Saturday, 4 April 2009

"Holy Crap!"

Now that I'm far from the place I'm used to calling home, once ignored aspects of daily life take on greater importance. Like religion.

With essay deadlines staring me in my face and the daunting task of having to eat food I cook myself, it should come as little surprise that I find the need to call on favours from higher powers.

But finding a temple I'm comfortable with has turned out to be harder than finding god.

My latest religious misadventure - Ramanavami celebration at ISKON London.

They promised a festive feast and I can shamelessly admit that I went because more than my piety was piqued.

The temple is in Soho. In an area known for hight-street fashion, gay bars and fun options for nights/ evenings-out. We've all been here before on a different kind of pilgrimage, but it's not exactly what I'd call a 'spiritual atmosphere.'

The 'temple' seems little more than a room up a narrow stairwell, above the organisation-run vegetarian restaurant.

The hall had no ventilation and no emergency exit that I was immediately aware of, a fact that worried me greatly as the prayers of the faithful got more vigourous as the evening went on.

(For a better picture, watch a Beatles documentary or read this entry.)

I was momentarily distracted from making sure none of the dancers stepped on my feet when I spotted a pierced and longhaired rocker with his electric guitar and spiked jacket turn up as well.

I try not to be judgemental; I don't intend to sermonise about how anyone else follows their religion, I myself love the ISKON temple back in Bangalore and I quite readily embrace their approach to religion. I chant Hare Krishna. The people were probably there, as the Hare Krishna man said, to get rid of their miseries, and who's to say that their chosen means of doing that is right or wrong.

But there seemed something fundamentally wrong with pundits serving prasada in dirty socks.

Any place of worship has to be holy and I didn't feel that here.

It's not holy when food isn't cleared off the floor before serving the next set of famished believers (?), when tuneless prayers are screamed out at random, different ones at different parts of the room, at the same time, when waiting-room entertainment is a cartoon Ramayan, and the cloak room/ shoe stand area is also where you dump the unconsumed food.

It was surreal and rather hilarious. It seemed like I'd stepped into a confused mix of cultures and generations (didn't the Maharishis and the Gurus die when disco took over from Flower Power and rock-and-roll?) and just plain confused people.

As a friend and I prepared to make a quick exit, we overheard: "Hare Krishna. I'm stepping out to Starbucks for some herbal tea."

Either this place is the ultimate confluence of free religion, or the most messed up Hindu temple ever. Or was I the confused one?


HTd said...

Good points and funny with it. As a Hare Krishna devotee for almost 35 years I've got to know two sides to temple life. I've also understood through time that devotion is not always perfect on the outside (understand?) and that we mundaners tend to judge everything according to material standards, and that only. Once we get further into the centre of any happening and inter-relate with those persons involved we'd gain a different insight from one that sits outside viewing events from a conditioned mindset. India is a whole different world.
I remember when we first moved to Soho Street in the early 80's and it does seem a little claustrophobic but there is a fire escape down the back stairs or out over the rooftops, ha ha.
The bottom line is to chant Hare Krishna and be happy! You don't have to be any kind of special person to do that. ISKCON is young by worldly religious standards but if you look at the Guru Maharaji's, the Moonies and the Children of God etc, they are gone and we are still here for all our imperfections.

keshav said...

......this is your Karma.!

little green mango said...

Fair enough! Thank you for your comments!

little green mango said...

I guess it just goes to show that there really is no one-size-fits-all way to God.

Kuki said...

Obviously, cleanliness is not always next to godliness.....

Kuki said...

Obviously, cleanliness is not always next to godliness.....

Haridas Thakur das said...

Kuki said: 'Obviously, cleanliness is not always next to godliness.....'
Interesting what we point out and why......
But here goes:
Krishna or God is everywhere and everything. He is even the stool in the toilet (Holy Crap, is this a pun?) and the filth on the stairs, but of course this is His external or inferior energy, but none the less, His.
To understand the process of transcendence we have to understand the process of nescience also. This is not something aquired overnight. It can take lifetimes of struggle to overcome our propensity to enjoy this world. That is the difference between a devotee and a none devotee of the Supreme Lord. One is trying to regain his/her position in the spritual world and the other is trying to become a lord in this one. So there are two different dimensions, one is of this earthly dimension and the other is a spiritual dimension, matter and anti-matter. We cannot see, touch or hear the spiritual world with our material senses but we can perceive it's existence by a change of heart. This is possible because we are spiritual entities residing in a material body. We are (at present) not able to seek out our real identity or touch the source of our existence. So much speculation abounds as to who we are, where we came from and where do we go. This is proof that the material scientists for all their knowledge do not have a clue as to what is really going on.
My point in all this is to show that there is a beginner on the spiritual path, a neophyte or kanistha, and an advanced soul on the spiritual path, a madhyama or uttama personality. As we progress we become more God conscious, so at the beginning there will be climb through the different modes of nature: ignorance (tama), passion (rajas) and goodness (satva). Devotees affected by ignorance and passion will not appear to be so clean (suci) in all their habits, but over time as their consciousness becomes purified their habits will change and they will see more and more the dirt of this world. Of course one doesn't have to be on a spiritual path to see dirt but being in the modes of passion and goodness does not qualify one as a devotee or spiritualist. We all have to progress and allow for that to take place in others. I for one do not like to see dirt in a temple but that alone will not stop me from going. Anyone who is disturbed by seeing dirt can always volunteer their services to clean, and by so doing they will be cleaning their own heart.
As our hearts become clean we gradually change from being fault finders to becoming solution finders and we see the good in others at all times.
There is a nice book By Srila Prabhupada that makes very interesting reading, here is the link:

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