Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Standing Rock: An American Kumbha Mela

I want to acknowledge the boldness, heroism and humility exhibited by the US veterans, both men and women, and including Tulsi Gabbard -- a warrior and congresswoman. In solidarity, they joined the Native Americans and many others at Standing Rock. They are truly warriors and leaders. I practice the Vaisnava/Krishna tradition. And these vets, and indeed all who have gathered at Standing Rock, are for me paragons of my tradition. Three reasons:

1- There’s a Krishna prayer that "one should think of themselves as straw on the street, be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of false ego, and ready to offer all respects to others." That’s what I see happening in these photos of the vets.  

2 - In my tradition, it’s also explained that you should leave a place cleaner than you found it. So rather than thinking ‘I didn’t make this mess. It’s not my problem’ one should think ‘Ok, there’s a mess here. I didn’t make it,  but I take the responsibility to clean it up.’ So these vets are ready to do whatever they can to bring about healing in our nation, even to humbly submit themselves before others. This is courage.

3 - Finally, the Native American elders said their gathering was not a protest, but rather a gathering for prayer to protect the river and the land. This is in keeping with the long spiritual history of India. At Standing Rock I see the spirit of Kumbha Mela, a pilgrimage held every twelve years, by sacred rivers, welcoming all people everywhere to attend. The Kumbha Mela has been going on since time immemorial. The event takes place in northern India in January, the coldest time of the year. 

There, and at many other events, people have gathered in large numbers for prayer, chanting the sacred names of God for the benefit of all and the protection of Mother Earth. These gatherings also give the attendees a chance to perform austerities in the form of fasting, bathing in the river's frigid water, facing a harsh climate, and sleeping on the earth rather than in a soft bed. I’m sure those who have gathered at Standing Rock know what I’m talking about.

America, and the world, sorely needs these types of examples more than ever. But warriors have to be leaders and courageous and generous, all at the same time. It’s not easy. The responsibilities of a warrior/leader are brought in sharp focus in the ancient epic Mahabharata.  I think Mahabharata is one of the most valuable stories for healing and for seekers of spiritual wisdom in our time.

The story is about five warrior brothers - the Pandavas - struggling to stand up to tyranny and at the same time keep their humanity. There’s a monumental battle that takes place. One of the most important things for them is to abide in the Dharma, to live with integrity. They strive to live in the courage, justice and humility that is required of them.

But just like the rift in our nation, the Pandavas don't always see eye to eye. They have their contentious moments, but they work through it. This is the very task set before us today. In closing, I humbly request of those who are organizing various events to include prayer, chants, and sacred ceremony as a show of unity among all spiritual traditions. Mitakuye Oyasin.  

PS: I have been on a journey with Mahabharata for over three decades; first offering it as a full-length drama and later as sacred storytelling and more recently in a 'fast-paced, cinematic' book.  For more on his award-winning rendering of the epic see

Monday, November 07, 2016

Election Day Blues and the Leadership Vacuum

 Election day is upon us. The battle lines are drawn. Many voters are entrenched on one side or the other. Many more are yet undecided and perplexed  by the choice of candidates. 

Today, many people are angry by the failures or inaction of one side or other; angry with a do-nothing government which doesn't consider their needs; angry with the moral failures of leadership.  And rightly so. But anger and frustration don’t provide a platform from which to make a sound decision.

The Bhagavad Gita gives an ample description of what will happen. Krishna explains in the second chapter that if one gives way to anger it will  only blind them.  This leads to delusion and  bewilderment.   In this state one loses all intelligence. Around us we see people so frustrated they succumb to degraded activities in the form of  intoxication and violence. When people are angry and frustrated, their reasoning capabilities are diminished and they become susceptible to being exploited and lead astray.

To make a decision, voters must first understand what the qualities and behavior of a leader are.  A leader has far more responsibilities than the common person, and thus their decisions have far greater repercussions. Since a leader sets an example for others to follow, it would be prudent to seek someone who exhibits leadership qualities and proper behavior better than we do ourselves.   

The qualities of leadership are explained in the Gita and to a greater degree in Mahabharata. In Mahabharata these qualities are displayed by personalities like Yudhisthira and Arjuna who care for the citizens they govern and are in turn loved by them.  Leadership is also discussed at length by Narada Muni, Grandfather Bhismadeva and Lord Krishna Himself.  And leadership in all its negativity  is especially displayed by Duryodhana, who is greedy, envious and arrogant.  

Unfortunately,  proper understanding, as well as proper training in leadership, is sorely lacking in our modern educational systems.  How is a leader to be trained or to be recognized by the people who want to vote?  For this reason, the Mahabharata offers valuable guidance in our confused times. Therein, we are given not only instructions on leadership but examples of how a leader should and should not behave.

The leadership vacuum is not going to go away after election regardless of who becomes president. The so-called leadership of those who want to exploit their position, who only want to serve their own or their party’s interest, is worthless.

The schisms which have arisen in America and in other countries around the world can only further divide and alienate people. The hatred and distrust of government is unprecedented.  But government does and can work if run intelligently, even if we have to go back to ancient Greece or India to find examples.

In these confounding times of flux and turmoil intelligent people everywhere must  consider the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita and Mahabharata.

For info on my award-winning book Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest see

Friday, July 29, 2016

Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest

The foreboding age of Kali approaches. A troubled dynasty hovers on the brink of destruction. An epic story from ancient India, Mahabharata reflects the passions and longings of the human spirit.

This highly acclaimed rendition offers a good literary read that can easily be studied in classrooms. "Fresh, fast-paced and cinematic! Andy Fraenkel's book captures the scope and breath of this great epic." Subhash Kak, PhD, Author & Professor (from his Foreword) "

As the 3rd anniversary of the publication of Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest approaches, I have finally made the book available on Amazon. During the last few years the book has gone out to both public and college libraries, is being used in college courses, by book discussion groups, and several  yoga studios have it available for sale as well. I have received hundreds of emails of appreciation.  For those who have read the book, I invite you to go to the following site and leave a comment. Thanks so very much for your encouragement and support....  

The book still available at  where you can also read an excerpt. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Mahabharata For Today

Dharma teaches us that human life is all about regulation. Morality means regulation. Children and young people getting an education requires regulation. Married life requires regulation. And driving safely on the road requires regulation. Why shouldn’t this apply to businesses? After all, as some proclaim, “businesses are people too.” So why do some politicians insist that de-regulation, or absolutely no regulation, is the best thing for business?  Imagine the chaos if this unregulated dynamic were allowed to be played out by drivers on   the  road. It would mean pandemonium, pileups, meltdowns,  and death.

But it’s become a cycle.  Wall Street & big business demand deregulation.  When they get it, like little children, they run recklessly after quick profits.  Because of their foolish behavior, the investors become fearful and the stock market plunges. Regulation comes back and people feel secure again and stocks go up.  After a short while, people forget, and the cycle begins again.

To govern properly, and to live peacefully, requires education.  People need to be educated so they can  understand and identify the qualities of good leadership. When uneducated voters elect unqualified leaders, it becomes a case of the blind leading the blind. The foundation of an honest government is an honest and informed citizenry.  The main focus then must be on a higher and more profound level of education; an education that promotes the  principles of honesty,  compassion and sacrifice. This, in part, is the teaching of Dharma.

Most people have an intuitive sense of this.   People make sacrifices to get an education, to raise their children and to protect the country. Why shouldn’t big businesses make sacrifices and practice self restraint to keep our economy solvent. If Wall Street and big businesses are people, then some of them act like bullies or spoiled brats who think they are entitled to special treatment.

My book, Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest,  offers a contextual understanding of  dharma and identifies the qualities of true leadership. Unfortunately, all to often our so-called political and business leaders find ways to exploit their positions for their own personal gain. But leadership must assume the greatest responsibility and make the greatest personal sacrifice in time of hardship. They  must also be considerate of the most vulnerable citizens. The story speaks of a time when it would be a great embarrassment if leadership were remiss in giving proper protection. If citizens were robbed, it would be the responsibility of leadership to retrieve the stolen goods. And if they were unsuccessful in doing that, then they would have to replace the goods. When citizens are truly educated, they would demand more from themselves and their leaders.

More about my book at 
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