Hi, my name is Hari Shyam Das (Himanshu Kothari) and I am part of a small team of bhakti-yoga practitioners who are starting an urban meditation and wisdom center in downtown Chicago called "The Sanctuary". Our target audience are young professionals and college students. We wish to provide educational programming, a conscious community, mentorship and volunteer opportunities to engage educated young men and women with the vibrant spiritual culture of bhakti yoga.
Chicago is one of the most important cities in America and the need for touching others with spiritual wisdom are endless! But before we get into the details of the program, I'd like to share some of my story with you.
In 2006, I graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Economics and Film and found work in Chicago as an Associate Producer at a TV production house. We made documentaries for National Geographic, The History Channel and Discovery. Everything was going well externally and I was gradually moving up the corporate ladder, but around 2009 I became quite disillusioned with the lack of social impact my career had. Right around then I happened to meet the devotees of Krishna. That meeting inspired me to pursue a serious study of the Bhagavad-Gita, a foundational text on spirituality and philosophy.
I started meditating, volunteering at the local Krishna temple and studying under an older monk while continuing to work full time. In early 2013, I felt a calling to dedicate a few years of my life to the disciplined life of a monk and decided to join the Chicago temple as a full time resident.
The following three-and-a-half years were some of the most impactful years of my life. I learned a lot and indeed did a lot of services for the community, the devotees and the Lord. Never in my life had I been so immersed in living by the sacred principles of giving and devotion.
At the end of 2016, I decided to continue my life as a monk but travel and visit other spiritual communities. I travelled all over North America, Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Germany distributing spiritual literature, giving lectures. I also spent time learning and living in several flourishing spiritual communities like the Bhakti Center in New York and The Radha Krishna Temple in Denver.
They say, a path is created as you walk on it. As I continued this simple life of travelling, studying, sharing and service I began to see that my life was forever altered. I had come to understand that the most critical human need today is one for genuine spiritual perspectives and an inner life of integrity and purpose. I could no longer go back to work and live the life I did, it was no longer appealing and I decided to dedicate my life to personal spiritual cultivation and simultaneously working to share wisdom and love with others.
During this time I would think repeatedly of initiating a program to share the teachings of
A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (The founder of the Krishna Bhakti movement in the west) in a contemporary, creative and caring manner. And at the same time serve as a facility for young, inspired spiritualists looking to make a difference!
When the leadership of the Chicago Krishna temple invited me to return to the Windy City and start a small center near downtown to do just that, I took the synchronicity as the Lords' arrangement. Shortly afterwards, I found a perfect partner to help run the project: Josh Maynard.
Josh's spiritual journey began in his high school years when, due mostly to his involvement in the counterculture, he decided to drop-out in favor of living a more simple life-centered around real, deep relationships and his own search for fulfillment. Within a year of making that choice, he received a book on Bhakti Yoga at a music festival where he lived in north Florida.
For him, this proved to be a major turning point. Having read the book, he then searched for other bhakti yogis and took a vow in his heart to begin implementing the practices and values they promoted into his own life. This process took nearly 3 years and ultimately culminated in him moving into the temple in Alachua, Florida in late 2014 to become a monk.
After a year there learning the ropes, he then spent another 3 years serving in New York City nurturing his passion for practicing and giving bhakti. In New York city he developed many of the crucial life skills that will play a big role in the success of this current project.
His greatest strength is the concentration and dedication he brings to mastering a skill or accomplishing a goal. In the 4 years since he started living as a monk he has become a fantastic cook, kirtan leader, writer and lecturer on the philosophy bhakti. Our friendship just fell together immediately without any effort. We complement each other quite well due to our differing skillsets and personalities.
Two other individuals will join our team if we can raise the funds and launch the project this summer. Together, we hope to make a deep impact on the city of Chicago!
We have a three point mission statement in order to serve the spiritual needs of the people of Chicago:
We hope to go live with our events and programs by early June and will begin with offering the following weekly events:
The Saturday Brunch: A guided meditation session followed by a lovingly prepared, elaborate 6-course vegetarian meal. Our hope is to become an "underground destination" for urban Chicagoans searching for an exotic gastronomic experience; delicious food along with a dip in the ocean of tranquility through meditation. Both Josh and I have plenty of experience cooking creative international/Indian cuisine as well as knowledge of Ayurvedic spicing and combinations. I have been teaching guided meditation in universities for a few years now.
Thursday Mantra and Wisdom Club: This will be our introductory program with talks on eastern philosophy and kirtan for those who desire to go deeper.
Beyond Food, Give Love: One day a week cook a big healthy and delicious vegeterian meal and then drive around the city, feeding the homeless with love and care. Compassion means action.
Asanas and the Gita: The vision here is to nurture the mutual relationship between physical practice, it's higher metaphysical purpose and the deeper lifestyle principles which sustain both. In the words of one mentor: "Yoga is not just about poses but its for inner poise."
Through four separate initiatives, we want to cater to a vast variety of individuals. Some want music, some want food! Everyone is different and we want to extend ourselves as much as practically possible.
Supporting the weekly programs will be 3-5 seminars/workshops per quarter on varied, relevant topics like:
The "Mind/body" connection
Spirituality and Ethics for Leaders
Communication And Relationship Building
Unique wisdom texts like Madhurya Kadambini, Yoga Sutras and Gopala Campu.
Caring for our visitors will look something like a funnel:
At the top are generalized programs open to anyone we meet. If any one seeks to go deeper and learn more, then there are programs to support their next step. And that will be the weekly Mantra and Wisdom club. If someone feels the need for more spiritual nourishment then the next step would be to join an intimate small reading groups and receive spiritual mentorship from visiting senior monks and teachers.
After 6 months of being able to maintain the above 4 programs, we will launch three more initiatives to help expand our impact and services to cater to the well being of our community:
- Community Reading Groups: Intimate "discussion centered" reading group to absorb the practical implications of wisdom texts and share our individual spiritual journeys.
- Urban Health and Wellness Initiative: A free weekly class at a community center in the south side of Chicago to serve the needs of young adults in low income and marginalized communities by teaching them foundational techniques of mental and physical well being, as well as meditation, mind-fullness and communication techniques.
- Love The Earth: Once a month, we will take a group of volunteers to a farm in Southern Wisconsin and spend a day gardening, weeding and picking fruits and vegetables. A compassionate way to bring the community together and also to give back to mother Earth.
We have a three pronged marketing strategy to connect people to the center and inform them about our programs and services:
We will be distributing spiritual literature in busy downtown spots, marketing our events through social media, occasional programs at yoga studios and regular events through a student focused meditation club at University of Illinois.
The variety of programs and outreach efforts are also a crucial opportunity for the younger member of our team to grow and become future change-makers as well as nourish the older residents by allowing their experience and creativity to manifest through a practical outlet.
All our programs will be free with a suggested donation. Our approximate "major" monthly expenses will be around the following:
Food: $650 (on the high end since we will be cooking for quiet a few guests every week)
Car Insurance/Petrol: $200
The two primary sources of revenue will be
1- The distribution of spiritual literature on the streets, universities and festivals around Chicago.
2- Donations from the weekly asana class and the brunch club
3- A home grown business: For long term sustainability, it's not enough to rely purely on donations. We wish to start a health food business:
The Good Bullet: Health Food Made By Monks: Healthy and delicious sweet balls made from dried fruits, nuts and seeds.
I have been experimenting with several recipes and here are three flavors which always get the most "oohs" and "ahhhs" out of my test audience:
- Marzipan, Cashew, Date and Coconut.
- Hemp Protein, Macadamia Nuts, Hazelnut Butter and Dates
- Sesame, Honey and Orange
Some key reasons why we believe this business can take off:
#1 - Made By Monks: This is a niche marketing strategy and will hold attraction for a certain young, urban clientele.
#2 - Our aggressive distribution model. We will target all our local health food stores, yoga studios and gyms as well as sell them along with sacred literature when we set up book tables at universities and local street festivals. And if all goes well then... Whole Foods...here comes Krishna!
#3 - Our easy, simple manufacturing and very unique recipes/combinations. I have been hard at work in the lab for months.
#4 - It's Prasadam, or sanctified food, which means it will be prepared with love and devotion. I am sure the buyers will taste the difference.
To get off the ground with our various programs and business initiatives, we would deeply appreciate your help to acquire the following:
- A decent used van about 7-8 years old with 50-60K miles on it is available for between $7,000
- Furniture for the house (desks, coffee tables, alter): $800
- Kitchen (utensils, appliances and silverware): $1,000
- Cost of designing packaging and branding for The Good Bullet: $350
- 5000 Printed, specialized stand up paper boxes for packaging the "Good Bullet". Printed on recycled eco friendly paper: $1,750 ($0.35/box)
- Heat sealer: $450
- Semi Commercial food processor: $650
- Raw material (Bulk dried fruits and nuts): $1500
- Display racks for distribution: $350
Even if you don't believe in good karma, kindly consider giving a little to help others. The warm fuzzy feeling in your heart will be very real :)
We live in times of spiritual starvation and a hunger of the heart! Please help us fulfill this mission to bring vibrant, thriving spirituality to the people of Chicago. And at same time create a warm environment for young adults to practise and cultivate a life of service and devotion.
All campaign donors can expect regular email updates as the project grows and develops.
Hari Shyama Das and team.