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In Brooklyn, a Hare Krishna Reckoning

By: for The New York Times on Dec. 22, 2017
People

A disagreement over whether to sell New York’s main Hare Krishna temple, located in Downtown Brooklyn since the early ‘80s, is dividing the congregation.

 

As the Hare Krishna Society builds a lavish new temple in India, it is struggling to control a faction in the city where the religion was born.

Weekdays at Govinda’s Vegetarian Lunch, a cafeteria in the basement of Sri Sri Radha Govinda Mandir, the Hare Krishna temple located in the rapidly developing area of Downtown Brooklyn, is a peaceful affair. Outside, there are cranes, scaffolding and cement trucks. But inside and down a few stairs, there is faint, dulcet chanting piped through speakers. Contented diners, ranging from municipal workers to financial sector employees, sit together with plates piled full of eggplant Parmesan and chana masala.

It’s a soothing respite for Govinda regulars. “It’s been a weekly staple,” said Javiel Vazquez, who works for Consolidated Edison nearby.

The tranquil atmosphere hasn’t permeated the four floors above, however, where a fight over leadership has roiled the shrinking congregation. Prompted by a possible sale of the temple, at 295-311 Schermerhorn Street, for close to $60 million to a developer, a power struggle has pitted the temple president and his board of trustees against the leaders of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, also known as Iskcon or the Hare Krishna Society.

It’s the latest chapter in a series of sweeping changes for the Hare Krishnas in New York, many of whom have divergent views on how to adhere to the rules and tenets of what is now a large, international organization. These days the religion is more popular in India than it is in the United States, the country that nurtured and fueled the movement in the late 1960s and ‘70s. But at its most basic, the conflict also reveals how the real-world notions of financial power and political control can disrupt a religion that is supposed to embrace selflessness.

For a humble spiritual movement that was born in an East Village storefront, the Hare Krishna conflict in Brooklyn involves a lot of money, a good amount of litigation, and even, at some point, locked temple doors and private security guards.

Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/22/nyregion/in-brooklyn-a-hare-krishna-reckoning.html

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