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An encounter with the monk and head of the Krishna Temple in Zurich
Published in the culture magazine 'Transhelvetica' January-February 2012 - written by Noemi Lerch
‍Between the forest and the outskirts of Zurich, near the church of Fluntern, there is another country. If you stand there in front of the red house in which it is located, you will see people who in colloquial language would probably simply be called «Hindus». The harsh autumn wind blows through their colorful sarees and makes the golden sequins jingle. Children play tag as all children in the world play tag. I open the door to the temple and step inside. A warm smell of food and incense sticks surrounds me. Two older men and a woman are sitting at a table, one of the men has a plate of steaming food in front of him. Music and singing comes from another room, a chandelier glitters on the ceiling and flowers, candles and dancing sculptures stand in the nooks and crannies of the entrance hall. A young man comes towards me, introduces himself as Krishna Premarupa and says hello to the Sunday festival. He wears an orange robe and his head is shaved except for a few strands at the back. He is younger than I imagined the temple president to be.​
After taking off my shoes, I follow him up the stairs to the first floor. He's wearing socks and I'm not sure why that surprises me. The house was formerly owned by the Baer family of bankers until it was taken over and renovated by the Temple Community in 1980. There is also an office in one of the rooms. "Sometimes people think we monks don't need something like that," says Prema. "But we don't live behind the moon." In another room we meet an old man who is sitting at a table, strangely motionless, reading a book. Only at second glance do I realize that it is a doll. Prema laughs. It happens again and again that people ask him why the old man in the study didn't greet them. The figure is a replica of the founder of ISKCON, the international Krishna Consciousness Society, Abhay Charan Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The walls of the room are made of books, and above the books there are pictures showing the life of Krishna. Krishna as cowherd. Krishna and the shepherd girls. Krishna and his beloved Radha. The paintings are traced according to the Bhagavad-Gita, the scriptures, with a guru (teacher) always assisting the painters during their work.
In the kitchen, two monks are frying flatbread in a pan, and mantra chants are playing on the radio. It is not for nothing that Krishna's religion is also called the "kitchen religion". Food is seen as a spiritual force, which is why the monks in the city sometimes hand out sweets to passers-by: to strengthen the heart and mind, so to speak. Before the temple residents and their visitors can eat, however, the food must first be offered to Krishna. He "eats" and honors it by looking at it. The precept of non-violence, a pillar of Vedic philosophy, prohibits the consumption of food produced by force. Milk is not dispensed with, because Krishna himself loves sweets that are made from milk, among other things. The milk used at the temple comes from a local organic farm. It is about «Ahimsha milk»: non-violent milk.​

People still sing and make music in the common room. Temple residents, friends and guests from outside have gathered here. It doesn't matter which god you believe in, says Prema. Anyone can sing the name of the god they have. If you don't sing along, clap the beat or close your eyes.
The room is decorated with flowers and candles, three golden Krishna figures stand on an altar, offerings lie at their feet. Krishna is always where there is beauty. For this reason, the Krishna members paint their foreheads and twelve other parts of their bodies with the red-brown earth of the holy river Ganges. They see their body as a temple that should be adorned and adorned as well.

The music has meanwhile faded away and the temple president takes a seat next to the musicians. He announces the topic of today's lecture: death from a Vedic point of view. According to the Bhagavad-Gita, what we think about at the moment of death is very important because that will determine our shape in the next life. This is why most women would become men in their next life and vice versa

The physical nourishment follows the spiritual nourishment. First-time visitors are invited to dinner. Food of all colors and consistencies is scooped out of large pots, and there is also flatbread and mango lassi. We sit down on the floor in the lounge, the food tastes good and I have to concentrate so that I don't lose the thread of the conversation despite the enjoyment. But Prema begins to tell more of her own accord.

From electro to mantra His real name is Christoph Truttmann. He learned how to cook and used to like to go to electro parties. Even organized some himself. At the age of twenty-four, ten years ago, he became a novice. He spent his first year in an ashram in India to experience the culture in its most original context. He then joined the community in Zurich, which he took over four years ago. Music has remained an important part of his life; singing and playing the harmonium are part of the monks' education, as is dancing. When dancing, however, one is freer. There are different step patterns, but in the end everyone can dance how they want.

By her own admission, Prema did not have to make any sacrifices for life as a celibate, although monastic life in the city of Zurich is far more difficult than anywhere in the country. When he looks out of the office window, he sees H&M's new bikini ad directly. That's not always easy. But if you want, you can give up the monastic status at any time, get married and start a family. Krishna himself says: I am sexuality. If you live in celibacy, you make a conscious decision to forego a relationship in favor of religious practice. When asked whether he lives more for God or for people, Prema replies: “If you have a tree in the garden, you can either water all the individual leaves, or the roots and the trunk of the tree straight away. If you live as a monk, the watering of the plant, i.e. the religious practice, is the central purpose of life.»

A day at the temple begins at three thirty in the morning with meditation, chanting, and a reading of the scriptures. Breakfast is at nine o'clock. This order is important because the body must first be provided with spiritual nourishment. And you have to use the time when Zurich is still asleep. Prema is convinced that even without a clock and with the windows closed, he can tell when the city will wake up. It's the kind of energy, a busyness that's immediately noticeable.

After the meal we leave the common room and Prema opens a door with the inscription "No entry". In the room there are two rows of pots with a special plant in them. At first glance they look like small olive trees. Prema takes one of the plants in her arms and brings her to the door. This is Tulasi, he introduces me to the plant, a goddess. It comes to earth in the form of this plant and stands in front of every house in India. This shows how present religion is in India. According to K. Prema, we have lost this everyday way of dealing with faith in western culture. Despite this, many people are looking for something that their wealth and privilege cannot give them. Belief in Krishna is a possibility that also makes sense for many Europeans - in the 1968s as well as today. If, on the other hand, he walks through the streets of India as a "white elephant" (Westerner) in an orange robe, this is completely incomprehensible to the Indians. For many of them, Western life as we live it is wishful thinking.

The west is waiting outside the door when I leave the temple again in the evening. It's there without me being able to pin it down to anything concrete. I close the top coat button and walk in the direction of the main train station. I notice the leaves on the street. They are the same color as the monks' robes.

Noëmi Lerch studied at the Swiss Literature Institute in Biel. She writes for various magazines in the lower and upper country. Hanin Lerch studies visual communication with a focus on images at the University of Art and Design in Basel.

EXCURSION TIP There is a weekly Sunday festival in the Krishna Temple in Zurich, which is open to anyone who is interested. You can also visit the library and take advantage of what the temple boutique has to offer.

And why not celebrate the turn of the year the Indian way? Also this year the community invites you to the spiritual New Year's Eve party on December 31st, with music, dance and Indian delicacies.​

Anyone who can no longer wait until then has the opportunity to take part in the reading every morning, which takes place at 7.45 a.m. in the Krishna Temple in Zurich and can be attended free of charge by anyone interested.

Tram 5 or 6 to Fluntern church, or bus 33 to Hofstrasse,

ISKCON The International Society for Krishna Consciousness was founded in New York in 1966 by Abhay Charan Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. She belongs to the faith of Vishnuism, the third religious movement along with Shivaism and Shaktism. Important cornerstones of the teaching are (bhakti) yoga, chanting the mantras and reading and studying the Bhagavad Gita (part of Vedic philosophy). In Switzerland, ISKCON has about 250 members and a circle of friends of 1,000 to 2,000 people.
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