Santa Claus

There has been a tradition within ISKCON called the Christmas marathon that I have known since the beginning of the movement. I have no idea how or even if it still goes on today, but it certainly did during my time at the Los Angeles Temple. You are aware that the Krishna devotees are famous, or perhaps infamous, for street chanting, book distribution and of course proselytization. What you may not know of is “the pick.”

Krishna Consciousness at its very essence is an evangelical movement founded on the principle that the names of God are spiritual sound and so when these names are chanted privately or even publicly purification results. Thus devotees chant on beads a certain number of rounds each day. Similarly, devotees also go into the streets with chanting parties to do “street cleaning.” In my early days in Toronto I went on a few of these chanting parties. I admit there is a great rush that one gets in doing this, but I certainly never made public chanting one of my priorities in life. In fact I would avoid being at the temple when the chanting parties were being formed on a given day. I did not want to be pressured into going.

Along with these chanting parties book distributers were often included. Naturally a lot of curious people would assemble to listen to and watch the chanting party with its drums, tambourins, hand cymbals and colorful saris and shaven headed devotees. It was a spectacle indee. As the chanting party was moving along the street the book distributers would go into these crowds, talk to the people and ultimately sell them a book about Krishna Consciousness. Book sales soon became a good source of revenue for the temples, and how to best sell these books became a refined art. As a result many devotees became expert sales people. Armed with these sales skills book distribution gradually separated from the chanting parties and so shaven headed devotees would appear on all kinds of public places including street corners, bus stations and airports to sell Krishna Conscious books. One may not agree with the theology of Krishna Consciousness, but the rights of religious organizations are protected so long as everything is clean and above board. There is nothing wrong with public chanting and proselytization.

Somewhere along the line something odious crept into this street chanting and book distribution. Gradually robes and shaven heads were replaced with regular clothes, and wigs. Sacred books became bumper stickers or any thing else that could be sold. Devotees were out on the streets selling paraphernalia for the sole purpose of making money for the temple. This was The Pick. Can you grasp the meaning of the words, the pick (picking money out of peoples wallets? It became an extremely lucrative way of collecting money. Devotees would raise money for orphans, drug rehabilitation, hospitals almost any charitable cause that touched the heart of the public, and no one knew it was the Hare Krishna devotees collecting money for their temple.

 Anna, in this part of the world Christmas is the biggest shopping season of the year. The period November through January is the Christmas shopping season and so the devotees quickly adapted The Pick to take full advantage of this money flowing season. This became the annual Krishna Conscious Christmas marathon season. The time to get as many devotees on the street as possible selling almost anything. I doubt as a child you were ever taken by your mother to a big shopping store in order to sit the lap of Santa Claus and ask him to bring your favorite toy for Christmas. I certainly did, and virtually every other child on this continent did it as well. Santa Claus is indelibly etched into the culture of North America. So what a surprise it was to suddenly see 150 Santa Clauses on the street in front of the Los Angeles Krishna temple! They were preparing to be bused all over the city as part of the Christmas marathon pick. Underneath each on of these bearded Santa Clauses was a shaven headed Krishna devotee! I was amazed and appalled.

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