The purpose of this report is two-fold; to give a factual background to the origins, the beliefs and the fundamental principles of the Hare Krishnas (Part 1) and to narrate my experiences at their temple in Gainesville, Florida, which accommodates the second largest Hare Krishna community in North America (Part 2). The Hare Krishna community is one of the most widely misunderstood communities of the present age and I hope that my report will shed some light on the Hare Krishnas and their unique set of values and lifestyle.
? Hare Krishna PART 1 Introduction September 1965 was a month in history that would change the lives of thousands of people and continues to change the lives of countless more in the United States. It was when an elderly Indian monk, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, arrived in New York and established the first major orthodox Hindu presence in the Western world and gave Westerners a first-hand experience to Hindu rituals and practices.
In 1966 he formed the Hare Krishna movement, formally known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON which has grown from one man who spread this unique philosophy based on Hindu Vedic scriptures to a movement which manages 50 temples in the United States and a total of nearly 400 worldwide. A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, as he is called on his many books, was the Bengali guru who travelled to the West and founded the Hare Krishna movement (see International Society for Krishna Consciousness/ISKCON)).
By the time of his death in 1977, he had established centers in America, Europe, Asia, Australasia, and Africa, and had returned to his native India with his young white disciples to revitalize the teachings of the sixteenth-century mystic, Chaitanya. Born Abhay Charan De in Calcutta in 1896 Bhaktivedanta Swami worked as a chemist before coming across the Gaudiya Vaishnava Math, with its focus on Krishna worship, in the 1920s. He was initiated by Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati in 1932, whilst still a family man.
Following his guru’s instructions, he began to write in English about bhakti yoga, devotion to Krishna, starting the magazine Back to Godhead in 1944. Several years later he decided to leave home and dedicate his life to Krishna, first by translating and publishing the Bhagavata Purana, and then by going to the West to preach. He became a sannyasi (see Sannyasin) in 1959, taking the name ‘Bhaktivedanta Swami’, and in 1965 made the long sea journey from India to the USA. (See International Society for Krishna Consciousness, ISKCON for his early American activities.
) From 1966 to his death in 1977, as an elderly man, he preached, published (over 50 books), and initiated thousands of devotees worldwide into his new movement. His achievements, in founding ISKCON, making accessible some of the great works of devotional Hinduism to ordinary English speakers, and in effectively transmitting the teachings and practices of Krishna consciousness to the West and beyond, are described in his English biography, Srila Prabhupadalilamrta, and discussed in the Journal of Vaishnava Studies (volume 6, number 2, 1998).
Honoured by scholars as a sincere advocate of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, and loved and revered by his many devotees, Bhaktivedanta Swami saw himself first and foremost as his guru’s disciple and Krishna’s servant. (Clarke, 2005). The Hare Krishna movement claims 100,000 adherents in America and 1,00,000 globally (although experts say the numbers are most likely to be smaller). The ultimate goal for these Hare Krishnas and others involved in the movement is a transcendental loving relationship with Lord Krishna. The Philosophy of Krishna Consciousness The Hare Krishna movement is non-sectarian and monotheistic.
Krishna consciousness implies being conscious of Krishna, or God and to aware of our eternal identity as eternal spirit souls who are who are a part and parcel of the supreme Lord (Prabhupada, 2008). Our eternal position is to be servants of the supreme Lord and it is only be this loving service that we can experience true happiness. (Sebastian, 2008). The philosophy can be summarized in the following points:- 1. By sincerely following an authentic spiritual science, we can become worry-free and achieve a state of pure, unending, blissful consciousness. 2.
We are not physical bodies made of matter. Each of us is an eternal soul, part of God, or Krishna. Realizing that we all have one common father in God helps us to see each other as one global united family. 3. Krishna is eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-attractive and present everywhere. He is the source of all life and the sustaining energy of the universe. 4. The Bhagavad-gita, spoken by Krishna Himself over 5,000 years ago, contains the essence of the Vedas, ancient Sanskrit texts. The goal of Vedic knowledge is simple: to know and love God. 5.
A genuine spiritual teacher (guru) is an essential guide on our path to self-realization. The Bhagavad-gita and other sacred texts list many criteria one should look for in a potential guru. Above all, a guru should repeat Krishna’s message unchanged, be free from selfish motives, and constantly focus his thoughts and actions on Krishna. 6. Before eating, we should acknowledge and reciprocate Krishna’s love by offering all our food to Him with a prayer. Like a parent receiving a gift from a young child, Krishna is pleased when we offer Him food, even though He Himself has provided it.
Offering food to Krishna purifies our consciousness and brings us closer to Him. 7. Rather than living in a self-centered way, we should act in a way that gives Krishna pleasure. This is known as bhakti-yoga, the science of devotional service. 8. The most effective means for today’s spiritual seeker to reach the blissful, worry-free state mentioned in point one, and to become closer to God, is to chant His holy names: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Maha Mantara Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna,
Krishna, Hare, Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare. – Maha Mantara The Maha Mantara (“Great Mantara”), or the Krishna Mantara is a sixteen word mantara and is believed to bring about a higher state of consciousness or transcendence when meditated, heard or spoken. It contains the names of God Krishna (“The All Attractive”) and Rama (“The Greatest Pleasure”) and Hare addresses the energy of God. Devotees believe that the sound vibration created by repeating these names of God gradually revives a state of pure God-consciousness, or “Krishna consciousness”
Devotees believe chanting the Hare Krishna mantra is central to the process of self-realization. These sixteen words are ISKCON members’ single most important religious practice (Rochford, 2007). They center their spiritual practices around this mantra and are expected to recite it, live it and breathe it. Hare Krishna Kare Krishna, Krishna Krisha Hare Hare: Whoever chants this mantra, even neglectfully, will attain the supreme goal of life. Of this there is no doubt. -Agni Purana Purposes of ISKCON Prabhupada gave the Hare Krishna society seven purposes when he first incorporated it (Satsvarupa, 1981).
They are; 1. To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world. 2. To propagate a consciousness of Krishna, as it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam. 3. To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, thus to develop the idea within the members, and humanity at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna)
4. To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy names of God as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. 5. To erect for the members, and for society at large, a holy place of transcendental pastimes, dedicated to the personality of Krishna 6. To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler and more natural way of life 7. With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.
Governing Principles Prabhupada prescribed four principles which, along with chanting Hare Krishna, form the basis of Krishna conscious practice (Prabhupada, 2003). 1. No eating meat, fish, or eggs. 2. No gambling 3. No use of intoxicants (including alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and other recreational drugs). 4. No illicit sex ? PART 2 Hare Krishna Immersion Experience Introduction I visited the Krishna center (also called the Krishna House) in Gainesville, Florida to gain some insight about the fascinating community of the Krishnas.
The Krishna House was established by a young student couple who turned their house into a place where other students could practice Bhakti Yoga, which essentially means to foster a devotion to God (“bhakti”). The House moved to its current location (214 NW 14th St, Gainesville, FL, 32603) in 1989. Before going, I called to inquire what a good time to visit would be and was courteously told that I was welcome anytime, day or night and could also stay for as long as I wanted. I was also told of the numerous programs at the house; from teaching ancient scriptures, to essential Krishna philosophy, meditation and devotional music.
I arrived on a beautiful Friday morning to see lots of young men wearing the traditional Krishna dress of an orange sheet, preparing to arrange lunch. The House, I learnt, has been distributing food on campus for as low as $4 and attracted throngs of people, mostly students, to enjoy the sanctified, vegetarian food. Hare Krishnas are strictly vegetarian and even shun the eating of certain vegetables, including mushrooms (which is considered impure because it feeds on decomposing material) and onions (which, I was told, arouses passion and is best if avoided! ).
The Hare Krishna house is regarded as a mandir or a temple, where many individuals and families came to worship and practice Krishna consciousness (Gibson, 2002). The Hare Krishna community, ISKCON, is evangelistic with the members preaching and trying to spread the Krishna consciousness. I inquired as to how they did that, and was told that they relied primarily on singing the maha mantara in public places and by selling books. There is even a term within the movement for both these activities, Sankirtan. The ISKCON communities also run schools, restaurants and farms.
Funds collected by them are treated as communal property and used to support the community as a whole and to promote preaching. (Rochford, 2007). The Krishna House, along with many other ISKCON temples have a program called food for life which basically provides food for the needy. It uses its collective funds and the revenue generated from the sale of its books and meals to provide free food. The centers or mandirs also hold public programs, one which I witnessed, which was basically to initiate devotees. The guru (spiritual leader) speaks about the philosophy of the ISKCON and how it correlates with our lives.
It was a very enlightening experience for me. I could understand how this humble community could draw such crowds, and so many wanted to participate and live the Krishna philosophy. Much of what the guru said made complete sense – in this day and age of materialism, we all needed peace and the ISKCON promised to show us how to find that peace. There is an inverse relationship between materialism and spirituality, and to be a spiritual success, we have to withdraw from all material accumulation. The spiritual body is developed through the practice of Krsna consciousness.
This material body is spiritualized by this bhakti-yoga process. (Prabhupada, 1979). On Sundays, I was told, devotees thronged at the center to chant mantras congregationally and give lectures. Guests were welcome and were provided a scrumptious meal spiritual entertainment. Also, special festivals are celebrated on specific holy days of the Hare Krishnas. In one such festival, the Rathayatra Festival, an effigy of the Lord rides through the streets on a chariot pulled by thousands of enthusiastic followers. It is the biggest street festival of this group.
It is said that over 4 million people in the Indian city of Calcutta, a hub for Hare Krishnas, take part in this ecstatic event. Each major temple holds festivals on the appearance days of Lord Krishna, called Janmastami; Lord Caitanya, called Gaura Purnima; Lord Ramacandra, called Ramanavani; and Lord Nrsimhadeva, called Nrsimha Caturdasi. The appearance days of these incarnations of Krishna are celebrated with a big festival, shows, displays, chanting and feasting. Everyone is welcome to attend. (Smullen, 2009). It is all an overwhelming experience and an enlightening one.
One cannot help being engrossed to this community of purity, which preaches divine love and a pureness of spirit and lifestyle to attain that love. As soon as your body is spiritualized, material activity ceases. Material activity means acting for sense gratification. As you become spiritualized, material demands dwindle until they become nil. (Pradhupada, 1979) Other Activities Some of the other spiritual activities the devotees participate in are; i. Morning Prayer The standard temple schedule begins very early in the morning, at 4:30 am. However, in this particular mandir, worship doesn’t begin until 6am.
The first worship service is called Mangal Arotik (mangal=auspicious arotik=worship). Spiritual life is very successful when one gets up early and starts off the day right. All temple devotees are expected to attend this prayer. (Prabhupada, 1979). In this session, devotees chant the Maha mantra on their japa beads and then do a Darshan, which in essence is revering Lord Govinda. This entire session lasts around two and a half to three hours, after which breakfast prasadam, or spiritual breakfast is served. A translation of one of the prayers recited during the breakfast prayer is;
O Lord, this material body is a place of ignorance, and the senses are a network of paths to death. Somehow, we have fallen into this ocean of material sense enjoyment, and of all the senses the tongue is the most voracious and uncontrollable; it is very difficult to control the tongue in this world. But You, dear Krsna, are very kind to us and have given us such nice prasada, just to control the tongue. Now we take this prasada to our full satisfaction and glorify you Lord- Radha and Krsna- and in love call for the help of Lord Caitanya and Nityananda. ii.
Evening Prayer or Sandhya Arati and Gaura Arati The session of evening prayers, which initiates with prayer itself and ends with dinner, begins at 6:30 pm. After this worship, there is usually a Bhagavad Gita class, where devotees recite from the revered book of the Hindu religion. Srila Prabhupada strongly recommended all devotees to participate in this program so that the evenings are peaceful and one retires to bed thinking of the Lord Krishna. Other Rules/Services The mandirs or temples enforce strict codes of conduct which every devotee is expected to adhere.
One of the fundamental principles of the ISKCON is cleanliness, whether spiritual or physical and it stresses upon keeping ones surroundings clean. Some of the basic temple rules are; a. No eating meat, fish or eggs. Garlic and onions should be avoided. b. No intoxication, including alcohol, marijuana, tobacco, caffeine or other drugs. c. No gambling or mental speculation regarding the philosophy. d. No illicit sex These are in essence the fundamental principles of the ISKCON itself. The mandirs have a special temple room which is where devotees can pray, chant, read and engage in other devotional activities.
It has statues of the deities and one is to enter and leave the temple room in respect, sit with legs/feet covered, feet should not be turned towards the Deities, nor should they sit with their back towards them. (Prabhupada, 1969). The bathrooms are not exempt from complete submission either. Devotees aren’t supposed to take sacred books or articles to the bathrooms. Showers should be taken in the morning, after sleep and passing stool. Nails should be cut and teeth brushed and devotees should shave before the shower. Water should not be wasted. (Prabhupada , 1969) Bedrooms and kitchens too should be kept clean.
There should be nothing laying around. Every article of clothing should be properly hung or folded. Dirty laundry and/or kitchen refuse should be kept in a bag or basket and washed/emptied daily and disinfected regularly. ? Conclusion Most of us know about the Hare Krishnas from encounters in airports or from second hand accounts of people who have met with them. I had a chance to get to know them and gain more insight into their activities and beliefs and learnt more about the philosophy which they adhere to. It is a complex system in its simplicity but a beautiful one nonetheless.
The central idea that a person or group of people who fulfill certain religious criteria acquire superior religious prestige which is not limited to the upper leaders or the gurus has attracted throngs of westerners seeking salvation and a place of peace, which many of them have claimed to have found. I hope my report will offer a glimpse into the lives, beliefs and practices of this unique group of people. ? References Clarke, Peter(Editor). Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge, 2005. p 61. Gibson, Lynne (2002). Modern World Religions: Hinduism – Pupil Book Core (Modern World Religions).
Oxford (England): Heinemann Educational Publishers. ISBN 0-435-33619-3. Prabhupada ,Swami. (1969). Nectar of Devotion. p. 37. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, 3764 Watseka Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034, USA Prabhupada ,Swami. (1979). The Path of Perfection. p. 15. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, 3764 Watseka Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034, USA Prabhupada ,Swami. (1979). Life Comes from Life. p. 28. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, 3764 Watseka Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034, USA Prabhupada ,Swami. (2003). Hare Krishna Temple. In Hare Krishna Temple. Retrieved March 11, 2009, from http://www.
harekrishnatemple. com/bhakta/4regs. html. Rochford, Burke, Hare Krishna Transformation, p. 11. (2007). New York University Press, New York. Satsvarupa, Dasa Goswami (1981, 2002), Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta Vol 1, BBT, p. 408, ISBN 0892133570 (2 volume edition 2002) Sebastian, R. , & Parameswaran, A. (2008, April). Hare Krishnas in Singapore: Agency, State, and Hinduism. (cover story). SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, 23(1), 63-85 Smullen, M. (Feb 8, 2009). Hare Krishna Festivals. In Festivals of India. Retrieved March 11, 2009, from http://www. festivalofindia. org/? q=node/150.