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North America
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Hare Krishna, Portland, Oregon, USA
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The International Society for Krishna Consciousness Temple was founded in 1966 in New York City by a man named A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. What sets this young Portland temple apart from larger Krishna temples is its friendly, casual atmosphere. 
Leila Navidi

2003 — student award of excellence

Columbia sportswear jackets and hoodies cover their saffron robes. Knit caps cover the trademark shikha haircut as they roam the streets on a wet Portland afternoon. If you frequent the area around Pioneer Square, you may have heard this line from them: "Hey man, you wanna hear about yoga, meditation and soul?"

You won't find these guys at the airport, tossing flowers at tourists and tired businessmen. You won't find them dancing with throngs of hippies in the park. You may not even see them, because there are not that many of them in Portland. If you do see them, they may leave you with a vegetarian cookbook, or just a smile and an enthusiastic "Hare Krishna!"

On a quiet, tree-lined street of Southeast Portland, in a weathered, single story house, Krishna devotees hold evening service. A pile of shoes on the doorstep greets visitors. Inside, there is the smell of strong incense and curried vegetables. The 3-year-old daughter of two members of the temple runs into the kitchen with container of salad. A monk stirs a simmering pot of broccoli soup. A young woman wraps a belated wedding gift on the floor. It's hard to stand in the kitchen without being in someone's way.

Fifteen seconds later, the sound of a conch shell trumpets through the room. The house is instantly transformed. Everybody rushes to the temple to lay themselves prostrate on the floor, paying respects to the deity statues before services begin.

How is this house, one inhabited by three guys in their twenties, and frequented by about 15-25 devotees from married couples, dreadlocked hippies, young women in saris with tattoos, to the occasional homeless vagabond, different from any other house in Portland? One of the answers is Krishna. Krishna is God, and everything they do is for Krishna. Or at least they're working on it.

"There's nothing to it, but to do it." Trikalajna, 23, one of the temple monks (formerly known as Travis Geyer) teaches a class on the Bhagavad-Gita, As It Is, the Krishna equivalent of the bible. He says Krishna only asks five things from a devotee at first: no meat, no gambling, no intoxicants, no sex before marriage and to chant the holy name of God. If you do these things with sincerity, patience, and faith, you can be closer to God, according to Trikalajna.

Three years ago, when he was still named Travis Geyer, Trikalajna met a Hare Krishna monk on the street. It was a Thursday morning and he bought the Bhagavad-Gita for three dollars. The next Monday he packed up all his belongings and moved into the temple to live the austere life of a monk.

"Everything you do for Krishna is fun. I cleaned all day today and it was fun because it was for Krishna," says Ananda Tirtha, formerly known as Tim Leeb. Ananda, 24, is a smiley, friendly Austrian monk who lives in the Portland temple. At the time he joined the movement, he was a 21-year-old college student "spacing out" in Vienna. "I was always hanging out with people who had the most weed," he recalls in his thick Austrian accent. To Ananda, that was not real friendship.

Trikalajna has a similar tale. When he was 18, he moved to Portland with a bunch of friends and $2,000. The plan was to start a band.    Soon after, the money, his friends, and his love for music had somehow disappeared. His karma changed the day he met a Krishna devotee outside of Pioneer Place Mall. "I felt, what can I say? Warm and fuzzy inside," he recalls, after reading the Bhagavad-Gita for the first time.

Trikalajna and Ananda have one young spiritual disciple under their wings, Bhakta Joe (Joe Bogner), 20, a Portland area native. Bhakta Joe moved into the temple in September 2004 after meeting Ananda at the Saturday Market.

If you listen closely, at any given moment or lull in conversation, you may hear a devotee singing Hare Krishna softly under his or her breath while peeling potatoes, changing a light bulb, sweeping the floor or writing an e-mail.

Being a monk is weird at first, and it doesn't get any less bizarre with time. Bhakta Joe says he has struggled with severe depression much of his life, and spirituality has helped him. "It's like getting a new job," he says slowly, with a steady, blue-eyed gaze. "It's strange."

It's also hard. The three guys get up at 4 a.m., stumble bleary-eyed out of sleeping bags laid out on the spotlessly clean hardwood floor, grab a cold shower, and then chant the Hare Krishna for two hours.   After morning services they have been up for over four hours. The rest of the day is either spent on the streets of downtown Portland distributing books or working in the temple.

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness Temple was founded in 1966 in New York City by a man named A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Scandals from fraud to murder have been attributed to the movement since its founding. But the past troubles seem unimportant and far away in this little Portland temple. Here the age of the main core of devotees barely skirts 30.

What sets this young Portland temple apart from larger Krishna temples is its friendly, casual atmosphere. If you don't sit on a rug in the temple, that's o.k. The devotees and monks sometimes stumble over Sanskrit pronunciation and the phrase "Hook 'em up phat!" was heard during Bhagavad-Gita class one Wednesday evening.

"Somehow we've been able to maintain enough to continue here. As long as there is someone who knows what's going on," says Trikalajna.

When asked who that person is, Trikalajna hesitates for a second as though he is unsure, then he stares straight ahead and answers as though it is completely obvious.


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October 25, 2004 - From left, Bhakta Joe, 20, Ananda Tirtha, 24, and Nityanandaram, 28, watch a DVD documentary on the life of ISKCON founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Leila Navidi/Alexia Foundation
October 26, 2004 - Ananda Tirtha (center), 24, and former devotee Bhakta Reagan (left), 21, encounter a friendly man on the street known only as Danny during their day of selling books. Leila Navidi/Alexia Foundation
October 26, 2004 - Ananda Tirtha, 24, gets snubbed by a pair of girls running from the rain outside Pioneer Place mall. Leila Navidi/Alexia Foundation
Krishna Anjali dances in front of stacks of Krishna literature waiting to be sold. Leila Navidi/Alexia Foundation
October 27, 2004 - Ananda Tirtha (center), 24, blows a conch shell to signify the beginning of services in the temple. Leila Navidi/Alexia Foundation
October 31, 2004 - Bhakta Joe chants during morning services. Leila Navidi/Alexia Foundation
November 7, 2004  - Tyler Knowles, 22, serves up some prasadam (blessed food) to a full temple after Sunday services. Leila Navidi/Alexia Foundation
November 7, 2004  - Nityanandaram (left), 28, and Trikalajna, 23, play a game on the computer called "Hair of Krishna" where they have to guess the the name of the devotee from a photo of him before he got his head shaved. Leila Navidi/Alexia Foundation
Trikalajna's (center) conversation with a former monk and godbrother named Forrest is interrupted by three-year-old Krishna Anjali. Leila Navidi/Alexia Foundation
November 9, 2004  - Brhad Bala (center), 26, hugs Ananda Tirtha goodbye the night before Ananda leaves for two months for Europe and India as Trikalajna (right) looks on. Leila Navidi/Alexia Foundation