travel thoughts and experiences
Traveler’s paths are vague, never certain; the ones of a couch-surfer are even more so. One of those Couchsurfing ones led me and Yaxin down the road of Hare Krishna. Back then a road less traveled — little have we known about the religion, even less about the people and their way of life.
All the more exciting was our experience in Philippines, within the community of Hare Krishna devotees. We spent a few days with them, walking along while they sang on the streets of one small Filipino town, enjoying a trip to the famous wonder of 100 islands, savoring the tastes of the greatest vegetarian meals I have ever had, listened to their stories. As we later found out, they all had very divers backgrounds – some came from poor families, some used to be rich, renouncing their heritage and devoting themselves solely to lord Krishna. The one thing they all had in common was the devotion and pure happiness in their minds. I have never seen a happier bunch of people, the purity of the sensation was highly contagious.
Philippines is a country with strong christian belief rooted deep inside people’s minds. My impression of the society was very rigid, reluctant to accept a new line of thought or a different system of values. Every aspect of the Filipino way of life is covered with thick layer of the belief in Jesus Christ. One of many examples is a divorce being illegal. From what we were told, once a married couple wants to separate they could do so, unofficially though, facing all the negative social consequences – it is not only the law but also the communities unwilling to accept the act of separation, a divorce being unthinkable.
Having the rigidity in mind, I was very eager to watch how would people react to Hare Krishnas singing Maha Mantra on the streets of a small Filipino town. The reactions were divers, mostly none-welcoming though . I have seen a fear of something new, unknown and thus not understood. I have also seen the eyes of people wide open in surprise, hardly believing what was going on. The police stood petrified, struggling to determine the legality of the procession, not really sure whether to take action and forbid the singing or let go. Watching the policemen I could literally feel them longing to put an end to the “disgrace”, their anger and despair upon realizing there is no reason to do so was too apparent.
To my surprise and relief, I also saw joy. Filipinos are very happy people not caring too much about the present and past, enjoying the moment. Many of them remained true to their spirit and joined in with ease. It was only a matter of time someone would get the courage to step in, though.
Usually the devotees would move out before a lot of people gather around, this time they stayed longer, though. Many people came in to watch, probably enough for the security guards to take action and make a stand against. No fighting occurred, however the atmosphere was tense enough. The singing stopped. I could not but think where has the joyful Filipino spirit gone, people just stood by watching in disbelief. Is it an envy of seeing someone being happy or a fear of the unknown? Maybe it is just a matter of getting used to see someone having a different belief. Whatever it is, though, I dare not say Philippines is ready to accept a non-christian way of life.
Anyway, the devotees did not care much, nor did they seem to take notice of my observations. They continued to be happy. A Spanish proverb says: “A full stomach makes a happy heart”. There must be some truth in it because the vegetarian meals prepared by the mum of our host were just delicious. We made a foolish move to make amends and offered to cook for them. The fact there were 28 people to feed was not the worse. The biggest challenge for me was the preparation – there are two rules in Hare Krishna cooking, no garlic and no sampling before the food is ready and offered for the supreme Lord Krishna. Aren’t those the most important things you do to prepare a good meal? There has to be garlic, lots of it, and you have to taste the food all the time, right? In any case, we followed the rules and made it without making the Krishnas starve, an achievement I consider worthy of a chef’s badge.
After the few days of time spent amongst the happy bunch I did not come to believe praising Lord Krishna brings you happiness. However, the renouncement of worldly riches and devoting oneself solely for others may be the right direction. For these people, it certainly works.
random photography by Pete Rosos
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