Krishna Consciousness is always interesting. I joined the Hare Krishna Movement even before I thought I would. It started in Seattle Washington when Visnujana Swami brought his traveling Sankirtan Party to town.
His Holiness Visnujana Swami was a true modern day saint. I remember when I was a new guest at the Seattle temple in 1974. I had gone to the temple to attend the Sunday Love Feast and was gazing out the upstairs window when I heard a deep voice behind me say, “Haribol! I’m Visnujana Swami. I’m on my way to a festival in Vancouver and am stopping here for the Sunday festival. Please accept my humble obeisances.”
As I turned to look at Visnujana Swami, I noticed he had a very bright aura. He looked very pure and innocent. I had never offered obeisance’s before and here was a Swami offering obeisance’s to me! I bowed down with him acting like I knew the prayers.
Visnujana Swami started an ecstatic Kirtan and more and more devotees started showing up than ever before. People would come out of the woodwork when Visnujana Swami came around. He did devotional bhajans until about midnight. Every time he stopped chanting the devotees begged him to continue. We were dancing so much Sukadeva Prabhu, the temple president, was looking worried about the floor possibly caving in. What a way that would be to go!
I’d never stayed at the temple before, but since it was so late I decided to. I lay down in the hallway outside of the door where Visnujana was staying because there were so many devotees. I couldn’t sleep because I was still excited from all of Visnujana's ecstatic chanting. At about 2:30 a.m. Visnujana came out of his room and seeing me laying there still awake, he said, ‘Haribol’ in his esoteric devotional voice. I was blissed out even more and my body started to quiver.
In those days I was attending college and working at Boeing Airplane Company. The devotees at the Temple kept telling me that I should go to San Francisco Rathayatra because the guru, Srila Prabhupada would be there. I decided to go ahead and take a transcendental ‘vacation’ and headed for San Francisco Rathayatra.
When I arrived at the temple on Market Street in San Francisco, I was greeted by Jayananda Prabhu who was serving out prasadam. He asked me if I could help prepare the Rathayatra carts. I happily agreed to help, since he was so pure, sincere and humble. He would always be singing as he drove us out to the Rathayatra site and as he did his services. He was always serving everyone very nice prasadam, often that he himself cooked. Jayananda was amazing and inspiring for all of us who were fortunate to come into contact with him. If someone hammered a nail, Jayananda would say that he was the best nail hammerer that he had ever seen. He was always encouraging everyone! I got to help Jayananda Prabhu for about 10 days.
The day for the Rathayatra festival finally arrived, and it appeared as if it was going to rain. When Srila Prabhupada arrived and got upon his vyasasana seat on Lady Subhadra’s cart the clouds opened up and shined a beam of light on the self-effulgent acharya. Even though I was new and didn’t know much of the philosophy, I knew this was an auspicious omen and that Srila Prabhupada must be very specially spiritual like Jesus. At that point I accepted Srila Prabhupada as my guru, in my heart.
The day before Rathayatra, Visnujana Swami was giving a lecture in the Armenian Hall where most of the visiting devotees were staying. Having impersonal tendencies I was staring at the Deities of Sri Sri Radha and Damodar. Visnujana Swami was giving a Srimad Bhagavatam lecture and he said, “Don’t think that these Deities are idols. This is Krishna!" Just then a rose fell over Lord Damodara’s arm from below His cheek. This really impressed me. I was staring and meditating on the Deities of Sri Sri Radha Damodara at that time. Visnujana Swami always decorated the Deities gorgeously with lots of flowers and unique jewelry, very fancy dressing; much of it made by Ramachariya and some by myself later on. Damodara had a blue light on Him and Radharani had a red light on Her and They were very attractive and mystical looking. When I saw the rose drop down when Visnujana said the Deity is Krishna, I felt the Lord was communicating this to me.
Srila Prabhupada gave a great lecture at the 1974 SF Rathayatra festival. He said that the whole world follows America, and if we could make America Krishna conscious, the world would follow and it would become like Vaikuntha, the spiritual world. The crowd of around 10,000 roared in a happy response. The feast was also awesome. We were served out as we sat in huge rows. It was an unforgettable event organized mostly by Jayananda Prabhu, with all of the preparations and the expert serving of the devotees.
The day after Rathayatra I had packed my bags and was walking out of the hall on my way back to Seattle when I was stopped by Tamal Krishna Goswami. He asked me if I would like to see Srila Prabhupada in his room saying that if I joined their party I could. I said that I was not ready to join at that time and he then made a proposal saying that if I just got the hair trimmed around my ears, I would be presentable and I could see Srila Prabhupada personally. I agreed and a devotee named Aja Prabhu, 'an expert hair stylist,' I was told, led me into the bathroom and started to ‘trim’ my hair. I felt a few snips on top of my head and took a look in the mirror. I was shocked to see bald spots here and there. I could not go in public like that. I told him to just shave if off because anything would look better than that.
Then I was dressed in a dhoti. I became new bhakta #13.
I was very upset and was preparing a speech in my mind and was going to tell Srila Prabhupada when we arrived at his quarters.
When we arrived at Srila Prabhupada’s apartment, we were all given a long-stemmed rose to hand to His Divine Grace. We were told to offer our obeisances but I didn’t even know them yet! I was nervous as my turn approached trying to prepare my speech. Srila Prabhupada was sitting behind a low table gracefully with one leg up. My hand shook as I reached to hand him the rose. My body shook as I offered my full dandavats. I was now too overwhelmed with Srila Prabhupada’s transcendental presence to be mad. I forgot the speech I was thinking of, about my being tricked into shaving up and joining. As we all settled in and sat down Srila Prabhupada looked happy and began to speak, “So you're all very bright-faced and fortunate to come to Lord Chaitanya’s movement. Now that you are fortunate, you should make others fortunate. Preach this message of Lord Chaitanya’s all over the world.”
Srila Prabhupada melted my heart. I realized it was Krishna’s arrangement. I thought about the rose dropping from Lord Damodar telling me He was there. I was tricked by the Supreme Trickster into joining the Hare Krishna Movement. I would have liked to move out of my apartment in Seattle first! It took me months to tell my parents to clear out my apartment because I knew they didn't want me to join the Hare Krishna's. They sent my older brother and sister to LA Temple when we were there to try to get me back. After a few doses of Kitri served on wax paper on the floor they finally gave up on me and went back to Washington.
After leaving Srila Prabhupada's darshan we boarded the Sri Sri Radha Damodara bus and headed out to perform Harinam Sankirtan all over America. First stop, in a fair in Minot, North Dakota.
It was ecstatic cruising down the freeway performing Kirtan along the way. We were shocking to people at times when we stopped and when we were performing Kirtan as we drove down the road.
The morning we arrived in Minot, ND, we pulled up behind a closed gas station to take our baths with a water hose. It was about 4 a.m. All of the sudden a truck pulled around and shined its lights on us. We froze like deer staring into the headlights as the truck stopped for a quick moment then backed up and took off in a hurry. A short time later three police cars arrived at the scene after receiving a report of a UFO landing. Ha Ha Haribol!!! We explained ourselves as they looked very concerned.
We set up a nice booth at the fair and the programs went well. We chanted until about midnight with the colored lights on the Deities and lots of incense burning.
Our morning program started at about 7 a.m. We would fill up the bathrooms with devotees bathing with pots with the sink water and shaving our heads and washing their feet in the sinks. Needless to say it was a shock to some of the locals. Some of them turned right around and walked out shaking their heads in disbelief.
As we chanted people gathered and some were so shocked that they stood there with wide open eyes and open mouths. Some even dropped their drinks.
We had a booth where we sold books, incense, oils and posters, etc., making about $800 a day, which was pretty good in those days. About seven more devotees joined up with our party at that fair. The program was so attractive many fortunate souls became purified enough to join. All glories to the Sankirtan mission which cleanses the heart of all the dust accumulated for many years and extinguishes the blazing fire of material existence.
We had to keep getting more vans and buses to accommodate all the devotees who were joining almost every day. Within two years we had 6 buses and many more vans full of devotees. After a year with Visnujana Swami we had a maha yajna initiation ceremony the day after the Chicago Rathayatra in 1975. We initiated 107 devotees; it was supposed to be 108 but one devotee fell asleep in a van and missed it. He still laments about that! We installed 4 sets of Sri Sri Goura Nitai Deities. Then I got transferred to another bus. It wasn't as nice as being with Visnujana Swami so I went to Vrindavan India, which was a great blessing.
All glories to Jayananda Prabhu and Visnujana Swami and our Divine spiritual master Jagat guru Srila Prabhupada who started the Hare Krishna Movement from the Sri Sri Radha Damodara Temple in Sri Vrindavan Dhama, then in New York City in 1965. He opened over 100 Temples and wrote the spiritual law books that will be used for thousands of years by devotees in this current Golden Age of Lord Chaitanya. We are so fortunate, let us take full advantage, save ourselves and others. Krishna Consciousness is the highest welfare activity we can perform. Let's share the light and love of Sri Sri Guru and Gouranga!
By: Gauridasa Pandita Dasa