Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Spiritual Tourism

Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (left) and Ram Dass, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 19 February 2008. Photo by Joan Halifax. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Ever the spiritual tourist—I'm not a religious person, but I am intrigued as a fiction writer by the myriad modalities of human behavior, particularly when people get religious, so I have infiltrated close to twenty different religious organizations to see how they work, feel how it feels to "practice" with them. Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, with variations on these—I've been with them all. I would like to spend a year chanting with the Hare Krishna—and eating their lacto-vegetarian diet, which is very healthy and very ecologically sound—but the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the primary force for Krishna awareness in the US, doesn't have the presence North America. In Austin, they once had a strong presence around the university area, where they competed for souls with academia, which led to some parents kidnapping and deprogramming their children. Now they're in a suburban house in far north Austin. That house might support an interesting visit, but what I really want is a farm where I can eat and chant with these guys.

ISKCON has undergone a sea change in their tactics. They have backed off from the aggressive proselytizing in airports, on the street, and even door to door. Instead, they are writing about and promoting their healthy approach to food as their leading practice. Their Web site says:
Sometimes referred to as the “kitchen religion,” ISKCON, or the Hare Krishna Movement, believes the art of cooking is a sacred experience. The preparation and eating of food should be based on principles of compassion, non-violence and balanced living. Thus, Krishna devotees advocate a lacto-vegetarian diet, strictly avoiding meat, fish and eggs.
Kitchen religion indeed—sweetness in the ears of foodies. In the 1970s, had ISKCON led with this idea instead of their anti-materialism, I might have shaved the long precious hair from my head and been dancing and chanting in the streets instead of ping-ponging back and forth between Mexico and university. Maybe I give away that I'm a foodie, but I find a practice that sanctifies not only the eating but the cooking quite exciting. 

I have no problem with giving up meat. I've been more conscientious lately about not eating it at home, but if you invited me for dinner and served me brisket, I'd eat it without complaint. I've been exploring alternative protein sources, and feel better because of it. I would miss eggs somewhat. But I can't imagine going forever without fish. For the duration of a sojourn on a farm with the Krishna people, chanting, cooking, eating, and writing (always writing), I could manage. But as soon as I get back to town, I'm making a bee-line to Quality Seafood for two dozen oysters and some luscious whole fish eyeing me on my plate. So, Capital Metro says I can get out to their house in an hour and a half, so I might go talk to them, check it out. I'll get back to you on this.