First established by Brahmananda Das in the 1970s, ISKCON of Tallahassee, Florida closed down before restarting in a new building in the 1990s. After struggling with financial and organizational challenges in more recent times, the center is once again getting a new lease of life with a new name – the Tallahassee Krishna House – and a new young president, Brajananda Das.
Originally from West Palm Beach in South Florida, Brajananda, 31, joined ISKCON in Gainesville in 2012 and served as a full-time book distributor with Rupanuga Vedic College’s Traveling Sankirtan Party, touring the U.S. for seven years. When he became engaged to Kumari Sakhi Dasi last July and began looking to settle down, however, he needed a more anchored service, and ISKCON Tallahassee was seeking help at just the right time.
To bring new life into the struggling center, Brajananda essentially turned it into a franchise of the successful Gainesville Krishna House, giving it the same name, bringing the morning program to the same solid standard, nurturing in-house relationships, and building outreach and community among local students through a Krishna Lunch program. The lunch also brings in funds for the center.
Although ISKCON Tallahassee already had an existing Krishna Lunch since the mid 1990s, Brajananda standardized its organization and menu according to the Gainesville Krishna House’s practices. He also rebranded it with 100 posters around the FSU (Florida State University) Campus, and added punch cards that give the holder a free meal once they’ve brought along three friends.
Served in a cafeteria on the FSU Campus every week day, The Krishna Lunch distributes an average of 100 plates of prasadam daily for $5 each. The sumptuous menu includes chickpea masala on Monday, kofta and veggies on Tuesday, pasta on Wednesday, Thai curry and dahl on Thursday, and four bean chili on Friday. Every day, there is also rice, salad with the famous Krishna Lunch dressing, a drink, and a different flavor of halava.
The Krishna Lunch Menu poster
Although live kirtan is not allowed in the cafeteria as it is at the Gainesville Krishna Lunch’s outdoor venue, students get to hear the Holy Names over speakers, as well as to meet devotees and receive books from the accompanying book table.
“We’ve had a few students read the books, get interested and ask questions,” says Brajananda. “A lot of them agree with the philosophy – it makes sense to them. One guy read Devamrita Swami’s book, “Hiding in Unnatural Happiness” and was telling me how much he liked it. Then he picked up the Bhagavad-gita and said ‘I gotta dig into this next!’ Now he’s reading the Gita, and has spoken with me on several occasions about his thoughts on it.”
Brajananda loves distributing books this way: “When I was traveling and distributing books, I could email people, and they might email back, but you were never able to have too much of a relationship with them. This way is great, because it’s much more interactive – they know where you are, and can see you every day.”
Students love the atmosphere at Krishna Lunch as well as the taste of the prasadam and the good deal.
Students in line for prasadam — the Krishna Lunch program creates community
“They like to engage in conversation with us, and feel like we’re their friends,” says Brajananda. “They also show their gratitude by volunteering. When they come and help serve out, they get a free plate – but it’s not about the plate for them. Often, they just like coming and serving, and being part of the group.”
One student, who is currently doing her internship as a nurse, loves it so much that she comes to help serve out the entire lunch during her days off.
“She doesn’t even care for her free plate, a lot of times she just takes some salad,” Brajananda says. “She’s not there for the food, she just likes to be part of the service, and she likes Krishna consciousness too.”
Extending this feeling of community is the restarted FSU Krishna Club, which holds meetings every Tuesday at 6:30pm at the University’s Global and Multicultural Engagement building. Students chant, discuss topics such as spirit and matter, karma, and reincarnation, and take prasadam.
The Krishna Lunch team get ready to serve
FSU students also attend the Sunday Feast at the Tallahassee Krishna House. “We try to make things relatable for Westerners – for instance, we say ‘worship ceremony’ instead of ‘puja,’ show that we care about treating men and women equally, and explain Bhagavad-gita in an engaging discussion-based format,” says Brajananda.
Next, he plans to start an educational “Bhakti Academy” for students, using Gainesville Krishna House’s curriculum to study the full Srimad-Bhagavatam in one year.
Brajananda comments that ISKCON in the U.S. is very much in need of more young devotees with youthful energy and preaching spirit to reinvigorate struggling temples or start preaching centers, particularly near universities, as he has. His long term dream is to develop a successful university outreach program in Tallahassee, and then to help other centers around the country apply the same template.
He suggests that to make it possible for young married devotees to do such a service, ISKCON should emulate the Christian church and have congregation members tithe; then temples should hire clergy members, paying their ministers a salary to serve the community. Otherwise hardworking “clergy” become burnt out, or simply have to go and get an outside job to support their family.
Students gather to discuss Bhagavad-gita at the Tallahassee Krishna House
While some in ISKCON disagree and say that no one should be paid for devotional service, Brajananda makes a clear distinction. No one should do devotional service to get paid, he says. But the community should support people so that they are able to serve.
“Most people in this day and age need some salary,” he explains. “For health insurance, for a home – realistically, most grihastas are not going to live like brahmacharis in the temple, they need their own space.”
Of course, some ISKCON temples would not be able to afford to pay clergy. Brajananda, who is able to support his service through the Krishna Lunch program, says that either way, the work of running a temple requires sacrifice – but it’s worth it.
“There’s just something very satisfying about taking on one of Srila Prabhupada’s centers, nursing it, and helping it grow,” he explains. “Being in the preaching field is tough, there’s a lot of austerity to it. But it’s also very rewarding.”
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