Sunday, May 18, 2008

Two Worlds-- Or Is It?

The other day i was at the Apple Store to take a tutorial, a one-on-one class with an Apple creative employee. For $100, you get one tutorial session per week, for one year. That's less than $2 for a private class. Another brilliant marketing idea for Apple. The more familiar people are with their computers and software, the more popular they'll become. During the class, the Apple guy asked me if i was going to the "Opening" of the new Apple Store in Boston that evening. I had not heard about it, but he told me the Boston Store will be the largest Apple Store in the world and that evening they were giving away some goodies to everyone who attended the opening. So i thought, why not?

I thought i would just walk in, underestimating the popularity of the Apple brand. When i arrived at the Store, there were queues of over 500 people standing behind police barricades, waiting to get in. The security guys were allowing groups of 10 or so people in at a time. The Store itself was typically design perfect. Three floors of a transparent glass front, with the famous white Apple Logo built in to the glass on the third floor. Inside were lots of camera crews from the local news stations and almost as many Apple staff as guests. They cheered each guest as they entered and exited the store. For some reason, i thought: this is something Srila Prabhupada would envision for the opening of a new temple. There would be a Tilok Logo instead of the Apple, and devotees would greet each guest with a warm welcome, maybe a flower garland and sweet words. Then, after the guests had darshan, they would be given a plate of sumptuous prasadam to take with them. In this way, Krishna consciousness would become part of the popular culture.

Awakening from my daydream, i decided that i had no interest in standing in line for over an hour simply to visit the Apple Store and possibly get a small gift. So i left the scene with the Boston Police, the barricades and queues of curious Apple customers, and walked about five blocks to the Iskcon temple.

Being a weeknite, the temple was empty, except for three young Indian professionals who were singing kirtan during the evening arotik. A young Indian couple also entered during the arotik. Afterwards, the kirtaneers invited the young couple to take some prasadam upstairs. I stayed and chanted some rounds. I was happy to leave the crowds at Apple behind and be in front of the Lord. OK, i thought, it's not popular but it's real. That's a relief.

Today was Narasinga Caturdasi, so i decided to go again to the temple. Today the temple, being Sunday and a holy day, was packed. Again, it was 90% Indian. I arrived during a fire yajna. Fire yajnas were never one of my favorite things. They are Vedic, but in my opinion, Iskcon overdoes them. And why? Because it's a way to get their donors, the Indian community, to give more. It's a ritual they can relate with. I stayed for the yajna and then had darshan of the deities, as the devotees led Guru Puja for the murti of Srila Prabhuapada who sits on a vysasan at the back of the temple. Call me cynical or call me a pasandi (atheist), but i felt not an iota of bhakti in their kirtan. To my ears, it was a show. It appears to me that Iskcon is now a religion like all others, this one catering to its congregation of pious Hindus. And cultivating its donor base. Preaching? Yeah, to the choir.

Maybe if Steve Jobs had met Srila Prabhupada things could have turned out different. It might be just as materialistic, but at least it would have been better designed.