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.

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San Francisco Rathayatra (Chapter 11)

The Hare Krishna Explosion
by Hayagriva das

Part II: San Francisco, 1967
Chapter 11

San Francisco Rathayatra

As the passengers file through the gate into the terminal, we all wait anxiously, wondering how Swamiji will look. Somehow, we cannot imagine him gaunt, disabled or feeble. It is difficult for us to accept that his body, the medium for his teaching, could in any way break down, in defiance of the great spiritual personality within.

He is the last off the plane, accompanied by Kirtanananda. Despite the severity of his stroke, he looks virtually unchanged, only a little weary. The girls rush toward him and burst into tears. We throw flowers taken from Golden Gate Park: rhododendrons and hibiscus. He smiles appreciatively, but says nothing, and this is strange. Instead of giving his usual airport talk, he looks to us to show him the direction out. He chants Hare Krishna softly, his fingers incessantly caressing the japa beads in the beadbag, counting the rounds.

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Soul Struck (Chapter 10)

The Hare Krishna Explosion
by Hayagriva das

Part II: San Francisco, 1967
Chapter 10

Soul Struck

During April and May, tourism and hippy fantasy soar to rare heights in the Haight-Ashbury. Like a Mardi Gras carnival, the celebration is cresting, rushing toward some indefinite Ash Wednesday.

Kirtans are wild and uninhibited. We often chant at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms, during intermissions between rock groups. A “Summer of Love” festival is organized, and we chant at be-in’s in Golden Gate Park, at the YMCA and Psychedelic Shop, and with hippy sun worshipers at Morning Star Ranch.

The spring passes so quickly, perhaps because its days are filled with long hours of sunshine and festivity. Youths from all sections of the nation roam and lounge throughout the park, barefoot and dungareed, leisurely creating what they hope is a new community of love and peace, a world where no one is over thirty, where there is no violence, ignorance or death. And they chant Hare Krishna because they see ISKCON as an exotic flower in the hippy bouquet, something even further removed from twentieth century America, from the political activists and their endless strife. Generally, activists and Negroes shun us, considering us on far-out trips, dabbling in the cultures of undeveloped nations.

But what do they know of Krishna? Or of Swamiji? What do any of us really know?

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Flowers for Lord Jagannatha (Chapter 8)

The Hare Krishna Explosion
by Hayagriva das

Part II: San Francisco, 1967
Chapter 8

Flowers for Lord Jagannatha

The days of February are beautiful with perfect temperatures in the seventies, fog rolling off early, skies very blue and clear, sun falling bright and sharp on the lush foliage of Golden Gate Park. The park encloses the largest variety of plant and tree life to be found in any one spot on earth. We are at a loss to identify plants for Swamiji.

“When Chaitanya Mahaprabhu passed through the forests, all the plants, trees and creepers were delighted to see Him and rejoiced in His presence. Plant life is like that in the spiritual sky—fully conscious.”

“And these trees, Swamiji? How conscious are they?”

“Oh, spirit soul is there, but consciousness has been arrested temporarily. Perception is more limited.”

Swamiji strolls by men playing checkers, passes beneath the tall oaks, past the shuffleboard court, then stops and turns to speak.

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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.”

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Back to Godhead (Chapter 6)

The Hare Krishna Explosion
by Hayagriva das

Part I: New York, 1966
Chapter 6

Back to Godhead

“October 21, 1966. I walk into Swamiji’s room, offer obeisances, and he hands me the first three volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam, which he had printed in India.

“Here,” he says. “Take and read.”

I open the books. In the front of each, he has written my spiritual name. “With my best blessings, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.”

“Oh, thank you, Swamiji,” I say.

“That’s all right,” he says, smiling. “Now you compile this Back To Godhead magazine.”

Back to Godhead! That is, we were there once. It’s a question of recovering a lost land. As Swamiji says: “I have come to remind you of what you have forgot.”

Following the orders of his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, Swamiji began Back To Godhead in 1944. Published bi-monthly in India from 1944 to 1956, Back To Godhead established Swamiji as one of India’s leading personalists. Now Swamiji enjoins Rayarama and me to introduce it to the West.

“Work sincerely,” he tells us,”and make it as big as your Time Magazine.”

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The Hare Krishna Explosion (Chapter 5)

The Hare Krishna Explosion
by Hayagriva Prabhu

Part I: New York, 1966
Chapter 5

The Hare Krishna Explosion

“If Krishna sees you are taking one step toward Him,” Swamiji says, “He will take ten toward you. He is so happy to see you turn to Him. He is more eager to see us return to Godhead than we are to go.”

Back in the Mott Street apartment, I stare at myself in the mirror and repeat my new name. “Now you are Krishna’s,” I think, inspecting the new kanthi beads around my neck. “These are Krishna’s dog collars, and they don’t come off.”

We all optimistically resolve to try to follow the rules. For most of us, meat eating and gambling pose no problems. Rules governing sex and intoxicants, however, force some rapid changes in living patterns. I decide to convert the old Mott Street apartment into a brahmachari ashram. Down come the psychedelic posters, and up go pictures of lotus-eyed Krishna.

The next day at the temple, we find a new notice posted on the bathroom door. There are additional rules and regulations written neatly in ink by Swamiji himself.

NOTICE

All initiated devotees must attend morning and evening classes. Must not be addicted to any kind of intoxicants, including coffee, tea and cigarettes. They are forbidden to have illicit sex-connections. Must be strictly vegetarian. Should not extensively mix with non-devotees. Should not eat foodstuffs cooked by non-devotees. Should not waste time in idle talks nor engage in frivolous sports. Should always chant and sing the Lord’s holy names, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Thank you.
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Acharya

Umapati says nothing when he reads the notice. Rayarama simply chuckles.
“No coffee, no tea,” he says, shaking his head.

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Second Avenue Fire Sacrifice (Chapter 4)

The Hare Krishna Explosion
by Hayagriva Prabhu

Part I: New York, 1966
Chapter 4

Second Avenue Fire Sacrifice

September 8, 1966. Janmastami. Lord Krishna, we learn, is not born like an ordinary child. He appears. Five thousand years ago, in Mathura, India, He appeared as four-armed Narayana, attired in His transcendental garments. At His mother’s request, He assumed a two-armed form, like an ordinary child. Sri Krishna is most obliging to His devotees.

“Today we will fast,” Swamiji tells us. “Normally we do not fast all day. Krishna consciousness is not for one who eats too much or too little. Gandhi fasted many days for political reasons, but we don’t. In Bhagavad-gita, that kind of fasting is considered rajasic, or passionate. We fast according to regulations: Ekadasi, the eleventh day of the full moon, we take no grains. That is a partial fast. And Janmastami, there is complete fast all day until midnight. So today we will fast and chant, and tomorrow there will be initiation.”

There are eleven of us to be initiated. Roy buys us beads for chanting, a hundred and eight round wooden beads the size of marbles. Standing in the courtyard behind the temple, I string them into a rosary called a japa-mala. While chanting, I carefully slide each bright, red bead up the string and then knot it. It takes hours to complete knotting all the beads. When I ask Swamiji why there are a hundred and eight, he tells me that they represent the gopis, the Vrindaban cowherd girls beloved of Lord Krishna.

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Who is Crazy? (Chapter 3)

The Hare Krishna Explosion
by Hayagriva das

Part I: New York, 1966
Chapter 3

Who is Crazy?

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

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

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

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Transcendental Invitations (Chapter 2)

The Hare Krishna Explosion
by Hayagriva das

Part I: New York, 1966
Chapter 2

Transcendental Invitations

The next morning, when I go alone to see the Swami, he seems to be expecting me. Directly and simply, he begins to explain that he needs help in spreading Krishna consciousness around the world. Noticing that he has been typing, I offer to type for him, and he hands me the manuscript of the First Chapter, Second Canto, of Vyasadeva’s Srimad-Bhagavatam.

“You can type this?”

“Oh yes,” I say.

He is delighted. We roll a small typewriter table out of the corner, and I begin work. His manuscript is single spaced without margins on flimsy, yellowing Indian paper. It appears that the Swami tried to squeeze every word possible onto the pages. I have to use a ruler to keep from losing my place.

The first words read: “O the king.” I naturally wonder whether “O” is the king’s name, and “the king” stands in apposition. After concluding that “O King” is intended instead, I consult the Swami.

“Yes,” he says. “Change it, then.”

As I retype another paragraph, I notice certain grammatical discrepancies, perhaps typical of Bengalis who learned English from British headmasters in the early 1900s. Considerable editing is required to get the text to conform with current American usage. After pointing out a few changes, I tell the Swami that if he so desired, I could make all the proper corrections.

“Very good,” he says, smiling. “Do it! Put it nicely.”

Thus my editorial services begin.

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Visitor From Calcutta (Chapter 1)

The Hare Krishna Explosion
by Hayagriva dasa

Part I: New York, 1966
Chapter 1

Visitor From Calcutta

I first see him just after crossing the Bowery at Houston Street. As he passes before the iron-mesh fence of a playground, I distinctly glimpse the aura of saintliness. I watch him through the rushing traffic and stumbling derelicts.

He strolls almost jauntily down the sidewalk. He is an old man whom age has never touched. Aloof from the people and bustle about him, he walks proudly, independently, his hand in a cloth beadbag. He wears the saffron robes of a sannyasi, and on his feet are quaint, pointed white shoes.

Only seven months ago, I had seen many saffron-robed monks and holymen walking the dirt roads of Hardwar and Rishikesh, and stopping beside the Ganges to bathe. For me, that had been a futile journey to the mystic East in search of the all-knowing guru.

But now—what’s this?

I look again at the pointed white shoes. Did this man follow me all the way from North India? Or did he just suddenly descend from the clouds onto Manhattan sidewalks? I decide I must speak to him.

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