stRAyNGER goes Krishna to experience a festive temple service & a private tour through the newly reopened Bhagavad Gita Museum, the only religious animatronic museum of its kind.
When the museum first opened in 1977, it was unlike any other institution. Featuring hand-crafted clay robots, the scenes (or dioramas) told the story of Bhagavad Gita (Hare Krishna’s religious text) through narration, movement, and visual effects.
Unfortunately, in 2013 the museum was forced to close. After years of weaving the Bhagavad Gita tale, the robots and effects began to break down. Due to its age, it was very hard to repair.
Fortunately, the Hare Krishna community was able to recruit several highly-regarded professionals from out of state to repair and improve the museum, which has just recently reopened.
Before the museum, I was invited to join the community for one of their lively Temple services.
I’ve been to a lot of religious services in my life but this was one of the best I’ve ever experienced. Incredible live music, dancing and they even let me partake in one of their fire cleansing rituals. The music and singing starts, the Deity doors open and the real party begins.
ISKCON for short.
New Dwaraka Temple – Make sure to ditch your kicks before entering the Temple.
Behind the Deity doors.
Lord Jagannatha, Lord Baladeva, Lady Subhadra.
The eleven dioramas in the museum were built by disciples of Swami Prabhupada, who traveled to India at his behest to learn the ancient method of clayworking. Their works take visitors through the lessons of the Bhagavad-Gita, the Hindu scripture that inspired Gandhi with its calls for unselfish actions.
1. Introduction – Prabhupada and the Bhagavad-gita. Ladies and gentleman. FATE welcomes you to the First American Transcendental Exhibition. What you are about to see is the first multimedia presentation of the world’s oldest book, India’s famous literary classic, the Bhagavad-gita—a book still sacred to six hundred fifty million people. In a tiny room in an old temple in India a holy man works, often through the night, tirelessly pouring over ancient manuscripts. He is A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, known as Srila Prabhupada—who is the most recent representative of a long, unbroken succession of scholars who have preserved and transmitted India’s spiritual heritage through the ages. From this humble beginning Srila Prabhupada started a spiritual movement that has reached unprecedented international proportions in a few short years. He astonished academic and literary communities world wide by writing eighty books in a seven year period. Srila Prabhupada is responsible for putting the Bhagavad-gita into the homes of more people than any other person in history. And now the Bhagavad-gita.
2. Setting the Stage – Five thousand years ago at an ancient battlefield near what is now New Delhi, India, armies representing kingdoms from all over the world assembled for the greatest trial-of-arms in history. A family dispute over the throne had developed into a world wide conflict between righteousness and tyranny. Here between opposing armies with friends and relatives on both sides, seeing brothers armed against brothers, the saintly Arjuna discloses his anguish to his intimate friend who has assumed the role of Arjuna’s chariot driver.
Arjuna: Oh Krishna, seeing my friends and relatives present on both sides and ready to lay down their lives my whole body is trembling. My mind is reeling. It would be better for the enemy to kill me unarmed and unresisting than for me to fight with them.
Krishna: Oh Arjuna, give up such petty weakness of heart and arise oh protector of the righteous.
Arjuna: How can I fight these men? I prefer to live by begging than at the cost if their lives. Even though they are avaricious I shall not fight! Now I have lost all composure because of weakness. Now I surrender unto you as your disciple. Please instruct me.
Krishna: While speaking saintly words you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are truly wise lament neither for the living or the dead. Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all of these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. The soul is unborn, eternal, ever existing, undying and primeval.
And thus Krishna begins to explain the first instruction of the Bhagavad-gita; that the perishable body and the eternal soul are not the same.
3. Changing Bodies –To sonorous narration and ethereal music, about 200 luxuriantly costumed, nearly life-size painted clay figures enact cosmic dramas such as reincarnation, wherein twinkly diode “souls” light up in sequence between figures of an old man, a spooky corpse and a pulsating pink fetus. Who are you? First, look at yourself. Look at your hands. Go ahead. Have a good look. Are you your hand? Are you your face? Are you your body? Are you your mind? Are you the center of the universe; or merely a tiny insignificant creature in a remote corner of creation? These questions have challenged mankind’s greatest thinkers since the dawn of civilization. We are surrounded by material elements. These are the same elements that make up the body of all living creatures. And then there is mind, intelligence and ego. And beyond all that; consciousness. This is not material. It is the soul. By nature’s invincible laws each soul continually passes through progressively higher species of life until it inhabits a human form. The soul cannot be measured with any scientific instrument. Yet this minute non-material entity, the soul, is so powerful that it unceasingly activates each body throughout it’s entire lifetime. This tiny little spark of life thus moves from one body to another. This is called reincarnation.
4. The Precarious Condition of the Embodied Soul – Here we see the precarious condition of the embodied soul. The Bhagavad-gita gives us this illustration to help us understand in more detail the relationship between the body and the soul. The horses are the senses—sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. The reins are the mind. The driver is the intelligence and the passenger is the soul. In most cases the soul does not control the intelligence which in turn becomes bewildered and cannot firmly guide the mind. The mind, like the slackened reins, does not control the senses which become wild. This is happening to us every day when the senses are irresistibly drawn to the sense objects. Thus the soul is forced into dangerous and unpredictable states of consciousness.
5. Choices on the Path of Life – Man can control his destiny. As a spiritual being he can choose, by the expression of his free will, his path of life. If he chooses to descend the staircase in pursuit of temporary and flickering objects of the senses external forces take control of him and his free will becomes severely restricted. He comes under the law of Karma. Karma is the subtle but stringent law of action and reaction which operates even in the realm of consciousness. Under that law, the consciousness of one on the downward path degenerates to become like that of an animal. Such a soul reincarnates after death into lower than human life forms. This is the result of misuse of free will. The upward path begins with the acceptance of spiritual guidance and leads to the ultimate liberation of the soul from the bodily concept of life. Such a person perceives his pure soul and it’s relationship with God.
6. Equal Vision of the Sages – Ordinarily we see all around us many diverse forms of life. However a person on the spiritual path sees the soul, not the body, as the real self of every living being. The soul, which is by nature full of bliss and knowledge, is an emanation from the Supreme Soul. Present along with the soul, the Supreme Soul becomes visible to the eyes of the sage. This higher perception was taught by all seers of the truth such Moses, Buddha, Christ and Mohammed. The sage, who is thus freed from physical revulsion and attraction, sees all living beings with equal vision and becomes a genuine lover of the universe. Who is that Supreme Soul who is within all creatures as the indwelling guide, witness, maintainer and ultimate friend? Who is that, who is situated within all things, and yet everything resides in Him?
7. Krishna’s Transcendental Manifestations – The localized expansion of the Supreme Soul is a spiritual reflection of Krishna. In His original form Krishna resides eternally in His own transcendental realm called Goloka. He assumes varieties of spiritually perfect forms and appears in the physical universe to curb the rise of materialism and tyranny which obstruct the spiritual progress of humanity. He does this in many different ways which are always good and just.
8. God’s Universal Form – Arjuna: My dear Krishna, I know You dwell in the hearts of every living being as the Supersoul and that You manifest Yourself in many different incarnations. Though I see You here before me I wish to know how You pervade this entire cosmic manifestation. If You think that I am able to behold this truth, kindly reveal it to me.
Krishna: My dear Arjuna, you can not see this Universal Self with your present eyes, therefore, I now give you divine eyes. Behold My mystic opulence which no one has ever seen or heard before. You will see that everything is contained within Me.
Arjuna: Oh Krishna! I see within You all living beings! I see Brahma sitting on the divine lotus… I see Shiva… many sages and celestial serpents! I see many forms, bellies, mouths, eyes— expanded without limit. You are inexhaustible. You are the origin without beginning, middle or end. You are spread the the skiy, planets and all space between. Oh Universal Lord! I am losing my equilibrium. Seeing Your radiant colors fill the skies and beholding Your eyes and mouths I am afraid. I see all life flowing from You and rushing back with great speed into Your divine form… covering the entire universe with your immeasurable rays… scorching the worlds! You are manifest. Oh Lord of lords please tell me who You are in this fierce form. Please be gracious to me. I desire to know Your purpose.
Krishna: Time I am; the mightiest! I have come to change all things. Oh Arjuna, behold My mystic plan. Through my own wisdom and love the souls of this world ever journey towards their supreme destination; Me, who am the reservoir of all pleasure.
Arjuna: Oh unbounded power, You are the father of this complete cosmic manifestation. No one can be greater than You or equal to You. Although I am glad that you have shown me this form yet fear disturbs me. Please bestow Your grace on me— Reveal again Your original form. Oh abode of the universe. Krishna: Let this horrible feature be finished. With a peaceful mind you can now see My original form which is so dear to you. Oh Arjuna, only by undivided devotion can I be known as I am. Thus you can see Me directly sitting before you. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of understanding Me.
9. The Ocean of Birth and Death – Imagine yourself adrift in the midst of the vast ocean. Even if you were the world’s greatest swimmer you would eventually drown unless someone came to your rescue. The material world is compared to a vast ocean—an ocean of birth and death. Souls trapped in this world cannot free themselves from the continuing cycle of birth and death.
But they can be freed by the process of yoga. Yoga means union with the Supreme. This is the stage beyond all anxieties. Thus the soul, perfectly linked with the Supreme Soul, through devotion, is at once rescued from repeated birth and and death by the mercy of Krishna.
10. Lord Caitanya’s Sankirtan Festival – According to Bhagavad-gita, Krishna descends in many forms and places. Here in Bengal, in the latter part of the fifteenth century, Krishna descended in the form of Lord Caitanya. By His personal example He delivered the essence of Bhagavad-gita—loving devotional service to God or Bhakti yoga, the most practical means of achieving self realization in the present age. He inaugurated the sankirtan moment—chanting the holy names of Krishna. Wherever Lord Caitanya led his Sankirtan festival, spontaneous love of God and profound spiritual knowledge blossomed in the hearts of the people. But Sri Caitanya’s compassionate concern for humanity was not limited to India. Thus he made it easy for everyone to break through the cycle of birth and death—causing the ocean of love of God to overflow throughout the world… and now reach the shores of America.
11. Goloka—The Spiritual Realm – In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna promises that whoever perfectly and constantly meditates on Him will ultimately come to Him. This is the highest evolution of the liberated soul—direct relationship with Krishna in His own planet. This is Goloka the spiritual realm. Here in Krishna’s abode all water is nectar, every word is a song, and every step a dance. Far from formless, the spiritual world is the origin of all forms emanating from the supreme form Krishna. All forms here are eternal, fully conscious, and blissful. Krishna is the original form and the human form is the reflection of that form. Here standing on the bank of the Yamuna river, with the exquisitely beautiful Radha at His side, Krishna smiles and plays His enchanting flute. He appears as the central attractive figure enjoying varieties of divine loving exchange with the whole spiritual world. Every entity in the spiritual world—regardless of its particular form—enjoys full loving reciprocation with Krishna. When the devotees, peacocks, swans and all other living beings hear the sound of Krishna’s transcendental flute they swoon in ecstasy and tears of love fall from their eyes. All souls are potentially capable of reaching this state of love of God and Krishna promises to help those who long for it. Those souls who follow the path of Bhakti Yoga—devotional meditation—will at last evolve their original spiritual bodies. All of us are parts of the Supreme Soul Krishna, who is everlastingly beckoning us to return to His eternal abode.
After the museum, we were invited to bypass the line that went down the street and feast on vegetarian food. Unfortunately, my lunch break from work was just about to end so I had to get my newly christened Krishna ass back to work…but first I took a detour through the Taco Bell drive thru. Guess my Krish-nas just expired.