is Hare Krishna?
Events: Kirtan Festival
2004 - Hansadutta das
Part III: New Vrindaban, 1968-1969
By Hayagriva das
Enter, Srila Prabhupada
this story to a friend Printer
In his long
absence, Swamiji’s words haunt me: “Although I am practically on the
path of death, still I cannot forget my publications. I wish that if I
live or die, you will take very serious care for my publications.“
We are bewildered trying to keep the ISKCON ship afloat, subsisting on
the only supplies left—the holy names, the words, the taped lectures,
the few books and pamphlets, the memories and photographs.
“Although I am practically on the path of death....”
(Swamiji always said “practically” for “actually.”)
His publications! The Word in English! Before me sits the first
complete draft of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, ready for final
English revision. “It must be published at once,” he told us
repeatedly. “Either get some publisher, or we print it ourselves.
Complete it quickly.”
Leaving San Francisco, even revising the manuscript on the plane, I
return to New York to work with Brahmananda, who is still hounding
In Matchless Gifts, we carry on, keeping silent vigil for reports on
Swamiji’s condition. Every day, we wait for a letter from Swamiji
himself, signed in a large, firm hand, “Your ever well-wisher, A.C.
from Kirtanananda begin to arrive. Word spreads. Swamiji and
Kirtanananda were detained overnight in London because someone on the
plane was infected with smallpox. A twenty-four hour quarantine. They
were accomodated in a hotel by the airline. In the morning, Swamiji was
feeling much better, and they were in Moscow in three hours.
Swamiji was not impressed by the stark silence of the Moscow airport.
Nor by the peasant women mopping the floor, nor by the Marxist tracts.
Women should be protected, and in every society there exists the four
castes. How can the sudras, the working class be expected to
dominate government? The four castes were proclaimed eternal by Krishna
Himself. Mr. Marx cannot arbitrarily abolish them. Such is the illusion
“We stayed in Moscow about an hour,” Kirtanananda writes, then
reboarded and were in Delhi by midnight. We arrived in the middle of
the monsoons, so when we got off the plane, the hot and humid Indian
air hit us. It was like walking into a scorching brick wall.”
the smoggy New York August days, we wait for more letters, chant Hare
Krishna, and keep the Matchless Gifts storefront open. Although
Brahmananda takes charge with the determination of Cortez, we do not
expand. We just hold on.
“As soon as Swamiji arrived in Delhi,” Kirtanananda writes, word spread
quickly. Obviously he is highly respected. One of the boys living in
the temple just told me confidentially that the people look on him as
something like an incarnation.”
The climatic change was too much on Swamiji’s weakened system. “The
very next day,” Kirtanananda writes, “he began coughing a great deal of
phlegm. He’s caught pneumonia. He had come such a long distance to
recover, and now he’s caught pneumonia.”
An Ayurvedic doctor came and gave Swamiji pills. Jungle herbs. Finally,
Kirtanananda called in a Sikh doctor who injected penicillin.
In two days, Swamiji was better.
“But he is so weakened that he is constantly subject to attack,”
Kirtanananda writes. “Pray for him constantly, for it is only Krishna
who can save him for us.”
Other letters convince us that Swamiji has returned to India just to
leave his body. After ten days in Delhi, he was finally able to depart
for Vrindaban. Kirtanananda writes:
he said he was ready, we took the Agra Express and were in Mathura in
two hours. From there we took a tonga to Vrindaban. Lots of temples,
peacocks and monkeys. I give Swamiji massage and help prepare his food.
...As for his health—he’s been improving steadily since we’ve reached
Vrindaban. He contacted a well known Ayurvedic physician who prescribed
some simple compounds, such as sandalwood paste and haritaki, a
medicinal herb. A number of his God-brothers come by to visit. In their
rituals, they chant to Lord Chaitanya a great deal, and Hare Krishna
seems to get lost in a maze of
mantras, but if you ask them what they consider most important,
they will of course answer “Hare Krishna.”
teaching job again to earn money for passage to India, I write Swamiji
for advice, and in early September receive the reply. My first letter
from Vrindaban! It is postmarked August 29, 1967. Radha Damodar Temple,
Seva Kunja, Vrindaban, Mathura, U. P., India.
“I am very glad to receive your first letter to me in India,” he
writes. “So far as Bhagavad-gita is concerned, please
complete it as soon as possible; it must be published now, either by a
publisher or by ourselves.”
The same message: Complete it! Publish!
“Although I am practically on the path of death. ...
The letter continues:
separation, you may know that I am also feeling that way, and it is all
Krishna’s design that we cannot separate any more. In the
transcendental field, the feeling of separation is more valuable than
the feeling of meeting. Physically I am trying to go back to your
States as soon as possible. I have a fancy for your country, and being
inspired by that, I first went to your country, and still I feel that
way. I am improving, although slowly; but I am eating and sleeping
better than in New York. Regarding your speculation as to accepting a
teaching position: Krishna wants everyone to utilize his talent as far
as possible. Arjuna was a great fighter, and Krishna encouraged him to
fight. He never said, “You sit down and I shall do it for you,”
although He was able to. No. We must utilize our talents for the
service of the Lord; that is real sannyas. Formal acceptance of
sannyas, as required for all old men, means that
one should retire from materialistic life and devote his time and
energy to the Lord’s service. As you are devoted already to His
service, without any personal consideration, you are always sannyas
at heart. A teacher’s position is always influential; so your sincere
efforts for kirtan may be followed by some of your students and
co-workers. At the same time, your good editorial work will also
continue, so I think you should accept a position.
briefly mentions passage to India at the close of the letter: “I am
also going to Bombay to try to induce the managing director to give us
some concession on the Scindia Line.”
A postscript by Kirtanananda puts us all in a fit of speculation:
was duly made a tridandi swami yesterday, the Lord’s advent
day, and Swamiji says that it was the most auspicious sannyas
ceremony he has ever seen. Just at the moment when I was being
inducted, hundreds of people who were at the Radha Damodar gathered
around to observe the ceremony and offer obeisances. Now I have a great
desire and a great mission to spread this transcendental vibration of
Hare Krishna all over America.
is late in the season, and my chances are not good, I phone New York
University Placement Center and tell them I’m looking for a job again.
Miraculously enough, they land me one. With short-cropped hair, I pass
the interview and am offered an assistant professorship at a community
college in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. With some trepidation, but
knowing it best to follow Swamiji’s advice, I accept the post and
attend inauguration ceremonies. I sing “The Star Spangled Banner” and
march across a stage chanting Hare Krishna on beads hidden beneath
black robes. The dean introduces me to the college president as “the
author of Bragaway Getter.”
They are delighted to have me on the new staff.
I think of Lord Jagannatha bouncing through Haight-Ashbury. I muse on
chanting in the rhododendron dell.
India indicate a steady improvement in Swamiji’s health. Kirtanananda
reports that Swamiji is even walking to different temples in Vrindaban
to visit his God brothers. Although he enjoys visits to Imlitala, where
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was absorbed in love for Krishna, he usually
remains in his room at Radha Damodar Temple, wherein reside the Deities
of Jiva Goswami, personal associate of Lord Chaitanya. To the side of
the temple is the samadhi of Rupa Goswami, also an associate of
the Lord and author of Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, The
Nectar of Devotion, an important Vaishnava handbook on bhakti-yoga.
“Swamiji’s obviously regaining strength,” Kirtanananda writes, “but it
is still very slow. He is still very weak.”
Kirtanananda also relates stories of snapping turtles in the Jamuna
River that clean cadavers to the bone within minutes. And stories
telling that if you go to a certain garden in Vrindaban at night, you
will see Lord Krishna dancing with the
gopis and will never return. Upon hearing this, Swamiji reportedly
laughed and said, “Do you think Krishna is so cheap that He can be seen
so easily with material eyes?”
Brahmananda has interested Macmillan Company in Bhagavad-gita As
I receive a letter from Swamiji dated October 19 from Sri Chaitanya
Saraswati Math in Navadwipa, Lord Chaitanya’s birthplace in West Bengal.
“Regarding Bhagavad-gita,” he writes, “I fully agree with
your suggestions. So far Macmillan is concerned, I shall be so glad to
hand over the matter to them for publication, but in case they do not
do it, please negotiate with another publisher.”
The Macmillan negotiation is the parting of the clouds. At last, a
major publisher! Swamiji’s word will be heard.
But there remains one big problem. The manuscript runs eight hundred
pages, and Macmillan wants it cut down to three hundred to lessen
And I have the doleful job of trying to decide which of Swamiji’s
purports are not essential.
After a week
in the classroom, I’m already weary of my job. I’ve a hundred and
twenty drowsy, conditioned American teenage souls on my hands, and I
have to teach them how to write simple declarative sentences and then
put them together to make five hundred word essays. At the same time, I
want to inject some Krishna consciousness. But how?
From India, Swamiji’s words inspire me:
is so nice to read your letter and hear how you are always thinking for
Krishna. When you write to say that I would like very much to be
teaching them Krishna consciousness instead of English,” I am reminded
of Lord Chaitanya. For some time Lord Chaitanya was conducting a chatuspati,
which is a small tutorial village class run by a learned brahmin.
When He was teaching grammar to His students, He was explaining
Krishna. There is a chapter in Sanskrit grammar called
‘dahtu’, that is, verbal conjugations. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was
explaining dahtu as Krishna, and He would explain Krishna in
every step. When the students felt that the teacher was crazy, the
Transcendental Teacher closed his class.
I pass a
typically cold and drizzly November on the Susquehanna. For me,
Wilkes-Barre represents the pits of consciousness. Coal mining town.
Beer halls. Loud kids on motorbikes. Pinball machines in Kresges’s Five
and Dime. Students with unpronounceable Polish names. Now that we’re in
it, support the Vietnam War. Some kids leave for the army. Others stay
home, let their hair grow long, and smoke pot. The Beatles follow
“Sergeant Pepper” with “Magical Mystery Tour” before Christmas. The
Rolling Stones issue “Satanic Majesties.” Jim Morrison and The Doors
peak with “Strange Days.” As the December winter enfolds us, I think of
spring in Golden Gate Park, bright skies and flowers, and Swamiji
dancing under the shadow of Hippy Hill. Walking under the barren trees
to class, I chant “Samsara Dava,” and through my mind the Mamas
and Papas sing “California dreaming. ...
Brahmananda phones me from New York.
“Swamiji’s leaving India,” he tells me jubilantly. “He’s flying to
Japan. Then Los Angeles.”
It is sudden,
happy news, but each new letter from India brings different plans. We
all write Swamiji, telling him how much he is needed. Even In
Wilkes-Barre, the kids, via popular music, are aware of gurus, yoga,
and “mysticism.” It is “The Year of The Guru,” according to Life
Magazine in a write-up featuring Swamiji and the Maharishi
Mahesh Yogi, who has converted the Beatles and other celebrities. Mick
Jagger of the Stones wants to cut a “mantra record” with
Ginsberg and the Beatles. In Vietnam, an American soldier becomes a
The time can’t be riper for Krishna consciousness. We cry out for
appears in a wholly different and wonderful way.
As the year wanes and Americans brace for another Christmas holiday, he
arrives in San Francisco via Tokyo, December 16. He doesn’t arrive as
the ailing Swamiji, but returns in full strength as “Prabhupada.”
“Prabhupada means one who is always found at Krishna’s lotus feet,” he
says. “Rupa Goswami was called Prabhupada because he was always
worshipping the lotus feet of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. All the six major
Goswamis were called Prabhupada. A spiritual master is usually
addressed as Vishnupada, or Gurudeva, or Prabhupada. These signify
reverance and respect.”
“Oh, you mean Srila Prabhupada!” Brahmananda corrects me on the phone
when I enquire about “Swamiji.” “Yes, Srila Prabhupada is doing fine. I
hear he looks very well and is already shouting at the impersonalists.
He arrived in San Francisco this morning.“
I phone the San Francisco temple, and Mukunda informs me that
Prabhupada is fine and taking rest in his room.
“Should I fly out now?” I ask.
“Why don’t you wait for me to ask? If Prabhupada wants you here now,
I’ll tell Brahmananda.”
In two days, I receive a special delivery letter from Prabhupada
himself, telling me that I should continue teaching in Wilkes-Barre,
save money and buy property for an ashram. He sends me a copy
of a lecture to edit for presentation to a San Francisco radio station.
“We think in Krishna, we chant in Krishna, we live in Krishna, we eat
in Krishna, we talk in Krishna, we hope in Krishna, we are sustained in
Krishna,” he writes. “And we return to Krishna without any doubt, and
this is the substance of Krishna consciousness.”
At last! The master of bhakti-yoga returns to his dais at last!
Bogus yogis scatter in his wake.
“What’s all this cheating yoga? They are saying, ‘Give me
thirty-five dollars, and I’ll give you some private
mantra, then you can do whatever you want.’ This is yoga?
Our mantra is free. It is no secret. We are distributing it
freely to all. And we say that if you act like a dog, you become a dog.”
the continent is alive again. Phone calls flow from New York to the new
Los Angeles center on Pico Boulevard. And Frederick Street, San
Francisco. And Montreal. Now Bhagavad-gita is out of my
hands editorially. Rayarama snipped it down to three hundred pages for
Macmillan, despite my protests. I call it the “skeleton edition,” as
only a few purports managed to survive Rayarama’s cutting. In a letter
of January 15 (1968), Prabhupada encourages me to work editorially with
Rayarama again and forget petty disagreements.
“To me,” he writes, “the English language is undoubtedly a foreign
language, and I thought your combination of editorship will help me a
great deal. ... Now let us start fresh with renewed energy for
Now that Bhagavad-gita is going to press, Prabhupada
looks forward to a constantly expanding future of divine literatures.
have to finish the Srimad-Bhagavatam in sixty volumes,
out of which we have published only three. Two more volumes are already
in the press in India. So fifty-five volumes remain. I am now very much
hopeful with your good cooperation. To finish the whole Bhagavatam,
I require about $40,000, out of which I have about $12,000 contributed
by Brahmananda, Jayananda and others.
Prabhupada adds that I should be prepared to return to India with him
within the next four to six months. There we can work on completing the
Through February, I fight the urge to fly west. I stick to my classes
but find I’m teaching more Bhagavad-gita than English.
The sublime teachings of the Vedas easily seep through
etymological analyses, Emerson’s essays, Thoreau’s journals, Melville’s
metaphysical ponderings, the tight verses of Dickinson, the mystical
poems of Whitman.
Second semester is more relaxed, the students more passive, resigned,
friendly. Some visit me in the evenings to chant.
In late February, Kirtanananda, now a wandering sannyasi,
phones to tell me that he is going to West Virginia to meet a man who
has advertised in The San Francisco Oracle for people to
help establish a religious community.
On a weekend, free of classes, I accompany Kirtanananda out to
Wheeling, in West Virginia’s northern panhandle. There, we meet Mr.
Foster, a balding, burly, hayseed philosopher who wants to open up a
community “for everybody wanting to learn the Truth.“ Talking rapidly,
the gregarious Mr. Foster informs us that he’s not only attained the
Truth but can impart it as well. “You just gotta open up,” he says.
Talking nonstop, he drives us out to see some of the property. “I got
over three hundred acres in all,” he tells us. “That includes this
roadside farm here, and another way up a logging road that’s hard to
get to. A couple of people from California are supposed to come out
this weekend to help.”
From the road, we get a general view of the land. It is a little too
hilly for serious farming, but it must have looked like good homestead
country to the pioneers. The atmosphere is tranquil, and forests of
maple, poplar, and locust run along the ridges and creeks.
Foster tells us that he’s willing to grant small individual leases on
the property to those helping him start a religious community. “You can
set yourselves up immediately,” he says, “and stay year round.“
Then he goes on to tell how Gurdjieff and Ouspensky are but pikers
compared to him, due to his recently acquired knowledge. We don’t
mention ISKCON or Prabhupada. We quickly gather that Mr. Foster would
resent any guru other than himself.
Kirtanananda decides to stay at the farm, and suggests that I write
Prabhupada about starting an ashram.
Wilkes-Barre is gusty, overcast and cold. Whenever I think of
Prabhupada in San Francisco, I consider chucking the job and jumping a
jet for the coast. Just six hours away! I remember March of the
previous year, the hippies crowding the temple, the flowers in Golden
Gate Park beginning to blossom, the lively hour-long kirtans,
Prabhupada’s lectures, and quiet late-night conferences in his room.
I impulsively write a letter begging Prabhupada to come east now. I
tell him about the land in West Virginia and outline possibilities for
an ashram. His March 17 reply:
so glad to learn that one gentleman is going to open an ashram
in West Virginia. I wish that this big tract of land—320 acres—be
turned into New Vrindaban. You have New York, New England, and so many
“new” duplicates of European countries in the U.S.A.—why not import New
Vrindaban to your country? I have suggested that San Francisco be
established as New Jagannatha Puri. It was already inaugurated when
last year the Rathayatra Festival was performed, and you took part in
it. And when you come next year, please encourage them to enhance the
enthusiasm, and just try to have a new settlement on the Pacific side
called New Jagannatha Puri. I am returning to New York sometimes by the
middle of April, provided it is not too cold there. In all probability,
I hope I shall get a permanent visa in your country, and if
Kirtanananda endeavors to utilize the 320 acres and turn them into New
Vrindaban, I may permanently stay there and try to serve you in
constructing a New Vrindaban city in West Virginia.
cities! Transcendental settlements devoted to the service of Radha
Krishna, of Lord Jagannatha, Lord of the universe! New Vrindaban, West
Virginia! New Jagannatha Puri, California! Prabhupada, what gifts are
you bringing back from mother India? What spiritual frontiers?
so glad to understand that you are missing the atmosphere of San
Francisco, which you so nicely enjoyed last year. Similarly, I am also
missing your company, which I enjoyed last year here. Whenever I go to
the class, I remember you, how joyfully you were chanting in the
temple, and whistling the bugle so nicely. Whenever I see the cornet
lying idle because nobody can play on this particular instrument, I
remember Hayagriva Brahmachary immediately ...I shall let you know when
I shall go to New York, and, if it is possible to leave your work,
please try to see me there some weekend, and we shall be glad to talk
face to face.
arrives in New York on April 17. Obviously, the India trip has been
greatly beneficial. Reports from the west coast were true: his body has
Appropriately, at Kennedy Airport he’s smothered with garlands. Now we
bow, and take care not even to turn our backs toward him. He smiles,
seems to float through it all with effervescence, walking jauntily with
his cane, obviously pleased with the clamorous welcome. Now we sense
the happy air of assured triumph. Out of compassion for us, Lord
Krishna has allowed him to return in an hour of urgent need.
“You are all doing nicely?” he asks. “Everyone is chanting his sixteen
Mridangas and “Haribol!” sound the thunder of reply.
His smile falls on us, a refreshing April shower of mercy.
In Matchless Gifts, he lectures with full strength, telling us that all
our qualifications and assets are but so many zeros. Krishna is the
“Without Krishna, all your zeros stand alone, and regardless how many
zeros you add, the result will always be zero.
“But if you start with the one and then add the zero, you have ten.
Another zero, you have a hundred. Six, a million. And so on. Only in
relation to Krishna do our qualifications amount to something.
Otherwise they are worse than nothing. They are disqualifications.“
Goursundar and his wife Govinda-dasi now attend Prabhupada as private
secretaries, having replaced Kirtanananda and Ranchor. Talking in
whispers, they futilely try to keep people out. A very intense
atmosphere pervades, as if in a royal court where great matters of
state are being decided. Everything revolves about Prabhupada. He is no
longer poor little old Swamiji needing help. To look at him is to
behold a radiant center, a source of countless ideas, plans, concrete
instructions, perfect answers, ideal advice, and happy well-wishes.
“You are looking well,” he tells me.
“And so are you,” I say. “Very well. You have fully recovered.
“Yes. India was very agreeable to me.”
He looks at me for a moment in silence. Face to face. It is as it has
always been in eternity. He is still behind the tin footlocker, now
covered with saffron silk. He is still sitting on the Indian rug and
inviting everyone in. But now a certain intimacy that comes with a
small group has vanished. He is a great leader, a purely spiritual
vehicle for the liberation of souls. And now we are aware of it.
“So, you have seen this property and its owner in the Virginia?” he
“Yes,” I say. “It’s very beautiful land. I’ve some reservations about
the owner, though.”
“You must convince this gentleman to become Krishna conscious. Then we
can make it into a Krishna conscious ashram.”
“I doubt I can convince him,” I say. “Maybe Kirtanananda can. He says
he’s opposed to all sectarian religions.”
“Then you must convince and inform him that we are not a religion but a
science that is nonsectarian.”
“Yes, you must try,” he says. “That is all Krishna asks. You should
try, and Kirtanananda should try. Just try to turn this land into a New
Vrindaban. Then the rest is up to Krishna.”
As I sit listening to him discuss the possibility for a transcendental
community, devotees in the background tiptoe about. There is activity
everywhere. Govinda-dasi enters with a silver plate filled with fruit.
Seeing that I’m a little annoyed with all the comings and goings,
Prabhupada suddenly smiles very affectionately and reaches for the
garland of roses about his neck.
“Come,” he tells me.
I offer obeisances, and as I bow down, he places the garland over my
head. I feel their weight and smell their fragrance.
“I don’t deserve these, Prabhupada,” I say, using his new name for the
first time. He looks pleased. Embarrassed, I take off the garland and
hold it before me.
“No, you take, he insists.
I offer obeisances again, and he hands me some diced honeydew melon.
When I leave Matchless Gifts, I carry the garland with care. Back in
Wilkes-Barre, I hang it around a picture of Lord Krishna. The aroma
lingers throughout the spring.
End of Chapter 13
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
is Hare Krishna?
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Krishna Consciousness -
His Divine Grace A.C.
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Society of Devotees -
Disciples of Srila Prabhupada
Spiritual Master -
Rittvik - Initiation
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