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
“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
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
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.
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
“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
“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
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.
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
“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,
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
“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
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
“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
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
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
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
“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?