My Life in the TEMPLE

ImageKRISHNA TEMPLE 1973 LAGUNA BEACH I’m sure there is still some confusion about what went on in the Krishna Temple in the public’s mind. Parents were terrified by wild tales of orgies or whatever. But I call it a wondrous experience and would like to describe it. My initiated name was Kriya Shakti.


The most beautiful thing in the temple was the altar. The altar at the Laguna temple was set up on a stage, with the Deities on it. The Deities were statues of Hindu saints or gods. Our small ones were of the saints Chaitanya and Nityananda, shining brass with their arms upraised, dressed in their elaborate silk clothing which was highly adorned with silver and gold braid, sequins, complex trims and tiny flowers. Creating these costumes is one of the specialized Temple duties which kept many seamstresses busy all day. The little Dieties would then be surrounded by huge vases of flowers, roses, carnations, everything, garlands of leaves and flowers hung an the wall behind, huge pots of greenery on the sides, a large oil painting of the saints on the wall behind, framed photos of the gurus on the steps leading up to the stage in front, and finished off with little brass pots of streaming incense. The whole effect was otherworldly and heavenly, with the fragrance of incense and hundreds of flowers, and spotlights highlighted the multitudes of colors and streams of incense smoke. 


The main American misunderstanding about the Temple is that this is some modern cultist invention; as a matter of fact the religion is thousands of years old, one of India’s main sects. The rules and traditions of the temple are venerable. I can’t say that modern American kids managed to uphold the extreme renunciation of the days of old, but it was quite renounced. The first requirement was celibacy, very strictly upheld. There was no drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or even caffeine allowed. And of course it was vegetarian. My strongest memory is of rising before dawn. We got up at three or four in the morning. We chanted privately and separately on our necklace of beads.The Temple day started early: we awoke between three and four in the morning. That was a magical hour; the California pre-dawn could be almost balmy, the Laguna Beach temple would be suffused in the dark gray of a seacoast overcast morning. If it was warm we would step outside to the first hour of solitary chanting of the day. That was a fine hour, alone in the gray mist, muttering the ancient incantations. The Temple was on a terrace overlooking the ocean, and the soft purr of the surf could be heard below.


But soon, fIrst morning duties called, the cooks would be busy in the kitchen, and the girls would begin to string and arrange flowers. There was always a kind of cheeriness, the kitchen lights turned on against the dark pre-dawn, the fragrances of the flowers and cooking. Three merry girls would spread a madras cloth on the kitchen floor, giggling and quibbling, string the flower garlands used to decorate the deities and guru’s pictures and statues.


I often strung flowers with Mryta Pria, who, we found out later, was between nervous breakdowns. So was I, I suppose. We really made a fIne pair, half in and half out of reality. We shared conversations and jokes completely unintelligible to others. It is not so much the quaint setting that I remember so well, but the extraordinary state of mind I was in at the time. I joined the temple in 1973, ten years after the early communes and drugs of the sixties. My mind was alternately in good or bad shape, but I think the intense spirituality and restrictions of the temple put me into a kind of order, a deep rooted spirituality that eventually led to my becoming fully balanced …. but things were really wild at first. At dawn there was the fIrst group chant of the day, called the morning artik. This was the most intense moment of the day. We stood on the wooden temple floor, facing the Deities, men on the right, women on the left, and would sing the spiritual chants in unison. It was ecstatic. The alluring melodies could make one’s hair stand on end; the shining altar seemed full of spiritual light. The only accompaniment was the little brass fInger-cymbals, which make a tinkling bell like sound. I was sent from the Laguna Temple to the L.A. Temple. I remained in the Temple almost two years altogether, then suddenly dropped out and returned to Laguna where I stayed with a friend for a while.


I wasTemple seamstress at the Laguna temple, considered a soft job, I didn’t have to go out to the book selling duty at the airport, thanks to an easygoing temple president. I was not in strong health even then, and he let me off. Mryta Pria’s stay came to an end when she had a breakdown and attacked a holy painting with a knife. Her parents showed up and took her away.



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