(Srila Prabhupada, San Francisco Temple, 1967)
Back in San Francisco
by Gurudas (Roger Siegel)
"At first, upon returning, I was a little skeptical of the Swami and his message. I was leery of organized anything those days. 'Chant Hare Krishna and be happy.' I tried it, and it did feel nice, but so did getting high, loving exchanges, good food, or music. And I didn't understand why we couldn't let our beads touch the ground. Didn't God create the ground? Later, I learned that the rules had as much to do with time, place, circumstances, and self-realizations rather than simply imposed restrictions.
I didn't agree with prohibiting Que Tal (Gurudas' dog at the time) and other animals into the temple. Didn't Saint Francis invite all the animals in? Later, I learned that it was a matter of cleanliness, not disdain for animals or any living entity.
What I did like was the family growing and striving side by side with me to understand through realization all these new ways. My life became simpler still, revolving around serving the Temple and going to farmers' markets with Jayananda. 'Hi Jim,' many of the vendors would call out when they saw him.
Eventually, we decided to give our Willard Street apartment to the Swami, as his apartment on Frederick Street was smaller and the multi-unit apartment building was noisy. The Willard Street building had only two units, so it was much quieter.
The Swami sat between us. He was unassuming, comfortable in all situations, and smiled a lot. His jolly manner was infectious, so I smiled a lot from being around him. If someone gave the Swami any money he would immediately use it for printing, either books or magazines, never for his own self. He lived simply, but he would accept gifts as tools if it helped him to serve Lord Krishna.
He awoke at 2:00 a.m., bathed, chanted 250,000 Holy Names, or sixteen rounds on a rosary of 108 beads. He encouraged us to also take up this practice, which we did. The mantra ('mind-deliverer') was a way of cleansing the mind of unwanted things; a purification process. Anyway, it felt good to chant: "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare." The chanting was also a prayer to Lord Krishna to please allow us to serve. This was the culmination of all my protests, deeds, experiments, and studies.
The Swami did not ask anything for himself. he always deferred to Krishna. We wanted to give him gifts and things, and he would always politely decline unless the gift would help him to serve Lord Krishna, such as a dictaphone to help him write. After he chanted his morning rounds, he would write while most of the population was still sleeping. He brought with him from India the three volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam he had translated, and now he was finishing his translation of, and purports to, the Bhagavad-gita. After many hours of writing, he would go for a walk.
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings and evenings at 7 a.m. and p.m., the Swami would come to the temple and lead us in chanting (kirtan). He melodious voice comforted me, and soon we would dive into the shelter of his paeans. He showed us how to play the karatalas, as a few eventually came from India. He wrapped the handmade cloth through the 3-inch metal discs, and clang clang, he would play and begin the chanting. Call and response; listening and then singing was the process. His honey-gravel voice flooded the small storefront temple, and then we joined in. There were about six initiated devotees and many regular students attending now.
Sometimes at the night kirtans, Swamiji would lead us on a bongo drum. As the congregation increased, kettledrums, trumpets, violins, guitars, and even kelp horns added supporting musical notes. Soon, our chanting became faster and louder, and we could not help dancing. All the while the Swami would chant with closed eyes, and then open them while we were chanting and dancing, beaming his smile of benediction upon us. Whirling, exciting feelings of transcendeing time, the earth, myself, and all the good trips culminated into a feeling of bliss. I was looking for the ultimate high, from within and without. The less I needed outside substances, influences, affirmations from others, keys, clothes, and desires, the happier I could be. I was searching for the most natural and eternal high. I was looking for the ultimate groove, the nth degree, the zenith, with all people sharing love, medicine, clothes, and food. When my love for krishna is felt, then my love for all spilled over, and when I love everyone and everything, then my love for Krishna is increased.
After we chanted, the Swami would say some Sanskrit prayers honoring past saintly persons in his spiritual line (sampradaya). He would then speak very simply and very sweetly to us so we could understand. He said, 'Chanting is sublime, and by doing so, we become purified and happy.' He was an example of this.
We did not get to see the Swami very much. He was writing and kept to himself, except when he came to the temple room three to six times a week. He was our spiritual father and I wanted to possibly have some individual moments with him. I wanted to know him more.
(From Love Medicine and Music, Chapter 7)
Love Medicine and Music (The flipside of the Sixties) by Roger James Siegel a.k.a. Gurudas. Book description: (462 pages/ 24 Illustrations) The journey of a young man who follows his heart, to fight injustice and find positive alternatives to hate and violence. Lessons in survival and community are also part of the book, as the reader is lead through a tenement life, and the colorful community of the Lower East Side of New York. Seeking meaning of life, the author becomes a staff member of the Northern Student Movement's Harlem, New York office. The activism starts with education in a tutorial and becomes direct action, as the author is beaten and arrested many times for his protests. In August 28, 1963, the planning and experience of the March on Washington is described. Many of the authors' interactions with dignitaries and leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael; Julian Bond; Sonny Liston; John Lilly Jr., Tim Leary, Ken Kesey, Swami Bhaktivedanta, Indira Gandhi, John Lennon, and George Harrison are interspersed throughout the book. A change of pace takes the readers into life in Mexico, for some reflection and fun. And after a short revisit to New York City, the author experiences a period of depression and decay, so he goes on the road and lands smack in the middle of the San Francisco's swinging 60's. The experiences of psychedelia and community are described. The search for truth continues and the author embraces eclectically many cultural and spiritual traditions. Meeting many mentors and teachers along the way, he encounters, A.C. Bhakivedanta Swami who becomes his Guru. Further adventures include meeting, living and recording with the Beatles, including travels to over 40 countries. This unique adventure includes philosophies, history, humor and wisdom. The dynamics of the individual and group consciousness are examined, as is spiritual communities. Some solutions for todays problems are included. A world of hope, healing and survival punctuates the story, which was described as "Vivid and a page turner", and "This book is both enjoyable and profound." *You can order a copy for $25.00 + $5.00 shipping and handling at: firstname.lastname@example.org which is also my Pay Pal account number or send payment to: 778- 41 Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94121. Discounts available for temples, book dealers, etc.