"A lot more devotees are living what they call a 'householder' life," explains 25-year-old Hare Krishna Ramai Gaasbeek. Blond, lanky, and every bit as Scandinavian as his last name would suggest, he works as an IT specialist at the University of Florida. "We buy houses and hold down normal jobs and have wives—we don't just wear saffron robes anymore."
This month, Houston—a city where hotels place copies of the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu text, beside the Gideon Bible—will see the opening of a 24,000-square-foot Hare Krishna temple, a castle with gold-tipped towers, a 90-foot-high dome, and a teakwood altar hand-carved in South India. Local members of the ISKCON—whose website urges you to "Get Krishnagized!"—expect 15,000 visitors for the grand-opening ceremony.
"When I was growing up, I was the weird kid, and now where my 4-year-old goes to school, half the kids are vegetarian," says Vineet Chander, a 35-year-old Indian-American who runs the Hindu Life program at Princeton University. "That's progress. But when it all just becomes about getting that yoga ass, that can be a problem."
Which underscores Hare Krishna's next challenge in its march toward the mainstream—transcending the mind-and-body angle, which remains its sustaining influence, to being embraced as a true religion.
"Sure, there are better reasons to practice yoga or meditate than to look good or ground yourself," says Raghunath, who's mellowed considerably since his days as a zealous Krishnacore frontman. "It's not the highest thing. But I believe that eventually, if you do it long enough, you're going to be led to something far more substantial.
"Eventually," he continues, "we'll figure out that the people in robes aren't the weirdos—it's the people in jeans and stilettos."