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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

30th anniversary - how I came to Kṛṣṇa-consciousness



On my 30th anniversary as a Vaiṣṇava I present here
HOW I CAME TO KṚṢṆA CONSCIOUSNESS -

The run-up to it all :

It took me until 1972 to understand that Hare Kṛṣṇa had something to do with yoga and self realization, but I had had quite a few encounters with Kṛṣṇa before that. The first when I was just 11, in 1967, when John Lennon sang (in the song 'I am the walrus'):

"Semolina Pilchard, climbing up the Eiffel Tower.
Elementary penguin singing Hare Kṛṣṇa.
Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe."

I heard George Harrison's "Hare Kṛṣṇa Mantra"-record in 1969, when I was 13, on Radio Luxembourg, when it was a UK top 10 hit. I thought it was Chinese or so, and was amazed that they were just singing one and the same line over and over again. Anyway, these were strange days. The next exposure came with George Harrison's universal 1970 Christmas nr.1-hit 'My sweet Lord'.

In July, 1972 I saw A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swāmi preaching in Amsterdam's Vondelpark. I was then a 16-year old dropout sleeping in the park. There had been a free concert by the Beach Boys the other day in a small auditorium around a pond in the back of the park. The next day I heard music from there again so I went and saw that Hare Kṛṣṇa had borrowed the Beach Boys' equipment. The devotees danced in clouds of sweet smoke, their mantra meant to cast a spell on the audience. I saw Swāmijī sitting on a throne between them. He was very small in stature - smaller than me (I am 5"6 or 166 cm). He spoke boldly - too boldly for that place, and the audience reciprocated by challenging him: "Why do you sit on this high throne while we have to sit down here? We are equal!" I vaguely remember they threw things like cans at Swāmījī but I am not sure anymore. Its too long ago.

The first time I was hit up by a book-distributor was in Utrecht in September, 1973. He was huge and a foreigner. I had taken my last 10 gulden ($ 5) out to buy some drugs for myself in the big city, but he managed to talk me into buying a huge silver English Kṛṣṇa book instead. I thought both the silver and the letters KṚṢṆA with the small dots under it were sheer magic. I took it home with me and read it, thinking it to be greater than drugs. However, I was turned off by a center-spread in the book showing a huge bloodbath caused by Kṛṣṇa during His Mathurā līlā. I thought that God is Love and He would not chop off heads and limbs and I later sold the book to my mum. Who knows what would have happened if it was a KṚṢṆA-book with Vṛndāvana līlā in it!

Another 3 years later, in the long hot summer of 1976, I stayed in a hippie commune in Utrecht, that consumed little else than tea and LSD at any time. One of these enlightened teens (who later became a devotee, Brahma-tejas, himself) had bought a whole bunch of small books from Hare Kṛṣṇa on the street and they were there for all to read. I saw the message was one of uncompromising purity and selflessness and was even more impressed by the colorful and confrontating illustrations, about lust anger and greed leading to hell, ignorance leading to animal birth, the existence of demigods (which I immediately accepted), etc. etc. - 44 pics in the Bhagavad Gītā only! Shortly afterwards I began to follow the regulative principles (though not through the influence of these books) and I came to visit the Amsterdam temple for the first time on September 11, 1976. Unfortunately that was a Saturday, so there was no temple-programme and I could not afford to come again the next day. I did pick up all the books I had read in the hippie-commune and kept them on my book-shelf with great awe and respect. I decided, though, that it was still too high for me. In the same month I read an elaborate feature article on Hare Kṛṣṇa in Dutch esoteric magazine Bres with beautiful color pictures of Swāmījī, who looked purer than anyone I had ever seen, Rādhā-Gopīnāth (the ISKCON deities in Amsterdam) and Jagannātha-Subhadrā and Balarāma. It was all sheer magic.

Around the same time I heard the album Vrindavan, with beautiful renderings of Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī Pada, Mānasa Deho Geho, Śrita Kamalā and Hare Kṛṣṇa by Avyaya Dās and Kauśalyā Dasi. The instruments included harp, harmonium and flute - I thought (and still think) the music was sheer magic and molten beauty. That included the cover of the LP even!



In December 1976 I visited my brother in Rotterdam and saw the Hare Kṛṣṇas standing outside the Central Station in the freezing cold, selling records with their thin Indian clothes on. I had deep respect for that and I bought two records from them, Goddess of Fortune and Hare Kṛṣṇa festival. My brother told me to turn it off, he called it 'the sound of cats shrieking'.

Finally, after a disastrous weekend at the Theosophists on March 24, 1978 (which happened to be Gaur Pūrṇimā) I decided to take some fellow seekers, Ralph (later Rādhāraman Dās) and Rudi, along to the Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Temple in Amsterdam. That was on April 2, 1978. I felt a new life was starting that would never end. When I entered the temple room I had a very strong deja vu-feeling - like it was continuing from a previous life. I liked everything - the blinding beauty of the deities, the deeply emotional kirtan, the lecture, the incense, the prasādam, the magical building, the devotees. The only thing that disturbed me, at the end when we left, is that we were a bit harrassed by a book distributor at the desk near the exit. The whole experience was good enough to warrant another visit on April 9, 1978. I keep that as my date of conversion, because on that day the then-bhakta leader, Jñānarāja Dās (who unfortunately expired 2 years ago at the early age of 52), sold me a japa mālā on which I began to chant and also I participated in the kīrtan during the begining of the Sunday Feast. svayam eva sphuratyadaḥ -The holy name manifests itself spontaneously and as soon as that takes place, sevonmukhe, we are devotees. As for Iskcon, I joined them on June 4, 1978 and left them (in Vṛndāvana) on May 20, 1982, after almost exactly 4 years. Unfortunately my spiritual life was in a downward spiral with them and leaving them turned me from a loser into a winner, but that is another story...

6 comments:

  1. Interesting! And all the phone conversations [previous threads] were interesting too.

    A question: why were you homeless sixteen years old boy? i.e. were your parents also homeless?

    Also what is the school system like in Holland? Weren't you in danger of being arrested for being truant [not in school]? For example in at least one country, has the concept of truant: the education is compulsory and your parents can be put into jail if you are not in school.

    And in some Communist and former Communist countries, once you exited the school system prematurely [say, in high school] then you could never get back in.

    Plus in those Communist countries you were tracked, i.e. in high school there is the academic track that leads to four year university and a technical college track that leads to more hands-on professions.

    You cannot switch tracks. So people easily become depressed, morose, and suicidal if they are on the wrong academic track. Because they can never change their life to suit their preferences later on.

    Versus in US even if you "drop out" of high school, then you can get back into the educational system with community colleges. Then if you do well there for two years, you may go to four year university, even get masters and doctorate, or go to medical school.

    If you don't mind, can you please include what was your parents' career expectations for you, did you have any say in the type of education you received, how does sixteen years old boy end up homeless in one of the most materially prosperous countries in the world?

    I don't understand why you were homeless at age sixteen: what was the situation? What was the school system like, did you have parental support, or lack of parental guidance and support?

    Thanks it would help the story to make more sense.

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  2. Hmmm I think this is really a peripheral and off-topic question, since the topic of the blog was how I came to KC, and my encounter with Swamiji was a marked milestone in it. But as you please - this is 36 years ago, and at the time learning was compulsory till about age 16. Nowadays they lifted that age limit. Just days after my 16th birthday, in April 1972, I was removed from High School because I refused to wear shoes (it was a Christian school, they were very unhappy about the extreme length of my hair too). I left home after a fight with my mother just days before I saw Swamiji in the park, it is not that my parents were homeless - they were rich people. I just wanted to have a nice time in Amsterdam with people who had the same ideals of love and peace as me. And remember this was in July, too, when all schools are out anyway. My mother later had me enrolled in a private school, from early September 1972. I have spent a long time in a poor country - India - later on in life and I do appreciate how good my life has been materially, but often that affluence is not satisfying the spiritual self and that leads to children dropping out of rich families and becoming hippies and/or Hare Krishna monks.

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  3. Okay, now the story makes more sense. Thanks!

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  4. Great! I'll have to read it properly when I'm not in an expensive internet cafe. (I'm in Bundi, Rajasthan; arrived here this morning. I decided to try a 'perspective adjustment'.) ;-)

    I *always* want to know how people became devotees. I had the Hare Krishna single. I've wondered if it had any residual effect. Because it took more than....30-something years more, in my case. :-\/

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  5. Brian, what is a 'perspective adjustment'? What's happening in Bundi? And, what do you mean with 'I had the Harekrishna single?'

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  6. Advaita das, sorry - I see now that what I wrote was not clear.

    The "Hare Krishna single" the same George Harrison record you refer to. I think it was by the Temple Bhajan Band, something like that, and George Harrison the producer. (I think I should probably have mentioned at some point that I was about the same age as you.) :-)

    Bundi...nothing is happening here. It is quiet, not many cars. Very friendly people. There are a few foreign tourists, something I have never actually seen. (I've never been anywhere other than Vrindavan and Puri.) I am invited to go to Sri Hanuman temple by one neighbour. They are going every night; the nine days of Rama Navami. Then tomorrow I'm going back to Vrindavan.

    Sorry to have digressed your thread so much! You were fortunate to have moved from teenage hippie in Amsterdam to Hare
    Krishna. :-)

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