August 1, 2016
Steve Tells Swamiji What He Read in Srimad-Bhagavatam
The boys found Swamiji not only philosophical, but personal also.
Steve: A few nights later, I went to see the Swami and told him I was reading his book. One thing that had especially caught my attention was a section where the author of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Vyasadeva, was admitting that he was feeling despondent. Then his spiritual master, Narada, explained that his despondency had come because although he had written so many books, he had neglected to write in such a way as to fully glorify Krishna. After hearing this, Vyasadeva compiled the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
When I read this, I identified with the fact that Vyasadeva was a writer, because I considered myself a writer also, and I knew that I was also despondent. “This was very interesting about the author, Vyasadeva,” I said. “He wrote so many books, but still he was not satisfied, because he had not directly praised Krishna.” Although I had very little understanding of Krishna consciousness, Swamiji opened his eyes very wide, surprised that I was speaking on such an elevated subject from the Srimad-Bhagavatam. He seemed pleased.
August 2, 2016
Two Late-Comers Arrive at Ananda Ashram
Bruce was a newcomer and had only been to one week of meetings at the storefront, so no one had told him that the members of Ananda Ashram, Dr. Mishra’s yoga retreat, had invited Swamiji and his followers for a day in the upstate countryside. Bruce had just arrived at the storefront one morning when he heard someone announce, “The Swami is leaving!” And Prabhupada came out of the building and stepped into a car. In a fit of anxiety, Bruce thought that the Swami was leaving them for good – for India! “No,” Howard told him, “we’re going to a yoga asrama in the country.” But the other car had already left, and there was no room in Swamiji’s car. Just then Steve showed up. He had expected the boys to come by his apartment to pick him up. They both had missed the ride.
Bruce phoned a friend up in the Bronx and convinced him to drive them up to Ananda Ashram. But when they got to Bruce’s friend’s apartment, the friend had decided he didn’t want to go. Finally he lent Bruce his car, and Swamiji’s two new followers set out for Ananda Ashram.
By the time they arrived, Prabhupada and his group were already taking prasadam, sitting around a picnic table beneath the trees. Ananda Ashram was a beautiful place, with sloping hills and lots of trees and sky and green grass and a lake. The two latecomers came walking up to Swamiji, who was seated like the father of a family, at the head of the picnic table. Keith was serving from a big wok onto the individual plates. When Prabhupada saw his two stragglers, he asked them to sit next to him, and Keith served them. Prabhupada took Steve’s capātī and heaped it up with a mound of sugar, and Steve munched on the bread and sugar, while everyone laughed.
August 3, 2016
Talk at Ananda Ashram
It was late afternoon when some of Swamiji’s followers gathered by the lake and began talking candidly about Swamiji and speculating about his relation to God and their relation to him.
“Well,” said Wally, “Swami never claimed to be God or an incarnation, but he says that he is a servant of God, teaching love of God.”
“But he says that the spiritual master is not different from God,” said Howard. They stood at the edge of the mirror calm lake and concluded that it was not necessary to talk about this. The answers would be revealed later. None of them really had much spiritual knowledge, but they wanted their faith to deepen.
Afterward, Keith, Wally, and Howard wandered into the meditation room. There was a seat with a picture of Dr. Mishra, who was away in Europe. But the most remarkable thing was a blinking strobe light. “I feel like I’m in a head shop on St. Mark’s Place,” said Wally. “What kind of spiritual meditation is this?” Howard asked. A Mishra follower, wearing a white kurta and white bell-bottoms, replied that their guru had said they could sit and meditate on this light. “Swamiji says you should meditate on Krishna,” said Keith.
August 4, 2016
Kirtana at Ananda Ashram
Swamiji led a kirtana that bridged all differences and brought out the best in everyone that night. Several nights before, in his apartment on Second Avenue, Prabhupada had taught his followers how to dance. They had formed a line behind him while he demonstrated the simple step. Holding his arms above his head, he would first swing his left foot forward across the right foot, and then bring it back again in a sweeping motion. Then he would swing his right foot over the left and bring it back again. With his arms upraised, Prabhupada would walk forward, swinging his body from side to side, left foot to right side, right foot to left side, in time with the one-two-three rhythm. He had shown them the step in regular time and in a slow, half-time rhythm. Keith had called it “the Swami step,” as if it were a new ballroom dance.
Prabhupada’s followers began dancing, and soon the others joined them, moving around the room in a rhythmic circle of ecstasy, dancing, swaying, sometimes leaping and whirling. It was a joyous hour-long kirtana, the Swami encouraging everyone to the fullest extent. A visitor to the asrama happened to have his stringed bass with him, and he began expertly turning out his own swinging bass improvisations beneath the Swami’s melody, while another man played the tablas.
The Ananda Ashram members had been divided of late into two tense, standoffish groups. There was the elderly crowd, similar to the older women who had attended the Swami’s uptown lectures, and there was the young crowd, mostly hip couples. But in the kirtana their rifts were forgotten and, as they discovered later, even healed. Whether they liked it or not, almost all of those present were induced to rise and dance.
Then it was late. The Swami took rest in the guest room, and his boys slept outside in their sleeping bags.
August 5, 2016
Howard and Keith’s Dreams
Howard: I awaken three or four times, and each time I am flat on my back looking up at the stars, which are always in different positions. My sense of time is confused. The sidereal shifts dizzy me. Then, just before morning, I dream. I dream of devotees clustered about a beautiful golden youth. To see him is to be captivated. His transcendental body radiates an absolute beauty unseen in the world. Stunned, I inquire, “Who is he?” “Don’t you know?” someone says. “That’s the Swami.” I look carefully, but see no resemblance. The youth appears around eighteen, straight out of Vaikuntha. “If that’s Swamiji,” I wonder to myself, “why doesn’t he come to earth like that?” A voice somewhere inside me answers: “People would follow me for my beauty, not for my teachings.” And I awake, startled. The dream is clear in my mind – more like a vision than a dream. I feel strangely refreshed, bathed in some unknown balm. Again I see that the constellations have shifted and that the dimmer stars have faded into the encroaching dawn. I remember Swamiji telling me that although most dreams are simply functions of the mind, dreams of the spiritual master are of spiritual significance.
Keith also had a dream that night.
Keith: I saw Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra. Arjuna was inquiring from Krishna, and Krishna was reciting the Bhagavad-gita to him. Then that picture phased out, and the images changed. And there was Swamiji, and I was kneeling in front of him, and the same dialogue was going on. I had the understanding that now is the time, and Swamiji is presenting the same thing as Krishna, and we are all in the position of Arjuna. The dream made it very clear that hearing from Swamiji was as good as hearing from Krishna.
August 6, 2016
Car Ride Back to Second Avenue
Later … Prabhupada sat next to Bruce in the Volkswagen returning to the City. The car went winding around on a ribbon of smooth black mountain road, with lush green forests close in and intermittent vistas of mountains and expansive sky. It was a rare occasion for Bruce to be driving Prabhupada in a car because none of the Swami’s boys had cars. They would always travel by bus or subway. It seemed fitting for the Swami to have a car to ride in, but this was only a little Volkswagen and Bruce winced whenever they hit a bump and it jostled Prabhupada. As they wound their way on through the mountains, Bruce recalled something he had read in a book by Aldous Huxley’s wife about the best places for meditation. One opinion had been that the best place to meditate was by a large body of water, because of the negative ions in the air, and the other opinion was that it was better to meditate in the mountains, because you are higher up and closer to God. “Is it better for spiritual realization to meditate in the mountains?” Bruce asked. Prabhupada replied, “This is nonsense. There is no question of ‘better place.’ Are you thinking that God is up on some planet or something and you have to go up high? No. You can meditate anywhere. Just chant Hare Krishna.”
After some time the drive became tiring for Prabhupada and he dozed, his head resting forward.
August 7, 2016
Impressions of Swamiji’s Kirtana
Bruce walked with Swamiji up to his apartment, opening the door for him, adjusting the window as he liked it, and preparing things in his room, as if he were the Swami’s personal servant. Prabhupada settled back into his Second Avenue apartment, feeling pleased with the visit to Ananda Ashram. The kirtana had been successful, and one of Dr. Mishra’s foremost students had commented that he was impressed by Prabhupada’s followers: simply by chanting they seemed to be achieving an advanced level of yoga discipline, whereas “we have more difficulty with all our postures and breath control.”
August 8, 2016
The Peace Vigil at the U.N.
Some met at the storefront and went by bus, carrying karatalas, a tambourine, and the Swami’s bongo. Swamiji rode with a few of his followers in a taxi. The typical dress of his followers consisted of well-worn sneakers, black pants or blue jeans, and T-shirts or button-down sport shirts. Travelling uptown in the early morning put the boys in a lighthearted spirit, and when they saw Swamiji at the U.N. in his flowing saffron robes they became inspired. Swamiji began the chanting, but right away the peace vigil organizers stepped in and asked him to stop. This was a “silent vigil” they said, and it should have prayerful, non-violent silence. The boys were crushed, but Swamiji accepted the restriction and began silently chanting on his beads.
A dignitary stood up before the assembly and made a short speech in which he mentioned Gandhi, and then he turned to Prabhupada and indicated that he could now speak about peace. Standing erectly, the U.N. skyscraper looming behind him, Swamiji spoke in a soft voice. The world must accept that God is the proprietor of everything and the friend of everyone, he said. Only then can we have real peace. Mr. Bogart had scheduled the Swami for two hours of silent prayer. Prabhupada had the devotees sit together and softly chant japa until their two scheduled hours were up. Then they left.
As Prabhupada rode back downtown in the heavy morning traffic, he said New York reminded him of Calcutta. Amid the start-and-stop motion and noise of the traffic he explained, “We have nothing to do with peace vigils. We simply want to spread this chanting of Hare Krishna, that’s all. If people take to this chanting, peace will automatically come. Then they won’t have to artificially try for peace.”
August 9, 2016
The U.N. Representative’s Visit to the Storefront is Botched
Prabhupada had participated in the peace vigil to oblige his contact, Mr. Bogart. Now Mr. Bogart was phoning to offer his appreciation and agreeing to visit the storefront. He wanted to help, and he would discuss how the Swami could work with the U.N. and how he could solicit help from important people for his movement of Indian culture and peace.
Prabhupada regarded Mr. Bogart’s imminent visit as very important, and he wanted to cook for him personally and receive him in his apartment with the best hospitality. When the day arrived, Prabhupada and Keith cooked together in the small kitchen for several hours, making the best Indian delicacies. Prabhupada posted Stanley downstairs and told him not to allow anyone to come up while he was cooking the feast for Mr. Bogart. Stanley assented, blinking his eyes with his far-off “saintly” look.
Stanley stationed himself downstairs in the storefront. A few of the boys were there, and he told them, “You can’t go up to see the Swami – no one can.” About twelve noon, Larry Bogart arrived, pale, elderly, and well-dressed by Lower East Side standards. He said he wanted to see Swami Bhaktivedanta. “Sorry,” Stanley informed him, his boyish face trying to impress the stranger with the seriousness of the order, “the Swami is busy now, and he said no one can see him.” Mr. Bogart decided he would wait. There was no chair in the storefront, but Stanley brought him a folding chair. It was a hot day. Mr. Bogart looked at his watch several times. A half hour passed. Stanley sat chanting and sometimes staring off blankly. After an hour, Mr. Bogart asked if he could see the Swami now. Stanley assured him that he could not, and Mr. Bogart left in a huff.
Upstairs, Swamiji had become anxious, wondering why Mr. Bogart had not arrived. Finally, he sent Keith downstairs, and Stanley told him about the man whom he had turned away. “What?” Keith exploded. “But that was …”
Within moments, Swamiji heard what had happened. He became furious. He came down to the storefront: “You fool! You silly fool!” He turned and angrily rebuked everyone in the room, but mostly Stanley. No one had ever seen the Swami so angry. Then Swamiji walked away in disgust and returned to his apartment.
August 10, 2016
Prabhupada sat down and began singing. Hayagriva with his full beard and checkered shirt was hitting the big cymbal with the drumstick. Swamiji accepted it.
With rough and ready hands (clap-clap-clap), we were like a group of peasants stomping their feet. Our sleeves were rolled up. Young men clapping as Swamiji sang the bhajana. The boys played off each other’s voices, so we wouldn’t get bored. The main thing, though, is to hear when the Swami sings. Then you sing.
Look over at the others. Look at their faces moving back and forward with eyes closed. Look up at the Swami. Each one is into his own experience, but you are all together. You are not long-time friends, but there is a bond.
This thick-bodied clapping keeps the kirtana solid. It helps concentration; it is what Swamiji invites.
The kids are at the door. Trucks grinding gears. We are bunched at the Swamiji’s feet in that one part of the universe, drawing from the kirtana that he is giving – and they can’t get at us now. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
August 11, 2016
Responding to the Swami’s Call
Swamiji said, “This boy Steve is nice, he gives donations and does typing.” After he said that, I went downstairs into the storefront. I picked up the double bass which I had donated to the temple. No one was around, so I started strumming, feeling happy and savoring the glow of what Swamiji had said. In those days, we didn’t know the proper expression for gratitude: making prostrated obeisances and saying a mantra to the guru. However, as I strummed, I chanted Hare Krishna.
One night after kirtana, I stopped on the way home at a quick-serve pizzeria for a slice of pizza and a Coke. I did not know you were supposed to offer the food to Krishna, and that this food was unofferable. Having a pizza was a celebration of my new-found ecstasy.
On the walls of my apartment, I painted abstractions of madness and loneliness, but after I started seeing the Swami, a different mood broke out. A positive figure appeared on the wall. I chanted and painted for over two hours.
Swamiji gave us wholesome life. At first it was hard to accept. I thought, “It is cool, the life I have. It is desperate, but after all, life itself is desperate – just like Van Gogh said, misery is eternal. You can get high on pot and you can try your best. You are an artist. Keep trying.” I fed myself existential philosophy: “Although life is absurd, you must give it meaning.” Swamiji replaced the dismal view.
Prabhupada said, “Krishna consciousness is not an artificial imposition on the mind. It is the original energy of the living being.” He uncovered instincts that were buried in my psyche, belief in God, desire for good food and work, all the things I thought I had to give up because they were square. He exposed the fact that I was living a lie. He proved that happiness is now.
Responding to Swamiji’s love was one of the first things I did on my own. Everything before that was conditioned by my parents, and after that it was conditioned by a reaction against them. Not many people on the Lower East Side were going to him. It was not something my parents wanted from me, and neither was it what my hip friends wanted me to do, nor what my worshipable authors wanted me to do. The religion I was raised in did not teach me how to love. No one encouraged me, yet everything was encouraging me from within. My sense of survival and sanity and religiosity – everything was saying, “Don’t listen to other voices. Do it!”
Years later, Prabhupada was reminiscing. He said to Kirtananda Swami, “You came with the others?”
“Yes,” Kirtananda said. “Me and Umapati and Hayagriva all lived together.” Then Prabhupada turned to me and said, “You came with them also?” I said, “No, Prabhupada, I came by myself.”
“Oh yes,” he said.
August 12, 2016
Praying to the Giver of the Holy Name
I don’t know much, but I was with the Swami. He led the chanting and we sang with him. He talked and we heard. We went home and thought over what he said. “The Swami is self-realized. In the First Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, it says that you have to hear from a self-realized soul. Swamiji says he is going to teach us about Krishna.” I remember the books in his room, and the Swami in his room, and him coming down to have kirtana.
Years later Prabhupada said, “In the beginning, I did not tell them that you have to follow any rules and regulations. I simply said chant.” It is a fact, he simply said chant Hare Krishna and we chanted with him. That was a different time when Swamiji was here on earth, and now he is not here. He is in samadhi, gone back to Godhead. He had left us behind to continue the Krishna consciousness movement. We follow his instructions.
Sometimes my mind says, “If you go back to those days, you will be disappointed. You will see that you were such a raw neophyte. You had bad ideas in your mind and you did not fully appreciate the Swami. Over the years, you have built up an image of how faithful you were and how much you estimated Prabhupada as very dear to Krishna. That is what you think now, but back then …”
No, it is not true! We held him in high esteem, I am sure we did. I am not afraid to go back. I know it will be imperfect, and I know that imperfection will be due to my perception. So, my dear unconscious self and all other selves, do not be afraid to use this body and mind to allow us to go back and chant with Swami as it was then. We can do it.
One may object, “There are so many things to do for Prabhupada. Why sit around and try to remember being with him?” I agree, but can’t we spare some time to try to do this? Are we so effective now on Swamiji’s behalf? Are we doing such tremendous things? I mean, do we have such complete potency that we do not need to get in touch with him in a very personal and primitive way again? The fact is, we do need to get in touch with him. The essence of Krishna consciousness is not just propaganda and organization, but attraction to the Lord, and especially to the Lord’s holy name, which is the most merciful way that He appears in the world. Yet, as merciful as the holy name is, He has to be given by a devotee. You have to receive the holy name from a pure devotee. Therefore, I remember those mornings when Prabhupada gave us the holy name.
Although I complain a million times over that I must be cursed because I cannot realize the chanting due to my offenses, I still chant, and I still think of you. Bhakti is a great science; many have realized it. I am slow, but I have realized some of it, too. In the material world nothing can compare with this. The bhakti-yoga of chanting the holy names as given by Lord Caitanya is very easy to perform, and it gives us our connection to Krishna.
O Holy Name, You are so kind that You came with the Swami to the Lower East Side. You appeared there in the mouths of his boys and purified us. You purified Tompkins Square Park and the whole atmosphere of New York City. You kindly appeared in our kirtanas by the wish of Your pure devotee who knew how to form Your sacred letters. Those “alphabets”, as Prabhupada said, are non-different from Krishna; they are Krishna. You do not appear just by anyone’s combining of the alphabets K-R-I-S-H-N-A. When Swamiji did it, You appeared in that storefront so that even crazy boys became enthusiastic to possess You.
O Holy Name, You appeared among us because Your pure devotee appeared among us, walking on his lotus feet, playing his karatalas in his lotus hands. He looked at us and lived with us. O Holy Name, You were happy to appear there and we are thankful. We are sad, however, that we have offended You in many ways and have not been steadfast and strong to spread the glories of the Holy Name.
Initiation was my beginning, but I did not appreciate it then. Now I wish to fall at Your feet and surrender my mind.
That is the best kind of memory, to actually go back in time and say, “I accept.” Arjuna took an hour and a half to do it in Bhagavad-gita; we may have to take twenty-five or forty years to say, “I am ready, I accept.”
August 13, 2016
The Red Beads
Although Swamiji had a bead bag, he often chanted on his beads by holding them in two hands. The boys followed this method, and even when we were not chanting, we would wear the beads around our necks in a double strand. Swamiji thought this was acceptable; he told us to either keep them in a bead bag or wear them around our necks. And you can take them on the street like this, “if you are not ashamed.”
Soon after Prabhupada’s arrival on Second Avenue, young men started appearing in public with bright red beads around their necks. In those days, devotees did not wear dhotis or tilaka or shaved heads, so the main way that you could spot a devotee was by his read beads. With Gargamuni, it was his Shakespearean locks and his red beads. We thought wearing the beads was cool, with their clicking noise and red shine. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
We learned to finger the beads by watching Swamiji. You fingered with your right hand and held the other half of the strand in your left hand. As you moved each bead through the right hand, you moved the strand through the left hand and gradually passed the circle around your neck. It involved more touch and sight than when the beads were kept in the bead bag. Besides, bead bags hadn’t arrived yet.
One day I was going to visit welfare clients on Canal Street and chanted as I walked. I began to feel uneasy that my chanting was not being counted in any way. I wanted to capture it and get credit for it. As soon as I saw Swamiji I told him, “My chanting is just going to the wind.” He instructed me to buy little beads to use as counters. When I returned with the beads, he said, “You are very prompt.” Then he showed us how to use the counters. He said that Vaisnavas in India keep individual quotas for japa. Some have a thousand beads on one circular strand, and they chant one round a day.
When he held initiations, it was a good chance for us to watch him chant. He gave us instructions about chanting on our beads at that time. He told us to chant by starting with the bead next to the “head bead.” Chant the Hare Krishna mantra on each bead by using the thumb and the third finger. Don’t touch the beads with the pointing finger. Go around once, and when you reach the summit bead, don’t cross over, but start back in the other direction.
August 14, 2016
Chant One Round
One of the best times to chant was in the morning with Swamiji. After kirtana he used to say, “Chant one round.” We did it together. He usually finished before we did, and then we all trailed off, even if we hadn’t finished the round.
One day I was sitting on a bench on a traffic “island” on First Street. I was fingering the beads and chanting, when my mind suddenly faced me and said, “What do you actually feel?” I had to admit that I did not feel anything. I did not feel contact with Krishna. Some of my old friends had said that the whole practice of chanting Hare Krishna was a concoction from the East. It was something that the practitioners made up and believed in because of tradition. I faced that barrier and continued chanting. I concluded that rational analysis was not the deciding factor.
In my apartment, chanting privately, I sensed the luxury that japa afforded. I owned no comfortable furniture, no rug, television or air conditioning. Yet I felt luxury by fingering the beads. I imagined sages in India as described in the Bhagavatam. As they were chanting, so was I.
When we chanted as a group, we watched each other’s operations. Everyone moved the strand around their necks, working and clicking the beads.
Devotees wrote poems about chanting and published them in Back to Godhead. I wrote one called “Separation”, and Brahmananda wrote a prayer, “In my next thousands of births, may I please chant at least one attentive round”. What a humble statement! Brahmananda wrote another poem about chanting Hare Krishna on the subway. “You think I am crazy sitting here with my beads. But you don’t understand that I have God’s spine in my bead bag.” The metaphor “God’s spine” was a bit strange, but the meaning was, “I am happy chanting Hare Krishna”.
Raya Rama also published a poem, “Red Cherries”. He compared the wooden beads to cherries. The cherries that grow on bushes fade, just as the patterns of flowers fade in an oriental rug. However, the cherries of devotion, the holy names, are everlasting.
August 15, 2016
Escaping the Box Within a Box
One evening as Prabhupada was lecturing, a guest became restless. He stood up and moved from one part of the room to another. Prabhupada asked him what was wrong. The man, whose name was Burton Greene, said, “I feel boxed-in sitting over there.”
Prabhupada smiled and said, “A box within a box.” He then explained that our material body is like a box for the soul, and the room we are in is another box – and the whole material universe is another box.
When we remember Prabhupada, it is like crawling outside all the boxes and entering the spiritual world. There is an old fashioned drawing that depicts this. A shepherd is in a field. The sky above is filled with stars and is shaped like an inverted bowl. The shepherd is crawling outside the border of the drawing. By an optical illusion the drawing suggests that the shepherd is crawling outside the universe. I want to do this by entering the kirtana with Prabhupada and hearing from him with faith.
Sadhu-sanga, sadha-sanga – sarva-sastre kaya / lava-matra sadhu-sange sarva-siddhi haya. (Cc Madhya, 22.54) Even one moment’s association with a pure devotee can give one liberation. We are trying to go back to that moment. “The value of a moment’s association with the devotee of the Lord cannot even be compared to the attainment of heavenly planets or liberation from matter, and what to speak of worldly benedictions in the form of material prosperity, which are for those who are meant for death.” (Bhag. 1.18.13)
We live within a mortal anxiety, which builds during the day. Toward evening we sink and think, “Another day in which I have not done enough.” When I feel like this, like a box within a box, I go to hear Srila Prabhupada in his 1966 kirtana. I chant with him and stop worrying about my failure to follow him. At least during the period of the kirtana I escape mortality. I hear the sweet roughness of his voice. I sing and clap. I crawl outside the boundary of the universe.
August 16, 2016
Offering Prabhupada Your Love
I want to give Prabhupada pleasure, as well as receive pleasure from him. Usually, we beg from him. We are bankrupt, and he is full of Krishna’s mercy. That is the relationship of father and son. We are always drawing from him.
However, when happiness comes my way, I want to share it with Prabhupada. For example, now I am writing memories of my youth and the books that I have read, and I am making Krishna conscious commentary. I thought it came out as interesting reading and could draw people toward Krishna consciousness. As I felt a lift from doing this, I wanted to share it with my spiritual master.
I worried, “Is Prabhupada going to like this?” Then I remembered that Prabhupada appreciates whatever is successful in Krishna consciousness. He likes it if, on our own, we develop something and present it as an offering to him. The spiritual master wants to see the disciple use his intelligence for Krishna. That may involve all kinds of deliberation and development by the disciple. In the end, his joy is that Prabhupada does accept it.
Sometimes you dream up something; it comes out of your life and you feel deeply about it. It may even be an anartha that you face; you deal with it and convert it into Krishna consciousness. Srila Prabhupada said that someone once found an old gourd and a metal string, and from these rejected pieces he made a beautiful vina. When we pick up the bits and scraps of our lives and make them into something useful in Krishna consciousness, we feel a lift of happiness. “Let me show this to Prabhupada.”
This also works in our prayers. Prayer is not only for formal times, but for whenever we turn to our Friend. You may be working in your room for example, and because there is no heat, the chill starts getting to you. You notice it and you call out, “Prabhupada, it is so cold here!” Prabhupada meditation can be very ready, as near as our dearest friend. It is a respectful, intimate relationship.
If we do not offer Krishna our selfhood, then there is the danger of making offerings only in an official way. Our offering may appear impeccable; we may do everything according to the rules, with proper standards of cleanliness and on time. But what if we somehow avoid giving ourselves? If we do not give ourselves wholeheartedly, we will reserve some energy for other things. The energy will be bottled up and lead to frustration, or we will expand the energy for something separate from our service to guru and Krishna. If we want to offer our full selves, we have to be enthusiastic. We should not hold back.
Prabhupada tends to be lenient in bringing out the best in students. Thus he allows his students gradually to give more and more of themselves as they feel inclined. The students try to elevate their tastes and talents until their offerings become pleasing to Krishna and Prabhupada. Why not offer Prabhupada something we know is pleasing to pure devotees and to Krishna? The highest standard of offering is a devotee’s full energy and self, dovetailed in the interest of Krishna.
One devotee of Krishna was so ecstatic that when Krishna visited his house, the devotee offered Krishna banana peels instead of bananas. The offering was imperfect, but because it was done in love, Krishna happily accepted it. The gopis’ service, on the other hand, was so perfect that it captured Krishna’s mind. Their service was wholehearted and perfectly rendered according to the devotional arts – they knew how to please Him.
We can all try offering whatever we have to Prabhupada. We will always be fools before him, but at least we will have offered everything we could.
August 17, 2016
Neither was Prabhupada able to conduct a full initiation ceremony with all the details for yajna. For bricks we found some discarded ones at a construction site, and for dirt we dug it up (when Mr. Chudy was not looking) from the garden in the courtyard. Prabhupada conducted the initiation with faith in the holy names and a desire to carry out his spiritual master’s order. He improvised and accepted the broken souls who came to him, provided he saw them as sincere. Everything he did was bona fide according to Vaisnava smṛti, but some things had to be done according to time, place, and persons. If he did not have ghee, he’d do a ceremony with butter, even margarine.
“Prabhupada, you asked for coconuts, but we can’t find any. We’ve got bananas but no banana leaves.”
“All right,” Prabhupada said. He was not going to stop an initiation for lack of banana leaves.
August 18, 2016
A Neophyte Prepares for Initiation (Part 1)
Sometimes I wonder how Swamiji saw me in those early days. He had spiritual vision, and he was also a very perceptive gentleman, with much experience in business and in dealing with people. He could see into a person’s character, and so he liked to quote, “The face is the index of the mind.” What good did he see in me?
Although for a few years I had been living a strung-out life on the Lower East Side, I still had a karmi background of middle-class values. By the time I met Swamiji, I had in some ways plunged over the edge and almost lost my physical life. He must have seen that craziness in my eyes. So why did he trust that I could follow the rules? Perhaps he also saw my desire to be a respectable citizen in his ISKCON. At least he hadn’t seen me high on drugs or making loose jokes. I had shaped up soon after seeing him and had become eager to prove myself with responsible duties. He could see that I was willing to keep my welfare job and give money. I was the boy who typed.
But even though I had stopped the four major sins soon after meeting him, Prabhupada could see my leftover decadence. I did not have to say anything; he could look right through me. When he met me, he seemed somewhat startled, amused, and also compassionate. Although Srila Prabhupada knew Calcutta and its gundas, beggars, and ruffians, still, because he was so pure and childlike, he was sometimes surprised to see that his ISKCON boys were also like that. It was part of his learning to be in the West.
If you kept yourself humble before Srila Prabhupada, even when he was seeing through to your corrupt core, and if you had faith in Krishna consciousness and in Swamiji to help you get rid of those vices forever, then you qualified for initiation.
August 19, 2016
A Neophyte Prepares for Initiation (Part 2)
When the first initiation came on Janmastami, I hadn’t been following for even two months so I passed it up, but then I felt sorry. The boys who were initiated seemed happy with their red beads, and I felt left out. I did not have a spiritual name. Soon afterward, I overheard someone say that there was going to be another initiation on Radhastami in two weeks’ time.
Hayagriva asked me, “Are you going to get initiated?”
I said, “I’d like to. I think I’m ready this time. What do I have to do?”
“You should ask Swamiji I guess, to see if it’s all right with him.”
So I went up and said, “Swamiji, I heard there’s going to be another initiation. I would like to be initiated.”
Prabhupada was calm about my request. He was never hasty. He took his time, weighing things deeply, and yet at the same time he seemed casual. He was more at home in New York City than I was, especially in his room, which had become an asrama. When I went into his room, the room of the guru, which was kept so simple and spiritual, I was the self-conscious one and he was perfectly at ease. He was like a lotus sitting on the dirty waters of New York City, floating above it all. And he was all alone; there was no other devotee dressed in dhoti with Vaisnava tilaka – just Prabhupada, alone and chaste to the parampara and to his Guru Maharaja. He was determined. And now some little success had come in starting ISKCON.
I said, “I would like to get initiated.”
Prabhupada replied, “You’ll have to be a strict vegetarian.”
I said, “I already am, Swamiji. I’m already a vegetarian.”
“All right,” he said.
The meeting was over almost as soon as it had begun. I like to claim that we all had access to Prabhupada whenever we wanted, and that’s true. But we always knew that we weren’t his equals or buddies. We did not want to waste his time. But to be able to go personally, even for a brief moment, and have him personally approve my initiation, was worth everything. So I was in and out of his room within a few minutes. He had accepted me!
Rupanuga Prabhu tells a similar story about going up to see Swamiji and asking for initiation. He had a speech prepared in his mind and he kept rehearsing it, “My dear Swamiji, will you kindly accept me as your disciple and teach me about Krishna consciousness?” But when he went up to Swamiji’s room, he only said, “Swamiji, will you make me your disciple?” And Prabhupada said, “Yes.” So Rupanuga dropped the rest of his speech. He thought, “There’s nothing else to say. He has accepted me.”
August 20, 2016
Giving Money for Krishna’s Mission
When I first attended 26 Second Avenue, I gave small donations in the collection basket. Then I started giving larger donations, sometimes 20 dollars. One time I “donated” 40 dollars, although I hadn’t intended to – it fell out of my sock. It was my habit to keep money hidden in my sock, as I had seen my supervisor at the welfare office do. He said that this was an excellent method to protect your money in case you were held up by a mugger. So one night when I went to hear and see Swamiji in his room, I took my socks off, forgetting about my hidden money. Later, one of the boys came downstairs and said, “Wow! We just found 40 in Swamiji’s room.” I said, “That was my money!” The boys looked like they did not believe me, but I asked them, “Could you please tell the Swami to accept it as a donation from me.”
After that I decided to give everything I had, the balance from my total savings of 600 dollars. I still remember how Swamiji smiled when I gave him my savings, and I think about why he was so happy. At the time when I gave my “big” donation, Swamiji was residing in his apartment and using the temple storefront, but with no set income. He was simply trusting in Krishna. He had struggled for a year in New York City, moving from place to place, and he had attained a very nice base at Second Avenue. If he failed here, he would probably decide to go back to India; there was no other alternative. And yet Prabhupada wanted to serve his Guru Maharaja by preaching in the West. He might have seen a donation like mine as a sign from Krishna. Prabhupada might have thought, “Just see, Krishna is showing me that this movement is going to go on and be successful.” Even years later when Prabhupada was getting hundreds of thousands of dollars, he saw it as Krishna sending money for the spreading of the Krishna consciousness movement.
After giving my savings in 1966, I no longer had the pleasure of giving so much of my own money to Prabhupada because I had none to give. Later on, wealthy disciples like Ambarisa and Lekasravanti were able to personally give Prabhupada substantial amounts. I continued with the weekly donations of my paycheck, and I also began to take part along with Prabhupada in collecting the money. I remember bringing the basket up to him in the evening and presenting the small collection from the Second Avenue congregation. The money was in one of those stiff-woven baskets, and Prabhupada counted five or six dollars, and then made the reverent gesture with folded hands and said, “Money is Laksmi.”
August 21, 2016
Prabhupada once said.
Prabhupada gave the example.
One time Prabhupada said.
On a morning walk,
once to a roomful of guests in New York.
One time I went to see Prabhupada,
and once Prabhupada told a devotee.
Once he told a reporter.
Prabhupada says; he wrote.
I don’t count how many times I say them,
but it is plenty. You can overdo it,
but when the examples come
just to the point,
it is nectar for all.
Thank God I can remember them.
I don’t strive for them, but they come.
Just as birds start chirping at dawn,
those references come to your mind, in words.
A lady said, “I heard that Krishna consciousness
breaks up families. Is it true?’
Prabhupada said no and he gestured
to half a dozen gṛhastha disciples in the room.
Someone asked, “Can you love your wife
without reference to Krishna?”
Prabhupada said, “You have to put
your love in the right place.
Carrots are good for eyesight
but you can’t put them
directly into your eyes.”
Fortunately there is no end to this type of remembrance. They come a dozen a minute. Or you can slow them down. Use them carefully. It is worship. Serve them. Don’t hit people on the head with your memories. Don’t boast. Tell the right story. When a devotee asked Prabhupada, “What will please you the most?” Prabhupada hesitated a moment and then said, “If you love Krishna.”
August 22, 2016
Prabhupada Accepted Our Awkwardness
There are awkward moments in spiritual life, especially in the beginning. One is hesitant to chant or dance or to accept the “Indian God”. And yet we are drawn to Krishna consciousness. In one of his early lectures, Srila Prabhupada said something which assured us not to feel awkward.
This was at a time when I myself did not know whether I wanted to be completely surrendered to him and agree with everything he said, or whether I wanted to consider myself an interested visitor to the storefront. Prabhupada said, “I can assure you that those who are taking seriously to Krishna consciousness are doing so because you have practiced it in your past life.” He said this while lecturing on the Sixth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. Prabhupada said, “Why are you coming to the storefront? You have the urge. And this is coming from the past. If we accept what the Bhagavad-gita says, then you have developed your attraction to Krishna consciousness in a past life and it is coming up again.” When Prabhupada said this, it made me feel privileged and rare. Everyone likes to think that perhaps within himself he is a mystical person, a yogi, and here was Prabhupada giving us just such information about our own past lives.
Once I crossed over the line between guest and disciple, there were still awkward moments. One night, before I was initiated, I was hanging out in the storefront with a few of Prabhupada’s followers. Suddenly, Prabhupada walked into the storefront, although it was not an evening in which he was scheduled to lecture. He said that he had come down because he saw a light on in the storefront bathroom and he did not want the electricity to be wasted. After he turned off the light, we stood facing Prabhupada, and there seemed nothing else to say. It was an awkward moment because our relationship with Prabhupada was so undeveloped. Prabhupada had his great hopes for spreading Krishna consciousness, but so far not much had happened. It would also be in the future that we would become more attached to Prabhupada and understand him better. So everything was undeveloped and we were waiting. One has to endure those times in order to go on to something better.
And sometimes you can see it all very clearly, how you are undeveloped and awkward. You can see your lack of serious devotional relationship with Prabhupada. He was a stranger to you, and yet he was awesome, the way he came down gravely and caught you all hanging around idly. He suddenly came into our midst and we had nothing much to say to him, and not much to offer him. At that moment Srila Prabhupada also had nothing more to say to us except, “I came down because I saw the light on.” Of course there was much more. Prabhupada had not come to America just to stay alone in his room and to notice that a light was on in the downstairs bathroom. But at each particular moment, you sometimes have to accept only a little bit. You accept it and go on, and Krishna makes better things happen.
August 23, 2016
Did Prabhupada Make Predictions That Did Not Come True?
Srila Prabhupada always encouraged us in chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. He told audiences at 26 Second Avenue that the boys and girls who are chanting Hare Krishna are experiencing pleasure and absorption in love of God. What could be attained previously only through great austerity can now be achieved simply by chanting Hare Krishna. As proof of this, Prabhupada offered the example of his disciples who are chanting Hare Krishna and giving up attraction to material life.
Sometimes I doubt whether these things are actually coming true. Were they true when Prabhupada was present, but not true now? Were they ever true? If they are true, how to understand them? Or should we not make attempts to analyze?
Prabhupada’s statements are true because they are based on sastra. In the sastra, we find much encouragement that lowborn or low-class persons can successfully chant Hare Krishna. Even if a person born in a family of dogeaters chants Hare Krishna once, he becomes qualified to perform Vedic yajnas. Those who are chanting Hare Krishna in this lifetime must have accomplished all Vedic practices in previous lifetimes. There is no doubt that the Vaisnava acaryas, and especially the followers of Lord Caitanya, praised the power of the holy name over all other spiritual practices. What Prabhupada has added to all of this is the claim that now these teachings are actually taking place, people from all races and religions all over the world are chanting Hare Krishna and getting good results.
Sociologists have their empirical methods for assessing the effects of chanting. They might follow a group of devotees for twenty years. They give them questionnaires and interviews and judge how they progress in spiritual life from year to year. In this way, they try to build statistical evidence for theories. That is not the Vaisnava way – at least it is not my way.
One way to reply to doubts is to speak for yourself. When your experience confirms what is stated in sastra and by the spiritual master, then you have strong evidence. I want to be a successful statistic to prove Prabhupada correct. If I can do that, then my confidence will be strong. If someone claims that most devotees do not get benefit from chanting as Prabhupada predicted, I can reply, “I know the benefits have been there for me.” Unfortunately, I cannot claim significant progress in my own chanting. I look at some of the positive statements Prabhupada made about chanting, and I feel sorry.
I know, however, that Prabhupada was not making false predictions. One has to look carefully at his use of language. He may say that if a devotee sincerely chants, then he will get the good results. In one purport Prabhupada states that chanting is very simple, but you have to take it seriously. There may be something wrong with us, rather than with Prabhupada’s statements. Our own inability to experience the benefits of chanting may be a cause for concern, but this should not lead us to doubt the spiritual master or the namacarya, Haridasa Thakura, whom he represents. In fact, our individual failure is also predicted by the acaryas. They say that if someone does not take advantage of this easy system of chanting Hare Krishna, then there is no other hope for him.
The Vaisnava acaryas sympathize with people like me. They have stated on our behalf, “I do not have attraction for the chanting of Hare Krishna; therefore, I must be cursed by Yamaraja.” Lord Caitanya speaks for the conditioned souls and says, “I do not have a taste for chanting Hare Krishna because of committing offenses.”
August 24, 2016
As Good As God
It is Krishna who makes the beautiful material world with its oceans and mountains. You cannot thank Prabhupada for the creation, yet I feel, “Oh Prabhupada, thank you!” What I mean to say is, “Thank you, Prabhupada, for enabling me to see the creation as the work of Krishna. Thank you for giving me the eyes.”
I remember being in Prabhupada’s room in 1966 and thinking of him “as God”. He was talking to a group of us. I suddenly thought, “He is God for me,” but I did not say anything. I had never had a direct experience of God, just talked about Him. However, the Swami was a person who knew love of God. Therefore, God was in the room when you were with the pure devotee.
What I felt that day was something I could not put into an essay. When it is time for expressing things in writing, then we must make them very clear: there is an eternal distinction between the individual soul who is a pure devotee of Krishna and the Supreme Soul. Krishna is the complete whole and all the devotees, including the liberated souls, are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord. Everyone serves the Lord. No one is the Supreme isvara except Krishna. This is all very clear and the acaryas are the ones who make it clear for us. Fortunately, we also have spiritual-emotional moments when we feel so grateful to the pure devotee that we utter, at least within ourselves, “You are God to me.”
By his grace, I meditate on the spiritual master who is one of the individual expansions of the Lord. He is not an ordinary living entity. His perfection is his intimate service to the Supreme Lord and to the Vaisnavas. I meditate on that spiritual master who is described distinctly in each verse of the “Gurvastakam”. He soaks us with rain from the ocean of love of God. He puts out the forest fire of samsara. When he chants the holy name, he sometimes dances and sheds tears in ecstasy. He teaches us to worship the arca-vigraha of Lord Krishna and Srimati Radharani. He teaches us to prepare food and to give it to Krishna. The spiritual master is happy to see his devotees honoring bhāgavata-prasadam.
I meditate on the spiritual master, who is always engaged in the pastimes of Radha and Krishna, assisting the assistants of the gopis. He is able to do this by virtue of his intense devotion to his own spiritual master, and this has enabled him to enter the pastimes of Vrindavana. The spiritual master is accepted in all the scriptures to be as worshipable as God Himself because he is the confidential servitor of the Lord. When we please him, we please Krishna; when we fail to please him, our destination is unknown.
August 25, 2016
In the mornings, in an intimate setting with his own disciples, Prabhupada taught Caitanya-caritamrta. Even in the pedagogical sense, his was an accredited course in advanced spiritual knowledge.
When Prabhupada heard that IBM was donating free typewriters to bona fide educational institutions, he asked me to go get one. I met with the man, but when he heard the description of our ISKCON storefront, he said, “I am sorry, but these typewriters are only for educational institutions.” I replied that Krishna consciousness is the king of education. It teaches absolute knowledge. Mathematics, for example, is one department of knowledge within the Absolute Truth. Therefore, ISKCON is an educational institution. He decided not to argue with me, but said that he would send his representative out to check on the quality of classes at 26 Second Avenue. Of course, no one ever came. An impartial educator, however, would have to admit that learning was going on in Prabhupada’s classes. Prabhupada was teaching us the principles and objectives of spiritual science as passed down by the great acaryas of India.
Anyone who studies Prabhupada’s books becomes educated in the most important subject. Whenever a follower of Prabhupada hears a discussion of God consciousness, he spots contradictions or a “poor fund of knowledge” wherever it occurs. Even a young brahmacari can note the flaws in the presentation of learned theologians or clergymen. Theologians are puzzled as to “why bad things happen to good people”. Some of them theorize that God may be all good, but He is not all powerful. Some may say that God cannot have a form, or that God exists only in human relationships – but we can see this as a poor fund of knowledge.
One of the benefits of a good education in any field is that one easily meets opposition from prejudiced or ignorant persons. Sometimes people would ask Prabhupada, “What is your faith?” Prabhupada usually replied, “It is not faith, it is fact.” He also said, “You may believe or not believe, that is a different thing.” When a devotee meets a strong-minded atheist, the devotee sees right away that the atheist is only speaking for himself. We are not shaken in our convictions. Let us always thank Prabhupada for giving us the best education in the most important of all subjects. It is not a sectarian religious education. It is not less important than material knowledge. Prabhupada teaches raja-vidya, the king of education. Most of us are unqualified to receive this education, and yet we have received a full scholarship. Just as an underprivileged person feels fortunate to receive a scholarship to a top university, we are grateful that Prabhupada has accepted us into the University of Vaisnava Brahmanism.
A few colleges now give credits to Prabhupada’s students in courses based on his books. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine that Krishna conscious students will be given as much credit in the world as science or business students. If Vaisnavas became recognized as educators, that would be nice. If not, we will go on teaching. One who is trained by Prabhupada is better than a PhD – yet he humbly thinks himself unadvanced.
The subject in which we are trained, love of Krishna, is unlimitedly vast. We can never know everything about Krishna. Therefore, a PhD in this field honestly says that he does not have a deep love for Krishna. He reasons that if he had love for Krishna, how could he live in this world without Him? The accomplished student of Krishna consciousness never considers himself a master of this subject and never becomes puffed up. He acknowledges that even simple people can receive God consciousness by the direct method of chanting the holy names. Prabhupada has taught us everything. He has given the syllabus and the practices, and he has stressed humility. This is true education.
August 26, 2016
An Acarya’s Compassion
Prabhupada was very compassionate to accept his first disciples. Nowadays, those disciples tell of the old days in a humorous way, but for Prabhupada, it was not merely humorous. Sometimes it was painful to see how degraded the youth were.
Prabhupada realized in a humble way that this was the opportunity Krishna was giving him. He said that our natural beauty was covered over by a morose, dirty appearance.
Those who became his disciples were respectful, but some people were insulting, even while sitting in the audience of the Bhagavad-gita lectures. Prabhupada’s disciples were indirectly offensive in their failure to understand the etiquette of approaching the guru. Also, after initiation, they were offensive when they broke the vows. These things were painful to Prabhupada.
We get a little hint of how Prabhupada saw things from some of his expressions. He said that working with the broken youth of America was similar to picking up a discarded wire and an old gourd and making a vina out of it. Prabhupada said that his work was similar to Lord Ramacandra’s task of creating an army of monkeys.
Prabhupada might have thought like this: “At first I planned to open a Gaudiya Math branch in uptown Manhattan where ladies and gentlemen could come. But Krishna is arranging it that these bewildered hippies – all young enough to be my grandchildren and great grandchildren – are coming forward. They are asking me, ‘Swamiji, can I take LSD? Do we really have to follow these rules?’”
Prabhupada preached wholeheartedly. He was a refined and elderly gentleman, yet he took on rough, untrained disciples. He gave himself in a loving relationship yet always remained dependent on Krishna – and that is what made him attractive to us.
August 27, 2016
Memoirs of Prabhupada in 1966 are usually told in a humorous way, but sometimes an audience of devotees is a bit shocked when they hear the details.
The humor of those days is that the devotees did not appreciate Prabhupada’s greatness. We did not make obeisances to him, and we said foolish things. One day I gave Prabhupada some typing I had done for him. In return, he handed me a few grapes. I thought, “Is this all I get for typing all night – some grapes?” When Prabhupada put a plate of prasadam on the floor for me to eat, I thought, “This is the way you would feed a dog.” We tell these stories expecting to get a laugh, but sometimes our audience is displeased. “Why did you think like that toward Prabhupada? That’s not nice!”
The devotees’ shock helps me to see how rude we actually were. How coarse and completely ignorant we were toward Prabhupada. It is all right to laugh at the primitive and ignorant days, but I can also see now that we were rascals. Prabhupada’s exalted position of worship in ISKCON today is not a false one. When we approach him as a jagad-guru, we have reached an accurate level of appreciation. In the early days, however, we were ignorant. Those were lovable times because of Prabhupada’s mercy.
We should not think that we knew Prabhupada better in 1966 because we did not offer him obeisances. The early days were not better because Prabhupada accepted our ignorance and familiarity. The glorious part of the early days is that Prabhupada was willing to preach when no one recognized him. He tolerated and was happy that Krishna sent him followers, and gradually he trained them up.
It is tempting to make an audience laugh. Lenny Bruce, one of the prominent comedians in the 1960s, was once asked to define a comedian. He said, “A comedian is one who can provoke his audience to laughter every ten seconds, or at the very most, every fifteen seconds.” We each have a comedian within us, but we have to be careful not to indulge ourselves when we tell the raw memories of Srila Prabhupada and his boys in the early days. The most sacred matter, association with Prabhupada, should not be used as an object of humor.
It is a fact that the early days with Prabhupada are rich with irony and humorous implications. Telling the stories is also a way to express our affection for Prabhupada. We did love him, but we fell short in honoring him. On the one hand, the humor is harmless. When you are saved from a dangerous situation, you laugh with relief that the danger has passed. Let us remember the flavor of early association with Srila Prabhupada, but not forget to worship him as the tolerant founder-acarya and pure devotee of Lord Krishna.
August 28, 2016
“Betting” Our Whole Life on Swamiji
I had a conversation with Raya Rama just before my initiation by Prabhupada. I said, “How can I know for sure that I’ll be able to follow all these regulations?”
Raya Rama said, “Say it’s a gamble. So gamble that it’s the right thing to do with your life – that there is God and that He’s the truth and that He’s Krishna. We’re staking our whole life on that. So what the hell? Go for it. There’s always some risk or gamble in life, but this risk is worthwhile.”
His line of reasoning appealed to me. I had been willing to risk my life taking LSD and doing other crazy things, so why should I become hesitant to be initiated just because I couldn’t see a guarantee? In fact, if someone had given me all guarantees, it would have been hard to accept. I took it as an adventure. “Go for it – get initiated by Swamiji!”
On the night of the initiation, I was sitting in Swamiji’s inner room while Swamiji was in the worship room preparing for the ceremony. Keith was sitting beside me. I said, “How can we actually accept that the person Krishna is the ultimate truth?”
Keith repeated the Bhagavad-gita verse, “Krishna says, everything depends on Me as pearls are strung on a thread.” That little quoting of the scripture by a godbrother helped purge me of some impersonal hesitation. Godbrothers are so much like ourselves, so when we see that they’re faithful and that they have some knowledge, we accept it – and then we do it for ourselves.
Taking initiation is supposed to be a solemn commitment, not a casual undertaking. However, despite our promises, we have to admit that we are taking a risk. Srila Prabhupada was also taking a risk by accepting us as disciples. He honored our vows and depended on Krishna, expecting us to carry out our obligations. Srila Prabhupada’s coming to America was itself a risk. Sometimes he had to abandon the strict regulations of sannyasa in order to stay and do the more important work of spreading Krishna consciousness. When he stayed in Carl Yeargens’ apartment, he had to keep his food in the same refrigerator where Carl kept cat food. Prabhupada explained that this was actually against the rules for sannyasa living but, “If I thought, ‘I can’t do this, let me go back to India,’ then I never would have been able to preach.” In Prabhupada’s case, his risks were completely protected by Krishna.
August 29, 2016
Another area of discomfort was the culture gap between Prabhupada and his first followers. Hayagriva writes how devotees had to explain what the words “fuzz”, “acid head” and “pot” meant. But once Swamiji heard the terms defined, he understood it perfectly and said that Krishna consciousness was better than any drugs, and was not illegal. With marvelous ease, Srila Prabhupada accepted the fact that many of his followers and congregation were hippies. He bridged the gap and reduced it with specific compassion for the hairy ones who had somehow or other come to hear him. Prabhupada assured them, “Your frustration and confusion is a good sign because you have rejected the material way of life.”
August 30, 2016
The Clumsiness of Those Early Days
The clumsiness of those early days was also expressed in our feelings at first taking on the dress of the Vaisnava and the shaved head and sikha. So much awkwardness! Not knowing how to pronounce the Sanskrit, not being able to spell or chant properly – gradually these things were overcome. Prabhupada did not push them on us. And if Swamiji did not understand the use of a word in the English or American language, it was another occasion for us to love him.
The unevenness of seeming to come from a different culture was overcome. The all-important first step was to learn the words of the maha-mantra – Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare. Once we got that straight, everything became easy and natural. When you think about the fact that within a few months a new devotee feels familiar with the philosophy and with Prabhupada, it makes you think that maybe it really won’t take so long to feel at home in Krishna consciousness and to develop a desire to go back to Godhead.
August 31, 2016
We can only approach Srimati Radharani
through Her intimate associates.
You are one, no doubt about that.
You preached Her glories everywhere …
Prabhupada, may I too say
“Queen of Vraja”, “Mother of Bhakti?”
May I wake to Her service?
I’m not completely cleared
of material sex desire,
but I am keeping my vows –
can I please begin?
It is so late already, with little time left –
I’ve failed to worship Radharani.
I never stopped to consider
that She is the refuge of all devotees,
the dearmost friend.
I thought I shouldn’t think of Her,
but now I am begging …
Prabhupada, please protect
my creeper of devotional service
through practical acts for your mission.
There I will find Radharani’s blessings.
Prabhupada, you said Radharani is
only known by liberated souls.
And yet you spoke to us about Her,
attracted our minds to
“the best devotee of Krishna.
She loves Him the most.”
In 1966, when we were still grimed
with Second Avenue dust, you
showed us Radharani in a painting.
And you wrote in TLC that She is
15 days younger than Krishna and
when He stands in His youthful pose,
She puts Her hand on His shoulder.
When I found a color photo of Radha-Krishna
looking very young, standing together,
I asked if you liked it.
You nodded and said, “Yes.”
And I had that photo reproduced
for all your disciples.
Radha-Krishna, the cow, Yamuna, the forest.
They are the ultimate abode
of worship, perfection and love of God.
You taught us this from the beginning:
“Radha is kind. So we only fast
until noon on Her birthday.
Prabhupada, tell us more about Radharani.
Often you’d say, “No, we are not
fit to hear.” But then
you would tell something,
Prabhupada, please teach me still.
I want to remember you and follow you
in practical service and in the philosophy
of the avataras, Creation, Bhagavad-gita –
all leading to Radha-Krishna
they are the ultimate,
you have made it clear.
And Radharani’s name is called upon
eight times in the Hare Krishna mantra.
You say we should call on Her
as a child calls for the mother.
“O Energy of God! O Lord!
Please engage me in Your service.”