Kansas City, MO-You see them all the time. They once roamed airports, and now they head to Kansas City's most exclusive tourist destination for singing, dancing, and chanting. But who are the Hare Krishnas?
Springtime on the plaza, the scenery, the shoppers, the exclusive stores, and of course the Hare Krishnas, with their shaved heads, their robes and their continuous chanting. They play instruments, dance, and bend the ears of anyone that will stop and listen. While many keep walking or just seem confused by it all the Krishnas remain unruffled by rejection.
Krishna is the center. The idea is that God should be in the center of all activities, that is the goal. The goal is to always think of Krishna.
The Hare Krishna movement is relatively new. The founder arrived in the United States over thirty years ago, but their Hindu based beliefs date back 5000 years. They believe that's when God appeared on earth, The Hare Krishnas see their role in life as always serving God.
A small group of Hare Krishnas arrived in Kansas City in 1998. They wanted to open a college in the middle of the country, focused on Krishna culture. Three months ago, the Rupanuga Vedic College officially opened here at 52nd and Paseo.
Their days are routine, their rules-strict, and their life-simple. Each day begins at 5 AM, followed by hours of classes and chanting. All of this happens before breakfast. Keeping with Hindu beliefs, Hare Krishnas are vegetarians, "all life" is sacred. Fingers become forks, shoes stay outside, and the rest of the days are filled with chores, classes, and of course more chanting. They abstain from sex, drugs, alcohol, and material objects.
"You can be cleaning pots or cleaning some vegetables or anything, painting," said Erik Whittlinger, A.K.A Arjuna Devata, "and you can feel so much satisfaction."
Danovir Swami runs the college campus made up of a former church, and three houses. "The goal is to raise our consciousness from the level now of being very gross materialistic persons, to being very transcendental spiritual persons."
Despite clean living, and a life devoted to God, the Hare Krishnas have critics. "In my opinion, I feel they're a destructive cult," said Jan Tucker.
Jan and Bob Tucker never heard of the Hare Krishnas before 1980. That's when they learned their son, Herb had left the air force and became a Krishna. Later that year, the Tuckers say they kidnapped their son, and had him deprogrammed. Today, Herb lives somewhere out east. His parents own an antique shop in central Kansas.
Swami says any devotee who wants to leave, can at any time. "They shouldn't be frightened. They should just familiarize themselves. Nothing to be frightened of."
Fifteen students, or devotees, live on campus. They can accommodate up to fifty, and hope to someday.
"If Krishna likes, it can grow." Said Swami; "we're drawing students from all over the world." Students from all over the world coming here to Kansas City, to learn, dance, chant, and spread their message to anyone who'll listen.
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