August 2007

Sharon Meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
41st Annual Ratha Yatra Festival, Sunday 19 August 2007

There is something very wonderful about the Hare Krishna movement in North America. When you go back to where everything began, so to speak, you get a sense of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s extraordinary achievements. The Caitanya Caritamrta states that the seed of the creeper of devotion is planted in the heart of the conditioned soul by the spiritual master or guru – guru-krsna-prasade payi bhakti-lata-bija. In other words, by the mercy of guru one gets Krishna; and, by the mercy of Krishna, one gets guru.

It is forty years since the Summer of Love began here in 1967. The 2007 San Francisco Ratha Yatra marked the 41st anniversary of this annual event in the town. Today I took a walk around Hippy Hill. It was here that George Harrison strummed on his guitar with heart-shaped sunglasses; and it was here that that Swami Bhaktivedanta chanted Hare Krishna as the young hippies held hands and danced.  A few die-hards remain.  Are they still looking for the saviour (who already came)?  Devotees sit on the grass below Hippy Hill, forty-one years later.  Jagannatha is here.  And so, too, is Srila Prabhupada…in his murti form.

Thursday 24 August, Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco

The Haight-Ashbury is still very hip. I passed a shop called “Reincarnation”, organic food wholesalers, Hippy-era tee-shirt shops and a host of Oriental shops selling incense and murtis of Lord Buddha and Ganesh. I met a boy named JT who said he already got some books about Krishna. I asked him, ‘Where?’ And he said, ‘When I was in South Africa.’ I asked, ‘Whereabouts in South Africa?’ He said, ‘Pretoria.’ Then it all came back to me. I had met him in a mall in Pretoria during the December book marathon. I was the only devotee distributing books there, so it could only have been me. He had, incidentally, visited the Pretoria Temple. This was amazing. Here we were, meeting on Haight Street in San Francisco.

I also met a couple of teenage girls on the tram. They were both wearing Beatles tee-shirts, so I gave them each a Chant and Be Happy (a book about mantra meditation with pictures of the Beatles on the cover). They were delighted to receive the books and each gave $5. I walked around, bumping into all sorts of interesting people and ‘creatures’ on the Haight. I met two boys, Nick and Colin, at “The Peace Cafe.” With rucksacks and a guitar, they were on a pilgrimmage of their own. They were going through “The Burning Man” Survival list (“Burning Man” is an Extreme Art function out in the Nevada desert). The devotees are, by the way, installing a Krishna Camp at “Burning Man”. Anyhow, Nick and Colin had trekked over to to the famous bridge in Aberdeen frequented by Kurt Cobain (remember ‘Something in the Way’?). Nick’s sister is Maha-Laxmi, a devotee from New Zealand who is staying at the LA Temple. He was really interested in knowing about the philosophy and gave $20. I gave him and his friend a Science of Self-Realization and a Chant and Be Happy.

I took a little detour off Haight, from Cole, and made my way to 518 Frederick Street, site of the original Hare Krishna Temple. The Frederick Street Temple was second base for Prabhupada in America. It was also home to Jayananda and Vishnujana Swami.

Visiting all these places evoked sweet memories of a special time in history.

Seems like we’re celebrating the Summer of Love all over again.


The Prabhupada Tree, Thomkins Square Park, New York City[/caption]IMG_6193_1_1View from under Hare Krishna Tree, New York City, 30 July 2007

Visiting New York City was the fulfillment of one of my long-cherished dreams in Krishna consciousness. In Prabhupada Lilamrta, HH Satsvarupa Maharaja poignantly describes the origins of ISKCON in New York City in the mid-1960’s.

The first place I visited was the “Matchless Gifts Storefront” on 26 2nd Avenue. The Storefront is rented by devotees and programmes are held there. I also visited Thompkins Square Park where Prabhupada chanted under a tree and, in effect, began the chanting of the Holy Names of Krishna in the western world. Here I got a sense of Prabhupada’s audacity. He took a pair of karatalas and began chanting, and next thing you have an international spiritual movement. It could have been any park in any city of the world. Prabhupada, however, had the nerve to do it. That is what makes his contribution to world religion so unique. His unwavering, unflinching faith in Krishna. I was fortunate to hold the same bongo drum which Srila Prabhupada played during his early kirtans in Thompkins Square Park at the Palace in New Vrindavan.

Preaching In New York: Mukunda Preaches To Local; Nick

I also visited the fourteenth floor of 33 Riverside Drive on the West Side of the city. This was Prabhupada’s first home in the city. Here he stayed with the impersonalist yoga teacher Dr Misra for a couple of weeks before moving on to Dr Misra’s yoga studio on the corner of 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue (100 West 72nd Street). One of the residents let us look at his 14th floor apartment. There is a beautiful view of the Hudson River from the apartment. The neighbourhood is very aristocratic. Prabhupada used to take walks on the Hudson and in Riverside Park. I retraced Prabhupada’s daily route from 75th Street, past Broadway and Amsterdam, to Dr Misra’s yoga studio.

Prabhupada had stayed in Dr Misra’s yoga studio 507 at the time (now 5G). After some time, he moved into room 301 (3A). Here he held Bhagavad-gita classes and kirtans. He also suffered several setbacks – his typewriter and tape-recorder were stolen here. Later on, he moved to 93 Bowery (which I also visited). This is the address of the Artist In Residence (AIR) loft where Prabhupada stayed with David Allen. Prabhupada fled the place, however, when David, high on LSD, attacked him. He moved to 26 2nd Avenue after this.

I also visited various other Prabhupada tirthas in the city including Washington Square Park (where the annual Festival of Chariots is held), Port Authority Terminal, 143 West 72nd Street (where Prabhupada wanted a Temple) and “West End Superette” (where Prabhupada bought his vegetables and spices). You really get a glimpse into Prabhupada’s oceanic compassion when you visit New York City and this is the valuable lesson that I have learned from my pilgrimmage.

Union Square Park Subway Station,
New York City

I took the subway from Union Square Park to Second Avenue to avoid the rain. That is where I met Cosmos. Cosmos was a rastafarian. He had dreads and a couple of musical instruments in his trolley.

He saw my orange robes and said, ‘Powerful. This colour is powerful! What does it symbolize?’

I said, ‘Knowledge and renunciation.’

He mumbled some things about just coming back from the astral plane and seeing the markings on my head, ‘It was glowing so bright…like it was all I could see. You know what I mean. Then it kind of came back to normal…and the marks faded away.’

I continued my subway sermon, ‘Renunciation means we give up our attachment to material things and embrace the spiritual.’

He said, ‘Yeah. Like ying and yang.’

‘Something like that,’ I said. ‘Some people renounce this world because of the sufferings they experience in their relationships. Others get a sense of the temporary nature of this world.’

‘And stress,’ he interjected.

‘Yes. But renunciation is incomplete without some kind of spiritual engagement. Renunciation without meaningful spiritual activity is like being an autumn leaf blown about in the wind. According to our philosophy, we can be renounced and participate in spiritual activities – spiritual music, spiritual food and spiritual relationships.’

It was at this point that he told me his name was cosmos. He told me he was celibate and that he would like to visit our centre. I gave him an invite to the 2nd Avenue programmes, and boarded my train. We parted by saying, ‘Hare Krishna’ to one another. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!