Beatle John Lennon With Montreal Devotees
by Bibhavati Dasi
As devotees of Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we are not supporters of the cult of Beatle worship. So when John Lennon and his wife Yoko and their small daughter Kyoto came to Montreal, we were in the position of being able to relate to him with all the real respects due another human being rather than a demigod. It was a very auspicious occasion for me, because it confirmed that the living entity can never be satisfied by material wealth, fame and power. If he is sufficiently intelligent he will always be searching for something more. I rejoiced to think that the object of our attention is Krishna the All-famous, and not some other human being exhibiting some partial qualities of fame, wealth and power.
It is one of the manifestations of this upside down, twisted state of affairs in Kali Yuga, the Age of Quarrel, that corporate beings are made into gods by the unscrupulous priests of the mass media. Few people, if offered a ticket on the roller-coaster ride to fame, riches and power are able to refuse. Neither could John Lennon, at first. But so temporary are the satisfactions obtained by material pleasures that the living entity quickly becomes disillusioned—if he is intelligent. The happiness to be obtained by “making it” and finding all worldly success has been seen by John Lennon for exactly what it is, transitory and unreal. By Krishna’s mercy he has been showered profusely with all the better fruits of karmic action, and thus has come quickly to realize this. For most people it takes a little longer.
This is how he talked about it last week from his hotel room in Montreal, in conversation with the writer and her husband Ishan: “…and I found out what being famous was like. It’s a drag responsibility. So then I spent a long time looking; meditation in India and all that. It was all okay, you know, but it wasn’t the answer. And then I met Yoko, and we worked our sort of thing out between us, fell in love and that. And then we asked, ‘What do we went out of life?’ And we want Krishna Consciousness. We want peace. The same peace formula that your spiritual master tells about, and the other kind too, that the housewives understand.”
I wished that all the millions of struggling karmis, working so hard to clutch success, could be with us at that moment to hear how it feels to be a demigod: ‘We’re very narrow, very shy and very straight and ordinary, but we’re in an abnormal situation and we use it to the best of our ability.”
John was very interested in New Vrindaban, especially the school system planned for it. He asked us when such a community would be set up in England. “I mean I don’t want to leave any of me kids or me friends’ kids in the hands of the devil. I’m not sure about sending them away at the age of five, but if I do send them away I want it to be to a place where they’ll be turned on. We have a nice cottage at the back of our property that would be perfect for a school if you’d like to use it.”
The hotel room filled up with crude vibrations as the reporters and guests circled the large bed on which John and his wife were reclining. As cigarette smoke and liquor fumes became thicker, sometimes feelings became dark. But John and Yoko did not seem to mind the surroundings. Perhaps they viewed it as a kind of austerity necessary to get full coverage from the news media, which they are attempting to exploit for their goal of spreading peace.
The devotees, however, found the atmosphere less tolerable and chanted constantly when not having Kirtan. On the last day of our visit the hotel threatened to have John Lennon thrown out if the mridungas (our drums) did not stop playing.
Hansadutta spoke to John Lennon on several occasions, praising the sublime Lord Chaitanya, telling of Prabhupad, always stressing the purity of the Vedic injunctions and the necessity of adhering to the instructions of a spiritual master in the line of disciplic succession. But John was not always able to accept everything, and arguments broke out over small things—like shaved heads. Nevertheless, I feel certain that John Lennon truly respects the basic principles of ISKCON. Here is a part of my conversation with him:
Writer: Don’t you find yourself picking up the vibrations from the uptight people who come in here?
John: We’re stronger than they are and we’re protected.
Writer: Where do you get your strength?
John: From Hare Krishna.
Writer: Hari Bol!
Yoko: That’s where we get it from, you know. We’re not denying it.
John: We don’t mind arguing with a few disciples. But Hare Krishna’s where it’s at. And whether we get round to chanting, only time will tell. It’s not where we’re at right now, but we fully believe in it. You see we’re protected by Krishna.
All glories to Sri Krishna, the All-Famous!
This is an article printed in Hamburg’s “Welt am Sontag” on May 11, 1969, about our center there:
He calls himself “Jaya Govinda,” he looks like a tibetan monk, speaks the American idiom of the West Coast and works as a gardener in the Botanical Gardens of Hamburg. He is the president of the first Krishna Society on the European Continent, which will hold this Sunday at 5:00 a feast of Indian food and lectures in its temple, on Eppendorfer WEG 11.
Three Americans and one German from Augsburg, who lived in America for 15 years, have come to Europe to spread the teachings of Krishna. This is said to be the oldest Indian method for spiritual realization. In America there are more than a thousand adherents, Allen Ginsberg and Beatles George Harrison and John Lennon have interest in Krishna Consciousness.
Victory for Krishna (which is what Jaya Govinda means), Servant of Krishna (Krishna Das) and Best Prayers for Krishna (Uttama Sloka) are the names of these young people, with ages ranging from 19 to 25 years, who, on Mockeberg Street, held an open meditation hour and distributed leaflets. In the leaflet it was announced that one may visit the temple Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. It said, “We serve a specially cooked Indian feast.”
What will await the visitor? From the outside the temple gives the effect of a hippie locale. The big window pane is painted deep blue. Just after you enter, a bearded young man requests you to take off your shoes. I sat next to a young couple who were likewise barefooted, sitting against the wall. The room is painted white, with wall-tapestries, and there is an altar. The meditators, close to half a dozen, are sitting on the floor, with crossed legs, singing: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
This verse—an Indian mantra, as a young man later clarified—is always practiced in the temple: it is painted on the walls, spoken and sung. A drum played by a young man with a shaved head gives the rhythm, a continuous monotone is coming from a harmonium, and two cymbals clang. After half an hour, refreshments are served—pieces of apples. And now, one may ask questions.
They call themselves “devotees.” Their regulations: no cigarettes and no alcohol. The four did not give their names of birth. A venerable Guru in the U.S., A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, is their teacher. In the U.S. there are quite a number of temples established, and in furthering this work, these young men have come to Europe. Is Hamburg a good missionary area? May I know? Uttama Sloka, the 22-year-old German, answered: “We are interested in the young people. Even rockers.” [Rockers are the Hells Angels of Europe.]
And how do the four missionaries live? “We do not need much,” answered Krishna Das, a thin 19-year-old from San Francisco, and apart from Uttama Sloka the only devotee who can speak German. “The gardener is working mostly for the rent and maintenance. I myself am an apprentice to a Hamburg goldsmith. Yet he does not know that he has a devotee as an apprentice.”
Columbus, Ohio, ISKCON, 318 E. 20th Ave: Prabhupad A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami arrived Friday, and our Kirtan at the Columbus airport attracted attention in local papers (“Undoubtedly the most exotic procession ever to grace the airport portals”—Citizen Journal). Guests crowded the new Hare Krishna center to hear a talk delivered as soon as Prabhupad arrived. Kirtans have been lively. Poet Allen Ginsberg arrived and spent the night and next day at the temple conversing with Prabhupad and chanting. He was especially impressed with the Aratrik ceremony, especially the music, which was “the most beautiful I’ve heard in years.”
Several days later Prabhupad and Ginsberg filled a campus auditorium (which seated 750) to twice the capacity. Students flooded the stage and aisles, and when we started chanting they immediately responded. Within five minutes the chant was out of our control. Over 1500 students were roaring Hare Krishna, standing in their seats, waving their arms, dancing in the aisles and on stage. Ginsberg, sweat pouring down his face, chanted and danced ecstatically. When his garland broke in the melee, we seized the flowers and started throwing them to the students who clambered for them. Then Prabhupad stood on his dais and all the students rose to their feet. He gave his garland to Kirtanananda and indicated that we were to throw the flowers to the audience. The students grabbed them, then joined arms to dance. Prabhupad began jumping up and down and the dais bounced.
All this went on for thirty minutes. Then Ginaberg gave a talk to introduce Prabhupad, and then Prabhupad talked. The students were attentive, though hot and exhausted from the chanting and dancing. Then, remarkably enough, we had a second Hare Krishna Kirtan which was as wild as the first. The sound rose to a grand cataclysmic roar and the stage thundered with dancing. NBC-TV shot film during the whole Kirtan. Some students wept with joy. Afterwards Ginsberg said that he had never before seen so many students “burst out their skins” and chant and dance so vigorously and responsively. Hayagriva was reminded of a Kirtan at Stanford U. in Palo Alto in ’67, at which the students similarly flipped out to the mantra, though the crowd was much smaller. Our only regret was that we did not get a larger hall to accommodate the crowds that were standing outside. We approximated over 1500 managed to cram into the auditorium. The following day all the students were talking about it. It seems that Ohio State had never before so completely broken out of its robotic regimen.
A Letter From A New Vrindaban Devotee:
We had great agricultural dreams up until Prabhupad arrived, but he is not very much interested in agriculture now. We had cleared four acres for plowing, but now we will have only a small garden. Prabhupad said we should devote our time to two things, the cows and the building of living quarters. We have one cow at present but there are three more coming this month. There is constant work going on to clear pastureland.
Prabhupad said, “When you get married you say ‘This is my wife.’ What is the philosophy behind this? It is that in exchange for her service I must give her protection. In the same way a cow gives milk so you give her protection. This is cow protection. This is my cow, I must give her protection.” So Prabhupad wants us to keep four or five cows and chant Hare Krishna. He says if you have one or two bowls of milk and some grains daily, you can never starve.
So once we can keep some cows nicely, when and if we get more help we can have agriculture on a larger scale and build a new temple. Right now there is a big house which contains a temple and living quarters for Prabhupad. I have fixed up the chicken-coop nicely for Satyabhama and myself, the pig pen has been remodeled for four or five brahmacharis. The top of the barn has been partially remodeled for brahmacharis and will be further remodeled. The frame of what used to be a corn-crib is still standing, and will be made into a two-story brahmachary dwelling. The lumber for the barn and corn-crib projects has been obtained from a house we tore down in Wheeling. We rented a truck yesterday, and brought the wood as close as we could, now we must build a two-wheel horsecart to carry it the final two miles up our road. Kirtanananda Maharaj purchased the wheels and frame at an auction last week, and Nara Narayan Prabhu began building the cart today. Prabhupad requested that we fix up the road also.
I don’t think we appear to be as busy as we actually are. You probably think we go slam, bang, boom and have a house put up. Well it’s not like that at all. New Vrindaban is indeed developing into a community, but slowly by city standards. Prabhupad wants us to be independent—that is, not dependent on the outside. He wants us to cut our own lumber and make our own bricks, etc.
I must go and work on the barnyard fence now. Don’t forget that with Prabhupad here new and unexpected projects may begin anytime. The situation is always changing.