A spiritual afternoon of song, dance, and chutney…
The temple room is pulsating with the constant beating of the drum and vibrates to the tune being chanted by the devotees…
“Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare”
A man comes and blows incense smoke toward my third eye and a young girl offers the scent of a flower. I stand behind my friend who is continually stepping towards the back of the room as the energetic dancing grows larger and larger. The devotees are full of life and energy and are running from side to side of the room, jumping up in the air, and spinning around in joy. They are chanting, yelling, and yipping with glee. It looks exhilarating to join yet the chaos seems to be synchronized in a way I can’t quite grasp. We stay in the back of the room with the few others simply enjoying taking in the scene from the background.
“Next time I am going to get in there and participate.” I tell my friend on our way out of Denver as he looks back at me with a knowing smirk.
Flash forward to Hillsboro, Oregon. I take a deep breath as I enter the building labeled International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Take two.
This temple is much quieter inside. As a traditionally dressed older women directs me into the temple room I realize I am in for a much different experience. There are much less people here and the energy is much calmer. I wonder if they will still chant and dance as they did in Colorado. A girl around my age wearing a long bohemian like dress and head wrap approaches me to welcome me to ISKCON Portland. Her eyes are enchanting; the only thing I can focus on. As she speaks to me I feel entranced by her huge oval green eyes, piercing deep into my soul in a most loving and accepting way. She is clearly a well-practiced spiritual individual. Ananda explains a little about the service to me and then goes on to greet other members of her religious community.
There is some singing and chanting softy flowing around the room as a little boy plays a bongo drum. Next, a man takes the mic and talks about the wisdom that can be gained from the tellings of the Bhagavad-Gita. Finally, two young girls take over to tell of a trip they took with a group of other girls their age across the eastern part of the county to visit different temples and locations of holy significance. It was refreshing to see such wisdom and confidence coming from such young souls. This speech differed from my experience in Denver where instead they brought in a monk who had traveled the country on foot (an extended walking meditation he tells us) spreading grace and wisdom along the way. I reflected on his stories, his ease of communication, and surprising sense of humor at every day American’s reactions to his seemingly unusual holy quest.
For those readers who have never heard of the Hare Krishna movement before I will give a little background information here. This movement is a branch of Hinduism formally known as Gaudiya Vaishnavism. It was brought to the western world by Swami Prabhupada in 1966. They are a monotheistic religion with a belief that the sound vibration of a mantra can have a direct impact on the soul and can instill an ability to connect the human spirit with the divine power- Krishna Consciousness. It is believed that people are naturally Krishna Consciousness, however in our time here on Earth we have begun to think we are the center of the universe- our own God. When we become free from this illusion, we will be able to enjoy our true blissful nature.
Everyone in the temple room rises and I know this is it… it is time to dance. The energy at this temple is not as exuberant. It carries a more graceful and intentional flow. Ananda reaches back and grabs my hand.
“Here we go” I think to myself.
I join a group of girls dressed in traditional Indian clothing and tilaka markings drawn on their faces with a type of clay paint. We hold hands and dance in a circle, singing and chanting and sharing smiles and laughs as we make our way around the room growing our circle larger and larger. I am pulled out of the circle and initiated into a more intricate dance one on one with one of the girls. I notice two fellows in the back of the room looking rather uncomfortable and think back to my time in Denver. I smile at them and am happy that I had the courage to step up and join in this time… no matter how off step I was in their traditional dances.
I head upstairs for the Sunday feast where I am overwhelmed with acceptance and love as multiple people come to greet me and welcome me to the temple. I am told stories of the history of the Hare Krishna movement to the western world as well as personal experiences and insights. I sit with two women while I am delightfully gorged with lentils, rice, curry, chapati, dal, chutney, cake, and juice which I am told are all filled with Krishna consciousness to purify our bodies and souls. I am given a book titled ‘Chant and Be Happy’ with images of John Lennon and George Harrison on the cover by generous new friends. We exchange hugs and contact information as I prepare to start my journey west to see the infamous Oregon pacific coast.
What a world of a difference a little bit of impulsivity and braveness can make.