April 1, 2016
The Paradox Restaurant
The Paradox, at 64 East 7th Street on the Lower East Side, was a restaurant dedicated to the philosophy of George Ohsawa and the macrobiotic diet. It was a storefront below street level with small dining tables placed around the candlelit room. The food was inexpensive and well-reputed. Tea was served free, as much as you liked. More than just a restaurant, The Paradox was a center for spiritual and cultural interests, a meeting place reminiscent of the cafes of Greenwich Village or Paris in the 1920s. A person could spend the whole day at The Paradox without buying anything, and no one would complain. The crowd at the Paradox was a mystical congregation, interested in teachings from the East. When news of the new Swami uptown at Dr. Mishra’s reached The Paradox, the word spread quickly.
April 2, 2016
Harvey Cohen and Bill Epstein were friends. Harvey was a freelance artist and Bill worked at The Paradox. After Harvey had been to Prabhupada’s place at Dr. Mishra’s yoga studio a few times, he came by The Paradox and began to describe all about the new Swami to Bill and other friends.
Bill: I was working at The Paradox one night and Harvey came to me and said, “I went to visit Mishra and there’s a new Swami there, and he’s really fantastic!” Well I was involved in macrobiotics and Buddhism, so at first, I couldn’t care less. But Harvey was a winning and warm personality and he seemed interested in this. He said, ‘Why don’t you come uptown? I would like you to see this.’
So I went to one of the lectures on 72nd Street. I walked in there and I could feel a certain presence from the Swami. He had a certain very concentrated, intense appearance. He looked pale and kind of weak. I guess he had just come here and had been through a lot of things. He was sitting there chanting on his beads, which he carried in a little bead bag. One of Dr. Mishra’s students was talking and he finally got around to introducing the Swami. He said, “We are the moons to the Swami’s sun.” He introduced him in that way. The Swami got up and talked. I didn’t know what to think about it. At that time, the only steps I had taken in regard to Indian teachings were with Ramakrishna, and this was the first time, to my knowledge, that bhakti religion had come to America.
Bill Epstein was a dashing, romantic person with long, wavy dark hair and a beard. He was good-looking and effervescent, and took upon himself a role of informing people at the restaurant of the City’s spiritual news. Once he became interested in the new Swami, he made the Swami an ongoing topic of conversation at the restaurant.
Bill: I went in the back and asked Richard, the manager, “I am going to take some food to the Swami. You don’t mind, do you?” He said, “No, take anything you want.” So I took some brown rice and other stuff and I brought it up there.
I went upstairs and I knocked on the door and there was no answer. I knocked again and I saw that the light was on – because it had a glass panel – and finally he answered. I was really scared because I had never really accepted any teacher. He said, “Come in! Come in! Sit down.” We started talking and he said to me, “The first thing that people do when they meet is to show each other love. They exchange names, they exchange something to eat.” So, he gave me a slice of apple and he showed me the tape recorder he had, probably for recording his chants. Then he said, “Have you ever chanted?” I said, “No, I haven’t chanted before.” So he played a chant, and then he spoke to me some more. He said, “You must come back.” I said, “Well, if I come back, I’ll bring you some more food.”
April 3, 2016
James Greene, a thirty-year-old carpentry teacher at Cooper Union, was delving into Eastern philosophy. He lived on the same block as The Paradox and began hearing about the Swami from Harvey Cohen and Bill Epstein, while regularly taking his evening meal at the restaurant.
James: It was really Harvey and Bill who got things going. I remember one evening at Mishra’s in which Swamiji was only a presence, but did not speak. Mishra’s students seemed more into the bodily aspect of yoga. This seemed to be one of Swamiji’s complaints.
His room on 72nd Street was quite small. He was living in a fairly narrow room with the door on the one end. Swamiji would set himself up along one side and we were rather closely packed. It would have been no more than eight feet wide, and it was rather dim. He sat on his thin mattress, and then we sat on the floor.
We wouldn’t chant. We would just come and he would lecture. There was no direction, other than the lecture on the Bhagavad-gita. I had read a lot of literature and in my own way I was looking for a master, I think. I have no aggression in me, or go-getting quality. I was really just a listener, and this seemed right – hearing the Bhagavad-gita – so I kept coming. It just seemed as if things would grow from there. More and more people began coming. Then it got crowded and he had to find another place.
April 4, 2016
The New Hip Crowd
The new group from The Paradox was young and hip, in contrast to the elder, more conservative uptown people who had been attending Prabhupada’s classes. In those days, it was still unusual to see a person with long hair and a beard, and once such people started coming to the Swami’s meetings on the West Side, some of the older people were alarmed. As one of them noted: “Swami Bhaktivedanta began to pick up another kind of people. He picked them up at the Bowery; or some addicts. And they came with funny hats and grey blankets wrapped around themselves, and they startled me.
April 5, 2016
David Allen, a twenty-one-year-old seeker who came up from the Paradox, had just moved to the City, optimistically attracted by what he had read about experimentation with drugs. He saw the old group as “a kind of fussbudgety group of older women on the West Side listening to the Swami’s lectures.”
David: We weren’t known as hippies then, but it was strange for the people who had originally been attracted to him. It was different for them to relate to this new group. I think most of the teachers from India up to that time had older followers, and sometimes wealthy widows would provide a source of income. But Swamiji changed right away to the younger, poorer group of people. The next thing that happened was that Bill Epstein and others began talking about how it would be better for the Swami to come downtown to the Lower East Side. Things were really happening down there, and somehow they weren’t happening uptown. People downtown really needed him. Downtown was right, and it was ripe. There was life down there. There was a lot of energy going around.
April 6, 2016
Burglary in Prabhupada’s Room
Someone broke into Room 307 while Srila Prabhupada was out and stole his typewriter and tape recorder. When Prabhupada returned to the building, the janitor informed him of the theft: an unknown burglar had broken the transom glass, climbed through, taken the valuables and escaped. As Prabhupada listened, he became convinced that the janitor himself was the culprit. Of course he couldn’t prove it, so he accepted the loss with disappointment. Some friends offered replacements for his old typewriter and tape recorder. In a letter to India he described the theft as a loss of more than a thousand rupees ($157.00).
It is understood that such crime as has been committed in my room is very common in New York. This is the way of material nature. American people have everything in ample, and the worker gets about Rs 100 daily wages. And still there are thieves for want of character. The social condition is not very good.
April 7, 2016
Discussing Plans to Return to India
Prabhupada had told Joseph Foerster, the Scindia ticket agent, that he would be returning to India in a couple of months. That was seven months ago. Now for the first time since his arrival, Prabhupada had returned to the Scindia office in Brooklyn. He talked about the theft to Mr. Foerster who responded with, “Welcome to the club,” and told Prabhupada about the recent theft of his own automobile. Such things, he explained, were not unusual for New York City. He told Prabhupada of the dangers of the City and how to avoid thefts and muggings. Prabhupada listened, shaking his head. He told Mr. Foerster that American young people were misguided and confused. He discussed his plans for returning to India and showed Mr. Foerster one of his Bhagavatams.
April 8, 2016
Harvey Offers Prabhupada His Studio on the Bowery
Prabhupada had lost his spirit for living in Room 307. What would prevent the janitor from stealing again? Harvey Cohen and Bill Epstein had invited him to relocate downtown and had assured him of a more interested following among the young people there. It had been an attractive proposal, and he began to reconsider it. Then Harvey offered Prabhupada his studio on the Bowery.
Harvey had been working as a commercial artist for a Madison Avenue advertising firm when a recently acquired inheritance spurred him to move into a loft on the Bowery to pursue his own career as a painter. But he was becoming disillusioned with New York. A group of acquaintances addicted to heroin had been coming around taking advantage of his generosity, and his loft had recently been burglarized. He decided to leave the City and go to California, but before leaving he offered the loft for Prabhupada to share with David Allen.
David Allen had heard that Harvey Cohen was moving to San Francisco if he could sublet his loft. Harvey hadn’t known David very long, but on the night before Harvey A.I.R. was supposed to leave, he coincidentally met David three different times in three different places on the Lower East Side. Harvey took this as a sign that he should rent the loft to David, but he specifically stipulated that the Swami should move in.
April 9, 2016
The Bowery Loft
94 Bowery was a narrow, four-storey building. It had long ago been painted grey and bore the usual facing of a massive, black fire escape. A well-worn black double door, its glass panels reinforced with chicken wire, opened on to the street. The sign above the door read: “A.I.R. 3rd and 4th”, indicating that artists in residence occupied those floors. Harvey Cohen’s loft on the top floor of 94 Bowery was an open space, almost 100 feet long (from west to east) and twenty-five feet wide. It received a good amount of sunlight on the east, the Bowery side, and it also had windows at the west end, as well as a skylight. The exposed rafters of the ceiling were twelve feet above the floor.
Harvey Cohen had used the loft as an art studio and racks for paintings still lined the walls. A kitchen and shower were partitioned off in the northwest corner and a room divider stood about fifteen feet in the Bowery side windows. This divider did not run from wall to wall, but was open at both ends and was several feet short of the ceiling.
It was behind this partition that Prabhupada had his personal living area. A bed and a few chairs stood near the window and Prabhupada’s typewriter sat on his metal trunk next to a small table that held his stacks of Bhagavatam manuscripts. His dhotis hung drying on a clothesline.
On the other side of the partition was a dais, about ten feet wide and five feet deep, on which Prabhupada sat during his kirtanas and lectures. The dais faced west toward the loft’s large open space – open, that is, except for a couple of rugs and an old-fashioned, solid wood table, and, on an easel, Harvey’s painting of Lord Caitanya dancing with His associates.
April 10, 2016
Prabhupada in the Loft
The loft was a fourth-flight walk-up, and the only entrance, usually heavily bolted, was a door in the rear at the west end. From the outside, this door opened into a hallway that was only lit by a red EXIT light over the door. The hallway led to the right a few steps and into the open area. If a guest entered during the kirtana or lecture, he would see the Swami about thirty feet from the entrance seated on his dais. On other evenings, the whole loft would be dark but for the glow of the red EXIT light in the little hallway and a soft illumination radiating from the other side of the partition where Prabhupada was working.
Prabhupada lived on the Bowery, sitting under a small light, while hundreds of derelicts also sat under hundreds of naked lights on the same city block. He had no more fixed income than the derelicts, or any greater security of a fixed residence, yet his consciousness was different. He was translating Srimad-Bhagavatam into English, speaking to the world through his Bhaktivedanta purports; his duty, whether on the fourteenth floor of a Riverside Drive apartment or in the corner of a Bowery loft, was to establish Krishna consciousness as the prime necessity for all humanity. He went on with his translating and with his constant vision of a Krishna temple in New York City. Because his consciousness was absorbed in Krishna’s universal mission, he did not depend on his surroundings for shelter. Home for him was not a matter of bricks and wood, but of taking shelter of Krishna in every circumstance. As Prabhupada had said to his friends uptown, “Everywhere is my home.” Without Krishna’s shelter, the whole world would become a desolate place.
Often he would refer to a scriptural statement that people live in three different modes: goodness, passion and ignorance. Life in the forest is in the mode of goodness, life in the city is in passion, and life in a degraded place like a liquor shop, a brothel, or the Bowery, is in the mode of ignorance. But to live in the temple of Vishnu is to live in the spiritual world, Vaikuntha, which is transcendental to all material worlds.
And this Bowery loft where Prabhupada was holding his meetings and performing kirtana was also transcendental. When he was behind the partition working in his corner before the open pages of Srimad-Bhagavatam, that room was as good as his room back at the Radha-Damodara Temple in Vrindavana.
April 11, 2016
The Word Spreads
News of the Swami’s move to the Bowery loft spread, mostly by word of mouth at the Paradox restaurant, and people began to come by in the evening to chant with him. The musical kirtanas were especially popular on the Bowery, since the Swami’s new congregation consisted mostly of local musicians and artists who responded more to the transcendental music than to the philosophy. Every morning he would hold a class on Srimad-Bhagavatam attended by David Allen, Robert Nelson and another boy, and occasionally he would teach cooking to whoever was interested. He was usually available for personal talks with any inquiring visitors, or with his new roommate.
Although Prabhupada and David each had a designated living area in the large loft, the entire place soon became dominated by Prabhupada’s preaching activities. Prabhupada and David got on well together and, at first, Prabhupada considered David an aspiring disciple.
April 12, 2016
Prabhupada wrote to his friends in India, describing his relationship with his new roommate in the Bowery loft, David Allen.
He was attending the class at 72nd Street along with others, and when I experienced this theft case in my room, he invited me to his residence. So I am with him and training him. He has good prospect because he has already given up all bad habits. In this country, illicit connection with women, smoking, drinking and eating of meats are common affairs. But by my request he has given up 90% of his old habits, and he is chanting Maha-mantra regularly. So I am giving him the chance and I think he is improving. Tomorrow I have arranged for some prasadam distribution, and he has gone to purchase some things from the market.
When David first came to the Bowery, he appeared like a clean-cut college student. He was twenty-one, six feet tall, blue-eyed, handsome and intelligent looking. Most of his new friends in New York were older and considered him a kid. David’s family lived in East Lansing, Michigan, and his mother was paying $100.00 monthly to sublease the loft. Although he did not have much experience, he had read that a new realm of mind expansion was available through psychedelic drugs, and he was heading fast into the hazardous world of LSD. His meeting with the Swami came at a time of radical change and profoundly affected his life.
David: It was a really good relationship I had with the Swami, but I was overwhelmed by the tremendous energy of being that close to him. It spurred my consciousness very fast. Even my dreams at night would be so vivid of Krishna consciousness. I was often sleeping when the Swami was up, because he was up late in the night working on his translations. That is possibly where a lot of the consciousness in dreams just flowed in, because a lot of that deep relationship. It also had to do with studying Sanskrit. There was a lot of immediate impact with the language. The language seemed to have a strong mystical quality, the way he translated it word-for-word.
April 13, 2016
New people began coming to see Prabhupada on the Bowery. Carl Yeargens, a thirty-three year-old, black, bearded man from the Bronx had attended Cornell University and was now independently studying Indian religion and Zen Buddhism. He had experimented with drugs as “psychedelic tools” and he had an interest in the music and poetry of India. He was influential among his friends and tried to interest them in meditation. He had even been dabbling in Sanskrit.
Carl: I had just finished reading a book called The Wonder That Was India. I had gotten the definition of a sannyasi and a brahmacari and so forth. There was a vivid description in that particular book of how you could see a sannyasi coming down the road with his saffron robe. It must have made more than a superficial impression on me, because it came to me on this one chilly evening. I was going to visit Michael Grant – probably going to smoke some marijuana and sit around, maybe play some music – and I was coming down Hester Street. If you make a left on the Bowery, you can go up to Mike’s place on Grand Street. But it’s a funny thing that I chose to go that way, because the shorter way would have been to go down Grand Street. But if I had gone that way, I probably would have missed Swamiji.
So I decided to go down Hester and make a left. All of a sudden I saw in this dingy alcove, a brilliant saffron robe. As I passed, I saw it was Swamiji knocking on the door, trying to gain entrance. There were two bums hunched up against the door. It was like a two-part door – one of them was sealed and the other was locked. The two bums were lying on either side of Swamiji. One of these men had actually expired – which often happened and you had to call the police or health department to get them.
I don’t think I saw the men lying in the doorway until I walked up to Swamiji and asked him, “Are you a sannyasi?” And he answered, “Yes.” We started this conversation about how he was starting a temple, and he mentioned Lord Caitanya and the whole thing. He just came out with this flow of strange things to me, right there in the street. But I knew what he was talking about somehow. I had the familiarity of having just read this book and delved into Indian religion. So I knew that this was a momentous occasion for me and I wanted to help him. We banged on the door and eventually we got into the loft. He invited me to come to a kirtana, and I came back later that night for my first kirtana. From that point on, it was a fairly regular thing – three times a week. At one point Swamiji asked me to stay with him, and I stayed for about two weeks.
April 14, 2016
It was perhaps because of Carl’s interest in Sanskrit that Prabhupada began holding Sanskrit classes. Carl and David and a few others would spend hours learning Sanskrit under Prabhupada’s guidance. Using a chalkboard he found in the loft, Prabhupada taught the alphabet, and his students wrote their exercises in his notebooks. Prabhupada would look over their shoulders to see if they were writing correctly and he would review their pronunciation. His students were learning not simply Sanskrit, but the instructions of Bhagavad-gita. Each day he would give them a verse to copy in the Sanskrit alphabet (devanagari), transliterated into the Roman alphabet, and then translated word-for-word into English. But their interest in Sanskrit waned, and Prabhupada gradually gave up the daily classes to spend time working on his own translation of the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
His new friends may have regarded these lessons as Sanskrit classes, but actually they were bhakti classes. He had not come to America as the ambassador of Sanskrit; his Guru Maharaj had ordered him to teach Krishna consciousness. But since he had found in Carl and some of his friends a desire to investigate Sanskrit, he encouraged it. As a youth, Lord Caitanya had also started a Sanskrit school with the real purpose of teaching love of Krishna. He would teach in such a way that every word meant Krishna, and once His students objected, He closed the school. Similarly, when Prabhupada found his students’ interest in Sanskrit was transitory, and since he himself had no mission on behalf of Sanskrit linguistics, he gave it up.
April 15, 2016
Prabhupada held his evening meetings on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, just as he had uptown. The loft was out of the way for most of his acquaintances and it was on the Bowery. A cluster of sleeping derelicts regularly blocked the street-level entrance, and the visitors would find as many as half a dozen bums to step over before climbing the four flights of stairs. But it was something new; you could go and sit with a group of hip people and watch the Swami lead kirtana. The room was dimly lit, and Prabhupada would burn incense. Many casual visitors came and went. One of them – Gunther – had vivid impressions.
Gunther: You walked right off the Bowery into a room filled with incense. It was quiet. Everyone was talking in hushed tones, not really talking at all. Swamiji was sitting in the front of the room in meditation. There was a tremendous feeling of peace, which I had never had before. I happened to have studied for two years to become a minister and was into meditation, study and prayer, but this was my first time to do anything Eastern or Hindu. There were lots of pillows around and mats on the floor for people to sit on. I don’t think there were any pictures of statues. It was just Swamiji, incense and mats, and obviously the respect of the people in the room for him.
April 16, 2016
The Attraction of Sound
Carol: It was a very interracial, music-oriented scene. There were a few professional musicians, and a lot of people who enjoyed playing or just listening. Some people were painting in some of the lofts. And that’s basically what was going on. We had memorable kirtanas. One time there was a beautiful ceremony. Some of us went over early to prepare for it. There must have been a hundred people who came that day.
For the Bowery crowd, sound was spirit and spirit was sound, in a merging of music and meditation. But for Prabhupada, music without the name of God wasn’t meditation; it was sense gratification, or at most, a kind of stylized, impersonal meditation. But he was glad to see the musicians coming to play along in his kirtanas, to hear him and to chant responsively. Some, having stayed up all night playing somewhere on their instruments, would come by in the morning and sing with the Swami. He did not dissuade them from their focus on sound; rather, he gave them sound. In the Vedas, sound is said to be the first element in the material creation; the source of sound is God and God is eternally a person. Prabhupada’s emphasis was on getting people to chant God’s personal, transcendental name. Whether they took it as jazz, folk music, rock, or Indian meditation made no difference, as long as they began to chant Hare Krishna.
Carol: Whenever he had the chanting, the people were fairly in awe of the Swami. On the Bowery a kind of transcendence came out in a ringing of the cymbals. He used the harmonium and many people played hand cymbals. Sometimes he played the drum. In the very beginning he stressed the importance of sound, and the realization of Godhead through sound. That was, I suppose, the attraction that these musicians found in him – the emphasis on sound as a means to attaining transcendence in the Godhead. But he wanted a serious thing. He was interested in discipleship.
April 17, 2016
One serious newcomer was Michael Grant. Mike was twenty-four. His father, who was Jewish, owned a record shop in Portland, Oregon where Mike grew up. After studying music at Portland’s Reed College and at San Francisco State, Mike, who played the piano and many other instruments, moved to New York City, along with his girlfriend, hoping to get into music professionally. But he quickly became disenchanted with the commercial music scene. Playing in nightclubs and pandering to commercial demands seemed particularly unappealing. In New York he joined a musicians’ union and worked as a musical arranger and as an agent for several local groups.
Mike lived on the Bowery in an A.I.R. loft on Grand Street. It was a large loft where musicians often congregated for jam sessions. But as he turned more and more to serious composing, he found himself retiring from the social side of the music scene. His interest ran more to the spiritual, quasi-spiritual and mystical books he had been reading. He had encountered several swamis, yogis, and Southside spiritualists in the City, and had taken up hatha yoga. From his first meeting with the Swami, Mike was interested and quite open – as he was with all religious persons. He thought that all genuinely religious people were good, although he did not care to identify with any particular group.
Mike: There was a little bit of familiarity because I had seen other swamis. The way he was dressed, the way he looked – older and swarthy – weren’t new to me. But at the same time, there was an element of novelty. I was very curious. I didn’t hear him talk when I first came in. He was just chanting. But mainly I was waiting to hear what he was going to say. I had already heard people chant before. I thought, why else would he put himself in such a place, without any comfort, unless the message he’s trying to get across is more important than his own comfort? I think the thing that struck me most was the poverty that was all around him. This was curious, because the places I had been before had been just the opposite – very opulent. There was a Vedanta center in Upper Manhattan, and others. They were filled with staid, older men with their leather chairs and pipe tobacco – that kind of environment. But this was real poverty. The whole thing was curious.
The Swami looked very refined, which was also curious – that he was in this place. When he talked I immediately saw that he was a scholar, and that he spoke with great conviction. Some statements he made were very daring. He was talking about God and all this was new, to hear someone talk about God. I always wanted to hear someone I could respect talk about God. I always liked to hear religious speakers, but I measured them very carefully. When he spoke I began to think, “Well here is someone talking about God who may really have some realization of God.” He was the first one I had come across who might be a person of God, who could feel really deeply.
April 18, 2016
Dovetailing With the Supreme Consciousness
The Swami’s main stress is on what he calls “dovetailing your consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness”… Krishna is the Supreme Consciousness. Arjuna, as the representative individual consciousness, is asked to act intelligently in collaboration with the Supreme Consciousness, then he will be free from the bondage of birth, death, old age and disease.
Consciousness is a popular word in America. There’s consciousness expansion, cosmic consciousness, altered states of consciousness, and now – dovetailing the individual consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness. This is the perfection of consciousness, Prabhupada explains. This is the love and peace that everyone is really after. And yet, Prabhupada talks of it in terms of war.
So we shall not suffer a pinch if we dovetail our desires with the Supreme Lord. We simply have to learn the art – how to dovetail. Nothing has to be changed. The fighting man did not change into an artist or a musician. If you are a fighting man, you remain a fighting man. If you are a musician, you remain a musician. If you are a medical man, you remain a medical man. Whatever you are, you remain. But dovetail it. If by my eating the Lord is satisfied, then that is my perfection. If by my fighting the Lord is satisfied, then that is my perfection. So in every sphere of life, we have to know whether the Lord is satisfied. That technique we have to learn. Then it is as easy as anything. We have to stop creating our own plans and thoughts and take the perfect plans from the Supreme Lord and execute them. That will become the perfection of our life.
April 19, 2016
Cutting the Knot of Ignorance and Illusion
Speaking vigorously in the Bowery loft, even until he becomes physically exhausted – sometimes shouting, sometimes pleading, sometimes laughing – he gives his audience as much as he feels they can take. As the emissary of Krishna in the disciplic succession, he can boldly shout that everyone should dovetail with the Supreme. He can speak as strongly as he likes for as long as they are willing to listen. He is a sadhu (the Sanskrit word means “saint” and “one who cuts”) and he repeats the same message that for thousands of years sadhus of the original Vedic culture have spoken. He is reviving the eternal spirit of Vedic wisdom – to cut the knots of ignorance and illusion.
Everything is illusion. From the beginning of our birth. And that illusion is so strong it is very difficult to get out of. The whole thing is illusion. Birth is illusion. The body is illusion. The bodily relationship and the country are illusion. The father is illusion. The mother is illusion. The wife is illusion. The children are illusion. Everything is illusion. And we are contacting that illusion, thinking we are very learned and advanced. We are imagining so many things. But as soon as death comes – the actual fact – then we forget everything. We forget our country. We forget our relatives. We forget our wife, children, father, mother. Everything is gone.
April 20, 2016
Michael Grant: I went up to him after his lecture in the loft. I had the same feeling I’d had on other occasions when I’d been to hear famous people in concerts. I was always interested in going by after concerts to see musicians and singers, just to meet them and see what they were like. I had a similar feeling after Swamiji spoke, so I went up and started talking. But the experience was different from the others in that he wasn’t in a hurry. He could talk to me, whereas with others all you could do was get in a few words. They were always more interested in something else. But he was a person who was actually showing some interest in me as a person, and I was so overwhelmed that I quickly ran out of things to say. I was surprised. Our meeting broke off on the basis of my not having anything further to say. It was just the opposite of so many other experiences where some performer would be hurrying off to do something else. This time, I was the one who couldn’t continue.
April 21, 2016
Prabhupada Liked to Take Walks
Prabhupada liked to take walks. From his doorstep at 94 Bowery he would see directly across the street the Fulton Hotel, a five-storey flophouse. Surrounding him were other lower Manhattan lodging houses whose tenants wandered the sidewalks from early morning until dark. An occasional flock of pigeons would stir and fly from one rooftop to the next, or descend to the street. Traffic was heavy. The Bowery was part of a truck route to and from Brooklyn by way of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.
The Bowery sloped gently downhill toward the north. Prabhupada could see signboards, a few scraggly Manhattan trees, and streetlights and traffic signals as far up as Fourth Street. He could see Con Edison with its prominent clock tower, and (if there were no clouds) the top of the Empire State Building on Thirty-fourth Street.
He would walk alone in the morning through the Bowery neighborhood. The month of May that year saw more frequent rains than was normal, and Prabhupada carried an umbrella. Sometimes he walked in the rain. He was not always alone; sometimes he walked with one of his new friends and talked. Sometimes he shopped. Bitter melon, dal, hing, chickpea flour and other specialty foods common in Indian vegetarian cuisine were available in Chinatown’s nearby markets. On leaving the loft, he would walk south a few steps to the corner of Bowery and Hester Street. Turning right on Hester, he would immediately be in Chinatown where the shops, markets, and even the Manhattan Savings Bank were identified by signs lettered in Chinese. Sometimes he would walk one block further south to Canal Street with its Central Asian Food Market and many other streetside fruit and vegetable markets. In the early morning the sidewalks were almost deserted, but as the shops began to open for business the streets became crowded with local workers, shopkeepers, tourists and aimless derelicts. The winding streets of Chinatown were lined with hundreds of small stores. Parked cars lined both sides of the street.
Despite the bad neighborhood where Prabhupada lived and walked, he was rarely disturbed. Often he would find several Bowery bums asleep or unconscious at his door and he would have to step over them. Sometimes a drunk, simply out of his inability to maneuver, would bump into him; or a derelict would mutter something unintelligible or laugh at him. The more sober ones would stand and gesture courteously, ushering the Swami in to or out of his door at 94 Bowery. He would pass among them, acknowledging their good manners as they cleared his path.
Certainly, few of the Bowery men and others who saw him on his walks knew much about the small, elderly Indian sadhu dressed in saffron and carrying an umbrella and a brown grocery sack.
April 22, 2016
Village Voice Reporter
Sitting cross-legged, his back to the shelf with its assortment of potted plants, a whitish chadar wrapped in wide, loose folds across his body, Prabhupada looked grave, almost sorrowful. The picture and accompanying article appeared in the June issue of The Village Voice.
The article had been written by Howard Smith. He had first heard of the Swami by a phone call from a contact who had told him of an interesting holy man from India living in a loft in the Bowery. “Go there any time,” Howard’s contact had told him. “He’s always there. I think you will find it fascinating. I believe he’s about to start a major religious movement.”
Howard Smith: So I went down there and went upstairs into this very funky artists’ loft. There were carpets all over the place, old and worn out, and a lot of people sitting around in various kinds of hippie garb, plus what I think they must have thought was Indian garb. Most of them were sitting alone around the room facing the wall, like they had nothing to do with each other. They were sitting cross-legged, and each one seemed to be doing something different. Nobody paid any attention to me when I walked in.
I saw shoes lined up and I thought, “Maybe I am supposed to take off my shoes,” but nobody said anything to me. So I walked around the edge of the carpet, looking for somebody to pay attention to me. I wondered what was going on and I didn’t want to interrupt anybody, because they all seemed deep into whatever kind of prayers they were doing.
In the back of the loft I noticed a little curtain – an Indian madras type of curtain – and so I decided to peer into that area. I looked in and there was Swami Bhaktivedanta sitting there cross-legged in saffron garments, with the markings on his forehead and nose and his hand in the bead bag. Even though he looked like the real thing, he seemed more approachable and I said, “Hello,” and he looked up. I said, “Swami Bhaktivedanta?” and he said, “Yes.” I said, “I am Howard Smith.” I was expecting to sit down, so I said, “Excuse me, I have to take off my shoes,” and he said, “Why do you want to take off your shoes?” I said, “I don’t know – I saw all the shoes out there.” And he said, “I didn’t ask you to take your shoes off.” I said, “What are all those people out there doing?” and he said, “I don’t know. And they don’t know what they’re doing. I am trying to teach them and they seem to be misunderstanding me. They are very confused people.”
Then we sat and talked and I liked him a lot right away. I mean, I’d met a lot of other swamis and I didn’t like them too much. I don’t think it’s fair to lump them all together and say, “Those swamis in India.” He was very, very basic, and that’s what I seemed to like about him. He not only made me feel at ease, but he seemed very open and honest – like he asked my advice on things. He was very new in the country.
I thought his ideas stood a good chance of taking hold because he seemed so practical. His head didn’t seem to be in the clouds. He wasn’t talking mysticism every third word. I guess that is where his soul was at, but that isn’t where his normal, conversational consciousness was at.
Then he told me that several people had told him that the Voice would be a very good place to be written up, and that basically it would reach the kind of people who already perhaps had a leaning or interest in what he was preaching. I said I thought he was correct. He asked me if I had read any books or knew anything about Indian culture. I said no, I didn’t really. We talked a little and he explained to me that he had these books in English that he had already translated in India. He handed those to me and said, “If you want more background, you can read these.”
It was obvious to me that I was not talking to some fellow who had just decided that he had seen God and was going to tell people about it. He seemed to be an educated man, much more so than myself. I liked his humbleness. I just plain liked the guy.
He explained everything I wanted to know – the significance of what he was wearing, the mark on his forehead, the bead bag. I liked all his explanations. Everything was very practical. Then he talked about temples all over the world and he said, “Well, we have a long way to go. But I am very patient.”
April 23, 2016
One day a curious, unsolicited correspondent wrote to Prabhupada from India. His name was Mukti Brahmacari. Introducing himself as a disciple of one of Prabhupada’s godbrothers, and reminding Prabhupada of their past slight acquaintance, Mukti wrote of his eagerness to join Prabhupada in America. Prabhupada still had hopes for getting assistance from his godbrothers in India – “This mission is not simply one man’s work.” Therefore, he invited Mukti to come to America and asked him to request his guru to cooperate by working personally to secure government sanction for the release of foreign exchange.
Mukti submitted the entire proposal before his spiritual master, who, as Mukti predicted, cancelled the trip. Although Mukti’s guru was Srila Prabhupada’s godbrother, he did not want to be involved and he doubted that Prabhupada would actually get a donation from Padampat Singhania.
And now Mukti Brahmacari also doubted: “If your program is not bona fide, the approach to a big personality will be a ludicrous one no doubt.”
On the same day that Prabhupada received the “ludicrous” letter, he also received the final blow of noncooperation from the Indian government. Second Secretary Prakash Shah of the Indian Embassy in Washington D.C. wrote:
Due to existing conditions of foreign exchange stringency, it is not possible for the government of India to accede to your request for release of foreign exchange. You may perhaps like to raise funds from residents in America.
It was confirmed: Prabhupada would have to work without outside help. He would continue alone in New York City. His last letter to Mukti Brahmacari reveals his deep faith and determination.
So the controversy is now closed and there is no need of help from anyone else. We are not always successful in our attempts at preaching work, but such failures are certainly not ludicrous. In the absolute field, both success and failure are glorious. Even Lord Nityananda pretended to be a failure at converting Jagai and Madhai in the first attempt. Rather, He was personally injured in such an attempt. But that was certainly not ludicrous. The whole thing was transcendental and it was glorious for all parties concerned.
April 24, 2016
No Help from India
If Krishna consciousness was ever to take hold in America, it would have to be without assistance from the Indian government or Indian financiers. Not even a lone Indian brahmacari would join him. Krishna was revealing His plan to Prabhupada in a different way. With the Singhania-sanction schemes finished and behind him, Prabhupada would turn all his energy toward the young men and women coming to him in his Bowery loft. He wrote to Sumati Morarji:
I am now trying to incorporate one corporation of the local friends and admirers under the name International Society for Krishna Conscious.
April 25, 2016
David Allen Goes Crazy on LSD
At first David and the Swami lived together peacefully in the large hall, the Swami working concentratedly on his side of the partition and David ranging throughout the large open space. David, however, continued taking marijuana, LSD and amphetamines. Prabhupada had no choice but to tolerate it. Several times he told David that drugs and hallucinogens would not help him in his spiritual life, but David would look distracted. He was becoming estranged from the Swami.
But Prabhupada had a plan to use the loft as a temple – to transform it into New York’s first temple of Radha-Krishna – and he wanted David’s cooperation. Although the neighborhood was one of the most miserable in the world, Prabhupada talked of bringing deities from Jaipur or Vrindavana and starting temple worship, even on the Bowery. He thought David might help. After all, they were roommates, so there could be no question of David’s not cooperating, but he would have to give up his bad habits.
Prabhupada was trying to help David, but David was too disturbed. He was headed for disaster and so were Prabhupada’s plans for the loft. Sometimes, even when not under the influence of a drug, David would pace around the loft. Other times, he appeared to be deep in thought. One day, on a dose of LSD, he went completely crazy. As Carl Yeargens put it, “He just flipped out and the Swami had to deal with a crazy man.” Things had been leading to this – “he was a crazy kid who always took too much” – but the real madness happened suddenly.
Swamiji was working peacefully at his typewriter when David “freaked out.” David started moaning and pacing around the large open area of the loft. Then he began yelling, howling and running around. He went back to where the Swami was. Suddenly Prabhupada found himself face-to-face, not with David – the nice David who he was going to take to India to show the brahmanas in Vrindavana – but a drugged, wild-eyed stranger, a madman.
Prabhupada tried to speak to him – “What is the matter?” – but David had nothing to say. There was no particular disagreement. Just madness …
Prabhupada moved quickly down the four flights of stairs. He had not stopped to gather up any of his belongings, or even to decide where he would go or whether he would return. There had been no time to consider anything. He had taken quite a shock and now he was leaving the arena of David’s madness. The usual group of bums was sitting in the doorway and with their customary flourish of courtesy, they allowed him to pass. They were used to the elderly swami’s coming in and going out, going shopping and returning, and they didn’t bother him. But he was not going shopping today. Where was he going? He didn’t know. He had come on to the street without knowing where he would go.
He wasn’t going back to the loft – that was for sure. But where could he go? The pigeons flew from roof to roof. Traffic rumbled by and the ever-present bums loitered about getting drunker on cheap, poisonous alcohol. Although Prabhupada’s home had suddenly become a place of insane terror, the street at his door was also a hellish, dangerous place. He was shaken. He could call Dr. Mishra’s and they might take him in, but that chapter of his life was over. He had gone on to something better. He had his own classes, young people chanting and hearing. Was it all over now? After nine months in America, he had finally got good response to his preaching and kirtana. He couldn’t quit now.
April 26, 2016
Moving In With Carl Yeargens
How difficult it was becoming to preach in America among these crazy people! He had written prophetically in his poem the day he had arrived in Boston Harbor, “My dear Lord, I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do with me whatever You like. But I guess You have some business here, otherwise why would You bring me to this terrible place?” What about his scheduled classes? What about David – should he go back and try to talk with the boy? This had been David’s first fit of violence, but there had been other tense moments. David had a habit of leaving the soap on the floor of the shower stall and Prabhupada had asked him not to because it was a hazard. But David wouldn’t listen. Prabhupada had continued to remind him, and one day David had gotten angry and shouted at him. But there was no real enmity. Even today’s incident had not been a matter of personal differences – the boy was a victim.
Prabhupada walked quickly. He had free passage on the Scindia Line. He could go home to Vrindavana. But his spiritual master had ordered him to come here. “By the strong desire of Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura,” he had written while crossing the Atlantic, “the holy name of Lord Gauranga will spread throughout the countries of the Western world.” Before nightfall he would have to find some place to stay, a way to keep up the momentum of his preaching. This is what it meant to be working without government sponsorship, without the support of any religious organization, without a patron. It meant being vulnerable and insecure. Prabhupada faced the crisis as a test from Krishna. The instruction of Bhagavad-gita was to depend on Krishna for protection: “In all activities just depend upon Me and work always under My protection. In such devotional service be fully conscious of Me … You will pass over all the obstacles of conditional life by My grace.”
He decided to phone Carl Yeargens and ask him to help. Hearing the Swami’s voice on the phone – it was an emergency! – Carl at once agreed that Prabhupada could move in with him and his wife, Eva. Their place was close by, on Centre Street, five blocks west of Bowery near Chinatown. Carl would be right over.
April 27, 2016
Difficulty Living With Carl
Yet for Carl and Eva, Prabhupada’s simple presence created difficulty. Never before during his whole stay in America had he been a more inconvenient or unwanted guest. Carl’s studio was arranged for him and his wife to live in alone, using the bedroom, kitchen and living-room any way they liked. If they wanted to smoke marijuana or eat meat or whatever, that was their prerogative, this was Carl’s home; he lived here with his wife Eva and their dogs and cats. But now they had to share it with the Swami.
Almost at once the situation became intolerable for Eva. She resented the Swami’s presence in her home. She was a feminist, a liberated white woman with a black husband and a good job. She didn’t like the Swami’s views on women. She hadn’t read his books or attended his classes, but she had heard that he was opposed to sexual intercourse except for conceiving children, and that in his view, a woman was supposed to be shy and chaste and help her husband in spiritual life. She knew about the Swami’s four rules – no meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication or gambling – and she definitely did not want Carl’s swami trying to change their ways to suit his. And he had better not expect her to wait on him as his servant. She sensed the Swami objecting to almost everything she did. If she were to seek his advice he would probably ask her to stop taking drugs, get rid of the cats and dogs, stop drinking and stop contraceptive sex. If the Swami had his way, they would probably eat only at certain times and only certain foods. Eva was a heavy smoker, so he probably wouldn’t like being around her. She was ready for a confrontation.
April 28, 2016
The Need for a New Place
Carol: Carl was trying to be something he really wasn’t, but he would never have suggested that the Swami had to leave. Swami, I am sure, was astute enough to pick up on this tension. As soon as he could, he tried to move to another place.
Gradually Carl reached an impasse in his relationship with Prabhupada. He couldn’t share his life with both his wife and the Swami, and ultimately he was more inclined toward his wife.
Carl: I couldn’t see my loft becoming a temple. I was raising cats and dogs, and he wanted them removed. He used to call me a meat-eater. But then he changed our diet. Of course he was hitting the American culture, which doesn’t know what all this business is. I have to put it on myself as much as anyone. I could understand and absorb India through an impersonal agency like a book or a record, but here was the living representative of Godhead, and to me it was as difficult as anything I had ever had to do before or since.
Prabhupada was not insensitive to the distress his presence was causing. He didn’t want to inconvenience anyone. And of course he could have avoided all inconvenience, both for himself and for people like Eva, if he had never come to America. But he wasn’t concerned with convenience or inconvenience, pleasing Eva or displeasing her. He wanted to teach Krishna consciousness.
Prabhupada had a mission, and Carl’s loft didn’t seem to be the right place for it. Prabhupada’s friends all agreed: he should move more into the center of things. The Bowery and Chinatown were too far out of the way. They would find him a new place.
April 29, 2016
Asking Michael Grant for Help
A week passed, and no one had found a suitable place for the Swami. One day Prabhupada suggested that he and Carl take a walk up to Michael Grant’s place and ask him to help.
Mike: I was awakened one morning very early, and Carl was on the phone saying, “Swamiji and I were just taking a walk, and we thought we’d come up and see you.” I said, “But it’s too early in the morning.” And he said, “Well, Swamiji wants to see you.” They were very near by, just down the street, so I had to quickly get dressed, and by the time I got to the door they were there.
I was totally unprepared, but invited them up. The television had been on from the previous night, and there were some cartoons on. The Swami sat between Carl and me on the couch. I was keeping a pet cat, and the cat jumped up on Swamiji’s lap, and he abruptly knocked it off onto the floor. We began to talk, but Swamiji glanced over at the cartoons on the television set and said, “This is nonsense.” Suddenly I realized that the television was on and that it was nonsense, and I got up very quickly saying, “Why, yes, it is nonsense,” and turned it off.
As Prabhupada talked, he tried to impress on Mike how difficult it was for him to live with Carl and Eva, and Mike listened. But was the Swami so sure he couldn’t go back to the Bowery loft and live with David Allen? Except for that one incident, it had been a nice setup, hadn’t it? Prabhupada explained that David had become a madman from too much LSD. He was dangerous. Mike gave the Swami a half-incredulous look – David Allen, dangerous? Prabhupada then told a story: “There’s an old saying in India that you get yourself a spiritual master, you sit opposite him, you learn everything from him that you can, then you kill him, you move his body to one side, and then you sit in his place, and you become the guru.” As Prabhupada spoke, Mike began to feel that David was dangerous, so he didn’t ask for any more details.
Mike could see that Swamiji was appealing to him for help, and as they all sat together on the couch, Mike and Carl quietly nodded in agreement. The Swami was looking at Mike, and Mike was trying to think.
April 30, 2016
They Find a New Place at Twenty-six Second Avenue
Mike felt obligated. He was good at getting things done and he wanted to do this for the Swami. So the next day he went to The Village Voice, got the first newspaper off the press, looked through the classified ads until he found a suitable prospect, and phoned the landlord. It was a storefront on Second Avenue, and an agent, Mr. Gardiner, agreed to meet them there. Carl and the Swami also agreed to come.
Mr. Gardiner and Mike were the first to arrive. Mike noted the unusual hand-painted sign – Matchless Gifts – above the front window. It was a holdover, Mr. Gardiner explained, from when the place had been a nostalgic-gift shop. Mike proceeded to describe the Swami as a spiritual leader from India, an important author and Sanskrit scholar. The rental agent seemed receptive. As soon as Prabhupada and Carl arrived and everyone had been congenially introduced, Mr. Gardiner showed them the small storefront. Prabhupada, Carl, and Mike carefully considered its possibilities. It was empty, plain and dark – the electricity had not been turned on – and it needed repainting. It would be good for meetings, but not for the Swami’s residence. But at $125 a month it seemed promising. Then Mr. Gardiner revealed a small, second-floor apartment just across the rear courtyard, directly behind the storefront. Another $71 a month and the Swami could live there, although first Mr. Gardiner would have to repaint it. The total rent would come to $196, and Carl, Mike and the others would pitch in.