October 16th 1983

posted in: The way back | 1

Let’s hope our passports come thro’ in time for us to leave on Wednesday.  If not, there will be a couple of very depressed English people staying at 123 Esplanade.  In the hope, rather than the expectation, that we will be leaving then, we sorted our belongings out – working my way rapidly thro’  everything we have + throwing it into one of 3 piles – we keep, we throw away, we send home – around the room, while Val got busy on the sewing.  A lot of it too – it took her most of the day.  Putting a waist belt on my pack, sewing up trouser legs, re-inforcing the green bag.  Etc, etc, etc.

By late afternoon, we were both heartily sick of the whole business, + were ready to trek off to the Hare Krishna temple in town.  One of the refuges for the budget traveller around the world are the free meals, dished out by the Hare Krishna movement, generally on a Sunday night.  Somehow we’ve managed to avoid them up to now – or miss them, I should say – but we thought we’d give it a whirl.  The proceedings kicked off at 4.30, but the word around the hotel was that the food didn’t appear till about 6, so we held off for a bit before getting down there.  Tho’ in retrospect that was a pity.  First of all we thought we wouldn’t be able to get in – thought for a while that maybe the philosophy was to arrive at 4.30 or nothing.  But in fact we went in thro’ a side entrance.

There was a chant in progress, a guy playing a small organ, another beating a drum, others dancing, beating cymbals etc.  But it wasn’t dirge-like or monotonous, tho’ they did chant the same thing all the time.  The people dancing, mostly monks + devotees, but with a few others too, were clearly having a wonderful time, but we sat down along with everyone else, + watched.  Until the next chant/dance, anyway.  This was a snake dance, or follow my leader, the devotees leading + other people joining in behind, dancing + clapping.  I decided I might as well give it a whirl + Val too – so we fixed ourselves on the end + skipped + clapped.  A little self-consciously at first, but we soon got over that, + in fact very quickly started to enjoy ourselves.  For one dance it went on for a very long time indeed, 20 mins or so, so the sweat began to pour.  But by the end, watching some of the people dance was quite amazing – spinning, whirling, twisting – quite a piece of theatre.

At the end of that dance, we all sat + received a sermon from the leader (also the organist.)  It was a little simplistic for my tastes, a little naïve, but I’ve heard worse sermons… + better.  And then the primary justification for attendance for nearly everybody there.  Many more had entered during then sermon, + I’ll admit that, quite unjustifiably, I felt annoyed that they should be receiving food tho’ they had done nothing to earn it.  Tho’ that had been my intention too.  The food was good – vegetarian of course – tho’ a little mushy.  But tasty + filling.  Once the meal was served, nearly everyone ate + left, but another dance was promised, + in any case I didn’t feel right about taking the food rather callously + then shoving off, so I hung around for a while.  Val, feeling very tired, went home.  Tho’ in fact no dancing did re-commence in the time I was there, but I did sit + chat with the vicar for a while.  He was biased, of course, but interesting, telling me about their other centres, their school in Murwillumbah, some of their philosophy.  This, my first experience of the Hare Krishna movement, was a good one.  They seem genuinely philanthropic, they seem content, + they’re not pushy or misleading about themselves.  It is, however, not for me.  I see it as a genuine religion, and as such is spiritually based.  I am not spiritual, believe in the body, the mind, maybe even the soul.  But a God?  And what’s more, one that cares or concerns Himself with individual human existence, I don’t think so.

Nonetheless, walked home feeling calm, serene.  The effect of viewing the example of believers, maybe.  Intended to go to the Folk Club, but couldn’t raise the necessary energy, so gave it a miss, + watched telly.  A modern version of “Scarlet Pimpernel” starring Anthony Andrews – good enough of its kind, but wrecked as entertainment by the commercials, arriving at regular 12 minute intervals.  Worse than the US, a right pain in the bum.

We have experienced a couple of similar encounters with the Hare Krishna movement, but it has always been positive, even when, as now, our motives were pretty openly selfish.

  1. Pamela Blair

    Very interesting! Thanks for the description of them. I’ve always thought of them as a social intrusion, although if free food had been involved, I might not have.

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