Celebrating the New Year’s Eve at Whangamata Beach, New Zealand

Sally and Becks had known each other all their lives. They had gone to the same kindergarten and primary school and now they were in the last year of high school and preparing to go to the same college together. Their parents had beach houses in the popular town of Whangamata on the east coast of New Zealand. It was Christmas time, the last day of the old year, in fact, and the girls had been coming to this town since they were little.  The usual population of three thousand people rose to a holiday count of up to twenty thousand which meant noise, cars, festivities and lots of boys to look at. This was the place where it all happened. Nestled on a long expansive surf beach, the town attracted such a wide variety of holiday makers. Mums and dads with young offspring in hand, surfie guys and  girls who lived in their vans and could be seen hitting the waves at the break of day, motor heads who drove their custom built cars and hot rods up and down the main street endlessly, college kids by the thousands who wandered  from one shop to the other, city workers who took the two week holiday period to revel in summer madness and they all thronged the main street to venture into one of the beach town shops; the health food juice bar, Hang Ten surf shop, Crazy Joes emporium, India Calls Eastern delights, one of the multitude of cafes and fast food places, not  to mention the local cinema. Everyone just strolling around in the summer sun, showing off their tans or their very exclusive surf gear.

Image: www.thecoromandel.com

Sally and Becks had already planned their holiday. The modelling and beauty contest was held over a five day period with the winning results on the sixth day and big presentations. That was in the beach park so they would be there every afternoon. Mornings would start late with a stroll around the shops and then swimming, surfing and generally lazing around. After the beauty contest they would eat pizza or tacos and window shop or just lazily walk up and down the main street a few times like hundreds of other people on holiday. They could drift in and out of their parents’ beach houses at will, staying overnight at either one as it suited them.

Peter looked out his upstairs office window onto the street below, the main street of Whangamata. Throngs of people wandered along the sidewalk. He saw action and colour with hundreds of heads bobbing along. It was like this every year, each year of the thirty five years he had lived here, except for the very early days when the town was just a small backwater; then only some families, a few fishermen and boat owners bothered coming. Now there was the Beach Hop, the Hot Rod parade, the beauty contest, the surf competitions and other events all being held in various parts of the town. Everywhere there were people and they were only here for a short period. Peter and his wife taught meditation classes which incorporated kirtan yoga and breathing, using mantras. Because many of the people who came to the town at this time of the year were young and because many of them invariably became quite drunk toward New Year’s Eve, Peter had thought of how he might engage them in something other than the mundane. Over the years he had created an event of his own, it was really a one man show and surprisingly it had become the highlight for hundreds of young boys and girls on their Christmas holidays.

Sally and Becks had been discussing this very happening incident as they walked along the beach back to the house. ‘Do you think he will do it this year?” said Becks.

“Hope so,” replied Sally, “It’s too cool for it not to happen.”

“Yeah, and everyone from school was there last year. Remember how Liam was so drunk but he got right into it?”

“And what about Jake taking the dude’s drum and really stirring things up and playing it so long.” The girls continued talking about the previous New Year on the beach front near the surf club. “Can’t wait till tonight to see what happens.” It was around five in the evening and the beach was still full of many people; lying on the sand, walking their dogs, children playing at the water’s edge, whole families with picnic dinners laid out in front of them on tablecloths and plastic tables, surfers out on the waves, some on Malibus, some on regular boards, some on boogie boards and a whole crowd of people of all sizes, shapes and ages swimming between the flags. “Let’s go home and get ready for tonight.”

Peter closed the door of his office, it was just after five o’clock and he was heading home for dinner and a change of clothes before he set out for the beach much later in the evening.  Beth, his wife had made a special meal and was setting the table as he came in. Peter asked after the boys and Beth told him they were still out surfing. She would leave food for them while she took the dog for a walk later. She also told Peter that they had both said they would come to the surf club with him around eleven. Peter took a quick shower and then they sat to eat. After dinner Peter and his wife sat down with their guitars and had a quiet relaxing kirtan together. They had met many years before and might have been termed alternative folk by some. Beth was a healer who gave massage and essential oil work at her health studio but Peter had veered away from his chosen profession of gardening and had become involved in council work, specifically in planning. They had continued with their spiritual practices since they met and they were both vegetarians as were their two sons. They invited friends and others to join in their public kirtan and meditation sessions and these were always attended by regulars and visitors.

The meditation was based on the understanding that we, the living beings, are in need of spiritual food just in the same way that we give the external coverings we are in, our bodies, daily sustenance in the way of food. The form the spiritual food takes is sound. Sound coming from the spiritual world in the form of God’s names. Peter and Beth understood and experienced a lasting and full satisfaction from using the different names of the Supreme Being. They would play their guitars and one or the other would lead the group with ‘Madana Mohana Murari’, ‘Aum Hari Aum’ or ‘Nitai Gauranga’ along with other names of the Supreme Being. All the names of the Supreme are potent and beneficial. Whoever hears and utters these names starts their journey out of darkness and into the light of knowing their identity and the goal in life is.

The names of God from the Bible for instance, have different meanings and contain particular flavours or potencies; Adonai means One who is near to those who call on Him for forgiveness, Elohim and El Shaddai mean mighty and strong and other names such as Jehovah and Abba refer to the Supreme as Father, along with other names of God that if used, have a purifying effect on the user.

Peter and Beth sat this night, softly chanting together and listening to the sweet sounds that enveloped them. Peter knew that this would stand him in good stead for the energy output that he would be involved in at the surf club in a few hours. Beth never went, for her it was quite overwhelming. Hundreds of youth roaming the beach, congregating in the one place under a single lamp post directly in front of the surf club, thunderously chanting and yelling mantras into the night as the Old Year changed to the New Year, accompanied by the thumping and pounding of the conga drum.  For now, they sat, singing back and forth to each other, as they had done for many years now; ‘Gopala Govinda Rama Madana-Mohana.’ And as they sang, the sweet strains allowed them to rest and relax into the sounds, taking shelter there and feeling peacefulness within.

Sally’s dad put his head into the TV room. It was ten thirty and the girls were sitting on the couch watching a talent show. “You girls going to bring in the New Year watching tee vee?” he asked, “Your mum and I are heading out to walk along the promenade with all the other oldies.” The promenade circled the long sweeping bay, a walking path with seats to rest on, bowls of fresh water for dogs placed beside the sitting spots and plaques to tell who of the townspeople had donated the money to each buy a yard or more of the walkway.  The shady trees that grew at intervals were now festooned with fairy lights and lanterns broadcasting the festive season. Already there were hundreds of people; wandering along the walkway, milling around, chatting in groups or just sitting listening to the waves as they ebbed and flowed onto the shore and back. The girls had planned to leave soon, go to Salt Aire vegetarian food bar, grab a burger or pizza and then make their way to the surf club and wait until the clock struck the New Year in. Sally told her dad their plans and where they would be. “I might stroll along there myself and see what all the fuss is about,” he said. Sally and Becks laughed and told him that he would be better off watching from the promenade as the whole thing could turn into a mosh pit. “A what?” he asked as he left them to it. “Don’t worry dad, come and see for yourself,” Sally called after him.

Peter left his home, it was eleven o’clock. The boys were with him, each carrying a drum. It was no use taking the car as there would be not one spare place to park. As they walked along they saw how many people were out, hundreds on the beach, along the promenade, in the park, voices raised around them, laughing, yelling, talking, and adding to the general atmosphere. A few policemen were strolling along, keeping an eye on the crowds. “It looks like it’s going to be a good night,” Peter said to his sons. He had been going to the surf club for ten years now. It had started out with just him and his drum and a friend with a guitar. They stood on the beach and started chanting mantras and quickly a small crowd had gathered around and joined in. It had grown from there. Peter had young guys and girls coming up to him year after year and thanking him for the buzz he had created for them at the previous New Year.  There was already a small crowd under the light, milling about, goofing around, drinking and in general just hanging out, as Peter and his sons got to the surf club.

“Hey, Mr Nityananda!” yelled out a voice as they approached. “Yeah, Nityananda man.” Said someone else as they approached the group. Peter laughed and waved to the youth who were all facing him as he walked up. He knew from experience to get himself and the two boys in a circle in the middle of the crowd which is where he aimed for now. As they moved into position the small crowd closed in on them. The boys took up the drums and started steadily beating out a rhythm. Peter positioned himself and as he started to chant he felt the push of the young all around him, movement and action, swaying and rocking. “Nityananda,” he called out loud and clear. All around him the sound echoed back, “Nityananda!” And so it started, Peter leading the chant, strongly and clearly and the surging crowd answering him, the drums beating loudly and deeply. “Nitai-Gaur,” he called out letting the sound lengthen into the night and the crowd roared back, “Nitai-Gaur.”

Peter could see many people along the beach heading for the chanting spot. He recognised many of the faces from last year and the year before. “Nitai-Gaur,” he sang as loudly as he could and the deafening response was palpable as the crowd bellowed out the spiritual sounds. Peter watched as more and more people gathered around him and his sons drumming and chanting with their booming youthful voices. A few young women came into the crowd but mostly they stayed on the outer so they wouldn’t be trampled as youth jumped and shouted, whooped and yelled and echoed Peter and his continuous chants back and forth under the seasonal moon. Peter and his sons had been there for three quarters of an hour and the crowd of people had tripled in size, with more people streaming toward the tumultuous sounds as well as hundreds of people standing and watching from the promenade.

Sally’s dad was one of those people, watching incredulously as he tried to keep his daughter and her friend Becks in his vision. He saw that they were hovering on the edge of the surging, chanting group. There were a few people drinking but in general in seemed like organised chaos. He had never seen or heard anything like it. In the centre of this huge circle of moving people was a man not much older than himself who was calling out sounds and the crowd would then respond as loudly as they could. Unbelievable. From where he was standing the sounds were powerful and clear and even people on the promenade were answering the mantras. “Haribol,” came clearly across the sand to where they were, and the crowd answered, “Haribol.” Over and over, the sounds of “Nityananda,” “Gauranga,” “Haribol,” “Nitai Gaur,” boomed across the area, the crowd completely enveloped in the atmosphere of the chanter and the accompanying drums.

Image: www.nzgeo.com

Sally and Becks were skirting the crowd, there were a few leery guys but in general most people were caught up in the roaring of the mantras and the incredible atmosphere that was being generated from being in the midst of it all. The girls yelled as loudly as they could in answer to Peter’s chanting. Sally and Becks danced and jumped with the rest of the crowd, responding to the mantras and occasionally looking up to the promenade where Sally’s dad and mum were standing, obviously blown away from what they were seeing but intrigued and entertained all at the same time.

“This is way live,” Sally said to Becks. “Yeah, so awesome and it’s nearly midnight, a few minutes to go.”

Peter’s voice had cracked a few times and he had given the task of leading over to each of the boys while he drank water and slightly recuperated. Now with the New Year a few minutes away he took over the leading again and with renewed vigour called out the “Nityananda” mantra to which the response was thunderous. Peter repeated the wonderful sound of “Nityananda” over and over again and as the year passed from old to new, the roaring of the crowd reached unrestrained heights and people were yelling, “Happy New Year,” along with “Nityananda New Year,” leaping and shouting, jostling and shifting as they moved around hugging each other and slapping one another on the backs. Peter continued chanting the mantras into the night and as the minutes slipped past midnight the crowd subsided into a boisterous, noisy group responding and chanting and moving around the beach and everyone wishing  everyone else best wishes for the new year and hail fellow well met, ‘joie de vivre,’ and repeating over and over, “Nityananda.”

Sally’s dad could see the girls still cruising on the outskirts of the large crowd, they were jumping around and yelling at the tops of their voices and he could see the attraction the event held as the whole evening had been fascinating and marvellous. Telling his wife he was going to see the girls he made his way down the promenade steps and carefully skirting the boisterous chanters he came up to the girls.

“Time to start heading home girls,” he said. “Oh, dad, it’s still early, can’t we stay longer?” “Nope, it’s nearly one o’clock, time to head back.” Sally and Becks reluctantly trailed after him and as they walked slowly back along the promenade, the strains of the chanting and the crowd responding were still audible all the way along the beach. “See what I mean dad?” said Sally as they walked back toward their beach house, “See how amazing it is to do that on the first night of the New Year?”

“It is certainly very different and quite invigorating,” said her dad, “I can see what you like about it, and yes, you can go next year as well.”

Peter’s voice was now a raspy, throaty croak as he continued calling out the sacred sounds. It was well past one o’clock and even though some of the crowd had dispersed there were still hundreds of people crowding into the chanting circle. One of Peter’s sons took over the leading and then the other and the call and response of the mantras continued until two o’clock.  Peter signalled to the boys that it was time to head home and he called out to the crowd thanking them for their enthusiasm and participation. “We’ll see you all here next year, same time, same place, okay.” The crowd yelled back a huge ‘okay’ as Peter and the boys worked their way out of the circle. “Haribol everyone,” yelled Peter, as they stumbled down the sand towards home, and behind them the crowd   boomed out, “Haribols,” continuously until Peter and the boys were out of earshot.  “Successful night or what,” Peter said to the boys. They both congratulated their father for the effort and the loss of voice he now had. “Well worth it,” said Peter.  He had taken off his sandals and the sand felt cool under his feet. The moon hung over the water and the lighting from the promenade showed others wandering along the beach and walkway, others ambling slowly back to their given places, some dogs running past exploring and then running off to their owner’s calls, while some people were rushing toward the sea for a night swim as if it were midday.

The atmosphere was very pleasant and Peter felt a great calmness and peacefulness. He knew that each and every one of the people who had chanted tonight, who had listened tonight, who had stood and watched and heard the sacred mantras had been exposed to spiritual sound and the effect would be long lasting. He knew that unlike ordinary sound, these mantras could give people the peacefulness they were seeking. Tonight the mantras had been delivered in a strong and wild way, with hundreds of people participating but this was only one of the ways to practice. Sitting quietly with beads, playing a tune on a musical instrument using these sounds, having a group of friends come and spend an hour or so singing and chanting, walking along a beach at sunrise or sunset softly singing the mantras to oneself were just a few of the many ways one could apply these sounds to their lives. And of course there was the exuberant chanting known as kirtan such as people had experienced this very night.

Peter thought about the night’s events. The leaping youth, the atmosphere of joviality and exuberance, the earnest responses to his mantra leading, the bystanders, the clearness of the night, the warmth of summer, the soft sounds of the sea as he walked along with his sons beside him, his life, the peacefulness he felt within that came from giving freely of the mantras, just as he had been given them many years before. It was the first day of January and it was a great way to start the New Year.

Is Karma Avoidable?

During the recent live-streamed event, yoga philosophy and meditation teacher Acharya Das teaches us whether or not Karma is avoidable.

Acharya Das confirms that Karma is definitely a problem. It is through Karma and the desire associated with it that we become bound to this world. Being bound to this world and the repeated cycle of birth and death, we will perpetually experience different kinds of pain and difficulty. There may be high points and happy moments, but there will also be a corresponding amount of pain and suffering and difficulty associated with that.

We will experience the biggest problems, as Acharya Das explains, by remaining materially entangled and absorbed in the material concept of life, thinking that this body I have on in this lifetime is who I am. I will not be able to actually be in touch with and experience my true spiritual identity and the actual deep spiritual happiness and spiritual love that comes from that realization and experience.

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If Karma is indeed a big problem, then it begs the question whether Karma is avoidable. Are we to accept a lifetime of pain and suffering despite our high points and happy moments? As Acharya Das explains, The answer is both yes and no.

To illustrate this, Acharya Das shares the story of Arjuna, who was an ancient warrior prince. Faced with the prospect of an unavoidable war, where he would be required to fight against members of his own family, Arjuna suddenly became overwhelmed, thinking that, If I engage in this activity, not only is it utterly sinful, but I will be responsible for much suffering, not just from the act of killing people or fighting against people, but the consequence. What will happen to society? ?What effect will it have on others? He felt this enormous burden, to the point where he completely lost his composure. Arjuna thought that it would be better if he simply walked away from this, and went to live in the mountains as a monk, and in doing that, he would be able to escape the consequence?that he wouldnt experience a karmic reaction if he chose not to engage in this activity.

Essentially, Arjuna thought that if he avoided the negative action, he would become free from any negative Karmic reaction. In short, he ran away. But in the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna explains that while you may act in a way that appears to be religious or moral, or attempt to avoid engaging in any activity, you cannot necessarily escape Karmic reaction?you will still be forced to act.

So, what is the solution? If we cannot run, what is the answer? Simply stated, we must change.

What this means is that we simply cannot run away or avoid action?because Arjunas nature was that of a warrior, he simply could not avoid acting in accordance to this. My escaping responsibility or avoiding action doesnt mean my consciousness has changed; it doesnt mean I have changed.

Acharya Das explains that what happens is that in the embodied state, when I take on a material body and a material mind, that body and mind will have certain impulses and certain characteristics determined by these invisible forces known as the modes of material nature and even though I may try to escape a Karmic result by saying, Im not going to do this, and run away from it, it hasnt changed me. That act alone, the act of trying to just renounce action, doesnt change me. All it does is put things off. My material nature that Ive been influenced by is still going to be there. This body that I have and the type of mind that I have thats covering me, the spiritual being, will again cause me to desire, to act or to react to something going forward.

Running away from action is simply delaying it. If we try to avoid action but our mind still remains on those material thoughts and desires, we will be described as a pretender because eventually we will be forced to act.

In order to truly avoid the negative Karmic reaction, we must make a true change. Part of real change, an eternal change in dealing with Karma, is the beginning of the idea of Karma Yoga. It has to do with the concept of duty. When you have a material body, when you have a station in life, there are responsibilities that come with it. Learning to perform those responsibilities and accepting the duty that is assigned to me in this station in life, my condition in life, and acting with a sense of duty, is a really important starting point for someone that wants to attain a transcendental position. The concept of duty is really focused on the idea of acting in life, acting but without a strong attachment to the outcomes; performing activities out of a sense of duty.

In other words, the idea being put forward is that one should perform the duty associated with my position in life, whether it is to my family, to friends, to society, or to the job in which I work, and become very equipoised; to not be overly attached to certain things, while feeling other things are repulsive and avoiding responsibility because its something I dont like to do.

Acharya Das urges us to live a life of responsibility and temperance: a life of restraint, not from the idea of artificially imposing hardship, but to refrain from exploiting and trying to squeeze so-called happiness or fulfillment from other people, or from this world.

In Part Three of the series, Acharya Das will explain how not only can a person avoid karma by performing work in the service of God, but that Karma Yoga is actually the path to true happiness.

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About the Author

Acharya Das is a disciple of Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda, founder of Science of Identity Foundation, and Srila AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and has studied the Bhagavad-Gita for over 40 years. He is a respected teacher of Vedic and yogic philosophy, meditation and kirtan, and a practitioner of the transcendental science of Bhakti Yoga, the process by which a person can come to know and love the Supreme Soul. Acharya Das has an uncommonly deep understanding of yoga philosophy and practice and conveys that message in a clear and simple way.