Hare Krishnas. Perhaps you have marvelled at their strange and wonderful dancing and chanting on the streets, which is common in hundreds of cities. Or perhaps you have been one of millions of people who have tasted their delicious vegetarian food distributed at universities, festivals, meditation workshops, and restaurants. Or maybe, while on your lunch break, you bought some of their thought-provoking literature from a smiling Krishna monk on a CBD street.
In case you were wondering what they are all about, there’s a new film out that fills in the blanks. From the comfort and safety of your movie seat, you can explore their world and history, and meet the revolutionary and industrious monk who made it all happen.
The title of this film really sums it up: Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami who Started it All. Filmmakers John and Jean Griesser tell the fascinating story of their teacher, Srila Prabhupada, leaving India alone to share the wisdom and practice of the bhakti-yoga tradition with the whole world.
Frequent use of Srila Prabhupada’s own recorded voice builds a powerful and close connection with the viewer as he speaks about his life, his mission to share the practice of bhakti-yoga, and the basics of the deep yoga philosophy behind it.
The outstanding impression I got from the film was the intimate glimpse we get into Prabhupada’s compassionate heart. At his now iconic departure from India for America by cargo ship in the opening scenes, at close on seventy years old, his commanding yet humble voice resounds in voiceover:
“I want to begin one revolution against materialistic civilisation. That is my ambition. So that the whole world may be happy.”
Hare Krishna! is a celebration of a great, selfless person and his labour of love in igniting a worldwide spiritual network, warmly narrated through interviews with his dedicated students and appreciative academic observers. Joshua Greene (Yogesvara), a frequent commentator in the film, summarises the dynamic countercultural times that Prabhupada walked into when he entered America in 1965: “The world’s a desperate place, we are destroying the planet, we are destroying one another, there has to be some other solution.”
Greene describes a world that does not differ much from our own, even fifty years later. Srila Prabhupada entered the scene at the height of great social dissatisfaction when America’s involvement in the Vietnam War and Civil Rights’ movement dominated 1960s countercultural concerns. But now, while we might tweak the social climate a little, we can say, at least in the First World, we are still destroying the planet, other people, and animals; we live within a creeping climate of fear and racial tension, and we are destroying ourselves with toxic lifestyles and inner emptiness. The question continues to confront us: there has to be some other solution?
This film is not just a history. It’s a relevant and timely reminder of what is needed now as much as then: a new idea, a transcendent solution to age-old human problems. We urgently need something outside the box of repetitious and ultimately disappointing material solutions. Prabhupada, with the ancient knowledge and practice of bhakti-yoga, from the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, India’s prime yoga text, illuminates a timeless spiritual solution for the same ongoing material problems that plague any era – now or in the future.
Comments and mantra singing clips from Allen Ginsberg, George Harrison and Boy George speak to the appeal of Hare Krishna as it exploded its way around the globe over the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s. An enthralling mix of interviews, archival footage, photographs, and re-created scenes, flavoured by the social activism of the 1960s and 1970s, establishes an undertone of dissatisfaction – an ongoing malaise within us all. But this discontent is always juxtaposed with Prabhupada’s message of a timeless spiritual solution, which brings hope to any age.
As the commentators point out lucidly in the early parts of the film, human greed and selfishness, in any era, can be traced back to spiritual ignorance. Whether this single-minded consciousness produces economic inequality, war, the destruction of our ecosphere, or disasters in our personal lives, a lack of understanding of who we really are is the root issue. This theme – that we are not this body but the spirit soul that animates the bodily machine – permeates the philosophy that Prabhupada presents and the filmmakers need do little to enhance its potency.
And Prabhupada’s solution to this root issue? Speaking on behalf of the ancient bhakti tradition that has successfully calmed human problems since the beginning of time, Prabhupada states: “If they take to this chanting, this transcendental vibration, the mind will be clear and they will see their actual identity.”
He refers to the pivotal, simple yet powerful art of mantra meditation, specifically using the Hare Krishna mantra, hence the title of the film, and the popular name for bhakti-yoga practitioners: “Hare Krishna.” Those who chant the mantra, in a dedicated way, learn the art of being satisfied nonmaterially, internally, through connection with Krishna, the Supreme Reservoir of Pleasure. They become happy in a deep way, and are no longer dependent on external sources of happiness.
The Griessers’ dedication since the early 1970s to document Srila Prabhupada’s presence and impact through powerful photography and cinematography has brought us this meaningful gem of cinema. Made with love, Hare Krishna! is about nonmaterial love and happiness, and leaves you feeling loved, by this most compassionate soul, Srila Prabhupada.