Chapter 18: Breaking Ground

Swami Bhaktivedanta came to USA and went swiftly to the Archetype Spiritual Neighborhood, the New York Lower East Side, and installed intact an ancient perfectly preserved piece of street India. He adorned a storefront as his Ashram and adored Krishna therein and by patience and good humor singing chanting and expounding Sanskrit terminology day by day established Krishna Consciousness in the psychedelic (mind-manifesting) center of America East... To choose to attend to the Lower East Side, what kindness and humility and intelligence!

-Allen Ginsberg
from his introduction to
the Macmillan Bhagavad Gītā As It Is

Prabhupāda's new neighborhood was not as run-down as the nearby Bowery, though it certainly was less than quaint. Right across from his storefront, a row of tombstones looked out from the somber, dimly lit display windows of Weitzner Brothers and Papper Memorials. North of Weitzner Brothers was Sam's Luncheonette. Next to Sam's stood an ancient four-story building marked A.I.R., then Ben J. Horowitz Monuments (more gravestones), and finally Schwartz's Funeral Home. On the next block at number 43 a worn canvas awning jutted out onto the sidewalk: Provenzano Lanza Funeral Home. Then there was Cosmos Parcels (importers) and a few blocks further uptown the prominent black-and-white signboard of the Village East Theater.

Up a block, but on the same side of the avenue as the storefront, was the Church of the Nativity, an old three-story building with new blue paint and a gold-colored cross on top. The six-story 26 Second Avenue, its face covered by a greenish fire escape, crouched against the massive nine-story Knickerbocker Fireproof Warehouse.

Second Avenue was a main traffic artery for east Manhattan, and the stoplight at the intersection of Houston and Second pumped a stream of delivery trucks, taxis, and private autos past Prabhupāda's door. From early morning until night there would be cars zooming by, followed by the sound of brakes, the competitive tension of waiting bumper to bumper, the impetuous honking, then gears grinding, engines rumbling and revving, and again the zooming by. The traffic was distractingly heavy.

At 26 Second Avenue there were actually two storefronts. The one to the north was a coin laundry, and the one to the south had been a gift shop but was now vacant. Both had narrow entrances, large display windows, and dull paint. Beneath the Matchless Gifts sign was a window, six feet square, that a few weeks before had displayed matchboxes decorated with photos of movie stars of the thirties and forties. The sign-Matchless Gifts-was the only remaining memento of the nostalgic-gift shop that had recently moved out. Below the shop's window, a pair of iron doors in the sidewalk hid stone steps to the cellar and boiler room. The wide sidewalk had been laid down in sections of various shapes and sizes at different times, years past. Certain sections had cracked or caved in, and a fine dust with tiny sparkling shards of glass had collected in the cracks and depressions. A dull black fire hydrant stood on the curb. Midway between the entrances to the two storefronts was the main entrance to number 26. (This door opened into a foyer lined with mailboxes and intercoms, and then a locked inner door opened into a hallway leading to the stairs or back to the courtyard.)

To the left of the gift shop's window was its front door, a dark wooden frame holding a full-length pane of glass. The door opened into the long, narrow storefront, which was now completely bare. Just inside, to the right of the door, a platform extending beneath the display window was just the proper height for a seat. At the far end of the bare, dingy room, two grimy-paned windows covered with bars opened into the courtyard. To the left of the left-hand window was a small sink, fixed to the outside of a very small toilet closet, whose door faced the front of the store. A door on the store's left wall connected to a hallway that led into the courtyard.

The courtyard was paved with concrete geometric sections and encircled with shrub gardens and tall trees. There was a picnic table, a cement birdbath, and a birdhouse on a pole, and near the center of the courtyard were two shrub gardens. The courtyard was bordered north and south by high walls, and front and back by the two tenements. The patch of sky above gave relief.

Overlooking the courtyard from the rear building of 26 Second Avenue was Prabhupāda's second-floor apartment, where he would now live, work, and worship. With help from his Bowery friends, he had cleaned and settled into his new home. In the back room-his office-he had placed against one wall a thin cushion with an elephant-print cover and in front of the cushion his unpainted metal suitcase, which served as a desk. He had set his typewriter on the desk and his papers and books on either side. This became his work area. His manuscripts bundled in saffron cloth, his stock of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatams, and his few personal effects he kept in the closet opposite his desk. On the wall above his sitting place he hung an Indian calendar print of Lord Kṛṣṇa. (Kṛṣṇa, as a youth, was playing on His flute with a cow close behind Him. Lord Kṛṣṇa was standing on the planet earth, which curved like the top of a small hill beneath His feet.) There were two windows on the east wall, and the dappled morning sunlight, filtering in through the fire escape, fell across the floor.

The next room was bare except for a fancy coffee table, which became Prabhupāda's altar. Here he placed a framed picture of Lord Caitanya and His associates. On the wall he hung an Indian calendar print of four- armed Lord Viṣṇu and Ananta Śeṣa, the celestial snake. And, as in the Bowery loft, he put up a clothesline.

Both rooms were freshly painted, and the floors were clean hardwood parquet. The bathroom was clean and serviceable, as was the narrow, furnished kitchen. Prabhupāda would sometimes stand by the kitchen window, gazing beyond the courtyard wall. He had moved here without any prospects of paying the next month's rent.

Although Carl, Mike, Carol, James, Bill, and others had encouraged him to move here, some of them now found it a little inconvenient to visit him regularly, but they all wished him well and hoped new people would come here to help him. They felt that this location was the best yet. And he seemed more comfortable here. At the Paradox, Bill would spread the word of Swamiji's new address.

* * *

The Lower East Side has a history of change and human suffering as old as New York. Three hundred years before Prabhupāda's arrival, it had been part of Peter Stuyvesant's estate. Today's landmark of Tompkins Square Park had then been a salt marsh known as Stuyvesant's Swamp.

The Lower East Side first became a slum in the 1840s, when thousands of Irish immigrants, driven by the Irish potato famine, came and settled. Two decades later, the Irish became the image of the American to the next immigrants, the Germans, who gradually grew in numbers to become the largest immigrant group in New York City. Next came East European Jews (Poles and Ukranians), and by 1900 the Lower East Side had become the most densely populated Jewish ghetto in the world. But in the next generation the ghetto began to break up as Jews moved to the suburbs and economic advancement.

Next the Puerto Ricans thronged in-hundreds of thousands in the 1950s-immigrating from their island poverty or moving in from East Harlem. They, and the Negroes from Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant who arrived next, were the new groups who along with the Poles and Ukranians populated the two square miles of tenements and crowded streets that formed the Lower East Side slums in the 1960s.

Then, only a few years before Prabhupāda's arrival, a different kind of slum-dweller had appeared on the Lower East Side. Although there have been many sociological and cultural analyses of this phenomenon, it remains ultimately inexplicable why they suddenly came, like a vast flock of birds swooping down or like animals in a great instinctual migration, and why after a few years they vanished.

At first the newcomers were mostly young artists, musicians, and intellectuals, similar to the hip crowd of Prabhupāda's Bowery days. Then came the young middle-class dropouts. Because living space was more available and rents were lower than in nearby Greenwich Village, they concentrated here on the Lower East Side, which in the parlance of the renting agents became known as the East Village. Many even came without finding a place to live and camped in the hallways of tenements. Drawn by cheap rent and the promise of Bohemian freedom, these young middle-class dropouts, the avant-garde of a nationwide youth movement soon to be known in the media as "hippies," wandered to the Lower East Side slums in living protest against America's good life of materialism.

As if responding to an instinctual call, younger teenage runaways joined the older hippies, and following the runaways came the police, counselors, social and welfare workers, youth hostels, and drug counseling centers. On St. Mark's Place a new hip commercialism sprang up, with head shops, poster shops, record shops, art galleries, and bookstores that carried everything from cigarette papers to hip clothes and psychedelic lighting.

The hippies journeyed to the Lower East Side in full conviction that this was the place to be, just as their immigrant predecessors had done. For the European immigrants of another age, New York Harbor had been the gateway to a land of riches and opportunity, as they at long last set their eyes on Manhattan's skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Now, in 1966, American youth thronged to New York City with hopes of their own and feasted on the vision of their newfound mystical land-the Lower East Side slums.

It was an uneasy coexistence, with hippies on one side and Puerto Ricans, Poles, and Ukranians on the other. The established ethnic groups resented the newcomers, who didn't really have to live in the slums, whereas they themselves did. In fact, many of the young newcomers were from immigrant families that had struggled for generations to establish themselves as middle-class Americans. Nevertheless, the youth migration to the Lower East Side was just as real as the immigration of Puerto Ricans or Poles or Ukranians had been, although the motives of course were quite different.

The hippies had turned from the suburban materialism of their parents, the inane happiness of TV and advertising-the ephemeral goals of middle-class America. They were disillusioned by parents, teachers, clergy, public leaders, and the media, dissatisfied with American policy in Vietnam, and allured by radical political ideologies that exposed America as a cruel, selfish, exploitative giant who must now reform or die. And they were searching for real love, real peace, real existence, and real spiritual consciousness.

By the summer of Śrīla Prabhupāda's arrival at 26 Second Avenue, the first front in the great youth rebellion of the sixties had already entered the Lower East Side. Here they were free-free to live in simple poverty and express themselves through art, music, drugs, and sex. The talk was of spiritual searching. LSD and marijuana were the keys, opening new realms of awareness. Notions about Eastern cultures and Eastern religions were in vogue. Through drugs, yoga, brotherhood, or just by being free-somehow they would attain enlightenment. Everyone was supposed to keep an open mind and develop his own cosmic philosophy by direct experience and drug-expanded consciousness, blended with his own eclectic readings. And if their lives appeared aimless, at least they had dropped out of a pointless game where the player sells his soul for material goods and in this way supports a system that is already rotten.

So it was that in 1966, thousands of young people were walking the streets of the Lower East Side, not simply intoxicated or crazy (though they often were), but in search of life's ultimate answers, in complete disregard of "the establishment" and the day-to-day life pursued by millions of "straight" Americans.

That the prosperous land of America could breed so many discontented youths surprised Prabhupāda. Of course, it also further proved that material well-being, the hallmark of American life, couldn't make people happy. Prabhupāda did not see the unhappiness around him in terms of the immediate social, political, economic, and cultural causes. Neither slum conditions nor youth rebellions were the all-important realities. These were mere symptoms of a universal unhappiness to which the only cure was Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He sympathized with the miseries of everyone, but he saw the universal solution.

Prabhupāda had not made a study of the youth movement in America before moving to the Lower East Side. He had never even made specific plans to come here amid so many young people. But in the ten months since Calcutta, he had been moved by force of circumstances, or, as he understood it, "by Kṛṣṇa's will," from one place to another. On the order of his spiritual master he had come to America, and by Kṛṣṇa's will he had come to the Lower East Side. His mission here was the same as it had been on the Bowery or uptown or even in India. He was fixed in the order of his spiritual master and the Vedic view, a view that wasn't going to be influenced by the radical changes of the 1960s. Now if it so happened that these young people, because of some change in the American cultural climate, were to prove more receptive to him, then that would be welcome. And that would also be by Kṛṣṇa's will.

Actually, because of the ominous influence of the Kali millennium, this was historically the worst of times for spiritual cultivation-hippie revolution or not. And Śrīla Prabhupāda was trying to transplant Vedic culture into a more alien ground than had any previous spiritual master. So he expected to find his work extremely difficult. Yet in this generally bad age, just prior to Prabhupāda's arrival on the Lower East Side, tremors of dissatisfaction and revolt against the Kali-yuga culture itself began vibrating through American society, sending waves of young people to wander the streets of New York's Lower East Side in search of something beyond the ordinary life, looking for alternatives, seeking spiritual fulfillment. These young people, broken from their stereotyped materialistic backgrounds and drawn together now on New York's Lower East Side, were the ones who were by chance or choice or destiny to become the congregation for the Swami's storefront offerings of kīrtana and spiritual guidance.

The Swami's arrival went unnoticed. The neighbors said someone new had taken the gift shop next to the laundry. There was a strange picture in the window now, but no one knew what to make of it. Some passersby noticed a piece of paper, announcing classes in Bhagavad-gītā, taped to the window. A few stopped to read it, but no one knew what to make of it. They didn't know what Bhagavad-gītā was, and the few who did thought, "Maybe a yoga bookstore or something." The Puerto Ricans in the neighborhood would look in the window at Harvey Cohen's painting and then blankly walk away. The manager of the Mobil gas station next door couldn't care less who had moved in-it just didn't make any difference. The tombstone-sellers and undertakers across the street didn't care. And for the drivers of the countless cars and trucks that passed by, Swamiji's place didn't even exist. But there were young people around who had been intrigued with the painting, who went up to the window to read the little piece of paper. Some of them even knew about the Bhagavad-gītā, although the painting of Lord Caitanya and the dancers didn't seem to fit. A few thought maybe they would attend Swami Bhaktivedanta's classes and check out the scene.

* * *

July 1966

Howard Wheeler was hurrying from his apartment on Mott Street to a friend's apartment on Fifth Street, a quiet place where he hoped to find some peace. He walked up Mott Street to Houston, turned right and began to walk east, across Bowery, past the rushing traffic and stumbling derelicts, and toward Second Avenue.

Howard: After crossing Bowery, just before Second Avenue, I saw Swamiji jauntily strolling down the sidewalk, his head held high in the air, his hand in the bead bag. He struck me like a famous actor in a very familiar movie. He seemed ageless. He was wearing the traditional saffron-colored robes of a sannyāsī and quaint white shoes with points. Coming down Houston, he looked like the genie that popped out of Aladdin's lamp.

Howard, age twenty-six, was a tall, large-bodied man with long, dark hair, a profuse beard, and black-framed eyeglasses. He was an instructor in English at Ohio State University and was fresh from a trip to India, where he had been looking for a true guru.

Prabhupāda noticed Howard, and they both stopped simultaneously. Howard asked the first question that popped into his mind: "Are you from India?"

Prabhupāda smiled. "Oh, yes, and you?"

Howard: I told him no, but that I had just returned from India and was very interested in his country and the Hindu philosophy. He told me he had come from Calcutta and had been in New York almost ten months. His eyes were as fresh and cordial as a child's, and even standing before the trucks that roared and rumbled their way down Houston Street, he emanated a cool tranquillity that was unshakably established in something far beyond the great metropolis that roared around us.

Howard never made it to his friend's place that day. He went back to his own apartment on Mott Street, to Keith and Wally, his roommates, to tell them and everyone he knew about the guru who had inexplicably appeared within their midst.

Keith and Howard had been to India. Now they were involved in various spiritual philosophies, and their friends used to come over and talk about enlightenment. Eighteen-year-old Chuck Barnett was a regular visitor.

Chuck: You would open the door of the apartment, and thousands of cockroaches would disappear into the woodwork. And the smell was enough to knock you over. So Keith was trying to clean the place up and kick some people out. They were sharing the rent-Wally, Keith, Howard, and several others. Due to a lack of any other process, they were using LSD to try and increase their spiritual life. Actually we were all trying to use drugs to help in meditation. Anyway, Wally, Howard, and Keith were trying to find the perfect spiritual master, as we all were.

Howard remembers his own spiritual seeking as "reading books on Eastern philosophy and religion, burning lots of candles and incense, and taking gañjā and peyote and LSD as aids to meditation. Actually, it was more intoxication than meditation. "Meditation' was a euphemism that somehow connected our highs with our readings."

Keith, twenty-nine, the son of a Southern Baptist minister, was a Ph.D. candidate in history at Columbia University. He was preparing his thesis on "The Rise of Revivalism in the Southern United States." Dressed in old denim cutoffs, sandals, and T-shirt, he was something of a guru among the Mott Street coterie.

Wally was in his thirties, shabbily dressed, bearded, intellectual, and well read in Buddhist literature. He had been a radio engineer in the army and, like his roommates, was unemployed. He was reading Alan Watts, Hermann Hesse, and others, talking about spiritual enlightenment, and taking LSD.

In India, Howard and Keith had visited Hardwar, Rishikesh, Benares, and other holy cities, experiencing Indian temples, hashish, and dysentery. One evening in Calcutta they had come upon a group of sādhus chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra and playing hand cymbals. For Howard and Keith, as for many Westerners, the essence of Indian philosophy was Śaṅkara's doctrine of impersonal oneness: everything is false except the one impersonal spirit. They had bought books that told them, "Whatever way you express your faith, that way is a valid spiritual path."

Now the three roommates-Howard, Keith, and Wally-began to mix various philosophies into a hodgepodge of their own. Howard would mix in a little Whitman, Emerson, Thoreau, or Blake; Keith would cite Biblical references; and Wally would add a bit of Buddhist wisdom. And they all kept up on Timothy Leary, Thomas i Kempis, and many others, the whole mixture being subject to a total reevaluation whenever one of the group experienced a new cosmic insight through LSD.

This was the group that Howard returned to that day in July. Excitedly, he told them about the Swami-how he looked and what he had said. Howard told how after they had stood and talked together the Swami had mentioned his place nearby on Second Avenue, where he was planning to hold some classes.

Howard: I walked around the corner with him. He pointed out a small storefront building between First and Second streets next door to a Mobil filling station. It had been a curiosity shop, and someone had painted the words Matchless Gifts over the window. At that time, I didn't realize how prophetic those words were. "This is a good area?" he asked me. I told him that I thought it was. I had no idea what he was going to offer at his "classes," but I knew that all my friends would be glad that an Indian swami was moving into the neighborhood.

The word spread. Although it wasn't so easy now for Carl Yeargens and certain others to come up from the Bowery and Chinatown-they had other things to do-Roy Dubois, a twenty-five-year-old writer for comic books, had visited Prabhupāda on the Bowery, and when he heard about the Swami's new place, he wanted to drop by. James Greene and Bill Epstein had not forgotten the Swami, and they wanted to come. The Paradox restaurant was still a live connection and brought new interested people. And others, like Stephen Guarino, saw the Swami's sign in the window. Steve, age twenty-six, was a caseworker for the city's welfare department, and one day on his lunch break, as he was walking home from the welfare office at Fifth Street and Second Avenue, he saw the Swami's sign taped to the window. He had been reading a paperback Gītā, and he promised himself he would attend the Swami's class.

That day as he stood with the Swami before the storefront, Howard had also noticed the little sign in the window:

7:00 to 9:00 P.M.

"Will you bring your friends?" Prabhupāda had asked.

"Yes," Howard promised. "Monday evening."

* * *

The summer evening was warm, and in the storefront the back windows and front door were opened wide. Young men, several of them dressed in black denims and button-down sport shirts with broad dull stripes, had left their worn sneakers by the front door and were now sitting on the floor. Most of them were from the Lower East Side; no one had had to go to great trouble to come here. The little room was barren. No pictures, no furniture, no rug, not even a chair. Only a few plain straw mats. A single bulb hung from the ceiling into the center of the room. It was seven o'clock, and about a dozen people had gathered, when the Swami suddenly opened the side door and entered the room.

He wasn't wearing a shirt, and the saffron cloth that draped his torso left his arms and some of his chest bare. His complexion was smooth golden brown, and as they watched him, his head shaven, his ears longlobed, and his aspect grave, he seemed like pictures they'd seen of the Buddha in meditation. He was old, yet erect in his posture, fresh and radiant. His forehead was decorated with the yellowish clay markings of the Vaiṣṇavas. Prabhupāda recognized big, bearded Howard and smiled. "You have brought your friends?"

"Yes," Howard answered in his loud, resonant voice.

"Ah, very good."

Prabhupāda stepped out of his white shoes, sat down on a thin mat, faced his congregation, and indicated they could all be seated. He distributed several pairs of brass hand cymbals and briefly demonstrated the rhythm: one... two... three. He began playing-a startling, ringing sound. He began singing: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. Now it was the audience's turn. "Chant," he told them. Some already knew, gradually the others caught on, and after a few rounds, all were chanting together.

Most of these young men and the few young women present had at one time or another embarked on the psychedelic voyage in search of a new world of expanded consciousness. Boldly and recklessly, they had entered the turbulent, forbidden waters of LSD, peyote, and magic mushrooms. Heedless of warnings, they had risked everything and done it. Yet there was merit in their valor, their eagerness to find the extra dimensions of the self, to get beyond ordinary existence-even if they didn't know what the beyond was or whether they would ever return to the comfort of the ordinary. Nonetheless, whatever truth they had found, they remained unfulfilled, and whatever worlds they had reached, these young psychedelic voyagers had always returned to the Lower East Side. Now they were sampling the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra.

When the kīrtana suddenly sprang up from the Swami's cymbals and sonorous voice, they immediately felt that it was going to be something far out. Here was another chance to "trip out," and willingly they began to flow with it. They would surrender their minds and explore the limits of the chanting for all it was worth. Most of them had already associated the mantra with the mystical Upaniṣads and Gītā, which had called out to them in words of mystery: "Eternal spirit... Negating illusion." But whatever it is, this Indian mantra, let it come, they thought. Let its waves carry us far and high. Let's take it, and let the effects come. Whatever the price, let it come. The chanting seemed simple and natural enough. It was sweet and wasn't going to harm anyone. It was, in its own way, far out.

As Prabhupāda chanted in his own inner ecstasy, he observed his motley congregation. He was breaking ground in a new land now. As the hand cymbals rang, the lead-and-response of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra swelled, filling the evening. Some neighbors were annoyed. Puerto Rican children, enchanted, appeared at the door and window, looking. Twilight came.

Exotic it was, yet anyone could see that a swami was raising an ancient prayer in praise of God. This wasn't rock or jazz. He was a holy man, a swami, making a public religious demonstration. But the combination was strange: an old Indian swami chanting an ancient mantra with a storefront full of young American hippies singing along.

Prabhupāda sang on, his shaven head held high and tilted, his body trembling slightly with emotion. Confidently, he led the mantra, absorbed in pure devotion, and they responded. More passersby were drawn to the front window and open door. Some jeered, but the chanting was too strong. Within the sound of the kīrtana, even the car horns were a faint staccato. The vibration of auto engines and the rumble of trucks continued, but in the distance now, unnoticed.

Gathered under the dim electric light in the bare room, the group chanted after their leader, growing gradually from a feeble, hesitant chorus to an approximate harmony of voices. They continued clapping and chanting, putting into it whatever they could, in hopes of discovering its secrets. This swami was not simply giving some five-minute sample demonstration. For the moment he was their leader, their guide in an unknown realm. Howard and Keith's little encounter with a kīrtana in Calcutta had left them outsiders. The chanting had never before come like this, right in the middle of the Lower East Side with a genuine swami leading them.

In their minds were psychedelic ambitions to see the face of God, fantasies and visions of Hindu teachings, and the presumption that "IT" was all impersonal light. Prabhupāda had encountered a similar group on the Bowery, and he knew this group wasn't experiencing the mantra in the proper disciplined reverence and knowledge. But he let them chant in their own way. In time their submission to the spiritual sound, their purification, and their enlightenment and ecstasy in chanting and hearing Hare Kṛṣṇa would come.

He stopped the kīrtana. The chanting had swept back the world, but now the Lower East Side rushed in again. The children at the door began to chatter and laugh. Cars and trucks made their rumblings heard once more. And a voice shouted from a nearby apartment, demanding quiet. It was now past 7:30. Half an hour had elapsed.

* * *

Now today, we shall begin the Fourth Chapter-what Lord Kṛṣṇa says to Arjuna.

His lecture is very basic and yet (for restless youth) heavily philosophical. Some can't take it, and they rise rudely upon hearing the Swami's first words, put on their shoes at the front door, and return to the street. Others have left as soon as they saw the singing was over. Still, this is his best group yet. A few of the Bowery congregation are present. The boys from Mott Street are here, and they're specifically looking for a guru. Many in the group have already read Bhagavad-gītā-and they're not too proud to hear and admit that they didn't understand it.

It's another hot and noisy July evening outside his door. Children are on summer vacation, and they stay out on the street until dark. Nearby, a big dog is barking-"Row! Row! Row!"-the traffic creates constant rumbling, just outside the window little girls are shrieking, and all this makes lecturing difficult. Yet despite the distraction of children, traffic, and dogs, he wants the door open. If it is closed, he says, "Why is it closed? People may come in." He continues, undaunted, quoting Sanskrit, holding his audience, and developing his urgent message, while the relentless cacophony rivals his every word...

"Row! Row! Row!"

"Eeeeeeeeek! Yaaaaaaaaa!" Shrieking like little Spanish witches, the girls disturb the whole block. In the distance, a man shouts from his window: "Get outta here! Get outta here!"

Prabhupāda: Ask them not to make noise.

Roy (one of the boys in the temple): The man is chasing the kids now.

Prabhupāda: Yes, yes, these children are making a disturbance. Ask them...

Roy: Yes, that's what... the man's chasing them right now.

Prabhupāda: They are making noises.

Roy: Yes, he's chasing them now.

The man chases the children away, but they'll be back. You can't chase the children off the street-they live there. And the big dog never stops barking. And who can stop the cars? The cars are always there. Prabhupāda uses the cars to give an example: When a car momentarily comes into our vision on Second Avenue, we certainly don't think that it had no existence before we saw it or that it ceases to exist once it has passed from view; similarly, when Kṛṣṇa goes from this planet to an other, it doesn't mean He no longer exists, although it may appear that way. Actually, He has only left our sight. Kṛṣṇa and His incarnations constantly appear and disappear on innumerable planets throughout the innumerable universes of the material creation.

The cars are always passing, roaring and rumbling through every word Prabhupāda speaks. The door is open, and he is poised at the edge of a river of carbon monoxide, asphalt, rumbling tires, and constant waves of traffic. He has come a long way from the banks of his Yamunā in Vṛndāvana, where great saints and sages have gathered through the ages to discuss Kṛṣṇa consciousness. But his audience lives here amid this scene, so he has come here, beside Second Avenue's rushing river of traffic, to speak loudly the ageless message.

He is still stressing the same point: whatever you do in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, however little it may be, is eternally good for you. Yet now, more than uptown or on the Bowery, he is calling his hearers to take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness fully and become devotees. He assures them...

Anyone can become a devotee and friend of Kṛṣṇa like Arjuna. You will be surprised that Lord Caitanya's principal disciples were all so-called fallen in society. He appointed Haridāsa Ṭhākura to the highest position in His spiritual mission, although he happened to take birth in a Muhammadan family. So there is no bar for anyone. Everyone can become spiritual master, provided he knows the science of Kṛṣṇa. This is the science of Kṛṣṇa, this Bhagavad-gītā. And if anyone knows it perfectly, then he becomes a spiritual master.

And this transcendental vibration, Hare Kṛṣṇa, will help us by cleaning the dust from the mirror of our mind. On the mind we have accumulated material dust. Just like on the Second Avenue, due to the constant traffic of motorcars, there's always a creation of dust over everything. Similarly, by our manipulation of materialistic activities, there are some material dusts which are accumulated on the mind, and therefore we are unable to see things in true perspective. So this process, the vibration of the transcendental sound-Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare-will cleanse the dust. And as soon as the dust is cleared, then, as you see your nice face in the mirror, similarly you can see your real constitutional position as spirit soul. In Sanskrit language it is said, bhava-mahā-dāvāgni. Lord Caitanya said that. Lord Caitanya's picture you have seen in the front window. He is dancing and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. So, it doesn't matter what a person was doing before, what sinful activities. A person may not be perfect at first, but if he is engaged in service, then he will be purified.

Suddenly a Bowery derelict enters, whistling and drunkenly shouting. The audience remains seated, not knowing what to make of it.

Drunk: How are ya? I'll be right back. I brought another thing.

Prabhupāda: Don't disturb. Sit down. We are talking seriously.

Drunk: I'll put it up there. In a church? All right. I'll be right back.

The man is white-haired, with a short grizzly beard and frowsy clothing. His odor reeks through the temple. But then he suddenly careens out the door and is gone. Prabhupāda chuckles softly and returns immediately to his lecture.

So it doesn't matter what a person was doing before, if he engages in Kṛṣṇa consciousness-chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and Bhagavad-gītā-it should be concluded that he is a saint. He is a saintly person. Api cet sudurācāro. Never mind if he may have some external immoral habit due to his past association. It doesn't matter. Some way or other, one should become Kṛṣṇa conscious, and then gradually he will become a saintly person as he goes on executing this process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

There is a story about how habit is second nature. There was a thief, and he went on pilgrimage with some friends. So at night when the others were sleeping, because his habit was to steal at night, he got up and was taking someone's baggage. But then he was thinking, "Oh, I have come to this holy place of pilgrimage, but still I am committing theft by habit. No, I shall not do it."

So then he took someone's bag and put it in another's place, and for the whole night the poor fellow moved the bags of the pilgrims from here to there. But due to his conscience, because he was on a holy pilgrimage, he did not actually take anything. So in the morning when everyone got up, they looked around and said, "Where is my bag? I don't see it." And another man says, "I don't see my bag." And then someone says, "Oh, there is your bag." So there was some row, so they thought, "What is the matter? How has it so happened?"

Then the thief rose up and told all of the friends, "My dear gentlemen, I am a thief by occupation, and because I have that habit to steal at night, I couldn't stop myself. But I thought, "I have come to this holy place, so I won't do it.' Therefore I placed one person's bag in another man's place. Please excuse me."

So this is habit. He doesn't want to, but he has a habit of doing it. He has decided not to commit theft any more, but sometimes he does, habitually. So Kṛṣṇa says that in such conditions, when one who has decided to stop all immoral habits and just take to this process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, if by chance he does something which is immoral in the face of society, that should not be taken account of. In the next verse Kṛṣṇa says, kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā: because he has dovetailed himself in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, it is sure that he will be saintly very soon.

Suddenly the old derelict returns, announcing his entrance: "How are ya?" He is carrying something. He maneuvers his way through the group, straight to the back of the temple, where the Swami is sitting. He opens the toilet room door, puts two rolls of bathroom tissue inside, closes the door, and then turns to the sink, sits some paper towels on top of it and puts two more rolls of bathroom tissue and some more paper towels under the sink. He then stands and turns around toward the Swami and the audience. The Swami is looking at him and asks, "What is this?" The bum is silent now; he has done his work. Prabhupāda begins to laugh, thanking his visitor, who is now moving toward the door: "Thank you. Thank you very much." The bum exits. "Just see," Prabhupāda now addresses his congregation. "It is a natural tendency to give some service. Just see, he is not in order, but he thought that, "Here is something. Let me give some service.' Just see how automatically it comes. This is natural."

The young men in the audience look at one another. This is really far out-first the chanting with the brass cymbals, the Swami looking like Buddha and talking about Kṛṣṇa and chanting, and now this crazy stuff with the bum. But the Swami stays cool, he's really cool, just sitting on the floor like he's not afraid of anything, just talking his philosophy about the soul and us becoming saints and even the old drunk becoming a saint!

After almost an hour, the dog still barks and the kids still squeal.

Prabhupāda is asking his hearers, who are only beginners in spiritual life, to become totally dedicated preachers of Kṛṣṇa consciousness: "In the Bhagavad-gītā, you will find that anyone who preaches the gospel of Bhagavad-gītā to the people of the world is the most dear, the dearest person to Kṛṣṇa. Therefore it is our duty to preach the principles of this Bhagavad-gītā to make people Kṛṣṇa conscious." Prabhupāda can't wait to tell them-even if they aren't ready. It's too urgent. The world needs Kṛṣṇa conscious preachers.

People are suffering for want of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Therefore, each and every one of us should be engaged in the preaching work of Kṛṣṇa consciousness for the benefit of the whole world. Lord Caitanya, whose picture is in the front of our store, has very nicely preached the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. The Lord says, "Just take my orders, all of you, and become a spiritual master. " Lord Caitanya gives the order that in every country you go and preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness. So if we take up this missionary work to preach Bhagavad-gītā as it is, without interpretation and without any material motives behind it-as it is-then Kṛṣṇa says it shall be done. We should not have any attraction for worldy activities; otherwise we can't have Kṛṣṇa. But it doesn't mean that we should be inimical to the people of the world. No, it is our duty to give them the highest instruction, that you become Kṛṣṇa conscious and-

A young man in the audience seems unable to contain himself and begins making his own incoherent speech.

Prabhupāda: No. You cannot disturb just now.

Man (standing up): Now wait a minute, man. (A quarrel begins as others try to quiet him.)

Prabhupāda: No, no, no. No, no, no, no. Not just now. No, no, you cannot ask just now.

Man: Well, I am trying to talk.

Prabhupāda: No, just now you cannot ask.

Man: But wait a minute, man. Wait.

Prabhupāda: Why do you interfere just now? We have a regular question time.

Others in the audience: Let the man finish. Yeah, let him talk. (The man's supporters defend his right to speak, while others try to silence him.)

Second man: I have just one question, please. How long is an individual allowed or expected to go on without any type of thought? How long?

Prabhupāda: I am not finished. We'll give question time after finishing the talk. (The parties go on quarreling.) All right, I am very glad you are curious, but please wait. Have some patience, because we have not finished. As soon as we finish, after five minutes, ten minutes, I will tend to your question. Don't be impatient. Sit down. (The audience quiets down, and the Swami goes on with his talk.)

After five minutes...

Prabhupāda: All right. This gentleman is impatient. We shall stop here. Now what is your question, sir?

Man: Practically we tend to place emphasis on those we identify with the fact itself. Many people are meant to explain the why fores and wherefores of the metaphysical truth, that "I think, therefore I am.'

Prabhupāda: What is your particular question?

Man: I have no answer to that question. Rather, but that I attempt, I live, I breathe.

Prabhupāda: Yes.

Man: So ability-tell me why I have nothing to do with it. May I understand the why fores and wheres?

Prabhupāda: That's all right.

Man: I have difficulty in you. I have difficulty in saying.

Prabhupāda: So long as we are in this material world there are so many problems.

Man: Not many problems. It is not many problems. This is the greatest fact. I have... I know...

Prabhupāda: Yes.

Man: I also know that the whys and wherefores of my particular...

Prabhupāda: Yes.

Man: I didn't come here... But let me explain my position. This isn't necessarily... I feel I must... I think the difference is to learn... You'll find it innumerable times by the same token... Maybe we are able to reconcile the fact of individual being for a long time to find out why...

Prabhupāda (turning to one of the boys): Roy, can you answer his question? It is a general question. You can answer, yes?

Roy turns sympathetically to the rambling questioner, and Prabhupāda addresses his audience: "Enough questions." His voice now seems tired and resigned: "Let us have kīrtana." And the Lower East Side once again abates. The chanting begins: the brass cymbals, Prabhupāda's voice carrying the melody, and the audience responding. It goes for half an hour and then stops.

It is now 9:00. The audience sits before Swamiji while a boy brings him an apple, a small wooden bowl, and a knife. As most of the audience still sits and watches, gauging the after effects of the chanting as though it had been some new drug, the Swami cuts the apple in half, then in fourths, then in eighths, until there are many pieces. He takes one himself and asks one of the boys to pass the bowl around. Swamiji holds back his head and deftly pops a slice of apple into his mouth, without touching his fingers to his lips. He chews a bit, ruminating, his lips closed.

The members of the congregation munch silently on little pieces of apple. Prabhupāda stands, slips into his shoes, and exits through the side door.

* * *

As Prabhupāda retired to his apartment and his guests disappeared through the front door, back into the city, Don and Raphael would turn out the lights, lock the front door, and go to sleep on the floor in their blankets. Don and Raphael had needed a place to stay when they heard about the Swami's place. Prabhupāda had a policy that any boy who expressed even a little interest in becoming his student could stay in the storefront and make it his home. Of course, Prabhupāda would ask them to contribute toward the rent and meals, but if, like Don and Raphael, they had no money, then it was still all right, provided they helped in other ways. Don and Raphael were the first two boys to take advantage of Prabhupāda's offer. They were attracted to Swamiji and the chanting, but they weren't serious about his philosophy or the disciplines of devotional life. They had no jobs and no money, their hair was long and unkept, and they lived and slept in the same clothes day after day. Prabhupāda stipulated that at least while they were on the premises they could not break his rules-no intoxication, illicit sex, meat-eating, or gambling. He knew these two boarders weren't serious students, but he allowed them to stay, in hopes that gradually they would become serious.

Often, some wayfaring stranger would stop by, looking for a place to stay the night, and Don and Raphael would welcome him. An old white-bearded Indian-turned-Christian who was on a walking mission proclaiming the end of the world, and whose feet were covered with bandages, once slept for a few nights on a wooden bench in the storefront. Some nights, as many as ten drifters would seek shelter at the storefront, and Don and Raphael would admit them, explaining that the Swami didn't object, as long as they got up early. Even drifters whose only interest was a free meal could stay, and after the morning class and breakfast they would usually drift off again into māyā.

Don and Raphael were the Swami's steady boarders, although during the day they also went out, returning only for meals, sleep, and evening chanting. Occasionally they would bathe, and then they would use the Swami's bathroom up in his apartment. Sometimes they would hang out in the storefront during the day, and if someone stopped by, asking about the Swami's classes, they would tell the person all they knew (which wasn't much). They admitted that they weren't really into the Swami's philosophy, and they didn't claim to be his followers. If someone persisted in inquiring about the Swami's teachings, Don and Raphael would suggest, "Why don't you go up and talk to him? The Swami lives in the apartment building out back. Why don't you go up and see him?"

Prabhupāda usually stayed in his apartment. Occasionally he might look out his window and see, through the back windows of the storefront, that the light in the closet-sized bathroom had needlessly been left burning. Coming down to ask the boys to turn it off and not waste electricity, he might find a few boys lying on the floor talking or reading. Prabhupāda would stand gravely, asking them not to leave the light on, stressing the seriousness of wasting Kṛṣṇa's energy and money. He would stand dressed in khādī, that coarse handloomed cotton woven from hand spun threads, a cloth that to Americans appears somehow exotic. Even the saffron color of Prabhupāda's dhotī and chādar was exotic; produced from the traditional Indian dye, it was a dull, uneven color, different from anything Western. After Prabhupāda turned off the light, the boys seemed to have nothing to say and nothing more appropriate to do than look with interest at him for a long, awkward moment, and the Swami would leave without saying anything more.

Money was scarce. From his evening meetings he would usually collect about five or six dollars in change and bills. Don talked of going up to New England to pick apples and bring back money for the Swami. Raphael said something about some money coming. Prabhupāda waited, and depended on Kṛṣṇa. Sometimes he would walk back and forth in the courtyard between the buildings. Seeming mysterious to the neighbors, he would chant on his beads, his hand deep in his bead bag.

Mostly he kept to his room, working. As he had said during a lecture when living on the Bowery, "I am here always working at some thing, reading or writing-something, reading or writing-twenty-four hours." His mission of translating Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, of presenting the complete work in sixty volumes of four hundred pages each, could alone occupy all his days and nights. He worked at it whenever possible, sitting at his portable typewriter or translating the Sanskrit into English. He especially worked in the very early hours of the morning, when he would not be interrupted. He would comb through the Sanskrit and Bengali commentaries of the great ācāryas, following their explanations, selecting passages from them, adding his own knowledge and realization, and then laboriously weaving it all together and typing out his Bhaktivedanta purports. He had no means or immediate plans for financing the publishing of further volumes, but he continued in the faith that somehow they would be published.

He had a broad mission, broader even than translating Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and so he gave much of his time and energy to meeting visitors. Had his only aim been to write, then there would have been no need to have taken the risk and trouble of coming to America. Now many people were coming, and an important part of his mission was to talk to them and convince them of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. His visitors were usually young men who had recently come to live on the Lower East Side. He had no secretary to screen his visitors, nor did he have scheduled visiting hours. Whenever anyone happened by, at any time, from early morning to ten at night, Prabhupāda would stop his typing or translating and speak with them. It was an open neighborhood, and many visitors would come by right off the street. Some were serious, but many were not; some even came intoxicated. Often they came not to inquire submissively but to challenge.

Once a young hippie on an LSD trip found his way upstairs and sat opposite the Swami: "Right now I am higher than you are," he announced. "I am God." Prabhupāda bowed his head slightly, his palms folded: "Please accept my obeisances," he said. Then he asked "God" to please leave. Others admitted frankly that they were crazy or haunted by ghosts and sought relief from their mental suffering.

Lon Solomon: I was looking for spiritual centers-places where one can go, not like stores where they ask you to leave, but where you can actually talk to people and try to understand the ultimate truth. I would come to the Swami's, knowing it was definitely a spiritual center. There was definitely something there. I was on drugs and disturbed with the notion that I must be God, or some very important personality way out of proportion to my actual situation. I was actually in trouble, mentally deranged because of so much suffering, and I would kind of blow in to see him whenever I felt the whim to do so. I didn't make a point of going to his meetings, but a lot of times I would just come. One time I came and spent the night there. I was always welcome at any time to sleep in the storefront. I wanted to show the Swami what a sad case I was so he should definitely do something for me. He told me to join him and he could solve my problems. But I wasn't ready.

I was really into sex, and I wanted to know what he meant by illicit sex-what was his definition. He said to me, "This means sex outside of marriage." But I wasn't satisfied with the answer, and I asked him for more details. He told me to first consider the answer he had given me and then come back the next day and he would tell me more.

Then I showed up with a girl. The Swami came to the door and said, "I am very busy. I have my work, I have my translating. I cannot talk with you now." Well, that was the only time he didn't offer me full hospitality and full attention and talk with me as many questions as I had. So I left immediately with the girl. He was correct in his perception that I was simply going to see him just to try to impress the girl. He saw through it right away, and he rejected that type of association. But every time I came I was in trouble, and he always helped me.

Sometimes young men would come with scholarly pretentions to test the Swami's knowledge of Bhagavad-gītā. "You have read the Gītā," Prabhupāda would say, "so what is your conclusion? If you claim to know the Gītā, then you should know the conclusion that Kṛṣṇa is presenting." But most people didn't think that there was supposed to be a definite conclusion to the Gītā. And even if there were such a conclusion, that didn't mean they were supposed to arrange their life around it. The Gītā was a spiritual book, and you didn't have to follow it.

One young man approached the Swami asking, "What book will you lecture from next week? Will you be teaching the Tibetan Book of the Dead?" as if Prabhupāda would teach spirituality like a college survey course in world religions. "Everything is there in Bhagavad-gītā," Prabhupāda replied. "We could study one verse for three months."

And there were other questions: "What about Camus?"

"What is his philosophy?" Prabhupāda would ask.

"He says everything is absurd and the only philosophical question is whether to commit suicide."

"That means everything is absurd for him. The material world is absurd, but there is a spiritual world beyond this one. That means he does not know the soul. The soul cannot be killed."

Adherents of various thinkers approached him: "What about Nietzsche? Kafka? Timothy Leary? Bob Dylan?" Prabhupāda would ask what their philosophy was, and the particular follower would have to explain and defend his favorite intellectual hero.

"They are all mental speculators," Prabhupāda would say. "Here in this material world we are all conditioned souls. Your knowledge is imperfect. Your senses are blunt. What good is your opinion? We have to hear from the perfect authority, Kṛṣṇa."

"Do you mean to say that none of the great thinkers are God conscious?" a boy asked.

"Their sincerity is their God consciousness. But if we want perfect knowledge of God, then we have to consult śāstra."

Often there were challenges, but under the Swami's stare and hard logic, the challenger would usually trail off into thoughtful silence.

"Is the spiritual knowledge of China advanced?"

Prabhupāda would sometimes answer simply by making a sour face.

"Well, I am a follower of Vedānta myself."

"Do you know what Vedānta means? What is the first aphorism of the Vedānta-sūtra? Do you know?"

"No, I..."

"Then how can you speak of Vedānta? vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyaḥ: Kṛṣṇa says that He is the goal of Vedānta. So if you are a Vedāntist, then you must become Kṛṣṇa conscious."

"What about the Buddha?"

"Do you follow him?"


"No, you just talk. Why don't you follow? Follow Kṛṣṇa, follow Christ, follow Buddha. But don't just talk."

"This sounds the same as Christianity. How is it any different?"

"It is the same: love of God. But who is a Christian? Who follows? The Bible teaches, "Thou shalt not kill,' but all over the world, Christians are expert in killing. Do you know that? I believe the Christians say that Jesus Christ died for our sins-so why are you still sinning?"

Although Prabhupāda was a stranger to America, they were strangers to absolute knowledge. Whenever anyone would come to see him, he wouldn't waste time-he talked philosophy, reason, and argument. He constantly argued against atheism and impersonalism. He spoke strongly, to prove the existence of God and the universality of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He talked often and vigorously, day and night, meeting all kinds of questions and philosophies.

He would listen also, and he heard a wide range of local testimonies. He heard the dissatisfaction of young Americans with the war and with American society. One boy told him he didn't want to get married because he couldn't find a chaste girl; it was better to go with prostitutes. Another confided that his mother had planned to abort him, but at the last moment his grandmother had convinced her not to. He heard from homosexuals. Someone told him that a set of New Yorkers considered it chic to eat the flesh of aborted babies. And in every case, he told them the truth.

He talked with Marxists and explained that although Marx says that everything is the property of the State, the fact is that everything is the property of God. Only "spiritual communism," which puts God in the center, can actually be successful. He discounted LSD visions as hallucinations and explained how God can be seen factually and what God looks like.

Although these one-time visitors came and went away, a few new friends began to stay on, watching the Swami deal with different guests. They began to appreciate the Swami's arguments, his concern for people, and his devotion to Kṛṣṇa. He seemed actually to know how to help people, and he invariably offered them Kṛṣṇa consciousness-as much as they could take-as the solution to their problems. A few began to take the Swami's message to heart.

* * *

"We shall call our society ISKCON." Prabhupāda had laughed playfully when he first coined the acronym.

He had initiated the legal work of incorporation that spring, while still living on the Bowery. But even before its legal beginning, he had been talking about his "International Society for Krishna Consciousness," and so it had appeared in letters to India and in The Village Voice. A friend had suggested a title that would sound more familiar to Westerners, "International Society for God Consciousness," but Prabhupāda had insisted: "Krishna Consciousness." "God" was a vague term, whereas "Krishna" was exact and scientific; "God consciousness" was spiritually weaker, less personal. And if Westerners didn't know that Kṛṣṇa was God, then the International Society for Krishna Consciousness would tell them, by spreading His glories "in every town and village."

"Kṛṣṇa consciousness" was Prabhupāda's own rendering of a phrase from Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī's Padyāvali, written in the sixteenth century. Kṛṣṇa-bhakti-rasa-bhāvita: "to be absorbed in the mellow taste of executing devotional service to Kṛṣṇa."

But to register ISKCON legally as a nonprofit, tax-exempt religion required money and a lawyer. Carl Yeargens had already gained some experience in forming religious, political, and social welfare groups, and when he had met Prabhupāda on the Bowery he had agreed to help. He had contacted his lawyer, Stephen Goldsmith.

Stephen Goldsmith, a young Jewish lawyer with a wife and two children and an office on Park Avenue, was interested in spiritual movements. When Carl told him about Prabhupāda's plans, he was immediately fascinated by the idea of setting up a religious corporation for an Indian swami. He visited Prabhupāda at 26 Second Avenue, and they discussed incorporation, tax exemption, Prabhupāda's immigration status, and Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Mr. Goldsmith visited Prabhupāda several times. Once he brought his children, who liked the "soup" the Swami cooked. He began attending the evening lectures, where he was often the only nonhippie member of the congregation. One evening, having completed all the legal groundwork and being ready to complete the procedures for incorporation, Mr. Goldsmith came to Prabhupāda's lecture and kīrtana to get signatures from the trustees for the new society.

July 11

Prabhupāda is lecturing.

Mr. Goldsmith, wearing slacks and a shirt and tie, sits on the floor near the door, listening earnestly to the lecture, despite the distracting noises from the neighborhood. Prabhupāda has been explaining how scholars mislead innocent people with nondevotional interpretations of the Bhagavad-gītā, and now, in recognition of the attorney's respectable presence, and as if to catch Mr. Goldsmith's attention better, he introduces him into the subject of the talk.

I will give you a practical example of how things are misinterpreted. Just like our president, Mr. Goldsmith, he knows that expert lawyers, by interpretation, can do so many things. When I was in Calcutta, there was a rent tax passed by the government, and some expert lawyer changed the whole thing by his interpretation. The government had to reenact a whole law because their purpose was foiled by the interpretation of this lawyer. So we are not out for foiling the purpose of Kṛṣṇa, for which the Bhagavad-gītā was spoken. But unauthorized persons are trying to foil the purpose of Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, that is unauthorized.

All right, Mr. Goldsmith, you can ask anything.

Mr. Goldsmith stands, and to the surprise of the people gathered, he makes a short announcement asking for signers on an incorporation document for the Swami's new religious movement.

Prabhupāda: They are present here. You can take the addresses now.

Mr. Goldsmith: I can take them now, yes.

Prabhupāda: Yes, you can. Bill, you can give your address. And Raphael, you can give yours. And Don... Roy... Mr. Greene.

As the meeting breaks up, those called on to sign as trustees come forward, standing around in the little storefront, waiting to leaf cursorily through the pages the lawyer has produced from his thin attache, and to sign as he directs. Yet not a soul among them is committed to Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

Mr. Goldsmith meets his quota of signers-a handful of sympathizers with enough reverence toward the Swami to want to help him. The first trustees, who will hold office for a year, "until the first annual meeting of the corporation," are Michael Grant (who puts down his name and address without ever reading the document), Mike's girl friend Jan, and James Greene. No one seriously intends to undertake any formal duties as trustee of the religious society, but they are happy to help the Swami by signing his fledgling society into legal existence.

According to law, a second group of trustees will assume office for the second year. They are Paul Gardiner, Roy, and Don. The trustees for the third year are Carl Yeargens, Bill Epstein, and Raphael.

None of them know exactly what the half a dozen, legal-sized typed pages mean, except that "Swamiji is forming a society."


For tax exemption, in case someone gives a big donation, and for other benefits an official religious society might receive.

But these purposes hardly seem urgent or even relevant to the present situation. Who's going to make donations? Except maybe for Mr. Goldsmith, who has any money?

But Prabhupāda is planning for the future, and he's planning for much more than just tax exemptions. He is trying to serve his spiritual predecessors and fulfill the scriptural prediction of a spiritual movement that is to flourish for ten thousand years in the midst of the Age of Kali. Within the vast Kali Age (a period which is to last 432,000 years), the 1960s are but an insignificant moment.

The Vedas describe that the time of the universe revolves through a cycle of four "seasons," or yugas, and Kali-yuga is the worst of times, in which all spiritual qualities of men diminish until humanity is finally reduced to a bestial civilization, devoid of human decency. However, the Vedic literature foretells a golden age of spiritual life, beginning after the advent of Lord Caitanya and lasting for ten thousand years-an eddy that runs against the current of Kali-yuga. With a vision that soars off to the end of the millennium and beyond, yet with his two feet solidly on the ground of Second Avenue, Prabhupāda has begun an International Society for Krishna Consciousness. He has many practical responsibilities: paying the rent, incorporating his society, and paving the way for a thriving worldwide congregation of devotees. Yet he doesn't see his humble beginning as limiting the greater scope of his divine mission. He knows that everything depends on Kṛṣṇa, so whether he succeeds or fails is up to the Supreme. He has only to try.

The purposes stated within ISKCON's articles of incorporation reveal Prabhupāda's thinking. They were seven points, similar to those given in the Prospectus for the League of Devotees he formed in Jhansi, India, in 1953. That attempt had been unsuccessful, yet his purposes remained unchanged.

Seven Purposes of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness:

(a) To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.

(b) To propagate a consciousness of Krishna, as it is revealed in the Bhagavad Gītā and Śrīmad Bhagwatam.

(c) To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, thus to develop the idea within the members, and humanity at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna).

(d) To teach and encourage the sankirtan movement, congregational chanting of the holy name of God as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

(e) To erect for the members and for society at large, a holy place of transcendental pastimes, dedicated to the Personality of Krishna.

(f) To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler and more natural way of life.

(g) With a view towards achieving the aforementioned Purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.

Regardless of what ISKCON's charter members thought of the society's purposes, Prabhupāda saw them as imminent realities. As Mr. Ruben, the subway conductor who had met Prabhupāda on a Manhattan park bench in 1965, had noted: "He seemed to know that he would have temples filled up with devotees. "There are temples and books,' he said. "They are existing, they are there, but the time is separating us from them.'"

The first purpose mentioned in the charter was propagation. "Preaching" was the word Prabhupāda most often used. For him, preaching had a much broader significance than mere sermonizing. Preaching meant glorious, selfless adventures on behalf of the Supreme Lord. Lord Caitanya had preached by walking all over southern India and causing thousands of people to chant and dance with Him in ecstasy. Lord Kṛṣṇa had preached the Bhagavad-gītā while standing with Arjuna in his chariot on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra. Lord Buddha had preached, Lord Jesus had preached, and all pure devotees preach.

ISKCON's preaching would achieve what the League of Nations and the United Nations had failed to achieve-"real unity and peace in the world." ISKCON workers would bring peace to a world deeply afflicted by materialism and strife. They would "systematically propagate spiritual knowledge," knowledge of the nonsectarian science of God. It was not that a new religion was being born in July of 1966; rather, the eternal preaching of Godhead, known as saṅkīrtana, was being transplanted from East to West.

The society's members would join together, and by hearing the teachings of Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and by chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, they would come to realize that each was a spirit soul, eternally related to Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They would then preach this to "humanity at large," especially through saṅkīrtana, the chanting of the holy name of God.

ISKCON would also erect "a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the Personality of Krishna." Was this something beyond the storefront? Yes, certainly. He never thought small: "He seemed to know that he would have temples filled up with devotees."

He wanted ISKCON to demonstrate "a simple, more natural way of life." Such a life (Prabhupāda thought of the villages of India, where people lived just as Kṛṣṇa had lived) was most conducive to developing Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

And all six of these purposes would be achieved by the seventh: ISKCON would publish and distribute literature. This was the special instruction Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura had given to Śrīla Prabhupāda. He had specifically told him one day in 1932 at Rādhā-kuṇḍa in Vṛndāvana, "If you ever get any money, publish books."

Certainly none of the signers saw any immediate shape to the Swami's dream, yet these seven purposes were not simply theistic rhetoric invented to convince a few New York State government officials. Prabhupāda meant to enact every item in the charter.

Of course, he was now working in extremely limited circumstances. "The principal place of worship, located at 26 Second Avenue, in the city, county, and state of New York," was the sole headquarters for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Yet Prabhupāda insisted that he was not living at 26 Second Avenue, New York City. His vision was transcendental. His Guru Mahārāja had gone out from the traditional holy places of spiritual meditation to preach in cities like Calcutta, Bombay, and Delhi. And yet Prabhupāda would say that his spiritual master had not really been living in any of those cities, but was always in Vaikuṇṭha, the spiritual world, because of his absorption in devotional service.

Similarly, the place of worship, 26 Second Avenue, was not a New York storefront, a former curiosity shop. The storefront and the apartment had been spiritualized and were now a transcendental haven. "Society at large" could come here, the whole world could take shelter here, regardless of race or religion. Plain, small, and impoverished as it was, Prabhupāda regarded the storefront as "a holy place of transcendental pastimes, dedicated to the Personality of Krishna." It was a world headquarters, a publishing house, a sacred place of pilgrimage, and a center from which an army of devotees could issue forth and chant the holy names of God in all the streets in the world. The entire universe could receive Kṛṣṇa consciousness from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which was beginning here.

* * *

In Keith, Prabhupāda had a serious follower. Within a week of their meeting, Keith had moved out of the Mott Street apartment and was living with Prabhupāda. He still dressed in his ragged denim shorts and T-shirt, but he began to do all the Swami's shopping and cooking. While in India, Keith had learned some of the etiquette of reverence toward a holy man and the principles of discipleship. His friends watched him curiously as he dedicated himself to the Swami.

Keith: I saw that he was cooking, so I asked him if I could help. And he was very happy at the suggestion. The first couple of times, he took me shopping, and after that I mostly did it. He showed me how to make capātīs without a rolling pin by pressing out the dough with your fingers. Every day we would make capātīs, rice, dāl, and curries.

So Keith became the dependable cook and housekeeper in Prabhupāda's apartment. Meanwhile, at the Mott Street apartment, the roommates' favorite topic for discussion was their relationship with the Swami. Everyone thought it was a serious relationship. They knew Swamiji was guru. And when they heard that he would be giving daily classes at 6 A.M., up in his apartment, they were eager to attend.

Keith: I used to walk along the Bowery and look for flowers for him. When there were no flowers, I would take a straw or some grass. I loved going over there in the morning.

Howard: I would walk very briskly over to Swamiji's, chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, feeling better than ever before. Miraculously, the Lower East Side no longer looked drab. The sidewalks and buildings seemed to sparkle, and in the early morning before the smog set in, the sky was red and golden.

Chuck: I brought a few grapes and came to the door of the Swami. This was all new. Previously I would always walk toward McDougall Street, toward Bohemia, aesthetic New York-and now I was walking to the Lower East Side toward the business district, where there were no freaks, artists, or musicians, but simply straight buildings. And somehow, outside the carnival atmosphere, there was the richest attraction for the senses and the heart.

Howard: I would sing all the way to the foyer, then ring the buzzer marked "A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami." And the door would buzz and open and I would walk through the hallway into the small patio and up to his small second-floor apartment, tiptoeing quietly so as not to wake up the neighbors.

Chuck: I came into the hall of his building, and there were many, many names printed on plaques over the mailboxes. I immediately found the name, "A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami," handwritten on a slip of torn paper, slipped into one of the slots. I rang the buzzer and waited. After a few moments, the door buzzed loudly, and I entered through the security lock. I walked through the small garden into the rear building and upstairs.

Prabhupāda held his classes for almost two months in the privacy of his room, the same room where he typed and talked to guests. To Keith it was not simply a class in philosophy but a mystical experience of sweetness.

Keith: The sound of his voice, the sun coming up... we'd chant for a few minutes, softly clapping hands, and Swamiji would speak. The thing that got me most was simply the sound of his voice, especially while he was chanting Sanskrit. It was like music to my ears to hear him speak the raw sound.

So as not to disturb the neighbors, Prabhupāda would say, "Chant softly," and he asked the boys to clap softly, so softly that their hands barely touched. Then he would chant the prayers to the spiritual master: saṁsāra-dāvānala-līḍha-loka. "The spiritual master is receiving benediction from the ocean of mercy. Just as a cloud pours water on a forest fire to extinguish it, so the spiritual master extinguishes the blazing fire of material existence." With his eyes closed, he sat singing softly in the dim morning light. The few who attended-Keith, Howard, Chuck, Steve, Wally-sat entranced. Never before had the Swami been so appreciated.

Chuck: The Swami was sitting there, and in the mornings he would look not shiny and brilliant, but very withdrawn. He looked as if he could sit like a stone maybe forever. His eyes were only two tiny slits of glistening light. He took out his cymbals and played lightly on the edge-one, two, three-and he began to sing in a deep voice that was almost atonal in its intervals. It was a melody-monotone that did not express happiness or sadness-a timeless chant that told no story. We chanted along with him as best we could, but several times Swamiji stopped and said, "Softly." After about thirty minutes of chanting, we stopped. Then he opened his eyes wider and said, "We must chant softly, because sometimes the neighbors are complaining."

After singing, the Swami would give one of the boys a copy of Dr. Radhakrishnan's edition of Bhagavad-gītā to read aloud from. He would correct their mispronunciations and then explain each verse. Because there were only a few people present, there was always ample time for everyone to discuss the philosophy. The class would sometimes run an hour and a half and cover three or four verses.

Steve: Swamiji mentioned that mangoes were the king of all fruits, and he even mentioned that they were not easily available in this country. It occurred to me that I could bring him mangoes. There was a store on First Avenue that always kept a stock of fresh mangoes in the cooler. I began a regular habit. Every day after getting off work, I would purchase one nice mango and bring it to Swamiji.

Wally: Some of the boys would say, "I'm doing this for the Swami." So I went to him and said, "Is there something I can do for you?" So he told me I could take notes in his class.

The boys were sure that their service to Swamiji was spiritual, devotional service. By serving the spiritual master, who was a representative of Kṛṣṇa, you were serving Kṛṣṇa directly.

One morning Prabhupāda told Howard that he needed help in spreading the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Howard wanted to help, so he offered to type the Swami's manuscripts of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.

Howard: The first words of the first verse read, "O the King." And naturally I wondered whether "O" was the king's name and "the king" stood in apposition. After some time I figured out that "O king" was intended instead. I didn't make the correction without his permission. "Yes," he said, "change it then." I began to point out a few changes and inform him that if he wanted I could make corrections, that I had a master's in English and taught last year at Ohio State. "Oh, yes," Swamiji said. "Do it. Put it nicely."

He was giving them the idea of devotional service. "A devotee may not be perfect at first," he said, "but if he is engaged in service, once that service has begun he can be purified. Service is always there, in the material world or the spiritual." But service in the material world could not bring satisfaction to the self-only bhakti, purified service, service rendered to Kṛṣṇa, could do that. And the best way to serve Kṛṣṇa was to serve the representative of Kṛṣṇa.

They picked it up quickly. It was something you could do easily; it was not difficult like meditation-it was activity. You did something, but you did it for Kṛṣṇa. They had seen Swamiji respond to the Bowery bum who had come with a gift of toilet paper. "Just see," Swamiji had said, "he is not in order, but he thought, "Let me give some service.'" But service had to be done voluntarily, out of love, not by force.

Wally: Swamiji once asked me, "Do you think you could wear the Vaiṣṇava tilaka when you are on the streets?" I said, "Well, I would feel funny doing it, but if you want me to I will." And Swamiji said, "No, I don't ask you to do anything you don't want to do."

Steve: One day when I brought my daily mango to him he was in his room surrounded by devotees. I gave him my mango and sat down, and he said, "Very good boy." The way he said it, as if I were just a tiny little boy, made everyone in the room laugh, and I felt foolish. Swamiji, however, then changed their mood by saying, "No. This is actually love. This is Kṛṣṇa consciousness." And then they didn't laugh.

When Howard first volunteered to do editing, he spent the whole morning working in Swamiji's room. "If there is any more typing." Howard said, "let me know. I could take it back to Mott Street and type there."

"More? There's lots more," Swamiji said. He opened the closet and pulled out two large bundles of manuscripts tied in saffron cloth. There were thousands of pages, single-spaced manuscripts of Prabhupāda's translations of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Howard stood before them, astonished. "It's a lifetime of typing," he said. And Prabhupāda smiled and said, "Oh, yes, many lifetimes."

* * *

Because of Prabhupāda's presence and the words that he spoke there and the kīrtanas, everyone was already referring to the storefront as "the temple." But still it was just a bare, squalid storefront. The inspiration to decorate the place came from the Mott Street boys.

Howard, Keith, and Wally devised a scheme to surprise the Swami when he came to the evening kīrtana. Wally removed the curtains from their apartment, took them to the laundromat (where they turned the water dark brown from filth), and then dyed them purple. The Mott Street apartment was decorated with posters, paintings, and large decorative silk hangings that Howard and Keith had brought back from India. The boys gathered up all their pictures, tapestries, incense burners, and other paraphernalia and took them, along with the purple curtains, to the storefront, where they began their day of decorating.

At the storefront the boys constructed a wooden platform for Prabhupāda to sit on and covered it with old velvet cloth. Behind the platform, on the rear wall between the two windows to the courtyard, they hung the purple curtains, flanked by a pair of orange ones. Against one orange panel, just above Swamiji's sitting place, they hung a large original painting of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa on a circular canvas that James Greene had done. Prabhupāda had commissioned James, giving him the dust jacket from his Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, with its crude Indian drawing, as a model. The figures of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa were somewhat abstract, but the Lower East Side critics who frequented the storefront hailed the work as a wonderful achievement.

Keith and Howard were less confident that Prabhupāda would approve of their paintings and prints from India, so they hung them near the street side of the temple, away from Swamiji's seat. One of these prints, well known in India, was of Hanumān carrying a mountain through the sky to Lord Rāmacandra. The boys had no idea what kind of being Hanumān was. They thought perhaps he was a cat, because of the shape of his upper lip. Then there was the picture of a male person with six arms- two arms, painted greenish, held a bow and arrow; another pair, bluish, held a flute; and the third pair, golden, held a stick and bowl.

By late afternoon they had covered the sitting platform, hung the curtains, tacked up the decorative silks and prints and hung the paintings, and were decorating the dais with flowers and candlesticks. Someone brought a pillow for Swamiji to sit on and a faded cushion from an overstuffed chair for a backrest.

In addition to the Mott Street cache, Robert Nelson took one of his grandfather's Belgian-style Oriental rugs from his garage in the suburbs and brought it by subway to 26 Second Avenue. Even Raphael and Don took part in the decorating.

The secret was well kept, and the boys waited to see Swamiji's response. That night, when he walked in to begin the kīrtana, he looked at the newly decorated temple (there was even incense burning), and he raised his eyebrows in satisfaction. "You are advancing," he said as he looked around the room, smiling broadly. "Yes," he added, "this is Kṛṣṇa consciousness." His sudden, happy mood seemed almost like their reward for their earnest labors. He then stepped up onto the platform-while the boys held their breaths, hoping it would be sturdy-and he sat, looking out at the devotees and the decorations.

They had pleased him. But he now assumed a feature of extreme gravity, and though they knew he was certainly the same Swamiji, their titterings stuck in their throats, and their happy glances to each other suddenly abated in uncertainty and nervousness. As they regarded Swamiji's gravity, their joy of a few moments before seemed suddenly childish. As a cloud quickly covers the sun like a dark shade, Prabhupāda changed his mood from jolly to grave-and they spontaneously resolved to become equally grave and sober. He picked up the karatālas and again smiled a ray of appreciation, and their hearts beamed back.

The temple was still a tiny storefront, with many hidden and unhidden cockroaches, a tilted floor, and poor lighting. But because many of the decorations were from India, it had an authentic atmosphere, especially with Swamiji present on the dais. Now guests who entered were suddenly in a little Indian temple.

Mike Grant: I came one evening, and all of a sudden there were carpets on the floor, pictures on the wall, and paintings. Just all of a sudden it had blossomed and was full of people. I was amazed how in just a matter of days people had brought so many wonderful things. When I came that evening and saw how it had been decorated, then I wasn't so much worried that he was going to make it. I thought it was really beginning to take hold now.

Prabhupāda looked at his group of followers. He was moved by their offering him a seat of honor and their attempts at decorating Kṛṣṇa's storefront. To see a devotee make an offering to Kṛṣṇa was not new for him. But this was new. In New York, "this horrible place," the seed of bhakti was growing, and naturally, as the gardener of that tender sprout, he was touched by Kṛṣṇa's mercy. Glancing at the pictures on the wall he said, "Tomorrow I will come look at the pictures and tell you which are good."

The next day, Prabhupāda came down to appraise the new artwork on display. One framed watercolor painting was of a man playing a drum while a girl danced. "This one is all right," he said. But another painting of a woman was more mundane, and he said, "No, this painting is not so good." He walked to the back of the temple, followed anxiously by Howard, Keith, and Wally. When he came upon the painting of the six- armed person, he said, "Oh, this is very nice."

"Who is it?" Wally asked.

"This is Lord Caitanya," Prabhupāda replied.

"Why does He have six arms?"

"Because He showed Himself to be both Rāma and Kṛṣṇa. These are the arms of Rāma, and these are the arms of Kṛṣṇa."

"What are the other two arms?" Keith asked.

"Those are the arms of a sannyāsī."

He went to the next picture. "This is also very nice."

"Who is it?" Howard asked.

"This is Hanumān."

"Is he a cat?"

"No," Prabhupāda replied. "He is a monkey."

Hanumān is glorified in the scripture Rāmāyaṇa as the valiant, faithful servant of Lord Rāmacandra. Millions of indians worship the incarnation of Lord Rāma and His servitor Hanumān, whose exploits are perennially exhibited in theater, cinema, art, and temple worship. In not knowing who Hanumān was, the Mott Street boys were no less ignorant than the old ladies uptown who, when Prabhupāda had asked whether any of them had seen a picture of Kṛṣṇa, had all stared blankly. The Lower East Side mystics didn't know Hanumān from a cat, and they had brought back from their hashish version of India a picture of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu without even knowing who He was. Yet there was an important difference between these boys and the ladies uptown: the boys were serving Swamiji and chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. They were through with material life and the middle-class work-reward syndrome. Their hearts had awakened to Swamiji's promise of expanded Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and they sensed in his personal company something exalted. Like the Bowery bum who had donated toilet paper during Prabhupāda's lecture, the Lower East Side boys did not have their minds quite in order, and yet, as Prabhupāda saw it, Kṛṣṇa was guiding them from within their hearts. Prabhupāda knew they would change for the better by chanting and hearing about Kṛṣṇa.

* * *

The summer of 1966 moved into August, and Prabhupāda kept good health. For him these were happy days. New Yorkers complained of the summer heat waves, but this caused no inconvenience to one accustomed to the 100-degree-plus temperatures of Vṛndāvana's blazing summers. "It is like India," he said, as he went without a shirt, seeming relaxed and at home. He had thought that in America he would have to subsist on boiled potatoes (otherwise there would be nothing but meat), but here he was happily eating the same rice, dāl, and capātīs, and cooking on the same three-stacked cooker as in India. Work on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam had also gone on regularly since he had moved into the Second Avenue apartment. And now Kṛṣṇa was bringing these sincere young men who were cooking, typing, hearing him regularly, chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, and asking for more.

Prabhupāda was still a solitary preacher, free to stay or go, writing his books in his own intimate relationship with Kṛṣṇa-quite independent of the boys in the storefront. But now he had taken the International Society for Krishna Consciousness as his spiritual child. The inquiring young men, some of whom had already been chanting steadily for over a month, were like stumbling spiritual infants, and he felt responsible for guiding them. They were beginning to consider him their spiritual master, trusting him to lead them into spiritual life. Although they were unable to immediately follow the multifarious rules that brāhmaṇas and Vaiṣṇavas in India followed, he was hopeful. According to Rūpa Gosvāmī the most important principle was that one should "somehow or other" become Kṛṣṇa conscious. People should chant Hare Kṛṣṇa and render devotional service. They should engage whatever they had in the service of Kṛṣṇa. And Prabhupāda was exercising this basic principle of Kṛṣṇa consciousness to the furthest limit the history of Vaiṣṇavism had ever seen.

Although he was engaging the boys in cooking and typing, Prabhupāda was not doing any less himself. Rather, for every sincere soul who came forward to ask for service, a hundred came who wanted not to serve but to challenge. Speaking to them, sometimes shouting and pounding his fists, Prabhupāda defended Kṛṣṇa against the Māyāvāda philosophy. This was also his service to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. He had not come to America to retire. So with the passing of each new day came yet another confirmation that his work and his followers and his challengers would only increase.

How much he could do was up to Kṛṣṇa. "I am an old man," he said. "I may go away at any moment." But if he were to "go away" now, certainly Kṛṣṇa consciousness would also go away, because the Kṛṣṇa consciousness society was nothing but him: his figure leading the chanting while his head moved back and forth in small motions of ecstasy, his figure walking in and out of the temple through the courtyard or into the apartment, his person sitting down smilingly to discuss philosophy by the hour-he was the sole bearer and maintainer of the small, fragile, controlled atmosphere of Kṛṣṇa consciousness on New York's Lower East Side.