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Hare Krishna, religion and way of life

This article, "Hare Krishna, religion and way of life" was published in The Journal Herald, October 4, 1975, in Dayton, Ohio.

By Carrie LaBriola 
Journal Herald Religion Writer

It might have been the Berkeley Quad or Harvard Square, except it was McKinley Park behind the Dayton-Montgomery County Public Library. 

A van pulled up Tuesday afternoon and six members of the Hare Krishna movement piled out. A few passersby paused to watch while they unloaded a portable altar and an assortment of instruments. 

All had shaved heads, save for a long strand at the middle back, called a flag, representative of their belief in God, explained their spokesman Brahma Das - Servant of God.

They were dressed in loose trousers and simple cotton shirts. All wore necklaces of beads and several had strips of paint down the forehead and nose. All are symbols of renunciation and devotion to God, Brahma explained. 

"IF YOU walk down the street of a city, there is nothing to remind you of God," he said. "They show people we are cultivating spiritual knowledge. The social norm is not like this. Within modern, materialistic society, we are deviants. But, within our society, modern materialistic society is deviant.

When the altar is arranged, with two oriental rugs on the grass in front, it is unveiled and the six bow to the ground in reverence, then begin the concert. Two play small cymbals, one a harmonium, another a a long-necked stringed instrument, the fifth claps and Brahma plays a drum. 

As they play, they sing the familiar chant - "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare." Both are names of God - Krishna means "the all-attractive person" and Rama means "the supreme enjoyer.

THREE YOUTHS stop to watch and listen. A drunk recalls being on the Burma Road in '42, "so I know what it's like." He says when they are finished playing, he plans to cut their hair, then laughs and says he is "only kidding.

Another youth and an older man also pause to observe, then two women with shopping bags. An older woman crosses the street, listens for awhile, then asks, "What next?

Brahma, formerly Robert Jancula, 23, is a native of Pittsburgh. He was a student at the University of California at Berkeley when he met some disciples of the movement playing music. He notes that "chanting has hypnotic effects," indicating a pair of well-dressed businessmen who have paused to listen. 

"I FELT the philosophy they were giving me was more complete than anything than any other I had heard in life," he says. That philosophy was "the convincing understanding of the existence of God and our relationship with him.

Brahma says he dropped out of Berkeley after two years and joined the movement, because "real knowledge isn't just a matter of data. Education comes from the Latin word educare, to lead out. Real knowledge leads out of unhappiness and the problems of life and gives a realizaton of a higher nature. University education is only data. Most of them only forget it when class is over," Brahma laughs. 

And he laughs often. He is not at all solemn or pious, but spritely and very outgoing and enthusiastic. He was given his Indian name by his guru when he was initiated. 

HIS MOTHER likes to chant and dance, he says, and is pleased with his choice. But his father isn't sure; he's disappointed. Brahma points out that "he can't go down to the bar and tell his friends his son has joined a crazy group that shaves their heads. He's a nice man, but he's set in his ways." Everytime he calls home, his father asks when he will leave the movement. 

A long-haired youth has joined the small band sitting on the rugs. As they play, he listens raptly. At last, one of the monks takes him aside to a bench and talks to him about the philosophy. This is the spider, a role usually played by Brahma. 

"The chanting is like a web," he says. "People get caught in it. The spider goes out from the web and takes the tastiest morsel, the juiciest, the most likely suspect.

LATER, Pete Houvouras, 17, who was on his way to visit a friend when he stopped to listen to the chanting, says he has "read all about this" before. "I guess you could say I'm into it." The philosophy appeals to him "very much," he says, but he goes on his way rather than joining the group. A couple of people came back to Ghetto's Palace Yoga Institute, where their bus is parked, after an appearance Thursday afternoon, but Brahma says they may not move on to Columbus with the group. 

A Dayton Fire Dept. crew stops at the curb, watching. Brahma says they rarely have trouble with the police, although they occasionally run into some restrictions. 

Members of the movement are vegetarian and follow the Bhagavad Gita. They believe that "chanting helps develop spiritual consciousness," Brahma says. When they are not singing and playing the instruments, they chant silently on beads in a small pouch slung over the shoulder. 

THE TRAVELING program was started a year ago with one bus and 17 men. There are now six buses and 125 men. Brahma is leader of a group of 15 who are visiting college campuses. They spent two days lecturing and chanting in philosophy classes at the University of Dayton. Yesterday they left for Columbus, where they will spend about a week. They came to Dayton from a week in Cincinnati. 

As they go, they invite people who are interested in their philosophy to travel with them. The others at McKinley Park Tuesday were from Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Kansas City. 

They tell their listeners that "the goal of human life is not simply economic advancement," says Brahma, "but they're conditioned to that by the media and the aristocracy.

Their bus, a converted Greyhound, is outfitted with an altar. The monks sleep on the floor. 

"YOGA MEANS to only accept what is necessary for maintenance," Brahma explains. They receive donations from bystanders and sell literature and incense. Sometimes they may give a concert for a well-to-do man, who will give a donations to show his appreciation. 

"We are dependent on God," says Brahma. "The point is we're trying to preach a spiritual philosophy of self-realization. If we worked in the factories, how could we preach?

One of Brahma's companions, Dirshta Das - Servant of the Opulent One - is a political science graduate of Amherst College. Formerly David Maclachlan, 23, of Erie, Pa., Dirshta joined the group in Portland, where he was doing social work with alcoholics on skid row. He had been looking for "a philosophy I could plug into," he recalls. 

"FOR SO long, I thought philosophy was very dry; religion was very unbelievable to me. I was ripe for a philosophy which embraced religious ideas, but not sentimental religious ideas, that could be backed up by philosophy.

Photo: Hare Krishna members chanting 

Reference: The Journal Herald, Unknown Location, USA, 1975-10-04