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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Good Feng Shui?

How Can a "Foreign" Belief Cross Cultures?

Friday with the Buddhists, Saturday with the Hindus.

Lila and I spent a delightful evening with her sangha, the Gaudiya Math. The teacher of this group, their Gurudev, His Divine Grace Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja, is in Hong Kong this week, as they prepare for their "East Asian Festival of Love 2006" on July 1st-3rd, as well as the dedication of their new temple (which until now we have been calling only a "center"). [Update: In 2010, Gurudev passed--uh, "concluded his pastimes in this world."]

And so there are devotees from all over converging on Kowloon. The best conversations I had last night were with senior devotees from America, Israel, and Finland. One of those conversations centered around the same topic as last night: how can this group (a close relative to the well-known "Hare Krishnas") "package" or market their message in a way that modern people will find palatable?

Because the message is simple: Be Happy. But their particular path to happiness is through devotion to Lord Krishna, an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, preserver of the world. This is where modern Western people start to run into obstacles.

Guru and some Hong Kong
devotees of Gaudiya Math

What tickled me the most was to see these guys sitting there in their saffron robes with their mostly-shaved heads (with a sikha, a little pony tail signifying one-pointed focus on one's spiritual goal)--in other words, their very foreign appearance--and knowing that their appearance will be problematic for many people, and yet insisting that these people need and deserve to hear this message--unlike last night's monk, who doubted that anyone different from him could ever "get it."

To be fair, I doubt the monk has ever been out of China, while these devotees are themselves from countries other than India, so they are living proof that their dharma is transferable.

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