In Utah County, A Somewhat Different View of God

The Opening of Spanish Fork's Hare Krishna Temple

The world's newest Hare Krishna temple is not on the chaotic streets of Mumbai or in the tepid rice paddies of Bangalore but instead surrounded by peach and apple orchards, hay pastures and the snowcapped peaks of southern Utah County.

In fact, the newest Hare Krishna temple, though it looks all the part of a Hare Krishna temple one might find in its native India, is a world away from India, and that is a good thing for local Krishnas who want a place of their own to worship.

But more than that, the temple, a still under-construction ornate white two-story affair with a gilded gold dome, is a testament to dedication; it is the first in the world built entirely with volunteer labor.

While the temple is a first for Utah, it is part of a growing worldwide movement that has placed temples in cities from Stockholm to Sao Paulo, and Miami to Mayapur. The Krishnas do not proselytize but the invite everyone to their weekly services and vegetarian feasts, as well as the annual LlamaFest in nearby Spanish Fork. They also exude amity with their peaceful outlook, karmic good will, and ohm-ing happiness.

Back in 1982, Caru and Vaibhavi, members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, purchased lovely Spanish Fork, Utah's KHQN 1480 AM. They had been working on radio and college shows in southern California but made the move to Utah County, which is just south of Salt Lake City and the home of the dominant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Brigham Young University. KHQN went on the air in 1984 with a 'transcendental' format including Indian sari music, Swami lectures and three different shows a day on vegetarianism.

Within five years the couple had built a large meeting house for local Krishnas as well as the community veggie feasts, and had begun to raise llamas, which was profitable. But soon they were thinking temple, and by 1992 had purchased another 8.5 acres for the temple, bringing the total acreage to 14. The couple started to tap the Indian community in Salt Lake City, an hour north, to raise funds for the temple's construction, as well as hold bake sales, yard sales and the annual LlamaFest, now in its seventh year. In 1996 the group broke ground for the new temple, and in 1999 the LDS church donated $25,000 to the temple construction fund. In November, 2000, the 33,000 golden dome was lifted in to place, and by June 23 of this year the temple was ready for dedication.

Luckily, Laura and I were there for the dedication, and the four-hour event wavered from community gathering to hippie party to a religious happening. In other words, it was a great and good time.

Krishna, from what I learned, is a religion dependent on personal redemption and adherence to spiritual principals. The tenets of the religion say that there are 8.4 million species of life in the universe, and one's spirit passes through all of them until it attains the human body. With proper utilization, humans can solve all the problems of life, including birth, death, disease and old age. But if the soul wastes life by pursuing things like sensory pleases, you can sink back down to a lower animal form. Devout Krishnas (the word is also a term for God, while Hare is a term used to address the energies of God) stay away from gambling, illicit sex, meat, cigarettes, alcohol and coffee (yikes!). One way to redemption is to chant:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

Saturday's dedication ceremony was one part introduction of the religion to the community and one part cleansing act for the new temple. The temple is two stories, with the bottom housing the kitchen, restrooms and a sort of Hare Krishna gift shop. Upstairs is the actual religious area, an open marble-floored room with windows looking out to the snowcapped mountains but no seats. Neither floor is very big. Outside, ornate carvings suggest New Delhi, though drawings hint that before the building is finished it will be even more ornate.

The ceremony included plenty of dancing, singing, Nag Champa incense (my favorite), and rituals. The most interesting ritual, I think, was when leaders set a straw dummy on fire then pulled it from the room; that was meant to symbolize the removal of evil spirits from the room. Then, temple donors took sacred ingredients like milk, honey, rose water and yogurt in a parade around the outside of the temple, then spilled the ingredients on to seven blindfolded deities. The deities were two-foot high wood or stone statues meant to symbolize God.

Caru, one of the founders, explained the Krishna's view of God: God is a person with hands and legs but He is also a spirit. We don't have the spiritual vision to see God, but He incarnates deities as a vehicle to allow us to see Him. To actually see God, Caru said, one's eyes 'must be anointed with the sound of love.' God needs us to fulfill His innermost desire with our service to Him.

A temple is like a mailbox, said Caru, and God is like the post office. We can send letters, but without a mailbox to deliver them to the post office, the letters will never get anywhere. And the mailbox has an address, a way for the post office to find us. That address, then, is the seven deities that temple supporters had bathed in the rose water and honey. When the devotees had finished bathing the deities they were covered with a drape.

As the church leaders worked with the deities, a dozen young men with shaved heads danced, stomped and paraded around the temple then came back inside, where their chants reached a hypnotic, hair-raising tempo, and the men jumped higher and higher and sang louder and louder as the ceremony reached a crescendo. An hour later, when the drape was removed, the deities were clean and dressed brilliantly. They, said Caru, are a vehicle for God to see us, and for us to see Him.

'We want to incite the Lord to take his place here,' said Caru, as the ceremony visitors strained forward to see the deities. It was a grand sight indeed.

Visit the temple at 8628 S. State St. Spanish Fork, or call them at (801) 798-3559. The temple dining area will be open every Friday and Saturday from noon till 7 p.m. and for a few dollars you can get a heaping plate of papadam, chapattis, rise, chutney and a drink — no meat here! See them on the Web at: www.UtahKrishnas.com.

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