Who is Crazy? (Chapter 3)

The Hare Krishna Explosion
by Hayagriva das

Part I: New York, 1966
Chapter 3

Who is Crazy?

Twenty-six Second Avenue. Matchless Gifts. No doubt, to most New Yorkers, nothing more than the kind of squalid storefront someone might open a pawnshop in. What with traffic noise and our neighbors—Cosmos Parcels Express Corporation, Gonzalez Funeral Home, Weitzner Brothers Memorials, The Red Star Bar, and a Mobil gas station—no one would think it Vaikuntha. But for us, Matchless Gifts becomes a temple, a part of Vrindaban, because of Swamiji’s presence and the words spoken here.

Keith, Wally, and I rummage through the Mott Street apartment, gather souvenirs from the recent India trip—two rugs, a dozen paintings, three silk wall hangings, and two brass hookah tops—and take them to Second Avenue.

Then, unknown to Swamjji, we start decorating the Matchless Gifts storefront, turning it into a temple befitting Krishna’s messenger. That is, as far as we are able.

We lay down an Oriental rug and hang up the Indian paintings, silks, and a large painting of Radha Krishna rendered by Jim Greene. Then we construct a small dais under Jim’s painting. Before the dais, we place ornate plaster candlesticks, and beside these, within easy reach, we hang a large brass cymbal, the kind used in high school bands.

When Swamiji enters to begin evening kirtan, he looks with delighted surprise at the newly decorated temple. “Ah, you are advancing in Krishna consciousness!” he says. “This is very nice. This is Krishna consciousness.”

As Swamiji sits on the new dais, we all hold our breath, hoping that the shaking structure won’t collapse. He leads an unforgettable kirtan, reaching over at times with a stick to tap the big cymbal gently. Then, getting down from the dais, he shows us how to dance. This is something new and wonderful to see. Raising his arms, he places one foot before the other and dips slightly, gracefully, in rhythm to Hare Krishna. We follow him and dance in a circle. As the kirtan becomes more fiery, we strike the brass hookah tops with spoons.

The hypercritical, however, prefer the bare walls and floor. They resent the dais in particular, feeling that Swamiji shouldn’t he thus honored. “Why can’t he sit on the floor like us?” they complain. “Candles and incense! It’s the Catholic Church all over again.”

Little matter, for Swamji is pleased. “This is Krishna consciousness!” And we are pleased just to see him pleased. However modest, awkward, or unconventional, our little service rendered in love is accepted.

Swamiji is particularly delighted by two paintings we purchased in India. One is of the great monkey-devotee Hanuman carrying a hill to Lord Rama. Rama had requested Hanuman to fetch a certain herb that grew on a hill, and not being able to find it, Hanuman brought the entire hill.

“Hanuman is a monkey,” Swamiji tells us, “but he is also the topmost devotee of Lord Ramachandra.”

Another painting depicts an effulgent six-armed person standing with one leg crossed in front of the other, in Lord Krishna’s famous tribunga pose. Two green arms hold a bow and arrows; two blue arms hold up a flute; and two golden arms hold a staff and waterpot.

“Oh, very good,” Swamiji says, pleased. “Where have you purchased it?”

“Calcutta,” I say.

“Oh, this is very nice.”

“Who is it?”

“This is Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,” Swamiji says.

“But why does He have six arms?”

“Because He showed Himself to be Rama and Krishna. These are the arms of Rama, and these are the arms of Krishna.”

“And the other two?”

“They are the arms of a sannyasi, of Lord Chaitanya as the perfect devotee. “

“Then Lord Chalitanya followed you from Calcutta,” I note.

“It is no accident,” Swamiji says, looking reverently at the painting. “Of all the paintings in India, you have chosen this one. Why? Although you don’t remember, you were devotees in past lives. Now, out of mercy, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has come. This is most auspicious.”

Primarily, the lectures are now covering the first six chapters of Bhagavad-gita, delineating various yogas. What is perfection in yoga?

“Hatha-yoga, pressing your nose and sitting like a pretzel, is no longer possible,” Swamiji says. “In this age of Kali, men lead short lives full of ignorance and misery. There is no question of sitting quietly and trying to meditate to control the mind. As elevated as Arjuna was, he called this method most difficult. ‘The mind,’ he said, ‘is as hard to control as the wind.’ Nowhere in Bhagavad-gita does Krishna tell Arjuna to go to the forest and sit idly in some lotus position. No. That is not possible. We are naturally active, and spiritual life means activity according to dharma. Like Arjuna, we can be Krishna’s friend if we work for Him and keep our minds always fixed on Him. That is bhakti-yoga, the highest yoga—working for Krishna with devotion. Lord Chaitanya told His disciples, ‘Preach this gospel that I teach: Whomever you meet, just try to inform him about the message of Bhagavad-gita.’ If you just do this, you are the perfect yogi.”

“Why was it wrong for Arjuna to want to leave the battlefield?” Stanley asks after the lecture. “He was just trying to do what was right.”

“For the sake of his own sense gratification, Arjuna wanted to give up fighting,” Swamiji says. “He wanted to avoid fighting with his relatives. Materially, it appears very nice that Arjuna is giving up his claim for a kingdom in order to satisfy his relatives. For this, we would say that he is a very good man. But Krishna did not approve of this. Why? Because the basic principle was wrong: Arjuna had decided not to fight to satisfy his own senses. That is kama, lust, desire. Krishna speaks Bhagavad-gita to show Arjuna that his occupation as a warrior need not be changed or abandoned. But his consciousness must be changed from acting out of sense gratification to acting for Krishna.”

“But was it wrong for Arjuna to want peace?” Stanley asks.

“First you must know the real platform for peace,” Swamiji says. “People are always making plans for peace in the world, but they do not know the real peace formula. For the last twenty years or so, the United Nations has been trying for peace, but still war is going on. The formula is given in Bhagavad-gita: Bhoktaram yajna tapasam sarva-loka-mahesvaram: ‘I am the proprietor of everything, the ultimate beneficiary. Whatever you do, do it for Me.’ There can be no peace without recognizing Krishna as the true proprietor of everything.”

“But to find peace, don’t you have to believe that any kind of war is wrong?” Stephen Goldsmith asks. Mr. Goldsmith sits on a folding chair in the rear of the temple. He wears a suit and tie. He’s a young, dapper, up-and-coming Jewish lawyer, and he helped Swamiji incorporate the Society.

“Yes,” Swamiji says.

“But Bhagavad-gita teaches that there’s a good war and a bad war. That is, Krishna believed it was all right to kill the enemies of Arjuna because it was a righteous war.”

“Yes.”

“Well…” Mr. Goldsmith hesitates, uncertain of Swamiji’s position. “Well, if you have a philosophy like that, how can you find peace?”

“What do you mean by peace, then?”

“Absence of war.”

“Not necessarily,” Swamiji says. “Absence of war is not necessarily peace. Just think it over. Suppose there is no war. Do you think that everyone is peaceful? Ask any individual, ‘Are you at peace?’ Stopping war does not guarantee peace. There are incalculable things disturbing you, and war is just one. We have to be relieved of all disturbing factors by taking to Krishna consciousness.

“Well, how is that possible if Krishna Himself was a proponent of war?” Mr. Goldsmith persists. “Bhagavad-gita starts out with a war.”

“Yes, but that war was necessary. You cannot completely eradicate war from social life. Why does the government maintain an army and police force if they are not necessary for law and order?”

“Well, if you believe war is necessary, then that’s the end of the discussion,” Mr. Goldsmith says testily. “Because if you believe it’s necessary, then Krishna believes it’s necessary.”

“As far as material existence is concerned, so many things are necessary,” Swamiji says. “Material existence means janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi: birth, old age, disease, and death. These four items do not depend on war and peace. War or no war, your problem is these material entanglements. As long as there is human society, there will sometimes be war and sometimes peace. But the learned man sees that although he doesn’t want to grow old and die, there is still old age, disease and death. These are real problems. War is not the only disturbance. There may be excessive heat or cold, rain or drought. Maybe there will be some upheaval in the Atlantic Ocean, and this beautiful New York City will be swallowed up. There are so many natural disturbances, material problems, and as long as we have these material bodies, we have to face them. The complete solution is this Krishna consciousness. Bhagavad-gita does not say stop war; it says stop your repeated birth and death. Bhagavad-gita is not concerned with the war principle. There will be war as long as human society exists. How can you stop it?”

“Well, some people don’t believe that it’s necessary, Mr Goldsmith says.

“Some people may believe foolishly, but there has never been human history without war. So war will continue.”

“There’s never been a time in human history when everyone has accepted Krishna, either,” Mr. Goldsmith counters.

“If everyone were Krishna conscious, no one would be in this material world,” Swamiji says. “Then there would be no question of war. My point is that war is not the only disturbance. We have to make a complete solution to all disturbances by taking up this Krishna consciousness. Now let us have kirtan.”

Showing us how to practice Krishna consciousness, and making sure that we will not flee the battlefield, Swamiji engages us in many ways. Keith and Charles cook. Roy tends the tape recorder. Steve changes the plastic lettering on the windowfront sign announcing the lecture subjects. Stanley posts a warning on the bathroom wall: “If You Are Not Engaged, You Will Fall Into Maya.”

And by way of making sure we are engaged, Swamiji goes out to Long Island to look at some used mimeograph machines up for sale. The machines are the old stencil models, well used but still working. Swamiji purchases two at seventy-five dollars each.

Back on Second Avenue, I immediately start typing stencils for his essay “Krishna, The Reservoir of Pleasure.” We run off about a hundred copies, and Swamiji is pleased.

“We must begin our own publications,” he says. “There are many, many literatures. Our movement is founded on these literatures through the parampara, the disciplic succession from guru to guru. It is not that I just give my opinion. After all, what is my personal opinion worth? But these Vedic scriptures are the foundation, and they are encyclopedic. This is Just the beginning of our translations. We see so much nonsense on the newstands. Srimad-Bhagavatam says that such literatures are for crows because crows delight in eating stool and staying in nasty places. But these transcendental literatures are for the swans, the paramhansas. They are full of nectar, and the devotees draw knowledge from them just as swans sip nectar from lotuses. They are the special gifts of Srila Vyasadeva, of Krishna Himself.”

The First Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, printed in India, fills three large volumes.

“This is the shortest canto,” Swamiji tells us. “You can see that volume two is bigger than volume one, and volume three is bigger than two. Srimad-Bhagavatam is like that. It is expanding. It will fill over sixty volumes when we finish the twelve cantos.”

A press photo shows Swamiji presenting the three volumes to the late Prime Minister Shastri. I recall the January morning on the freighter, returning from India, when news broke of Shastri’s death, just a year and a half after he had written:

Dear Swamiji. … Many thanks for your letter. I am indeed grateful to you for presenting a copy of Srimad-Bhagavatam to me. I do realize that you are doing valuable work. It would be a good idea if the libraries in the government institutions purchase copies of this book. Yours sincerely, Lal Bahadur Shastri.
And what unique, transcendental books, these three volumes! The dust jacket reveals the universe, the spiritual sky beyond, and the original spiritual planet, Goloka Vrindaban, which resembles a lotus whorl. In the center stands blue-tinged Lord Krishna, playing a flute and enjoying His abode. On His shoulder leans Radharani, His beloved, and in the background cows graze beneath trees that yield whatever one desires. Lord Chaitanya and His devotees dance and play drums jubilantly, and cowherd girls (gopis) cluster around Krishna in the forests.

This topmost Vaikuntha planet radiates a spiritual effulgence known as the brahmajyoti, destination of the impersonalists. Within this brahmajyoti float unlimited spiritual planets dominated by Krishna’s various expansions, all four-handed Narayana forms: Madhusudan, Sridhar, Vasudeva, Pradyumna, Samkarsan, and others.

In one section of this boundless spiritual sky is found the entire material manifestation, within which lies a great four-handed Vishnu expansion. As this Vishnu breathes, universal globes flow from the pores of His skin and scatter like bubbles across the causal ocean. Inside each of these globes, Vishnu reclines on a couch provided by the coiled Sesha serpent. From the great Vishnu’s navel sprouts a lotus stem, out of which Brahma, the first created being, appears. It is Brahma who is directly empowered to create the countless demigods, men, planets, suns and moons that fill our known material universe.

Thus the complete creation is presented on the cover of Swamiji’s Srimad-Bhagavatam, printed by Swamiji himself in New Delhi in 1962. The volumes are dedicated to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, Swamiji’s spiritual master: “He lives forever by his divine instructions, and the follower lives with him.”

The brief biography on the dust jacket tells us all we know of Swamiji’s previous life:

Abhay Charan De, a young (26) manager of a big business firm in Calcutta, met His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati in 1922. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta liked this educated young man and injected in him the idea of preaching Lord Chaitanya’s message all over the world. He was formally initiated in 1933 at Allahabad, where he had his own business. In 1936, just a fortnight before leaving this mortal world, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta specifically ordered Abhay to take up the work through the medium of the English language. In pursuance of’ this order, Abhay Charan De started an English fortnight magazine Back to Godhead (1944). The Vaishnava Society recognized him as Bhaktivedanta in 1947. In 1950, he left his Calcutta home to live apart from his family, and in 1954 he became vanaprastha, completely retired from family life. In 1959, he took sannyas, and since then he is known as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, fully engaged in the discharge of the responsibility ordered by his spiritual master, although he is now sixty-eight years of age (1964).
Two drawings depict the transformation of Abhay Charan De to Swami Bhaktivedanta. It is quite a metamorphosis. With his black hair and moustache, Abhay Charan reminds me of an enterprising Calcutta shopkeeper. But that is just exterior. Could there really have been an interior change? Whatever his activities as a householder, it is hard to think of Swamiji as ever being a worldly man.

“Before writing these books, I never really wrote before,” Swamiji tells me. “I wondered, ‘How will I do it?’ So I just sat down and repeated what I had heard from my spiritual master. I did not invent. If I’m satisfied, it is because I have delivered the message as it is, without any concoctions. But as for writing—” He laughs. “It is all the mercy of my spiritual master, who is your grand spiritual master. He was such a scholar, such a transcendental aristocrat, a Vaikuntha man. He never married. Eternal brahmachari. It is he who is inspiring us. He once said, ‘Don’t build temples in this age. Print books.’ Books were very important to him, for by them we can spread this movement most effectively. Perhaps a modern gentleman may not want to visit a temple, but he will want to buy a book.”

Of course, many of the visitors to Matchless Gifts have their own conceptions of what a swami should be. Some think he should sit in lotus position and meditate. Swamiji sits on the floor with one leg comfortably tucked under the other, a very natural way to sit. It makes the formal lotus position seem pretentious and unnatural. As for hatha-yoga meditation, Swamiji sometimes jokes, imitating the yogic posture by drawing himself up straight, head high in the air, eyes closed. “I am moving the sun. I am moving the moon,” he says.

Everyone laughs while he holds the pose; then Swamiji laughs and breaks the spell. “Just see what nonsense,” he says. “The last snare of maya is to think, ‘I am God. I control all.’ But these rascal yogis claim this, and so cheat the innocent public.”

No names are mentioned, but afterwards Charles tells me that he was referring to certain “uptown yogis.”

“I am moving the sun. I am moving the moon. But when I get a toothache, I run to the doctor, crying, ‘Ooooh, help me!’ Now, what kind of God is this?”

And some visitors think that a swami shouldn’t use tape recorders. “We are using typewriters, dictaphones, tape recorders so much in the service of Krishna. Yes, these are material when used for ourselves, but when used for Krishna, they become spiritualized. For ourselves we can use nothing, but for Krishna, everything. That is the difference. It is our consciousness that determines whether this tape recorder is material or spiritual.”

“Then why do we call anything material?” Roy asks.

“For one who has attained the higher stage of spiritual realization, there is nothing material,” Swamiji says. “As stated in Bhagavad-gita, everything is seen as Brahman. Still, Krishna speaks of His superior and inferior energies. How is this? Without the touch of spirit, matter cannot work. Therefore it is said to be inferior. But in a higher sense, it is not inferior, because it emanates from the Supreme. You cannot separate the energy from the Energetic. Sakti-saktimatayor abheda. The energy and the Energetic are nondifferent. Electric energy, generated from an electric powerhouse, can give us a cold refrigerator or a hot stove. One who knows the nature of electricity knows that the same energy is working, whether hot or cold , inferior or superior. So, on the platform of knowledge, there is no distinction between matter and spirit.”

When typing in the room where Swamiji takes prasadam, I move the typewriter with my leg.

“Oh no!” Swamiji says. “Don’t let leg touch!”

I’m surprised and even a little annoyed. After all, why is my leg any less spiritual than the typewriter?

“You mean the typewriter is spiritual and the body isn’t?” I ask.

“This material body is like an embarrassment for the soul, Swamiji explains. “It becomes spiritualized only by rendering service. In Krishna’s service, there are many offenses to avoid, and the spiritual master tells us what they are. Otherwise, we have no way of knowing.”

Day by day, instance by instance, Swamiji lets us know what’s offensive.

I can’t resist trying to correlate his teachings with other philosophies and literatures. This undesirable, speculative tendency comes from eighteen years of American schooling.

Rabindranath Tagore, I find out, was also a “womanizer.” Nor does Swamiji like Hart Crane’s “white wings of tumult” depiction of the bridge of consciousness. “It’s not tumult,” he says, and drops the subject. Emerson? “He may think like that, but who is he to say?” Whitman? “Sentimentalism.” Kahlil Gibran? “Pictures of naked people,” he says, making a face. “Poets and artists are generally passionate.” William Blake? “More naked people.” But he approves Blake’s verse:

God appears, and God is light
To those poor souls who dwell in night,
But doth a human Form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.
Swamiji has a small record player someone gave him, but no records. Thinking he would like to hear some music, I browse through my record collection and finally choose sitar ragas performed by Ravi Shankar—preferable, I suppose, to Bach, or the Beatles.

When the sitar begins to play, Swamiji smiles a little, and I assume that he’s pleased. He sits through the twenty minute raga without speaking. When it is over, I wonder whether to play the other side.

“How did you like the music, Swamiji?” Stanley asks.

“That is sense gratification music,” Swamiji answers.

“Oh?” I’m taken aback. “But it’s Ravi Shankar,” I protest.

“It is sense gratification music,” he repeats, unmoved.

“But it’s a raga,” I insist, flustered. “They play it even in temples.”

“Ravi Shankar is a businessman,” Swamiji says, smiling.

“What if he wanted to become a devotee?” Roy asks.

“Then he can come.”

“But weren’t you a businessman once, Swamlji?” Stanley asks.

“Because I went naked then, I should go naked now?” Swamiji answers, still smiling gently, as if amused by all the fuss.

“Everything’s sense gratification,” I pout angrily. “We can’t even play ragas! What are we supposed to do?”

“You must understand,” Swamiji says patiently. “If you are a musician, you can play your music for Krishna. That’s all right. Arjuna was a warrior, and he fought for Krishna, and that was his perfection. If you are a writer, you can write for Krishna; or a painter, you can paint for Krishna. Whatever you want, you can do. But don’t do it for your own sense gratification. Do it for Krishna. Not the work, but the consciousness must be changed.”

“And what about sex?” asks Stephen Goldsmith during the post kirtan question period. After the exchange over the war issue, Mr. Goldsmith has not been so friendly with Swamiji. His even mentioning sex surprises us.

“Sex only with wife,” Swamiji says. “And even that is restricted. Sex is meant for the propagation of Krishna conscious children. My Guru Maharaj used to say that if he could beget Krishna conscious children, he would have sex a hundred times. Yet this is so difficult in this age that he remained brahmachari, celibate.”

“But sex is a very strong force,” Mr. Goldsmith protests, not letting the subject drop. “What a man feels for a woman is undeniable. “

“Therefore there is the institution of marriage,” Swamiji says. “So you can get yourself married and live peacefully with one woman. But the wife should not be used as a… a machine for sense gratification. Sex life must be regulated.”

‘What do you mean by regulated?”

‘Only with wife,” he says. “For children.”

“But what if you don’t want children, or if you have enough children? Are there any other restrictions?”

“Yes,” Swamiji says, then falls silent. We wait, but he says nothing more, apparently not wanting to discuss the matter in more detail.

“I’m not ready to have children,” Mr. Goldsmith persists. “But this doesn’t mean that I’m prepared to give up sex.”

“No,” Swamiji says. “Restriction there must be. It is not that we’re to go to sex like cats and dogs. Sex should be restricted to once monthly to beget nice children.”

“Once monthly?!”

“Easier to forget the whole thing,” I say.

“Accha! That’s it!” Swamiji says. “Best not to think of it. Best just to chant Hare Krishna. Then we are saved so much botheration. Sex is like an itch; when we scratch, it gets worse. So we must tolerate it, and ask Krishna to help us. We must understand that sex life is the highest material pleasure, and therefore the strongest bond to material life, to rebirth in the material world. Therefore Krishna tells Arjuna: Avritam jnanam etna jnanino nitya-vairna kama-rupena kaunteya duspurenanalena ca. ‘A man’s pure consciousness is covered by his eternal enemy in the form of lust, which is never satisfied, and which burns like fire.’ Krishna uses the word kama, lust, what we call sex life. That is all that keeps us from Krishna consciousness.”

Stephen Goldsmith shakes his head, and Swamiji looks at him, smiling, as if to say, “Is there still a problem?”

“It’s just that… well, it’s been proved dangerous to repress the sex drive. There’s a theory that we have wars because—”

“People are eating meat,” Swamiji interjects. “We will have wars as long as people eat meat. And if a man eats meat, he will be sure to have illicit sex also.”

Blam! Blam! Hit with double-barreled blasts, Mr. Goldsmith quietly puts on his hat and walks out the door.

After the meeting, the sexual regulations are much discussed.

“He can’t expect us to give up sex,” someone says. “He’ll chase everyone away with that philosophy.”

“He didn’t say we have to give it up,” Roy says.

“Once a month! Same thing.”

“You mean I have to have a kid every time I want sex?” a girl complains. “Forget it!”

“I thought Krishna was the God of love,” someone says. “Where does He say not to have sex?”

“What Swamiji said was very basic,” Wally says. “All gurus discourage sex, don’t they? It’s like telling a kid not to wet his pants.“

Admitted. We’re not even in spiritual kindergarten. But America now rides the crest of the Sexual Revolution, and renouncing sex is like fasting at the feast. One by one, we take our questions to Swamiji. Although answering us very patiently, he doesn’t budge from his position.

“Just know that you are drowning in the ocean of material sense enjoyment,” he tells us. “This Bhagavad-gita is like a good boat, and the spiritual master is like a good captain, and the Hare Krishna maha-mantra is like a good breeze. So you should take advantage of so many auspicious things and cross that ocean. When you surrender to Krishna, the material ocean is no more than rain water in the hoofprint of a calf.”

“George Bernard Shaw wrote one book,” Swamiji says, “called You Are What You Eat.”

He smiles, then laughs. “You Are What You Eat.” He likes the title, repeats it. “That is a fact.”

We imagine people eating pigs, frogs, shrimp.

“And Mr. Shaw was a vegetarian,” he says. “A very famous playwright, no?”

“Yes,” I assure him. “Very famous.”

“But we are not vegetarians just for the sake of being vegetarian,” he says. “We are vegetarians because Krishna says, ‘Offer Me some fruit, some grains.’ He does not say to offer Him meat. If He says, ‘Offer Me some meat,’ we will do so, but He doesn’t. So we eat only fruits and vegetables, grains and milk. That is sufficient.

Otherwise we have no interest in vegetarianism.”

There is no knowing what opinion he might hold on world affairs. “India was better run under the British,” he says. “They were very clever administrators. And Lord Mountbatten was cleverest of all. He saw the friction existing between Hindus and Moslems, and so he partitioned India—East Pakistan and West Pakistan. Even today this is causing trouble. Pakistan will start the next great war.”

Civil rights marches, Negro riots: “What is this nonsense? People are thinking, ‘I am black, white, red, yellow.’ All this is skin disease. False designations. I am not this body. What am I? Aham brahmasmi: I am Brahman, spirit soul. Since this knowledge is lacking, they are fighting like cats and dogs, and they will continue until they transcend their skin disease and understand that they are spiritual sons of Krishna, eternally His parts and parcels.…

NASA’s space programs: “They are trying to reach the moon and other higher planets by material means. Impossible. They will not be permitted entry. You must qualify spiritually to go there. Just as you require a visa to enter another country, a spiritual visa is required there. According to the Vedas, the moon is a higher planet where demigods live in advanced civilizations.”

“Then why don’t they come here?” I ask.

“Why should they?” he responds, surprised. “This is a middle planet. The demigods are enjoying themselves in the heavenly planets. Why should they come to an inferior place?”

Sometimes in the morning, Swamiji glances over a newspaper. Within one hot August week there are typhoons in Japan, landslides in Ecuador, a heat wave in Texas, a bus crash in Germany, floods in Bulgaria, volcanic eruptions in Java, fires in California, a hurricane in Cuba, riots in Nagaland, and escalated bombings in Vietnam, all killing scores of people.

Krishna calls this mrityu-loka, the planet of death, Swamiji says. “When Maharaj Yudhisthir was asked what was the most wonderful thing in the world, he replied, ‘Every day everyone sees death coming to others, yet everyone is thinking, “Death will not come to me.”‘ We search for peace here, but there is none. Peace is in Vaikuntha, the spiritual sky. Vaikuntha means ‘without anxiety.’ In Vaikuntha there are no fires or floods, nor wars, nor death. But here, death is staring at us every moment. Just as college students prepare for their final examination, we must prepare for the examination at death. Whatever we do for perfection will be tested at the time of death. If we pass that exam, we are transferred to the spiritual world.”

Abortion, birth control: “They are killing the baby in the womb. How cruel! In this age of unwanted population, man is losing his compassion. When you kill a living entity, even an ant, you are interfering with its spiritual evolution, its progress. That living entity must again take on that same life form to complete its designated life term in that body. And the killer must return to pay for damages.…

Proliferating nuclear tests: “Let these scientists solve the problems of birth, old age, disease, and death. But this they can’t do. Instead they create big bombs to destroy everything out of frustration. This is their solution: Accelerate death. Such people are called demonic in Bhagavad-gita. Anyway, these atomic bombs are not new. In previous ages, men were so advanced that they could deliver the brahmastra nuclear weapon by chanting mantra only. The shabda vibration itself would destroy. Now they labor hard with these mechanical rockets. And they think they are advancing.…

Swamiji wants me to write down the meaning of Krishna consciousness for an ISKCON prospectus.

“But I don’t understand enough,” I protest.

“That’s all right. Whatever you are understanding.”

Back on Mott Street, I jot down my conceptions of Krishna consciousness, trying to think of what would please Swamiji and at the same time relate his teachings to more familiar Western philosophy. After hours of writing and rewriting, I take my attempt to Swamiji, hoping it’s not too Western.

He reads it quietly, then smiles.

“Very nice,” he says. “We will print this up.” He then writes additional material on the back of the page.

“Now you may type this,” he tells me, “and we’ll send it to the printers. I have added some additional purposes of the Society.” I read the main goals of ISKCON: To spread the spiritual knowledge of Bhagavad-gita around the world through the sankirtan movement of Lord Chaitanya, to bring mankind to consciousness of Krishna and thereby attain peace, and “to erect a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the personality Krishna.”

Before I take the prospectus to the printer, Swamiji hands me another sheet of paper with his now familiar round handwriting. “Add this also,” he says. “Is It all right?”

I read a Sanskrit invocation, then:

Throughout the world let there be one scripture, the Bhagavad-gita, sung by Sri Krishna. Let there be one God only, Sri Krishna. Let there be one hymn for chanting, Hare Krishna. And let there be one occupation, the transcendental loving service of Krishna. Let the United Nations take up this cause and bring about real peace in the world. It is sublime and easy.
“Bhagavad-gita was not spoken for a limited circle of people,” he tells us. “No. Like the sunshine, it is for everyone. The same sun shines in America and in India. You cannot say, This is an American sun,’ or, ‘This is an Indian sun.’ Although I am a foreigner, I see that the same sun and moon are here, the same clouds and trees are here. So why should I think of myself’ as a foreigner? Nobody is a foreigner in God’s kingdom; everyone is a brother, everyone is under God’s sunshine. The ultimate Father is the Supreme Lord. Even the animals are our brothers. Do we have the right to kill them because they are different? When we come into the sunshine of Krishna consciousness, we can see that everyone has a right to that sunshine. This is universal brotherhood. But as long as we stay in darkness, we say, ‘This is my room. That is your room.’ We should go outside, into the sunshine of Krishna consciousness, where there is no scarcity, and where we can live happily together with full faith in Krishna.”

From the New York University library, I compile addresses of major colleges. For hours I type up manila folders. We fill them with ads for Srimad-Bhagavatam, the new prospectus, and Prime Minister Shastri’s recommendation.

Then we mail off about three hundred fat manila folders to college libraries, offering them the three volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam for a mere eighteen dollars.

Nary a college responds. We lose about fifty dollars in stamps.

And Swamiji is most frugal, even with stamps. He keeps a small postage scale for weighing letters. He never uses two pages when one will do. He never puts one extra cent on an envelope.

“When I arrived in your country last year,” he tells us, “I had only one suitcase, one pair of kartals, and seven dollars. And all these books.”

Thinking of his initial difficulties, Swamiji shakes with laughter.

“If Krishna wants, money will come,” he says. “Why labor hard like an ass, like a beast of burden, to gratify these senses? This is not the purpose of human life. Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, attends the lotus feet of Narayana, Krishna. And Krishna is maintaining so many millions and millions of living entities throughout the universe. Do you think He will feed everyone except His devotees? No. Money will come without hard struggle. Just like happiness and distress. We do not look for distress, but it comes. Similarly, happiness comes. We do not have to search independently for it.”

Lessons in transcendental economics: Krishna will preserve what His devotee has, and bring what he lacks. Swamiji never hoards money. What little he gets in donations is immediately spent on spreading Krishna consciousness.

“They say that when Ramakrishna saw money, his hand would curl away from it,” Swamiji says, curling up his hand. “But a Vaishnava says, ‘Oh, some money! Very good!’” Swamiji opens up his palm and smiles. “‘I can use this money for Krishna. I can build a temple or distribute books about Krishna.’ Yes, that is proper use of money. Everything belongs to Krishna. If we find money in the street, we should not let it lie or spend it on ourselves. No. We should return it to its rightful owner. That is the proper use of money. And when Krishna sees that we are using money properly for His glorification, He sends more. After all, He is the husband of the goddess Lakshmi. Money is Lakshmi.”

The hot days of August pass slowly. Whenever we tend to drift into torpidity, Swamiji quickly propels us into action. “Renunciation alone is not enough,” he tells us. “One must also work for the Absolute Truth. We can choose to serve Krishna or maya, illusion, but service is always there. If you do not serve God, you will end up serving some dog.

“The eternal living entity is the enjoyed, Prakriti, and Krishna is the enjoyer, Purusha. It is the nature of the female to be enjoyed, the male to enjoy. But in reciprocation, both experience enjoyment: Prakriti in being dominated, in serving, in being enjoyed.…

“Ramakrishna worshipped goddess Kali as the Absolute. But God is not female. That conception is lusty. Being too fond of women, rascals try to concoct some female god, calling their wives or some prostitute the ‘Holy Mother,’ and carrying on with their sex enjoyment. But God is always male. God is Krishna.

“And in India there are others, most abominable, called sahajias, who think themselves Krishna and perform their so-called rasa-li1a with young girls. That is most depraved. Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur taught one sahajia a lesson in his time. Srila Bhaktivinode is your great-great spiritual master, the father and spiritual master of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. Bhaktivinode was a big family man with many children, and he was a government minister also. So he chastised one such sahajia who could make sparks fly—some showbottle yogi who was corrupting young girls in the name of religion. Bhaktivinode Thakur saw that he was sent to prison, and the sahajia committed suicide while in prison.…

“We cannot imitate Krishna’s pastimes with the gopis any more than we can imitate His lifting Govardhan Hill. First, lift Govardhan Hill; then you can dance with the gopis. Or drink an ocean of poison like Lord Shiva; then you can smoke ganja.

“Our artificial attempts to enjoy like God in this material world are doomed to frustration, like two women trying to enjoy without a man. For real enjoyment, Krishna, the reservoir of pleasure, must be there.”

Many of the evening lectures, delivered on the Second Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, stress that we are not these bodies but Brahman, spirit. “Your material situation is not important,” we’re told. “What is important is that you establish yourselves immediately in spiritual life. The spiritual man sees the Supreme Lord everywhere, at every moment, in every living being. Because he loves Krishna, he has this vision. He does not see cows, or men, or women, or fools. He sees only the Supreme Lord. Others may see him as penniless, but he knows that he’s the happiest, richest man in the world.

“When Krishna appeared in this world, He showed His activities just to attract us. ‘Oh, you are frustrated in friendship? Come on, make friends with Me. Oh, are you frustrated in getting a good master? Come on, serve Me. Are you frustrated in the love of your sons? Oh, take Me as your son.’ In this world, we are always being frustrated in our relationships. We expect something from our friends or children, but they disappoint us, or grow up and go their own way. But Krishna will be the perfect friend, or the most obedient son, just as when He played that part with Mother Yasoda. Similarly, if you are disappointed in love, accept Krishna as your husband or lover. You’ll never be frustrated. That is the whole philosophy: Whatever you desire, you can have in relation with Krishna. With Krishna, you will never be cheated. You will be perfectly happy.“

As we listen, we hardly notice that he is making us Krishna conscious bit by bit, day by day, despite our past karma and mental attitudes.

“A man in Krishna consciousness does not walk around in a fog,” he tells us. “No. He works well and with the touch of an expert. When one enters Krishna consciousness, he becomes a poet and writes hymns to God.”

Instead of railing at the evils of sex and intoxication, or criticizing our bad habits, Swamiji engages us in specific daily duties related to Krishna.

“The perfection of yoga is to see Krishna everywhere. Yet, even though the devotee sees Krishna everywhere, he still worships the Lord in the temple. He does not think that just because Krishna is omnipresent, it is useless to worship in the temple. If Krishna is everywhere, He is also in the temple.”

When we go to him depressed, thinking that we can never change our bad habits or mundane consciousness, Swamiji gives us hope, reminding us that Krishna is our best friend and ever well-wisher. “When Krishna sees that you are sincere,” he says, He will help you in your struggle against maya. Krishna consciousness may seem like poison in the beginning, but it is nectar in the end. So, just be patient. When you enter into Krishna’s service, you will know how unhappy you were in material contamination. You will not want to go back.”

“What about hell, Swamiji?” Stanley asks. “Where is it?”

“There is a hellish planet called Tamisra,” Swamiji answers. “The soul is dragged there after death. One who leads a hellish life here is trained up in Tamisra. The major portion of that planet is desert.”

“Is it worse than earth?”

“Worse? This planet is a chance to progress! If Krishna comes here, do you think it is worse? We are simply making it worse.”

“Are souls punished there in hell?”

“Yes, very severely. They are even thrown into fire. Of course, we are thinking we are independent, but after this body is finished, material nature can throw us anywhere. Srimad-Bhagavatam gives us a list of punishments—one man is punished one way, another in a different way.”

Is hell eternal?” I ask. “Christians say it is.”

Hell is forgetfulness of Krishna,” he says.

“But is it eternal?”

He pauses a moment, then says, “Nothing is eternal but blissful life with Krishna.”

“That’s good news,” I say, relieved.

“Yes! We should never think that Krishna wants to punish us. No Hell is temporary. As soon as the living entity agrees with Krishna, hell is finished. Anyone who surrenders to Krishna is free. The only requirement is sincere surrender. Krishna is our dearmost friend. He wants us to live in eternal bliss with Him. We are the ones punishing ourselves by trying to lord it over material nature.”

When some of the psychedelic drug cultists visit Matchless Gifts, they argue that the Absolute Truth is nonverbal, “beyond the power of words to express.” Fledgling hippies drop LSD, sit in lotus position, contemplate their navels. “Far out. What’s happening? Can’t say. To speak is to limit. Those who speak, do not know; those who know, do not speak.” Zen is silence. “The sound of one hand clapping.”

“Nonsense!” Swamiji roars. “You cannot speak because a fool goes undetected until he opens his mouth. Then everyone knows he’s a fool. But why can you speak so much nonsense and not speak of the Absolute Truth? Certainly the Absolute Truth can be described and glorified. Vyasadeva has given us vast literatures. And in Bhagavad-gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, ‘I am like this. I am the sun and moon, the taste of water, the strength of the strong, the beauty of the beautiful, the author of the Vedas and Vedanta.’ Why can He not be described? He has His pastimes and activities, and these are described gloriously in Vedic literatures. The Vedas glorify the Absolute Truth, and this is also considered kirtan. It is not that Hare Krishna alone is kirtan; Bhagavad-gita is also kirtan. There is no question of silence. Silence means to stop talking nonsense.

Another popular concept rekindled by psychedelics is the belief that man is already God but simply hasn’t realized it. The We-are-God generation. “Returning to Krishna does not mean becoming Krishna,” Swamiji tells us. “When a son returns home to his father, he does not become his father. Distinct identities are always there. We may become the father of Krishna, like Vasudeva or Nanda Maharaj, but we can never be equal to Him. We will always be subordinate parts and parcels.”

But Swamiji particularly criticizes the Radhakrishnan commentary to the Bhagavad-gita verse (9.34), in which Krishna tells Arjuna, “Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.”

Upon this verse, Radhakrishnan comments that it is not to the personal Krishna that we have to surrender but to “the unborn, beginningless, eternal who speaks through Krishna.”

“Just see!” Swamiji says when this verse and commentary are read at the evening class. “I told you Dr. Radhakrishnan was an impersonalist. This Mayavadi philosophy is worse than atheism.”

We are not really certain what “Mayavadi” means. When asked, Swamiji says that impersonalists are called Mayavadis because they consider Krishna’s transcendental, eternal body to be maya, or illusion. “For them,” he says, “the impersonal Brahman is the Absolute Truth, and Krishna is subordinate to Brahman. But in Bhagavad-gita, Krishna says that He is the Supreme Absolute Truth and that the impersonal Brahman is subordinate to Him.”

Surprising us all, Keith rallies to the defense of Dr. Radhakrishnan. “I think he’s right,” he says. “After all, Krishna is in all of us. So, if we surrender to the unborn within us, then we attain the Absolute Truth.”

To support his view, Keith quotes Shankara and Huang Po, Buddha and Christ, Spinoza and St. Paul. Swamiji just sits on the dais, and for the first time I notice him turn red. This is surprising, considering his golden complexion. When Keith pauses, Swamiji asks, “Are you finished?”

Keith isn’t finished. He talks on about the Self and the One Mind, quoting liberally from various scriptures before winding down.
“Are you finished?” Swamiji asks again.

“Yes,” Keith says.

“So, you have understood what we have been saying, that Krishna is God?”

“Yes,” Keith says.

“And that worship is due God?”

“Yes,” Keith says.

Suddenly, Swamiji, red and furious, begins to stand up. “Then why do you want to take it away from Krishna?” he roars, shaking the small storefront. “It’s Krishna! It’s Krishna!” He slams his hand down on the lectern. “It’s no unborn within Krishna! It’s Krishna!” We all sit stunned, as if a lion had pounced on the dais. “Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is directly telling Arjuna, ‘To Me. Worship Me.’ And Dr. Radhakrishnan says that it is not to the person Krishna but to some void. Just see what a nonsense rascal! Do you want to worship some unborn void instead of Krishna? Krishna is the Absolute Truth. His body, mind and Self are absolute. And He says, ‘Think of Me, be devoted to Me, worship Me.’ And even Shankara says, Bhaja govindam, bhaja govindam, bhaja govindam: ‘Worship Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda. Your nonsense will not save you at death!’ And yet this rascal wants to take it away from Krishna. Do you want to follow such a rascal? Krishna says, ‘Worship Me.’ Do you not understand? Then why are you saying it is not to Krishna? Why? Why not to Krishna?”

We all look at Keith as if he’d suddenly turned into an untouchable. This surprises us all, since usually he is so expert. Yet he simply articulated the Mayavadi mentality of us all. We sit in stunned silence, not daring to venture further.

“Did you see how red Swamiji got?” I ask Wally afterwards. “Boy, was he angry!”

“But he’s right,” Wally says. “All the commentators try to avoid Krishna. You’ve read Bhagavad-gita before. Until meeting Swamiji, did you ever think of worshipping Krishna?”

I have to admit that it never crossed my mind.

Thus we discover that we are also Mayavadi impersonalists. Addicted to inactivity and hedonism, we know nothing of spiritual personality and action. Swamiji has to shout loud indeed to make us understand that God is a person and that action for His sake is on the spiritual platform.

“This is Bhagavad-gita’s most essential message,” Swamiji says the next morning. “Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to fight, but He says, ‘Do it for Me.’ When we work for Krishna and chant His name, we are already liberated and living on the spiritual plane. Just as a person feels heat when he touches something hot, you are liberated as soon as you enter into the service of Krishna.”

We all feel as though we’ve just touched something very hot. There is no doubt that our long slumber is being disturbed.

“We are declaring war,” Swamiji says. “War on maya.”

Soon after we declare war on Mayadevi, she strikes.

“When Mayadevi sees that you are beginning devotional service,” Swamiji says, “you can expect her to attack.”

Keith is the first casualty because he is first to try to please Swamiji by wearing robes and shaving his head, leaving only the sikha, the Vaishnava tuft of hair in the back. Although the Lower East Side is a nonconformist neighborhood, the combination of robes, beadbag, sikha and tilak forehead marking is unique. In fact, it is outrageous. A person can be immediately categorized with long hair and beard, but there is no way he can dress like a devotee—that is, like Swamiji—and still blend in with the hip New York scene. About everything, there is the outrageous factor: shaving the head would be all right, save for the sikha in back; the robes also have a kind of tail in back; and when the hand is put in the beadbag, one finger sticks out. And the tilak—mud!—on the face! Traffic stops to marvel as Keith walks to the First Avenue vegetable markets to buy food for the temple. Seeing public reaction to Keith, the rest of us delay shaving up and wearing robes.

When Swamiji informs us that full-time devotees can live free in the temple, Keith moves in at once. Then, out of a desire to help financially, he goes down to the Department of Welfare. After some hours, we receive a frantic phone call from him. It seems that to collect welfare, he needed a psychiatric evaluation. When he went to Bellevue Hospital to find a psychiatrist, he unwittingly signed himself in.

“They tricked me,” he tells me on the phone. “I signed a form to see a doctor, but now they’ve locked me up. It’s horrible here. Just get me out.”

Before hanging up, he sounds about to break down. I assure him that we’ll help get him out some way.

“I never suggested that he collect welfare,” Swamiji says after I tell him. “How can they just lock him away?”

“I think someone has to commit you,” I say, “or you have to sign yourself in.”

Swamiji shakes his head.

“Then take him some chapatis,” he says.

The visiting hour is from two until three in the afternoon. Charles makes the chapatis and packs some rice and bananas in a paper bag. Wally and I then take the prasadam up to Bellevue, walking to save bus fare.

At two p.m. sharp, a bell rings, and we are allowed entry through locked pea-green doors. Keith hurries toward us, looking like an old-time inmate with shaved head and a white hospital gown.

“So, they let you keep the sikha,” I say.

“They took away my beads,” he complains. “That’s the worst part. A couple of inmates are chanting with me, though.”

“Swamiji’s disturbed,” I tell him. “He needs you to help with the cooking. He wants to know when you’re getting out.”

“They tell me just a couple of days,” he says, “but some people have been in here for months. Everything’s vague. They like playing games, trying to push you over the edge.”

“They’re just watching you,” I say. “It’s called the Observation Ward.”

“Next time you come, bring me something to read,” he says. “Anything of Swamiji’s. All I have are the Narada Bhakti-sutras. They’re beautiful, though. I didn’t understand them in India.”

We promise to return the next day with Srimad-Bhagavatam and more prasadam.

Back at Second Avenue, Swamiji hands me a new ten-page essay compiled from a lecture. On the first page he has handwritten the title: “Who Is Crazy?”

“They are saying that he is crazy, he tells me, “but actually Srimad-Bhagavatam says that those who are struggling day and night for a little food and sex enjoyment are crazy. And the man engaged in devotional service is sane. for he knows the real goal of human life. That’s the criterion.”

I take the essay from him and begin typing the stencil. “You may give it to his psychiatrists,” he adds as an afterthought. “They may read and benefit.”

We mimeograph about a hundred copies of the essay and the next afternoon take a few down to the Observation Ward.

Keith and the inmates are delighted to receive them. The on-duty psychiatrist, however, is irate.

“Don’t you know what I can do to you?” he threatens us.

Wally and I try to talk to him about Krishna consciousness, but he quickly interrupts. “You believe in a personal God?” he asks. “Why are you so insecure? The idea of a personal God went out seven hundred years ago.”

When we give him the “Who Is Crazy?” essay, he says, “Wrong move,” and the discussion ends.

Seeing what Keith is up against, we bid him good luck.

“Krishna says that His devotee will never be vanquished,” Wally reminds him.

Still, Keith looks at us helplessly, Swamiji’s essay in his hand.

When the visiting hour ends, the heavy doors slam shut.

August 31, the 27th Anniversary of World War 11. An organization called The Beliefs of Man has invited Swamiji to a United Nations Peace Vigil. The vigil is supposed to last round the clock until September 20, when the General Assembly convenes.

At eight in the morning, we accompany Swamiji to the Peace Circle just opposite the U. N. Building on the East River. Apart from us, the Circle is vacant. The day is already hot, and there is no breeze off the river.

Our eyes fixed on Swamiji, we begin clashing cymbals and chanting Hare Krishna. Within minutes, a guard informs us that we’re causing too much disturbance. This is a peace vigil, and vigils are quiet affairs. Swamiji assents and stands with us on the sidewalk, abandoning the kirtan and chanting softly on his beads instead.

We stand chanting Hare Krishna softly until we tire; then we sit and chant. The few passers-by must think us very, very strange. We sit in a semicircle, and Swarmji sits facing us, his right hand in his beadbag, his brow furrowed, expression grave, as he chants Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.

After chanting quietly for four hours, we hardly care what people think. Swamiji certainly doesn’t. His only concern is serving Krishna, even if it means sitting on the sidewalk by the East River.

In the afternoon, we return to Second Avenue.

“We have nothing to do with these peace vigils,” he tells us. “We just want to spread this chanting of Hare Krishna, that’s all. Once people take to this chanting, peace will automatically come. They won’t have to try artificially for peace then.”

The next morning, our photo appears in The New York Post. The reporter refers to Swamiji as “Swami Krishna.”

The war rages on in Vietnam.

“As long as people eat meat, there will always be wars,” Swamiji says. “By eating meat, they are developing the mentalities of tigers. And so they go on killing and being killed.”

It is not good to chant for political purposes, he informs us. Gandhi used Bhagavad-gita to further his political philosophy, and Gandhi’s commentaries, interpreting the Battle of Kurukshetra allegorically, show that he didn’t really accept Krishna and Arjuna as historical personages.

“Gandhi wanted to prove nonviolence from Bhagavad-gita,” he says, “but Bhagavad-gita was spoken on a battlefield, and Arjuna’s problem was whether to fight or not to fight. Violence is there in Bhagavad-gita. How can you say it isn’t? Why present some word jugglery and mislead the people by saying otherwise? Gandhi was having Bhagavad-gita classes morning and evening, and Bhagavad-gita was his life and soul, but unfortunately he interpreted it in his own way. That is not the way to understand Bhagavad-gita. By the worldly estimation, Gandhi was a very great man, and a good man by his character and behavior. His personality was ideal. He spoke for nonviolence, but he was killed by violence. And although he worked his whole life for unification of Hindus and Moslems, India was partitioned.”

“So, Gandhi ultimately failed?” Roy asks.

“For success, we have to follow the right person in the disciplic succession set by Lord Krishna,” Swamiji says. “Krishna did not advocate nonviolence. You cannot eradicate violence from this world. Krishna tells Arjuna, ‘You must fight!’ We must be careful not to interpret Krishna in our own way. For proper understanding, we must follow in the footprints of the mahajans, the great personalities.”

“In what cases is violence permitted?” I ask.

“According to Shastra,” Swamiji says, “if someone burns down your house, or takes away your land, or gives poison, or kidnaps your wife, you can kill him. That is self defense, not violence. But whimsically, we cannot kill even an ant.

“Some years ago, at Jhansi, I was invited on Gandhi’s birthday to speak about nonviolence. So, I said that violence means to check a person from the discharge of his duties. From my viewpoint, that is violence. Every man’s prime duty in life is to reestablish his lost relationship with God. That is everyone’s birthright. A civilization that is checking this duty is committing the most virulent type of violence. If people are not educated in this light, if they are being misled, then they are victims of the greatest violence. Human life is meant for crossing this ocean of material existence. Those who try to impede this progress are called atma-hanah, killers of the soul.”

Roy asks if we should return to the U.N. tomorrow.

“No, why should we?” Swamiji says. “They were not permitting our kirtan. Besides, we should not chant for ulterior motives such as mundane peace. We should ask only for Krishna’s causeless devotional service birth after birth. That is Lord Chaitanya’s prayer. And Hare Krishna sankirtan is the supreme peace formula.

“What do they know about peace? Modern civilization is cats and dogs fighting. Nothing more.”

Is Swamiji impressed by the United Nations?

“They are just putting up flags, that’s all. Each nation is thinking, ‘This is my land.’ There will be one world only when people accept one God, Krishna, and one scripture, Bhagavad-gita, and one occupation, the loving service of Krishna. Otherwise they will just keep on adding flags.”

That evening, at the end of the lecture, Swamiji announces that we will soon have initiation.

“What’s that?” Stanley asks.

“I’ll tell you later,” Swarmji says, and returns to his room.

This sets off a wave of discussions and speculation.

“Just what is he talking about?” I ask Roy.

“I understand it’s a kind of formality,” he says. “It means accepting the Swami officially as spiritual master.

“And what else?”

“Well, nobody’s quite sure, he laughs. “We’ll have to wait and see.

“It’s a tradition in India,” Wally says, “to accept a guru.”

“Isn’t he already our guru?” I ask. “What’s going to change?”

“Swamiji mentioned something about a fire sacrifice,” Roy says.

“Fire sacrifice?!”

Just what is Swamiji planning? The more we learn, the more we feel that we are being led into unknown spiritual territory.

The next morning, after the lecture, Stanley raises his hand and asks. “Swamiji, some of us are wondering what initiation actually means,” he says in his most humble manner.

At first, Swamiji doesn’t answer, but sits quietly on the dais, his head held high. A long minute passes as we await his answer. “Yes,” he finally says, clearing his throat. “Now I will tell you. Initiation means that the spiritual master accepts the student and agrees to take charge of him, and the student accepts the spiritual master and agrees to worship him as God.”

There is a stunned, thoughtful silence. Had a bomb exploded, we couldn’t be more shocked. Swamiji sits as immobile as a statue, his head still high in the air, his eyes darting from person to person. A strange tension fills the room. He awaits further questions, and when there is none, he gets up and walks out without saying another word.

Everyone suddenly starts talking at once. I turn to Wally. “He just blew my mind,” I say.

“Mine too,” Wally says.

No one quite knows what to say. Just a week before, Swamiji said, “Whenever anyone claims to be God, he should be considered dog.

That afternoon, when we visit Keith in Bellevue, we tell him about our confusion.

“I don’t know if I want to be initiated now,” Wally says. “I don’t think I can worship Swamiji as God.”

Keith sees no inconsistency. “Aren’t you already doing that?” he asks. “You’re accepting whatever he tells you.”

“We should get it all cleared up,” I say.

“Yes,” Keith says. “Before initiation. There shouldn’t be any doubt in your mind. Ask Swamiji exactly what he means.”

Back at the temple, we confer with the others, then go up to Swamiji’s apartment.

“We’re confused,” I say. “We don’t really know what initiation means. You said that we’re supposed to consider the spiritual master God.”

“This means that he’s due all the respect of God,” Swamiji says. “He’s God’s representative.”

“Then he’s not God?”

“God is God,” he says patiently, “but the spiritual master is as good as God because he can deliver God. Just try to understand. The government agent is as good as the government because the government has empowered him. So we say that he is a representative. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” we say, relieved.

“It is the Mayavadis, the impersonalists, who claim to be God,” he adds. “They think that by merging, they can deny personality. But a Vaishnava devotee never thinks this way. From Bhagavad-gita, we understand that individuality is kept even after the highest liberation. Otherwise, there is no question of any relationship, of any service, or reciprocation in love.

“So, your question shows that you are serious about understanding. This means hearing carefully. My Guru Maharaj used to say that you have to select a spiritual master not by seeing but by hearing. Don’t choose someone just because he has long hair or a beard, or some beautiful bodily feature. No. You must hear. The Vedic process is based on sruti: submissive aural reception. Then pranipata: surrender. Nipata means a blank slate. We should not approach a bona fide spiritual master Just to argue with him. Nor should we blindly accept. We should be intelligent enough to inquire sincerely, to ask questions, just as you are asking questions now, and then to render service.

“Nor should we judge a spiritual master by material calculations. My Guru Maharaj’s spiritual master was Gaura Kishora das Babaji, who was completely illiterate. Although my Guru Maharaj was the most learned scholar of his age, he accepted Gaura Kishora as his spiritual master. Even though Gaura Kishora could not even sign his name, he would always refer to the Vedas when speaking. Yasya deve para bhaktir yatha deve tatha gurau / tasyaite kathita hy arthah prakasante mahatmanah. ‘Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.”‘

Although we are not great souls with implicit faith, we are satisfied that Swamiji will not lead us astray. He tells us that the initiation ceremony is scheduled for September 9, a most auspicious time, the day after Janmastami, Lord Krishna’s appearance day. We have till then to decide.

End of Chapter 3

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The Hare Krishna Cookbook

Songs of the Vaisnava Acaryas

Bhagavad-gita As It Is 1972 Edition “Online”

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Srimad Bhagavatam Online

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Raja-Vidya the King of Knowledge

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Important Slokas from the Brahma-samhita

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Slokas from the Sri Isopanisad

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Prayers By Queen Kunti (Slokas)

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Gajendra’s Prayers of Surrender (Slokas)

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A Short Statement of the Philosophy of Krishna Consciousness

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July 9th Letter

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The Hare Krishna Explosion

Reference Material/Study Guide

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