November 1, 2016
Another Sunday Evening with Swamiji
I have been to the Sunday love feast and then to my apartment to finish up some typing. Now I’m going back to the storefront to give Swamiji the typing. As I enter the storefront I see that many guests have already left. Kirtanananda is sitting on the front shelf of the storefront window talking with a guy and girl about Krishna consciousness. He’s speaking examples he’s heard from the Swami and some of his own. His friend, Umapati, stands by. Someone mentions Buddhism, and Umapati says, “Buddhism is actually a kind of mysticism for atheists.” On the left side of the front entrance is a shelf with ISKCON literatures where Gargamuni has set up pamphlets (“Krishna, The Reservoir of Pleasure” and “Who is Crazy?”). The first issue of BTG is there, and some incense in homemade packs. Gargamuni wears red japa beads around his neck and he smooths his “Shakespearean locks” with his hand. He says, “You can burn this incense when you chant Hare Krishna.” He laughs, but he’s trying to make a sale. A man picks up a leaflet. “Is this free?” Gargamuni says, “We have to pay for the printing. You can give a little donation for it.” Gargamuni holds his fourth plate of feast prasadam, and he’s picking a little from it as he talks.
At the back of the room where the dais is, there are big pots on the floor, and the devotees are giving out whatever prasadam is left. Acyutananda is serving out prasadam with a large spoon. Stryadhisa is sitting quietly, eating. Rupanuga and his wife and little child are sitting, having finished prasadam, and talking with Rayarama. Rupanuga says to Rayarama, “Something should be done to make the temple a cleaner place.” He says that he and his wife sometimes feel ashamed to come there because of the cockroaches and the dirt. There are even sweet juice stains on the rug. Rayarama smiles and says, “Well, what can be done?” But Rupanuga is serious about it. He says it’s really bad, and he will tell the Swami about it. Jagannatha dasa (James Green) is also there, and he’s talking with a newly- initiated devotee named Dvarakadhisa. Dvarakadhisa is comparing Krishna consciousness to Western philosophy and saying that the arguments on the existence of God by Thomas Aquinas are very good.
A moody young man is playing the tamboura, but pressing the strings down as if it were a guitar. Bob Lefkowitz says to him, “Hey, that’s not the way you play a tamboura. You’ll break it. It’s just a drone instrument.” The young man continues playing the tamboura by pressing the strings and finally Lefkowitz takes it from him.
I walk through this scene and out the side door into the courtyard. Paper plates are scattered around, and the janitor, Mr. Chuddy, is upset. “I told you this before,” he says. “This is not your place.” Brahmananda says, “We’re just like your sons. So just tell us what to do and I’ll do it. I’ll clean up right away. It won’t happen again.” Brahmananda has heard Swamiji say he should approach Mr. Chuddy this way. Mr. Chuddy is pacified, but another tenant comes; they both complain again about the plates. “Did you get some prasadam?” asks Brahmananda of the tenant. “Yes, I got a plate. It was nice, but that’s not the point.” Stryadhisa sits at the picnic table blinking, looking detached from everything.
November 2, 2016
Swamiji’s Attractive Beauty
Sri Krishna is “handsomeness and waves of nectar of handsomeness.” (Brhad-Bhagavatamrta). But Swamiji was seventy or eighty years old. We were all young men, so why were we attracted to this “old man”? (Swamiji used to say, “I’m an old man, I may die at any moment.” And, “I am a poor foreigner. Why are they after me?”) He had the attractive features of a sage. The way he sat, the shape of his head, the gestures of his hands. He was from the East, like Gautama Buddha. He sat on the floor or on the ground, and whatever furniture he had was at a low center of gravity, no chairs. The aura and look in his eyes was from another world. You can’t describe it, his shining eyes. His eyes signalled, “You can look in my eyes but you will not be able to understand my love of Krishna, but that’s what’s there.” He was childlike also, very sweet but very strong. You couldn’t come before him like a rogue and a rascal and still approach him. You had to accept that he was an elderly person, a guru, and you must be respectful to him, and then things could happen. Then you could begin to perceive his actual beauty; he would relax and allow himself to be taken care of by you and exchange with you.
We were certainly not turned off by the fact that he was an elderly person. We weren’t looking for youth. We knew where our youthful smart-aleckness had gotten us—into trouble and suffering. There was no question of sexual attraction, or as men sometimes do, squaring off with aggressiveness: “Can you beat me up? Can I beat him up?” With the Swami, it was freedom from all that because he was the guru, he was old, and he knew so many things that you didn’t know.
Swamiji kept spelling everything out: He was a representative of Krishna, and Krishna is there in His name, Krishna is there in so many ways, and we can serve Krishna and go to Krishna. Aside from Swamiji, nobody was going to tell you about Krishna —that Krishna is God and that Krishna is a cowherd boy. Krishna was so “far out” we couldn’t believe it, but every time we went in front of Swamiji, we had to believe it. He kept up the reality of Krishna. And in the books that he gave out—there was Krishna. He made such a powerful presentation that you said, “Let’s go up and hear the Swami talk about Krishna.” You would come to him with your concoctions, “What about this? And what about that?” But Swamiji would bring it right back to Krishna and you would accept it. And so, gradually in his presence, hearing about Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and devotional service to Krishna, you started becoming Krishna-ized and you realized that Swamiji had knowledge and influence to do this to people—to create faith in them, for Krishna. But you had to go back regularly to him and get it charged up.
He had unshakeable faith in Krishna, and he could see Krishna. We sometimes imagined how he saw Krishna. We couldn’t quite understand it. When did he talk with Him, in sleep? Swamiji would say, “Yes, you can talk with Krishna, but He only talks with intimate persons.” We may not have known exactly how, but we did know that we were attracted to him because he had such conviction about Krishna. I remember once in that room he said, “People can talk philosophy about Krishna, but what is their realization?” Then I realized that’s what he’s got—full realization of Krishna. Exactly how he realized, we didn’t know, but we had faith that he was experiencing a huge amount that we were not.
Those who were not his disciples thought he was pretty much like everybody else: an old man with Hindu knowledge, probably the same motives and drives as everybody else. But we disciples believed in him and sensed that his perception of everything was very different from ours. He was in touch with Krishna, and fascinating, attractive and lovable. We could sense his mystic potency. Even Allen Ginsberg saw it: “I would disagree with him and even suspect ego exchanges, but no matter how much I disagreed, I was always glad to be with him because of the aura of sweetness due to his complete dedication.” Nicely put. Even he, although not a disciple, when coming into the Swami’s presence, was able to see, “Here is a man who is totally dedicated and in love with Krishna.” That made Swamiji beautiful; although he appeared to be an old man, he was beautiful because of his love for Krishna.
November 3, 2016
Mercy from His Room
Some memories of Srila Prabhupada are difficult because they show my failures. Some memories are sweet and completely reassuring. I would like to start with one of the sweet ones, as it occurred in Swamiji’s private room at 26 Second Avenue.
One evening I went to Swamiji’s room and found him alone. I had been reading a Gaudiya Math book by Bhaktivinode Thakura and it stimulated my intellect. So I asked Swamiji, “What does it mean when Bhaktivinode Thakura says, ‘The darling of Nanda?'” Swamiji explained it. Then I said, “Bhaktivinode Thakura says that a person who sees the spiritual form of the Deity on the altar is the true theist.” I was repeating this to Swamiji because I was impressed with Bhaktivinode Thakura’s expressions, and also I wanted to hear what Swamiji thought of the slight difference of words and concepts between himself and Bhaktivinode. I made a few more comments and then Swamiji said, “Now go downstairs and let me finish my work.” I suddenly realized that I had overextended his welcome to me. Swamiji had better things to do other than chat with me about the meaning of Bhaktivinode Thakura’s language. In obedience, I bowed down and left him alone.
On that occasion, the Swami gave me a little glimpse of the difference between us. He could talk and listen to a young boy who was excited about his first reading of Bhaktivinode Thakura, or he could be composing Bhaktivedanta purports. Prabhupada considered his time well spent if he could attract someone to Krishna, but it was sometimes embarrassing to see how we foolishly intruded.
Memory is such a nice thing for connecting us with the pure devotee. When things happen in the flow of the present, you don’t always recognize that this is an important moment. The present flies into the next moment and the next moment, and there are always distractions and nothing stops. We don’t have a television playback to see the important moment that just passed. But we want to be thoughtful about our relationship with Prabhupada, so by memory you can note, that was good, that was deep, that was substantial, that happened.
November 4, 2016
Krishna Comes Through His Pure Representative
According to Vaisnava philosophy, the guru gives you Krishna. Srila Prabhupada did that. We were unqualified to realize Krishna directly, but our association with Srila Prabhupada made us Krishna conscious. The fact is, Swamiji always gave us double: when we were with him we got both Krishna and Swamiji. So it’s more than a reminiscence to say, “Anything I know about Krishna, I received from Swamiji.” It’s declared in all sastras and by all the Vedic sages that the Supreme Lord reveals Himself through guru.
My lord, devotees like your good self are verily holy places personified. Because you carry the Personality of Godhead within your heart, you turn all places into places of pilgrimage. (Bhag.1.13.10)
As Prabhupada’s first Western disciples, we had no knowledge of sastras or sadhus. But gradually, we received the nectar from guru, His Divine Grace. We learned Krishna is the most relishable of all incarnations, the original form of Godhead. Swamiji concentrated on Bhagavad-gita, wherein Krishna is both the speaker and the Supreme Lord. Along with Gita lessons, he mixed in stories of Govinda’s pastimes in Vrindavana, His lifting Govardhana Hill, His best devotee Radharani, and the gopis. Whatever it was about Krishna, we heard it from him. As Prabhupada said, “The atheists claim God is dead, but the pure devotee can hand you God”—and as he said it, he held his own hand forward and opened it.
Someone might say, “Since Krishna was foreign to you, did it conflict with your previous ideas of God?” No conflict for me—I had abandoned God. Before Swamiji came to the Lower East Side, I would sit with my friends in a dark apartment with just a candle burning, while we shared LSD. I remember saying, “Why don’t we write in large letters on the wall, ‘LSD is God’?” That was our misunderstanding, despite a yearning for religion. It was not that we had a firm hold on the Judaic-Christian or Catholic concept of God, and so, upon meeting Swamiji we were thrown into a religious crisis. Rather, I had no God, and Swamiji gradually introduced me to Krishna. (In later years, Prabhupada said Western young people are nice because they had no preconceptions about Krishna and therefore “they accepted what I said.”)
The big step for us was to accept the Swami as guru, and that wasn’t hard. He looked like a guru and he acted like a guru. He taught us according to the scriptures that you should accept whatever the guru says: “He is in the chant of His holy name. The name of Krishna is not different from Krishna Himself. Krishna is the Supreme Truth.” And so we learned our lessons from the guru. The fact that we had fallen out of the mainstream of U.S. society worked in our favor. We didn’t care about getting a good career or job, and we weren’t interested in politics. That was our “qualification.” We were free to give our full time to the Swamiji and to our own spiritual development. It didn’t take long before we also began to repeat his messages. When asked a question about Krishna one of Swamiji’s followers would pause, and you could see him thinking back to what he had just heard the Swami say. And when he remembered it, he would repeat it, because that’s the only way we knew.
After hearing from Prabhupada for years, I still can’t claim to have realization of Krishna or mystic perception of Him. I’m finding out that I am more conditioned than I thought because of my Western culture. I have inherited a working-class cynicism from my parents and an intellectual cynicism from professors. Somehow, I now have a basic, simple faith in Krishna, and it comes from association with Prabhupada. As described in sastra, the bhakti-lata-bija, the seed of devotion, is planted in our heart by the guru. And if that seed is watered by chanting and hearing and is protected by fencing against the “mad elephant” of guru-aparadha, then one can proceed quickly in Krishna consciousness.
November 5, 2016
Getting Krishna from the Swami
It was a matter of fact that we were getting Krishna from the Swami. He conducted a school for Krishna consciousness at 26 Second Avenue. He gave regular lectures and gave us his books, although the subject was beyond academic understanding. The essence of this school was to associate with a pure devotee.
He gave us love of God, and we saw him practice love of God twenty-four hours a day. Even when the Swami was asleep we could look through the window in the wall of his room and see him there. We got close to the sakti of his pure devotion and received his blessings. And despite our own foolish ways, we understood the truth. We hung onto the pure gem that had come into our dirty lives—the gem of association with the Swami.
All religious cultures of the world advise you to receive God directly from the saint or pure devotee. If you didn’t meet a realized soul, then whatever you imbibe of religion is a bit academic, somewhat ritualistic, somewhat institutionalized, and definitely unrealized. Narottama dasa Thakura sings, “Whoever became liberated without the mercy of the Vaisnava?” Without the grace of the pure devotee, religion cannot become a major part of your life. It cannot enter your heart; it’s not so real. But when you meet a saint and when you are receptive to him, then everything changes. If you do menial service for the saint, then you receive God’s grace. In the case of Srila Prabhupada, the God consciousness he was teaching was the most relishable, because the scriptures he taught from were “the most voluminous and exacting” science of God consciousness due to the unbroken disciplic succession. From Swamiji, we received the ultimate double treat of his all-valuable association and beginning the path of service to the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna.
We rejoiced in the fact that we were babies in spiritual life, learning everything from the beginning. We weren’t ashamed of it. Swamiji even compared sadhana-bhakti to a kindergarten. He said that just as the rambunctious youngsters are kept busy with constructive activities, so in bhakti-yoga we engage all the senses and proclivities in the service of the Lord. In our spiritual kindergarten, we danced with our teacher and followed his lead in singing, while playing rhythm instruments. And he taught us like that, starting from the ABC’s up to Radha-Krishna. Ever since he arrived, we were having a happy time.
November 6, 2016, 2016
Slow Down and Read What the Swami Has Said
By the time I met Prabhupada I had completed four years of college and had become somewhat crazy. I would only read books that held my attention and which I thought helped me in my writing, such as Naked Lunch, Howl, Death on the Installment Plan, A Thief’s Journal, and Last Exit Before Brooklyn. So where did the Swami’s Srimad-Bhagavatam fit in along with all these hip authors? In one sense, you might expect me to think, “This is some old-fashioned commentary on a religious book from India.” But I couldn’t reject it like that, even though it wasn’t written in the American fast-paced way. Just because it didn’t supply the gratification of jargon and speech didn’t mean I couldn’t look at it. So I made an exception to my usual policy to reject anything that didn’t move quickly in the most modern frame of reference. I had to slow down to read what the Swami had said. And I found that he was saying something that made me slow down. I calmed myself and started to appreciate it without preconceptions. Besides, if I had any favoritism in religious reading, it was towards Eastern religions, and so I liked that.
“Intelligent persons do cut off the interknot of the knot of reactionary work by remembrance of the Personality of Godhead; therefore, who will not give attention to this message?”
Purport: “Contact of the spiritual spark living being with the material elements is the point of interknitting knot. . . .”
(SB 1.2.15, verse and purport, 1962 edition)
After the squeaking of brakes and calming of mind, I tried to see what the Swami was saying in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Part One. There was nothing flashy in his mode of presentation. It was a book filled with misprints, from India. One could usually guess at the intended meaning behind the misprints, such as when the book read “The Supreme Lard.” “One should surrender to the Lard. . .” But there was something I liked about this, something attractive. I liked the physical object, the brick-colored book. And I began to like the misprints, “The Lard.” I transferred that in a harmless, dovetailing way into the Swami’s book. I thought, “This is far out. This is mystical stuff! I’m gonna get into this!” (As soon as my sister heard about it, she thought it was my usual syndrome of going too far into anything. “Oh no, Stevie,” she said, “not another trip.” I said, “Hey, no, this is good. I’m gonna get into this!”) Reading Swamiji was true love. And it was a double treat—Krishna and the Swami. Sometimes Krishna would speak in the verse and then Swamiji would speak in the purports. (Swamiji seemed to be speaking in the verses also.) You got Swamiji with all his personal traits, living with us, exotic and lovable—and Krishna, who is completely lovable, the all-attractive Personality of Godhead with His cows and friends in Vrindavana. They’re always together, Swamiji and Krishna.
I read the Bhagavatam from the beginning, as he advised, but sometimes I would reach into it at random. I kept the book with me at work, in a left-hand lower drawer. To the left of my desk was our supervisor’s desk, then to my right were my coworkers like Miss Fennel and a stocky blonde-haired man who the other workers called “creeping Jesus.” Even though my supervisor was nearby, he couldn’t see over into the deep drawer. So I would open the drawer, open the book, read a little and then close it. One phrase really struck me. Swamiji wrote that there are many realistic obstacles on the path of devotional service. I thought, “He knows. Swami and the sages and Krishna know that there are many obstacles and they’re realistic about it. They know what we’re going through.” By reading a few moments at the office, and more at my apartment, I quickly (and superficially) went through the first volume. Then I started to read it again. There were things in the book that Swamiji wasn’t lecturing on. So by reading you gained supplementary knowledge to what you had heard in the classes. But in the beginning, hearing in the classes was more impressive. It’s clear to me that if I had never met Swamiji, I don’t think there’s any way I could have become a devotee of Krishna just by reading the book. The book was valuable because it was something of the Swami’s. But along with the book there was also Swamiji himself—Swamiji in the kirtanas, Swamiji in his room. Now, since his disappearance, the book is of major importance, and we sometimes think it’s all we have. And there’s plenty in the book. But at least at my first reading, I could not read deeply. Nevertheless, I was soon attached to his book, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and I didn’t want any other books. Just as before when I wouldn’t read any books except hip literature, now I didn’t want any books but Krishna’s.
November 7, 2016
Srila Prabhupada, you teach Krishna directly, but it takes much patience to hear and read. We’re so distracted. Therefore, if someone simply reads your books with patience and submission, that’s a first-class service. The ideal reader of your books comes to know Krishna face-to-face as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And that reader lives with you as His best friend.
The ideal reader doesn’t have to be one of those who associated with you personally in your vapu form, although he (or she) likes to hear such Prabhupada pastimes. But he likes best of all the times when he reads your books. Then he is with you and Krishna. Even we who associated with you knew that your essence was in your writings.
This reader of your books is humble about his connection to you. He keeps the books in a bookcase and protects each one of them with a transparent book cover. He tries to associate with devotees, gives money to the Krishna Consciousness Movement, preaches in some capacity, worships the Deity, chants the holy name. And he particularly excels in relishing the reading.
He has read everything you’ve written several times, but his enthusiasm for rereading never diminishes. He thinks, “It’s about time I started reading the First Canto again.” And so the transcendental saga of Vyasa speaking to Suka, Suka to Pariksit, Suta to the sages at Naimisaranya—unfolds before him again and again with new wonder.
He especially likes to be reminded of the importance of reading and he treasures verses like, “Paramahamsas, devotees who have accepted the essence of life, are attached to Krishna in the core of their hearts, and He is the aim of their lives. It is their nature to talk only of Krishna at every moment, as if such topics were newer and newer. They are attached to such topics, just as materialists are attached to women and sex.” (Bhag. 10.13.2)
He has very little attraction for other books. He can’t get interested in other topics of conversation. He’d prefer to stay home with your book. Even when he goes to a holy dhama like Vrindavana, he likes to read there. He can’t explain it, but he knows that he’s starting to glimpse the darsana of the Supreme Lord in the pages of your books. He knows he’s not a special person, and yet you promise—”The transcendental pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, are so powerful that simply by hearing, reading and memorizing this book, Krishna, one is sure to be transferred to the spiritual world, which is ordinarily very difficult to achieve.”
Srila Prabhupada, I wish I were that ideal reader. I wish I could at least meet him. He wouldn’t have to preach to me that I should read more, but I would naturally want to do it, just by seeing him do it. He would remind me where to find you in the best way. I want to learn Prabhupada meditation from him.
November 8, 2016
Rupa Gosvami gives the following definition of grateful: “Any person who is conscious of his friend’s beneficent activities and never forgets his service is called grateful.” (NOD, p. 166) I want to be grateful to Srila Prabhupada and carry out that sentiment in my actions. For example, I may think of his pranam-mantra: “My obeisances unto you, O Spiritual Master, servant of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. You are so kindly teaching the message of Lord Caitanya and delivering these Western countries which are filled with voidism and impersonalism.” Thanks to Prabhupada, now whenever I meet with the Mayavada philosophy (which is frequently), I appreciate that I’ve been trained to avoid their snares and to see through their word jugglery.
I am grateful to Lord Krishna for sending Srila Prabhupada. I feel fortunate to have contacted him. And therefore, remembrances of personal association with Srila Prabhupada—not allowing those times to be forgotten—are themselves acts of gratitude.
The concept of guru-daksina is meant to prevent the disciple from lapsing into ingratitude. We don’t think that we can ever repay Srila Prabhupada for what he has given, but we should make the attempt. “As you have learned this knowledge from me, now you should be kind and give it to others.” It is not enough to feel thankful while I keep the gift for myself. Since I have received blessings, I am obliged to give them to others.
Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the perfect example of a grateful person. He never forgets even the smallest favorable service rendered to Him. Srila Prabhupada writes, “Anyone who addresses the Lord immediately attracts the attention of the Lord, who always remains obliged to him.” (NOD, p. 166)
As the Lord is the epitome of gratefulness, so is His pure devotee. Srila Prabhupada often expressed deep appreciation to his disciples for the services they were rendering to spread the Krishna consciousness movement. The fact is that Prabhupada’s disciples were carrying out his vision in an attempt to reciprocate with him and to please him. This dynamic relationship was observed by the scholar Larry Shinn in his foreword to Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta: “What springs from page after page is the willing devotion of young men and women to a man whom they admire for his deep faith and humility, not his autocratic or forceful demands.”
Srila Prabhupada also set the best example of a grateful disciple in his own devotion for Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. Whatever success he accomplished, Prabhupada said, was all due to the mercy of his spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada saw Krishna’s mercy upon him in many ways. He once expressed gratitude to the United States of America as the place where his mission first flourished. Prabhupada said, “America has been so good to me to give money, men, everything. I have no designation that ‘this is my country’, but because they have given me so much facility, I cannot forget my obligation to them. I want to make them happy, and through them, the world.”
We should not be so dull as to ask, “What should I thank him for?” We thank him for teaching us the invaluable art of offering food first to the Lord, and then eating spiritual remnants. We thank him for uplifting us from an animal-like life to a life of refined, hopeful humanity. I thank him for allowing me to write praises of Prabhupada and Krishna. We thank him for making us satisfied and happy. “Many of our students were dry and morose previous to their coming to Krishna consciousness,” Srila Prabhupada writes, “but having come into contact with devotees, they are now dancing like jubilant peacocks.”
November 9, 2016
The Mind of the Acarya
Vaisnavera kriya mudra vijne na bujhaya: “One cannot understand the mind or the activities of the Vaisnava.” This means that a pure devotee should never be judged by material standards, and when we associate with him, we shouldn’t take him for granted. Don’t think he is an ordinary person. The depth of his love for Krishna is a mystery to us.
On the other hand, I always assumed that there was a normal, intelligent exchange going on between Srila Prabhupada and me. A disciple may exaggerate that because Prabhupada is mystical and dear to Krishna, therefore at every moment, some strange vibration is coming from him and he’s signalling to us in unknown ways. Prabhupada, however, always emphasized normal exchanges of intelligence. He mocked the “fable” of a guru who transferred knowledge to his disciple by electric shock and then said he’d lost all of his own knowledge. Srila Prabhupada always talked about Krishna in an authorized way, and with realization. He spoke of pure devotees and devotional service. But he didn’t talk about himself as someone special or more advanced. Neither did he tell us exactly what he was thinking in his inner mind, although sometimes when disciples were talking among themselves, they would speculate about the mind of the acarya. When we were with Srila Prabhupada, he was always present in a real and personal way. He was our friend and teacher, a nectarean pure devotee of the Lord.
In reverence, we accepted the fact that Srila Prabhupada’s devotion to Krishna was beyond us. And we were also happy that Srila Prabhupada was with us, as our venerable and lovable spiritual master. But there were other aspects of his personality which were dear to us, although they didn’t quite fit in with standard conceptions we may have had of a “pure devotee” or a “spiritual master.” One example is Prabhupada’s childlike nature.
One time I accompanied Srila Prabhupada and Rayarama on a visit to the lawyer to see about Swamiji’s immigration status. We were in the waiting room discussing the legal case, when Swamiji became absorbed in playing with a lamp that was in the office. This lamp was in the shape of a ship’s stern, and it had a small propeller. While we were speaking of immigration legalities, Swamiji reached over and began spinning the propeller on the boat. It was as if he reserved the right, at any time, to drop out of the reality which others were taking so seriously. It reminded you of liberated souls you’d read about, like the Kumaras. And it indicated that we don’t know the mind of the acarya.
Another time Swamiji and several devotees were on a tour of a building in Manhattan, with the idea to purchase it. The real estate agent led Swamiji through the rooms, explaining everything. But at one point we noticed that Swamiji wasn’t with us. He had been left behind somewhere, and when we found him he was in a remote part of a room playing with the foot pedal of an old-fashioned sewing machine. He was standing by himself and operating it with his foot, exempting himself for the time being, from the heavy real estate talks.
I’ve also seen Prabhupada sit in the back seat of a car and crank the window up and down repeatedly, and I have seen him move his finger across a fogged window pane and make playful marks. In a detached way, Prabhupada liked to hum and sing to himself. Whatever Prabhupada did, it was an answer to the question made by Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita, “How does a transcendentalist walk, how does he sit, and how does he speak?” Sometimes the paramahamsas or swanlike persons float on the water of the material world and appear to be like children. Sometimes they act like madmen and don’t communicate at all, although Srila Prabhupada never did that. And most often, they are teachers with their finger raised in the jnana-mudra pose, instructing the conditioned souls.
November 10, 2016
If a disciple intruded too much or assumed to know the mind of Prabhupada, he got a rebuff. This would serve to remind him not to assume that he knew everything about his spiritual master, Srila
Prabhupada. I experienced this one time when I went with Prabhupada to see the lawyer on Chambers Street in Manhattan. My assignment was to bring Swamiji back to the storefront at 26 Second Avenue after the meeting was over. I was happy with this mission and concerned that I get Swamiji back safely. I tried to guide him in crossing the streets and protect him from the traffic, but his tendency was to rush out before I did and dart across the avenue. At one point I remarked, “This city is like a jungle, except there are no snakes.” Swamiji replied, “What about Mr. Paine?” Then on the bus I sat beside him and tried to keep my mind purified and not spaced out. I wanted to be a good but menial companion, and not pester him with a lot of philosophical questions. When we got near our bus stop I said, “Swamiji, this is it,” and I stood to ring the buzzer. But Swamiji said, “No, there’s one more stop.” I sat down and at the next stop, on his indication, I pulled the wire buzzer.
When we were walking the last few blocks, I realized that this was the end of my special mission of intimacy with Swamiji. My main idea was just to deliver him to his room safely, but I couldn’t resist asking him a question. So I leaned over while we were walking and said, “Swamiji, the Ramakrishna Mission has spread themselves very effectively. So how is that they’ve done that if they’re not bona fide? And how can we become effective also?” Swamiji didn’t answer me at all, although I had spoken loudly and clearly. By now we were standing on the curb of Second Avenue waiting to cross, with the storefront in full view. I felt humiliated and had to swallow my question in silence. I couldn’t say, “Didn’t you hear what I said?” Or, “What did you think of what I said?” For some reason unknown to me, he had decided to ignore me. I realized that this was his right, but it felt very heavy. I thought I must have displeased him and I felt a great distance between us. But I continued my mission and went across Second Avenue with Swamiji and brought him to his room.
The episode left me thinking, “What happened? What did I do wrong?” I told myself, “Don’t make a big thing out of this. He can do that if he wants.” Now when I think of it, I guess that I overstepped my bounds—I’d become proud that I had successfully brought Swamiji home and I tried to enjoy his association by asking an impressive question. At least his silence came to me as a good slap. He reduced me to what I actually was supposed to be, the menial boy who was accompanying him home. I should have been satisfied doing that, relishing it for what it was. So what if he didn’t answer my so-called philosophical question? What right had I anyway, to ask about the Ramakrishna Mission or how the Krishna Consciousness Movement is going to be spread?
As time passed, I accepted that rebuff and began to relish it. As Prabhupada would say, “The guru is not a pet.” I became more assured that Swamiji was definitely a person; he was always caring for you, but he may teach you in his own way—so take the lessons.
November 11, 2016
The Eternal Residents of Vrndavan
“The devotee should always think of Krishna within himself, and one should choose a very dear devotee who is a servitor of Krishna in Vrindavana. One should constantly engage in topics about that servitor and his loving relationship to Krishna, and one should live in Vrindavana. However, if one is physically unable to go to Vrindavana, he should mentally live there.”
(Cc. Madhya, 22.160)
When this topic comes up in conversation, I think of Srila Prabhupada and how he may be considered the eternal resident of Vrindavana whom we should follow. This isn’t a concoction on my part, and neither is it meant to replace the teaching that one should follow Nanda Maharaja or the gopas or other eternal residents of Vrindavana. Once in India, some of Prabhupada’s disciples said they thought he was the eternal resident of Vrindavana whom they could follow. Prabhupada did not elaborate on the point, but he affirmed their sentiment.
Now that Srila Prabhupada has disappeared from the world in his vapu form, it remains somewhat of a mystery as to when we will meet up with him again. He is a liberated soul, and therefore, he has a place in the pastimes of Krishna. We have also read in a song by Narottama dasa Thakura that he aspired to be in the form of a gopi-manjari, along with his spiritual master, assisting in the pastimes of Radha and Krishna. These secrets are quite beyond me at present. But I can put my understanding in a simple form: since the liberated spiritual master is in Goloka Vrindavana, it stands to reason that if we follow him, we also will come to be in his presence in Vrindavana (provided we reach the perfect stage). And yet the next life meeting with the spiritual master remains, at least for me, highly theoretical. This much I can say with personal conviction: I wish to always hear about Krishna from Srila Prabhupada. I want to think that Prabhupada is the eternal resident of Vrindavana whom I should follow. Krishnadasa Kaviraja says that the Vrindavana resident should be “a very dear devotee.” That certainly fits Srila Prabhupada, who is very dear to Krishna on this earth. The servitor is also supposed to be an associate of Krishna in Vrindavana. Srila Prabhupada is from Vrindavana, both within the context of Vrindavana, India, where he resided at the Radha-Damodara temple in the Prabhupada Samadhi, and also at Krishna-Balarama Mandira. He is also a resident in the eternal Vrindavana.
What’s really on my mind is this—I want to know whether the 1966 pastimes and other pastimes of Srila Prabhupada, as we knew them—are eternal. Did Prabhupada, the eternal servitor, appear within this material world in a temporary lila? But how little we know! What is eternality? Even if you define it for me, I cannot comprehend it. All I know is that Srila Prabhupada came here and taught us of eternal Vrindavana. And I know that I can—if I concentrate and lead the proper life—think of him now, and worship him and follow his orders.
Krishnadasa Kaviraja advises that, “One should constantly engage in topics about the servitor and his loving relationship to Krishna.” When I think of Srila Prabhupada singing in the kirtana, and I read about “his” Krishna, and meditate on the faith he has instilled in me to be a servitor of the Lord—I think this is good enough for me. Krishnadasa Kaviraja even advises that if one awakens his attraction for an eternal resident, he is not to be checked by ordinary standards. “When such covetousness is awakened, one’s intelligence no longer depends on the instruction of sastra, revealed scriptures, logic or argument.” I do not claim that I comprehend Srila Prabhupada as the eternal resident of Vrindavana, but I think that it fulfills the purport regarding serving Krishna in Vrindavana in a particular way. Actually, I should probably not even be discussing these topics, but be content with the original instructions Prabhupada gave me: “It will be automatically revealed to you in proper time.” Srila Prabhupada, please forgive my impertinence. Please keep me engaged in your eternal service, wherever and whatever that may be.
November 12, 2016, 2016
The Eternal Residents of Vrndavan
In the beginning I wanted to tell him, “I feel I have a loving relationship with you.” One of the first ways I expressed this was when I told him I felt obliged to attend all his classes. This came up when I had to miss a weekend to visit my parents in Avalon, New Jersey.
“Swamiji, I won’t be able to attend classes for the next two days because I have to visit with my mother and father.”
“That’s all right.”
I said, “The reason I’m telling you is because I don’t want to do anything without your permission.”
Swamiji had never assumed control over my activities, but when I spelled out my feeling of obligation to him, he smiled.
He wanted us to surrender. In his lectures he would say, “Just like these boys who are with me. They are grown up, but they don’t do anything without my permission. They will say, ‘Swamiji, may I have a piece of fruit?’ And I will say, ‘Of course, it’s in the refrigerator.’ They could take it, but the etiquette is to first ask the spiritual master.”
But sometimes when you make your gesture of surrender, it turns out to be a mistake. Then the guru has to correct you, and you have to accept it. It’s a sign that the relationship is becoming more developed.
One of the first times Swamiji corrected me, he did it without saying a word. I was in his room when he was unwrapping a parcel he had received from India. I don’t remember the contents, but it was wrapped in a piece of saffron cloth about the size of a handkerchief. Swamiji put this cloth aside as if to discard it. I looked at it and said, “Can I have that?” He said, “Yes,” and I took it as a prize. The next morning when I came to Swamiji’s morning class, I had tied the saffron handkerchief around my neck like a pirate’s bandana. Part of my motive was pure whimsy, to create a new clothing fashion. But also I wanted to show the Swami that I was his man, and so I wore his cloth. But saffron kerchiefs around the neck are not part of the brahmacari dress. While lecturing on the Bhagavatam Swamiji noticed the scarf, and he looked a bit alarmed. His glance was clear, and so I removed the kerchief and never wore it again.
Srila Prabhupada liked to exchange gestures of love, but he didn’t like concoctions. Years later, when he heard that some of his disciples were taking the used brahmana thread that had been worn by the temple Deity and putting it on their own wrist, he said it was a concoction. The sentiment behind these gestures was nice, but we should be willing to do it in a way that actually pleases Prabhupada and Krishna. This becomes a delicate matter when a newcomer is an artist or a “free spirit” and wants to serve Krishna in his own way. You want to tell them that their sentiment is nice, but you also have to inform them sooner or later, “This is not the way we do it in Krishna consciousness.” Swamiji bypassed all that just by giving me a look, and I was glad to get off that easy. I thought, “Okay, that’s cool. No more pirate scarf.”
November 13, 2016
I want to go back to Swamiji’s room at 26 Second Avenue as much as I am able. Prabhupada’s 26 Second Avenue days were very special. I don’t talk of them so much, but it has always been a source of inner pride for me to know that I was there. When I remember Prabhupada in this best way it turns into prayer, and it leads to positive action for the present. Someone might accuse me of thinking too much of the “good old days.” But I think it’s my prerogative to be more attached to my 1966 Swamiji memories than to any other memories. Lord Krishna’s devotees in Vrindavana favor the good old days when Krishna was living with them, and they sometimes even criticize the Lord’s devotees in other places. So I think it’s not just sentimentality on my part that I lament the loss of simplicity, my inability to be with Prabhupada as I used to at 26 Second Avenue. The potency of those ’66 days is not mere nostalgia.
I sometimes hear devotees deride those memories. An international sankirtana leader told a story of when Srila Prabhupada was in Los Angeles and Mukunda Maharaja said, “Prabhupada, do you remember the early days together?” And Prabhupada was supposed to have replied, “Oh, those are old stories.” When the international sankirtana leader related this incident, he looked at me and said, “Did you know that Prabhupada said that?” I replied, “No, I hadn’t heard that.” It hurt to think that Prabhupada had actually said it. Other times Prabhupada liked to talk of 1966, saying, “Those were happy days.”
Prabhupada was completely accessible in those days. He didn’t have so many other things to attend to, except take care of the devotees at his one center. His disciples all had menial but important services, and everyone completely admired him. We were all babies in spiritual life. Now we appear to be very grown up with many responsibilities. But it’s good to keep the truth alive—that we are actually babies, and our spiritual master is protecting us. If now we have to perform austerities (enduring quarrels with godbrothers, mixing with nondevotees), and if we have to do extraordinary things like accepting disciples; still, the inner, simple abiding truth is that “I’m a spiritual baby and I’m doing this for Prabhupada.” Our relationship is actually the same, despite the external changes.
Prabhupada’s devotees haven’t become monsters forgetting their guru and taking advantage of his property. No, we’re just like we were in the beginning. We eat when he says to eat and we give him our money, and when there’s a doubt, we ask him. He gave us our beads and told us to chant, offer prasadam and do some preaching. No one can take it away. And even though the external scene of 26 Second Avenue has vanished, I can go back for a special memory—what it was like to be a spiritual child in a young man’s body with Prabhupada as strong as a lion, and the gusto of his playing on the drum. I prefer the 26 Second Avenue pastimes, just as you may prefer some others. So it is with the eternal associates of Lord Krishna. The gopis and residents of Vrndavana are so much attached to Vrindavana dhama that even if Krishna goes away, they stay in Vrindavana. They prefer Vrindavana to Krishna. They will remember Krishna in Vrindavana, but they won’t leave Vrindavana. If Krishna is so unfaithful as to desert Vrindavana, that’s His business, but the Vrajavasis will never leave the land of His original pastimes. Brhad-Bhagavatamrta informs us that the residents of Vrindavana wouldn’t even believe the stories they heard of Krishna’s pastimes outside of Vrindavana. When Akrura came to take Krishna from Vrindavana, all Krishna’s dear friends were very hurt and outraged. Akrura explained that Krishna had to leave in order to give solace to His real mother and father, Devaki and Vasudeva. But when they heard that, the residents cried, “These are all lies! Krishna has no other mother and father but Nanda and Yasoda!” In this attached mood, the residents of Vrindavana considered all other pastimes of Krishna to be a big hoax.
And so I prefer to think of Swamiji at 26 Second Avenue in his room at night, shaking with laughter after the Louis Abalofia “Be In.” “All right boys,” he said, “go home now, drink your milk and say your prayers. The store will be open at six in the morning. Jaya-O!” We said, “Jaya-O, Swamiji, good night,” and we knew that we were going to see him in the morning. I prefer that. Yes, I have to do something for Swamiji now, and I am. But sometimes I think that Swamiji should never have left the Lower East Side. He could have just stayed there, and I could have stayed there too. That would have been nice. Swamiji could still be giving Bhagavad-gita classes three nights a week. I could have continued at the welfare office; there was no need to quit. That’s when all the trouble started, when Swamiji went to San Francisco. They brought him there to take part in a concert with rock-and-roll bands like the Grateful Dead. I never thought it was a good idea.
Srila Prabhupada’s Gift of Vaisnava Compassion
I can’t begin to comprehend all the suffering that is going on in the world, nor do I want to. It’s too bewildering and painful. I also cannot comprehend Prabhupada’s depth of compassion and his strong desire to bring everyone he encountered in his mission relief from their pangs. As a neophyte devotee at 26 Second Avenue I began repeating phrases like “the sufferings of repeated birth and death,” “the threefold miseries,” and “the fallen souls suffering in material nature”—until these phrases sometimes became clichés or merely philosophical concepts. But a mahatma whose heart is expanded, actually feels compassion for the sufferings of other souls.
As a Vaisnava acarya, Srila Prabhupada cautioned whoever he met not to try the impossible. Sometimes a man would challenge Prabhupada, “What are you doing to help suffering humanity?” Or, “How can we help everyone in the world?” Prabhupada would reply, “Do you know all living beings? No, that is not possible.” Or he would remind the person with the world-embracing view they couldn’t do anything to alleviate suffering or even end their own suffering. Therefore, Prabhupada’s first lesson in compassion was to point out our ignorance of how to do good. The universe is not chaotic, meaningless suffering. There are strict laws that govern all activities, such as the laws of karma and samsara (transmigration of souls). If we ignorantly try to meddle with these laws with the sentiment of “doing good,” it will not help anyone.
Every student of Bhagavad-gita is faced with the misplaced compassion of Arjuna. Arjuna’s unwillingness to fight with his bodily relatives is sometimes praised as compassion, and sometimes criticized as ignorance and cowardice. When the Bhagavad-gita first describes Arjuna as “overwhelmed with compassion,” Prabhupada comments, “He was also crying out of compassion. Such symptoms in Arjuna were not due to weakness, but to his softheartedness, a characteristic of a pure devotee of the Lord.” But a little later in the same chapter, Srila Prabhupada explains how Arjuna’s feelings are misplaced:
No one knows where compassion should be applied. Compassion for the dress of a drowning man is senseless. A man fallen in the ocean of nescience cannot be saved simply by rescuing his outward dress—the gross material body. One who does not know this and laments for the outward dress is called a sudra, or one who laments unnecessarily. Arjuna was a ksatriya and this conduct was not expected from him. Lord Krishna, however, can dissipate the lamentation of the ignorant man, and for this purpose the Bhagavad-gita was sung by Him. (Bg. 2.1, purport)
Every human being should aspire to be kind to others, but the work begins with oneself. When we learn the first lessons of Bhagavad-gita, we grasp the concept of self-realization: We are not the body, we are spirit soul. Only when this knowledge is established can we become responsible to help others. As Prabhupada would say, “Physician, heal thy self.” People would sometimes misunderstand Srila Prabhupada and see him as a religionist who was concerned with the soul and God, but unconcerned for people’s suffering in the here-and-now. But this is not a fact. As a sadhu who cuts illusion, Srila Prabhupada derided misplaced compassion but was himself engaged in the most important welfare work for all living beings. He was compassionate in the enlightened way, to give people Krishna consciousness. Relief from suffering comes when we cease the cycle of birth and death and attain the eternal spiritual world. He also felt transcendental frustration because he knew what had to be done, and he himself was doing it, but so few people were helping him.
November 15, 2016
It was Hard to Keep Up with Prabhupada
Prabhupada’s health was good that summer and fall, or so it seemed. He worked long and hard, and except for four hours of rest at night, he was always active. He would speak intensively on and on, never tiring, and his voice was strong. His smiles were strong and charming; his singing voice loud and melodious. During kirtana he would thump Bengali mrdanga rhythms on his bongo drum, sometimes for an hour. He ate heartily of rice, dal, capātīs and vegetables with ghee. His face was full and his belly protuberant. Sometimes, in a light mood, he would drum with two fingers on his belly and say that the resonance affirmed his good health. His golden color had the radiance of youth and well-being preserved by seventy years of healthy, non-destructive habits. When he smiled, virility and vitality came on so strong as to embarrass a faded, dissolute New Yorker. In many ways, he was not at all like an old man. And his new followers completely accepted his active youthfulness as a part of the wonder of Swamiji, just as they had come to accept the wonder of the chanting and the wonder of Krishna. Swamiji wasn’t an ordinary man. He was spiritual. He could do anything. None of his followers dared advise him to slow down, nor did it ever really occur to them that he needed such protection—they were busy just trying to keep up with him.
November 16, 2016
Prabhupada’s Dreams Become Reality
During the first several months at 26 Second Avenue, Prabhupada had achieved what had formerly been only a dream. He now had a temple, a duly registered society, full freedom to preach, and a band of initiated disciples. When a godbrother had written asking him how he would manage a temple in New York, Prabhupada had said that he would need men from India but that he might find an American or two who could help. That had been last winter. Now Krishna had put him in a different situation. He had received no help from his godbrothers, no big donations from Indian business magnates, and no assistance from the Indian government, but he was finding success in a different way. These were “happy days” he said. He had struggled alone for a year, but then “Krishna sent me men and money.”
Yes, these were happy days for Prabhupada, but his happiness was not like the happiness of an old man’s “sunset years” as he fades into the dim comforts of retirement. His was the happiness of youth, a time of blossoming, of new powers, a time when future hopes expand without limit. He was seventy-one years old, but in ambition he was a courageous youth. He was like a young giant just beginning to grow. He was happy because his preaching was taking hold, just as Lord Caitanya had been happy when he had travelled alone to South India spreading the chanting of Hare Krishna. Prabhupada’s happiness was that of a selfless servant of Krishna to whom Krishna was sending candidates for devotional life. He was happy to place the seed of devotion within their hearts and to train them in chanting Hare Krishna, hearing about Krishna, and working to spread Krishna consciousness.
November 17, 2016
Prabhupada continued to accelerate. After the first initiations and the first marriage, he was eager for the next step. He was pleased by what he had, but he wanted to do more. It was the greed of the Vaisnava—not a greed to have sense gratification but to take more and more for Krishna. He would “go in like a needle and come out like a plough.” That is to say, from a small, seemingly insignificant beginning, he would expand his movement to tremendous proportions. At least, that was his desire. He was not content with his newfound success and security at 26 Second Avenue, but was yearning to increase ISKCON as far as possible. This had always been his vision and he had written it into the ISKCON charter: “to achieve real unity and peace in the world . . . within the members and humanity at large.”
November 18, 2016, 2016
Allen Ginsberg Arrives on the Storefront Scene
Allen Ginsberg lived nearby on East Tenth Street. One day he received a peculiar invitation in the mail:
Practice the transcendental sound vibration:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
This chanting will cleanse the dust from the mirror
of the mind.
International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Meetings at 7 A.M. daily
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7:00 P.M.
You are cordially invited to come and
bring your friends.
Swamiji had asked the boys to distribute it around the neighbourhood.
One evening soon after he received the invitation, Allen Ginsberg and his roommate Peter Orlovsky arrived at the storefront in a Volkswagen minibus. Allen had been captivated by the Hare Krishna mantra several years before when he had first encountered it at the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, and he had been chanting it often ever since. The devotees were impressed to see the world-famous author of Howl, and leading figure of the beat generation, enter their humble storefront. His advocacy of free sex, marijuana and LSD, his claims of drug-induced visions of spirituality in everyday sights, his political ideas, his exploration of insanity, revolt and nakedness, and his attempts to create a harmony of likeminded souls—were all influential on the minds of American young people, especially those living on the Lower East Side. Although by middle-class standards he was scandalous and dishevelled, he was, in his own right, a figure of worldly repute more so than anyone who had ever come to the storefront before.
November 19, 2016
Allen Ginsberg Comments
Allen Ginsberg: Bhaktivedanta seemed to have no friends in America. He was alone, totally alone, and went, somewhat like a lone hippie, to the nearest refuge, the place where it was cheap enough to rent.
There were a few people sitting cross-legged on the floor. I think most of them were Lower East Side hippies who had just wandered in off the street, with beards and a curiosity and inquisitiveness and a respect for spiritual presentation of some kind. Some of them were sitting there with glazed eyes, but most of them were just like gentle folk—bearded, hip, and curious. They were refugees from the middle class in the Lower East Side, looking exactly like the street sadhus in India. It was very similar, that phase in American underground history. And I liked immediately the idea that Swami Bhaktivedanta had chosen the Lower East Side of New York for his practice. He’d gone to the lower depths. He’d gone to a spot more like the side streets of Calcutta than any other place.
Allen and Peter had come for the kirtana, but it wasn’t quite time—Prabhupada hadn’t come down. They presented a new harmonium to the devotees. “It’s for the kirtanas,” said Allen. “A little donation.” Allen stood at the entrance to the storefront talking to Hayagriva, telling him how he had been chanting Hare Krishna around the world—at peace marches, poetry readings, a procession in Prague, a writers’ union in Moscow. “Secular kirtana,” said Allen, “but Hare Krishna nonetheless.” Then Prabhupada entered. Allen and Peter sat with the congregation and joined in the kirtana. Allen played harmonium.
Allen: I was astounded that he’d come with the chanting, because it seemed like a reinforcement from India. I had been running around singing Hare Krishna but had never understood exactly why or what it meant. But I was surprised to see that he had a different melody, because I thought the melody I knew was the melody, the universal melody. I had gotten so used to my melody that actually the biggest difference I had with him was over the tune—because I’d solidified it in my mind for years, and to hear another tune actually blew my mind.
November 20, 2016
Allen Connects with Swami Bhaktivedanta
The next morning Allen Ginsberg came by with a check and another harmonium. Up in Prabhupada’s apartment he demonstrated his melody for chanting Hare Krishna, and then he and Prabhupada talked.
Allen: I was a little shy with him because I didn’t know where he was coming from. I had that harmonium I wanted to donate, and I had a little money. I thought it was great now that he was here to expound on the Hare Krishna mantra—that would sort of justify my singing. I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t have any theological background to satisfy further inquiries, and here was someone who did. So I thought that was absolutely great. Now I could go around singing Hare Krishna, and if anybody wanted to know what it was, I could just send them to Swami Bhaktivedanta to find out. If anyone wanted to know the technical intricacies and the ultimate history, I could send them to him.
He explained to me about his own teacher and about Caitanya and the lineage going back. His head was filled with so many things and what he was doing. He was already working on his translations. He always seemed to be just sitting there day after day and night after night. I think he had one or two people helping him.
November 21, 2016
Ginsberg Questions Prabhupada’s Sadhu Status
Prabhupada was very cordial with Allen Ginsberg. Quoting a passage from Bhagavad-gita where Krishna says that whatever a great man does, others will follow, he requested Allen to continue chanting Hare Krishna at every opportunity so that others would follow his example. He told about Lord Caitanya’s organizing the first civil disobedience movement in India, leading a sankirtana protest march against the Muslim ruler. Allen was fascinated. He enjoyed talking with the Swami.
But they had their differences. When Allen expressed his admiration for a well-known Bengali holy man, Prabhupada said that the holy man was bogus. Allen was shocked. He’d never before heard a swami severely criticize another’s practice. Prabhupada explained on the basis of Vedic evidence, the reasoning behind his criticism, and Allen admitted that he had naively thought that all holy men were one-hundred-percent holy. But now he decided that he should not simply accept a sadhu, including Prabhupada, on blind faith. He decided to see Prabhupada in a more severe, critical light.
Allen: I had a very superstitious attitude of respect, which probably was an idiot sense of mentality, and so Swami Bhaktivedanta’s teaching was very good to make me question that. It also made me question him and not take him for granted.
November 22, 2016
Prabhupada’s “Aroma of Sweetness” Conquers Ginsberg
Allen: The main thing, above and beyond all our differences, was an aroma of sweetness that he had, a personal, selfless sweetness like total devotion. And that was what always conquered me, whatever intellectual questions or doubts I had, or even cynical views of ego. In his presence there was a kind of personal charm, coming from dedication, which conquered all our conflicts. Even though I didn’t agree with him, I always liked to be with him.
Allen agreed, at Prabhupada’s request, to chant more and to try to give up smoking.
“Do you really intend to make these American boys into Vaisnavas?” Allen asked.
“Yes,” Prabhupada replied happily, “and I will make them all brahmanas.”
Allen left a $200 check to help cover the legal expenses for extending the Swami’s visa and wished him good luck. “Brahmanas!” Allen didn’t see how such a transformation could be possible.
November 23, 2016
Prabhupada’s Chant Versus LSD
Greg Scharf (Brahmananda’s brother) hadn’t tried LSD, but he wanted higher consciousness so he decided to try the chanting.
Greg: I was eighteen. Everyone at the storefront had taken LSD and I thought maybe I should too, because I wanted to feel like part of the crowd. So I asked Umapati, “Hey, Umapati, do you think I should try LSD? Because I don’t know what you guys are talking about.” He said no, that Swamiji said you didn’t need LSD. I never did take it, so I guess it was OK.
Hayagriva: Have you ever heard of LSD? It’s a psychedelic drug that comes like a pill, and if you take it you can get religious ecstasies. Do you think this can help my spiritual life?
Prabhupada: You don’t need to take anything for your spiritual life. Your spiritual life is already here.
Had anyone else said such a thing, Hayagriva would never have agreed with him. But because Swamiji seemed “so absolutely positive”, therefore there was no question of not agreeing.
Satsvarupa: I knew Swamiji was in a state of exalted consciousness, and I was hoping that somehow he could teach the process to me. In the privacy of his room, I asked him, “Is there spiritual advancement that you can make from which you won’t fall back?” By his answer—“Yes”—I was convinced that my own attempts to be spiritual on LSD, only to fall down later, could be replaced by a total spiritual life such as Swamiji had. I could see he was convinced, and then I was convinced.
Greg: LSD was like the spiritual drug of the times and Swamiji was the only one who dared to speak out against it, saying it was nonsense. I think that was the first battle he had to conquer in trying to promote his movement on the Lower East Side. Even those who came regularly to the storefront thought that LSD was good.
November 24, 2016, 2016
Prabhupada Teaches How to Stay High Forever
Probably the most famous experiments with LSD in those days were by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, Harvard psychology instructors who studied the effects of the drug, published their findings in professional journals, and advocated the use of LSD for self-realization and fulfillment. After being fired from Harvard, Timothy Leary went on to become a national priest of LSD, and for some time ran an LSD commune in Millbrook, New York.
When the members of the Millbrook commune heard about the swami on the Lower East Side who led his followers in a chant that got you high, they began visiting the storefront. One night, a group of about ten hippies from Millbrook came to Swamiji’s kirtana. They all chanted (not so much in worship of Krishna as to see what kind of high the chanting could produce). After the lecture, a Millbrook leader asked about drugs. Prabhupada replied that drugs were not necessary for spiritual life, that they could not produce spiritual consciousness, and that all drug-induced religious visions were simply hallucinations. To realize God, was not so easy or cheap that one could do it just by taking a pill or smoking. Chanting Hare Krishna, he explained, was a purifying process to uncover one’s pure consciousness. Taking drugs would increase the covering and bar one from self-realization.
“But have you ever taken LSD?” The question now became a challenge.
“No,” Prabhupada replied. “I have never taken any of these things, not even cigarettes or tea.”
“If you haven’t taken it, then how can you say what it is?” The Millbrookers looked around, smiling. Two or three even burst out with laughter and snapped their fingers, thinking the Swami had been checkmated.
“I have not taken,” Prabhupada replied regally from his dais. “But my disciples have taken all these things—marijuana, LSD—many times, and they have given them all up. You can hear from them. Hayagriva, you can speak.” And Hayagriva sat up a little taller and spoke out in his best stentorian voice.
“Well, no matter how high you go on LSD, you eventually reach a peak and then you have to come back down. Just like traveling into outer space in a rocket ship. [He gave one of Swamiji’s familiar examples.] Your spacecraft can travel very far away from the earth for thousands of miles, day after day, but it cannot simply go on traveling and traveling. Eventually it must land. On LSD, we experience going up, but we always have to come down again. That’s not spiritual consciousness. When you actually attain spiritual or Krishna consciousness, you stay high. Because you go to Krishna, you don’t have to come down. You can stay high forever.”
November 25, 2016
Prabhupada Affirms: “No More Coming Down”
Prabhupada was sitting in his back room with Hayagriva and Umapati and other disciples. The evening meeting had just ended and the visitors from Millbrook had gone. “Krishna consciousness is so nice, Swamiji,” Umapati spoke up. “You just get higher and higher, and you don’t come down.”
Prabhupada smiled. “Yes, that’s right.”
“No more coming down,” Umapati said, laughing, and the others also began to laugh. Some clapped their hands, repeating, “No more coming down.”
The conversation inspired Hayagriva and Umapati to produce a new handbill:
STAY HIGH FOREVER!
No More Coming Down
Practice Krishna Consciousness
Expand your consciousness by practicing the
*TRANSCENDENTAL SOUND VIBRATION*
HARE KRISHNA HARE KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA HARE HARE
HARE RAMA HARE RAMA RAMA RAMA HARE HARE
The leaflet went on to extol Krishna consciousness over any other high. It included phrases like “end all bringdowns” and “turn on”, and it spoke against “employing artificially induced methods of self-realization and expanded consciousness.” Someone objected to the flyer’s “playing too much off the hippie mentality,” but Prabhupada said it was all right.
November 26, 2016
Swamiji and His Boys Create a Sensation
Into the chaotic pageant of Tompkins Square Park, Swamiji entered with his followers and sat down to hold a kirtana. Three or four devotees who arrived ahead of him selected an open area of the park, put out the oriental carpet Robert Nelson had donated, sat down on it, and began playing karatalas and chanting Hare Krishna. Immediately some boys rode up on their bicycles, braked just short of the carpet and stood astride their bikes, curiously and irreverently staring. Other passers-by gathered to listen.
Meanwhile Swamiji, accompanied by half a dozen disciples, was walking the eight blocks from the storefront. Brahmananda carried the harmonium and the Swami’s drum. Kirtanananda, who was now shaven-headed at Swamiji’s request and dressed in loose-flowing canary yellow robes, created an extra sensation. Drivers pulled their cars over to have a look, their passengers leaning forward, agape at the outrageous dress and shaved head. As the group passed a store, people inside would poke each other and indicate the spectacle. People came to the windows of their tenements, taking in the Swami and his group as if a parade were passing. The Puerto Rican tough guys, especially, couldn’t restrain themselves from exaggerated reactions. “Hey, Buddha!” they taunted. “Hey, you forgot to change your pyjamas!” They made shrill screams as if imitating Indian war whoops they had heard in Hollywood westerns.
“Hey, A-rabs!” exclaimed one heckler, who began imitating what he thought was an Eastern dance. No one on the street knew anything about Krishna consciousness, nor even of Hindu culture and customs. To them, the Swami’s entourage was just a bunch of crazy hippies showing off. But they didn’t quite know what to make of the Swami. He was different. Nevertheless, they were suspicious.
November 27, 2016
Prabhupada Makes Headlines in The New York Times
It was early. Swamiji had not yet come down for class, and the sun had not yet risen. Satsvarupa and Kirtanananda sat on the floor of the storefront reading a clipping from the morning Times.
Satsvarupa: Has the Swami seen it?
Kirtanananda: Yes, just a few minutes ago. He said it’s very important. It’s historic. He especially liked that it was The New York Times.
Satsvarupa (reading aloud): “SWAMI’S FLOCK CHANTS IN PARK TO FIND ECSTASY.”
Fifty Followers Clap and Sway to Hypnotic Music at East Side Ceremony. Sitting under a tree in a Lower East Side park and occasionally dancing, fifty followers of a Hindu swami repeated a sixteen-word chant for two hours yesterday . . .
It was more than two hours.
. . . for two hours yesterday afternoon to the accompaniment of cymbals, tambourines, sticks, drums, bells, and a small reed organ. Repetition of the chant, Swami A. C. Bhaktivedanta says, is the best way to achieve self-realization in this age of destruction. While children bicycled along the sunny walks, many in the crowd of about a hundred persons standing around the chanters found themselves swaying to, or clapping hands in time to the hypnotic rhythmic music. “It brings a state of ecstasy,” said Allen Ginsberg the poet, who was one of the celebrants. “For one thing,” Allen Ginsberg said, “the syllables force yoga breath control. That’s one physiological explanation.
Satsvarupa and Kirtanananda (laughing): That’s nonsense.
“The ecstasy of the chant or mantra Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare . . .
Kirtanananda: The Swami said that’s the best part. Because they have printed the mantra, it’s all-perfect. Whoever reads this can be purified just the same as if they had chanted.
“. . . has replaced LSD and other drugs for many of the swami’s followers,” Mr. Ginsberg said. He explained that Hare Krishna, pronounced Hahray, is the name for Vishnu, a Hindu god, as the “bringer of light.” Rama, pronounced Rahmah, is the incarnation of Vishnu as “the prince of responsibility.
What? Where did he get that? It sounds like something out of an encyclopedia.
“The chant, therefore, names different aspects of God,” Mr. Ginsberg said.
Why so much from Mr. Ginsberg? Why not Swamiji?
November 28, 2016
The East Village Other Displays Swamiji Front Page and Centerfold
Ravindra Svarupa was walking down Second Avenue on his way to the Swami’s morning class when an acquaintance came out of the Gems Spa Candy and News Store and said, “Hey, your Swami is in the newspaper. Did you see?” “Yeah,” Ravindra Svarupa replied, “The New York Times.”
“No” his friend said. “Today.” And he held up a copy of the latest edition of The East Village Other. The front page was filled with a two-color photo of the Swami, his hands folded decorously at his waist, standing in yellow robes in front of the big tree in Tompkins Square Park. He was speaking to a small crowd that had gathered around, and his disciples were at his feet. The big steeple of St. Brigid’s formed a silhouette behind him.
Above the photo was the single headline, “SAVE EARTH NOW!!” and beneath was the mantra: “HARE KRISHNA HARE KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA HARE HARE HARE RAMA HARE RAMA RAMA RAMA HARE HARE.” Below the mantra were the words, “See Centerfold.” That was the whole front page.
Ravindra Svarupa took the newspaper and opened to the center, where he found a long article and a large photo of Swamiji with his left hand on his head, grinning blissfully in an unusual, casual moment. His friend gave him the paper and Ravindra Svarupa hurried to Swamiji. When he reached the storefront, several boys went along with him to show Swamiji the paper.
“Look!” Ravindra Svarupa handed it over. “This is the biggest local newspaper! Everybody reads it.” Prabhupada opened his eyes wide. He read aloud, “Save earth now.” And he looked up at the faces of the boys. Umapati and Hayagriva wondered aloud what it meant—“Save earth now.” Was it an ecological pun? Was it a reference to staving off nuclear disaster? Was it poking fun at Swamiji’s evangelism?
“Well,” said Umapati, “after all, this is The East Village Other. It could mean anything.”
“Swamiji is saving the earth,” Kirtanananda said.
“We are trying to,” Prabhupada replied, “by Krishna’s grace.” Methodically, he put on the eyeglasses he usually reserved for reading the Bhagavatam and carefully appraised the page from top to bottom. The newspaper looked incongruous in his hands. Then he began turning the pages. He stopped at the centerfold and looked at the picture of himself and laughed, then paused, studying the article. “So,” he said, “read it.” He handed the paper to Hayagriva.
November 29, 2016
Swamiji and “The Hare Krishna Chanters” Produce a Record Album
Alan Kallman was a record producer. He had read the article in The East Village Other about the swami from India and the mantra he had brought with him. When he had read the Hare Krishna mantra on the front page, he had become attracted. The article gave the idea that one could get a tremendous high or ecstasy from chanting. The Swami’s Second Avenue address was given in the article, so one night in November, Alan and his wife visited the storefront.
As soon as Alan mentioned his idea about making a record, Prabhupada was interested. “Yes,” he said, “we must record. If it will help us distribute the chanting of Hare Krishna, then it is our duty.” They scheduled the recording for two weeks later, in December, at the Adelphi Recording Studio near Times Square. Alan’s wife was impressed by how enthusiastically the Swami had gotten to the point of making the record: “He had so much energy and ambition in his plans.”
At the studio, everyone accepted the devotees as a regular music group. One of the rock musicians asked them what the name of their group was and Hayagriva laughed and replied, “The Hare Krishna Chanters.” Of course most of the devotees weren’t actually musicians, and yet the instruments they brought with them—a tambour, a large harmonium (loaned by Allen Ginsberg), and rhythm instruments—were ones they had played during kirtanas for months. So, as they entered the studio, they felt confident that they could produce their own sound. They just followed their Swami. He knew how to play and they knew how to follow him. They weren’t just another music group. It was music, but it was also chanting, meditation, worship.
The first sound was the tambour, with its plucked, reverberating twang. An instant later Swamiji began beating the drum and singing, vande ’ham sri-guroh . . .Then the whole ensemble put out to sea—the tambour, the harmonium, the clackers, the cymbals, Rupanuga’s bells, Swamiji’s solo singing—pushing off from their moorings, out into a fair-weather sea of chanting . . . lalita-sri-visakhanvitams ca . . .
Swamiji’s voice in the studio was very sweet. His boys were feeling love, not just making a record. There was a feeling of success and union, a crowning evening to all their months together.
. . . Sri-krsna-caitanya, prabhu-nityananda . . .
After a few minutes of singing prayers alone, Swamiji paused briefly while the instruments continued pulsing, and then began the mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. It was pure Bhaktivedanta Swami—expert, just like his cooking in the kitchen, like his lectures. The engineers liked what they heard—it would be a good take if nothing went wrong. The instruments were all right, the drum, the singing. The harmony was rough. But this was a special record—a happening. The Hare Krishna Chanters were doing their thing, and they were doing it all right. Alan Kallman was excited. Here was an authentic sound. Maybe it would sell.
After a few rounds of the mantra, the devotees began to feel relaxed, as though they were back in the temple, and they were able to forget about making mistakes on the record. They just chanted, and the beat steadied into a slightly faster pace. The word Hare would come sometimes with a little shout in it, but there were no emotional theatrics in the chorus, just the straight response to the Swami’s melody. Ten minutes went by. The chanting went faster, louder and faster—Swamiji doing more fancy things on the drum, until suddenly . . . everything stopped, with the droning note of the harmonium lingering.
Alan came out of the studio: “It was great, Swami. Great. Would you like to just go right ahead and read the address now? Or are you too tired?” With polite concern, pale, befreckled Alan Kallman peered through his thick glasses at the Swami. Swamiji appeared tired, but he replied, “No, I am not tired.” Then the devotees sat back in the studio to watch and listen as Prabhupada read his prepared statement.
November 30, 2016, 2016
Worship of Srila Prabhupada by Listening
Srila Prabhupada’s lectures were the main opportunity for everyone to associate with him in person. His lectures were intimate forums for the spiritual master to speak and for the disciple to hear. Prabhupada didn’t invite pomp, but he behaved with formality in the class. Those who attended knew that it was a serious happening. Devotees made sure that nothing disturbed this sacred function. In a sense, it was the major reason that Prabhupada had come here.
Srila Prabhupada personally felt that lecturing was an important way for him to associate with us. He took it as the duty of the Vaisnava acarya. Prabhupada lectured even when his health was not good, and he was always enthusiastic. When he lectured, you were aware that you were not hearing just one person, but you were in the presence of a living parampara. I remember feeling that from the very first times I heard Srila Prabhupada speak. Once I tried to convey it to one of my Lower East Side friends. I said, “He’s not just sitting here now, but what he says is connected and it’s going back thousands of years through all the different teachers and gurus. It’s actually going back to Lord Krishna when He first spoke the message, and in fact, it’s eternal.”
As with many things about Krishna consciousness, I have now come to accept this doctrine as matter-of-fact. But in the beginning it was a fascinating mystery, and an important reason to go and hear from Swamiji. He was with us at 26 Second Avenue, and yet he was repeating an ageless message. All the persons he spoke of, Lord Krishna, Narada Muni, Lord Brahma and so on, were all living when he spoke. And because of his faithfulness to the parampara, the truth that Prabhupada spoke had not changed with the fashions and speculations of philosophers over the centuries. When Srila Prabhupada spoke authoritatively and with devotion about Sukadeva Gosvami and Maharaja Pariksit, or Arjuna and Krishna, it would actually be happening. By his words he bridged time, and the ancient past became a present reality.
Prabhupada’s presentation was so real that it immediately worked. By lecturing first in America and then worldwide, he single-handedly spread the Krishna Consciousness Movement. He sometimes said, “Whatever change you see in my disciples, it has all come about by hearing.” Although young people coming to hear Srila Prabhupada in the ’60s and ’70s had been through many trips and disappointments, when they came in contact with Srila Prabhupada they sat like sages at his lotus feet and became satisfied. We thought, “Whatever else is going on in this phony, crazy world, Prabhupada is real and I’m going to be his devotee and serve Krishna.”
Prabhupada didn’t intend that the parampara of speaking should stop with him. When a guest asked Prabhupada, “How does one achieve this divine consciousness that you’re speaking of?”, Prabhupada replied, “Come and hear from us. We are having classes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Come and participate with the others.” Srila Prabhupada offered himself in that way. And because he is transcendental, he continues to live in sound.