By Sankirtana das
(for my son and daughter)
New Vrindavan quarantined! No one could come or go. All across the country it was on the radio. I don’t know why, but that didn’t stop us. We must have had more faith then, back in ’76, coming up the lonely twisting roads in Bhokta’s van, driving through the dead of night on the eve of Gaura-Purnim.
Our journey started eight years earlier, toward the close of our college days. My wife and I set out to find out about ourselves and about life. Almost imperceptibly, the commitment to a relationship grew, and deepened, as well as the commitment to our goal. We are still on that journey.
It has taken us to dark doorways, watching LSD induced heavens and hells on New York’s lower east side, where utopia met desolation row, and where we meander up and down St Marks Place, rapping, philosophizing, babbling and dabbling, and occasionally looking out past the edge of the civilized world towards Broadway.
It has taken us on daily excursions on the Staten Island Ferry, waving to the Statue of Liberty, wondering what happened to all the humble and tired and poor, and reading to each other from the Teachings of Don Quan, Krishnamurti, Lawrence Ferlingetti and Bhagavad- gita, wide eyed, with occasional utterances of “wow” “farout” and “heavy.”
It has taken us on a freighter to Morrocco and back, through the streets and cafes of Fez and Tangiers, along with Timothy Leary and the Living Theater, making a pilgrimage to antiquity, to the edge of the desert, where people are perpetually high and who are perpetually waiting for the all powerful American dollar but despising the Americans who bring it.
It has taken us on all night train rides through Spain, Italy, Germany, sleeping on deserted beaches, and walking forever on highways and byways with knapsacks on our backs. We find the same trees, the same ants, the same asphalt, the same fears and passions everywhere.
It has taken us to a little house in Wassereberg, Germany where I was born, and which, at the age of five, I left for the New World. As a child, playing in a backyard that stretched to the mountains, the forest animals would come to me and we would speak together. But now, they no longer approach.
It has taken us back to the lower east side where we eat and chant with, and film the Hare Krishna’s in their childlike enthusiasm for singing and dancing. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.
It has taken us to the coast of Nova Scotia, to a cabin overlooking the North Atlantic where we spend many months, again reading from our precious Bhagavad Gita As It Is. This time there are less “wow’s” but we are more serious. There, on the last LSD trip we are to take, we see how lonely and empty and precarious this world really is, and even though we may be sitting or walking or lying with a dear friend or lover, we can never really help that person, nor can that person really help us.
It has taken us hitch-hiking across Canada, to four A.M. services at a Temple of Lord Krsna in Toronto. Incense, flowers, bells and mantra pervade the atmosphere as devotees sway, dance and chant in front of the altar of the strange, smiling, wondrous Jagannatha, with me fingering prayer beads and wondering why this is all necessary. “Just chant Hare Krsna you fool, and you’ll understand everything,” an inner voice assures me. I am jolted. I am being called a fool… but I take it in stride. I must be on the right path.
It has taken us to the front lawn of the Detroit Temple, waiting amongst the faithful for His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada to arrive from the airport. An elderly, fatherly, saffron clothed figure steps from the car, his movements slow, graceful, deliberate. Here is no stranger, but we recognize a gentle, eternal friend. And when he sits down to speak amidst a sea of bright faces, I hear the same inner, assuring voice. I am stunned.
Prabhupada speaks about the six pushings that we are all subject to. The pushings of the mind, words, and anger, of the tongue, belly and genitals. Should we let these six pushings control our lives… to mercilessly badger us, beat us, hound us, and push us across the face of the globe in pursuit of proverbial pleasures?… Be careful! What is nectar in the beginning becomes poison in the end – and what is poison in the beginning (like learning how to regulate and yoke -yoga- our senses) becomes nectar in the end.
It has taken us to Madison, Wisconsin where I join the Broom Street Theatre. But after some months I make a startling discovery- my all-important theatre work doesn’t seem so important any more. It has turned stale. Instead, our early morning walks, with pray beads in hand, softly uttering the Holy Name – Hare Krsna – bring us real joy and freedom.
It has taken us also on evening walks past houses which seem to have been arranged for our viewing. Krsna opens up to us the lives dwelling therein. A flood of images rush out from the windows: youngsters playing with their dog, a student studying, a girl brushing her hair, an old man at his rocking chair, someone with their feet over the couch watching TV, a wife in the kitchen cooking, a family around the dinner table, people making love, people arguing, people worrying about the mortgage, people waiting, people being born, people dying, everyone wrapped up in their own world. We expect to see ourselves in the next house we pass. And actually, we do. We see ourselves in every house. Krsna is showing us, Krsna is giving us a vision, giving us realization far beyond what we had ever read in Herman Hesse.
O’Krsna, we have traveled and looked everywhere, but we found You while walking through a Madison neighborhood, chanting Your Holy Name. Krsna’s timing is perfect, bringing Srila Prabhupada to the West, at the height of its materialistic culture. Material pleasures will never satisfy us, Prabhupada bellows, shattering our fragile realities. This skyscraper culture, this atomic, computer age culture is like a charging rhino which has already been shot dead! Due to its momentum it is still rushing forward… but it can drop at any time.
O’Prabhupada, we have traveled across oceans, stumbled through cities and over philosophies, tumbled down deadly highways like weeds in the wind, searched for the third eye, journeyed into night’s deep recesses, stood at dusk on rocky beaches, and combed the mind for contrived revelations, while you, Srila Prabhupada, have waited for us patiently like a parent for his child. You knew what we were really looking for, whereas we did not know. You came to us with real culture and real civilization. You knew that unless we served and understood God, no relationship or experience or place in this wide, wide world would ever be satisfying.
O’Prabhupada, we did not deserve your efforts, but you had already given yourself to us before we ever heard of you. You came here with seemingly nothing, an “insignificant beggar,” but you were ready to give us everything, for everything that we were searching for is contained within the Holy Name. You taught us that Krsna’s names are innumerable and that He is the oldest, the purest, the source, the goal, the master, the witness, the primal God, the cause of all causes, the unborn and all pervading beauty.
O’ Prabhupada you are a wealthy philanthropist, a magnanimous king, a wise man, a poet, prophet, musician, magician, a thief in the night, and a mischievous child all rolled into one. You are an ocean of mercy, a mysterious forest, an abundant valley, and the radiant sun. You are the supreme giver of gifts, bringer of good news, performer of Herculean tasks. You are our benefactor, our ever well-wisher and our dear most friend. O bestower of causeless mercy, let us not ever forget your loving kindness under any circumstances.