I have heard that some Christian organizations are targeting India for converting Hindus to Christianity. What do you think?
I don't believe thoughtful and spiritually vital Christians think like this. Christianity as a spiritual doctrine will never dominate the religious landscape of India. But its heart of love of God can be enriched by the kind of meaningful interface with Hinduism that Christian theologians like Thomas Merton engaged in. Hindus can also benefit from this kind of exchange. Whenever sincere spiritual seekers from different disciplines discuss openly with one another, they find considerable common ground.
I am attracted to Vaisnavism (devotion to Vishnu) but question the need to incorporate into my life certain aspects of Hindu culture, as that culture has many practices that don't seem quite right to me. How can I ascertain what aspects of Hindu culture will be helpful to me spiritually?
As a general principle one should try to take the best from Eastern and Western culture and apply it to one's life. Thus it is natural that one influenced by an Indian-based spiritual tradition will develop affinity for certain aspects of Hindu socio-religious culture. However, not every aspect of Hindu culture is spiritual. Many Hindu social customs are simply ethnic traditions, some are the result of outside influences, and some are even based on superstition. None of these has much to do with essential spirituality.
Therefore, if a particular aspect of Indian culture makes you feel uncomfortable, then by all means inquire from an advanced devotee as to whether it has any actual bearing on Vaisnava spiritual practice. Essential spiritual practices such as chanting "Krsna nam" are not based on one becoming a member of any particular culture. In fact the culture of Krsna bhakti (devotion), centered on the chanting of "Krsna nam," is a spiritual culture unto itself. The culture of chanting can be incorporated into any ethnic culture or lifestyle.
Do souls have any personal characteristics that can be realized by practicing intellectual self-examination?
By self-examination alone one cannot realize one's full spiritual potential. Self-examination is no doubt part of the culture of bhakti, but unto itself it cannot enable one to realize one's spiritual personality. Through self-examination one can understand that the mental sense of self, which is nothing more than the mind's reaction to sensual input, is not enduring and by that gain negative impetus to pursue bhakti. However, realizing one's spiritual personality is only possible by grace, which in Vaisnavism is derived from hearing, chanting, and remembering the pastimes of Sri Krsna, under the guidance of an advanced devotee.
What is the value of tolerance in spiritual life?
Tolerance is required no matter how a person lives, and tolerance is after all a virtue. Yet the virtues of tolerating are certainly greater when based on living in the bigger picture of life as described in the sacred literature. Sacred literature such as the Bhagavad Gita tells us that the world of the mind and senses is a small world. In this world what is good for one may be experienced as bad for another, one's happiness being another's sadness. The Gita informs us that ultimate reality is bigger than this and that the beginning of realizing and living in the bigger picture beyond the duality of sense perception is tolerance.
Jazz has obviously evolved and the consciousness behind it is sometimes much more spiritual than when it first appeared, as in the case of John Coltrane, whose music introduced Indian ragas to many in the West. Regardless of one's art form, the spirit behind it, one's consciousness, will have an effect upon its listeners. At the same time, some art forms evolved out of sattvic consciousness (goodness), while others evolved out of rajasic (passion) and tamasic (ignorance) consciousness. The Bhagavad Gita says that everything is influenced in one way or another by these qualities (gunas) and that one should try to live in sattva guna because such a life is illuminating and leads one toward liberation.
How can I develop my love for Krsna?
Chanting is the best way to develop love for Krsna. Do it attentively and watch to see that its effect plays out in your everyday life in terms of developing jiva daya, kindness to all beings. Start with this and gauge your chanting accordingly. If your heart is not cleansed of selfishness and softened toward others, your chanting is not attentive. Pay better attention and gather knowledge in relation to Krsna.
Is there a sliding scale with divine justice? Would the karma for killing animals be the same for a jungle dwelling aborigine as for a brahmin living in India?
The law of karma is very precise. Everything is taken into consideration, including one's ignorance. Thus improper acts performed by those who know better bring harsher reactions than the same acts performed by those who do not know such acts are improper.
How does one find a guru from whom one can learn with an open mind and heart?
The guru will find you. If you are earnest, you will draw down reciprocation from above in the form of a guide. Your own sincerity is most important. Some knowledge is also required. Books like Bhagavad Gita clearly describe the nature and qualities of saintly persons. You should study such books carefully. And be patient. Worship Krsna and pray to him to send you a guru.
When will my troubles end?
When you take the necessary steps to end all troubles. It is not very useful to question as to the end of suffering when we do not avail ourselves seriously to the spiritual solution to all material problems. Indeed, anyone who seriously takes up spiritual practice under good guidance will know that they are rapidly approaching the end of all suffering. The distance we must go to find good guidance, however, is much greater than the distance we must travel from that point onward to perfection. Then again, seek and you will find, and take courage from Krsna's words in the Bhagavad Gita (6.40), "Anyone who is sincere, dear one, walks not the road of misfortune."