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Hare Krishna - They live the name of God

This article, "Hare Krishna - They live the name of God," was published in Wilmington Morning News, March 11, 1971, in Wilmington, Delaware.

Text by Terry Zintl 
Staff photos by Ron Dubick and John Flanagan 

They're bald, they wear pajama pants, they sing and dance in a weird language, they wear gook on their noses. In the startled eyes of lunch-hour Wilmington, they are heresiarchial Hindus, zonked out of their skulls on vegetables. 

Although they may look like they come from another world, the people who have been singing and dancing every noon at the corner of 9th and Market Sts., are all born and bred Americans. Two are from New York City, one from Buffalo, N.Y., and one is a dropout from the Philadelphia College of Art. 

They are members of the Hare Krishna Movement, known more formally as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). They moved into the Hindu Center of 2307 Baynard Blvd. about three weeks ago. 

They are the advance wave of an informal order of Vedic monks that has spread rapidly since its arrival in this country in 1966. Hare Krishna people can be seen chanting, dancing and handing out candy or incense on street corners in at least 30 North American cities. 

Wilmington is just a stop along the way. ISKCON's eventual aim is to "carry the chanting of the holy names of God, Hare Krishna, to every town and village of the world.

THE ISKCON philosophy is simple. "Sing these names of the Lord and your life will be sublime: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

The chant is their mantra, the prayer of their society. They repeat it a minimum of 1,708 times a day, from their awakening at 3:30 a.m. until nightfall. They say it constantly, on the street, in the shower, while they eat, even while they do something as simple as climbing a flight of steps. 

The result of this chanting, they claim, is to put the mind in a state of ecstasy. They say that by the constant "meditation on the name and form of the Lord," a man's insatiable sensual appetites dwindle away and he is able to realize the God-self hidden within him. 

For ISKCON members, the chanting also transforms one's life into a continuous act of devout dedication to God in the form of Lord Krishna. They practice bhakti yoga, which does not involve the usual exercises or meditation but instead, according to one writer, "the cultivation of a direct, intense, personal relationship between worshipper and worshipped." The Jesus people so widely publicized on the West Coast are also, in their way, following bhakti yoga

The lives of ISKCON members are completely centered around Krishna. His name is their prayer, his word, through scripture, their doctrine. They depend upon him for food and shelter, thinking always that "whatever Krishna provides is sufficient." They have no time for the "charlatans" from India or Japan in this country promoting various forms of yoga or meditation they regard as "impersonalist.

In their general philosophy, ISKCON members are as doctrinaire and as rigidly fundamentalist as any Mennonite or Southern Baptist. Everything about them - their dress, hairstyle, diet and activities - are dictated by literal interpretations of the Bagavad Gita, the Hindu sacred scripture. 

An ISKCON initiate takes four vows when he joins the society: he promises to abstain from meat, liquor and drugs, gambling and illicit sex - sex for anything other than reproductive purposes. 

As a way of dedicating himself and his body to Krishna, he shaves his head, leaving only the lock in back, marks his body with fuller's earth and dons the peculiar clothing of the society - which is actually a simple rectangular piece of cloth folded about the legs and tied at the waist. 

The fuller's earth noticeable on the forehead and the throat marks various spiritual centers of the body and absolves it from being what a member called "a slaughterhouse" of the other life-forms it is constantly destroying. The fuller's earth, the clothing and the shaved head all help, said one member, "to remind us who we are.

There are currently four Krishna devotees at the Wilmington temple. Their day begins at 3:30 a.m. with prayers and chants. Each member has a string of 108 beads on which he must do a minimum of 16 rounds of chants a day. 

About 7, the devotees begin to clean the temple and prepare the day's food. Before they eat any food, it is dedicated to Krishna with praying and singing. In that way, the devotees say, Krishna "eats" the food, converting it into spiritual energy for his followers and the sensual aspects of eating are transcended. 

A typical meal last week consisted of warm milk, fruit salad, some leftover vegetable stew and large wafer-like crackers made of ground beans and peppers fried in oil. The devotees ate largely in silence, sitting on the floor and using their fingers instead of knives or forks. 

The morning and afternoon meals are both prepared early in the day so the devotees may eat immediately after returning from the downtown area - they walk both ways, leaving the temple around 10:30. Evening meal is at 7 p.m., followed by scriptural studies. They go to bed about 10:30. 

The temple is open each night at 6:30 for a chanting session. In addition, a transcendental love feast is open to all each Sunday afternoon at 4. 

Despite the lukewarm reception they have received in Wilmington so far (the police have bothered them occasionally, but they have a $3 business permit that allows them to operate), the ISKCON members are not discouraged. "We provide the medicine," the leader said. "It's up to the people whether or not they want to take it.

And although their way of life seems difficult and unusual, for the devotees it seems the easiest and most natural path they could take. 

"All you have to do is chant Hare Krishna and the rest will follow," they claim. 

Photo 1: At a Sunday afternoon transcendental love feast at the temple, expressions of joy cover the faces of participants who join in the chanting of the mantra.
Photo 2: An ISKCON initiate listens to a reading from scriptures.
Photo 3: An earnest preacher, an attentive listener. 
Photo 4: Two men learn of Krishna. 
Photo 5: ISKCON members are zealous in their efforts to spread Krishna's name. In their daily missionary work at 9th and Market Sts., their chanting and literature attract occasional passers-by.
Photo 6: In an instructional session at the ISKCON temple, Lalit Kumar, leader of is the temple, reads from Vedic scripture while Richard Lavin listens. The altar in the background is covered with pictures of the society's founder, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

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