My First Night in a Hare Krishna Temple

The San Diego Krishna temple was even cooler than the one in Los Angeles. The inside was decorated and decked out, completely over-the-top – but the thing I really liked were the people. It was the headquarters for the Hare Krishna magazine, Back to Godhead. I loved chief editor – Jayādvaita Swāmī. We got along great. He was logical as folded laundry; so dry, like he just didn’t give a rat’s ass for popularity or any bullshit like that. Like a tortilla chip with no salsa, he was just exactly whatever he was – and I liked it. I would go to the Magazine’s office now and then to vacuum or whatever.

Dravida dās would sometimes hang out with me, recite Sanskrit, and answer my questions. Once he took me with him on a walk to Trader Joe’s to buy some special kind of yogurt or something else I had never heard of before. He was another one like Jayādvaita Swāmī: more punk than punk. So absorbed in whatever it was he was absorbed in that he just didn’t have time or energy to care about superficial things.

Bhaktivedānta Institute also made their headquarters in San Diego. They were a group of three scientists who had become Krishna devotees, and had written that Origins magazine I had read a few months ago, and a dauntingly titled book, Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science. Mādhavendra Pūri was the one among them who paid most attention to me, by far. I’d sit with him and  ask  all sorts of detailed scientific questions. He’d give his fascinating answers the same way a cat walks – so lightly, so patiently – and frequently breaking into a mad-scientist’s grin during the pauses between sentences.

Umāpati Swāmī was also a San Diego Hare Krishna. One Sunday he gave the entire lecture while looking directly to me, almost never even glancing at anyone else in the temple. He was talking about a few verses early in Gītā’s second chapter, and he was really trying to get the idea into my head that “You are not that body.” I felt like someone special.

Vaikuṇṭha dās, one of the gentlest, nicest men I’ve ever met, was a long-time resident here at the Krishna’s San Diego spot. He lived in a small apartment a few yards down the street, with his wife. Once, my car’s tire went flat and, for whatever typical teenage-punk reason, I had no spare. He took me into his apartment and called whoever he needed to call, triple-A or something like that, and somehow, someone soon showed up and fixed the flat. While we waited he explained that Paramātmā (“God,” in a sense) is like the sun and all living beings were like water in pots. Just as the same sun reflects into so many different pots, Paramātmā “reflects” into and exists within everyone.

A month or two earlier, I had spent my first overnighter at the San Diego temple. It was “nṛsiṁha-caturdaśi” a holiday for Narasiṁha, Krishna’s man-lion incarnation – the same man-lion one on the Cro-Mags newly released album cover. My parents were on a vacation somewhere – maybe Vegas – so I spent a three-day weekend on a slumber party with Krishna. I slept upstairs with the “brahmacārīs” (the unmarried men), and was completely jazzed to come down well before sunrise for the four or five hours of daily kīrtan, class, and prasādam. I had bought a disposable Kodak camera, and snapped a roll of Rādhā Giridhari on the altar that Saturday Morning, May 20th of 1989. They all came out ridiculously blurry, the temple was very dark and the camera very cheap, but one of them came out great, and I still keep the photo till this day.

– Excerpt from the first draft of
Train Wrecks and Transcendence:
A Collision of Hardcore and Hare Krishna

By Vraja Kishor dās

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