Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Hare Krishna Food"

"Hare Krishnas have the good food. I learned that right away."
Mathura is helping shovel a load of mulch out of my truck. It's a beautiful Spring day, the new Pear trees are looking happy, the garden is coming in and a neighbor has dropped by to chat.
"My sister used to go to the Dallas Temple on Sundays with her friend." Mathura continued," She told me about it. I went to the Rainbow Gathering in Missouri, that's where I first met the Krishna People."
"Missouri Rainbow Gathering? What year was that?"
"Uh, let's see, I was 18, so it was uh, '94 or was it '96? Anyway, they were nice people and seemed happy to feed me."
"They make you feel like you're doing them a favor by eating there."
"Yeah, there was this monk from Russia, he seemed really happy to see me come by and eat every day. He was glad to feed me."
We had been talking about this weekend's plan. A few of us are meeting at the Shakori Hills music festival.
We'll be cooking 'Hare Krishna Food' for the staff and performers, about 400 people. We're doing this as volunteers, simply because we enjoy it, as Mathura had mentioned. Hare Krishna people enjoy feeding everyone.

One of the volunteers for this weekend's adventure, Jagad Guru, cooks and delivers Hare Krishna Food to 4 or 500 Chapel Hill University students every week. This has been a tradition for over 20 years at UNC.
Recently, Jagad Guru has begun a similar program at Duke University where 3-400 students come for the meal.

Why do we do this for no pay? What's the motivation?

I started asking this of myself. It may be due to social training. It's something that all Hare Krishnas do. We imitate behavior of those we are surrounded by and it becomes part of our nature.

My wife Maharha never goes to town empty handed. She keeps a stock of homemade cookies, small cakes or other snacks to give to anyone she contacts while on her excursions.
Seeing her example, our 4 year old son Narayan, would offer guests a Vitamin C or a raw potato. I remember one guest very graciously accepted the raw potato. After praising both Narayan and the home grown potato, ate it on the spot, raw.
Maharha pauses for a moment...
..then back into action

Where did this behavior originate if we're learning this from others?

When Srila Prabhupad came to New York City in 1965, he brought this concept from India. Visitors would receive 'Prasad' from his hands. When guests began to increase, he would cook and feed everyone although he had very little money.
12 years later, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness had grown to over 100 temples. Prabhupada sent a notice that at every temple we should be ready to give a full meal to any visitor at any time of the day. He advised to not worry about the expense or any other consideration. I remember hearing the letter read out loud for the morning announcements in 1977. The program was instituted. In a recent visit to the temple in Berkeley California, I saw happy to see that it has continued, this time I was on the receiving end.
When I visit homes of friends from India I get similar treatment. It is their culture, their training, to feel genuine pleasure when there is an opportunity to feed a guest.
Feeding strangers can be an adventure, you never know what the outcome will be.

This Summer, the Rainbow Gathering will take place somewhere on the East Coast. I will at that time invite  you to join in setting up a Krishna Kitchen to feed hundreds of spiritual seekers camping in a national forest around July 4th.

Beyond the good will of sharing food, there is another element to Hare Krishna Food. The intentions of the cook will infect those who eat. Temple cooks are trained to prepare meals as a meditation. They are cooking for the pleasure of God. The meal will ultimately be eaten by Him as a ritual. These godly thoughts have an effect on those who partake of this food. 
You are taking in more than simply calories and vitamins.
Food prepared by very pure personalities is seen as particularly valuable for this reason.

This is something you may experiment with on your own, with or without elaborate rituals. No one needs to know about it for it to work. Try it for a week or two and watch for results. You may decide to make this a habit.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Beautiful People in Winston Salem

"May I hear a G please?"
"No, G"
There are a variety of accents from India.
Someone suggests,"G, as in God"
"Ah, OK", Rajen plays 'G' on his harmonium, and the song begins.
Akhilesh supports the rhythm on tablas.
I select the 'G' flute from my collection and follow the melody.
This is true Folk Music, the music of the people.
Some are trained in the Indian Classical system, some sing what they have learned from childhood. All of them sing from their heart while the group responds as a chorus. Moments of the performance may be praised in midstream, "Bahut Accha He !", raising a hand while slightly tilting the head to one side.
These people have kindly accepted me as if part of their family.
It is a very tightly knit group. For years they have been gathering regularly to sing and play music of India.
Today is an annual event at Praful's home, celebrating the appearance of Hanuman, the monkey warrior servant of Lord Rama.
Way back in December, Praful urged me to reserve the date to sing a bhajan and give a brief talk.

It is a bit intimidating to speak or perform before such a talented group.
"Mitra, it is your turn, please speak something"
"10 minutes?"
"Yes, 10 minutes, then bhajan."
That is more time than anyone else had taken. I'd better make this good. I've learned so much from these people and want to give something back.
"It's been a year since our last gathering here. I've had a wonderful year, full of growth, learning and opportunity. I hope that your year has also been so eventful." I scanned the audience, many of them senior to me, Mathematicians, Physicists, Nano-technicians, nodding their heads in agreement, still learning, still growing.
"I've been studying habits. They are stored in the basal ganglia region of the brain. Once an action is learned, we don't need to give it much attention. We tend to brush our teeth in the same pattern or tie our shoelaces in the same order every time. Driving a car is so easy for us. Remember when you first learned, how difficult and scary it was to approach an intersection? Now, most of you probably don't even remember driving here. The functions were taken over by the basal ganglia while your mind absorbed itself in other topics." Again, heads nodding in agreement, smiles remembering early driving attempts.
"Studies have shown however, that when people are on vacation, they tend to alter their patterns for brushing their teeth. The stimuli have changed. This is a good time to change habits. We can use this to our advantage.
"Yesterday I was reading about Shabari. She had left home at a young age to live in a hermitage accepting spiritual guidance from the sage Matanga. One by one, the sages achieved perfection, leaving this world. Matanga asked Shabari to remain at the ashram as Lord Rama would be coming to visit, she will get the opportunity to host Him.
Shabari took this service, daily collecting flowers to decorate the path, thinking that "today may be the day when He will arrive". She would collect fruits, tasting each one, discarding those that were not sweet enough. After many years, Rama and his brother Laxman arrived to accept the hospitality of this elderly woman. As she offered the fruits, Laxman questioned,"Why are you eating  food which has already been tasted by this woman? This is impure."
Rama replied,"I have tasted many different things in my life, but never have I had anything like this. You must try some."
The Lord has no need for our offerings, rather He accepts our devotion. The devotion of Shabari surpassed that of the followers of rituals. When Laxman tasted the fruit, tears came to His eyes, understanding the intention of His brother."
The body language of the audience showed they felt the same as I do about Shabari, inspired by her example.

"When we chant mantras, the mind considers, 'OK, we already know how to do this.' The basal ganglia takes over and the mind is free to wander. Shabari put everything into her service, it was not simply a habit. For this kirtan, we will try to break our routine. We will try to keep the mantra in the forefront of our mind, as if this is an entirely new experience. Raise your hands to shoulder height, palms upward, asking for blessings. Keeping them like this will help keep your mind from wandering. Taste each mantra, as Shabari tasted each fruit to see if it was sweet. Offer each sweet mantra to Lord Rama and wait patiently for His arrival."
I was surprised to see everyone cooperatively holding their hands up as requested, eyes closed in expectation,"OK Rajen, key of E"
"No, E.... as in elephant"