Building a Nation

In those early days, when our community of devotees was just starting and the Norham idea was beginning to develop, my life experiences were still limited; so I could not fully understand or appreciate the significance of what I was doing. Today I can write about this part of my life with clarity and ease, but at the time it was anything but clear. It would be years before I could see the implications of what I was doing. At the time the Norham solution was just a practical way of solving our zoning code problems. The concept of free market spiritualism compared to spiritual communism was not clear. In fact, I thought my ideas were spiritually wrong. I believed that spiritual communism was the ideal, and if our community at Norham could have purchased one farm and allowed its members to live in a spiritual collective, I would most surely would have gone in that direction. It would take me years to see the failings of this approach. Only after living under the spiritual communism of New Vrindavan, would I come to understand the long term implications and dangers of spiritual communism. In those days our ISKCON training taught us that everything belonged to Krishna and therefore it was maya to own personal property. Individuals should own as little as possible. Life should be kept simple. This, of course, meant that the temple or the community or even the guru would own all things on behalf of God. This is what I mean by spiritual communism. What I was eventually to learn, however, is that when we say that Krishna, or the community owns everything, the practical effect is that nobody owns anything and therefore nobody takes personal responsibility for anything, and in the case of land and vehicles they quickly become misused and abused. Life is cheap under spiritual communisum. It sounds good on paper, but in real life it fails miserably. My experiments in community building that had just started in Norham were lessons in political and economic philosophy. On a tiny scale I was learning the principles of nation building, and today, I find that my political philosophy has been radically shaped by what I was doing in these early years in Norham and in New Vrindavan. I was also going to learn, in a very dramatic way, the relationship between religious power, political power and totalitarianism, but that is a story for the future.

So Kanina and I set about to purchase the Norham church. It was a dilapidated mess and we would need to pour a lot of money and effort into it to make it useful. Our plan was to use it as a factory for our businesses for a few years and then to donate it to the community as a temple. Gaudiya was to do the renovations. As I recall we purchased the church for $12,000, each of us putting $6,000 into the deal. Whoever the sellers were, they were delighted to wash their hands of such a mess, and we were equally delighted to own such a mess! Step one was complete; we owned the village church which meant we controlled the high ground. The next step was to make the church functional for our businesses and create an economic base for our community. Marvin and Tucker would take the upper floor for sewing operations and Kanina would take the lower floor for his pottery business. If devotees were going to rent and buy homes in Norham we needed to provide jobs. As our businesses prospered our employment potential would expand and more devotees could come. Our community needed an economic base and these two businesses were to be the foundation. At the time the community’s temple was not in Norham proper, but in a small farm house a few kilometers away from Norham. A temple produces a lot of noise from musical instruments, singing and chanting, so until we had the church to use for worship we decided to keep our temple in the farmhouse away from the public. I did not want to draw unneeded attention to what we were doing. I hoped to stay away from public view as long as I could. So far as the world needed to know the old Norham church had been purchased for business. Nothing religious was taking place.

Marvin and Tucker soon moved out of my basement and came to the Norham church. Kanina also moved his pottery kilns to the church. I had Gaudiya build an elevator to move our supplies and finished products between floors. I moved a few of my workers to the factory, but I still kept most of them working in their homes. I used the ones in the factory for special purpose sewing. I could control and manage their work more efficiently there. In total Kama Nagari and I had 37 people working for us. Gaudiya became our “run around man” and I trained him to time the sewing machines, drive into Toronto with finished goods and pick up supplies and a host of other things. His wife, Lilashuka, became our book keeper handling the accounts receivable and payable. Kama Nagari managed the office while I managed the production. Kanina also hired some people to work for him, but in general his business was primarily him working alone, while our business was labor intensive. There was nothing artistic about making slippers, It was strictly production-line work. Each morning all the members of the community, including the new families would meet at the temple for morning prayers; we would eat breakfast together as a group and then go to work. At noon we would meet again at the temple for a community lunch and then go back to work for the afternoon. In this way life went on.

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