By Patita Pavana das Adhikary
I define a good day as one when I have had the pleasure of reading a good book. And by that definition, today was a very good day because I was curled up with Jayadeva das’ The Beat of Different Drums. And I say emphatically that this was one of the very best books that I have ever read.
But first, you ask, what makes a good book? As Shrila Prabhupada points out, “Lord Chaitanya ordered His disciples to write books on the science of Krishna consciousness, a process that those who follow Him carry out to the present day.” And the auto-biography of John Richardson, who devotees know and love as Jayadeva Prabhu, fits that qualification nicely. His soon-to-be-released bio is not only well-written and saturated with humor and adventure but it brims with a subtle undercurrent of Lord Krishna’s Divine Hand at work on each page. By the grace of Shrila Prabhupada and the spiritual master who initiated Jayadeva and his family, HH Shivarama Swami, I can declare that no book quite like this one has ever been written before.
Back in 1967 when I began visiting the first ISKCON center on 2nd Ave in New York, Back to Godhead magazine was a stapled pile of mimeographed pages. In those days Shrila Prabhupada used to admonish disciples by saying that “anyone who comes to the temple has been brought by the hand by Krishna Himself.” And so it was then as now that I still enjoy the stories of “How I Came to Krishna Consciousness” or “How I Met Swami Bhaktivedanta.” Sitting on the old Persian carpet near Brahmananda chanting his japa on giant red beads, I fund each account fascinating. I read them in BTG #13 (June 1967) by Hari das (Harvey Cohen), BTG # 14 by Brahmananda das (Bruce Scharf), BTG # 15 Madhusudan das (Michael Blumert ) and BTG # 16 by Damodar das (Dan Clark). I wrote mine, too, in 1968–in the form of an epic poem metered in iambic heptameter. Prabhupada loved it and personally sent it to BTG, but, alas, it was rejected.
Mini-histories of lives in transformation to bhakti are precious because by the grace of Shrila Prabhupada, this really is the last birth on earth for countless followers of the worldwide sankirtan movement. His Divine Grace called his magazine Back to Godhead and he wasn’t bluffing. The World Acharya never pulled any punches. For those who accept this process of Krishna consciousness as it is, a seemingly endless round of samsara could be over in a few short cosmic moments as our “How I Came to Krishna Consciousness” takes us to the absolute level of eternity, knowledge and bliss.
And the way the sequence of events has unfolded in the life of Jayadeva das can be nothing less than a stage play of the Supreme Lord enjoying His fun here on earth with one of His elects. Which I can’t over-emphasize is why I found his auto-bio so enjoyable.
I first “ran into” Jayadeva on the internet when I discovered this video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xe0y2UTIzzw&feature=related
Intrigued, I wanted to know who had performed the “Jaya Jagannath” musical arrangement that was at once so devotional yet so uniquely organized. This led me to Jayadev das and his “Mantra Choir”:
Now watch how the gardener as he waters his orchestrated flowers in this one called “You Are the Music”:
And see this single, too. It is called “Kishor-Kishori,” an English glorification of service to the Divine Couple :
From these and others like them, it became evident to me that Jayadeva can walk into a room of perfect strangers and turn them into a practiced choir floating above earth and beyond its modes of material nature within seconds. But there was more to come.
I was to discover that in his storied trek towards Krishna consciousness, Jayadeva had had a series of # 1 hits with the acapella glam rock group The Rubettes. One of those hits was entitled “Sugar Baby Love” and it had ignited the whole of Europe:
Curious, I contacted Jayadeva through his website to ask him his birth date. He responded immediately and, as it turned out, we were born less than 13 hours apart meaning that all our planets are in the same signs, except the Moon. Then I next discovered that his auto-biography had just been released. Well, this I had to read. I was becoming an amateur Rubette-ologist.
And what a read it is! As a Rubette, which was once the biggest group ever in France, and was also huge in the rest of Europe, Jayadeva das (then drummer John Richardson) was known as “The Clown.” And that pretty much describes the first half of his “How I Came to Krishna Consciousness” escapade. His tale of growing up in the working class town of Ockendon is a side-splitting Kipling-esque adventure. And it is written just as well as any of the Laureate’s tales of youthful innocence. The first half is at once as hilarious as it is mixed with irony, determination, tragedy, hope and, well, the future clown’s odd dumb mistake.
Jayadeva’s youth had all the ingredients that you and I know are part of the recipe for “How I Came to Krishna Consciousness (and somehow survived to talk about it).” Yet his tale is told so well and with such wit that it is something that only a master of the musical beat could have prepared for us. The rhythm of his words is so well timed that the reader is carried from the early stories at Ockendon right up to this day when we find him banging a mridanga on Oxford St alongside his family. Like a single soulful melody, the book transports you through sixty years of coming to Krishna as though it was a single doo wop melody inspired by the drop of a lone coin into the nickelodeon of the devotee’s heart. Yet though it is a solo song with us readers as the dancers, this tune covers every octave. It has all the moves and all the elements that turn a book into an experience.
So well does he convey what it was like growing up a rag tag lad of the 50’s and 60’s when the great world shift in consciousness was just getting underway that the revolution within us is re-ignited once again. Looking back, it is hard to believe that those were the times when in the West the concept of “consciousness” was a new idea. Meanwhile on a continent far away a World Acharya in Vrindavana and then Delhi was penning and printing three volumes that would show mankind what the actual perfection of consciousness is.
From The Beat of Different Drums, here’s a sample of what it was like living on that side of the pond in the days when the Beatles were just starting out. The following episode illustrates probably one of this master story teller’s first run-ins with Indian “culture.”
From Ch. 2:
My parents, as you have already gathered, were always strapped for cash. When I was a teenager, Dad made it clear that if I left school on Friday, I should start my first job on Monday.
It was August 1963. I left school and headed straight for the dentist. My teeth were bad and I had to get them fixed. I knew I wouldn’t be allowed time off work for this, so I got them all done at one go. I was there for over four hours and the dentist, Dr. Hodivala, gave me eleven injections. It was incredibly painful and by the time I got back home Dad was in bed asleep. He woke up when he heard me come in and called me into his darkened room. He could only see my outline.
“Where’ve you been?”
“At the dentist.”
“Liar. Your head and face are all swollen. You’ve been in a fight.”
Dad promptly went back to sleep.
It was only when I looked into the bathroom mirror that I realized that my head had morphed into the shape of a football. I was shocked and more than a little sorry for myself. Mum wasn’t there at the time. She was in a psychiatric ward due to a nervous break-down brought on mainly by the way Dad treated her. I feared that the thump thumping of my daily drum workouts hadn’t helped either.
The cocaine started to wear off and I cried the night away in pain. Some years later the dentist Dr. Hodivala was struck off the register for accidentally killing a man with too much anesthetic. I guess I should count myself fortunate.
Actually I do.
As you can surmise, his story though full of light wit and banter, is not for the faint of heart. By now Jayadeva has had a trance-like vision, one in which he sees himself as a drummer. In this revelation he has clearly visualized a particular set of drums. The lad saves up his schillings for a year at a paper route that begins on school days at 4 am. When he takes the bus to the music shop nine kilometers away (“the farthest I’d ridden alone on the bus till then”) he finds the same drum set that he had pictured in his revelation. He knew he has been born to be a drummer and those were his drums.
Shrila Prabhupada once noted that Ravi Shankar had spent some seven previous lifetimes perfecting the sitar. And so it is that we will eventually learn that John Richardson was indeed a musician in his past life, and a well-known one at that. He was a violinist named Thomas Linley. Though he earned the honorific title “Mozart of England” at the tender age of 23 he drowned in a boating accident on the lake beside Grimethorpe Castle. (Today, Grimethorpe is the poorest village in the UK. And Oh, to lead a sankirtan party there, Jayadeva Prabhu.)
The future Jayadeva’s years growing up were spent in the most pitiable jobs on the planet. Loading greasy steel pipes with his bare hands in the freezing cold or scraping barnacles off tug boats. During week-ends while playing the working class pub circuit he was sometimes called on to throw down his drum sticks and throw a few punches before returning to the set. During one such brawl he broke in two places the jaw of one of the enforcers of the London Mafia, a thug who worked for the infamous Krays (about whom a major movie was made of the same name).
The romp through the sixties and into the seventies never has a dull moment, though it has its fearful ones, like the time a muscle-brained he-man named Arnold Schwartzenegger almost physically took our hero to task. Despite several set-backs, most of them funny, fame eventually came knocking with the formation of the Rubettes. But even as glam rock stars with a style all their own, the harrowing adventures don’t end for the band. There are storms that turn their private Riley Dove twin-engine into a hapless hang glider in a hurricane above the Alps. Or cold wet winds that turn the airplane into a falling rock when the wings ice up in a blizzard.
But suddenly–as quickly as a full-stop ends a sentence–the story screeches to a standstill and takes a turn of 180 degrees. Now we realize that all that we have heard, laughed about and borne witness to in the life of the future Jayadev das is nothing but Krishna allowing his part and parcel to have his fun, to let his karma run out, to be satisfied that he has done everything before vaulting like a passenger on a rocket to the next level. That point is just about exactly half way through the book wherein this clownish Rubette of worldwide fame suddenly hears his calling as a devotee healer. John explains:
From ch. 9:
“The Turning Point came for me after a gig in Manchester. We arrived drunk back at Mickey’s house around three in the afternoon. Mickey got out and his wife apparently rang Cherrille (Jayadeva’s wife, now Shachi Mata devi) to say I was two minutes away.
Slouched in the back of our stretch limo, stinking of excess from the night before, I was driven around the corner from Ecclestone Crescent to Ilfracombe Gardens. There I saw a sight that impacted strongly on my heart: the figures of three people who loved me more than anything or anyone else in the world.
My wife had gotten the children nicely dressed. The three of them looked radiant and loving, excited about welcoming their hero back into their arms after a long tour.
This fraction of a second contained within it the sacred moment which turned my life around.”
From the mid-70’s: Rubette John Richard, now Jayadeva das, sits front and middle.
As it is said, “God works in strange ways.” But, for a man, that work often comes through his shakti, the woman in his life. For many men here in this devi dham there is no more powerful force than the devoted heart of the woman behind him. He just needs to turn around for a moment to understand what bhakti is.
Next Jayadeva defines what it means to be a devotee, a man of unimpeachable character. He writes, “I could not be one person when I was away at home and someone else at home.” As Shrila Prabhupada used to say, “A sadhu is one whose private life is the same as his public life.” Jayadeva’s epiphany was so sudden that he was almost immediately reborn as a teetotaling vegetarian, herbalist and a hands-on healer. The second part of the book relates many events that others would call “miracles” but (despite their esoteric nature) Jayadeva explains these metaphysical experiences with clear and sound reasoning.
Part Two of The Beat of Different Drums is called “Never Say Die,” but, no, that is not a heroic motto from some Ian Fleming novel. Rather those three words are a commentary on his discovery of the immortality of the spiritual particle–and of reincarnation. As John would later discover from the pages of Bhagavad Gita As It Is (2.20):
na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ‘yaṁ purāṇo na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.”
At the beginning of Part Two there is not coincidentally a lone picture of a mridanga drum, which is yet another indication of John’s Turning Point. As Shri Narada tells the despondent Shrila Veda Vyasadeva (SB 1.5.33), “O good soul, does not a thing, applied therapeutically, cure a disease which was caused by that very same thing?” And so it is at the exact half way point of The Beat of a Different Drum that John the drummer for the Rubettes “re-incarnates” along with his family into Jayadeva, the mridanga playing minstrel for Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s sankirtan.
By the divine arrangement of Lord Shri Krishna, the future Jayadeva had obtained a used copy of Bhagavad Gita As It Is from a “bring and buy sale” where he had a booth. (May Krishna bless the book distributor who on some earlier occasion sold that very book on some busy street corner). Upon reading it, Jayadeva was at first torn between a newfound belief that the soul continually and automatically progresses upwards from the human form of life. Or–could it be that the Shrila Prabhupada’s version as shown by the Gita, is correct? Is the soul capable of falling back into the animal species even after achieving a human form?
How the answer to this nagging philosophical question came about was stunning. Jayadeva quickly learned the art of hypnotic past life regression and made a good name for himself through his ability to bring clients’ hang-ups to light and help them dispose of lingering past traumatic experiences carried over from past lives. He talked his first subject into leaving behind and letting go of her death as an American Indian lady who was brutally slain by members of a rival tribe, and thus curing her of MS. In a trance-like state another client explained how she had been a beautiful black horse in her previous life. So he gently transported her to the life before being a horse when she was a maid. As a cleaning lady she was so miserable that she died in her attic chambers alone and lamenting for the green fields of her youth when she would watch a black horse in the pasture. That was it! She had been a human, then absorbed in thoughts of the animals of her youth as she lay dying she found herself reborn as one of them. And now once again she has attained human birth again. In this way the Gita’s point of view was graphically proven to be the correct version over and above New Age speculation that says a soul once ensconced in a two-legged form can never regress back into the animal species.
Now the artist Jayadeva wished to express his appreciation for the Gita’s profound wisdom, so he spent some months writing a pop opera based upon Lord Shri Krishna’s instructions to the dejected Arjuna. Summoning his inner resources, Jayadeva reluctantly proceeded to the Soho Temple ostensibly because needed some costumes for his play and wanted to enlist the help of “the Hare Krishnas.”
Meeting the temple president he began,
“I’ve got one of your books and I’ve written this music–”
But the impatient devotee was in no mood to listen to some stray artist off the street and brusquely cut him off: “And you’ve speculated the hell out of it, didn’t you…”
Well, Prabhus, a word to the wise… As it turned out tolerance triumphed over artistic eccentricity and Jayadeva would go on to perform his play and to later lecture from the Gita at England’s leading colleges about the Gita’s version of re-incarnation. And sell Prabhupada’s books at these events, too. Had the artist in him reacted a bit more sensitively, a great asset to Prabhupada’s movement in the halls of learning or at Krishna festivities all over the world might never have been realized.
However, Jayadeva does not present himself as any sort of quasi-mystical healer. Rather, we find that he is nothing more or less than a devotee householder. This is his job, his Krishna-karma, though his work is fascinating. One of the highlights of the book’s second part is Jayadeva’s regression of a teen-age American girl who proves a large crowd of skeptical scholars that she is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart reborn. Apparently, in a life previous to his birth as Mozart, he had been a Sun worshipper named Narayana who lived along the shore of the Ganga. For his faithful worship of the demigod of the Sun, this fellow Narayana had been transported to Surya-loka at the end of that birth. It was there that he listened to and learned the heavenly music of Swarga. In his next life he brought his compositions to earth from that plane and thus as Mozart he became celebrated as the world’s best composer. I hasten to add that some of the details are so mind-boggling, like Mozart’s meeting the Yamaduttas after his life of fame, that they defy imagination. But as the old saying goes, “fact is stranger than fiction,” so I’ll leave the joy of discovering the specific details to you.
Another episode that Jayadeva relates is about a British officer in World War One named Major Farrell. While leading an ill-fated charge against the enemy, Farrell miraculously survived literally hundreds of German machine gun bullets aimed right at him because, the Major would swear, he has witnessed Lord Shiva running directly in front of him. As hot lead bounced off the tiger-skin clad Mahadeva, so was the warrior protected in battle. Returning to India after the war, he was to learn from his wife that on the very day that he was under fire she was having a dream wherein she accompanied some Hindu ladies to a temple of Lord Shiva for his worship.
Krishna, indeed, does work in strange ways. Jayadeva das’ The Beat of Different Drums is the best “How I Came to Krishna Consciousness” that I’ve ever had the great pleasure of not being able to put down once I started reading it. Publication is planned for Spring of 2012, but I happen to have a little inside information that a few pre-publication copies are available at www.yoga.supersoul.com. Dive in before they are gone, Prabhus. You won’t regret this one.
-Patita Pavana das Adhikary