The Value System of Hungarian Krsna Devotees

Istv�n Kamar�s

This is the second report by Istv�n Kamar�s based on his unique and thorough survey of ISKCON in Hungary. The first appeared in ICJ Volume 7, No. 2, and looked into the reactions by the Hungarian government, media and public to the burgeoning Hare Krsna movement in their country. This new report delves deeper and deals with issues involving the change in lifestyle and value-systems of Hungarian devotees since they first joined the movement and how these have evolved. There are also comparisons with other sectors of Hungarian society, including Christian monastic orders. This report is a snapshot of the Society in Hungary in the late 1990s.


The study


Purpose, design and methodology


In 1995, the Community of Hungarian Devotees of Krsna Consciousness (MKTHK) requested that a research project be conducted to provide firsthand knowledge of the lifestyle, customs and value systems of members of the Hare Krsna movement in Hungary. MKTHK felt that such a study would be useful, since very view Hungarians were aware of the Hare Krsna movement, and what impressions did exist derived mostly from biased publications or statements in the press. The research project, which involved data collection, interviews, observation and analysis, was conducted from 1995 to 1997. The study was first published in Hungary in 1998[1] and was subsequently reported in ISKCON Communications Journal.[2]


The study consisted of a questionnaire, completed by 126 ISKCON devotees, and in-depth interviews with 68 devotees. The devotees who took part in the study mostly consisted of the core membership, but also included a small number of secular devotees, strong sympathisers, and people who had formerly been involved in the movement but had since weakened their connection. Interviews were undertaken with one-third of the leaders (members of the National Council and Temple Boards). The study sample included approximately 40% of the ISKCON devotees in Hungary who had received second initiation (brahmana initiation); 20% of the ISKCON devotees in Hungary who had received first initiation (harinama initation); and15-20% of devotees who were then living in temples, preaching centres and asramas.


Acting as a participating observer, I became familiar with the everyday life of devotees from ISKCON Hungary's major preaching centres in Budapest, P�cs, Szolnok, Eger, Debrecen and Krsna Valley (an organic farm and Vedic cultural centre situated near the village of Somogyv�mos. We also attended a number of devotional programmes.[3] Within the framework of a social-psychological experiment we showed Stalker, a film by Andrei Tarkovsky, to 50 people (in three small groups), after which we asked the audience to complete a questionnaire and participate in group discussions. A test sheet containing poems graphically describing transcendental experiences was completed by 33 individuals. A brief questionnaire was also completed by 168 non-devotees, representing seven social groups, which tested their knowledge of Vedic culture, Hinduism, Vaisnavism and the Hare Krsna movement in general. In addition, we looked at articles that had been published about Krsna devotees between 1990 and 1997 as well as devotional, apologetic and theological publications (in Hungarian) that mentioned Hare Krsna devotees. Finally, nine experts (consisting of theologians, philosophers and culturologists) were asked to comment on, interpret and evaluate 100 pages of texts selected from Hare Krsna publications available to newly initiated Hungarian devotees in the period 1994-7.


The changing paradigm of identity




Various roads lead to Krsna consciousness: they can be short or long, straight or twisting (with detours, sudden stops and setbacks). Some individuals even try several ways simultaneously. Whilst some people accept the philosophy of Krsna consciousness immediately and unconditionally, others can only proceed step-by-step. There are some who stay in a 'negotiating position' for a long time (sometimes for their whole lives). There are some who use the philosophy to build on their previous personas while others totally repudiate or replace past identities. There are some who consider their previous life a mere preparation, the beginning of a journey or a period of accumulating values, while others think it was time wasted.


The interviews revealed that in most cases no particular crisis preceded conversion, but that conversion usually resulted from gradual realisation that something was lacking in their lives, often resulting in a quest for that missing part. In such cases a strong (often cathartic) emotional experience played a significant role in conversion, as did the influence of a seemingly genuine and charismatic person who provided rational and easy to understand answers through both speech and literature. The people most likely to adopt the values of Krsna consciousness step-by-step were those engaged in alternative lifestyles, those undertaking higher consciousness leisure activities such as yoga, and those interested in oriental culture, the mystical or the occult. As with other paths to conversion, heightened emotions, personality changes and answers that provided a secure reference point all played an important role.


For those who started their inner journey as a result of a deep crisis, a life jacket was provided by the atmosphere, emotions, experiences, personal connections and community found in Krsna consciousness. However, a certain percentage of individuals finally stopped chanting and attending the programmes, and returned to their former lifestyles. This process was noted especially with regard to former drug users, although this study did not support the assumption that such persons escaped from one type of ecstasy to enter another.


Effects and Changes


To the question 'What did you initially find the most attractive?' the responses were as follows: knowledge (49%), the persons involved (40%), the effects on the senses, especially by music (31%), the purity of devotees (23%), the community (14%), the atmosphere (13%) and the spirituality (10%). It was found that women in particular were most strongly affected by a combination of these factors.


When asked 'How has Krsna consciousness changed your life?' 44% of respondents answered 'radically', 'totally', or 'very much', while others identified the special way in which this change occurred: lifestyle (17%), security and happiness (13%), the presence of a life goal (13%) and the perceived change in personality (10%). For the newly converted, Krsna consciousness primarily represented security and a loving community, while for the initiated it represented a well-practised way of life, changes in personality, and spirituality. By organising a control group of 35 Christians similar in age and gender, we had an opportunity to compare Krsna and Christian monks. Among Krsna monks, the main directions of change were lifestyle and personality, while for Christians these factors were spirituality, the spiritual horizon and the community.


Of Krsna devotees, 96% thought their personalities had changed in a positive way since conversion. Most of them felt they had become more humble and tolerant (24%), more determined (16%), more harmonious (12%) and more sincere (10%). Women felt this change as increased feelings of love whilst men perceived it as greater determination. Rather more serious differences were found in this respect between Christian and Krsna monks: Krsna monks felt this change first of all in their emotions, level of openness and purity, while Christians felt it more in their level of spirituality.


To the question: 'What is it that interests you much less now than before?' the answers were as follows: material goods and success (36%), the satisfaction of the senses (15%), entertaining low-quality arts (13%), watching television (13%), high-level arts (13%) and entertainment (8%). After conversion, interest had increased in the following areas: religious topics (36%), spiritual meditation (26%), philosophy (16%) and science (9%). The interest of women was broader and more spiritual than men. Krsna monks generally appeared to be much more spiritual and inward looking than Christian monks, who seemed to be more responsive both to the immediate and broader communities. The shaping of the interests of Krsna devotees was characterised by a simultaneous deepening internally and narrowing externally, as well as the opening up of perspectives and the reduction in interests.


A large majority (90%) of Krsna devotees felt that their relationships had changed since their conversion, with most feeling that their existing relationships had improved. However, many also said that old relationships had either been cut off or had become secondary, and that they had found new friends in their fellow devotees. It is also interesting to note that although conversion to the Krsna faith resulted in a few devotees breaking off communication with their families, in the majority of cases where contact had been lost, it was the families themselves who were responsible for this break.


Spiritual growth


For the majority of Hungarian devotees, the authentic line of spiritual succession is led by Prabhupada himself, then Sivarama Swami (the Governing Body Commissioner for Hungary) and/or the devotees' own spiritual masters. No justification for the bombastic, biased and hostile image of the guru could be detected from these interviews. The fact that some ISKCON gurus abandoned their vows and fell away from ISKCON - a significant event in the history of ISKCON and an event that is still causing a great deal of damage - was largely unknown to Hungarian Krsna devotees. Since devout respect, dedicated service and obedience towards the guru is a basic requirement, the study did not uncover much criticism of the guru. It is possible, however, that among certain devotees this unconditionally accepting, uncritical attitude, which comes close to constituting a personality cult, may become an obstacle to further personal development. The majority of devotees saw no problem with the impersonality of the disciple/guru relationship; indeed it is possible that a more personal relationship would actually disturb them. Nonetheless, a significant number still desired a more personal relationship. We have to take into consideration, particularly among girls and young women, a devotee's adoration, idolisation and even Platonic love. It was observed several times that a less personal relationship with the diksa (initiating) guru is compensated for by a more personal (warm, friendly, fraternal or fatherly) relationship with the siksa (instructing) guru. It is not known what effect correspondence or communication through an interpreter, and the identity of the official and the spiritual masters, has on the quality of Krsna consciousness.




The study found no evidence of perceived 'brainwashing' or psychological manipulation (taking advantage of others' distress); instances of 'gentle force' were also rare. It seems that the term 'love bombing', which frequently appears in anti-cult literature, is inappropriate to describe this group. In spectacular cases of conversion, the most important factor seemed to be the authenticity of the Krsna devotees themselves. It seems that in many cases, conversion is not so much a paradigm shift but the continuation of the same paradigm in an altered state.[4] In many cases it is difficult to determine whether Krsna devotees acted out well-rehearsed roles or if they embodied new identities, which, rather than negating the old roles, actually serve to build on them. This poses the question as to what it is that Krsna devotees have found: a shelter, a dead-end street, themselves, fellow travellers on the road to self-development, their destination or the path leading there?


Being an ISKCON devotee


The most attractive features


Up to seven years after joining, devotees considered the following the most attractive features in their lives: knowledge (42%), spirituality (25%), sensuality (15%), lifestyle (15%), and purity of the devotees (10%). Among the initiated, 'spiritual leader' was mentioned as a factor. The effect of others appeared to be a lesser factor and personal spirituality a greater factor. However, there appeared no fundamental change in the relative importance of these features over time, which could imply that the first impression is quite strong and that the qualities that attract people to conversion are stable characteristics of ISKCON in Hungary.


To the question 'What does Krsna Consciousness mean to you?' respondents chose from a list of options given by the researchers: lifestyle (10%), knowledge (61%), belief (60%), security (38%), community (36%), revelation (34%), certainty (32%), sentiments (29%), vocation (17%) and beliefs and rituals (15%). The role of sentiments and personal ties were more important to the pre-initiated. Revelation and vocation were more important to the initiated. Men tended to view the world of Krsna consciousness as being a more rational, operative and practical world, while women found it more spiritual and intimate.


The question 'What is in Krsna Consciousness that is missing from Christianity?' �eli�cited the following responses: it is easier to understand (33%), more scientific (29%), more authentic (28%), its spirituality is deeper (13%), it is more personal (9%), more practical (8%), and is a better guide (8%). It is perhaps a challenge to those who do not share these beliefs to understand why both the newly converted and the initiated consider this philosophy, which is difficult to translate into a European concept, easier to understand and more scientific than the more familiar Western theology. It may be that people who are searching for reference points and answers anticipate the whole from the parts they understand. Several respondents were attracted by the Vedic stories, which they interpreted literally rather than metaphorically. It should also be borne in mind that within the environment and context of conversion, converts are embraced with love. It is also possible that the respondents took the phrase 'easier to understand' to refer to practice rather than theory; that is, respondents might have regarded this religion as being easier to understand because it appeared more practical.


Scale of values


A Rokeach test was applied to measure scales of values, including eighteen instrumental and eighteen target values. The respondents were asked to pick the five most important and the five least important values, from which the following ranking order was established:


Most Important
Least Important
Responsibility and reliability
Peace, a world free of wars and conflicts
Inner harmony, a lifestyle free of anxieties
Happiness, contentment
Impartiality, openness, no prejudices
Impartiality, openness, no prejudices
Obedience, respect, a sense of duty
Discipline, self-control
Friendship, closeness in human relationships
Trustworthiness, honesty, sincerity
Forgiveness, no revenge
Wisdom, a practical philosophy
Salvation, redemption, eternal life
Cleanliness, tidiness, neatness
Willingness to help, work for others
Family security, taking care of our beloved


Creativity, innovative thinking
Performance, usefulness, enjoying the work done
Freedom, independence, having choices
Interesting life, variety, experiences, activity
Good humour, cheerfulness, light-heartedness
Politeness, good manners
Diligence, ambition, effort
Courage, resolution, espousal of ideas
Affection, gentleness
Equality, fraternity, equal chances for all
Logic, rationality
Beauty in nature and in the arts
Effectiveness, competence
Self-esteem, self-consciousness, self-respect
Independence, self-reliance, strong personality
Wealth, prosperity, affluence
National security, protection against outside attacks
Love, physical and psychological intimacy�
Recognition in society�
Pleasurable life, leisure time



Spiritual and mental values rank much higher than material, sensual, emotional and social ones. The suppression of the personality or, as Krsna devotees themselves put it more precisely, 'devotedness' is ranked above personality and freedom. If wisdom, impartiality, friendship and happiness had not been highly accepted values, and if interesting life, variety and enjoying one's work had not been chosen by so many, it might be concluded on evidence of the devotees' valuing discipline, obedience and reliability that they are victims of some kind of 'brainwashing'. It is also thought provoking that physical cleanliness is preferred over beauty in nature and the arts, and that not only physical and psychological intimacy but affection and gentleness are rejected.


In general, men appear to represent a more rational and ascetic version of Krsna consciousness, while women appeared more worldly and less ascetic, despite the fact that obedience is a leading value for them. Married devotees seem to be more independent and freer of prejudices, ranking discipline and politeness lower than freedom, independence and love. On the other hand, the monks appear to be more spiritual, with a preference for impartiality, forgiveness, trustworthiness, happiness and inner harmony.


A strong similarity was found between Christian and Krsna monks in their acceptance of peace, inner harmony, friendship, responsibility, forgiveness, helping and trustworthiness, as well as in the rejection of wealth and pleasurable life. However, two rather different scales of values have also been identified between the two groups, with the greatest differences seen in the dimensions of independence/obedience and openness/closed-ness. Characteristic values were intelligence and logic for Krsna monks, wisdom for Christians; tidiness and politeness for Krsna monks, beauty for Christians; happiness and contentment for Krsna monks, gentleness for Christians. The values of Krsna monks are more ascetic, established, internal, inflexible and rational. Those of Christian monks are more open, spiritual, dynamic and creative. The values of Christian monks are, in some respects, closer to those of �Europeans and Hungarians in general, although in the case of politeness, effort, intelligence and logic, the Krsna values are closer.


Their world


Nature, health and physical activities


It was found that devotees in general were attracted to nature, preferring to spend more time in the natural environment, with many of them desiring to leave the cities. Others considered that being close to nature was an integral part of Vedic culture. For several of them conversion resulted in their changing their view of nature, which they now consider to be a creation of Krsna. However, unsettled and different views were still held regarding body, health and physical culture. For example, on the devotees' scale of values tidiness played an important role (promoting physical culture), but so did asceticism (which pushes physical culture into the background). Physical cleanliness and nourishment were both very important, although the latter was not considered primary. A significant proportion of devotees felt physically overburdened. Before conversion, some of them were active in sports, but this also changed, as Vedic culture considers some sports to be more acceptable than others.


Work, material goods


Apart from their beliefs, the greatest changes in devotees' lives were reported to have occurred in the area of work. After conversion, some devotees terminated their studies and started working; for others, the reverse occurred. Some stopped earning wages to do 'service' (voluntary work on behalf of ISKCON). A number of devotees now undertake mental work instead of physical, whilst others do the opposite. For example, a devotee who was a salesperson before undergoing conversion is now a cook; a devotee who had been a house-painter is now a cowhand; a devotee who had been a businessman before joining ISKCON is now a nurse; a devotee who was a computer specialist is now a business manager; a devotee who had been a university student before undergoing conversion is now an animal farmer; a devotee who was formerly a college student is now a cashier; a former chemist is now a teacher. Seven per cent of respondents felt they were doing their old work better since joining the movement. Several others felt that being a Krsna devotee presented them with the attractive possibility of entrepreneurship. A minority of devotees, especially those who had families or those who would otherwise reject wealth and a pleasurable life, could sense the importance of material goods as tools.




For the devotees, the word 'association' is used as a synonym of 'community', not a term denoting a relationship between two people. Friendship was chosen as one of the most important values by married men (62%) and women waiting for their initiation (54%), but was least important to married women (25%), where possibly the mother-child relationship pushes friendship into the background. With this in mind, it appears rather odd that so few people (11%) chose 'affection and gentility' as a primary value, with three times as many considering it to be one of the least important values. The same people who said 'yes' to friendship as an intimate relationship often said 'no' to love, affection and gentleness.


Sex, love and marriage


'Love' among Krsna devotees was in general a suspicious or rejected value, but there was no clear consensus on this.[5] There seemed to be a flexible and transitory situation among members in judging sex, love and marriage as well as the man-woman relationship.[6] It should also be borne in mind that in Hungary the number of Vedic weddings has increased significantly recently, and as these couples are at the beginning of their married lives, there is little experience and very few examples to follow. What is certain, though, is that a significant number of uninitiated devotees were uninformed about the physical and affection-based relationships within marriage.


It seemed that for Krsna devotees, married love was on the one hand deprived of its mystical and transcendent features and on the other was dealt with in a rather pragmatic way. The practices of choosing a partner and preparing for married life also varied. At one extreme, young people expected the guru to elaborate on and dictate to them the scenario of matchmaking and marrying. At the other, it was the couples themselves who decided to marry and who merely requested the guru's approval.


Public activities and politics


The majority (70%) of devotees were not interested in public activities and politics, with women and the pre-initiated showing less interest than men and the initiated in general. Only 12% of Krsna monks showed interest in this topic, compared to 71% of Christian monks. Significantly, few of the Hungarian devotee leaders were interested in politics either. Of those devotees who were politically minded, 7% were in sympathy with liberal parties, 2% in green parties and 2% in the Socialist Party. There was a marked antipathy against 'nationalists', right-wingers and the so-called Christian parties. (It should be noted that in 1992 and 1993 representatives of those parties labelled the Hare Krsnas a 'destructive sect'.)


Entertainment and pleasure


For Hungarian devotees 'entertainment' was found in sacred singing and dancing (32%), the company of devotees (29%), reading sacred books (27%), reading other literature, looking at fine arts and listening to music (15%), outings and hiking (9%), Hare Krsna festivals (9%), work and study (8%) and eating food offered to Krsna (8%). Most activities mentioned in this category are considered sacred or services to Krsna, particularly by initiated devotees. In this area the difference between Krsna and Christian monks is also significant.[7] Christian entertainment is richer in varieties of activities, and the arts and creativity play a much greater role. In answering the question 'What gives pleasure?' most devotees mentioned meals, dancing and singing. It seems that to a great many Hungarian devotees 'sacred entertainment' is explicitly pleasure.


Information sources


While for most Hungarians today television is the primary source of information, a little more than half of the devotees surveyed do not watch it. Of those who did watch television, 50% only watch the news, the other half preferring nature, religious and science programmes and cartoons. Of Krsna monks, 65% did not watch television compared to 30% of Christian monks. Only 15% of Krsna monks watched programmes other than the news, compared to 75% of Christian monks. Twenty-four per cent of Hare Krsna respondents did not read anything but school assignments and the sacred Vedic literature. (Of the respondents, 32% were initiated devotees, 16% were uninitiated devotees and 11% were married devotees.) The proportion of those who read various periodicals was 40%, 32% of whom only read daily newspapers. The proportion of those who read books other than devotional literature was 44%. As the level of immersion into Krsna consciousness increased, so the proportion of 'mundane' reading gradually decreased, particularly amongst Krsna monks. The difference between Christian and Krsna monks' reading habits was also quite significant.[8] All of the Christian monks surveyed had read literature other than their devotional texts, compared to only 42% of their Krsna counterparts. In addition, 68% of Christian monks had read fiction, whereas none of the Krsna monks surveyed had done so.




To the question 'What is your attitude towards non-Vedic sciences?' 40% of the answers given were negative. The most frequent comments were as follows: unnecessary or uninteresting (19%), mere speculation (9%), Vedic sciences include everything (8%), these sciences are atheistic (4%), or immoral (3%). A similar proportion of comments showed some further deliberation: good science is what serves Krsna consciousness (10%) or guides you in practical problems (7%). Non-Vedic sciences are only useful when treated critically (7%). Only 10% of the Hare Krsna respondents were positive about science. Initiated devotees' judgment of non-Vedic sciences is more negative. However, the married devotees, who are somewhat closer to the outside world, tolerate non-Vedic sciences slightly more than celibates. Among Krsna monks, the proportion of negative opinions was 68%; 39% were undecided and 3% were positive. With Christian monks, the situation was quite the opposite: 4.4% were negative or undecided and 79% positive.


The arts


While the attitude of most Krsna devotees towards (non-Vedic) sciences was negative, the proportion of negative and positive opinions in relation to the European arts was much more balanced and the scattering of opinions greater. However, the tendency here is similar to 'Information Sources' above: as one progressed in Krsna consciousness, the importance of European arts faded and reservations about them become stronger. However, the arts had a somewhat stronger position among married devotees. Additionally, while the proportion of negative answers among Krsna monks was 90%, none of the Christian monks surveyed expressed negativity towards the arts.


To give the picture more shading, we asked respondents to read and place on a five-point scale eleven poems or passages about the transcendent[9], with five control groups tested for comparison. None of the eleven pieces were liked without reservation by Krsna devotees. The ranking order of the groups in relation to their average approval rate of the eleven pieces was as follows:


University students in Pecs� 3.6
Teachers 3.6
Female students of Calvinist teachers' training institutions 3.2
Calvinist seminarists� 3.2
Male trade-school students (apprentices)� 2.9
ISKCON devotees� 2.9

Although there are no great differences, this order is still interesting. To all indications, the Hare Krsna devotees' faith and values seemed to have played a significant role when evaluating the poems. It is also interesting to note that none of the poems were completely rejected, leading to the cautious assumption that European literature has not yet been completely shut out from the minds of Hungarian devotees.


The questionnaire also included the following one-minute story by Istv�n �rk�ny:


Rips the paper out of the typewriter. Takes new sheets. Inserts carbons. Types.
Rips the paper out of the typewriter. Takes new sheets. Inserts carbons. Types.
Rips the paper out of the typewriter. Takes new sheets. Inserts carbons. Types.
Rips the paper out of the typewriter. Has been with the company for twenty years.
Eats a sandwich every day. Lives alone.
Her name is Mrs Wolf. Note it well: Mrs Wolf. Mrs Wolf. Mrs Wolf.


The related question read: 'Why do you think Mrs Wolf's name is to be noted?' Twenty-four per cent of respondents could not or would not answer. According to 27%, Mrs Wolf's name is not to be noted because she is a nobody, because she is a machine, because she is materialistic, because she is unhappy, because only Krsna's name is to be noted, because Mrs Wolf's life is purposeless. Only 26% said her name is to be noted - because her life is senseless, because it is a warning example, because she is responsible for shaping her life, because she represents the average Hungarian fate, because her work is valuable, because she is pitiful, because she is a non-person, because she is unique, because she represents the materialistic world. Three per cent of respondents believe that Mrs Wolf can only be rescued by Krsna consciousness. A few years ago several hundred Hungarian citizens were asked the same question. At that time the proportion of those who were unable to answer the question was the highest among children and those with a low level of education (15-25%). With Krsna devotees this proportion was also rather high (24%). The answer 'not to be noted' was on the average twice as high among Krsna devotees as it was with other groups.


Compared to other groups, devotees' negative judgment of Mrs Wolf or her situation was quite frequent. Many considered her life purposeless and held her responsible for her failure. Only a minority were sorry for her, or considered her or her job valuable. It is striking that unmarried initiated devotees were much more strict and judgmental, with uninitiated and married devotees largely acknowledging her positive features. Although a slightly higher proportion of men considered her a warning example, it was the women who considered her insignificant, her life senseless and who looked upon her as a machine (although they also saw her unhappiness).


There is a sharp contrast in the reaction of Krsna and Christian monks. Only 8% of the Christian monks were unable to answer, compared to 19% of Krsna monks. While 51% of the Krsna monks felt that Mrs Wolf's name is not to be noted, only 4% of Christian monks shared this opinion. Typical answers in the two groups were as follows:


Krsna monks (n=31)
Christian monks (n=28)


Only Krsna consciousness can help


Warning example
Guilty of her fate


Machine, robot


Represents the materialistic world




Purposeless life


Needs help


Unique human person
Her work is valuable


Mrs Wolf is us


Victim of an inhuman society


Rather different ways of thinking, different values and dispositions manifest themselves here, but in this instance it is a factor that Christian monks had a greater knowledge of the specific language of belles-lettres than their Krsna counterparts.


Ten years ago a survey was undertaken on methods of evaluation and interpretation of the Tarkovksky film Stalker (which presents the transcendent) for several groups consisting of church-religious, independent religious, non-religious believers/God-seekers, persons who were ideologically neutral, and atheists. It was found that deep religiosity and church-religiosity increased the chances of 'true' reception, and resulted in deeper, more adequate interpretations, although such groups were unable to balance this with their lack of experience with the language of film. Therefore religiousness in itself is no guarantee of adequate evaluation and interpretation of a piece of art representing the transcendent. This film was seen by approximately forty Krsna devotees (in three sessions), twenty-eight of whom subsequently completed an evaluation questionnaire. Two separate discussion sessions were also held after the film. The results obtained from the questionnaires and discussions were then compared with the reactions of the church-religious group from the previous study. Although in general the Christian group preferred the film more, approximately three quarters of devotees also expressed their approval, with initiated men liking it more than women and uninitiated devotees. The majority of ISKCON devotees who either rejected the film or had reservations about it thought it was too slow and difficult to understand. There is a considerable similarity between the reactions of the two religious groups, but substantial differences too. It seems that Christians were more cathartically affected by the film than the Krsna devotees; significant differences were found in the categories 'I was moved by the film', 'it has told me something', and 'it revealed new relationships'. However, the film was received more warmly by Krsna devotees than were the poems. Concepts such as pilgrimage, teacher, people disappointed in materialistic life, or Western world, faith and its insufficiency might have been reasonably familiar to ISKCON devotees who, for this reason, may have felt fairly at home in this world. If this is so, they may have been able to tune into a familiar story and identify with the characters. Some Krsna conscious viewers may indeed have switched off rational thinking, put reasoning aside and, voluntarily or involuntarily, joined in the world of the film. On the basis of this film, a discussion took place on the differences between Vedic and European culture and universal arts. Stalker helped the Krsna devotees become immersed in their own faith and while talking about the film; they were able to put into words something about themselves and their beliefs that had barely come to the surface during previous interviews (which otherwise almost always appeared sincere). It was thus demonstrated that bridges can be built between these two cultures.


It is difficult to predict what traces the inattention to European arts and sciences will leave in the shaping of a Hare Krsna devotee's identity. One or two years after conversion they may not have either enough experience or enough knowledge of Vedic arts and Vedic knowledge. The vast majority of Hungarian Krsna devotees considered European culture more fragmented than Vedic culture; some of them thought it could be ignored whereas others believed it could be integrated into Vedic culture.[10]




To the question 'What do you consider valuable and respectable in the Christian religion?' only 10% of Hare Krsna respondents answered negatively. The majority mentioned Jesus (32%), belief in God (12%), the Bible (8%) and love (7%). Their image of Christianity was by no means hostile, and was even positive, especially the views expressed by initiated devotees. However, the answers also indicated that devotees sympathise with fundamental Christian principles and teachings rather than the Church and current Christian practices. It was clear that in addition to their own negative experiences, an unsophisticated interpretation of �Prabhupada's ideas had strongly influenced devotees' opinions about Christian faith and practices, especially among recent converts.


The Hungarian factor


One aspect of the interviews dealt with the relationship between Vedic and Hungarian culture, or how it was possible for someone to be both a Hungarian national and a devotee. One answer was that the prevailing culture was not Hungarian at all but �American. Another approach was to consider that a devotee of Krsna was 'first a soul and only then a �Hungarian'. A third group considered 'Hungarian-ness' insignificant. A fourth view acknowledged that there is a Hungarian soul, or more specifically, Hungarian karma. In this view, to be both Hungarian and a devotee is a special challenge, and such individuals were not born in �Hungary by chance. There was a fifth opinion that maintained it was possible to combine or connect the two features. It is difficult to say to what degree devotees are 'Vedic cosmopolitan', since many displayed a looser relationship with their Hungarian identity before than after conversion.




How ISKCON devotees see the future


Aside from the leadership, very few ISKCON devotees have a precise prediction or elaborate image of the future, or even an individual life-plan; what they may have is a non-articulated optimistic idea of the future. Many of them believe that, as opposed to countries east or west of Hungary, Krsna consciousness has a particularly good chance to spread in their country. In most of their visions of the future, Krsna Valley appears as 'the future in the present.' There are some who think that a genuine, beautiful future is only possible in the 'golden age', when the whole world will become Krsna conscious. Others expect difficulties in the near future, a rough path. However, they still cannot conceive of anything better than Krsna consciousness. Several devotees think that in today's Hungary there is a serious need for a spiritual change. Some believe, as did the first initiated Hungarian devotee, that 'things begin to be corrected, start being realised, start operating according to the place and the time. Although this system remains Vedic, it will gradually lose the features brought from India, will start being integrated into Hungarian realities'. There are some who think that 'Krsna consciousness is made for Hungarians, this is why it has a future here'.


Future developments


When Max Weber made a distinction between asceticism rejecting the world and asceticism adjusting to the world, he stated that the salvation methodology of India is a typical example of mystical contemplation running away from the world, while Calvinism is an example of asceticism that is willing to stay and act in the world. In the West, mystical religiousness turns into ascetic virtue, and even contemplation cannot prevent the predominance of activity. Oriental contemplative mysticism is not an instrument of God but a receptacle of God, and thus avoids activity. The contemplative mystic looks at the activity inside the world as a temptation, against which the state of grace must be preserved, and so activity decreases to a minimum.


Krsna consciousness is a form of asceticism that in some way adjusts to the world but at the same time rejects it. It is located somewhere on the borderline between Oriental contemplation and Western asceticism (which works to change the world as God's instrument), and can be characterised by the features of both. The salvation methodology of Krsna devotees who act, distribute books and preach closely resembles Western asceticism, which propagates salvation. F. J. Daner saw as early as 1976 that Krsna consciousness (which accepts and embraces marginal people) also helps their reintegration (as a subculture) within society. Daner called the Hare Krsna movement the counter-culture of counter-culture. It remains open to speculation as to which direction the Society will move in the future. The march out from major cities to Krsna Valley does not yet mean a shift in its mystical-contemplative direction. It is a question of how many devotees will become unaccustomed to adventure, creativity, asking, risk-taking, trusting, and external and internal freedom because of the shelter (which protects them from the chaos) and the guru (who thinks and makes decisions for many of them and whose leadership provides security).


A religion with a broader horizon and an intention to adjust to the world does not mean a compromise with the world, nor does it mean giving up fundamentalism and a black-and-white judgment of the world. However, it may result - and this process is visible in Hungary - in a broader understanding of the terms 'devotee' and 'member' that can lead to, on the one hand, a watering down of original rules and, on the other, qualitative discrimination of members in different life-situations and commitments. One might perhaps gain the impression that, similar to Orwell's Animal Farm, some devotees may be more equal than others (this privileged group being the monks, while those who do not observe all the regulations but are active in the temple community remain in the outside circle). It is a key question as to whether or not it will be possible in the future to be a fully-fledged Hare Krsna devotee while maintaining looser ties with the movement. If it is possible perhaps many more people would be encouraged to join, and former devotees might re-join, the Society.


In ISKCON Hungary there is obvious institutionalisation. However, counter-processes have also begun with the creation of small communities (cells) outside of the temples. It is not known yet how much this institutionalisation will affect the attractive intimate atmosphere and individual features of the temples and asramas, and whether these cells will become bases of a family-oriented communal life and of grass-roots initiatives or will simply turn into the enforcement squads of the organisation.


Another important issue is how much weight Krsna Valley will have in the shaping of Krsna consciousness in Hungary. One can now meet three rather different models of devotees in Hungary: the monk preaching at the busiest points of a city; the devotee looked upon as some sort of tourist attraction; and the devotee more or less adjusting to society, undertaking employment, praying at home, going to the temple on Sundays and demonstrating some alternative lifestyle.


The future of Krsna consciousness in Hungary will to a large extent be determined by the embodiment of the guru, or at least, what kind of guru image will live in devotees: the demigod; the respected father; the older friend; the fellow-devotee with whom one can have a discussion; the guru who approves desires and initiatives; or the guru who dictates. On the basis of the present scale of values it seems that the majority needs, or at least tolerates, the latter.


The status of women in the movement could easily become another major issue. The shaping of the Hungarian situation could be further affected by the importance and justification of the intimate sphere, personal life and individual characteristics.


The development of communication skills is another significant factor. Communication between ISKCON devotees and the man on the street and representatives of the sciences and other religions is far from being problem-free. ISKCON devotees in Hungary will have to give some thought to the fact that a dialogue with the latter two may be just as constructive as, if not more than, friendly smiles.


Prevailing circumstances and the quality of ISKCON intellectuals are also keys to the future. It is difficult to predict whether the Society will be more reliant on serving specialists or if they will need intellectuals who think autonomously (within obvious limits), who are critical, willing to reinterpret even the sacred scriptures and to take an anti-fundamentalist position. It seems inevitable that the intelligentsia of Vedic culture in Hungary and the rest of Europe, will become the intelligentsia of European culture insofar as the Krsna consciousness movement desires to be a scholarly mission (as it would appear).


What measure of compromise will develop between Vaisnavas and the Western narrative? How much will devotees heed Gandhi's warning that 'to swim in the waters of tradition is good, but to drown in them is suicide'? Harvey Cox (Gelberg p. 276) may be correct in his summation that the scriptures must be reinterpreted no matter what dangers this might pose, since it is a greater danger not to reinterpret and adapt them to different historical and cultural contexts.


In addition, Sharma (pp. 220-39) raises another critical factor in asking what kind of relationship and attitude ISKCON will maintain in relation to global problems. According to Gyula Molnar, the Western world is in a serious modernisation crisis, along with its cultural and church structures. Modernisation is nothing more than removing the most serious dangers of development and turning development into progress. The focus of the crisis is in the West, which is why the Hare Krsna movement was able to take root there. One has to face this crisis, and it is often said that if you cannot prevent something then try to take the lead in it. However, it would appear that devotees are presently unable to do this.


The ultimate challenge for ISKCON is 'inculturation', the ability to establish an 'intimate' relationship with European and Hungarian culture. Referring to ancient Hungarian culture as closely resembling that of Vedic culture seems as questionable and risky as using the example of UFOs to support the validity of Vedic culture. In comparison, a radical alienation from the dominant culture is rather alien to the Christian way of thinking. Indeed, the history of Christianity illustrates the conviction that the reason it became dominant is because Jesus worked through the existing culture whereas, according to Thomas Robbins (Robbins pp. 77-84), the Hare Krsna movement today has a tendency to oppose Western culture. He adds that this tendency may change in the future, since if a devotee is allowed to drive a decorated carriage, why should he not also be allowed to drive a truck and sing Country and Western songs? On the basis of current attitudes, the Hare Krsna movement is not a layperson's religion, and American culture is intolerant to intolerance, as is that of Hungary. Robbins perceives ISKCON as an interesting mix of relativism and absolutism, and believes one should not entertain great hopes of a quick and successful cultural adaptation, since Western moral principles are simply considered illusions by devotees and eccentricity is permitted although it seals them off from the surrounding culture. On the other hand, D. F. Gordon, after noting the signs of an easing in the absoluteness and an increase in ISKCON's cultural adaptation, asks, with a surprising turn, what would remain of the movement if its intolerance to Western culture ceased, citing Chesterton who considered tolerance the virtue of those who do not believe in anything.


At the end of his 1974 book about ISKCON, Gordon compares the movement to a new-born phoenix which was not yet clear as to which direction it would fly. Well, this Arabian bird did get to a lot of places, including Hungary. And it is still flying. It is frequently fired upon, but it was born in fire anyway. What is it that keeps it up there? The answer is the belief of the Hare Krsna community in all those places, including Hungary. Hopefully, this survey will act as map and a useful reference point for the bird to follow.




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1 Kamar�s, Istv�n. Kisn�sok Magyarorsz�gon. Budapest: Iskolakult�ra, 1998


2 Vol. 7, No. 2, December 1999, 'Devotees of Krsna in Hungary'


3 A carriage festival, introductory programmes, a symposium, inaugurating a temple, a wedding.


4 We cannot rule out that in certain cases only replacements occurred: hard rock was replaced by Krsna music of similar style, prasadam replaced vegetarianism, ecstatic kirtanas replaced ecstatic CDs, religious virtuosos replaced pop stars, religious records replaced sports records, success in the Prabhupada Marathon replaced wordly success, religious subculture replaced other subcultures, the guru replaced the father, and so on.


5 The pre-initiated male monks rejected it the most vehemently (68%), while married men rejected it the least. In general, married devotees rejected it less than celibates, but women did not reject it less than men.


6 Some believe that the married devotees who observe the rules should be considered brahmacaris and brahmacarinis, and sometimes it is even said that living in a Krsna conscious family means a similar sacrifice as sannyasa. Others believe that being a monk is a higher level.


7 The Christians surveyed valued walking and hiking, visiting, artistic activities and sports the most.


8 However, here we have to take into consideration that the average educational level of Christian monks surveyed is somewhat higher.


9 Lao Zi, Rilke, Mandelstam, as well as the Hungarian poets S. We�res, A. J�zsef, J. Pilinszky and L. Nagy.


10 In 1997, the current President of the National Council said that the future of the Hare Krsna movement in Hungary stands or falls on the harmonious relationship with European and Hungarian culture.