sees you are taking one step toward Him,”
Swamiji says, “He will take ten toward you. He is so happy to see you
turn to Him. He is more eager to see us return to Godhead than we are
Back in the
Mott Street apartment, I stare at myself in
the mirror and repeat my new name. “Now you are Krishna’s,” I think,
inspecting the new kanthi beads around my neck. “These are
Krishna’s dog collars, and they don’t come off.”
optimistically resolve to try to follow the
rules. For most of us, meat eating and gambling pose no problems. Rules
governing sex and intoxicants, however, force some rapid changes in
living patterns. I decide to convert the old Mott Street apartment into
a brahmachari ashram. Down come the psychedelic posters, and up
go pictures of lotus-eyed Krishna.
The next day
at the temple, we find a new notice posted
on the bathroom door. There are additional rules and regulations
written neatly in ink by Swamiji himself.
nothing when he reads the notice. Rayarama simply
All initiated devotees must attend morning and evening classes. Must
not be addicted to any kind of intoxicants, including coffee, tea and
cigarettes. They are forbidden to have illicit sex-connections. Must be
strictly vegetarian. Should not extensively mix with non-devotees.
Should not eat foodstuffs cooked by non-devotees. Should not waste time
in idle talks nor engage in frivolous sports. Should always chant and
sing the Lord’s holy names, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. Krishna
Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Acharya
no tea,” he says, shaking his head.
we begin to realize that more than
hamburgers are off limits. We’re all fond of coffee and tea, and it’s
hard to imagine breakfast without eggs. Besides, breads, hot cakes, ice
cream, and cookies usually have eggs in them. Also, “no foodstuff
cooked by non-devotees” excludes all restaurants, quick food shops, and
even most packaged supermarket foods. And no yeast, garlic, onions, and
mushrooms puts an end to pizza. Somebody even points out that most
cheeses are made with rennet—cow’s stomach!
percent lenient,” Swamiji says, laughing.
“If I were to tell you everything at once, you’d faint.”
enters his second week in Bellevue, Umapati and
I continue taking him fruit and chapatis. Daily, the hospital
doctors give us some hope, and then delight in crushing it.
psychiatrist and my parents can get me out,”
Keith tells us.
have diagnosed Keith as a “malignant
hears, he shakes his head sadly.
“We are all
at Krishna’s mercy,” he says. “When we have
these material bodies, we have to undergo so many difficulties. Haridas
Thakur was scourged for his devotion to Krishna and then thrown into a
river for dead. Yet at no time did Haridas complain. The devotee looks
on his miseries as Krishna’s mercy, as minimal punishment for his past
misdeeds. He thinks, ‘O Krishna, I should be suffering so much more,
but because of Your causeless mercy, my sufferings are minimized.’”
after initiation, Swamiji conducts our first
wedding: Mukunda and Janaki, who were initiated together and whose
marriage must now be Vedically sanctified. Janaki’s sister Joan arrives
from Oregon and helps decorate the small apartment for the wedding,
stringing flowers across the ceiling. In the kitchen, Swamiji
supervises the cooking. It is to be our first big feast. He shows us
how to make kachoris, fried pastries filled with spiced
potatoes. All afternoon, we labor over kachoris, and puris.
In all, the preparations number fifteen—gulabjamuns (sweet
balls), sabji [vegetables], sweet rice, halavah, and
appears in white robes, and Janaki wears a new
red silk sari, and heavy silver earrings. The sari is Swamiji’s idea.
very feminine in saris, no?” he says,
guests crowd into the apartment. Janaki sits
beside Mukunda in front of Swamiji and the sacrificial mound.
Obeisances and garlands are offered, incense is lit, and the wedding
bhur bhava sva tat...”
goblet is passed around, as on initiation
a brief talk.
“In a Krishna
conscious marriage there is no question of
divorce,” he tells us. “In the material world, when a man gets tired of
one wife, he takes another. Or when there is some argument, there is
immediate separation. But in Krishna consciousness, no. Marriage is for
life. It is the wife’s duty to serve the husband, to keep the house
clean, cook nicely, and make her husband comfortable when he comes back
from work. The wife is like goddess Lakshmi. When she is present,
nothing is lacking. It is her duty to bear Krishna conscious children
and aid her husband in a life of progressive Krishna consciousness. And
it is the husband’s duty to protect the wife and provide for her. The
wife should not have to go out and work. That is a very bad proposal.
The wife is never to be independent but is to be protected and remain
at home. In this way, the marriage will go smoothly. And even if there
is some argument, there is no question of separation. Argument between
husband and wife is said in the Vedas to be like thunder
without lightning. There is much noise but no danger. So remember this,
live together in Krishna consciousness, and be happy.”
continues as Janaki’s sister Joan formally
presents Janaki to Mukunda.
Janaki-dasi as my wife,” Mukunda repeats after
Swamiji, “and I shall take charge of her throughout both of our lives.
We shall live together peacefully in Krishna consciousness, and will
accept Sriman Mukunda-das-brahmachari as your
life’s companion?” he asks. “Will you serve him always, and help him to
execute his Krishna conscious activities?”
replies. “I accept Sriman Mukunda as my
husband throughout my life. There shall never be any separation between
us, either in happiness or distress. I shall serve him always, and we
shall live together peacefully in Krishna consciousness.”
Janaki exchange garlands and sitting places.
Mukunda rubs vermillion down the part in her hair, then covers her head
with her sari. Stryadhisa ties Janaki’s sari to the hem of Mukunda’s
clothes tied for a week,” Swamiji says. He
then sprinkles the colored dyes on the mound for the fire sacrifice.
Again we dip our hands in the ghee, barley and sesame, the fire is lit,
and prayers begin. Again, the apartment is clouded with smoke.
feast, we are bursting with potato kachoris.
America, I see that it is customary for boy
friend and girl friend to live together,” Swamiji says. “Of course, in
the material world, that sex desire is natural, but we say don’t live
together like cats and dogs. If you want sex, get yourself married.”
It is late
when the wedding breaks up, and
Rabindra-svarup and I accompany Mukunda and Janaki back to their loft,
just a few blocks away on Bowery.
out to San Francisco next week,” Mukunda
tells me. “And from there we’re going on to India. You know, you should
consider going to the Coast. I hear that San Francisco’s ripe for
“Isn’t it a
little early to expand?” I ask. “We’re just
getting started here.”
there’s a disciple of Swamiji’s out there now, he
tells me, named Harvey Cohen. He’s generated a lot of interest just
talking to people. He’s trying to locate a kind of storefront temple
and prepare an event for Swamiji in January.”
very enthusiastic about going to India and
expanding Krishna consciousness worldwide. “After all,” he says,
“Swamiji called it The International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
So, sooner or later, we have to go international.” He thinks that
Swamiji should get out of New York before the winter snows.
is good now,” he says, “but who knows? He’s
used to tropical Calcutta.”
watch Allen Ginsberg on a TV talk show.
Ginsberg chants Hare Krishna and mentions that there’s a new swami
on the Lower East Side who has just opened classes in mantra-yoga.
happily. It’s our first plug on TV.
in Swamiji’s presence and daily witnessing his inspiring
transcendental activities, I find some difficulty following all the
basic rules. When I confess this to Swamiji, he jumps to his feet.
“Then chant Hare Krishna!” he says, the force of his gesture sweeping
me upward with him, so that I stand up automatically. “Chant Hare
Krishna! Krishna! Krishna! Krishna help me! Krishna save me!”
chanting, impelled by his sheer, spiritual force
cleansing the dust from the mind’s mirror, purifying, lifting me up.
“There are so
many inconveniences because of this body,”
he says. “The senses want so many things. Bad habits force us to act,
habits from this lifetime and other lifetimes as well. But Krishna says
that even if a person seems to act immorally due to some past
association or bad habits, he is to be considered a sadhu, a
saint, if he is determined to become Krishna conscious. Some way or
other, we must continue our duties. Then gradually, with advancement,
purification will come. Of course, a devotee is never immoral, but
maybe due to past association, he may appear immoral, or fall down due
to bad habits. Sometimes habits become second nature.
with the thief who went on pilgrimage. At
night, when the other pilgrims were sleeping, this thief started
stealing baggage and picking pockets, but he thought, ‘Oh, I have come
to this holy place, but still, due to habit, I am stealing. No! At
least during my stay here, let me not steal.’ In the morning, when the
other pilgrims got up, they started looking for their bags, but saw
that they were all in different places, all mixed up. ‘What is the
matter? What has happened?’ they asked. Then the thief stood up and
told them, ‘Gentlemen, I am a thief by occupation. Because I am in the
habit of stealing at night, I was going to steal something from your
bags, but since I’ve come to this holy place, I decided not to do it.
So instead I have simply put one man’s bag here, another’s bag there.’
This is the nature of bad habit. Even though one does not want to do
it, he has the habit. Therefore Krishna says that if one decides to
stop his bad habits and cultivate Krishna consciousness, he is to be
considered saintly. Even if by chance he falls down and does something
socially immoral, that should not be taken into account. Because he has
taken refuge of Krishna, he will very soon become saintly. Very soon.”
Maharaj Srila Bhaktisiddhanta used to say,
‘This world is no place for a gentleman.’ And it is true. Maya is so
strong. I was in the dark well of householder life, and he... pulled me
brings tears to his eyes. For us, Swamiji is
the unblemished swan floating transcendentally, yet he says that his
spiritual master rescued him from the ocean of material suffering.
“The role of
the spiritual master cannot be
overestimated,” he says. “Guru is as good as God. Not that he is God.
Mayavadis say like that. No. Only Krishna is God. That’s a fact. But
for the devotee, guru is as good as God.”
enters his third week in Bellevue, Umapati and
I continue visiting him one hour daily. Since he refuses to eat any of
the hospital food, we bring him chapatis, fruit and vegetables,
and a little rice mixed with dal. The doctors are as determined
as ever to put him away, and Keith is about to abandon hope.
talking of transferring me to Central
Islip,” he says.
return to Swamiji, we inform him that Keith’s
plight is becoming serious.
“Why did he
ever go there?” Swamiji asks. “I never told
him to go there.”
he’s in trouble,” I say, then suddenly think
of Allen Ginsberg. “Maybe Mr. Ginsberg can help,” I suggest.
him,” Swamiji says.
recommends Dr. Horner, a Jungian psychiatrist at
the Einstein Clinic. I phone Dr. Horner and explain the dilemma. The
next day, the doctor goes to Bellevue, talks with Keith, then writes up
a report stating that he is following a legitimate religious discipline
and should be released. But even this is not sufficient; a family
member must sign the release papers. Not knowing where to turn, Keith
phones his father on Long Island. Unfortunately, his father, a
fundamentalist Baptist minister, fears that by consorting with a swami,
Keith has fallen into the hands of an anti-Christ. He hesitates
signing. Although nearly thirty years old, Keith needs his father’s
signature. Finally, in desperation, he promises to go home with his
father and become a Christian. Within hours, Keith is back on Second
Avenue, out of breath from running.
“I had to
jump out of my father’s car to get here,” he
says, “but it worked.”
sees Keith, he stands up and embraces him.
Krishna has saved His devotee!” Swamiji says.
“Oh, I was crying to Krishna, ‘How has this nice boy been taken from
me?’ and praying that they would release you. Because they are in the
crazy-man business, they were saying you are crazy. But factually the
materialists are crazy because they take this temporary body for the
all in all and neglect the eternal soul. A crazy man thinks that all
others are crazy. But we do not care for their opinion. We will let
Krishna decide who is really crazy.”
The day after
Keith’s release, September 23, Is the
appearance day of Radharani, Lord Krishna’s eternal consort, and
Swamiji announces the second initiation ceremony.
will fast until noon,” he says. “Srimati
Radharani is so kind that She does not want us to go hungry.”
morning, he shows Keith how to make rasagullas,
sweetballs consisting only of milk curds cooked and soaked in syrup.
They are very sweet and succulent. A large pot sits in the corner of
Swamiji’s little altar room, and sometimes, when I get the urge, I ask
Swamlji if I can have one.
he says invariably.
initiated with Keith are Bruce, Charles, and
Steve. Bruce looks like a football tackle; in contrast, Steve and
Charles are ascetically thin. Keith becomes Kirtanananda, Bruce becomes
Brahmananda, Charles becomes Acyutananda, and Steve becomes Satsvarupa.
September 23, is Radha’s birthday,” Swamiji
says. “She is fifteen days younger than Krishna. When Krishna was a
boy, He played with the children of the countryside, and because He was
so beautiful, all the girls prayed that someday He would be their
husband. Since Radha loved Krishna the most, She is the symbol of
greatest worship. Krishna and the gopis, the cowherd girls,
were the same age, but because girls are married earlier than boys,
they were all married before Krishna. Yet, despite their marriages,
they all loved Krishna so much that whenever He would play His flute,
they would leave their homes and go to Him. This continued until
Krishna was sixteen; then He left His friends and went to live with His
real father in Mathura, and all His friends spent the rest of their
lives weeping and longing for Him. Radha and Krishna met again during a
solar eclipse at Kurukshetra, and it was a meeting of love, but then
They were again separated. Radha is Krishna’s beloved, and by Her
blessings Krishna will accept us. ‘Hare’ means Radha, so when we
chant Hare Krishna, we are chanting Radha Krishna. We say Radha’s name
first because Krishna loves Her.”
sacrifice in Swamiji’s back apartment is
joyful. There are none of the blunders of the first initiation; we
manage to pour the water in the proper hand and say svaha at
the right time.
It is the
first of the Mother Scenes. Brahmananda had
written an enthusiastic letter to his brother Greg about Swamiji, and
Greg, who had just started college in Colorado, sold his typewriter and
bought a plane ticket to New York to attend the initiation.
Surprisingly, Brahmananda’s mother also shows up, but she is so furious
at Greg for quitting college that she doesn’t speak to him. Sitting on
a folding chair in Swamiji’s room, she endures the initiation with
stonefaced silence. When it is over, she tells Swamiji, “You could have
left me at least one of my sons.”
“Go bow down
to your mother,” Swamiji tells Brahmananda,
and Brahmananda immediately complies, touching his forehead to the
don’t see what’s wrong with Judaism,” she
pouts, less than flattered by this strange gesture of humility from her
Christian, Moslem—it is not a question of that,”
Swamiji says. “It’s a matter of developing your love for God. That is
the test for first-class religion.
treats mothers respectfully, compliments them
for having such fine, intelligent sons, and comforts them with
sweetballs. Although a number of mothers come accusing him of stealing
and corrupting their children, they always leave pacified. Some even
attend kirtans and sit on folding chairs in the rear of
Matchless Gifts. During one Sunday feast, one mother even runs outside
for a marijuana break.
you just let prasadam satisfy your
tongue?” her son chastises her.
writes Swamiji a letter thanking him for “the
great and remarkable change” in me.
“We just want
you to know how much we appreciate the
work you are doing in this country, especially among the younger
generation. They need you, a spiritual advisor and leader, to lead them
out of their confused, frustrated, materialistic and rebellious
state—back to Godhead.”
Swamiji is so
pleased with the letter that he has it
xeroxed for distribution.
October, our Sunday “love feasts” begin gaining
popularity on the Lower East Side. Since most of the guests are young
and unemployed, the donations hardly cover food costs. But no matter.
come and take,” Swamiji says. “They will
become attracted when they see that our philosophy is not dry.”
direction, Kirtanananda and Acyutananda learn
to cook kachoris, samosas, sweet rice, halava,
sweet balls and mung bean dal. Kirtanananda is such a talented
cook that Swamiji calls him “Kitchenananda.” After the feasts, we are
so full that we can only roll over on the temple floor and sleep.
overindulgence is not allowed for long. One
morning, after class, Swamiji says, “You should eat as little as
said we should eat lots of prasadam,”
Umapati protests. “Now, you say we should eat little. How can we know
which instruction to follow?”
down from the dais calmly, smiling
slightly. “When I said to eat a lot, you didn’t have any questions,” he
Since it’s a
beautiful October night, we sit out in the
courtyard to chant. When Umapati admires the full moon, Greg admonishes
maya,” he says.
This sparks a
debate. Should a devotee look on the moon
as maya? We take this question to Swamiji.
devotee, the world is as good as Vaikuntha,” he
says. “Krishna says that the sun and moon are His eyes. When a devotee
looks at the moon, he sees Krishna.”
We want this
difference between the spiritual and material
universes just one of consciousness?” I ask.
addition to this universe, is there a universe
separate and different?”
Swamiii says. “it Is said that this material
universe occupies just a small portion, a corner, of that limitless
spiritual sky. It is here as a sort of prison for the conditioned soul.
But for the devotee, it is as good as Vaikuntha.”
there’s the law of change?”
nothing is permanent. Everything is
changing: coming into being, staying a while, leaving some by-products,
dwindling, and vanishing. But the spiritual world is not like this.
There, everything is sat-cit-ananda, full of knowledge, bliss
and eternity. Here, if we want to read a book, we have to open it, but
there, the book opens itself. There, everything is full of spiritual
consciousness. The houses are made of chintamani, touchstone,
and the trees give as much of whatever fruit you want. Many
descriptions are given in Brahma-samhita.”
I still have
difficulty accepting the Vedic teaching of
an enclosed heliocentric universe. How to explain the stars?
the Vedas mention the
universe, they mean the solar system,” I suggest.
is infallible,” Swamiji says. “What
do these modern scientists know? They are trying to acquire knowledge
through their imperfect senses, by using telescopes and so many
devices. But the eye itself is an imperfect instrument. How can you
arrive at perfect knowledge by something imperfect? The knowledge of
the Vedas is perfect and infallible because it comes from
the Supreme Perfect, Sri Krishna. Since we are in the disciplic
succession starting with Lord Brahma, we accept this knowledge as
perfect. Let the scientists say what they like.”
particularly upsets George Henderson, mathematics
PhD, an old friend who has been attending kirtans.
is precisely in what is measurable by the
senses,” he says.
surprise, Swamiji suddenly comes on like thunder.
senses perfect?” he asks.
of the whole scientific community,” George
their senses perfect?”
scientists, man is the measure of all things,”
“Only God has
perfect senses.” Swamiji says. “Therefore
only God can measure perfectly. Everyone else is imperfect. Are you
God?” Swamiji repeats loudly, shocking us all.
“If you are God, then you can show us your universal form.”
quietly, perplexed and embarrassed.
Afterwards, Swamiji tells us that if someone claims to be God, we
should request to see his universal form as revealed at Kurukshetra.
was Krishna’s devotee, he had no desire to
see the universal form,” he tells us. “The devotee is interested in
Krishna in His original two-armed form. But Krishna showed Arjuna the
gigantic universal form as a lesson to mankind, as a test for knowing
what is God. If some rascal is claiming to be God, we should demand to
see his universal form. And if he shows it, then he is God. But this
form is not manifest to please the devotees. It is more or less to
convince the materialists how great God is. The devotee doesn’t have to
be reminded of God’s greatness. He already knows that God is great. He
is Just interested in serving Krishna in His original form as a cowherd
Krishna’s size?” I ask.
size,” Swamiji says. “His size is average. He
can be as big or small as required, bigger than the biggest, or smaller
than the smallest. That is absolute. So when He comes, He comes our
size. In Mathura, many people were thinking of Him as an ordinary human
being. This is due to yoga-maya. He may appear to be like us,
but He is not. He is always the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
understand Krishna as He is, we must consult
authorities—guru, sadhu, shastra. Otherwise we have no way of
knowing. For example, one night I heard a strange noise and couldn’t
tell what it was. I just knew that it was not an ordinary noise, that’s
all. The next day, the police came and asked, ‘Swamiji, did you hear a
gunshot?’ Then I knew that the noise had been a gunshot. If the police
had not come, I never would have guessed what the noise had been.
Similarly, we may try to guess what the Absolute Truth is, thinking,
‘It’s this, or it’s that.’ Then one day Krishna or His representative
comes and says, ‘It’s this!’ But until Krishna tells you, you cannot
Rabindra-svarup and Stryadhisa are now
living in the temple full time. In the morning, they store their
sleeping bags behind the dais and tidy up the temple for Swamiji’s
entrance. Inevitably, the neighbors begin to complain, objecting
specifically to the seven a.m. kirtans, which are growing louder due to
increased attendance and enthusiasm. The woman upstairs pours hot water
through the floorboards and encourages her children to jump and pound
to disturb the lectures. One Puerto Rican boy, convinced that we are
all demon worshippers, throws a rock through the plate glass window.
relations improve, however, with our first big
branching out—the Tompkins Square Park kirtans.
It is Allen
Ginsberg who first suggests Tompkins Square
between Avenues A and B on the Lower East Side.
“If you hold kirtans
there, you’ll interest a
lot of people and maybe get better temple attendance,” he tells us.
“It’s a kind of Sunday meeting place.”
get a permit to chant in the park, and on
Sunday Swarmji leads us down the crowded weekend streets. Kirtanananda
also wears robes, and our walk through the Polish, Ukranian, and Puerto
Rican neighborhoods is sensational. By the time we reach the park,
dozens of curious people are following.
We spread a
carpet beneath a large oak in the center of
the park. Then we form a circle around Swamiji, who takes up a small
bongo drum and begins leading the chanting. At first, the crowd greets
us with cold indifference but soon warms up as the words of the mantra
become more familiar. Swamiji pounds the drum tirelessly. Thirty
minutes pass, an hour. Elderly Polish and Ukranian residents stare
dumbfounded, then walk away grumbling. Soon more people stand around us
and press forward to better see Swamiji. Stryadhisa and I clash
cymbals, and Kirtanananda plays the harmonium given by Ginsberg.
Someone brings a tamboura, but it is drowned out in the din. Puerto
Rican kids run over from the playground, stare with wide eyes, then
laugh happily. A jet booms overhead. The Good Humor man gravitates
toward us, ringing his ice cream bells. Acyutananda, Brahmananda, and
Greg dance in a circle, and the more venturesome spectators join in the
After a long kirtan,
Swamiji begins to give a
talk, but since the people can hardly hear him, he takes up the drum
and starts chanting again. A little boy throws an egg at Rayarama and
runs. Our voices begin to grow hoarse, and I wonder how long Swamiji
will last. But his voice seems even stronger after the second hour. As
he chants, his brow furrows in concentration, and veins stand out on
his neck. “Hare Krishna! Krishna! Krishna! Hare Hare!” Allen Ginsberg
joins, shaking his head rhythmically and playing finger cymbals. A New
York Times reporter asks me to bring Ginsberg over to talk.
interrupt a man worshipping,” Allen says.
“Tell him that.”
fingers continue beating out the rhythm on the
drum. How can he keep at it so long? “Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna!” he
calls out over the cement park of stunted trees, the playgrounds,
benches, brownstone apartments, and the locked and empty Presbyterian
Hare Rama,” we reply. “Rama Rama, Hare
Hare.” A Negro joins in with a saxophone. Someone comes with a bass
drum. Tambourines rattle, and people start getting up to dance. To our
surprise and happiness, Swamiji’s park kirtan begins to turn
into a joyous celebration, an open party for the Lower East Side.
who’s that old priest?” someone asks.
“He’s not a
priest,” someone answers. “He’s a swami!”
cool, man. I dig it!”
I hand out leaflets:
housewives throw the leaflets away, the young renegades
from American suburbia like the idea of staying high forever. Granted,
staying high forever may not be the ideal impetus for pure devotional
service, but the message to chant Hare Krishna gets across. Moreover,
Swamiji approved the leaflet: “Yes, stay high forever! That’s the idea!
Yes! No more coming down to this material world!”
No More Coming Down
Practice Krishna Consciousness
Expand your consciousness by chanting the
Transcendental Sound Vibration
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
This chanting will cleanse the dust from the mirror of the mind and
free you from all material contamination. It is practical and
self-evident without artificial aid. Try it and be blissful all the
time. End all bringdowns! Turn on through music, dance, philosophy,
science, religion and prasadam (spiritual food). Join the
International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Krishna, Hare Krishna,” we continue into the late
afternoon. Swamiji’s fingers are red from beating the little drum, but
he doesn’t slow down. Only he can light the fuse to set off the Hare
approaches, he brings the chanting to a close.
We roll up the carpet as people enquire about the temple. The Times
reporter, remarkably, returns with us to Matchless Gifts and sits
downstairs with Swamiji to talk. Acyutananda brings him a bowl of
morning, Monday, October 10, The New
York Times prints a photograph of Swamiji seated on the carpet,
pounding the bongo drum while Brahmananda and Acyutananda dance in
front of him. The headline: “SWAMI’S FLOCK CHANTS IN PARK TO FIND
smiles broadly when he sees the write-up. “Very
nice. Now we can continue this program every Sunday.”
Before our next park kirtan,
however, we receive
a big, unexpected publicity boost. The East Village Other,
a local underground newspaper with a good circulation on the Lower East
Side, prints a full front page photo of Swamiji standing beneath an oak
in Tompkins Square, a crowd clustered around him. The headlines: “SAVE
EARTH NOW! HARE KRISHNA, HARE KRISHNA, KRISHNA KRISHNA, HARE HARE, HARE
RAMA, HARE RAMA, RAMA RAMA, HARE HARE.”
We rush the
first copy to Swamiji, and when he sees it,
he breaks into a smile. We read it aloud for him.
old man, one year past his allotted
threescore and ten, wandered into New York’s East Village and set about
to prove to the world that he knew where God could be found. In only
three months, the man, Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta, succeeded in
convincing the world’s toughest audience—bohemians, acid heads, pot
heads and hippies—that he knew the way to God: Turn Off, Sing Out, and
Fall In. This new brand of holyman. with all due deference to Dr.
Leary, has come forth with a brand of “consciousness expansion” that’s
sweeter than acid, cheaper than pot, and non-bustable by fuzz. How is
this all possible? “Through Krishna,” the Swami says.
“What are these
hippies?” Swamiji asks.
We try to
explain as best we can.
that many people would consider us hippies,”
happies,” Swamiji laughs. “But whatever you
once were, Krishna will change you. Right?”
We also have
to explain “acid heads,” “pot,” and “fuzz,”
and when Swamiji understands, he smiles, and says, “Yes, that is right.
Krishna consciousness may seem like poison in the beginning, but it is
nectar in the end. So it is sweeter.” Then: “Who is this Dr. Leary?”
that he’s the leader of the psychedelic
movement and has just founded the LSD (League for Spiritual Discovery)
that LSD is an easy means to God
realization,” Kirtanananda says.
“Then his God
is LSD,” Swamiji says. “If he claims that
you can reach God through LSD, then LSD is stronger than God. But we do
not say like that. His means are artificial. And risky. What will he do
when there is no more LSD? Is LSD eternal? Is God so cheap that He can
be reached by simply taking a pill? Yogis perform many
lifetimes of austerities and still do not see God. And in Bhagavad-gita,
Krishna says that He can be reached only by the path of pure, unalloyed
devotion. After many, many births, the man of knowledge surrenders to
Krishna because he knows that Krishna is everything. But this Dr. Leary
is saying surrender to LSD. That is nonsense. Such people are misled
We chant in
Tompkins Square Park every Sunday through
October, and after each kirtan, more people follow Swamiji back
to Matchless Gifts. Thanks to the East Village Other
article and these park kirtans, we quickly become known on the
Lower East Side as The Hare Krishna People.
television news team visits Matchless Gifts and
films a lecture by Swamiji and a kirtan. “Happiness on Second Avenue”
is the theme. They decide not to use the interview with Swamiji because
“his accent is too heavy.” Kirtanananda tells how Krishna consciousness
embraces all faiths. Brahmananda is a football tackle turned Saint
Peter. I tell how chanting has converted Lower East Side youth from LSD
madness. They film us leaving the temple to go on street sankirtan.
Satsvarupa, Acyutananda, and Strydhisa clash cymbals. I follow,
pounding a big bass drum.
Not all news
write-ups are flattering, however. The National
Insider, a less successful version of
The National Enquirer, headlines: “NEW INDIAN RELIGION SENDS YOU
HIGHER THAN LSD.” We shudder at a photo of Rayarama dancing, captioned:
“Cultist about to go into a trance.”
Swamiji’s advice, I write the Mayor of New
York. His secretary replies: “Mayor Lindsay is most appreciative of the
work that your Society is doing, especially in the realm of combatting
to forward my letter to the City Narcotics
tell the hippies that chanting gets you
higher than LSD, just as The National Insider said.
bearded youth comes up to Swamiji’s
than you are,” he tells Swamiji.
accept my humble obeisances,” Swamiji says,
than you are,” the young man insists, intent
on more than mere acknowledgment. “Today I heard the Big Voice.”
gently, diplomatically removes him.
not let in any more crazies,” Swamiji finally
tells us. Then: “If you tell people that they are in the grasp of
material nature, they will not understand you. They’re so accustomed to
suffering that they mistake their suffering for happiness. The real
proprietor of this body is Krishna, and the soul within the body is
part of Krishna. Krishna is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss. He is
not entrapped by material nature. We are conditioned souls, but we can
never escape from this conditioning by trying to convince ourselves
that we are God. Now they are taking some intoxicants, LSD, and
convincing themselves that they are God for a short time, and then they
have to come down, and again and again undergo the same process, and
all the time they are being bound by some material chemical—LSD. In
this way, they get involved in material nature all the more. Therefore
this Krishna consciousness is needed. It is the greatest boon to
society because it can free everyone from the bonds of material nature.
There is nothing material about Krishna consciousness. The names of
Krishna are purely spiritual and liberating.”
evenings, due to increased kirtan
attendance, the Matchless Gifts storefront overflows to the sidewalk
outside. One night, Ginsberg brings Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg of
the Fugs rock group. The Fugs pride themselves on being the most
verbally obscene rock group on earth. After a vivacious kirtan,
Swamiji delivers a “sex is stool” lecture. Sanders and Kupferberg sit
and stare in disbelief, Sanders’s long red hair and beard bristling in
protest. After all, he’s the singer of “Group Grope” and “Slum Goddess
of The Lower East Side.”
quotes the great sage Yamunacharya: “Since I
have been engaged in the transcendental service of Sri Krishna,
whenever I think of sex, my lips curl, and I spit at the thought.”
many come looking for miracles. Wanting to be
“zapped,” they expect to receive an immediate electrical jolt from the guru.
“What is that
‘zap’?” Swamiji asks. “Why not put your
hand in a socket? These are cheap show-bottle tricks. In drugstores,
they keep some big bottle with tinted water to attract customers. There
is no real medicine inside, just water. So we call this a show-bottle.
Show-bottle yogis throw some sparks or produce a little gold,
and people think, ‘How wonderful! He has produced some gold.’ They do
not stop to consider that there are many gold mines in the world, and
so what is this little gold worth? No. A real yogi does not
resort to such cheap tricks. And some people think that if they grow
long hair and beards, they will become yogis. That is more
nonsense. These are not yogis, but bogies.”
bearded Swami Satchitananda, who offers an
amalgam of yogas, abound throughout Manhattan. His disciples
visit, but they are not impressed by Swamiji. No beard. No zaps.
But if one
looks carefully, he can perceive certain
subtle, transcendental marks: Swamiji’s large ears, shaped like a
Buddha’s. (“This boy hears nicely.”) And the myriad expressions of his
eyes, displaying the whole range of human sentiments—love, devotion,
tolerance, disapproval, humor, sympathy, fervor—as well as
transcendental emotions unfamiliar to us. And his natural, aristocratic
gestures. (“The transcendental autocrat!”) The more we acquire devotion
to him, the more his unique features and qualities manifest, and we
come to see him as a purely transcendental personality.
like a Buddha,” a girl whispers one day.
leprechauns running around his feet,” another
Dinkar, a disciple of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi,
comes to visit, Swamiji invites him to speak at an evening kirtan.
Yogi Dinkar is a thin, white-haired gentleman from Brooklyn. “I sense
greatness here,” he says. “This is real yoga. I have been to
many yoga meetings and heard many speeches on Bhagavad-gita,
but here I sense real greatness. There is no doubt of this.”
meet Swamijl,” one boy says, “you feel like
you’ve travelled all over the world countless lifetimes just to see and
other initiations: Brahmananda’s younger
brother Greg becomes Gargamuni. Then there is Ranchor, a student
recruited from Tompkins Square Park. Bob Corens, a social worker,
becomes Rupanuga. Dan Clark, an avant-garde filmmaker, becomes Damodar.
Judy Koslofsky, an art student from City College, becomes Jadurani.
our first brahmacharini, unmarried
female devotee. At first, Swamiji, in accordance with Vaishnava
tradition, was not going to accept female devotees, but the social
situation in America changed his mind. Time and circumstance. After
all, as Americans, we are fallen mleechas—meat eaters. “If
nothing else, just get them to chant Hare Krishna and take prasadam,”
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had enjoined.
decided to accept the girls, initiate them, and
then get them married. In the Vedic tradition, women are never allowed
independence. They are meant for marriage, for bearing children,
cleaning the home, cooking, helping the husband progress in Krishna
consciousness, churning butter.
butter, they develop good bodies,” Swamiji
nineteen and very pretty. She’s an artist,
and Swamiji immediately engages her in painting pictures of the
four-armed Narayana forms.
there is some resentment toward Jadurani.
Stryadhisa seems most disturbed. A girl is simply a distraction. Others
also criticize, but Jadurani quietly sits in the corner of the little
altar room and paints.
is too muscular, Swamiji complains, too
much in the style of the passionate Michaelangelo. “Muscular bodies are
in the mode of passion,” he says, “spiritual bodies are not. The
mundane conception of beauty is simply passionate. Try again. Less
muscle. No, not fat. God is not fat. Nor lean. Lean men look like
wolves, hungry wolves hunting for sex.”
begins to wonder: Neither muscular, nor
lean, nor fat. What, then, is God’s somatotype?
beauty,” Swamiji says. “Beauty complete and
full. When we see Krishna, we will want nothing to do with the
so-called beauty of the material world. Krishna’s beauty is attracting
everything in the creation—great demigods, men, women, even plants and
animals. That beauty is unlimited. What we call beauty here is but a
tries again. She paints dozens of Narayana’s
with rounded, idealized features and large, teardrop-shaped eyes. No
one, I think, at any time ever looked like that, except in nursery book
fantasies. But Swamiji is pleased.
“Yes, you are
making progress,” he tells Jadurani.
away, someone throws a piano out onto the
street. Vandals smash it up until only the core remains. Acyutananda
and I borrow a dolly, and we wheel the piano innards to Matchless Gifts
and set them in the back.
that?” Swamiji asks.
strings,” I say. “For kirtan.”
climax, we pound our fists on the
bare strings. The din can be heard to Houston Street. Burton Green, a
pianist specializing in “getting into the piano,” joins in. He invites
Swamiji to his current recital at Town Hall, and Swamiji politely
concert, Burton soon abandons the keyboard and
leans inside the piano to beat on the strings with hammers. Swamiji
sits chanting quietly on his beads, ignoring the discords.
Hermaphroditic-looking poets recite garbage, fortunately too incoherent
for him to understand. During the intermission, when Burton asks
Swamiji if he is enjoying it, he politely says yes. It is past his
usual hour to retire, and we suggest leaving, but Burton begs us to
stay for the second half, and Swamiji acquiesces.
concert, we walk to Broadway to take the
downtown subway. Pointing to the lights of Times Square, Swamiji tells
us that when he first arrived in New York, he was surprised to see
billboards openly advertising sex movies—something never seen in India.
Recalling some of the movie titles, he laughs.
the road, a man sees some stool,” he says,
“and the stool is soft, and he thinks, ‘This is nasty.’ And a little
further down the road, he again sees stool, but it has been in the sun
for some time, and because it is hard, the man thinks, ‘This is good.’
But he does not stop to consider that hard or soft, stool is stool.
Pleasure or pain—they are the same. In this material world, pleasure is
simply hard stool. But we are thinking it is so nice.”
Swamiji confides to Brahmananda that he went
to the concert just to see Town Hall.
of renting it,” he says. “We may give some
beautiful autumn weather, and Swamiji accepts an
invitation to Dr. Mishra’s Ananda Ashram upstate. Swamiji was
introduced to Ramamurti Mishra soon after arriving in the United
States, and Mishra welcomed and accomodated him at his yoga
studio in the West Seventies and at Ananda Ashram.
Mishra was at philosophical loggerheads with
Swamiji, and he had even requested that Swamiji not lecture at his yoga
studio. Mishra preached Mayavadi impersonalism: at death one merges
with the Absolute and becomes eternally formless. The “We Are God”
school. Over the years, Mishra had managed to print one book on hatha-yoga
and attract a small following. Now, since Mishra is in India, Ananda
Ashram thought it a good time to invite the controversial Swamiji.
near Monroe, New York, a two-hour
drive from Manhattan, is certainly idyllic. A large white mansion and
several small buildings overlook a tranquil mountain lake. We all feel
a tinge of envy that we cannot afford such a place for Swamiji, and
regret that after the weekend he has to return to the urban squalor of
the Lower East Side. Still, we hope that some day we’ll be able to
present him something even grander.
group clearly divides into two camps: The
elderly widows hold the purse, and the young hipsters hang on. Eyes
closed, they all sit in lotus position, holding their breath and
meditating on Om, the impersonal aspect of God.
contains Om,” Swamiji tells us. “In Bhagavad-gita,
Krishna says that Brahman, the impersonal
brahmajyoti effulgence, is contained in Him. So when we chant Hare
Krishna, we are automatically chanting Om as well.”
night at the ashram, Kirtanananda,
Acyutananda, Brahmananda, Gargamuni, Satsvarupa, Umapati, Stryadhisa,
and I sleep outside in our sleeping bags. I awake three or four times,
and each time I’m flat on my back looking up at the ever shifting star
patterns, my sense of time confused.
before morning, I dream.
I dream of
devotees clustered about an effulgent, golden
personality. His transcendental body, radiating a beauty strange to the
world, captivates everyone. Stunned, I enquire, “Who is he?”
know?” someone says. “That’s Swamiji!”
I look again,
but see no resemblance. The golden person,
seeming no older than twenty, appears to have descended straight from
the Vaikuntha planets.
Swamiji,” I wonder to myself, “why doesn’t he
come to earth like that?”
somewhere within answers: “People would follow
me for my beauty, not my teachings.”
astonishingly enough, I see the radiant
personality turn into Swamiji and then quickly back into the beautiful
demigod. He does this several times, and I watch awestruck.
And I awake
with the dream clear in my mind, more like a
vision than a dream. I feel strangely refreshed, as though bathed in
some unknown balm. Again, I see that the constellations have shifted
and that the dimmer stars have faded into the encroaching dawn.
what I had seen, I recall Swamiji’s saying
that although most dreams are simply functions of the mind, dreams of
the spiritual master are of spiritual significance.
“If the guru
gives instructions in a dream,” he
told me, “the disciple is supposed to follow them.”
Then: “I came
to the West after my spiritual master
repeatedly advised me in a number of dreams.”
I lie still,
watching the now waning stars in the clear
air and thinking about the golden demigod.
begins to break.
Acyutananda, Stryadhisa, and I stand
beside the mansion watching the sun rise gloriously over the mountains,
spreading bursts of purple, gold, and scarlet. The colors reflect in
the lake, a mirror without a ripple. Just as the colors heighten to
their full splendor, we hear a tapping on the window behind us. It is
Swamiji beckoning for us to join him inside for morning kirtan.
very beautiful,” he tells us. “The whole
creation is very grand, but we should not become so attracted to it
that we forget its creator. Here in this world, everyone is enamoured
with the creation, but no one knows the creator.”
We sit on
little cushions beside the living room wall.
To our left, French windows open out on a view of the mountains and the
early morning sun. To our right, another sun: Swamiji. Playing cymbals
that flash in the sunbeams, he leads us in chanting Hare Krishna.
awakes Mishra’s younger disciples. One by
one, they descend the stairs into the living room, sit in lotus
position, and begin deep breathing exercises. Stryadhisa bounds around
the room like an ecstatic kangaroo, his arms flapping in the air.
Acyutananda dances like a tiny dervish. Kirtanananda plays harmonium. Ching
ching ching, the cymbals strike the rhythm.
chanting, the ashram’s president gives
a short talk praising our kirtan as an expression of the
highest types of yoga. The elderly widows enter. Enlivened by
Swamiji’s presence, they begin talking about their mystical experiences.
meditate,” one lady says, “I feel just like a
drop of water entering the great ocean and merging, merging, merging.…
“That is not
correct,” Swamiji says abruptly.
The lady is
jolted out of her rapturous recall.
“When you use
a simile or metaphor,” he continues, “all
the elements should correspond, otherwise it is faulty. First of all, a
drop can never merge with the complete ocean. A drop is eternally a
drop, nothing more. And even if it did somehow manage to merge with the
rest of the water, it can never become everything in the ocean because
it would remain distinct from the great ocean denizens. You cannot deny
that there are great fishes swimming there. So how can you become the
whole ocean and merge with it if you are just a drop? And how can you
know of the inhabitants of the ocean? No. For a simile to be correct,
all elements must correspond. This is a faulty simile used by the
Mayavadis to mislead.”
ladies sit shocked. The drop in the ocean is
one of Mishra’s favorite examples.
bring up a point made by Mishra, Swamiji
attacks. He knows Mishra. He considers his philosophy “disguised
atheism, worse than Buddhism.” To our surprise, as the ladies continue
presenting Mishra’s philosophy, Swamiji begins to shout his rebuttals.
Soon, the ladies lapse into silence. The younger disciples sit in lotus
position and stare at their noses. Our eyes are fixed on Swamiji.
We remain at
Ananda Ashram two days, then return to the
East Side is an Iron Age jolt after the quiet,
autumnal Catskills, but once we are sitting in Swamiji’s room eating
sweetballs and listening to him talk, we forget the environs. Ananda
Ashram may have the splendor of the sun, moon, and stars, but we have
We receive an
invitation from Swami Nikhilananda of the
uptown Ramakrishna Mission. Since Swamiji has referred to Ramakrishna
as “that mad, impotent monk,” I ask whether we should accept.
not? You may go with one other brahmachari
and tell them something of our philosophy.”
and I go, wearing robes. When we enter the
lecture room, Swami Nikhilananda is on stage giving a talk. The
audience consists of elderly ladies and Ivy League young men wearing
suits with vests. Swami Nikhilananda, a trim gentleman in his fifties,
is clean shaved and dressed in a suit. I feel uncomfortably exotic in
my robes, until I see one lady in a sari.
tells us that life is a great play in which
we all have a role as saint, lover, soldier, or thief. Our role really
doesn’t matter. At the end of the play, we all go back stage and shake
hands with the Producer, who congratulates us, more or less, on our
lecture, we’re invited to the salon upstairs.
We decline white wine and coffee.
“Not even a
little coffee?” Nikhilananda asks, surprised.
tea,” I say. He lights up a cigaret. “Nor
smiles. “I see that Swamiji is teaching pure yoga.
This is very difficult for you Westerners, no? Yet he is having some
measure of success, I hear, especially among the young drug addicts. He
is doing good to get them to stop taking LSD and marijuana. You must
sex, meat eating, and gambling,”
Acyutananda says. “Not even eggs.”
Nikhilananda shakes his head. “Well then,
you must tell me how to give up these cigarettes.”
Krishna,” I suggest. “You can’t smoke while
laughs. “Yes, chanting!” He looks at one
of the Yale men. “Maybe you can heat them up some milk,” he says.
Matchless Gifts, we tell Swamiji about our
he says. “Swami means one who can control
the senses, and he wants to know how to stop smoking. So what is this
of his following are old ladies,” I say.
Swamiji laughs. I have seen them. The cheaters
and the cheated. Because they’re just about to die, they take to this yoga
and that, and pay money to some charlatan to teach them all nonsense.
But you can see that none of my disciples are old. The oldest is
twenty-six, twenty-eight. All you young men have your lives before you,
and much energy to spread this movement. This is what is wanted. So
Krishna is sending you to help me. I cannot do it alone. I am old and
may die at any moment, but you are young and full of energy. So don’t
spoil your lives. Take to Krishna consciousness and be happy.”
Swamiji only reads the Vedic literatures, he
sometimes quotes William Cowper (“England, with all thy faults, I love
thee still.”); Samuel Butler (“He that complies against his will, is of
his own opinion still.”); Milton (“Freely we serve, because we freely
love.”); and Shakespeare (“The lunatic, the lover, and the poet, are of
imagination all compact.”). I am surprised therefore when Swamiji calls
the great Bard a mundane poet. Riled, I jump to Shakespeare’s defense.
“When you are
in Krishna consciousness, you can see that
all the great poets and artists are praising the Supreme Personality of
Godhead,” Swamiji says. “All glorious and beautiful things in this
world are coming from just a tiny spark of Krishna’s potencies, and
poets are always writing about these things. So, in that indirect way,
they are praising Krishna. But because they do not know it, they are
not in Krishna consciousness. Our method is to praise Krishna directly.
Shakespeare may be a very great poet by literary standards, but because
he does not praise Krishna directly, we call him mundane.”
often wrote about ghosts,” Stryadhisa says.
“Do they actually exist?”
they are always causing disturbances,” Swamiji
says with such assurance that I expect to see one fly by.
commit suicide become ghosts. It is a very
horrible state. Disembodied. They often look for bodies to inhabit, and
sometimes they inhabit bodies of drunkards. And drunkards sometimes
become ghosts, too. It is a horrible state because ghosts want to be
embodied. And when a person is too much attached to some house or
place, he becomes a ghost just to remain there. But there’s one sure
way to get rid of ghosts. Chant Hare Krishna. Ghosts will not remain
where there is hari-nama.”
artificial philosophy. How will people ever be
equal? In Bhagavad-gita, Krishna says, ‘I instituted the
four castes.’ In every society you have brahmins, kshatriyas,
vaishyas, and sudras. By natural propensity, a man is an
intellectual or priest, soldier, merchant, or worker. These four castes
will always be there in all societies, even in Russia. This is not
caste by birth, but by qualification, by guna, the material
mode predominant in each individual. So Marxist socialism is artificial
because it tries to make everyone equal, and this will never be
possible because individuality is always there. The only real socialism
is Lord Chaitanya’s spiritual socialism. Whether one is man, woman, brahmin,
sudra, Hindu, Moslem, Christian, American, Indian—it doesn’t
matter. Krishna is for everybody.”
government by the people, by the majority. But
if we can expect no good from the majority in this age of Kali, then
what of their government? They will elect rascals, that’s all. The
majority will elect anyone who promises to gratify their senses. What
is required is a Krishna conscious king advised by qualified brahmins.
That is the Vedic way. A spiritual aristocracy. When the leaders are
Krishna conscious, the state functions properly. But materialistic
democracy and socialism or whatever—these become dog-eat-dog societies.”
Umapati and I
are concerned over Swamiji’s attacks on
the Buddhists. Although Gautama Buddha is mentioned in
Srimad-Bhagavatam as an avatar, Swamiji relegates his
gospel to a mere attack on animal slaughter.
came to earth to preach ahimsa,” he
tells us. “Nonviolence. And in order to do this, he had to deny the Vedas
because the Vedas permit animal sacrifice under certain
conditions. So Buddha rejected the Vedas and preached nirvana,
void: Since life is suffering, best to negate everything. Yes, material
life is suffering, but God is not void. God is a person, and human life
is a means for us to awaken our relationship with this Supreme Person.
Therefore we call the Buddhist philosophy atheistic.”
and I return to Mott Street, we discuss
“What of the
eternal and omniscient Tathagatas?”
exist in the realm of nirvana? And
isn’t nirvana emptiness with form?”
about Buddha? Isn’t he worshipped as the
embodiment of the Tathagatas?”
While we are
criticizing Swamiji’s attack on Buddhism,
Kirtanananda comes in and announces that he’s leaving the Swami. “I
just don’t like what’s going on,” he says.
what we were talking about,” Umapati says.
Kirtanananda says, suddenly turning against
us. He had lied just to get our confidence. “Do you think I would ever
leave the Swami? You won’t solve anything by sitting in here
complaining. You have to go and talk to him.”
agreeing, we approach Swamiji in his back
some points we’re having trouble
understanding,” I begin, speaking softly.
“And what is
that?” Swamiji asks, ready for anything. I
feel smaller and smaller.
“Why do you
call the Buddhists atheists?” I manage to
are,” he says.
“But we don’t
understand that,” I persist. “That just
contradicts the Sutras we’ve read.”
“They have no
personal conception of God,” he replies,
“and they deny the Vedas. Therefore they’re atheists.”
satisfy me. It seems an oversimplification.
don’t believe in a Supreme Being or
supreme consciousness behind the universe,” I venture. “As far as I can
see, when Buddha or the Buddhists speak of divine consciousness or the
one mind, they’re speaking about God, and so they can’t properly be
too far. Swamiji suddenly jumps to his feet.
“If I say
they’re atheists, they’re atheists!” he
shouts, pointing to emphasize every word. “They deny Krishna, the
Supreme Personality of Godhead, and they deny the Vedas,
and they reject Vedic culture, and therefore they’re atheists!”
seen him so angry since he yelled at
Kirtanananda. I want to hide under the rug. I fear that if he doesn’t
quiet down, something terrible might happen. And my stupid questions
course,” I quickly agree, trying to rectify my
back behind the footlocker, his fury
seeming to leave as quickly as it came. After a long silence, I suggest
that I thought I had recalled reading certain passages in which Buddha
might have spoken of God.
bring such passages,” he says. “But you will
find that there are none.”
on Mott Street, we thumb through the
Buddhist Sutras without finding any overt mention of God,
at least not in the Vedic sense. God is only vaguely implied by “divine
consciousness” and the “Tathagatas,” which seem to have some attributes
of God. Swamiji’s right. From the Vedic viewpoint, Buddha is certainly
we choose passages that best support our
case and take them to Swamiji.
right,” I begin. “There’s no mention of God.”
“But we found
some passages that imply—”
He shakes his
head, indicating that I’m not to bother.
“A preacher has to attack, he says, ending the discussion.
I feel very
small and very stupid, a dumb oaf before
majesty, a pedantic bookworm before divine grace.
worried about Stryadhisa, who eats only when
prodded. He’s a tall, thin boy, and his self-imposed fast is making him
look like a war prisoner. I figure he’s enjoying a starvation high. He
must be chanting over a hundred rounds a day, and he sleeps no more
than two or three hours. His glazed eyes are sunk in dark caverns.
Chanting rapidly on his beads in a soft voice, he ignores all other
“Why are you
doing this?” Swamiji asks him. “You must
eat more to maintain your health.”
Swamiji,” Stryadhisa says. He bows, goes down to
the temple and eats half a chapati and a couple of spoonfuls of
dal, chanting between bites.
says that this yoga
is not for him who eats too little or too much,” we tell him.
Pretending not to hear, he goes on chanting.
that those who fast too much are demonic,”
Gargamuni tells him.
Krishna,” Stryadhisa says.
take the kingdom of God by storm,”
Krishna, Hare Rama,” Stryadhisa says, his eyes
wide and glassy in his bony face.
A big event!
Larry Bogart, a friend of Swamiji who works
at the United Nations and who helped Swamiji incorporate ISKCON, is
coming to visit, and Swamiji himself helps Kirtanananda and Acyutananda
prepare a special feast.
“No one is to
disturb me now,” he tells Stryadhisa, and
Stryadhisa goes downstairs to sit guard.
Bogart comes a little early, Stryadhisa meets
him at the temple door.
busy right now,” he says. “Maybe you’d like
to come in and wait.”
enters, and Stryadhisa arranges a folding
please take off your shoes?” Stryadhisa
complies. Stryadhisa hands him a copy of “Who
waits patiently for a half hour. Then he
requests Stryadhisa to inform Swamiji that he is waiting. After all,
Mr. Bogart is an important man.
told me that no one is to disturb him,”
him I dropped by,” Mr. Bogart says, putting
on his shoes and leaving.
prepares the feast, he mentions Mr. Bogart’s
tardiness. Finally, as the feast is nearly ready, he tells Kirtanananda
to phone the U.N. to see if he is coming.
enters, chanting furiously.
was in to see you, Swamiji,” he says.
him in,” Swamiji says.
and then left. He told me to tell you.”
“What? He has
been and left? Why didn’t you bring him
“You told me
no one was to disturb you, Swamiji,”
Bogart … a very important gentleman … We were
expecting…” Then Swamiji explodes. “Fool! Stupid! Rascal! Nonsense!”
Swamiji’s chastisement, Stryadhisa is crushed. He
makes a perfunctory bow and runs out.
doesn’t eat for two days. He sits in the
temple corner and chants.
“Tell him he
must eat,” Swamiji says, disturbed.
eat,” we tell Stryadhisa. “Swamiji says.”
Stryadhisa rambles, not even looking up.
maya,” Gargamuni says.
Stryadhisa goes alone to see Swamiji. He asks
for some money. Very little. Only a half dollar.
gasoline, so I can burn myself up.”
Brahmananda, Swamiji tells Stryadhisa to
repeat his request.
Swamiji, “ Stryadhisa says. “It was rather
We confer on
what to do. In Vietnam, Buddhist monks are
daily burning themselves up like matchsticks. All we need to close us
down is a Second Avenue incineration. And Swamiji would surely be
phone Stryadhisa’s mother, who comes and
takes him home.
quite know what to make of all this. Stryadhisa
was certainly chanting enough.
take the kingdom of God by storm,”
Swamiji,” Gargamuni says, scooping up
another sweetball. “He wouldn’t eat.”
mention Stryadhisa again. We know that for
Swamiji, it is like losing a son.
evening, sitting on a little bench out in the
courtyard, Swamiji tells us that if he could just make one person
Krishna conscious, he would consider his mission successful.
people are coming to the kirtans
because we are getting some notice in the papers,” he says. “But
because I do not lie to them and tell them they can be Krishna
conscious while having sense gratification, they go away. What am I to
do? Change Krishna’s message to suit Americans? That cannot be done. It
is not my message to change. I can only deliver it as it is. If I have
to sit under a tree with just one sincere disciple, that will be all
right. We do not require many stars. just one moon. One moon will light
up the sky.“
We all look
at one another, each of us yearning to be a
moon for Swamiji. But the dark clouds of ignorance and forgetfulness
are hard to disperse.
“Do you ever
think of returning to Vrindaban, Swamiji?”
“My heart is
always hankering after that Vrindaban,” he
says, smiling. “Even though I am sitting in New York, a magnificent
city, the world’s greatest city, I shall be very happy to return to my
Vrindaban, that sacred place. Of course, if someone asks, ‘Then why are
you here?’ I must say that it is my duty. I have brought some message
for you people. My Guru Maharaj has ordered me, ‘Whatever you have
learned, whatever knowledge you have, you should go to the Western
countries and distribute It.’ So, in spite of all difficulties, I am
here. If I go and sit down in Vrindaban, I would be very comfortable
there and have no anxiety. But I have taken these risks in old age
because I am duty bound. In spite of all inconveniences, I have to
execute my duty. That is the basic principle for advancement of
someday you can take us to Vrindaban,”
Klirtanananda suggests. “We would all like to go there with you.”
Swamiji laughs. “You will like it there. In time,
we will go , But actually we are already residing in Vrindaban, the
place of Krishna. Now I am in America, but this does not mean that I am
out of Vrindaban. If we think of Krishna always, we are always in
Vrindaban. In New York, I am still in Vrindaban because my
consciousness is there. Krishna consciousness means living with Krishna
in that spiritual planet, Goloka Vrindaban. You simply have to wait to
give up this body. That is the process. Ananya-chetah satatam yo
mam smarati nityasah. For one who remembers Krishna, Krishna
becomes a very cheap commodity. ‘Oh, I am very cheap for the devotees,’
Krishna says. The greatest, most valuable thing becomes cheap for one
who takes to Krishna consciousness. Tasyaham sulabhah partha
nitya-yuktasya yoginah: ‘Because My devotee is continually
engaged in bhakti-yoga, I am easily available.
pauses a moment and looks at us. “Of course, you
may think it is sometimes not so easy,” he says, reading our thoughts
and smiling. “Sometimes, when the moon is covered by clouds, we think
it is not there because everything is dark. But when the clouds pass,
we see that the moon has been there all the time, shining in all its
brightness. This Krishna consciousness movement is that benediction
moon, shining through the clouds of Kali-yuga.”