Religion is something I rarely ever talk about or think about. It’s been such a huge non-entity in my life for so many years that it ceases to be something interesting to talk about. The internet is always full of Atheists vs. The World type arguments, and I really don’t have time to look at the relative merits of each side.
In short, I believe that one’s religious beliefs shouldn’t be questioned unless, to a person, those beliefs mean injuring other people. But religion is always a nice thing for people to have, because ultimately it gives some people comfort. No one likes to think about what will happen when one dies, so when one can believe that they’ll be heading off to a better place, maybe a fear of death doesn’t seem like as bad a thing as it could be.
Growing up I was never completely forced into religion. I was baptised as a Lutheran (a branch of Protestantism) but haven’t actively attended church services for many, many years. I recall a time when I was younger where we would go to Sunday services, but I don’t think it was all that long. It was probably less than a year.
My parents call themselves Christians, but they’re pretty nonreligious themselves. It’s because of their not forcing me that made me “convert” to Agnosticism when I was in high school. At this point I’d probably consider myself an atheist, but I never want to be the atheist who tells other people that they’re wrong.
Anyways, this long-winded introduction to my main story comes because, for a radio assignment (as I might have mentioned a couple of posts ago), each of us in the class had to produce a 4-6 minute mini-documentary on a particular religious organization. I had a small list to choose from, and what seemed the most fascinating to me was the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON for short.
Yesterday I went to the temple, which is located at the corner of Avenue and Roxborough in Toronto. On entry I had to remove my shoes, and when I passed by the temple there was a group of about five people chanting the Hare Krishna chant, which goes as follows: “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Here/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
Shortly afterward I interviewed one of the devotees (as they are called) and she told me about a festival the temple takes part in in July, that requires pulling huge chariots (about ten feet tall) by hand. People dress up in bright colours, there’s lots of incense. It’s a fun time, apparently.
Then I attended the actual service. I was amazed by the levels of people that were there, in terms of kind of devotion. There were people who would stop suddenly and kneel, with their foreheads touching the wood floor, and there were others who stood hesitantly a bit back from the front (ie. me, with my recording device; I got a fair amount of weird looks from people, unsurprisingly. But there were other people standing back as well). At one point in the service I actually saw a girl checking her phone, and none of the devotees ever scolded anyone for doing anything that wasn’t part of the service.
The singing and drumming went on for a good 45 minutes, at which point an actual talk went on. That was where I learned quite a lot. The devotees of this offshoot of Hinduism believe that Krishna, their lord, invests his energy in his name, and so that by chanting it (Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, etc.) one is actually connecting with Him. The talk was quite comforting, actually, saying that one should not let lust fester, for it will turn into wrath, which will further create illusion that will hinder one’s happiness. There’s obviously more to this, but I don’t want to spend hundreds of words going over the philosophy step-by-step.
After the talk was the part everyone had doubtless been waiting for, the free vegetarian meal. I was unsurprised that the number of people in the temple (which was already a very large number) probably doubled as people got in line. The meal, I was surprised to learn, was pretty hearty considering the temple was giving it out for free. It was also delicious.
After the eating, there was a bit more chanting, which almost seemed to me a little more sombre than previously. I stuck around only a little bit into this as I had to run off to the last Wavelength show. But I was amazed to find that during the ceremony, my attention rarely wavered from what was being said and done. There was so much to observe and to marvel at.
I’m certainly not going to become a Hare Krishna devotee, I’m pretty sure, but I am seriously impressed by how cool all of it was. The woman I interviewed from the temple told me I could come back any time I wanted, even if just for the free food.
I guess I was just amazed by all of the accommodation. It was nice.