God, spiritual life—those were such vague terms to me before I met Śrīla Prabhupāda. I have always been interested in religion, but before I met the Kṛṣṇa conscious devotees, somehow I did not have the proper perspective needed to inquire fruitfully about spiritual life. The existence of a Creator is only common sense—but who is God? Who am I? I had been to Hebrew School and had studied Oriental philosophy, but I could never get satisfying answers to my questions.
I first heard the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra in Greenwich Village, New York, in late 1968.
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa
kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma
rāma rāma hare hare
The chanting was captivating, and it made me feel very comfortable. The mantra stuck in my mind, and I soon regretted that I had not taken a magazine from the devotees. As explained to me later, a transcendental seed had been planted that could eventually ripen into love of Godhead.
Several months later, I came across a card with the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra on it. The card promised, "Chant these names of God, and your life will be sublime!" I would occasionally chant, and I found that the mantra did, in fact, give me a feeling of peace of mind.
After graduating from college with a B.S. in chemistry, I joined the Peace Corps in 1971 and went to India as a science teacher. In India I inquired about the Hare Kṛṣṇa movement. I was attracted by the chanting and intrigued by the philosophy, and I was curious about the movement's authenticity. I had visited the Kṛṣṇa temple in New York several times before going to India, but I did not consider the seemingly austere life of a devotee for myself.
In India I first met the Kṛṣṇa conscious devotees at a festival they were holding in Calcutta during October of 1971. The devotees explained to me the purpose of yoga and the need to inquire about spiritual life. I began to feel that the rituals and ceremonies they practiced were not dull, sentimental obligations, but a real, sensible way of life.
At first, however, it was very difficult for me to understand the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In so many subtle ways, my Western upbringing prevented me from seeing things that were as plain as the nose on my face! Fortunately the devotees convinced me of the need to practice some few basic austerities, and in this way I began to gain some insight into spiritual life. I can now recall how distant and tenuous were my concepts of spirituality and transcendental existence. I met Śrīla Prabhupāda briefly at this time—in November of 1971—and shortly thereafter I decided to become a vegetarian. (I was proud of being a vegetarian, but later Śrīla Prabhupāda reminded me that even pigeons are, too.)
In February of 1972, I met some devotees in Calcutta who invited me to a festival in Māyāpur (a holy island ninety miles to the north). The festival was to be held in honor of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who is considered an incarnation of Kṛṣṇa Himself. I had then been planning a trip to Nepal, but the Peace Corps denied me permission to leave India, and so I went to Māyāpur.
I left for Māyāpur planning to stay for two days at the most, but I ended up staying a week. I was the only Western nondevotee on the island, and since I was living with the devotees on their land, this was a unique opportunity to learn intimately about Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
On the third day of the festival, I was invited in to see Śrīla Prabhupāda. He was living in a small hut—half-brick and half-thatched, with two or three pieces of simple furniture. Śrīla Prabhupāda asked me to be seated and then asked how I was and whether I had any questions. The devotees had explained to me that Śrīla Prabhupāda could answer my questions because he represents a disciplic succession of spiritual masters. I thought that Śrīla Prabhupāda might really know what is going on in the world. After all, his devotees claimed this, and I admired and respected them. So with this in mind I began to ask my questions. Inadvertently, I had approached a guru, or spiritual master, in the prescribed way—by submissively asking questions about spiritual life.
Śrīla Prabhupāda seemed pleased with me, and over the next several days, he answered my questions. I asked them mostly from an academic point of view, but he always gave me personal answers so that I would actually spiritualize my life. His answers were logical, scientific, satisfying and amazingly lucid. Before I met Śrīla Prabhupāda and his disciples, spiritual life was always obscure and nebulous. But the discussions with Śrīla Prabhupāda were realistic, clear and exciting! Śrīla Prabhupāda was patiently trying to help me understand that Kṛṣṇa—God—is the supreme enjoyer, supreme friend and supreme proprietor. I put forward many impediments to accepting the obvious: that I would have to become serious about God consciousness to understand God. But Śrīla Prabhupāda relentlessly yet kindly urged me on. Even though I had little ability to express myself, Śrīla Prabhupāda understood my every inquiry and answered perfectly.
August 14, 1974