ISKCON Silicon Valley Expansion Begins with New Temple
ISKCON Silicon Valley (ISV), one of the most happening urban Hare Krishna communities in the United States, has acquired a brand new temple, a major step along the way to its full expansion plan.
The ISKCON community, located in a part of the San Francisco Bay Area in California famous for its profusion of high tech businesses, closed on the new $1.2 million property in April.
Located at 1965 Latham Street, Mountain View, CA 94040, the 4,900-square-foot building sits in a quiet residential area at the heart of Silicon Valley, close to Stanford University and major companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple.
Built in 1985 as an office building, it was renovated in 2006 as a Gnostic Christian sanctuary and shrine of Mary Magdalene by its most recent owners, who were pleased that a feminine Deity, Srimati Radharani, would continue to be worshipped on site.
ISV devotees were wowed by the building’s aesthetic arches and polished hardwood floors when they attended one part of a special double Janmastami festival there on August 9th.
While the main event celebrating Sri Krishna’s birthday was held at the community’s old temple twenty minutes’ drive away on Bascon Avenue, a second festival was also held at the new venue.
Congregation members and their families pack books for a Monthly Sankirtan Festival
Guests were greeted by a special committee and shown around the temple, then attended a Jhulan Yatra swing ceremony and abhisekham bathing ceremony for small Deities of Radha and Krishna. Meanwhile, the celebrations at the old temple were broadcast live on a big screen so no one would miss out on anything.
“We turned the event into a pilgrimage of both temples, and a way to raise community awareness of the new place,” says ISV president Vaisesika Dasa. “There were little promotional features; for instance, if guests visited both properties in the one night, they received a picture of Radha in one and a picture of Krishna in the other that fit together. Then, when they showed the completed picture, they received a special gift.”
Although the new temple still needs a kitchen and won’t be move-in ready until January, the ever-expanding Silicon Valley congregation is already thrilled about finally having a place that is large enough to properly accommodate them.
ISKCON first came to San Jose, the self-proclaimed ‘capital of Silicon Valley,’ in 1998, when a small group of monks from Los Angeles installed Radha Krishna Deities in a residential house and began to hold programs there.
As a small congregation developed, however, neighbors began to complain about the noise and the number of cars passing through the neighborhood on Sundays. So the devotees moved the Deities to a storefront in a strip mall a few blocks away.
Devotees gather inside the spacious new temple
Programs continued steadily, and the place held a surreal attraction—passersby would stop and do a double take as they spotted the divine forms of Radha and Krishna sandwiched between a hair salon and a pizza place. But once again, neighboring businesses complained, and the devotees had to move on.
This time, they found a larger commercial building for rent on Bascon Avenue—the location they would remain in for the next seven years, to this day.
In the meantime, however, the ISV community was growing and growing. Things took an extra leap when Vaisesika Dasa, a local devotee who gradually became involved with management, decided to make distribution of Prabhupada’s books the focal point of outreach.
Brainstorming for ways to increase book distribution, the devotees created the Monthly Sankirtan Festival, an event that created a pressure-free, fun way for the primarily family-based community to distribute books for at least one full day every month.
Meanwhile, devotees worked hard on their personal Krishna consciousness, holding three-hour-long bi-weekly meetings at which they studied Srila Prabhupada’s books and chanted together.
“Although we dreamed for years about a bigger temple, fundraising was never emphasized,” says Vaisesika. “We wanted to build a strong base on hearing, chanting and pressure-free book distribution first. And that’s what we did.”
Even in the small temple room at their old temple, enthusiasm is key at ISV
Focusing on all the right things, ISV became a leader in congregational book distribution, consistently being rated amongst the top ISKCON temples in North America despite having no full-time distributors. Congregation members grew to two thousand, and each Monthly Sankirtan Festival drew a turnout of over one hundred devotees. Three thousand people attended the Janmastami festival at the ISV temple in 2011, endless lines snaking out the door of the building.
One thing was clear to the ISV devotees—they had outgrown their small temple. They needed a new place, urgently.
Looking at building after building, they finally found the new Mountainview location. But although they had saved some money from donations over the years, since fundraising had never been a focus, they didn’t even have enough for the downpayment.
Praying that they could somehow raise the money, the temple committee took photos of the place and presented it to their congregation at Nityananda’s appearance day in February this year.
They could never have predicted what happened next.
“One by one, devotees spontaneously came forward with donations,” Vaisesika says. “From businessmen giving $50,000, to kids breaking open their piggy banks and giving the twenty-three dollars they had saved, everyone felt like they were a part of this project, and wanted to see it grow. Three hours later, in one evening, we had raised nearly $300,000.”
Now that the new temple has been purchased, devotees must raise more funds to install a commercial kitchen, and to transform several rooms into official classrooms for seminars and for ISV’s robust children’s program, with Sunday Schools, camps and special workshops.
When it’s ready to move into early in the New Year, the new temple will be a solid boost to many of ISV’s premier projects. With Stanford University now even closer, regular outreach programs there—which already draw up to two hundred students for talks on Krishna consciousness—will expand, as will programs at other universities such as San Jose State and Santa Clare.
The classrooms will provide more facilities for ISV’s Bhakti Shastri study course on Srila Prabhupada’s books, which saw thirty devotees graduate last year.
And more space will allow for increased standards of Deity worship for Sri Sri Radha Madan Mohan, a long-cherished hope.
Most of all, the new temple will give the devotees of ISV a home for their Deities that they can feel proud of; a place they own that they can feel free to fix up as beautifully as they want.
“I think it gives a psychological boost to the whole community,” says Vaisesika. “And it has instilled in everyone a lot of faith that by emphasizing and focusing on basic programs like hearing, chanting and book distribution, Krishna provides all facilities.”
However, although the new building is attractive, spacious and adequate for ISV’s current level of operation, it’s still an interim place in the eyes of the ever-ambitious Vaisesika.
“In my mind’s eye,” he says, “I see a four-level multiplex that will facilitate a restaurant; a learning center where people from all over the community can come and learn about Krishna conscious topics; a full time residential ashram; and a natural living retail center that will connect people interested in sustainable lifestyles to Krishna consciousness.”