Thursday, June 5, 2008

More Observations From College Groups

During this last school year, New Vrindaban was visited by first time college groups from West Virginia University, Denison University, and Wheeling Jesuit, Bethany, Marietta, and Belmont Technical Colleges, with repeat visits from Ohio University, Hiram College and Hanover College. Three of the groups stayed overnight. I’d like to thank all the devotees who helped make these visits memorable for the college groups. Below are some comments and observations from professors and students. Big hits were the friendly devotees, the prasadam, the organic gardens, and the chanting of the Holy Names.

“Thank you for your hospitality and your helpful teaching, storytelling and explanations during our visit to New Vrindaban. I have taken many field trips with students over my years of teaching, and none have been more informative than this one. Riding back, the students and I discussed the trip and agreed that the members of ISKCON have a special advantage in translating and explaining the Hindu tradition to westerners. Please give my thanks to all of the devotees we spoke to. Also, I have been enjoying the book I bought.” Professor David Torbett, Marietta College

“The students and I had great day with you. Out of all the places we visited for our religion course this visit is the one that stayed with the students the longest. Thanks again for the very enlightening tour.” Professor Jon Moody, Hiram College

“I just wanted to thank you for hosting our group for lunch and Hare Krishna education. Every one enjoyed their experience. I feel that it was very helpful to those of us who had no prior knowledge of your religion and it gave us great insight. The devotees at the community were all polite and friendly. Your stories certainly enriched our experience as well. It was also exciting to join in on the worship ceremonies. Lastly, the Palace of Gold was an amazing building.” Professor Paul Rashid, WVU

“I want to thank you again for the informative commentary you gave us during our tour. The students truly enjoyed the experience and have a better understanding of your religion as a consequence.” Professor Joe Laker, Wheeling Jesuit University

And from some of the students:

“I greatly enjoyed the tour of the organic garden, free time to explore and discuss, and the panel of devotees we talked to on Sunday. Overall I enjoyed my experience which sparked a greater interest in the Hare Krishna movement and in Hinduism as a whole.”

“I really enjoyed our stay at your temple. I was impressed by the temple and interested to learn more about the Hare Krishna faith. The only suggestion I can think of would be to make more time for more questions during the tours and during the course of our stay. I thought that the food, accommodations, and welcoming atmosphere added to the trip and overall had a good experience. Thank you for your hospitality and best wishes for the future!”

“Thank you for your hospitality and willingness to allow curious and questioning people into your temple. I especially enjoyed being able to participate in the evening ceremony. The accommodations were cozy and the food was scrumptious. The only thing I would have changed was that I wish I had less structure more free time to wander around and encounter things in my own way. However, that was largely a problem with our own time constraints. Thanks again!”

“I really enjoyed our visit! My biggest problem with it was that it was far too short. More of what I would want to see: a longer discussion about organic farming, vegetarianism, and the philosophy behind them, for instance - can basically be summed up as 'I wanted more of everything.'”

“I really enjoyed the opportunity we had to talk individually or in small groups with devotees, as these offered the best conversation and I learned a lot from them. Also, thank you all for being so welcoming, inviting us to all the activities at the temple and encouraging us to participate. I still have a lot of questions and a lot I want to think about after the weekend, which in my opinion, is the surest proof of the success of our trip.”

“We attended a service and witnessed the followers doing the “Hare Krishna” chant. After the ceremony, they treated us to their traditional vegetarian meal. The whole experience was great.”

“I never imagined a place like this would be in West Virginia. The Palace was so intricate that it was hard to believe that only followers of the movement helped build it. Everywhere you looked had some great picture or design and every thing in the building had some meaning to it. One thing I found really unique was how lifelike the statues of Pradhupada were. On first glance I actually thought it was somebody meditating. The ceremony at the temple was pretty cool as well, hearing the devotees sing the “Hare Krishna” chant so many times.”

“The golden palace, overlooking a valley, was indeed a beautiful sight to see. It was interesting to visit the community, especially since it was modeled after a town (Vrindaban) in India.”

“One of the really interesting points was the seven mothers in the Krishna faith: our real mother, a nurse, wife of the king, wife of a teacher, earth, and the cow, etc. We also learned that the body is just a temporary dwelling for the soul, and that the body goes through different stages. I felt that the Hare Krishna religion had a lot of similarities with many religions.”

“Once inside the temple, I was assaulted by the scent of incense. There were statues all over the main sanctuary, each one depicting a different form of God. There were gates at each alter that were used to separate the ordinary from the extraordinary ; also bells were used to “wake” God. Our guide did a good job in telling some of the stories about the different alters. The Hare Krishna religious beliefs, which I thought were strange, believe in heaven, hell, and sin, just as Christianity does; also the Krishna religion has many of the same laws of Christianity. I feel that maybe some of the Christian and Islamic beliefs may have assimilated into the Hare Krishna religion."

“When we met our tour guide I was surprised that he was white since Hare Krishna is an Indian religion. As we toured the Palace our guide described some of the beliefs of the religion, and I felt how they can believe in some of this. But lots of religions have out there beliefs. After we left the Palace we went to the temple for a service which included chanting and incense. We had carpet mats to sit on. The carpet mats are something that Islam has, so I was surprised to see them at the temple. The vegetarian food was good, but while we were waiting for the food I was reading some of the posters on the wall and most of it was just pure propaganda to get people to stop eating meat. The Hare Krishna religion is actually very interesting. Although it does not adapt to today’s society it seems to have a large following.”

“You community in West Virginia was so completely amazing, and something I had never experienced before. What impressed me most was the fact that it was an entire community built upon a religion.”

“It was very interesting to learn how these people lived on a daily basis and visit some of the places where they would go to do work and worship. I never realized places like this were around so close to us. I loved the visit to their garden and the cow barn. We learned about how the people of the community would grow their own food and take care of the cows. It was a fascinating experience to go into the church where they worshiped. We attended a short service where they used multiple instruments and chanted lots of prayers.”

“I was surprised to hear that ISKCON members believe in only one God although Hinduism believes in polytheism . Their lifestyle is very stoic. But at their temple service I was impressed by the beautiful melodies they sing. When I listened to this, I remembered my family in Japan. I wondered if the Hindu religion might be similar to my own spiritual tradition. Hare Krishna is very easy with simple words, but the meaning of the chanting is to convey love for God, Krishna. They believe that icons serve as a tangible link between the worshiper and God.”

“The beauty and grandeur of the palace and temple alone was breathtaking, and helped to give a sense of East meets West to the place. This seemed to be the mission of Prabhupada and this mission is encapsulated in the community.”

“The place looked a lot like an American summer camp, especially with the cabins, gardens, ponds and swans. This rustic look must help to incorporate some sense of Americanism to their religion, which the Palace of Gold lacked. Also interesting was the fact that so much of the community outreach (organic farming) may be due to its origins in the hippie movement. The sense of community was surprising due to that it was initially labeled a cult. The temple and the Palace both included gift shops. Secular designs, like making money, never ceased to be important. As far as the service itself, the burning of incense and playing music only further reminded me of its existence as a hippie offshoot. The devotees’ openness was a welcome surprise.”

“The devotees were very open and welcoming in everything they did. They invited us into their place of worship knowing that we were foreigners in their eyes. They were able to make us feel at home and very comfortable. This was so great to see. In my opinion, this was the most interesting place we had visited for this course.”

See to view comments from students of Ohio University