For the past year, some chaplains and administration officials at the University of Maryland have been uneasy about the presence of a new campus minister among the Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Jewish and other traditional clerics who serve students affiliated with their faiths.
Gabhira Das, chaplain for the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, better known as the Hare Krishnas, now occupies an office in the university-owned chapel. He is the only full-time Hare Krishna chaplain working with approval of school officials on a U.S. college campus.
As such, the Krishna sect has created a dilemma that is still unresolved for the established religious groups on campus and the state-owned university.
William L. Thomas, student affairs vice chancellor, granted the Krishnas free office space last year after protracted controversy, including a threatened lawsuit against the school by the Krishna sect on the First Amendment grounds of religious discrimination.
There are 10 other university-recognized campus ministries with offices in the chapel or in private quarters Catholocs, the Jewish Hillel Foundation and Brierah, Baptish, Christian Scientists, Black Ministries, Episcopal, Lutheran, the Church of Christ and the United Campus Ministry, a joint effort of Methodists, Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ and the Church of the Brethren.
When the Krishnas applied in September, 1975, "We had never before had a request like this," explained James H. Youmans, executive secretary for the chapel.
The primary dilemmas posed by the Krishnas stemmed from the debate over whether their religion is "bona fide," and their intensive proselytizing.
Thomas established the ad hoc committee to review the Board of Regents' guideline and the additional customary procedures for evaluating chaplaincy requests. He also asked them for "better defined guidelines" for the Krishna case.
Gabhira Das called the action a "delay tactic," and the student newspaper, the Diamondback, labeled the adminstration's approach "blatant discrimination."
Fred R. Joseph, Prince George's County American Civil Liberties Union board member, wrote Thomas that the university's authority to choose which denominations receive campus ministries is "tantamount to this state's public support of selected religions." A denial of the request, he said, could lead to a court challenge.
In February, 1976, the ad hoc committee unanimously approved the request but recommended an overhaul of the outdated guidelines.
Previously school officials had reviewed the credentials of the chaplaincy applicants, the degree of financial support available to the chaplains from their religious organizations, th student constituency and the nature of the religious activities to be pursued.
The guidelines, however, are "ambiguous" and designed for evaluating traditional religious group, said Dr. Thomas Magoon, chairman of a new ad hoc committee empaneled to draw up new criteria for chaplaincies and director of counseling at the university. Previous decisions regarding chaplains "have been pretty judgmental," he conceded.
Gabhira Das occupies a lime-green office at the left rear of the colonial building. It is sparsely furnished with an altar, painting of the movement's founders, Swami Praghupada, two desks, four chairs and large forest-green cushions on the floor.
On campus, the sect offers vegetarian cooking (which include explanation of Krishna Consciousless), teaches meditation, yoga and chanting according to the Krishna philosophy, and gives away food and distributes books and magazines outside the Studant Union four days a week.
Gabhira Das also has been a guest lecturer in history, American studies, anthropology and health education courses.
"We are basically teaching surrender to God. We are like a spiritual peace corps showing that there is another way of life," said Gabhira Das, 25, who graduated from Maryland and joined the sect while in college. He grew up in a Jewish family in Baltimore and now lives at the Krishna temple in Potomac.
The sect claims 125 followers on the Maryland campus, but that figure is disputed.
The Krishna philosophy which embraces proselytizing has made some other chaplains uneasy about the reputation of the campus ministry as a whole and the apparent open door to any sect that actively seeks new members, such as the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church and other fringe religious movements.
"Unfortunately, there still is a strained relationship," said Gabhira Das. Others chaplains do not drop by and he said he believes that they ar consciously avoiding including him in joint activities. One chaplain even complained about the incense he burns regularly, he said.
The Rev. Elizabeth Platz, Lutheran campus minister, said she is "unaware" of projects on which Lutherans, other Christians and the Krishnas can cooperate.
"As I understand it, their view of the world is that material things, the self and even education are secondary to the spiritual," she said. "Christianity teaches that the material world is a gift of God and should not be abused but properly cared for. They have a different orientation to the world than the rest of us."
In addition, Platz said, when the Krishnas' unconventional proselytizing in airports and charges about "brainwashing" of members receive media attention, the other chaplains hear complaints.
"People call here and want to know why the university supports this kind of activity," she said. "People interpret the university's recognition of the Hare Krishna chaplaincy as support for that kind of behavior."
Rabbi Robert Saks, Hillel chaplain and a member of the new committee, disagrees with Gabhira Das' notion that a chaplain's role is to elevate the spiritual climate of the campus.
"We are not university chaplains," Rabbi Saks said. "We are here serving our denominations as guests of the university. I don't see this as a crusade against Gabhira Das. He is a very fine and spiritual person. The Krishnas have been restrained here, but it is still passive proseltytzing in my mind. I'm scared of opening doors to proselytizing."