May
24

The Centre Cannot Hold: On Love, Travel & Radicalism

Krishna

A trip to India with anti-radical radicals.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

-William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

Yesterday Maggie Chestney and I visited the ISKON Temple here in Bangalore. We’ve been living outside of the United States for over two years and our current explorations have brought us to India. Above perhaps all else, travel has taught us what major media disguises: the goodness of people. We’ve been treated so well and even welcomed into homes by people from a wide variety of religions, cultures, races, economic brackets and beliefs. We’ve had our fair share of being ripped off and mistreated, but on the whole our adventures have cemented within us the goodness of people, of humanity.

So when the locals and many online reviewers said the temple was worth a go, we went. They were right. But my goodness is our patience for radicals waning. And my goodness does that make us anti-radical radicals? Damnit.

On looks alone the place is spectacular. As we queued up with all the believers we were told to chant a rhythmic passage about Krishna on each of the fifty or so raised blocks we had to step on before making our way inside. We didn’t chant, but in our own quietness we found the chanting of others electrifying. The buzz of energy that comes from humans collectively doing something – be it chanting or laying bricks or playing cricket – has always fascinated me.

Inside, we gave a few “wows” and that says something considering we’ve been inside more temples than we can count. We followed the locals, took it all in and we felt ready to exit – happy that we had ventured out and found something unique.

And then there was the exit.

The exit was a maze of commercialism and radicalism. Buy this now and eat these fried donuts and the only way to happiness is to accept Krishna into your life. We made our way through and followed the exit sign which took us downstairs and into another maze of similar buy nows and do you have all 15 DVDs? and there is only one way to happiness. Around one bend of the maze an English-speaking devotee in full face paint explained to us how this is the only way to happiness because, after all, “It’s not a religion,” he said, “It’s a science and based on fact.” We listened patiently for five minutes as he told us how Google and anything you could read online is wrong, how we need to learn about Krishna and therefore happiness and the true science of the soul through the $5 book he was selling. It contained all the answers to, ya know, life.

With the amount of people eating and buying and trying to sell and gawking at our whiteness and the purposeful and blatant maze design and the unending exits my heart raced with anti-radical radicalism. As he said again how “This way is the only way” that is when Maggie stepped up:

“With all due respect, there are many ways to happiness. Maybe this works for you and that is great but there are millions of people who have found happiness through other means.”

He interrupted her several times and when she finished he finally burst out with:

“No. This is science. This is the only way.”

Maggie’s frustration was similar to mine but she was expressing hers and I felt so proud and so madly in love and it was yet another realization that this woman is the greatest thing ever to happen to me.

“Sir, no. I’m sorry. Don’t tell me there’s only one way. There are many ways to happiness,” she said. With that we left.

And by left I mean followed the exit sign which took us downstairs and into another maze of jade relics and chocolate donuts and plush Krishna dolls and soft drinks and donation bins. It wasn’t until we got around this exit that the exit finally allowed us to actually exit.

It’s true what Mark Twain said: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” But for all those future travelers out there, this is also true:

Travel will expose you to new types of prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and this too, in its own frustratingly beautiful way, is sorely needed.

***

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