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August 6, 2019
by Charlie Philbin
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Brick Lane and The ISCKON temple

The place we visited was Brick Lane and the ISCKON temple. One of the more interesting parts of this visit was seeing the architecture of the Brick Lane and how it differs from the rest of central London. The entire lane to the curry house we went to clearly got its name from the red brick buildings that were surrounding us as we made our way through various grocery stores, sweet shops and curry houses. As I was walking down this lane, I began to notice how different life in this particular part of London is. From starting with the French Huguenots, to later accommodating the Jewish population from Europe, to eventually allowing the Bangladeshi people to inhabit the area. This area is now the highest concentration of Bangladeshi people in England. It is amazing to me how this has been a place for many people to go and exist when they need refuge from oppression in other countries.

We also visited the ISCKON temple, which was very unimpressive from the outside and I had no idea that it would be such a sacred place on the inside. as I walked in following my classmates, I. began to realize. the intricate inner workings of the temple. It was amazing to me how efficiently they were able to use the space on the inside. When I walked into the the temple itself, I was taken aback by the music and dancing that I was witnessing. The best way that we were able to learn about the temple was through the song and dance that was present throughout the space that. we. were in. Even when we were in the lecture about the history of the Hare Krishna religion, there were devotees on the streets singing to the passersby and turning  the street into a Hare Krishna Party.

The other thing we did was eat at a curry house which was much more interesting to me than I was expecting. As we have gone through this course, we have learned about different foods that the British adapted from India. I tried the National Dish of England, which is Chicken Tikka Massala. I was expecting a very spicy dish that was difficult to eat. Instead I found a very mild dish that tasted a lot more like chicken marinated in tomato sauce rather than actually being marinated in a spicy sauce. While I was expecting Indian food to be spicy as it is in many stereotypes, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it has been so blended with current British tastes to reflect a milder taste palate.

 

August 5, 2019
by Radha Polley
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The Hare Krishnas and Prabhupada’s Legacy

Pictured: The temple’s plaque and the vegetarian restaurant attached to the temple.

The ISKCON Radha-Krishna Temple at 10 Soho Street appears unremarkable from the outside. It seems to be a small storefront with a restaurant and a plaque demarcating where the temple entrance is. However, as I followed my classmates through the small entrance lobby to the actual temple, I realized that the site was more elaborate than I had assumed. There was a ceremonial room made of light stone with a large altar, or stage, at the front. Multiple floors were built above us, one of which we went to as one of the Hare Krishna devotees received us with a presentation about the temple and the movement.

The Hare Krishna movement came to the United States in the 1960’s by Bhaktivedanta Swami, more commonly known as Swami Prabhupada, and was further popularized in the 1970’s. The Swami promoted a Vaishnavite branch of Hinduism, which focused on Vishnu and his incarnation as Lord Krishna. According to Thomas J. Hopkins in his work “ISKCON’s Search for Self-Identity: Reflections by a Historian of Religions,” Prabhupada’s goal was to inspire disciples to follow him and he worked to translate devotional texts so that people in the U.S. would be able to understand what was expected of them as a devotee and would have the texts in a language they could learn from (175).

The Hare Krishna whom we met at the temple gave us a synopsis of the origins of the movement and the attraction which certain Western people felt toward this movement. He was candid about the fact that Prahbupada did draw in a certain hippie crowd and explained why the Swami’s teachings were fascinating to them. He also drew upon pop culture references, such as the interaction between the Beatles and the Hare Krishna’s in order to impress upon us how the movement interacted with culture at the time. On one hand, this was a positive thing because we learned how exactly the movement took hold and achieved its first supporters. The downside to how he presented the material was that he seemed to (unintentionally) propagate the idea of India as a mystical, spiritual place where people go to in order to find themselves. While historically this did happen with the Beatles and specifically George Harrison, I was perturbed that this manufactured idea of a fantastical culture was not addressed.

After our presentation, my class ventured to the ceremony room to take part in a service. It was a lively service, different than a Hindu temple I visited in my youth, and very different from the many Christian services I have attended. The people participating were lively, dancing, jumping, and pronouncing their love for God. The Maha Mantra was repeated infinitely, and we were all encouraged to take part if we so desired. A life-sized figure of Prabhupada sat facing the altar at the back of the room. Thomas J. Hopkins focuses on all of the textual work that Prabhupada did in order to leave his followers with ample material after his death. Therefore, he left a great legacy behind for his disciples (Hopkins 179). This is a visual representation of how the Hare Krishna’s in London honor their leader who brought Vaishna Hindu tradition to the Western world.

Overall, the experience in the temple was informative and interesting. The devotees were all extremely welcoming and I felt uplifted being in their presence. This was also a chance to see a Hare Krishna temple for myself, especially because the reputation of the ISKCON temple portrays it as a cult by which white westerners partake in cultural appropriation. It was not as cult-ish as I imagined, though there was a variety of race among the participants which differed from my experience at a Hindu temple. Additionally, the enthusiastic and vibrant nature of the service was relaxing compared to other religions based in repentance, and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to witness people who have kept this movement alive since the 1960’s.

Radha Polley

August 5, 2019
by Kayla Keck
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The Hare Krishna Movement in Modern Society

ISKON, or the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, was founded by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad in the 1960s. Prabhupad is an important figure of the religious movement because his written scriptures defined the proper devotion of Krishna. On my visit to the temple, I noticed a statue of Prabhupad at the back of the room, which was constantly interacted with and given the same offerings as the rest of the devotees. According to ISKCON’s Search for Self-Identity Prabhupada was significant because “it was he who knew what Krishna Consciousness was and how to achieve it; and it was he who had the charismatic authority to draw others into what to all of them was a totally unfamiliar tradition” (Hopkins, 174).

From my short time at the ISKCON temple, I learned that the Hare Krishna movement is characterized by specific rituals and rules that stem from Hinduism. For instance, one of the first things I noticed was the simplicity of the Hare Krishna’s appearance. Some men shaved their heads and wore orange robes as a sign of renunciation, an important Hindu practice. Many of the other followers wore simple clothing to emphasize the importance of the soul, rather than bodies. In addition to a disciplined wardrobe, Hare Krishna’s followed a structured lifestyle devoid of meat, illicit sex, and materialism.

While the appearance of the Hare Krishna’s was untraditional, perhaps one of the most defining characteristics of the movement is the style of worship. Devotees gather to sing, dance, and chant “Hare Krishna” over and over again. They believe that the most powerful form of worship is to chant the names of God. In the temple, a curtain was pulled back to reveal the display of deities that would be worshiped during the service. Items were offered to the deities and in returned, members of the service were presented with fire, water, and flowers to help feel the bliss of Hare Krishna as well as provide purification.

At first, the movement was small, as it started with one temple in New York, but it quickly expanded across the world, especially in Europe and America. Now it was an international religious organization with nearly 100 centers. The movement was particularly popular in regions of high immigration rates, as “Indian immigrants were drawn to ISKCON’s temples and activities as a way to maintain their religious identity as they adjusted to a new culture” (181). Others joined the movement to advance their Hindu faith and strengthen the bonds to their gods.

August 5, 2019
by Niki
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Brick Lane: Multicultural Past and Present

While modern-day London is known for demonstrating specifically British heritage and history, it is also an important multicultural center reflective of an international and imperial past. One neighborhood that exemplifies this especially well is Brick Lane, nowadays sometimes referred to as “Banglatown”. This ethnically Bangladeshi area is located in the Shoreditch section of East London, and runs all the

way from Bethnal Green and through Spitalfields down toward Whitechapel. While nowadays, the neighborhood is considered the “cultural heartland” or the British Bangladeshi community, the area has a vibrant and multicultural past, and has been a home to a wide variety of occupants. 

To begin, Brick Lane found its name from its 15th century hosts. Unlike in later centuries, at this time, the area was utilized by brick and tile manufacturers from within Britain. However, by the 17th century, this was no longer the predominant trade in the neighborhood— Brick Lane became a very popular spot for breweries above all else. Later in the 17th century, the area received an influx of French Huguenots who had been expelled from their homeland. Next, Brick Lane’s population during the 19th and 20th centuries was comprised of Irish and Jewish immigrants, respectively. Finally, starting in the mid 20th century, Brick Lane became “Banglatown”, signifying the latest cultural and ethnic shift the area has undergone, and one that can still be experienced today. 

Even today, though the inhabitants of Brick Lane are less often first-generation Bangladeshis, by entering the area, it can be easily seen that it has held important meaning to its residents and those who resonate with its background throughout its Bangla history. A man named Helal Abbas, who was a councillor involved in the regeneration of the area, commented the following to interviewer Claire Alexander: “I think the symbol… was an issue and a declaration of Banglatown, this gate outside here, was ‘this is our community, we are part of this borough’. Psychologically this was an important Factor.”

By walking the streets of Banglatown today, one can experience a plethora of food and culture within a very small radius. Traditional treats, native to Bangladesh and the Indian subcontinent at large, can be found in numerous locally-owned stores, where friendly shopkeepers are happy to aid customers in selecting from their choice of delicacies. While Bangladesh may be a long and weary flight from the United Kingdom, venturing over to Brick Lane might just be the next best thing.

August 5, 2019
by Giana Ortiz
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Is ISKCON Fracturing?

ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, is a devotional form of worship to the Hindu deity, Krishna. Krishna is the major deity of the movement and they chant his name. Hare Krishna is the highest form of prayer that contains everything you want Krishna to know and it signifies devotionalism because “Krishna tells us in the Gita (9:26) that he will accept whatever is offered with devotion (Hopkins 191).”

In Thomas Hopkin’s ISKCON’s Search for Self-Identity, he explains how ISKCON began with Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad’s first temple at 26 Second Avenue in New York City. The movement’s first Guru, more commonly known as Prabhupad, came to America when he was 70 years old. Until his death at 81, Prabhupad translated texts from Sanskrit, wrote letters and commentaries on devotional texts, and publishing a journal called Back to Godhead. Prabhupad’s goal was to leave as much information as he could about devotion and Hindu culture as he could to his English-speaking disciples. After his death in 1977, there was a gap from 81-year-old Prabhupad to his disciples, the oldest was still under 40 (Hopkins 177). While they were declared sannyasis and became, more or less, independent gurus, they were immature in their devotional life.

Traditionally, knowledge, especially of gurus, was passed from one guru to his personal disciple. This ensures an unbroken flow of knowledge. Also, the guru would be able to ensure that his disciple is passed down the same knowledge he received, thus keeping the information consistent throughout time. When Prabhupad passed, he left behind the GBC, the Governing Board Commission, consisting of a dozen disciples. Almost immediately, they had issues that couldn’t be reconciled “because there was no older generation of mature devotees in ISKCON (Hopkins 182).” Thus, various members of the GBC began to splinter and largely focus on devotion to Prabhupad’s teachings, not necessarily focus on devotion to Krishna.

In the presentation at the ISKCON temple, Kavi Karnapura explained the lineage of gurus. Information from gurus would be passed down from one to another. Recently, given the rise of the GBC, multiple members can claim they are the next guru.  This has led to a splitting off from the former lineage. Since this is the case, the next guru is being discussed and debated. Ultimately, different temples could decide to follow different gurus, leading to a possible splintering of the ISKCON movement.

My experience of the ISKCON service was surprising. There was virtually no sermon. While flames, water, and flowers were passed around, the devotees were free to worship however they felt. They chanted together, danced, and made different gestures to honor the deity. The service seemed very personal to how each individual wanted to worship, but they were all able to come together with chants and mantras. While devotees who are initiated would care about the lineage of the gurus and the information passed down, I think it would be interesting to see how the change in gurus would change the service in the temple.

August 5, 2019
by Dylan Weeks
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Self-Identity in the ISKON Community

Upon visiting the ISKON temple, or the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, in London there were many aspects of the Hare Krishna religion that I was enlightened on. When first walking into to the temple, you would never expect it to look the way that it does on the inside. The outside of the temple gets blended into the consistent London architecture, but upon walking in the inside there are many different cultures that seem to influence the architecture. They have the tight staircases, low level ceilings, and modern appliances that seem to be influenced by the European lifestyles, but also they have extravagant and exotic paintings of the worship room that seem to have influence from what seems to be a Mediterranean and South Asia sources. But then obviously there are the classic Krishna paintings scattered throughout the temple that consistently remind anyone who walks in the purpose of the temple being a place of worship and sanctuary.

But it was what we learned upon entering the temple that really gave a close insight to why and how this religion is still followed today. When we first arrived at the temple, we were first given a presentation on the religion and origins of Hare Krishna. The devotee, Kavi Karnapura, gave us this presentation, and while giving us the origins of the religion and how it spread throughout the world because of their original leader, Abhaya Caranāravinda Bhaktivedānta Svāmi Prabhupada, he also gave us an insight to his personal journey of how he came to be a devotee of Hare Krishna. Kavi Karnapura, shared how he came into the religion because of how it offered a journey to personal self-identity. Karnapura described that the Hare Krishna religion offered him a path to take a step back from traditional authority and gain better personal and spiritual understanding to his own life. This form of finding self-identity is a perfect example of what historian Thomas Hopkin’s explains in his essay ISKCON’s Search for Self-Identity, as he shows that by finding self-identity, it is a journey that one must find through themselves and through the devotion to Krishna (Hopkins 191). This fundamental ideal is not one that just Kavi Karnapura experienced but one that all devotees must experience and is also a big reason to why individuals join and stay in the Hare Krishna movement.

After this lecture on the purpose of Hare Krishna, our group was allowed to take part in a worship ceremony. It was experience unlike anything I had ever experienced before. There was extravagant dancing, singing, praying, and other forms of worshiping. All the devotees worshiping, gave such passion and effort into their various forms of worship, and it was a true test to their strong fundamental belief in the ISKON community and their devotion to Krishna. This worship ceremony provided a good insight into how they praise Krishna and their original leader, Prabhupada, and allowed an interactive experience to all the guests of the ceremony no matter their religious affiliations. It was surprising to see the peaceful, accepting, and nurturing nature of this religion especially because of the negative connotation that the public eye puts on the ISKON community. Overall this was an amazing experience that one can only obtain by attending ISKON temples throughout the world and being open to their beliefs and practices.

August 5, 2019
by Ian Kearns
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ISKCON: The Experience

Upon walking into the ISCKON temple, one is struck by the humble architecture outside and the small stature of the ground floor. However, upon ascending the staircase, one realizes the true size of the temple. It reaches up multiple floors and contains many rooms, including a basement, kitchen, worship area, and gathering room. Walking up the stairs, I noticed the disparity between the men and women in the movement. Every woman we passed was cleaning, and the women were the only ones working behind the counter at the kitchen. This serves as a microcosm for the history of women in the movement. Women have been marginalized in the Hare Krishna movement since its inception, however, they have since been allowed to become full members.

Once we reached the locker room, we removed our shoes and ascended further to a room where we watched a PowerPoint presentation about the origins and beliefs of the ISKCON movement. ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, was founded by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad, who traveled from India to the United States to spread his word. The movement itself utilized a group form of devotional singing and chanting called sankirtana, which dates back to Gaudiya Vaishnavism of the 16th century (Hopkins, 172). The production of devotional materials in the first twelve years of the ISKCON movement was vital, and the movement likely would not have survived without Prabhupad’s guidance (Hopkins, 175-175). Prabhupad also made Kirtanananda, one of the first devotees, a sannyasi, which “created a leadership cadre” that would legitimize and promoted the longevity of the organization (Hopkins, 175). However, the path to becoming a Guru was much shorter, highlighting the urgency of spreading the ISKCON word while paving the way for the movement to take a turn away from the original teachings of Prabhupad. Hence, the Hare Krishna movement was demonized as a cult in the early years of existence. However, the movement is still very much alive today, with hundreds of temples across the world. This can be attributed to the variety of writings Prabhupad published late in his life, with the sense that written word would be the best vessel to carry on the knowledge necessary to break the constraints of the mind.

We engaged in a worship ceremony to the deities, and there was much singing and dancing or sankirtana. It was a lively ceremony, and the individuals participating were becoming visibly emotional. This alone likely plays a role in an individual’s willingness to convert. Reaching a higher plane of understanding is also one of the reasons the Hare Krishna movement has attracted so many followers, especially during the time of the counter culture movements in which Prabhupad’s teachings gained much traction.

August 5, 2019
by Cassie Rockwell
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The Hare Krishna Movement Beyond the Media

In the 1960’s and early 70’s the Hare Krishna religious movement was spread rapidly first throughout the United States and eventually around the world. The movement was started by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad of Bengal, India who moved to New York city and founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness known as ISKCON. According to Thomas J. Hopkins in his article ISKCON’s Search for Self-Identity, Prabhupad “had the charismatic authority to draw others into what to all of them was a totally unfamiliar tradition”.

As the society grew “Prabhupad could no longer give as much personal instruction and guidance to his disciples as he did during the early days in New York” and was worried about the future of the movement (Hopkins). Prabhupad passed in 1977, leaving behind a legacy of the religious movement he created with little guidance for the future of the movement. Although he left behind many written works, this was seemingly all that his disciples had to base their teachings on. Many of his disciples were able to continue the traditions of the Hare Krishna movement through their use of these written works, but some could not handle the new authority they were given.

A few “sannyasis were mainly responsible directly or indirectly for the child abuse and wife abuse that became a tragic feature of some ISKCON communities” (Hopkins). Although this horrific behavior was only displayed by a few sannyasis, the media focused their attention on this issue and the Hare Krishna movement was shown in an extremely dark light. The movement resultantly gained lots of criticism from around the world and ISKCONs numbers decreased. Shows like the Simpsons mocked the Hare Krishnas, portraying them as radical “crazy men” and this view of them was spread across the world. Although these peak years of the Hare Krishna movement have come and gone, there are still communities who worship Krishna and ISKCON temples across the world. While in London recently, I had the chance to visit one of these temples.

The ISKCON-London Radha-Krishna Temple was founded in 1969, just 4 years after the beginning of the movement in New York City. Upon arrival, we were first presented with a brief history of the Hare Krishna Movement. The presentation focused on the positive aspects of the religion’s history, only briefly mentioning the “wild ones” of the hippy culture who turned to drugs and other illegal activities. The presenter wanted to address this group of devotees as he was aware that these radical people were the ones who were commonly portrayed in the media, but made an effort to show that they were not representative of the society as a whole. Side comments were also made throughout the presentation about the “crazy beliefs” of ISKCON. This made me question to what extent the stories of Krishna were believed to be truth rather than myth.

My next experience in the Temple, however, confirmed the strong belief ISKCON has in the stories of Krishna. The service of worship in the temple was very lively and full of singing, dancing and tradition. As devotees entered the Temple, they placed flowers on the front steps as an offering and proceeded to worship the deities of Krishna at the front. I was amazed at the large attendance of devotees. The service fostered a much more interactive environment with the guests than any other religious service I have attended. This first-hand experience of worship with Hare Krishna followers demonstrated the strength in their beliefs and gave me a much more well-rounded view of the society. My prior views, which were strongly based on ISKSONs negative representation in the media, were challenged and I developed an appreciation for ISCKONs strong hold on their original cultural values despite facing hardship and criticism from the media along the way.

August 4, 2019
by Natalie Miller
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Brick Lane: More Than Just Cuisine

London is a city known for cultural diversity, and Brick Lane, a pocket of the East End of the city, is known for its Banglatown cuisine and atmosphere. My visit to Brick Lane was enlightening to say the least. I felt transported from London, with the “whiff or aromatic spices” and the foreign languages strewn on the walls (Alexander 202). I had never tried Indian food, so this experience was a crash course in new scents and flavors. Between the chicken samosa and the chicken passanda with garlic naan, I quickly learned to love an entirely new segment of cuisine. Even the sweets others of our group tried looked so different and so delicious; though I am not typically a fan of mango, the lassi I was able to taste definitely impressed me. Walking through the streets and stepping into the markets opens up a whole new world, one that feels distinct but encapsulated in the culture of London.

However, there is much more to Brick Lane than simply good food. The Tower Hamlets, which holds Brick Lane, is “home to around 65,000 Bangladeshi heritage people, comprising about 1/5 of Britain’s Bangladeshi population” (Alexander 204). Before the influx of Bangladeshi people, this corner of London was still an important immigration center, welcoming French, Irish, Jewish, and Chinese immigrants and refugees. Going hand in hand with this history, though, is the stigma of Brick Lane being an area of poverty and crime, and it is often viewed as a ghetto with all the stereotypes that brings. Since “65 per cent of Bangladeshi families live below the poverty line” nationally, this ethnic center is seen as an extremely poor and underprivileged area, which therefore affects perceptions of Brick Lane and its symbolism (Alexander 213). As part of the diaspora, Brick Lane has great significance in Imperial and post-Imperial relations between Great Britain and South Asia. Specifically, the late twentieth century “saw Brick Lane transformed into a site of organized anti-racist resistance from within the Bengali community,” fighting the unfair stigmas tied to the community (Alexander 211).

In July of 2006, media attention was turned to protests in Tower Hamlets in response to a new movie being shot about Brick Lane. Blown out of proportion, the demonstrations were widely covered, and the protesters were portrayed as “a tiny group of illiberal, intolerant men” (Alexander 203). At heart, the protests began due to racist and offensive imagery utilized in the novel upon which the movie was based. This was not a silly squabble, but rather a serious cultural issue. As Muhammed Haque said, “We need the East End of London to be accurately and ethically portrayed, not subjected to distortion, misrepresentation and stereotyping. We have spent a long time in creating a semblance of a tolerant society here” (Alexander 202). Brick Lane is an important symbol to the Bangladeshi people and is an integral part of London at large. To portray it in such a derogatory way is unacceptable. Banglatown is a channel for people like me to experience a new culture in a place not too far from home, and it deserves to be protected from prejudice and ignorance. Culture and cuisine, history and heritage, all come together in this corner of East London.

August 4, 2019
by Ellie Beeck
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Where are the Women? How women fit into the Hare Krishna movement

A statue of Swami Prabhupada at the ISKCON Temple in London.

Visiting the ISKCON Temple in London last week was such unique experience. I was struck by how plain the temple was on the outside, how it just looked like any other store front in the London SoHo area, even though what was inside was the opposite of mundane. ISKCON, or International Society of Krishna Consciousness, was brought to the United States in 1966 by Swami Prabhupada, who subsequently spread it all across the world, including to London. It has grown out of the Hare Krishna movement, which was founded in Bengal in the 16th century. 

The Hare Krishna moment is, as evident in its naming, designed around worship to the Hindu diety Krishna, the supreme God, making the movement a strain of Hinduism. It differs from other forms, however, in that their worships are based solely in chants and mantras, their most famous one being a repetition of Krishnas name eight times. 

We were able to sit in on a temple worship, and fully immerse ourselves in their service. The service itself was rather short, and compared to the long and oftentimes monotonous Christian church services I have attended, it was vibrant and interactive. Rather than speaking at parishioners, the service was based on uplifting chants and dances, with everyone free to sing and dance at their leisure. Because chanting is such an integral part of Krishna Consciousness, it was not surprising that the entirety of the service was filled with song. We even heard the chants on the street before the service when we were learning about the history of ISKCON.  

Aside from the chanting, one of the things that struck me most during the service was the absence of women preforming important roles. The mantra leaders were men, the person who poured the water on us and performed the rituals was a man, and the person who sent us off at the end was a man. I noticed that there were many women in the temple, performing various administrative duties or just helping out, so it stuck out to me that none of them had leading roles in the service. This lead me to the question: what is the role of women in the Hare Krishna moment?

According to historian Thomas Hopkin’s essay ISKCON’s Search for Self-Identity, that question has tripped up the Hare Krishna’s since the death of Swami Prabhupada in 1977. After his death, the Hare Krishna movement in the United States lost traction, and there was tension and discord between many of the young gurus, who didn’t fully understand the impact of their roles. In these times, the gurus treated women with contempt, and as such women were marginalized by the Hare Krishna’s for years. Hopkins notes that the death of Swami Prabhupada caused many young men to become gurus before they had lived a full life, with a wife and kids, forcing them to skip that section of life. This lead to a lot of them feeling threatened by sexual matters and female sexuality. 

Today, the Hare Krishna’s are trying to move past and learn from their history of marginalization  of women, and focus on their devotion to Krishna and the core values of Krishna Consciousness. However, I could still see the remnants of the affect the death of Swami Prabhupada had on the movement in the service, meaning that though it may be better than it was in the early 1980s, they still have a ways to go before there is true equality within the movement. 

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