Mad After Krishna (Chapter 9)

The Hare Krishna Explosion
By Hayagriva Prabhu

Part II: San Francisco, 1967
Chapter 9

Mad After Krishna

Golden Gate Park is redolent with March flowers. The morning fog disperses early, and the days are cloudless and blue. Thousands continue to flock to San Francisco from the midwest and east, and our Sunday kirtans attract big crowds.

Sunday is always a day for strolling in the park, and as soon as we start ringing cymbals and chanting, people follow. Christian, Moslem, Jewish, Buddhist and ISKCON banners, flying from long poles, proclaim our ecumenism. We stake these in the field below Hippy Hill and set up the kettledrum. Haridas, Mukunda, Shyamasundar, Subal, and Upendra sit in a circle on the grass. We beat the rhythm slowly on the kettledrum, the cymbals clash, and the kelp horn announces the beginning of kirtan.

After we chant about an hour, Swamiji walks over from his apartment and enters the center of the circle, clapping his hands and dancing, appearing wonderfully bright in his saffron robes. He leads the chanting, playing his own personal set of cymbals, a large pair with slightly flared rims that resonate loudly. Although he is a half century older than everyone around him, his presence is dynamically youthful. As the kirtan soars, Swamiji is a child amongst children, dancing with hands upraised to the blue sky, placing one foot before the other, dipping slightly, encouraging everyone to dance.

Then something remarkable happens.

The boys and girls clasp hands and form a large circle around us. Another circle encloses this circle, and suddenly Swamiji is in the center of two circles of dancing, chanting youths. As the rhythm increases, the circles begin to move more rapidly in opposite directions, everyone holding on tightly, arms and hands joined, the circles jerking and bouncing like great wheels rolling out of control, everyone short of breath, laughing and trying to chant.

And Swamiji urges us on.

“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.”

As the circles rotate, around us pass kaleidoscopic images: pennants, bongos, guitars, horns, cymbals, harmonium, sitars, tambourines, flutes, happy faces, silver stars, dazzling sun, crescent moon, children, grass, flowers, barking dogs, the ka-whoom of timpani, and Swamiji, dancing gloriously in the middle.

“The way those boys and girls were dancing in the park this afternoon,” Swamiji tells us later, “that is the way Krishna was dancing the rasa-lila. Because every gopi wanted to dance with Him, Krishna multiplied Himself and danced like that in a circle beside each gopi, and each and every gopi thought that Krishna was hers.“

After the Sunday park kirtans, we return to the temple for the four o’clock feast. Usually people stand outside waiting with paper plates; inside, it is always packed. We receive little money from donations, but Harsharani always manages to prepare enough kitri and halava.

The girls often have difficulty serving everyone before people return for seconds. I usually take my plate outside just to breathe fresh air. Indians (from India) sometimes visit and stare in amazement at the hippies accepting a culture that they themselves have rejected.

Do you know who is the first
Eternal spaceman of this universe?
The first to send his wild vibrations
To all the cosmic super-stations?
For the song he always shouts
Sends the planets flipping out.
He sings to Virgo and the Pleiades,
For he can travel where he pleases…
But I’ll tell you before you think me loony,
That I’m talking about Narada Muni.

“Narada Muni never stays any place longer than it takes to milk a cow,” Swamiji tells us. “He carries a vina and is always chanting Hare Krishna all over the universe. He is the first class, topmost devotee.”

Inspired by this roving Vaishnava, Mukunda and I write a song that Swamiji enjoys—“Narada Muni.”

O Narada Muni, eternal spaceman,
Can travel much further than spaceships can,
Spreading sounds of love and joy vibrations
To all the cosmic incarnations,
Singing with bliss upon his vina,
The whole cosmos is his arena.
…Singing,“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare,
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

At this time, a shipment of cymbals and mridangas—the Bengali clay drums—arrives by air from India, ordered express by Swamiji, who inspects every box carefully while unpacking.

“These drums were designed by Lord Chaitanya Himself,” he tells us. “They are meant especially for this sankirtan movement. And they give the sweetest sound, a sound that can be produced by no other drum, with no other material, because they are transcendental.”

He then unpacks each mridanga, brushing off the excelsior, and inspects the straps and heads minutely. When he plays one at kirtan, we all instantly understand that a new and supramundane element has been added. The mridanga punctuates each Hare Krishna with an echo sounding like a soul calling out for deliverance.

Afterwards, Swamiji begins to teach Mukunda to play. “Tee-ka tee-ka tee. Teo-ti-nak-tah, de tah de ta TAH.”

Because it is a simple rhythm, one is tempted to speed up too soon.

“No,” Swamiji says. “Slowly. Very slowly at first. You must play slowly and listen to master it.”

No one really masters mridanga. We all fumble in our own ways; only Swamiji can play it properly.

On Tuesday evenings, we go to the beach with Swamiji and hold unforgettable Pacific Ocean sunset kirtans. Sitting on the sand, we watch the tide roll in, or chant and wait for the sun to dip below the horizon.

“Pacific means calm,” Swamiji says. “That is because it is so big and great. When something is so great, it will naturally be calm because it has nothing to fear.”

Haridas builds a fire beside a sand dune, and we dance and chant around it. Swamiji wears a scarf about his head, an old overcoat, and claps his hands and chants, “Govinda jai jai, Gopala jai jai, Radharamana Hari, Govinda jai jai.“

Holding hands in a circle, we dance about the fire. Mukunda, Janaki, Shyamasundar, Malati, and Haridas play cymbals and tambourines. I play trumpet. Swamiji also dances, sometimes raising his arms in the air, sometimes clapping. As the stars begin to shine bright over the Pacific, and the foam and spindrift of waves recede in the dark, we sing “Narada Muni.”

“You must write more such songs,” Swamiji tells us, “songs praising the acharyas, great saintly persons. The bhakta in love with God wants to sing to Him and His representatives. And Hare Krishna, of all songs, is the supreme. It is the call of a child for his father, a call of pure love. Oh, there are many songs in the Vaishnava tradition, songs of Bhaktivinode Thakur, and songs of Mirabai.“

After chanting, we roast potatoes and smear them with melted butter. Swamiji eats with us, sitting on a big log. And after potatoes, we roast marshmallows, and red apples stuffed with raisins and brown sugar.

As Orion and the Big Dipper shine brightly and the waves crash in the dark, we gather about the fire for warmth, and one last Hare Krishna. After this, we bow down on the sands, and Swamiji acclaims, All glories to the assembled devotees! All glories to the assembled devotees! All glories to the Pacific Ocean!”

And we all laugh, Swamiji the loudest.

“But don’t marshmallows have eggs in them?” Kirtanananda writes upon hearing.

Despite initial difficulties, Kirtanananda opens a temple on Avenue du Parc in Montreal. ISKCON now has three temples. Swamiji considers Montreal auspicious because of the International Exposition there.

Before Kirtanananda arrived, the temple was an abandoned bowling alley. He was helped by Janardan, who has been claiming wide interest amongst discontented French Catholics.

In triumph, Kirtanananda mails us a feature article in Montreal’s Le Nouveau Samedi. Headlines, in French: “THEY CLAIM THAT THE HINDU GOD KRISHNA IS THE FATHER OF JESUS CHRIST AND THAT THE INHABITANTS OF THE MOON ARE INVISIBLE.”

“Who says they are invisible?” Swamiji asks. “In the Vedas, the moon is considered a higher planet. There are demigods dwelling there for thousands of years, and there they drink soma. You cannot go there by artificial means, by rocket or space suit. No. You must qualify to receive the proper body to take birth among the demigods.”

Kirtanananda maintains the Vedic view before the smiling French Catholics, dismissing Copernicus and Newton as mere material scientists bewildered by a mechanical universe.

Kirtanananda writes that he is managing to pay the rent by holding rock dances in the bowling alley and taking in some boarders. Since he questioned the propriety of marshmallows, I ask about holding such dances in the temple.

“Well, there would be no temple without money,” he writes. “Besides, the mantra is an integral part of the dance, and the Vishnu altar is well lit with many candles and incense. Altogether the atmosphere is really magical, and I think it will even improve. The bands are most enthusiastic, and though they have yet to perfect a good mantra rock style, I think they will.”

Krishna, the father of Christ. Invisible moon men. Mantra rock. The Montreal temple is off to a good start.

“Isn’t Krishna the eighth incarnation of Vishnu?” someone asks during a question period.

“Krishna is the original Personality of Godhead,” Swamiji says. “By Vishnu, we mean Krishna. The four-armed Vishnu form is a special form manifested by Krishna. Brahma creates, Vishnu maintains, and Shiva destroys. These are all aspects of Krishna. But Krishna Himself has nothing to do but enjoy. Therefore we see Him dancing with the gopis, in pure, blissful, eternal pastimes.”

“And Rama?”

“He is also the Supreme Lord, an expansion of Krishna who defeated the demon Ravana. Hanuman was His servant, a monkey servant, who utilized his wrath against Ravana. But when we chant Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, we do not refer to this Rama but to Balarama, Krishna’s brother and His first expansion. ‘Hare’ refers to Radharani.”

“And why is Radha included?”

“She is Krishna’s spiritual pleasure potency. It is not that Krishna is alone. He is always with His beloved, the most elevated of the gopis. When Krishna enjoys Himself, He expands as Radha-Krishna. Here in the material world, what we call sex life is a perverted reflection of that enjoyment potency. We should not consider Radha-Krishna in that light. That is an offensive mistake.”

“What about the demigods?” someone asks. “According to Bhagavad-gita, by sacrificing to the demigods, man will receive all necessities.

“Yes. “

“Well, in India, where these demigods are honored, people are poverty-stricken. But here, no one believes in them, but there is plenty for all.“

“Just wait.”

A ripple of laughter. Swamiji looks around, inviting more questions.

“Of course, there is no need to worship the demigods separately, he adds. “Since Krishna is the origin of the demigods, we worship Him, and the demigods are automatically satisfied. Demigods are generally worshipped by the less intelligent. ‘Those who worship the demigods go to the demigods,’ Krishna says. But that is a temporary situation. The devotees worship Krishna and reach His supreme, eternal planet. India is in difficulty now because we are turning from our Vedic culture and worshipping Western technology. But you should also understand that your present prosperity is due to pious activities in previous lives. There is a point where the fruits of these activities run out.

Many Indians visiting the Frederick Street temple tell us that they’ve never seen such fiery, enthusiastic kirtans in India—nay, not anywhere else in the world. A combination of magic elements is at work. First of all, Swamiji’s presence. But remarkably enough, his presence is felt even when he does not descend but stays in his upstairs apartment writing his books. The unison kirtans intensify as new instruments are added—flutes and tenor sax, trumpets and kettledrum, cymbals and kelp horn, tambourines, mridangas, guitars and bongos, sitars and castanets. Often we join hands and dance around the walls of the temple, bounding on the floor and daring it to collapse. Kirtan always begins with a rousing Hare Krishna. Then, after Swamiji’s lecture, we chant “Gopala, Gopala, Devakinandana Gopala.” We first heard this mantra sung by poet Ginsberg, and for a week Swamiji tolerates it. Then he calls me in.

“That is not a valid Vaishnava mantra,” he tells me. “You may change Devaki’s name for Yasoda’s. Yasoda and not Devaki is accepted as Krishna’s real mother because those matya-rasa pastimes were carried on with her. But best not to chant that mantra at all because it’s not authorized.“

Still intent on some variety, we chant “Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram.“

“One Hare Krishna is worth two thousand Jai Ram’s,” Swamiji remarks. “So why are you wasting time?”

On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, Mukunda gives music lessons, teaching different melodies for Hare Krishna. And there’s also “Govinda jai jai, Gopala jai jai, Radharamana Hari, Govinda jai jai,” which Swamiji sings so beautifully at kirtan and upstairs alone, playing harmonium, his voice full of devotion, alone with all the time in the world, time no more a factor than space.

Even on the nights that he does not descend, he listens to the kirtans in his room. Afterwards, he smiles and asks, “It was a good kirtan, yes? The hippies? They are appreciating? Yes, if they take up this Hare Krishna, they will become transformed. And they will transform the world. America is such a powerful country that all the world is imitating. So just take up this chanting, make your country Krishna conscious, and all the world will follow.”

Not all our members are hippies or renegades from the hippy movement. There’s Jim, the taxi driver, a very quiet, self-controlled young man who had gone to Ohio State University.

“When driving my cab, I was getting these headaches,” he tells Swamiji. “I’d get real nervous driving. But then I started chanting Hare Krishna, and now the traffic doesn’t bother me at all.”

He takes initiation and is renamed Jayananda Das. He continues driving his taxi, chants japa intensely, donates money to the temple, and contributes every spare minute to Swamiji.

Another non-hippy member is Mr. Morton, who is just completing his law degree. He’s a little older than most devotees and seems to feel out of place, but he continues attending, often wearing a hangdog expression because he worries about his home life.

Poor Mr. Morton. He can’t tear himself away from the chanting. Yet back home there’s the wife and kids, and the wife disapproves of his consorting with hippy cults. She also keeps reminding him that in the fall, they have to return to Omaha to set up law practise.

Mr. Morton buys big, red beads and strings them. He wears them around his neck and chants sixteen rounds daily. At kirtan , he stands in the middle of the temple, swaying back and forth, eyes closed, beatific smile, enraptured.

“There is no problem,” Swamiji tells him. “You can be a lawyer for Krishna. You can be anything. But do it for Krishna. That’s bhakti-yoga.“

Mr. Morton dons his hangdog expression again.

“But my wife,” he says. “She’s already threatening to divorce me. And she refuses to stop cooking meat.”

“Bring her to kirtan,” Swamiji tells him.

He does. She leaves after two minutes.

Mr. Morton stays with the temple until his career and wife finally pull him away to Omaha.

“He’ll always remember these as the happiest days in his life,” I tell Haridas. “And he’ll always wonder why.”

Then I stop, hesitate, and think sadly that the same is possibly no less true for myself. For all of us.

I got those Samsara Blues,
Thinking, Good or bad? Win or lose?
All that smokin’ and takin’ meth,
Just turn the wheel of birth and death.
I’ll never attain liberation
By mere sense gratification.
LSD and marijuana
just won’t get me to nirvana.
And meditatin’ on the void,
Only gets me paranoid.
Remembering I’m not this body,
I tell her that I’m brahmachari.
So forget that Uncle Sam thing,
Just keep chanting, chanting, chanting.
…Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.
In material entanglement, what calms me?
Why, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.
Krishna, chase away those Samsara Blues!

A sincere statement written by Haridas. For us, there is always the lure of sex, milkshakes and chocolate bars, doughnuts, frivolous games, Bach and Mozart, rock and roll, poetry and novels, travel, pot, peyote and acid, and long, aimless talks over coffee or a glass of beer. Are these forever to be denied?

Being somewhat older—late twenties and early thirties—Haridas, myself and a few others marvel over the apparent ease with which teenagers renounce these common drives, inebriants, habits. “Maya is but Krishna’s smile,” I try to remember.

“It should be easier for you,” the younger members say. “You’ve been partying since 1958. We’ve hardly had a taste.”

Swamiji supports another viewpoint.

“Best to be trained up brahmachari from the beginning,” he says. “It’s easier to renounce what you have never tasted. Once you are habituated to intoxication, sex, gambling, meat eating, or whatever, it is very difficult to give them up. Habits are hard to break. The urge for sense enjoyment is the very cause of our conditioning. We forget that our real enjoyment is in serving Krishna, and in being enjoyed by Him. In ignorance, we become habituated to so many undesirable things. Now our younger members are finding it easier to give up so much because they’ve not had the chance to become addicted. But even addicted, you reach a point where you see that there’s no happiness in sense gratification. Frustrated by maya, you may turn toward Krishna. But that is not the desirable road. The best way is not to forget Krishna for a moment.”

“But Krishna says that ‘all roads lead to Me’,” someone says.

“Where does He say that?” Swamiji demands.

Swamiji’s translation of the “roads” verse from Bhagavad-gita is precise: “All of them—as they surrender unto Me—I reward accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pritha.”

“That does not mean that all roads lead to the same place,” he tells us. “Yes, they are all Krishna’s roads, just as all the roads in America belong to the government. But is that to say that all roads lead to San Francisco? The devotees attain the person Krishna, and the impersonalists attain the Brahman effulgence that emanates from Krishna. The roads are all Krishna’s, but the goals are not the same. In the material universe there are 8,400,000 species of life and roads leading to each of them. They are all Krishna’s roads because He is the Father of all living entities. But does this mean that we aspire to be a cat or dog? Our aim should be to serve Krishna, that’s all. We do not aspire to be demigods or whatever. Lord Chaitanya had but one request: causeless devotional service life after life, regardless of the type of body. Hanuman served Lord Rama very well in a monkey body.”

Yet many of us stumble on the road of Krishna consciousness and fall back into our old ways. How can we channel everything to the person Krishna? There’s music, fast cars, intoxicants, and golden California lasses calling, “Fun, fun, fun!”

Srila Prabhupada tells the story of a young prince who became attracted by a beautiful girl who happened to be a devotee. Just by seeing this girl once, the prince fell in love with her and made arrangements with her father for marriage. But since the girl was devoted to Krishna, she refused him. “Oh, your beauty has captivated me,” the prince said. “If I cannot have it, I will kill myself” Understanding the situation, the girl said, “Come back in two weeks, and my beauty will be yours.” The prince went away, but when he returned after two weeks, he hardly recognized the young girl. Because she had taken a very strong purgative that had flushed her body of all liquids, she was shrivelled and emaciated like an old hag. “You want my beauty?” she asked the horrified prince. “You will find it there in the corner.” And she pointed to a pot full of stool and vomit. “There is the beauty you desired,” she said. “Take it and be happy.”

Ramanuja-das-brahmachari automatically turns to admire a pretty girl.

“That’s just a combination of blood, pus, and stool,” I remind him. “Of bile, urine, flesh, phlegm, bone, and guts.”

“Yes,” he says, “but it’s all in the right place.”

“Miss Maya is so strong,” Swamiji tells us, “that when she sees you trying to become Krishna conscious, she’ll knock you down.” He shakes his head and smiles, as if facing an unconquerable foe. “She is so strong, and we are so weak. Like fire and butter. We should never think that we are stronger than Maya. We have only one recourse Hare Krishna. When Mayadevi attacks, we must cry, ‘Krishna! Krishna! Please save me!’ Since only Krishna is stronger than maya, only Krishna can protect us. When the pure devotee conquers Krishna through love, then Mayadevi stands before the devotee and says, ‘How may I serve you?’ Only then does maya cease to be a foe. Only then is maya seen as Krishna’s smile.“

It seems that the girls have less trouble surrendering. They just throw themselves in, crying, “Krishna! Krishna!”

“Women are soft-hearted,” Swamiji says, “but unfortunately they are fickle, too. They are quick to accept and reject. They come to Krishna consciousness quickly, out of sentiment, and then some boy comes along, and they reject everything. Men are not so quick to accept, but once they have accepted, they are more reluctant to reject. So the male is considered a higher birth because a man is more likely to understand Krishna consciousness and therefore remain steady. In Vedic culture, the woman is considered weak. Soft-hearted. She should be protected, not given freedom to roam about, like in this country. Therefore we are marrying our girls to nice Krishna conscious boys.”

Someone suggests that perhaps it is easier for girls to surrender to a male God.

“That is a material consideration,” Swamiji says, “because the soul is neither male nor female. All-attractive means that Krishna attracts all. But Krishna is always the male, the enjoyer, and in respect to Him, the jiva-atma, or individual soul, is always female, the enjoyed. When the female attempts to imitate the male, the result is topsy-turvy, is it not?

“So, devoid of Krishna consciousness, the conditioned soul is enjoy-less. Lots of zeros add up to zero. We must put the one before the zeros. Krishna is the missing one giving joy to all the infinite zeros. ‘Aham bija-pradah pita.’ I am the seed-giving father.”

A society columnist from The San Francisco Chronicle interviews Malati and her “gopis.” “These gopis,” the columnist writes, “are cowherd girls. They wear saris and will be glad to perform kirtan anywhere.”

Apparently, the lady’s column is widely read. We are bombarded by phone calls from socialites who want Malati and her gopis to perform in their homes. When we are invited by one of the richest families in San Francisco, the Thompsons, Malati accepts.

I suggest that since it appears a ladies’ affair, she can take the gopis herself, but Malati informs me that the girls are afraid to go alone. Somehow twelve of us manage to pile into Shyamasundar’s old Chevy. En route, we’re pulled over and ticketed for an overloaded vehicle.

We’re met at the door by bewildered servants; the columnist had written nothing about the male hippies accompanying the female gopis. There’s much scurrying about and whispering amongst the Thompsons and their servants before we’re allowed in.

From the beginning, the evening is disastrous for everyone. It seems that we were invited to a party of wealthy, drunken, middle-aged socialites mainly to entertain while the rock and roll band refurbished their drinks.

Not knowing what to do, I give a little talk about Swamiji’ s mission in America, his founding of ISKCON and the New York and Frederick Street temples, and the meaning and purpose of the mantra. We then start chanting, but after a minute we’re interrupted by a drunk and belligerent old man.

The Thompsons are too drunk to be embarrassed. Mrs. Thompson gives Malati a hundred dollar donation, telling her that everyone appreciates “the good work you’re doing, reforming the drug addicts down there.” We then fold up the harmonium, gather our cymbals and leave quickly.

“You should not chant or explain the mantra before such people,” Swamiji tells us afterwards. “Actually, Krishna tells Arjuna that Bhagavad-gita should be explained only to the pious. Of course, now in Kali-yuga people are mostly in passion and ignorance, so if we preach just to the pious, we’ll have no audience. It is Lord Chaitanya’s desire that this chanting be preached in every village in the world, and His desire is the purpose of ISKCON. So we are preaching to the hippies. But we need not attend the parties of drunkards.”

Swamiji calls me into his room. I bow and sit facing him, sensing something special.

“I am thinking it will be nice if you write a play about Lord Chaitanya,” he tells me. “I will give you the whole plot complete. Then all you will have to do is execute it.”

For two days, I sit in Swamiji’s room listening to his account of the life of Lord Chaitanya. At this time, Swamiji is also lecturing on the Chaitanya-charitamrita. There is also a translation of Chaitanya-charitamrita going about, translated by Nagendra Kumar Roy. Swamiji reads a bit of this translation and quickly finds a discrepancy. It is over one word, “rheumatism,” which has been translated incorrectly from the Bengali. Swamiji immediately brands Mr. Kumar Roy a sentimentalist. The translation is inaccurate. Throw it out.

“I will give you all you need to know,” he tells me.

I tape record the outline and interrupt only when the action isn’t clear.

On the second day, Swamiji tells of the passing of Haridas Thakur, one of Lord Chaitanya’s principal disciples. Recounting the details, Swamiji becomes strangely indrawn, as if it were all happening before him.

“When Chaitanya Mahaprabhu visited Haridas on the last day of Haridas’s life,” Swamiji says, “the Lord asked, ‘Haridas, what do you desire?’ They both could understand. Haridas said, ‘It is my last day. If You would kindly stand before me…’” Swamiji suddenly falls silent a moment and looks down at his hands. “So Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stood before him,” he continues, speaking softly, his eyes filling with tears. “And Haridas left his body.”

Then Swamiji sits there crying silently within. It is a silence I can hear above the street noises and hum of the tape recorder. I stare at the floor, then look up, embarrassed, feeling I shouldn’t be in the room. As I begin to ask a question, Swamiji again speaks.

“After his departure,” he says, “the body was taken by the Lord to the seashore, and the devotees dug his grave, which is still there, Haridas Thakur’s samadhi. And Chaitanya Mahaprabhu took up the dead body and began to dance with the body at kirtan. Thus Haridas’s funeral ceremony was conducted by the Lord Himself.“

And Swamiji continues outlining the play as though nothing had happened, his sudden, silent weeping passing with the wind.

Although I write on the Lord Chaitanya play through the spring days, my primary service is helping Swamiji with Bhagavad-gita. He continues translating, hurrying to complete the manuscript but still annotating each verse thoroughly in his purports. Daily, I consult him to make certain that the translation of each verse precisely coincides with the meaning he wants to relate. “Edit for force and clarity,” he tells me. “By Krishna’s grace, you are a qualified English professor. You know how grammatical mistakes will discredit us with scholars. I want them to appreciate this Bhagavad-gita as the definitive edition. All the others try to take credit away from Krishna.”

I am swamped with editing. Since much of the text is equivocal due to grammar, I find myself consulting Swamiji on nearly every verse. It seems that in Sanskrit, Hindi, and Bengali, phrase is tacked onto phrase until the original subject is lost.

No one has yet asked Swamiji the language in which he thinks. Bengali, I presume, but for all I know it may be Hindi or Sanskrit. He often says that Sanskrit is the language of the demigods, the original language, and that all other languages descend from it. Indeed, it was the very language used by Krishna when He spoke Bhagavad-gita millions of years ago to the sun god Vivasvan, and then five thousand years ago to Arjuna at Kurukshetra. All seven hundred verses sung in Sanskrit.

Swamiji sweeps away archeological and philological pronouncements with a disdainful sweep of his hand.

“What do they know? Great civilizations were existing on this earth hundreds of thousands of years ago. They are thinking that everything begins with them, with cavemen or monkeys. But in ages past, Maharaj Bharat ruled the entire world, and there were great civilizations everywhere. Who can deny that Sanskrit is the mother of languages? So-called scholars are simply concocting nonsense, proposing theories. Their business is: ‘You propose a theory, and I propose a greater theory.’ But Bhagavad-gita is not theory. It is fact. Therefore I am presenting it as it is. Not as it seems to me, but as it is spoken. Radhakrishnan says that we are not to worship the person Krishna, and Gandhi says that Kurukshetra is a symbol for this or that, but these are all opinions. Mental speculations. To expose them, we must quickly publish Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Someone has told me that the purports are very lengthy, but that is the Vaishnava tradition—constantly expanding. The purports are intended to bring the meaning back to Krishna, to rectify the mischief done by these rascal commentators. Factually, this is the only authorized translation. So I am eager to see our Bhagavad-gita published complete.”

In New York, Brahmananda continues negotiations with publishers. Swamiji consults more private printers in San Francisco. Since it is turning into such a lengthy book, it will be expensive. Swamiji also wants to include the Sanskrit Devanagari, which will cost extra. Prices are way out of our reach. We are still trying to scrape together rent for the temple and Swamiji’s apartment. In New York, it’s the same. And Kirtanananda might get kicked out of the bowling alley any day. None of us really wants to count the assets of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Really, we have only one asset—His Divine Grace himself.

March 21. Swamiji has been discussing Srimad-Bhagavatam. His lecture ends, and he asks for questions. No one speaks, and he asks again and waits.

“There must be questions,” he says.

Govinda-dasi timidly raises her hand, and Swamiji acknowledges her.

“Can you explain about Lord Chaitanya asking the whereabouts of Krishna in the forest? Or would that not be a good thing to discuss?”

“Yes, Yes,” Swamiji says happily. “Very nice. Your question is very nice. I’m very glad. Lord Chaitanya was the greatest devotee of Krishna, and we should think about His life. He never said, ‘I have seen Krishna,’ but He was mad after Krishna.” Swamiji stresses the word “mad,” prolonging the single syllable until we have visions of Lord Chaitanya dancing and trembling in ecstasy. “He was always thinkng, ‘When shall I see Krishna? Where is Krishna? Where is Krishna?’ He was so mad after Krishna. And that is the main point of Chaitanya philosophy. This is called worship in separation. The devotee thinks, ‘Krishna, You are so wonderful, and I am such a fool and rascal that I cannot see You. I have no qualification to see You.’ In this way, we should feel the separation of Krishna, and these feelings will enrich us in Krishna consciousness. It’s not, ‘Krishna, I’ve seen You. Finished.’ No. Perpetually think of yourself as unfit to see Krishna. That will enrich you.”

Swamiji nods thoughtfully and looks at each of us. We do not speak, nor do our eyes leave him.

“Yes,” he continues, “when Krishna left Vrindaban for His father’s place, Radharani was feeling in that way, always mad after Krishna. So Chaitanya Mahaprabhu displayed these feelings of Radharani, and we should understand that this is the best way for worshipping Krishna and becoming Krishna conscious.”

He stops again, waits, thinking, then goes on.

“You know that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu threw Himself in the sea, crying, ‘Krishna, are You here? Krishna, are You there?’ And Lord Chaitanya’s direct disciples, the Goswamis, Rupa and Sanatan Goswami, also worshipped Krishna in that feeling of separation. There is one nice verse about them.”

He begins to chant ecstatically, his voice rich and full.

he radhe vraja-devike cha lalite he nanda-suno kutah
sri-govardhana-kalpa-padapa-tale kalindi-vanye kutah
ghosantav iti sarvato vraja-pure khedair maha-vihvalau
vande rupa-sanatanau raghu-yugau sri-jiva-gopalakau.
“I offer my respectful obeisances to the six Goswamis—Srila Rupa Goswami, Sri Sanatana Goswami, Sri Raghunatha-bhatta Goswami, Sri Raghunatha-dasa Goswami, Sri Jiva Goswarm and Sri Gopala-bhatta Goswami—who were chanting very loudly everywhere in Vrindaban, shouting, ‘O Queen of Vrindaban, Radharani! O Lalita! O son of Nanda Maharaj! Where are You now? Are You on Govardhan hill, or under the trees on the Yamuna’s banks? Where are You?’ These were their moods in Krishna consciousness.“

He pauses, closes his eyes, then speaks again.

“Later on, when the Goswamis were very mature in devotional service, they were daily going about Vrindaban, just like madmen, crying, ‘Krishna, where You are?’…

After this, Swamiji says no more but sits cross-legged on the dais, hands folded, eyes closed in sudden, unexpected, rapt meditation. It’s as though he’s been struck by a bolt from the blue. As we sit watching him, we all suddenly feel an electric, vibrant stillness settling over the temple. This is something very unusual, we all sense, yet dare not speak, dare not look at one another, dare not take our eyes from him. Perceivable spiritual phenomenon! We can actually see him withdraw deep within himself and leave the body, the temple, the city, the world far behind, so deep is his communion. We bathe in this intense silence for only three or four minutes, but, as in earthquakes, those minutes seem eternal for us all. But unlike earthquakes, there is no tumult. Just an awesome stillness prolonging those minutes more than tumult ever could.

We see his consciousness return to his body. He clears his throat, slowly opens his eyes, and reaches for the cymbals beside him.

“Let us have kirtan,” he says quietly, and begins chanting “Govinda Jai Jai”.

Afterwards, Subal runs up to me, his blue eyes popping.

“Did you see that? Did you see it?”

We all begin speculating on what had happened. We call it “the samadhi lecture.” It’s the subject of whispered conversation for days.

It looks as though Mr. Payne, the real estate agent, absconded with the $5,000 temple deposit. Swamiji talks to Brahmananda long distance.

“Get Mr. Goldsmith, our lawyer,” he tells him. “We must retrieve the money.”

Brahmananda admits that it is his fault; he gave Mr. Payne the money without a proper contract. Suddenly he must pay the balance or lose the $5,000.

“These young boys have been tricked,” Swamiji says. Then he shakes his head. “Money is such a thing! Once money is out of your hand…” He waves his hand in the air, as if flicking off water. Then he laughs. “It’s gone.”

But this, among other matters, presses Swamiji to return to New York. Unfortunately, Mukunda has only one speaking engagement for him at Berkeley, April 6. Beyond that, nothing. Brahmananda writes of scores of engagements lined up in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. And there’s the new Montreal temple to visit.

“Perhaps Brahmananda can arrange for me to speak to your President Johnson,” Swamiji laughs. “That is very difficult, no? And yet people are talking of speaking to God. What does a man think he is that God should come before him? And rascals are saying, ‘I am God.‘”

Brahmananda mails a tape recording of all the New York devotees telling Swamiji how much they miss him. It is a desperate plea for him to return. Mukunda and I flinch as Swamiii listens sympathetically.

“It’s Brahmananda’s plot to get him back,” I tell Mukunda afterwards.

The same evening, Swamiji informs us that he is flying to New York April 9. Make reservations immediately.

A bread truck passes down Frederick Street and turns up Stanyan. Swamiji sees it from his apartment window. “Simply Delicious!” is painted in large letters on the bread truck.

Swamiji laughs. “Simply dangerous,” he says. “This material world is simply dangerous. Death is always standing beside us, waiting. For the nondevotee, Krishna comes as death. But for the devotee, death comes as Krishna.”

April 6: The Pauley Ballroom on the University of California’s Berkeley campus, center of student Vietnam war resistance. About five hundred students come to hear Swamiji discuss the nature of the soul and give his peace formula.

The format is the same as always—chanting, lecture, question period, more chanting. A very loquacious, effeminate Negro dominates the question period.

“Swamiji, what’s my name?” he asks.

Swamiji cannot see him; he’s just a voice in the crowd.

“Your name is Krishna-das, he says.

“What does that mean?”

“Servant of Krishna.”

“Why servant?”

“Because in relation to Krishna, it’s our constitutional duty to serve. The fingers serve the hand; the parts serve the whole. As eternal parts of Krishna, it’s our duty to serve. But how? That you must find out.”

“But I’m not serving Krishna.”

“Then you are serving maya. But serve you must.”

“I serve myself.”

“Yes,” Swamiji says patiently. “You serve your senses. Your tongue says, ‘Take this nice food,’ and you eat. The eyes say, ‘See this nice girl,’ and you look. So how are you not servant?”

No reply.

“You must serve. Either maya or Krishna. If you master your senses, you become goswami. And with purified senses, you can serve Krishna. That is your perfection.”

“But why serve at all? Why all this emphasis on service in the first place?”

“Because it is our nature to want to serve someone we love. We want to do something for our beloved. Is that not natural?”

“Yes. I guess so.”

“Why guess? You must know. If love for a person is there, some form of service follows. It must! That is our happiness, that service, our eternal happiness. Therefore we must cultivate love for Krishna.“

The students join in the chanting but afterwards leave the auditorium shaking their heads. They are skeptical. For them, Vietnam is life’s main problem, the only thorn in the side of happiness. So how is Hare Krishna really going to end the Vietnam war?

“Wars are always going on. In Kali-yuga, men fight over nothing,” Swamiji says.

Press coverage of the meeting is most offensive. A Berkeley Barb reporter writes that “the female devotees in their exotic costumes reminded me of harem dancers from a forgotten Hollywood epic.” The reporter also admits spending most of his time watching “a decidedly uninhibited young lady successfully levitate her miniskirt by means of vigorously erotic calisthenics.” And so on.

Worst of all, Swamiji’s peace formula is criticized: “Easy things are nice, but easy things don’t work.”

We don’t dare show the article to Swamiji. Enraged, I phone The Barb.

“We’re really offended,” I tell the editor. “Our brahmacharinis certainly don’t look like harem dancers.”

“The writer has the right to his subjective opinion,” the editor says.

I agree to this, but catch them on a philosophical error. When the Negro asked who he was, Swamiji is reported as saying, “You are God.“

“This is impossible,” I say. “He said, ‘You are a servant of God.’”

Yielding to this point, the editor prints a retraction, adding: “In this way the Swami’s religion differs from that of Timothy Leary. Leary likes to tell humans, ‘You are God.’”

April 9: Swamiji leaves for the airport. Before entering the car, he stops, cane in hand, and gives a long look at the little storefront temple. It is a look that says a great deal. Gurudas snaps a photo at that very instant.

“That’s a farewell look,” I think to myself.

At the airport, the girls cry. Swamiji quiets them by assuring us that he will return for Lord Jagannatha’s Rathayatra festival on July 9.

“You must arrange a procession down the main street,” he tells us. “Do it nicely. We must attract many people. They have such a great procession yearly in Jagannatha Puri. At this time, the Deity may leave the temple.”

We watch him disappear down the passenger corridor to the plane.

Back at the temple, I clean his upstairs apartment and keep his bedroom as an altar room. Although wanting to return to New York, I must follow his instructions to maintain the temple nicely and negotiate with a San Francisco printer.

Since the environs of the temple and its atmosphere remind us of Swamiji, we cannot properly say that we are without him. His presence is felt even more intensely, and for the first time we begin to understand what is meant by worship in separation being the most ecstatic rasa.

Haridas, Mukunda, Shyamasundar, Gurudas, Jayananda, Subal, Upendra. And the weeping girls: Janaki, Malati, Yamuna, Harsharani, Lilavati.…

We all have to console one another and see that the little storefront stays afloat in the Haight-Ashbury. After all, Swamiji promised to return in three months.

“Chaitanya Mahaprabhu showed the way of the perfect devotee,” Swamiji’s words remind us. “Worship in separation. When Krishna left Vrindaban, the gopis were maddened in His absence. For the rest of their lives, they shed tears for Krishna. They acted in many strange ways; this is told in the Shastras. Rendering service in the rasa of separation elevates us to the highest level of perfection, to the platform of the gopis.”

End of Chapter 9

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