Bhaktivedanta Ashram – New York

August 20th, 2001

Bhaktivedanta Ashram – New York City

People Profiles I
My best friend from high school, Jan, visited again today. He’s a lawyer on Broadway, so he works nearby. He likes the ashram, and now even visits when I’m not here.

Jan’s a gentle and pious soul, not the usual city folk filled with an indomitable passion to get ahead. Fighting just seems against his nature, so being a New York City lawyer is especially a lot of tension for him. He works honestly, however, to support his wife and two children.

Jan has been a Buddhist for more than twenty years now, but he hasn’t forgotten the powerful experiences of Krishna consciousness in his life, mostly from the times when we used to visit the Henry Street temple in Brooklyn in 1970?a center hopping and buzzing with the fervent enthusiasm of a burgeoning spiritual and social phenomenon, the Hare Krishna Movement. These
remembrances, however, also give him pain. Twenty-five years as a practicing Buddhist and he can’t forget the overwhelming religious experience he had as a
devotee?the ecstasy that flooded his heart, the indelible attraction for bhakti that still remains, and the attraction and devotion for Krishna again awakening within heart with his regular visits to the ashram. His anguish lies over whether the tenets of Buddhism based on non-attachment to thinking are reconcilable with his positive innate attraction for thoughts of Krishna. Ultimately, he decided that Krishna consciousness was an experience that couldn’t and shouldn’t be denied, and that there was no reason that his strain of Zen Buddhism couldn’t accommodate it. I had no argument with that.

At first, however, we would argue. He’s a harmonist by nature, abhorring conflict, so he was disturbed by our discussions because they seemed to put us at odds. I wasn’t trying to be confrontational, but how can intimate friends meet after twenty years and not share their cherished values and conceptions, even when,
from my standpoint, they are in such opposition? After several unpleasant meetings we finally agreed to avoid the strong issues of contention and center our meetings on prasadam. We strongly agreed that the prasadam expertly prepared by Yajna Purusa is always excellent.

Jan often speaks of his overpowering experience of rapture during his first darshan of the Sri Sri Radha-Govinda Deities in New York, an experience that has endured twenty-five years of countless hours and instructions of Zen Meditation. From his portrayal, it fits the descriptions of bhava-bhakti in the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu?the devotional ecstasy that overcomes even a neophyte when he approaches the Deity without offense.

I’ve also had similar experiences of rapture in approaching Krishna consciousness in innocence. I assumed that everyone who came Krishna consciousness had similar encounters. Sometimes, I’ve wondered if devotees today actually have the same experiences, or if there was something very special when Srila Prabhupada was directly at the helm of the Hare Krishna Movement that made such experiences accessible. And ultimately, I believe they do. Otherwise, how have they endured throughout all that’s happened over the last several years?

My talk today with Jan centered on Harikesa, who was also a close friend of his. Following Harikesa’s breakdown he again contacted Jan and they’ve had regular contact since. Meeting two friends after almost thirty years, who both became devotees but whose destiny on the devotional path wound up so variant, intrigues Jan. I listened intently as Jan described his recent two-week visit to Harikesa’s place in France. I was happy that Harikesa seemed less angry and distraught and that he was still a Vaishnava, although his conceptions of Krishna
consciousness are still quite a departure from our tradition. He did tell Jan an interesting story about Srila Prabhupada.

“Harikesa was sitting next to Srila Prabhupada on the airline when a movie about Ravi Shankar began to play. Harikesa was very strict in his Krishna consciousness, but the most difficult thing for him was to give up his guitar and music. He thus began to listen with almost vicarious relief as Ravi Shankar was playing incredible riffs on the sitar, but at the same time feeling the pressure of sitting next to Srila Prabhupada. The thought weighed heavily on his ability to enjoy the music. He closed his eyes and began to relish, hoping against hope that it would be sanctioned. Suddenly he heard the pin of Srila Prabhupada whisper apparently burst the balloon of his attachment. ‘It’s maya!’ Submissively, but disappointedly, Harikesa nodded. Just as he was about to sink to the floor, Srila Prabhupada whispered again, ‘[but it’s] good maya!'”

Five o’clock. Jan has to pick up his daughter at summer camp before returning home. He excuses himself, respectfully pays obeisances to Gaura-Nitai, leaves a
donation, and thanks the devotees. Nice to see an Old friend.

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