16 August 2006

Now what?

He who can see inaction
In the midst of action, and action
In the midst of inaction, is wise
And can act in the spirit of yoga.

Bhagavad Gita 4.18


I'm back at my desk, trying to figure out where to go next. I’d taken an armful of recent Indian newspapers and magazines, flyers from various Hindu societies, and a couple of yoga magazines - all published in California - that Professor Chapple had offered and there they all sat, in a sloppy stack. Might as well start there, at least the pile will get cleaned up.

Until I find a teacher, I'm rudderless.

In the July 21, 2006 issue of India West, which called itself “North America’s Most Honored Weekly Indian Newspaper,” there was an opinion column with the headline: “Troubled ISKCON Turns 40.” ISKCON stood for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, what the Hare Krishnas now call themselves. I'd been shocked when Professor Chapple mentioned that the Hare Krishnas were a sect of Hinduism. The reason I’d decided to start with Hinduism and Buddhism was, in part, because I thought I had no preconceived notions about either. Only the ignorant think they have no baggage or bias. I’d filed away the Hare Krishna movement under 70s cults because that’s how I’d seen them portrayed in American media: desperate parents hiring deprogrammers to get their college-aged kids away from a mind-controlling cult. The byline on the article said it was written “BY ISKCON,” making it an official opinion column from the Hare Krishnas themselves, so the headline calling their organization “troubled” was provocative.

The piece said ISKCON was started by a seventy-year-old Indian named A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, that it was “a monotheistic tradition within the Hindu fold” and, although it admitted there had been problems in the past, it said ISKCON had "come of age." Its congregations “are largely composed of and often led by Indian-American families” while its Food-for-Life program was “the world’s largest vegetarian relief organization.” The Hare Krishna movement now emphasizes “interfaith work and an academic approach to its tradition.” Its center on Watseka Avenue in West Los Angeles offers a free vegetarian feast every Sunday. Maybe I’d go there. One day. But not right away.

Elsewhere in the same newspaper, an ad invites people to celebrate the anniversary of India’s independence from British rule, while another promises that a call to a certain toll free number would reach a “world renowned spiritual healer” who could “break black magic” and subdue my “arrogant, cold-hearted love. 100% guaranteed.” I could just hear my parents after reading that ad, “So, why not call the number? What’s the difference? It’s all subjective mumbo-jumbo anyway.”

What could I answer? Maybe it was as simple as that word “guaranteed.” I don't think faith has anything to do with guarantees. And it sure has nothing to do with “subduing” anyone else, not the faith I'm looking for anyway.

The July 14th issue of The India Journal, “A Leading Indo-American Newspaper,” had news of a brick-laying ceremony at the Jain Center in Buena Park, California, attended by the town mayor and local Congresswoman. Professor Chapple had said the Jain sect of Hinduism, with its strict emphasis on the sanctity of all life and hence strict vegetarianism, had influenced Mahatma Ghandi. Possible teachers at either? Maybe.

Finally, in a glossy monthly magazine called Siliconeer, a “General Interest Magazine for South Asians,” published near Sacramento, California, I found a full page with the heading: “Temple Schedules” - complete schedules for fourteen different temples, about half in southern California. Looking for the closest temple with the longest list of services and what appeared to be classes, I targeted the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Whittier as my next destination. Sunday, four to six-thirty in the afternoon, I was headed for a “satsang sabha,” whatever that was.


(18 August 2006)

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