Monday, August 17, 2015



Although many years ago I was one of them, today whenever I see a non-Indian Hare Krishna devotee walking down the street clad in a sari, it fills me with a profound sense of disquiet. Something is clearly wrong. On the other hand, to see a Hindu woman outside of India wearing a sari in any setting--professional or just shopping with her family--seems absolutely normal. 

When I was a child, my mother always described Indians as Hindus and never failed to mention how both their men and women are intelligent and good-looking. It is also worth mentioning that these observations went hand-in-hand with the high esteem she held for Hindu philosophy, which she attributed to the radio lectures by Jiddu Krishnamurti she listened to as a child.

I learned first-hand just why the identity of Indians is intertwined with Hinduism when I visited the pilgrimage town of Vrindavan in the early 70's (shortly after the arranged disaster of a marriage to an Indian I discuss elsewhere in this blog). We had just finished visiting the "old" Govindaji temple and the newer version when I spotted an much larger, really gorgeous one nearby. Apparently a sign warning non-Hindus not to enter was posted outside, but my husband told me to cover my face with my sari with only my eyes showing.  

Well, as you can imagine, the gatekeepers saw my white skin and forbade my entrance. What is more, they  started shouting (in Hindi), "the English, the English," to my considerable amusement and surprise. Since I had just learned that the top floors of the old Govindaji temple had been razed on the orders of the infamous  Mughal tyrant, Aurangzeb, they might as well have been shouting, "the Muslims, the Muslims." However, my impression of these old, unhealed traumas seemed to make their pride in the survival of their Hindu heritage that much stronger.
Unfortunately, with the rise of the New Age infatuation with exoticism of all kinds, many Indian swamis eager to manipulate the gullible crept in and used marketing tactics to their advantage. Based on my own experience, the following sums up one of the worst offenders:

When A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada  took it upon himself to export Gaudiya (Bengali) Vaishnavism to the West in 1966, he also repeatedly denounced Hinduism. Instead, he preached that the bhakti-yoga practice consisting of chanting, deity worship, and literal scripture readings was the only path to Sanatan Dharma. To his American and European followers, it was also presented as an easy way to self-realization.

In fact, as the notorious history of the Hare Krishna cult has amply demonstrated, it was nothing but a cheap imitation. Consequently, it bred a host of contemptuous, ignorant cowards among the American followers of the Swami's Hare Krishna movement, many of whom survive to this day, using propaganda, violence, and subterfuge in their "devotional" conquests.

Moreover, despite the popularity of Yoga and Meditation world-wide, their practice does not make the beneficiaries of these ancient disciplines Hindus. Why, then, do the members of the  Hare Krishna (ISKCON) claim that their bhakti-yoga practice is an exception? Using the example of the Gaudiya Vaishnava saint Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu as proof that non-caste Hindus can study Vedanta and become brahmins by virtue of their chanting the Hare Krishna mantra proves nothing.

Far worse, it treats Bhakti-Yoga as a kind of Hindu magic: simply chant the Maha Mantra, eat food offered to the Radha Krishna deity, and you too can become better than a brahmin or an Indian who by birth is a Hindu?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was also quicked out of that South Indian Temple in 1977 for the same reason (having white skin); although at that time dressed as a "brahmacari" with saffron color cloth. I was so brainwashed at that time that I did not react where they literally carried me to the other exit. I did not touh the ground for about a minute as a half dozen pujaris lifted me out ....