Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Little Haiku

Once in a while I fiddle with different forms of poetry. I've written a few haiku, and I thought I'd share them here occasionally. Although haiku generally include a season word, I often use reference to other time, such as time of day. I thought I'd start with this one in the wake of the recent passing of my sister and four of my Godbrothers, all of whom were probably younger than I.

Orange and blue koi
Gliding under lily pads
Can't see the heron's near.

Friday, April 20, 2007

How Krishna Consciousness Came into My Life, Pt. 1

I have worked, off and on, on writing an account of the events that brought Krishna consciousness into my life. I'd like to offer here a draft of the first part of that article.

It was certainly not what anyone expected to happen that weekend. I had been in the Navy for almost three years and served as an intelligence analyst at the Pacific Fleet Intelligence Center at Pearl Harbor. Because of the security clearances necessary for my work, I generally avoided going to concerts such as this one. It seemed that attending a Grateful Dead concert, or a Jefferson Airplane concert at Honolulu’s Civic Auditorium during the late ‘60s would draw unwanted attention. But here it was, a full-moon night in May of 1969, and I couldn’t resist seeing the Jimi Hendrix Experience live at the Waikiki Shell. After the warm-up band played, Jimi came out and played a couple of numbers. Then he mumbled something about the sound system not being powerful enough for his music and said he’d be back in fifteen minutes.

After much more than fifteen minutes, one of the announcers from the local underground FM radio station, which promoted the concerts this weekend, announced that Jimi wouldn’t be able to play that night, but if we brought our ticket stubs on Sunday night, he’d perform for free. In the meantime, which might have been an hour or so, I heard a persistent sound from just outside the Shell: ching-ching-chiiiing, ching-ching-chiiiing, ching-ching-chiiiing, on and on. Sometimes it went faster, sometimes slower, but it never stopped during the entire break. As we left the Shell, what we found were perhaps the most exotic folks I had ever seen. There, under a large, rainbow-colored banner with the Hare Krishna mantra, were Govinda dasi, Sudama, Turiya das, and another young woman, playing karatals, a guitar, a rather exotic-looking drum, and chanting, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” As the crowd streamed out of the Shell, it gathered around the devotees, young people clapping, swaying, and chanting along. As I heard the mantra, I found it oddly familiar. Sure, I had heard the song from the tribal rock musical Hair on the radio, but this was different.

After some time, the crowd had grown so large that it blocked the exit, and the police asked everyone to move away. So Sudama and Turiya das led the crowd across the grass into Kapiolani Park as the full moon seemed to smile on the now-enormous sankirtan party of several thousand chanting, dancing people. The kirtan’s energy seemed to build, and I found myself completely carried away, even though I was a shy guy in the Navy, short hair and all. Unfortunately, the police eventually broke the crowd up and ordered everyone to disperse. But the experience had left an indelible impression on me. When we went to the concerts the next two nights, the devotees were there again, and I found myself chanting with much of the time.

A couple of months later I got out of the Navy, and I returned to Hawaii early in the fall of ’69, with the intention of taking some time for surfing and “finding myself” before returning to college. I would sometimes go to concerts at the Waikiki Shell, and sometimes we would go for a walk in the evening down Kalakaua Avenue, hoping to meet interesting people. Wherever I went, it seemed the devotees were there. I couldn’t deny my attraction to the chanting, but I actually saw that as somewhat dangerous. After having been in the Navy, I was wary of ever joining anything again. So I would stand just out of sight, or on the other side of the street, and chant along. One Saturday night, however, I had a surprise. As I left the center of Waikiki, I encountered a Hare Krishna monk on the other side of the street. It was Turiya das, one of the men I had chanted with the previous spring. We spoke for a few minutes, and when I left him he asked me to come to their Love Feast the next day at Queen’s Surf Park. I agreed, and we parted.

The next morning I remembered that I had promised the Krishna monk that I’d go to their feast. I thought I had better not break a promise made to a monk, so I decided I would indeed go. I had seen the devotees distributing food in the park on Sunday afternoons, but I kept my distance because I was worried about how strongly I felt drawn to the chanting. Besides, their food, although vegetarian, appeared cooked, and I was trying to get into a raw-foods diet. But this Sunday I had determined that I would go and that I would open myself entirely to the chanting to see what it does. I even thought I should forego all my bad late-‘60s indulgences that day so I could experience the chanting with a clear head.

So there I found myself on a warm, sunny, early-winter’s afternoon, sitting on the grass near the ocean in my Levi’s and t-shirt, my eyes closed, chanting the maha-mantra over and over. Later, as prasadam was being distributed, Turiya das sat down with me and started a conversation. When he asked if I had ever read Bhagavad-gita, I found I had an admission to make. While in the Navy I developed a strong interest in the politics and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. I had read every book by and about him I could find in Honolulu. I had also tried reading several editions of Bhagavad-gita because of Gandhi’s interest in that ancient scripture. But I had a hard time making any sense of Krishna’s philosophy, perhaps because it was being spoken on a battlefield, and I had left the Navy very inclined to a nonviolent life, after three years of analyzing aerial photography of the Vietnam war. However, I soon found there may have been a more profound reason for my trouble with Bhagavad-gita.

When I tried to explain my difficulty with the text, Turiya das handed me a copy of the blue, paperback Bhagavad-gita As It Is and asked if I had read this particular edition. Admitting I hadn’t, I spent several minutes leafing through, stopping to read a page here and there. As I read, I found the meaning quite clear and compelling. After a few minutes, I looked up at Turiya das and exclaimed, “This is not only easy to understand, but what I’ve read so far makes more sense to me than anything I’ve ever read!”

Turiya das smiled and replied, “If someone actually understands it, he can make it understandable to others, right?”

When I walked back to my apartment later that afternoon, I seemed to see the world differently than the day before. It’s not that I had a clearly defined new world view; things just seemed different, and I sensed a change shaping up in my life.

(To be continued)