Yesterday I attended the annual Hare Krishna Festival of Chariots on Venice Beach in sunny So Cal. The Festival of Chariots is where the Hare Krishnas drag a bunch of gigantic decorated carts down to the beach and set up a big party with delicious snacks and music and lots of questionable philosophy.
Regular readers know that I’ve been a watcher of the Hare Krishna movement since I was a Beatles obsessed teenager. The Beatles were into Transcendental Meditation (TM™) for a while and later on George Harrison became really involved in the Hare Krishna movement.
I never got real interested in TM™ but I found some of the Hare Krishna books at the Book Nook, a used bookshop in Wadsworth, Ohio, where I went to high school and found them oddly fascinating. In college I started hanging around the fringes of the organization, going to a lot of free Sunday “Love Feasts” and listening to lectures by their gurus.
The Hare Krishna philosophy was never very compelling to me as philosophy. I found it kind of stupid, actually. Yet it’s endlessly fascinating to see how it works.
The Hare Krishnas are essentially a Hindu version of Christian fundamentalism. Christian fundamentalists believe that Noah’s Ark literally existed, that Adam and Eve were literally actual people, and that Jesus is going to literally destroy the world sometime, uh, soon-ish. The Hare Krishnas believe that Krishna literally fucked 200 milkmaids all at the same time, that he literally had purple skin, and that eating food offered to Krishna literally gives you a spiritual super-charge.
Oh, and the Hare Krishnas hate the theory of evolution every bit as much as the Christian Fundamentalists, too.
I remember hearing a Hare Krishna guru in Cleveland tell his audience that the astronauts didn’t literally go to the Moon. They accidentally landed on the invisible Planet Rahu, he said, which causes eclipses when it comes between the Sun planet and the Moon planet. They couldn’t have landed on the Moon, he told us, because their scriptures say the Moon is populated by Devas and Demigods. See this page for further details.
According to Srila Prabhupada, founder of the Hare Krishna movement, “(if) they have gone to moon planet, then our whole propaganda, Krishna Consciousness, becomes bogus. Therefore I always protest.” It’s a remarkably similar position to the one taken by those who believe in a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible. If the scriptures aren’t literally true, the whole thing literally falls apart and society will literally collapse. Just look! It’s happening already! Literally!
The Hare Krishna meditation practice is pretty much the same as the one the TM™ folks recommend, only louder. The basic idea is to drown out reality with a repeated mantra that lulls the mind into a sleepy, blissed-out state that feels real good while it lasts. The TM™ people do it silently. The Hare Krishnas do it while shouting and banging drums and cymbals. So it’s kind of a more annoying version of TM™. But with better food.
As I was sitting there on the beach eating my paper plate full of tasty prasadam — sanctified food offered to Krishna before being sold to me for $8 — one of their gurus walked by, flanked by a guy holding an umbrella over his head and a few eager students smiling up at him like little Scotch terriers begging for some tasty Tail Waggers brand doggie treats. I found it highly entertaining, so I snapped a quick photo.
After I ate, I watched the guru I’d just seen do a Q&A session under a nearby tent. The questions and answers were the usual nonsense. We are fallen souls from the spiritual realm. We have to control our sense appetites. We must dedicate ourselves to serving Kirshna through serving God-realized spiritual masters. Yadda-yadda.
What was more interesting to me than the lectures was watching the people watching their guru. There was that expression again, like a pack of chihuahuas wagging their tails trying to please their master. Obedience. Submission.
But I get it. Life is hard. The world is confusing. It’s all a big mess and then you die. People lie. Friends flake out. Nothing makes any sense.
You find ways to cope. You drown your sorrows in booze or smoke them away in a sinsemilla haze. Or you try to fuck your way to happiness. Or buy enough stuff to keep the gnawing fear of disease and death at bay for a little while. Or you try to numb yourself with meditation.
Because maybe there’s no fucking point anyway. Maybe even if you found The Answer, you wouldn’t like it because it wouldn’t comfort you. Maybe lies are better. Just live in a bleary fog of cheery falsehoods till you croak. At least you’ll be happier than the people who face the truth and find out it all sucks.
I really do have total sympathy for anyone who chooses that route. I’m not being sarcastic at all.
Recently a friend of mine asked me, “What’s so great about the truth?” It’s a damned good question. It stopped me in my tracks. I mean, what is so great about the truth? Does it even matter? I’m still gonna die even if I know what’s real. Why not at least be happy for the short time I’m here by believing in some comforting untruth? As the Rutles said, “Did you ever get the feeling that the truth is less revealing than a downright lie?”
But hiding your head in the sand has bigger consequences. Maybe not so much for the individual, but for the collective.
For example, I have a friend from high school who finds tremendous comfort in the belief that Jesus loves us all. Which is fine. Except his faith in Christ also leads him to believe that Global Warming is a hoax. His great grandchildren will suffer terribly for the lies that comforted him. But he’ll be gone by then, so that’s their problem.
To paraphrase Philip K. Dick, the truth is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. We owe it to our friends and our descendants not to comfort ourselves with jolly fabrications.
And, you know what’s weird? The truth isn’t all that bad once you get used to it. In fact, it’s really amazingly good. It’s way more interesting than those silly stories.
And it does things those silly stories never could, like manifesting itself as a universe in which you can eat delicious Indian food on the beach surrounded by really weird people on a planet that’s alive and living through you.
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THERE IS NO GOD AND HE IS ALWAYS WITH YOU is now available as an audiobook from Audible.com!
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Check out my podcast with Pirooz Kalayeh, ONCE AGAIN ZEN!
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September 10-11, 2016 Belfast, Northern Ireland 2-Day Retreat
September 14, 2016 Belfast, Northern Ireland Zazen and Discussion
September 16-17, 2016 Dublin, Ireland 3-Day Retreat
September 22-25, 2016 Hebden Bridge, England, 4-Day Retreat
September 27, 2016 – Wimbledon, London, England – Talk and Q&A
September 29-October 2, 2016 Helsinki, Finland, 4-Day Retreat
October 3, 2016 Turku, Finland, Talk about spirituality and popular culture
October 4-5, Stockholm, Sweden, Talk and 1-Day-Retreat
October 7, 2016 Berlin, Germany Zenlab
October 8-9, 2016 Berlin, Germany 2-Day Retreat
October 11, 2016 Wageningen, Netherlands
October 12, 2016 Brussels, Belgium Talk
October 14, 2016 Munich, Germany, Lecture
October 15-16, 2016 Munich, Germany, 2-Day Retreat
October 18, 2016 Salzburg, Austria
October 23-28, 2016 Benediktushof Meditation Centrum (near Würzburg, Germany) 5-Day Retreat
MORE EUROPEAN DATES TO BE ANNOUNCED SOON!
Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!
Every Saturday at 10:00 am (NEW TIME!) there’s zazen at the Veteran’s Memorial Complex located at 4117 Overland Blvd., Culver City, CA 90230. Beginners only!
These on-going events happen every week even if I am away from Los Angeles. Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info
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