is Hare Krishna?
Events: Kirtan Festival
2004 - Hansadutta das
Part III: New Vrindaban, 1968-1969
By Hayagriva das
The Guru and the Poet
this story to a friend Printer
In his room,
Prabhupada reads from an advance copy of
Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, which he has paid Dai Nippon Press
to print. Prabhupada is very pleased.
“Now that they have done this nicely,” he says, “we can make immediate
plans to print our Krishna book.”
Kirtanananda and Pradyumna prepare prasadam for distribution
tomorrow. New announcements are posted on campus: SWAMI BHAKTIVEDANTA
AND ALLEN GINSBERG: A NIGHT OF KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS IN COLUMBUS. MAY
12. TRANSCENDENTAL PASTIMES. ECSTATIC ILLUMINATIONS.
Prabhupada talks about the
financing of “the Krishna book,” which is to
be a summary of the Tenth Canto of
Srimad-Bhagavatam, dealing specifically with the pastimes of
Lord Krishna in Vrindaban and Mathura. George Harrison is particularly
interested and has offered to donate printing expenses.
“Just see how these books are attracting,” Prabhupada says. “My Guru
Maharaj always said that books are the big mridanga.“
At nine p.m., Allen Ginsberg enters. He has just flown in from
Louisville, Kentucky. Concluding a long tour of college poetry
readings, he is eager to return to his Cherry Valley farm in upstate
New York. When he sees Prabhupada, he smiles broadly.
“Hare Krishna!” he says. As always, Allen touches Prabhupada’s feet,
offering obeisances, then sits cross-legged on the floor. “So, we’ll
“Yes,” Prabhupada says. “At noon today we had some meeting in the
university. Kirtan. Wherever we go, there’s
kirtan and speaking. You’ve seen our book, Teachings of Lord
Chaitanya?” He hands Allen his advance copy. Allen handles it
with respectful curiosity, first looking at the color paintings.
“ISKCON published? Printed where?”
“Japan,” Prabhupada says.
“Printed in Japan. Beautiful. Very industrious.” Then, grinning: “It’s
“The next book is coming,” Prabhupada says. “Nectar of Devotion.”
“What will that be? Your own writing?”
“No. An authorized translation of Rupa Goswami’s book Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu.
Rupa Goswami was Lord Chaitanya’s principal disciple. He wrote immense
Allen thumbs through the book, expressing interest in certain chapters.
He admits that he’s not very familiar with the Chaitanya school. His
India was one of impersonalists, Shivaites, hippy prophets, Buddhists.
“Do you remember a man named Richard Alpert?” he asks suddenly.
“No,” Prabhupada says.
“He used to work with Timothy Leary in Harvard,” Allen says. “Then he
went to India and found a guru. Now he’s a devotee of Hanuman.
We were talking about maya and the present condition of
America, and he said that his
guru told him that LSD was a Christ of the Kali-yuga for
“How is that?” Prabhupada asks.
“Well,” Allen goes on, “as Kali-yuga gets more intense and as
attachment gets thicker and thicker, salvation has to become easier and
“Yes,” Prabhupada says. “That is also the version of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
But the process is kirtan, not LSD.”
“Well...” Allen says, hesitating. “Well, the reasoning is that for
those who will only accept salvation in a purely material, chemical
form, Krishna has the humor to emerge as a pill.”
The devotees’ eyes widen with concern. Prabhupada just smiles and
shakes his head.
“If it’s material, “ he says, “where is your salvation? It is illusion.”
“The subjective LSD effect,” Allen says, “is to cut out attachment.”
“But if you’re attached to some material chemical,” Prabhupada
counters, “how are you cutting attachment? If you accept help from
matter, how are you free of it?”
Allen frowns reflectively, as if struggling to reconcile opposites.
“The subjective experience is that while intoxicated on LSD, you
realize that it’s a material pill and that—well, that it really doesn’t
Prabhupada again shakes his head. “That is risky,” he says. “Very
Still, Allen obviously would like somehow to convince Prabhupada of the
value of the psychedelic movement, and perhaps receive a condoning nod.
“So, if LSD is a material attachment,” he says, “which I think it is,
then isn’t the Hare Krishna shabda also?”
“No,” Prabhupada says. “Shabda, or sound, is spiritual.
Originally, sound produced the creation; therefore sound is originally
spiritual. And from sound, sky developed; from sky, air developed; from
air, fire developed; from fire, water, and from water, land.”
“So what was the first sound, traditionally?”
“The Vedas say Om,” Prabhupada says. “God and His sound are
nondifferent, absolute. I may say, ‘Mr. Ginsberg,’ but this sound and
you are a little different. But God is not different from His energy. Shakti,
energy, and shakti-makta, the energetic, are nondifferent. Just
like fire and heat. Fire can be differentiated from heat, but they are
“Then is the sound Krishna and Krishna Himself not different in all
“Yes,” Prabhupada says, “but it’s a question of my appreciation,
realization, and purity. If we vibrate the sound Krishna, we
immediately contact Krishna. Because Krishna is pure spirit, I
immediately become spiritualized. If you touch electricity, you
immediately become electrified. So, by vibrating Krishna, you become
Krishnized, and when you’re fully Krishnized. you don’t return to this
material existence. You remain with Krishna.”
“The impersonalists would say ‘merge,’” Allen says.
“That’s less intelligent, Prabhupada says flatly. “Merging does not
mean losing individuality. When a green bird enters a green tree, he
appears to be merging, but the bird has not lost his individuality. As
Krishna tells Arjuna, we are all individual persons in the past, in the
present, and in the future. Individuality is our nature and is never
lost. Therefore our proposition, bhakti-marga, is to keep
individuality and agree. Our surrender means we agree with Krishna in
everything, although we are individuals. If Krishna says that we have
to die, then we die—out of love. So merging means merging in total
agreement. That is the perfection of liberation: to retain our
individuality and agree with God totally. We can come to this point
immediately, or after many, many births.”
“And you believe literally in rebirth?” Allen asks.
“Yes. What is the difficulty?”
Prabhupada sits erect, looking frankly at Allen. There seems to be no
difficulty at all.
“I just don’t remember having been born before,” Allen says.
“You might not remember your childhood,” Prabhupada says, “but that
doesn’t mean you didn’t have one. Don’t you remember the time when you
were a small boy?”
“Or do you remember when you were in your mother’s womb?”
“Does that mean that you were not?”
“Then your not remembering is not a reason for denial. The body
changes, but I remain. We’ve changed bodies, but this doesn’t mean that
we’re different persons.”
Again, Allen frowns, scratches his beard pensively. “It’s that I’ve
never heard any reasonable or even thrilling descriptions of previous
incarnations or births,” he complains. “I’ve never heard anything
that’s actually made me stop and think, ‘Ah! That must be it!’”
“And why not? You’ve experienced that your body has developed from the
size of a pea to this point. What’s so astonishing about changing this
body and taking on another pea body?”
“What’s hard to understand,” Allen says, “is whether there’s any
continuity of consciousness from one body to another.”
“If you don’t understand,” Prabhupada says, “you must consult some
great authority. No?”
“No,” Allen says emphatically, shaking his head. “Not enough to make me
dream of it at night. No. Not enough to make me love it. Words are not
enough. Authority is not enough to make me love it.
Authority. From the very beginning, this has been the central point of
contention. Before Prabhupada’s submission to Vedic authority, Allen is
still the teenage rebel.
“You do not accept authority?” Prabhupada asks, seeming like a little
boy incredulously asking another boy, “You don’t obey your mother?”
“Not enough to love,” Allen says, growing excited.
“No, apart from love,” Prabhupada says. “Consult. Consult.”
“It’s not that I don’t accept authority,” Allen says. “It’s just that I
can’t even understand an authority that says that I’m there when I
don’t feel myself there.”
“But if you’re in legal trouble, you consult a lawyer,” Prabhupada
says, “and if you’re sick, you consult a doctor.”
“In America, we’ve had a great deal of trouble with authority,” Allen
complains. “Here it is a special problem.”
“No, that’s misunderstanding. Authority must be accepted. A child
accepts authority when he asks, ‘Mother, what is that?’ Asking is a way
of acquiring knowledge. The Vedas tell us that if we want
to understand the science of God, we must go to guru.”
“And do you understand your previous lives from the descriptions in
authoritative texts, or from introspection?”
“We collaborate,” Prabhupada says. “Sadhu shastra guru vakya.
We have to test everything from three physicians
—the sadhu, or holyman, the scriptures, and the guru.
These three should not contradict but collaborate.”
“So what is the difference between the holyman and scripture?”
“None. We shouldn’t accept any man as a spiritual master or sadhu
if he doesn’t agree with the statements of the scriptures. He should be
There’s a long silence. Everyone waits for Allen to speak, but he only
sighs in resignation. He’s just come to loggerheads with authority.
tomorrow night’s program. Allen tells Prabhupada that at poetry
readings he has been chanting “Ragupati Raghava Raja Ram” and “Gopala,
Gopala, Devakinandana, Gopala” to give the students a little variety.
“There’s no harm,” Prabhupada says, “but Hare Krishna must be chanted. Kirtan
in the beginning and at the end, and in the middle you can discuss
“I think you’d better speak,” Allen says. “You’re more eloquent on the
subject, and you might not like what I say.”
“So. tell about what you’re experiencing. And I will also speak. You
have Krishna’s blessings upon you. You are not an ordinary man.
“I’m not certain that I’m worthy of that,” Allen says, laughing.
“That’s all right,” Prabhupada says, “but I know you’re not an ordinary
man. Yat yat bibhutimat sattva.”
“Well, since the car crash, I’ve stopped smoking,” Allen says. “But I
haven’t stopped eating meat.”
“Stay with us three months, Prabhupada says, “and you’ll forget all
that. Just come with your associates to New Vrindaban, and we shall
live together. You’ll forget maya and become fully Krishna
“Well, we’ve a farm now in upstate New York, a vegetarian table, a cow
“Economically, if a man has a cow and four acres of land, he has no
problems,” Prabhupada says. “That’s the program we want to start in New
Vrindaban. A cow and four acres. Then all the factories will close.
There’s a proverb that agriculture is the noblest profession, is there
“And Krishna Himself was a cowherd boy. And according to the Vedas,
a man’s wealth is estimated according to his grains and cows.
“Until the last century, at least, man has been living that way for
twenty to thirty thousand years.”
“Yes,” Prabhupada says. “Minimize bodily necessities. Just take enough
to keep the body fit for Krishna consciousness. Plain living and high
We decide to tune the harmoniums in the morning. I assure Allen that
there will be sufficient microphones to prevent him from getting
Kirtanananda serves hot milk and plates of diced cantaloupe drizzled
“I’ve been learning to write music,” Allen tells Prabhupada. “My guru
was a poet named William Blake. You know Blake?”
I’m surprised to hear Prabhupada say yes.
“He’s a lot like Kabir,” Allen says, encouraged. “I’ve been learning to
meditate by singing poems by Blake, poems I’ve put to music.”
“I can give you many songs,” Prabhupada says, happy to Krishnaize
Allen asks if he’d like to hear one of the Blake songs, and Prabhupada
says yes. Pumping a steady, lively drone on his portable harmonium,
Allen sings Blake’s “To Tizrah.” As he sings, Prabhupada looks like a
delighted child being entertained, his eyes wide, his smile broad.
Here, at least, in a kind of hodge-podge, hurdy-gurdy mantra-bhakti,
there’s agreement. Allen is accepting the authority of Mr. Blake.
When Allen chants, “It is raised! A spiritual body!” Prabhupada says,
“He believes in a spiritual body! That is nice. That is Krishna
“He apparently fits into what the West calls the Gnostic tradition,
having bhakti ideas related to the Buddhist and Hindu
traditions. Similar cosmology. Blake was my teacher.”
“He did not give much stress to this material body?” Prabhupada asks.
It suddenly occurs to me that Prabhupada thinks that Allen has
personally met Blake. After all, “guru” usually implies this.
“Well, he didn’t toward the end of his life,” Allen says.
Allen then sings another Blake song, this time “The Chimney Sweeper.” I
can sense that the devotees are fearing that Prabhupada is being
offended by some mad poet. But Prabhupada smiles and claps his hands.
“And by came an angel who had a bright key,” Allen sings, “and he
opened the coffins and set them all free...."
After this song, Purushottam announces that it’s five to eleven.
“Let everybody retire,” Allen says.
Prabhupada offers Allen two flower garlands strung around the
photograph of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati. Allen accepts them,
offers obeisances and bids farewell till the next day.
Purushottam points out that Mr. Ginsberg represents certain “hippy
values,” Prabhupada says, “Yes, that may be, but he is appreciating
Hare Krishna, and on that point we agree. He is chanting Hare Krishna
publicly, and if he goes on, then all these anarthas—unwanted
things—will fall away. He will see them all as stool.”
morning, just after Prabhupada has finished a light fruit and milk
breakfast, Allen returns. Prabhupada acknowledges his
obeisances—“Jai!”—and immediately suggests that he write poems about
Krishna. Then he mentions that one of the peculiar qualifications of a
devotee is that of lunacy.
“The poet, the lover and the lunatic,” Prabhupada laughs. “The Krishna
lover is also another kind of lunatic or poet, you see.”
“Except that writing of Krishna would mean concentrating all my
consciousness on one single image of Krishna,” Allen says.
“Not image,” Prabhupada corrects.
“Well,” Allen smiles, “the one single thought, or name, or feeling, or
“Yes, and to that end we’re engaging all these boys and girls in a
variety of duties.” Prabhupada gestures to the devotees running about
tending the Deities, cleaning, arranging, intent as bees. “For us,
sleeping is a waste of time. The Goswamis used to sleep for only a half
hour and were always engaged in Krishna consciousness. They have
written thousands of books, and when they weren’t writing of Krishna,
they were chanting or talking of Him, not allowing maya time to
“Who’s the most perfect Vaishnava poet?” Allen asks. “Mirabai?”
“In India she’s very popular,” Prabhupada says. “Most of her poems are
written in Hindi. She was a devotee. She saw Jiva Goswami and wrote
“Did she ever meet Lord Chaitanya?”
“No, but she appreciated the fact that He is Krishna. And her life was
also exemplary. Her father gave her a small Krishna doll to play with,
and in time she developed love of Krishna as her husband.”
“And Ananda Mayima? What is her position?”
“Impersonalist. She’s not a devotee. There are many impersonalists who
take advantage of Vaishnavism, saying, ‘Chaitanya’s path, Shankara’s
math.’ That is, follow the bhakti principle of Chaitanya, but
ultimately accept the impersonalist conclusion of Shankara.”
“Shankara’s purpose was to defeat Buddhism, and to do so he preached an
impersonalist philosophy, stressing Brahman. Buddha appeared in order
to put an end to animal killing done in the name of Vedic ritual. In Srimad-Bhagavatam,
he is accepted as the ninth incarnation of Krishna.”
“And the tenth?”
“And what is Kalki’s nature?”
“Kalki comes just like a prince in royal dress, on horseback, killing
all rascals with a sword. No more preaching. Simply killing.”
Allen laughs, evidently pleased with the idea of a Hindu Second Coming.
“You may laugh,” Prabhupada says seriously, “but when Kalki comes, no
one will have the brain to understand God.”
“People will be so dull. After all, it requires a little brain power to
understand. Only when you are fully joyful in
bhakti-yoga and freed from all material hankering can you
understand God. Understanding God isn’t such a cheap thing. Not
understanding, people say that God is this or that. When Krishna
Himself comes, they reject Him. They prefer to create their own God.”
“And when will Kalki come?” Allen asks, still pursuing an apocalypse.
“At the end of Kali-yuga. Then Satya-yuga begins.”
“Satvic means pious. People in Satya-yuga will be pious,
truthful and long-lived.”
“And are those the people who remain, or who are created out of the
“It will not be complete annihilation,” Prabhupada says. “The pious
will remain. Paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya cha duskritam.
The miscreants will be killed, and the few pious will remain.”
“Do you think of this in terms of a historical event that will occur in
the lifetime of your disciples?”
“No. This will happen at least 400,000 years from now. By that time, my
disciples will be with Krishna.”
“And those who will not follow them,” Prabhupada adds, smiling, “will
see the fun.”
And as Prabhupada laughs, I imagine Lord Kalki sweeping the world on a
great white horse, severing heads as easily as a child stomps ants.
“Will people still be chanting Hare Krishna in 400,000 years?” Allen
“No,” Prabhupada says. “Hare Krishna will be finished on this earth
within ten thousand years.”
“So what will be left?”
“Nothing. There will be, ‘I’ll kill you and eat you,’ and, ‘You’ll kill
me and eat me.’ In this way, we’ll have full facility for meat eating.
There will be no milk, no grain, fruit or sugar. Still, Krishna is very
kind.” Prabhupada shakes with laughter. “Yes, very kind. He gives full
facility. ‘All right, why eat cows and calves? Eat your own sons.’ Yes,
just like serpents, they’ll eat their own offspring. Like tigers. There
will be no more preaching, no brain to understand preaching, no
preacher. Civilization gone to the dogs, they say. And then Kalki will
come and say, ‘All right, let Me kill you to save you.
“Do you also see this as an actual historical event? That is, Hare
Krishna chanting will diminish in ten thousand years?”
“Oh yes, but now it will increase.”
“Ten thousand years, then diminish. People will take advantage of Hare
Krishna for the next ten thousand years.”
“Then this is like the last rope,” Allen says, “the last gasp.”
“Yes,” Prabhupada says. “The duration of Kali-yuga is 432,000 years, of
which we’ve passed five thousand. There’s a balance of 427,000, and out
of that, ten thousand is nothing.”
Allen shakes his head, as if bewildered by such cosmic calculations. In
the Western tradition, long spans of time are considered uninteresting.
The Second Coming is always just around the corner.
“But where is all this stated?” he asks.
“In the last canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam there are
Prabhupada says. “For instance, it’s said that in Kali-yuga, marriage
will be performed simply by agreement. And people will think they’re
beautiful just because they wear long hair. Also, it’s mentioned that
the Germans will become kings and that the English and Mohammedans will
occupy India. Many incarnations are also foretold, Lord Chaitanya and
Lord Buddha being two.”
Then, to Allen’s surprise, Prabhupada points out that Lord Buddha
engaged in “transcendental cheating” just to trick the atheists into
worshipping God in the form of Buddha.
“Sometimes a father has to cheat his child,” Prabhupada says, “for the
child’s own welfare. Especially if the child is insistent on some
As Allen and Prabhupada converse, more devotees arrive from Buffalo and
New York City. Devotees I’ve never seen before introduce themselves and
offer to help. Kirtanananda puts them to work in the kitchen and sends
them out to collect boxes to cart prasadam onto campus.
The more Allen and Prabhupada talk, the more it becomes obvious that
there are questions that Allen wants cleared up before the campus
meeting. I know how he feels. When he is with Prabhupada, his
reservations about Krishna evaporate. But when he leaves that effulgent
presence, the dark clouds of doubt return.
Again, Allen tries to clear away the clouds for good.
“It’s just difficult,” he says, “for me to conceive of vast numbers
living a Hindu-language-and-food-based monastic life here in America.
Now there are a number of Krishna temples firmly rooted, and I think
they will continue”—Allen’s expression is pained as he wrestles with
words, trying to speak both truthfully and tactfully. “But I’m
wondering about the future of a religion as technical as this, so
complicated, requiring so much—eh, sophistication in terms of diet,
daily ritual, aratik, ekadasi and all that you’ve been
teaching. Just how far can this spread by its very complexity?”
Complexity. Sophistication. When Allen first heard Prabhupada speak in
New York, he used the word “esoteric.”
“First of all,” Prabhupada says, “you must understand that we’re trying
to make people Krishna conscious. Therefore our program is to engage
people twenty-four hours a day.”
“The orthodox Jews also have a very heavy, complicated, moment by
moment ritual for that same purpose,” Allen says, “to keep them
conscious of their religious nature. And that has maintained a small
group of Jews over the centuries. But really, how far can total Krishna
devotion, act by act, all day, spread? How many people can that
encompass in a place like America? Or are you intending to get only a
few devotees—like several hundred or a thousand—who would be solid and
“Yes! That’s my aim.”
Allen looks startled. No one in America starts a religious movement
without hopes of converting everybody. Prabhupada perceives his
“This is because Krishna consciousness is not possible for everyone,”
he explains, almost apologetically, not wanting to offend Allen’s
democratic notions. “In Bhagavad-gita we learn that after
many births and deaths, the man of wisdom finally surrenders to
Krishna. It’s not possible for a large body of people to grasp this.
Obviously, Allen would like Prabhupada to agree with his own democratic
beliefs, but politically Prabhupada is a Vedic monarchist. The
devotee-king should rule.
“Understanding Krishna is not a very easy thing,” Prabhupada continues.
“Krishna says, ‘Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for
perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows
Me in truth.’ So, Krishna consciousness is not easy because Krishna is
the last word of the Absolute Truth. But Lord Chaitanya is so
munificent that He has given us an easy process, this Hare Krishna
“Then your plan here in America is to set up centers so that those who
are concerned can pursue their studies and practise a ritual?”
“I personally have no ideal ambitions,” Prabhupada says. “But since
life’s goal is to come to Krishna consciousness, there must be some
society devoted to this end. It is not that we expect everyone to come.
Our mission is to inform intelligent people that sense gratification is
not the aim of life.”
“Now in America there’s a bankruptcy of sense satisfaction,” Allen
says. “Everybody agrees.”
“There must be,” Prabhupada says.
“Our civilization has come to the end of its possibilities materially,”
Allen says, “and everybody understands that. It’s in the New York Times
editorials as well as the ISKCON journals. There’s a population
explosion, and everybody is looking for an alternative to material
extension. Now, my question is this: Is the mode of life that you’re
proposing adaptable to many, many people?”
“I’ve already said that it’s not for many, many people,” Prabhupada
answers calmly, again leaving Allen with the democratic masses.
“But there is a thirst by many, many people for an alternative, he
“If they’re actually thirsty, they can adopt this Krishna
consciousness,” Prabhupada says simply. “What’s the difficulty?”
“There’s an aesthetic difficulty,” Allen says. “There should be some
flower of the American language to communicate in.”
“Therefore we’re seeking your help,” Prabhupada says.
“Well, I haven’t found a way,” Allen admits. “I’m still chanting Hare
“Yes,” Prabhupada concludes. “That is also my view.”
approaches, devotees crowd into the room until there is no sitting
space left. They even crowd around the doors and windows, eager to
catch some rare pearls from Prabhupada, or see the famous poet
“At least I’ve come to America with this view,” Prabhupada continues,
“now that America is on the summit of material civilization. Americans
are not poverty stricken, but they are searching after something.
Therefore I have come, saying, ‘Take this, and you’ll be happy.’ If
America takes to Krishna consciousness, so will other countries,
because America now leads. And exalted persons like you should
especially try to understand. Even a child can chant Hare Krishna. What
is the difficulty?”
“But there are difficulties,” Allen says, “for many people. Following
the rituals in this temple, for instance.”
“All my students are following,” Prabhupada says, “and the movement is
“But it requires an adaptation of Indian dress.”
“That is not very important.
“And Indian food.”
“It is not Indian food,” Prabhupada corrects. “We are eating fruits,
grains, and vegetables. Do you mean to say that this is Indian food?”
“But—”Allen looks vainly to the devotees for understanding. “But—the
“You may boil only,” Prabhupada suggests. “It’s not necessary to like
our taste. You can cook vegetables and prepare fruits, grains and milk
to your own taste. Of course, you cannot offer meat to Krishna. But
apart from this, what is the difference?”
“Well,” Allen ponders, “the food is basically the same material.”
“Yes. Just the style may be different. We are not prohibiting. Just
Adjusting. Allen seems to mull this over as he looks at the
clean-shaved devotees, so different from Ohio State fraternity boys and
San Francisco hippies. Is it only a question of adjustment?
“There’s a limit as to how much the pronunciation of Krishna will
spread, I think,” Allen ventures.
“No limit,” Prabhupada says. “You can pronounce the word any way you
“Rather, there’s a limit until the word becomes as common in English as
any other English word.”
“It’s already in the dictionary,” Prabhupada says. “What more do you
“A large, single, unifying religious movement in America,” Allen says
“So, here is Krishna, the all-attractive,” Prabhupada says. “What do
you want or expect from the Supreme, the all-unifying? Everything can
be found in Krishna: opulence, beauty, wisdom, renunciation, strength.
He is the unifying center of all.”
There is a long silence, and again the devotees look to Allen for some
sign of surrender.
“Well, everything you say is beautiful,” Allen finally says. “But—but
I’m not even convinced!”
“No?!” Prabhupada is genuinely surprised. “Why not? You’re intelligent.
You’re a recognized popular poet. I take it you’re intelligent. You’re
“The chanting is almost a physical body movement,” Allen says, “rather
“That may be,” Prabhupada interrupts, brushing all this aside, “but
your intelligence is sufficient for understanding. This is not
sentimentalism, nor bluffing, nor money-making business. You know that
from the beginning I came single-handed and chanted. That’s all. I
never asked anyone for money.”
“That was never in question,” Allen laughs. “What was in question was
“I’m just some newly come foreigner,” Prabhupada continues. “Who cares
for me? You’re a popular American leader. If you recommend Hare
Krishna, people will join.”
“Well, I’ve been chanting Hare Krishna on this continent beginning in
Vancouver in July, 1963,” Allen says, “and I’m finding there’s a
limitation to the people joining the chant. It’s strange and new to
people here. As it becomes more familiar, it might spread more. Part of
the limitation is due to a natural resentment or resistance. People
want a prayer in their own tongue, their own language. I don’t know.
For the same reason, an American Indian chant wouldn’t take hold, nor
even a Latin chant. So, is it possible to find an American mantra?”
“Mantra cannot be manufactured,” Prabhupada says. “It is not
American or Hindu. It is transcendental. Like omkara.”
“You think the very nature of the sound is transcendental?”
“Om is an absolutely natural sound from the throat to the mouth,” Allen
says, “and yet even Om sounds foreign to us. It’s hard to get people to
chant Om. I tried in Chicago with both Om and Hare Krishna.”
“But there’s no alternative,” Prabhupada says, laughing.
“No. We haven’t been able to think of one yet,” Allen says. “Some
people have suggested, ‘God, God, God,’ but that doesn’t have the right
“Who’s going to chant that five minutes?” Kirtanananda asks.
“Well, you could almost do ‘Amen, amen,’” Allen says.
“That’s not English.”
“No, but it’s known in English. And maybe Krishna could become as well
known as God or Amen.”
We look up Krishna in the dictionary and find that He is next to Kris
“He’s next to Santa Claus,” Allen says.
“Yes,” Prabhupada notes with satisfaction. “Yes. Krishna is the center
of all, the father of everyone. Not only human beings, but plants and
animals as well. Sarva yonisu kaunteya murtayah sambhavanti.”
“But what do you do when different religious groups claim to be the
center?” Allen asks.
“We welcome all religions,” Prabhupada says. “We don’t decry any
religion. Our point is love of Godhead. Krishna is love,
all-attractive, and we want to be attracted by Krishna, just as iron is
attracted to some magnetic force. That is the test of true religion—how
much have you enhanced your love of God? Call Him Krishna or something
else. What you call Him doesn’t matter.”
“Then, do you think that the Hare Krishna mantra could serve as
an intermediary mantra to link the religious tendencies both of
Christian and Moslem religions?”
“Yes. Any religion. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says that you don’t even have
to chant the name of Krishna. He does say, ‘If you have no suitable
name for God, here. Chant Hare Krishna!’”
In the temple room, bells suddenly announce noon aratik.
Prabhupada looks about the crowded room. The devotees offer obeisances
and begin leaving.
“Let’s tune the harmoniums,” I suggest.
“Yes, we have to work on the music boxes,” Allen says. “We have to
start material preparations for the evening.”
“That is not material,” Prabhupada says, smiling. “Here we have nothing
“Ah yes! Shabda preparations,” Allen corrects himself.
“Shabda is original and spiritual. Shabda Brahman. We
have to understand that there is nothing material. Everything is
spiritual. That must be our vision.”
“Jai!” Allen exclaims.
“Jai Sri Krishna!” Prabhupada says.
We offer Prabhupada obeisances, then take the harmoniums out on the
porch for tuning.
I quickly see
the error in scheduling the 750-seat Hitchcock Auditorium instead of
the basketball court. The front doors are blocked, jammed with students
crowding sidewalks and stairs. Inside, all seats are taken, but
students squeeze into the clearing below stage and along the aisles and
balconies—all in violation of fire codes. They clap hands, shout, and
wave incense sticks. Strawberry and frangipani.
It’s not a typical O.S.U. Yoga Society meeting. It’s a midwestern
be-in, a gathering, a happening. It’s Haight-Ashbury two years later.
Ranadhir and Hrishikesh run in circles trying to distribute Bhagavad-gita.
It’s too chaotic to try to post devotees at the doors. Instead, we
press through the crowds to sell books.
“We’re number one! We’re number one!” the students begin chanting.
“Krishna’s number one,” Allen says as we climb onto the stage with the
The cheering gets louder as Allen begins regulating the microphones.
“Hare Krishna! Testing!” I notice some of my freshmen in the front
rows; I’ve assigned an optional 500-word theme based on the meeting.
Students sit knee to knee in the aisles. Someone brings folding chairs
to the side stage for faculty. Devotees arrange roses and buttercups
from New Vrindaban around the dais.
“About two thousand made it in,” Pradyumna tells me. “They’ve closed
off the doors now.”
Allen pumps out his familiar hurdy-gurdy harmonium drone. He sits on a
mat on the floor, one microphone buried in the harmonium keyboard,
another in his beard.
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare,” Allen chants,
his voice loud and heavy, chanting the same tune he chanted two years
ago in the Avalon Ballroom. But now he’s not chanting to drug-hazy
hippies and Hell’s Angels. The healthy corn-fed faces of blond,
blue-eyed midwesterners are chanting back.
By the time
Prabhupada arrives, all the students are chanting. He enters from
behind the stage, heralded by devotees carrying flowers and incense,
clashing cymbals, pounding mridangas. As he walks up the platform and
sits on the dais, Allen brings the chant to an end.
“Very good. Don’t stop. Go on with the kirtan,” Prabhupada says.
A devotee hands Prabhupada his cymbals, and Allen asks him to lead.
Prabhupada draws himself erect. Ching ching ching, the cymbals
clash. His brow furrows in concentration as he chants “Vande Hum,” “Sri
Krishna Chaitanya” and then Hare Krishna. His melody, slower and not as
showy as Allen’s, is easier to follow. The students pick it up quickly.
Prabhupada stands and raises his hands, inviting the students also to
stand and dance. The response is immediate. Students in the aisles are
first to their feet, then students in the rows and balconies arise.
There is little room for dancing; a spontaneous bounce catches hold
instead. As Prabhupada bounces on the dais, the students bounce also.
As he waves his arms, they wave theirs. He leads them as a maestro
conducts an orchestra, until gradually the inherent spiritual rhythm of
the mantra itself prevails. We can no longer hear
Prabhupada—just the chanting, the clapping, the pounding on chairs.
As in a dream, I see my students before me dancing and chanting in
ecstasy. Sandra Hunsaker, nursing major, clapping, her eyes closed.
Jeff Horner, in agriculture, chanting so loud I see blue veins pop in
white skin. Pretty, buxom, fresh-scrubbed Marilyn Butler, swaying to
Prabhupada throws marigolds from his garland. The students shout,
“Here! Here!” and scramble for the gold prizes. Allen continues pumping
the harmonium, his head wagging back and forth, sweating under the
lights, the devotees pounding
mridangas, the cymbals still heard over the chant, but loudest of
all the young voices empowered by the mantra, not even knowing
the meaning of the words.
Then somehow, as remarkably as it began, it all ends, and Prabhupada’s
amplified voice echoes the praise of the gurus.
fact is that everybody was able to get up and dance, leaping out of
their skins almost, after sitting frozen,” Allen says, speaking quickly
into the microphone. “When ancient rhythms are flowing through
everybody’s body, then certainly we desire to dance and sing rather
than sit frozen. But such is the nature of our conditioning in this
Allen then draws an ecological picture of Kali-yuga—part Vedic, part
Ginsberg—as an age of robots, doom and pollution. After a brief
synopsis of the age of iron, he introduces Prabhupada.
“I have known Swami Bhaktivedanta for about three years,” he says,
“since he settled in the Lower East Side, New York, which is my
neighborhood. It seemed to me like a stroke of great intelligence for
him to come, not as an uptown swami but as a real down-home street
swami, and make it on the street in the Lower East Side, and also open
a branch on Frederick Street in San Francisco, right in the center of
the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood....
“It’s strange that such a far-out and ritualized Indian form should
take root in the United States a little more naturally than the more
Protestant Vedanta Society or the extremely rigorous Zen groups. I
think partly it’s due to the magnanimity, or generosity, or the old-age
charm, wisdom, cheerfulness of Swami Bhaktivedanta, his openness of
heart, his willingness to come down into the street, and his sense of
his own divinity and the divinity of others around him. It is Swamiji
himself who has made it possible for the bhakti-yoga cult of
India to be planted very firmly here in America.”
Allen then defers to Prabhupada to “explain his divine self.”
Prabhupada receives the students’ full attention. He seems to float on
air, not sit on his dais. His robes glow radiant gold; his eyes close
in meditation as he prays: “Om ajnana timirandhasya....
His voice, low and wavering, repeats the prayer that he chanted when he
first began translating Bhagavad-gita: “I was born in the
darkest ignorance, and my spiritual master opened my eyes with the
torch of knowledge. I offer my respectful obeisances unto him.”
His eyes open, and he looks at the audience as if he’s just arrived
“My dear boys and girls,” he says, “I thank you very much for coming
here and participating in this sankirtan function, or, as it is
called, sankirtan-yajna, sacrifice.”
The students lean forward, concentrating, straining to make out the
meaning through the unfamiliar accent. Here is someone very unlike all
their other teachers. Here, at last, is a master.
“In this Kali-yuga age,” Prabhupada continues, “as poet Ginsberg has
explained to you, everything is very degraded from the spiritual point
of view. And from the material viewpoint also, people are reduced in
their duration of life, in their merciful tendencies, strength and
It is the same message as always, the same I heard him proclaim that
first night in Matchless Gifts. Now it is spelled out even more clearly
for the young fresh minds of mid-America.
“When we chant Hare Krishna,” he says, “our original consciousness,
Krishna consciousness and its joyfulness, begins. When we come to the
platform of pure, spiritual consciousness, we become joyful, brahmabhuta.”
This joy, he explains, begins when we develop our love of God.
“Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has given a nice example of love,” he says. “He’s
playing the part of Radharani, the conjugal consort of Krishna. Our
Krishna consciousness is not dry. You see the picture of Radha and
Krishna. Krishna is a boy sixteen years old, and Radharani a young
girl, a little younger than Krishna. They are enjoying.
The students look at the picture on the stage beside Prabhupada.
Radharani clings to Krishna, who stands independent, legs crossed,
holding His flute while a cow nuzzles at His feet.
“We should love God without cause, but we pray, ‘God, give us our daily
bread. I have come to You for my bread.’ This is not love of God. This
is love of bread.”
Instant laughter and applause. The students are sympathetic, and
Prabhupada does not waste time with dry philosophy. He tells them
quickly and frankly their spiritual state.
“This transmigration of the soul, these repeated births and deaths, is
a diseased condition of the spirit soul. That you do not know.” There
is urgency in his voice, as if shouting for everyone to flee a fire.
“In our educational system, there is no department of knowledge
teaching what the soul is, what is after death or what was before
birth. There is no science. It is very lamentable. Education in the
name of simply eating, sleeping, and mating is not education, not if my
bodily conception continues. The Bhagavatam says, ‘Yasya
atma buddhi kunape tridhatuke. Anyone who is thinking that this
body of flesh and bones is self—he is an ass.'"
Again there is appreciative applause and laughter. Prabhupada looks at
the audience as if it is one large individual.
“And because they conceive this body to be the self, they don’t even
have common reason. This bag of flesh, bone, blood, urine, stool and
secretion—can this be soul? Can this be self?”
Looking out at the students, I see Doug O’Connor, engineering major,
staring intently at Prabhupada. Sitting beside him, dainty, prissy Miss
Karen Burke takes notes quickly.
“Because you cannot see it, you are concluding that there is no soul.
That is ignorance. There is soul, and this body has developed on that
platform. That soul is migrating from one body to another, and this is
called real, spiritual evolution, and that evolutionary process is
going on through 8,400,000 species of life....
“So, don’t commit suicide. Take to chanting this Hare Krishna mantra,
and all real knowledge will be revealed. It is practical. We are not
charging anything. We are not bluffing you, saying, ‘I shall give you
some secret mantra and charge you fifty dollars.’ No. It is
open for everyone. Please take it.”
There is urgency in his message as Prabhupada now implores the young
“That is our request. We are begging you—don’t spoil your life. Please
take this mantra and chant it wherever you like. There are no
hard and fast rules you have to follow. Wherever and whenever you like,
chant, and you’ll feel ecstasy.”
As in deference to being hosted by a university, Prabhupada mentions
that we have volumes of books for understanding Krishna through
“We are not dancing and chanting sentimentalists. We have background,”
he says, hinting at the Vedic tradition. On the other hand, he quickly
points out that we are not dry mental speculators.
“Don’t foolishly try to speculate to understand the unlimited,” he
warns. “It is not possible. Just become meek and humble and try to
receive the message from authorized sources. You don’t have to change
your work or conditions. Just hear. Then a day will come when you will
be able to conquer the Supreme Lord, who is unconquerable. God is
great. Nobody can conquer Him. But if you simply follow this process
and try to hear about God from authorized sources, then one day you
will be able to conquer the Supreme Lord—” Prabhupada holds out his
hand to the mesmerized audience. “—within your hand!”
A dramatic pause and pindrop silence. Prabhupada leans back on the
dais. Once again he seems to be floating, so unattached he is from
materials, the paramhansa floating on the waters of the world,
untouched by mundane desires, filled with love for Krishna.
“As Brahma-samhita confirms, you cannot find God by
merely reading and speculating on Shastra, scripture. You have
to conquer Him by your love. He’ll reveal Himself to you if you
sincerely chant this Hare Krishna mantra. It will cleanse your
heart, and then if you read just one chapter of Bhagavad-gita,
you will gradually understand what is God, what you are, and what your
relationship with God is. And when you understand all this and develop
your love of God, then you will become perfectly happy.”
Finally, hands folded, Prabhupada concludes by paying reverence to the
picture of Radha Krishna.
“This is our path—Krishna consciousness,” he says. “The path of
happiness. Hare Krishna.”
Prabhupada does not call for questions due to the audience’s size.
Instead, he and Allen lead another chanting. The response is even more
vigorous than before. Soon again, everyone is dancing, and Prabhupada
stands on the dais and waves his arms, and the students shout and wave
A marvel. If approached on the street, these students respond, “I have
my own religion, thank you,” and walk on. But now, inflated by
Prabhupada’s presence, they chant with fervor, hungry for more
spiritual food, their response outshining that of hip New York and San
And after thirty minutes—or an aeon?—it all ends. Prabhupada chants the
closing prayers, as we all bow down. Encircling the stage, the students
press forward for a last look at Prabhupada.
Hands folded in blessing, Prabhupada walks quickly to the exit. He has
had his say. The effect his words will have is up to Krishna.
in and out of the temple all the next day. Prabhupada gives afternoon
discourses in his room, informal explanations of the basic lessons of Bhagavad-gita:
I am not this body but eternal spirit soul.
Some students express serious interest in the philosophy. In the
afternoon, there is a fire sacrifice, and Prabhupada initiates Luke
(Lokanath), Carlos (Chaitanya-das), and Sherry (Chintamani) and weds
our Sanskrit scholar Pradyumna with Arundhuti.
May 14. In
the bright spring morning, Allen comes by to bid Prabhupada farewell
before leaving for New York. On entering, he notices Prabhupada’s
Deities on the dresser and enquires about them.
“When I was seven years old, my father was worshipping Deities,”
Prabhupada says. “So, wanting to imitate, I asked him to give me a
Deity, and he gave me Radha Krishna.”
“And did you wash Them and play with Them?”
“Yes. Washed, changed dress, served Them.”
“And you still do so?”
“In India, yes. Now my disciples are here, and they are tending Them.”
Prabhupada looks at the Deities and smiles broadly, then laughs. Allen
sees that he is reading Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Prabhupada
obliges him by reciting some verses aloud, chanting the Sanskrit in
“This is very beautiful prosody,” Allen comments. “Very complicated.“
“Difficult,” Prabhupada says. “They have a metric system whereby so
many words should be first, so many second. You cannot deviate. And
rules for analogy and metaphor. Nothing should be repeated twice.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu defeated a great scholar just on the basis of one
Allen says that at last night’s poetry reading, he was telling the
students to chant Hare Krishna for President Nixon when he comes for
commencement in two weeks.
“There’s a lot of resentment against the President and government,”
Allen says, “from young people who don’t like war. It’s dangerous to
show real conflict, but all that energy wants to express itself. So I
suggested that they greet him by chanting Hare Krishna.” “That’s a very
good service,” Prabhupada says. “Nixon said that he wanted to meet some
religious leaders, so one of my disciples wrote him, but he never
replied.” Prabhupada shakes his head as if it were strange indeed that
President Nixon didn’t reply.
“Well,” Allen consoles, “if in this typical university the students
greet him by chanting Hare Krishna, he may well invite you.”
“Yes,” Prabhupada laughs, “actually I came here thinking that America
is in need of something substantial. I’m doing my bit, and if the
government or the people help, this movement can be pushed nicely.
Otherwise, it will go on slowly, however Krishna desires.”
Allen gives obeisances. “Now I must leave,” he says. “Hare Krishna!”
When he bows to touch Prabhupada’s feet, Prabhupada smiles and says,
“All right,” appreciatively.
“We’ll have to chant again this summer,” Allen suggests, “in New York
City. Just let me know two weeks in advance, and I’ll come down from
“Yes,” Prabhupada says. “Thank you.” Then, indicating the white and red
roses fresh from the Radha Krishna Deities: “Give him that garland!”
A devotee places the garland around Allen, who bows again and, wishing
us good luck at New Vrindaban, leaves for his plane.
afternoon, my students deliver their 500-word themes, and I’m happily
surprised when I read them. Those who chose to cover the meeting wrote
their best compositions of the year. Back at the temple, I read some of
them to Prabhupada. He listens closely, occasionally breaking into a
smile, and says, “Just see! Just see! They are appreciating.”
I have rarely seen Prabhupada so satisfied with an engagement or its
reaction. As I read from the themes, Kirtanananda and other devotees
listen with satisfaction.
“Just one thing,” Prabhupada says. “This Yoga Society.” He looks
directly at me. “You must change the name to Bhakti-yoga Society.”
“Yes, Prabhupada,” I say, shamefully aware that he had mentioned this
“If you just say ‘yoga,'" he continues, “people will think we
are sitting like pretzels to improve our sex life.”
We all laugh, and Kirtanananda points out that no one on campus knows
what “bhakti” means.
“That doesn’t matter,” Prabhupada says. “Let them come to find out.
That will make them curious. Now, Purushottam, will you get my
May 21. In
the evening, Paramananda calls from New Vrindaban’s closest pay phone.
“Prabhupada’s coming out in the morning,” I tell him. “We’re driving
out in the Lincoln. Important. Get Mr. Thompson’s permission to drive
over his property.”
“All right,” Paramananda says grimly, “but I can tell you now that the
powerwagon doesn’t sound right. It coughs a lot and then dies out. We
carried the battery all the way to get charged and—”
“Get Ron to look at it,” I tell him. “And make sure the upstairs is
ready for Prabhupada to move right in. Sparkling clean, and lots of
Paramananda tries to explain more about the powerwagon. He should know
that there are no alternatives.
“Just get it fixed,” I say. “Tomorrow is the biggest day in the history
of New Vrindaban. Just think! The first holy dham in the
Western world created by Sri Krishna’s pure devotee. This is a historic
event. The demigods may even be there.”
“It rained the other day,” Paramananda says quietly. “You’ll never make
it up that road. I’ll be sure to ask Thompson.”
May 22. A
most auspicious day, a cool, clear morning, the sky a baby blue without
a wisp of cloud or speck of pollution, the sun rising early and bright,
the aromas of spring everywhere, the dandelions with their cotton
puffballs, the bulging umbrellas of May apples, the tiny, lustrous
The devotees have swept out our newly purchased 1959 Lincoln
Continental, washed the upholstery, waxed the exterior, polished the
chrome, cleaned the windows, and filled the tank. It will guzzle
twenty-five gallons easily during the three-hour drive.
Prabhupada descends the stairs of the temple and gives the day a
sweeping joyful look. Then he turns to Kirtanananda and asks for a
scarf. The air is brisk and clean. The devotees offer
obeisances—Pradyumna, Vamandev, Nara-narayana, Ranandhir. Lokanath
opens the door of the Continental.
Prabhupada stops to appraise the long, black limousine whose best days
are long past.
“You have bought?” he asks me.
“Yes, Srila Prabhupada.”
“And how much was it costing?”
“Three hundred dollars,” I say.
“Achha!” he smiles and gets in front. Kirtanananda drives, and
Purushottam and I sit in back. The other devotees quickly scramble for
their cars, and follow us down Interstate 70 to West Virginia.
End of Chapter 17
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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