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Second Generation Drift From Hare Krishna Movement

Second Generation Drift From Hare Krishna Movement Many In The U.S.-born Second Generation Are Leaving The Cloistered Life For More Mainstream Pursuits.

By Kristin Holmes, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Posted: January 16, 1995

Gabe and Rupa Deadwyler, brothers born and raised in the Hare Krishna movement, recall their first unsteady steps outside the tightly prescribed lifestyle demanded by their faith.

Rupa, now 17, endured the taunts of his elementary school mates, who couldn’t understand a child who had never experienced television and did not know the words to “Jingle Bells.”

As a teenager, Gabe, now 24, hid his background from classmates and co- workers, retreating to the company of other Krishna children with whom he experienced a series of firsts – first cigarette, first beer, first “high.”

“A lot of people assumed that by us growing up in it, it would be such a great thing because we were exposed to it so young, and we would stay in it forever,” said Gabe, a Navy ensign whose parents live in Mount Airy. “But among the kids I know, a lot of them aren’t doing the temple thing.”

For the first time, the 29-year-old United States-based Hare Krishna movement is facing a dilemma confronted by many religions – how to keep its youngest members from losing faith.

It is likely to be one of the most sobering challenges of the movement’s short history in this country, a problem that is particularly acute because the Hare Krishna movement remains very much outside the mainstream of U.S. culture and religious beliefs.

“For all very marginal groups, it becomes very difficult when kids realize that there is a society out there and if they remain in the group, they remain outside of the society,” said Stephen N. Dunning, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Hare Krishna is a monotheistic branch of the Hindu religion that was brought to the United States from India in 1965 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Devotees believe that Krishna is God and seek to purify their bodies and minds to allow a spiritual relationship with God.

In the mid-1970s, there were between 5,000 and 10,000 devotees who lived a monastic life in U.S. and Canadian temples. Followers became known for their shaved heads, saffron-colored robes, drum- and cymbal-backed chanting on street corners, and solicitation in airports. Currently, there are about 50,000 devotees.

Most are congregational members who live and work outside the temple. They are less visible than in the past, choosing to forgo religious robes and shaved scalps. Many are immigrants from India.

The movement directs adherents to not eat meat; to avoid gambling and using intoxicants, including alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and caffeine; to engage in sex only within the confines of marriage, and then only on the day of the month when a woman is most fertile.

Strict devotees chant their mantras 1,728 times daily or 16 times on each of 108 japa beads, which are similar to rosary beads.

“As long as it’s expected that the stricter lifestyle is the only standard, it will be hard for the movement to keep a majority of its young people,” said Chaitanya Mangala dasa, former editor of a publication aimed at second-generation devotees.

There are approximately 500 to 1,000 second-generation Hare Krishnas ranging in age from 16 to 30 in the United States and Canada, Chaitanya said.

Most are in college, getting jobs, starting new families, and minimally involved in temple life.

Gabe and Rupa Deadwyler describe their participation as marginal.

Neither has taken the vows of the Hare Krishna movement, as their father, Ravindra Svarupa dasa, and mother, Saudamani, did 24 years ago as a young married couple living in Germantown. Yet both young men say that many of the faith’s teachings are deeply ingrained.

“I don’t think I believe that chanting ‘Hare Krishna,’ shaving your head and moving into a Krishna temple is the best and only way, but I also know that I’m not an average American. I’m definitely in the counterculture,” said Gabe, whose Sanskrit name is Yudhisthira, meaning “steady in battle.”

Gabe and Rupa’s parents, whose given names are William H. and Constance Jean Deadwyler, live in the Mount Airy temple that is the Philadelphia headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Ravindra, who joined the movement while studying for his Ph.D. in religion at Temple, is a member of the group’s international Governing Body Commission, and supervises temples in the east/central zone of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

The couple are strict devotees who wear traditional Krishna garb. Their sons are indistinguishable from most of their non-Krishna peers, right down to the holes in their jeans and socks.

“Like any parent, the idea is to raise a child, teach them slowly to be more and more independent, and that involves making their own choices,” said Saudamani. “When they are in our buildings, they have to follow the rules of ISKCON, but they are free citizens.”

Rupa, a student at Saul High School for Agricultural Science in Roxborough, lives in the temple with his parents. Gabe is stationed in Mayport, Fla.

His decision to join the armed forces was more practical than anything else – he wanted to get an ROTC scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. Besides, he had seen the movie Top Gun and wanted to fly jets. The fact that his grandfather was an Army colonel probably had something to do with his choice, but Gabe isn’t sure how much.

“It’s very difficult to say you’re joining the Navy,” Gabe said. “I know some kids who started doing stuff that wasn’t necessarily part of being a devotee and their parents flipped out, and their relationship just fell apart. My parents haven’t done anything like that.”

As for following Krishna tenets, Gabe says that although he is vegetarian, in general, he “doesn’t follow the rules or go to temple,” but adds that he is on a spiritual quest.

Both Gabe and Rupa attended gurukulas, Hare Krishna boarding schools.

Typically, Krishna children are sent to same sex-schools at age 5, and live there most of their adolescent and teen years, said Burke Rochford, a sociology professor at Middlebury College, and author of Hare Krishna in America. Students have little contact with their parents during their years at the gurukulas.

During the 1980s, when many of the second-generation Krishnas were attending school, the movement went through its darkest times in the United States. It was plagued by internal political disputes, a dogged anti-cult movement, scandals and allegations of abuse that focused on the schools themselves. The result was a short-term loss of faith for some and a more lingering disillusionment for others.

“We had a lot of problems that were the product of immaturity of people who joined the movement,” said Ravindra, who helped to lead a reform movement that took over the Governing Body Commission in the late 1980s.

Neither of the Deadwyler brothers says he is disillusioned. They describe their boarding-school experience as a lesson in austerity – students lived in bare rooms with little more than a clothes trunk and a straw floor mat for sleeping in summer and a quilt for winters.

Students rose at 3:30 a.m. for a program of chanting, meditation and lecture, followed by breakfast, chores, academic and religion classes, and vocational training.

“It gave me a real foundation,” Gabe said. “A simple life is the best life. Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need Nintendo to be happy.”

Gabe attended the school until he was 16.

Rupa left earlier, having grown tired of the rigor and constant fighting with his schoolmates. He rejoined his parents and began his secular school life in the third grade.

The transition from gurukula to life outside the faith was made with varying degrees of success, second-generation members say.

Gabe and Rupa’s adjustment was marked by periods of being ostracized, or feeling the need to hide their background. At 24, Gabe has never had a steady girlfriend. He isn’t sure if it is his upbringing or “dumb luck.”

But once introduced to pop culture, neither could get enough. Gabe says he overdosed on television and Madonna. A friend of Rupa’s gave him his first television, and his first movie, Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, scared him to death.

The brothers are uncertain about their spiritual future. They value the Krishna consciousness with which they were raised, but neither is sure where they will end up.

Scholars, second-generation Krishnas and the movement’s leaders say the challenge is to provide alternatives and programs for young people.

“If you ban offer jobs and culture within the movement, they won’t want to go somewhere else. And right now, the choices are limited,” Ravindra said.

But many see hope in the evolution of the Krishna movement. Economic difficulties have forced followers out of the temple and into the workforce. The movement is based less on a communal, monastic temple life and more on a congregational one, where devotees live and work in a secular world and come to temple to worship. That could be, Chaitanya says, more attractive to young people.

“If there is a religion I choose, this will be it,” Rupa said. “I think it’s superior to others out there. But I don’t know if I’ll follow it the same way my mom and dad do.”

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May 31, 2013 - Posted by | Gurukula, Gurukula Alumni, Gurukuli, Gurukuli Related Topics @ Other Sites, Gurukuli Reunion, Gurukuli Websites, Hare Krishna, ISKCON, ISKCON Youth, Krishna, Vaishnava, Vaishnava Youth | , , , ,

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