Every day, the Hare Krishnas chant a melodic meditation and serve food to students in UF’s Plaza of the Americas. A decent number of students usually line up — especially on Spaghetti Wednesdays — but no one seems to know much about the people who serve the vegetarian-friendly fare.
An hour and a half before the sun rises, the Hare Krishnas gather for meditation, called japa, in the temple of the Krishna House, just off campus on Northwest 14th Street.
They recite their mantra with the help of Japa Mala beads, a strand of beads — not unlike the rosary — that helps devotees keep track of their chanting. Each strand has 108 beads, one for each time they chant to Krishna, and they do it 16 times. That means every morning, they recite the mantra 1,728 times.
They believe the god Krishna and his name are one and the same.
“When you chant Hare Krishna, you’re actually associating with God through his name,” said Caitanya, a devotee who’s been chanting for 19 years.
They also serve Krishna through cooking and cleaning.
They devote themselves so stringently because they believe the material energies of the world cover the spiritual soul, effectively blocking them from being one with Krishna. They have their sights set on a higher plane.
“If you want to really feel free in the material world, you refrain from activities that bind you to the material world,” Caitanya said.
They use the material energy in his service to prevent becoming entangled in the material life. The van they use, for example, is used to serve Krishna food to other people instead of being used as, say, a way to get to a party. And because the food is served with love and devotion, it’s karma-free, as the side of the van reads.
Even if you don’t wish to wake at 4 a.m. to chant, Caitanya said non-devotees can still reap the benefits of the Krishna beliefs.
“We just encourage people to chant the holy name and take Krishna lunch,” she said. “By doing that, the purification of the heart happens, and then, automatically, everything else that doesn’t help them in their spiritual life melts away.”