Swami in Hippyland (Chapter 7)

The Hare Krishna Explosion
by Hayagriva das

Part II: San Francisco, 1967
Chapter 7

Swami in Hippyland

January 17, 1967. When Swamiji descends from the plane and enters the San Francisco airport, he is greeted by a group of about fifty young people. As he is questioned by the press, he extends his usual transcendental invitations.

“We welcome everyone, in any condition of life, to come to our temple and hear the message of Krishna consciousness,” he says.

“Does that include Haight-Ashbury hippies and bohemians?” a reporter asks.

“Everyone, including you or anyone else,” Swamiji says. “Whatever you are—what you call an acid-head, or hippy, or whatever—what you are doesn’t matter. Once you are accepted for training, you will change.”

“What is your stand on drugs and sexual freedom?” another reporter asks.

“There are four basic prerequisites for those entering this movement,” Swamiji says. I do not allow my students to keep girl friends. I prohibit all kinds of intoxicants, including coffee, tea, and cigarets. And I prohibit meat eating and gambling.”

“And LSD?”

“I consider that an intoxicant. I do not allow my students to use that or any other intoxicant.”

This announcement provokes the reporters to question Allen Ginsberg, who is first at the airport to touch Swamiji’s feet in obeisance. As poet laureate of the beatniks and now acknowledged patriarch of the hippies, Allen presided over the recent “Gathering of the Tribes,” when a hundred thousand in Golden Gate Park celebrated the arrival of “the psychedelic age.”

“Well, you might say that the Swami is very conservative,” Allen answers. “That is, conservative Hindu. You might even say he is to his faith what the hard-shell Baptist is to Christianity.”

“Conservative? How is that?” Swamiji asks, concerned.

“In respect to sex and drugs,” Mukunda suggests.

“Of course, we are conservative in that sense,” he says. “That means we are following Shastra [scriptures]. We cannot depart from Bhagavad-gita. But conservative we are not. Personally Lord Chaitanya was so strict that He would not even look on a woman, but we are accepting everyone into this movement, regardless of sex, race, faith, caste, position, or whatever. Everyone is invited to come chant Hare Krishna. No, we are not conservative.”

As Swamiji walks down to the baggage claims, the new devotees strew flowers before him and garland him. While waiting for the luggage, he raises his hands and begins to dance. Ranchor holds an umbrella over him against the sunlight. Allen also begins to dance and chant, and differences are forgotten. While dancing, Swamiji gives a flower to each person who has come to welcome him.

“SWAMI INVITES THE HIPPIES!” the San Francisco Examiner headlines. “SWAMI IN HIPPYLAND,” the Chronicle reports, describing Swamiji’s welcomers as belonging to the “long-haired, bearded and sandaled set.” San Francisco newspapers are busy creating the hippy image. “Hippy,” a word recently popularized by the papers, is big news, guaranteeing good street sales.

The Frederick Street storefront that Mukunda rented is only two blocks from Golden Gate Park, the world’s most beautiful arboretum. It is a small storefront, very much like Matchless Gifts, but brighter, thanks to a large plate glass window. Above the front door, a sign announces: RADHA KRISHNA TEMPLE. Incense and candles burn on a small altar at the end of the room. Next to the altar is Swamiji’s dais of purple cushions, the vyasasana, the seat for the representative of Veda Vyas, elevated a little above the devotees who sit on buff carpeting.

Posted on the walls and in the front window are reprints from The East Village Other write-up, and a reprint of the photo of Swamiji standing in Tompkins Square Park. The caption: BRING KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS WEST.

From the beginning, the kirtans are more lively than in New York. The dancing is free and vigorous, the temple packed with young people with long hair, beards, exotic clothing, beads, Indian trinkets, paper stars, and skin paint. Chinese papier-mache lightshades cover the bulbs hanging from the ceiling. God’s-eye Huichol crosses also dangle from strings. Beside the dais hangs a painting of Lord Chaitanya and His disciples, copied by Haridas last year.

Haridas (Harvey Cohen) is president of the San Francisco temple. In his early thirties, Haridas is a little older than most of us. He has a short-cropped beard and sincere, inquiring blue eyes. He’s an artist from New York. Articulate, he suavely manages to keep everyone at peace—hippies, Hell’s Angels, straights, and devotees. I tell him that I appreciate his painting of Lord Chaitanya and His disciples.

“Oh, when I first saw the original, I thought they were all women,” he says. “And when Swamiji saw my copy, he looked at the breasts and said, ‘No. This will never do.’ I figured he liked them Rubenesque. So I made them even larger.”

“Crazy artists,” Swamiji laughs when I mention this.

Haridas had met Swamiji as early as fall, 1965, when Swamiji was visiting Dr. Mishra’s upstate Ananda Ashram.

“I used to go up there on weekends,” Haridas tells me. “You know what it’s like. Everyone’s into his own thing. Well, one night when I was in my room reading, Swamiji walked in and told me that there were higher forms of yoga than Mishra’s hatha-yoga. Now up to this time, I’d been fascinated by this little old man sitting in the corner chanting beads. He never joined the discussions but just sat there, a great presence in the corner, chanting a rosary. Really captured my attention. So you can imagine the impact when he entered my room and said, “Bhakti-yoga is the highest. It is the science of God devotion.’ When he said this, I realized that he was speaking the truth, and it was as if I’d never heard it before. I felt that he was reading my soul. All my questions were answered without my even asking. And I thought, ‘Here’s my teacher.’ As if all my life had just been preparing for this moment.”

“I know the feeling,” I say. “Others describe it very much in the same way.”

“It was really strange,” Haridas muses. “His words were so simple, yet they seemed to come from the deepest wisdom. I actually lost all sense of place and time. It was life’s focal point. After that, for the rest of the weekend I kept looking at him. He sat so calmly and had such dignity and warmth. He asked me to visit him when we returned to the city, and of course I did. His room was a tiny office in the back of Mishra’s Yoga Society in the West Seventies, and I began to visit regularly.”

“And Mishra?”

“He was always travelling a lot. Swamiji was asked to speak a few times, but it was so obvious that this was a real spiritual master that it became embarrassing. So he rarely lectured. I would just go to his room, and we’d sit there on the floor, facing each other and chanting. He had only a typewriter, a new tape recorder, a box of books he’d brought from India, and a color reproduction of Lord Chaitanya and disciples. He looked at this picture often, and when he found out that I was an artist, he asked me to paint it.”

Reminiscing, Haridas seems wistfully longing to return to those days. I realize that for him, nothing will ever quite equal those intimate moments in New York, when Swamiji was alone and unknown. Now he is surrounded by disciples and guarded jealously by young Ranchor, who is tactless and sometimes even insulting.

“You mean we’re going to have to contend with him every time we want to see Swamiji?” Haridas complains.

I mention this to Swamiji.

“Do you expect everyone to be to your liking?” he asks, smiling.

Swamiji’s apartment on Frederick Street, next to the temple, is a little smaller than his New York apartment, but the furnishings are the same: typewriter, dictaphone, books, sleeping pad, and a footlocker full of manuscripts.

“Translating goes on,” he says.

Mukunda has also managed to rent an apartment down the hall, as quarters for himself and Janaki. Here, I meet two new San Francisco devotees Shyamasundar and his wife Malati. They talk excitedly about the “mantra rock dance” scheduled for the Avalon Ballroom.

“Some big bands have promised to come,” Shyamasundar tells me. “Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, Janis Joplin and Big Brother.

The names mean nothing to me. I know only the Rolling Stones and The Beatles.

“There’s a whole new school of San Francisco music opening up,” Shyamasundar explains. “Grateful Dead have already cut their first record. Their playing for us is a great boost, just when we need it.”

“But Swamiji thinks that even Ravi Shankar is maya, “ I point out.

“Oh, it’s all been arranged,” Shyamasundar assures me. “All the bands will be on stage, and Allen Ginsberg will introduce Swamiji to San Francisco. Swamiji will talk and chant Hare Krishna with the bands. Then he leaves. There should be about two thousand people there.”

At night, I sleep on the floor in the room behind the temple. Through the wall I can hear a jukebox blasting rock and roll late into the night. The Diggers—a sort of hippy Volunteers of America—are our neighbors.

The Haight-Ashbury atmosphere is festive, carnivalesque. Hippydom is riding the media crest. Thousands flock daily to San Francisco wearing flowers and bellbottoms and shaking tambourines. “Be-in’s” abound, celebrations of nothing more than “being there.” People are assumed to be high on LSD, or at least pot. Corporate, middle-class America cries out to put an end to it all. Close down the Haight before it happens!

President Johnson sends more troops to Vietnam. More draftcards are burned in protest. More longhairs flock to the Coast, many crowding the temple for morning prasadam, looking for a place to eat and crash.

At seven in the morning, however, there are only six devotees present.

“Where’s everybody?” I whisper to Mukunda.

“Oh, they’ll be in later,” he says sleepily.

Swamiji looks around. The night before, the temple had been packed.

“They are sleeping?” he asks. “That is not good. Too much sleep.”

He chants the invocation (Samsara-dava) and Hare Krishna, then begins to lecture on Bhagavad-gita.

“Mantra is a combination of two words,” he says. “Man means ‘mind,’ and tra means ‘delivered.’ So, the Vedic mantras or hymns are meant for delivering us from mental concoctions. Our present difficulties are experienced on the mental and psychological planes. The psychedelic movement is on this platform. They are speaking of expanding the mind, but you should know that beyond the mind is the intelligence, and beyond the intelligence is the soul. So the mantra delivers us from this mental-psychological plane and establishes us on the spiritual.”

A half dozen people drift in from the street. They are disheveled and dirty, obviously up all night in the park. They reek of pot.

Swamiji speaks of the Absolute Truth. He stresses the need for tapasya, penance.

One boy with long, straight blond hair begins mumbling and twitching. His milk-white skin turns almost as red as his headband bandanna.

Swamiji likens human sex life to that of the animals. He points out the necessity for purification.

The boy finally explodes, shouting, “I’m God!” Then screaming, “Iiiiiyam God!”

I look at Mukunda, wondering what to do. Mukunda ignores the boy and keeps his eyes on Swamiji.

“What’s that?” Swamiji asks.

I look at Haridas. He’s shaking his head, indicating that the boy is to be ignored.

“What’s that?” Swamiji asks again.

“He’s saying that he is God,” Mukunda says.

Swamiji holds his head back, looking down at the boy through his reading glasses. Having observed enough, he returns to the text of Bhagavad-gita and his commentary.

“Without accepting and undergoing some penance, we cannot purify our existence,” he says, “and without purifying our existence, we cannot enjoy our nature as Brahman.”

“Iiii’m God!”

“So if we follow the scriptural regulations, our conditioned existence will be purified, and we shall begin our spiritual life of unending happiness.”

“God!”

“Are there any questions?”

“I’m God!”

Everyone looks around, but no hands are raised. The boy sits before me in the center of the temple, his face now more pink than red. There’s a long silence as Swamiji looks about, then picks up his cymbals.

“So chant Hare Krishna,” he says.

Clapping, we start the morning melody. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

The blond boy jumps up. “I’M GOD!” he screams furiously. “I’M GOD!” He beats his chest, and the hard thumps resound like a mridanga. “I am! I am!” The chanting almost drowns him out. Mukunda, smiling, starts dancing, and the boy screams repeatedly, “I’m God, I’m God, I’m God!” The rhythms blend.

He turns and dashes out of the temple, still striking his chest. He runs down Frederick Street, flailing his arms and screaming until he’s out of sight and hearing.

After kirtan, Swamiji returns to his quarters with Mukunda and Janaki. Guests are scheduled for nine.

I ask Haridas why he didn’t throw out the boy when he interrupted the lecture. Brahmananda would have removed him at the first outburst.

“You have to be careful with the hippies here,” Haridas tells me. “Tactful’s the word. If someone’s high on LSD, people automatically give him all the respect of God. They come in and jump up and down and scream, but we can’t lay a hand on them because they’re LSD saints. Had we kicked that boy out, 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 giving us clothing and helping 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.”

As if cued, someone at the Digger’s begins to roar like an animal. Thuds, breaking glass and screams follow. Some girls run inside, close the door and lock it.

“Oh, don’t go out there!” one girl cries. “It’s the Angels! They’ll tear you to pieces!”

Harsharani is serving breakfast prasadam. She sets out extra paper plates. “There’ll be more guests,” she says quietly.

The shouts and thuds continue, ceasing only when the police and ambulance arrive. A big black has just beaten up three Hell’s Angels.

The door is opened, and a dozen people drift in, all talking about the fight. Harsharani brings out more prasadam.

Harsharani, Janaki, and Jadurani are the first girls initiated in the movement. In New York, people are still asking whether the temple “accepts girls,” but in San Francisco the girls take to Krishna from the very beginning. After all, Krishna is eternally young and beautiful. He has nothing to do but sport and play His flute. He loves to dance. He’s the heart-breaker in everyone’s heart. Girls naturally flock to Him.

The San Francisco temple certainly abounds in pretty girls. Swamiji begins performing weddings weekly.

“Why have you chosen the center of Hippyland for your temple, Swamiji?” a Chronicle reporter asks.

“Because the rent’s cheap,” Swamiji replies.

Brahmananda phones frequently from New York. He tells us that at first they were wondering whether they could manage without Swamiji, but now they are surprised by how easy it is to carry on.

“The chanting’s the focal point,” Brahmananda tells us. “We can always sit down and chant.”

He adds that Swamiji’s presence is being felt in a different and even more wonderful way.

“We’re beginning to understand how worship in separation is more relishable.”

Swamiji likes San Francisco. In the early mornings, he walks past Kezar Stadium, down Stanyan to the entrance of Golden Gate Park. We follow, chanting softly, down the narrow trails to the rhododendron dell. Some devotees pick a few flowers for the temple, and from time to time Swamiji stops to ask about a flower or a certain tree.

“A tree has to endure so much,” he says, “due to very sinful previous lives. Trees are forced to stand many years and suffer.”

After the walks, Swamiji receives visitors from an array of societies, including the Haight-Ashbury Cultural Institute, whose members want to make Hare Krishna a prominant part of the new “Hashbury” culture that’s about to “change America.” Swamiji even attends their roundtable meeting, chanting his beads quietly, eyes closed, enduring the cigarette smoke and lengthy chit-chat. When he’s finally called upon to speak, he says, “Make Krishna your center. With Krishna as your center, you’re bound to succeed. But if not, then what can you accomplish?”

Zen Buddhists come. And strange new LSD Christian sects. The Brotherhood of the Golden Swan. All the members dress like Franciscan friars and chant, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” They call themselves yogis. Swamiji is most gracious; he allows them to speak briefly in the temple. The Buddhists, however, he does not invite to speak.

Swamiji continues translating Bhagavad-gita. He is so eager to print it that we begin negotiations with a local printer. Prices are very high. In New York, Brahmananda continues his pursuit of publishers.

“And Mr. Payne?” Swamiji asks. “And the money? And the building? Either we get the building or he should give us our five thousand back. And that Mr. Kallman—where is the record he promised?”

Mukunda explains the importance of the upcoming dance. We discuss the program with Allen Ginsberg. Allen is to introduce Swamiji and then lead the chant.

“The melody you use is difficult for group chanting,” I tell him.

“Maybe,” Allen admits, “but that’s the melody I first heard in India. A wonderful lady saint was chanting it. I’m quite accustomed to it, and it’s the only one I can sing convincingly.”

Although joyful enough, his melody is too erratic for large groups.

We consult Swamiji.

“Don’t you think there’s a possibility of chanting a tune more appealing to Western ears?” Allen asks.

“Any tune will do,” Swamiji says. “That’s not important. What’s important is that you chant Hare Krishna. It can be in the tune of your own country. That doesn’t matter.”

Daily now, more youths crowd outside the temple looking for lodging. The Haight-Ashbury vibrations lure them out of their suburban homes and send them hitchhiking west, often penniless, with backpacks and sleeping-bags and dreams of adventure. What strange amalgamations! Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, Anglos, Indians, blacks. And now Hare Krishna. On the wall of the Ashbury Cinema, someone has scrawled, “DOWN WITH THE CASTE SYSTEM!”

What bizarre fantasies! People can become whatever they want in Haight-Ashbury. On the streets, they present a kind of historical pageant, looking at times like characters from the Old West, or princes and peasants from medieval Europe. It is strange to see them enter the temple, strange to hear Swamiji preaching to them, dutifully reminding them that they’re not young forever, that the body doesn’t abide, that Krishna is awaiting us in the spiritual sky.

After breakfast prasadam—oranges, farina with dates and brown sugar, and hot milk—Haridas and I check out the stores down Haight Street, concentrated in the half blocks leading to the entrance of Golden Gate Park, their gaudy commercialism in stark contrast to the tranquility of eucalyptus and oak.

We visit The Print Mint, The Psychedelic Shop, The Omen. Every Wednesday evening, we chant in the meditation room of The Psychedelic Shop. Hare Krishna amid black lights, strobes, incense, Oriental tapestries, and dayglow Tibetan mandalas.

Haight Street is a tawdry carnival of psychedelia. It is drugs deified. Yet at its root, there’s a basic disenchantment with materialism, the frustration of Sisyphus, tired of rolling his rock up a hill over and over, longing instead to cast aside his burden, break the chain of conditioning, and surmount karma.

“Only Krishna can liberate us from karma,” Swamiji tells us. “Therefore He is also called Mukunda, He who grants mukti, liberation. No one else has this power.”

So on the racks beside the psychedelic publications, we place Back To Godhead. “Where there is Godhead, there is light.” Although they urge the hippies to abandon drug taking, they sell out faster than we can mimeograph them.

Sunday, January 29. The night of Krishna consciousness at the Avalon Ballroom. Haridas, Mukunda, Shyamasundar, Janaki and Malati go early to see that everything’s set up. The ballroom is large, surrounded by mirrors. It boasts the latest in strobes and slides. Two movie projectors whir full time, and the sound system shakes the floor and walls. The Avalon and the Fillmore are the two homes of the new San Francisco rock: Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Moby Grape, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Grateful Dead, Steve Miller, Janis Joplin. All young, white, and LSD oriented.

“I think what you are calling ‘hippies’ are our best potential,” Swamiji says. “Although they are young, they are already dissatisfied with material life. Frustrated. And not knowing what to do, they turn to drugs. So let them come, and we will show them spiritual activities. Once they engage in Krishna consciousness, all these anarthas, unwanted things, will fall away.”

When the Avalon’s doors open at seven, hippies, teenyboppers, and Hell’s Angels begin pouring in. By eight o’clock, when The Grateful Dead begins playing, the ballroom is packed. A barrage of rhythm, shrieks, and blasts, amplified by speakers bigger than most closets, shake the ballroom. There’s a roar of approval, and strobes flash off and on, illuminating a sea of gyrating, pulsating bodies.

Swamiji leaves Frederick Street at 9:30. He is dressed in fresh saffron silks. As he discusses translating Chaitanya-charitamrita, the sweet aroma from his gardenia garland fills the car. By ten, he walks up the stairs of the Avalon, Kirtanananda and Ranchor flanking him as he enters through the main ballroom doors. Cigarette smoke mingles with incense. Janis Joplin bellows into the microphone. Steel guitars, voices, drums, and strobe lights bombard the senses. Yet Swamiji floats through it all, making his way along the walls of the ballroom to the stage like a swan navigating through lotuses.

Suddenly Janis ends her song, and the slide show changes. Pictures of Krishna and the demigods are flashed onto the wall. Krishna and Arjuna in the chariot. Krishna eating butter. Krishna subduing the whirlwind demon. Krishna playing the flute.

There’s a spontaneous roar of approval, and as Swamiji sits beside Ginsberg on the front center stage, the roar turns into an ovation. The bands also come on stage. Swamiji is garlanded again and again.

Allen begins his introduction, commanding attention with the expertise of a Pied Piper. Swamiji sits quietly, his head held high, appearing like a golden Buddha—regal, transcendental, saintly—a strange contrast to poet Ginsberg.

Allen tells how his own interest in Hare Krishna started in India five years ago. Then he recounts how Swamiji opened his storefront on Second Avenue and chanted Hare Krishna in Tompkins Square Park. “Now, Krishna consciousness has come West, to the Haight-Ashbury,” he says, inviting everyone to the Frederick Street temple. “I especially recommend the early morning kirtans,” he adds, “for those who want to stabilize their consciousness on LSD re-entry.“

Although this is hardly devotional Vaishnavism, the audience maintains a reverential silence. After Allen’s introduction, Swamiji speaks, giving a brief description of the history of the mantra, beginning with Lord Chaitanya. “It is particularly recommended for this age,” he says. “Kali-yuga is an age in which men are short-lived, ignorant, quarrelsome and always in difficulties. Yet regardless of our position, we can always chant the maha-mantra.”

The Hell’s Angels stare with mute incomprehension. Wearing denim jackets, caps, leather regalia, chains, tattoos, long, dirty hair, they seem prime candidates for the ghostly hordes of Shiva.

Swamiji doesn’t mention the rules and regulations.

“Anyone can chant the maha-mantra,” he says. “There are only three words-Hare, Krishna and Rama. ‘Hare’ is the energy of the Lord. …

I doubt that very much of his speech is understood, but everyone stands politely and listens respectfully. As Swamiji explains the mantra, slides flash the words on the walls. Then the chanting begins with Allen slowly singing his hurdy-gurdy tune into the microphone: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. The Big Brother band joins in, then Grateful Dead and Moby Grape. Gradually, the chant spreads throughout the audience. People begin holding hands and dancing. Standing in front of the bands, we can hardly hear the audience, but above everything is Allen’s voice, shouting, his “Hare” sounding more like “Hooray!” Swamiji stands up and starts dancing, and the chanting builds steadily to a climax. On the wall behind, a slide projects a towering picture of Lord Krishna, flute in His hands, peacock feather in His hair. A maze of color whirls to the rhythm of the mantra, a rhythm that accelerates to a frenetic presto, the words merging, punctuated only by Allen’s whooping “Hooray! Hooray!” Through the flashing strobes, I see people dancing and shaking tambourines.

Then suddenly the chanting ends, and all that can be heard is the loud buzz of microphones.

Swamiji offers obeisances to the gurus. “Ki jai! Ki jai! All glories to the assembled devotees! Ki jai!”

It is all over. As people meander to the soda stand, Allen announces that the rock groups will shortly resume the concert. Swamiji descends from the bandstand and walks straight through the heavy smoke and crowds to the front stairs. Again, Kirtanananda and Ranchor follow.

“This is no place for a brahmachari,” Swamiji proclaims, leaving.

The dance nets us fifteen hundred dollars, barely enough to resolve the temple debts.

In the morning, the temple is crowded with celebrants from the Avalon. They never went to bed.

Swamiji lectures on the eternity of the spirit soul.

“It cannot be drowned by water, burned by fire, nor dried up by the wind,” he says. “And these everlasting souls are to be found everywhere—on the earth, in the air and water, even in the sun. Souls can acquire bodies adaptable to the atmosphere of all planets, but none of these bodies in the material worlds can continue to be fresh. That is the material limitation. The element of time is so strong that it breaks down everything. Whatever you create, though it be very beautiful and fresh now, will eventually fade away just like a flower. In time, flowers grow very beautiful, but in due course they wither and vanish. Similarly, you are all now young and with such beautiful bodies. And so you say, ‘Let us enjoy.’ But your bodies will also wither and perish. Nature’s course is like that. Therefore Krishna tells Arjuna not to deviate from his duty by fleeing the battle.”

Later in the morning, Kirtanananda and I drive Swamiji to the beach, where he chants a mantra we’ve never heard before.

“Govinda jai jai, Gopala jai jai, Radharamana Hari, Govinda jai jai.” He chants slowly, yearningly, in a low baritone mingling with the peaceful falling of the waves.

“Govinda is Krishna, who gives pleasure to the cows and senses. Gopala is Krishna the cowherd boy, and Radharamana is Krishna as the enjoyer of Radharani. These are the words of this mantra.”

He chants a longing, haunting melody that seems to reach out and then fall short, and so must reach out again, like the perpetual mounting, crashing, and mounting of waves striving to envelop the shore.

As he chants, he walks slowly along the boardwalk. The January breeze is fresh and cool. I peruse some kelp washed up on the beach and decide that the long, hollow whips with their bell-shaped heads would make good trumpets for kirtan.

Kirtanananda gets a blanket and puts it over Swamiji’s shoulders. Swamiji looks out over the Pacific expanse.

“Because it is great, it is tranquil,” he says.

‘The image of eternity,” I say.

“Nothing is eternal but Krishna,” he says. Silence. Then: “In Bengali, there is one nice verse. I remember. ‘O, what is that voice across the sea, calling, calling, Come here… come here .… ?’”

For a long time, Swamiji sits on a boardwalk bench, looking out across the ocean and singing Bengali songs to Gopinatha, Lord Krishna, Master of the gopis. From time to time, he stops to translate a verse for us. “O Gopinatha, please sit within the core of my heart and subdue this mind, and thus take me to You. Only then will the terrible dangers of this world disappear.”

Then he sings another verse, looking out on the ocean as if it were his audience. It is a rare, peaceful moment, beyond everything material, and I wish it could go on forever. But after a while, Swamiji stands up, sighs deeply, as if beckoned by duty, and says, “Back to the temple.”

Posted with permission http://www.hansadutta.com

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