A Handful of Beauty

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Jagabandhu das: I can still remember when I first met the Hare Krishna people. In a Target department store (the very first one) parking lot in Edina(Minneapolis), Minnesota. Summer of 1975. With my best friend(now deceased). It was Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party. We gave pocket change for incense, a paperback Krishna Book and the BTG with same cover as Easy Journey to Other Planets. From a strange looking person with a shaved head and mismatched socks in canvas shoes.

Until that time I had never even heard of the Hare Krishnas. There was no Minneapolis temple at that time, but they held bus retreats at local campgrounds which my friend went to in the fall. Shortly after that he joined the Chicago temple. In May of the following year I quit highschool at 17 and joined too. I wasn’t even a vegetarian yet, had never had prasadam, never read any of the books or never been to any temple until I went to join. Three weeks later Srila Prabhupada came to Detroit and I got to see him there. And receive a prasadam cookie at Guru-puja from his own hand. After this the bhakta leader Ranganath das applied the sandalwood pulp to Srila Prabhupada’s forehead with a flower, he used the same flower to apply it to my forehead next.

At that time I was so new to Krishna Consciousness that I had scarcely yet read any of Srila Prabhupada’s many beautiful books and in fact I could not even correctly pronounce his name. What to speak being able to pronounce or understand of a exotic(to me) profundity of largely unfamiliar Bengali and Sanskrit words. The only thing I could understand from His Divine Grace’s morning lecture on that first day of his visit was, “Simply chant Hare Krishna and be happy!”

As a new bhakta, in my attempt to be a good student I had learned from Ranganath das to use a spiral notebook to take notes with during classes. Even though I could not yet understand his thick Bengali accent, I felt nonetheless compelled to try and ‘take notes’ during Srila Prabhupada’s Srimad-Bhagavatam class on the second day of his visit to Detroit. I was again seated next to his vyasasana before he began class when I realized that I had forgotten my spiral notebook. I foolishly gave up my spot to retrieve my notebook near the main temple room doorway. The temple room was so packed with people that I improvised by trying to use the kitchen entrance to the temple room as an alternative egress from the temple room as well as a way to return to my spot beside Srila Prabhupada. As I attempted to return I was stopped by the Detroit temple president Madhavananda das who asked me, “What I thought I was doing in the kitchen (without specific service engagement there) and where I thought I was going?”

I stuttered my reply about going in to be near Srila Prabhupada to which he responded strongly in chastisement, “No! This isn’t a highway! This is Krishna’s kitchen!” And he forbade me access through kitchen doorway to the temple room.

I immediately went around to the main temple room entrance only find the temple room so crowded that there was no room for anyone else to squeeze in, what to speak of hoping to regain a place near to Srila Prabhupada. Somehow, as if my heart was struck by thunder, I instantly became extremely heartbroken in an incongruously inconceivable way. I retreated around the corner near the stool rooms where I slumped to the floor, wrapping myself up beneath my heavy black/white checked chaddar before being raked with inconsolable sobs in separation from Srila Prabhupada, Whose Holy acquaintance I had only just barely made. And I have remembered ever since how he extended his merciful hand to me with a cookie at Guru-puja the day before this. A Handful of Great Beauty.

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My first meeting with any Hare Krishna folks was also in 1975 (when I was 20), and also in Minneapolis (though on the Nicollet Mall, outside of Dayton’s department store, where a young woman gave me a copy of Back to Godhead and a Bhagavad Gita As It Is) … that’s where the similarity ends, however, as it didn’t “take” with me back then — I had zero interest then — and it took until just very recently (this year, at age 53, as a matter of fact), and now I’m interested in nothing but. Funny how that worked out. Well, as they say, better late than never. :-)

Comment posted by m-dandavats on September 21st, 2009

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