Thursday, January 26, 2006

If you believe the western sun, is falling down on everyone

I started this post a few days ago but it's taken me a while to get around to finishing it. So anyway I was over at Pynchon's blog when he spoke about a negative encounter with the Hare Krishna's on the highstreet and their particular way of selling/donating books to young impressionable.

This type of encounter is often the only one that Joe Public will get with the Hare Krishna's, and they will leave it at that, glad to have escaped. Many have formed their opinions from hearsay [not the band] and stories of 'cults' and so I'd like to put my views about them on my blog.




I was in the second year of my 'Study of Religions' degree at Chichester, and one of the modules involved visiting a place of worship and providing a first-hand perspective on it. I've minimalised the actual task, but to be fair I can't really remember the actual assignment title [and can't be bothered rooting around the loft for my coursework]. Several day-trip options were offered [visiting a Synagogue/Roman Catholic Church/Mosque] but these seemed a bit tame and so me and two others on the course [Mike and Austin] decided to see what else was on offer, and so it was that in late 2001 we would be spending the weekend with the Hare Krishna's.

This being a fair few years ago, a lot of the facts have been lost in the recesses of my mind, but I will do my best.

I knew a fair bit about the actual background of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), popularly called Hare Krisna's, having studied a fair few Indian Religions during my course, and I'll outline a few key points here.

ISKCON was founded in New York in 1966 by Indian monk called A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada [died 1977], although it's practices and beliefs are closely linked to the Gaudiya Vaishnavism form of Hinduism.

It was formed to spread the practice of Bhakti Yoga [the yoga of devotion] which is directly aimed at Krishna [the Supreme Lord] and his cohort Radha. [It must be noted that they have many other incarnations too.]


It is an evangelical movement, which seeks to indoctrinate new members and spread the word through actively going on to the streets to sing their mantra or to sell books.

Their mantra follows: "HARE KRISHNA HARE KRISHNA, KRISHNA KRISHNA HARE HARE, HARE RAMA HARE RAMA, RAMA RAMA HARE HARE" and by actually uttering these words it is said to induce God-consciousness.

So that's the history lesson over with [thanks to wikipedia for refreshing me on a few points].

I also knew a bit about there problems too. During the 70s and 80s there was a lot of scandal [read fully about it here] revolving around molestation, kidnapping, and fraud, and it must be noted that this was only by a few individuals, although it did virtually bankrupt ISKCON, but has resulted in clearer transparency of the movement, which was ultimately needed if it was to continue.

So of we stayed at Bhaktivedanta Manor in Watford [acquired by George Harrison in 1973], which includes shrines, library, primary school, theatre, bakery, farm, community shop, and Food for Life [a food relief project]. When we arrived it was quite surreal as the actual building is in a mock-Tudor style dating from 1884, but this is quite typical of Hinduism and it's assimilation of the culture it is in.

As I already said my memories of the visit are quite sketchy but I can tell you that we decided to participate as fully as we can, as that is really the only way of experiencing and understanding.

Our day started at 4:30am, for the first temple ceremony of the day [the temple in in the manor house and contains ornately decorated shrines], which I must admit was a lot earlier than I'd normally get up, but the other attendants were happy that their 'visitors' [us] had made the effort

Through the morning, it would get busier with a lot of the attendants not actually Hare Krishna's but actually regular Hindu's who are resident around the area. This is when you realise how closely linked they are, and that ISKCON considers itself simply another branch of Hinduism, and that this view if also reflected by the Hindus who come to pray, worship, and learn at the manor.

The difference between them though comes to light when the Guru-puja for Srila Prabhupada [worship for the spiritual master] takes place and a mass exodus of the visiting Hindu's takes place, leaving only the Hare Krishna's. This worship is for Prabhupada [who founded ISKCON] and the Hindu's do not see him in the same light as the Hare Krisna's who see him as divine[I must apologize for the simplicity in calling them either Hindu's of Hare Krishna's but I think it's the easiest way to differenciate.]

"Worship of the spiritual master is essential for spiritual advancement. As members of the Krishna consciousness movement we offer our obeisances and worship toShrila Prabhupada as the Founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and as the instructing guru for all devotees in ISKCON. We are eternally indebted to His Divine Grace for single-handedly bringing Krishna to the Western world and thus giving everyone the opportunity to become a lover of God."


I suppose in laymans term's one could maybe [very loosely] compare this with maybe Roman Catholicism and the worship of the Pope, and Protestantism's objection to this.

Throughout the day there are various prayers to be said, practices to be observed, and rituals to be undertaken, and I must admit that this way of life was very peaceful with a set order of the day [ending at 10pm]. I was told a lot about what ISKCON actually does and what's it's for by the devotees who either live their or visit daily, and they too seemed very happy with their lives and how they were indebted to the faith.

The visit really moved me and I can honestly say that if I'd stayed there longer maybe I would've stayed for a lot longer. It was peaceful, what they had to say seemed important and I really valued their ideals. Of course I'm a level-headed person and I returned back to Chichester although I still had my beads, with which I could recite the mantra, and I also had a new hobby, Vegetarianism, which I must admit only lasted 3 months.

I can see how someone who was actively looking for faith, and in search for an answer could get involved in the Hare Krisha movement, but I can see nothing wrong with this. Everyone is looking for something, and maybe ISKCON is right for somep people. All religions have to be funded from somewhere and I think book-selling is a good way of doing this and spreading the word. Of course if you are not interested then just say 'no thanks' and wish them a good day. They will not be offended. Another programme they run is the 'Food for Life', the world's largest vegan/vegetarian food relief organisation, which following on from Prabhupada's announcement that "No one within ten miles of a temple should go hungry" has evolved into volunteers giving away 450,000 meals daily. [read more here]


I myself, in thanks for my time there, will sometimes stop of a little chat and purchase a book for a few pounds. Of course they are trying to evangelically 'recruit' new members, but there is nothing sinister about this, as if I had the 'answer' then I would want everyone to know.

As long as they remain open and honest about how they work then I can see nothing wrong with them. They have learnt to be open because of mistakes made in the past which have tainted them, but they are starting afresh and on my visit I saw many people who had genuinely found their walk of life

Of course everyone is allowed their point of view and I wanted to say to Pynchon that he had every right to do what he did, and that I would probably act in exactly the same way if it had been a religion wholly unknownst to me who had been trying to proselytise some innocent youngsters. I hope this has helped in understanding a religion that has had so much bad press about it. "Hare Krishna"

8 comments:

Lord Bargain said...

that's really interesting mate.

nice to get the other side of the story, sometimes.

Alecya Giovanni said...

Wow. I have to say, you put a lot of thought into that post. Excellent, really, excellent. Its nice to see someone making an attempt to understand something that most people misunderstand...

Right, I can't articulate and dang thing today. *pats back* you're excellent. How's that?

adem said...

it was a quite long *said the bishop to the rabbi*.

I'm waiting for someone comment something negative [i.e. I was in a cult once] but all seems well. I think I'm blogged out now though!

Alecya - Thanks for the back patting. Here's a *high five* to you.

thekcblogger said...

Hey haribol adem,

That was a very awesome and insightful post. I am glad you enjoyed Bhaktivedanta Manor and it is an amazingly spiritually calm oasis. There is no need to be negative about your post, it was very balanced.

If you would like to learn more about the distinction between Hinduism and Krishna Consciousness - you are all welcome to check out my link: http://thekcblogger.blogspot.com/ and look at the last two posts.

Hope it helps and please do keep in touch by adding a comment or so on my blog.

Take care.

thekcblogger said...

PS Forgot to mention cool name for your post. Title track by Chrispian Mills (from Kula Shaker) and Prodigy right?

Pynchon said...

That was an interesting post.

I do now think that I was out of order, as some of my reaction was caused by anger for another reason.

adem said...

We're all free to do what we want, and honestly if I saw some religious group to be, what I percieved as hassling, some youngsters then I would maybe intervene too. It's not a big matter and is something that ther Hare Krishna's deal with all the time. Now don't even get me started on Jehovah's Witnesses!!!

thekcblogger said...

hey Pynchon,

how u doing? i'm sure the person didn't take offence. i think if you feel a little guilty about what happened then it shows you have a good heart and didnt intentionally mean to do any wrong.

anyway take care,

the kc blogger