Free Market Religion

Soon another devotee arrived, a Scottish Prabhupada disciple named Gaur Nitai along with his wife and family. He brought a team of Brown Swiss plowing bulls! Within days he bought a house with 20 acres just across the ravine from where I lived and became our immediate neighbor. Kama Nagari and I were delighted to have devotees living close by. We had lived alone for years, isolated from devotees, and now devotees were arriving almost on a weekly basis. In one month alone four new families arrived, all disciples of Kirtanananda. One from Vancouver, Mahesh who bought and sold used cars for a living; another from Peteborough, Gaur Gopal, who bought and sold anything he could get his hands on, and a third, an astrologer named Chaitanya. It was from this astrologer that I had my first experiences with HIndu astrology. Then there was another devotee, a Prabhupada disciple from Vancouver, who had been living in the middle east and was looking for a place in Canada to settle. He stopped to visit for a few weeks, but I remember after just a few days he came banging on me door in the middle of the night begging me to drive him to the airport at 2 AM! I learned that he was hiding from a German girl who was desperately trying to marry him. He had received word that she was coming in the morning and so he needed to escape immediately. He had been in Germany when he first met her, then when he went to China she followed him, then to somewhere in Africa she followed him, then to Lebanon and now here in here in Canada where I lived she was still following him! She was chasing him around the world! I do not know why I did it, but I drove him to the Toronto airport at that ungodly hour. It was a 5 hour round trip for me. I do not know how she did it, but in the end she married him and they returned to live at our community. This was just the beginning of the headaches I would receive from all of these devotees. I was quickly going to learn that the lives of most devotees was one tangled mess after another, and as leader of this growing community, it was going to be my job to solve all of their problems: marriage problems, financial problems, health, legal and psychological problems. There was no end to the headaches coming my way! At the time, however, I was delighted to have these devotees arrive. Eventually all four of these families rented homes in Norham, a village nearby. This gave me an idea, a revolutionary idea!

Norham was a picturesque hamlet in the heart of eastern Ontario. At the center was a church and general store. Along the southern limit of the village there was a stream and sawmill. Surrounding the church a store were 65 homes, half of which were unoccupied. The church had not been used for worship in a generation and the general store was just barely surviving. A part from the few residents and their relatives, no one ever came to Norham. It was one of many farm villages that had been destroyed with the advent of the automobile. Once the car had taken hold thousands of hamlets like Norham, which had served as a shopping center in the horse and buggy days, had faded into obscurity. With a car people could travel to larger centers for shopping and entertainment and so Norham had become reduced to a mere relic from an earlier age. But it was perfect for what I had in mind. Throughout North America in the 1960s and 1970s the “back to the land” movement had become popular. This was part of the hippie movement and disenfranchised youth were leaving the cities in large numbers and searching for their version of Walden. Communes sprung up outside of every city in North America including a few Hare Krishna farm communities. New Vrindavan was one of these communes.

The great problem with most of these collective living experiments, including the Hare Krishna communities, were local zoning codes. The commune was based on the idea that a group of families with a common ideology could get together, pool their resources, and buy a farm that could then be used by the members to practice their particular ideology. The commune was one large family and in order to make it work members need to live in close proximity to each other. The problem was that in most localities zoning codes prohibited more than one family living on a single parcel of land. This meant that a farm of 100 acres, which was common in most parts of the country, could only house one family. A hundred acres was actually enough space for hundreds of families, but zoning codes restricted it to one. A proposed commune could, in theory, petition local government to allow more families to live on this one parcel or even to subdivide this parcel into many parcels, but this was next to impossible because most rural communities were highly conservative and wanted to preserve their farms. They were especially suspicious of hippie like groups and even religious groups trying to do this. Religious cults were especially shunned! At the time our community had seven married couples and one brahmachari. In total there were 27 people including children, but I knew that in the future a lot more people would come if the conditions where right. So one night the idea came to me: Buy a town! A town by its very nature was already sub divided with homes in close proximity and most towns already had the correct zoning for religious, commercial and residential zoning. So Norham was perfect. There was a church and a general store and houses all around. This would solve all of our zoning requirements, and best of all, real estate prices were already depressed because the town was only half occupied. So Norham was ripe for the taking. I also liked the idea of individual development instead of communal development. In most religious models the collective would purchase the land and then provide the land back to its members, but I felt in the long run it was better to let the members themself rent or purchase their own properties. The commune model was socialism on a small scale whereas what I was proposing was a free market religious community. It was a spectacular idea!

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