Chakra Discussions

Devotees Gave Up Everything for Krishna

by a once-upon-a-time temple devotee

Posted December 9, 2008

I read Kamlesh Patel's article about the treatment he received while visiting an ISKCON temple. I was impressed with the correctness of what he stated. Yes, it is Vedic culture to offer the guest excellent treatment. It is also stated that one should think of a guest as being as good as Vishnu. Can you imagine that? As good as Vishnu — truly a difficult and razor's-edge endeavor. One small slip, and you can make an offense.

On the other hand, I also was thinking about how the devotees were eating off a metal plate and guests were eating off leaf plates. Personally, I don't think a metal plate, which is washed again and again and used by many different devotees, is better. A leaf plate is used once and discarded. That is a cleaner and much higher standard, in my opinion.

Another thing I wish to point out is the little-known or -appreciated fact that the devotees who live in the temple are quite exalted. Basically, they are people like Mr. Patel who had an interest in Krishna consciousness but wished to take that pursuit to a higher level and joined, thus giving up their careers and future security. They also gave up family, and sometimes a husband would join and the wife would not or vice versa. Thus a soul would have left everything to be a live-in devotee. I myself once lived in a Hare Krishna temple. It was no picnic. It was harder than going to Marine Corps boot camp.

It is no easy task to be a temple devotee. When I joined the Hare Krishna movement back in the '70s, there was no easy time for the devotees. We would rise at 3 a.m. and shower in an outdoor building. We ran from the brahmachari ashram to another building through snow or rain; it didn't matter. We went to morning program and then took prasad, and as fast as we could change, we got into western clothes, jumped into vans and hit the streets to collect money all day long every day of the week. We sold candles for Krishna, albums, paintings, stickers and books. All the money we collected was given to the temple each day. This money was what built most of the early temples. To be a live-in devotee back in those days was the hardest job in the world.

I wish to say this: instead of coming to the temple and finding a flaw in the arrangements, try giving up ten to 20 years of your life, not getting married, giving all the time you have to help spread Srila Prabhupada's movement and sleeping only six hours a day. Indeed there is no better happiness in the world than pleasing Prabhupada by these sacrifices.

I will agree that treating guests properly should not be ignored. Higher than that realization is that these devotees, who Mr. Patel says enjoyed on a higher level, may indeed be the greatest living souls on the planet. They are Prabhupada's army, and sometimes they fall in battle. I personally was beaten unconscious while collecting money for my temple. Another devotee I knew was shot with a .22 pistol while singing the Hare Krishna mantra on the streets of Berkeley, California. Worse yet, a devotee was preaching in Tennessee many years ago and was burned alive in his sleeping bag by a fire bomb thrown into the temple. He lost his life for Krishna. There are numerous stories of devotees being assaulted, deprogrammed, kidnapped, raped and killed by demons while trying to keep temples open and distributing Prabhupada's books.

Those devotees who are eating off metal plates should probably be eating off solid gold plates, because they and those devotees who came before them are the greatest souls this earth has produced. Without them, what kind of world would we have today? Imagine a world with no Hare Krishna movement. That would be a very dark and merciless world to leave to our children — a real hell.

I no longer live in a Hare Krishna temple, because I could not keep the standard that Srila Prabhupada asked: 16 rounds a day and four regulative principles. But the time that I did spend as a full-time devotee has changed my life and showed me the great value of having a true religious center near my home, occupied by true believers of the greatest savior of all, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhakivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Please remember, when looking at that simple devotee eating off the floor on a metal plate, that he has given up everything to serve his fellow man. He should be blessed again and again for his surrender. What to speak of a sannyasi who has special needs? So what! Give him whatever he asks for, and be grateful that we even have a sannyasi to come to our temple. I, being an American, remember long ago, when there was no such thing as a sannyasi or even a devotee in all of America. They simply didn't exist in western culture.

I wish this sannyasi would come to my town. I would pick him up in a limousine and hire the best brahmans to cook for him.