Monday, July 6, 2009

Student Reflections

Back in May, New Vrindaban hosted another visit from the Global Leadership Project at Ohio University. Student groups from OU have been visiting for several years, staying overnight, and interviewing devotees, each time focusing on a different topic of study. Several of the students even came back for the 24 hour kirtana in June. Below are excerpts from 2-3 page reflections of most, but not all (just didn't get around to it), of the students on their visit in May. It's always interesting to get a glimpse into what visitors think about the community.

***

“What I experienced at New Vrindavan was entirely different than what I expected…. Because it’s part of the Krishna religion to be evangelists, I thought that the devotees would be extremely pushy in showing their beliefs to us. I found most of them to be extremely understanding and they were not pushy at all.”

“It was fun dancing at the service although I was afraid I would do something wrong… The next morning I went to the 7:30 service. Once again I was shocked at the dancing and liveliness from everyone in the temple, especially it being that early in the morning…We had a session where many devotees told their stories of how the came to the Hare Krishna religion…. It was definitely an interesting experience and very unique.”

“Tapapunja, the gardener, was very knowledgeable regarding organic gardening and made a whole lot of sense…In comparison to Catholicism, the religion I grew up in, I felt that the Krishna religion was so much more exciting and enjoyable… I wirily dug my spoon into the meal and was pleasantly surprised. The food tasted so pure and natural… My New Vrindavan experience will be two days in my life that I will never forget.”

“I have never seen such jubilance and happiness in any religious ceremony… I definitely want to include kirtan into my religious practices….I love the whole idea of ‘simple living, high thinking’…. I realized that constructing a spiritual community is very difficult and carries with it much responsibility and care.”

“It was an experience filled with spiritually evoking thoughts accompanied by a tranquil external environment. Before visiting New Vrindavan, I could not remember the last time where I was at peace with the world and not concerned about the stresses of school and work…. The prasadam meals are the most fresh and delicious meals I have ever had…. The devotees are more that willing to answer questions and engage in meaningful conversation…. Almost every aspect of New Vrindavan has something to offer spiritually….I will remember this trip for the rest of my life.”

“Before arriving, I envisioned New Vrindavan as a place of tranquil meditation and communal living…. I could not figure out the spiritual relevance of the huge concrete elephant…the call of the peacocks served as a reminder to the celibate monks that sex is an integral part of nature,,,,, the sights and sounds of New Vrindavan were similar to that of a circus equipped with a semi-religious theme…Is a remote controlled swam boat related to Prabhupada’s ‘simple living , high thinking’ standard?…. It seemed that college educated devotees were placed at a higher level of the hierarchical system and asserted control over the others.”

“Before the trip, I was most excited to interact with the devotees and try to understand their lives and their devotion to their beliefs. I’m not sure I was able to achieve the level of understanding I initially hoped for…. To an extent I wish I knew more about why certain things were being done and what they meant…Sankirtana gave us a tour of the Palace also gave us additional background knowledge that I had been looking for throughout the trip….I found it easy to take any of their religious stories or practices, no matter how ‘bizarre’ and draw a comparison to my own beliefs.”

“What I enjoyed most about being there was the feeling of being transported to another world that was so different from the everyday reality of life in Athens … I saw a fascinating religious community that was sincere in its pursuit of Hare Krishna consciousness….Hari Bhakta, the devote we interviewed, was one of the coolest and most interesting people I have ever met….My time at New Vrindavan was a very positive experience.”

“I always thought that the life of a Christian seemed intense…The devotees are so strict in their eating and drinking intake. I could not believe that so many people were happy at 5AM without caffeine!…. One of the most surprising aspects of New Vrindavan was the kindness of the children. I am used to children being frightened of strangers and uncomfortable with anyone who is not in their family. This is not the case at New Vrindavan….While I do question some aspects of New Vrindavan, my overall experience was quite impacting.”

“I tried to have an open mind when I went to New Vrindavan…The ceremonies were fascinating. It was like watching a documentary film…I thought there would be more people around at the ceremonies…My favorite part was learning about the garden and cows…I found all the food really good. The people were friendly, even if some were a little pushy…I am not sure I would visit again.”

“The chanting started slowly, but by the time the ceremony was over all the devotees and students were dancing like crazy…. This was very memorable. I was thinking the culture we were studying was going to be very basic and austere. I was happy to discover that they were such a vibrant and animated religious society which sees dancing and having fun as a way to worship God… To finish off the day we were served a fantastic dinner.”

“In the temple the chanting began and soon transitioned into a harmonious melody. Soon I was taping my feet to the rhythm and slightly muttering the chant…Before I realized, one devote took my hand and dragged me into the middle of the dancing….I was dancing with every move I had in my arsenal, and the devotees were accepting me for who I was… At dinner I dug in and thought ‘Wow. This is amazing’… We interviewed Madhava Ghosh, his wife and son. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I didn’t expect our interview to be three hours long… He is an extremely intelligent man, and I’m glad I had the privilege of meeting him…. The trip opened my eyes to a different belief system and a different outlook on life. Meeting the devotees is an experience I will never forget.”

“Prior to my research, my concept of the Hare Krishnas was that it is a cult of oblivious people with shaved heads who dance and sing Hare Krishna for most of the time…. I was surprised to see just a few people around the temple partaking in the daily events… The worship ceremony was not as uncomfortable as I thought it might be. Most ceremonies involve sitting quietly for long periods of time. The Krishna ceremony incorporated music and dance. The worship was actually a more spiritual experience and probably my favorite aspect of the Krishna practice.”

“I wonder how they can be so certain that their religion is the correct one. So much so that they dedicated their lives to it. To me it almost seems a little na├»ve. But maybe they are right, and I should read Bhagavat Gita and join the enlightenment.”