One remarkable story from Sunday’s London Rathayatra was about the large group of deaf tourists who came to Trafalgar Square during the afternoon. They were being guided around that part of central London and, being attracted by all the colourful tents, began to mingle with the crowds. When it came time for a full explanation as to what the festival was all about, along came a member of ISKCON’s deaf group, who promptly jumped up on a bench and started to give a class on the history and theology of the event, using only sign language.
Now, there’s nothing quite like watching a deaf man get excited about explaining philosophy, especially a philosophy which places such a great emphasis on hearing divine sound within the form of a mantra. Just how do you tell that particular piece of good news to a large audience who cannot hear anything – let alone mantras. But he did. And he did so with such great passion that he drew another large crowd of hearing people who stood in amazement to watch the spectacle.
His hands moved quickly, forming letters through finger signs; words and expressions through gestures. And all the while, a smile on his face that told the people he was sharing something that gave him great joy. Even those who couldn’t understand sign language were smiling, sharing in his enthusiasm.
Amazing as it may seem, here in London we have a growing number of deaf people – not just ‘hearing impaired’ but completely deaf – who have begun chanting. They explain that they hear the mantra not in their ears but within their heart. It just shows that there’s no material bar to spiritual practise.
Of course, when it comes to philosophy, there’s Vedic concepts that don’t have any good English words; only the Sanskrit language will do. So just how do you translate ancient Sanskrit into British sign language? Well, the required ingredients are enthusiasm, determination, ingenuity and perseverance. You really have to want to get your message over to deaf and hard-of-hearing people.
Thats why ‘Radha Krishna Deaf Association’ was created, a group of people who can now communicate some pretty subtle stuff through their fingers. They meet up for discussions and classes, and have a member sign for their audience on every big occasion at the temple. There’s a book, t-shirt, and DVD of course, and a growing number of deaf people who think that Krishna consciousness is just what they are looking for.