Reflection on Hare Krishna

This is a text I wrote as a reflection regarding a visit by a member of the Hare Krishna. (Originally in Swedish):

“It was a very interesting man who came and visited. Mukunda Das was dressed in a sort of white garb, which looked simple but very durable. Around the neck he carried a necklace with wooden pearls, which would symbolise the eternal rebirth, the pearls as bodies and the thread representing the soul. One also gets the impression that he is very skilled in using metaphors to describe his thoughts and ideas. His speech and demeanour was also incredibly calm. One got the impression that he was a very deep and insightful man.

This sort of metaphorical and living language aided in giving a very educative performance from the start, where he presented himself and explained some of what Hare Krishna is about. This sort of calm rhythm also remained when it was time for questions and he got to answer them. One got the impression the he gave elaborate answers whenever he was asked anything. Unfortunately there was the tendency than whenever anyone asked a more direct question which questioned some of these questions, he answered very evasively, had a tendency to change subject to things not entirely related to what it was about from the start. No straight answers. Personally I think that this sort of direct dialog between people is not always a good way to present concepts, but I think no one was very convinced by him, even if one could argue that there are no straight answers within religion.

Something which I found very interesting was that Hare Krishna seems to see itself as just one answer among many, that all religions are true, or at least that there is a grain of truth (that was at least my impression, too bad I didn’t get the chance to clear this up). From a pragmatic point of view one could see that as good, because it encourages peace and greater understanding among religions. But I still think there is something, I am almost tempted to say insolent about saying that. If one asked all, say, Christians or Muslims about this, probably many would protest. It has the effect that their (those who don’t agree) own belief is seen as by something else, which can’t be seen as very humble. Going one step further there are other religions, for example Baha’i, which also believe that there have been avatars on Earth in form of other religions’ prophets. Their take on it is significantly different compared to Hare Krishna’s.

Another interesting thing was the dig at science. He argues that science doesn’t have all the answers (which it actually doesn’t have, and will never do, which is not a reason to fill the empty holes with just about anything) and that it is in the end dependent on the senses. The last one is interesting because that’s what Hare Krishna’s whole world view is built upon. One claims that the god(s) communicate with people in different ways, in an utterly subjective way. From that point of view it is actually logical to claim that everyone which have religious experiences have had contact with god, because if religious experiences of other religions are denied, the step is not logically far to denying them all. Mukunda Das mentions a scientific article he read once (I don’t remember the context). If one actually takes science seriously, neuroscience crushes beyond all reasonable doubt his claim that memories are transferred from person to person after death.

I also found it interesting that he emphasized that the Self, the Atma, was different from other denomination within Hinduism, which deny the Self. There is thus something fundamental, but still irreconcilable with other closely related religions, which says something about Hare Krishna’s claims of universality. But this, that some believe and some don’t believe in the Self, can be compared with Buddhism. In the West Buddhists meditate to find themselves. In the East they deny the Self and instead try to become one with everything. One can draw parallels with “the Western civilization”. For the Western civilization to conquer the world, it was forced to empty itself of contents, be as universal as possible, in order to penetrate cultural barriers and minds.

One last thing I found interesting was that about god as the highest intelligence. He simply stated that there is no higher intelligence than god. I think he could have dug deeper than that about why it was so, but he ignored it. Particularly, the personal contact with god and the avatars I didn’t find very humble, because it implied that an incredibly powerful human (I say human as per the metaphor with small flames and large flames he used) care about small humans. One can compare it with those who believe aliens came and built the Pyramids. That one with the aliens deny the old Egyptians’ craftsmanship and wisdom and the one about the highest intelligence denies the fundamental self-organization of the universe, where small things with time become more complex.”

Something I didn’t mention in this, but  which I also got thinking of was the simplistic view on materialism he employed. He vaguely mentioned something about society being too materialistic, yet he means that Hare Krishna is supposed to be some sort of “guide” in life, to bring meaning to people. I’m currently reading First as Tragedy, Then as Farce by Slavoj Zizek and found one part which might be relevant (p. 66):

“Western Buddhism” is just such a fetish: it enables you to fully participate in the capitalist game while sustaining the perception that you’re not really in it, that you are well aware how worthless the whole spectacle is, since what really matters is the peace of the inner Self to which you know you can always withdraw… In a further specification, one should note that a fetish can function in two opposed ways: one the one hand its role may remain unconscious; on the other, one may think that the fetish really matters, as in the case of the Western Buddhist unaware that the “truth” of his existance lies in the very social relations he tends to dismiss as a mere game.

Replace “Western Buddhism” with “Hare Krishna” and it still works.


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