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Self-control Emphasized in Hare Krishna Classroom

This article "Self-control Emphasized in Hare Krishna Classroom," was published in South Mississippi Sun, November 30, 1971, in Biloxi, Mississippi.   

DALLAS - Krishna Kumari was telling her kindergarten pupils a story about Lord Krishna and a bee the other day when she stopped to scold a boy for inattention. 

"Oh, there's Jason, listening to his mind, his garbagepail mind." Krishna Kumari said. Jason put his hands to his eyes in shame. He stayed that way a long time, face tilted down, the topknot of hair sprouting from his otherwise shaved head. 

"Servant of the mind," the young teacher intoned, gazing at him. Then she resumed the tale. 

The scene was a classroom of the gurukula, a boarding school to which the more dedicated members of the so-called Hare Krishna cult send their children when they reach the age of four or five. 

It is the only school so far for the movement, which was founded in the United States in 1965 by an Indian guru, A. C. Bhaktivedanta, known by his devotees as Prabhupada, a title of respect. 

He had come to tell the West about Krishna, god of the Vedic scriptures who is said to have taken human form 5,000 years ago. Prabhupada now has 5,000 followers, three quarters of whom are in the U.S. The rest are in Europe and Asia, according to the Los Angeles headquarters of his International Society of Krishna Consciousness.

The devotees, who take Indian spiritual names, have become a familiar sight in many cities. Dressed in orange or pale yellow garments - the men with shaved heads except for a tuft of hair - the young ascetics sell Krishna literature and ring little bells, chanting the name of their lord. 

Only some are strong enough in the faith to send their children to the school. Parents are asked, although not required, to visit the youngsters only once a year. 

Seventy-five children from the ages of 3 to 15 presently attend the gurukula, whose name means place of the guru in Sanskrit. 

Ten adults, most in their late twenties, teach and supervise the children with the help of assistants. Pupils are divided into three age levels and are separated, according to sex, in the oldest or advanced group. 

The world of Krishna pervades their lives. They learn reading and writing. In English and Sanskrit, arithmetic, history and geography, all in the context of the faith. 

"Then Krishna swallowed all the flames of the fire until it was completely gone," reads a 10-year-old, in a sari and pigtails, from one of the sect's books for children. The teacher nods. "What is the verb?" he asks, "what is the object?

Krishna Kumari's reproach in the kindergarten class reflected a basic aim of the two-year-old school: to teach self-control. 

"A person who can control his senses and mind can learn and understand many things,": explained Nandarani, supervisor of the older girls and wife of Dayanda, the headmaster. "We assure that they are going to be good devotees of God as well as good all around citizens, free from lust, anger and greed, which are the major ailments in American society.

All students and teachers take two cold showers a day, the first when they rise at 3:30 or 4 A.M. Adult devotees believe that sexual desire wastes spiritual energy, so the only permissibly contact is between married couples once a month at the optimum time for procreation. 

Gurukula children chant and jump about a great deal. "It's a great release," observed Nandarani, who in her own childhood made her mother take her to Episcopal church every morning. 

"The life here is very exacting," she said. "Instead of stifling or perverting emotion, we let it out by chanting and dancing." They also chant numbers and vocabulary lists. 

(The New York Times) 

Photo: BOARDING SCHOOL - Students prepare to answer a teacher's question in a classroom of the gurukula, a boarding school where dedicated members of the Hare Krishna cult send their children. Self-control is emphasized at the school and subjects such as English, Sanskrit,  math and history are taught in the context of the faith. (New York Times Photo) 

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