The worldwide activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
The Reverend Jesse Jackson visited the ISKCON center in Detroit this past March. There the Reverend Jackson met ISKCON devotee Lekhasravanti Dasi, the daughter of one of his heroes, the American labor leader Walter Reuther.
More than three thousand people in Atlanta attended ISKCON's three-day festival there in June. The festival commemorates a feast of yogurt and chipped rice in the pastimes of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Members of the American Philosophical Association heard from Rasaraja Dasa of the Bhaktivedanta Institute at their April conference on "Knowledge and Reality." Rasaraja Dasa presented a paper entitled "Quantum Epistemology: A View for Gaudiya Vaisnava Vedanta."
The fighting in Yugoslavia hasn't prevented Krsna consciousness from spreading. Although books are harder to distribute because of monetary inflation, they're still going out, and devotees say people are more interested in Krsna than ever. During a ten-day tour by devotees from Germany and Belgrade, about six thousand people came to hear about Krsna, take food offered to Krsna, and chant the holy name of the Lord.
In one war-afflicted area, a military patrol was searching ruined houses for wounded citizens. Going through one house nothing but a heap of bricks, covered with dust and mortar a soldier noticed a small book still shrink-wrapped. It was Srila Prabhupada's Path of Perfection. Dusting the book off and putting it into his pocket, the soldier returned to the camp.
St. Petersburg city officials are helping ISKCON devotees start two new restaurants to feed people suffering in Russia's battered economy. People on welfare will eat free; others will pay. Each restaurant will seat 120 to 150 people. ISKCON's Cafe Govinda has given out free food in Saint Petersburg for the last two years. So the city gratefully arranged low-cost leases for the two new places, which devotees are now repairing.
The Russian Orthodox hierarchy in Saint Petersburg has offered ISKCON two empty churches in the center of the city. The churches are among the many given back by the Russian government to the archbishops, who now have more churches than they can manage.
Krishnas find fertile ground in Russia
by Stephanie Simon (Reprinted from the Chicago Tribune)
MOSCOW Emerging from a decade of harsh persecution, the Hare Krishna movement has become Moscow's most visible religious sect.
Just five years after its adherents were jailed for chanting the Krishna mantra in public, the group has begun to proselytize vigorously. Colorful posters hang in subway cars, and orange-robed devotees sell literature in dozens of metro stations. On Sundays, Krishnas dance down the cobblestones of the Arbat pedestrian mall, encouraging people to participate.
During the last two years, the Krishnas claim to have sold 5 million books across the former Soviet Union and to have attracted tens of thousands of believers. They say the Moscow Krishna centers receives 3,000 letters a day, requiring 10 full-time employees to answer mail.
"The Russian people are very ready to look for and accept spiritual truths because they don't have material comforts," said Suren Karapetian, 34, who runs the Hare Krishna publishing house in Moscow.
"In America, where everything is wonderful and shiny, it's difficult to think about religious questions. But when we set up a bookstand in a Moscow metro station, 10 or 20 people gather around. They've never before seen books about the soul or about God distributed in public."
Karapetian spent two years in prison in the mid-1980s, when the Krishnas numbered less than 200 believers but attracted a disproportionate amount of official attention. The authorities raided their homes, detained them for questioning and forbade meetings of more than three Krishna believers.
"I was jailed for the crime of being a vegetarian and for being harmful to society because I followed the path of Krishna consciousness, because I spoke of God and the soul," said Karen Saakian, 34, who joined Karapetian in prison from 1985 to 1987.
Prison guards administered psychological drugs to induce the Krishnas to renounce their faith, Karapetian said, and injected caffeine into their veins to break their diet. Because they shun meat and animal fat, most Krishna prisoners ate only bread in prison.
"In those times, we never would have imagined that we would be able to sell books as openly as we are now," Saakian said. They also never would have dreamed of Saakian's current goal: to open a vegetarian soup kitchen that would serve 5,000 Muscovites a day.
About 100 Krishnas live in a group house in northwest Moscow. A small room doubles as dining room and sanctuary, with cardboard mats for kneeling at prayer. Devotees eat as they repeat the Krishna mantra.
Saakian said the house has become the model for similar Krishna centers throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States. Each branch is financially independent, supported by donations and book sales, he said.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness introduced its literature to the Soviet Union in 1979 during the Moscow International Book Fair, and some of these texts ended up in public libraries, where young intellectuals like Karapetian and Saakian read them surreptitiously.
Today converts can buy the books openly in metro stations, at small folding tables surrounded by vendors hawking everything from newspapers to erotic posters to imported bubble gum. The literature is priced from 25 rubles to 200 rubles, about one-fifth of the average Russian's monthly salary, for the seminal Krishna text, "Bhagavad-Gita."
Most Krishna critics are fierce nationalists who condemn the movement as alien and un-Russian. (Krishna is a Hindu god.) But devotees say an element of foreignness helps attract younger converts.
"These days many people are thinking 'Why is there suffering here in Russia while there is happiness abroad?' " said Alexei Chervyakov, 19. "These books help to answer their questions."
As he stood at his book stall in the Oktyabrskaya (October) metro station, thousands of commuters swept by, many pausing to flip through the lushly illustrated "Bhagavad-Gita" or to stare at the colorful poster depicting an Indian religious festival.
A middle-aged woman stopped to say that her husband had died recently, and to ask Chervyakov why a benevolent God allows her to suffer so. Another asked for vegetarian recipes. But some come out of curiosity.
"I want to become familiar with many different interpretations of religion," said Alevtina Brodyak, 52, who had fought her way through the rush-hour crowd to reach Chervyakov's table.
"With all this perestroika and confusion, we need to pay attention to spiritual things," she said. "Classical music is one thing I find spiritually uplifting, and maybe these books will be another."
Chicago Tribune, March 8, 1992. Copyright Stephanie Simon. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
The king of Puri honored ISKCON's devotees with a several-day visit to Mayapur during the appearance-day festival for Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Soon after, the king also visited ISKCON's center in Bhubaneswar, Orissa. The king, His Majesty Gajapati Divasinghadev, is a descendant of King Prataparudra, who was an intimate associate of Lord Caitanya. The holy city of Puri is the site of the famous temple of Lord Jagannatha.
The mayor of Bombay inaugurated a successful two-month ISKCON drive to give out 100,000 copies of Bhagavad-gita As It Is. In January and February, leading Bombay businessmen and professionals sponsored free books for factories, colleges, hospitals, and orphanages, plus books to give out for a token price throughout the state of Maharashtra.
"The greatest need of the hour," said the mayor, Mr. Divakar Raote, "is to practice bhakti-yoga as propounded in the Gita. When Lord Krsna descended into this material world, He did not descend as a human being. He was still the Supreme God. That is the beauty of Lord Krsna's descent, and that's why His instructions are so special."
Millions of pilgrims gathered at Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, for Kumbha Mela, the spiritual fair held there in April and May every twelve years. ISKCON devotees camped out, chanted Hare Krsna, and distributed prasadam, spiritual food, throughout the month-long event.
Businessmen in the city of Siliguri, West Bengal, are building a new ISKCON temple. The temple complex will include a school, guest house, retirement home, and devotee quarters, surrounded by a park. Siliguri is located in the far north of West Bengal, between Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and the Indian states Bihar and Sikkhim.
Devotees in Bangalore have performed ceremonies dedicating land there for a new ISKCON temple. Construction is underway. Plans call for this to be ISKCON's second largest temple project in India, after the one in Mayapur, West Bengal.
Names of streets and villages in Mauritius are changing, at the request of ISKCON's Krsna Dasa Swami. The village formerly known as Beau Bois, site of an ISKCON temple and farm, is now officially Vrindaban. The road on which the temple is located is Hare Krishna Road. And other streets have been renamed Vrindaban Road and Bhaktivedanta Swami Lane. Local lawmakers, prodded and charmed by Krsna Dasa Swami, put the changes through.
Air Pacific's inflight magazine commends the Hare Krsna restaurants in Suva, Fiji. The food, says Islands magazine, "both satisfies the requirements of Lord Krishna and delights the palates of thousands of Suva's residents and visitors." Especially noted: "Krishna's special ice creams (fig is much fancied)" and Indian sweets that are "truly heavenly."
The Padayatra reached Jaipur at the end of June and is now walking across Rajasthan toward the Himalayas. In August the party will head toward Gangotri and Yamunotri. Then on September 7 they'll begin their ascent along the Ganges from Rishikesh to Kedarnath and Badrinath (Badarikasrama). If you'd like to take part in this three-week pilgrimage, contact the Padayatra office in Delhi.
The American Padayatra party is still on the move in Central America. With a bullock cart and a pair of white bulls from Guatemala, they're now walking through El Salvador towards Honduras.
Padayatra United Kingdom
On May 22 a party from Bhaktivedanta Manor started a two-month tour in England. A second excursion will start July 21 and keep going till early October.
After stopping for the winter, Padayatra Europe began again May 4 in southern Spain. Devotees will hold Rathayatra festivals in Valencia and in Barcelona, where the Hare Krsna festivities will coincide with the Olympic Games. After Spain, on to France at the start of August, and then Monaco, where thousands of tourists will be enjoying their summer vacation.
Padayatra New Zealand
On the north island, starting December 2.
"How to Start Your Own Padayatra," a detailed manual, is now available from the Padayatra Worldwide office in New Delhi. Cost: US $16, plus $4.00 for overseas postage.
For more information, write to:
M-119 Greater Kailash 1, New Delhi 100 048, India
Phone: +91 (011) 641-3249 or 641-2058
P.O. Box 3991, La Mesa, CA 91944-3991
Phone (7:00 A.M.-9:00 P.M.), Fax (9:00 P.M.-7:00 A.M.): (619) 463-0168
Bhaktivedanta Manor, Letchmore Heath, Watford, Herts. WD2 8EP, England.
Phone: +44 (09) 2385-7244