Living For Krishna

It has come to my attention that there is a high probability that the information provided by Jason Bosserman for this article is false, and that he does not represent the Boston ISKCON community. I have been informed that he has left the temple and was asked not to return. I will do my best to understand this situation and amend this piece for the community. Thank you very much for bringing this to my attention –
Benjamin Cooper

If there is one virtue stressed at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness at 72 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, it is a sense of belonging. The devotees who come and go through the doors of this Hare Krishna temple hail from diverse backgrounds; ethnic Indians chant and dance with immigrants from Europe and South America, African-Americans, and Caucasians alike. Indeed, as a snap shot of American culture and population dynamics, the temple paints a fascinating picture, and a terrific history.

Lulovic Fadanelly was born in exile. His grandfather was the Marquis of Trent, and his father a concert pianist in St. Petersburg, Russia. However, two world wars and a Communist revolution left the family for worse. Fleeing Stalin’s purges in the 20s, the family fled to Italy, where Lulovic was born in 1936.

He sits in the foyer of ISKCON Boston discussing Krishna philosophy with a passing monk. Wearing worn khaki pants and an equally worn wool sweater, he has been living at the Krishna temple since 1988, and he often works odd jobs in maintaining the building. A thick vinyl smock hangs from his neck as he ascends a creaking set of stairs to his living quarters.

ISKCON Boston, a slim brownstone with hardwood floors and an open stairwell, is a drafty building in early spring. But the warmer weather is a perfect excuse for m

any of the monks to head outside and distribute books and other materials, fulfilling one of the tenets of ISKCON, spreading consciousness. Fadanelly, however, remains inside, where he prefers to read and study spirituality.

"My family came from material affluence, but I have tried to find spiritual wealth where none was given to me."

“My family came from material affluence,” he says, now sitting comfortably in his room – a space slightly larger than a closet, “but I have tried to find spiritual wealth where none was given to me.”

Lulovic, or Vic as he is known around the temple, describes himself with a chuckle as “reborn on his deathbed.” Talkative and sharp, he begins a conversation on education, then history and the personas of those who molded the world. He quickly expands on the experiences of Alexander the Great as he discovered India after his conquests; then turns to George Washington’s personality, his spiritual and military discipline during his command at Valley Forge; the perseverance of Gandhi; the perverse cult surrounding Stalin; and the actions of Pope Pius XII in saving thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Nothing is beyond the limit of the conversation, but he emphasizes instances of heightened spirituality that resonate and connect each subject.

Vic describes himself as “something of a gypsy” during his early years in the United States. His family moved to Boston from Rome in 1946 after World War II, and difficulties between his parents often pushed him out of the house.

“It wasn’t until the early sixties that I stumbled upon Krishna consciousness,” he says. He pulls out a tattered collection of texts – of which he has many, catalogued on shelves and in storage under his bed– and selects a specific magazine titled Back to Godhead.

Back to Godhead is the magazine of the Hare Krishna movement. Founded in 1944 by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who would later found ISKCON in the United States. The magazine is considered Prabhupada’s first attempt to spread Krishna consciousness to the world, and later became the foundation of his spiritual mission in bringing Krishna consciousness to America.

“I was given the magazine by a monk in the mid sixties – I think 1967, and it was really something exceptional.”

The magazine, Fadanelly says, covers a range of topics related to Krishna consciousness, but emphasizes certain traits, in particular, Sambandha, realizing one’s relationship with Krishna (God, or a higher being), and Abidheya, acting in that relationship.

“When it was introduced to me,” Vic says of Krishna consciousness, “it wasn’t just another religion with a supreme lord and a hierarchy – and I don’t mean to belittle organized religions – but it represented, to me, a 30-something in the 60s, a healthy spiritual and individual lifestyle that was a pretty sharp contrast to the drug culture and promiscuousness of the time.”

Within Krishnaism, there are nine ways to please Krishna and become Krishna conscious, while some methods are straight forward and technical – and can only be accomplished within a Krishna temple – others are much more open for interpretation, amounting to more of a lifestyle choice and the basis for a healthy community. These nine methods are laid out in a discussion between two figures, Prahlada Maharaja and Srimad Bhagavatam, in chapter 7, verse 5, lines 23 – 24 of the Bhagavad-Gita, one of the most sacred texts within Krishna consciousness, and are known as pure Bhaktiyoga, devotional service.

“Hearing and chanting are the first two methods,” says Fadanelly.

This often takes the form of Kirtan, a raucous celebration during which devotees chant and dance to the mantra:

“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna

Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.

Hare Rama, Hara Rama

Rama Rama, Hare Hare!”

“The dancing is a bit much for me at this age,” Fadanelly admits, “but it’s the hearing and chanting that is most important.”

The mantra is repeated in a call and response, often hundreds of times, for as long as an hour or more, while the melody varies with each repetition. The word ‘Hare’ means ‘the energy of Krishna,’ while ‘Krishna’ and ‘Rama’ refer to Krishna himself. By repeating this mantra over and over, the sound vibrations one feels are surpass all forms of lower consciousness. Essentially, one ‘loses’ himself in chanting, and focuses entirely on Krishna.

Serving the lotus feet of the Bhagavan, offering the Bhagavan worship, and praying to the Bhagavan are the third, fourth and fifth processes. The Bhagavan is an altar in the temple that depicts Krishna and Arjuna, the first to attain Krishna consciousness, in discussion. To ‘serve the lotus feet’ of the Bhagavan is literally to serve flowers at the feet of Krishna, as well as to take care of the altar daily, including washing and dressing them ever morning and evening.

“I understand how many can misinterpret the deities as some sort of ‘false idol,’“ Fadanelly begins, recalling Moses and the commandments. He draws himself up in his chair, and with a theatric boom in his voice he relies the first and second commandments: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me (the First Commandment). Do not worship false idols (the second).” He relaxes back into his chair, and continues, “But the deities we have at the alter remind me, daily, what I live for and keep for myself. It’s a North Star for the spiritual side.”

The sixth, seventh and eighth tenets of Baktiyoga tie into each other, in that they seek to maintain the thought of Krishna at all times, for those unable to pray at the Bhagavan.

To remember Krishna, to become his servant, and to consider Krishna one’s best friend all maintain Krishna consciousness in daily thoughts.

For instance, Chatamayi devi dasi, a Newton resident who plays harmonium during Kirtan, is buying a new car. “When I buy this car, the first thing my husband and I are going to do is drive right up here and essentially offer this car and its services to Krishna,” She said. “It’s not my car or my husband’s car – it belongs to Krishna, and we’re using it – really borrowing it – for the more mundane aspects of our lives.”

“One’s relationship and service to Krishna is always up for interpretation,” Fadanelly says. “It’s the most open aspect of devotion, I think.”

The last process of Bhaktiyoga is to surrender everything unto Krishna.

“This is the tenet I find most difficult,” Fadanelly admits. “If taken literally, it means complete devotion of mind, body, and word.”

This implies, among other things, a fervent vegan diet – to eat meat or the products of an animal is forbidden, as all animals are said to be souls equal to humans, but in a different body.

Promiscuous sex falls under this process as well.

“I was oddly fortunate to find ISKCON at a time when marriage began to lose its appeal to me,” Fadanelly says, “and I quickly found that without a strong relationship and confidence, sex is simply meaningless.”

Fadanelly now spends most of his time at ISKCON Boston reading.

“I like to study those that show incredible spirituality,” he says, “I find it more satisfying to study the spiritual paths of certain figures, and apply their words of guidance to myself.”

He pulls out another tattered ream of papers simply titled “Book of Karmu.” It is a collection of newspaper articles, written works and original pictures of a man named Edgar Warner, a man who many called the Black Christ of Cambridge for his healing abilities.

“Edgar Warner was a close friend of mine,” Vic begins. “He was an mechanic in Alston during the day, but at night he would visit hospitals and actually heal people. He adopted the name Karmu when he began seeing more and more patients.” Vic takes out a picture of Karmu, a smiling African-American with his hands on a man’s back. “He walked a tremendous spiritual path.”

Born in 1910, Karmu lived in Cambridge Massachusetts his entire life, and healed over 20,000 people.

“He would often massage patients, and give herbs and natural medicines. He healed children with muscular dystrophy, men with cancer, ulcers, and schizophrenia. A doctor from Boston University even spent a lot of time with him documenting his healing routines. He wasn’t particularly religious, but he was spiritual, he really did believe in the positive healing power of love and a higher being,” says Vic.

While Karmu passed away of leukemia in 1989, Fadanelly recalls his time with him as if it was yesterday.

“He had a fantastic set of lungs,” he says with a chuckle. “He sang an impressive gospel and was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall once, but his path always kept him in Boston, and he never lived outside his means.”

It was Karmu’s spirituality that Vic says he was most attracted to. Indeed, he finds spiritual parallels in many historic figures.

“In my studies, I have found it much easier to practice Krishna consciousness by finding a personal connection with those who lived spiritual lives,” He says. In particular, he has been studying ISKCON founder Prabhupada.

“He never lost his light,” Vic says. “He started his magazine in a small shop, and often wasn’t able to keep his work going, but he never lost his enthusiasm for Krishna consciousness. Because of his determination and work, he was eventually asked to spread Krishna consciousness to America. I think that is a tremendous spiritual reward – because of him we have begun living for Krishna. He has touched millions.”

Fadanelly puts his books back in their respective bins under his bed. It is nearing dinner, and he steps downstairs to wash dishes in preparation. He has his chores within the temple while devotees begin their prayer.

In the adjacent hall, where the Bhagavan is kept on one side and a wax model of Prabhupada in meditation is kept on the other, the hum of Chatamayi devi dasi’s harmonium spreads as some 20 devotees begin chanting the Hare Krishna mantra.

Slowly, over a few minutes, the music begins to pick up speed, and the heavy ting of karatal hand cymbals rings in accompaniment. A balarama mrdango drum enters the score and draws the beat faster. The devotees rise from their seats on the floor, now chanting louder, and they begin to sway, moving with the music. The footfalls of the chanters cause the wooden floors to groan under their weight as they form rings and begin an aggressive free-form community dance.

A black man with curly hair moves in to the center. A white robe jumps around his ankles and he beats his mrdango drum enthusiastically while leading the other dancers in a call-and-response. He shouts rather than sings the mantra, varying the melody with every repetition of the verse, and the devotees chant back in response.

Around him the members of ISKCON Boston dance, the men more passionately than many of the women. Some are black, some white, some ethnic Indian – all are smiling and ecstatic with their song. Some wear similar robes to the lead chanter; others are in jeans, dress pants, or work clothes. Some jump and pound on drums; others hop and ring their hand cymbals.

Kirtan

This is Kirtan – the Krishna equivalent of a rave, but without the mind-altering drugs, alcohol, or promiscuous sex that comes with the party scene today. Chanting, dancing and playing instruments together, the devotees of ISKCON Boston exercise their minds, bodies and souls as a community, flexing their spiritual muscles in tune.

And in the basement, below the community connected in their chanting, Lulovic Fadanelly washes dishes in preparation for the meal afterwards. He hums and chants as he works, swaying while he cleans to the music and the groaning wood above him.

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