(ISKCON Los Angeles)
What thoughts cross your mind when you are asked what you think or know about a Hare Krsna devotee? What is his background? Why is he a devotee? What are his cherished goals? How does he live his private life? What is a typical day for a devotee? Most people do not know the answers to these questions. In order to clear up these questions for a large number of people, we would like to present a typical devotee.
The devotee we have chosen is Kavicandra. (This is his spiritual name, which was given at the time of his formal acceptance as a devotee.) Kavicandra is a soft-spoken, twenty-six-year-old family man with a three-year-old daughter with blonde curly hair and blue eyes. He was born in Minneapolis and attended the University of Minnesota, where he was a liberal arts student. It was at this time that he met his wife, a pleasant brunette with a background of Christian training who is now called Mahasini. In 1971, discouraged with the materialistic standards of modern society, they began seeking a life of seclusion. In the midst of their search for a pure life (especially for their young daughter), they happened upon the Hare Krsna devotees in Tucson, Arizona. When he first saw them, Kavicandra was immediately struck by the devotees’ great happiness.
From this point he was naturally intrigued to know more about the Hare Krsna movement, and gradually he began associating with the devotees more and more. Kavicandra recalls, “The devotees were honest and happy. They were actively doing something, and it was pure. Truthfulness that was the main thing. It was fresh. Everywhere else, everyone was uptight, cheating and lying to one another. The devotees were just trying to serve Krsna [God] together.” Gradually, over a period of months, Kavicandra and his family became progressively attracted to devotional life, and step by step they became full-time devotees. The Tucson Hare Krsna center was too small to meet the needs of their entire family, so Kavicandra moved to a larger center in Dallas, Texas, which is the home of the Hare Krsna movement’s Gurukula, or children’s school. In Dallas he was a sales representative for Spiritual Sky Scented Products, a devotee-owned business with headquarters in Los Angeles. In the spring of 1972, when there was a need for a production foreman at Spiritual Sky, Kavicandra moved to Los Angeles to fill the post.
Since then, Kavicandra has experienced increasing fulfillment in his daily life, which is one of dedication to the ideal of serving the Supreme Lord wholeheartedly. On a typical day, Kavicandra rises so early that it is practically a symptom of devotion in itself: 3:30 to 4:00 a.m. After a shower and a brief period of chanting the Lord’s names on his japa meditation beads, he walks the short distance from his apartment to the temple with his wife and daughter. At 4:30 there is an aratrika ceremony, an active affair for hundreds of devotees who join in the ecstatic dancing and responsive singing of prayers, accompanied by the melody of a harmonium and the beat of many karatalas (hand cymbals).
After this joyful ceremony, which lasts about thirty minutes, Kavicandra and most of the other devotees begin their main period of japa meditation. Japa is performed by softly chanting the Hare Krsna mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. You will generally see each devotee carrying a small cloth bag, about the size of a large pear, by a strap around his neck. This bag contains a string of wooden prayer beads, each the size of a small marble, which the devotees use to chant japa.
The japa meditation in the morning lasts for a solid one and a half hours. Commenting on this, Kavicandra said, “This is incredible. But there is scriptural evidence that this is spiritual. By chanting the names of Krsna (God), one can associate with God. Because of the absolute nature of His name, it is equal to Him. This is inconceivable to the materialistic mind. However, you can experience this by purifying your senses and mind by the simple practice of chanting.”
After the japa period, which ends at 6:30 a.m., the devotees chant Gurvastakam, accompanied by dancing and the melodious harmonium, a mrdanga drum and hand cymbals. The Gurvastakamare verses in praise of the guru, or spiritual master, who plays a most important role. The spiritual master is God’s representative from whom the forgetful soul receives instruction and guidance in reviving pure consciousness.
Kavicandra spoke of the soul’s lack of fulfillment with the temporary affairs of nonspiritual existence, and he commented on the necessarily high qualifications of the spiritual master by giving this example: “If you had a toothache, you would want a dentist who is bona fide, who knows the cause of the toothache and can stop it in a way that is favorable. He has credentials or qualifications. Similarly, the spiritual master, who comes in an unbroken succession of disciples, transmits the teachings intact, without change. You can verify this by examining the complete consistency of these teachings throughout their history and the changeless word-for-word presentation of the scriptures. The spiritual master does not ask anything for himself, but, rather, he directs the disciple to chant the holy names and work for enlightenment in an authorized way, according to the scriptures.”
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the present representative in the disciplic line of teachers. Srila Prabhupada (prabhupada is a title that honors a great spiritual master in the line of devotion) came to the United States in 1965 to teach the practice of bhakti-yoga. He is the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and the spiritual master of the members of this worldwide organization.
After chanting the praises of the spiritual master, Kavicandra participates in an hour-long study of Srimad-Bhagavatam from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. “Srimad-Bhagavatam is the beautiful history of the Personality of Godhead. It is sastra, or scripture,” says Kavicandra. Prabhupada was specifically instructed by his predecessor and spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, to spread this knowledge to the English-speaking countries. “It is very ancient (five thousand years plus),” states Kavicandra, “and is arranged in a way that will attract you to the Personality of Godhead.” The topics covered range from godly governmental administration to ancient history, life on other planets and universal creation. “You cannot become attracted to or love someone you know nothing about. Therefore this scripture is particularly valuable because it gives information of how God is working through His many energies, and even how Krsna is carrying on His most confidential dealings.” Kavicandra concluded, “This does not merely skim the surface. It is comprehensive and includes the chanting of the ancient verses in the Sanskrit language. And the study is carried out in relation to modern history and innumerable other scriptures such as the Bible. Without this complete understanding, how can we properly share this with others?”
At 8:30 there is breakfast for all. Kavicandra’s diet consists entirely of prasada, sanctified food first offered on the altar to the Lord. Partaking of this delicious food is one of the most easy and delightful practices to which the devotees adhere. Only pure foods are offered and then distributed for everyone.
Following breakfast, Kavicandra drives to work as millions of other Americans do. As we mentioned before, Kavicandra works at Spiritual Sky Scented Products, a devotee-owned and devotee-operated business enterprise that is a major source of financial support for the Hare Krsna movement. He works as a production manager of the incense division, which is capable of producing over one million sticks of incense a day. Kavicandra has become expert in supervising production in every way, especially in formulating and mixing the various combinations of scenting and coloring materials. Some of the thirty scents of stick incense and twenty flavors of cone incense are imported from all over the world, including the Near East, Southeast Asia and India.
The constant supply flow, quality control, ordering of materials, personnel supervision, and management of packaging and deliveries make Kavicandra’s days very busy.. “This may seem the same as any ordinary business,” stated Kavicandra, “but the reason we do it is different. We are not working for the frustration of gaining money and planning how to spend it. The workers are joyful because they are serving their beloved spiritual master and the Supreme Lord by their activity.” In fact, the factory is filled with the sounds of Prabhupada’s lectures and pleasing chanting coming from a tape recorder. The incense factory closes at six o’clock, when the crew of devotees drive the short distance home.
Following a light meal and a shower, Kavicandra and his family go to the temple for the evening aratrika ceremony, which they sometimes perform themselves in the key role as pujari, the person who offers the various articles on the altar on behalf of the entire congregation. The aratrika ceremony is extremely colorful and melodious, with offerings of delicious foods, lamps of camphor and clarified butter, flowers, water and fragrant incense, all to the accompaniment of melodious responsive singing with instruments such as hand cymbals, drums and gongs.
Following aratrika, at about 7:30, Kavicandra usually gathers a supply of Prabhupada’s books and goes for sankirtana in the shopping malls and other areas where people gather. Sankirtana is the most conspicuous of a devotee’s practices, for it involves public congregational chanting of the holy names and distribution of literature. This is Kavicandra’s favorite activity, sharing the pleasure of divine love with one and all. In fact, sankirtana absorbs his weekends and spare time almost completely. Sometimes, however, Kavicandra remains in the temple after the aratrika ceremony for classes and discussion of scripture and singing of the holy names. “All of these things are fun,” he said. “We aren’t forced to seek pleasure elsewhere.”
In speaking with Mahasini, Kavicandra’s wife, we learned some interesting facts. “Formerly we were impersonalists or voidists, believing that the Supreme was a formless void or white light,” Mahasini revealed. “This is currently a popular misconception. Actually, Krsna does have an impersonal energy, but it is not the ultimate. Fortunately, we have received a higher realization. Everything has fallen into place with Krsna consciousness. We’ve been able to apply all the religious principles and morals that we were formerly taught without any example or practical application.” Mahasini is particularly delighted about the godly atmosphere for raising Bhakti, their three-year-old cherubic daughter. “The children actually are engaged in singing the glories of the Supreme Lord in their play rather than singing nonsense like ‘Humpty Dumpty’ or ‘Ring Around the Rosy.’ This is really remarkable because many times even big philosophers don’t even come to realize that they should ultimately glorify Krsna, the Supreme Truth.” In regard to a woman’s position, she positively affirms, “This is the only place where women are respected. We are not regarded as objects for exploitation. The role of a woman is properly recognized; we simply have a different type of body, but we are essentially, spiritually, the same as men. We simply have a different outward dress. In Krsna consciousness, a woman can completely fulfill herself.”
When questioned about any difficulty in accepting the life of a devotee, Kavicandra replied, “Of course, at first we may have many bad habits, but we are not exactly giving things up. Rather, we are just accepting things which are so much nicer. Suppose I were smoking cigarettes and my doctor told me that if I didn’t quit he would have to cut out my lung. Then of course I would quit so that I might live. This would be an act of intelligence, and Krsna consciousness is just like that. By intelligence you can understand how to come to a better life. There is a development of a higher taste, and the lower tastes are naturally left behind. If I am greatly attached to something say an old car and someone offers me a large sum of money for it, even though I am strongly attached to it I would give it up. It’s not that we are receiving money, but we are getting a peaceful and happy life. Everyone is looking for that. It awakens from within. It’s not found in the externals of possessions, fame and so forth.”
Kavicandra also explained the ease of accepting Krsna consciousness by citing a practical example: “Last Sunday we held a festival at Venice Beach, and thousands of people were there, chanting and dancing, eating the spiritual food which we were distributing for free. They were talking with the devotees and taking the spiritual literature we had. One fellow, who has an automotive repair shop near the temple and who lives right across the street from where the festival was held, said that he thought it was wonderful, especially the music, and he wished we would have more festivals there. Everyone will find something attractive about this, and anyone can participate easily.”
Kavicandra also indicated a broader acceptance of the Krsna conscious life: “Everyone accepts what we are doing anyway. They are singing, dancing, eating, looking at pictures and hearing and speaking about someone’s pastimes or qualities. We just perform these same activities in relation to Krsna, who is the Supreme Person. We would like everyone to know Krsna, the supreme attractive person. Actually, large-scale acceptance is happening. It’s not a dream. We have a society, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness ISKCON and we’re growing daily. Our spiritual master, Prabhupada, came to New York in 1965 to spread this teaching in the West, and now we have over a hundred centers and thousands of members worldwide. Anyone can take part. For instance, one of our active supporters is an extremely famous recording artist. He sings about Krsna in his songs and helps us a great deal with donations. He’s famous, but there are thousands of others who are also participating whom you would not notice as readily as a famous person. In fact, this is not a new concoction. ThePuranas purana means “ancient history” the Puranas tell of times in past history when Krsna consciousness was applied on a society-wide basis with phenomenal success. It includes a complete, spiritual, pure social structure that is not a dream but a historical fact. In the past and presently, this is a feasible life for peace and harmony. It doesn’t mean that everyone must put on robes and live in a temple. You must simply gain the right conviction in life, and then you will follow it. You can begin Krsna consciousness from any station in life. This deals with the eternal spirit self and goes beyond temporary circumstances such as birth, age, color and so on. We beg people to consider Krsna consciousness impartially and also deeply. This is not a shallow or narrow understanding. It is universal, and if you can properly understand Krsna consciousness, you can attain the highest goal of life.”