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Memories (#73)
By His Example
The Wit and Wisdom of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
by Gurudas
(Part 7)


A steady congregation of characters was now flowing into our storefront Radha Krishna Temple for the nightly sessions of rocking, chanting, dancing, feasting, and transcendental information. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead had just donated a huge, new stove, so we now had breakfast, lunch, and dinner programs on a regular basis. There were so many folks coming that the temple would be filled from the front altar all the way to the back of the room and out the double Dutch doors to the sidewalk.

*          *          *

All eyes were on Swamiji. He took out some bell-metal karatalas, looked around without looking at anything in particular, and began a three beat: chah-chah-cheee, cha-cha-cheee-- the third beat sizzling. In husky, sonorous tones he sang out: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare." We couldn't stay seated and jumped up almost in unison. Hayagriva blew the kelp horn, as the booming kettledrum created a throbbing foundation rhythm.

The mantra was starting to grow on me, and singing with Swamiji leading the congregation was really fun. Kirtan usually lasted more than an hour, the sound rising, subsiding into sweet, low tenderness, and then ending in a joyous crescendo that left me with an afterglow-- a clean, elated feeling.

*          *          *

The kirtan built up again. Yamuna yelled, "Hari Hari bol!" her voice piercing the temple room with its pure, spiritual strength. Janaki echoed her sister. Mukunda played the drum expertly, catalyzing everyone with driving rhythms. I felt like I was leaving my body. We got into a steady, flowing ecstasy. After some time, the Swami speeded up the karatal beat, and we responded faster. The whole room was bursting; the whole city was rocking; the whole world was vibrating; the whole universe was in balance -- and I was experiencing transcendental bliss!

The bongos, kettledrum, cymbals, kelp horn, trumpet, and African instruments all stopped in one unified beat. Swami called out, "Gaura premananda hari hari bol!" In a voice that was simultaneously sweet and grave, he recited paeans glorifying the past preceptors in our spiritual lineage. We collapsed on the floor, bowing down. Swamiji settled into his raised seat. "Thank you very much -- all of you such nice young boys and girls -- for coming and..."

We heard pounding on the wall. A loud thump from next door suddenly resonated on the wall. Framed pictures shook. Again there was a thump.

"... chanting this Hare Krishna mantra with us."

The Swami didn't miss a beat. He stopped talking, called me over, beckoned me closer. My ear was right near his mouth. I felt privileged.

"What is that sound?" he asked.
"I don't know," I answered.
"It is coming from next door."

Next door was the God's Eye Ice Cream Parlor, which was the hangout and hideout of the Hell's Angels as well as headquarters for the Diggers, an anarchistic organization run by Emmitt Grogan and Peter Coyote, which believed that all goods and services should be free. The police raided the place frequently, and when this happened the Angels would whip out movie cameras without any film in them and pretend to film the raid. The police, fearing they would be on the evening news, always left quickly and quietly.

The banging continued.
"Go see what is making that noise," Swamiji requested. "Ask them to stop."

"Why me?" I thought. I'm wearing a robe, I'm high form the kirtan, and now I have to go face the Hell's Angels. Cloth versus leather, finger cymbals versus knives. The Swami again addressed the congregation.

"I see you, so many bright-faced people chanting and feeling blissful by chanting these Holy Names..."

Excusing myself, I went out into the cool, night air and started to breathe more easily. I heard loud laughter from inside the God's Eye. Yes, I thought, inside God's eyes certainly Krishna would protect me. But my throat was dry as I knocked on the door. Sonny, scar-faced yet handsome, opened the door. He wore swastikas and lots of black leather. He stared at me. I held his eyes and stared back. Six more Angels encircled me. Then a tattooed 13 AND BORN TO LOSE arm waved me inside.

Resolutely but quietly I said, "The Swami is about to speak. He was wondering if you could party less hearty." They didn't say anything. I persevered. "The thumping on the wall interrupted him. Many folks would like to hear him speak, and you can come too if you like."

Sonny stared at me a while longer. Then he smiled and said, "It was your singing that made us dance, but the wall got in the way! Hey, if the Swami wants to speak, that's okay with us. Your guru is heavy, man!" His gapped-tooth smile embraced me. I thanked them all.

As neighbors, we would eventually come to know each other and get along well. They came over for free feasts, a stick of incense, or for a cup of sugar. After my meeting with them they always quieted down when they heard the kirtan stop, because they knew the Swami was speaking. I could sense their presence behind the wall. "The Swami is going to speak now; shut up." The Angels became our security guards at the Mantra Rock Dance and at many of our other large gatherings, like the Jagannatha Car festival.

"In any effort we must take time, place, and circumstance into account."
-- A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
(*Click here for more information about Gurudas & how to order a copy of "By His Example."
Highly recommended!)
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