Hari Hari! ….
There was nothing significant in the results of the contrast CT scan of Satsvarupa Maharaja’s kidneys and abdomen. The urologist sort of shrugged his shoulders, gave a new pill to try to stop the urgency every one and a half or two hours, and wrote it off as the aging body. Actually a visiting nurse and the chiropractor both mentioned age this week in different contexts. Perhaps as all the tests and trials keep coming up negative, we’ll have to start considering Satsvarupa Maharaja in the senior citizen category. We hear all about it practically every day, and it seems to me that the reality is coming our way. At least there’s some hope in the original prescription for the headaches—total rest, with very little stimulation that brings on the headaches. Even if they aren’t migraines, they impede regular activities like reading, writing, answering mail, meeting with devotees, etc. Any improvements are in small increments, but are welcome.
Your respectful servant,
Baladeva Vidyabhusana dasa
The “News Items” section of Free Write Journal has been temporarily suspended while Guru Maharaja recuperates.
Ants go running when I approach
The plastic thong cut through my skin
on the beach walk.
We’re back in Puri, wondering if anyone
will be enterprising enough to break into
our rooms and steal money.
Push, push, the sea.
Vijaya Hotel not awake at 5:30 as
we walk past. Remember past years?
No one could know this is a holy place,
no trace of Lord Caitanya or who He is.
If you’ve met Srila Prabhupada you’re
lucky. Very lucky.
How hard it is—to push a
little boat out past the
breakers. Two men try it, pushing with
oars. Once they get past the first line
of breakers, they’ll be okay. But it could
take hours! Pushing and being pushed back.
We watch them work,
then get back to our work.
The sound of the sea is healing, our privacy almost complete. We take our first walk on the beach at 5:30 in the morning.
Writing helps me to know who I am. I sat facing the ocean when I first arrived here and sensed my fierce desire to be my own person.
Men are walking the beach in those drab, worn-out gamchas they wear. I see a crow, the gray sky, the electric wires, the windmills that never move their modern blades. The windmills look like the gigantic props of a plane that can’t fly. The mosquito net is saffron. I want to be left alone. No one is coming to bother me, but even the anticipation that this is not my house—and the awareness that I have no guards or secretaries at the door—our host could come at any moment or send the floor cleaner, the bathroom cleaner, the sheet-changer . . . Or he could come in and ask me to speak to someone else. I would have to oblige. Just anticipating these possible interruptions makes it difficult for me to write freely. They will ask me, “What are you writing?” I’ll tell them it’s an old story about the time I met my guru when he went to America. We are printing it for the Centennial.
It’s an adaptation of a poem by Richard Hugo; or, it’s all made up; or, it’s nothing you could understand; or, I am writing of precious early hours.
It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to fill the page. It doesn’t have to be an orange because I can squeeze it and drink it. It can be a young coconut. It can be a monster munch, fun for kids, the corn candy advertised on a billboard. It can be a dented auto. It can be a disciple I thought rejected me and who feared I had rejected him.
I behave like a foolish disciple and I am one. I don’t know anything by realization. At the same time, I’ve been around awhile. I can see the insides of situations by intuition. Still, I’m capable of being reduced to an innocent child. I am not a solid block of stone. I can change.
Give me a glance, Prabhupada. Please give me a milli-particle of a drop of mercy. O Lord, examine this unwarranted impishness. Is it left over from an LSD trip? Something in the genes from my Irish ancestors? Was I once a leprechaun living in a mossy forest and playing tricks on staid folks?
We used to go on harinama on the Boston Common, especially on weekends, when there were hundreds of young people lounging on the lawns there. Some of them were homeless and slept on the lawns. This is 1968-69, before we had our more established spot just outside the Boston Common by the subway stop. We used to chant right up on the grass. The crowds used to close in on us and listen, but it was always tense because there were always some rowdies and hecklers. Our harinamas became almost like lion-taming acts as we tried to give enough energy to the chanting to hold the rowdies off for a while. We were usually successful; the kirtana generated such energy that we couldn’t hear the heckling much, and the rowdies somehow didn’t dare to break through the invisible ring of the holy name to attack us. The most they would do was mock-dance or hurl insults.
One time a group of Hell’s Angels came by and broke up our chanting. They were much more inimical than the usual rowdies and hecklers. There was only a small group of devotees on the Common that day—Pradyumna and I and maybe a couple of other young men, such as Devananda and a boy named Patita-pavana. Jadurani was also there with two other women.
Just as we wear our uniform dhotis and saris, so the Hell’s Angels have their uniforms—unshaven faces, heavy bodies, and sleeveless denim or leather jackets with Hell’s Angels emblems on their backs. They came and watched what we were doing, then they interfered. Someone forcibly took the karatalas out of my hand and wrapped them around my neck. Once the music stopped we were powerless. Then they took the drum from someone else and yelled, “Stop! Stop this!”
Of course, the people didn’t support us; they just watched. I was the leader of the devotees and I had several choices: we could fight, resist them in some other way, go on chanting somehow or other, or acquiesce. I decided to acquiesce; I accepted that our public kirtana was over. Rather than open ourselves to the possibility of violence, we decided to leave. That’s all we wanted to do.
I felt as if I had been a coward. Then Jadurani wrote to Prabhupada and asked if we should try to kill the demons. She also thought we should have fought. In the meantime, I began to build my resolve to face off with these hoodlums the next weekend when we took our chanting party out.
The next Sunday we went to the Common. From our chanting spot, I could see the Hell’s Angels in the park. I felt like I was walking through town in a “High Noon” movie, waiting for the shoot-out. As the crowd pressed around us, a rowdy, not a gang member, lobbed an empty bottle in at us, and it hit me on the head. It didn’t break, but it hurt and stunned me.
Of course, our determination to chant in public was always being tested in this way. And Prabhupada did respond to Jadurani’s letter: “Killing proposal is not good. We have to kill them with arguments and reason—not with sticks and weapons. Jadurani—I am very glad that you want to kill the nondevotees. You should, however, leave the matter to your good Godbrothers who will take care of it. I am pleased to learn of your spirit of protest, but sometimes we have to tolerate.”
Head foggy. Foggy, bump, the funk, the monk.
Serious swinging we hear
Krsna we ride the waves
of sound not to gain
for material pleasure, because that’s sense grat and
we’ll have to come back next life,
thinking more of ourselves
than it’s worth. We
seek the solo virtuoso sound
plain and humble
the one that speaks to Prabhupada
a monologue of surrender
that faces slam-bang reality
One that actually sees.
Emily wanted Surprise.
I feel the thrill of taking the same walk
down the same lanes
day after day
not feeling I need to chase my mind
to a new place
as if these lanes
are out of chestnuts.
Krsna, I lived through the days
of throwing myself at passersby, begging
them to take Your BTG.
They laughed at me as if I were absurd
but even then I was alone
keeping the beat of love
alive in my heart, the chords, the rhythms
of a hope to surrender.
I went down the hill where I knew
a dog waited. I can’t tell the whole thing,
but the tape recorder was in my pocket,
black wires dangled from the earphones
in my ears. A small white dog ran out
and threatened to bite my ankles, but I wasn’t
afraid—I was wearing rubber boots.
A bigger black dog barked and lunged against its
chain, but still I was not afraid
those black wires dangling
protected me. I mean,
the voice of Prabhupada
in my ears.
After that first dog uproar the road grew quiet
a dirt and pebble lane that winds
through the Italian hills even in cold mid-April.”
Before I move into another frame of mind,
now, while the rhythms of prayer still vibrate,
let me stand here alone and intone
Sanskrit, the words of delirious-sober saints
who know eternal service
so that I too can be uplifted beyond worldly cares,
or cares for the lines on my forehead already etched
but that have nothing to do with my heart
or its hopes
to hear the rhythms of Krsna’s poet-dancing
words, to know His mood, to
love Him with abandon.
O Holy Name! In vain I tried to enjoy this life
and I have simply been cursed.
How could I have known those memories would bar me
from rasa in Vrndavana?”
“After the chores are done I tune
and strum. Nobody hears, nobody cares,
and the stars go on.”
A Krsna conscious person should do more,
I keep telling myself,
but as a troubled someone said, “I am
what I am and I have no choice
but to work with that.”
It is not enough
to write even grand poems
and even when I read, after
each verse and purport I seem to ask,
“Is that all? So what?”
But I keep going, not expecting something sensational
to happen to me, but
just to see myself seeking that Krsna
who wears the garland His beloved gave Him
and who holds His yellow garment forward
to beg forgiveness, singling His Radha
out from the rest.
She stared at Him and did not drop Her eyes
in shame, but loved Him through Her glance.
25 January 1970
My Dear Satsvarupa,
Please accept my blessings. I have not heard from you since a few weeks. I hope you are well and everything is going nicely there.
Regarding tape transcription: many devotees are ready to help in this matter. I want to send daily one tape, and to finish one tape transcription and editing it takes about one week. Under the circumstances, if there are four or five men transcribing, then at least four finished manuscripts come out per week. Many devotees are ready to transcribe; like in Detroit there is Bhagavan das; in Buffalo, Rupanuga; in Berkeley, Hansadutta; as well as here, Devananda. But how to adjust things?
Do you think that their transcribing will help you, or do you want to transcribe yourself? I wish that all copies, before finally going to the press, must be thoroughly revised and edited so that there may not be any mistakes especially of spelling and grammar or of the Sanskrit names. So how to finish it, I do not know. So give me your directions about this immediately. Whether I shall send the tapes directly to you or to other centers who are ready to help?
How many pages and up to which chapter is the Krishna book finished up to now? How many pictures are ready? If you can let me know all these points, it will be very nice.
I hope this will meet you in good health.
Your ever well-wisher,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
This letter continues to discuss the topics raised in the previous letter. Prabhupada again proposes that other devotees help transcribe his dictation tapes. As I have already mentioned, I had considered this service exclusively mine up until this point. In this letter, Prabhupada adds to the list of devotees who have volunteered to share the nectar. Whenever I read this letter, I am reminded how Prabhupada thought so much bigger than his disciples, how he was prepared to disregard our petty attachments, jealousies, and closely guarded services in order to establish his movement worldwide. Prabhupada was a mahatma, and his plans were big. Just as we couldn’t restrain Prabhupada from leaving our fledgling center at 26 Second Avenue when he wanted to preach in San Francisco, so our private fears and insecurities couldn’t restrain him from producing his books. His preaching was expansive, and his ability to offer us service was much more powerful than our sentiment to limit him for our personal gratification. Although I suffered at the time, in retrospect I appreciate Prabhupada’s eagerness to produce his books quickly and the energy he had to expend to accomplish his goals.
Why was Prabhupada in such a hurry to print his books? Is it good for authors to rush into print? Many think it is better for an author to wait until the creative passions have cooled and he is able to look at his work in a more objective light. Prabhupada was passionate about producing and printing Srimad-Bhagavatam. No one knew better than he did of the world’s crying need to receive it. Prabhupada was also aware of his limited time—he was seventy-three when he wrote this letter—and he knew just how much work lay ahead. In fact, he was not able to finish translating the entire Bhagavatam. But even before coming to the West, Prabhupada had told Mr. Ram Mitra, his host in Jhansi, “The whole world is waiting, Mr. Mitra, for our spiritual revolution.”
I find Prabhupada’s urgency, especially when applied to the publishing field, attractive, and I certainly loved being caught up in it at the time. Prabhupada was a vortex of energy. He carried us forward with him. Book production is not a one-man job; Prabhupada wanted a team that was prepared to work hard and to increase their level of expertise. In 1975, he insisted that his disciples produce all seventeen volumes of the Caitanya-caritamrta in two months. This was Prabhupada’s private ecstasy—not just to experience a personal exchange with Krsna, but to give Krsna to the entire world through his books. I know I could understand very little of his mission at the time—I don’t know how much more I understand now, but I will be eternally grateful for having had the opportunity to take part in his book production.
Vrndavana is closing in on me.
I mean, I’m missing the essence,
yet my time is running out.
We all make a date to come
back here when we die, but
we may not be so lucky.
This visit may be our death
visit and there will be no other later.
It’s rushing by, but still I make
plans to leave early.
A brother who lives here writes
to me—he’s an American-but-
Indianized sadhu and
speaks of himself as “we” instead
of “I” and has other Hindi-isms in his
speech and manner. He’s been sticking to
the dust of Vrndavana for years and
what do I know of the bhava
that I smirk at?
He prays to the lotus feet of Radharani,
he says. Why should I doubt it?
I pray to whom? Natalie Goldberg?
No, don’t bash me either—I’m
a Western-traveling sannyasi of ISKCON.
Vrndavana is passing me by. Is she
rejecting me? I have limited health and
can’t go out into the lanes or
ride an old bus to Govardhana and
walk around there. It’s too cold,
too hot, too hard. Too
Indian. I … I …
Vrndavana is big, vast, eternal,
but my mind is small and
occupied with mortal things.
Vrndavana is madhuram-madhuram,
honey for the saints and
sadhus—pure and simple, deep
In Vrndavana they follow asta-kaliya
meditation where you remember what Radha
and Krsna are doing throughout twenty-four hours—
but I think of when to do my asanas,
when to drink juice, when to pass stool,
when to lecture, and when to write.
The lecture room is austere.
“Harsh,” I said, but a lady
corrected me and said, “It’s Vrndavana.
It’s nice with the curtains on the
bare walls, students sitting on
the old rug on a cold floor and
no furniture.” Stark, sunlight
filtering in, electric power failures—
but we’re all in Vrndavana
hearing of Srila Prabhupada’s days in NYC
Wish you were here.
A devotee is deeply convinced of Vedic teachings. If an ignorant person criticizes the life of devotional service, a devotee knows this is ignorance that is based on the bodily conception of life. He is not swayed. Maharaja Rahugana insulted the great brahmana Jada Bharata with many words of sarcasm, but Jada Bharata smiled and spoke the following words:
You have said that I am not stout and strong, and these words are befitting a person who does not know the distinction between the body and the soul. The body may be fat or thin, but no learned man would say such things of the spirit soul. As far as the spirit soul is concerned, I am neither fat nor skinny; therefore you are correct when you say that I am not very stout. Also, if the object of this journey and the path leading there were mine, there would be many troubles for me, but because they relate not to me but to my body, there is no trouble at all.
As far as your thinking that you are the king and master and thus trying to order me, this is also incorrect because these positions are temporary. Today you are a king and I am your servant, but tomorrow the position may be changed, and you may be my servant and I your master.
My dear king, you have said, “You rascal, you dull, crazy fellow! I am going to chastise you, and then you will come to your senses.” In this regard, let me say that although I live like a dull, deaf and dumb man, I am actually a self-realized person. What will you gain by punishing me?
I shaved my head as a devotee in 1966 because I thought it would please Srila Prabhupada. But when I went out into the streets of the Lower East Side and a few people hooted at me, I was surprised and hurt. The ridicule felt like a push from behind. And yet it made me conscious of Krsna and Prabhupada; I had lost my anonymity! When I went back to the storefront and presented myself before Srila Prabhupada, he said, “Thank you very much.” During the same year Srila Prabhupada gave us japa beads, he said that we should always carry them with us, “If you’re not ashamed.” We should not be ashamed that we are followers of Lord Krsna who wear Vaisnava tilaka. A few people may think we are crazy, but many others will ask us out of curiosity, “What is the marking on your forehead? Is this some kind of religion?” Such questions are glorious because they are about Krsna and therefore they are of benefit to the whole world.
Just talking with a new devotee, Bhakta B., about how he should commit himself to Krsna consciousness and give up his whimsical attachments. I have already advanced at least that much—that I have committed my life to this movement. Yet I am not advanced. My older Godbrothers are also in this position, having passed an initial stage and desiring to go further. The first steps were dramatic as we gave up sinful habits and demoniac association and accepted Prabhupada as our spiritual master. We have only come a little way, but we do not know immediately if we will be able to go much further. A symptom of our advancement will be our more and more relishing chanting and hearing the glories of the Supreme Lord, and our more and more desiring to effectively spread Krsna consciousness in the world, under the spiritual master’s order.
The immediate concern is to execute our present duties nicely and to cooperate with our fellow devotees to push on the movement. In this way, we can aspire to advance further. As we experience a thrill and auspicious joy on giving up material life and family in this Krsna consciousness movement, so there are stages of advancement ahead of us that are certainly as revolutionary as the change when we first joined. We still do not have svarupa-siddhi, or pure, unalloyed service.
I’m still thinking of Gaura-Nitai Deities. I’ve written to Srila Prabhupada about Them. I got the suggestion of having a van just for the Deities, so that’s nice, but it would be extravagant unless They were taken out on festivals every day at the college. Isa can get me permission to do that, and then we can have a full program.
We need a few more men.
Let me note here: although I am so often in anxiety of oncoming physical pain and also on the mental plane of acceptance and rejection in my devotional service—and never fully surrendered, even in what I can do at present—I am also feeling satisfied by the grace of my spiritual master and Lord Caitanya. I want to increase my activities, now thinking of Deity worship and festivities, but the job of managing these library party men and their Krsna conscious association is satisfying. I feel I am receiving Krsna’s blessings and I am feeling satisfied.
The story of the honest boy who approached Gautama Muni is an all-time favorite example of truthfulness.
When the young boy asked the sage to become his spiritual master, Gautama asked, “Who is your father?” In those days, gurus generally accepted disciples only from the families of brahmanas. The innocent boy did not have a ready answer and so he went home to ask his mother.
Who is my father?” he asked.
“My dear son,” said the boy’s mother, “I do not know.” His mother was a maidservant and couldn’t even ascertain, among the many men she knew, the identity of the boy’s father.
Most persons would have received this news as a great shame, and something to be kept secret. But this boy promptly returned to Gautama Muni and told him exactly what his mother had said.
“My dear sage,” said the boy, “my mother says that she does not know who my father is.”
“Then you are a brahmana,” said Gautama, and he accepted the boy as his disciple. Gautama recognized that the boy had the main qualification of a brahmana, truthfulness, although he was a lowborn child. The boy was therefore qualified to receive spiritual knowledge.
This story cannot be considered merely a tale of worldly ethics. Because the boy was honest, therefore he was eligible for spiritual life. Truthfulness is the criteria, and once one accepts a spiritual master he should always relate to the guru with utmost truthfulness. Sometimes when we are honest, the result is that we get a reprimand. But it’s better to be punished for telling the truth than to lie before the spiritual master in order to save some false prestige.
This collection of Satsvarūpa dāsa Goswami’s writings is comprised of essays that were originally published in Back to Godhead magazine between 1966 and 1978, and compiled in 1979 by Gita Nagari Press as the volume A Handbook for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness.
This second volume of Satsvarūpa dāsa Goswami’s Back to Godhead essays encompasses the last 11 years of his 20-year tenure as Editor-in-Chief of Back to Godhead magazine. The essays in this book consist mostly of SDG’s ‘Notes from the Editor’ column, which was typically featured towards the end of each issue starting in 1978 and running until Mahārāja retired from his duties as editor in 1989.
This collection of Satsvarupa dasa Goswami’s writings is comprised of essays that were originally published in Back to Godhead magazine between 1991 and 2002, picking up where Volume 2 leaves off. The volume is supplemented by essays about devotional service from issues of Satsvarupa dasa Goswami’s magazine, Among Friends, published in the 1990s.
Writing Sessions at Castlegregory, Ireland, 1993Start slowly, start fastly, offer your obeisances to your spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. You just drew his picture with your pencils. He appears carved out of wood…
I found I had hit a stride in my search for theme in writing, then began to feel the structure limiting me. After all, I had given myself precious time to write full-time; I wanted to enter the experience as fully as possible. For me, this means free-writing—writing sessions with no predetermined shape, theme, or topic…
This volume is comprised of three parts: prose meditations, free-writes, and poems each of which will be discussed in turn. As an introduction, a brief essay by the author, On Genre, has also been included to provide contextual coordinates for the writing which follows…
A comprehensive retrospective of poetic achievement and prose meditations, using a new trajectory described as “free-writing”. This volume will offer to readers an experience of the creativity versatility which is a hallmark of this author’s writing.
Stream of consciousness poetry that moves with the shifting shapes and colors characteristic of a kaleidoscope itself around the themes of authenticity. This is a book will transport you to the far reaches of the author’s heart and soul in daring ways and will move you to experience your own inner kaleidoscope.
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expression.The reader is invited to discover his or her own spiritual pilgrimage within these pages as the author pushes every literary boundary to boldly create something wholly new and inspiring.