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Initiation

On November 5, a highly respected beat poet and admirer of Srila Prabhupada named Allen Ginsberg invited the devotees to attend a peace demonstration, where thirty thousand people would be marching up 5th Avenue from Washington Square. Because Mr. Ginsberg assured Prabhupada that he would be leading the marchers with the Hare Krsna chant, he gave his approval for the devotees to join.

Although some of the marchers shouted, “Peace in Vietnam” rather than “Hare Krsna”, most joined in the chanting. Ginsberg led with a small portable harmonium, as Hayagriva played on a trumpet and marched alongside him. With their long hair and beards, the two almost looked like twin brothers.

Marching along and chanting, I reflected how I would have viewed this event just three weeks earlier. I surely would have been enamored by these famous leaders of the peace movement—my heroes; I would have believed that such a march could actually bring an end to war. On that Saturday, however, I believed that only the chanting could end wars. I was happy just to be there chanting, happy to hear everyone else chanting, and happy that after the demonstration some of the marchers came to the temple for prasadam and more chanting.

The next day everyone from the temple accompanied Prabhupada to the large hall of a repertory theater on 10th Street, about ten blocks from the temple, and there he led kirtana and gave a lecture. Feeling natural now with the devotees and Prabhupada, I also went on stage with them. Prabhupada nodded and smiled at me with a look of acceptance. It was a most wonderful feeling to know he recognized me. Although I enjoyed the lecture, when it was over only one sentence stayed with me: “You are meant to be with God at every moment.”

As the audience departed, some of the devotees remained standing in front of the theater. Bob Corens, one of the few devotees who were married and had a job, asked me if I had begun to think about initiation.

“I have some doubts. I like the philosophy, but I don’t know about surrendering my life.” I told him.

Bob said that he felt ready and talked with me for a few moments about the benefits of taking vows. I stood alone for a moment contemplating, “Swamiji teaches that we are not these bodies, and it sounds great. But what if I actually am this body and not an eternal soul? Then what would be the use of vows?”

Just then Prabhupada sent one of the devotees to ask me if I wanted to ride back to the temple with him in the van. I walked quickly to the van, and joined the other devotees with him. Although he did not speak during the short ride, I was overwhelmed with a sense of honor just to be sitting near him. When we arrived at the temple, Prabhupada went directly to his apartment, while the rest of us entered the temple room. We were greeted by dirty pots and pans from lunch, still lying where the devotees had left them before the hall program.

“Usually, they’re taken to the kitchen in the Swami’s apartment just after
prasadam,” Rayarama said. “Whoever usually does it must have forgotten in the excitement of the program.”

Taking the opportunity to do some service, I offered to take them upstairs. Acyutananda was already in the kitchen preparing prasadam for Prabhupada when I walked in with the pots. “You shouldn’t be up here unless you’ve been initiated,” he said sternly.

His words flustered me. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Prabhupada in his greeting room, and so I walked toward the room and lied, “Uh . . . well, that’s why I came up here . . . to ask to be initiated. That’s why I’m here.”

Prabhupada looked up from his desk. Unsurprised by my request, he asked, “Do you know the four rules?”

“Uhh,” I stammered. “No intoxication, no meat, fish or eggs, no gambling and no illicit sex.”

“Can you follow the rules?”

Actually, I had so far only given up cigarettes and drugs. I said, “Uh . . . Yes”,

“All right,” he replied. “You can be initiated in two weeks, with Bob.”

Scarcely believing that I had just had that exchange, rather than feel trepidation at having agreed to be initiated, I felt elated and practically floated back down the stairs. The small courtyard between Prabhupada’s apartment and the temple suddenly looked brillia nt and beautiful even though its trees and shrubs were flowerless; it was beautiful because it was Prabhupada’s courtyard. He had agreed to accept me as his spiritual daughter, and he would be my spiritual master. His very presence had convinced me that I was ready for this next step in my spiritual journey.

That evening I told my family I might get initiated. They knew I had been
visiting the temple, but they felt initiation an extreme step. Seeing my new life in relation to their family circle, they thought I was abandoning them. They were unimpressed with my recent flurry of abrupt statements, “We’re not these bodies, we’re eternal, and therefore I want to know my eternal life,” and “you all are not my real family; all of God’s creation, all living beings are my family.” The second part of my statement hurt them even more than the first. My one-year-younger brother David seemed worried that I might be crazy, our sisters, Carol and Joanne, a few years younger than us, looked crushed at heart, and my mother and father felt rejected.

“It’s too controlled, too communal,” David said, “Maybe you’ve lost your ability to make a free choice. You’re just going to Krsna because it’s the farthest alternative you can think of from our family problems.”

Despite their appeals I continued to go to the temple almost every day. Although my resolution wavered daily from “this is too good to be true”, to\ “but what if there is no Krsna?” there seemed to be a mystical thread that always pulled me back to Srila Prabhupada.


The day before my initiation, following the devotees’ instructions, I bought small red beads at a craft store and then sat in a corner of the temple room and threaded and knotted each bead on the string. Hayagriva came over to watch me. “Swamiji says the 108 beads represent 108 groups of gopis .”

He said I looked up at him quizzically, wondering who the gopis were and what they had to with chanting.

“They’re the transcendental milkmaids who are the greatest devotees of Krsna,” he added. “The beads also represent the 108 scriptures called the Upanisads. So if you chant one good round, 108 beads, you surpass the knowledge of the Upanisads. Swamiji says that initiated devotees chant a minimum of sixteen rounds,” Hayagriva added. “That’s sixteen times 108 beads a day. It takes one and a half to two hours.”

“Is there something special about sixteen?” I asked, pushing the string
through another bead.

“He first told us we had to chant sixty-four rounds a day. That is the standard in our tradition. We tried it, but it was impossible. Then he reduced it to thirty-two; but we still said it was impossible. So he agreed we could do sixteen a day, rock bottom. But Swamiji says a pure devotee, because he is in so much ecstasy by chanting, can’t stop chanting even for a moment.”
“What happens during an initiation ceremony? What’s its actual significance?”

He explained, “Initiations have been taking place for thousands of years.
They’re Vedic.”

The word meant little to me, and I looked puzzled.

“Vedic just means we learn about everything from the Vedic scriptures and ancient Vedic era.” He again saw my blank expression and said, “You’ve not heard of the Vedas? Those are the scriptures Swamiji reads from each day.”

Brahmananda added “The word veda means ‘knowledge’. So all the original knowledge is in the Vedic scriptures.”

“Swamiji says Vedic knowledge is perfect,” Acyutananda said, “because it’s spoken by liberated souls who are in a chain of teachers going back to Krsna Himself. The initiation ceremony connects you with that disciplic chain. As far as what happens at an initiation ceremony, I’ll let you see that for yourself.
Swamiji’s already held three ceremonies and initiated seventeen devotees. You and Bob will be numbers eighteen and nineteen.”

“I can say something about it,” Bob offered, “Swamiji says it means you agree to three things: to accept the guru as good as God, to serve him with your heart for the rest of this life and to serve him eternally thereafter.”

I realized I still had mixed feelings. On one level I knew that this was exactly what I had been searching for my whole life. But at the same time, especially hearing Bob’s words, I still didn’t know if I could go that far—to accept that much surrender.

That evening Prabhupada spoke to my heart during his lecture. “Some of you do not know what is the meaning of this Hare Krsna. . . . It is just addressing the Supreme Lord and His energy, Hara. Hara is the energy and Krsna is the Supreme Lord. So we are addressing, Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna. ‘O energy of the Lord, O Lord, please accept me.’ That’s all. ‘Please accept me.’ We have no other prayer. ‘Please accept me.’ Lord Caitanya taught that we should simply cry, and we shall simply pray for accepting us. That’s all. . . . So Lord Caitanya addresses Him, ‘O my dear Krsna, the son of Nanda, somehow or other, I have now fallen in this ocean of nescience, ignorance. Please pick me up and fix me as one of the atoms of Your lotus feet.’ That’s all. Just like a man fallen in the ocean. If somebody goes and picks him just one inch above the water, he feels immediately relieved. Immediately. So as soon as we are fixed up in Krsna consciousness, there is immediate relief. Immediately. There is no question about it. It is such a nice thing.”

I had been thinking in terms of how much I could accept Krsna, but now I was hearing that surrender to Krsna meant to beg Krsna to accept me. If I had left Krsna and made the mistake of coming to this netherworld, looking for an enjoyment that cannot be found here, I surely needed to ask Krsna to accept me.


* * * *


Having never witnessed an initiation before, nor ever having met any girls who had been initiated, I had no idea how to dress for the ceremony. So I wore what I considered my most spiritual garb: black jeans and a black long-sleeve turtleneck jersey.

The ceremony took place in Prabhupada’s apartment, the same room in which I had originally met him a little over a month earlier. The front room was full of gladiola and roses in large vases, a heavenly frankincense aroma permeated the air, and cinderblocks enclosed a small sandpit.

Prabhupada sat comfortably on a thin mat, before about thirty devotees and guests, and after reciting some Sanskrit verses, he began his lecture. Right from the onset, he explained the Vedas. He said that they are not compiled by defective human knowledge, and neither are they experimental knowledge.

Krsna Himself spoke the Vedas to his liberated disciple Brahma, the first created being, who spoke it to his disciple, and so on. Because the spiritual master comes in this disciplic succession of teachers directly from Krsna, he has rightly heard the Vedic message from the right source and thus can give us this perfect knowledge. Prabhupada outlined four defects which we conditioned souls have that liberated souls do not have: we are illusioned, accepting unreal things as real; we have a tendency to cheat others; our senses are imperfect; and we make mistakes. When I first heard these things I balked, not wanting to admit that I was so flawed. But when Prabhupada explained that we are unable to even see in the dark, or even through a thin piece of paper, it became obvious that I should not expect to so easily see God. He said that because of these defects we cannot give perfect knowledge to anyone.

The ceremony was exhilarating, and I felt as if I were being born into another world—a world operating on a higher level, a world in which there were answers to everything.

Out of everything Prabhupada said during that lecture, I felt that the best part came when he brought the Vedas into my own life—in a most intimate way. “The first birth is from a material mother and father,” Prabhupada said. “And the second birth is from the spiritual mother and father. The supreme spiritual father is Krsna, and He is represented as the spiritual master. The spiritual mother is the Vedic scriptures. Veda mata. Just as mother tells the child about the father, the Vedic literature tells us about Lord Krsna and the spiritual master who is His representative.”

I remembered my relationship with my father. Plagued with his own emotional problems, he had regularly taken his anger and frustrations out on the rest of the family. The morning before I’d met Prabhupada at Tompkins Square Park, I’d had an argument with him, after which he threw a cantelope at my head. I ‘d stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind me and thinking “this isn’t how real fathers behave. He must not really be my father.”

Now, I was being given an opportunity to obtain a genuine spiritual father. I was in wonder when Prabhupada went on to explain that when a disciple fully surrenders to a spiritual master, that spiritual master takes away the karma or sinful reactions of millions of his past lives, blessing the disciple with transcendental knowledge of his relationship with Krsna. I wondered when that full surrender would come.

“Godly life can be adopted by following four principles of religion: austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness,” Prabhupada continued, “And these four are conversely destroyed by the principles of irreligion—namely pride, prostitution, intoxication and falsehood. Practically speaking irreligion resides in places of gambling, prostitution, drinking and animal slaughter. Gambling and pride destroys truthfulness, illicit sex destroys cleanliness, intoxication destroys austerity and animal slaughter destroys mercy. By lying truthfulness is spoiled.

“If one indulges in these four principles, he cannot become a good man,
because he will also have to do all other sins, like stealing and cheating. If people are not good, then how can they expect peace and prosperity in the world? By abstaining from these four activities, the switch of sinful activities is turned off, one’s mind and body becomes cleansed, one’s senses controlled, and one comes to the platform of a civilized being, ready to cultivate and understand spiritual subject matters.”

It appeared that the Vedic scriptures not only had a blueprint of the material world and a map with directions on how to live within it, but also instructions for how to get out of it. Previously, to me religion was simply whatever faith or denomination ones parents happened to be. But Prabhupada’s explanation seemed so scientific. If I would follow the roads outlined by the transcendental map-maker, I would eventually reach Krsna. Bob seemed as overwhelmed by all this as I was, oblivious to the Second Avenue street noises.

“Chanting of the holy name of the Lord should be done loudly, and offenselessly,” Prabhupada explained. “In this way one can be freed from sinful reactions by surrendering to the Lord. One can be free from all offenses at the feet of Krsna by taking shelter of His holy name; but one cannot protect himself if he commits an offense at the feet of the holy name. There are ten offenses mentioned in Padma Purana. If the result of Krsna consciousness does not take place, even after continuous hearing and chanting, it must be due to offenses only. That is the opinion of our previous acarya, Jiva Gosvami. If the devotee is not careful to avoid the ten kinds of offenses, then the feelings of separation in love of Krsna will not be visible by tears in the eyes and standing of the hair on end.”

I wondered when I’d be able to chant like that.

“The first offense,” Prabhupada continued, “is to vilify the great devotees who have spread the glories and message of the Lord. People must understand the glories of the Supreme. Therefore the devotees who engage in preaching the glories of the Lord are never to be decried; it is the greatest offense. This means Lord Jesus Christ also. Such vilification of devotees can ruin our spiritual lives.”

My attention increased. I felt bad that I had often criticized Jesus Christ, blaming him for the faults and hypocrisy I perceived in many people who
claimed to be his followers, but I felt good that I was being corrected.

After the lecture, someone sitting behind me—who I couldn’t see—wrapped a long strand of tiny beads three times around my neck. When he or she finally tied the beads with a knot, I felt lighter and happier than I had ever felt before.

Prabhupada first chanted on Bob’s beads. Bob bowed before him, recited a mantra, and then Prabhupada handed the beads to him and said, “You are Rupanuga dasa.” I watched carefully, so that I would know just what to do when it was my turn. Then Prabhupada turned to me. “Bow down.”

I bowed down, but I did not know the mantra. Although I had been offering obeisances along with the other devotees, I never thought to ask what anyone was saying.

Prabhupada understood my dilemma and said, “Namah.”

“Namah,” I repeated.

“Om.”

“Om.”

Word by word, I followed Prabhupada’s recitation of his pranama, obeisance prayers: nama om visnu-padaya Krsna-presthaya bhu-tale, Srimate bhaktivedanta-svamin iti namine. “I offer my respectful obeisances unto Om Visnupada Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja, who is very dear to Lord Krsna, having taken shelter at His lotus feet.”

I knelt up and looked at Prabhupada. His eyes were full of love, and I felt as if he were seeing deep into my innermost being. As he handed me my beads he said, “Chant minimum sixteen rounds a day. Your name is now Jadurani. Jadurani was the original queen of the Yadu dynasty in which Krsna Himself appeared five thousand years ago. Of course Krsna does not take birth. He is like the sun—always present. The sun only appears to rise, or to be born in the morning, and to disappear, or die, in the evening. Despite this continual appearance and disappearance, the sun is always present. Similarly, Krsna never takes birth; He is eternal. But in order to glorify a particular, highly devoted family, He appears in that family. Jadurani was the wife of King Yadu, the head of the dynasty in which Krsna appeared. And you are servant.”

I was honored to receive such a sacred name. I watched as Prabhupada sprinkled powdered dyes on the sand in the sandpit. He added some sticks on top of the sand and lit a fire, feeding the fire with small pieces of the wood he had first dipped in melted ghee. As he did this, he chanted mantras whose meaning I did not understand.

“Svaha” Prabhupada said, after every few mantras, elongating the syllables. We all repeated the word and then threw handfuls of sesame and barley seeds, soaked in ghee, into the fire. I had no idea why I was doing any of this.

Behind me someone whispered in my ear, “Svaha means we are offering ourselves to Krsna.” Why we threw the seeds was still beyond me. Even more mystifying was why Bob and I each threw a banana in the fire after all the mantras had been chanted. I was captivated by the ambiance of glorious ancientness that filled the room, and I wanted this moment to never end.

“Chant,” Prabhupada called out at the end of the ceremony, raising his arms. We all stood up and began a loud and joyful kirtana. During the kirtana one of the devotees came around to each of us and dotted our foreheads with ashes from the fire. After the kirtana we all offered obeisances—a gesture of our surrender. Prabhupada remained standing, his head slightly bent downward, respectfully reciting prayers to the predecessor spiritual masters, great devotees, incarnations of Krsna, just as he always did when we bowed down.

A few of us then followed him into his greeting room where he sat behind the small tin trunk he had brought with him from India. He leaned back casually and said to me, “So, Jadurani was Krsna’s great, great, great, great grandmother.”

Unconscious of the magnitude of the event that had just taken place, I frivolously crinkled up my face and imitated the high-pitched crackling voice of a very old lady—what I supposed a great great grandmother would sound like—and said, “Oh, r-e-a-l-l-y?”

Prabhupada looked at me quickly and gravely from the corner of his eye, but he didn’t say anything. He acted as though nothing untoward had happened. I felt foolish.

Then, out of kindness, he handed me one of his three-volume sets of Srimad- Bhagavatam First Cantos that he had published in India just before coming to America. He smiled slightly and said, “Srimad means beautiful. Bhagavatam means devotee, and also Krsna. So, Srimad-Bhagavatam, ‘The Beautiful Story of Krsna and His Devotees’.”

I realized that these were the Vedas he was handing me, and I felt so honored by the gift. Still, even after receiving a spiritual name and ceremony, I still wasn’t a hundred percent sure about the initiation or my future, so I asked, “If I change my mind, can I give the books back?”

Once again, Prabhupada was not surprised. He simply said, “Yes.” Even though I hadn’t the faintest idea of how spiritually powerful he was, his nonchalant “yes” was weighty. It was as if he wanted to simultaneously conceal and announce that he already knew my future.

That evening I went to one final party with my old crowd. I shunned all their offers of drinks and drugs, and just sat in a corner re-stringing my japa beads. A devotee had told me earlier that day that I was supposed to have tied a knot between each bead and not just have them like a necklace. The knots, he said, signified the separation between the material and spiritual energies. Now, my friends thought I had gone crazy.

The next morning, when I went to Prabhupada’s apartment to get the flower vases from the altar room, his Polish landlord, Mr. Chutey, was there. He was a big, heavyset man with sloping shoulders. Very friendly as usual with him, Prabhupada joked as if making a poem, “Mr. Chutey, this is Judy.”

Then, turning to me with a warm smile, he said, “Your name was Ju-dy and now it is Ja-du.”

I laughed and then, oblivious to whether this was a proper time for discussion, I asked a question that was weighing on my mind. “Why is there evil, Swamiji?”

“Because you wanted it, so Krsna created it,” he said.

“So simply stated”, I thought “but it makes so much sense.”

Evil exists by our own desires, by the longing for short lived pleasures at any cost—as aspiring competitors of Krsna, the Supreme enjoyer. I was amazed how he had so concisely explained a complicated issue, which theologists, theosophists, and scholars were spending centuries trying to figure out.


* * * *


The temple room was crowded that evening, with about seventy dancing and chanting devotees and guests. I peered through the back window as
Prabhupada glided like a graceful swan into the courtyard, followed by Brahmananda, who carried his glasses and scriptures. As they entered the temple room the kirtana reached a crescendo and we offered our prostrated obeisances.

Prabhupada touched his head and hands on the dais seat as a gesture of
respect to the painting of Radha and Krsna just above it, which had been made by his disciple Jagannatha dasa. Then, lifting his head, he folded his palms, looked lovingly at Radha and Krsna, and stepped up on the dais. He then picked up the karatalas from the lectern and began another kirtana.

Wanting to sit near him, I went over to play the two foot wide metal gong hanging from the left side of his dais. As I struck the gong with a small wooden stick, I observed Prabhupada moving his head slightly from side to side, his eyes sometimes open, sometimes closed. It was clear that he was not chanting like this for some sort of show; he was just being himself, and that was what was so attractive. I knew he was experiencing something profound, and at least intellectually I understood that he fully realized Krsna’s presence in the holy names. I desired to experience that as well, but my mind was doing its usual gymnastics and I found my attention wandering from the chanting to my old friends and family.

I then remembered Prabhupada’s class of a few days earlier—that one who has eaten meat or performed other sinful actions has to go to hell unless they take to Krsna consciousness. I tried hard to bring my attention back to the temple and Prabhupada.

After the kirtana, Prabhupada opened his large Sanskrit scripture, and put on his eye-glasses. I studied his facial expressions as he scrutinized the words— looking at them, perhaps, as if they were people with whom he was engaged in conversation. I noted his gentle hand movements as he turned the pages as if he were touching someone he loved.

Quoting Krsna, Prabhupada began his lecture on Bhagavad-gita, Chapter 8: “The Lord says that the purpose of all Vedic instruction is to achieve the highest goal of life, back to Godhead. Any scripture of any country, not only of this Bhagavad-gita, but any scripture, they are aiming simply how to get us back to Godhead. That is the purpose. Take for example any of the great religious reformers or acaryas of any country. In your country, Lord Jesus Christ or Lord Buddha. Of course, Lord Buddha advented himself in India, but later on his philosophy was broadcast all over Asia. Then Lord Krsna, or Hazrat Muhammad—take anyone.

“Nobody will say that, ‘You make your best plan in this material world and live peacefully.’ That is a common factor. There may be little difference according to country, climate and situation in the scriptural injunction, but the main principle—that we are not meant for this material world, we have our destination in the spiritual world—that is accepted by everyone. Therefore Lord Krsna says, ‘The yogi, the transcendentalist, his chief aim of life is how to get into the spiritual kingdom.”

I had never considered that every scripture was trying to say that. Somehow Prabhupada was managing to clarify my merge of confusion. God Himself, the speaker of the Gita, knowing that I had been looking for Him in the darkness, had come to hand me a torch.

“Now we begin the Ninth Chapter,” Prabhupada continued. “We have finished the Eighth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. Sri bhagavan uvaca. The Personality of Godhead, Krsna, is speaking. Sri Bhagavan. I have several times described what this word bhagavan means. Bhaga means ‘opulence’, and van means ‘who possesses’. In the Vedic scripture we’ll find the definition of God. We have got some conception of God, but in the Vedic literature you’ll find definite description.”

It was intriguing. First he said that all scriptures gave the same message, and now he was saying that the Vedic scriptures are the only clear ones.

“What we mean by ‘God,’” he continued, “is described in one word: Sri Bhagavan.” I mentally repeated the word: Bhagavan, one who had all opulences. I wondered what constituted an ‘opulence’.

“What are the opulences?” Prabhupada continued. “The opulences are riches, wealth, and strength, influence, and beauty, education, knowledge and renunciation.”

I was awed. These ‘opulences’ weren’t just some vague idea, but real tangible traits that could be named, identified, and described. The impersonalist philosophies to which I had been adhering only said what God wasn’t. Although it professed that God was everything, He had no color, no face and no ability to walk. Although it claimed that God was beauty, His face could not even smile.

Prabhupada, on the other hand, was so clearly harmonizing these inconceivable contradictions within the Lord—just because He does not have material qualities does not mean that He has no spiritual qualities. “These six opulences, when you find presented in a personality in full,” Prabhupada continued, “He is God. You have many rich men here in your New York City, but nobody can claim that he is the richest of all, he has got all the riches of the world. If you find somebody who claims, ‘All the riches of the world or the universe belong to me,’ He’s God. He is God, just like Krsna claimed, ‘I am the enjoyer of all kinds of activities.’ He’s the bestower of all kinds of activities. He is the friend of all living entities. When a person understands that God is the proprietor of everything, God is the friend of everyone, God is the enjoyer of everything, one becomes very peaceful.”

This explained to me why everyone I had ever known was so frustrated at their endeavors to enjoy life. It was impossible! Everything anyone owned—from beginning to end—was the cause of some variety of unhappiness—because we never really owned anything. We were like thieves, constantly anxious that we would be caught, or suffering for having been caught. Until this class it hadn’t struck me so. I hoped I would remember it after class.

“That is the peace formula,” Prabhupada said. “You cannot be in peace so long you think that, ‘I am the proprietor.’ You are not actually the proprietor. You cannot claim proprietorship. Just like take for example this land of America. Say four hundred years before, the Red American, Red Indians, they were the proprietor. Now you are the proprietor. Now, after, say four hundred years or a thousand years, somebody will come; they’ll become proprietor. So actually, we are not proprietor. The land is there, but we come here and we claim falsely that ‘I am proprietor.’ As it is stated in the Isopanisad, ‘Everything belongs to God. Nothing belongs to me. Actually, this is the fact. But under illusion we
are thinking that ‘I am the proprietor.’”

During the class I remembered how my brother and sisters and I often fought over ownership issues as kids, either physically or with spiteful words—though it was absurd. And we were no different from most other families in our neighborhood. They were all doing the exact same thing, and on a larger scale, so were all of our world leaders.

“So God is proprietor,” Prabhupada continued. “Therefore He is the richest man. He’s not man, of course; He’s God. But He is the richest. There are many ‘incarnations’ of God, now-days you’ll find, especially in India. There are dozens of ‘incarnations’ of God. But if you ask him, ‘Are you the proprietor of everything?’ Oh, that is very difficult to answer.” As he said this, Prabhupada gently cocked his chin upwards as if offering this challenge to each one of us.

“These are the checks how you can understand that who is God,” he said. “He must be more powerful than anyone. When Krsna was present of this earth, nobody could conquer Him. There is not a single instance that Krsna was defeated. He belonged to the ksatriya family. He identified Himself as ksatriya.” This was a new term for me.

“The ksatriyas,” Prabhupada explained, “are meant for giving protection to the poor, to the weak. So He belonged to the royal family, so powerful. And so far His opulence is concerned, from Bhagavatam we find that He married 16,108 wives, and every wife had a different palace. The palaces are described. And He expanded Himself into 16,108 manifestations.”

This point was difficult for me. I accepted gladly that Krsna had 16,108 wives and each one had their own palace. But how could He expand Himself to be with each of them at the same time? Prabhupada obviously had no trouble accepting this, for he continued, “These things we have got in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. If you believe, it is all right, but great acaryas, great scholars of India, they have accepted this fact, that Krsna
is God.”

I was impressed by the way Prabhupada explained each Sanskrit verse from different angles, and then went on to describe how each section of each word had its own explanation. His motivation was clearly not to make us all Sanskrit scholars; he was simply concerned that we understand this important subject. I put my disbelief aside and became attentive to his detailed elucidation.

“Therefore,” Prabhupada continued, “bhagavan uvaca. This Bhagavad-gita was written by Vyasadeva and spoken by Lord Krsna. It was noted by Vyasadeva, and therefore Vysasadeva says, sri-bhagavan uvaca: ‘The Supreme Personality of Godhead said.’ What does He say?”

It was amazing. So far Prabhupada’s class had only explained the first three words of the verse: Sri bhagavan uvaca. Not only had he explained the meaning of God, but now he would tell us what Bhagavan Krsna said!

“‘My dear Arjuna,’” Prabhupada quoted Krsna. ‘Now I shall speak to you the topmost part of knowledge.’ He explained that Krsna was telling Arjuna the most confidential part of all knowledge because Arjuna was not envious of Him. He said that someone else hearing Krsna claim that He is the Supreme proprietor of everything might be envious and disbelieve, because enviousness was the root disease of the material world. But since Arjuna was hearing from Lord Krsna without any enviousness, he was able to accept whatever He said. “This is the way of understanding,” Prabhupada concluded. “We cannot understand by our mental speculation what is God. We have to hear, and we have to accept. Otherwise there is no way to understand what is God. So God says that, ‘Because you are not envious, therefore, I speak to you about the most confidential part of knowledge.’”

Brahmananda had been standing at the back of the temple by the front door for the duration of the evening program, greeting people and saying goodbye. When the class ended he whispered to a few of us, “It’s pretty disheartening. The temple was packed to capacity for the kirtanas, but during the lecture, people walked out one-by-one, or two-by-two. Look, now at the end of the lecture it’s just us regulars plus a few others. How long can this go on? It seems like a losing proposition.”

I looked around at the half-empty room and nodded.

“The chanting is like entertainment,” Brahmananda said, “but the class means change of life and renunciation.”

He shrugged his shoulders heavily and with a forlorn expression sat down in front of Prabhupada’s dais. It was his duty as president to welcome the guests and make announcements about future engagements. As Brahmananda spoke, Prabhupada, serene and undisturbed by all the guests’ comings and goings, had someone pass around a basket to take up a collection of donations, while another devotee brought around slices of fruit prasadam for everyone.


* * * *


Prabhupada had so captivated me that I wanted to introduce him to others who had previously influenced my life in some way. I asked if I could bring my ex-guitar teacher, Reverend Gary Davis, to meet him. “He’s a famous blues singer, Swamiji,” I explained, “and he has thousands of followers.”

“Why not?” Prabhupada agreed, nodding his head slightly to one side.

About the same age as Prabhupada Reverend Davis was a gospel-blues singer, whose gruff, salt-of-the-earth vocals and intricate guitar finger-picking techniques made him a leader among the most famous folk and rock musicians, and a mentor among American youth. Like others in his field, he played both ‘sacred’ and secular music. He did it in such a way that it made the gospel ‘I’ve been saved’ message and the blues lament ‘I’ve been down so long the down don’t worry me’ seem like perfect partners—a partnership I had previously taken to be spiritual. Since meeting Prabhupada, however, I had realized that no blues artist could ever help their audience give up sinful life, nor could they teach them what is God. So it was with a dual purpose that I brought Reverend Davis to meet Srila Prabhupada the next day—to give the Reverend some mercy and to confirm to myself my new path.

As soon as I brought Reverend Davis into the greeting room, Prabhupada invited him to sit by him. Their introductions were friendly and led into Reverend Davis describing that he wore a priest’s collar because it showed his dedication to God and identified him as an ordained Baptist minister.

Prabhupada pulled out his own neck beads from under his saffron turtleneck, and with his thumb he held them out as far as they would go. “We also have a collar,” Prabhupada said proudly, “a dog collar. When a dog has a collar it means it has a master. And that means the dog catcher cannot take him to the pound. This, our dog collar, means that God, Krsna, is our master. Because we have got master, the god of death, Yamaraja, will not come to take us.”

I could not tell whether Reverend Davis understood what Prabhupada had just said, because he simply answered, “It’s hard to know what kind of prayer to sing to God.”

“We should simply pray to be able to love Him,” Prabhupada replied. “That will please Him.”

After some time, when the discussion was over, I brought Reverend Davis downstairs and thanked him for coming. When I returned to Prabhupada’s room I thought he might comment on my old ex-hero, but instead he spoke to me about Krsna’s sixty-four qualities. “He is intelligent. He possesses a good memory and fine discretion. He is forgiving, compassionate, grave, and self- satisfied. He controls the universe. He is gentle, shy, and equiposed. And He is heroic.”

At first this change in topic confused me, but then I realized once again that Prabhupada’s only desire for me was that I should come to know the real, eternal hero, Krsna. So I listened as he explained that Lord Visnu, the origin of all the worlds, has ninety-four percent of Krsna’s qualities, Lord Siva, the chief of all demigods, has eighty-six percent, and Lord Brahma, the creator of this one universe, has seventy-eight percent. “When a person becomes perfect through Krsna consciousness,” he said, “he also manifests seventy-eight percent of the qualities of Krsna, in minute quantities.”

Enthused, I asked, “So, that means you have seventy-eight percent of Krsna’s qualities, Swamiji?”

His eyes opened wide. “Me? I am a conditioned soul.”

I didn’t believe him—I already considered he was no conditioned soul. But it was obvious that he was also not feigning his humility—the symptom of a softened heart. I was convinced: who could be a better hero than Srila Prabhupada?


(Copyright 2001-2002 Jadurani/Syamarani dasi. All Rights Reserved.)