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Jan 25, 2021

Life in a Krishna temple

What is it like to live as a monk in a Krishna temple? Mattia went to find out and made a video.

Krishna monk
Uddhava Swami
This article is part of Project Kamp, a One Army project prototyping a more sustainable life. You can learn more
here
.

During the first Coronavirus lockdown we (Mattia & wifey) got stuck in a farm in the mountains in Southern India. Definitely not a bad place to spend a lockdown. Eventually we stayed there for a whole 4 months. Epic :)

 

The interesting part is that together with us, a couple of Krishna monks also got stuck in the farm. COVID didn’t spare anyone, not even the holy monks. Beyond the initial fascination with the colourful duo from a very different culture (miles and most importantly centuries away from us), we soon began to get closer to the monks and their way of living.

If you have 26 minutes at hand and want to learn about monastic life in a Krishna temple make sure to watch the video below.

What is it like to live in Krishna temple?

Being a monk is not an easy gig. You are at odds with society. Criticism coming at you from many angles. Tons of rules, expectations and duties. Plus, you are awake at 4.30 am every day. The day ahead is packed with praying, meditating, various services, hundreds of visitors and spiritual affairs. It is a tough life, both physically and mentally. 

Daily schedule in a Krishna temple

Monks living in Krishna temples have very tight schedules and packed days from the moment they wake up until they go to sleep. The monks told me that most of them only need 3-4 hours of sleep per night - this is to do with their lifestyle and diets they say. Below you can see a breakdown of a typical day in Krishna temple.

04.00 Wake up time
04.30 - 06.00 Worship (16 rounds of chanting Hare-Krishna mantra)
06.00 - 7.30 Free time
07.30 - 09.00 Worship time (Bhagavad Gita class)
09.00 - 10.00 Breakfast
10.00 - 12.30 Services (from cleaning the temple to distributing books)
12.30 - 13.30 Worship
13.30 - 14.30 Lunch
14.30 - 16.30 Free time
16.30 - 19.30 Worship (Tulsi Pooja and Bhagavad Gita class)
19.30 - 20.00 Dinner
20.00 - 20.30 Worship

Prasada and Krishna food

In a Krishna temple the only food allowed is Prasada. This is food that has been first offered to Krishna with a specific vedic ritual. Once the food has been offered to Krishna, it can be shared amongst the devotees. Prasada is strictly vegetarian, as they are against killing of animals, and excludes prohibited items like onion, garlic and other roots as they believe that these foods don't help spiritual life. And believe it or not, even with all these limitations food tasted delicious.

Chapati and soup held in a metal plate
Chapati and soup

Non intoxication

Non intoxication also plays an important role in the temple. Intoxications of any kind are prohibited. Drugs, smoking and alcohol as you  might have guessed but also coffee, black tea and gambling. Overall it makes for a more peaceful society.  

No privacy

When monks give up family life and decide to go live in a temple, they leave behind not only affections, comforts and pretty much everything they own - they most importantly leave behind privacy. In the temples “there is no privacy” as Swami Shyamananda Dasa confirms in the video. Monks sleep in shared dormitories, eat with hundreds of other monks and generally have no privacy whatsoever. This can be taxing after a while.

Material desires

Krishna monks are in a constant internal battle trying resisting material desires as much as possible. You might think, “Oh, I just skip the new iPhone or sneaker and I am good”. But the monk's understanding of material desires goes way deeper. For instance monks live with no money, few clothes, near zero possessions, only have cold showers, no overeating and many more restrictions to help them elevate above the day-to-day visceral drill. They believe happiness is to be found inside not outside. Who can blame them?

Takeaways

If you don’t have the time to watch the video, here are a few takeaways from the interview with the monks that could be useful for anyone living, or thinking to start living, together in a group. 

1. Living together is challenging. Whether you are a monk or a normal human being living collectively is difficult. Even the monks that live all of their life in a group still encounter issues and problems on a daily basis. So if you are about to start living with a group of people keep in mind that alongside times of great euphoria and happiness there will also be times of difficulties. And that’s ok. 

2. Having a purpose is crucial. Monks withstand the harshest conditions and problems because they have a deeply rooted purpose for their life. The worship of Krishna. This helps them in moments of weakness and difficulty.  Like a north star. Make sure you have a strong purpose and raison d'être for your project as it will be a useful ally and guide all along your journey into communal living.  

3. Monk life is very structured. Living in a temple is full of rules, duties, procedures, schedules, services, authorities and hierarchies. And that’s what allowed them to exist and thrive for 5000 years. If you’re into anarchism that’s probably not your cup of tea.

Funny fact

As a Krishna monks you have two options when it comes to haircut. Either fully shaved or never shaved. Again, this is a rule to help people not fall into vanity and external superficialities. So Nevil, the farm owner, shaved his head continuously during his monk life until 30-something, then from the moment he left he never cut his hair or beard ever again. You can imagine the mighty beard.

Why is this important for Project Kamp?

Krishna monks have lived together in monasteries for more than 5 millennials. That is more than 5000 years. Quite impressive on its own. Especially if you consider that in the west we can’t even live with our partners for longer than a few years before bringing hell on earth :) On this point, make sure to watch our Tamera video to learn how these people in Portugal are building their community with human relationships and reciprocal love at its core.  

Beyond the religious aspect, monks have a huge database of knowledge, tricks, rules and strategies to live peacefully and, most importantly, to live fully as individuals and as a group. And that’s super useful for Project Kamp and anyone trying to live together.

man interviewing a Krishna monk
Mattia interviewing  Swami Shyamananda Dasa

So do you want Project Kamp to become like a temple?

Nop, not really. We're more into cults :) Just joking.

Life as a monk in a monastery is a bit too extreme for most people out there and with Project Kamp we would like to inspire as many people as possible to rethink their life in a more sustainable manner. Providing solutions that are more approachable and easy to implement - plug and play sustainability.

However, there are still many learnings to be taken from monastic life - like trying to be as tolerant as possible with people around you, their impressive and admirable dedication, their routines, their rigorous vegetarian diet, but perhaps the most important takeaway would be to learn to be brave enough to lead a life in line with your goals and beliefs regardless of criticisms or status quo. Oh and maybe we could do with a bit of their endless wisdom.

Grateful

During our classes we were taught many wise (and generally useful) concepts to live a better life as humans on this planet. And one of them was to be grateful. Well, we will be forever thankful to Swami Shyamananda Dasa and Uddhava Swami for their time and dedication to explain us how they see the world without ever forcing their agenda on us. It was a beautiful human exchange.

Thank you 🖤

Two Krishna monks
Swami Shyamananda Dasa and Uddhava Swami

Now send it around :)
Picture of the author of the suggestion
Handpicked suggestion by
Mattia

From here you could have a look at the other community we visited in India, Auroville. Or just take a minute for yourself and decompress.