Follow by Email

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

30th anniversary - how I came to Kṛṣṇa-consciousness

On my 30th anniversary as a Vaiṣṇava I present here

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.

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...

No comments:

Post a Comment