Passage to India (Chapter 12)

The Hare Krishna Explosion
by Hayagriva das

Part II: San Francisco, 1967
Chapter 12

Passage to India

Paradisio isn’t quite paradise. The birdstool on the Buddha was no doubt portentous. There is very little sunshine. Behind the beach house, to the east, a mountain range blocks out the morning sun, and by midday, clouds and fog roll in. The temperature is also rather cool for July.

To fully recover, Swamiji needs lots of sun. He especially misses the morning sun. He feels that if he can just get enough light and heat, his condition will improve. Because of this, he begins talking of returning to India, and this upsets us. We’ve supplied the nicest place possible near San Francisco, but we can’t supply the sun.

Moreover, Swamiji regrets having no close temple contact. He wants to visit a temple at least twice a week, but the winding road into San Francisco is too arduous.

He speaks more frequently of India. He wants to consult Ayurvedic doctors, who generally prescribe natural herbs recommended in certain Vedic writings. And then there’s Indian massage, another art unknown to us. Swamiji complains that Western doctors know only how to cut with knives and stick with needles. We don’t know what to suggest. We feel inadequate, helpless.

After the Rathayatra festival, Swamiji tells me that I should live at Paradisio and work full time on the final manuscript of Bhagavad-gita. In New York, Brahmananda continues to negotiate with publishers. The books must be printed at all costs. My job: prepare the manuscript nicely.

“It must be well stated in the English language,” Swamiji insists. “If there are any questions about the translations, you may ask me. Remember, edit for force and clarity.”

Daily, I try to clarify and strengthen the sentences without changing the style or meddling with the meaning, and, needless to say, this is very difficult. I soon find myself consulting Swamiji on every other verse, and occasionally he dictates an entirely different translation. The verse translations themselves are most problematical because they often differ from the word by word Sanskrit-English meanings accompanying them. What to do?

“Quit bothering him,” Kirtanananda tells me. “Whenever anyone’s in his room, he talks to the point of exhaustion.”

True. He talks sitting up. Then he leans back and talks. Then rests on one elbow. Then lies on his side, still talking, still clarifying, still praising Krishna.

At this time, he tells Haridas: “I no longer have a physical body. It is all spiritual.”

Haridas leaves his room almost in tears. “Swamiji’s more beautiful than ever,” he tells me. “Is it possible for your spiritual master to make spiritual progress?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “He says that spiritual life is always dynamic.”

“He seems to be vibrating on a much higher platform now,” Haridas insists.

“Others are saying the same,” I say. “But it could be just our perception.“

“He’s chanting more now,” Haridas insists. “Even more than at Mishra’s, more than I’ve ever heard him chant before.”

“I wouldn’t want to speculate about it,” I say.

Swamiji finally tires of my consulting him about Bhagavad-gita verses.

“Just copy the verses from some other translation,” he tells me, discarding the whole matter with a wave of his hand. “The verses aren’t important. There are so many translations, more or less accurate, and the Sanskrit is always there. It’s my purports that are important. Concentrate on the purports. There are so many, nonsense purports like Radhakrishnan’s, and Gandhi’s, and Nikhilananda’s. What is lacking are these Vaishnava purports in the preaching line of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. That is what is lacking in English. That is what is lacking in the world.”

“I can’t just copy others,” I say.

“There is no harm.”

“But that’s plagiarism.”

“How’s that? They are Krishna’s words. Krishna’s words are clear, like the sun. Just these rascal commentators have diverted the meaning by saying, ‘Not to Krishna.’ So my purports are saying, ‘To Krishna.’ That is the only difference.”

At ten or eleven, when the sun sometimes appears over the hills, Swamiji walks out to the beach, sits on a little carpet, and chants Hare Krishna. Chanting in a very soft voice, hardly audible, he sits cross-legged and wears a towel wrapped about his head like a turban. At any moment, we expect to look up and see the carpet flying west, across the sea, to India.

Under persistent clouds, the days at Stinson Beach pass quickly. About five in the morning, Kirtanananda awakes and listens for Swamiji to stir, and as soon as he does, Kirtanananda goes into his room and opens a window to let in the early morning breeze. Swamiji expresses a special fondness for early morning breezes. Unfortunately, at Stinson Beach, there are no early morning sunrises.

On his morning walks, Swamiji is accompanied by Upendra, an eighteen-year-old brahmachari, solicitous and devoted, who quietly follows Swamiji as he walks down the beach. Swamiji often walks a short distance, sits on a log or some driftwood, and watches the ocean roll in. Sometimes he sits silently, and sometimes he recites verses in Bengali and Sanskrit, or talks about Krishna and the importance of spreading the movement. These are quiet, peaceful, beautiful, intimate moments. Then later, if the sun appears, he sits outside on a carpet or a folding chair, trying to absorb as much light and heat as possible. He continues telling us that he needs more sun. And this, of course, brings up plans for returning to India.

“I will take some of you to India for training,” he tells us. “Now Kirtanananda may accompany me. And you, Hayagriva, may also come. And Mukunda and Shyamasundar.”

“But none of us have passage money,” I say.

“That I will arrange. The owner of Scindia Steamship Company, Sumati Morarji, may help. You have been on their boats; you know they are quite adequate. Maybe she will give free passage for my disciples to come to Vrindaban.”

“You will go back to Vrindaban?”

“I don’t know when death will overcome me,” he says gravely. “I wish to die in Vrindaban.”

“Please don’t speak of leaving us now, Swamiji,” Kirtanananda says.

“The spiritual master never leaves his disciple,” he says. “I have never once felt that my Guru Maharaj has left me. But now this body is old and may go at any moment. Of course, it doesn’t matter whether I die in America or Vrindaban. To think of Krishna is to be in Vrindaban.”

“Then stay with us here, Swamiji,” I say. “You can train us up here. If you want, we can go down to Los Angeles where there’s more sun.

“Yes, more sun is required,” Swamiji laughs. “But Vrindaban is special. You will see. Vrindaban is the only place in this universe where Krishna consciousness is automatically revealed.”

Every morning, a different devotee comes up to Paradisio to visit Swamiji for a day. Although there is no formal initiation ritual or fire sacrifice, Swamiji chants on the initiates’ beads and bestows spiritual names: Aniruddha, Uddhava, Murari, Devananda.

One day, when Janaki visits, she takes exception to the painting of Lord Nrishingadeva tearing out the entrails of the demon Hiranyakashipu. “It’s really ghastly, Swamiji, she says, making a face.

“For the devotees, it is beautiful,” he says. “The devotee praises Lord Nrishingadev: dalita hiranyakashipu tanu bhringam. ‘With the nails of Your beautiful hands, you have torn apart this wasp-like demon.’ Hiranyakashipu was such a great demon that he even tried to kill his small son, Prahlada Maharaja, just because he was a devotee. So the Lord killed Hiranyakashipu to protect His devotee and liberate the demon.”

“But there are no such demons now, Swamiji,” Janaki says.

“Oh yes,” Swamiji says. “Demon means nondevotee.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t call them demons,” Kirtanananda suggests. “People will never come if we call them demons.”

“But they are demons,” Swamiji says. “If you are not a devotee, you’re a demon.”

“Aren’t most people somewhere in between?” Kirtanananda persists.

“‘In between’ means demon,” Swamiji says.

“But most people never heard of Krishna,” Kirtanananda says. “How can they be called demons?”

“Everyone has heard of God,” Swamiji says. “Krishna is God. Anyway, they may be innocent; therefore we are informing them. But actually, because they’re here in this material world, they are not really innocent. Somehow, they’ve chosen to forget Krishna, and are therefore demons.”

“I thought that in Krishna consciousness, you see Krishna in everyone,” Kirtanananda says.

“Yes,” Swamiji says, “Krishna is also in the demon. But does this mean that we aspire to be demons? Unless you distinguish between demons and devotees, you cannot progress in Krishna consciousness.”

“Can demons become devotees?”

“Of course—by chanting Hare Krishna and agreeing to serve Krishna. And devotees may temporarily fall down and act like demons. That independence is always there.”

After a week at Paradisio, Swamiji’s health fails to improve, and he finally decides that he must leave. Since there is little sun and a persistent fog, this is understandable. There is only one other decision to make—whether to go west via Japan, or east via New York. Since his money is in a savings account in New York, he decides to head east. Kirtanananda will accompany him.

“When Kirtanananda sees Vrindaban,” he says, “he will not be able to understand how I could have left to come here. Vrindaban is so nice. There are no motor cars rushing everywhere and smoking so. There is only Hare Krishna, and everybody is always chanting. There are no less than five thousand temples. I will show you, Kirtanananda. We will walk all around there, and I will show you everything.”

He tells me that I must remain and work with Brahmananda to see that Bhagavad-gita is published. Brahmananda is big, impressive, talkative, assertive. He will convince by his stature. I will convince by diction. Meanwhile, Swamiji himself will recover in India and return upon regaining full strength.

During our last days in Stinson Beach, a number of boys from the San Francisco temple continue to visit, coming one by one for initiation, or just to get Swamiji’s precious association. As people come and go, Kirtanananda is always careful to see that Swamiji doesn’t overexert. Throughout the day, I remain on the patio revising Bhagavad-gita and seldom disturbing Swamiji for questions. In the afternoons, when Swamiji sits on the beach, Upendra and I swim briefly in the chilly Pacific.

“Careful not to catch cold,”Swamiji warns like an anxious parent.

The most enjoyable moments are in the evenings when we hold kirtans. We play the Hare Krishna record on a portable phonograph and chant along. Swamiji sits on the living room couch and claps his hands; his eyes remain closed in intense meditation. In order not to tire him, we keep the kirtans from getting too loud. There are never more than three or four of us present. At times, when I look out the window and see the ocean rolling in, then turn and see Swamiji sitting on the couch, and the picture of Jagannatha Puri temple hanging on the wall behind him, it seems that we are actually in Jagannatha Puri. Swamiji always transports his own atmosphere.

After chanting Hare Krishna, we read from Bhagavad-gita, then chant and dance to “Govinda jai jai, Gopala jai jai, Radharamana Hari, Govinda jai jai.” Sometimes Swamiji also gets up to dance, and although we worry that he is straining himself, it is wonderful to watch.

Swamiji makes reservations to leave for New York and from there to India. He continues to speak of the Indian sun and Ayurvedic physicians.

Some of the devotees, worried that Swamiji has decided to go to India to leave his body, ask him whether, during his absence, one of his God-brothers should come to America to assume ISKCON leadership.

The minute this question is presented to him, we sense that it is offensive. Swamiji becomes very grave, closing his eyes, and for a moment he seems to consider it. Then suddenly we see tears falling down his cheeks.

“My Guru Maharaj… he was no ordinary spiritual master,” he says, wiping away the tears. “He… saved me.

Later, Swamiji tells us what we should have always known: There is no one to replace him. The very idea is insulting.

“If someone comes and tells you something different,” he says, “you will be confused.”

The subject is dropped forever.

On the day of departure, Shyamasundar and Malati drive out to pick up Swamiji and Kirtanananda. Haridas, Upendra, and I follow them to the Frederick Street temple. There are dozens of boys and girls waiting before the temple, begging for initiation. They all feel that they will never see him again.

In his apartment beside the temple, the scene is chaotic. Not even Kirtanananda can keep order. The new initiates come up in groups of four, and Swamiji chants on all their beads. As at Stinson Beach, there is no fire sacrifice—just the chanting of beads and the bestowal of spiritual names.

Against our advice, Swamiji descends to the temple in the evening. It is packed. When he enters, we bow down, and the kirtan halts. Everyone senses a dramatic change since Swamiji’s illness. Before, he was sometimes taken for granted; now he is regarded with constant veneration. In his presence, there is an awesome attentiveness. When he sits on the dais, every eye watches him. He indicates that we are to continue the chanting.

After the kirtan, instead of leaving as planned, Swamiji asks for the microphone.

“I thought he’s not supposed to talk,” I whisper to Kirtanananda.

“There’s no stopping him now.”

At first, Swamiji begins to talk slowly, speaking of the importance of Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtan movement and then of his good fortune in coming to America.

“I left home thinking that I was giving up my children,” he tells us. “In India, I had only five children to take care of. Now I’ve come to your country, and suddenly I have hundreds of children, and you are all taking care of me. So, this is Krishna’s grace. Krishna promises that when you enter His service, He will preserve what you have and in addition bring you everything you need.

“Now I am going to India for a little while, but I will return here when I have fully recovered. There may be some separation materially, but when we chant Hare Krishna, there is no question of separation. On that transcendental platform, we are all one. We are one in Krishna’s service, just as the parts of the body are one.

“There may be attacks by maya. Maya is very strong. But we must stay firm in our Krishna consciousness. This is purely spiritual. Please do not take it lightly. You are all young boys and girls and have your lives before you. In this material world, everything comes and goes, but I beg you not to waste your lives with these material things….

Then, for the first time in a lecture, we hear his voice break, and see tears in his eyes.

“Don’t throw away your lives. Human life is such… an opportunity. I beg you… to take to this process. It is most sublime. It is… eternal.“

Although Swamiji quickly regains his outward composure, we all remain shaken—the boys on the verge of tears, the girls openly crying.

“We may come and go,” he concludes, “but this chanting of Hare Krishna remains.”

He sits on the dais a long time in silence, contemplating the conditioned souls before him, souls clad in young American bodies, souls confused and bewildered but somehow fortunately in his presence.

“This Krishna consciousness is so nice,” he says at length, “that once you are established, you will see Krishna everywhere. Not just in the temple but as Paramatma, Supersoul, in the heart of every living entity. You’ll see Him in every atom of the creation. Then you will say, ‘Oh! Krishna is the proprietor of everything!…

“Do you see the Supersoul in my heart now?” someone asks.

There is a moment’s hesitation, as if the question were offensive. Then: “Yes.”

“Is He sitting or standing?” the questioner persists.

“Standing,” Swamiji says.

Hands are raised. Everyone wants to receive the ultimate answer before he leaves.

“Why is the symbol of Christianity the cross?” someone asks.

Swamiji again hesitates. Usually he does not like to discuss Christianity. Then his eyes suddenly look watery and sad.

“When I think of Lord Jesus on the cross…” He shakes his head. “No. That is not a symbol for devotees. Devotees do not want to concentrate on that, on their master’s suffering. But actually the body of Christ was spiritual. He felt nothing therefore. Like Krishna and Bhisma on the battlefield. When Bhisma’s arrows struck the Lord’s body, they were feeling like kisses. The Lord’s body is never material. It is a great offense to think like that. There is one Aquarian Gospel saying that Christ went to India, I believe.

He lets the subject drop. More hands are raised.

“Do you know yogi Kriyananda?” someone asks.

“I have met him once here.”

“He says that you should listen to no one but yourself, that the truth is in yourself and that it’s a mistake to look elsewhere.”

“Then why are you listening to him?” Swamiji asks. No answer. “No, you must understand that when people say, ‘Don’t listen to anyone,’ they really mean, ‘Just listen to me.’ So he is simply trying to set himself up as ultimate authority, as God. In Kali-yuga, all this is going on.”

More hands are raised, but Swamiji indicates that he must be leaving.

“I just want to tell my initiated disciples to please try to open more temples to spread this chanting of Hare Krishna. Try to understand the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita. Krishna will help you from within. Chant Hare Krishna, study and preach Bhagavad-gita, distribute prasadam. Establish temples along this line. In Vrindaban, there were a hundred and eight gopis who danced with Krishna. So I want a hundred and eight centers of Krishna consciousness established around the world.” He smiles. “Now we have temples in New York, Montreal and here. So there is much work to be done.“

Subal raises his hand.

“Krishna-dasi, Harsharani, Jivananda and I are thinking of going to Santa Fe to open a temple,” he says.

“Very good,” Swamiji says.

“Nandarani and I would like to try Los Angeles,” Dayananda says.

“Yes, you must,” Swamiji says. “That is a very important city, no? So you must go there and to as many cities as possible. By spreading this movement, you render the greatest service to mankind.”

Swamiji then picks up his cymbals, leads a final, brief chanting of Hare Krishna and returns upstairs to his apartment.

Some people still remain to be initiated, and Swamiji stays up late chanting their beads. We suggest that he rest, but he insists that all rounds be completed before he leaves in the morning.

He sleeps little during the night, and he is up early chanting. He descends from his apartment at about eight o’clock, taking to the road once again, wearing a Vaishnava hat that resembles a World War I aviator’s cap, or a Narada Muni space helmet. He is accompanied by Kirtanananda. Mr. Morton follows, looking as glum as ever, still unable to renounce his wife.

We ride in Jayananda’s station wagon to the airport. When we arrive, a crowd of devotees is chanting at the entrance. Airport officials run about, wondering what to do, their loudspeaker announcements drowned out by drums and cymbals.

Snatching Swamiji’s ticket, Janaki tries to make him promise to return. He laughs, pats her hand and says, “That’s all right.”

Then Swamiji looks at me and asks for his pills. I search his bag but can’t find them. He holds out his hand, waiting. I start taking items out of the bag in a frantic search, envisioning him having an attack while waiting. The pills are nowhere. Who packed the bag? Kirtanananda? I empty the contents on a seat. Janaki starts to cry. Kirtanananda blames me for losing the pills. The devotees continue chanting loudly while airport officials run for security officers.

At this moment, Swamiji begins to laugh at the weeping Janaki. He breaks into a beautiful, wide smile, and Gurudas takes a photo. Swamiji keeps laughing, amused by it all.

Passengers begin boarding at the gate. The flight to New York is six hours, nonstop.

“I don’t think he’ll be staying in New York very long,” Kirtanananda confides. “Just a few days.”

Kirtanananda already holds the tickets to India. Thinking of reasons to keep Swamiji in America, I recall all the negative aspects of India: the squalor of congested cities, the rampant diseases, oppressive heat, flies and open sewers, and lack of modern medical facilities. How can Swamiji’s health improve there?

“I still think India’s a big mistake,” I tell Kirtanananda.

“It’s all Swamiji’s idea,” he says. “He wants to see the Ayurvedic physicians.”

After the other passengers have boarded, Swamiji walks through the gate, followed by Kirtanananda. On the ramp, he turns to say, “Hare Krishna!” The girls try to enter the passageway but are barred by the ticket agent. Then Swamiji passes from our sight.

We stand helplessly before the soundproof plate glass window, watching the plane until it starts to taxi down the runway. For a second, we glimpse Swamiji’s hand in his beadbag, waving to us behind one of the windows. Then he is gone, headed for New York, then Delhi, and finally back to a little holy town called Vrindaban.

After Swamiji’s departure, the Frederick Street temple nearly disbands, as half of the initiated devotees leave for other cities. Subal, Krishna-dasi and Jivananda take off for Santa Fe. It seems someone has promised them residence in an old castle. Dayananda and Nandarani leave for Los Angeles. Goursundar and Govinda-dasi return east to New York. Haridas, our temple president, announces that he’s going to the Yucatan to find a little cottage on the beach and paint. Mukunda suggests that I assume the temple presidency, but I assure him that I’m going to try to follow Swamiji to India.

“Jayananda should be president,” I suggest.

Jayananda protests, but we consider this symptomatic of his natural humility. He is obviously the most serious initiate, stable and advanced, and, being a little older, capable of negotiating with groups outside the Haight-Ashbury. We can’t forever remain in Hippyland.

Besides, Hippyland is quickly degenerating. Throughout July, the streets become more congested with tourists from the east and midwest. Somehow the carefree, youthful, innocent optimism is lost. Haight-Ashbury turns into a Greenwich Village honky-tonk nightmare. Sidewalks teem with college kids, runaway teenagers, sailors, soldiers, middle-aged tourists on two-week vacations, pushers, prostitutes. “What’s happening, man?” “Wanna buy some dope?” Mainlining amphetamines replaces LSD. Fewer people talk of mystical experiences or a new consciousness. Life has boiled down to sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

The fragile San Francisco mystical dream has shattered. The pretty, multicolored psychedelic bubble has burst. On Frederick Street, we were in the middle of it, but never part of it. May the spirit of New Jagannatha Purl survive. May Lord Nrishingadev protect His Radha-Krishna Temple.

As before, in his absence, Swamiji’s teachings console us.

“There is no question of separation,” his departing words echo. “The sound vibration fixes us up together, even though the material body may not be there. What do we care for this material body? Just go on chanting Hare Krishna, and we will be together. You will be chanting here, and I will be chanting there, and this vibration will encircle the whole planet. We might be on the other side of the globe, but Hare Krishna circles the globe faster than you can say it. I may be going, but Guru Maharaj and Bhaktivinode are here. They are your spiritual grandfathers, and I have asked them to take kind care of all of you, my transcendental children. So there should be no disturbance. The grandfather always takes care of the children much better than the father. Do not worry.”

End of Chapter 12

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