This is the beginning of a creative writing piece inspired by an experience that New York City’s finest in religion offered.
A Thousand Leagues from Hillel
Or, A Moderately Fictional Version of How I Began a Search for the Hare Krishna, Avoided a Lecture on Duck Gender Rights, and Ended Up at Whole Foods
“â€˜Hallelujah!â€™ â€˜Hare Krishna!â€™ Yeah, yeah, yeah! George Harrison!â€
The voice of the announcer from Bob Dylanâ€™s 1993 thirtieth anniversary concert rang through my head as I clomped down the subway steps. Somewhere on my iPod, beneath the 50 Cent and Beyonce songs, I knew I had a copy of George Harrisonâ€™s performance of Dylan’s “Absolutely Sweet Marie” with the announcer shrieking that opener. For some reason, that resonated most within my chilled brain my as I shivered through the turnstiles and onto the downtown 1 train platform.
For some reason, one of my professors, an enthusiastic little man with a trim figure and bleach-white hair, wanted us to go out and â€œexperience the real world.â€ Mind you, as a suburbanite from a town with no sidewalks, I thought Columbia was as real as it got. For a class on Hinduism, though, we would have to venture outside of Morningside Heights to get a little more perspective.
Iâ€™d be out of my element, I imagined. For as long as I could remember, my temples had been, if not colorless, limited to white, gold, and the occasional dash of Israeli-flag blue. The brightest it ever got was the inlaid work on the floor of the first conservative synagogue I attended; what was the point of having all that color if we were just going to step on it? In my mind, a Hindu temple would be brighter than any synagogue I had seen. It would have beautifully crafted statues with gilded details; colorful flowers would be put on an altar and worshipped by people in bright saris.
Just that fact would put me out of my element. The Ten Commandments famously state that we shall not worship “idols,” but Hindu temples have icons in them. After doing as much of the reading as I could manage and attending class, I realized that the physical shape of the image wasn’t what, perhaps, the Ten Commandments meant. The Hindu figure is just a form of G-d made more tangible for the simple human brain to grasp instead of the grand overall Self, of which the “gods” are facets; in the end, Hinduism isn’t a polytheistic, “idol-worshipping” faith, but just expresses similar principles in a different way.
For me, though, my element was much moreâ€¦food-ie. Admittedly, we learned about prasad, which is the offering given to the gods, often of food, and redistributed to the worshippers after the fact. Still, even with some Indian cuisine to munch on, my stomach would be in a knot. New places, new food? Give me a good piece of matzah any day over spices.
Waggling his brows and bouncing around the lecture hall in excitement, the professor had extolled the virtues of several different temples: one in Jamaica, Queens; one in Flushing, also in Queens; and one in Manhattan. My thoughts were simple: I went through the temples by process of elimination. One: 50 Cent grew up in Jamaica, Queens, which makes it unsafe. Getting shot nine times before I get my Bachelor of Artsâ€™ degree? Thatâ€™s a no-no.
Option two? Flushingâ€¦.hmâ€¦aside from the obvious toilet references, what did Flushing have to offer? Well, it spawned the character of Fran Fine from The Nanny, which has pluses and minuses, but it was also far away. Being admittedly not the most energetic human being on the planetâ€”letâ€™s just say I never plan on running behind Columbia president Lee Bollinger for an article.
The professor presented the students with a page of information on each temple. Mine had a friendly picture of a bald man who beamed out at me from the page. He worked at ISKCON, or the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, most famous for sprouting the Hare Krishna movement.