This article, "Hare Krishna. Krishna Krishna - It's a plea for serenity, for peace, for God and sometimes even for an unabashed handout" was published in The Vancouver Sun, December 5, 1969, in Vancouver, Canada.
By GERONIMO VIE
Hare Krishna. Krishna. Krishna. Hare. Hare. Can you dig it? It's something else all right. Walking down Granville Street, you're not ready for confrontation with four chanting bald-headed boys dressed in old sheets. But there they are. And you can't deny their presence, particularly when they're panhandling. One very articulate young man puts the touch on you. At the same time, he's delivering an intelligent speech about his religion being newly introduced to western culture. He pushes a tin plate filled with coins in front of you, asking for a donation.
"This is for offerings. You can give whatever you want. We're setting up Krishna temples all over North America and we need funds to keep them open. You're invited to our feast, every Sunday at 4 p.m. It's really wonderful. Everybody chants the great mantra and you can eat as much as you want. It's only vegetables also. We don't eat any meat at all. And we would really be glad if you came."
On and on he goes in this quiet monologue. This particular young man is about 20. He is clean featured, with an utterly guileless face. ("We humbly request you chant this Mantra and your life will be sublime.") The young man is stocky, broad shouldered, and exudes an atmosphere of strength and certitude. He also affects a stooped over posture which may serve to indicate his benign attitude. But he won't be put off. He keeps talking to you. You may abuse him, curse him, laugh at him, ridicule him, whatever you will. He goes on. He's a believer. Still it all seems like a super hype. Just some new freaks out on the street hustling.
There were four of them. They were located mid-block on the sidewalk opposite from the crosswalk, between Robson and Smithe. Two were sitting crosslegged on the ground. One was a particularly elongated and emaciated young man who had his eyes closed. His head was rolling back and forth. He seemed to be in a deep state of mesmerization. He pounded rhythmically on a mid-eastern style drum. On his head he wore a long cloth stocking type hat with a tapered end. It was similar to the ones you see in the old catalogue. Once they were common sleepwear for cold winters, an adjunct to striped pyjamas. He was very intense, obviously dedicated.
Sitting next to him was a much softer looking young man, rather an intellectual type, wearing glasses. His head was completely shaven bald except for a pony tail. He looked at the people as he sang, his gaze suggesting a bestowal of blessings on the passerby and the people who stopped to stare. He was minipulating a pleasant cadence out of some hand cymbals. Both were actively chanting. The quality of their voices was good and the mood was peaceful and beautiful. They chanted: "Hare Krishna. Hare Krishna. Krishna. Krishna. Hare. Hare. Hare Rama. Hare Rama. Rama Rama. Hare Hare."
None of the crowd of about 50 people joined in the chanting. It was a Friday night and Granville was full of a heavy weekend crowd, on their way to the movies, going bowling, or just making the scene. The two other members of the Krishna group kept approaching the passersby, asking for offerings. But they weren't just begging, not by any means. They had a whole presentation, which sounded quite sincere. One of the two solicitors had his head shaved, like the others, but the other young man, who had approached me, wore a white rag turban around his head. He was the more aggressive solicitor.
In general, the people did not know how to react to the four. Perhaps most disconcerting was that they were all Causcasian. In our western Christian culture, it is very difficult to accept such an abrupt meeting with a "foreign belief" when openly practiced by four young members of our own society. Even the hippies seemed to have a hard time digging the scene. Many of them actually resented the infringement on their territory. Panhandling is getting to be awfully hard for longhairs on the street without these "Krishna cats" pushing in here.
"They're taking all the bread, man. I can hardly make it any more," said a young hippie. "I'll have to get me a new costume."
There were no restrictions on who was asked to give an offering. They approached everyone, inviting them all to come to the Sunday feast or an evening chant at the Radha-Krishna Temple, located at 260 Raymur. They handed out small cards on which was printed an invitation to the temple and the great mantra. While two of the boys worked on the people, the other two just kept chanting. It was very hard work for the four of them. There must be better ways to make a living, so there must be more to this. The chanting was infectious and had a strong magnetic appeal.
The stocky, turbaned boy approached me for an offering. I asked him how he reconciled begging with his beliefs. He told me, "All things can be good, depending on their use. Even money can be good, if it furthers sublimity. With this money, we bring more people toward peace. That is good."
Then the police force arrived. Two cops drove up in a police car and parked alongside. Two approached on foot. Krishna was surrounded. What would happen?
The police weren't at all uptight, however. One of them, a thin, wiry fellow who sported a De Gaullish type moustache seemed to have a hard time suppressing a smile. Obviously the cops didn't even know what to do about this or how to take it. Were these kids really serious? The policeman on foot had a confab with the guys in the car. As it turned out, what they seemed primarily concerned about was the congestion of sidewalk traffic on a weekend. They very politely told the Krishna boys to move to a less trafficked spot. The chanting stopped. There was a vacuum where had been their melodious singing. They were a very positive addition to the weekend Granville scene.
By this time I was really entranced. I decided to forego seeing Midnight Cowboy and stick with this show. Admittedly I was a little self-conscious walking beside the four Krishna cats. Perhaps the police were watching me too. They might even confiscate and smash my camera. Was I being subversive? Maybe I shouldn't get involved. But I already was.
We walked down a block or two. Although there was no chanting while they searched for a new spot to set up their prayer booth, they continued to ask for offerings as we walked through the milling crowd. Approximately three of every 10 people gave them something. Many others ridiculed them.
As we walked, the boy with the turban told me a little about their life and their way. "We've got to believe deeply, or we couldn't take the abuse ... or the weather. We're harassed left and right. The hippies don't like us and make fun of us, but I don't care about that. I used to be a hippie. I went through the whole drug thing and all of it, and there's no love there. This is something real, and it's not easy. We're celebrate. We only eat certain foods. No fish, meat, or eggs; mostly fruits and vegetables. We pray constantly. It's the way to peace and love."
He went on to tell me some facts about Krishna. They believe in Krishna consciousness. In other words, once you become conscious of Krishna, or God, you have everything. By chanting His name, by giving off good vibrations, they become part of God. Everything they do is for Krishna. Everyone belongs to God. He is the proprietor of all things. The devotees of Krishna are in the shelter of God. Krishna is eternity and knowledge. The chanting makes one happy. It is ecstatic. It puts you in the constant presence of Krishna. You transcend materialism. You are happy and have no anxiety. God is absolute. There is no difference between Himself and His name. You may call Him Jesus or Jehovah, or anything. It is all the same. It is all Krishna. Everyone can become joyous, happy, and free if they will chant Krishna and follow His ways. Krishna is the life of transcendental ecstasy and transcendental knowledge which lead to self-realization.
Chanting beads are worn on the hands. There are 108 beads plus one summit bead which represents Krishna. You chant on the beads. always going towards Krishna. The great mantra has sixteen words. They are prescribed for sell-realization. The devotees of Krishna wear one piece of cloth, 12 feet long. The purpose is to wear the simplest clothing, foregoing materialism. They shave their heads except for a centre hairlock. The purpose of this is to openly detach yourself from vanity and the material life.
Photo: THE CLEAN-SHAVEN EXPONENTS OF KRISHNA ... "Even money can be good"