They are renowned for walking the streets in groups; singing, chanting and handing out books or pamphlets. They make a point of reaching out to the public and making themselves seen and heard. But every Sunday at 5 p.m., the devotees of the Hare Krishna faith invite the people to come to them. The doors of the Montreal temple are open on Sunday evenings and anyone is welcome to join in the festivities that take place therein.
Mandhar Das, a devotee of the Krishna faith for eleven years, stands at the entrance of the temple greeting visitors with a smile and a welcoming “Hare Krishna” as he opens the door. The words signify the name of God, but can also be used as a peaceful greeting. According to Das, the Sunday service is offered as a public program for those who are unable to come to the temple during the week. Chanting, singing and lectures are all a part of the program. The service is offered to long-time devotees and curious newcomers alike. Some families attend the service as part of a weekly ritual, others stop by to learn more about a faith they never fully understood.
Mandhar Das said those who follow the Hare Krishna faith believe in God. They believe there is one God that presents himself in many ways. Followers of the Hare Krishna faith do not assume their way of knowing God is the better than any other.
“We know that there is only one God, but he’s known in many ways, through different religions, different philosophies. It’s not like we’re the only ones who are right.” Das said.
Das has tried other religions, but found what he was looking for in the Hare Krishna faith. “I’ve been a Buddhist, I was born a Roman Catholic; I’ve been through a lot. I was searching, and I started reading our basic book, which is Baghavad Gita, and in that book I found the answers to all of my questions, even some which I was not yet asking myself,” said Das.
Das recognizes the spiritual path may not be suited to everyone, but for him it has proven to be the right way to go. He said if he finds something better he’ll move on, but for now the Hare Krishna faith offers what he needs.
The ultimate goal of the Hare Krishna faith is to re-unite with God. Devotees believe purification of the soul brings one closer to God, and ultimately closer to happiness. Das said the problem is that we spend too much time trying to please ourselves. The idea behind the faith is to try to please God instead.
“The minute you stop trying to please yourself, that’s when you become most happy,”said Das.
A key point in the Hare Krishna faith is that we do not own everything we think is ours. Das used the example of the body to explain this theory. He said our bodies are not our own, that we simply use the body for a period of time and then move on when the body is finished. Das liked the theory to the use of a car.
“We’re the driver of the car; we sit in the car for a while. And when the car is finished, or when the body dies, what we call death usually, we transmigrate to a new body,” he said.
It is our actions in past lives that dictate how we will live in the lifetime to follow, according to the Hare Krishna faith. With a firm belief in the power of karma, devotees of the faith try to purify their own existence now to assure a better place for their spiritual selves in the future. The purification lies in a constant awareness of Krishna (God) and an unselfish approach to life in general.
“We don’t need so much,” Das said. “We create entanglement for ourselves actually by being so greedy. It’s only creating trouble, and pollution and all these things”
Devotees use a mantra to help themselves focus on Krishna and his existence. The simple mantra used in the Hare Krishna faith is made up of three words.
Basically a repetition of Krishna’s name, the mantra is intended to bring the speaker closer to God. According to Das, the mantra offers many side benefits as well.
“We become peaceful, and it removes the stress,” he said.
Anyone can use the mantra to bring themselves to an awareness of God. It is believed that a direct connection with Krishna can be made through repetition of the mantra.
“In the spiritual world when you say the name of Krishna, Krishna is actually there in his name,” Das said.
The Montreal temple is home to approximately 25 devotees. A schedule of activities is laid out and together they perform various ceremonies throughout the day. An early start at 4 a.m. is part of life at the temple. Devotees sing and chant together as a form of meditation in the early hours of the day. Das said the experience is very uplifting.
“We have a big party at four o’clock in the morning, everybody is going to bed, they leave the bar and all that, and we start! It’s really wonderful,” he said.
The devotees take time afterwards to meditate more privately with their beads. Each devotee has a string of 108 beads, and they repeat the Hare Krishna mantra once for each bead on the string. Serious devotees will go through the process 16 times, making a total of 1,728 repetitions of the mantra. While some may find this meditation process tedious, Das said it is enjoyable. “It takes about two hours, but it’s pleasurable. If something is nice, you don’t mind doing it” he said.
After the quiet meditation, a lecture is held. An instructor reads a passage from a sacred text. The Bhagavad Gita is the text most referred to in the Hare Krishna faith. The instructor will explain the text, offering a greater understanding of its meaning. Ideas are shared about how to incorporate the text’s meaning into daily life. Das said the exercise helps him to apply his learning in his daily life.
“It’s good to have knowledge, but it has to be practical also. It’s like “I know God, but I don’t know what to do about it,” said Das.
Not all devotees live at the temple; some will stop in to partake in the ceremonies after going about their usual daily lives. Das, who lived at the temple for two years, said he now has a job, but returns to the temple often for reaffirmation of his faith in Krishna.
“I like to exchange with people who know what I’m talking about” he said.
Das says there are only two laws in the Hare Krishna faith: “You should always remember Krishna, and you should never forget Krishna.” He said this is the reason for the traditional dress the devotees wear. Long robes help to remind other people, as well as the devotees themselves, that they are aware of Krishna and are committed to making him a part of their lives. Das said the dress is “like a uniform” and is representative of their involvement in the faith. The traditional dress makes the devotees recognizable to people in the streets and Das says this is one way they have of bringing a thought of Krishna into people’s lives.
“If you see us in the street, you will think of Krishna. Maybe you won’t agree with us, maybe you won’t accept our philosophy. But still, the thought will come to your mind. You will think of Krishna, at least that much,” he said.
Das sees the Krishna faith as one way for a person to find meaning and happiness in life. He does not assume the spiritual lifestyle could be forced onto someone, but he says the devotees at the temple simply want people to know the option is there. When accused of brainwashing, Das simply smiles and agrees it is part of what he and other devotees do.
“Of course, if your clothes are dirty you wash them. Nobody will say you’re crazy for that. We’re trying to let the people know that the shower is right there; available. It’s right above your head, you just turn the tap and the water’s going to come.”
The Montreal Krisna temple is located at 1626 Pie IX Boulevard (below Ontario)