By His Example
The Wit and Wisdom of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Allen Ginsberg had always shown friendly and helpful interest in the Society and had agreed to headline the giant Mantra Rock Festival that the temple members held in the Avalon Ballroom to introduce Bhaktivedanta Swami to the hip community. On the day of the concert, the good poet had come to early-morning kirtan (7 A.M.) at the temple, and later joined the Swami upstairs in the apartment his pupils had rented for him. We were sitting in the glow of this holy man, munching on Indian sweetballs cooked by the Swami, when Allen came through the door, a warm smile on his face. The Swami offered him a sweetball, "Take!" he said, and I recorded the following conversation:
[They sat in silence for a few moments, radiating mutual love.]
SWAMIJI: Allen, you are up early.
GINSBERG: Yes, The phone hasn't stopped ringing since I arrived in San Francisco.
SWAMIJI: That is what happens when one becomes famous. That was the tragedy of Mahatma Gandhi also. Wherever he went, thousands of people would crowd around him, chanting "Mahatma Gandhi ki jai! Mahatma Gandhi ki jai! The gentleman could not sleep.
GINSBERG: (smiling) Well, at least it got me up for kirtan this morning!
SWAMIJI: Yes, that is good.
[A few days before, the San Francisco Chronicle had published an article called "Swami in Hippie Land," in which the reporter asked, "Do you accept 'hippies' in your temple?" The Swami had replied, "Hippies or anyone -- I make no distinctions. Everyone is welcome."]
SWAMIJI: Allen, what is this "hippie"?
GINSBERG: The word "hip" started in China, where people smoked opium lying on their hips. [Allen demonstrated.] Opium and its derivatives then spread to the West and were looked down upon by the people in power, who were afraid of the effects. As a result, the hip people created their own culture, language, signs, symbols. San Francisco is a spiritual "shivdas" [meeting ground]. The word "hip" has changed into "hippie" today. But basically, Swamiji, the young people today are seekers. They're interested in all forms of spirituality.
SWAMIJI: Very nice.
GINSBERG: The hippies will all fall by here at one time or another.
[There was some discussion regarding New York's Lower East Side and the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco -- both of which are locations of Krishna consciousness temples and are well-known to Allen Ginsberg. Then:]
SWAMIJI: You have not had LSD, Allen?
GINSBERG: I have had it.
SWAMIJI: It is dependence, Allen.
GINSBERG: It's like a car -- a mental car -- to resolve certain inner things.
SWAMIJI: Krishna consciousness resolves everything. Nothing else is needed.
[They then discussed the upcoming dance at the Avalon. Allen felt that certain mantras would be more palatable to American ears than others, and that he would like to try his tune at the dance. Swamiji agreed: "Very nice." Poet Ginsberg said he was not yet ready to become a devotee, but that he was chanting the maha-mantra every day, and that he would do so until he leaves this Earth. The Swami thanked him for the work he'd already done in spreading kirtan (chanting of the Holy names).]
SWAMIJI: And if you are chanting Hare Krishna mantra daily, then everything in your life will be perfect!
Allen then prostrated himself and, touching the Swami's feet, symbolically wiped the dust from them onto his forehead. Then, with a few sweetballs in a paper bag under his arm, he took his leave.
Update: Though I had sometimes gone to his apartment on East Tenth Street on the Lower East Side of New York, the last meeting between Allen Ginsberg and myself occurred some years later on an airplane going from Milwaukee to San Francisco. I wound up on this particular plane only because I let the airline bump me, and much to my jubilation, there was Allen, with Peter Orlovsky! I reintroduced myself, and Allen had Peter and me trade seats. He questioned me about Swamiji and the Hare Krishna Movement. After speaking with me, he said, "You have a few books in you." I told him I had begun researching my memoirs and asked him to write an introduction to the book, as he had for the Swami's Bhagavad-gita. Allen agreed.
At this time, Allen has left the planet. I pray that he is situated in a Vaikuntha realm, where his peace may continue without the confusion of the material world.
(*Click here for more information about Gurudas & how to order a copy of "By His Example.")