Ohio State University Students Write Their Reactions To Hare Krishna
The Swami Bhaktivedanta answers questions after his appearance at Hitchcock Hall Auditorium Monday night. Poet Allen Ginsberg shared the stage with the swami.
[Editor’s Note: Below are excerpts taken from the essays of sixteen Ohio State University freshman students who wrote their reactions to Hare Krishna and A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami for their freshman English class. These are interesting testimonies because they come not from San Francisco hippies or New York mystics, but from Mid-Western, middle-class, middle-brow American teenagers who are just beginning their college careers. Out of about a hundred similar themes, these statements are typical. They verify Lord Chaitanya’s teaching that Hare Krishna is for all types of men in all places at all times.]
“It was with eager anticipation that I entered Hitchcock Hall Auditorium on May 12. All around me were different types of people, of all ages. There were a few adults, perhaps professors, who were still in their business suits. Many students were dressed in skirts and sweaters or jeans and a shirt. But there were many shudents who had come barefoot, wearing bells and beads. Downstairs, the entire stage was filled, and all the people reminded me of a can of sardines, it was so crowded. My mind wandered as I looked at all the faces, and I wondered what they were thinking, expecting. The magical chanting began and people all around the stage were beginning to sway with the beat of the drums, clapping their hands and chanting the words, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. At first, most of the people in the balcony hesitated to join in the chant and clap their hands. It was as if we in the balcony were separated from those people on the ground floor, as if we were just watching, but not participating. Gradually, however, we too began to feel the beat of the drums awakening within us, and before I knew it, the entire audience in the balcony was also caught in the magical rhythm of the chant. People around me were standing, as if mysteriously enticed out of their seats by a strange force. I too was hypnotized by the beat of the drums and rhythmic chanting of the words. People below us were joining in circles, wildly lost in their own gyrations, conscious only of the drums and the complete content that overwhelmed them. To me, it was as if I were really ‘high,’ and able to release all my inner anxieties and frustrations. I was swept with exhiliration and it was a great feeling to know that I could scream the words as loud as I wanted, and nobody would care. Flowers were thrown to the audience. It was as if everyone had taken a ‘magical mystery tour.’ Before I realized where the time had gone, the evening was over. As Mardel and I slowly left our seats and walked down the stairs, we saw many people milling about the building. Little was said between us, for we were each engrossed in our own thoughts, still not entirely believing what we had just witnessed and participated in. Yet we both know that, indeed, something magical had occurred, if only because of the satisfaction that we carried home with us in our hearts.”
“It is hard to begin to write of a night, of an experience, where so much has happened at once, an experience in which one actually feels a part of a large group, an experience which draws one from his chair and moves his lips to a chant, and an experience which provokes one to thought. To have all this in one night is a rarity.
“I arrived at the scene of the meeting, Hitchcock Hall, about a half-hour early, hoping to get a good seat. When I entered the building I was truly surprised. It was packed. The halls were packed; so were the seats, the aisles, the balcony, and the stage. I pushed my way through the crowd into the auditorium and finally squeezed into a seat. I was really tight until the session began.
“I looked around at the huge crowd and after sizing it up (hip, straight, curious) I looked to the stage. The first person I noticed was Mr. Wheeler (my English teacher) on stage close to Swami Bhaktivedanta. He beat out the rhythm on a large drum for the chanting. Also on stage I saw Allen Ginsberg, who was discussing microphone difficulty with one of the sound equipment people. Most impressively and most importantly sat Swami Bhaktivedanta, surrounded by his pupils and a mass of people on the stage. While I was looking around I noticed the noise, people talking, doors buzzing, and mikes screeching, but soon quiet was indeed heard. The Swami was seated and the meeting began.
“The first chant began, led by the Swami. The chant, Hare Krishna, was sung slowly until the words were memorized, and then it began to gain in strength and speed. The chanting, coupled with the reaction of the mass of people, made me tingle. At first I thought the people dancing on the stage were phony, but by chanting and dancing and concentrating on the chant I suddenly felt free and happy. Just to forget the problems I had and express myself in such a way (chanting and dancing) was a unique and indeed pleasant experience. I can say that for the first time in a long time I felt I had no problems. The mantra was quite effective. From the chanting the program moved to Allen Gineberg’s introduction to the Swami and the message and philosophy of Swami Bhaktivedanta.”
“I was a little hesitant at the beginning of the chanting of Hare Krishna, but after seeing that everyone else was joining in I did the same. It was fantastic. The more I repeated the words of the mantra the better I felt. A strange feeling seemed to seize control of my entire body. My mind became disconnected from material matters, and all of my energy seemed dedicated to achieving what the Swami later said was a complete state of consciousness. The musical instruments seemed to fit all of the chanting together into a perfect rhythm which made me want to clap and dance. I thought the chanting of Hare Krishna to be a truly different experience, and I must say it really turned me on.
“Swami Bhaktivedanta’s speech was very stimulating. It helped me find something that I have been searching for for a long time. He said when you find God you will be filled with the love of God and you will be satisfied. The Swami’s speech inspired me to search deeper for the love of God. He said that one would need a clean heart and an open mind. I am now trying to accomplish this, and I must say it is an extremely hard thing to do. I believe I am gaining a new outlook on life, and it is a very wonderful feeling. I received a great deal of understanding from this meeting and when I left I had really gained something.”
“I found worth in the speeches. I think that the Swami really makes good sense. His speech involving materialism was excellent. It made me reflect upon myself and my goals. I wholeheartedly agree with him on the subject. It made me realize that most people only concern themselves with monetary possessions. They work and strive all of their lives for money and everything concrete which it can buy. There are so many important things of value which money cannot buy. No one truly appreciates them until they are gone.
“Fortunately, I happened to notice a few of my friends in the audience. They have been repeatedly warned against materialism. When I discovered the nature of the speech, I suspected that they would immediately be rude and ‘turn off’ the Swami. It was interesting to note their reactions. They sat perfectly still and paid full attention to the Swami. It seemed that he had a sort of hypnotic control over them. Later, I asked them what they thought of the purport of the speeches. Two of them thought they were good and were beginning to realize their ‘mistake.’ The other one listened, but is too deep in materialism to take heed to advice. To get through to two out of three persons deserves credit.”
“Only a few of the more daring joined the chanting in the beginning, but as it went on, those less daring were made to feel left out and soon joined the others. Those on stage were in their zenith; their faces flowed with wide smiles. To sit there and merely watch gave one an inner desire to stand up and become a part of this. More and more of the audience gave in to this desire and began clapping their hands and chanting as the session went on.
“Suddenly a summit was reached and the atmosphere overwhelmed everyone—the constant clanging produced by the Swami, the incessant rhythm of the drum, the buzzing background sound of the sitar and the clapping of the audience caused an emotional catharsis, as if everyone were summoned by a divine force. They all rose at once, and started chanting. The inner emotion proved overpowering, and I found myself rising and clapping my hands as I began to chant. It was wonderful. Everywhere there were smiling faces and happiness poured over everyone like a sparkling liquid. At the end, everyone sat down; I was left with an empty feeling as if something had been taken away from me. I wanted to chant some more.”
“During the middle of the chant, I found myself almost lost in the continuous rhythm of Hare Krishna. Obviously the chanting had the same effect on most of the audience. The same people who walked into Hitchcock Hall sure that they could not be moved by the chanting, left the building feeling a little removed from mundane reality. I found the entire evening an enlightening experience, and I feel that anyone who believes in anything as strongly as those who believe in Krishna consciousness should be respected for it.”
“I was impressed most by the Swami’s philosophy of God. I understood this philosophy to mean that the only way to happiness is through God. He said that one cannot achieve happiness from liquor, drugs, cigarettes, and other vices which are entirely material and cannot make one spiritually content. One must have spiritual enlightenment, and this can be had through the chanting of Hare Krishna. This chant excites the soul and, in a way, gets one ‘high,’ but this is a spiritual highness and not like getting high on alcohol or drugs. I was expecting the Swami to preach some new type of religion and a new God, but was surprised when he did not. He said it was not actually a religion at all but a science.”
“I was very skeptical as I entered the auditorium where the Yoga meeting was to be held. Knowing very little about the subject, I did not know what to expect. My first reaction was one of surprise at the large number of people that filled the auditorium. Many of the students were dressed in absurd ‘hippie’ costumes, but they appeared as bewildered as I was. I had recently read an article about Allen Ginsberg and easily identified him on the stage. The Swami and his disciples then drew my attention, and I studied their strange garments and shaved heads. After some technical difficulties, the Swami began to chant. At first only the people on the stage joined him, but gradually the contagious melody spread through the crowd. The people on the stage began clapping their hands and dancing and some of the people in the audience followed suit. Soon I was lost in the excitement of the crowd and amazed at the hypnotic effect of the chanting as I timidly joined them.”
“The shouting at first was unbearable, but I continued to chant softly and soon found myself shouting too.
“After about ten minutes the whole room shook with the vibrations from everyone’s screaming throats. A large circle was formed on the stage and people were dancing around and chanting over and over again ‘Hare Hare, Hare Krishna.’
“Clapping and yelling I felt a release within myself. Whether it was one of freedom, rebellion or the mere excitement of so many screaming people, I did in fact realize a definite change in my inner feelings, in my consciousness. As the chanting died down, I left the room, and as I started to walk home the whole world seemed very tomb-like to me. It was too still without the chant piercing my ears. I walked home asking myself how one. man and one chant could have so much control over so many people.”
“Being caught right in the center of all the commotion on stage, I became one of the many who made up the largest ‘turned on’ groups ever. It felt great and wonderful to free the soul and lift a heavy load from my mind after a trying day.
“After waiting in the lobby of the overcrowded auditorium for more than a couple of hours and becoming impatient, instinct overtook my sense and I followed my nose to find a way to get closer to the Swami and the origin of the action. I ended up on the backstage scene where I was no more than ten feet from the Holy Man himself. The setting was breath-taking. There was a mound of golden cushions about the glowing spirit. There were hundreds of people and glaring, blaring television lights in front of me. On a silver platter beside the Swami were fruits like jewels and a goblet of gold, holding a thirst quenching liquid. About this majestic set were situated the musicians and devotees who played the ‘Pied Pipers’ music, leading the followers in the chanting. Giving the stage players no room were the followers who were enchanted and enticed. All wanted to become closer, yet ever closer to Krishna and Rama.
“I have had the experience to being ‘turned on’ before, but never like this. The sensation grabs one’s soul and mind and carries them to far off places like a great and ever flowing river.”
—Vance E. Nichols
“I was most impressed with the overall affect mantra produced. The evening of May 12th, 1969 was the first time I ever witnessed unity among all types of people. Even though many persons there were ignorant of the interpretation of the chants, everyone joined.
“I never knew mantra existed before, and I certainly am glad I was exposed to it. My one experience with mantra enhanced my belief in my fellow man. I needed someone like Swami Bhaktivedanta to see that unity and compatibility among people is possible. Swami Bhaktivedanta and mantra made me aware of a larger purpose of life, one with a greater meaning in terms of true goals.”
“The chanting of Hare Krishna had a marvelous effect upon me. While chanting Hare Krishna all else was forced from my mind and all I could do was chant and dance. Nearly everyone in the auditorium was dancing and chanting, and there was a feeling of love and peace circulating through the auditorium.”
“The Monday night meeting with Swami Bhaktivedanta and Allen Ginsberg was the first of its kind that I ever attended. Upon entering the Hitchcock Hall auditorium I was shocked at the whole audience standing and chanting Hare Krishna. This chant continued for fifteen minutes with every person, including myself, participating. By participating I soon forgot all my conscious worries and thoughts. It was as though my mind was free to roam as it pleased. No one special idea or thought stayed with me for more than several minutes. I was completely caught in the rhythm of the chant and enjoyed every minute of it, as did the entire audience.
“The stage in the auditorium was jammed with people captured by the powers of the Hare Krishna chant. Men and women alike were swaying back and forth and dancing wildly across the entire stage. In the audience the scene was practically the same. Every living soul was clapping his hands, stamping his feet and chanting Hare Krishna to the beat of the cymbals and drums on the stage. The audience seemed to forget about its problems, classes, and everything else while this chanting was in progress. Allen Ginsberg and Swami Bhaktivedanta kept the whole group of lively people enjoying the whole evening.”
“Monday evening May 12 was an evening that I will remember for a very long time. The Ohio State Yoga Society produced an event by which people could release themselves from the problems of the world and participate in a new light. Swami Bhaktivedanta was very impressive and preached a self-releasing speech. The audience reacted to his speech in many ways. I saw some people laugh, some meditating deeply, and even some in a trance-like expression.
“The chant was about enjoyment in the fullest sense and was directed to the Supreme God. I also detected restlessness for peace, and a sense of love for all. The audience was quick in response to the Swami’s encouragement to join in. People were practically hypnotized, ‘leaping out of their skins’ as Mr. Ginsberg stated. In addition, the audience showed enjoyment, and there was a feeling of a released pressure. The chanting was in a tempo that was very distinct and gave the impression of power, and at the same time released worries by giving supreme enjoyment. Hence, I feel that the Yoga Society was a huge success in its attempt to try out a belief that is new in Columbus.”
“The audience rose to their feet and began chanting and clapping. The entire audience seemed to be awed and enchanted by the chanting. I felt a sense of tranquility and friendliness between everyone present. I was amazed the way everyone joined in and chanted without hesitation. Allen Ginsberg and Swami Bhaktivedanta were greatly respected by the audience, as shown by the silence when the Swami spoke and by the responsive chanting of the masses. Although it was hard to understand the Swami, he was graciously received when he spoke.”
“For many the evening was a totally new experience, for others a link in the chain leading to the realization of where to fit in the puzzle of life. We are obligated to Allen Ginsberg and Swami Bhaktivedanta for revealing a new course for students to follow.”