The other day, I was walking around the temple and noticed that everything from the Janmashtami festival this year had been taken down. Not even a single tent remained. All that was left was a skip full of waste in the middle of the festival field. It made me realise that although everything had been taken down, the skip was not the only thing that remained from the festival. We are left with the experiences in our minds and hearts and also with the lessons we have learnt from the day. I have learnt a lot from this year’s Janmashtami, particularly about the importance of serving others.
Thinking back to the festival, many other memorable experiences at Bhaktivedanta Manor come to mind. These include being stuck in crazy traffic trying to get to the temple, getting stuck in crazy traffic trying to get out of the temple, fasting of course, people walking past you with stacked plates of pizza and chips when you are fasting, the long queues for the pizza tent and getting your foot stepped on in the suffocating crowds and trying to find your car in the pitch black (which is supposedly parked in the white field) when it’s 1am in the morning. Despite all of this, Janmashtami has always been the most enjoyable celebration of the year.
Janmashtami has so many enjoyable aspects to look forward to such as the prasadam, the company of close friends and family, the performances and the amazing kirtans. Just being in the company of the people at the festival is enough to make it an enjoyable day.
In my younger years, I’ve been forcibly sat with much inattention through many of my dad’s classes. Despite pretending not to take much interest in what he was taking about, surprisingly, a few things managed to penetrate my ignorance. One of the teachings I managed to retain happens to be very relevant to my experiences of the Janmashtami festival. It’s from the Bhagavad Gita and it states that endeavours for self-centred enjoyment will result in suffering.
I’ve been to many festivals with the idea that I was there for my own enjoyment and that the events and the food at the festivals were there solely for my enjoyment. It was all about me, the centre, and I was very wrong. There have been so many times in my life where I have prioritised my enjoyment and myself. I thought that pleasing myself would lead to happiness, thinking that having everything I wanted would completely satisfy me. The Smiths sang “please please please, let me, let me, let me, let me get what I want … this time.” Of course, despite The Smiths’lyrics, it brought me nothing of substance; at most, I received temporary pleasure, which would undoubtedly lead to boredom and dissatisfaction. Perhaps the Rolling Stones were more on queue with “I can’t get no, da na na, satisfaction.”
I’m sure that many people can agree that the best Janmashtamis are always the ones in which you are doing some sort of volunteering or service. There is something about serving others that just gives me a sense of satisfaction and an indescribable feeling of pleasure. I feel that doing something for someone else is the best thing to do for yourself. It’s about giving and not the getting that used to preoccupy me. Janmashtami provides us with an opportunity to get ourselves out of the centre, and we do this by embracing the service spirit. Let Krishna become the centre, especially on His birthday.
Every play, every dance, every song and every samosa are all offerings to Krishna. Krishna is inevitably the centre of everything.
So I am still learning. I’m trying my best to serve. In the words of the great Martin Luther King, that’s what makes us great. “Not everybody can be famous but everybody can be great, because greatness is determined by service.”
– Hari Kilmurry