Sunday morning, July 9. Shyamasundar drives to
the Diggers to pick up the flatbed truck, which for today will be the
Rathayatra chariot of Lord Jagannatha, the supreme controller of the
universe. On the truck’s open bed, we have nailed five-foot high wooden
posts that support a red canopy. Along this canopy, we string flowers
and bells, and on the wooden posts we staple prints of Krishna. On the
broad bumper, we paint Hare Krishna in Sanskrit. Subal and Ramanuja
unload boxes of flowers from the park, and Harsharani and Yamuna bring
baskets filled with chapatis. Jayananda arrives with bushels of
apples, oranges, and bananas.
Rathayatra cart is ready, Jayananda drives it to Shyamasundar’s
apartment, where Their Lordships are waiting. After undraping the
Deities and garlanding Them with hibiscus, we carefully carry Them down
to Their chariot.
nayana pathagami bhavatu me,” we sing while placing Lord
Jagannatha on the right-hand side of the cart beneath the canopy. “Lord
of the universe, please be visible unto me.” Subhadra looks out from
the rear, and Lord Balarama is seated on the left. On the cart’s four
corners, we stake Christian, Moslem, Jewish and ISKCON flags. Our
ISKCON flag consists of a Sanskrit Om and a drawing of Radha and
each Deity should ride in a separate cart, Swamiji had told us, “and
the carts should be pulled with ropes by the crowds through the
streets. But that is all right. Maybe in the future you can arrange
All in all,
Lord Jagannatha looks very happy staring out at the universe from His
flatbed truck. As we round the corner to Haight Street, the bells on
the canopy jingle. Their Lordships rock a bit, as if dancing. We make
sure They are better secured.
o’clock, the police arrive on motorcycles to lead us down Haight.
Hippies begin congregating, and the street is cleared of traffic.
Haridas, Mukunda, Janaki, and I ride on the cart. Mukunda shouts
through a microphone, asking everyone to chant Hare Krishna. As Lord
Jagannatha smiles benevolently, the cops rev their motorcycles. They
are in a hurry.
mridanga, and I blow apocalyptic blasts on the kelp
horn. Shyamasundar drives. Seeing some startled Indians, we invite them
onto the cart. We lurch forward. Subal, with shaved head and robes,
walks in front of the cart, hands upraised, chanting. We tell him to
walk slowly and disregard the cops. Yamuna, Gurudas, Upendra, and
others also walk, surrounding the cart. The girls are dressed in saris,
and even some of the hippies are wearing robes. The drums, cymbals, and
tambourines strike the rhythm, and the crowd starts chanting Hare
Krishna. Always ready to join some festivity, hippies descend from side
streets, apartments, coffeeshops, the clouds. The girls hand out
oranges, apples, bananas, chapatis, puris.
Shyamasundar drives down Haight, people line the sidewalk and flow out
into the street to follow the cart. Lord Jagannatha keeps smiling.
“Move it on!
Move it on!” a motorcycle cop shouts to Shyamasundar, then roars off.
Mukunda shouts at Shyamasundar through the window. “We can speed up on
We pick up
the largest crowd down Haight to the entrance of the park. Subal, now
transformed into a whirling dervish, dances crazily before the cart,
sometimes stopping and swirling in circles. Jayananda jumps straight up
and down and clashes cymbals. Frequently the cart slows to a halt as
people cluster around our dancing Subal and bouncing Jayananda.
motorcycle cop roars back and shouts again at Shyamasundar to move it
“I can’t run
people down,” Shyamasundar protests.
we reach the park’s entrance on Stanyan, the crowds surrounding us have
blocked the streets. We turn left toward the temple, and the cops zoom
about like angry wasps. Hippies latch onto the back of the cart. I
throw out flowers. Mukunda throws apples. Haridas throws kisses. When
we reach Frederick Street and pass by the temple, cheers go up.
Krishna Temple ki jai’! New Jagganatha Puri ki jai!”
shifts to low gear as we pull up a steep hill. Again, dancing Subal and
Jayananda force us to a halt. When the engine momentarily dies, we
slide back about ten yards. I fear that we’ve run over people, but
everyone manages to scramble out the way, laughing. Lord Jagannatha is
protecting us. As we pass a wealthy residential area, people run out on
their lawns to watch. Their faces are blank. Some glare angrily. “Crazy
hippies.“ “What next?” “It’s the international society of nuts.”
Home-owners wave down the cops and demand explanations. We drive on,
now followed by hundreds of hippies, all chanting Hare Krishna, the
crowd now extending for three blocks.
arrive at the beach, we jump down off the cart, run down the sands, and
stand before the Pacific. Hare Krishna. It’s not possible to go
further. The hippies wander about like confused lemmings, looking at us
and waiting for something. We wonder what to do next. Swamiji hadn’t
given us further instructions, and now all the prasadam is
gone. I confer with Haridas.
“You know as
well as I,” he says.
to have kirtan and distribute prasadam,” Subal says.
I look back
at the cart. Lord Jagannatha smiles on. Traditionally, He’s to be
thrown in the ocean and new Deities carved, but Swamiji told us that
we’ll just keep chanting,” I suggest.
Lord Jagannatha up to the mountains,” Subal says.
we’re out of prasadam, some hippies run about distributing rock
candy from paper plates. Haridas and I take a couple of handfuls, suck
on the sweet crystals, and look out at the ocean. Gurudas and Mukunda
sit on the sands and continue chanting. A crowd gather around them.
Everybody’s grabbing for the candy.
wants to see the Deities,” Shyamasundar says. “Let’s chant about an
hour and then head for Stinson Beach.”
We build a
bonfire and chant until four in the afternoon. When we stop, all we can
hear is the roar of waves and the persistent ring of cymbals.
Yamuna jumps to her feet and looks out to sea.
Gurudas?” she asks.
I look about
but don’t see him. Then as I turn back to her, I see Gurudas sitting at
her side. Still, Yamuna, as though blind, starts running down the beach
calling for Gurudas. Janaki tells Mukunda that she feels a little ill.
Mukunda laughs. Rabindra-svarup disappears. The hippies continue
milling about, and I suddenly realize that Swamiji is expecting us. I
turn to Haridas, who continues to stare out over the distant waves.
get to the truck now, I say, breaking his reverie.
that chanting really spaces you out,” he says.
We walk down
the boardwalk and try to round up the devotees for the trip to Stinson
Beach, but everyone seems to be flying off in different directions.
Finally Jayananda, Haridas, Harsharani, and I get in the station wagon.
The others ride with Shyamasundar, chanting to the Deities in the cart.
We agree to meet at Shyamasundar’s apartment and from there drive
together to Stinson Beach.
As we ride
along Golden Gate Park, I’m startled to notice that the station wagon
is transparent. When I look up, I see the sky through the red plastic
top. The park trees and stop signs seem visible through the station
wagon itself. I suddenly feel that everything I’m seeing is glued to my
retina. I bend down and close my eyes.
wrong?” Haridas asks.
strange,” I say. “I guess it’s from all the chanting.”
eat any of that candy, did you?” Harsharani asks. “I hear it was loaded
I should have
known. Rock candy! Of course! I look at Haridas and watch his face
explains Yamuna and Janaki!”
“A lot of
people got sick,” Harsharani says. “Krishna-dasi and a couple of
Krishna!” I realize that the effects are just starting. By the time we
reach Shyamasundar’s, I see everything colored blue. I run upstairs and
fall on the bed. It’s a very long fall indeed. I jump up, go to the
bathroom, and in the mirror watch myself become different people.
Haridas and Shyamasundar ask if I’m ready to go to Stinson Beach.
“I can’t see
Swamiji like this,” I say.
wait, at least.”
was great,” Shyamasundar says. “Everyone’s talking about it.”
I sit and
watch him metamorphose into a multitude of people.
Krishna consciousness, I think. This is chemistry, voodoo, black magic.
I repent my carelessness in eating
bhoga, non-prasadam. Knowing that the physical effects will
wear off, I bide time until Shyamasundar will wait no longer.
Fortunately, I had not eaten very much.
We crowd into
the truck and ride up to Stinson Beach in the early twilight. Swamiji
comes out of the house to see Lord Jagannatha seated on His chariot
throne. He is very pleased. We take the Deities inside and place Them
back on the piano.
It is the
first time that many of the devotees have had a chance to see Swamiji
since his arrival.
the living room, we tell Swamiji all about the festival.
wonderful! Everybody loved it.”
eagerly listens to all the details. When Shyamasundar tells him about
the truck stalling on the hill and rolling backwards, Swamiji smiles.
says. “That is a pastime of Lord Jagannnatha. Once, when the cart was
stuck, not even the king’s elephants could move it. Only Lord Chaitanya
Himself could push it. So, Lord Jagannatha has kindly brought His
pastimes to America.”
distributes prasadam, and we all eat heartily. Everyone is
elated, for Swamiji appears much improved. As we partake of prasadam,
we listen to him talk of Jagannatha Puri and the Vaikuntha planets. His
speech is now much stronger.
“As long as
we are in the ocean of material nature,” he says, “we will feel
anxiety. But not in Vaikuntha. That is what Vaikuntha means, freedom
from anxiety. Everyone in the material universe—from Lord Brahma down
to the tiny ant—is anxious about something. If you see a bird and make
a sudden move, that bird will fly away from fear. He is anxiously
thinking, ‘Oh, what will catch me and eat me?’ The Padma-purana
says that the smaller living entities serve as food for the larger. So
all are in anxiety—even Brahma himself, for although his years are
incalculable by our system, there is finally annihilation.”
As we listen,
we forget the rock candy and temporary intoxication, that all seeming
childish and artificial. But when Swamiji asks the whereabouts of
Janaki and Yamuna, Subal mentions the incident.
recovering, Swamiji,” he says. “Some hippies passed out candy with LSD
in it. Nobody knew.”
eyes open wide. “Oh? Just see!” he says. “You cannot just go eating
whatever people offer. You must eat only Krishna prasadam. Let
that be a lesson. The reactions were minimized because you were trying
to serve Lord Jagannatha.”
Swamiji resumes talking of Krishna and the wonderful effects of
devotion to Him, and for us it seems that he was never ill, that he
will go on talking forever.
“When I came
from India,” he says, “I was floating on an ocean of water. And when I
came from New York, I was flying above an ocean of clouds extending as
far as you could see. Above the clouds was the sun, but when we came
down through the clouds and landed, everything in San Francisco was dim
and clouded. But the sun was still shining.
cannot cover the whole world, not even the United States, which is but
a speck in the universe. From an airplane, we see these skyscrapers as
very tiny. Similarly, from God’s position, all this material nonsense
is insignificant. As a living entity, I am very insignificant, and my
tendency is to come down. But the sun doesn’t have the come-down
tendency. It is always above the clouds of maya.”
new disciple says. “Why does one soul rise and another fall?”
“Why is one
soul in the beer halls?” Swamiji asks in return. “And another in the
wants to be here and another doesn’t,” he says, answering himself.
“That is independence. Misuse it, and you’re down. Use it properly, and