Food for meditation
article from the Columbia University School Newspaper: Spectator
Bhakti is fast becoming the best source of free vegetarian food on campus. As Ajay Mangal, CC ’10, remarked, “If you’re allergic to delicious, this [Bhakti] isn’t the place for you.” However, Bhakti is about more than food—it is also one of Columbia’s strongest spiritual communities.
Two beloved Hare Krishna monks run the club: Dave, who never fails to throw in a joke, and Pandit, a true sage and father figure. Although some students might be initially worried about the strange orange outfits these monks don, their open-minded approach to all backgrounds, all belief systems, and all faiths quickly breaks down these barriers. Bhakti reaches in seconds what it sometimes takes years to achieve in diversity training: a safe environment that is free of judgment, allowing students to be themselves, without stress. It’s kind of refreshing after spending time on the campus of, reportedly, the country’s second-most-stressful university, in the midst of the world’s busiest city.
Students put up walls—through habits, silence, or attitude—when stressed. After Bhakti removes the cause, a flood of pent up emotions, feelings, and ideas rush out that most of us don’t even realize are there. Bhakti gets students talking about hushed issues like mortality, anger, or fear, without generating the heat of debate or pushing a religion.
Bhakti’s voice in the exchange of ideas is meaningful. In addition to offering a safe environment, Dave and Pandit offer a perspective relatively unknown to the typical westernized student. The level of difference in worldview is epitomized by Krishna, the supreme deity of this sect of Hinduism. He is not portrayed as a martyr suffering for human sins, nor is he spiteful or angry; rather, Krishna is always smiling and often portrayed dancing and playing a flute. This contrast effectively opens the minds of students and offers an alternative way of looking at life, which is invaluable, regardless of one’s personal belief system. Students are trying out more than just new food—they’re trying out a new mindset.