My Afternoon as a Hare Krishna

Back to Godhead - Volume 12, Number 01 - 1977

Asheville is a very special place with ancient spiritual energy. It’s nestled in the Appalachian mountains, the oldest mountains in the world. Two of the oldest rivers run through it. To the Native Americans this was a healing ground, and some say there are giant quartz crystals under us. Psychics, shamans, yogis and spiritually thirsty people like myself are drawn here. My healing and journey to spirit started upon my immediate arrival to these ancient mountains.

I love to try all the flavors of the many different spiritual practices alive in my beloved city. I’m like a kid in a candy store.  A good spiritual gathering brings a deep opening and sharing between people that I’ve always longed for. The experiences are so deep and rich- the stuff that life is made of. So, naturally when a Krishna devotee invited me to a Hare Krishna Gathering, I was there with bells on. It was to be a three hour gathering with a half hour of chanting hare krishna followed by a reading and discussion of the Bhagavad Gita, another 30 minutes of chanting hare krishna, and finally a vegetarian feast. I was eager to chant to krishna for an extended time because this is the mantra that opened my heart chakra. I was also a little bit nervous to commit myself to three hours, not knowing what I was getting into. But I was curious about the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, a book that’s on my very long “to read” list.

Right at 12:00 I rushed into the karate studio where the gathering was held, nervous that I would be late. But there was just one man inside. He had two lines of white paint between his eyebrows down to the end of his nose. He said the others were usually late, so while we waited he talked to me about Krishna and read from a piece of paper about thinking only about the tongue and ears while chanting. He got goosebumps when I told him about my 2 1/2 hour chanting experience from a few weeks before. A woman and her daughter arrived. The thirteen year old girl talked about something that awoke in her when she chanted for the first time. I loved her passion, maturity and intelligence. The leader of the gathering who invited me arrived in his street clothes, walked to another room and reappeared wearing traditional white cotton. He applied the white paint to his nose, and he showed me his mridanga drum. A few more sauntered in. I liked the relaxed and formal vibe. We made our way over to karate mats on the floor.

As is usual in the practice of chanting mantra, the energy starts slow and soft, then the music picks up and the energy raises as people enter a trance-like theta state. As we chanted, more devotees continued to trickle in. Eyes closed, I would hear a new voice added to the mix. It was kind of cool experiencing the energy of someone’s voice before seeing their body. The chanting was peaceful and soulful. I tuned in to the energy of several of the devotees. The wallah sang deeply and passionately. I could have chanted on and on for another hour or more.

When I opened my eyes I found the group was larger and livelier than I had imagined it would be, and it was an eclectic mix of colorful characters: an old bearded Appalachian man, a middle-aged blonde woman wearing a blue beret, an Indian woman and her 13 year old daughter, a thirty-something black man, a middle-aged white man, a young Puerto Rican guy in a black Brooklyn t-shirt with a large necklace of three crystals, and the wife of the leader of the gathering.

Next we read three paragraphs of the Bagavad Gita. The devotees believe that Krishna is the physical form of God, and that God gave the words of the Bhagavad Gita to Arjun, a human. The three paragraphs that we read were about reincarnation. There were some elements of the reincarnation process that didn’t resonate with me. The book seemed to imply that when we die our soul is immediately transferred to another body. This is contrary to my studies which indicate that we decide to incarnate and then plan our lives, the scenarios that will best aid in the spiritual development of our souls: our astrology, our parents, where we’ll live, important circumstances that bring us to the important people in our lives, etc. I really wanted to get to the bottom of the seeming difference between their beliefs and my studies, so I asked for insight. Everyone was eager to participate in the discussion. They were going around and around, speaking words but never getting to the crux of my question. Besides the 13 year old girl and the leader of the gathering, their answers lacked soul and insight. Multiple people took turns speaking, repeating what they had heard somewhere else: dogma. The followers were doing just that: following. And repeating. I wanted to explore and theorize. I was feeling frustrated that they weren’t really hearing me, and I didn’t get the feeling they were searching for the answers for themselves. A lover of freedom, I have a super sensitive antenna that senses anything that’s even slightly constricting, and I was feeling repelled by the constraints of dogma.

bhagavad gita

We were rushed to move on and to read the remaining two paragraphs, and I remained thirsty for a deeper exploration of the three paragraphs we read. I wanted to pick apart every sentence and understand it fully. But it was time to chant again.

yellow energy

The chant ended, and I soaked for a few moments in the afterglow. When I opened my eyes it was time for a vegetarian feast. A plate was brought to me. People came around and served us rice with cashew, kale, and delicious things I don’t eat like sweet rice pudding and vegetables in a tomato curry sauce. They served me juice and brought me a napkin and came around again serving all of us seconds. It’s a really good feeling to receive the gift of being unselfishly served by someone.

hare krishna serving food

I met a few of the devotees. The old Appalachian man told me he’s lived here for 500 years. The Puerto Rican from Brooklyn showed me his crystals and tattoos and told me about the jewelry he makes. The blonde woman in the beret talked about Ayurveda, eating a raw food diet, and the karma of eating animal flesh. I liked the ease and casual nature of the interactions.

At the end of every gathering the Hare Krishnas go downtown and chant hare krishna for two hours. I was invited along, but I couldn’t invest another two hours. (I had to come home and spend five hours writing this post!)

The gathering was an interesting experience, but It could be amazing without religion which hangs as a barrier between the devotees and the experience of spirit. Spirit is vast and full of mystery. As my shaman says, when it comes to spirit, everything she has ever thought to not be possible shows itself to be possible. Spiritual practices should be open and free, embrace mystery and stress the unique experience of each individual. Spiritual practices are merely gateways to each person’s own experience of the spirit world. The Bhagavad Gita speaks the truth. But it’s one sliver of one person’s or some people’s experience of the truth, not to be taken as the beginning and the end.

The many varieties of spiritual practices allow me to have a wide experience of spirit. The most important thing about spiritual gatherings is the people at the gathering. Being in the presence of very spiritually evolved people is the fastest way to grow. The first true spiritual experience I had would not have been possible if not for all the people around me in the group who were much more spiritually evolved than I. Being in their presence raised my vibration. I could actually feel it. It was an awakening.

Though I have no intention of belonging to a religion, I plan to go back to more Hare Krishna Gatherings. They’re kind of like book clubs for the Bhagavad Gita, which is a really cool book with a lot of knowledge! There’s chanting (my favorite thing!), there’s food, and interesting people, and they didn’t ask anyone for money. The discussion raised questions and prodded me to explore my beliefs. I’ll be back to stretch my spiritual muscles, and maybe I can even lift the veil of dogma for some of the people there.

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