The festival atmosphere surrounding a rock group's
tour proves ideal for presenting Krsna consciousness.
EVEN THOUGH SPOKEN many centuries ago, the timeless wisdom of the Vedas remains current in this new millennium. I realize this while traveling with a handful of other Hare Krsna devotees to rock concerts in North America. We're following a concert tour by a band named Phish. Like the famous but now disbanded Grateful Dead, Phish attracts a following of people who try their best to live a peaceful, holistic life. Hare Krsna devotees have been introducing Vedic culture and philosophy at these concerts for years and have subsequently become a familiar and welcome sight.
Today we're in Hartford, Connecticut. In the morning before the concert begins, we erect three booths in the amphitheater's parking lot, as we do at all the other shows. At the booths, we'll display Krsna conscious books and tapes, distribute prasadam, and chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra accompanied by traditional Indian instruments.
Vendors set up a line of shops be-side us and sell all kinds of parapher-nalia to concertgoers to support themselves while touring. Many of the vendors, who see us often, like to hear us chant, and several come by this morning to ask me when we're going to begin.
Once the chanting starts, some people sing along or smile at us, while others ask what it all means. Srila Prabhupada coined the term "simple living, high thinking," and tasteful, melodious chanting of Krsna's holy names helps to inspire positive thoughts in all who hear it.
Every generation asks itself some perennial questions about life, and young people today are no exception. Steve walks up to Purusa-Sukta Dasa at our book booth and buys two books before deeply pondering and formulating the question he has wanted to ask for some time.
"I understand that there is unity and a sense of oneness between all of us," Steve finally says, "but I feel we have a responsibility to express our individuality, since it also has a great significance. I know that as spiritualists we're all united, but how am I supposed to express my individuality without falling short of this sense of unity?"
Purusa-Sukta explains to our philosophical friend the concept of acintya-bhedabheda-tattva ("inconceivable oneness and difference," as enunciated by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu) and relates an example Srila Prabhupada gives: The sun is the same as, but different from, the sun's rays.
Steve likes the analogy.
"That's a great explanation," he says. "I feel good about your answer."
Steve says that after seeing us at another concert he felt we were the right people to inquire from about spirituality.
As Justin takes a book from the display at the book table, he tells Purusa-Sukta he's gotten a couple of Srila Prabhupada's translations before. While leaving with a Bhagavad-gita and two tapes, Justin echoes Srila Prabhupada's words by mentioning that Krsna consciousness has dialectically helped him form a deeper connection with God from within his own Catholic faith.
A young man sits and listens intently to the devotees chanting. Just as he leaves, he meets Vijaya Dasa and heartily receives a Bhagavad-gita. The young man will later give the book to a friend, who will pass it on to the young, mysterious looking woman I find perusing our bookstall for more information on spirituality. She tells me the Gita seems to have come to her mystically she was looking for a book just like it.
Chris is a courteous, spiritually minded graduate student from Rutgers University near New York City. He comes by the book table after seeing the devotees chanting in another area. He asks Purusa-Sukta to explain what "Hare Krsna" means. They discuss the holy names of the Lord for a while, until Chris has to leave for the concert. But he has become so captivated by the concept of chanting that he soon decidedly backtracks to the book table to find out more. He gets there just as the chanting party arrives, and he spontaneously joins the blissful devotees, thoroughly enjoying chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra and dancing.
Ekacakra Dasa, who has brought the chanting party from New York, tells me of a friendship between the devotees and a woman who comes along to chant at every concert. One time she brought a refreshing gift of fruits and good quality organic juices. Ekacakra showed her the art of spiritualizing food by first offering it to the Lord. She's so fascinated by all the new cultural and spiritual activities she's learning that she has asked the devotees to have a gathering in her house.
One young man makes his way through many rows of cars to where the devotees are chanting.
"It's great to see you out here again," he tells Ekacakra. "You're always tearing it up. I love it when you do this."
Many others encourage the devotees, including Star, who has been to every Grateful Dead and Phish concert ever. He tells us how much he always likes to see the devotees' happy, smiling faces.
While walking about, I meet Chrissie and Adam, who have driven up in their pickup truck.
I show them Srila Prabhupada's books, but before taking one they give me a stern warning: "If you're not really a monk, then you're going to suffer for what you're doing here."
I convince them of my sincere attempt at monk status, after which Adam looks deep into my eyes and conveys to me his latest realization.
"As a landscaper, I have to work in all weathers," Adam explains. "Sometimes I work in the rain, and I hate it, because I get wet, muddy, and miserable. But if I'm sitting peacefully in my garden and it begins to rain, then I love it. It's the best thing. Rain makes the plants and trees grow. It gives life. So the same rain can either give me pleasure or make me miserable."
Adam pauses to see what I have to say.
I agree with him, and I mention that to understand all he has said is to understand something of what consciousness is. I tell him we're all striving to see things from the perspective of higher consciousness.
We talk a little more, and before we part, Adam thanks me for being "out and about doing the Lord's work."
When the concert is over, everyone quickly exits the amphitheater in a scramble to get home. Numerous people stop by the rows of vendors to get something to eat. Savyasaci Dasa, who directs ISKCON's longest running prasadam-distribution program, at the University of Florida in Gainesville, is ready with pots and trays filled with prasadam. Many people pick up a plate or two and stop by the chanting party to watch and listen as they eat.
I've met many University of Florida alumni who are extremely thankful to the devotees for feeding them on campus throughout their penniless university years. Similarly, many fans of prasadam at Phish shows value the devotees' coming on tour again and again.
This is just a glimpse of the good times we have sharing Krsna consciousness at Phish shows. I'm thankful to be here again, out and about doing some semblance of the Lord's work, and seeing people respond with appreciation and friendship.
Aisvarya Dasa joined the Hare Krsna movement in 1989 in Christchurch, New Zealand. He is a disciple of His Holiness Hridayananda Dasa Goswami and is based in San Diego, California.