this story to a friend
Part I: New York, 1966
By Hayagriva das
Second Avenue. Matchless Gifts. No doubt, to most New
Yorkers, nothing more than the kind of squalid storefront someone might
open a pawnshop in. What with traffic noise and our neighbors—Cosmos
Parcels Express Corporation, Gonzalez Funeral Home, Weitzner Brothers
Memorials, The Red Star Bar, and a Mobil gas station—no one would think
it Vaikuntha. But for us, Matchless Gifts becomes a temple, a part of
Vrindaban, because of Swamiji’s presence and the words spoken here.
and I rummage through the Mott Street apartment, gather
souvenirs from the recent India trip—two rugs, a dozen paintings, three
silk wall hangings, and two brass hookah tops—and take them to Second
to Swamjji, we start decorating the Matchless Gifts
storefront, turning it into a temple befitting Krishna’s messenger.
That is, as far as we are able.
We lay down
an Oriental rug and hang up the Indian paintings, silks,
and a large painting of Radha Krishna rendered by Jim Greene. Then we
construct a small dais under Jim’s painting. Before the dais, we place
ornate plaster candlesticks, and beside these, within easy reach, we
hang a large brass cymbal, the kind used in high school bands.
enters to begin evening kirtan, he looks with delighted
surprise at the newly decorated temple. “Ah, you are advancing in
Krishna consciousness!” he says. “This is very nice. This is Krishna
sits on the new dais, we all hold our breath, hoping that
the shaking structure won’t collapse. He leads an unforgettable kirtan,
reaching over at times with a stick to tap the big cymbal gently. Then,
getting down from the dais, he shows us how to dance. This is something
new and wonderful to see. Raising his arms, he places one foot before
the other and dips slightly, gracefully, in rhythm to Hare Krishna. We
follow him and dance in a circle. As the kirtan becomes more
strike the brass hookah tops with spoons.
hypercritical, however, prefer the bare walls and floor. They
resent the dais in particular, feeling that Swamiji shouldn’t he thus
honored. “Why can’t he sit on the floor like us?” they complain.
“Candles and incense! It’s the Catholic Church all over again.”
matter, for Swamji is pleased. “This is Krishna consciousness!”
And we are pleased just to see him pleased. However modest, awkward, or
unconventional, our little service rendered in love is accepted.
particularly delighted by two paintings we purchased in
India. One is of the great monkey-devotee Hanuman carrying a hill to
Lord Rama. Rama had requested Hanuman to fetch a certain herb that grew
on a hill, and not being able to find it, Hanuman brought the entire
“Hanuman is a
monkey,” Swamiji tells us, “but he is also the topmost
devotee of Lord Ramachandra.”
painting depicts an effulgent six-armed person standing with
one leg crossed in front of the other, in Lord Krishna’s famous tribunga
pose. Two green arms hold a bow and arrows;
two blue arms hold
up a flute; and two golden arms hold a staff and waterpot.
good,” Swamiji says, pleased. “Where have you purchased it?”
“Oh, this is
“Who is it?”
“This is Lord
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,” Swamiji says.
“But why does
He have six arms?”
showed Himself to be Rama and Krishna. These are the arms
of Rama, and these are the arms of Krishna.”
“They are the
arms of a sannyasi, of Lord Chaitanya as the perfect
Chalitanya followed you from Calcutta,” I note.
“It is no
accident,” Swamiji says, looking reverently at the painting.
“Of all the paintings in India, you have chosen this one. Why? Although
you don’t remember, you were devotees in past lives. Now, out of mercy,
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has come. This is most auspicious.”
the lectures are now covering the first six chapters of Bhagavad-gita,
delineating various yogas.
What is perfection in yoga?
pressing your nose and sitting like a pretzel, is no
longer possible,” Swamiji says. “In this age of Kali, men lead short
lives full of ignorance and misery. There is no question of sitting
quietly and trying to meditate to control the mind. As elevated as
Arjuna was, he called this method most difficult. ‘The mind,’ he said,
‘is as hard to control as the wind.’ Nowhere in Bhagavad-gita
Krishna tell Arjuna to go to the forest and sit idly in some lotus
position. No. That is not possible. We are naturally active, and
spiritual life means activity according to dharma. Like Arjuna,
be Krishna’s friend if we work for Him and keep our minds always fixed
on Him. That is bhakti-yoga, the highest yoga—working
for Krishna with
devotion. Lord Chaitanya told His disciples, ‘Preach this gospel that I
teach: Whomever you meet, just try to inform him about the message of Bhagavad-gita.’
If you just do this, you are
the perfect yogi.”
“Why was it
wrong for Arjuna to want to leave the battlefield?” Stanley
asks after the lecture. “He was just trying to do what was right.”
“For the sake
of his own sense gratification, Arjuna wanted to give up
fighting,” Swamiji says. “He wanted to avoid fighting with his
relatives. Materially, it appears very nice that Arjuna is giving up
his claim for a kingdom in order to satisfy his relatives. For this, we
would say that he is a very good man. But Krishna did not approve of
this. Why? Because the basic principle was wrong: Arjuna had decided
not to fight to satisfy his own senses. That is kama, lust,
Krishna speaks Bhagavad-gita to show Arjuna that his
occupation as a
warrior need not be changed or abandoned. But his consciousness must be
changed from acting out of sense gratification to acting for Krishna.”
“But was it
wrong for Arjuna to want peace?” Stanley asks.
must know the real platform for peace,” Swamiji says.
“People are always making plans for peace in the world, but they do not
know the real peace formula. For the last twenty years or so, the
United Nations has been trying for peace, but still war is going on.
The formula is given in Bhagavad-gita: Bhoktaram
sarva-loka-mahesvaram: ‘I am the proprietor of everything, the
beneficiary. Whatever you do, do it for Me.’ There can be no peace
without recognizing Krishna as the true proprietor of everything.”
“But to find
peace, don’t you have to believe that any kind of war is
wrong?” Stephen Goldsmith asks. Mr. Goldsmith sits on a folding chair
in the rear of the temple. He wears a suit and tie. He’s a young,
dapper, up-and-coming Jewish lawyer, and he helped Swamiji incorporate
teaches that there’s a good war and a bad war. That
is, Krishna believed it was all right to kill the enemies of Arjuna
because it was a righteous war.”
Goldsmith hesitates, uncertain of Swamiji’s position.
“Well, if you have a philosophy like that, how can you find peace?”
“What do you
mean by peace, then?”
necessarily,” Swamiji says. “Absence of war is not necessarily
peace. Just think it over. Suppose there is no war. Do you think that
everyone is peaceful? Ask any individual, ‘Are you at peace?’ Stopping
war does not guarantee peace. There are incalculable things disturbing
you, and war is just one. We have to be relieved of all disturbing
factors by taking to Krishna consciousness.
“Well, how is
that possible if Krishna Himself was a proponent of war?”
Mr. Goldsmith persists. “Bhagavad-gita starts out with a
that war was necessary. You cannot completely eradicate war
from social life. Why does the government maintain an army and police
force if they are not necessary for law and order?”
“Well, if you
believe war is necessary, then that’s the end of the
discussion,” Mr. Goldsmith says testily. “Because if you believe it’s
necessary, then Krishna believes it’s necessary.”
“As far as
material existence is concerned, so many things are
necessary,” Swamiji says. “Material existence means janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi:
birth, old age,
disease, and death. These four
items do not depend on war and peace. War or no war, your problem is
these material entanglements. As long as there is human society, there
will sometimes be war and sometimes peace. But the learned man sees
that although he doesn’t want to grow old and die, there is still old
age, disease and death. These are real problems. War is not the only
disturbance. There may be excessive heat or cold, rain or drought.
Maybe there will be some upheaval in the Atlantic Ocean, and this
beautiful New York City will be swallowed up. There are so many natural
disturbances, material problems, and as long as we have these material
bodies, we have to face them. The complete solution is this Krishna
consciousness. Bhagavad-gita does not say stop war; it
says stop your
repeated birth and death. Bhagavad-gita is not concerned
with the war
principle. There will be war as long as human society exists. How can
you stop it?”
people don’t believe that it’s necessary, Mr Goldsmith says.
may believe foolishly, but there has never been human
history without war. So war will continue.”
never been a time in human history when everyone has accepted
Krishna, either,” Mr. Goldsmith counters.
were Krishna conscious, no one would be in this material
world,” Swamiji says. “Then there would be no question of war. My point
is that war is not the only disturbance. We have to make a complete
solution to all disturbances by taking up this Krishna consciousness.
Now let us have kirtan.”
how to practice Krishna consciousness, and making sure that
we will not flee the battlefield, Swamiji engages us in many ways.
Keith and Charles cook. Roy tends the tape recorder. Steve changes the
plastic lettering on the windowfront sign announcing the lecture
subjects. Stanley posts a warning on the bathroom wall: “If You Are Not
Engaged, You Will Fall Into Maya.”
And by way of
making sure we are engaged, Swamiji goes out to Long
Island to look at some used mimeograph machines up for sale. The
machines are the old stencil models, well used but still working.
Swamiji purchases two at seventy-five dollars each.
Second Avenue, I immediately start typing stencils for his
essay “Krishna, The Reservoir of Pleasure.” We run off about a hundred
copies, and Swamiji is pleased.
begin our own publications,” he says. “There are many, many
literatures. Our movement is founded on these literatures through the parampara,
the disciplic succession from guru
to guru. It is not that I
just give my opinion. After all, what is my personal opinion worth? But
these Vedic scriptures are the foundation, and they are encyclopedic.
This is Just the beginning of our translations. We see so much nonsense
on the newstands. Srimad-Bhagavatam says that such
literatures are for
crows because crows delight in eating stool and staying in nasty
places. But these transcendental literatures are for the swans, the paramhansas.
They are full of nectar, and the
devotees draw knowledge
from them just as swans sip nectar from lotuses. They are the special
gifts of Srila Vyasadeva, of Krishna Himself.”
Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, printed in India, fills three
“This is the
shortest canto,” Swamiji tells us. “You can see that
volume two is bigger than volume one, and volume three is bigger than
two. Srimad-Bhagavatam is like that. It is expanding. It
will fill over
sixty volumes when we finish the twelve cantos.”
A press photo
shows Swamiji presenting the three volumes to the late
Prime Minister Shastri. I recall the January morning on the freighter,
returning from India, when news broke of Shastri’s death, just a year
and a half after he had written:
Swamiji. … Many thanks for your letter. I am indeed grateful to
you for presenting a copy of Srimad-Bhagavatam to me. I
do realize that
you are doing valuable work. It would be a good idea if the libraries
in the government institutions purchase copies of this book. Yours
sincerely, Lal Bahadur Shastri.
unique, transcendental books, these three volumes! The dust
jacket reveals the universe, the spiritual sky beyond, and the original
spiritual planet, Goloka Vrindaban, which resembles a lotus whorl. In
the center stands blue-tinged Lord Krishna, playing a flute and
enjoying His abode. On His shoulder leans Radharani, His beloved, and
in the background cows graze beneath trees that yield whatever one
desires. Lord Chaitanya and His devotees dance and play drums
jubilantly, and cowherd girls (gopis) cluster around Krishna in
Vaikuntha planet radiates a spiritual effulgence known as
the brahmajyoti, destination of the impersonalists. Within this
brahmajyoti float unlimited spiritual planets
dominated by Krishna’s
various expansions, all four-handed Narayana forms: Madhusudan,
Sridhar, Vasudeva, Pradyumna, Samkarsan, and others.
section of this boundless spiritual sky is found the entire
material manifestation, within which lies a great four-handed Vishnu
expansion. As this Vishnu breathes, universal globes flow from the
pores of His skin and scatter like bubbles across the causal ocean.
Inside each of these globes, Vishnu reclines on a couch provided by the
coiled Sesha serpent. From the great Vishnu’s navel sprouts a lotus
stem, out of which Brahma, the first created being, appears. It is
Brahma who is directly empowered to create the countless demigods, men,
planets, suns and moons that fill our known material universe.
complete creation is presented on the cover of Swamiji’s Srimad-Bhagavatam,
printed by Swamiji himself
in New Delhi in 1962. The
volumes are dedicated to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, Swamiji’s
spiritual master: “He lives forever by his divine instructions, and the
follower lives with him.”
biography on the dust jacket tells us all we know of
Swamiji’s previous life:
Charan De, a young (26) manager of a big business firm in
Calcutta, met His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati in 1922.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta liked this educated young man and injected in him
the idea of preaching Lord Chaitanya’s message all over the world. He
was formally initiated in 1933 at Allahabad, where he had his own
business. In 1936, just a fortnight before leaving this mortal world,
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta specifically ordered Abhay to take up the work
through the medium of the English language. In pursuance of’ this
order, Abhay Charan De started an English fortnight magazine Back
Godhead (1944). The Vaishnava Society recognized him as
in 1947. In 1950, he left his Calcutta home to live apart from his
family, and in 1954 he became vanaprastha, completely retired from
family life. In 1959, he took sannyas, and since then he is
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, fully engaged in the discharge of the
responsibility ordered by his spiritual master, although he is now
sixty-eight years of age (1964).
depict the transformation of Abhay Charan De to Swami
Bhaktivedanta. It is quite a metamorphosis. With his black hair and
moustache, Abhay Charan reminds me of an enterprising Calcutta
shopkeeper. But that is just exterior. Could there really have been an
interior change? Whatever his activities as a householder, it is hard
to think of Swamiji as ever being a worldly man.
writing these books, I never really wrote before,” Swamiji
tells me. “I wondered, ‘How will I do it?’ So I just sat down and
repeated what I had heard from my spiritual master. I did not invent.
If I’m satisfied, it is because I have delivered the message as it is,
without any concoctions. But as for writing—” He laughs. “It is all the
mercy of my spiritual master, who is your grand spiritual master. He
was such a scholar, such a transcendental aristocrat, a Vaikuntha man.
He never married. Eternal brahmachari. It is he who is
inspiring us. He
once said, ‘Don’t build temples in this age. Print books.’ Books were
very important to him, for by them we can spread this movement most
effectively. Perhaps a modern gentleman may not want to visit a temple,
but he will want to buy a book.”
many of the visitors to Matchless Gifts have their own
conceptions of what a swami should be. Some think he should sit
lotus position and meditate. Swamiji sits on the floor with one leg
comfortably tucked under the other, a very natural way to sit. It makes
the formal lotus position seem pretentious and unnatural. As for hatha-yoga
meditation, Swamiji sometimes jokes,
imitating the yogic
posture by drawing himself up straight, head high in the air, eyes
closed. “I am moving the sun. I am moving the moon,” he says.
laughs while he holds the pose; then Swamiji laughs and breaks
the spell. “Just see what nonsense,” he says. “The last snare of maya
is to think, ‘I am God. I control all.’ But these rascal yogis
this, and so cheat the innocent public.”
No names are
mentioned, but afterwards Charles tells me that he was
referring to certain “uptown yogis.”
“I am moving
the sun. I am moving the moon. But when I get a toothache,
I run to the doctor, crying, ‘Ooooh, help me!’ Now, what kind of God is
visitors think that a swami shouldn’t use tape recorders. “We
are using typewriters, dictaphones, tape recorders so much in the
service of Krishna. Yes, these are material when used for ourselves,
but when used for Krishna, they become spiritualized. For ourselves we
can use nothing, but for Krishna, everything. That is the difference.
It is our consciousness that determines whether this tape recorder is
material or spiritual.”
“Then why do
we call anything material?” Roy asks.
“For one who
has attained the higher stage of spiritual realization,
there is nothing material,” Swamiji says. “As stated in Bhagavad-gita,
everything is seen as Brahman. Still, Krishna speaks of His superior
and inferior energies. How is this? Without the touch of spirit, matter
cannot work. Therefore it is said to be inferior. But in a higher
sense, it is not inferior, because it emanates from the Supreme. You
cannot separate the energy from the Energetic. Sakti-saktimatayor
abheda. The energy and the Energetic are nondifferent. Electric
generated from an electric powerhouse, can give us a cold refrigerator
or a hot stove. One who knows the nature of electricity knows that the
same energy is working, whether hot or cold , inferior or superior. So,
on the platform of knowledge, there is no distinction between matter
in the room where Swamiji takes prasadam, I move the
typewriter with my leg.
Swamiji says. “Don’t let leg touch!”
and even a little annoyed. After all, why is my leg any
less spiritual than the typewriter?
“You mean the
typewriter is spiritual and the body isn’t?” I ask.
material body is like an embarrassment for the soul, Swamiji
explains. “It becomes spiritualized only by rendering service. In
Krishna’s service, there are many offenses to avoid, and the spiritual
master tells us what they are. Otherwise, we have no way of knowing.”
Day by day,
instance by instance, Swamiji lets us know what’s offensive.
resist trying to correlate his teachings with other
philosophies and literatures. This undesirable, speculative tendency
comes from eighteen years of American schooling.
Tagore, I find out, was also a “womanizer.” Nor does
Swamiji like Hart Crane’s “white wings of tumult” depiction of the
bridge of consciousness. “It’s not tumult,” he says, and drops the
subject. Emerson? “He may think like that, but who is he to say?”
Whitman? “Sentimentalism.” Kahlil Gibran? “Pictures of naked people,”
he says, making a face. “Poets and artists are generally passionate.”
William Blake? “More naked people.” But he approves Blake’s verse:
appears, and God is light
To those poor souls who dwell in night,
doth a human Form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.
Swamiji has a
small record player someone gave him, but no records.
Thinking he would like to hear some music, I browse through my record
collection and finally choose sitar ragas performed by Ravi
Shankar—preferable, I suppose, to Bach, or the Beatles.
sitar begins to play, Swamiji smiles a little, and I assume
that he’s pleased. He sits through the twenty minute raga
speaking. When it is over, I wonder whether to play the other side.
“How did you
like the music, Swamiji?” Stanley asks.
sense gratification music,” Swamiji answers.
taken aback. “But it’s Ravi Shankar,” I protest.
“It is sense
gratification music,” he repeats, unmoved.
“But it’s a raga,”
I insist, flustered. “They play it even in temples.”
is a businessman,” Swamiji says, smiling.
“What if he
wanted to become a devotee?” Roy asks.
“Then he can
you a businessman once, Swamlji?” Stanley asks.
went naked then, I should go naked now?” Swamiji answers,
still smiling gently, as if amused by all the fuss.
sense gratification,” I pout angrily. “We can’t even play ragas!
What are we supposed to do?”
understand,” Swamiji says patiently. “If you are a musician,
you can play your music for Krishna. That’s all right. Arjuna was a
warrior, and he fought for Krishna, and that was his perfection. If you
are a writer, you can write for Krishna; or a painter, you can paint
for Krishna. Whatever you want, you can do. But don’t do it for your
own sense gratification. Do it for Krishna. Not the work, but the
consciousness must be changed.”
about sex?” asks Stephen Goldsmith during the post kirtan
question period. After the exchange over the war issue, Mr. Goldsmith
has not been so friendly with Swamiji. His even mentioning sex
with wife,” Swamiji says. “And even that is restricted. Sex
is meant for the propagation of Krishna conscious children. My Guru
Maharaj used to say that if he could beget Krishna conscious children,
he would have sex a hundred times. Yet this is so difficult in this age
that he remained brahmachari, celibate.”
“But sex is a
very strong force,” Mr. Goldsmith protests, not letting
the subject drop. “What a man feels for a woman is undeniable. “
there is the institution of marriage,” Swamiji says. “So you
can get yourself married and live peacefully with one woman. But the
wife should not be used as a... a machine for sense gratification. Sex
life must be regulated.”
‘What do you
mean by regulated?”
wife,” he says. “For children.”
“But what if
you don’t want children, or if you have enough children?
Are there any other restrictions?”
Swamiji says, then falls silent. We wait, but he says nothing
more, apparently not wanting to discuss the matter in more detail.
ready to have children,” Mr. Goldsmith persists. “But this
doesn’t mean that I’m prepared to give up sex.”
says. “Restriction there must be. It is not that we’re to
go to sex like cats and dogs. Sex should be restricted to once monthly
to beget nice children.”
forget the whole thing,” I say.
That’s it!” Swamiji says. “Best not to think of it. Best just
to chant Hare Krishna. Then we are saved so much botheration. Sex is
like an itch; when we scratch, it gets worse. So we must tolerate it,
and ask Krishna to help us. We must understand that sex life is the
highest material pleasure, and therefore the strongest bond to material
life, to rebirth in the material world. Therefore Krishna tells Arjuna:
Avritam jnanam etna jnanino nitya-vairna kama-rupena
duspurenanalena ca. ‘A man’s pure consciousness is covered by
eternal enemy in the form of lust, which is never satisfied, and which
burns like fire.’ Krishna uses the word kama, lust, what we
life. That is all that keeps us from Krishna consciousness.”
Goldsmith shakes his head, and Swamiji looks at him, smiling,
as if to say, “Is there still a problem?”
that... well, it’s been proved dangerous to repress the sex
drive. There’s a theory that we have wars because—”
eating meat,” Swamiji interjects. “We will have wars as
long as people eat meat. And if a man eats meat, he will be sure to
have illicit sex also.”
Hit with double-barreled blasts, Mr. Goldsmith quietly puts
on his hat and walks out the door.
meeting, the sexual regulations are much discussed.
expect us to give up sex,” someone says. “He’ll chase
everyone away with that philosophy.”
say we have to give it up,” Roy says.
month! Same thing.”
“You mean I
have to have a kid every time I want sex?” a girl
complains. “Forget it!”
Krishna was the God of love,” someone says. “Where does He
say not to have sex?”
said was very basic,” Wally says. “All gurus discourage
sex, don’t they? It’s like telling a kid not to wet his pants.“
We’re not even in spiritual kindergarten. But America now
rides the crest of the Sexual Revolution, and renouncing sex is like
fasting at the feast. One by one, we take our questions to Swamiji.
Although answering us very patiently, he doesn’t budge from his
that you are drowning in the ocean of material sense
enjoyment,” he tells us. “This Bhagavad-gita is like a
good boat, and
the spiritual master is like a good captain, and the Hare Krishna maha-mantra
is like a good breeze. So you should
take advantage of so
many auspicious things and cross that ocean. When you surrender to
Krishna, the material ocean is no more than rain water in the hoofprint
of a calf.”
Bernard Shaw wrote one book,” Swamiji says, “called You Are
What You Eat.”
then laughs. “You Are What You Eat.” He likes the title,
repeats it. “That is a fact.”
people eating pigs, frogs, shrimp.
“And Mr. Shaw
was a vegetarian,” he says. “A very famous playwright,
assure him. “Very famous.”
“But we are
not vegetarians just for the sake of being vegetarian,” he
says. “We are vegetarians because Krishna says, ‘Offer Me some fruit,
some grains.’ He does not say to offer Him meat. If He says, ‘Offer Me
some meat,’ we will do so, but He doesn’t. So we eat only fruits and
vegetables, grains and milk. That is sufficient.
have no interest in vegetarianism.”
There is no
knowing what opinion he might hold on world affairs. “India
was better run under the British,” he says. “They were very clever
administrators. And Lord Mountbatten was cleverest of all. He saw the
friction existing between Hindus and Moslems, and so he partitioned
India—East Pakistan and West Pakistan. Even today this is causing
trouble. Pakistan will start the next great war.”
marches, Negro riots: “What is this nonsense? People are
thinking, ‘I am black, white, red, yellow.’ All this is skin disease.
False designations. I am not this body. What am I? Aham brahmasmi:
Brahman, spirit soul. Since this knowledge is lacking, they are
fighting like cats and dogs, and they will continue until they
transcend their skin disease and understand that they are spiritual
sons of Krishna, eternally His parts and parcels.…
programs: “They are trying to reach the moon and other
higher planets by material means. Impossible. They will not be
permitted entry. You must qualify spiritually to go there. Just as you
require a visa to enter another country, a spiritual visa is required
there. According to the Vedas, the moon is a higher planet where
demigods live in advanced civilizations.”
don’t they come here?” I ask.
they?” he responds, surprised. “This is a middle planet.
The demigods are enjoying themselves in the heavenly planets. Why
should they come to an inferior place?”
the morning, Swamiji glances over a newspaper. Within one
hot August week there are typhoons in Japan, landslides in Ecuador, a
heat wave in Texas, a bus crash in Germany, floods in Bulgaria,
volcanic eruptions in Java, fires in California, a hurricane in Cuba,
riots in Nagaland, and escalated bombings in Vietnam, all killing
scores of people.
this mrityu-loka, the planet of death, Swamiji says.
“When Maharaj Yudhisthir was asked what was the most wonderful thing in
the world, he replied, ‘Every day everyone sees death coming to others,
yet everyone is thinking, “Death will not come to me.”‘ We search for
peace here, but there is none. Peace is in Vaikuntha, the spiritual
sky. Vaikuntha means ‘without anxiety.’ In Vaikuntha there are no fires
or floods, nor wars, nor death. But here, death is staring at us every
moment. Just as college students prepare for their final examination,
we must prepare for the examination at death. Whatever we do for
perfection will be tested at the time of death. If we pass that exam,
we are transferred to the spiritual world.”
birth control: “They are killing the baby in the womb. How
cruel! In this age of unwanted population, man is losing his
compassion. When you kill a living entity, even an ant, you are
interfering with its spiritual evolution, its progress. That living
entity must again take on that same life form to complete its
designated life term in that body. And the killer must return to pay
nuclear tests: “Let these scientists solve the problems
of birth, old age, disease, and death. But this they can’t do. Instead
they create big bombs to destroy everything out of frustration. This is
their solution: Accelerate death. Such people are called demonic in Bhagavad-gita.
Anyway, these atomic bombs are
not new. In previous
ages, men were so advanced that they could deliver the brahmastra
nuclear weapon by chanting mantra only. The shabda
would destroy. Now they labor hard with these mechanical rockets. And
they think they are advancing.…
me to write down the meaning of Krishna consciousness for
an ISKCON prospectus.
“But I don’t
understand enough,” I protest.
right. Whatever you are understanding.”
Back on Mott
Street, I jot down my conceptions of Krishna
consciousness, trying to think of what would please Swamiji and at the
same time relate his teachings to more familiar Western philosophy.
After hours of writing and rewriting, I take my attempt to Swamiji,
hoping it’s not too Western.
He reads it
quietly, then smiles.
he says. “We will print this up.” He then writes
additional material on the back of the page.
“Now you may
type this,” he tells me, “and we’ll send it to the
printers. I have added some additional purposes of the Society.” I read
the main goals of ISKCON: To spread the spiritual knowledge of Bhagavad-gita
around the world through the sankirtan
movement of Lord
Chaitanya, to bring mankind to consciousness of Krishna and thereby
attain peace, and “to erect a holy place of transcendental pastimes
dedicated to the personality Krishna.”
Before I take
the prospectus to the printer, Swamiji hands me another
sheet of paper with his now familiar round handwriting. “Add this
also,” he says. “Is It all right?”
I read a
Sanskrit invocation, then:
the world let there be one scripture, the Bhagavad-gita,
sung by Sri Krishna. Let there be one God only, Sri Krishna. Let there
be one hymn for chanting, Hare Krishna. And let there be one
occupation, the transcendental loving service of Krishna. Let the
United Nations take up this cause and bring about real peace in the
world. It is sublime and easy.
was not spoken for a limited circle of people,” he tells
us. “No. Like the sunshine, it is for everyone. The same sun shines in
America and in India. You cannot say, This is an American sun,’ or,
‘This is an Indian sun.’ Although I am a foreigner, I see that the same
sun and moon are here, the same clouds and trees are here. So why
should I think of myself’ as a foreigner? Nobody is a foreigner in
God’s kingdom; everyone is a brother, everyone is under God’s sunshine.
The ultimate Father is the Supreme Lord. Even the animals are our
brothers. Do we have the right to kill them because they are different?
When we come into the sunshine of Krishna consciousness, we can see
that everyone has a right to that sunshine. This is universal
brotherhood. But as long as we stay in darkness, we say, ‘This is my
room. That is your room.’ We should go outside, into the sunshine of
Krishna consciousness, where there is no scarcity, and where we can
live happily together with full faith in Krishna.”
From the New
York University library, I compile addresses of major
colleges. For hours I type up manila folders. We fill them with ads for
Srimad-Bhagavatam, the new prospectus, and
Prime Minister Shastri’s
Then we mail
off about three hundred fat manila folders to college
libraries, offering them the three volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam
mere eighteen dollars.
college responds. We lose about fifty dollars in stamps.
is most frugal, even with stamps. He keeps a small postage
scale for weighing letters. He never uses two pages when one will do.
He never puts one extra cent on an envelope.
arrived in your country last year,” he tells us, “I had only
one suitcase, one pair of kartals, and seven dollars. And all
his initial difficulties, Swamiji shakes with laughter.
wants, money will come,” he says. “Why labor hard like an
ass, like a beast of burden, to gratify these senses? This is not the
purpose of human life. Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, attends the
lotus feet of Narayana, Krishna. And Krishna is maintaining so many
millions and millions of living entities throughout the universe. Do
you think He will feed everyone except His devotees? No. Money will
come without hard struggle. Just like happiness and distress. We do not
look for distress, but it comes. Similarly, happiness comes. We do not
have to search independently for it.”
transcendental economics: Krishna will preserve what His
devotee has, and bring what he lacks. Swamiji never hoards money. What
little he gets in donations is immediately spent on spreading Krishna
that when Ramakrishna saw money, his hand would curl away
from it,” Swamiji says, curling up his hand. “But a Vaishnava says,
‘Oh, some money! Very good!’” Swamiji opens up his palm and smiles. “‘I
can use this money for Krishna. I can build a temple or distribute
books about Krishna.’ Yes, that is proper use of money. Everything
belongs to Krishna. If we find money in the street, we should not let
it lie or spend it on ourselves. No. We should return it to its
rightful owner. That is the proper use of money. And when Krishna sees
that we are using money properly for His glorification, He sends more.
After all, He is the husband of the goddess Lakshmi. Money is Lakshmi.”
The hot days
of August pass slowly. Whenever we tend to drift into
torpidity, Swamiji quickly propels us into action. “Renunciation alone
is not enough,” he tells us. “One must also work for the Absolute
Truth. We can choose to serve Krishna or maya, illusion, but service is
always there. If you do not serve God, you will end up serving some dog.
living entity is the enjoyed, Prakriti, and Krishna is the
enjoyer, Purusha. It is the nature of the female to be enjoyed,
male to enjoy. But in reciprocation, both experience enjoyment: Prakriti
in being dominated, in serving, in being
worshipped goddess Kali as the Absolute. But God is not
female. That conception is lusty. Being too fond of women, rascals try
to concoct some female god, calling their wives or some prostitute the
‘Holy Mother,’ and carrying on with their sex enjoyment. But God is
always male. God is Krishna.
“And in India
there are others, most abominable, called sahajias, who
think themselves Krishna and perform their so-called rasa-li1a
young girls. That is most depraved. Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur taught
one sahajia a lesson in his time. Srila Bhaktivinode is your
great-great spiritual master, the father and spiritual master of Srila
Bhaktisiddhanta. Bhaktivinode was a big family man with many children,
and he was a government minister also. So he chastised one such sahajia
who could make sparks fly—some showbottle yogi who was
girls in the name of religion. Bhaktivinode Thakur saw that he was sent
to prison, and the sahajia committed suicide while in prison.…
imitate Krishna’s pastimes with the gopis any more than we
can imitate His lifting Govardhan Hill. First, lift Govardhan Hill;
then you can dance with the gopis. Or drink an ocean of poison
Lord Shiva; then you can smoke ganja.
artificial attempts to enjoy like God in this material world are
doomed to frustration, like two women trying to enjoy without a man.
For real enjoyment, Krishna, the reservoir of pleasure, must be there.”
Many of the
evening lectures, delivered on the Second Chapter of Bhagavad-gita,
stress that we are not these
bodies but Brahman, spirit.
“Your material situation is not important,” we’re told. “What is
important is that you establish yourselves immediately in spiritual
life. The spiritual man sees the Supreme Lord everywhere, at every
moment, in every living being. Because he loves Krishna, he has this
vision. He does not see cows, or men, or women, or fools. He sees only
the Supreme Lord. Others may see him as penniless, but he knows that
he’s the happiest, richest man in the world.
appeared in this world, He showed His activities just to
attract us. ‘Oh, you are frustrated in friendship? Come on, make
friends with Me. Oh, are you frustrated in getting a good master? Come
on, serve Me. Are you frustrated in the love of your sons? Oh, take Me
as your son.’ In this world, we are always being frustrated in our
relationships. We expect something from our friends or children, but
they disappoint us, or grow up and go their own way. But Krishna will
be the perfect friend, or the most obedient son, just as when He played
that part with Mother Yasoda. Similarly, if you are disappointed in
love, accept Krishna as your husband or lover. You’ll never be
frustrated. That is the whole philosophy: Whatever you desire, you can
have in relation with Krishna. With Krishna, you will never be cheated.
You will be perfectly happy.“
As we listen,
we hardly notice that he is making us Krishna conscious
bit by bit, day by day, despite our past karma and mental
“A man in
Krishna consciousness does not walk around in a fog,” he
tells us. “No. He works well and with the touch of an expert. When one
enters Krishna consciousness, he becomes a poet and writes hymns to
railing at the evils of sex and intoxication, or criticizing
our bad habits, Swamiji engages us in specific daily duties related to
perfection of yoga is to see Krishna everywhere. Yet, even
the devotee sees Krishna everywhere, he still worships the Lord in the
temple. He does not think that just because Krishna is omnipresent, it
is useless to worship in the temple. If Krishna is everywhere, He is
also in the temple.”
When we go to
him depressed, thinking that we can never change our bad
habits or mundane consciousness, Swamiji gives us hope, reminding us
that Krishna is our best friend and ever well-wisher. “When Krishna
sees that you are sincere,” he says, He will help you in your struggle
against maya. Krishna consciousness may seem like poison in the
beginning, but it is nectar in the end. So, just be patient. When you
enter into Krishna’s service, you will know how unhappy you were in
material contamination. You will not want to go back.”
hell, Swamiji?” Stanley asks. “Where is it?”
“There is a
hellish planet called Tamisra,” Swamiji answers. “The soul
is dragged there after death. One who leads a hellish life here is
trained up in Tamisra. The major portion of that planet is desert.”
“Is it worse
planet is a chance to progress! If Krishna comes here, do
you think it is worse? We are simply making it worse.”
punished there in hell?”
severely. They are even thrown into fire. Of course, we are
thinking we are independent, but after this body is finished, material
nature can throw us anywhere. Srimad-Bhagavatam gives us
a list of
punishments—one man is punished one way, another in a different way.”
eternal?” I ask. “Christians say it is.”
forgetfulness of Krishna,” he says.
“But is it
He pauses a
moment, then says, “Nothing is eternal but blissful life
news,” I say, relieved.
should never think that Krishna wants to punish us. No Hell is
temporary. As soon as the living entity agrees with Krishna, hell is
finished. Anyone who surrenders to Krishna is free. The only
requirement is sincere surrender. Krishna is our dearmost friend. He
wants us to live in eternal bliss with Him. We are the ones punishing
ourselves by trying to lord it over material nature.”
When some of
the psychedelic drug cultists visit Matchless Gifts, they
argue that the Absolute Truth is nonverbal, “beyond the power of words
to express.” Fledgling hippies drop LSD, sit in lotus position,
contemplate their navels. “Far out. What’s happening? Can’t say. To
speak is to limit. Those who speak, do not know; those who know, do not
speak.” Zen is silence. “The sound of one hand clapping.”
Swamiji roars. “You cannot speak because a fool goes
undetected until he opens his mouth. Then everyone knows he’s a fool.
But why can you speak so much nonsense and not speak of the Absolute
Truth? Certainly the Absolute Truth can be described and glorified.
Vyasadeva has given us vast literatures. And in Bhagavad-gita,
tells Arjuna, ‘I am like this. I am the sun and moon, the taste of
water, the strength of the strong, the beauty of the beautiful, the
author of the Vedas and Vedanta.’ Why can
He not be described? He has
His pastimes and activities, and these are described gloriously in
Vedic literatures. The Vedas glorify the Absolute Truth,
and this is
also considered kirtan. It is not that Hare Krishna alone is kirtan;
Bhagavad-gita is also kirtan. There is
no question of silence. Silence
means to stop talking nonsense.
popular concept rekindled by psychedelics is the belief that
man is already God but simply hasn’t realized it. The We-are-God
generation. “Returning to Krishna does not mean becoming Krishna,”
Swamiji tells us. “When a son returns home to his father, he does not
become his father. Distinct identities are always there. We may become
the father of Krishna, like Vasudeva or Nanda Maharaj, but we can never
be equal to Him. We will always be subordinate parts and parcels.”
Swamiji particularly criticizes the Radhakrishnan commentary to the Bhagavad-gita
verse (9.34), in which Krishna
tells Arjuna, “Engage your
mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being
completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.”
verse, Radhakrishnan comments that it is not to the personal
Krishna that we have to surrender but to “the unborn, beginningless,
eternal who speaks through Krishna.”
see!” Swamiji says when this verse and commentary are read at the
evening class. “I told you Dr. Radhakrishnan was an impersonalist. This
Mayavadi philosophy is worse than atheism.”
We are not
really certain what “Mayavadi” means. When asked, Swamiji
says that impersonalists are called Mayavadis because they consider
Krishna’s transcendental, eternal body to be maya, or illusion.
them,” he says, “the impersonal Brahman is the Absolute Truth, and
Krishna is subordinate to Brahman. But in Bhagavad-gita,
that He is the Supreme Absolute Truth and that the impersonal Brahman
is subordinate to Him.”
us all, Keith rallies to the defense of Dr. Radhakrishnan.
“I think he’s right,” he says. “After all, Krishna is in all of us. So,
if we surrender to the unborn within us, then we attain the Absolute
his view, Keith quotes Shankara and Huang Po, Buddha and
Christ, Spinoza and St. Paul. Swamiji just sits on the dais, and for
the first time I notice him turn red. This is surprising, considering
his golden complexion. When Keith pauses, Swamiji asks, “Are you
isn’t finished. He talks on about the Self and the One Mind,
quoting liberally from various scriptures before winding down.
“Are you finished?” Swamiji asks again.
have understood what we have been saying, that Krishna is God?”
worship is due God?”
Swamiji, red and furious, begins to stand up. “Then why do
you want to take it away from Krishna?” he roars, shaking the small
storefront. “It’s Krishna! It’s Krishna!” He slams his hand down on the
lectern. “It’s no unborn within Krishna! It’s Krishna!” We all sit
stunned, as if a lion had pounced on the dais. “Krishna, the Supreme
Personality of Godhead, is directly telling Arjuna, ‘To Me. Worship
Me.’ And Dr. Radhakrishnan says that it is not to the person Krishna
but to some void. Just see what a nonsense rascal! Do you want to
worship some unborn void instead of Krishna? Krishna is the Absolute
Truth. His body, mind and Self are absolute. And He says, ‘Think of Me,
be devoted to Me, worship Me.’ And even Shankara says, Bhaja
bhaja govindam, bhaja govindam: ‘Worship Govinda, worship
worship Govinda. Your nonsense will not save you at death!’ And yet
this rascal wants to take it away from Krishna. Do you want to follow
such a rascal? Krishna says, ‘Worship Me.’ Do you not understand? Then
why are you saying it is not to Krishna? Why? Why not to Krishna?”
look at Keith as if he’d suddenly turned into an untouchable.
This surprises us all, since usually he is so expert. Yet he simply
articulated the Mayavadi mentality of us all. We sit in stunned
silence, not daring to venture further.
see how red Swamiji got?” I ask Wally afterwards. “Boy, was he
right,” Wally says. “All the commentators try to avoid
Krishna. You’ve read Bhagavad-gita before. Until meeting
you ever think of worshipping Krishna?”
I have to
admit that it never crossed my mind.
discover that we are also Mayavadi impersonalists. Addicted to
inactivity and hedonism, we know nothing of spiritual personality and
action. Swamiji has to shout loud indeed to make us understand that God
is a person and that action for His sake is on the spiritual platform.
“This is Bhagavad-gita’s
most essential message,” Swamiji says the next
morning. “Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to fight, but He says, ‘Do it for
Me.’ When we work for Krishna and chant His name, we are already
liberated and living on the spiritual plane. Just as a person feels
heat when he touches something hot, you are liberated as soon as you
enter into the service of Krishna.”
feel as though we’ve just touched something very hot. There is
no doubt that our long slumber is being disturbed.
declaring war,” Swamiji says. “War on maya.”
we declare war on Mayadevi, she strikes.
Mayadevi sees that you are beginning devotional service,” Swamiji
says, “you can expect her to attack.”
the first casualty because he is first to try to please
Swamiji by wearing robes and shaving his head, leaving only the sikha,
the Vaishnava tuft of hair in the back. Although the Lower East Side is
a nonconformist neighborhood, the combination of robes, beadbag, sikha
and tilak forehead marking is unique. In fact, it is
person can be immediately categorized with long hair and beard, but
there is no way he can dress like a devotee—that is, like Swamiji—and
still blend in with the hip New York scene. About everything, there is
the outrageous factor: shaving the head would be all right, save for
the sikha in back; the robes also have a kind of tail in back;
the hand is put in the beadbag, one finger sticks out. And the tilak—mud!—on
the face! Traffic stops to marvel as
Keith walks to the
First Avenue vegetable markets to buy food for the temple. Seeing
public reaction to Keith, the rest of us delay shaving up and wearing
Swamiji informs us that full-time devotees can live free in the
temple, Keith moves in at once. Then, out of a desire to help
financially, he goes down to the Department of Welfare. After some
hours, we receive a frantic phone call from him. It seems that to
collect welfare, he needed a psychiatric evaluation. When he went to
Bellevue Hospital to find a psychiatrist, he unwittingly signed himself
tricked me,” he tells me on the phone. “I signed a form to see a
doctor, but now they’ve locked me up. It’s horrible here. Just get me
hanging up, he sounds about to break down. I assure him that
we’ll help get him out some way.
suggested that he collect welfare,” Swamiji says after I tell
him. “How can they just lock him away?”
someone has to commit you,” I say, “or you have to sign
shakes his head.
him some chapatis,” he says.
visiting hour is from two until three in the afternoon. Charles
makes the chapatis and packs some rice and bananas in a paper
Wally and I then take the prasadam up to Bellevue, walking to
p.m. sharp, a bell rings, and we are allowed entry through
locked pea-green doors. Keith hurries toward us, looking like an
old-time inmate with shaved head and a white hospital gown.
let you keep the sikha,” I say.
away my beads,” he complains. “That’s the worst part. A
couple of inmates are chanting with me, though.”
disturbed,” I tell him. “He needs you to help with the
cooking. He wants to know when you’re getting out.”
me just a couple of days,” he says, “but some people have
been in here for months. Everything’s vague. They like playing games,
trying to push you over the edge.”
just watching you,” I say. “It’s called the Observation Ward.”
you come, bring me something to read,” he says. “Anything of
Swamiji’s. All I have are the Narada Bhakti-sutras.
though. I didn’t understand them in India.”
to return the next day with Srimad-Bhagavatam and more prasadam.
Second Avenue, Swamiji hands me a new ten-page essay compiled
from a lecture. On the first page he has handwritten the title: “Who Is
saying that he is crazy, he tells me, “but actually Srimad-Bhagavatam
says that those who are
struggling day and night for
a little food and sex enjoyment are crazy. And the man engaged in
devotional service is sane. for he knows the real goal of human life.
That’s the criterion.”
I take the
essay from him and begin typing the stencil. “You may give
it to his psychiatrists,” he adds as an afterthought. “They may read
mimeograph about a hundred copies of the essay and the next
afternoon take a few down to the Observation Ward.
the inmates are delighted to receive them. The on-duty
psychiatrist, however, is irate.
know what I can do to you?” he threatens us.
I try to talk to him about Krishna consciousness, but he
quickly interrupts. “You believe in a personal God?” he asks. “Why are
you so insecure? The idea of a personal God went out seven hundred
give him the “Who Is Crazy?” essay, he says, “Wrong move,” and
the discussion ends.
what Keith is up against, we bid him good luck.
says that His devotee will never be vanquished,” Wally reminds
Keith looks at us helplessly, Swamiji’s essay in his hand.
visiting hour ends, the heavy doors slam shut.
the 27th Anniversary of World War 11. An organization called
The Beliefs of Man has invited Swamiji to a United Nations Peace Vigil.
The vigil is supposed to last round the clock until September 20, when
the General Assembly convenes.
in the morning, we accompany Swamiji to the Peace Circle just
opposite the U. N. Building on the East River. Apart from us, the
Circle is vacant. The day is already hot, and there is no breeze off
fixed on Swamiji, we begin clashing cymbals and chanting Hare
Krishna. Within minutes, a guard informs us that we’re causing too much
disturbance. This is a peace vigil, and vigils are quiet affairs.
Swamiji assents and stands with us on the sidewalk, abandoning the kirtan
and chanting softly on his beads instead.
chanting Hare Krishna softly until we tire; then we sit and
chant. The few passers-by must think us very, very strange. We sit in a
semicircle, and Swarmji sits facing us, his right hand in his beadbag,
his brow furrowed, expression grave, as he chants Hare Krishna, Hare
Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.
chanting quietly for four hours, we hardly care what people
think. Swamiji certainly doesn’t. His only concern is serving Krishna,
even if it means sitting on the sidewalk by the East River.
afternoon, we return to Second Avenue.
nothing to do with these peace vigils,” he tells us. “We just
want to spread this chanting of Hare Krishna, that’s all. Once people
take to this chanting, peace will automatically come. They won’t have
to try artificially for peace then.”
morning, our photo appears in The New York Post. The reporter
refers to Swamiji as “Swami Krishna.”
rages on in Vietnam.
as people eat meat, there will always be wars,” Swamiji says.
“By eating meat, they are developing the mentalities of tigers. And so
they go on killing and being killed.”
It is not
good to chant for political purposes, he informs us. Gandhi
used Bhagavad-gita to further his political philosophy,
commentaries, interpreting the Battle of Kurukshetra allegorically,
show that he didn’t really accept Krishna and Arjuna as historical
wanted to prove nonviolence from Bhagavad-gita,” he says,
“but Bhagavad-gita was spoken on a battlefield, and
Arjuna’s problem was
whether to fight or not to fight. Violence is there in Bhagavad-gita.
How can you say it isn’t? Why present some word jugglery and mislead
the people by saying otherwise? Gandhi was having Bhagavad-gita
morning and evening, and Bhagavad-gita was his life and
unfortunately he interpreted it in his own way. That is not the way to
understand Bhagavad-gita. By the worldly estimation,
Gandhi was a very
great man, and a good man by his character and behavior. His
personality was ideal. He spoke for nonviolence, but he was killed by
violence. And although he worked his whole life for unification of
Hindus and Moslems, India was partitioned.”
Gandhi ultimately failed?” Roy asks.
success, we have to follow the right person in the disciplic
succession set by Lord Krishna,” Swamiji says. “Krishna did not
advocate nonviolence. You cannot eradicate violence from this world.
Krishna tells Arjuna, ‘You must fight!’ We must be careful not to
interpret Krishna in our own way. For proper understanding, we must
follow in the footprints of the mahajans, the great
cases is violence permitted?” I ask.
to Shastra,” Swamiji says, “if someone burns down your
house, or takes away your land, or gives poison, or kidnaps your wife,
you can kill him. That is self defense, not violence. But whimsically,
we cannot kill even an ant.
years ago, at Jhansi, I was invited on Gandhi’s birthday to speak
about nonviolence. So, I said that violence means to check a person
from the discharge of his duties. From my viewpoint, that is violence.
Every man’s prime duty in life is to reestablish his lost relationship
with God. That is everyone’s birthright. A civilization that is
checking this duty is committing the most virulent type of violence. If
people are not educated in this light, if they are being misled, then
they are victims of the greatest violence. Human life is meant for
crossing this ocean of material existence. Those who try to impede this
progress are called atma-hanah, killers of the soul.”
if we should return to the U.N. tomorrow.
should we?” Swamiji says. “They were not permitting our kirtan.
Besides, we should not chant for ulterior
motives such as
mundane peace. We should ask only for Krishna’s causeless devotional
service birth after birth. That is Lord Chaitanya’s prayer. And Hare
Krishna sankirtan is the supreme peace formula.
they know about peace? Modern civilization is cats and dogs
fighting. Nothing more.”
impressed by the United Nations?
just putting up flags, that’s all. Each nation is thinking,
‘This is my land.’ There will be one world only when people accept one
God, Krishna, and one scripture, Bhagavad-gita, and one
loving service of Krishna. Otherwise they will just keep on adding
evening, at the end of the lecture, Swamiji announces that we will
soon have initiation.
that?” Stanley asks.
you later,” Swarmji says, and returns to his room.
off a wave of discussions and speculation.
is he talking about?” I ask Roy.
understand it’s a kind of formality,” he says. “It means accepting
the Swami officially as spiritual master.
nobody’s quite sure, he laughs. “We’ll have to wait and see.
tradition in India,” Wally says, “to accept a guru.”
already our guru?” I ask. “What’s going to change?”
mentioned something about a fire sacrifice,” Roy says.
is Swamiji planning? The more we learn, the more we feel that
we are being led into unknown spiritual territory.
morning, after the lecture, Stanley raises his hand and asks.
“Swamiji, some of us are wondering what initiation actually means,” he
says in his most humble manner.
Swamiji doesn’t answer, but sits quietly on the dais, his
head held high. A long minute passes as we await his answer. “Yes,” he
finally says, clearing his throat. “Now I will tell you. Initiation
means that the spiritual master accepts the student and agrees to take
charge of him, and the student accepts the spiritual master and agrees
to worship him as God.”
There is a
stunned, thoughtful silence. Had a bomb exploded, we
couldn’t be more shocked. Swamiji sits as immobile as a statue, his
head still high in the air, his eyes darting from person to person. A
strange tension fills the room. He awaits further questions, and when
there is none, he gets up and walks out without saying another word.
suddenly starts talking at once. I turn to Wally. “He just
blew my mind,” I say.
too,” Wally says.
quite knows what to say. Just a week before, Swamiji said,
“Whenever anyone claims to be God, he should be considered dog.
afternoon, when we visit Keith in Bellevue, we tell him about our
know if I want to be initiated now,” Wally says. “I don’t
think I can worship Swamiji as God.”
no inconsistency. “Aren’t you already doing that?” he asks.
“You’re accepting whatever he tells you.”
get it all cleared up,” I say.
Keith says. “Before initiation. There shouldn’t be any doubt in
your mind. Ask Swamiji exactly what he means.”
the temple, we confer with the others, then go up to Swamiji’s
confused,” I say. “We don’t really know what initiation means.
You said that we’re supposed to consider the spiritual master God.”
means that he’s due all the respect of God,” Swamiji says. “He’s
God,” he says patiently, “but the spiritual master is as good
as God because he can deliver God. Just try to understand. The
government agent is as good as the government because the government
has empowered him. So we say that he is a representative. Is that
“It is the
Mayavadis, the impersonalists, who claim to be God,” he
adds. “They think that by merging, they can deny personality. But a
Vaishnava devotee never thinks this way. From Bhagavad-gita,
understand that individuality is kept even after the highest
liberation. Otherwise, there is no question of any relationship, of any
service, or reciprocation in love.
question shows that you are serious about understanding. This
means hearing carefully. My Guru Maharaj used to say that you have to
select a spiritual master not by seeing but by hearing. Don’t choose
someone just because he has long hair or a beard, or some beautiful
bodily feature. No. You must hear. The Vedic process is based on sruti:
submissive aural reception. Then pranipata: surrender. Nipata
blank slate. We should not approach a bona fide spiritual master Just
to argue with him. Nor should we blindly accept. We should be
intelligent enough to inquire sincerely, to ask questions, just as you
are asking questions now, and then to render service.
should we judge a spiritual master by material calculations. My
Guru Maharaj’s spiritual master was Gaura Kishora das Babaji, who was
completely illiterate. Although my Guru Maharaj was the most learned
scholar of his age, he accepted Gaura Kishora as his spiritual master.
Even though Gaura Kishora could not even sign his name, he would always
refer to the Vedas when speaking. Yasya deve para
bhaktir yatha deve
tatha gurau / tasyaite kathita hy arthah prakasante mahatmanah.
unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the
spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically
we are not great souls with implicit faith, we are satisfied
that Swamiji will not lead us astray. He tells us that the initiation
ceremony is scheduled for September 9, a most auspicious time, the day
after Janmastami, Lord Krishna’s appearance day. We have till then to
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