As part of my pilgrimage of healing and discernment to reset my physical, spiritual, and emotional being, I stayed overnight at the New Vandriban Hare Krishna community. This is a living community near Moundsville, West Virginia founded to be “a sacred village that would be world-renowned for cow protection, simple living, holy pilgrimage, spiritual education, and above all, loving Krishna” (www.newvrindiban.com).
The evening I arrived, I walked the peacock path around the lake. Besides the 27 resident peacocks, there are large deities who survey the scene, a swan boat house, and benches along the path. Returning from my walk, I slipped off my sandals and wandered into the temple admiring the intricate deities.
Hare Krishna are vegetarian as a matter of faith. A sign in the communal kitchen in the lodge reads in part, “Animals are spiritual beings too and have a right to live in their natural habitats.” Like the Hare Krishna, I perceive other creatures just as worthy of life as humans and describe myself as an ethical vegan. And, so, feeling a sense of kinship, I looked forward to eating dinner at the on-site vegetarian restaurant but it had closed by the time I was ready to eat. So I sat at one of the picnic tables between the temple and the lodge and ate my vegan dinner from my ice chest. I smiled as the many children and their families passed through the area or sat together at other tables. Rather than going to the temple that evening, I went to my room early. I was feeling both conspicuous and tired from my long day.
The next morning, my 4:30 a.m. alarm never sounded because my body rolled out of bed at 4:05. I gathered my clothing, towel, and soap, and made my way to the showers. I wanted to be fresh and clean for the Mangal Arati, the first service of the day, and the guided meditation following. The day of devotion for the Krishna devotees and pilgrims began at 5 a.m.
I was rested, convicted, and less self-conscious as I walked across the temple yard in the pre-dawn darkness. Walking into the temple I immediately felt the energy of divine devotion. Like some of the other guests, I was confused by the patterns of the Mangal Arati ceremony honoring the deities Tulasi and Nrsimhadeva. We were gracefully guided in such a way that I felt no shame or awkwardness.
As we moved about the room to face the various altars (deities) we were led in responsive chants by men and women. The ritual involved our bodies and senses. We were offered incense which we pulled up and over our heads. At another time in the ritual, participants were sprinkled with scented water. We moved our bodies between standing, various forms of prostration, and sitting. The physicality of the ritual was poignant; prostration evokes feelings of deep devotion and regard and connection.
I found the most meaning in one particular ritual in which a small scoop of water was poured on our hands followed by each of us scooping a similar amount of water into a small living plant. (The plant is reminiscent of a large bonsai tree.) We then circled the plant. Though I do not know the meaning of the ritual, to me it inspired a sense of oneness with the earth and one another. I perceived a sense of growth and divinity moving through us.
At the end of the service, some went into another room for guided meditation and others remained in the temple for meditation. I remained in the temple and meditated. It was a bit challenging to remain focused as I could hear others around me reciting their mantras. In retrospect, however, it provided a sense of oneness and individuality at the same time. After about thirty minutes passed, I peacefully came out of my meditation and left the temple.
Reflecting upon the experience later that day, I realized I perceived the same message from my meditation at the Hare Krishna temple as I had within the Christian worship service I attended the Sunday prior. “Trust” and “trust the process” seem to be divine messages as I continue my journey of discerning who I am and what comes next.
Leaving the temple the sun was now up. I wandered over to the goshala where the sacred cows live. Hare Krishna followers view cows as sacred. They are never sent to slaughter. There was a sense of peacefulness as I encountered a couple of calves outside the barn. One nuzzled its head through the fence as if it wanted to be petted. I obliged. Her sentient eyes offered a form of healing for me.
Trust in my journey, in the sacred, and in my fellow creatures affirmed, my time and purpose at New Vrindaban were fulfilled for this time. Feeling some sorrow at leaving, I loaded the car and left.