By His Example
The Wit and Wisdom of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Mantra Rock Dance
Within a short time the Hare Krishnas became a familiar part of the Haight-Ashbury scene. If you lived on the street in the Haight, one of the underground secrets of survival was that you could go to the Krishna temple and get a nice warm breakfast in a friendly atmosphere. Chanting became known as a nice way to come down from an acid trip, and the meal of hot cereal, marinated garbanzo beans, and fruit drink or hot milk was always welcome.
When we knew that the Swami was coming to San Francisco from New York, we decided to introduce him to thousands of our fellow members of the counterculture by sponsoring a charity rock concert and dance at one of the venues that were so popular at the time. I was acquainted with Sam Andrews of the band Big Brother and the Holding Company; Shyamasundar knew Chet Helms, proprietor of the Avalon Ballroom, who agreed to donate his hall for one night. Shyamasundar also knew Rock Scully, manager of the Grateful Dead, whom Yamuna and I knew because they lived across from us on Ashbury Street. Chet arranged interviews and, in addition to the Dead and Big Brother, we were able to persuade Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Moby Grape to perform free as a benefit to support the Radha Krishna Temple. Allen Ginsberg had agreed to fly out from New York to perform onstage and introduce the Swami to the people of San Francisco.
The evening of the Mantra Rock Dance, January 29, I walked into the empty ballroom and yelled, "Hare Krishna!" The transcendental sound echoed off the walls. The rest of the devotees came over to the hall early to take tickets, cut oranges, and decorate the stage with flowers, cloth hangings, and paintings and posters of Lord Krishna. I saw the empty concert hall gradually fill up with life -- soon it was bustling with sounds, smells, lights, and joy. Of course, Lord Chaitanya was there too, as were all the demigods, who relish attending functions such as this. It felt as if they were throwing rose-petal benedictions upon the place. We had brought all our instruments: karatalas, flutes, trumpets, and a huge timpani drum. We checked the sound and greeted early arrivals. The Swami was to arrive later.
First Moby Grape played, as strobes and colored lights danced. Then the house lights were turned on and various celebrities began to fill the stage. Allen Ginsberg, wearing a long, white robe, climbed up the madras-covered steps and settled onto the stage. Peter Orlovsky sat down too. Tim Leary came in, smiled, and sat cross-legged. Swami Kriyananda, a disciple of Paramahamsa Yogananda, came in with a vina. He seemed comfortable and happy to be there. Then a short man in a silk top hat and sash which read SAN FRANCISCO, who claimed to be the Mayor, came onto the stage. Some Hell's Angels stood in the back of the stage near a large painting of Radha and Krishna. They were our security guards, and no one was going to mess with them.
Yamuna and I were cutting up oranges for prasadam distribution. My friend Easy drifted by, greeted us, and danced away. Allen Ginsberg took the microphone and introduced chanting of the maha-mantra to the congregation. "This mantra can deliver us all," he said. "Just sink into the sound vibration and think of peace." Accompanied by a small harmonium, he then began chanting: "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."
I jumped up and started chanting and dancing, and gradually, as everyone joined in, the whole hall felt like it was traveling on an intergalactic journey. In our transcendental spaceship, the Avalon Ballroom, we were separate but safe in the universe. The sound swayed around us, sheltering us in its transcendence.
Then Swami Bhaktivedanta entered. He looked like a Vedic sage, exalted and otherworldly. As he advanced towards the stage, the crowd parted and made way for him, like the surfer riding a wave. He glided onto the stage, sat down, and began playing the karatalas. Again the sound vibration entered my heart, and I felt warmed. Others listened, then started softly singing in unison and weaving in dance. The hall filled with the Holy Names. Swamiji beamed down on the crowd. Everyone was cheering, bowing, clapping, swooning, jumping, chanting, and in a general state of bliss. Finally the chanting ended in a wild crescendo. The Swami then rose slowly, and with hands and palms folded in pranams, he walked down from the stage. Again the throng parted and -- respectfully, ecstatically -- let him through, some bowing and some even taking the dust from his feet.
Jefferson Airplane came on stage next, and Grace Slick sang "Do You Want Somebody to Love?" The large faceted glass ball sprayed blips of light to every part of this separate world. It seemed like stars were cascading around in our miniature planetarium. Big Brother and the Holding Company took the stage. Janis Joplin, with her mouth on the microphone, belted out "Ball and Chain." It looked like she was eating the microphone. Sam Andrews played his classic riff to begin "Summertime." Janis whooped and yelled, and the bands all yelled out Hare Krishna at one time or another. Between sets by the famous bands, people were holding onto each other and chanting in a large circle. Everyone was in harmony. We danced into the night, and this amalgamation of mantra and rock worked extraordinarily well.
That night all those people who heard the Holy Names were on the path towards liberation from the material world, making their way towards the loving arms of Sri Sri Radha Krishna and Lord Chaitanya. Surely the demigods showered benediction upon this most wonderful event, which heralded Swamiji's entry into the hearts and souls of multitudes. (Moreover, the $2,000 in proceeds from the Mantra Rock Dance supported our activities at the Radha Krishna Temple in San Francisco for quite some time!)
"If we can help one person become Krishna conscious,
then our movement has been successful."
--A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
(*Click here for more information about Gurudas & how to order a copy of "By His Example.")