Śrīla Prabhupāda put on a sweater over his turtleneck jersey, wrapped his cādar around his shoulders, and left his apartment, accompanied by a few disciples. The weather was beautiful, and the blue, cloudless sky reminded him of India. An hour before, he had sent devotees ahead to start a kīrtana, and now one of the girls had come running back to him, excitedly knocking on his door and announcing, “Swamiji, there are so many people!”
The clay mṛdaṅgas he had ordered many months ago from Calcutta had recently arrived. Today would be one of the first times he would play a genuine clay mṛdaṅga in America. The boys and girls would like it. He had arranged for the drums to be wrapped in cloth and had cautioned the boys to be careful because the clay drums broke easily.
The walk to the park was short, and as usual Prabhupāda walked faster than his young followers. They walked down Frederick Street to Stanyan, where they turned the corner at the doughnut shop (frequented by the Hell’s Angels and still sometimes visited by certain devotees). On Stanyan they hurried past the parking lot of Kezar stadium, the stadium itself looming beyond. At the Wallen Street intersection Prabhupāda continued his rapid stride without stopping or even bothering to look at the light. One of the boys caught his arm: “Wait, Swamiji-the light.” But Prabhupāda darted across the street.
As they continued down Stanyan toward Haight Street, the park appeared on the right. They entered, walking past a duck pond with a fountain and a willow tree on its center island. They walked past tall redwoods and eucalyptus trees, which lent fragrance to the surrounding area. There were also maple, oak, and ash trees and flowering shrubs, like azaleas. Prabhupāda said that the park resembled parks in Bombay and that the city was like a holy place because it was named after St. Francis.
They entered a fifty-foot-long tunnel with artificial stalactites hanging from the ceiling and came out onto a path heavily shaded by trees on either side. Just ahead was the meadow, covered with tiny daisies and clover and encircled by redwood and eucalyptus trees. Prabhupāda could hear the chanting, the karatālas, and the booming of the timpani. As he entered the meadow, he saw a sloping hill dotted with hundreds of young people-sitting, lying, lounging, smoking, throwing Frisbees, or walking around; and in the meadow below the hill was his kīrtana.
The meadow was a popular place. People walked through it on the way to the zoo or the tennis courts. But today many passersby had stopped and were listening in a group, about two hundred feet from the kīrtana. Closer in, about fifty feet from the kīrtana, was another group, listening more intently. And then there was the kīrtana party itself, Prabhupāda’s disciples and dozens of young hippies, sitting tightly together and chanting. And others were standing nearby, clapping and swaying to the rhythm of the drum and karatālas.
Flags decorated the kīrtana area. Three feet by four feet, they had been made by devotees, and each bore the symbol of a different religion. A bright red flag with a yellow star and the crescent moon of Islam flew from a ten-foot bamboo pole stuck into the earth. Beside it waved a pale blue flag with a dark blue Star of David in the center. And beside that, a yellow flag bore the Sanskrit oṁkāra.
Prabhupāda’s disciples, with their long hair and casual clothes, were indistinguishable from the other young dancers and singers except for the strands of large red chanting beads around their necks. Some of the devotees danced, with arms upraised against the background of un interrupted blue sky. Others played instruments. The karatālas and timpani were there, Hayagrīva had brought his cornet, and there were other instruments brought by devotees and hippies. Little children were taking part. Even a stray dog pranced in the innermost circle of the kīrtana party. On Sundays the meadow beneath Hippie Hill was always an open show, and today the kīrtana was the featured attraction.
Prabhupāda joined the kīrtana. Walking up suddenly, to the surprise and delight of the devotees, he sat down and began playing the mṛdaṅga and leading the singing in a loud voice.
Mukunda: Although we had heard Swamiji play different drums before and some of us had played along with him, when he played the clay mṛdaṅga from India it was a completely different feeling. The feeling it created was akin to seeing an old friend after many, many years. It was so right and so natural. It was the very thing our kīrtanas had been missing, and it increased our feelings of ecstasy many times over. Obviously Swamiji was in greater ecstasy than ever. You could sense by the way he held the drum, by the ease with which he brought out its intricate rhythms to control the kīrtana, that this drum was like a long-lost friend to him. Swamiji playing that drum was the talk of the community. Now we knew what kīrtana really was, how it was supposed to sound, what it was really like.
Prabhupāda was the center of attraction. Even his age and dress made him prominent. Whereas the others in the park were mostly young people dressed in denims or various hippie costumes, Prabhupāda was seventy and distinctly dressed in saffron robes. And the way the devotees had all cheered and bowed before him and were now looking at him so lovingly caused onlookers to regard him with curiosity and respect. As soon as he had sat down, some young children had gathered in close to him. He had smiled at them, deftly playing the mṛdaṅga, enthralling and entertaining them with his playing.
Govinda dāsī: With Swamiji’s arrival there was a mastery and an authority about the whole kīrtana that was absent before. We were no longer kids in San Francisco chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. Now we had historical depth and meaning. Now the kīrtana had credentials. His presence established the ancient historical quality of the chanting. When Swamiji came, the whole disciplic succession came.
After an hour of chanting, Prabhupāda stopped the kīrtana and addressed the crowd: “Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. This is the sound vibration, and it is to be understood that the sound vibration is transcendental. And because it is transcendental vibration, therefore it appeals to everyone, even without understanding the language of the sound. This is the beauty. Even children respond to it…”
After speaking five minutes, Prabhupāda began the kīrtana again. One woman with long, uncombed red hair began dancing back and forth and chanting, her baby in her arms. A man and woman sitting side by side played together on the heads of a pair of bongos. Subala, in tight corduroy pants and a flowing white shirt, danced in a semblance of the step Swamiji had shown him, although Subala looked somewhat like an American Indian dancer. A little girl no more than four years old sat cross-legged, playing karatālas and chanting seriously. A suave-looking fellow wearing a vest and round sunglasses played castanets against his palm. Ravīndra-svarūpa sat rocking back and forth as he played the drone on the harmonium. Beside him, Hayagrīva chanted forcefully, his head and upper body lunging forward and back, his long hair and beard jutting out wildly, while nearby a girl stood with her right arm around one boy and her left arm around another, all three of them swaying back and forth, singing with peaceful, blissful smiles, enjoying the chanting and the sunshine. One girl sat silently meditating, while beside her a girl danced provocatively and a five-year-old beside the dancing girl played with two balloons.
Prabhupāda set his mṛdaṅga aside and stood, playing karatālas and swaying among the dancers, his feet moving in a stately measure. A big black man danced nearby, facing his white girl friend, both of them moving as if they were at the Avalon. The girl shook her body and head in wild abandon, and her long straight hair completely covered her face. Bright, blonde Nandarāṇī stood on Prabhupāda’s right, playing karatālas. Sometimes Prabhupāda stopped singing and simply observed the scene, his mouth closed in a stern yet sublimely tolerant expression.
Some of the young people joined hands, forming a circle, and began to dance around and around in front of Swamiji. Then they encircled him, and as he looked on, still swaying and now clapping solemnly, they danced around him hand in hand, jumping and wriggling and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. The soft pink hue of his khādī robes contrasting with the pied dress of the hippies, Swamiji looked unusual and wonderful, watching and solemnly sanctioning the kīrtana performance.
The dancing was free-form and sensuous. But that was the way these young people expressed their feelings-through their bodies. They bounced and bounded into the air. Sometimes the circle of dancers would break and become a single line, weaving in and out among the people sitting on the grass, in and out among the silk flags. A muscular boy held the hand of a girl wearing long dark braids and a black headband in American Indian style. At the end of the line, a boy held a girl’s hand with his left hand while with his right he held a wooden recorder to his mouth and tooted as he weaved in and out of the crowd.
Prabhupāda became tired and sat beside the brass-bottomed timpani. Singing and playing karatālas, he sat grave and straight like an ancient sage. Nearby, a blonde woman sat in yogic posture, bending her body forward until her forehead touched the ground again and again, in supplication or exhibition. Another girl stretched out her hands imploringly in a mixed expression of inner feelings-physical and spiritual-while her golden earrings jangled. A Mexican in a checkered shirt beat a tomtom. A white sheep dog wandered from person to person.
Swamiji looked kind and amused. The hippies found him beautiful. He remained gentlemanly, aloof amid the twisting, shaking, rocking, dancing young people. Amid their most sensual movements, he appeared not at all like them, for he moved in a stately, elderly way.
As he surveyed the activities in the meadow, he seemed deeply pleased to see the ring of dancers singing all around him, chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. Although the enthusiasm of these hippies was often wild and sensual, the gathering assumed a wholesome sweetness due to the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa. For Swamiji the main thing was that the chanting was going on and on. Dressed in his saffron cloth that seemed to change colors subtly in the fading afternoon sunlight, he watched in a kindly, fatherly way, not imposing any restraint but simply inviting everyone to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.
Twenty-five-year-old Linda Katz was walking in the park when she heard the sound of the kīrtana. In the crowd of hundreds of people gathered around the scene, Linda found it easy to go close without becoming conspicuous. She felt comfortable watching and even thought of joining the fun. Then she noticed the Swami leading the singing. She was startled, even a little frightened, having never before seen anyone so grave. He was striking.
And the dancers appeared beautiful to her. A girl with arms upraised and eyes closed seemed to be swinging like a tree in the wind. One of the men was tall and attractive, with golden, curly hair. And Linda saw a boy she knew from college in New York, a crazy boy who always wore a shocking-pink wool cap.
Linda had arrived in San Francisco from New York only a few days ago. She had no plans, except to study under a certain dance teacher and maybe get into some of the exciting things she had heard were going on in Haight-Ashbury. As a graduate student in ancient Greek literature at Columbia University, Linda had become attracted to Socrates, who had lived and died for truth. But she hadn’t found any of her professors to be at all like Socrates. She had envisioned herself living a life of truth by pursuing scholarship, but it had become dry. The ancient civilization of Greece was a dead idea, not a living truth. It didn’t touch the heart.
She had been aching for a new, exciting experience, and she was ready to throw herself into San Francisco’s hippie society. She had come here alone, giving up her fashionable clothes and donning bell-bottoms and old shirts. But because she wanted to be serious, she felt awkward trying to fit in with the hippies. She felt that to belong she was supposed to wipe the serious look off her face and just smile mindlessly. So even in the society of San Francisco’s hippies, she remained unsatisfied and lost.
The kīrtana in the park was the most beautiful sight Linda had ever seen. The dancers were swaying back and forth, their arms raised against the open sky, and in the middle of the dance was a dark, gray-haired wise person sitting and chanting. As she moved in closer, she began to sway with the devotees. Then she sat down and started chanting, wanting to find out what was going on.
After more than an hour of chanting, the elderly leader finally stopped the kīrtana, and Linda began talking to some of the devotees. Although the Swami had slipped away, some of his followers had remained, handing out flyers and invitations to the Sunday Love Feast and picking up the timpani and the flags. One of them asked her to come with them to the temple.
Linda found the devotees to be something like hippies, but not scruffy street people like most of the hippies she had met. They were attractive, not repellent. Madrases and plants decorated their little storefront temple. When she stopped before a painting of people singing and dancing, one of the devotees said, “This is Lord Caitanya and His associates.” A devotee gave her some prasādam, and Linda left that night without meeting the Swami.
The next day, however, at seven in the morning, she returned, eager for another chance to see him. She thought he had noticed her at the park and might remember her. She had made a drawing of him, and she wanted to show him.
That morning, as Prabhupāda chanted prayers and led kīrtana, Linda didn’t take her eyes off him. And when he asked everyone to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa with him on beads, she excitedly accepted a strand from one of the devotees and tried to chant like him. Then he began reading the Sanskrit verse to begin his lecture, and Linda was captivated by the sound. If she were to continue with her graduate program in Greek, she would study Sanskrit next; so she listened with keen interest, proud that perhaps no one else in the room could understand as well as she.
Later that same morning, she met Śrīla Prabhupāda upstairs in his apartment.
Linda: In the first conversation I had with him, Swamiji summed up Greek civilization for me in a couple of sentences. He explained that Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was the source of stories like the Iliad and the Odyssey and was the source of Platonic philosophy. I was thrilled. Of course, I believed him. I knew that whatever he was speaking was the truth. There was no doubt in my mind. And he didn’t discourage my love for Socrates. He told me that Socrates was actually a devotee in disguise.
Then he began telling me the story of Kṛṣṇa’s the butter thief, and I said, “Oh, yes, I know that story. I saw a dance about Kṛṣṇa as the butter thief.” He was very pleased, and he laughed. He said, “Oh, yes, you know?”
This encounter with Swamiji was like meeting an old friend, because I felt completely at home and protected. And I felt I had found what I was looking for. Here I could use my intelligence and ask the questions I had always wanted to ask in school.
Prabhupāda initiated Linda, giving her the name Līlāvatī. Seeing her eagerness to serve him personally, he decided to teach her to cook by having her prepare his lunch. He already had a little weekend cooking class in which he taught Jānakī, Govinda dāsī, Nandarāṇī, and others the art of cooking for Kṛṣṇa. Now he invited Līlāvatī to come. He would walk back and forth in the small room, showing the girls how to knead dough, cook capātīs, measure spices in the right palm, and cut vegetables and cook them in ghee with masālā. The foods were basic-rice, capātīs, cauliflower with potatoes-but he wanted to teach the girls precisely how to cook.
Mukunda: One day, just out of curiosity, I went in to witness Swamiji’s cooking classes. So I came in and stood at the doorway to Swamiji’s kitchen. The women were there learning how to cook, and Swamiji said to me, “What are you doing?”
“Oh,” I said, “I just came to see my wife.”
Then Swamiji said, “Are you going back to Godhead or back to wife?” Everyone was amused, and I realized I wasn’t welcome, so I left.
The incident made me reflect on Swamiji’s seriousness. For one thing, I learned that I should not be so attached to my wife, and secondly I learned that his relationship with the women and what he was teaching them was actually very sacred-not like the sometimes frivolous association between husband and wife. Because he spent many hours in the kitchen teaching them, they were very inspired.
Līlāvatī tended to be proud. Many of the devotees were not college graduates, and none of them were classical scholars. She sometimes typed for Swamiji, did his wash, or brought flowers to his room in the morning. And he had quickly chosen her to be his exclusive cook. After only a few days of cooking lessons, Swamiji had told her, “All right, you cook.” And now he came in only occasionally to check on her. Once when he saw her rolling capātīs, he said, “Oh, you have learned very nicely.”
Preparing Swamiji’s meals just right-with the proper spicing, with out burning anything, and on time-was a challenge. By the time Līlāvatī finished, she would be perspiring and even crying from tension. But when she brought in his lunch he would ask her to bring an empty plate, and he would serve her portions from his own plate and invite her to eat with him. For the first few days, Līlāvatī made remarks about the wonderful tastes of the prasādam, and Swamiji would smile or raise his eyebrows. But then she noticed that he never spoke while eating but seemed to be concentrating intensely as he sat, cross-legged, bending his body over the plate of prasādam and eating with his right hand.
One day, on Ekādaśī, Līlāvatī arrived late at Swamiji’s apartment, thinking there would not be much cooking on a fast day. But when she entered the kitchen she found Swamiji himself busily cooking. He was heating something white in a skillet, vigorously stirring and scraping it from the bottom of the pan. “Oh,” he said, “I was just wondering, “Where is that girl?'”
Līlāvatī was too shy to ask what Swamiji was doing, so she simply busied herself cutting vegetables. “Today is a fast day,” she said, as if chiding Swamiji for cooking.
“You have to understand-” he replied, “in Kṛṣṇa consciousness a fast day means a feast day. We are offering this to Kṛṣṇa.” Līlāvatī continued to keep her distance from Swamiji’s whitish, sticky-looking preparation until he completed it and placed it on the windowsill to cool. “Later it will harden,” he said, “and we can cut it and serve it.” And with that he turned and walked out of the kitchen.
When Līlāvatī finished cooking and served Swamiji his Ekādaśī lunch, he asked her to bring him some of “that thing” on the windowsill. He took a bite, seemed pleased, and asked Līlāvatī to call Mukunda and Jānakī to taste it.
Jānakī took a bite and exclaimed, “It’s wonderful! Simply wonderful! Incredible! What is this?”
Turning to Līlāvatī, Swamiji asked, “What is in this preparation?”
“I don’t know, Swamiji,” she said.
“You don’t know?” he replied. “You were standing right by me in the kitchen, and you don’t remember?” Līlāvatī’s face turned red.
“Oh, Swamiji,” Līlāvatī replied, “I was very busy. I just didn’t see.”
“Oh, you are busy without intelligence,” he replied, and he laughed for a long time, until Mukunda was also laughing. Līlāvatī felt even more humiliated.
Swamiji asked Jānakī if she could tell what was in the preparation. She couldn’t, except that it was sweet. He then sent Līlāvatī downstairs to get Govinda dāsī and Gaurasundara. When they entered, Swamiji told Līlāvatī, “Go get some more of that simply wonderful thing.”
Again, this time in front of four devotees, Swamiji asked Līlāvatī, “So what is in this preparation?” And again she defended herself; she had been too busy to notice. And again he laughed until everyone was laughing with him. He then asked Govinda dāsī to taste the “simply wonderful” and say what was in it. Immediately she guessed: sugar, butter, and powdered milk.
“Oh,” Swamiji looked at Līlāvatī, “she is an artist. She is intelligent.”
To Līlāvatī the whole episode was a devastating ordeal. Only later did she understand that Swamiji had been trying to teach her humility.
* * *
It was seven A.M. Śrīla Prabhupāda sat on his dais in the temple. Beside him, on an altar, stood the recently acquired statue of Kṛṣṇa. The child Kṛṣṇa stood two feet high, with His left hand on His hip, His right hand holding a rod. Gurudāsa had found Him at an import store and had begged the manager to sell Him, and after several visits the man had agreed-for thirty-five dollars. Prabhupāda had given Him the name Kartāmi-śāyī, “the boss.” This morning, as Prabhupāda and Kartāmi-śāyī looked out at the devotees in the room, only about six people were present. The night before, the temple had been crowded.
“Where are the others?” Prabhupāda asked. And then he gave the answer himself: “They are sleeping? All this sleeping is not good.” He took out his karatālas and began playing the one-two-three rhythm. Mukunda took up a mṛdaṅga and played along, trying to execute the rhythms Śrīla Prabhupāda had recently taught him.
Śrīla Prabhupāda had not even begun singing when the door opened and half a dozen barefoot hippies wandered in, reeking of marijuana. They glanced around, then sat down on the floor with the devotees as Prabhupāda began singing Gurv-aṣṭakam, the Vaiṣṇava prayers to the spiritual master.
Although none of his disciples knew the words, they loved to listen to Swamiji sing these morning prayers. Unhurriedly, he sang each verse, several times repeating each line, deliberately developing the mood of unadulterated service to the spiritual master.
Then one of the hippies, a boy with long, straight blonde hair and a red headband, began mumbling, fidgeting, and moaning. Someone softly asked him to be quiet. The boy paused but then moaned again. Swamiji and his followers were used to drugged hippies who stayed up all night and came to the morning program, sometimes disrupting things. Usually the visitors remained submissive. And even if they occasionally called out in a strange mood, they usually found peace in chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and would try to blend with the energy of the devotees. But today’s discordant visitor seemed agitated by the chanting, as if it were challenging him. Rather he sounded like he was challenging it.
The devotees began clapping in time with Prabhupāda’s karatālas, and when Prabhupāda began singing Hare Kṛṣṇa, his half-dozen followers immediately joined him, chanting both lead and chorus. Prabhupāda looked at them gravely, encouraging the bedraggled early-morning band of youngsters, and they responded determinedly.
The guests sat in drugged contemplation, although one or two tried singing along. But the blonde boy with the red headband remained adamantly disharmonious, moaning defiantly, as if trying to throw off the effects of the chanting. Nonetheless, despite the boy’s moaning, which was sometimes loud and savage, Prabhupāda kept singing, and the devotees kept chanting.
Mukunda and Hayagrīva exchanged anxious glances but tolerated the boy, unsure what else to do. Some of the devotees were disturbed and even frightened, but they had also heard Swamiji say in recent lectures that advanced devotees aren’t shaken in any circumstances. Swamiji was their leader, not only in devotional prayers but also in how to respond to this intruder, so they waited and watched him for a sign.
Prabhupāda remained undisturbed. But although after twenty minutes the kīrtana was strong and determined, the blonde boy’s madness was not going away. As the chanting built up momentum, he became more agitated. He screamed like a lost soul and hollered like a rock singer. He was becoming more and more troubled and angry.
When the devotees rose to their feet and began dancing, the boy began dancing too, but in his own way, crying and pounding his chest. Mukunda played louder on the drum. The sounds were discordant-a clash of individual madness and group chanting-until Prabhupāda finally brought the kīrtana to a close.
The devotees bowed their heads to the floor, and Śrīla Prabhupāda intoned the Sanskrit prayers honoring the spiritual masters, the Supreme Lord, and the sacred places. “All glories to the assembled devotees,” he said.
They responded, “Hare Kṛṣṇa.”
“All glories to the assembled devotees.”
“All glories to the assembled devotees.”
“Thank you very much,” Prabhupāda said. And then, as was his morning custom, he announced, “Chant one round.”
Everyone sat down, including the crazy hippie. The devotees put aside the drums and karatālas, reached for their large red beads, and began chanting japa in unison: “Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare.” Fingering one bead at a time, they uttered the mantra, then proceeded to the next bead.
Surprised at this turn of events, the blonde boy commented loudly, “Far out!” As rapid chanting filled the room, the boy jumped to his feet and shouted, “Come with me!” He whirled about, faced Śrīla Prabhupāda, and howled, “I AM GOD!” Then he began screaming long, loud, berserk cries: “OWAHOOOO… WAHOOOO! AAAA!… OOOOOOOOOH!” He sobbed, growled, grumbled, stomped his feet. Like a small child, he explored every sound his voice could make. Beating his fists on his chest again and again, he cried, “I am God!” And one of the boy’s friends suddenly played a few notes on a panpipe.
But Śrīla Prabhupāda kept chanting japa, and the devotees also tried to continue chanting undaunted, while at the same time keeping an eye on the madman and wondering where it would all end. Then, with a final, violent ejaculation, the boy shrieked, “I AM GOD!” and in anger and disgust strode out of the room, slamming the door behind him, yelling as he ran down the street.
The proper japa peacefully engulfed the storefront, and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s voice assumed its place more clearly above the voices of all the chanting devotees. After about ten minutes of chanting, Prabhupāda recited, sarvātma-snapanaṁ paraṁ vijayate śrī-kṛṣṇa-saṅkīrtanam. “Let there be all glory to the congregational chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa, which cleanses the dirt from the mirror of the mind and gives a taste of the nectar for which we are always hankering.”
As Prabhupāda put on his spectacles and opened the Bhagavad-gītā (he had been speaking each morning on the Sixth Chapter), the room settled and became silent for hearing his lecture. His students, some of whom had been imbibing his instructions for more than two months, listened attentively as he spoke the eternal paramparā message. It was Kṛṣṇa’s timeless message, yet Swamiji was presenting it just for them as they sat on the rug early in the morning in the small storefront, 518 Frederick Street, in Haight-Ashbury.
Prabhupāda lectured on the transmigration of the soul. Foolish people, he said, aspire for material acquisitions. They don’t know that these things are finished with the death of the body. Spiritual life, however, is of the utmost importance, because it is never lost. So even if Kṛṣṇa consciousness becomes inconvenient or uncomfortable, one should never give it up.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was again stressing that the devotee is never disturbed, a point that seemed especially relevant in the wake of this morning’s interruption. A devotee, Prabhupāda explained, is always tolerant.
Prabhupāda told a story about the great devotee Haridāsa Ṭhākura, a contemporary of Lord Caitanya’s, who endured severe beating at the hands of a Muslim magistrate. As Prabhupāda told the story, he improvised dialogue.
“Oh,” the magistrate said to Haridāsa, “you are born in such a nice family, and you are chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa?”
And then Prabhupāda spoke for Haridāsa: “Sir, many Hindus also have become Muhammadan, so if some Muhammadan becomes Hindu, what is the harm?”
Prabhupāda didn’t change the pitch or accent of his voice while taking different parts of the dialogue. But with a subtle storyteller’s art, each voice became a distinct person.
The magistrate spoke threateningly. “Oh, you are arguing?”
Then Prabhupāda became the narrator: “So, it was decided that Haridāsa was to be punished. Give the dog a bad name and hang it.”
Then Prabhupāda became Haridāsa’s floggers, who despite repeatedly beating Haridāsa were unable to make him cry out in pain. Finally, exhausted, they spoke up. “Sir, the idea was that you would die, but now we see that you do not die. So now punishment is awaiting us.”
Haridāsa: “What do you want?”
The floggers: “We want that you should die.”
Narrator: “Then he played himself into samādhi, and the floggers brought him to the magistrate.”
The magistrate: “Throw him in the water. Don’t put him in the graveyard. He has become Hindu.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda concluded his tale. “The others were flogging him, and he was chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. He was undisturbed. He was steady. Therefore, Lord Kṛṣṇa says that a person who is spiritually advanced-for him there is no misery, even in this world, and what to speak of the other world.”
A devotee suffers no loss, Prabhupāda explained. Even if he doesn’t become perfectly Kṛṣṇa conscious, or even if he falls away, his next birth also will be human.
“There was a prince.” Prabhupāda began a story to illustrate his point. “His name was Satyavān. But he was to die at a certain age, his horoscope said. But one girl named Sāvitrī-she fell in love with that boy. Now she wanted to marry. Her father told her, “He’ll die at certain age. You don’t marry.’ But she was bent. She married.
“In course of time, the boy died-say after four or five years-and the girl became widow. But she was so staunch lover that she won’t let the dead body go away. And the Yamarāja, the… what is the English for one who takes away the body or the soul after death? So he came to take the soul away. So this chaste girl would not allow the husband’s body to go away.”
By Prabhupāda’s voice and widening eyes, he appeared as Yamarāja, the lord of death, speaking to the widow Sāvitrī: ” “It is my duty that I should take. You give it up. Otherwise, you’ll be also punished.’ The girl gave up her husband but followed behind Yamarāja.” Then Prabhupāda’s Yamarāja, by a slight dropping of his voice, became compassionate: ” “My dear girl, you go home. I give you benediction that you will have a son. Don’t cry for your husband.’ But Sāvitrī continued to follow Yamarāja. Yamarāja said, “Why are you following me?'”
Then Prabhupāda’s Sāvitrī spoke-not in a feminine voice, but with the reasoning and heart of Sāvitrī: ” “Now you are taking my husband. How can I have my son?'”
Prabhupāda spoke as narrator: “Oh, then he was in dilemma. He returned her husband.
So, similarly, there is a technique. If you take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, then your husband, or this human form of life, is guaranteed.”
The devotees understood the gist of the story, but they weren’t perfectly clear what their lives had to do with the woman in the story. Some, however, understood: if they took to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, their ill-destined lives could become auspicious.
“Yes,” Śrīla Prabhupāda continued, “a spiritual life is the most auspicious life.” He looked around emphatically at the devotees seated before him on the floor. “Anyone who has done something nice, auspicious thing-oh, it will never be vanquished. He will never be put into difficulty. It is such a nice thing.”
He ended his lecture and asked for questions. A young woman raised her hand: “You say that people foolishly worship the photograph of someone who has already gone-you gave the example of George Washington or Gandhi. But can’t the photo of a spiritual teacher be very helpful to teach others to love him?”
Prabhupāda: “Yes, those who are spiritually advanced-they are not different from their photograph. Just like here is the statue of Kṛṣṇa-He’s not different from Kṛṣṇa. The original person Kṛṣṇa and this statue of Kṛṣṇa are the same. Just like we are chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa-Kṛṣṇa and the name of Kṛṣṇa are nondifferent. Do you realize it? If we are not getting some spiritual enlightenment by chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, then do you think we are simply wasting our time? No. We’re not wasting our time. We’re actually getting spiritual ecstasy, because there is no difference. Similarly, a spiritually perfect person and his photograph is the same, because it is in the absolute stage. Is that clear?”
Govinda dāsī raised her hand: “You said that after leaving this body a person in Kṛṣṇa consciousness goes to a higher planet?”
Prabhupāda: “No. If you make perfection of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, then after leaving this body you go directly to Kṛṣṇa. But if you are not perfect, if you have simply executed a certain percentage only, then you’ll get the chance of another human body. But one who has understood what is Kṛṣṇa-how Kṛṣṇa takes His birth, how Kṛṣṇa acts-he doesn’t get any more material birth. Then? Where does he go? Tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma naiti mām eti. “He comes to Me.’ That means in the supreme abode of Kṛṣṇa.
“Therefore, we should be very serious. Why should we wait for another birth, either in very pious family or rich family or in other planet? This human body can give you the highest perfection. But we have to be very serious and try for that perfection. But we are not serious. We are not very serious. Actually, human civilization means that people should be very serious to have perfection of this human body- that is perfect human civilization. That is missing at the present moment.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda sat in silence for several minutes, not moving. No one in the audience made a sound. Finally he reached over for his karatālas and began loudly ringing them together and singing: govinda jaya jaya, gopāla jaya jaya. And the devotees joined him:
govinda jaya jaya
gopāla jaya jaya
govinda jaya jaya
It was Prabhupāda’s desire to see his disciples raise their Kṛṣṇa consciousness to one hundred percent in their present lifetime. They could do it, too, because the chanting was absolutely potent. If there was something they didn’t understand, he would explain it. Govinda dāsī hadn’t understood; she had thought that a devotee was meant to go to a higher planet. But now she understood.
And he had told them to become more serious. He knew they sometimes went to the doughnut shop and even smoked cigarettes after kīrtanas, and he tolerated it. But he let them know that he really wanted them to be completely serious. Unless they were completely serious, they might have to go to a higher planet within the material universe; and what good was that? To rise to a Human birth took many lifetimes. Human life was meant for perfection, so they should be serious. “But,” he had said, “we are not serious.”
After the kīrtana, Śrīla Prabhupāda left the storefront and returned to his apartment. Hayagrīva, turning to Haridāsa, asked why no one had thrown the crazy boy out. “In New York,” Hayagrīva said, “Brahmānanda would have removed him at the first outburst.”
“You have to be careful with the hippies here,” Haridāsa explained. “Tactful is the word. In this neighborhood, if someone walks around high on LSD, people automatically assume that he is due all the respect of God and should be tolerated. They come in and jump up and down and scream, but we can’t lay a hand on them, because they are LSD saints. If we had touched that boy this morning, the whole neighborhood would be down on us. The Diggers next door are pretty noisy, but they unplug their jukebox during lectures, and they’ve been very friendly, giving us clothing and helping us decorate the temple. Sometimes the Hell’s Angels go over there and raise a lot of noise, and sometimes they even come in here. If they do, best to humor them. They are always trouble.”
That very morning some Hell’s Angels started a fight in the Diggers’ store. The devotees could hear thuds and screams through the walls as a big black beat up three Hell’s Angels. The brawl ended only after a police car and an ambulance arrived.
Afterwards, about a dozen people drifted into the temple, talking about the brawl. Harṣarāṇī put out extra plates for the guests.
* * *
One day in March eighteen-year-old Wayne Gunderson was walking down the street when a piece of paper, blowing along the sidewalk, caught on his foot. He tried to kick it off without breaking his stride, but it hung on. Then he stopped and tried to kick it off. He couldn’t. He reached down and picked it off and found that it was a flyer-“Stay High Forever”-advertising lectures by Swami Bhaktivedanta at 518 Frederick Street.
Like so many others, Wayne, a mild-mannered young man who worked for the post office, had come to Haight-Ashbury to take part in the revolution. He attended rock concerts and be-ins, browsed through the books and posters in the psychedelic shops, shared an apartment with his girl friend and another couple, and took drugs. But he was quiet, polite, and solitary. He didn’t dress like a hippie, but wore clean, conservative, casual clothes and a whimsical, odd-looking sports cap.
The flyer about the Swami seemed a timely coincidence, because Wayne had been planning to go to India to find a guru. He decided to go see Swami Bhaktivedanta on Frederick Street.
Wayne was surprised to find only a storefront. He was startled by the picture of the Swami in the window-no smiling, bearded yogī, but a shaven-headed swami with a stern look.
Wayne went in. It was a typical Haight-Ashbury scene, with hippies sitting around. But there were also a few people with big red beads strung like garlands around their necks. And up front he saw the Swami. Wayne was impressed as Prabhupāda began chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, and he found the lecture firm and authoritative. The Swami stressed, “We are not these bodies.” And when he spoke of Kṛṣṇa, he described Kṛṣṇa so personally that it was like being introduced to Kṛṣṇa.
After a few meetings, Wayne got up the nerve to ask a question: “Can one practice haṭha-yoga at the same time as Kṛṣṇa consciousness?”
“Oh, why do you want to spend so much time with that body?” Prabhupāda replied, and Wayne felt Prabhupāda’s eyes look deep within him. “You are not that body.” He said it so strongly that Wayne, who was easily hurt, felt like shrinking into the floor. “This body is not as important as the soul,” Śrīla Prabhupāda explained. “So we shouldn’t spend so much time with the body, exaggerating its needs.” Then he smiled at Wayne. “Besides, all yogas culminate in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.” And Wayne felt that smile lift him completely out of his diminished and crushed condition.
Several weeks later Wayne asked about initiation. When the devotees told him he should go up and see the Swami, Wayne went home and rehearsed his lines first. Anticipating what Prabhupāda would say, Wayne prepared his own responses and contrived the whole conversation. Then, nervously, he approached Prabhupāda’s door.
But before he could even knock, the door opened, and there was Prabhupāda looking at him-not sternly, as in his picture, but kindly, as if expecting him. “Yes,” Prabhupāda said, “come in.” The incident completely shattered Wayne’s planned approach. He concluded that Swamiji could read minds. So, trying to clear his mind of bad thoughts, he entered Prabhupāda’s apartment.
Prabhupāda sat in his rocking chair, and Wayne, who usually sat on the floor, sat in the only other chair in the room. Wayne immediately felt uncomfortable, as he realized that it would be more proper to sit at Prabhupāda’s feet. But feeling too weakhearted to alter the situation, he kept his seat, nervously fingering his sports cap. “Swamiji,” he began, “I would like to be your disciple.”
Prabhupāda immediately agreed. He asked whether Wayne could follow the four principles, and Wayne, although not even sure what the four principles were, said he could. Prabhupāda then asked him what principle was the most difficult for him to follow. “Well,” he said, “I have difficulty with meat-eating.” A lie-he was a vegetarian. But he was too shy to say that his real problem was uncontrolled sexual desire. Prabhupāda laughed, “Oh, that’s no problem. We will give you prasādam. You can be initiated next week.”
Wayne then asked if he would be able to go to India. He felt the Swami would be pleased to hear that his new follower wanted to go to his country. But Prabhupāda seemed displeased: “India? Why India?” Wayne thought… The real reason he had wanted to go to India was to find a guru.
“Well,” he said, “to learn Sanskrit.”
“I will teach you Sanskrit,” Prabhupāda replied. So there was no need to go to India. And he would be initiated by a genuine guru next week-right here in San Francisco.
Some devotees helped Wayne prepare for his initiation ceremony. Hayagrīva lent Wayne his dhotī, a piece of yellow cloth much too large for Wayne. Devotees set up a sacrificial arena in the storefront-a bed of earth, firewood, colored dyes, flowers.
During the ceremony Wayne was nervous. When Prabhupāda chanted the mantras, Wayne could not hear them exactly, so he just mimicked as best he could. And when Prabhupāda began the fire sacrifice, Wayne felt a little frightened because the initiation seemed such a serious commitment. He watched Prabhupāda gravely building the fire and saying the mantras. When Prabhupāda initiated Wayne with his new name, Upendra, Wayne didn’t hear it clearly and began to worry. Then the ceremony ended, and Prabhupāda stood up and abruptly left the storefront.
Upendra: Someone reminded me that I should go upstairs and give Swamiji an offering. So I decided to give him a baby blanket and a beach towel. It wasn’t that I lacked money, but these things had some sentimental value to me, so I wanted to give them to Swamiji. I went upstairs to his room, and he was sitting at the foot of his mattress. I came in and bowed down and presented him with the baby blanket and beach towel. He held them up in his fingers and looked at them both in each of his hands. He said, “These things are useless,” and he tossed them down on the floor. I was hurt, and I had nothing to say. I just sat there. After a while, I excused myself and went back to my apartment.
The next day, I went to see Swamiji during his evening visiting time, and he had the beach towel and baby blanket out on the floor like rugs so that his guests who came to visit could have something to sit on. I felt satisfaction that he had found some use for my offerings.
Prabhupāda said that Upendra was not living up to his vows, since he was still living with his girl friend. Upendra felt guilty about breaking the principles forbidding illicit sex and intoxication, but he just couldn’t follow them. He wanted to tell Swamiji but couldn’t bring himself to do it. Besides, he thought, even if he confessed, how could he stop? Upendra’s girl friend didn’t like Kṛṣṇa consciousness, didn’t want to meet Swamiji, and didn’t want to come to the temple. So Prabhupāda decided that instead of marrying Upendra to her, he would save Upendra from her.
Prabhupāda decided to make Upendra a brahmacārī. Although Śrīla Prabhupāda had about twenty-five San Francisco disciples, hardly any were brahmacārīs. Practically the only solid one was Jayānanda, who was a little older than the rest. Jayānanda worked all day driving a cab, chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa even while driving. And when he was off work he would be at the temple, cooking or doing any service he could find or sitting with Prabhupāda in his apartment with the other devotees. He was known for his serious japa. Sitting cross-legged, eyes squeezed tightly shut, he would hold his strand of beads up in both hands and rock forward almost to the floor and back, chanting intensely, oblivious to the outside world. He was serious. And that was the only way one could remain a brahmacārī. In New York Prabhupāda had about a dozen brahmacārīs, but a more permissive attitude among his followers in San Francisco made brahmacārī life more difficult.
In the original Vedic society of ancient India, brahmacārī life began at the age of five. Parents would send their son to live with the guru at the gurukula, where the boy would receive basic education, spiritual instruction, and strict moral discipline under the guru. Even Lord Kṛṣṇa, in His transcendental pastimes on earth, had attended a gurukula and very humbly served His spiritual master.
The basic principle of brahmacārī life was celibacy. By practicing celibacy, the brahmacārī would develop great powers of memory and sensory control. And if such a trained brahmacārī later decided to take a wife, his sex life would be regulated, not licentious. But although brahmacārī life was necessary for a healthy society, Prabhupāda had seen within his own lifetime the rapid deterioration of brahmācārya almost to nonexistence.
And in America the situation was of course much worse. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam tells of a young brāhmaṇa, Ajāmila, who fell from spiritual life because he had seen a drunken man embracing a half-naked prostitute. In America to see a half-naked prostitute in public was not uncommon. As soon as a brahmacārī walked out on the street, he would confront so many allurements. But Prabhupāda was convinced that brahmacārīs could protect themselves even in America if they regularly chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa and sincerely tried to follow the rules and regulations. Kṛṣṇa would protect them.
Prabhupāda had decided to ask Upendra to come and live with him as his personal servant. Prabhupāda’s former servant, Raṇacora, had recently left his position. Although supposedly a brahmacārī, he had never been a serious brahmacārī. He had even seduced one of the young women devotees in New York. Prabhupāda had found out and had asked the girl why she had indulged in sex with Raṇacora if she wasn’t planning to marry him. Prabhupāda’s “Why?” had so disarmed the girl that she had been unable to answer. Prabhupāda had admonished her, “You girls should not make yourselves so cheap,” and had given Raṇacora another chance.
But Raṇacora never became serious. After playing the drums during the big kīrtana at the Avalon Ballroom, Raṇacora had become fascinated with the dance hall. He would sneak out from his service, lie to Prabhupāda about his absence, and go looking for girls at the Avalon. One day he never returned. As one of the devotees reported to Prabhupāda, “He just disappeared into the strobe lights.” Raṇacora did come back once-to ask Prabhupāda for money so that he could return to his home in New York.
Upendra, despite his weaknesses, was spontaneously attracted to Prabhupāda and liked to be with him whenever he could. Sometimes Upendra would go up to the apartment with one or two other devotees and just sit in front of Prabhupāda as Prabhupāda sat on the thin pillow behind his low desk. Sometimes Prabhupāda would continue reading or writing, and Upendra would sit and bask in his presence, simply watching him work. After ten minutes or so, Prabhupāda would look up and say, “All right, that is enough,” and the boys would bow and leave. Upendra would also go to see Prabhupāda taking his lunch, and Prabhupāda would take some rice and vegetable from his plate, put them on a capātī, and offer them to Upendra. Although the prasādam was similar to the prasādam the devotees ate downstairs, Upendra thought that it tasted much better.
One day, when Upendra was alone with Prabhupāda in his room, Prabhupāda asked, “You are living with a young girl and people who take intoxicants?” For the second time, Upendra was convinced that Swamiji could read his mind and knew his entire life.
“Yes,” Upendra admitted, “but I am not having-”
Prabhupāda interrupted: “That is not good.”
“Swamiji, I am not having any sexual connections.”
“Where there is a boy and where there is a girl,” Prabhupāda said, “there is sex. You must come and live with me.”
Upendra was delighted: “Yes, I’ll come immediately.”
He took a few belongings from his apartment, left everything else with his girl friend, and moved into the front room of Prabhupāda’s apartment. He was now Swamiji’s personal servant.
Prabhupāda requested him to keep his job at the post office. Around midnight, as soon as Upendra got off work, he would return to the apartment. (Prabhupāda always left the door unlocked for him.) Usually, soon after Upendra locked the door, crawled into his sleeping bag, and fell asleep, he would be awakened by Prabhupāda speaking into his dictating machine, composing Teachings of Lord Caitanya. Upendra would nod off again and sleep until six.
Upendra relished this close association with his spiritual master and became always cheerful. “I just want to be Swamiji’s dog,” he would often tell the other devotees.
One time Upendra was reading to himself from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam:
The whole subject matter is so presented through the lips of Śrīla Sukadeva Goswami that any sincere audience who will lend his ears submissively to this message of the transcendental world, will at once relish the transcendental mellows distinguished from the perverted mellows of the material world. The ripen fruit is not dropped all of a sudden from the highest planet of Krishna Loka but it has come down carefully being handled by the chain of disciplic succession without any change or disturbance in the formation of the soft and ripen fruit.
“You don’t have any questions?” Prabhupāda asked.
Upendra looked up from the book: “No, Swamiji, I accept everything you say.” Prabhupāda began rocking strongly in his rocking chair and smiled as Upendra kept reading. Then Prabhupāda taught Upendra the proper way to hold a book while reading-with the palms of both hands “up and off the lap.” This advice gave Upendra greater enthusiasm to please his spiritual master by reading his books.
Upendra was still bothered by sexual desires. He thought that maybe he should get married. But he was confused about what a Kṛṣṇa conscious marriage was supposed to be. How could you be married, he puzzled, if you don’t love the girl you want to marry? And how could you love her without having sex with her? He wanted to ask Swamiji about this, but he kept it to himself, waiting for an opportunity and for the courage. Then one day he entered Prabhupāda’s room as Prabhupāda paced back and forth from one end of the room, with its three large bay windows overlooking Frederick Street, to the other end, where his rocking chair sat. Now, Upendra decided, he could ask his question.
“Swamiji,” he began, “may I ask a question?”
“Yes,” Śrīla Prabhupāda replied, stopping his pacing.
“If a boy is separate from a girl, then how can he learn to love her?”
Prabhupāda began to walk back and forth again, chanting on his beads. After a moment he turned and said softly, “Love? Love is for Kṛṣṇa.” And he walked toward the window and looked down at the street below. “You want a girl? Pick one.” He pointed toward some women passing on the street. “There is no love in this material world,” he said. “Love is for Kṛṣṇa.”
Gradually, under Śrīla Prabhupāda’s pure influence, Upendra began to feel less agitated by sexual demands. He came to understand that he was not a material body but a spiritual soul, that the soul’s eternal nature was to love Kṛṣṇa, and that for a pure devotee-for Swamiji-love was for Kṛṣṇa.
More and more, Upendra just wanted to be the servant of Swamiji. He thought of what foods to buy for him and how to make things comfortable for him. It was in this mood of wanting to serve Swamiji that Upendra visited the Psychedelic Shop one day. He had heard they had recently received some prints from India, so he went in and browsed through the prints, picked out some pictures of Lord Kṛṣṇa, and took them to Swamiji.
In Prabhupāda’s room, along with other devotees, Upendra unrolled the prints one by one on Prabhupāda’s desk, waiting to see Prabhupāda’s response. As Upendra watched, it seemed to him that Swamiji was looking at photos of his personal friend. He was pleased with the pictures. Hayagrīva commented that the religious art of the Indian prints was a bit garish, but Prabhupāda explained that the technique didn’t matter. The important thing was that the pictures were of Kṛṣṇa and were executed according to Vedic descriptions. For the devotee they were beautiful; they were nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa.
Prabhupāda selected as his favorite a picture of Lord Kṛṣṇa standing and playing His flute in the moonlight, the River Yamunā flowing by. In this picture Kṛṣṇa was known as Govinda. Prabhupāda held the picture up and quoted a verse:
smerāṁ bhaṅgī-traya-paricitāṁ sāci-vistīrṇa-dṛṣṭiṁ
vaṁśī-nyastādhara-kiśalayām ujjvalāṁ candrakeṇa
govindākhyāṁ hari-tanum itaḥ keśi-tīrthopakaṇṭhe
mā prekṣiṣṭhās tava yadi sakhe bandhu-saṅge ‘sti raṅgaḥ
He then took a sheet of paper and began writing, while the devotees watched him intently, listening to the scratching of the pen on the page. Then he read aloud: “My dear friend, if you still have an inclination to enjoy material life, society, friendship, and love, then please do not see the boy named Govinda, who is standing in a three-curved way, smiling and skillfully playing on His flute, His lips brightened by the full moonshine.”
“Yamunā, you can write this nicely?” Prabhupāda knew that Yamunā was a trained calligrapher. He asked her to print the verse and display it, along with the picture, by his sitting place in the temple. He wanted to be able to look at it during kīrtanas.
Upendra thought and prayed, “If I can just fix myself steadily in serving Swamiji, who has such love for Kṛṣṇa, then I too will become transcendental.” He felt that since it was not possible for him to see Govinda the way Swamiji saw Him, he should serve Swamiji, the pure devotee of Govinda, and in that way become pure. “I just want to become Swamiji’s dog,” Upendra said as he left the apartment.
* * *
In New York the boys had their orders from Prabhupāda not to give any more money to Mr. Price unless there was a purchase contract. Prabhupāda still wanted the building. He had written to Brahmānanda on March 4, “I hope when I go to New York next I shall enter the new house forthwith.” And he had written Rāya Rāma on March 7, “I am very glad to learn that Brahmānanda, yourself and all others have the transcendental courage to take all risks for Krishna and this act will enhance your glory in Krishna consciousness.” But he wanted them not to be cheated by false promises.
Meanwhile, Mr. Price was asking the devotees to turn over $5,000 to his financier friend, Mr. Hall, who would then add $20,000 and make the down payment to the owner, Mr. Tyler. Mr. Price wanted Brahmānanda to get the point across to His Excellency that negotiations had to be done in this fashion, and right away, if they seriously wanted to get the house.
Brahmānanda wrote to Prabhupāda, asking him to advise the bank to transfer $5,000 into the account controlled by the boys, the trustees of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Prabhupāda gave permission and asked that the check be signed by the president and secretary, because “Brahmananda and Satsvarupa are the main support for purchasing this house, and Kirtanananda is a supplement to this from his kitchen department.” But he said that the check should be made to the seller, Mr. Tyler, not to the financier, Mr. Hall. “The money and the society is yours,” Śrīla Prabhupāda acknowledged. “You can spend in any way but it is my duty to give you advice as ever well-wisher.”
Then Mr. Price invited Brahmānanda to meet Mr. Hall; and he suggested that Brahmānanda come prepared with a check for $5,000. On the way, Mr. Price explained that Mr. Hall was perhaps the biggest real estate dealer in Manhattan-a multi-multimillionaire. He owned skyscrapers. Everything he owned was big. When Brahmānanda entered Mr. Hall’s office, he thought it was right out of a Hollywood movie-a conference room ten times bigger than the Second Avenue temple room. And seated at the head of the large oval table was Mr. Hall himself. The room was in semidarkness, with a few spotlights on Mr. Hall, who sat before a battery of telephones. Even as they began to discuss, Mr. Hall paused several times, picking up phones and talking to persons in various places across the country.
“Young man,” Mr. Hall said to Brahmānanda, “we are helping you get the house. It is a beautiful house, a New York City landmark.” Then Mr. Hall’s girl friend called from a boat in the Caribbean. He talked to her for a while and then returned to Brahmānanda and Mr. Price, who sat in the shadows at his conference table.
Mr. Hall had a big contract he wanted Brahmānanda to sign. Brahmānanda knew that Swamiji wanted a contract-and here it was. He also knew that if he signed over the $5,000 he would have no other money and no extra income; and he knew they knew it. But Swamiji wanted the building. Swamiji himself had looked at $100,000 buildings and had offered to buy them, even though he had very little money to back his offers up. And Brahmānanda always did whatever Swamiji said. To sign this contract, Brahmānanda concluded, was an act of faith in Swamiji and Kṛṣṇa. He didn’t analytically ask “Where will the rest of the money come from?” To do so, he thought, would be like doubting Swamiji.
So here he was in this big-time financier’s office. It was awesome. The millionaires were going to help. Mr. Price was at Brahmānanda’s elbow. Mr. Hall was telling Brahmānanda that everything was all right: “We are going to get you this house.” Now it was actually going to happen. Here was one of the biggest men in Manhattan offering to help. And whereas Brahmānanda had no money, Mr. Hall would be able to pick up the place very easily from the owner. Glancing quickly over the contract, Brahmānanda signed. It was a deal. And he gave them the check for $5,000.
As soon as Brahmānanda and Mr. Price left Mr. Hall’s office, there was a distinct change in Mr. Price. Although still acting as Brahmānanda’s friend, he now said, “Gee, you know, now you have to get this money.” As they walked together on the uptown streets, Mr. Price cheerfully pushed the whole thing onto Brahmānanda. That was the change: before, Mr. Price had been saying that he and Mr. Hall were going to do it, but now he said that it was all up to the devotees. Brahmānanda asked about the legal position. Mr. Price explained that only the Kṛṣṇa Society was bound. But what about the promises? What about Mr. Hall’s being so rich and wanting to help them and Mr. Price’s wanting to help? Mr. Price assured Brahmānanda that he and Mr. Hall did want to help. They were doing everything they could. But Brahmānanda and the other devotees should also do everything they could and come up with the $20,000 to complete the down payment by the end of the month. And what if they couldn’t? Mr. Price made it very clear: “If you don’t pay the balance in a month, then you lose your deposit.”
By the time Brahmānanda reached 26 Second Avenue he realized he had been cheated. He was crushed. He turned to the other devotees and told them what had happened, but they could only return, “Why did you do it?” Brahmānanda phoned Śrīla Prabhupāda in San Francisco. Now that his eyes had been opened about Mr. Price, Brahmānanda was blunt about his mistake, and he told Prabhupāda that he had given away the $5,000.
“All of it is gone?” Śrīla Prabhupāda asked.
“Yeah,” Brahmānanda replied. He heard Prabhupāda hang up the phone. Brahmānanda had been about to explain the whole thing, but Swamiji had just hung up without a word. Brahmānanda placed the receiver back on the hook. He was shaken.
The next day the trustees held a special meeting. The boys sat around in the front room of Prabhupāda’s apartment trying to decide what to do. Gargamuni again called Prabhupāda, who advised them to stop the check at the bank. “Swamiji’s as smart as a fox,” Rāya Rāma smiled. Gargamuni phoned the bank. But it was too late; the check had already been cashed.
They consulted Mr. Goldsmith, their friendly lawyer. He said it sounded like a weak legal case. Price and Hall hadn’t legally bound themselves to pay anything if the devotees failed to pay; and if the devotees couldn’t pay the $20,000 balance by the end of the month, they would lose their $5,000 deposit. They could sue for fraud, but court fees would be costly.
Then, one by one, Brahmānanda, Satsvarūpa, Kīrtanānanda, Rāya Rāma, Gargamuni, and the others began to look at the letters from Prabhupāda and discuss how he had warned them to avoid being cheated. Their greatest blunder, they began to realize, was disobeying his instructions. He had told them not to trust the promises of these businessmen, and he had told them that the check should be made only to the owner, not to the financier.
Within a few days, further instructions from their spiritual master came in the mail. There were admonishments, but hearing from him, even if he was chastising them, was better than the pain of his hanging up the phone without a word. “But you have not followed my instructions and now you are in trouble,” he wrote to the boys.
He wrote Rāya Rāma,
You are all foolish boys. I repeatedly warned you, even at the last point, that we should not pay the check unless there was agreement between Mr. Tyler and Mr. Hall. The agreement was signed like a marriage ceremony without the presence of the bride-groom. The mistake was there, and now you are repenting.
To Satsvarūpa he wrote,
You have asked me whether the San Francisco branch will pay some money for purchasing the house. But where is your house and where is the purchase? So far it is talks of Mr. Price and company in which you innocent boys have been entrapped. I do not know how I can help you in your great blunder. I can only hope that Krishna will help you.
Unlike the boys and their lawyers, Prabhupāda thought that the legal case against the businessmen would be a strong one.
I am not a Lawyer but this is common sense affair. Mr. Hall has taken the money, and he must finance to purchase the house. If he has no money to finance then it is a cheating case clear and simple.
The culprits, he said, should be brought to criminal court; their conspiracy and fraud were obvious and could be proven.
From the telephonic conversation of Brahmananda it appears to be an organised cheating case and you have to face with courage without excusing any one of them. We are not revengeful but we cannot lose Krishna’s money for nothing.
The boys had already blundered so much that Prabhupāda doubted whether they could tackle the cheaters. But he said they had to try: “Let us have the house or return back the money. In default, there is clear case of cheating. Now you can do as you like.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote the boys’ lawyer, relating the history of the case. He also wrote a letter to the financier, the owner, and Mr. Price, threatening to expose everything, including what he alone had seen: that the lawyers involved were also implicated. Brahmānanda could barely understand what was going on, but it appeared that Swamiji was going to get results. The boys were fools, certainly, but the businessmen were certainly cheaters. And Swamiji claimed that he could prove it in court.
While admonishing his blundering disciples and going fiercely after the cheaters, Śrīla Prabhupāda still remained the ultimate shelter for his foolish boys. In a letter to the six trustees of his New York branch, he shed transcendental light into their gloomy minds.
Forget the chapter. Take it for granted that Krishna has taken away this money from you for your deliberate foolishness. In future be very cautious and abide by the orders of Krishna. If you abide by the orders of Krishna, He can give you things that you may need. Be cheerful and chant Hare Krishna without any lamentation. As I have told you several times, that my Guru-maharaj used to say that this world is not a fit place for a gentleman. His version is corroborated by the following verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. It is said like:
Yasya asti bhagavati akincana bhakti
Sarvai gunais tatra samasate sura.
Harau abhaktasya kuto mahat guna
Manorathen asato dhavato bahi
“A person who is not in Krishna consciousness has no good qualifications. However so called gentleman one may be or academically educated he may be he is hovering over the mental plane and therefore he must commit nuisance being influenced by the external energy. A person who has however unflinching faith in the Supreme Personality of Godhead has all the good qualifications of the demigods.” In other words you should not keep your trust on so called gentlemen of the world however nicely dressed he may be. In the matter of discharging our mission of Krishna consciousness we have to meet so many so called gentlemen but we must be very cautious for dealing with them as we are cautious in dealing with serpents.
Now, more than ever, the boys in New York wanted Swamiji to come back. Although most of the talk in the temple was still about real estate, they were holding regular kīrtana and lecture programs, and two new boys had joined. Jadurāṇī had finished some new paintings of Lord Viṣṇu, which now hung in the temple, and she was waiting anxiously for Swamiji to come and see them. Some devotees had made a new speaker’s seat in the temple for Swamiji. They knew they were fools, but they asked him please to come back. He agreed. He set April 9 as the date for his return to New York. But meanwhile he still had much to do in San Francisco.
* * *
One day Mālatī hurried into Śrīla Prabhupāda’s apartment, took a small item out of her shopping bag, and placed it on Prabhupāda’s desk for his inspection. “What is this, Swamiji?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda looked down and beheld a three-inch wooden doll with a flat head, a black, smiling face, and big, round eyes. The figure had stubby, forward-jutting arms, and a simple green and yellow torso with no visible feet. Śrīla Prabhupāda immediately folded his palms and bowed his head, offering the little figure respects.
“You have brought Lord Jagannātha, the Lord of the universe,” he said, smiling and bright-eyed. “He is Kṛṣṇa. Thank you very much.” Śrīla Prabhupāda beamed with pleasure, while Mālatī and others sat amazed at their good fortune of seeing Swamiji so pleased. Prabhupāda explained that this was Lord Jagannātha, a Deity of Kṛṣṇa worshiped all over India for thousands of years. Jagannātha, he said, is worshiped along with two other deities: His brother, Balarāma, and His sister, Subhadrā.
Excitedly, Mālatī confirmed that there were other, similar figures at Cost Plus, the import store where she had found the little Jagannātha, and Śrīla Prabhupāda said she should go back and buy them. Mālatī told her husband, Śyāmasundara, and together they hurried back and bought the two other dolls in the set.
Śrīla Prabhupāda placed the black-faced, smiling Jagannātha on the right. In the center he placed the smallest figure, Subhadrā, who had a red, smiling mouth and a rectangular black and yellow torso. The third figure, Balarāma, with a white, round head, red-rimmed eyes, and a happy red smile, had the forward-jutting arms like Jagannātha and a blue and yellow base. Prabhupāda placed Him next to Subhadrā. As Prabhupāda looked at them together on his desk, he asked if anyone knew how to carve. Śyāmasundara said he was a wood sculptor, and Prabhupāda asked him to carve three-foot-high copies of the little Jagannātha, Balarāma, and Subhadrā.
More than two thousand years ago, Śrīla Prabhupāda told them, there was a king named Indradyumna, a devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa. Mahārāja Indradyumna wanted a statue of the Lord as He had appeared when He and His brother and sister had traveled on chariots to the holy field of Kurukṣetra during a solar eclipse. When the king requested a famous artist from the heavenly planets, Viśvakarmā, to sculpture the forms, Viśvakarmā agreed-on the condition that no one interrupt his work. The king waited for a long time, while Viśvakarmā worked behind locked doors. One day, however, the king felt he could wait no longer, and he broke in to see the work in progress. Viśvakarmā, true to his word, vanished, leaving behind the uncompleted forms of the three deities. The king was nevertheless so pleased with the wonderful forms of Kṛṣṇa, Balarāma, and Subhadrā that he decided to worship them as they were. He installed them in a temple and began worshiping them with great opulence.
Since that time, Śrīla Prabhupāda continued, Lord Jagannātha has been worshiped all over India, especially in the province of Orissa, where there is a great temple of Lord Jagannātha at Purī. Each year at Purī, during the gigantic Ratha-yātrā festival, millions of pilgrims from all over India come to worship Lord Jagannātha, Balarāma, and Subhadrā, as the deities ride in procession on three huge carts. Lord Caitanya, who spent the last eighteen years of His life at Jagannātha Purī, used to dance and chant in ecstasy before the Deity of Lord Jagannātha during the yearly Ratha-yātrā festival.
Seeing this appearance of Lord Jagannātha in San Francisco as the will of Kṛṣṇa, Prabhupāda said that they should be careful to receive and worship Lord Jagannātha properly. If Śyāmasundara could carve the forms, Prabhupāda said, he would personally install them in the temple, and the devotees could then begin worshiping the deities. San Francisco, he said, could be renamed New Jagannātha Purī. He chanted, jagannāthaḥ svāmī nayana-patha-gāmī bhavatu me. “This is a mantra for Lord Jagannātha,” he said. “Jagannātha means “Lord of the universe.’ “O Lord of the universe, kindly be visible unto me.’ It is very auspicious that He has chosen to appear here.”
Śyāmasundara bought three large blocks of hardwood, and Prabhupāda made a sketch and pointed out a number of details. Using the small statues, Śyāmasundara calculated ratios and new dimensions and began carving on the balcony of his apartment. Meanwhile, the devotees bought the rest of the tiny Jagannāthas from Cost Plus, and it became a fashion to glue a little Jagannātha to a simple necklace and wear Him around the neck. Because Lord Jagannātha was very liberal and merciful to the most fallen, Śrīla Prabhupāda explained, the devotees would soon be able to worship Him in their temple. The worship of the forms of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa in the temple required very high, strict standards, which the devotees were not yet able to meet. But Lord Jagannātha was so merciful that He could be worshiped in a simple way (mostly by chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa), even if the devotees weren’t very much advanced.
Prabhupāda set March 26, the appearance day of Lord Caitanya, as the day for installing the deities. The devotees would have a big feast and begin worshiping Lord Jagannātha. Prabhupāda said they would have to build an altar, and he told them how to prepare it.
While Śyāmasundara hurried to finish his carving, a small splinter lodged itself in his hand, and the wound became infected. Finally Śyāmasundara got blood poisoning and became so sick that he had to go to the hospital. Lord Jagannātha was taking away the reactions to Śyāmasundara’s previous sinful activities, Prabhupāda said.
On March 26, the appearance day of Lord Caitanya, Prabhupāda said that during the morning they would stay together in the temple, read about Lord Caitanya, and hold kīrtana, and in the evening they would have a ceremony for installing Lord Jagannātha. Having fasted until moonrise, they would then break fast with a prasādam feast.
When Śrīla Prabhupāda entered the temple that morning, he saw the work the devotees had done. The new altar stood in the rear of the room, above where his dais had been, and his dais was now on the right side of the room, against the wall. From his seat he would be able to see the altar very easily. The altar was a simple redwood plank seven feet above the floor and fixed between two thick redwood pillars. A canopy covered the place where the deities would stand. Below the altar hung Haridāsa’s painting of Lord Caitanya and His associates dancing during kīrtana, and behind the painting was a madras backdrop. About three feet above the floor, a shelf below the painting held candlesticks and would be used for articles to be offered to the deities.
Prabhupāda took his seat. As usual, he led kīrtana and then chanted one round of japa with the devotees. Then he had Hayagrīva read aloud from the biographical sketch of Lord Caitanya from the first volume of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. But many devotees were sleepy, despite Hayagrīva’s reading loudly with force and elocution. Although Prabhupāda was listening attentively and wanted the others to sit with him and hear about Lord Caitanya, when he saw that so many were dozing he stopped the reading and held another kīrtana. Then he chanted japa with them for about fifteen minutes.
“All right,” he said. “We will read again. Who will read?” Līlāvatī’s hand flew up urgently. “All right.” He had her sit near his dais, and someone placed a microphone before her. Līlāvatī’s reading presented a contrast to the deep tones of Hayagrīva. But she was another scholarly voice. Her careful pronunciation of the Sanskrit words and phrases was pleasing to Śrīla Prabhupāda, and he several times commented, “Oh, very nice.” Līlāvatī was thrilled and read on intensely, determined to keep everyone awake.
That evening, devotees and hippie guests filled the room to capacity. Prabhupāda was present, and the mood was reverential and festive. It was a special event. The just-finished deities sat on the altar, and everyone was glancing at them as they stood on their redwood shelf beneath a yellow canopy, their features illumined by spotlights. The deities wore no clothes or ornaments, but were freshly painted in bright black, red, white, green, yellow, and blue. They were smiling. Śrīla Prabhupāda was also glancing at them, looking up to their high altar.
Prabhupāda lectured about the four social and four spiritual orders of life described in the Vedic literatures. According to one’s quality and work, he said, each person has a certain occupational duty. “But the ultimate goal of that duty,” he explained, “is to satisfy the Supreme Lord.” It doesn’t matter if one is lowborn or poor. “Material qualification has nothing to do with spiritual evolution. Spiritual evolution is that with your talent, with your capacity, with your work, you have to satisfy the Supreme Lord.”
Prabhupāda gave the example of Śrīdhara, an impoverished devotee of Lord Caitanya’s who earned the equivalent of less than five cents a day yet offered half his earnings in worship of the Ganges. If one were rich, however, one should still give half his wealth to the service of the Lord. Prabhupāda cited Rūpa Gosvāmī, who had given fifty percent of his wealth for Kṛṣṇa consciousness, given twenty-five percent for his family, and saved twenty-five percent for emergencies. Suddenly Prabhupāda began speaking about the money his disciples in New York had lost: “And twenty-five percent for himself so that in times of emergency… because as soon as money is gone out of my hand, I have no control. We have recently lost $6,000-not here, in our New York. So as soon as the check is out of hand, now it is gone. It is gone…”
Prabhupāda gestured to indicate money flying like a bird out of his hand. At this reference to the troubling, entangling affair with Mr. Price and the foolish boys and their hard-earned money gone, Prabhupāda paused for a moment. Then he continued with the lecture.
“Paying attention to Bhagavān, the Supreme Person, is practical,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said. “Here is Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa’s form is there. Kṛṣṇa’s color is there. Kṛṣṇa’s helmet is there, Kṛṣṇa’s advice is there. Kṛṣṇa’s instruction is there. Kṛṣṇa’s sound is there. Everything Kṛṣṇa. Everything Kṛṣṇa. There is no difficulty.
“But if you turn your attention to the impersonal and to the Supersoul in the heart, as the yogīs do, then it is very difficult. It is very difficult. You cannot fix your attention to the impersonal. In the Bhagavad-gītā it is said that, kleśo ‘dhikataras teṣām avyaktāsakta-cetasām: “Those who are attached to the impersonal feature of the Absolute Truth-their business is very troublesome.’ It is not like chanting, dancing, and eating-this is very nice. But that is very troublesome. And even if you speculate on the impersonal, the result that is achieved by working hard for many, many lives is that you will have to also eventually come to Kṛṣṇa.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda continued describing Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, citing evidence from scriptures like Bhagavad-gītā and Brahma-saṁhitā. The first step in spiritual life, he explained, was to hear from Kṛṣṇa Himself. But Prabhupāda warned that if one heard the class and then went outside and forgot, he could not improve. “Whatever you are hearing, you should say to others,” Prabhupāda said. And he gave the example of how disciples were writing in Back to Godhead what they had heard from their spiritual master. And to speak or write what one has heard, a person has to be thoughtful…
“You are hearing about Kṛṣṇa, and you have to think. Then you have to speak. Otherwise, it will not work. So, śrotavyaḥ kīrtitavyaś ca dhyeyaḥ pūjyaś ca. And you should worship. Therefore, you require this Deity for worshiping. We have to think of, we have to speak, we have to hear, we have to worship (pūjyaś ca). And should we do this occasionally? No. Nityadā: regularly. Regularly. This is the process. So anyone who adopts this process-he can understand the Absolute Truth. This is the clear declaration of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Thank you very much. Any question?”
A young boy raised his hand and began earnestly: “Well, you mentioned about how we should follow the supreme law, how we should be like what your spirit tells you? Or what you, your supreme, whatever it tells you? I mean… whatever it tells you? I mean, if you meditate a lot, you feel you should do… something…”
Prabhupāda: “It is not something. It must be actual fact.”
Boy: “Yeah, I mean like…”
Prabhupāda: “So, there is no question of something.”
Boy: “Well, I see…”
Prabhupāda: “Something is vague. You must speak what is that something.”
Boy: “Well, let’s say, be… uh…”
Prabhupāda: “That you cannot express. That means you have no idea. So we have to learn. This is the process. I am speaking of the process. If you want to have knowledge of the Absolute Truth, the first thing is faith. Then you must be thoughtful. Then you must be devoted, and you must hear from authentic sources. These are the different methods. And when you come to the ultimate knowledge-from Brahman platform to Paramātmā platform, then to the Supreme Absolute Personality of Godhead-then your duty shall be to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is the perfection of your active life. These are the processes. And it is concluded that everyone, never mind what he is-his duty is to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“And how can we satisfy? We have to hear about Him, we have to speak about Him, we have to think about Him, we have to worship Him-and that is regularly. This will help you. But if you have no worship, if you have no thought, if you have no hearing, if you have no speaking, and you are simply thinking of something, something, some thing-that something something is not God.”
Boy: “I mean, well, you know, I’m so young. I didn’t know what I meant. I don’t know what…”
Prabhupāda: “Don’t know. That I am speaking-that you have to know by these processes. We are all “don’t knows.’ So we have to know. This is the process.”
Young woman: “Since we don’t yet understand the supreme law, because we are young and just new to this, then how can we speak about it?”
Prabhupāda: “Therefore you have to hear! The first thing is śrotavyaḥ: you have to hear. Unless you hear, how can you speak? We are therefore giving you facility to hear. You hear, and then you can speak. Then you can think. We are giving all facility to hear, to speak, to think, to worship. This is the Society’s work. Unless you hear, how can you speak? The first task is given śrotavyaḥ. Then kīrtitavyaś ca dhyeyaḥ pūjyaś ca nityadā. These are the processes. You have to hear. And hearing, you have to repeat, chant. And then you have to think. You have to worship. These are the processes.
Upendra: “Swamiji… so we have to hear, I understand. But do we speak, or do we first listen for a long time and then speak?”
Prabhupāda: “No. Why a long time? Suppose you hear two lines. You repeat that two lines. And aside from everything else, you hear Hare Kṛṣṇa. So you can chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. What is the difficulty there? Śrotavyaḥ kīrtitavyaś ca. You have to hear and chant. So if you cannot remember all the topics which we are speaking from the Bhagavad-gītā or Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, you can at least remember this: Hare Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, it is the easiest process. You hear Hare Kṛṣṇa and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. The other things will come automatically.
“Now, this is possible for everyone. Even the child can repeat Hare Kṛṣṇa. What is the difficulty? You hear Hare Kṛṣṇa and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. We are not giving you very difficult or troublesome task. Then everything will follow. We are giving you everything. But if you feel in the beginning it is difficult, then you can do this-this is very nice-chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. You are doing that, actually. Hearing and chanting-this process will help you. It is the basic principle of advancement in spiritual life. Without hearing, we shall simply concoct, waste our time, and mislead people. We have to hear from the authoritative sources.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda paused. The philosophical talk had been rigorous, lasting about forty-five minutes. He wasn’t tired-he could have gone on-but now he wanted to conduct the deity installation. Everything necessary for spiritual life was here: the temple, the devotees, the books, the Deity, prasādam. He wanted these young people to take advantage of it. Why should they remain living like animals and thinking of spiritual life as a vague groping for “something”? They should take advantage of Kṛṣṇa’s mercy and be successful and happy. And for this, Prabhupāda was their tireless servant.
Prabhupāda: “So, Hayagrīva? Come here.” Prabhupāda had had the devotees arrange for a large candle on a plate. The ceremony he had planned would be a simple one, with devotees and guests one after an other coming up and offering the flame in circles before the Jagannātha deities. “This should be lighted up,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said, “and when there is kīrtana, one must be doing like this before the Deity. [Śrīla Prabhupāda moved his hands around in a circle before the Deity.] You see?”
Hayagrīva: “Yes, yes.”
Prabhupāda: “Yes, with the kīrtana. And then when one person is tired he should hand it over to another person, devotee. When he is tired he should give to another-as long as the kīrtana will go on. This should be done with the kīrtana just now. Do you follow? Yes. You begin, and when you are tired you hand over to another. It will go on like that.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda, from his seat, guided Hayagrīva in approaching the Deity with the lit candle. Some of the girls tittered with nervous expectation. “Before the Deity,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said. “All right. Now better begin kīrtana.”
Prabhupāda began playing karatālas and singing the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra to the popular melody he had introduced in America. “Just in front,” he called out, gesturing to Hayagrīva to stand more directly before the deities. Devotees and guests began rising to their feet and dancing, arms raised, bodies swaying rhythmically back and forth as they faced the bright, personal forms of the deities and chanted. Colored lights within the canopy began flashing intermittently blue, red, and yellow, highlighting the extraordinary eyes of Lord Jagannātha, Subhadrā, and Balarāma. Mukunda, who had arranged the lights, smiled and looked to Swamiji, hoping for approval. Prabhupāda nodded and continued forcefully singing Hare Kṛṣṇa.
The young hippies were enthusiastic in singing and dancing, knowing that the kīrtana usually lasted an hour. Some had grasped the Swami’s words when he had spoken of fixing the mind on the personal form of the Supreme Lord; and they had understood when he had looked up at the deities and said, “Here is Kṛṣṇa.” Others hadn’t followed, but thought that it was just great and blissful to sing Hare Kṛṣṇa and look at the grinning, big-eyed deities up on the altar, amid the flowers and billowing incense.
Prabhupāda watched with pleasure as one person after another took a turn at offering the candle before Lord Jagannātha. This was a simple procedure for installing the Deity. Although in big temples in India the installation of the Deity was a complex, exact procedure, requiring several days of continuous rituals directed by highly paid priests, in San Francisco there were no brāhmaṇa priests to pay, and the many other standards would be impossible to maintain.
For non-Hindus to handle Lord Jagannātha and conduct His worship would be considered heresy by the caste-conscious brāhmaṇas of India. Except for Prabhupāda, none of the persons present would have been allowed even to enter the temple at Jagannātha Purī. The white man, the Westerner, was not allowed to see Lord Jagannātha except once a year as He rode in His cart during the Ratha-yātrā festival. But these restrictions were social customs, not the scriptural injunctions. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had introduced Deity worship and initiation for anyone, regardless of caste, race, or nationality. And Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī’s father, had longed for the day when the people of the West would mingle with their Indian brothers and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.
Śrīla Prabhupāda had come to the West to fulfill the desires and the vision of his spiritual master and of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura by creating Vaiṣṇavas among the Westerners. Now, if the Westerners were to become actual devotees, they would have to be given the Deity worship. Otherwise it would be more difficult for them to become purified. Śrīla Prabhupāda was confident in his spiritual master’s direction and in the scriptures. He had faith that Lord Jagannātha was especially merciful to the fallen. He prayed that the Lord of the universe would not be offended by His reception at New Jagannātha Purī.
When the kīrtana ended, Prabhupāda asked Haridāsa to bring him the candle. Prabhupāda passed his hands across the flame and touched them to his forehead. “Yes,” he said, “show everyone. Each and every one. Whatever they can contribute. Here, take it like this and show everyone.” He indicated that Haridāsa should present the candle before each person in the room so that all present could touch their hands to the flame as he had shown and then touch their foreheads. As Haridāsa went from person to person, a few devotees dropped some coins on the plate, and others followed.
Śrīla Prabhupāda explained further: “The Bhāgavatam has recommended hearing, chanting, thinking, and worshiping. This process which we just now introduced on the advent of Jagannātha Svāmī means that now this temple is now completely fixed. So this is the worshiping process. This is called ārati. So at the end of kīrtana, this ārati will go on. And the worshiping process is to take the heat of the light and, whatever your condition is, pay something for the worship. So this simple process, if you follow, you just see how you realize the Absolute Truth.
“Another thing I request you: All the devotees-when you come to the temple, you bring one fruit and one flower. If you can bring more fruit, more flower, it is very good. If not, it is not very expensive to bring one fruit and one flower. And offer it to the Deity. So I will request you, when you come to the temple you bring this. Whatever fruit it may be. It does not mean that you have to bring very costly fruit. Any fruit. Whatever you can afford. One fruit and one flower.”
He paused, looking around the room: “Yes, now you can distribute prasādam.”
The guests sat in rows on the floor, and the devotees began serving prasādam, offering the first plate to Prabhupāda. The food preparations were those Prabhupāda had personally taught the devotees in his kitchen: samosās, halavā, puris, rice, several cooked vegetables, fruit chutney, sweets-all the Sunday specials. The guests loved the prasādam and ate as much as they could get. While the devotees, especially the expert women, served more and more prasādam, the guests relaxed and enjoyed an evening of feasting and convivial conversation. After Prabhupāda tasted all the preparations, he looked up with raised eyebrows: “Very nice preparations. All glories to the cookers.”
A few minutes later, as the feasting continued, Śrīla Prabhupāda spoke into the microphone, “Jagannāthaḥ svāmī nayana-patha-gāmī bhavatu me. Howard, repeat this.”
Hayagrīva swallowed, cleared his throat, and spoke up: “Jagannāthah svāmī nayana-patha-gāmī bhavatu me.”
Prabhupāda: “Yes, this should be chanted. Jagannāthaḥ svāmī nayana-patha-gāmī bhavatu me.”
A boy asked what it meant. Hayagrīva replied, “Oh… uh, Lord of the universe, please be present before me.”
When Prabhupāda noticed an older, respectably dressed man leaving the room without receiving a feast plate, Prabhupāda became concerned: “Oh, why is he going away? Ask him to come.”
A boy ran after him, opening the temple door and calling, “Please don’t leave. Swamiji requests…”
As the man reentered the storefront, Prabhupāda requested, “Please, please, take prasādam.” And turning to the servers, he instructed, “Give him first.” And so the feasting continued beneath the altar of Lord Jagannātha and under the auspices of His servant, Śrīla Prabhupāda.
The next day, acting on a whim, the devotees took the Jagannātha Deity off the altar and carried Him to Golden Gate Park for a kīrtana. Within minutes, hundreds gathered in the meadow below Hippie Hill, dancing and chanting around Lord Jagannātha. After several hours, the devotees returned Him to the altar.
Prabhupāda disapproved: “The Deity should never leave the temple. The deities don’t go out to see the people, except on special occasions. They are not for parks for birds to drop stool on. If you want to see the deities, you have to visit them.”
Lord Jagannātha’s presence quickly beautified the temple. Devotees made garlands for Him daily. Jadurāṇī’s paintings of Lord Viṣṇu arrived from New York, and Govinda dāsī had painted a large portrait of Śrīla Prabhupāda, which now hung beside his seat. Devotees also put Indian prints of Kṛṣṇa on the walls. The lights flashing upon Lord Jagannātha made His eyes seem to pulsate and His colors move and jump, and He became a special attraction in the psychedelic neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury.
As Prabhupāda had requested, devotees and guests began bringing offerings before the altar of Lord Jagannātha. Hippies would come by and leave whatever they could: a stalk of wheat, half a loaf of bread, a box of Saltines, a piece of fudge, or candles, flowers, or fruit. Hearing that before using something for yourself you should first offer it to God, some hippies began bringing their new clothes and offering them with a prayer to Lord Jagannātha before wearing them. These hippies didn’t follow Lord Jagannātha’s instructions, but they wanted His blessings.
Each night, the devotees performed the ārati ceremony just as Prabhupāda had taught them, taking turns offering a candle before Lord Jagannātha. When the devotees asked whether they could add anything to the ceremony, Prabhupāda said yes, they could also offer incense. He said there were many more details of Deity worship, numerous enough to keep the devotees busy twenty-four hours a day; but if he were to tell them everything at once, they would faint.
Speaking privately in his room to one of his disciples, Prabhupāda said that during kīrtana in the temple he thought of Lord Caitanya dancing before Lord Jagannātha. He told how Lord Caitanya had traveled to Purī and danced before Lord Jagannātha in such ecstasy that He had been unable to say anything more than “Jag-, Jag-.” Lord Caitanya had been thinking, “Kṛṣṇa, for so long I wanted to see You. And now I am seeing You.” When Lord Caitanya had lived in Purī, as many as five hundred men at a time would visit Him, and every evening there would be a huge kīrtana with four parties, each with four mṛdaṅga players and eight karatāla players. “One party this side, one party this side,” Prabhupāda explained. “One party back side, one party front side. And Caitanya Mahāprabhu in the middle. They would all dance, and the four parties would chant, “Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa…’ That was going on every evening so long He stayed at Jagannātha Purī.”
The devotees understood that there was a great difference between themselves and Swamiji. He had never been a hippie. He wasn’t at home amid the illusion of Haight-Ashbury’s LSD, psychedelic posters, rock musicians, hippie jargon, and street people. They knew he was different, though sometimes they forgot. He spent so much time with them every day-eating with them, joking with them, depending on them. But then sometimes they would remember his special identity. When they chanted with him in the temple before Lord Jagannātha, he, unlike them, would be thinking of Lord Caitanya’s kīrtanas before Lord Jagannātha in Purī. When Lord Caitanya had seen Jagannātha, He had seen Kṛṣṇa, and His love for Kṛṣṇa had been so great that He had gone mad. Prabhupāda thought of these things to a degree far beyond what his disciples could understand-and yet he remained with them as their dear friend and spiritual instructor. He was their servant, teaching them to pray, like him, to be able to serve Kṛṣṇa: “O Lord of the universe, kindly be visible unto me.”
* * *
Govinda dāsī had a question for Swamiji. He had mentioned briefly that Lord Caitanya used to cry in separation from Kṛṣṇa and had once even thrown Himself into a river, crying, “Where is Kṛṣṇa?” She was unsure whether her question would be proper, but she waited for an opportunity to ask it.
One evening after the lecture, when Prabhupāda asked for questions and there were none, Govinda dāsī thought, “This is my chance.” But she hesitated. Her question wasn’t on the subject of his lecture, and besides, she didn’t like to ask questions in public.
“No question?” Śrīla Prabhupāda looked around. Govinda dāsī thought Swamiji seemed disappointed that there were no questions. He had said several times that they should ask questions and clear up any doubts. Again he asked, “Have you got any questions?”
Govinda dāsī: “Uh, well, could you tell about Lord Caitanya asking…”
Govinda dāsī: “… asking where is Kṛṣṇa?”
Govinda dāsī: “Could you tell about Lord Caitanya asking where is Kṛṣṇa and falling in the water? Or would that be not…”
Prabhupāda smiled. “Yes, yes. Very nice. Your question is very nice. Oh, I am very glad.
“Lord Caitanya-He was the greatest symbol of kṛṣṇa-bhakti, a devotee of Kṛṣṇa. So just see from His life. He never said that, “I have seen Kṛṣṇa.’ Never said, “I have seen Kṛṣṇa.’ He was mad after Kṛṣṇa. That is the process of Caitanya philosophy. It is called viraha. Viraha means “separation’… “separation’: “Kṛṣṇa, You are so good, You are so merciful, You are so nice. But I am so rascal, I am so full of sin, that I cannot see You. I have no qualification to see You.’ So in this way, if one feels the separation of Kṛṣṇa-“Kṛṣṇa, I want to see You, but I am so disqualified that I cannot see You’-these feelings of separation will make you enriched in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Feelings of separation. Not that “Kṛṣṇa, I have seen You. Finished. All right. I have understood You. Finished. All my business finished.’ No! Perpetually. Think of yourself that “I am unfit to see Kṛṣṇa.’ That will enrich you in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
“Caitanya Mahāprabhu displayed this-these feelings of separation. This is Rādhārāṇī’s separation. When Kṛṣṇa went from Vṛndāvana to His place, His father’s place, Rādhārāṇī was feeling in that way-always mad after Kṛṣṇa. So Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, Caitanya Mahāprabhu, took the separation feeling of Rādhārāṇī. That is the best way of worshiping Kṛṣṇa, becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious. So you know that Lord Caitanya fell on the sea: “Kṛṣṇa, if You are here. Kṛṣṇa, if You are here.’
“Similarly, the next devotees, Lord Caitanya’s direct disciples, the Gosvāmīs-Rūpa Gosvāmī, Sanātana Gosvāmī-they also, the same disciplic succession, they also worship Kṛṣṇa in that separation feeling. There is a nice verse about them.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda sang:
he rādhe vraja-devī ke ca lalite he nanda-sūno kutaḥ
śrī-govardhana-kalpa-pādapa-tale kālindi-vanye kutaḥ
ghoṣantav iti sarvato vraja-pure khedair mahā-vihvalau
vande rūpa-sanātanau raghu-yugau śrī-jīva-gopālakau*
“These Gosvāmīs also, later on when they were very much mature in devotional service-what were they doing? They were daily in the Vṛndāvana dhāma, just like a madman: “Kṛṣṇa, where You are?’ That is the quality.
“It is a very nice question.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda paused and uttered a thoughtful “Mmm.” He remained silent. They also remained silent, watching him. He sat cross legged on the black velvet pillow on the redwood dais. His hands were folded, his eyes closed. And he became overpowered by inner feelings of ecstasy. Although the simple devotees present could not know what was happening, they could see him enter a deep inward state. They could feel the atmosphere transform into awesome devotional stillness. They kept their eyes fixed on him.
A minute and a half passed. Śrīla Prabhupāda uttered another thoughtful “Mmm” and opened his eyes-they were filled with tears. He reached over and grasped his karatālas, which rattled in his hand. But he moved no further. Again he withdrew from external consciousness.
Another minute of silence passed. The minute seemed extremely calm, yet intense and long. Another minute passed. After almost four minutes, Prabhupāda cleared his throat and struck the karatālas together, beginning the slow rhythm. A devotee began the one-note drone on the harmonium. Prabhupāda sang: govinda jaya jaya gopāla jaya jaya/ rādhā-ramaṇa hari govinda jaya jaya, building the chanting to a lively pace. After about ten minutes the kīrtana stopped, and Prabhupāda left the room.
As the devotees rose and began their various duties-some leaving out the front door behind Prabhupāda and going to the kitchen, others coming together for conversation-they all knew that their spiritual master had been intensely feeling separation from Kṛṣṇa. They had no doubt that it was a deep ecstasy, because just by being in his presence during that long and special stillness they also had felt a glimmer of the same love for Kṛṣṇa.
* * *
On the invitation of his disciples, Śrīla Prabhupāda agreed to hold a kīrtana on the beach. On a Tuesday night, with no kīrtana or lecture scheduled in the temple, he got into the back seat of one of the devotees’ cars. About a dozen initiated followers and a couple of dogs got into other cars, and together they traveled to the beach. When they arrived, some devotees went running across the beach, gathering driftwood and building a fire in the shelter of a sand dune.
The late afternoon air was cool, and there was a seaside wind. Prabhupāda was dressed in a long checkered coat over a hooded sweatshirt. During the kīrtana he clapped and danced while the devotees joined hands, forming a circle around him. As the sun was setting, all the devotees faced the ocean, raising their arms and singing as loudly as they could, “Hariiiii Bol!” But with the surf pounding in on the coast and with the great expanse of windy air around them, their kīrtana sounded very small.
Gathering around the fire, the devotees buried foil-wrapped potatoes and foil-wrapped apples filled with raisins and brown sugar under the coals. It was their idea, but Prabhupāda was happy to comply with their ideas of California kīrtana fun.
Haridāsa and Hayagrīva had composed a song about the sage Nārada Muni, and they sang it for Prabhupāda.
Do you know who is the first eternal spaceman of this universe?
The first to send his wild, wild vibrations
To all those cosmic superstations?
For the song he always shouts
Sends the planets flipping out.
But I’ll tell you before you think me loony
That I’m talking about Narada Muni,
HARE KRISHNA HARE KRISHNA
KRISHNA KRISHNA HARE HARE
HARE RAMA HARE RAMA
RAMA RAMA HARE HARE
Prabhupāda laughed. He liked anything that had chanting in it. And he asked them to compose more such songs for their countrymen.
Walking together along the beach, they came upon an old, dilapidated Dutch windmill. “Mukunda,” Prabhupāda said, “you should approach the government and tell them that we will restore this windmill if they let us build a temple on this site.” Mukunda took it as a joke at first, but then he saw that Prabhupāda was completely serious. Mukunda said he would inquire about it.
Prabhupāda, in his oversized checkered coat buttoned up to the neck, was the beloved center of the devotees’ outing. After their walk, he sat with them on a big log, eating baked potatoes smeared with melted butter; and when he finished he threw his remnants to the dogs.
As the night grew dark, stars appeared high over the ocean, and the devotees stood close around Prabhupāda for a last kīrtana. Then, just as in the temple, they bowed down, and Prabhupāda called out the prayers to the Lord and the disciplic succession. But he ended: “All glories to the assembled devotees! All glories to the assembled devotees! All glories to the Pacific Ocean!”
They all laughed. Swamiji was doing what his disciples wanted: enjoying an evening kīrtana-cookout at the beach with them. And they were doing what he wanted: chanting the mahā-mantra, becoming devotees of Kṛṣṇa, and becoming happy.
* * *
Hayagrīva sat facing Prabhupāda, alone with Prabhupāda in his room. A few days before, Hayagrīva had shown Prabhupāda a play about Lord Caitanya he had found in the library, and Prabhupāda had said it wasn’t bona fide. So Prabhupāda decided to prepare an outline for a bona fide play and have Hayagrīva write it. “I will give you the whole plot complete,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said. “Then all you will have to do is execute it.”
Prabhupāda was in a relaxed, jolly mood, intent on relating the events of Lord Caitanya’s life. He had prepared an outline of twenty-three scenes, and now he wanted to expound each one. Hayagrīva had barely enough time to understand what Prabhupāda was about to do and almost no time to prepare himself for note-taking as Prabhupāda began describing the first scene.
“First scene,” he began, “is that people are passing on the road with saṅkīrtana, just as we do. There is a very nice procession with mṛdaṅga and karatālas and that bugle, and all people are doing saṅkīrtana in the ordinary way. We have to make a nice procession.
“The second scene shows Kali as decorated blackish with royal dress and very ugly features. And his queen is another ugly-featured lady. So they are disturbed. They will talk amongst themselves that, “There is the saṅkīrtana movement now, so how shall we prosecute our business in this Age of Quarrel, Kali-yuga?’ In that scene there will be in one corner two or three people drinking. The scene will be like that. The Age of Quarrel personified and his consort are sitting in the center. In one corner someone is taking part in drinking, and in another part somebody is illicitly talking of lust and love with a woman. In another section there is slaughtering of a cow, and in another section, gambling. In this way, that scene should be adjusted. And in the middle, the ugly man, Kali, and the ugly woman will talk that, “We are now in danger. The saṅkīrtana movement has been started. What to do?’ In this way, you have to finish that scene.
“Then the third scene is very nice-rāsa dance.”
Hayagrīva interrupted. He had some of his own ideas about what he called “the dramatic point of view.” “I think,” Hayagrīva said, strongly articulating his words, “this can apply for the whole world, in the sense that the names may be Indian but I think the exhibition you described of the assembly of Kali and his consort Sin and the exhibition of illicit sex and the slaughterhouse can all be from Western prototypes.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda said that he had no objection to Hayagrīva’s suggestion but that he didn’t want people to think he was singling out Westerners, as if they were the only ones who committed illicit sex. Hayagrīva was about to reply but decided that this was no time to quibble; Swamiji was eager to go on describing the pastimes of Lord Caitanya.
Prabhupāda: “Rāsa dance means Kṛṣṇa and Rādhārāṇī in the center and the gopīs are surrounding. You have seen that surrounding scene when they were dancing with us the other day in the park hand to hand?”
Hayagrīva: “Yes, yes.”
Prabhupāda: “So one Kṛṣṇa and one gopī-they are dancing. That should be the scene. Then the rāsa dance should be stopped, and Kṛṣṇa will talk with the gopīs. Kṛṣṇa will say to the gopīs that, “My dear friends, you have come to Me in the dead of night. It is not very good, because it is the duty of every woman to please her husband. So what your husband will think if you come in such dead of night? So please go back.’
“So in this way the gopīs will reply that, “You cannot request us to go back, because with great difficulty and with great ecstatic desire we have come to You. And it is not Your duty to ask us to go back.’ In this way, you arrange some talking that Kṛṣṇa is asking them to go back but they are insisting, “No, let us continue our rāsa dance.’
“Then when the rāsa dance is finished, the gopīs will go, and then Kṛṣṇa will say, “These gopīs are My heart and soul. They are so sincere devotees they do not care for family encumbrances or any bad name. They come to Me. So how shall I repay them? He was thinking, “How shall I repay their ecstatic love?’ So He thought that, “I cannot repay them unless and until I take up their situation to understand Me. But I Myself cannot understand Me. I have to take the position of the gopīs-how they are loving Me.’
“So with that consideration He took the form of Lord Caitanya. Therefore, Kṛṣṇa is blackish, and Lord Caitanya is the color of the gopīs. The whole life of Lord Caitanya is the representation of the gopīs’ love toward Kṛṣṇa. That should be painted in the picture of this scene. Do you have anything to ask?”
Hayagrīva: “This is His determination to incarnate as Lord Caitanya?”
Prabhupāda: “Lord Caitanya, yes.”
Hayagrīva: “In order to…?”
Prabhupāda: “In order to appreciate Kṛṣṇa in the form of a gopī. Just like I have got dealings with you. So you have got your individuality, and I have got my individuality. But if I want to study how you are so much obedient and loving to me, then I have to go to your position. It is very natural psychology. You have to paint in that way.”
Prabhupāda described and explained one story after another, most of them new to Hayagrīva. Hayagrīva couldn’t properly spell or even pronounce the names; he didn’t know who Lord Caitanya’s mother was or whether Nityānanda was a devotee. And when Prabhupāda told the story of Kṣīra-cora Gopīnātha, the Deity who stole condensed milk for His devotee, Hayagrīva got confused and thought Prabhupāda had said that Lord Caitanya had stolen the condensed milk.
Prabhupāda: “No. Oh. You did not hear? Caitanya, after seeing the Deity, He was sitting and seeing, and meantime Nityānanda Prabhu narrated the story how the Deity’s name became Kṣīra-cora Gopīnātha. You do not follow me?”
Hayagrīva groped, “Nityānanda?”
Prabhupāda: “Nityānanda was going with Lord Caitanya…”
Hayagrīva: “Nityānanda was narrating this to Lord Caitanya?”
Prabhupāda: “Yes, the Deity was known as Kṣīra-cora Gopīnātha. The story”-Prabhupāda repeated for the third time-“was narrated that formerly He stole one pot of condensed milk for His devotee.”
Hayagrīva: “Now, what direct relationship does this have to Lord Caitanya?”
Prabhupāda: “Lord Caitanya visited this temple. Anyone in those days going to Jagannātha Purī from Bengal had to pass that way. And on the way, the Kṣīra-cora Gopīnātha temple is there. So everyone used to visit. Formerly, Mādhavendra Purī also visited, and for him the Deity stole the condensed milk. From that time, the Deity is known as Kṣīra-cora Gopīnātha. That story was narrated to Caitanya Mahāprabhu. So while sitting before the Deity, the story was narrated, and Caitanya Mahāprabhu relished that God is so kind that sometimes He steals for His devotee. This is the significance. So here the scene should be arranged that it is a very nice temple, the Deity is within, and Lord Caitanya has entered while chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. And then He saw the worship, ārati. These things are to be shown in this scene. And a little story about Him, that’s all.”
When Prabhupāda told of Lord Caitanya’s visit to the Sākṣi-Gopāla temple, Hayagrīva again got lost. “Do you follow?” Prabhupāda asked.
“No,” Hayagrīva chuckled. “No.”
Eventually, Hayagrīva stopped asking questions and interrupting. Although he had very little knowledge of the identity or meaning of the characters, as soon as he had heard a little about them he had been trying to adjust and rearrange their activities from the “dramatic point of view.” Prabhupāda had raised no objections to Hayagrīva’s inquiries. In fact, Prabhupāda had invited them, so that Hayagrīva could understand how to present the play. Hayagrīva, however, decided to first try to hear what Prabhupāda was saying.
By the end of the first hour of their talk, Prabhupāda had narrated many scenes from the first half of Lord Caitanya’s life: His teasing the brāhmaṇas by the Ganges at age five, His civil disobedience movement against the Muhammadan magistrate, His accepting the renounced order at age twenty-four, His last meeting with His beloved mother, His traveling to Purī and touring South India, His meeting and instructing disciples like Sārvabhauma, Rāmānanda Rāya, and Rūpa Gosvāmī and Sanātana Gosvāmī.
Finally Prabhupāda’s morning schedule permitted him to go no further. It was time for him to bathe and take lunch. The next day they would meet again.
At the next session Hayagrīva listened more carefully, and the transcendental scenes came quickly, one after another. As Prabhupāda described each scene, speaking the words and thoughts of Lord Caitanya and His associates, Prabhupāda seemed to be seeing the scenes enacted before him. He especially became moved when he spoke of Lord Caitanya and Haridāsa Ṭhākura.
“The life of Haridāsa Ṭhākura,” Prabhupāda said, “is that he was born in a Muhammadan family. Some way or other he became a devotee, and he was chanting three hundred thousand times: “Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare.’ And Caitanya Mahāprabhu made him the ācārya, the authority of chanting. Therefore, we glorify him-nāmācārya Haridāsa Ṭhākura ki jaya-because he was made the ācārya, the authority of chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa.
“When Lord Caitanya took sannyāsa, Haridāsa Ṭhākura decided, “My dear Lord, You are leaving Navadvīpa. Then what is the use of my life? Either You take me or let me die.’
“So Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, “No. Why shall you die? You come with Me.’ So He took him to Jagannātha Purī. In Jagannātha Purī, because he considered himself born of a Muhammadan family, Haridāsa did not enter the temple. But Caitanya Mahāprabhu gave him a place at Kāśīnātha Miśra’s house. There he was chanting, and Caitanya Mahāprabhu was sending him prasādam. In that way he was passing his days. And Caitanya used to come and see him daily.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted a scene for the passing away of Haridāsa Ṭhākura.
Hayagrīva: “Is this the same Haridāsa the Muhammadans threw into the river?”
“Yes,” Prabhupāda said.
Then very casually Hayagrīva mused aloud, “So he finally met his end there in the fifth scene?”
Prabhupāda hesitated. Here again Hayagrīva revealed his lack of transcendental knowledge, talking as though Haridāsa’s passing away was the same as an ordinary man’s meeting his end.
“All right,” Hayagrīva cued him, “what is this particular incident?”
Prabhupāda: “The particular incident is significant. Caitanya Mahāprabhu was a brāhmaṇa, and He was a sannyāsī. According to social custom, He should not even touch a Muhammadan. But this Haridāsa Ṭhākura was a Muhammadan, and yet at his death He took the body Himself and danced. And He put him in the graveyard and distributed prasādam.
“Because Haridāsa was a Muhammadan, he did not enter the temple of Jagannātha Purī, because the Hindus were very strict. Haridāsa was a devotee, but he thought: “Why should I create some row?’ So Caitanya Mahāprabhu appreciated Haridāsa’s humble behavior. Although he had become a devotee, he was not forcibly going to the temple. But then Caitanya Mahāprabhu Himself was daily coming and seeing him. While going to take bath in the sea, He will first of all see Haridāsa: “Haridāsa, what you are doing?’ Haridāsa will offer his respect, and He will sit and talk for some time. Then Caitanya Mahāprabhu will go and take His bath.
“In this way, one day when He came He saw Haridāsa not feeling very well: “Haridāsa, how is your health?’
” “Yes, sir, it is not very… after all, it is the body.’
“Then the third day He saw that Haridāsa is going to leave his body today. So Caitanya Mahāprabhu asked him, “Haridāsa, what do you desire?’ Both of them could understand. Haridāsa said that, “This is my last stage. If You kindly stand before me.'”
Śrīla Prabhupāda became caught in the intense spiritual emotions of the scene, as if it were happening before him. He closed his eyes: “Mmm.” He stopped talking. Then he began again slowly, haltingly. “So Caitanya Mahāprabhu stood before him… and he left his body.” Prabhupāda sighed and became silent. Hayagrīva sat staring at the floor. When he glanced up, he saw that Swamiji was crying.
Prabhupāda quickly summed up a few last scenes and ended his outline. “Now you write,” he told Hayagrīva, “and I shall make some addition or alteration. This is the synopsis and framework. Now you can proceed.” Hayagrīva left the room. The material was lengthy, and whether he would ever write the play was doubtful. But he was thankful to have received this special discourse.
* * *
Sitting on a bridge table in the student lounge, chanting into a little microphone while his followers played their instruments, Prabhupāda began the kīrtana at Stanford University. At first there were about twenty students, but gradually more entered the lounge and gathered around. Everyone was chanting. Then suddenly the lounge became transformed, as more than two hundred Stanford students, most of them completely new to the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, danced and chanted with as much enthusiasm as the most uninhibited Haight-Ashbury crowd. Prabhupāda led the kīrtana for more than an hour.
In his talk afterwards he explained what they had all just experienced: “This Hare Kṛṣṇa dance is the best process for getting out of this illusion that “I am this body.’ Our Society is trying to distribute to the world the priceless gift of the Lord. You did not understand the words, but you still felt the ecstasy to dance.”
Prabhupāda took questions from the audience. Everything proceeded in a standard fashion until someone asked whether college students should respond to the military draft. Prabhupāda replied that since they had elected their own government, there was no use complaining if the government told them to go to war. But some of the students-the same students who had chanted and danced only minutes before-began to shout, “No! No!” Prabhupāda tried explaining his point, but they raised their voices in anger until the hall became a bedlam of shouting. Finally Śrīla Prabhupāda picked up his karatālas and began chanting again, and the dissenters left.
The next day, the Palo Alto Times ran a front-page story with headlines and a photo of the kīrtana.
Ancient trance dance features swami’s visit to Stanford
Hold on there a minute, all you “with it” people. There’s a new dance about to sweep the country. It’s called “the swami.”
It’s going to replace the frug, watusi, swim and even the good old barn stomp.
Why? Because you can do any old step to it and at the same time find real happiness. You can rid yourself of the illusion that you and your body are inseparable…
The chant started quietly but gained volume as more people joined in.
After half an hour, a long-haired youth with three strings of red beads around his neck stood up and began to dance to the music. He closed his eyes in ecstasy and held his hands palms up shoulder high.
Two girls soon followed him. One had a string of bells around her neck.
A bearded fellow with a fluorescent pink skull cap joined in, still beating on his tambourine.
The Swami cut in a microphone in front of him, and the added volume provoked others to chant and stomp more loudly.
A pretty girl in a sari danced as if in a hypnotic trance.
A short dark man neatly dressed in suit and tie threw off his shoes and joined in. A young math professor did likewise. A pretty, blond, 3-year-old girl rocked and swayed in one corner.
Suddenly most of the audience was dancing and chanting. The pace grew faster and faster. Faces streamed with sweat; the temperature soared.
Then it all stopped.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was pleased with the article and asked for some photocopies of it. “What are they calling the dance?” he laughed. “The Swami?” Across the top of the kīrtana photo he typed, “Everyone joins in complete ecstasy when Swami Bhaktivedanta chants his hypnotic Hare Kṛṣṇa.”
The devotees got Prabhupāda an engagement at a YMCA, where the audience consisted almost entirely of children. The devotees had decorated the hall with posters of Kṛṣṇa and had hung a big sign with the mahā-mantra on it. The children chanted along with Prabhupāda during kīrtana. Just before the lecture, Guru dāsa reminded him, “Maybe the talk should be simple, since they are all between nine and fourteen years old.” Prabhupāda nodded silently.
“Is there a student here who is intelligent?” Prabhupāda began. No one responded. After a moment a twelve-year-old boy, urged by his teachers and fellow students, raised his hand. Prabhupāda motioned for him to come forward. The boy wore thick glasses, short pants, and a blazer, and his hair was combed back very neatly. Pointing to the boy’s head, Prabhupāda asked, “What is that?”
The boy almost scoffed at the simpleness of the question: “My head!”
Prabhupāda then pointed to the boy’s arm and said quietly, “What is that?”
“My arm!” the boy said.
Prabhupāda then pointed to the boy’s foot: “What is that?”
“My foot,” the boy answered, still looking incredulous.
“Yes,” Śrīla Prabhupāda said. “You say this is my head, my arm, my foot-my body. But where are you?” The boy stood perplexed, unable to answer Prabhupāda’s simple question.
“We say my hand,” Śrīla Prabhupāda continued, “but who is the owner of my hand? We say my hand, so that means someone owns my hand. But where does the owner live? I do not say “I hand,’ I say “my hand.’ So my hand and I are different. I am within my body, and you are within your body. But I am not my body, and you are not your body. We are different from the body. Real intelligence means to know who I am.”
Haight-Ashbury’s Psychedelic Shop, a popular hippie gathering place, had extended to Prabhupāda many invitations to come and speak. After the Mantra-Rock Dance the hippies there had put a sign in the window: A Night of Consciousness. Also in response to the Mantra-Rock Dance, they had opened a meditation room in the rear of their store. But since the hippies at the Psychedelic Shop were almost always intoxicated, Prabhupāda’s followers had said that it wouldn’t be a good idea for Prabhupāda to go. But the hippies kept entreating. Finally the devotees relented, advising Prabhupāda it might be all right for him to go.
So one Saturday night, Prabhupāda and two devotees walked over to Haight Street, to the Psychedelic Shop. Young people crowded the streets: hippies sitting along the sidewalk selling hashish pipes and other dope paraphernalia; homosexuals; wildly costumed hippies with painted faces; small groups smoking marijuana, drinking, singing, and playing guitars-a typical evening on Haight Street.
At the Psychedelic Shop, marijuana and tobacco smoke hung heavy in the air, mingling with the smell of alcohol and bodies. Prabhupāda entered the meditation room, its ceiling and walls covered with madrases, and sat down. The room was full of hippies, many lying down, heavily intoxicated, looking up at him with half-closed eyes. He spoke in a low voice, but his presence somehow held their attention. Although lethargic, the group was appreciative, and after Prabhupāda had finished, those who were still conscious expressed their approval.
* * *
On Saturday, April 1, near the end of his stay in San Francisco, Prabhupāda accepted an invitation from Lou Gottlieb, head of Morning Star Ranch, a nudist hippie commune. Morning Star was a bunch of young people living in the woods, the devotees explained to Prabhupāda. The hippies there had spiritual aspirations. They grew vegetables and worshiped the sun. They would hold hands and listen to the air. And naturally they were involved in lots of drug-taking and free sex.
When Lou came in the morning to pick up the Swami, they talked, and Prabhupāda gave him a rasagullā (a sweet made of bite-sized balls of curd simmered in sugar water). After a few minutes together in Prabhupāda’s room, they started for Morning Star, sixty miles north of San Francisco.
Lou Gottlieb: I told Swamiji to fasten his safety belt. He said no. He said Kṛṣṇa will handle it, or something. So on the way out I was showing off all my vast erudition in having read a biography of Ramakrishna. That’s when Bhaktivedanta gave the best advice to the aspirant I ever heard. We were talking about Ramakrishna and Vivekananda and Aurobindo and this and that. So he said, “You know,” putting a gentle hand on my knee, “when you have found your true path, all further investigation of comparative religion is merely sense enjoyment.”
Situated in a forest of redwoods more than two hundred feet tall, Morning Star Ranch occupied what had once been an egg farm. Some of the land had been cleared for farming. There were a few tents, some unsubstantial little huts, a couple of tree houses, but the only decent, insulated building was Lou’s place, an old chicken house. The commune had about one hundred full-time members, with the number of residents rising to as many as three hundred on the weekends in warm weather, when people would come out to work in the garden or just walk around naked and get high.
Prabhupāda arrived at one in the afternoon on a beautiful sunny day. He first wanted to rest, so Lou offered his own house. Walking to Lou’s place, Prabhupāda noticed a few nude men and women hoeing in the garden. One of the workers, a short, stocky young man, Herbie Bressack, stopped his work in the garden and came to greet the Swami.
Herbie: Lou Gottlieb introduced us. We were planting potatoes at the time. He said, “This is Swami Bhaktivedanta.” I came out of the garden and shook Swamiji’s hand. I said, “Hello, Swami.” He asked me, “What are you doing?” I told him that I was just planting potatoes. He then asked me what I was doing with my life. I didn’t answer.
After resting for a few minutes, Prabhupāda was ready for the kīrtana. He and Lou went to a hilly pasture where the hippies had placed a wooden seat for Prabhupāda before a bower of wild flowers arranged like a bandshell. Prabhupāda took his seat and began chanting. The commune members, all of whom had been anticipating the Swami’s visit, gathered eagerly for the group meditation.
Mike Morissey: Some people had clothes on, some people didn’t. Some were dancing around. But Swamiji wasn’t looking at our bodies, he was looking at our souls and giving us the mercy we needed.
The kīrtana was well received. One of the members of the commune was so enthralled by the kīrtana that he decided to put on his clothes and go back to San Francisco with the Swami. Prabhupāda spoke very briefly, and then he prepared to leave, shaking hands and exchanging courtesies as he walked to the car.
Although Śrīla Prabhupāda hadn’t spoken much philosophy, his kīrtana left a deep impression on the hippies at Morning Star. While leaving he had told one of the young men, “Keep chanting this Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra here.” And they did.
Lou Gottlieb: The Swami was an extremely intelligent guy with a job to do. There was no sanctimony or holy pretention, none of that eyes- lifted-silently-to-the-sky. All I remember is just a very pleasant, incredibly safe feeling. There’s no doubt that the mahā-mantra-once you get the mantra into the head, it’s there. It never stops. It’s in the cells. It awakens the DNA or something. Shortly thereafter, half of the people at Morning Star got seriously into chanting. Those that did were extremely sincere God seekers. Their aspiration was a thousand percent sincere, considering the circumstances in which they were found. They were all dopers, that’s for sure, but they definitely gave that up once they got in touch with the mahā-mantra.
* * *
His top cloth wrapped loosely around his shoulders, Prabhupāda stood a last moment by the open door of the car and looked back in farewell to the devotees and the storefront temple. It was no longer a mere storefront but had become something worthy: New Jagannātha Purī. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī had asked him to come here. Who among his Godbrothers could imagine how crazy these American hippies were- hallucinating on drugs, crying out, “I am God!” So many girls and boys-unhappy, mad, despite their wealth and education. But now, through Kṛṣṇa consciousness, some were finding happiness.
The first day he had arrived the reporter had asked him why he had come to Haight-Ashbury. “Because the rent is cheap,” he had replied. His desire was to spread the movement of Lord Caitanya; why else would he have come to such a dilapidated little storefront to live next to a Chinese laundry and Diggers’ Free Store? The reporters had asked if he were inviting the hippies and Bohemians to take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. “Yes,” he had said, “everyone.” But he had known that once joining him, his followers would become something different from what they had been before.
Now the devotees were a family. If they followed his instructions they would remain strong. If they were sincere, Kṛṣṇa would help them. Lord Jagannātha was present, and the devotees would have to worship Him faithfully. They would be purified by chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and following their spiritual master’s instructions.
Prabhupāda got into the car, accompanied by some of his disciples, and a devotee drove him to the airport. Several carloads of devotees followed behind.
At the airport the devotees were crying. But Prabhupāda assured them he would return if they would hold a Ratha-yātrā festival. “You must arrange a procession down the main street,” he told them. “Do it nicely. We must attract many people. They have such a procession yearly in Jagannātha Purī. At this time the Deity may leave the temple.”
He would have to return, he knew, to tend the delicate devotional plants he had placed in their hearts. Otherwise, how could he expect these neophytes to survive in the ocean of material desires known as Haight-Ashbury? Repeatedly he promised them he would return. He asked them to cooperate among themselves-Mukunda, Śyāmasundara, Guru dāsa, Jayānanda, Subala, Gaurasundara, Hayagrīva, Haridāsa, and the girls.
Only two and a half months ago he had arrived here at this very terminal, greeted by a throng of chanting young people. Many were now his disciples, although just barely assuming their spiritual identities and vows. Yet he felt no compunctions about leaving them. He knew that some of them might fall away, but he couldn’t stay with them always. His time was limited.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, the father of two small bands of neophytes, tenderly left one group and headed east, where the other group waited in a different mood, a mood of joyful reception.
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