"Sure, a brisk one. It's pretty cold out"
Nilamani led me on a 6 mile walk down a bike path near his home in New Jersey. Train tracks on one side,
a crumbling concrete wall on the other, at least it was quiet away from the street traffic.
Japa is the practice of chanting a mantra, keeping count on a string of 108 beads. Initiated devotees chant at least 16 times around their beads daily. This practice takes about 2 hours.
The idea is to focus one's mind on the mantra and to still other thoughts. When done properly, this provides access to the personality of Krishna.
But I was a country boy in the city, taking in the sites, watching each train go by, speaking with others on the trail, observing the architecture,
"Coming up behind you!"
I moved to the right.
"Good hearing."commented the cyclist as he pedaled by.
"I don't think he was referring to my japa..."
Nilamani smiled at my statement. He was observing good 'japa etiquette', avoiding the tendency to hold conversations.
"...It would be a surprise to hear a deep voice from the sky, Krishna's voice, saying , 'good hearing'"
That drew a chuckle from Nilamani,"Yes that would be nice", he allowed, then resumed his own focused chanting.
Nilamani is the project manager for the proposed ISKCON temple project in Northern New Jersey. Although land has been purchased years ago, they are running into problems getting permission to build. The neighbors are opposed to the traffic it will bring, there are environmental agencies that need to be appeased, the latest hurdle is an archeological study to determine if there may be any historical significance to the area. Although the area is surrounded by office buildings, fast food restaurants, parking lots and convenience stores they had all been built before these restrictions came about.
I'm glad that new buildings are put under such scrutiny, assessing their environmental impact, but we sense there are other issues at hand.
Later that day, I met with Devaki Nandan, involved with a similar project in South Jersey. Their difficulties are so similar, that for a while I'm thinking it's the same project being discussed.
"Our lawyer says that if it were a Christian Church there would be no opposition.The neighbors have researched the activities at the other 2 hindu centers in the area which are very busy. There is a very large Hindu population, they draw very large crowds."
"Of course they are busy. Where else are these people to go? Ask these neighbors what church they attend,", I suggested, "What if there were only two of your churches in this entire region? Would they not be crowded? Imagine if your attempt to open another such church were restricted due to the popularity of your group?"
"That's a good argument, we hadn't thought of that.", said Devaki Nandan.
"Not an argument, you don't want to fight with your neighbors. Ideally, they should see you as an asset, something that will benefit them in some way. You won't win this by defeating them."
A full day has been planned for Hare Krishna youth of New Jersey.
It's like a family reunion, old friends are spending Christmas break here, arriving from Boston, Houston, Baltimore, New York City and our local NC boy, my son, Narayan.
Arriving at Nimai's house, Narayan's entrance draws a chorus of, "Narayan! Narayan!", in imitation of the Bollywood version of Narada Muni. At 16, he is the youngest in the group. At 6 foot 5, he's also the tallest, which produces another chorus of comments. A similar greeting is repeated several times as vanloads of kids arrive with loud shouts in greeting, long hugs and animated conversations.
Some of them remember me as the counselor at Krishna Camp, 15 years ago, when we gathered at the Gita Nagari Farm in Pennsylvania for kirtan, sports and storytelling around the campfire. Some of them know Narayan and I from a retreat held in our village two years ago.
Today's activities are somewhat free form; eat and talk.
"Last night we got back pretty late." Chaitanya tells me,"The kirtan in Brooklyn didn't want to end. I was surprised how crowded it was. Anish sang Hare Krishna to Christmas melodies at one point. That went over really well. Silent Night, Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman"
Several agreed, then demonstrated the melodies.
"I can't believe there's been over 2500 views on Anish's youtube video. We just posted it last night."
There is a South Indian video of a song, Kolaveri Di with over 28 million views. Anish sang Hare Krishna to that melody. http://www.youtube.com/watch?
The group relocated to Devaki Nandan's home for dinner and a discussion with Vinit Chander, the Hindu Chaplain at Princeton University. All adults were asked to leave the room so the kids could speak freely.The subject matter was on the issue of finding your life's companion in an objective, reasonable manner. Vinit is an initiated devotee and 'one of the gang', yet he is an engaging speaker. From upstairs we heard several bursts of laughter, he certainly held their attention.
Tomorrow, we'll be immersed in kirtan to welcome the new year, then hop on a flight to Costa Rica at 7 the next morning.
I hope 2011 has treated you well.
We are grateful for lessons learned this year.