Hare Krishna Festival

Yesterday I went to the annual Ratha Yatra festival on Venice Beach. This is a parade that the LA chapter of the Hare Krishnas do every year. They decorate a bunch of floats, parade them through Santa Monica on to Venice Beach, park them there, and then have a big party on the beach with food and music and stuff. It’s fun. I’ve gone every year that I’ve been in LA at the time it was happening.

This year I went with my friend and fellow Suicide Girls writer Darrah Du Jour. I’ve been a fan and follower of the Hare Krishna movement for a long time. But Darrah didn’t know anything about them. She’s interested in all things religious so I found myself trying to explain my take on the Hare Krishnas to her.

I told her that the Krishnas are representatives of a very specific form of Hinduism that practices what they call Bhakti Yoga. They believe in conceiving of God as strictly external to themselves and worshiping that externalized God in the form of Krishna, who is said to be an earthly incarnation of the God Vishnu. The Hare Krishnas consider themselves to be monotheistic even though most people categorize Hinduism as polytheistic. They say that there are many demigods in the universe. But there is only one supreme God and that is Krishna. The Hare Krishna movement in America was founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, known to his followers by the highly honorific name Prabhupad (one who serves at the feet of God). Prabhupad came to America at the age of 69 with only a trunk of self-published translations of his favorite scripture and seven dollars to his name. But he came to the right place at the right time and soon had a huge international following.

I first got interested in the Hare Krishnas because George Harrison had championed them. I like their artwork and their food and their music. Their books look amazing from the outside. Unfortunately, their contents have never impressed me all that much. They are usually full of folk tales that remind me of a kind of ancient version of the stories you now find in comic books. I imagine that they served much the same function back in the day. But I find most of that stuff incredibly dull and kind of pointless. It’s a lot of wish-fulfillment fantasies in which good triumphs over evil through the use of supernatural force. When the good guy seems almost about to be defeated by the demons, he transforms into his true nature as a divine being and beats the crap out of them. Pretty much like in Spiderman. Although they make up bullshit “scientific explanations” for our superheroes’ powers these days.

The festivities on Sunday included a Krishna-ized version of The Wizard of Oz that must have violated a dozen copyright laws. I wonder if anyone from MGM’s legal department was on the beach that day. If so, the Krishnas could be in big trouble. Instead of “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” it was “aging, disease and death, oh my!” Darrah asked why the Krishnas were so obsessed with aging. I told her that I guessed this was the most frightening thing they could think of in life and therefore the most likely to get people to want to convert to a religion that promised a way out.

A lot of Hindu scriptures use the fear of aging, disease and death as the great terrifying monster with which to try and get you interested in converting. I suppose the fear of aging ought to play well in Los Angeles where so many people are obsessed with staying forever young. Look at Joan Rivers!

You don’t get quite that much emphasis on the fear of aging, disease and death in Buddhism, although it is present in some of the folk tales and scriptures. I don’t get the impression that Buddha was playing that much on his followers’ fears of aging and death to inspire them to practice. But he did like to say that this is what happens to all of us in case anyone was inclined to forget it. Buddha’s selling point was suffering in general and the idea that even those experiences we consider to be the best possible things that could happen to a person involve some degree of suffering, not just the obvious stuff like aging, disease and death.

Somewhere in our discussions I ended up telling Darrah my theory that most ancient religious scriptures date from a time when human beings were transitioning from being nomadic hunter-gatherers into living in settled areas and depending on agriculture. The various commandments and suchlike can thus be seen as rules for living in communal settings of mutual interdependence. Since we still live in communal settings of mutual interdependence, those ancient rules still apply to some degree to us today. Which is why they’re still studied and debated even now. I’m sure I’m not the first one who came up with this theory. But I think it explains a lot.

The Hare Krishnas are fascinating to me because they have somehow made the difficult transition from what was arguably a cult into a legitimate religion. They had some very rough times in the 80s just after Praphupada died (he “went back to Godhead” in 1977). Prabhupada was probably far too overambitious in his desire to see his movement grow as quickly as possible. He believed that the power of following his four monastic rules (no meat eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication and no gambling) as well as regular chanting of the holy names of God was sufficient to insure that his followers didn’t go wrong. He was mistaken.

After his death several of the people he appointed to important positions went spectacularly wrong. There were allegations of child abuse, drug abuse, sexual abuse and even murder. But the mainstream part of the movement appears to have purged itself of much of this stuff and is now on track to being regarded as just another slightly quirky minority religion on the American scene much like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christian Scientists and the Mormons rather than as a dangerous cult. Earlier this year I wrote a review of a book about part of this transition . The book is called Betrayal of the Spirit and it’s by Nori Muster. Muster argues that the movement has made some significant changes since the bad old days, but still has a long way to go.

Anyway, I had a good time and ate some delicious food. So I’m glad they’re still in business at least from that standpoint.

***

If you donate to this website or buy from its store Brad can go to the Hare Krishna buffet ($7 for all-you-can-eat!).

30 Responses

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  1. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 6, 2012 at 4:56 pm | |

    In his book on pre-Buddhist India, Rhys-Davids, the founder of the Pali Text Society, surmises that the age that gave rise to Buddhism was one in which a middle class had emerged, much like the middle class today. They were people who lived in cities, removed from agriculture, not part of the ruling hierarchy, merchants and such. They had money, they had time on their hands, they felt alienated from each other and from the significance of their lives. Something like that. This was the soil in which Buddhism took root and prospered.

    @Boubi, thanks for reading my write, sorry if it comes out mixed up sometimes- I find your take on things generally inspiring, and I appreciate it.

    ‘What happens after you perceive this suchness is that you continue to go about your life just as you did before, except that you no longer believe the illusion, and no longer doubt the path you are on. ‘ – Ted the L

    In your “some say” about suchness, you didn’t touch on the suchness that lifts a cup to the lips, or the suchness that gets up and walks across the room, or the suchness that sits on the zafu (which is often confused for holding still). I don’t know about lifetimes, my premise is anybody can right now, and everybody is. I’ve said before, that nobody sees is because of a fear of losing control, on a very physical level- that’s why people jerk themselves awake as they fall asleep, about 70% of the people apparently. It’s built in to our amygdala memories, apparently, and we don’t see how feelings enter into the occurrence of consciousness and act.

  2. Jinzang
    Jinzang August 6, 2012 at 6:39 pm | |

    “You don’t get quite that much emphasis on the fear of aging, disease and death in Buddhism, although it is present in some of the folk tales and scriptures.”

    Oh, Brad.

    Maybe your teacher didn’t emphasize them, But there’s a lot of attention paid to old age, illness and death in Buddhism. There are the four sights Siddhartha saw when he left the palace. There’s the first sermon in Deer Park. There’s the meditation on impermanence, found in the Path of Purification. The charnel ground meditations, likewise in the the Path of Purification. There’s the four thoughts that turn the mind to the dharma in Tibetan Buddhism, which contains contemplations of impermanence and suffering.

    Try saying “this was not emphasized in my training” instead of “this is not emphasized in Buddhism.”

  3. Ted
    Ted August 6, 2012 at 7:16 pm | |

    Mark, the reason I didn’t mention the suchness that lifts the cup to the lips is because suchness doesn’t lift the cup to the lips, or do anything else at all. The experience of the cup being lifted to the lips is dependent arising, not suchness. Of course, suchness and dependent arising are like the mirror and your face in the mirror, but the mirror is not your face in the mirror.

  4. bookofzero
    bookofzero August 6, 2012 at 9:20 pm | |

    Have you ever read “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn or any of the related stories he’s penned? There are moments when he seems to strike the nail on the head on certain things. One of those moments is when he is going over the store of Cain and Abel and explaining on how it’s really an allegorical tale of an agrarian society overpowering a nomadic, hunter-gatherer one. There are other points in the dialogue wherein he alludes to sharing the idea that religious scriptures are myths that grew out of similar stories.

  5. mika
    mika August 7, 2012 at 1:33 am | |

    Jinzang, that used to irk me a little too, until I realized that when Brad talks about Buddhism he really means “Soto Zen buddhism as taught by Nishijima”. Which is just fine, since writing that out every time would get tedious pretty soon. You just have to be aware of that and translate it in your head, although I give you that for the people who come across Brad’s writing the first time it may be a source of some confusion.

  6. Fred
    Fred August 7, 2012 at 3:19 am | |

    “until I realized that when Brad talks about Buddhism he really means “Soto Zen buddhism as taught by Nishijima”.”

    There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t have a problem with anything that he
    states other than the balance between cholinergic and adrenergic based
    physiological systems.

    Zen should be good for relaxing an amydala on overdrive.

  7. anon 108
    anon 108 August 7, 2012 at 10:24 am | |

    Brad wrote: “You don’t get quite that much emphasis on the fear of aging, disease and death in Buddhism, although it is present in some of the folk tales and scriptures.”

    So – not quite as much emphasis on FEAR of death etc as you get with the Hare Krishnas. Yes, you come across FEAR of aging, disease and death in Buddhism, but not to the same extent as with the Hare-Krishnas.

    That’s possible, isn’t it?

    Brad then wrote: “I don’t get the impression that Buddha was playing that much on his followers’ fears of aging and death to inspire them to practice…Buddha’s selling point was suffering in general and the idea that even those experiences we consider to be the best possible things that could happen to a person involve some degree of suffering, not just the obvious stuff like aging, disease and death.”

    That’s fair enough, isn’t it? No need to invoke sectarianism to explain it.

  8. anon 108
    anon 108 August 7, 2012 at 10:34 am | |

    - I liked it, Brad’s blog post. Particularly this bit:

    “It’s a lot of wish-fulfillment fantasies in which good triumphs over evil through the use of supernatural force.When the good guy seems almost about to be defeated by the demons, he transforms into his true nature as a divine being and beats the crap out of them. Pretty much like in Spiderman.”

    Sums up…you know.

    I liked other bits too.

  9. Ted
    Ted August 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm | |

    BTW, for some reason my RSS feed is showing comments but not articles, so I missed Brad’s actual article above. Lame. I think the comparison of Hindu demigods to comic book superheros is pretty fabulous, not for what it says about Hinduism but for what it says about superheroes. I’ll have to remember that.

  10. anon 108
    anon 108 August 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm | |

    Some insist that the archetypes of the Marvel Universe embody the Great Way while DC expounds a lesser path. Others disagree, arguing that Green Lantern would kick shit out of Sub-Mariner any day. I believe in Harry Potter.

  11. SoF
    SoF August 7, 2012 at 1:06 pm | |

    “Krishna, who is said to be an earthly incarnation of the God Vishnu”

    My understanding is that Vishnu (the fish) ia an avatar (manifestation) of Krishna.

    But I see that concept is backwards.

    oh well… it really doesn’t matter.

    Krishna is, IMO, a manifestation of consciousness… like almost everything else (except the Higgs field?).

  12. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 7, 2012 at 2:31 pm | |

    ‘the reason I didn’t mention the suchness that lifts the cup to the lips is because suchness doesn’t lift the cup to the lips, or do anything else at all. The experience of the cup being lifted to the lips is dependent arising, not suchness.’

    So you are saying suchness is one thing, action another?

  13. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi August 7, 2012 at 3:44 pm | |

    I’ve actually seen Hindu comic books depicting the stories of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Absolutely awesome.

  14. King Kong
    King Kong August 7, 2012 at 3:49 pm | |

    Weeelll… Not to brag, but Godzilla and I have long been known to symbolize the reptilian and animal aspects of the human brain. And me and Hanuman – second cousins!

  15. SoF
    SoF August 7, 2012 at 3:49 pm | |

    The cup is lifted by the action born of craving.

    Drink, food, and all things of desire (craving) are but signposts that you ARE i hell (so to speak).

    In this land of shadow and light (dualism) you have the demons that create wars and the hapless helpless who must, under duress, go off and fight the often useless wars. Thus we remain, to a smaller extent, in Iraq. Thus we remain, to a larger extent, in Afghanistan. And no good has come from either exercise.

    Debt is not a good thing to grow. Yet it is the very thing that grows the quickest.

  16. boubi
    boubi August 7, 2012 at 4:36 pm | |

    What is this suchness? Some kind of samadhi?

  17. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 7, 2012 at 5:36 pm | |

    What is this suchness?-

    ‘(Anyone)…knowing and seeing eye as it really is, knowing and seeing material shapes… visual consciousness… impact on the eye as it really is, and knowing, seeing as it really is the experience, whether pleasant, painful, or neither painful nor pleasant, that arises conditioned by impact on the eye, is not attached to the eye nor to material shapes nor to visual consciousness nor to impact on the eye; and that experience, whether pleasant, painful, or neither painful nor pleasant, that arises conditioned by impact on the eye—neither to that is (such a one) attached. …(Such a one’s) physical anxieties decrease, and mental anxieties decrease, and bodily torments… and mental torments… and bodily fevers decrease, and mental fevers decrease. (Such a one) experiences happiness of body and happiness of mind. (repeated for ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind).

    Whatever is the view of what really is, that for (such a one) is right view; whatever is aspiration for what really is, that for (such a one) is right aspiration; whatever is endeavour for what really is, that is for (such a one) right endeavour; whatever is mindfulness of what really is, that is for (such a one) right mindfulness; whatever is concentration on what really is, that is for (such a one) right concentration. And (such a one’s) past acts of body, acts of speech, and mode of livelihood have been well purified.’

    (Majjhima-Nikaya, Pali Text Society volume 3 pg 337-338, ©Pali Text Society)

    Whatever is what really is, with respect to sense organ, sense object, consciousness, impact, and feeling- suchness.

  18. Ted
    Ted August 7, 2012 at 5:45 pm | |

    So that excerpt from the Pali canon refers to suchness when the Buddha says this: “knowing and seeing eye as it really is” How it really is is its suchness—its lack of self.

    Actions, like all things, lack a self, and so one aspect of them is suchness. But suchness is not the object; rather, an aspect of the object is suchness. An easy test for whether something is suchness is to simply ask: is it beyond all thoughts to imagine, and all words to describe? If not, it is not suchness.

    Dependent arising is how things exist. Suchness is how they do not exist.

  19. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 7, 2012 at 6:04 pm | |

    The cup is not necessarily lifted by action born by craving. Life is not identically suffering- that’s the significance of the Norman the philologist’s clarification of translation the other day, it’s “the noble truth that, ‘this is suffering’” Not, “life is suffering.” (http://ahandfulofleaves.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/a-philological-approach-to-buddhism_norman_tbf_1997.pdf)

    In the fourth material meditative state, habitual activity (volitional activity) in inhalation and exhalation ceases. Does such a state only occur on a cushion? We know the Gautamid returned to “that characteristic of concentration in which I ever constantly abide” (MN I 249), after his discourses, so I would say not. When volitional activity in inhalation and exhalation ceases, the cup may come to the lips as a necessity of breath, that’s my experience; visualize Bela Lugosi in the subconscious, suggesting “comb hair, cup!”

  20. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm | |

    How do you experience that in your daily life? Can you experience that picking up the phone?

  21. Ted
    Ted August 7, 2012 at 8:05 pm | |

    You couldn’t pick up the phone if it wasn’t devoid of self, because what you did couldn’t affect it. But you don’t really experience that, do you. If you want to, do your practice. That’s how you experience suchness in your everyday life. We can intellectualize until the cows come home, and in my lineage we consider that a useful exercise, but it is just the finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself.

  22. Ted
    Ted August 7, 2012 at 8:08 pm | |

    BTW, the cup _never_ comes to your lips as a result of volitional activity. The arrival of the cup at your lips, and the taste of tea as you drink, is always a miracle.

  23. sheelamonster
    sheelamonster August 7, 2012 at 9:22 pm | |

    Comic books- namely Amar Chitra Katha- are the standard medium through which most (literate) Indian kids learn their mythology. A popular series among them are Jataka Tales, stories of the Buddha’s life, in which Shakyamuni gets the same fantastic treatment as Shiva and company.

  24. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel August 8, 2012 at 2:18 am | |

    anon 108 wrote:

    “Some insist (…). Others disagree, (…). I believe in Harry Potter.”

    Finally, something sensible!

  25. boubi
    boubi August 8, 2012 at 4:56 am | |

    Thanks

    But written on a match box it would be ?

  26. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel August 8, 2012 at 5:49 am | |

    I just left a discussion on a French forum where “tibetans” and a zenist christian have heavily and very consistently insisted that the Buddha was some kind of super hero, who always faked suffering when, for example, his foot was wounded by a sliver of stone, or when, in old age, he got a mesenteric infarctus; and also that, had he wanted to, he could have lived forever.

    It seems that this is truly what the tibetan teachers teach. If that is so, I can only repent of having doubted what Nishijima told me, that he thought that tibetans were not really buddhists…

  27. boubi
    boubi August 8, 2012 at 7:44 am | |

    hi Michel

    My very personal point of view* is that buddhism consist in its core teaching as in the Heart Sutra, which i consider it SOMEHOW like the central formula of gravitation (AKA Newtonism as in Buddhism) . Both have accretions related to the core element, meditation practice, other calculus all meant to “get there” or to use it.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/17/Prinicipia-title.png

    Tibetan buddhism has a lot of things that don’t belong to the teachings of Gautama Siddharta, a lot of particular yogas (as in yoke) that got added to the main teaching(s) for many reasons. For sure they fortify the spirit, “rein in” the mind, IMO, have positive effects on meditation practice. Tibetanism carry also with it adoration of deities, which also are not in main buddhism teachings.

    I so think that they are budhists, but with things that are not.

    Now reading my post i don’t know if it means anything, or if it adds anything.

    BTW anybody can tell me in a few words what the heck is this suchness? If not samadhi, then the result of it?

    * free of disagreeing and leading me on the rightful path

  28. Ted
    Ted August 8, 2012 at 8:47 am | |

    Samadhi is simply the state of balanced meditation. It is not enlightenment. It can be reached by any practitioner with about six months of obsessive practice, or a few years of sensible practice. The Tibetans have a nice chart with elephants that explains how to do it.

    Suchness is the lack of a self nature, which is a truth about all existing things. It’s not a thing itself, nor a state of mind. That’s why we don’t become suchness: we realize suchness (or so one might hope!).

    I actually went through a long, albeit abbreviated, discourse in the comments to one of Brad’s previous posts about what various Buddhist schools think suchness is. Dogen argues that explaining what suchness is is useless—you just have to lead people to it, whether you explain it or not.

    The Tibetan view on the Buddha having already been enlightened is a real view, but it’s not that the Buddha was always enlightened; rather, it’s that the Buddha’s final life was actually a play to teach the path, and every event that occurred during his life was part of that play. But if you understand suchness, even on an intellectual level, you can see that the question of what the Buddha’s experience of his life is is really irrelevant. What matters is what our experience of his life is, and how it informs our practice.

    What also matters is whether in fact it is possible to reach enlightenment from the status of an ordinary schmoe like me, as pretty much every Buddhist school agrees the Buddha did; our suchness—our lack of a self—is one of the two aspects of the Buddha nature that makes it possible for us to reach enlightenment.

  29. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote August 8, 2012 at 10:57 am | |

    This thread has been good for me; thanks, everybody.

    On a match box: “Strike Anywhere”.

    Kobun’s literal translation of the elements in the word shikantaza strings together as: “pure hit sit”.

    The quote I gave part of yesterday is in full:

    “And I… at the close of (instructional discourse), steady, calm, make one-pointed and concentrate my mind subjectively in that first characteristic of concentration in which I ever constantly abide.” (MN I 249)

    Looking this passage up in my copy of the Pali Text Society’s volume 1 of the Majjhima-Nikaya (pg 303), I find this footnote in reference to “that first characteristic of concentration”:

    “samadhinimitta, explained at M.A. ii 292 as concentration on the fruit of voidness, sunnataphalasamadhi.” Horner gives M.A. only as “commentary on M”, meaning on the Majjhima- therefore from a work composed much later than the Majjhima itself, I’m sure.

    The fruit of voidness, well, could be the stuff of the Heart Sutra, maybe?

    Myself, I was thinking along the lines Ted put forward, because of this in the description of the power of concentration:

    “… making self-surrender (one’s) object of thought, (one) lays hold of concentration, lays hold of one-pointedness of mind.” (SN V 200, Pali Text Society V 176)

    Now, my friends, what is that one-pointedness of mind?

  30. Ted
    Ted August 8, 2012 at 1:44 pm | |

    “Now, my friends, what is that one-pointedness of mind?”

    Look! That dog has a fluffy tail!

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