Initially published in The Herring, the independent student newspaper of Amsterdam University College
— On one quiet night several weeks ago, Methee Schreuder, a third-year AUC student, suddenly heard a knock on the door of his dorm room. Imagine his confusion when he saw a tall, middle-aged man with white paint on his head, dressed in a long orange robe standing at his doorstep.
The man introduced himself as a Hare Krishna monk and asked Schreuder to buy some of the books he was carrying in his trolley. After receiving a negative answer he begged for some money and food. Although Schreuder agreed to help him out with some cash and fruits, the unexpected visit did not end there. In a few minutes the monk returned asking if he could use the bathroom. Only after five minutes of humming mantras in the Schreuder’s room did he finally leave. “I could never imagine this happen[ing],” says Schreuder after the encounter.
Surprisingly enough, Schreuder himself was a monk for a short period of time. Back in Thailand he went through the whole procedure of becoming one: studied for weeks to learn the entrance chant, shaved his head and eyebrows, prayed throughout the days, meditated and lived according to the strict monk rules. Thai monks are not allowed to eat after midday, sleep elevated or touch women. But regardless of all the difficulties he still found this experience eye-opening.
The coincidence of a Hare Krishna monk appearing in front of a former monk’s doorstep would seem to have made the whole incident less strange for Schreuder. But he says that him having been a monk made it even more surreal, since the monks he knew did not go around student houses to beg for food and money.
“I really had the feeling that he was abusing the generosity of people,” says Schreuder, who later vlogged about it on his YouTube channel. When asked, the monk refused to reveal his name, only stating that he lives in a temple at Van Hilli-gaertstraat near Amsterdam RAI. “We live and pray there, but I spend a lot of time offering books,” he says.
The books he was selling contained numerous essays on how individuals can reach enlightenment, and general information on the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). One of the first questions here is how did he get into the dorms? “I can’t imagine anyone letting him in,” says Schreuder.
There are only three ways to enter the building: ask students to open the doors, follow someone through the door, or use a magnet key. According to the monk, these visits are standard practice for Hare Krishna preachers as they have been visiting student housing for the past 25 years. “He said that it is in line with what students want, like enlightenment, etc.,” says Schreuder. Turns out, this visit was the first instance of religious activism at AUC. Last year’s Valentine’s Day was marked by notes in many student mailboxes signed “from Jesus Christ.”
This incident sparked a lot of controversy within the AUC community, as not everyone found the initiative appropriate. Ulyana Semyonkina, a second-year AUC student who got the letter points out that it was written in English, which probably means that they were made specifically for international community. ‘‘My first reaction was really nega-tive,” she says. “I thought it was imposing and just a little too much. But then I recognized that the intention behind it was still positive, religious part left aside. However, I cannot say that I was thrilled to receive it.’’ She also added that she did not like that fact that anyone assumed she was religious.
Last month another AUC student, Yana Johanna, encountered a group of Christian activists ringing all the doorbells in her string. After she went downstairs they invited her to ‘‘Jesus’ Death Day.’’ ‘‘I didn’t really know how to respond and was quite taken aback and a little intimidated,’’ Johanna recalls.
Other students shared her reaction. ‘‘Even when people of this kind visit my family house I feel that it is completely unnecessary,” says Michelle Crijns, a second year AUC student. “In a sense that it is not like I am going to visit your church or convert after you show up at my door.”
Not all AUC students, however, witnessed these visits and have a strong opinion on the issue. “I heard about a monk visiting the dorm from several friends of mine, but I don’t really have an opinion on that, I guess it’s fine as long as they don’t act dangerous,” says Ibtissam el Berri, a second year AUC student. But those who had the experience mostly express quite a negative reaction. ‘‘It was negative in the sense that I wouldn’t enjoy it if he came back,’’ says Schreuder.