I would sympathize with you if you thought that the portrait above showed an advert for a circus coming into town with all its working attractions. But, as already the title indicates, this is NOT about cheap, albeit interesting, superficial attractions. We are looking at the real thing, one of the lions guarding the portal to supreme enlightenment, the Temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness on Stuart Street in Berkeley (the Berkeley Krishna Temple).
For us more earthly inclined, better let the story stay securely anchored in the present life span and location, on Stuart Street in Berkeley, revisiting the beginning of this post. I had visited the Temple, out of curiosity, already thirty years back, together with Hans Christian Cars, an old friend who is also a commentator on this blog. Albeit not yet having been touched by the infinite wisdom of its beliefs, we had been pleasantly surprised by the lushness of the temple’s interior and hospitality of its officiants. So now, when again staying in Berkeley, and passing by this hidden marvel almost every day at lunchtime, I eventually considered to pay it another visit.
Once in, I was politely asked to remove my shoes and allowed to make a tour of the premises, on my own as it was, since the stranger returned to his usual outpost. The interior did not look like I remembered it. Instead of just one large hall, dominated by colorful statues of all kinds and sizes, I now stood before two smaller rooms. The one on the left was looking somewhat like the employee cafeteria of a smaller enterprise, but without chairs and tables. Herein lunch was still being served to, what appeared to me, needing people of the streets. I quickly went on to visit the other hall that seemed to invite me in for a closer examination. This larger room was somber and essentially empty, with just a lonely figure quietly meditating at a sidewall, reclining on a comfortable throne, illuminated by colored glass windows and some light bulbs.
This hopeful disciple of the Grand Master undertook to show me around the premises anew and explain some more about the workings and raison-d’être of this venerable edifice. The temple, when founded back in the early ‘seventies, had had a large congregation of disciples and laïc followers. Missionary activities had abounded, with disciples prevalent on streets and campus, chanting the wholly rhymes and attracting attention with their promises of eternal god-like bliss.
It makes sense to me that disciples should form a small inner core of true believers; I cannot envisage many people having the extreme bravery of facing an eternity of labor to gain communion with the ultimate Godness in the fullness of time. Far better to reserve the title of disciple to those strong and brave few and having the remainder of the congregation forming a laïc support for their endeavours. The reward for the latter will always be the participation in uplifting Sunday services, with instructive lectures, exalted chanting and dancing and, not to forget, having an excellent meal and pleasing the Godness whilst enjoying it.