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It was cold for a Californian as I experienced the harshness of a Toronto winter for the first time. Blustery cold winds were howling, and the windowpanes of our car shuddered from the strong gusts as we halted in front of the ISKCON temple. I had visited Canada several times before but never during winter. I bundled my two year old in a thick fur jacket and hurried inside the temple. My sister-in-law visited the ISKCON temple every weekend irrespective of the vagaries of the weather. My husband and I were accompanying her on one of her weekly visits to the temple on Avenue Road in Toronto.
As we stepped in, a new world opened in front of me. People were dancing all around, exuding enthusiasm and energy. They danced in joy, free from the cares of the material world. It seemed as though they had obtained everything they could have wished for. They were chanting and singing, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” By chanting the maha mantra, devotees were requesting the Lord to engage them in His divine service. The beat of the dhol, the rhythm of the musical instruments, the clapping—it was all so contagious that we couldn’t help but join in with zest.
We performed the arti with everyone, and listened to Prabhuji, the spiritual master in residence. He illustrated the relationship between human beings and God using an analogy that I have never forgotten. A child insisted to her mother that she wanted to cook. In order to pacify her, her mother gave her some toys and asked her to cook. So the child made a toy kitchen and played quietly. While the child played happily thinking that she was actually cooking, the mother smiled at her innocence. She stayed away from her, but constantly kept an eye on her. “Our world is similar,” Prabhuji said, “it is a play area where, we, as God’s children, play and enact our roles.”
After the lecture we went to the basement where some pictures and sculptures were displayed.
One of the sculptures grabbed my attention. It was a sculpture of a man wearing a gray colored shirt and black pants in the act of killing a helpless animal. The sculpture showed the man having the head of an animal, while the animal had a human face. The ferocity of the aggressor and the fear in the eyes of the victim were expressed powerfully in the lines of the sculpture.
I was so affected by the sculpture that I paused to think about why I had started eating meat after immigrating to the United States four years ago. I started eating chicken and seafood to enjoy more dietary choices, especially when I traveled.
I read the book, “The Higher Taste,” that I brought from the temple. My belief that vegetarians did not get enough protein in their diet was altered when I tried and tasted the vegetarian recipes listed in the book, comprising dairy products, grains, beans, and nuts. I also read about the law of karma very similar to Newton’s third law of motion, where for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. By this law, those who cause suffering to other living beings through violent acts must also experience equivalent violence and suffering, immediately or in the future.
I started cooking and eating only vegetarian food. When I travel abroad, I find that I still have a wide variety of vegetarian choices—savory minestrone soup, a variety of pasta, spaghetti with veggie balls in tomato sauce, Neapolitan cheesecake, ricotta-stuffed calzone. The list is endless.
I continue to reminisce about my eventful visit to the ISKCON Temple. Thanks to that trip, we feel closer to nature, and count ourselves among the preservers of natural life.
Meenu Gupta writes about her real life experiences, and believes that religion ennobles our souls, helping us to grow. She lives in Fremont with her family. Her work can be found at www.motheringheights.net