for The Idaho Statesman (USA) on Feb. 14, 2009
"All the qualities we have are really coming from God," says Aruddha Gupta, whose family helped found Boise's Hare Krishna Temple and Vedic Cultural Center. "He's the source of everything. When we serve God, we naturally get these qualities: kindness, compassion, humility, tolerance." And joy. "That's why you see us singing and dancing."
She says: "Who am I? We're not the body. The body is just the covering of the soul; it identifies us. I am Aruddha, born in India but really, we are spirit - part and parcel of the greater spirit.
"And then the part serves the whole, just like the hand serves the body. The purpose of our tiny soul is to serve the greater soul, which is God. That's where our happiness is.
"This has been my underlying (foundation): Service brings happiness to everyone. It can all start with the family and then we can make the whole world our family."
Twenty-two years ago, Arun and Aruddha Gupta moved to Boise. As was traditional in India, when the family moved into their new home, they created an altar devoted to Krishna.
"Mostly in India, people are quite religious and pious. My parents were very similar. As a child, I would wake up at 6 a.m., shower, go to the family temple inside the house. As a family, we would pray together, chant, sing.
"This became part of my life. When we moved here, it was already part of my life."
The next step seemed only natural, which was to invite friends to join in the daily prayers around the family altar. Over the years, the gatherings grew in size until, one day, the idea for a temple was conceived.
"It's like we could have a big, 100-course meal, but we couldn't be happy unless we invite others to share. With a big, 100-room house, we wouldn't be happy. The whole idea is when we share with others and serve others, we actually become joyful.
"It is our nature to serve, so when we serve God, we become happy,"
Nine years ago, the Hare Krishna Temple and Vedic Cultural Center was dedicated. The golden dome gleams over the homes near the Boise State campus. Today, about a hundred people gather on Sundays for chanting, singing and studying. Aruddha and Arun are the ministers, caretakers and heart and soul of the temple.
"Basically, this has been our life and the purpose starting the temple: Sharing, helping people both physically and spiritually, and sharing our resources and our culture."
Aruddha's faith is such an integral part of her life that she home-schooled her sons, teaching them from devotional texts and raising them to follow the religious disciplines.
"Practices are good to keep a sound mind and body. They aren't dogmatic; they're uplifting.
"We follow the four principles: Don't eat meat, don't do intoxicants, no gambling and no illicit sex (outside marriage). Just these four principles will do much to improve our lives. There is more of a sense of freedom if we follow these."
Aruddha wakes daily at 4:30 a.m. for an hour and a half of chanting and singing in the temple.
"Chanting is like the detergent that scrubs the heart and lets the original qualities shine
"Chanting is the reason we become peaceful, because we understand our true identity. Anxiety means we don't know who we are. Chanting helps us know: We are children of God."
Afterward, there is reading and studying sacred texts, the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita.
"When we start the day like that, we can take the struggles that life has to give us very happily because of that inner strength."
And then there is cooking. Aruddha disappears into her kitchen, just off the temple. She emerges with flatbread, vegetarian curry and rice and battered zucchini. It smells like heaven, and indeed, that may be so. Twice a day, she cooks and the food is offered to God, turning ordinary food into spiritual sustenance. It's called prasadam.
"What I try to do in my life is serve in many areas. Through the temple, through food. For the last 20 years, I've cooked prasadam every Sunday for so many people. It makes you healthy; it also nourishes the soul."
Some days she and her husband give tours through the temple, sometimes they teach classes in local schools and universities. The day is full tending the temple; and then there are prayers again at 6 p.m.
"The first thing my parents taught me: Serve God and worship him. It's like watering the roots of a tree. When you water the roots, the leaves and branches automatically get watered."
The spiritual disciplines also allow her to question deeply. She quotes Socrates: An unexamined life is not worth living.
"Helping people examine their lives and understand the purpose of life helps to answer the deeper questions, like who am I, why am I here, what is the purpose of life.
"If we ask the questions, we see the higher purpose."
Worldwide, roughly a half billion devotees of Krishna make up the largest branch within Hinduism, a major world religion. Although they may follow many different practices, spiritual principles unite them - as well as all religions. "Hinduism says there are many paths to the top of the mountain," says Aruddha's eldest son, Ravi.
"Our teacher Srila Prabhupada says it does not matter whatever religion you are. Christian, Muslim, Buddhist - but whatever you are, be a good one. The same ideas are in each.
"God just has different names: Christ, Allah, Krishna, Buddha, Jehovah. (Worshipping) in so many different ways doesn't change the unity - all worship God and God is one."