ISKCON New Orleans Preaching!
I would like to offer a small rebuttal of the article I saw dealing with the new orleans temple. I feel I am uniquely qualified to serve Lord Krishna in this aspect because several of the points dealt with new people and I have only been coming to the temple for two weeks.
I feel I’m sort of in the position of Arjuna in this aspect, because I must go against the words of my elder in service to Lord Krishna. However, out of respect, I shall just tell my experiences to you and let them be my rebuttal.
Over SEVEN years ago, probably around nine, I came into contact with the “hare krishnas” at a Rainbow Festival. I spent the majority of my time around these people. To be honest, I didn’t make it easy for them. I purposely asked every question I could in order to try and fluster or stump them. Not once, did their smiles falter or look strained.
Recently, I have come to the conclusion that I am horrible at making friends. So, I asked myself “What can I do to have social contact and to better myself spiritually?” The Krishna devotees immediately came to mind. I believe that the strength of any religion is in the people who follow it. The evidence of the existence of their god is easily found…in them as a whole. Certainly, the devotion and kindness of these people had impressed me.
I searched the internet and found a webpage for the New Orleans Krishna temple. I am shy. I try not to be, but I am. It took me a week to work up the nerve to email the temple. Within a few days, I had a reply back. I could come on Sunday or Wednesday. Not only that, I was told it would be GREAT for me to attend…and I would be very welcome.
I still had many questions…what to wear…what to expect, etc. as I had never been to an actual temple. My searching introduced me to two yahoo groups by and about the New Orleans temple. I joined them and read what I could. The day I was to come to service, a wonderful man messaged me from the yahoo group and answered all my questions. I was armed with knowledge and felt at ease. So, I went to the service.
When I got to the service, I had shown up early. I spent a total of about five minutes before someone came up to me, introduced themselves and began talking to me. Not only that, she introduced me to her husband…and he began talking to me. I was getting social contact with two very nice people, infinitely happy with the situation, and service hadn’t even started.
The service…I can not explain. It was wondrous. When they pulled back the veil and you could see all the statues on the altar…it was breathtaking. I grew up in a christian church. The beauty and devotion of this though, floored me. In a christian church, I would bow my head just because “it was the right thing to do”. Here, however, I bowed out of respect and humility. I followed everything as closely as I could…offering respect as well as I could, because I clearly felt like something greater than me was here, and deserved all my attention.
After the service, the husband I had been talking to before introduced me to an elderly gentleman who would take me and show me where prasadam was served. He left me to eat and I thought that was the end of my social interaction…everything was over. I was wrong.
I sat down with my meal….a lot of things I didn’t have ANY idea of what they were….and honestly, wasn’t so sure I wanted to put them in my mouth. I had been a vegetarian at this point for a total of ONE WEEK….and had never seen food that looked exactly like this. A lady next to me must have noticed my puzzlement. She took the time to explain to me what everything was….and I happily ate every bit of it. It wasn’t just delicious, it was prasadam. I now understood.
The lady beside me had four beautiful daughters and a little fat joyous baby. She explained to me that they all had been raised vegetarian and commended me and encouraged me on my choice. She then invited me to come to new talavana…which she explained to me was sort of a commune dedicated to krishna. She also invited me to bhakta vrksa..a small teaching class on wednesday nights. The elderly man had invited me as well. Then, she introduced me to someone else…Bhadra Jaganath das. He answered more questions, giving suggestions, inviting me to bhakta vrksa again, giving me the new talavana website, all sorts of information.
After I left him, I spoke briefly with other people….the guy in the giftshop, the original husband and wife that had spoken to me, a whole group of people. I would say before the night was over, I was invited to bhakta vrksa ten times. I left there with quite a bit of knowledge, suggestions, and more importantly completely happy. I have been to the sunday service and prasadam twice. I have been to bhakta vrksa once. Do I have questions? Of course. Do I have unanswered questions? No. As soon as I have a question, I can ask it and have it answered.
No one is forcing me to learn. No one is making me feel like I’m learning too slow. I am learning. They provide me with opportunities to learn and when I can, I take them. I have email addresses and yahoo instant message accounts…if i have a question, it will be answered. So, you can imagine my bewilderment when I read that article and heard that no one is learning! I am learning as much as my brain can soak up! Everyone is wonderful. I was informed about services, bhakta vrksa…everything. If it’s happening, at least 5 people invite me to it…no matter what it is. I am being encouraged every step of the way and count it as a joy and pleasure to have these opportunities.
I have seen Lord Krishna. Every time I go to the temple I see him in the actions and faces of his devotees. I learn from Lord Krishna through the hearts of his devotees. I am surely learning.
All glories to Sri Guru & Garuanga!
All glories to Srila Prabhupada!!
I am writing this as a response to the story “ISKCON’S Green Card Business” that appeared on Sunday, July 28. I pray that all the devotees affected will forgive any offence I may commit in this reply.
I was greatly saddened to see that an inaccurate and spiteful story was put forth into a public forum. I can understand the writer’s frustration, but I would encourage them to find a more constructive way to institute change. It is very easy to sit on the sideline and be critical. It is more important to roll up your sleeves and help make a difficult situation better.
There are a few points that need to be addressed. I will attempt to address them one at a time.
1. I find the way that the writer used His Holiness’ Jayapataka Swami’s name in connection to the New Orleans situation very offensive. To say, “All these Indian/ Bengali disciples of Jayapataka Swami are all here for the green card,” and that they fear reprisals from “Jayapataka’s goons as he has in many occasions” makes it sound very conspiratorial. It makes for good copy, but is highly offensive and not in keeping with vaisnava etiquette.
H.H. Jayapataka Swami comes to New Orleans usually twice in a year, for one or two days at a time. He is not involved with the day-to-day operations of the temple management. He is also not the GBC for New Orleans. As His schedule is filled with traveling, preaching, developing the Congregational Preaching Ministry and working on the Mayapur project it seems ill informed to attack someone who is working so hard to further the movement started by our Jagat Guru, Srila Prabhupada.
The issue the writer has is NOT with H.H. Jayapataka Swami. It is with temple management. To try to connect in any way, His Holiness, with any perceived misdeed in New Orleans is hurtful and just plain wrong.
2. It is true that at least 95% of the temple devotees are of Indian descent. It is also true that this has gone on for the past 5 years or so. However, most of the devotees are very involved in the service of the deities.
Recently we have had to take out several loans to do a major renovation of the dham. This included a new roof, repair of extensive termite damage, replacement of the ceiling in several places, renovated guest bathrooms, renovated brahmacari bathrooms, and door jams. The total cost so far has been over $80,000. We still need to paint the outside and remodel the main temple room and interior.
The Indian devotees have been instrumental in helping to raise funds for this project. It is true that many have jobs, but they are also helping to pay off some of the loans for the temple construction.
It is also true that a few do work in the French Quarter shops selling bead necklaces, feather masks, tee shirts and the like. With the money they are making they are contributing to the temple. Almost all of them are also saving to purchase a place in Mayapur dham so they can continue to serve Lord Caitanya. They manage to do this while making only about $5 per hour.
A few others are doing collections to support the local Food For Life program. This program serves out between 6000 and 8000 meals per month to local missions, drug treatment centers, children’s homes, and other facilities. This program involved several temple devotees who cook, offer and distribute the prasadam regularly each week.
By their behavior it is not evident that they will “eventually disappear and fall into the American stream of life.” Based on their actions, they are showing that they are committed to this perfect movement that Prabhupada has so kindly given us.
3. The third point I would like to make has to do with the preaching programs in New Orleans. To say “no preaching program has been consistently successful” is only partly true.
Food for Life prasadam distribution to thousands of souls each month is our most successful preaching program. It is one tool that allows us to not only go out to strangers and the less fortunate, but it also draws a crowd of up to 200 people each week for the Sunday feast. This crowd is fairly typical to ISKCON temples in that a large percentage comes for the food. A smaller percentage is curious about the temple, and only a few are really seeking. What makes our crowd unique is that we get a lot of street kids from the French Quarter who are basically the transients of America.
Many Sundays we are able to take small groups of these people into the temple and introduce them to Srila Prabhupada, Sri Sri Gaur- Nitai, Sri Sri Radha- Radha Kanta, and Lord Jagannath, Lord Balarama, and Srimati Subhadra. At this time we usually try to distribute books and get names and phone numbers for further contact.
We are in the beginning stages of many programs. For instance, we started a Bhakti Vrksa group a little over a year ago. The beginnings have been slow, but we do have a few members who are coming and are making progress. A few are even up to the level of aspiring for initiation. I have been involved in 3 or 4 BV groups. Of the ones I have been involved in, they have taken some time to expand. That we don’t have explosive, exponential growth, right now is due to Krishna’s arrangement. We are trying to lay the foundation for those souls He will be sending us soon.
Another program we are expanding is the Sunday Feast program. We have a greeter at the door to welcome each guest as they arrive. We also have a nice program printed up with announcements, words to songs, and the program schedule. For the new guests, we explain the program, escort them to the temple room, answer any questions they may have, and take prasadam with them after the program to answer any additional questions. We also encourage them to join us on Wednesday night for the Bhakti Vrksa program. We are currently in the process of enhancing this program. This program has been done for over a year and a half, consistently.
Our temple president, Kamala Mukha Krshna das, is concerned that we have not been able to make a large number of new devotees. In the past his time was taken up with trying to find funding to keep the roof from falling in (it really was falling in, in several places). Now that this emergency has been dealt with he is turning his attention to preaching. We are beginning a series of Istagosti’s dealing specifically with the topics of Harinama and College Preaching. If his tenacity with dealing with the building renovation is any indication, we will have a first-class program up and running soon.
I almost forgot to mention that we have begun a Sunday School class for the children. This is also pretty new (only a few months old), but we have been growing and the children really look forward to attending. In fact, one family used to go to the local Hindu temple, but are coming here regularly as a result of the Sunday School.
4. The attack on our regular Indian congregation is also unfounded and unfair. There are several important Indian families that help to support the temple, both financially and with their service. One Prabhu not only loaned money to help with the renovation, he also came by daily to make sure the construction was going on in a professional manner. He has an important day job, but would take time every day to drive over.
The two Indian shop owners that are referred to in the article are supporters of Sri Sankirtana Puri. They have contributed time, money and political influence on our behalf. They are always very respectful, kind, and gracious. Just because they have given devotees jobs in the French Quarter is in no way a condemnation of their character. They appreciate Prabhupada as well as ISKCON and are favorable to the way the deities are being taken care of. In fact, their children, who were raised and are being educated in the U.S., are also big supporters of Sri Sankirtana Puri dham. This speaks to their good character as parents as well as devotees.
5. As far as the green card program/ religious worker program that has allowed these devotees to live in New Orleans, it was started years ago. This was prior to the current temple management. Some of those who are there are hold-overs from the previous administration.
It can take up to 5 years to get a green card. In fact, we have one family that has been waiting almost 5 years. It is also a fact that in light of the events of September 11, the immigration process has slowed down.
The writer even states “those who are waiting stay in the temple and serve faithfully until they receive their green card.” So, it is not their sincerity or devotion to Srila Prabhhupada that is in question. The devotees we have are doing nice service. They are cooking, delivering prasadam, and taking care of the deities. We are very lucky to have nice devotees trained in India to take care of our deities.
It would be a great offence to take someone who has spent several years in the service of Sri Sri Radha- Radha Kanta, and kick them out of the temple. Those who do not have green cards are not even allowed to work or make money. It is a very difficult position for them to be in.
The writer’s frustration is in the ability to make devotees. The management shares this same frustration. This has led to the formation of the programs covered in point #3.
6. The writer also stated that they knew, “Srila Prabhupada would not let these things happen unchecked if he was physically present. More saddening is that Jayapataka Swami nor the GBC will not put a stop on this.”
By putting everything into perspective, I respectfully disagree with the author of the article. It is very dangerous to speak for Prabhupada and I won’t presume to do so. But I do think that He would be pleased with the efforts of the devotees at Sankirtana Puri dahm. Progress is going forward in a consistent, systematic way to propogate Lord Caitanya’s message. We have full faith that we will be able to please the Lord.
As far as H.H. Jayapataka Swami and H.H. Bir Krishna das Goswami are concerned, they are encouraging the devotees here in Sankirtana Puri. They have attended the Bhakti Vrksa group and have encouraged each member to become stronger. They have spent valuable time helping to cultivate devotees, professors, and parents of BV members. Instead of being heavy with the devotees, they have offered constructive suggestions and behavioral examples. This is more of a positive approach to help encourage devotees rather than a negative approach that may squash a tender young creeper.
While I do appreciate the writer’s frustration with the number of devotees that have been made over the last few years, I would make one suggestion. Help us. Help us develop preaching programs. Help us greet people at the door. Help us serve out prasadam. Help us with Bhakti Vrksa. Help us start an effective college program. If we can be more effective, show us how. This request is done with the sincerest of humility.
I would also make one other request. Please find another way to air your feelings in a more productive way. A new person who has been to the New Orleans temple only once discovered the article you wrote and distributed publicly. They called my attention to it as it created a few questions in their mind. If you truly are interested in advancing Lord Caitanya’s mission in New Orleans, please don’t add to the problem. Instead, help us to create solutions.
Bhadra Jagannath das