[deck]Hare Krishna followers in Eugene, Oregon have found a way to redefine comprehensive consciousness for themselves and others.[/deck]
“Just chant the Hare Krishna mantra and be happy,” says Jnana (gah-nuh), a 39-year-old Hare Krishna devotee who founded and now oversees the Hare Krishna Consciousness Center in Eugene, Oregon. “It’s really so simple.”
Jnana opens the Hare Krishna Consciousness Center on Oak Street for chanting, worship, and a free vegan meal every Sunday at 6:00 p.m. On Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., it is open for chanting. Many of the devotees who attend these chanting ceremonies say that they value the unique spiritual science behind them and remarkable way in which they bring people together.
The United States is ranked as one of the most individualistic countries in the world, according to Geert Hofstede, a Dutch researcher whose focus is organizational culture. This measurement is based on “the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members” in the nation. In other words, people are considered more likely to look after themselves only, while family and group loyalty is generally considered less of a priority.
In Eugene, Hare Krishna has emerged to help combat this isolationism. The Consciousness Center was started by a hardworking devotee, Jhana through grassroots organization in March of 2012. After living on a Hare Krishna farm called New Talavan in Carriere, Mississippi, Jnana used money he earned from a cab business to move to Eugene and founded the center.
“I saw there was a need,” says Jnana who chose to settle in Eugene because of the impressive organic farming in the area. “There weren’t too many people going out facilitating Krishna consciousness. I wanted to see people be more conscious and less exploitative of the environment, others, and themselves.”
He estimates that there are around 200 devotees in the area, with anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000 devotees nationwide. His center sees about ten to twenty people at each worship.
The Hare Krishna Consciousness Center is the only ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) presence in Eugene, meaning Jnana’s practices are based on the teachings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta, the founder and first teacher of Krishna in the United States.
“People have been suffering throughout time. It’s not new,” says Jnana. “What we have to offer philosophically is a device of God. Krishna Consciousness has something for everybody.”
Judy has found her place in Hare spirituality and attends worship on most Sundays. She is a frequent visitor to the Krishna Consciousness Center and also an active member of the congregant at the Beth Israel Synagogue in Eugene.
Jnana estimates that 10 to 15 percent of the people who come to the center are not devotees, but are people like Judy who are simply interested in learning more about the practice. The majority of these people are between 18 and 25-years-old, which he calls a “fruitful age” for activism.
“That’s my goal,” says Jnana. “To get people who don’t know anything about it and to have them experience it.”
Judy admits that while she is faithful to Judaism, the uplifting chanting of the Hare Krishna worship keeps her grounded after a long week.
One of her favorite anecdotes she likes to share with the devotees is about her rebellious 8-year-old son who lacks interest in his Hebrew school courses.
“I finally get it,” her son had exclaimed to her one day. “Religion exists so that people have support when they need it most.”
According to a study by the Merck Manual, religion can provide numerous psychological benefits, including “a sense of meaning and purpose in life, which affects health behaviors and social and family relationships.”
This helps to bring new faces through the doors of religious organizations like the Hare Krishna.
The first time Grace walked into the center, she was instantly met with the rich smell of burning incense. The sticks burned next to images of beautiful icons of Krishna, a young bluish boy full of innocence and the formal representation of the Krishna God. Soon, the smiling faces of the shoeless devotees came to greet her—warm, friendly, and excited to see another enthusiastic participant.
The chanting experience is incredibly sensory, especially when a ritual known as Aarti (pronounced ARE-TEA) is performed. Here, earth is offered from burning incense, fire is offered from a wick candle, water is offered from a conch shell, air is offered from the fanning of the deities, and ether is offered from the devotees’ singing voices.
At any typical Krishna worship, each person in attendance is asked to offer a reading, and each person has his or her own story and reason for taking time out of the day to join the worship.
“People want to be happy and this free practice gives me the most incredible, natural high,” says *Tim, who became a devotee while attending high school in Cleveland.
After beginning a quest for consciousness that included experimentation with various hallucinogenic drugs, Tim’s search seemed to fit the tenants of Hare Krishna. He eventually shaved his head, moved to India, and lived as a monk. Practicing as a devotee has helped him remain sober and content with his life.
“This is an undeniably positive influence in my life,” Tim says, “Every little bit helps.”
Some devotees note that the Krishna consciousness offers an alternative to everyday struggles, and takes worshippers back to their natural and most blissful state, which is known as Satcitananda (pronounced sach-chid-ānanda).
Another devotee, Nava Sundari Didi, moved to Eugene in 1999. She first discovered the concepts of Hare Krishna consciousness when she met an individual at Eugene food co- op Sundance Natural Foods in 2001.
“I was attracted to the clarity and light of the individual that I met,” says Sundari Didi, who at the time hoped to find a spiritual support system in an unfamiliar town. Nowadays, it’s the community of Hare Krishna that helps her remain strong.
Nava visits three to four homes a week for scripture and chanting. To strengthen relationships with other Hare members between these formal settings, she also visits Govindas (pronounced goh-vihn-das), a vegetarian buffet in Eugene and a unique part of the Hare Krishna community, as well as a local used car dealership called Auto Rama (a reference to Krishna), which is run by a member of the Hare Krishna community.
Legendary musician George Harrison of the Beatles became closely involved in the Krishna movement in the 1960s and expressed similar interests and personal attachment to the consciousness he experienced.
“I always felt at home with Krishna,” Harrison told Mukunda Goswami during an interview in 1982. “Krishna consciousness was especially good for me because . . . it was a spiritual thing that just fit in with my lifestyle.”
Being surrounded by other devotees made the entire experience an impactful part of Harrison’s life.
“Going to a temple or chanting with a group of other people—the vibration is that much stronger,” he said in the same interview.
One individual who found Krishna for similar reasons was Sacidulala dasa (pronounced Sah-chee-doo-lahl dasa). This translates to “servant to Chaitanya,” a 16th century Vaishnava saint (Vaishnava is a branch of Hinduism). The name was given to him directly by A.C. Bhaktivedanta himself.
“I was looking for something that I could live as I believed,” says Sacidulala dasa, who met his first devotees at the Krishna temple in Topanga, California.
To him, it was an exotic change of pace from what he was accustomed to. To the devotees, it was a direct representation of God. Sacidulala dasa was initially interested in the vegetarian philosophies of the movement, however, as he started coming for the free food that the centers offered at meetings.
“Food distribution is such a huge aspect of Krishna consciousness,” says Jnana, who recently raised enough money to provide free food distribution in Eugene.
Aiding the community by providing food to others is a unifying aspect of Hare Krishna. According to the Con Agra Foods Foundation, Oregon has the highest rate of children in households without consistent access to food, despite the fact that the land around Eugene is fertile enough to feed the entire Northwest.
With food playing such an important role in the Krishna ideology, Sacidulala dasa soon began cleaning up after group meals and delivering utensils to the temple. Eventually, he listened to records of chanting, and found the devotees to be genuine and supportive of his interests.
“I also love seeing people of different backgrounds come together,” Sacidulala dasa says. “If someone gives me something, I want to reciprocate.”
He believes in the karmic cause and effect taught by Krishna consciousness and that everything on Earth comes from a loving exchange. Nowhere is this more apparent than during the collective chanting of the Krishna mantra that recites the names of God:
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna.
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.
Hare Rama, Hare Rama.
Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
According to Jnana, people hear the Hare Krishna mantra and want to feel more of it. His hope is to teach them that they are a soul, that their spiritual life is already there, that all of humanity is full of knowledge, and to set their minds free in a pleasure-seeking society.
In the next few years, Jnana hopes to see hundreds of people in Eugene actively spreading Krishna consciousness.
Under the notion of simple living and high thinking, a concept stressed by the teachings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta, Jnana and his community take the Veda scriptures (directly translated to “knowledge”) and see everything, nature, self, and others, in relation to God.
For many, religion and spirituality provide comfort in an increasingly isolated world. When asked, Sacidulala dasa speaks passionately about the purpose of any religion. For him, Hare Krishna fills a void.
“We all want to be protected, we all want to be free from fear, and we all want love.”