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Dandavats! All Glories to Sri Guru and Sri Gauranga!

ISKCON 50 – S.Prabhupada Daily Meditations – Oct. 9-2015 – Dec. 31-2016

Saturday, 17 October 2015 / Published in Editorial / 43,216 views

July 1, 2016

Satsvarupa das Brahmacari Bhagwad-geeta ’66 Diary (con’d)

There is no harm in being a householder. No difference between a householder and a sannyasi. But a sannyasi can’t talk with a woman in a lonely place. Swamiji gave a practical example. Fifty years ago, when his guru maharaja was fifty years old, a young man (a disciple, Dr. O.P. Kapoor) and his wife were talking with Swamiji’s guru maharaja. The wife, who was about 22 years old, said to his guru maharaja, “I want to speak with you confidentially.” His guru maharaja was about fifty years old. This woman was like his granddaughter. But he said, “Oh, I cannot speak privately. Whatever you like, you can speak here.”

Swamiji was in his room. I asked him questions. Then he gave me little tasks to do. And the main task for me – typing his essays and the Bhagwatam and Geeta. It’s the best way to be with him all the time. I’m immersed in his teachings day and night. All the devotees are. One way or another – as he wrote on an announcement that’s posted in the storefront – “Do some work, and if you have none, chant Hare Krishna.” He said we could spend all our time simply chanting Hare Krishna as Haridasa Thakura did. But that’s not possible for us. Therefore, we have activities like producing BTG – writing, typing the stencils, printing it on the machine, selling them. He said that in one sense, we do other things because we can’t just chant.

July 2, 2016

Satsvarupa Brahmacari Caitanya-caritamrta, Morning Lecture Notes 1966

The Absolute Truth is one, but seen differently according to a person’s capacity. There are three aspects of the Absolute Truth. One is Brahman, which is like the rays of the sun. (After the lecture, we devotees discussed what he said, and there was confusion and disagreement about the word that sounds like Brahma. So we asked Swamiji in his room. He made it clear. There are three words that sound alike. I think I’ve got them right. Brahma is the name of the demigod, Lord Brahma. Brahman is the impersonal feature of the Absolute, the rays. And a brahmin is the higher class person who knows the Vedas.)

Someone may say the sun is just fire, but it is a planet containing varieties of life. Vedic literature says every planet has variegated life. On the sun, the fiery element is prominent. The living entities are made of fire.

The original effulgence is from Krishna. That Brahman effulgence contains all the spiritual planets. We cannot study even a millionth of His energy. It is futile to deny Krishna because we cannot estimate His energies.

The Brahman effulgence is without transcendental bliss. It is the eternal aspect. Peaceful santa-rasa. Krishna says I’ve described in a nutshell some of My potencies, but you can know by one part of My energy I sustain all the universes; and I’m in the hearts of all living entities.

July 3, 2016

A Letter to Swamiji

The best way to be with Prabhupada on 26 Second Avenue is to go back in memory, in feelings, in body and mind – go and be with him. I can go to his room as I used to, alone, and write him a letter:

Dear Swamiji,

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to your lotus feet. It seems a long time since I’ve seen you. It’s nice to be here in your room, and to work in your storefront with the devotees. I am doing my service, but sometimes it’s hard to think of you. This probably is because Maya doesn’t want me to surrender. I would like to express some things to you that are on my mind, to help me get free of maya. Probably, if I would read the Bhagavad-gita properly, then I wouldn’t be in maya.

I am pausing in this letter to Swamiji because I really can’t write everything that is on my mind to the spiritual master. One has to render service to him for it to become clear. It sure is nice to be here in his room, looking at his desk, his gray trunk where he writes his books, the picture of Krishna on the wall. Krishna is so nice. I can think of Krishna during the day, and then I won’t be harassed by the sexual innuendos of the women in the office, or by the boss’s demands. I won’t even feel sorry for myself if I just look at Krishna; He is so happy.

I want to follow the Swami’s teachings and pray to Krishna to give realization from the heart. What is it that I want to say to Swamiji in my letter? I don’t only want to tell him that I have doubts. If I am going to write something, I should write about service. Tell him that I like the tapes he is dictating, such as the Narada-bhakti Sutra and Teachings of Lord Caitanya, and that I am willing to work for him and the devotees …

Dear Swamiji,

I think you have already given me so much mercy by my connection to you. Despite my faults, I will be fixed in Krishna consciousness and able to repeat your teachings with conviction. I really like to hear your lectures, especially in the morning. I still remember when you lectured in December on Caitanya-caritamrta about the lila-avataras and other teachings of Lord Caitanya. When you speak about Krishna, He is a real person. The avataras are real. You give such good arguments that they vanquish all doubts. For example, you said, “What is the problem that Krishna can lift a hill – He is already lifting all the planets, why He cannot lift a hill?” Another time you asked, “Why He cannot come as a fish; He is not ordinary fish. Krishna can do all these things, although people think it is only a story.” When you say these things, Swamiji, it is very real. I want to stay with you where it is always real.

I am glad I was able to say that. I wish I could praise Swamiji more in his presence. Some of the devotees are able to say, “You are so great, Swamiji,” but I am not able to say those things. Anyway, it is really nice to be here for awhile, in this room where he stays when he is here. I see his sitting place and I can almost see him in my mind, how he talks with the devotees, or sometimes he laughs with them. I see Raphael coming in and saying crazy things. There is a lot of fooling around here sometimes, but anyway, I have to do my bit – go to work, make money, type. In fact, I had better go home now and do some typing of his tapes.

Let me take a last look at his room. It is a small room, and yet, when he is here, people pack in tightly together. They line up along the side of the wall to his right, but most of us are in double rows in front of him. We will line up like that again when he comes and ask him questions. He can reveal to us the knowledge that we cannot know on our own.

July 4, 2016

Serving Swamiji in His Presence

If you could actually be in the same place with Prabhupada, then your reward was to see his actual lila. On the other hand, if you served him, you had the advantage of actually attracting the pure devotee. By that attraction he would come to you. Prabhupada said that we should not try to see Krishna, but act in such a way that Krishna sees us. He gave the example of an office worker in a big company who does his job very nicely. One day the president of the company examines his file and is impressed at the man’s work. Then the president comes to that man’s desk and congratulates him. We attract Prabhupada by carrying out his orders.

Sometimes the happy combination occurred when we could please Prabhupada by rendering him service while in his personal presence. This happened the day that I was walking to work up Second Avenue in New York. I met Swamiji walking south toward the storefront. In those days, he didn’t usually take morning walks, but he had started this habit after his stroke.

I saw him coming around the corner and walking my way. It was a great relief to see him because I was feeling anxious. I was anticipating the difficulty of going to work that day. The caseworkers were on strike, and in order to enter the building, I would have to go through their picket line. I had not joined their strike because I was working for Swamiji. I was not interested in losing weeks of pay in the name of trying to get a higher salary. I knew they would all hoot and holler and threaten to hit me when I walked through their double file.

Swamiji knew about the welfare strike, and he had already passed the picket lines from the other side of the street that morning. The workers had yelled at him because they knew he was sending me to work. Swamiji was accompanied by Kirtanananda, and just before I reached them, I bowed down to Prabhupada, touching my forehead on the sidewalk. As I rose, I saw Swamiji smiling very beautifully. He reached out and touched me slightly. We exchanged only a few words at that time, and I went off to my task filled with his blessings. That was certainly a moment to treasure: service in Prabhupada’s shelter, approved by him.

Let us make our hearts pure and enthusiastic to receive him. Then when he comes to see us, we will have something to say to him. His coming will not occur just by our hanging out as a guest, with no particular service, in the temple where Prabhupada is visiting.

July 5, 2016

Swamiji, My True Father

In 1966, Acyutananda dasa’s mother wrote a paper for a New York University psychology course describing the relationship of Prabhupada and his disciples. Her theory was that the young boys who had joined the Hare Krishna movement were from broken families, and that is why they were taking to Krishna consciousness and seeing Prabhupada as their spiritual father. When Acyutananda told this to the devotees we saw it as a joke. His mother hadn’t done any interviewing, but based it all on knowledge of her own son. Perhaps it was a fact that some devotees came from broken homes, yet others came from strong family units, as I did. This was the first time I heard anyone theorizing that the relationship a devotee has with his material father has implications in his relationship with his spiritual father.

Atheist psychologists say that a belief in God is based on a person’s insecurity in his relationship with his seminal father. This theory can also be used to explain why one is attracted to a spiritual father.

However, according to Vedic sastra, God is the Father and the spiritual master is also the father. As stated in the Vedas, “In every species of life one is born with a mother and father, but only in the human life can one obtain a relationship with guru and Krishna.”

The theory put forward by Acyutananda’s mother, or by Freud and company, has nothing to do with the fact of God’s existence. The Supreme Lord is independent. He rules all creatures, regardless of our family situations. If some persons seek God partly because of the unhappiness they find in family life, that unhappiness may turn out to be their good fortune. Conversely, if one thinks that because he has a good family life he does not need to seek God, then he is in illusion.

God consciousness is the goal of human life. If a person is born of a mother and father who can give the child love, as well as a God conscious education, then he is very blessed. According to Bhagavad-gita, if one is born into a family of transcendentalists, that is the result of good karma.

Even one who has a pure devotee as a father still must approach a spiritual master for initiation. It is not true that only someone who has an unhappy relationship with his material father seeks out God or guru.

In my case, I was very much under the domination of my father until about my eighteenth year, and then I gradually began to resent him. I thought he misunderstood me and stifled my individual spirit. I had already broken from my father’s influence as much as was possible, and was living alone when I met Srila Prabhupada. I can recall a specific incident in which I transferred myself as the son of Stephen Guarino, Sr. to become the son of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I had informed my father and mother by phone calls and by sending them an ISKCON “Prospectus” of my interest in Krishna consciousness and the Swami. To my surprise, my parents strongly rejected it. My father said, “If you keep going to the Swami, we won’t have anything to do with you.” After that phone call, I went and told Prabhupada what had happened, and that is when the feeling of transfer occurred. Prabhupada saw my dilemma and assured me that he was my father. Through him, I could connect with Lord Krishna.

July 6, 2016

Empowered by His Glance

According to the Vedic sastras, a pure devotee can impart Krishna consciousness to others through his words, his good wishes, and by his glance. “Simply by seeing such empowered individuals, people from different villages would become like them by the mercy of their glance.” (Cc. Madhya 7.104)

In the confidential exchanges between Radha and Krishna, much is accomplished by the lover’s glances. The gopis are thrilled to receive the direct or side-long glance of Sri Krishna, and Lord Krishna is especially anxious to receive the glance of Srimati Radharani. One time while Krishna was searching for Radharani in the groves of Vrindavana, He spoke in this way to a female deer: “O doe, the walking young vine that is the beautiful girl Radha must have passed through this forest because, O friend, I see you have accepted Me as your guru and taken initiation from Her in the art of playful, sweet restless glances.” (Lalita-Madhava, Act 9.62)

In the loving exchanges between the spiritual master and disciple, Srila Prabhupada’s glances were certainly treasured by his devotees.

I doubt that we fully understand how much those glances went into us and how they stayed with us. The Krishna conscious siddhanta asserts that words are able to convey the Absolute Truth, yet we also think that there are certain things which cannot be conveyed fully in words: for example, what it feels like to receive Prabhupada’s glance.

Sometimes the glances were loving, and sometimes they reprimanded. If King Mucukunda could reduce a person to fiery ashes just by his gaze, Krishna’s pure devotee could “knock over” a misbehaving disciple.

Srila Prabhupada’s looks clued us in on his emotions. His eyes sparkled with humor. Tears came to his eyes while talking about the cruelty of cow slaughter. Sometimes, though, his glance excluded us. In a memoir by a Zen student about her guru, she said that when you looked into his eyes you saw “total zero for 10,000 miles.” Prabhupada never conveyed blank to us, but his gaze did convince us that he was experiencing something we could not. Prabhupada would glance at a painting or Indian print in his room and say, “Here is Krishna.” Yet when we looked at that picture of Lord Krishna, so many relative thoughts and impressions registered in our hearts and minds. We knew that Prabhupada saw Him differently. We saw the difference when we looked into his eyes.

In Raghunatha dasa Gosvami’s Sri Stavavali, one of the poems ends with the refrain, “When will Saci’s son again walk on the pathway of my eyes?” We pray to know when we may be able to see Prabhupada – and when he will again bestow his glance upon us.

July 7, 2016

Preserving Uniqueness: NYC’s Prabhupada Museum

Prabhupada’s appearance is important for all people in the world. Therefore, his museum is important. New York City is the right place for it.

When I was in Assisi, I saw many tour groups. We overheard one of the monks describing the paintings of Giotto depicting the life of Saint Francis: “This picture showed that in the 13th century, the Church was somewhat corrupt, but Francis came to give it new life … “Similarly, ISKCON devotees can guide visitors throughout Prabhupada’s museum. Although we do not have art masterpieces like those by Giotto, the humble Prabhupada artefacts evoke the appearance of the pure devotee. It is one of the functions of a Prabhupadanuga to explain the history of Prabhupada and his movement.

Everything is there, right down to the handprints on the page, preserved under museum glass. Although you cannot see the pure devotee unless you have a spiritual eye, you get the general idea when you visit the museum. No one can walk out of there and say, “I don’t think Prabhupada existed,” or, “Prabhupada probably came here as a rich man with patronage.” No one can make up such speculations, because the history of his poverty and aloneness is here.

There is a museum for Elvis Presley which has his motorcycle in a glass case, but preserving the artefacts of an ordinary man does not make him glorious. People cry when they remember Elvis, but how does that help them achieve the purpose of a human life? In the Prabhupada museum, the same techniques are used, but with a different effect.

Take for example, this picture of Krishna and Yasoda, painted in 1966 under Prabhupada’s direction. It is crude, and yet I can worship Krishna by looking at the picture. Here is a picture of Lord Caitanya dancing in sankirtana. It is the painting that Prabhupada put in the window of his first temple. He mentioned it in his lectures. It produces a kind of trance.

You look at the documents – memos signed by Prabhupada, photos from that time. His spoon, eyeglasses and dictaphone are placed in a case with an official label under it. Prabhupada wore these clothes. That canvas sign with the Hare Krishna mantra written on it was done under Prabhupada’s direction. We brought it onto the streets when we performed harinama. Here in Prabhupada’s handwriting is the list of rules and regulations for initiated devotees.

Here is Prabhupada using his dictaphone. Here is Prabhupada patting a devotee on the head. The museum tells us the story of Prabhupada’s kindness in coming here. (Vaisnavas say the only reason that one should ever leave Vrindavana is to preach. Prabhupada preached. All his activities were a sacrifice for preaching, and that is what is pictured in the museum.

July 8, 2016

Dynamic Preacher on the Streets of New York

“Yes, from the very beginning I went to New York City because I thought that Krishna consciousness is the most important idea in the world, so let me go to that place, New York, which is the most important city in the world, and if I am able to do anything for Krishna and my spiritual master, even I am at the fag-end of my life, at least let me try for it there.” (Letter, December 23, 1972)

New York City was the only city in America where Prabhupada walked the streets alone. It is hard for us to conceive of now. We see pictures of Prabhupada sitting on a large vyasasana and speaking to hundreds of devotees, but in Manhattan in 1965-66, no one was his follower. He walked the streets and thought, “How can I spread Krishna consciousness here?”

In a 1965 lecture, Prabhupada gave an analogy to explain that Krishna is not alone. He said, “All day I am in this room alone, but when you come in the evening, I become more enlivened.” He was like a hermit in the city. He typed Srimad-Bhagavatam and chanted alone, even when the lights went out.

“When I was alone in your New York, I was thinking, who will listen to me in this horrible, sinful place? All right, I shall stay a little longer, at least I can distribute a few of my books, that is something. But Krishna was all along preparing something I could not see, and He brought you to me one by one, sincere American boys and girls, to be trained-up for doing the work of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Now I can see that it is a miracle. Otherwise, your city of New York, one single old man, with only a few books to sell for barely getting eatables, how he can survive, what to speak of introducing God consciousness movement for saving humankind? That is Krishna’s miracle. Now I can see it.” (Letter, December 23, 1972)

Srila Prabhupada had no romantic notions about Manhattan. He commiserated with the human suffering that he saw here. He spoke about the heavy snowfall, and compared the dirt on the streets to the dirt in the heart. He saw the city as big maya, and he wanted to give us shelter.

When Prabhupada revisited Manhattan in 1976, he reminisced about the old days. He said, “When I came here no one cared for me, but now I have so many sons; it is Krishna’s mercy.”

He also wrote in one letter:

“New York is very special to me because I started there without anything except faith in my spiritual master and Lord Krishna. I am very glad to see that things are developing there nicely.” (Letter, October 17, 1975)

July 9, 2016

“If you are not ashamed”

Before I became a devotee of Prabhupada, my friends and I often expressed our determination not to “sell out.” Selling out meant giving up our free spirit and surrendering to the demands of American society. When I moved to the Lower East Side the expression was, “Don’t cop-out.” Don’t give up the hip life and become an ordinary American shmo.

Swamiji’s disciples didn’t think of themselves as cop-outs, but one day a visitor to the storefront told Gargamuni dasa, “I think Hare Krishna is a cop-out.”

“What?” Gargamuni defended our position. “You call this a cop-out?” We’re not afraid to shave our heads and wear a dhoti and walk around the city like this, but here you are with your black denims and your shirt looking like everybody else. You think you’re so cool, but you’re just another anonymous person on the street.”

What our visitor meant was that we had given up the “responsibilities” of hippie life – no more marijuana or LSD – and we lived in our temple in a different reality with aspirations to return to the spiritual world. It sounded to him like a cop-out. We had our comeback remarks, but if some of the hippies didn’t accept us, then that was a price we had to pay.

One time, when I was sitting inside the storefront, I overheard two guys who stopped to read Swamiji’s sign in the window. One of them read aloud: “Classes in Bhagavad-gita – Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Chant this transcendental sound vibration, Hare Krishna mantra. Learn the science of Krishna from a bona fide spiritual master.” Then he said to his friend, “What kind of word is that to use for a guru – bona fide? It sounds like a legal term.” They laughed at the use of the word “bona fide.” I knew what they meant because I also used to laugh cynically at anything that was a little strange. Their attitude was typical of middle-class Americans who had become hip and were ready to take apart anything that didn’t seem to be hip. By laughing at Prabhupada’s use of “bona fide,” they were mocking our whole scene. In hippie life, the worst mistake was to do anything “square.” So by detecting this one phrase that didn’t seem to fit in with hip consciousness – “bona fide spiritual master” – they laughed and walked on, dismissing the seriousness of our movement.

From inside the storefront I thought, “You don’t understand. Just because the Swami uses a few words differently than you doesn’t mean you have a reason to reject him.” As Prabhupada writes in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, he is more interested in the techniques of bhakti than in the language. By “bona fide” he meant that a spiritual master cannot be concocted, cannot be an upstart. He has to be genuine. There is nothing wrong with the meaning of the words “bona fide” to define a spiritual master, but with the hippie movement, style was worth more than content.

Only among the devotees could we fully express our feelings. “Just think – we have been taking one life after another for millions and millions of years. We’ve been up and we’ve been down, and now we’re at the highest point we’ve ever been in millions of births. We’re associating with the pure devotee and making progress for going back to Godhead. Let’s not blow it!”

Prabhupada had a habit of using initials to express meanings in code form. One of his favorites was S.R. S.R. meant “simply rascal.” He said that we could make a button with the letters S.R. on it and give it out to people who were rascals. He said that even the President of India was “an S.R. man.”

Swamiji was aware that we were going through a conversion from “hippy to happy.” He said, “You can wear your chanting beads around your neck when you go outside the temple – if you are not ashamed.”

“What does that mean, Swamiji? S.M.?”

“Not S.M.,” said Swamiji, “I said ashamed. If you are not ashamed.” Prabhupada meant, “If you are not ashamed of being a devotee.”

July 10, 2016

More On Lunch With Swamiji

One boy, Stanley, was quite young, and Prabhupada, almost like a doting father, watched over him as he ate. Stanley’s mother had personally met Prabhupada and said that only if he took personal care of her son would she allow him to live in the monastery. Prabhupada complied. He diligently encouraged the boy until Stanley gradually took on a voracious appetite and began consuming ten capatis at a sitting (and would have taken more had Swamiji not told him to stop). But aside from Swamiji’s limiting Stanley to ten capatis, the word was always, “More . . . take more.” When Prabhupada was finished, he would rise and leave the room, Keith would catch a couple of volunteers to help him clean, and the others would leave.

Occasionally, on a Sunday, Prabhupada himself would cook a feast with special Indian dishes.

Steve: Swamiji personally cooked the prasadam and then served it upstairs in his front room. We all sat in rows, and I remember him walking up and down in between the rows of boys, passing before us with his bare feet and serving us with a spoon from different pots. He would ask what did we want – did we want more of this? And he would serve us with pleasure. These dishes were not ordinary, but sweets and savories – like sweet rice and kachoris – with special tastes. Even after we had all taken a full plate, he would come back and ask us to take more.

Once he came up to me and asked what I would like more of – would I like some more sweet rice? In my early misconception of spiritual life, I thought I should deny myself what I liked best, so I asked for some more plain rice. But even that “plain” rice was fancy yellow rice with fried cheese balls.

July 11, 2016

Swamiji Puts on Tilak

After his bath he would come into the front room, where his assembled followers would sit around him. He would sit on a mat facing his picture of the Panca-tattva, and after putting a few drops of water in his left palm from a small metal spoon and bowl, he would rub a lump of Vrindavana clay in the water, making a wet paste. He would then apply the clay markings of Vaisnava tilaka, dipping into the yellowish paste in his left hand with the ring finger of his right. He would scrape wet clay from his palm, and while looking into a small mirror which he held deftly between the thumb and pinkie of his left hand, he would mark a vertical clay strip up his forehead and then trim the clay into two parallel lines by placing the little finger of his right hand between his eyebrows and running it upward past the hairline, clearing a path in the still-moist clay. Then he marked eleven other places on his body, while the boys sat observing, sometimes asking questions or sometimes speaking their own understandings of Krishna consciousness.

Prabhupada: My Guru Maharaja used to put on tilaka without a mirror.

Devotee: Did it come out neat?

Prabhupada: Neat or not neat, that does not matter. Yes, it was also neat.

Prabhupada would then silently recite the Gayatri mantra. Holding his brahmin’s sacred thread and looping it around his right thumb, he would sit erect, silently moving his lips. His bare shoulders and arms were quite thin as was his chest, but he had a round slightly protruding belly. His complexion was as satiny smooth as a young boy’s, except for his face, which bore signs of age. The movements of his hands were methodical, aristocratic, yet delicate.

July 12, 2016


He picked up two brass bells in his left hand and began ringing them. Then, lighting two sticks of incense from the candle near the picture of Lord Caitanya and His associates, he began waving the incense slowly in small circles before Lord Caitanya, while still ringing the bells. He looked deeply at the picture and continued cutting spirals of fragrant smoke, all the while ringing the bells. None of the boys knew what he was doing, although he did it every evening. But it was a ceremony. It meant something. The boys began to call the ceremony “bells.”

After bells, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, it would usually be time for the evening kirtana. Some of the boys would already be downstairs greeting guests and explaining about the Swami and the chanting. But without the Swami, nothing could begin. No one knew how to sing or drum, and no one dared think of leading the mantra-chanting without him. Only when he entered at seven o’clock could they begin.

Freshly showered and dressed in his clean hand-woven cloth, his arms and body decorated with arrowlike Vaisnava markings, Prabhupada would leave his apartment and go downstairs to face another ecstatic opportunity to glorify Krishna. The tiny temple would be crowded with wild, unbrahminical, candid young Americans.

July 13, 2016

Don Drifting Away

Don was a test of Swamiji’s tolerance. He had lived in the storefront for months, working little and not trying to change his habits. He had a remarkable speech affectation: instead of talking, he enunciated his words, as if he were reciting from a book. And he never used contractions. It wasn’t that he was intellectual, just that he had somehow developed a plan to abolish his natural dialect. Don’s speech struck people as bizarre, like it might be the result of too many drugs. It gave him the air of not being an ordinary being. And he continually took marijuana, even after Swamiji had asked those who lived with him not to. Sometimes during the day his girlfriend would join him in the storefront, and they would sit together talking intimately and sometimes kissing. But he liked the Swami. He even gave him money once. He liked living in the storefront, and Swamiji didn’t complain.

But others did. One day an interested newcomer dropped by the storefront and found Don alone, surrounded by the sharp aroma of marijuana. “You been smoking pot? But the Swami doesn’t want anyone smoking here.” Don denied it: “I have not been smoking. You are not speaking the truth.” The boy then reached in Don’s shirt pocket and pulled out a joint, and Don hit him in the face. Several of the boys found out. They weren’t sure what was right: What would the Swami do? What do you do if someone smokes pot? Even though a devotee was not supposed to, could it be allowed sometimes? They put the matter before Swamiji.

Prabhupada took it very seriously, and he was upset, especially about the violence. “He hit you?” he asked the boy. “I will go down myself and kick him in the head.” But then Prabhupada thought about it and said that Don should be asked to leave. But Don had already left.

The next morning during Swamiji’s class, Don appeared at the front door. From his dais, Swamiji looked out at Don with great concern. But his first concern was for ISKCON: “Ask him,” Prabhupada requested Roy, who sat nearby. “If he has marijuana – then he cannot come in. Our society …” Prabhupada was like an anxious father, afraid for the life of his infant ISKCON. Roy went to the door and told Don he would have to give up his drugs if he entered. And Don walked away.

July 14, 2016


Raphael was not interested in spiritual discipline. He was a tall young man with long, straight, brown hair, who, like Don, tried to stay aloof and casual toward Swamiji. When Prabhupada introduced japa and encouraged the boys to chant during the day, Raphael didn’t go for it. He said he liked a good kirtana, but wouldn’t chant on beads.

One time Swamiji was locked out of his apartment and the boys had to break the lock. Swamiji asked Raphael to replace it. Days went by. Raphael could sit in the storefront reading Rimbaud, he could wander around town, but he couldn’t find time to fix the lock. One evening he dropped by the Swami’s apartment, opened the lockless door, and made his way to the back room where some boys were sitting listening to Swamiji speak informally about Krishna consciousness. Suddenly Raphael spoke up, expressing his doubts and revealing his distracted mind. “As for me,” he said, “I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know whether a brass band is playing, or what the heck is going on.” Some of the devotees tensed; he had interrupted their devotional mood. “Raphael is very candid,” Swamiji replied, smiling, as if to explain his son’s behaviour to the others.

Raphael finally fixed the lock, but one day after a lecture he approached the Swami, stood beside the dais and spoke up, exasperated, impatient: “I am not meant to sit in a temple and chant on beads! My father was a boxer. I am meant to run on the beach and breathe in big breaths of air …” Raphael went on, gesticulating and voicing his familiar complaints – things he would rather do than take up Krishna consciousness. Suddenly Prabhupada interrupted him in a loud voice: “Then do it! Do it!” Raphael shrank away, but he stayed.

July 15, 2016

Bill Epstein

Bill Epstein took pride in his relationship with the Swami – it was honest. Although he helped the Swami by telling people about him and sending them up to see him in his apartment, he felt the Swami knew he’d never become a serious follower. Nor did Bill ever mislead himself into thinking he would ever be serious. But Prabhupada wasn’t content with Bill’s take-it-or-leave-it attitude. When Bill would finally show up at the storefront again after spending some days at a friend’s place, only to fall asleep with a blanket wrapped over his head during the lecture, Prabhupada would just start shouting so loud that Bill couldn’t sleep. Sometimes Bill would ask a challenging question, and Prabhupada would answer and then say, “Are you satisfied?” and Bill would look up dreamily and answer, “No!” Then Prabhupada would answer it again more fully and say louder, “Are you satisfied?” and again Bill would say no. This would go on until Bill would have to give in: “Yes, yes, I am satisfied.”

But Bill was the first person to get up and dance during a kirtana in the storefront. Some of the other boys thought he looked like he was dancing in an egotistical, narcissistic way, even though his arms were outstretched in a facsimile of the picture of Lord Caitanya. But when Swamiji saw Bill dancing like that, he looked at Bill with wide-open eyes and feelingly expressed appreciation: “Bill is dancing just like Lord Caitanya.”

Bill sometimes returned from his wanderings with money, and although it was not very much, he would give it to Swamiji. He liked to sleep in the storefront and spend the day on the street, returning for lunch or kirtanas, or a place to sleep. He used to leave in the morning and go looking for cigarettes on the ground. To Bill, the Swami was part of the hip movement and thus earned a place of respect in his eyes as a genuine person. Bill objected when the boys introduced signs of reverential worship toward the Swami (starting with them giving him an elevated seat in the temple), and as the boys who lived with the Swami gradually began to show enthusiasm, competition, and even rivalry among themselves, Bill turned from it in disgust. He allowed that he would go on just helping the Swami in his own way, and he knew that the Swami appreciated whatever he did. So he wanted to leave it at that.

July 16, 2016

Three Persons Who Drifted Away

Carl Yeargens had helped Prabhupada in times of need. He had helped with the legal work of incorporating ISKCON, signed the ISKCON charter as a trustee, and even opened his home to Swamiji when David had driven him from the Bowery loft. But those days when he and Eva had shared their apartment with him had created a tension that had never left. He liked the Swami, he respected him as a genuine sannyasi from India, but he didn’t accept the conclusions of the philosophy. The talk about Krishna and the soul was fine, but the idea of giving up drugs and sex was carrying it a little too far. Now Prabhupada was settled in his new place and Carl decided that he had done his part to help and was no longer needed. Although he had helped Prabhupada incorporate his International Society for Krishna Consciousness, he didn’t want to join it.

Carl found the Second Avenue kirtanas too public, not like the more intimate atmosphere he had enjoyed with the Swami on the Bowery. Now the audiences were larger, and there was an element of wild letting loose that they had never had on the Bowery. Like some of the other old associates, Carl felt sheepish and reluctant to join in. In comparison to the Second Avenue street scene, the old meetings in the fourth-floor Bowery loft had seemed more mystical, like secluded meditations.

Carol Bekar also preferred a more sedate kirtana. She thought people were trying to take out their personal frustrations by the wild singing and dancing. The few times she did attend evening kirtanas on Second Avenue were “tense moments.” One time a group of teenagers had come into the storefront mocking and shouting, “Hey! What the hell is this!” She kept thinking that at any moment a rock was going to come crashing through the big window. And anyway, her boyfriend wasn’t interested.

James Greene felt embarrassed. He saw that most of the new men were making a serious commitment to the Swami, whereas he could not. He had no bad feeling toward the Swami and his new movement, but he preferred to live alone.

July 17, 2016

The Historical Prabhupada

When Christian theologians use the term “the historical Christ,” they mean that person whose life story is told in the gospel. This is only one level of thinking about Christ for them. They also think of him as the Messiah, the Son of God, the Lord, and so on. Some speculate about Christ in an impersonal way. Thus they speak of “the Logos” and “the Christ within everyone.” Sometimes when you hear this talk, you say, “Wait a minute. What about the person?” The scholars reply, “We’re not so interested in the historical person.”

The first time I heard one of Prabhupada’s followers say this I was shocked.

“We don’t want to become a cult of Prabhupada worshipers,” he said. “Prabhupada is a link in the parampara. The important thing is the message coming down. Prabhupada never said that he was important.”

“But Prabhupada is the person who saved me,” I said. The message did not come to save me by itself; the person saved me. I want to worship and think of that person.

If we minimize the historical Prabhupada, then we open the possibility that one of us can take his place. “Now I am the next person in the link. I am important now.” Therefore, when remembering the teachings of Krishna consciousness, it is important to do it in a personal way. When I think of Prahlada Maharaja and his relationship with Krishna, I think, “Prabhupada is sweet to write it in these words.” If I don’t think of Prabhupada in a personal way, then I am missing out.

July 18, 2016

Dressing for Prabhupada’s Pleasure

Prabhupada never forced his followers to shave their heads or wear dhotis in public. Yet he liked it. So we please Prabhupada when we appear as Vaisnavas and remind people of Krishna. The reason we wear these clothes and shave our heads is because we are his followers. I cannot attain the advanced stage of Krishna consciousness, I cannot surrender completely, but there are some things I can do right away. When I do them for Prabhupada, they count in my favor.

With this in mind, I need not be embarrassed when people see that I am a devotee. When I feel embarrassed, I can pray: “Prabhupada, please give me the strength to walk in the world identified as your man. And let me not make fun or be ashamed of the other devotees who are representing you.”

I want Krishna and Prabhupada to recognize me. Therefore, I will wear the kanthi-mala and Vaisnava tilak even if it astonishes a bank clerk or the man at the airlines desk. Let me not give it up so easily. Let it be a little sacrifice I make on your behalf, a way to remember you. Let them think, “Look! There’s a Hare Krishna!” Let me think, “I am serving Prabhupada in this way.”

July 19, 2016

Accompanying Swamiji

When we walked with Prabhupada, we were proud to be with him. We stayed close beside him on the street, trying to protect him. We did not care what people thought. We wanted to appear presentable as his servants, yet we had no concern for other’s opinions. The person we wanted to please was right there with us. He gave us courage to assist him. To walk beside him and represent him was prestigious. They could see the elderly, saintly Indian guru with his assistant alongside. Now we have to assist him without being physically with him, but we can meditate, “He is here and I am walking beside him. Let the people see it and think what they like.”

As the servant Daruka said in Vaikuntha, “When I fan the Lord, if I feel too much ecstasy, it becomes an interference. I simply want to fan Him nicely.” Let us continue in that way, walking beside Prabhupada, while following his vani.

July 20, 2016

Firm Reins on Fledging Bhakta

Most of us were contaminated with drugs and illicit sex. Prabhupada restrained us. He controlled the activities in his apartment and storefront, and we soon got into line. There were unspoken boundaries. No one ever smoked in his apartment. He sat on one side of the silver trunk and we sat on the other. Sometimes we stood close beside him in the kitchenette or other places, but we did not get too familiar. We maintained politeness and formality out of respect. Even those who were not his disciples respected him as an elderly sadhu.

If anyone talked jive to the Swami, they didn’t get far with it. He remained who he was. He did not want to waste time, but spoke in a meaningful way about God. He insisted on that. He did not mind a challenging question, as long as it was put in a coherent way and he could direct the conversation toward God consciousness.

When things got out of hand, Prabhupada turned to Raymond or Howard and said, “His is a general question. Can you answer it?” But that did not happen often.

Prabhupada did not ask people much about their family background or education or hobbies. He wanted to speak to them about the Absolute Truth.

“I am living with my mother. She has arthritis. I don’t have enough money, so I am working two jobs.” Prabhupada would hear it with concern, but then turn the situation to ultimate matters. He was not living in the world for talking about relative situations. As a sannyasi, he had left all that behind.

It was often Prabhupada who was the challenger. Those who wished to stay with him had to come up to his level. Often someone mentioned a Western thinker whom Prabhupada had not heard of. It was a simple thing to adjust. He asked, “What is their philosophy?” – and then put it into the context of Mayavada, pantheist, or mental speculation.

Those who became his disciples required more intimate treatment. We wanted him to at least hear what was on our minds … Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre. The important thing was to talk about Krishna, but first you had to be released from your attachments.

I asked Prabhupada, “What about the spiritual culture of China? Is it advanced?” He simply shook his head, no. I was willing to accept that. Even to this day, I am attracted to recluses and poets of ancient China. Prabhupada did not say they were all useless, but he told me in no uncertain terms that they were not important. In the absolute sense, for going back to Godhead, it is not important. That exchange about China took place in only a moment. If we were academic scholars, I would have insisted on developing a comparison of Confucianism and Taoism and how they came from India. I would demand that he explain why it is inferior to Krishna consciousness. Perhaps I would debate with him and say that the Indian mentality is different but not necessarily better than the Chinese mentality. However, all these considerations were dispensed with in a meaningful way, just by a shake of the head. They were also dealt with in informal talks while taking prasadam or sitting together. We heard from him submissively and accepted the Vedas from his lips.

July 21, 2016

When the Bombs Go Off

Sometimes when I was in Swamiji’s presence at the storefront, an obscene word would come to mind. It would bubble up from my days in the Navy, where there was so much obscene talk. It would explode like a bomb into the pure relationship of guru and sisya. I don’t know if Swamiji always saw it exactly when it happened, but he saw my general rotten nature. Sometimes when I didn’t have anything bad on my mind, he looked at me and saw that too.

At times like that, what did I do? I kept going, bowed my head and reeled with the blow. I readjusted and told myself, “I am not in the Navy anymore; I don’t have to respond to this.” The reality with the Swami was more substantial than the past.

Obscene images were like those bombs and abominable things that poured down on Dhruva Maharaja when he was fighting the Yaksas. Blood, pus, and bones poured from the sky and oceans, and lions and snakes closed in around him. They were all illusions, though. My obscene thoughts were like that. I didn’t have to succumb.

My father used to say of himself, “My mind is in the gutter.” That was a favorite expression of his. So I was brought up to think that everyone’s mind was in the gutter. When I met the pure devotee, he was a challenge to my entire upbringing. My mind wanted to revolt against him: “This guy is just another bozo like everyone else. After all, this is a world of ‘f _ _ _ you’ and he is a part of it.” So the bombs went off within me, but because the relationship with Prabhupada was true and substantial, and because I was in the safety of his room, it all passed. Eventually, it didn’t occur anymore, like the many other insanities and bad habits that go away as you take to Krishna consciousness.

You didn’t have to say, “Swamiji, sometimes when I am with you I think bad things.” He addressed it anyway, “These are the workings of the mind. Just chant and it will go away.”

Altered states of consciousness from old LSD trips also came up. We had to face some of it in the kirtanas – fears, hallucinations, uncharitable feelings, hatred, envy, disbelief … We were not able to link one pure mantra to another pure mantra and approach Krishna in the spiritual world. Ours was bliss punctuated with negative space in the struggle to reach pure spiritual sound. Prabhupada gave us his assurance, “You can do it. You can overcome all this.”

July 22, 2016

Poem for Swamiji by Satsvarupa dasa Brahmacari

Thank you for the work ahead,

thank you, Prabhupada,

for giving us your books

in which Lord Visnu

instructs through you:

“Treat people equally,

don’t be disturbed by distress or happiness,

control your mind and senses,

execute your duty in whatever

condition of life you may be put,

by My arrangement, give protection.

Thank you for the orders

and the kind looks,

allowing us to sit with you

to share lunch.

Swamiji, I don’t

confuse you with God,

but you are as good as God.

You didn’t create the cosmos

by your expanded plenary parts,

but you teach us

the Vaisnava is

more merciful than the Lord.

Let the fear of falldown guide me,

the fear of rejection by you.

Let me follow until death

accomplishing at least

the minimum requirements.

I pray for your grace,

lest my toehold slip.

Please remind me what to do.

And today I took a look

at a color photo:

Swamiji is wearing a yellow sweater,

he is looking to the right,

holding karatalas. I steady

and watch him as I once did.

He wears a rose garland.

These standard resources –

photos, purports, instructions,

are well-springs of mercy,

if I simply go to them

without despair or cynicism.

It happens –

we forget who we are,

and who is Bhagavan.

But the spiritual master is here,

kind as always,

and I am serving him.

July 23, 2016

Coaching Us in Krishna Consciousness

The Swami had authority. It was not like the authority of an organization, the Catholic church or some rich Hindu mission. He was something better, a saintly person in the timeless tradition of Vaisnava parampara. His authority went back millions of years and was represented in the Vedic scriptures. Through him we could feel the timeless and authoritative instructions of the sastras.

On his authority, we chanted in the temple in such a free way. He saw us shake our heads, close our eyes and grimace, as we threw off demons and had fun. Swamiji was permissive, but not irresponsible. He heard about LSD and said, “No more of that. But when you chant Hare Krishna, then you will feel bliss and dance in ecstasy.

The Swami was like our spiritual coach, and we were his team. The coach accepts his boys as they are, but he trains them. They come to him as juvenile delinquents, but they work out on the basketball court and they become something better. Similarly, Swamiji let us work out our unruly feelings without inhibition as he brought us together in the mahamantra.

After the game is over, the boys are shiny with sweat, drinking Cokes in the locker room, joking adolescents. The coach allows it, but he is in control. We too were sweating and excited after the kirtana performance. We were wild, and Prabhupada allowed it. He let Gargamuni say, “Swamiji, I was in so much ecstasy I thought I would cry!” He watched as Umapati cracked a joke to Hayagriva, but then spoke things that quieted us. We listened to him and relaxed.

We never expected Swamiji to act like a hippie-guru. He never spoke our jargon, and yet he was hip in his own way. He was totally present with us, and we gave ourselves to him.

The coach-and-team analogy gets left far behind when we study the heart of our relationship with Prabhupada. He was taking us to the eternal spiritual world, telling us the pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Swamiji revealed the Vedas to us, and told us how to center our lives around them. All we had to do was listen submissively. He was cleaning our hearts in a way that was not perceivable to us, and yet he was perceivable, healthy and strong, our vibrant spiritual master.

July 24, 2016

Chuck and Bruce

Chuck: I finally found Second Avenue and First Street, and I saw through the window that there was some chanting going on inside and some people were sitting up against the wall. Beside me on the sidewalk some middle-class people were looking in and giggling. I turned to them, and with my palms folded I asked, “Is this where a swami is?” They giggled and said, “Pilgrim, you search has ended.” I wasn’t surprised by this answer, because I felt it was the truth.

Bruce and Chuck, unknown to one another, lived only two blocks apart. After the suggestion from his friend, Bruce also made his way to the storefront.

Bruce: I was looking for Hare Krishna. I had left my apartment and had walked over to Avenue B when I decided to walk all the way down to Houston Street. When I came to First Street, I turned right and then, walking along First Street, came to Second Avenue. All along First Street I was seeing these Puerto Rican grocery stores, and then there was one of those churches where everyone was standing up, singing loudly, and playing tambourines. Then, as I walked further along First Street, I had the feeling that I was leaving the world, like when you’re going to the airport to catch a plane. I thought, “Now I’m leaving a part of me behind, and I’m going to something new.”

But when I got over to Second Avenue, I couldn’t find Hare Krishna. There was a gas station, and then I walked past a little storefront, but the only sign was one that said Matchless Gifts. Then I walked back again past the store, and in the window I saw a black-and-white sign announcing a Bhagavad-gita lecture. I entered the storefront and saw a pile of shoes there, so I took off my shoes and came in and sat down near the back.

July 25, 2016

Steve and Bruce

Steve: I had a feeling that this was a group that was already established and had been meeting for a while. I came in and sat down on the floor, and a boy who said his name was Roy was very courteous and friendly to me. He seemed to be one who had already experienced the meetings. He asked me my name, and I felt at ease.

Suddenly the Swami entered, coming through the side door. He was wearing a saffron dhoti but no shirt, just a piece of cloth like a long sash, tied in a knot across his right shoulder and leaving his arms, his left shoulder, and part of his chest bare. When I saw him I thought of the Buddha.

Bruce: There were about fifteen people sitting on the floor. One man with a big beard sat up by the front on the right-hand side, leaning up against the wall. After some time the door on the opposite side opened, and in walked the Swami. When he came in, he turned his head to see who was in his audience. And then he stared right at me. Our eyes met. It was as if he were studying me. In my mind it was like a photograph was being taken of Swamiji looking at me for the first time. There was a pause. Then he very gracefully got up on the dais and sat down and took out a pair of hand cymbals and began a kirtana. The kirtana was the thing that most affected me. It was the best music I’d ever heard. And it had meaning. You could actually concentrate on it, and it gave you some joy to repeat the words “Hare Krishna.” I immediately accepted it as a spiritual practice.

July 26, 2016

Chuck’s First Impressions of Swamiji

Chuck: I entered the storefront, and sitting on a grass mat on the hard floor was a person who seemed at first to be neither male nor female, but when he looked at me I couldn’t even look him straight in the eyes, they were so brilliant and glistening. His skin was golden with rosy cheeks, and he had large ears that framed his face. He had three strands of beads – one which was at his neck, one a little longer, and the other down on his chest. He had a long forehead, which rose above his shining eyes, and there were many furrows in his brow. His arms were slender and long. His mouth was rich and full, and very dark and red and smiling, and his teeth were brighter than his eyes. He sat in a cross-legged position that I had never seen before in any yoga book and had never seen any yogi perform. It was a sitting posture, but his right foot was crossed over the thigh and brought back beside his left hip, and one knee rested on the other directly in front of him. His every expression and gesture was different from those of any other personality I had ever seen, and I sensed that they had meanings that I did not know, from a culture and a mood that were completely beyond this world. There was a mole on his side and a peculiar callus on his ankle, a round callus similar to what a karate expert develops on his knuckle. He was dressed in unhemmed cloth, dyed saffron. Everything about him was exotic, and his whole effulgence made him seem to be not even sitting in the room but projected from some other place. He was so brilliant in color that it was like a technicolor movie, and yet he was right there. I heard him speaking. He was sitting right there before me, yet it seemed that if I reached out to touch him he wouldn’t be there. At the same time, seeing him was not an abstract or subtle experience but a more intense presence.

July 27, 2016

Steve Buys the Books

After their first visit to the storefront, Chuck, Steve, and Bruce each got an opportunity to see the Swami upstairs in his apartment.

Steve: I was on my lunch hour and had to be back in the office very soon. I was dressed in a summer business suit. I had planned it so that I had just enough time to go to the storefront and buy some books, then go to lunch and return to work. At the storefront, one of the Swami’s followers said that I could go up and see the Swami. I went upstairs to his apartment and found him at his sitting place with a few boys. I must have interrupted what he was saying, but I asked him if I could purchase the three volumes of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. One of the devotees produced the books from the closet opposite Prabhupada’s seat. I handled the books – they were a very special color not usually seen in America, a reddish natural earth, like a brick – and I asked him how much they cost. Six dollars each, he said. I took twenty dollars out of my wallet and gave it to him. He seemed the only one to ask about the price of the books or give the money to, because none of the others came forward to represent him. They were just sitting back and listening to him speak.

These books are commentaries on the scriptures?” I asked, trying to show that I knew something about books. Swamiji said yes, they were his commentaries. Sitting, smiling, at ease, Swamiji was very attractive. He seemed very strong and healthy. When he smiled, all his teeth were beautiful, and his nostrils flared aristocratically. His face was full and powerful. He was wearing an Indian cloth robe, and as he sat cross-legged, his smooth-skinned legs were partly exposed. He wore no shirt,

but the upper part of his body was wrapped with an Indian cloth shawl. His limbs were quite slender, but he had a protruding belly.

When I saw that Swamiji was having to personally handle the sale of books, I did not want to bother him. I quickly asked him to please keep the change from my twenty dollars. I took the three volumes without any bag or wrapping and was standing preparing to leave, when Swamiji said, “Sit down,” and gestured that I should sit opposite him like the others. He had said “Sit down” in a different tone of voice. It was a heavy tone and indicated that now the sale of the books was completed, I should sit with the others and listen to him speak. He was offering me an important invitation to become like one of the others, who I knew spent many hours with him during the day when I was usually at my job and not able to come. I envied their leisure in being able to learn so much from him and sit and talk intimately with him. By ending the sales transaction and asking me to sit, he assumed that I was in need of listening to him, and that I had nothing better in the world to do than to stop everything else and hear him. But I was expected back at the office. I didn’t want to argue, but I couldn’t possibly stay. “I’m sorry, I have to go,” I said definitely. “I’m only on my lunch hour.” As I said this, I had already started to move for the door, and Swamiji responded by suddenly breaking into a wide smile and looking very charming and very happy. He seemed to appreciate that I was a working man, a young man on the go. I had not come by simply because I was unemployed and had nowhere to go and nothing to do. Approving of my energetic demeanor, he allowed me to take my leave.

July 28, 2016

Bruce Visits the Swami

Bruce: I decided to go and speak personally to Swamiji, so I went to the storefront. I found out that he lived in an apartment in the rear building. A boy told me the number and said I could just go and speak with the Swami. He said, “Yes, just go.” So I walked through the storefront, and there was a little courtyard where some plants were growing. Usually in New York there is no courtyard, nothing green, but this was very attractive. And in that courtyard there was a boy typing at a picnic table, and he looked very spiritual and dedicated. I hurried upstairs and rang the bell for apartment 2C. After a little while the door opened, and it was the Swami. “Yes,” he said. And I said, “I would like to speak with you.” He opened the door wider and stepped back and said, “Yes, come.” We went inside together into his sitting room and sat down facing each other. He sat behind his metal trunk-desk on a very thin mat which was covered with a woollen blanketlike cover that had frazzled ends and elephants decorating it. He asked me my name and I told him it was Bruce. And then he remarked, “Ah. In India, during the British period, there was one Lord Bruce.” And he said something about Lord Bruce being a general and engaging in some campaigns.

I felt that I had to talk to the Swami – to tell him my story – and I actually found him interested to listen. It was very intimate, sitting with him in his apartment, and he was actually wanting to hear about me.

While we were talking, he looked up past me, high up on the wall behind me, and he was talking about Lord Caitanya. The way he looked up, he was obviously looking at some picture of something, but with an expression of deep love in his eyes. I turned around to see what made him look like that. Then I saw the picture in the brown frame: Lord Caitanya dancing in kirtana.

July 29, 2016

Chuck Converses with Swamiji

Inevitably, meeting with Prabhupada meant a philosophical discussion.

Chuck: I asked him, “Can you teach me raja-yoga?” “Oh,” he said. “Here is Bhagavad-gita.” He handed me a copy of the Gita. “Turn to the last verse of the Sixth Chapter,” he said, “and read.” I read the translation out loud. “And of all yogis, he who is worshiping Me with faith and devotion I consider to be the best.” I could not comprehend what “faith” and “devotion” meant, so I said, “Sometimes I’m getting some light in my forehead.” “That is hallucination!” he said. So abruptly he said it – although he did not strain his person, the words came at me so intensely that it completely shocked me. “Raja means ‘king’ – king yoga,” he said, “but this is emperor yoga.”

I knew that he had attained such a high state not by using chemicals from a laboratory or by any Western speculative process, and this was certainly what I wanted. “Are you giving classes?” I asked. He said, “Yes, if you come at six in the morning I am giving classes in the Gita. And bring some flower or fruit for the Deity.” I looked into the adjoining room, which was bare with a wooden parquet floor, bare walls, and a tiny table, and on the table was a picture of five humanlike figures with their arms raised above their heads. Somehow, their arms and faces were not like any mortal that I’d ever seen. I knew that the picture was looking at me.

When I came out on the street in front of the storefront there were a few people standing around, and I said, “I don’t think I’m going to take LSD any more.” I said it out loud to myself, but some other people heard me.

July 30, 2016

Swamiji Corrects Steve

Steve: I wanted to show my appreciation for spiritual India, so I presented to Swamiji that I had read the autobiography of Gandhi. “It was glorious,” I said. “What is glorious about it?” Swamiji challenged. When he asked this, there were others present in the room. Although I was a guest, he had no qualms about challenging me for having said something foolish. I searched through my remembrances of Gandhi’s autobiography to answer his challenging question “What is glorious?” I began to relate that one time Gandhi, as a child, although raised as a vegetarian, was induced by some of his friends to eat meat, and that night he felt that a lamb was howling in his belly. Swamiji dismissed this at once, saying, “Most of India is vegetarian. That is not glorious.” I couldn’t think of anything else glorious to say, and Swamiji said, “His autobiography is called Experiments with Truth. But that is not the nature of truth. It is not to be found by someone’s experimenting. Truth is always truth.

Although it was a blow to my ego, being exposed and defeated by Swamiji seemed to be a gain for me. I wanted to bring before him many different things for his judgment, just to see what he had to say about them. I showed him the paperback edition of the Bhagavad-gita that I was reading and carrying in my back pocket. He perused the back cover. There was a reference to “the eternal faith of the Hindus,” and Swamiji began to take the phrase apart. He explained how the word Hindu was a misnomer and does not occur anywhere in the Sanskrit literature itself. He also explained that Hinduism and Hindu beliefs were not eternal.

July 31, 2016

Bruce Talks with Swamiji About Freud

Bruce: After I talked about my desire for religious life, I began telling him about a conflict I had had with one of my professors in English literature. He was a Freudian, so he would explain the characters in all the novels and so on in a Freudian context and with Freudian terminology. Everything was sexual – the mother for the son, this one for that one, and so on. But I would always see it in terms of a religious essence. I would see it in terms of a religious impulse, or some desire to understand God. I would write my papers in that context, and he would always say, “The religious can also be interpreted as Freudian.” So I didn’t do very well in the course. I was mentioning this to the Swami, and he said, “Your professor is correct.” I was surprised – I am going to an Indian swami, and he is saying that the professor was correct, that everything is based on sex and not religion! This kind of pulled the rug out from under me when he said that. Then he qualified what he’d said. He explained that in the material world everyone is operating on the basis of sex; everything that everyone is doing is being driven by the sex impulse. “So,” he said, “Freud is correct. Everything is on the basis of sex.” Then he clarified what material life is and what spiritual life is. In spiritual life, there is a complete absence of sex desire. So this had a profound effect on me.

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