What Happened To the Hare Krishnas?
A new video for the song My Sweet Lord by George Harrison has recently found itself circulating across the internet. This is a bit of a surprise ending for 2021, considering that this former member of The Beatles is long dead and the song is over 50 years old. Why this song right now? Why such a star studded cast, including our favorite jedi playing Mark Hamill, and several SNL actors? Most important of all, what happened to the Hare Krishnas?
The mantra can barely be heard once or twice in the way that the video was cut. Some people who are familiar with the song and with the history of George Harrison might know what I am talking about. The Hare Krishna movement started here in America in the 1960’s when its founder, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupadu brought it here from India. It has since become an international society founded on the principle that the chanting of their mantra will free the individual from all attachment to the material world so that they can return to the spiritual world, with Krsna, where we originally came from.
“Hare krsna hare krsna
krsna krsna hare hare
hare rama hare rama
rama rama hare hare”
Though all of The Beatles had been involved with the movement in some form or another, George Harrison was the only one of the four who might have been considered a serious devotee. He helped found a large temple in Great Britain and released a whole album dedicated to its sound, the krsna Radha album. He is the only true celebrity to have ever been affiliated with the movement. Its heavy emphasis on devotees renouncing things like intoxication, meat eating, and sex outside of marriage makes it a serious spiritual practice that many who are immersed into the American culture rockstar lifestyle find difficulty in embracing.
For many people, the last they remember hearing about these strange folks with their saffron robes and shaved heads is probably when one of them approached them at an airport with the intent of trying to distribute some of their meditation books. That is a polite way of saying it of course. Soliciting money from anxious travelers is another way of putting it. They have since been banned from doing this kind of thing for quite a while, since the 1980s in fact, so anyone young like myself will have never had this kind of encounter. Well at least at an airport. They can still be found on occasion at music festivals and similar events.
The reason I bring them up is because the conversation about wokeness and how to move forward is an impossible one for me to have without bringing up my spiritual practice of krsna consciousness. In the 9 years I have been acquainted with this movement myself, my life has been transformed beyond all recognition, and that is with me barely even following the practices correctly. The transcendental knowledge of theirs is out of this world. This unsung chapter of the civil rights era needs to be brought back to attention because it could have some answers to some of the problems we are currently facing, or at least offer some valuable insight.
The Hare Krsnas are still very much around. They just prefer to keep to themselves instead of engaging the culture and the world around them. Most major cities in the U.S. have temples in them. Some even have restaurants, like the one in Culver City Los Angeles I used to love going to. Their food is the best in the world because the people cooking it actually believe that they are cooking it for God.
What would it take to make krsna consciousness culturally relevant again? The dozens of books prabhupad wrote while he was in America have tons insight in them about our materialistic culture that are still as relevant today as ever, yet I hardly ever see his books at stores, even ones that specialize in spirituality.
Could it be that ISKCON (the international society of krsna consciousness) has been marked as a cult? Perhaps. One of the reasons I have refrained from becoming initiated into their religion is the way that it pulls you out of society to immerse yourself into this “ultimate reality of absolute truth” of theirs that is so radically different than the rest of the world. It lacks practicality.
Yet I keep finding myself going back to their temples and reading their books. Lately one of the only things that gives me peace is chanting a few rounds of hare krsna on my japa beads. It is at least one thing I know how to do right and it helps focus my soul on something eternal and divine.
This new video of My Sweet Lord struck me as auspicious. Could it be that what our post covid world needs is a revival of a 60’s hippie spiritual Hindu movement? Maybe. One of the reasons I was so excited about this Wheel of Time show taking off was that it would propagate some of the eastern ideas I like from the Vedas. Ideas such as reincarnation, their being multiple ages of sentient races that have existed, and the idea of some kind of being that incarnates over and over during each age to create balance in the world again.
It is my belief that revolution will fail without krsna consciousness and I might be the last hare krsna devotee left still engaging culture and politics. So you might say I feel a lot of responsibility thrust upon me. I will do my best and I will keep chanting hare krsna. Even when I am the only one around doing it and it looks crazy to other people. Once you have had a taste of the higher reality of self realization, there can be little discussion about settling for anything less.