three national news crews were camped out around Mr. Hazare and his entourage, filming the historic flight. While we were in the air, they took turns interviewing passengers and attempting to talk with Mr. Hazare.

My original plan for the flight was a relaxed two hours reading the letters of Swami Vivekananda, founder of the Ramakrishna Mission where I’d be staying in Delhi. This was a historic event and a brush with celebrity, though, s0 no time for reading; it felt like I had wandered into a scene from Rumble in the Jungle, the movie about the historic boxing match between Mohammad Ali and George Foreman. The Peter still attached to this world wanted in on the action so he could collect an experience and say he had chatted with Mr. Hazare.

(Read more)

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Video of the Week

The Hidden Influence of Vedanta on the West

This talk traces the Western exploration of Vedanta scriptures and Philosophy from the earliest translations in the 1700s to our founding fathers, Jefferson and Adams, to the Transcendentalists, to the explosion of religious pluralism in the 19th century, to modern times through great thinkers such as Carl Jung, William James, Aldous Huxley, J.D. Salinger, Joseph Campbell, Christopher Isherwood, and Huston Smith. All this led up to the explosion of interest in Eastern Religion in the 60s – which continues today.

Finding lasting happiness. Applying the Bhagavad Gita to daily life. Learning about the history of Vedanta in the U.S. These are some of the topics covered at American Vedanta’s YouTube channel. We curate a list of spiritual videos that will help advance your spirituality and expand your mind. When wanting spiritual videos, give our YouTube channel a look.

We also recommend other resources such as Booksaudio lectures and web sites, among other resources.

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Spiritual Fitness

Do You have a Spiritual Routine?

Vedanta, if not practical, has no other relevancy. The key to practical Vedanta is an individualized spiritual routine.

There are six components of a good spiritual routine.

Swan1. Find a Community. If you have an existing church, temple or mosque, attend regularly. If not, join our Facebook group and see our list of recommended spiritual organizations.

2. Seek Guidance. Find a mentor within your existing spiritual community or contact us for a referral.

3. Attend Spiritual Services Regularly. If you don’t live near an appropriate spiritual community, we offer a weekly spiritual talk delivered by email, Facebook and Twitter. We also host a regular Vedanta Dinner for those who live in the New York City area.

4. Incorporate Individual Study. We keep a list of books and resources for your individual study needs.

5. Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Life. Read our talk about listening to your own inner compass and contact us when you have a question that your spiritual community isn’t answering adequately.

6. Leverage Rituals Thoughtfully. As an example, read our essay about the power of saying grace.

Our longer talk about spiritual routine can be found here.

Happy Sunday! Peace be unto you. Peace be unto all.

January 3, 2016 by

Sons of the Buddha

Sons of the Buddha, by Kamala Tiyavanich

Sons of the Buddha chronicles the lives of three of Thailand’s most prominent Twentieth-centry Buddhist monks, Ajahn Buddhadasa (1906-93), Ajahn Panya (b. 1911), and Ajahn Jumnien (b. 1936). Each would effect changes in moral attitudes and Dharma practices, restore Buddhism’s social dimension, bridge the divide separating laypeople and monastics, and champion an openmindedness toward other religions. In these delightful stories, full of local color, we see what it was that led these monastics to become so fearless and influential.

Vedanta stresses that all paths lead to the same ultimate goal, and these monks demonstrate it through experiences and spiritual practices that are Buddhist in character but also very much Vedantic.

Buy the Book

December 28, 2015 by

Upanishadic Wisdom

Sunday Service: The Four Stages of Inwardness

Week of Dec 27, 2015 – Jan 2, 2016

Divinity in Four Easy Steps

by Peter Kowalke

There’s this line in the Katha Upanishad that succinctly outlines the path to God through our own awareness.

“Beyond the senses is the mind, beyond the mind is the intellect, higher than the intellect is the Great Atman, higher than the Great Atman is the Unmanifest.”

That’s pretty concise. Let’s expand.

The first step is turning inward and ignoring the vast universe of stimulus coming from our five senses. Touch, taste, sight, sound and smell help us explore the world outside ourselves, but this is a distraction when searching for divinity. Divinity is contained in the world around us, but our five senses can’t perceive it; we’re like ants trying to conceptualize an elephant when we rely on our outward senses. So the first step is looking inside ourselves, not outside.

This is an easy step, but hard to sustain; I like thinking, but I’m constantly pulled back to the sense world by people around me, my job, my iPhone, the itch on my leg. Still, I can overcome these distractions.

The next step is focus, also known as engaging the intellect. This also is relatively easy. We must not just think, we must focus on finding divinity. Pickle is a valid topic for finding God, but only if we focus on it with divinity in mind. Lovers are valid topics for thought, but only if we think of them in terms of divinity. This is how prayer works—it focuses our mind on God, which helps with locating and understanding divinity.

We must separate the wheat from the chaff, basically. Ignore the line noise. Stay on topic. Discern.

This is my spiritual strength, actually. I enjoy love, and I give myself completely to it. I’m also stubborn. So everything I do is in the service of love; like a silent meditation uttered throughout the day, I focus on it with almost every breath. And because love is mysterious and has a strong connection to divinity, I’ve stumbled into its relation to God. So now I am always finding God in things when I pull the mind back to love. I stay focused, even when I’m not trying.

The big leap is the third step, going from intellect to “the Great Atman.” Once we’ve begun searching for divinity, we must find it. In ourselves.

In Vedanta-speak, “Atman” is our soul. It is that higher part of ourselves that is timeless and beyond birth, death and change. Our body is born and dies, or mind gets filled with good and bad ideas, our will gives in to our base nature or rises above it. Beyond all this is our timeless essence, our Godliness, the part of ourselves that makes us unique and can be seen at birth and in our last breath. This is Atman.

Well, sorta. Atman actually is our soul plus the souls of everyone else, because really we’re just part of one larger soul called God. So Atman is our collective soul, which is the same thing as our individual soul when the confusion over this sense of “I” is cleared up.

Which is exactly what the third step is all about.

(Read more)

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Video of the Week

Vedanta and Buddhist Meditation

Peter Kowalke, an assistant secretary of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Association of Thailand (RVAT) and founder of American Vedanta, gives a brief workshop on Buddhist meditation as it related to Vedanta.

Finding lasting happiness. Applying the Bhagavad Gita to daily life. Learning about the history of Vedanta in the U.S. These are some of the topics covered at American Vedanta’s YouTube channel. We curate a list of spiritual videos that will help advance your spirituality and expand your mind. When wanting spiritual videos, give our YouTube channel a look.

We also recommend other resources such as Booksaudio lectures and web sites, among other resources.

——————————

Spiritual Fitness

Do You have a Spiritual Routine?

Vedanta, if not practical, has no other relevancy. The key to practical Vedanta is an individualized spiritual routine.

There are six components of a good spiritual routine.

Swan1. Find a Community. If you have an existing church, temple or mosque, attend regularly. If not, join our Facebook group and see our list of recommended spiritual organizations.

2. Seek Guidance. Find a mentor within your existing spiritual community or contact us for a referral.

3. Attend Spiritual Services Regularly. If you don’t live near an appropriate spiritual community, we offer a weekly spiritual talk delivered by email, Facebook and Twitter. We also host a regular Vedanta Dinner for those who live in the New York City area.

4. Incorporate Individual Study. We keep a list of books and resources for your individual study needs.

5. Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Life. Read our talk about listening to your own inner compass and contact us when you have a question that your spiritual community isn’t answering adequately.

6. Leverage Rituals Thoughtfully. As an example, read our essay about the power of saying grace.

Our longer talk about spiritual routine can be found here.

Happy Sunday! Peace be unto you. Peace be unto all.

December 27, 2015 by

Forest Recollections

Forest Recollections: Wandering Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand, by Kamala Tiyavanich

“I stayed [in the forest] for two nights. The first night, nothing happened. The second night, at about one or two in the morning, a tiger came–which meant that I didn’t get any sleep the whole night. I sat in meditation, scared stiff, while the tiger walked around and around my umbrella tent (klot). My body felt all frozen and numb. I started chanting, and the words came out like running water. All the old chants I had forgotten now came back to me, thanks both to my fear and to my ability to keep my mind under control. I sat like this from 2 until 5 a.m., when the tiger finally left.” –A forest monk

During the first half of this century, the forests of Thailand were home to wandering ascetic monks. They were Buddhists, but their brand of Buddhism did not copy the practices described in ancient doctrinal texts and many of their actions and ways of thinking will seem familiar to Vedantins. Truly they showed that all paths lead to one common destination.

Combining interviews and biographies with an exhaustive knowledge of archival materials and a wide reading of ephemeral popular literature, Kamala Tiyavanich documents the monastic lives of three generations of forest-dwelling ascetics and challenges the stereotype of state-centric Thai Buddhism.

Anyone looking to expand their Vedantic practice and work on improving their spiritual purity will benefit from peeking into the lives of these early twentieth-century monks. The study of these monastic lineages and practices also enriches our understanding of Buddhism in Thailand and elsewhere.

Buy the Book

December 21, 2015 by

Saying Grace

Sunday Service: Saying Grace This Holiday Season

Week of Dec 20 – 26, 2015

The Meaning of Saying Grace

by Peter Kowalke

When I was a child, grace was my grandfather’s thing. Before we would eat, we would say grace. This was the ritual, the habit. And if you were me, the ritual also would include the fear that you might be called upon to say grace. That was always my fear because I didn’t understand grace or know how it worked.

So growing up, grace was a little mysterious, a little scary, but mostly a ritual I knew nothing about. My family was not big on ritual, so we had few of them.

The absence of ritual or overt dogma during my childhood probably explains why I arrived at Advaita Vedanta. In the Advaita canon, ritual is okay; it primes the pump before we find a deeper understanding. But once we have that deeper knowledge, we can safely ignore the ritual.

The key point that is often missed, however, is that we can’t discard the ritual until we know what we’re doing. Technically the ritual is unnecessary. But if we don’t completely know what we’re doing—and who among us is fully enlightened?—then ritual should not be discarded completely.

Ritual is a tried and true routine, like reading before bed. We may not realize why reading at night is better than television, but the reading ritual works regardless. If we were sleep experts, we might know that a melatonin supplement and other behavior can make late night television acceptable, but few of us are sleep experts.

The same goes for other rituals such as grace. The more I experiment with grace, the more I realize its subtle power.

(Read more)

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Video of the Week

A Vedanta Christmas Service: Christ and His Followers

Finding lasting happiness. Applying the Bhagavad Gita to daily life. Learning about the history of Vedanta in the U.S. These are some of the topics covered at American Vedanta’s YouTube channel. We curate a list of spiritual videos that will help advance your spirituality and expand your mind. When wanting spiritual videos, give our YouTube channel a look.

We also recommend other resources such as Booksaudio lectures and web sites, among other resources.

——————————

Spiritual Fitness

Do You have a Spiritual Routine?

Vedanta, if not practical, has no other relevancy. The key to practical Vedanta is an individualized spiritual routine.

There are six components of a good spiritual routine.

Swan1. Find a Community. If you have an existing church, temple or mosque, attend regularly. If not, join our Facebook group and see our list of recommended spiritual organizations.

2. Seek Guidance. Find a mentor within your existing spiritual community or contact us for a referral.

3. Attend Spiritual Services Regularly. If you don’t live near an appropriate spiritual community, we offer a weekly spiritual talk delivered by email, Facebook and Twitter. We also host a regular Vedanta Dinner for those who live in the New York City area.

4. Incorporate Individual Study. We keep a list of books and resources for your individual study needs.

5. Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Life. Read our talk about listening to your own inner compass and contact us when you have a question that your spiritual community isn’t answering adequately.

6. Leverage Rituals Thoughtfully. As an example, read our essay about the power of saying grace.

Our longer talk about spiritual routine can be found here.

Happy Sunday! Peace be unto you. Peace be unto all.

December 20, 2015 by

Holidays

Sunday Service: Managing Expectations

Week of Dec 13 – 19, 2015

As we get closer to the Christmas holiday, expectations rise. For me, there’s a long list of projects I must finish before the end of the year and my next trip to Asia. For my family, with whom I’m staying for the holidays, there’s the need for holiday decorations and the perfect Christmas.

Yet it is easier to create expectations than it is to meet them. Sometimes these expectations fail to be met. Often we fail to meet the expectations we set. With that in mind, this week we bring an essay about adjusting our thinking in the face of unmet expectations. The difference between happiness and sadness often comes down to how we look at things.

Enjoy!

Yours,
Peter Kowalke

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Don't know HindiThis Week’s Spiritual Talk

The Shirt and Managing Expectations

by Peter Kowalke

“Take off your shirt.”

I get asked that a lot. The requests usually come from men, so it is a lot less exciting than it sounds. But it still is exciting.

My undershirts are famous. People love the shirts, and everyone who has seen one remembers the experience. They ask to see it, and they quote the writing on the shirts from memory. This includes some of the monks.

There’s really only one shirt, but I have it in different colors and sizes. The shirt reads, “Teach me Hindi, buddy.” It reads funnier when not translated.

Indians like the phrase, but the message really captures them. “I like your culture,” the shirt says, which should not be underappreciated given how many times people have colonized India. The country has lots of pride in its more than 5,000 years of culture, but it also has a massive chip on its shoulder from the British past and all the shiny conveniences now coming from the West. So an American asking for Indian culture is pleasing. And unexpected, especially from a pithy phrase on a shirt.

I made the shirts as part of my plan to learn Hindi. My primary objective for the trip is spiritual growth, but I also hoped to learn conversational Hindi, get to know Delhi, and sightsee a bit in the South. I’ve been chasing Hindi fluency for years, and this looked like the trip that would put me over the edge: Six stable months living and working with Indians who don’t automatically default to English when they see a white man. I came armed with the latest Rosetta Stone Hindi course, some dictionaries and educational aids, and a deep commitment to pound through the language. This would be my year. Enlightenment and a second language.

But I’m not learning Hindi.

(Read more)

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Video of the Week

Why Thomas Merton Matters Not Just to Catholics

Finding lasting happiness. Applying the Bhagavad Gita to daily life. Learning about the history of Vedanta in the U.S. These are some of the topics covered at American Vedanta’s YouTube channel. We curate a list of spiritual videos that will help advance your spirituality and expand your mind. When wanting spiritual videos, give our YouTube channel a look.

We also recommend other resources such as Booksaudio lectures and web sites, among other resources.

——————————

Spiritual Fitness

Do You have a Spiritual Routine?

Vedanta, if not practical, has no other relevancy. The key to practical Vedanta is an individualized spiritual routine.

There are six components of a good spiritual routine.

Swan1. Find a Community. If you have an existing church, temple or mosque, attend regularly. If not, join our Facebook group and see our list of recommended spiritual organizations.

2. Seek Guidance. Find a mentor within your existing spiritual community or contact us for a referral.

3. Attend Spiritual Services Regularly. If you don’t live near an appropriate spiritual community, we offer a weekly spiritual talk delivered by email, Facebook and Twitter. We also host a regular Vedanta Dinner for those who live in the New York City area.

4. Incorporate Individual Study. We keep a list of books and resources for your individual study needs.

5. Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Life. Read our talk about listening to your own inner compass and contact us when you have a question that your spiritual community isn’t answering adequately.

6. Leverage Rituals Thoughtfully. As an example, read our essay about the power of saying grace.

Our longer talk about spiritual routine can be found here.

Happy Sunday! Peace be unto you. Peace be unto all.

December 13, 2015 by

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Service Times & Directions

Weekend Masses in English

Saturday Morning: 8:00 am

Saturday Vigil: 4:30 pm

Sunday: 7:30 am, 9:00 am, 10:45 am,
12:30 pm, 5:30 pm

Weekend Masses In Español

Saturday Vigil: 6:15pm

Sunday: 9:00am, 7:15pm

Weekday Morning Masses

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday: 8:30 am

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