this story to a friend
Part II: San Francisco, 1967
By Hayagriva das
Mad After Krishna
Park is redolent with March flowers. The morning fog disperses early,
and the days are cloudless and blue. Thousands continue to flock to San
Francisco from the midwest and east, and our Sunday kirtans
attract big crowds.
always a day for strolling in the park, and as soon as we start ringing
cymbals and chanting, people follow. Christian, Moslem, Jewish,
Buddhist and ISKCON banners, flying from long poles, proclaim our
ecumenism. We stake these in the field below Hippy Hill and set up the
kettledrum. Haridas, Mukunda, Shyamasundar, Subal, and Upendra sit in a
circle on the grass. We beat the rhythm slowly on the kettledrum, the
cymbals clash, and the kelp horn announces the beginning of kirtan.
chant about an hour, Swamiji walks over from his apartment and enters
the center of the circle, clapping his hands and dancing, appearing
wonderfully bright in his saffron robes. He leads the chanting, playing
his own personal set of cymbals, a large pair with slightly flared rims
that resonate loudly. Although he is a half century older than everyone
around him, his presence is dynamically youthful. As the kirtan
soars, Swamiji is a child amongst children, dancing with hands upraised
to the blue sky, placing one foot before the other, dipping slightly,
encouraging everyone to dance.
something remarkable happens.
The boys and
girls clasp hands and form a large circle around us. Another circle
encloses this circle, and suddenly Swamiji is in the center of two
circles of dancing, chanting youths. As the rhythm increases, the
circles begin to move more rapidly in opposite directions, everyone
holding on tightly, arms and hands joined, the circles jerking and
bouncing like great wheels rolling out of control, everyone short of
breath, laughing and trying to chant.
urges us on.
Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.”
circles rotate, around us pass kaleidoscopic images: pennants, bongos,
guitars, horns, cymbals, harmonium, sitars, tambourines, flutes, happy
faces, silver stars, dazzling sun, crescent moon, children, grass,
flowers, barking dogs, the ka-whoom of timpani, and Swamiji, dancing
gloriously in the middle.
those boys and girls were dancing in the park this afternoon,” Swamiji
tells us later, “that is the way Krishna was dancing the rasa-lila.
Because every gopi wanted to dance with Him, Krishna multiplied
Himself and danced like that in a circle beside each gopi, and
each and every gopi thought that Krishna was hers.“
Sunday park kirtans, we return to the temple for the four
o’clock feast. Usually people stand outside waiting with paper plates;
inside, it is always packed. We receive little money from donations,
but Harsharani always manages to prepare enough kitri and halava.
often have difficulty serving everyone before people return for
seconds. I usually take my plate outside just to breathe fresh air.
Indians (from India) sometimes visit and stare in amazement at the
hippies accepting a culture that they themselves have rejected.
Do you know
who is the first
Eternal spaceman of this universe?
The first to send his wild vibrations
To all the cosmic super-stations?
For the song he always shouts
Sends the planets flipping out.
He sings to Virgo and the Pleiades,
For he can travel where he pleases…
But I’ll tell you before you think me loony,
That I’m talking about Narada Muni.
never stays any place longer than it takes to milk a cow,” Swamiji
tells us. “He carries a vina and is always chanting Hare
Krishna all over the universe. He is the first class, topmost devotee.”
this roving Vaishnava, Mukunda and I write a song that Swamiji
Muni, eternal spaceman,
Can travel much further than spaceships can,
Spreading sounds of love and joy vibrations
To all the cosmic incarnations,
Singing with bliss upon his vina,
The whole cosmos is his arena.
…Singing,“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare,
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
At this time,
a shipment of cymbals and mridangas—the Bengali clay
drums—arrives by air from India, ordered express by Swamiji, who
inspects every box carefully while unpacking.
were designed by Lord Chaitanya Himself,” he tells us. “They are meant
especially for this sankirtan movement. And they give the
sweetest sound, a sound that can be produced by no other drum, with no
other material, because they are transcendental.”
unpacks each mridanga, brushing off the excelsior, and inspects
the straps and heads minutely. When he plays one at kirtan, we
all instantly understand that a new and supramundane element has been
mridanga punctuates each Hare Krishna with an echo sounding like a
soul calling out for deliverance.
Swamiji begins to teach Mukunda to play. “Tee-ka tee-ka tee.
Teo-ti-nak-tah, de tah de ta TAH.”
Because it is
a simple rhythm, one is tempted to speed up too soon.
says. “Slowly. Very slowly at first. You must play slowly and listen to
No one really
masters mridanga. We all fumble in our own ways; only Swamiji
can play it properly.
evenings, we go to the beach with Swamiji and hold unforgettable
Pacific Ocean sunset kirtans. Sitting on the sand, we watch the
tide roll in, or chant and wait for the sun to dip below the horizon.
means calm,” Swamiji says. “That is because it is so big and great.
When something is so great, it will naturally be calm because it has
nothing to fear.”
builds a fire beside a sand dune, and we dance and chant around it.
Swamiji wears a scarf about his head, an old overcoat, and claps his
hands and chants, “Govinda jai jai, Gopala jai jai, Radharamana Hari,
Govinda jai jai.“
in a circle, we dance about the fire. Mukunda, Janaki, Shyamasundar,
Malati, and Haridas play cymbals and tambourines. I play trumpet.
Swamiji also dances, sometimes raising his arms in the air, sometimes
clapping. As the stars begin to shine bright over the Pacific, and the
foam and spindrift of waves recede in the dark, we sing “Narada Muni.”
write more such songs,” Swamiji tells us, “songs praising the acharyas,
great saintly persons. The
bhakta in love with God wants to sing to Him and His
representatives. And Hare Krishna, of all songs, is the supreme. It is
the call of a child for his father, a call of pure love. Oh, there are
many songs in the Vaishnava tradition, songs of Bhaktivinode Thakur,
and songs of Mirabai.“
chanting, we roast potatoes and smear them with melted butter. Swamiji
eats with us, sitting on a big log. And after potatoes, we roast
marshmallows, and red apples stuffed with raisins and brown sugar.
As Orion and
the Big Dipper shine brightly and the waves crash in the dark, we
gather about the fire for warmth, and one last Hare Krishna. After
this, we bow down on the sands, and Swamiji acclaims, All glories to
the assembled devotees! All glories to the assembled devotees! All
glories to the Pacific Ocean!”
And we all
laugh, Swamiji the loudest.
marshmallows have eggs in them?” Kirtanananda writes upon hearing.
initial difficulties, Kirtanananda opens a temple on Avenue du Parc in
Montreal. ISKCON now has three temples. Swamiji considers Montreal
auspicious because of the International Exposition there.
Kirtanananda arrived, the temple was an abandoned bowling alley. He was
helped by Janardan, who has been claiming wide interest amongst
discontented French Catholics.
Kirtanananda mails us a feature article in Montreal’s Le Nouveau
Samedi. Headlines, in French: “THEY CLAIM THAT THE HINDU GOD
KRISHNA IS THE FATHER OF JESUS CHRIST AND THAT THE INHABITANTS OF THE
MOON ARE INVISIBLE.”
they are invisible?” Swamiji asks. “In the Vedas, the
moon is considered a higher planet. There are demigods dwelling there
for thousands of years, and there they drink soma. You cannot
go there by artificial means, by rocket or space suit. No. You must
qualify to receive the proper body to take birth among the demigods.”
maintains the Vedic view before the smiling French Catholics,
dismissing Copernicus and Newton as mere material scientists bewildered
by a mechanical universe.
writes that he is managing to pay the rent by holding rock dances in
the bowling alley and taking in some boarders. Since he questioned the
propriety of marshmallows, I ask about holding such dances in the
would be no temple without money,” he writes. “Besides, the mantra
is an integral part of the dance, and the Vishnu altar is well lit with
many candles and incense. Altogether the atmosphere is really magical,
and I think it will even improve. The bands are most enthusiastic, and
though they have yet to perfect a good mantra rock style, I
think they will.”
father of Christ. Invisible moon men. Mantra rock. The Montreal temple
is off to a good start.
Krishna the eighth incarnation of Vishnu?” someone asks during a
the original Personality of Godhead,” Swamiji says. “By Vishnu, we mean
Krishna. The four-armed Vishnu form is a special form manifested by
Krishna. Brahma creates, Vishnu maintains, and Shiva destroys. These
are all aspects of Krishna. But Krishna Himself has nothing to do but
enjoy. Therefore we see Him dancing with the gopis, in pure,
blissful, eternal pastimes.”
“He is also
the Supreme Lord, an expansion of Krishna who defeated the demon
Ravana. Hanuman was His servant, a monkey servant, who utilized his
wrath against Ravana. But when we chant Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, we do
not refer to this Rama but to Balarama, Krishna’s brother and His first
expansion. ‘Hare’ refers to Radharani.”
“And why is
Krishna’s spiritual pleasure potency. It is not that Krishna is alone.
He is always with His beloved, the most elevated of the gopis.
When Krishna enjoys Himself, He expands as Radha-Krishna. Here in the
material world, what we call sex life is a perverted reflection of that
enjoyment potency. We should not consider Radha-Krishna in that light.
That is an offensive mistake.”
the demigods?” someone asks. “According to Bhagavad-gita,
by sacrificing to the demigods, man will receive all necessities.
India, where these demigods are honored, people are poverty-stricken.
But here, no one believes in them, but there is plenty for all.“
A ripple of
laughter. Swamiji looks around, inviting more questions.
there is no need to worship the demigods separately, he adds. “Since
Krishna is the origin of the demigods, we worship Him, and the demigods
are automatically satisfied. Demigods are generally worshipped by the
less intelligent. ‘Those who worship the demigods go to the demigods,’
Krishna says. But that is a temporary situation. The devotees worship
Krishna and reach His supreme, eternal planet. India is in difficulty
now because we are turning from our Vedic culture and worshipping
Western technology. But you should also understand that your present
prosperity is due to pious activities in previous lives. There is a
point where the fruits of these activities run out.
visiting the Frederick Street temple tell us that they’ve never seen
such fiery, enthusiastic kirtans in India—nay, not anywhere
else in the world. A combination of magic elements is at work. First of
all, Swamiji’s presence. But remarkably enough, his presence is felt
even when he does not descend but stays in his upstairs apartment
writing his books. The unison kirtans intensify as new
instruments are added—flutes and tenor sax, trumpets and kettledrum,
cymbals and kelp horn, tambourines, mridangas, guitars and
bongos, sitars and castanets. Often we join hands and dance around the
walls of the temple, bounding on the floor and daring it to collapse. Kirtan
always begins with a rousing Hare Krishna. Then, after Swamiji’s
lecture, we chant “Gopala, Gopala, Devakinandana Gopala.” We first
heard this mantra sung by poet Ginsberg, and for a week Swamiji
tolerates it. Then he calls me in.
“That is not
a valid Vaishnava mantra,” he tells me. “You may change
Devaki’s name for Yasoda’s. Yasoda and not Devaki is accepted as
Krishna’s real mother because those matya-rasa pastimes were
carried on with her. But best not to chant that mantra at all
because it’s not authorized.“
on some variety, we chant “Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram.“
Krishna is worth two thousand Jai Ram’s,” Swamiji remarks. “So why are
you wasting time?”
and Thursday evenings, Mukunda gives music lessons, teaching different
melodies for Hare Krishna. And there’s also “Govinda jai jai, Gopala
jai jai, Radharamana Hari, Govinda jai jai,” which Swamiji sings so
beautifully at kirtan and upstairs alone, playing harmonium,
his voice full of devotion, alone with all the time in the world, time
no more a factor than space.
Even on the
nights that he does not descend, he listens to the kirtans in
his room. Afterwards, he smiles and asks, “It was a good kirtan,
yes? The hippies? They are appreciating? Yes, if they take up this Hare
Krishna, they will become transformed. And they will transform the
world. America is such a powerful country that all the world is
imitating. So just take up this chanting, make your country Krishna
conscious, and all the world will follow.”
Not all our
members are hippies or renegades from the hippy movement. There’s Jim,
the taxi driver, a very quiet, self-controlled young man who had gone
to Ohio State University.
my cab, I was getting these headaches,” he tells Swamiji. “I’d get real
nervous driving. But then I started chanting Hare Krishna, and now the
traffic doesn’t bother me at all.”
initiation and is renamed Jayananda Das. He continues driving his taxi,
chants japa intensely, donates money to the temple, and
contributes every spare minute to Swamiji.
non-hippy member is Mr. Morton, who is just completing his law degree.
He’s a little older than most devotees and seems to feel out of place,
but he continues attending, often wearing a hangdog expression because
he worries about his home life.
Morton. He can’t tear himself away from the chanting. Yet back home
there’s the wife and kids, and the wife disapproves of his consorting
with hippy cults. She also keeps reminding him that in the fall, they
have to return to Omaha to set up law practise.
buys big, red beads and strings them. He wears them around his neck and
chants sixteen rounds daily. At kirtan
, he stands in the middle of the temple, swaying back and forth, eyes
closed, beatific smile, enraptured.
“There is no
problem,” Swamiji tells him. “You can be a lawyer for Krishna. You can
be anything. But do it for Krishna. That’s bhakti-yoga.“
dons his hangdog expression again.
wife,” he says. “She’s already threatening to divorce me. And she
refuses to stop cooking meat.”
“Bring her to
kirtan,” Swamiji tells him.
He does. She
leaves after two minutes.
stays with the temple until his career and wife finally pull him away
remember these as the happiest days in his life,” I tell Haridas. “And
he’ll always wonder why.”
Then I stop,
hesitate, and think sadly that the same is possibly no less true for
myself. For all of us.
I got those
Thinking, Good or bad? Win or lose?
All that smokin’ and takin’ meth,
Just turn the wheel of birth and death.
I’ll never attain liberation
By mere sense gratification.
LSD and marijuana
just won’t get me to nirvana.
And meditatin’ on the void,
Only gets me paranoid.
Remembering I’m not this body,
I tell her that I’m brahmachari.
So forget that Uncle Sam thing,
Just keep chanting, chanting, chanting.
…Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.
In material entanglement, what calms me?
Why, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
Krishna, chase away those Samsara Blues!
statement written by Haridas. For us, there is always the
lure of sex, milkshakes and chocolate bars, doughnuts, frivolous games,
Bach and Mozart, rock and roll, poetry and novels, travel, pot, peyote
and acid, and long, aimless talks over coffee or a glass of beer. Are
these forever to be denied?
somewhat older—late twenties and early thirties—Haridas, myself and a
few others marvel over the apparent ease with which teenagers renounce
these common drives, inebriants, habits. “Maya is but Krishna’s
smile,” I try to remember.
“It should be
easier for you,” the younger members say. “You’ve been partying since
1958. We’ve hardly had a taste.”
supports another viewpoint.
“Best to be
trained up brahmachari from the beginning,” he says. “It’s
easier to renounce what you have never tasted. Once you are habituated
to intoxication, sex, gambling, meat eating, or whatever, it is very
difficult to give them up. Habits are hard to break. The urge for sense
enjoyment is the very cause of our conditioning. We forget that our
real enjoyment is in serving Krishna, and in being enjoyed by Him. In
ignorance, we become habituated to so many undesirable things. Now our
younger members are finding it easier to give up so much because
they’ve not had the chance to become addicted. But even addicted, you
reach a point where you see that there’s no happiness in sense
gratification. Frustrated by maya, you may turn toward Krishna.
But that is not the desirable road. The best way is not to forget
Krishna for a moment.”
says that 'all roads lead to Me',” someone says.
He say that?” Swamiji demands.
translation of the “roads” verse from Bhagavad-gita is
precise: “All of them—as they surrender unto Me—I reward accordingly.
Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pritha.”
not mean that all roads lead to the same place,” he tells us. “Yes,
they are all Krishna’s roads, just as all the roads in America belong
to the government. But is that to say that all roads lead to San
Francisco? The devotees attain the person Krishna, and the
impersonalists attain the Brahman effulgence that emanates from
Krishna. The roads are all Krishna’s, but the goals are not the same.
In the material universe there are 8,400,000 species of life and roads
leading to each of them. They are all Krishna’s roads because He is the
Father of all living entities. But does this mean that we aspire to be
a cat or dog? Our aim should be to serve Krishna, that’s all. We do not
aspire to be demigods or whatever. Lord Chaitanya had but one request:
causeless devotional service life after life, regardless of the type of
body. Hanuman served Lord Rama very well in a monkey body.”
Yet many of
us stumble on the road of Krishna consciousness and fall back into our
old ways. How can we channel everything to the person Krishna? There’s
music, fast cars, intoxicants, and golden California lasses calling,
“Fun, fun, fun!”
Prabhupada tells the story of a young prince who became attracted by a
beautiful girl who happened to be a devotee. Just by seeing this girl
once, the prince fell in love with her and made arrangements with her
father for marriage. But since the girl was devoted to Krishna, she
refused him. “Oh, your beauty has captivated me,” the prince said. “If
I cannot have it, I will kill myself” Understanding the situation, the
girl said, “Come back in two weeks, and my beauty will be yours.” The
prince went away, but when he returned after two weeks, he hardly
recognized the young girl. Because she had taken a very strong
purgative that had flushed her body of all liquids, she was shrivelled
and emaciated like an old hag. “You want my beauty?” she asked the
horrified prince. “You will find it there in the corner.” And she
pointed to a pot full of stool and vomit. “There is the beauty you
desired,” she said. “Take it and be happy.”
automatically turns to admire a pretty girl.
a combination of blood, pus, and stool,” I remind him. “Of bile, urine,
flesh, phlegm, bone, and guts.”
says, “but it’s all in the right place.”
“Miss Maya is
so strong,” Swamiji tells us, “that when she sees you trying to become
Krishna conscious, she’ll knock you down.” He shakes his head and
smiles, as if facing an unconquerable foe. “She is so strong, and we
are so weak. Like fire and butter. We should never think that we are
stronger than Maya. We have only one recourse Hare Krishna. When
Mayadevi attacks, we must cry, ‘Krishna! Krishna! Please save me!’
Since only Krishna is stronger than maya, only Krishna can
protect us. When the pure devotee conquers Krishna through love, then
Mayadevi stands before the devotee and says, ‘How may I serve you?’
Only then does maya cease to be a foe. Only then is maya seen
as Krishna’s smile.“
It seems that
the girls have less trouble surrendering. They just throw themselves
in, crying, “Krishna! Krishna!”
soft-hearted,” Swamiji says, “but unfortunately they are fickle, too.
They are quick to accept and reject. They come to Krishna consciousness
quickly, out of sentiment, and then some boy comes along, and they
reject everything. Men are not so quick to accept, but once they have
accepted, they are more reluctant to reject. So the male is considered
a higher birth because a man is more likely to understand Krishna
consciousness and therefore remain steady. In Vedic culture, the woman
is considered weak. Soft-hearted. She should be protected, not given
freedom to roam about, like in this country. Therefore we are marrying
our girls to nice Krishna conscious boys.”
suggests that perhaps it is easier for girls to surrender to a male God.
“That is a
material consideration,” Swamiji says, “because the soul is neither
male nor female. All-attractive means that Krishna attracts all. But
Krishna is always the male, the enjoyer, and in respect to Him, the jiva-atma,
or individual soul, is always female, the enjoyed. When the female
attempts to imitate the male, the result is topsy-turvy, is it not?
of Krishna consciousness, the conditioned soul is enjoy-less. Lots of
zeros add up to zero. We must put the one before the zeros. Krishna is
the missing one giving joy to all the infinite zeros. ‘Aham
bija-pradah pita.’ I am the seed-giving father.”
columnist from The San Francisco Chronicle interviews
Malati and her “gopis.” “These
gopis,” the columnist writes, “are cowherd girls. They wear saris
and will be glad to perform kirtan anywhere.”
the lady’s column is widely read. We are bombarded by phone calls from
socialites who want Malati and her
gopis to perform in their homes. When we are invited by one of the
richest families in San Francisco, the Thompsons, Malati accepts.
that since it appears a ladies’ affair, she can take the gopis
herself, but Malati informs me that the girls are afraid to go alone.
Somehow twelve of us manage to pile into Shyamasundar’s old Chevy. En
route, we’re pulled over and ticketed for an overloaded vehicle.
We’re met at
the door by bewildered servants; the columnist had written nothing
about the male hippies accompanying the female gopis. There’s
much scurrying about and whispering amongst the Thompsons and their
servants before we’re allowed in.
beginning, the evening is disastrous for everyone. It seems that we
were invited to a party of wealthy, drunken, middle-aged socialites
mainly to entertain while the rock and roll band refurbished their
what to do, I give a little talk about Swamiji’ s mission in America,
his founding of ISKCON and the New York and Frederick Street temples,
and the meaning and purpose of the mantra. We then start
chanting, but after a minute
we’re interrupted by a drunk and belligerent old man.
are too drunk to be embarrassed. Mrs. Thompson gives Malati a hundred
dollar donation, telling her that everyone appreciates “the good work
you’re doing, reforming the drug addicts down there.” We then fold up
the harmonium, gather our cymbals and leave quickly.
not chant or explain the mantra before such people,” Swamiji
tells us afterwards. “Actually, Krishna tells Arjuna that Bhagavad-gita
should be explained only to the pious. Of course, now in Kali-yuga
people are mostly in passion and ignorance, so if we preach just to the
pious, we’ll have no audience. It is Lord Chaitanya’s desire that this
chanting be preached in every village in the world, and His desire is
the purpose of ISKCON. So we are preaching to the hippies. But we need
not attend the parties of drunkards.”
me into his room. I bow and sit facing him, sensing something special.
thinking it will be nice if you write a play about Lord Chaitanya,”
he tells me. “I will give you the whole plot complete. Then all you
will have to do is execute it.”
For two days,
I sit in Swamiji’s room listening to his account of the life of Lord
Chaitanya. At this time, Swamiji is also lecturing on the Chaitanya-charitamrita.
There is also a translation of Chaitanya-charitamrita
going about, translated by Nagendra Kumar Roy. Swamiji reads a bit of
this translation and quickly finds a discrepancy. It is over one word,
“rheumatism,” which has been translated incorrectly from the Bengali.
Swamiji immediately brands Mr. Kumar Roy a sentimentalist. The
translation is inaccurate. Throw it out.
“I will give
you all you need to know,” he tells me.
I tape record
the outline and interrupt only when the action isn’t clear.
On the second
day, Swamiji tells of the passing of Haridas Thakur, one of Lord
Chaitanya’s principal disciples. Recounting the details, Swamiji
becomes strangely indrawn, as if it were all happening before him.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited Haridas on the last day of Haridas’s
life,” Swamiji says, “the Lord asked, ‘Haridas, what do you desire?’
They both could understand. Haridas said, ‘It is my last day. If You
would kindly stand before me…’” Swamiji suddenly falls silent a moment
and looks down at his hands. “So Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stood before
him,” he continues, speaking softly, his eyes filling with tears. “And
Haridas left his body.”
sits there crying silently within. It is a silence I can hear above the
street noises and hum of the tape recorder. I stare at the floor, then
look up, embarrassed, feeling I shouldn’t be in the room. As I begin to
ask a question, Swamiji again speaks.
departure,” he says, “the body was taken by the Lord to the seashore,
and the devotees dug his grave, which is still there, Haridas Thakur’s samadhi.
And Chaitanya Mahaprabhu took up the dead body and began to dance with
the body at kirtan. Thus Haridas’s funeral ceremony was
conducted by the Lord Himself.“
continues outlining the play as though nothing had happened, his
sudden, silent weeping passing with the wind.
write on the Lord Chaitanya play through the spring days, my primary
service is helping Swamiji with
Bhagavad-gita. He continues translating, hurrying to complete
the manuscript but still annotating each verse thoroughly in his
purports. Daily, I consult him to make certain that the translation of
each verse precisely coincides with the meaning he wants to relate.
“Edit for force and clarity,” he tells me. “By Krishna’s grace, you are
a qualified English professor. You know how grammatical mistakes will
discredit us with scholars. I want them to appreciate this Bhagavad-gita
as the definitive edition. All the others try to take credit away from
I am swamped
with editing. Since much of the text is equivocal due to grammar, I
find myself consulting Swamiji on nearly every verse. It seems that in
Sanskrit, Hindi, and Bengali, phrase is tacked onto phrase until the
original subject is lost.
No one has
yet asked Swamiji the language in which he thinks. Bengali, I presume,
but for all I know it may be Hindi or Sanskrit. He often says that
Sanskrit is the language of the demigods, the original language, and
that all other languages descend from it. Indeed, it was the very
language used by Krishna when He spoke Bhagavad-gita
millions of years ago to the sun god Vivasvan, and then five thousand
years ago to Arjuna at Kurukshetra. All seven hundred verses sung in
sweeps away archeological and philological pronouncements with a
disdainful sweep of his hand.
“What do they
know? Great civilizations were existing on this earth hundreds of
thousands of years ago. They are thinking that everything begins with
them, with cavemen or monkeys. But in ages past, Maharaj Bharat ruled
the entire world, and there were great civilizations everywhere. Who
can deny that Sanskrit is the mother of languages? So-called scholars
are simply concocting nonsense, proposing theories. Their business is:
‘You propose a theory, and I propose a greater theory.’ But Bhagavad-gita
is not theory. It is fact. Therefore I am presenting it as it is. Not
as it seems to me, but as it is spoken. Radhakrishnan says that we are
not to worship the person Krishna, and Gandhi says that Kurukshetra is
a symbol for this or that, but these are all opinions. Mental
speculations. To expose them, we must quickly publish Bhagavad-gita
As It Is. Someone has told me that the purports are very
lengthy, but that is the Vaishnava tradition—constantly expanding. The
purports are intended to bring the meaning back to Krishna, to rectify
the mischief done by these rascal commentators. Factually, this is the
only authorized translation. So I am eager to see our Bhagavad-gita
In New York,
Brahmananda continues negotiations with publishers. Swamiji consults
more private printers in San Francisco. Since it is turning into such a
lengthy book, it will be expensive. Swamiji also wants to include the
Sanskrit Devanagari, which will cost extra. Prices are way out of our
reach. We are still trying to scrape together rent for the temple and
Swamiji’s apartment. In New York, it’s the same. And Kirtanananda might
get kicked out of the bowling alley any day. None of us really wants to
count the assets of the International Society for Krishna
Consciousness. Really, we have only one asset—His Divine Grace himself.
Swamiji has been discussing Srimad-Bhagavatam. His
lecture ends, and he asks for questions. No one speaks, and he asks
again and waits.
be questions,” he says.
timidly raises her hand, and Swamiji acknowledges her.
explain about Lord Chaitanya asking the whereabouts of Krishna in the
forest? Or would that not be a good thing to discuss?”
Swamiji says happily. “Very nice. Your question is very nice. I’m very
glad. Lord Chaitanya was the greatest devotee of Krishna, and we should
think about His life. He never said, ‘I have seen Krishna,’ but He was
mad after Krishna.” Swamiji stresses the word “mad,” prolonging the
single syllable until we have visions of Lord Chaitanya dancing and
trembling in ecstasy. “He was always thinkng, ‘When shall I see
Krishna? Where is Krishna? Where is Krishna?’ He was so mad after
Krishna. And that is the main point of Chaitanya philosophy. This is
called worship in separation. The devotee thinks, ‘Krishna, You are so
wonderful, and I am such a fool and rascal that I cannot see You. I
have no qualification to see You.’ In this way, we should feel the
separation of Krishna, and these feelings will enrich us in Krishna
consciousness. It’s not, ‘Krishna, I’ve seen You. Finished.’ No.
Perpetually think of yourself as unfit to see Krishna. That will enrich
thoughtfully and looks at each of us. We do not speak, nor do our eyes
continues, “when Krishna left Vrindaban for His father’s place,
Radharani was feeling in that way, always mad after Krishna. So
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu displayed these feelings of Radharani, and we
should understand that this is the best way for worshipping Krishna and
becoming Krishna conscious.”
again, waits, thinking, then goes on.
that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu threw Himself in the sea, crying, ‘Krishna,
are You here? Krishna, are You there?’ And Lord Chaitanya’s direct
disciples, the Goswamis, Rupa and Sanatan Goswami, also worshipped
Krishna in that feeling of separation. There is one nice verse about
He begins to
chant ecstatically, his voice rich and full.
radhe vraja-devike cha lalite he nanda-suno kutah
sri-govardhana-kalpa-padapa-tale kalindi-vanye kutah
ghosantav iti sarvato vraja-pure khedair maha-vihvalau
vande rupa-sanatanau raghu-yugau sri-jiva-gopalakau.
“I offer my
respectful obeisances to the six Goswamis—Srila Rupa Goswami, Sri
Sanatana Goswami, Sri Raghunatha-bhatta Goswami, Sri Raghunatha-dasa
Goswami, Sri Jiva Goswarm and Sri Gopala-bhatta Goswami—who were
chanting very loudly everywhere in Vrindaban, shouting, ‘O Queen of
Vrindaban, Radharani! O Lalita! O son of Nanda Maharaj! Where are You
now? Are You on Govardhan hill, or under the trees on the Yamuna’s
banks? Where are You?’ These were their moods in Krishna consciousness.“
closes his eyes, then speaks again.
when the Goswamis were very mature in devotional service, they were
daily going about Vrindaban, just like madmen, crying, ‘Krishna, where
Swamiji says no more but sits cross-legged on the dais, hands folded,
eyes closed in sudden, unexpected, rapt meditation. It’s as though he’s
been struck by a bolt from the blue. As we sit watching him, we all
suddenly feel an electric, vibrant stillness settling over the temple.
This is something very unusual, we all sense, yet dare not speak, dare
not look at one another, dare not take our eyes from him. Perceivable
spiritual phenomenon! We can actually see him withdraw deep within
himself and leave the body, the temple, the city, the world far behind,
so deep is his communion. We bathe in this intense silence for only
three or four minutes, but, as in earthquakes, those minutes seem
eternal for us all. But unlike earthquakes, there is no tumult. Just an
awesome stillness prolonging those minutes more than tumult ever could.
We see his
consciousness return to his body. He clears his throat, slowly opens
his eyes, and reaches for the cymbals beside him.
“Let us have kirtan,”
he says quietly, and begins chanting “Govinda Jai Jai".
Subal runs up to me, his blue eyes popping.
“Did you see
that? Did you see it?”
We all begin
speculating on what had happened. We call it “the samadhi
lecture.” It’s the subject of whispered conversation for days.
It looks as
though Mr. Payne, the real estate agent, absconded with the $5,000
temple deposit. Swamiji talks to Brahmananda long distance.
Goldsmith, our lawyer,” he tells him. “We must retrieve the money.”
admits that it is his fault; he gave Mr. Payne the money without a
proper contract. Suddenly he must pay the balance or lose the $5,000.
boys have been tricked,” Swamiji says. Then he shakes his head. “Money
is such a thing! Once money is out of your hand...” He waves his hand
in the air, as if flicking off water. Then he laughs. “It’s gone.”
among other matters, presses Swamiji to return to New York.
Unfortunately, Mukunda has only one speaking engagement for him at
Berkeley, April 6. Beyond that, nothing. Brahmananda writes of scores
of engagements lined up in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. And
there’s the new Montreal temple to visit.
Brahmananda can arrange for me to speak to your President Johnson,”
Swamiji laughs. “That is very difficult, no? And yet people are talking
of speaking to God. What does a man think he is that God should come
before him? And rascals are saying, ‘I am God.‘"
mails a tape recording of all the New York devotees telling Swamiji how
much they miss him. It is a desperate plea for him to return. Mukunda
and I flinch as Swamiii listens sympathetically.
Brahmananda’s plot to get him back,” I tell Mukunda afterwards.
evening, Swamiji informs us that he is flying to New York April 9. Make
A bread truck
passes down Frederick Street and turns up Stanyan. Swamiji sees it from
his apartment window. “Simply Delicious!” is painted in large letters
on the bread truck.
laughs. “Simply dangerous,” he says. “This material world is simply
dangerous. Death is always standing beside us, waiting. For the
nondevotee, Krishna comes as death. But for the devotee, death comes as
April 6: The
Pauley Ballroom on the University of California’s Berkeley campus,
center of student Vietnam war resistance. About five hundred students
come to hear Swamiji discuss the nature of the soul and give his peace
The format is
the same as always—chanting, lecture, question period, more chanting. A
very loquacious, effeminate Negro dominates the question period.
what’s my name?” he asks.
cannot see him; he’s just a voice in the crowd.
“Your name is
Krishna-das, he says.
relation to Krishna, it’s our constitutional duty to serve. The fingers
serve the hand; the parts serve the whole. As eternal parts of Krishna,
it’s our duty to serve. But how? That you must find out.”
“But I’m not
“Then you are
serving maya. But serve you must.”
Swamiji says patiently. “You serve your senses. Your tongue says, ‘Take
this nice food,’ and you eat. The eyes say, ‘See this nice girl,’ and
you look. So how are you not servant?”
serve. Either maya or Krishna. If you master your senses, you become
goswami. And with purified senses, you can serve Krishna. That is your
serve at all? Why all this emphasis on service in the first place?”
is our nature to want to serve someone we love. We want to do something
for our beloved. Is that not natural?”
“Yes. I guess
You must know. If love for a person is there, some form of service
follows. It must! That is our happiness, that service, our eternal
happiness. Therefore we must cultivate love for Krishna.“
join in the chanting but afterwards leave the auditorium shaking their
heads. They are skeptical. For them, Vietnam is life’s main problem,
the only thorn in the side of happiness. So how is Hare Krishna really
going to end the Vietnam war?
always going on. In Kali-yuga, men fight over nothing,” Swamiji says.
coverage of the meeting is most offensive. A Berkeley Barb
reporter writes that “the female devotees in their exotic costumes
reminded me of harem dancers from a forgotten Hollywood epic.” The
reporter also admits spending most of his time watching “a decidedly
uninhibited young lady successfully levitate her miniskirt by means of
vigorously erotic calisthenics.” And so on.
Worst of all,
Swamiji’s peace formula is criticized: “Easy things are nice, but easy
things don’t work.”
We don’t dare
show the article to Swamiji. Enraged, I phone The Barb.
offended,” I tell the editor. “Our brahmacharinis certainly
don’t look like harem dancers.”
has the right to his subjective opinion,” the editor says.
I agree to
this, but catch them on a philosophical error. When the Negro asked who
he was, Swamiji is reported as saying, “You are God.“
impossible,” I say. “He said, ‘You are a servant of God.’”
this point, the editor prints a retraction, adding: “In this way the
Swami’s religion differs from that of Timothy Leary. Leary likes to
tell humans, ‘You are God.’”
Swamiji leaves for the airport. Before entering the car, he stops, cane
in hand, and gives a long look at the little storefront temple. It is a
look that says a great deal. Gurudas snaps a photo at that very instant.
farewell look,” I think to myself.
airport, the girls cry. Swamiji quiets them by assuring us that he will
return for Lord Jagannatha’s Rathayatra festival on July 9.
arrange a procession down the main street,” he tells us. “Do it nicely.
We must attract many people. They have such a great procession yearly
in Jagannatha Puri. At this time, the Deity may leave the temple.”
We watch him
disappear down the passenger corridor to the plane.
Back at the
temple, I clean his upstairs apartment and keep his bedroom as an altar
room. Although wanting to return to New York, I must follow his
instructions to maintain the temple nicely and negotiate with a San
environs of the temple and its atmosphere remind us of Swamiji, we
cannot properly say that we are without him. His presence is felt even
more intensely, and for the first time we begin to understand what is
meant by worship in separation being the most ecstatic rasa.
Mukunda, Shyamasundar, Gurudas, Jayananda, Subal, Upendra. And the
weeping girls: Janaki, Malati, Yamuna, Harsharani, Lilavati.…
We all have
to console one another and see that the little storefront stays afloat
in the Haight-Ashbury. After all, Swamiji promised to return in three
Mahaprabhu showed the way of the perfect devotee,” Swamiji’s words
remind us. “Worship in separation. When Krishna left Vrindaban, the gopis
were maddened in His absence. For the rest of their lives, they shed
tears for Krishna. They acted in many strange ways; this is told in the
Shastras. Rendering service in the rasa of
separation elevates us to the highest level of perfection, to the
platform of the gopis.”
End of Chapter 9
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