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The First Class
When I finally reached Mike’s house I enthusiastically told him about ‘the Swami’ and the transcendental mantra. He could not relate. Frustrated, and wanting to recapture the mood of the temple, I sat down and tried to memorize the mantra from the sheet of paper I had been given: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Mike thought I was in a stupor and left the room, angry that I was ignoring him.

The next morning I returned to the temple for the 7:00 program. They sang Sanskrit chants along with the Hare Krsna mantra. When Srila Prabhupada began to speak, his resonant voice seemed filled with both timelessness and urgency. He first gave a translation of the Hare Krsna mantra: “O energy of God, O God, I am suffering now in this world due to serving Your illusory material energy. Please pick me up and engage me in the service of Your spiritual energy so I can be happy. O Lord, I have come to this world to enjoy, but I find that I can’t. Please appoint me in Your service.”


“Yes, this world is a dream,” he said.
“But when I wake up from my dream,
I am still here. Although I am not the
person I thought I was in the dream,
I have not lost my identity.
I am still here, still a person.”

Using a cloth-covered scripture on his lectern for reference, Prabhupada said that we are not these physical bodies. He confidently explained that we are atomic spirit souls within the body, and that it is due to the presence of the soul that the body is active. He gave the analogy of a glove moving only because of the hand inside it. He described that the body appears alive only because the soul is present within, and that death is when the soul leaves the body. I was right: this saintly person was able to provide answers to my heart’s questions.

Prabhupada next revealed that we, the souls in this world, are wandering and transmigrating through many species of life, throughout many universes, and that we are suffering in different bodies and bodily conditions due to our past activities. When, in the course of such wandering we become fortunate, God, Krsna, arranges that we connect with of His representatives—His pure devotees. Then, by the grace of those pure devotees, we may attain Krsna’s service and association.

From what I heard so far, this was already the most comprehensive philosophy I had ever encountered. Although the concepts intrigued me, however, there were so many new ideas that I could only catch fragments of each. The idea that I was not this small shell of a body was not new to me, but I’d thought I was the whole cosmos. Now I was learning that we are all minute eternal souls. As eternal souls, we can accept a body, not only in this universe, but in any one of the millions of universes

I had been taught in school that our universe is the only one; and that of the nine planets existing within it, this earth is the only one that maintains life. But now it suddenly struck me as absurd to consider that our universe is hanging in a void. If this were so, then there was no reason behind our suffering; it would just be handed out randomly and cruelly.

Prabhupada’s Indian scriptures even had an explanation why we are suffering in this world: because we were sinful in our past lives. Although I found the concept of having been sinful in another life difficult to imagine, the idea of reincarnation did bring my question about existing prior to becoming my mother’s daughter into perspective.

If I were to accept Srila Prabhupada’s explanation of the world, then it would also mean that nothing happens by chance—not even the fact that I had been born into my family in the Bronx. Although it seemed like a lot to take in, it was so fascinating and illuminating that I wanted to hear more. I was clearly one of those wandering suffering souls this holy master was talking about.

During the question and answer period at the end of the class, a young, very tall and lean man stood up and asked, “Isn’t this world a dream? When we become self-realized, don’t we merge with the ‘All’ and lose our individual identity?”

I eagerly waited for Prabhupada’s answer as I had the question. “Yes, this world is a dream,” he said. “But when I wake up from my dream, I am still here. Although I am not the person I thought I was in the dream, I have not lost my identity. I am still here, still a person.”

Prabhupada continued to explain that only in ignorance can we think we are lost, and that if, by receiving transcendental knowledge we come to our real position of eternal servitorship to the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna, we will know that we can never be lost. A person who has lost all his money may think he is lost, but actually he is not missing—only his money is gone. It is his attachment with the money that causes him to think that he himself is lost. Recalling the money I had lost to that unscrupulous drug dealer, and my subsequent despondency, I now tried to adjust to the new thought pattern.

Prabhupada went on to explain that the concept of becoming one with the Supreme Lord is another symptom of being lost in false ego. We erroneously believe that we ourselves are the Supreme He described that maya, the illusory energy, sets a snare to entrap us further in this material world—to trick us into believing that we are God instead of accepting that we are God’s servants. One after another, Prabhupada saw every misconception that arose in my mind and offered a solution.

Later that morning, as I was leaving the temple, I noticed the sign in the front window:

INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY
FOR
KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS
A. C. BHAKTIVEDANTA
LECTURES ON THE BHAGAVAD-GITA
MONDAY OCTOBER 17, 1966
7 P.M.
KRISHNA AS HE IS
DAILY MORNING CLASS 7 A.M.


I decided to come back for the evening lecture. On returning to school, I now found talking to my friends stale. The conversations which I had previously found so witty, now seemed irrelevant and mundane. Even smoking marijuana seemed pointless and unexciting.

* * * *

 


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