Dandavats. All glories to the Vaisnavas.
The translation of Vaisnavism to the West has many interesting twists and turns especially culturally and psychologically. I believe the key is to find the essence and cultivate that mood within our particular environment. I don't think it is ever easy but just the desire and anxiousness to do so builds both character and ultimately greed.
Three years ago when my family and I stayed in Braja I got to visit and bathe Radha Kunda 4 or 5 times. I would just spend the afternoon chanting and trying to absorb the atmosphere.
The gap between East and West... to see Braja and experience it is, for myself, a strong translator of Vaisnavism. Vaisnavism in the West is very forced in some regards. In other words many devotees try to be "indian" or "vedic" or they go to the other extreme and make Vaisnavism resemble the mood of the Born Again Christian church (i.e. fear based and overtly fanatical/aggressive).
For a kid coming from the Punk scene (i.e. anti religious (or maybe a better explanation is anti institutional), social/politically leftist) it is very difficult to handle those two extremes (i.e. wanting to be "indian/vedic" or "fera based/fanatically "religious"). I appreciated much of the philosophy and was very drawn to the spiritual sentiment that is expressed in both Guru Tattva and worship of Gaura Nitia/Radha and Krsna but I struggled mightily with the moods of "Western" Vaisnavism. After years and years of practicing I just started to feel more and more divorced from what drew me to Vaisnavism in the first place. I didnít want to be surrounded by those that used fear and guilt as their primary motivation and driving force. Then my family and I visited Vraja and I was able to reconnect with what I loved so much about Vaisnavism.
To see Vaisnavism as a fabric of life as opposed to a "religion" was exactly what I needed. There was nothing forced and no need to over emphasis philosophical or psychological reasons to practice. To me philosophy is how we channel and understand spiritual emotion as opposed to a doctrine to drive fear or plain old discipline. To see Vaisnavism as a living and breathing component as opposed to a mere practice or discipline was extremely enlivening for me. This isnít to say that a certain degree of discipline isnít helpful in spiritual practice because I believe it is but it is by no means the goal.
While in Braja my only goal was to live and breathe the atmosphere, the emotion and the essence of all I saw. It is an aspiration I carry in my heart everyday. For myself Bhaktivinoda Thakur is a very interesting example. In essence he lived in this world but was not of it. To have such a "normal" life with such intense bhakti, conviction and focus is simply astonishing.
Aspiring to be a servant of the Vaisnavas,