(RELIGIONS AND FREEDOM after 1945 – continued)

home | 1945-21st century

RELIGIONS AND FREEDOM after 1945 (3 of 7)

previous | next

India's TM and the Hare Krishnas

Religious diffusion was on the rise because of increased travel and migrations. From India a variety of movements spread abroad. Transcendental Meditation, also known as TM, had as its spiritual leader Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. His interactions with the Beatles beginning in 1967 helped make him well known in the West. His meditation involved chanting mantras to relax people physically and remove mental stress. In the early 1970s, every month in the United States an estimated 10,000 people were attending TM centers. Some business corporations adopted TM to relax their employees. Some universities also began employing TM, and physicians and psychologists became interested in measuring the psychic value of meditation. Maharishi claimed that his meditation techniques were a part of Vedic science – in other words, associated with Hinduism ancient and sacred literature, the Vedas. Some of Maharishi's followers began to claim that they were able to levitate and that TM could go beyond individual psychic benefit to remove social and world conflict. Maharishi claimed that his Vedic science gave one an ability to know anything and everything in the universe. And with these claims, the popularity of TM began to decline.

Also from India came the Hare Krishna movement. This was genuine Hinduism transported by Srila Prabhupada when he arrived in New York aboard a merchant ship. Prabhupada opened a small store at 26 Second Avenue in the city's Lower East Side. At his store front, people came to chant and to hear his lectures. There were Sunday feasts and chanting sessions in nearby Tompkins Square Park which attracted attention and converts. Prabhupada founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. It described itself as monotheistic, Krishna being another word for God.

Srila Prabhupada expanded his society to the San Francisco Bay Area. There it was joined by some described as hippies, and many confused it with the "hippie" subculture. Soon Prabhupada's society spread to London, to Berlin, and back to India. Srila Prabhupada, according to his society, became the world's largest publisher of Vedic literature. The Hindu bible, the Bhagavad-gita, was a major component of its reading. And Srila Prabhupada wrote fifty volumes of works, writings described by the Hare Krishnas as wishing the best for all people and all "living entities."

Members of Prabhupada's society were instructed to avoid intoxicants. Joy was to be derived from chanting God's holy names. It was held that grievous sins were removed by worshipping Lord Sri Hari, the Lord of all lords, and by chanting "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare." Members held to a diet that avoided meat, fish, eggs, onions, garlic and mushrooms because of the adverse effects of these on the consciousness of the eater.

The Hare Krishna movement met with hostility and government repression. In the Soviet Union, members were imprisoned. On 22 February 1999, the US Supreme Court decided a case in favor of a prohibition on Hare Krishna members soliciting donations or selling religious literature at Miami International Airport. The denial let stand a ruling that applied airports in three Southern states – Florida, Alabama and Georgia. The court rejected the argument that such restrictions violate free-speech rights. Writing for the court in 1992, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist had said that solicitation could be disruptive for airline passengers.

Copyright © 2009-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.