Monday, April 30, 2012
Journey for Japa Beads: My Visit to a Hare Krishna Temple
The quick and restless energy of anticipation danced across my consciousness as I turned into the driveway of an inauspicious yellow house set in the suburbs of East Harford. Above the doorway read "Hare Krishna". I drove down the driveway and parked in the back. The sun broke through white clouds, warming my skin and spirit as I helped my son out of the car. We noticed a generous-sized garden, earth turned over and tilled, fertile and moist; earth's womb promising to birth fruit to come. Already some vegetables could be seen that had been planted. Leaves reflecting the day's brilliance.
Since taking on the practice of mantram repetition a few months ago I have found myself diving deeper and expanding wider spiritually. There has been so much I've wished to share here on what I've experienced but I've had little opportunity to really sit down and write uninterrupted lately.
The more I practice repeating my mantram the more it rises up spontaneously throughout my day, anchoring me to the present. There are still unguarded moments, though, when I get swept up in the turbulence around me and react in ways I regret later, having allowed my emotions to drive my actions. I've been trying to come up with ways in which I can remember repeating my mantram even more. Especially at times when I feel I am at a crossroads and can choose either peace or offense as a reaction. It is my intention to sow seeds of light, of peace, of love. For my intentions to reflect the beautiful prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, "Lord, let me be an instrument of your peace; where there is hate, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon...".
I've been intrigued by mala beads lately. After reading a bit about them and watching some YouTube videos on the various philosophies behind them and their use, I decided that they were a spiritual tool worth trying out. The use of mala, or japa beads, doesn't align exactly with the teachings of Eknath Easwaran, teachings of which I have been using primarily to learn passage meditation and mantram repetition, but I figured I'd give it a go anyways.
Mala, or japa beads, or japa mala beads (seems like everyone has a different way of referring to them) have 108 beads and are used very similarly from what I understand in the way that a rosary is used. They are designed so that the practitioner repeats 100 mantras and the 8 additional beads are to make up for potential mistakes made. One starts at the bead to the left of a large bead, called the guru bead, which is not counted, and goes bead by bead counter clockwise, repeating their mantram with each bead either silently or outloud until they get to the end. There are different approaches on how to hold the beads while meditating but all generally agree that the index (or pointer) finger is not to come in contact with the beads at all for the index finger is associated with the ego.
There is a store I have found recently that sells them but they were quite expensive so I did a little research online and found that a shop inside a Hare Krishna temple sells them for much less. In fact, I was really impressed by the prices of all that they sold in their shop. So, I contacted the temple via email to see when it was open and set up an appointment to stop by.
So, here I was walking up to a Hare Krishna temple with my four year old son in tow. I wasn't sure what quite to expect but when the door opened and kind eyes greeted me I knew there was no reason to feel unease. After removing our shoes we walked in. My host, Jiva, showed me their temple, a life sized wax statue of the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, sat erect in the center along one side of the wall. If I hadn't already looked up some information about the Hare Krishnas that might have taken me aback a bit, having come from a Christian background I'm not used to seeing such things. Along another wall was an elaborate display of Hindu deities, colorful and ornate features almost overwhelming the senses with their elaborate designs. So much to look at and notice and take in!
We were next led into the little shop they have inside the temple. Japa mala beads hung on the wall and the shop was filled with collections of incense and other items in which devotees might find helpful in their practices...including books, lots of books! My son was a bit clingy at first but when Jiva's husband came in and showed him his IPad he was sold and sat on the floor enjoying a game with him. That gave me lots of space and time in which I could ask Jiva all kinds of questions which she graciously answered. About japa beads, how to use them, about her beliefs, especially regarding her concept of what and who God is.
I have much to share about what the Hare Krishnas believe and will leave that for the next post, this is kind of an intro to what will be a series as I learn more about their beliefs. One belief that I really appreciated that Jiva expressed was the fact that everyone is worshiping the same God. No matter what religion one ascribes to, no matter what packaging one's beliefs are wrapped in, what lies at the core is all the same. I share that same belief. Another belief that really resonated deeply with me was their stance on nonviolence and the fact that the Hare Krishnas put an emphasis on vegetarianism in their practices. I have been long perplexed by the fact that so many others that meditate and seek God and express the beliefs of nonviolence still eat the flesh of other sentient beings.
The Hare Krishnas are most notably known for the chant they repeat and sing. In the post that will follow this one I will go into more detail about their chant but for now I will just merely relate it:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
Upon leaving Jiva offered a bundle of incense that had been blessed and burnt at their alter and put it in my bag as well as packed food for us to go. I was really surprised at the food that we were given. I accepted it without reservations having read a little online that food is seen as spiritual with the Hare Krishnas. I still would like to learn more as to why. I have to say it was delicious! And I enjoyed the fact that I could consume it without wondering if it was ethical. I burned a stick of the incense I was given early the next morning and I have to say that I have never smelled a fragrance so divine before. The scent drew me deeply into it and I felt almost as if I was smelling God Himself.
My short experience at the temple left me inspired and intrigued by what the Hare Krishnas believe and how they practice devotion. I have written about attending Quaker meetings and it's been my intention to visit other places of worship this coming year and write about these experiences on my blog. I agree with what Ken Wilber has to say about there being truth in everyone's perspective, even if it is a little bit. I would say that the Hare Krishnas are onto something significant and are worth writing about and exploring. They seem to have a beautiful take on who and what God is and I would love to understand their beliefs more. I look forward to attending one of their gatherings, probably even more, in the near future and sharing my experience here with all of you.
Thoughts? I'd love to hear them! Please leave them in the comments section. Thank you!
Note: I use the word mantram, which is interchangeable with the word mantra for the most part. The word mantram appears in the Upanishads and it is also the word that Eknath Easwaran chooses to refer to when speaking of the sacred word (usually a holy name) that one chants and focuses on. Since I rely heavily on the teachings of Eknath Easwaran , I choose to use the word mantram.