June 1, 2016
When the kirtana suddenly sprang up from the Swami’s cymbals and sonorous voice, they immediately felt that it was going to be something far out. Here was another chance to “trip out,” and willingly they began to flow with it. They would surrender their minds and explore the limits of the chanting for all it was worth. Most of them had already associated the mantra with the mystical Upanisads and Gita, which had called out to them in words of mystery: “Eternal spirit … Negating illusion.” But whatever it is, this Indian mantra, let it come, they thought. Let its waves carry us far and high. Let’s take it, and let the effects come. Whatever the price, let it come. The chanting seemed simple and natural enough. It was sweet and wasn’t going to harm anyone. It was, in its own way, far out.
As Prabhupada chanted in his own inner ecstasy, he observed his motley congregation. He was breaking ground in a new land now. As the hand cymbals rang, the lead-and-response of the Hare Krishna mantra swelled, filling the evening. Some neighbors were annoyed. Puerto Rican children, enchanted, appeared at the door and window, looking. Twilight came.
June 2, 2016
Exotic it was, yet anyone could see that a swami was raising an ancient prayer in praise of God. This wasn’t rock or jazz. He was a holy man, a swami, making a public religious demonstration. But the combination was strange: an old Indian swami chanting an ancient mantra with a storefront full of young American hippies singing along.
Prabhupada sang on, his shaven head held high and tilted, his body trembling slightly with emotion. Confidently, he led the mantra, absorbed in pure devotion, and they responded. More passers-by were drawn to the front window and open door. Some jeered, but the chanting was too strong. Within the sound of the kirtana, even the car horns were a faint staccato. The vibration of auto engines and the rumble of trucks continued, but in the distance now, unnoticed.
June 3, 2016
The Bowery Bum Offers Service
Suddenly a Bowery derelict enters, whistling and drunkenly shouting. The audience remains seated, not knowing what to make of it.
Drunk: How are ya? I’ll be right back. I brought another thing.
Prabhupada: Don’t disturb. Sit down. We are talking seriously.
Drunk: I’ll put it up there. In a church? All right. I’ll be right back.
The man is white-haired, with a short, grizzly beard and frowsy clothing. His odor reeks through the temple. But then he suddenly careens out the door and is gone. Prabhupada chuckles softly and returns immediately to his lecture.
Several minutes later, the old derelict suddenly returns, announcing his entrance: “How are ya?” He is carrying something. He maneuvers his way through the group, straight to the back of the temple, where the Swami is sitting. He opens the toilet room door, puts two rolls of bathroom tissue inside, closes the door, and then turns to the sink, sits some paper towels on top of it and puts two more rolls of bathroom tissue and some more paper towels under the sink. He then stands and turns around toward the Swami and the audience. The Swami is looking at him and asks, “What is this?” The bum is silent now; he has done his work. Prabhupada begins to laugh, thanking his visitor, who is now moving toward the door: “Thank you. Thank you very much.” The bum exits. “Just see,” Prabhupada now addresses his congregation. “It is a natural tendency to give some service. Just see, he is not in order, but he thought that, ‘Here is something. Let me give some service.’ Just see how automatically it comes. This is natural.”
The young men in the audience look at one another. This is really far out – first the chanting with the brass cymbals, the Swami looking like Buddha and talking about Krishna and chanting, and now this crazy stuff with the bum. But the Swami stays cool; he’s really cool, just sitting on the floor like he’s not afraid of anything, just talking his philosophy about the soul and us becoming saints and even the old drunk becoming a saint!
After almost an hour, the dog still barks, and the kids still squeal.
June 4, 2016
Lunch at 26 Second Avenue
It’s amazing to think how, in the beginning of ISKCON in America, Prabhupada used to eat lunch with the devotees. He used to serve them prasadam. That’s mentioned in the Prabhupada-lilamrta and some devotees’ memoirs. Prabhupada would walk between the devotees seated on the floor and he would dish out the prasadam, just as our brahmacari servers do now in the temples. The devotees would see Prabhupada’s bare feet, and he would ask them what kind of prasadam they wanted. It’s inconceivable to us now! After a few weeks, some of the devotees learned to cook, and they then began to serve Prabhupada. But still, he used to sit in the midst of all the devotees. He was like a father with his family. He sat in one corner. I’ve been to 26 Second Avenue and I saw the room in his apartment where it took place. Prabhupada used to sit in a corner near a table where he kept his worshipable pictures, including a picture of Panca-tattva. Prabhupada didn’t have a special mat, but he just sat there, and devotees came out of the kitchen with hot preparations to serve the Swami and the other devotees. Prabhupada would look at the other devotees and encourage them to “Eat more, eat more.”
June 5, 2016
Every night we were listening to that bongo drum, Swamiji’s fingers on that drum. I remember one guy who came, that rascal named Eliot, who I knew before I started coming to the storefront. He said, “The Swami gets some good licks in; I want to hear him play.” They came to hear Swamiji just as they went to the park to hear the bongo drummers there. I used to apologize to them, “The Swami is a very proficient mrdanga player. You can’t judge him by what he’s doing now. He’s doing the best he can with this little drum. He doesn’t normally play a one-headed bongo, but we don’t have any of the drums that he plays in India.”
“All right, granted, but let’s hear what he can do with this one drum.”
So you can hear him. His fingers walk on the drum. People speak of Olantunji and his talking drums. Prabhupada’s drum talks from his walking fingers (tick-tick-tick, tick-tick-tick, one two, one two three four, one two.) It’s a simple thing he’s got going with his fingers on the drum, accentuating his walking beat, along with his own singing and the karatalas and tambour. It seemed that sometimes he played it strictly, like a metronome’s measured beats. But sometimes it was uneven, more human-like, hitting his fingers in rougher beats. None of it was very fast. He played that drum to accompany his own singing. I thought, “Gee, he’s over seventy years old and thumping on that drum to his own singing.” Yes, you could come to the storefront just to hear him play the drum. Of course, he had a lot more to give than that – Lord Caitanya’s philosophy, Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the Hare Krishna mantra.
The drum is for kirtana. You chant over the drum, but still you can be fascinated by hearing Prabhupada’s very simple fingers walking on the head of that brownish and already worn bongo head. There will never be anything like it, even now that we have many accomplished mrdanga players in ISKCON. Nobody plays a bongo drum like Prabhupada did – simulating a mrdanga and yet not simulating a mrdanga. Just playing on that little drum.
And his voice. It was not velvety smooth like cream, but a little rough, some grating there. Not unpleasant, but like a man at the end of the day with a stubble of beard, or the way a leader of men is sometimes a little rough in his speech. It is an appealing roughness that comes from working and from singing, not a pampered, delicate thing. An old man’s singing. And not a “man” – but an aged, pure devotee. His singing has its own appeal. It goes along with the drum, the uneven finger beat, and the rough voice. We were attracted by these things, almost hypnotized by each thing he did.
June 6, 2016
Typing for the Swami, 1966 (Diary Excerpt)
If this notebook is lost, please return to:
Satsvarupa dasa Brahmacari
c/o International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Inc.
26 Second Avenue, New York, NY
Swamiji, I am remembering you. I am here now and you are here around the corner in your room. Life is freed for me from the karma of the past. I want to learn Krishna conscious philosophy.
Should I do the typing or go see the Swami? Without any notes, I just start to remember what the Swamiji said in his lecture and I type some of it down. I can type pretty good. I don’t make mistakes. It starts to come to me, some of the things he said in his lecture. At least I remember the essence of it. I don’t attempt to write the whole thing down, just the essence as I remember it.
I don’t really do it for him, it’s more for myself. It’s not that I go to my apartment having memorized what he says, but it just comes out and keeps my head balanced. I really like to walk through the streets feeling the Hare Krishna mantra and seeing the city in the summer. I feel such a well-being as Swamiji’s boy.
My yoga is typing. I’m not just typing something for Swamiji. I’m doing yoga. It’s for myself. It’s the last kind of creative writing I’ve allowed myself. I’ve stopped all other writing – my novel-writing and my short-story writing – it was all so corrupt and egotistical. But this remembering and recording short sentences is the fruit of anything I’ve learned as a writer. I try to communicate what Swamiji said in my own voice, as concisely as possible. It’s Swamiji, but expressed in my own way. I get creative joy out of this writing. It’s a good discipline for spiritual life.
Usually as I start to type, something comes to mind. Yesterday I remembered about the three modes of nature. “There are three modes of material nature, raja-guna, tamo-guna, and sattva-guna. We are all under the modes of nature. Krishna is above the modes of nature. Surrendering to Krishna brings freedom from the modes.” Just things like that. He also said, “The donkey carries the washerman’s load. He thinks the washerman is the source of his food, but he can get grass anywhere. This is the foolishness of the ass. Materialists are like this donkey.” Typing these things down is a nice way to be with Swamiji. I’m starting to grasp the philosophy too.
I think you have to get a special, mystical revelation from Krishna to understand Swamiji. He’s incomprehensible. Swamiji said that by service the revelation will come. Note-taking helps.
I am trying to kick off my false ego. Novel and poetry-writing is false ego. I’m ready to make the break with the past for Swamiji’s sake. I throw my manuscripts into the incinerator. I had to think about that one before I did it though. What if these manuscripts were great works? What if I am a genius and I just don’t recognize it? Still, they had no Krishna consciousness. How could they help anyone? Swamiji says even great literature, if it is without Krishna consciousness, is like decoration of a dead body.
Now I only want to express Krishna-thought and read Krishna-thought. We shouldn’t have other books in the storefront.
June 7, 2016
Satsvarupa dasa Brahmacari Diary, 1966
The notes I keep on Swamiji’s lectures are an exercise to help me remember and understand Krishna consciousness. Unless you hear from a pure devotee, you cannot know Krishna. There are some books circulating in the storefront on Hinduism. Still, the all-important thing is to hear from Swamiji. I don’t know anything else. I am safe as his student. I can’t go wrong that way.
I want to read his Srimad-Bhagwatam and type for him – that is an excellent way to learn philosophy. You can’t learn philosophy unless Krishna reveals it in the heart. He will do that when you serve His realized pure devotee.
Notes from lecture of BG 6.40-43
He (the fallen yogi) takes birth in a brahmin’s family. Brahmins are very pure, very clean. Or the fallen yogi takes birth in a rich family.
Swamiji told of his own life. His father was very pious and worshiped Krishna. When Swamiji was 5 or 6 years old, he asked his father for Radha-Krishna deities. His father purchased Them, and Swamiji as a child offered his food to Them in imitation of the offerings his father made. They also visited a temple of Krishna. Swamiji as a child watched for hours. These are the gains of being born in a family like that.
Narada says even if you come to Krishna consciousness because you are crazy, all right, still it is good.
The third kind of family the fallen yogi is born into is a family of yogis. This is the best kind. The brahmin may think he has nothing to learn. The rich man’s son may become a drunkard. When you are born in one of these families, you start to remember what you learned of Krishna in the previous life.
Swamiji said: “I MAY TELL YOU THAT THOSE WHO HAVE TAKEN THIS SOCIETY, KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS, VERY SERIOUSLY, THEY ARE NOT ORDINARY PERSONS. THEY MUST HAVE HAD SUCH CULTURE IN THEIR PREVIOUS LIVES. NOW THEY ARE AGAIN TRYING TO REVIVE IT.” The asset is there.
That was very interesting that Swamiji said we must have been yogis in past lives and that is why we are taking to Krishna consciousness now. I don’t remember anything from my past life, especially about Krishna, but he said so according to the Bhagwad-gita.
I want to go on carefully listening to his lectures. Umapati keeps exact notes for publishing in BTG. Mine are more for myself. This is the only writing I am doing now.
June 8, 2016
Satsvarupa dasa Brahmacari, January 1966
Diary notes from morning lecture, Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 21.35
Krishna is “home-ly” – He is proprietor of every place, but He has His own place. We falsely claim a piece of land as ours. Actually, nothing is ours. There is a saying, “I beg vegetables to eat, and sleep in the marketplace, so where is my home?” We claim land is ours, so there can be no peace. Goloka is His abode in the spiritual sky. Planets are round but Goloka is lotus-like. As sunlight for the universe comes from the sun, so all light comes from Goloka. All the universes come from Krishna in Goloka; this one universe we live in is insignificant. Within the earth, U.S.A. is a small part, and in U.S.A., New York City is still more insignificant, “and in that NYC, this 26 Second Avenue is insignificant, and we are sitting here. So just see how insignificant we are. And we are claiming we are God.”
We laughed when Swamiji said that, we are here at 26 Second Avenue. As he was saying it, we sensed it, getting more and more insignificant. He laughed, too. We are in one tiny corner of everything. It is wonderful that he did that – and we can know it all comes from Krishna. We get in touch with original Krishna by chanting.
I used to doodle these bass players all the time. Now that I’m in Krishna consciousness, I should give it up. Better to have them play in kirtan like the man who played bass when we had kirtan at Dr. Mishra’s asrama. Otherwise, I want to let these things go from my past. I only want to do things approved by my spiritual master.
That publisher from Chicago came to New York City. He published a segment of my novel on Svevo. He was surprised to find me a disciple of the Swami. He came and sat on the floor with me in my apartment. He wasn’t particularly impressed by my “religion.” He noticed that the thumbnail on my left hand is filled with grooves and asked me if it had been injured. “I’m not sure what it’s from,” I said, “maybe nail-biting.” It was as if he wanted to say something actual, true and meaningful, personal, and perceptive, so he chose to comment on my pitiful-looking thumbnail. But I am not this body. Talking about my thumbnail didn’t bring us much of an intimate exchange.
Anyway, I said to him, maybe I can write a sequel to the novel telling how Svevo joined the Hare Krishna movement. He said okay. Rayarama came and met him. Then the publisher left. I don’t think I even have his address. He’ll probably go see Murray and Steve and see what they’re writing. His coming here was like a visit from my past self. But I’m fixed in Krishna consciousness now. I probably won’t find time to write that sequel. I’m definitely not very interested in reliving the scenes with Eliot and Anna and all the stuff that Svevo went through. But a sequel might be good for preaching purposes.
I asked Swamiji last night about whether I should write the sequel. He said, “Yes, you can do it.” I felt foolish telling him somebody wanted to publish something that I had written. I didn’t want Swamiji to misunderstand. He understood perfectly well. He said, “But they should pay you. Just because you are religious does not mean you should get less money or no money. You should get more.” That’s all he said. So let’s see what happens about that.
June 9, 2016
Satsvarupa Brahmacari, 1966 C.c. Notes Continued: Principal Incarnations
Lord Caitanya is describing the principal incarnations. Swamiji said there is a list in Srimad-Bhagwatam. Lord Buddha is there: “Do not think Hindus have disregard for Lord Buddha or Lord Jesus Christ. They have all regard. Anyone who comes as a representative of God or powerful incarnation, they are welcome.” They speak differently from Vedic conclusions due to time, place, and persons. They are powerful incarnations.
So Krishna is on this list, and He is like the original candle. Swamiji said, “I have several times mentioned in this room” (he has said before that Krishna is like the original candle).
All incarnations are parts, or parts of the parts, but Krishna is the original. He protects Indra from his enemies. Indra is like the heavenly king. There is the concept of Satan. When there is Satanic influence over the devotees and the demigods, then Krishna comes. When religion is low, and the laws are disobeyed, He comes.
A layman can’t make up religion. God comes and He gives dharma. If people make it up nowadays, that is not real religion.
Days end with kirtan, dancing in a circle with other devotees before Swamiji. That cleanses me of all dirt accumulated during the day. Not just during the day, but for many lifetimes. I believe this because I can feel it.
I’ve got Swamiji’s manuscript to type. I’m fortunate! Ready to work for him at the welfare office on East 5th Street.
Swamiji has allowed me to convert my energy from material to spiritual. O creative spirit of devotional life, please let me serve the Lord and the Lord’s pure devotee. Swamiji, I don’t know anything but what you teach. You are kind to us. I am a fool of false ego. But you say I can learn Bhagwad-gita.
June 10, 2016
Can a Pure Devotee Have Personal Preferences?
The first time I encountered this question was in 1966. Devotees were taking lunch prasadam with Srila Prabhupada one day when a young, rather unsubmissive man came into the Swami’s apartment for lunch. I remember that Prabhupada was sprinkling hot sauce on his meal. This young man asked Prabhupada why he was eating this sauce. He replied that he liked it.
The young man became doubtful when Prabhupada said that. He said something to the effect: “You use hot sauce just because you like it? You mean there’s no special spiritual significance?” The young man looked around at us as if to show that he had caught Srila Prabhupada in some relative position, or as if he had defeated him in a debate. I remember thinking that this man’s attitude was ridiculous and offensive, but I also saw the point he was trying to make.
Is Prabhupada’s sprinkling of hot sauce on his meal in this category? Is he doing it for his own sense gratification? Who can know Prabhupada’s inner meditation when he sprinkled that sauce? Also, Vaisnavas are not extreme tyagis. They do not have to prove their devotion by sprinkling ashes on their food or not eating at all. They accept Krishna’s mercy in the form of prasadam. What is the harm if they add seasonings to their food? Prabhupada himself ate very simply. He was elderly and ate things that stimulated his digestion.
His preferences were expressions of Krishna consciousness to us. We were always intrigued and happy to find out the little things that Prabhupada liked. It brought us closer to him. It taught us how to serve him better. In fact, an expert disciple was one who knew exactly how Prabhupada liked his room to be arranged, how to cook for him, how to arrange his schedule, and so on. Even today, the more things you know about how Prabhupada conducted things, the more qualified you to serve in ISKCON.
June 11, 2016
Satsvarupa dasa Brahamacari – A Poem from 1966
On Going (from the Storefront) into the Street
Lord Visnu, guard this boy as he goes out
or if You want me to die today, take me.
I can’t fall in the street or be crushed or stabbed.
That can only happen to the body.
Let me chant the Lord’s Holy Names
at the end and right now.
And here is my identity
in case no one knows,
a disciple of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
Tell him I was on an errand for him.
But I don’t want this to happen.
I am only beginning to learn bhakti
and my heart and brainstuff is dirty.
I’m going out now, Lord Vishnu,
and I pray to stay within You.
All glories to You and to those devotees
like Swamiji and Narada and Vyasadeva,
who tell us how to join with Krishna
in the eternal blissful world.
June 12, 2016
Prabhupada in the Summer
The summer of 1966 moved along, and Prabhupada kept good health. For him these were happy days. New Yorkers complained of the summer heat waves, but this caused no inconvenience to one accustomed to the 100-degree-plus temperatures of Vrindavana’s blazing summers. “It is like India,” he said, as he went without a shirt, seeming relaxed and at home. He had thought that in America he would have to subsist on boiled potatoes (otherwise there would be nothing but meat), but here he was happily eating the same rice, dal and capatis, and cooking on the same three-stacked cooker as in India. Work on the Srimad-Bhagavatam had also gone on regularly since he had moved into the Second Avenue apartment. And now Krishna was bringing these sincere young men who were cooking, typing, hearing him regularly, chanting Hare Krishna, and asking for more.
Prabhupada was still a solitary preacher, free to stay or go, writing his books in his own intimate relationship with Krishna – quite independent of the boys in the storefront. But now he had taken the International Society for Krishna Consciousness as his spiritual child. The inquiring young men, some of whom had already been chanting steadily for over a month, were like stumbling spiritual infants, and he felt responsible for guiding them. They were beginning to consider him their spiritual master, trusting him to lead them into spiritual life. Although they were unable to immediately follow the multifarious rules that brahmanas and Vaisnavas in India followed, he was hopeful. According to Rupa Gosvami the most important principle was that one should “somehow or other” become Krishna conscious. People should chant Hare Krishna and render devotional service. They should engage whatever they had in the service of Krishna. And Prabhupada was exercising this basic principle of Krishna consciousness to the furthest limit the history of Vaisnavism had ever seen.
June 13, 2016
The Sole Bearer and Maintainer
Although he was engaging the boys in cooking and typing, Prabhupada was not doing any less himself. Rather, for every sincere soul who came forward to ask for service, a hundred came who wanted not to serve but to challenge. Speaking to them, sometimes shouting and pounding his fists, Prabhupada defended Krishna against the Mayavada philosophy. This was also his service to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. He had not come to America to retire. So with the passing of each new day came yet another confirmation that his work and his followers and his challengers would only increase.
How much he could do was up to Krishna. “I am an old man,” he said. “I may go away at any moment.” But if he were to “go away” now, certainly Krishna consciousness would also go away, because the Krishna consciousness society was nothing but him: his figure leading the chanting while his head moved back and forth in small motions of ecstasy, his figure walking in and out of the temple through the courtyard or into the apartment, his person sitting down smilingly to discuss philosophy by the hour – he was the sole bearer and maintainer of the small, fragile, controlled atmosphere of Krishna consciousness on New York’s Lower East Side.
June 14, 2016
Prabhupada Talks of His Childhood
He talked of his childhood at the turn of the century, when street lamps were gas-lit, and carriages and horse-drawn trams were the only vehicles on Calcutta’s dusty streets. These talks charmed the boys even more than the transcendental philosophy of Bhagavad-gita and drew them affectionately to him. He told about his father, Gour Mohan De, a pure Vaisnava. His father had been a cloth merchant, and his family had been intimately related with the aristocratic Mulliks of Calcutta. The Mulliks had a deity of Krishna, and Prabhupada’s father had given him a deity to worship as a child. He used to imitate the worship of the Govinda deity in the Mulliks’ temple. As a boy, he had held his own Ratha-yatra festivals each year, imitating in miniature the gigantic festival at Jagannatha Puri, and his father’s friends used to jest: “Oh, the Ratha-yatra ceremony is going on at your home, and you do not invite us? What is this?” His father would reply, “This is a child’s play, that’s all.” But the neighbors said, “Oh, child’s play? You are avoiding us by saying it’s for children?”
Prabhupada fondly remembered his father, who had never wanted him to be a worldly man, who had given him lessons in mrdanga, and who had prayed to visiting sadhus that one day the boy would grow up to be a devotee of Radharani.
June 15, 2016
Lunch With Swamiji
At noon the front room became a dining hall and in the evenings a place of intimate worship. Prabhupada kept the room, with its twelve-foot-square hardwood parquet floor, clean and bare; the solitary coffee table against the wall between the two courtyard windows was the only furniture. Daily at noon a dozen men were now taking lunch here with him. The meal was cooked by Keith, who spent the whole morning in the kitchen.
At first Keith had cooked only for the Swami. He had mastered the art of cooking dal, rice, and sabji in the Swami’s three-tiered boiler, and usually there had been enough for one or two guests as well. But soon more guests had begun to gather, and Prabhupada told Keith to increase the quantity (abandoning the small three-tiered cooker) until he was cooking for a dozen hungry men. The boarders, Raphael and Don, though not so interested in the Swami’s talk, would arrive punctually each day for prasadam, usually with a friend or two who had wandered into the storefront. Steve would drop by from his job at the welfare office. The Mott Street group would come. And there were others.
June 16, 2016
Cooking in the Kitchen
The kitchen was stocked with standard Indian spices: fresh chillies, fresh ginger root, whole cumin seeds, turmeric, and asafoetida. Keith mastered the basic cooking techniques and passed them on to Chuck, who became his assistant. Some of the other boys would stand at the doorway of the narrow kitchenette to watch Keith, as one thick, pancakelike capātī after another blew up like an inflated football over the open flame and then took its place in the steaming rack.
While the fine basmati rice boiled to a moist, fluffy-white finish and the sabji simmered, the noon cooking would climax with “the chaunce.” Keith prepared the chaunce exactly as Swamiji had shown him. Over the flame he set a small metal cup, half-filled with clarified butter, and then put in cumin seeds. When the seeds turned almost black, he added chillies, and as the chillies blackened, a choking smoke would begin to pour from the cup. Now the chaunce was ready. With his cook’s tongs, Keith lifted the cup, its boiling, crackling mixture fuming like a sorcerer’s kettle, and brought it to the edge of the pot of boiling dal. He opened the tight cover slightly, dumped the boiling chaunce into the dal with a flick of his wrist, and immediately replaced the lid . . . POW! The meeting of the chaunce and dal created an explosion, which was then greeted by cheers from the doorway, signifying that the cooking was now complete. This final operation was so volatile that it once blew the top of the pot to the ceiling with a loud smash, causing minor burns to Keith’s hand. Some of the neighbors complained of acrid, penetrating fumes. But the devotees loved it.
June 17, 2016
Swamiji and the Boys
When lunch was ready, Swamiji would wash his hands and mouth in the bathroom and come into the front room, his soft, pink-bottomed feet always bare, his saffron dhoti reaching down to his ankles. He would stand by the coffee table, which held the picture of Lord Caitanya and His associates, while his own associates stood around him against the walls. Keith would bring in a big tray of capātīs, stacked by the dozens, and place it on the floor before the altar table, along with pots of rice, dal and sabji. Swamiji would then recite the Bengali prayer for offering food to the Lord, and all present would follow him by bowing down, knees and head to the floor, and approximating the Bengali prayer one word at a time. While the steam and mixed aromas drifted up like an offering of incense before the picture of Lord Caitanya, the Swami’s followers bowed their heads to the wooden floor and mumbled the prayer.
Prabhupada then sat with his friends, eating the same prasadam as they, with the addition of a banana and a metal bowl full of hot milk. He would slice the banana by pushing it downward against the edge of the bowl, letting the slices fall into the hot milk.
June 18, 2016
Prabhupada’s open decree that everyone should eat as much prasadam as possible created a humorous mood and a family feeling. No one was allowed to simply sit, picking at his food, nibbling politely. They ate with a gusto Swamiji almost insisted upon. If he saw someone not eating heartily, he would call the person’s name and protest, “Why are you not eating? Take prasadam.” And he would laugh. “When I was coming to your country on the boat,” he said, “I thought, ‘How will the Americans ever eat this food?’ ” And as the boys pushed their plates forward for more, Keith would serve seconds – more rice, dal, capātīs and sabji.
After all, it was spiritual. You were supposed to eat a lot. It would purify you. It would free you from maya. Besides, it was good, delicious, spicy. This was better than American food. It was like chanting. It was far out. You got high from eating this food.
They ate with the right hand, Indian style. Keith and Howard had already learned this and had even tasted similar dishes, but as they told the Swami and a room full of believers, the food in India had never been this good.
June 19, 2016
Prabhupada is asking his hearers, who are only beginners in spiritual life, to become totally dedicated preachers of Krishna consciousness: “In the Bhagavad-gita, you will find that anyone who preaches the gospel of Bhagavad-gita to the people of the world is the most dear, the dearest person to Krishna. Therefore it is our duty to preach the principles of this Bhagavad-gita to make people Krishna conscious.” Prabhupada can’t wait to tell them – even if they aren’t ready. It’s too urgent. The world needs Krishna conscious preachers.
People are suffering for want of Krishna consciousness. Therefore, each and every one of us should be engaged in the preaching work of Krishna consciousness for the benefit of the whole world. Lord Caitanya, whose picture is in the front of our store, has very nicely preached the philosophy of Krishna consciousness. The Lord says, “Just take my orders, all of you, and become a spiritual master.” Lord Caitanya gives the order that in every country you go and preach Krishna consciousness. So if we take up this missionary work to preach Bhagavad-gita as it is, without interpretation, and without any material motives behind it – as it is – then Krishna says it shall be done. We should not have any attraction for worldly activities, otherwise we can’t have Krishna. But it doesn’t mean that we should be inimical to the people of the world. No, it is our duty to give them the highest instruction, that you become Krishna conscious.
June 20, 2016
As Prabhupada retired to his apartment and his guests disappeared through the front door, back into the city, Don and Raphael would turn out the lights, lock the front door, and go to sleep on the floor in their blankets. Don and Raphael had needed a place to stay when they heard about the Swami’s place. Prabhupada had a policy that any boy who expressed even a little interest in becoming his student could stay in the storefront and make it his home. Of course, Prabhupada would ask them to contribute toward the rent and meals, but if, like Don and Raphael, they had no money, then it was still all right, provided they helped in other ways. Don and Raphael were the first two boys to take advantage of Prabhupada’s offer. They were attracted to Swamiji and the chanting, but they weren’t serious about his philosophy or the disciplines of devotional life. They had no jobs and no money, their hair was long and unkempt, and they lived and slept in the same clothes day after day. Prabhupada stipulated that at least while they were on the premises they could not break his rules – no intoxication, illicit sex, meat-eating, or gambling. He knew these two boarders weren’t serious students, but he allowed them to stay, in hopes that gradually they would become serious.
Don and Raphael were the Swami’s steady boarders, although during the day they also went out, returning only for meals, sleep, and evening chanting. Occasionally they would bathe, and then they would use the Swami’s bathroom in his apartment. Sometimes they would hang out in the storefront during the day, and if someone stopped by, asking about the Swami’s classes, they would tell the person all they knew (which wasn’t much). They admitted that they weren’t really into the Swami’s philosophy, and they didn’t claim to be his followers. If someone persisted in inquiring about the Swami’s teachings, Don and Raphael would suggest, “Why don’t you go up and talk to him? The Swami lives in the apartment building out back. Why don’t you go up and see him?”
June 21, 2016
Mostly he kept to his room, working. As he had said during a lecture when living on the Bowery, “I am here always working at something, reading or writing – something, reading or writing – twenty-four hours.” His mission of translating Srimad-Bhagavatam, of presenting the complete work in sixty volumes of four hundred pages each, could alone occupy all his days and nights. He worked at it whenever possible, sitting at his portable typewriter or translating the Sanskrit into English.
He especially worked in the very early hours of the morning, when he would not be interrupted. He would comb through the Sanskrit and Bengali commentaries of the great acaryas, following their explanations, selecting passages from them, adding his own knowledge and realization, and then laboriously weaving it all together and typing out his Bhaktivedanta purports. He had no means or immediate plans for financing the publishing of further volumes, but he continued in the faith that somehow they would be published.
June 22, 2016
He had a broad mission, broader even than translating Srimad-Bhagavatam, and so he gave much of his time and energy to meeting visitors. Had his only aim been to write, then there would have been no need to have taken the risk and trouble of coming to America. Now many people were coming, and an important part of his mission was to talk to them and convince them of Krishna consciousness. His visitors were usually young men who had recently come to live on the Lower East Side. He had no secretary to screen his visitors, nor did he have scheduled visiting hours. Whenever anyone happened by, at any time, from early morning to ten at night, Prabhupada would stop his typing or translating and speak with them. It was an open neighbourhood, and many visitors would come by right off the street. Some were serious, but many not; some even came intoxicated. Often they came not to inquire submissively but to challenge.
Once a young hippie on an LSD trip found his way upstairs and sat opposite the Swami: “Right now I am higher than you are,” he announced. “I am God.” Prabhupada bowed his head slightly, his palms folded: “Please accept my obeisances,” he said. Then he asked “God” to please leave. Others admitted frankly that they were crazy or haunted by ghosts and sought relief from their mental suffering.
June 23, 2016
One young man approached the Swami asking, “What book will lecture from next week? Will you be teaching the Tibetan Book of the Dead?” as if Prabhupada would teach spirituality like a college survey course in world religions. “Everything is there in Bhagavad-gita,” Prabhupada replied. “We could study one verse for three months.”
And there were other questions: “What about Camus?”
“What is his philosophy?” Prabhupada would ask.
“He says everything is absurd and the only philosophical question is whether to commit suicide.”
“That means that everything is absurd for him. The material world is absurd, but there is a spiritual world beyond this one. That means he does not know the soul. The soul cannot be killed.”
Adherents of various thinkers approached him: “What about Nietzsche? Kafka? Timothy Leary? Bob Dylan?” Prabhupada would ask what their philosophy was, and the particular follower would have to explain and defend his favorite intellectual hero.
“They are all mental speculators,” Prabhupada would say. “Here in this material world we are all conditioned souls. Your knowledge is imperfect. Your senses are blunt. What good is your opinion? We have to hear from the perfect authority, Krishna.”
“Do you mean to say that none of the great thinkers are God conscious?” a boy asked.
“Their sincerity is their God consciousness. But if we want perfect knowledge of God, then we have to consult sastra.”
June 24, 2016
He would listen also, and he heard a wide range of local testimonies. He heard the dissatisfaction of young Americans with the war and with American society. One boy told him he didn’t want to get married because he couldn’t find a chaste girl; it was better to go with prostitutes. Another confided that his mother had planned to abort him, but at the last moment his grandmother had convinced her not to. He heard from homosexuals. Someone told him that a set of New Yorkers considered it chic to eat the flesh of aborted babies. And in every case, he told them the truth.
He talked with Marxists and explained that although Marx says that everything is the property of the State, the fact is that everything is the property of God. Only “spiritual communism,” which puts God in the center, can actually be successful. He discounted LSD visions as hallucinations and explained how God can be seen factually and what God looks like.
Although these one-time visitors came and went away, a few new friends began to stay on, watching the Swami deal with different guests. They began to appreciate the Swami’s arguments, his concern for people, and his devotion to Krishna. He seemed actually to know how to help people, and he invariably offered them Krishna consciousness – as much as they could take – as the solution to their problems. A few began to take the Swami’s message to heart.
June 25, 2016
Plans for Incorporation
“We shall call our society ISKCON.” Prabhupada had laughed playfully when he first coined the acronym.
He had initiated the legal work of incorporation that spring, while still living on the Bowery. But even before its legal beginning, he had been talking about his “International Society for Krishna Consciousness,” and so it had appeared in letters to India and in The Village Voice. A friend had suggested a title that would sound more familiar to Westerners, “International Society for God Consciousness,” but Prabhupada had insisted: “Krishna Consciousness.” “God” was a vague term, whereas “Krishna” was exact and scientific; “God consciousness” was spiritually weaker, less personal. And if Westerners didn’t know that Krishna was God, then the International Society for Krishna Consciousness would tell them, by spreading His glories “in every town and village.”
“Krishna consciousness” was Prabhupada’s own rendering of a phrase from Srila Rupa Gosvami’s Padyavali, written in the sixteenth century. Krsna-bhakti-rasa-bhavita: “to be absorbed in the mellow taste of executing devotional service to Krishna.”
But to register ISKCON legally as a non-profit, tax-exempt religion required money and a lawyer. Carl Yeargens had already gained some experience in forming religious, political, and social welfare groups, and when he had met Prabhupada on the Bowery he had agreed to help. He had contacted his lawyer, Stephen Goldsmith.
Stephen Goldsmith, a young Jewish lawyer with a wife and two children and an office on Park Avenue, was interested in spiritual movements. When Carl told him about Prabhupada’s plans, he was immediately fascinated by the idea of setting up a religious corporation for an Indian swami. He visited Prabhupada at 26 Second Avenue, and they discussed incorporation, tax exemption, Prabhupada’s immigration status, and Krishna consciousness. Mr. Goldsmith visited Prabhupada several times. Once he brought his children, who liked the “soup” the Swami cooked. He began attending the evening lectures, where he was often the only nonhippie member of the congregation. One evening, having completed all the legal groundwork and being ready to complete the procedures for incorporation, Mr. Goldsmith came to Prabhupada’s lecture and kirtana to get signatures from the trustees for the new society.
June 26, 2016
Signing In the Incorporation
Prabhupada is lecturing.
Mr. Goldsmith, wearing slacks and a shirt and tie, sits on the floor near the door, listening earnestly to the lecture, despite the distracting noises from the neighbourhood. Prabhupada has been explaining how scholars mislead innocent people with nondevotional interpretations of the Bhagavad-gita, and now, in recognition of the attorney’s respectable presence, and as if to catch Mr. Goldsmith’s attention better, he introduces him into the subject of the talk.
I will give you a practical example of how things are misinterpreted. Just like our president, Mr. Goldsmith, he knows that expert lawyers, by interpretation, can do so many things. When I was in Calcutta, there was a rent tax passed by the government, and some expert lawyer changed the whole thing by his interpretation. The government had to re-enact a whole law because their purpose was foiled by the interpretation of this lawyer. So we are not out for foiling the purpose of Krishna, for which the Bhagavad-gita was spoken. But unauthorized persons are trying to foil the purpose of Krishna. Therefore, that is unauthorized.
All right, Mr. Goldsmith, you can ask anything.
Mr. Goldsmith stands, and to the surprise of the people gathered, he makes a short announcement asking for signers on an incorporation document for the Swami’s new religious movement.
Prabhupada: They are present here. You can take the addresses now.
Mr. Goldsmith: I can take them now, yes.
Prabhupada: Yes, you can. Bill, you can give your address. And Raphael, you can give yours. And Don … Roy … Mr. Greene.
As the meeting breaks up, those called on to sign as trustees come forward, standing around in the little storefront, waiting to leaf cursorily through the pages the lawyer has produced from his thin attaché, and to sign as he directs. Yet not a soul among them is committed to Krishna consciousness.
Mr. Goldsmith meets his quota of signers – a handful of sympathizers with enough reverence toward the Swami to want to help him. The first trustees, who will hold office for a year, “until the first annual meeting of the corporation,” are Michael Grant (who puts down his name and address without ever reading the document), Mike’s girlfriend, Jan, and James Greene. No one seriously intends to undertake any formal duties as trustee of the religious society, but they are happy to help the Swami by signing his fledging society into legal existence.
June 27, 2016
Remembering the Early Exchanges with Swamiji
If the spiritual world is the real goal, then why do I keep going back to that infinitesimal span of time – the 1966 days? Prabhupada’s lila was so sweet then, and it was also a special time for me, the time when he lifted me out of the cycle of birth and death. I cannot help remembering it now. That remembrance reinforces my conviction not to fall back into material life. I am not clear yet, I am surrounded by temptations. I have not completed the process. My material desires can still attract me, especially if I forget how implicated in the material world I was before I met Prabhupada. But I gratefully remember those days in 1966, the first days of my spiritual life and the first days of Prabhupada’s mission in the West, by falling on my knees and thanking him.
I remember in the very early days when Swamiji started looking for a new building in New York City. We didn’t get one, and we had to stay at 26 Second Avenue. But there were adventures connected with the search. One time, we saw a place on the second floor somewhere that required a lot of work. The room was filled with lumber and was very dirty. After we checked it out, we went back to 26 Second Avenue and sat with Swamiji in his room. Swamiji turned to me and asked, “Mr. Secretary, what did you think of the place?” I gave my opinion, feeling important because of the way Prabhupada had addressed me. I was touched that he asked my opinion.
Why do I ever forget these little exchanges? Why don’t I always remember them and know that Prabhupada loves me, that my real relationship with him consists of typing for him, writing for him, always being his affectionate servant?
June 28, 2016
The Highest Sense
Take heart, here’s new singing
to the evergreen Cupid.
He is Syamasundara and
shining like a fresh rain cloud.
“Every second of human life is meant for making an ultimate solution of the problems of life, i.e., repetition of birth and death and revolving in the cycle of 84 lakhs of different species of life.” – Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta
We have only minute independence
but it overwhelms us.
The energy of our body we run
like a crazy machine
to hear it roar only –
the fingertips, the ears,
the monkey we are – what
nonsense without spirit soul!
Like a dog we run
2 miles one way and
return 2 miles the other way,
stopping at hotels and
motels, slamming and opening
the car door and eating
any junk food put on the counter
and talking about the newspapers and
the radio – what
rubbish without cultivation of the soul!
We are driving the
machine but we’re so obsessed
we think “I am the machine,”
and we waste our power and
only a few times a day
we have to think “What is God?”
But we dismiss it, “Who cares?
Throw Him away! We are God!”
And the highest pleasure is to
park our machine in some
garage with another machine
and run our engines
together and we
call that Love.
The aim of life is spirit.
Even the hogland fools
should know it. This
is the highest pleasure:
the soul as the only Sense.
Drive those cars into towns
in the morning and at night
and use the hotels –
for kirtan parties to stay overnight
and chant Hare Krishna and give our great
prasadam feasts of sweet rice, halava and puris
offered to Lord Sri Krishna’s senses
and the hall and the theater
and the public park and the downtown road
for mass dancing
to the sound of voice
and drums of kirtan
and let the neons light up:
GLORIES TO GOVINDA!
and speed the cars and planes
to cities like Dvaraka
built just to please Him
and turn the Love for cats and dogs and machines
into Krishna Who reciprocates with His devotees
as Friend and Master and Lover –
He will hear the rejoicing of
victory over matter
and will release us from this
nasty world, which
even if transformed, will have to perish
when only Krishna will be standing
in a nicely curved position,
dark blue like a rain cloud,
and playing His flute.
June 29, 2016
More Satsvarupa dasa Brahmacari 1966 Bhagwad-geeta Lecture Notes –
Krishna is teaching how to become Krishna conscious at every step. When you drink water, the “juice” of it is Krishna. It comes from God; you can’t drink gold. That which you can’t produce by any human being, that is God. And illumination is Krishna. (As Swamiji spoke, a guy came to the front door with a loud, portable radio. People in the storefront turned to see. Swamiji said, “That’s all right.”) The mantra omkara is God. Whenever you hear some sound vibration, that is a reflection of spiritual sound. Therefore you can remember God as the sun, as water, as mantra, and as any sound – where can’t you remember God?
The best way to associate with God is by hearing. Our material contamination gets reduced by hearing. As the sun can purify you, so association with Krishna takes away contamination. (Swamiji said more how the sun cures disease.)
Try it, associate with Krishna. There will be no problem. Do it by sounds (Hare Krishna) and practice this consciousness, “The water is Krishna,” etc. Our present stage is forgetfulness. We have to revive.
Krishna is also desire without attraction. How can this be: It is Krishna consciousness – I desire for Krishna’s benefit, not mine. Lust that is not against religion – all other sex life is not religious. Sex in marriage is religion.
Sometimes, when I come back to my apartment in the middle of the day, I feel peeved if I see a couple of guys crashed out on the mattress. I think I’m working hard and they’re not. But all in all, I wouldn’t trade my former “housekeeper’s solitude” for the association of Vaisnavas.
Swamiji likes it too, I think, that I share what I have. He knows the devotees use my place (it’s not “my” place anymore. It never was.) It relieves Swamiji too, because now people don’t have to use his bathroom. They come over here in the morning.
In the morning I don’t mind it. It’s nice. I chant japa sitting up straight in my space, and, one after another, the devotees come into the apartment and use the bathroom. When they are waiting for the bathroom to get free, they sit with me and chant. It’s a nice camaraderie.
I don’t expect Swamiji would ever come here, but it’s his place. They call it an “extension” of the storefront.
Sometimes we have good talks here. Acyutananda came over once and he said he is taking to Krishna consciousness because it is the best thing he has ever found. He always wants the best thing. Theoretically, he said, if there was something better than this, he would go to that. But this is the best, the Absolute Truth, and Krishna is the original form as the all-attractive.
Rayarama encourages me about my parents’ rejecting me. Hayagriva sometimes uses the place to do editing. (He’s the one that also crashes out the most.) Brahmananda and Gargamuni come too. Everybody comes by. The little French janitor curses under his breath when he sees the devotees. He says the landlord didn’t rent this apartment to so many people. But I don’t care. We just walk past him.
June 30, 2016
Wisps of Remembrance , 1966
I was thinking this morning about those persons who don’t understand the English language. I was trying to imagine what it was like. I looked at a picture of Prabhupada in 1966 and thought, “If I didn’t know what he was saying, he would be the great spiritual leader who spoke in a language I didn’t understand. Sometimes I hear the sound of his voice, but it makes no sense to me.”
Then I thought, “Oh, I would be at a great disadvantage if I couldn’t understand his language,” but then I tried to realize how hard it is not to appreciate Prabhupada as a great spiritual master. These devotees who don’t speak English have some of Prabhupada’s books translated in their languages, and although no translation can do justice to the original language in which something was written, there is no lacking.
When we walked with Prabhupada, we always tried to ensure that everything was done nicely. There should be nothing on the path that he might trip on, no low-hanging branches to possibly lash him in the face. If he needed it, there should be a car or taxi to take him where he wanted to go. There should be no inimical persons around who could harm him, and everything should run smoothly. We tried to be attentive to his every need.
When we walked with Prabhupada, the world was full of excitement and possible danger. We had to be alert with all our senses, completely absorbed in serving him as he so mildly and humbly walked through the world. Sometimes we were awkward and fumbling beside his grace. We always took pleasure in just being there with him, although there was no time for relishing that while we were walking. We were serving him, and we didn’t want our “ecstasy” to get in the way. We were happy to face anyone and anything on his behalf, and therefore, we were concerned that our appearance was neat and our mood surrendered.