Hare Krishna! The movie: Film Review by Rachael…

Hare Krishna! The movie: Film Review by Rachael Stark.
Coinciding with the 50th year anniversary of the birth of the ISKCON movement, Director John Griesser and co-directors Jean Griesser and Lauren Ross, have brought the film, “Hare Krishna! The Mantra, The Movement and the Swami who started it all,” to theaters world-wide celebrating the extraordinary life of Srila Prabhupada. The film, which debuted in New York City’s East Village, on June 16th, is a rare, thoughtful, and vivid glimpse of the worldwide Krishna movement and the complex state-of-the-world that Prabhupada encountered.
To behold the miraculous journey of Srila Prabhupada, founder and spiritual emissary of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), is to witness
a dream fulfilled; an epic nothing short of the divine.
This dynamic new film directed by John Griesser and co-directed by Jean Griesser and Lauren Ross titled, “Hare Krishna! The Mantra, The Movement and the Swami who started it all,” attempts to chronicle his extraordinary life and succeeds—not only as a first-rate biopic but also as a profound examination of America and the world during a turbulent 1960’s and 1970’s when Vietnam, racial injustice, and the Cold War had descended.
Through vivid documentary footage and thoughtful, probing interviews with former devotees and scholars, a portrait of Prabhupada emerges. At once intimate and complex, the charismatic Prabhupada comes alive, particularly his immense capacity for devotion. For many in the Krishna movement, the biographical details of Prabhupada’s life are known. Yet they are no less dramatic for the retelling and the filmmakers do an excellent job of overlaying imagery, narration, and incorporating ethereal music and chanting to tell their story. Truth is grander than fiction, the backdrop all too real. The most imaginative fairy tale or Horatio Alger story couldn’t be more vivid than the events of Prabhupada’s life.
In 1965, at the age of 70, the penniless Swami from Kolcotta abandoned his beloved India and traveled by cargo ship to New York City’s Lower East Side—a far cry from America’s gold-paved streets–where he undertook the singular task of beginning a world-wide devotional movement. Black-and-white photographs—Prabhupada in his monk’s clothing, stubble visible on his face- against the backdrop of the jagged streets of New York City –offer the audience a visceral glimpse into the world in which Prabhupada emerged, a reminder of the leap of faith required for this former businessman to start a spiritual revolution alone in a strange land.
With only sacred texts and a 16-word mantra for companions, Prabhupada takes up residence in a storefront on 26th street and Second Avenue and begins his Homeric task. At the behest of his guru, Prabhupada arrived to bring Krishna consciousness to the West and superb first-hand footage shows just how skillfully he translated his mission into the quotidian of daily life; prayer, sharing food, reading from his beloved Bhagavad Gita to those who sought refuge. Soon, a rag-tag handful of devotees understand his message of “bhakti” –devotion and love to all– and are mesmerized.
As momentum builds for the Krishna movement and ISKCON’s devotees grow in number, the filmmakers also portray the “other” America outside of Prabhupada’s sanctuary. Finding themselves an international presence (there is wonderful and surprising footage of parades in London that fill Trafalgar Square, Washington Square Park in New York City alive and electric with Krishna devotional dancing), there are also those that have little, if no regard, for Prabhupada or his teachings—a secular America weary of cults and “thought programing” who believe that Prabhupada mission is ephemeral; a temporary haven for the disenfranchised.
There are clips from “Anti-Cult Movement experts” who warn of the dangers of “mind control” and the film depicts the “People versus Murphy” when criminal charges were brought against two devotees, a case that went to the New York City Supreme Court only to be dismissed. As one of Prabhupada’s closest associates tells us, “The more Prabhupada got attacked, the more energized he became.” Ever assured of the power of his teachings, Prabhupada had used only The Bhagavad Gita for his defense.
Ultimately, however, what makes the film such a vibrant portrayal of the history of the Krishna movement, is its refusal to give in to stereotypes or the grandiose–from painting Prapubadha and his devotees in too broad strokes. Perhaps the most telling vignette about Prabhupada, comes from rare footage of a trip he undertook to the Soviet Russia. In 1971 almost no Americans, certainly not Swamis, were granted visas. Yet, he applied and visited the country. Upon his arrival at Moscow, his Bhagavad Gita was confiscated by customs and after being detained, was finally released.
Instead of feeling bitter, the viewer watches him wander through Moscow, amazed, reflective, ever attentive to the beauty of the churches and architecture. Probing beneath the surface, as he so often did, Prabhupada sees the presence of Soviet guards and lack of crowds at religious sites, only noting with compassion, “the ordinary citizens of Russia are spiritual but because of their leaders they have no access to God anymore.”
As his death becomes imminent, the filmmakers bring the audience into his inner circle seated at Prabhupada’s bedside in the holy city of Vrindavan. Feeble, barely audible, his body a shell, he is nonetheless still hard at work. A devotee holds a tape recorder to his dying lips to allow Prabhupada to record his last words, “we are not this body. We are eternal life. It is an immense measure of freedom.”
“In the 12 years that he was alive,” the credits at the film’s end inform us, “he circled the globe 14 times, established 108 temples on 6 continents [and] saw 60-millions of his books distributed in 25 languages.” Whether you are a person of faith, a devotee, a skeptic, atheist, agnostic, or student, the film, “Hare Krishna! The Mantra, The Movement, and the Swami who started it all,” will amaze you. It is an insightful, enduring portrait about one of the most important figures of the twentieth century whose message of Krishna consciousness continues to reverberate in today’s fragile world.

*Rachael Stark is an Adjunct Professor of Technology, Culture, and Society at NYU Tandon School of Engineering and an Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing at St. John’s University. She has her MFA in writing and has published numerous articles in Namarupa, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and is a featured blogger for The Huffington Post. She teaches yoga and is working on a novel.”

Rachael Stark interviews Lauren Ross: Co-Director and Producer:
“Hare Krishna! The Mantra, The Movement and the Swami who started it all.”

Lauren Ross is the Co-Director, Producer, and Editor of “Hare Krishna! The Mantra, The Movement and the Swami who started it all.” The film, which debuted in New York City and Los Angeles in June, is opening at selected theatres world-wide. While traveling in Los Angeles, Ms. Ross spoke about the film’s premise, its meaning in these fractured times, and her belief in Prabhupada’s message. What follows are brief excerpts from our conversation:

Rachael Stark: I’d like to take a moment to assess the film in our culture at large. Recently, Wonder Woman has been released in the mainstream media and the modern version of the heroine, played by Israeli actress, Gal Gadot, has been lauded as a contemporary epic—a much needed heroine for our times. Transitioning from the fiction of Hollywood to the documentary, “Hare Krishna! The Mantra, The Movement and the Swami who started it all,” can you speak a little bit about Prabhupada’s actual journey and his mission? In other words, why is this movie so critical and why is it vital that we hear Prabhupada’s story now?

Lauren Ross: It’s interesting that Prabhupada came to America in the 60’s and 70’s, at a time of great revolution and change when people were looking at the world and the state of it and questioning their own identities thinking, ‘I am so dissatisfied. Is this it? Who am I, really? What is my purpose in life? Is this all there really is–getting married, having kids, working a job—and if it is, why do I feel so empty.?’

And so, particularly in this climate, I think that Prabhupada’s message was revolutionary. Here was this man saying, ‘we are so much more than these material bodies. We need to connect with this idea and we also very much need to connect with one another. These are the things that truly bring us together as human beings. Our souls. That’s our commonality.’

That was, and still is, a timeless message. Just looking now at America now and the world in general, there’s so much discrimination, so much hate speech. In reference to your point about Wonder Woman, people are really looking for heroes. We all want people who lead by example and that’s exactly what Prabhupada did. It wasn’t that he just ‘went home’ and was a different person. People then, and also nowadays, want deeper answers to their questions and more profound solutions. Prabhupada’s story and in particular, him as a character, is more relevant today than ever.

But unlike a fictional superhero, Prabhupada was very humble. He never put emphasis on himself. He made his mission universal and he was steadfast in it. And that mission was, ‘Practice.’ ‘Bhakti.’ ‘Yoga.’ He told the world that there was wisdom that you can find in other traditions. He always emphasized our humanness, that we, as souls, are all connected to one another. Therefore, how can you hate someone who shares a soul with you?

RS: Can you speak a little bit about what initially drew you to this project and what, in particular, what the most poignant moment of the filming?

LR: Initially, I had been on a journey myself. I had been living in Sydney, Australia and I had similar questions such as, ‘why do I feel like something is always missing? I have all these things but something just doesn’t feel right.’ So, I went traveling for about year and I found myself in India and in Nepal feeling happier than I had been in a long time. When I came back to Australia, a producer friend of mine put me in contact with John and Jean Griesser [the directors of the film] and I fell in love with Prabhupada’s story. That’s how I initially got drawn to the project and I’ve been working on it for 3-4 years.

In fact, the whole journey and the making of this film has felt very transformative. It feels like Prabhupada is very much alive. His voice has been such a guiding voice. But I have to say that the most significant memory was having the chance to film the

re-enactments of his life when Prabhupada was a boy and when he was also a young man, visiting Kolkata where he grew up, filming the scenes where he watched his father perform religious rituals and all the while remembering that at the age of twenty-two, when his teacher told him to go to the West, it wouldn’t be for another fifty years that he could fulfill this journey. Even though he was married and had children, he patiently waited for his moment to begin. That was particularly inspiring.

RS: Finally, if you could address the “average” viewer directly, someone who has never heard of Prabhupada, who knows nothing about the Krishna movement or ISKCON, a non-devotee or “non-believer”—what would you want a spectator to take away from the film?

LR: I guess first and foremost, I would want the “average person” to take away an appreciation of Prabhupada. Here is a very unique story of a man who had two heart attacks on a freight ship from Kolkata to New York City and another heart attack later in the country. Yet he created a whole history–an entire movement all on his own, the Hare Krishna movement that is now global.

Then of course, I would also hope the film inspires dialogue for people to see it but especially in their daily life. For example, we often hear of bad experiences about different religions or customs we’re not familiar with—but after viewing this film, I hope that it will encourage everyday people to explore different ways of finding spirituality and happiness and how they can share these experiences with others to form community.

In other words, Prabhupada’s message was that spiritual life can be accessible to anyone. Everything that you do in your life can bring you spiritual perspective. Religious devotees aren’t just a stereotypical vision that society has of bald-headed men dancing in bed sheets. I would hope the film opens and provides prospective on the whole Hare Krishna movement and that this film shows the fun, complex story of an extraordinary man and moment in history with all of its true ups and downs.

Ratha Yatra Rijeka 2017 (Album with photos)

Ratha Yatra Rijeka 2017 (Album with photos)
Srila Prabhupada: The mango fruit is different from the name of the mango. One cannot taste the mango fruit simply by chanting, “Mango, mango, mango.” But the devotee who knows that there is no difference between the name and form of the Lord chants Hare Krishna and realizes that he is always in Krishna’s company. (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10.2.36 Purport).
Find them here: https://goo.gl/NiqeHw

Supporting the Hari-nama Party. Giriraj Swami: Sri Rama Raya and…

Supporting the Hari-nama Party.
Giriraj Swami: Sri Rama Raya and his Hari-Nama-sankirtana party are faithfully executing Srila Prabhupada’s mission as explained in his letter to authorities in America in 1969: “Our basic mission is to propagate the sankirtana movement (chanting of the holy names of God) all around the world as was recommended by the Lord, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. People in this age are reluctant very much to understand about God consciousness on account of their unfortunate condition of life. They are working hard day and night simply for sense gratification. But this transcendental vibration of sankirtana will knock at the door of their hearts for spiritual awakening. Therefore, they should be given the chance for this opportunity.
“It is not recommended that a Krishna conscious devotee go into seclusion for chanting by himself and thereby gaining salvation for himself alone. Our duty and religious obligation is to go out into the streets where the people in general, can hear the chanting and see the dancing. We have already seen practically how by this process many, many boys and girls of America and Europe have been saved from the immoral practices of this age and have now dedicated their lives for the service of Krishna.”
To taste and share the nectar of God’s holy names, the devotees of the New York City hari-nama party brave all kinds of weather and surroundings and responses from people; they live in austere conditions and eat the most simple prasada.
These devotees are fulfilling the words of Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, Lord Chaitanya’s intimate associate, in Susloka-satakam, 62:
yad avadhi hari nama pradur asit prithivyam
tad avadhi khalu loka vaisnavah sarvatas te
tilaka vimala mala nama yuktah pavitrah
hari hari kali madhye evam evam babahuva
“From the moment that the holy names of Krishna became manifest on the earth, Vaishnavas began appearing everywhere. Wearing tilaka and neck beads and equipped with the maha-mantra, they are present in the very midst of the darkest of ages, purifying the atmosphere by chanting ‘Hari! Hari!’ ”
These Hari-Nama devotees are worthy of our full support. If possible, we should join them for chanting, and we can also help by cooking and providing other services, and by contributing financially. To donate, simply go to the Yuga Dharma Ashram website https://www.nycharinam.org/donate and select a donation option (monthly or one-time).
“Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the father and inaugurator of the sankirtana movement. One who worships Him by sacrificing his life, money, intelligence, and words for the sankirtana movement is recognized by the Lord and endowed with His blessings.” (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi 3.78 purport)
Hare Krishna!
Yours in service,
Giriraj Swami

Heart of a Vaishnava revealed

Hare KrishnaBy Giriraj Das

Haridas spoke to the Lord with folded hands, “O Lord, I have known only misfortune yet You give me so much hope. Just allow me to partake of the remnant of foodstuffs of Your devotees totally surrendered to Your lotus feet. Let this activity be my permanent and most prominent service life after life. My sinful birth and existence is miserable, without remembering You, but now please make my life successful by granting me the remnant of Your servitors. Continue reading

Iskcon Alachua’s Eco Teaching Farm Update Chiki Hut Built…

Iskcon Alachua’s Eco Teaching Farm Update
Chiki Hut Built on Eco Farm.
Mukhya devi dasi: We are moving along at the Eco Teaching Farm to create a great learning place for alternative living ideas, as Srila Prabhupada wanted. One of the newest additions is the Chikki hut sponsored by Akuti devi dasi. It will be used for gatherings, bhajans, classes, yoga, prasadam distribution, and more. Akuti prabhu remembered how at the old Miami temple there were two Chikkis made by the Seminole Indians, and they were exempt from permits. Due to this exemption, and the costs of building another type of structure, the Chikki was a good fit for the Eco Farm. The Seminoles still have the business, and they provide service here in Alachua too. They completed the project in 2 days with more than 3,000 sabal palms, cypress poles, and pressure treated uprights.

Akuti prabhu plans to make an India-style outdoor kitchen here, along with a cob oven off the back side. It will be a great place for picnics. At the encouragement of Sakshi Gopal das, she will make a traditional raised cow dung earth floor. You may also want to check out the newly installed (almost hooked up) bio-gas digester in the barn kitchen that can convert all kinds of organic materials, even left over prasadam, into fuel for a stove! This project was encouraged and assisted by two UF professors with whom Akuti prabhu has made friends.

Hare Krishna! – The movie: I liked it so much I saw it four…

Hare Krishna! – The movie: I liked it so much I saw it four times!
I never thought I would be so proud to be a Hare Kṛṣṇa. Of course, I am proud of the tradition and the philosophy to which I belong and proud of what it has accomplished. But I am talking about a different pride—a more public pride. The pride one feels walking north up 2nd Avenue to attend the premiere of Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All and seeing the crowds of people waiting to enter the Village East Theater under the marque that announced its abbreviated title Hare Krishna. This pride swelled further when I entered the posh lobby as several photographers were flashing away trying to capture and document the excitement of the moment. The feeling of satisfaction continued to expand as I entered the ornate 400 seat theater and saw the people of New York pack the event, all to hear the inspiring story of Śrīla Prabhupāda, the founder of the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement! And my pleasure continued even while leaving the theater. There were long lines waiting to enter for the next showing.

It was a watershed moment for the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement. I believe that was the term used in the film to describe the moment in 1977 when the Supreme Court of New York issued the verdict in response to a serious court case backed by the anti-cult movement that the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement is a bona fide religion. I sensed the film was again that type of moment. In fact, in the introduction before the film, the co-directors, John Griesser (Yadubara dāsa) and Jean Griesser (Viśākhā dāsī), mentioned to the audience a review of the film describing it as the second coming of Śrīla Prabhupāda. It certainly felt that way. Śrīla Prabhupāda was not only manifest through such a powerful medium, but the fact that it would to be shown worldwide if the opening was successful—and by all reports it was—is certainly, dare I say, a watershed moment for the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement.

I had a good view of the arriving audience from where I sat. I not only saw committed members of ISKCON parade in, but many others also, including people that have been touched in New York by the force of our kīrtanas and teachings around the city, but who have not yet really met its founder in any profound way. I saw many such familiar people from a subway conductor to the heads of several major yoga studios in New York. Yesterday I received a letter from Sybel Sierra, a former vice president at Morgan Stanley, who I met at the premiere. Sybel initially came in touch with devotees through a bhakti seminar I gave at a major New York yoga studio. What she wrote reflected what I had hoped the effect of the film would be:

“I was so happy that I could attend the premiere. I especially loved how the film captured the impact of a person’s strong faith on the hearts of everyone he touched. I knew something of Śrīla Prabhupāda from being around the devotees, but the film gave me an intimate view into his life and elevated his teachings to a much more personal level.”

It is hard to be this film’s critic when just about everything about Śrīla Prabhupāda inspires his followers, but I also tried to watch and study it carefully. Those of us who knew Śrīla Prabhupāda knew the expanse of his preaching. I marveled at the austerity it must have been for the directors to pick and choose a fraction of his life to communicate his whole life, but in a sense that highlighted his glories, because as I watched I could also reflect on how many wonderful aspects of his life and accomplishments had to be omitted. If I had a chance I would have liked to ask the directors why certain scenes were chosen over other important scenes, such as the omission in the film of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s dramatic journey on the Jaladuta, but I think the answer is obvious: just how much of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s rich life could be packed in an hour and a half? No matter how hard you try significant events would have to be omitted. Still I felt that still the film captured, summarized, and communicated quite effectively his personality and accomplishments.

A good film or drama has the very difficult task of creating a single mind out of an audience of various types of people. In classical Indian dramaturgy, for example, it is stressed that the purpose of a drama is to create this shared experience. I felt the film did an excellent job of creating a shared experience or understanding for its wide range of viewers. I liked how towards the beginning of the film an interview of Śrīla Prabhupāda is shown where he is asked what he thinks of the Bible potentially pigeonholing him as sectarian. Śrīla Prabhupāda immediately responds that any scripture is good as long as it promotes love of God and recommends the chanting of God’s names. I think his answer was far better than my memory of it, but I am sure his answer had a powerful and unifying effect on the audience, many not of our faith, especially accompanied by clear subtitles dramatically highlighting his speech. At the same time the film did not shy away from vintage Śrīla Prabhupāda speaking directly and boldly the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, exposing the real problems of life and promoting the necessity to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness. At the Bhakti Center reception after the show, I mingled with the crowd, especially to gauge the reaction of people who were not members of ISKCON by asking them what in the film struck them the most. I especially liked the answer of Katie, which surprised me, as I thought her answer was not what most people influenced by the post modern world would appreciate:

“I liked that he was so straight and direct. All successful people have a clear mission. He knew what he wanted and articulated it clearly, directly, and consistently.”

I spoke to Rāma Rāya, of Union Square harināma fame, yesterday about the film. He liked it so much he saw it four times over the last week. He loved how it directly promoted Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission of chanting and spreading the holy name and he added an extra special appreciation of the directors who have dedicated their whole lives to Śrīla Prabhupāda by communicating his glories through film. He described their accomplishment in producing this film as a “triumph!” I also strongly felt that. The accomplishment of producing this excellent film is the example of two humble and dedicated disciples of Śrīla Prabhupāda, who gave their whole life to promote Śrīla Prabhupāda’s mission through media, and now at the twilight of their careers succeeded against all odds with the perfect offering of that service at their spiritual master’s lotus feet.

I beg you—please go see this triumph!
Dhanurdhara Swami