Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #21 – Accosted By a Drunk

May 21st, 2018

Don’t worry, nothing serious happened. It is a good story, however.


I was staying on 7th Street just off 1st Avenue. I left my apartment at 3:30 AM and turned onto 1st Avenue for the short five-minute walk to the Bhakti Center. I usually chant japa before the morning ārati, but this was the first time I walked there from outside the center. I was actually surprised to see so many people still mulling around. I guess am a bit naïve. Of course, they are out so late. It was early Saturday morning. Young singles work all week at stressful jobs, and starting Friday night it’s prime time to drown their pain into the wee hours of the morning. Mostly there were mixed groups hanging outside the bars, usually with at least one in every group nervously smoking a cigarette to hide their inhibitions.


As I walked past 4th Street I noticed the  “Karma” bar. Yes, that’s the name. An Indian lady and her sons own it. At least in the midst of all this ignorance someone has the sense to hang a purport to this madness. Amused, I looked across the street trying to locate the Nam Café. I can’t find it. Maybe it has been closed. Oh, the Nam Café.  I surmise that some Vietnamese immigrant opened a café with their country’s namesake and that by Krishna’s mercy the “Viet” fell off of their sign leaving us just the “Nam”, [1] as if to give those here in their stupor a hint at salvation.


Monday Morning Greetings is based on seeing the world through the eyes of śāstra. As a devotee of Krishna, I am trained to see things not just through the mind, which categorizes and ascribes feelings according to our past prejudicial experiences, but to see the world aided by thoughtful judgments based on śāstra, a vision I believe more lucid and healthy than just seeing only with the eyes and impure mind.


As I was just awakening to take avail of these hours that infuse clarity and contentment into the consciousness, the people around me, drowned in ignorance, are soon to slumber. I thus thought of the “eyes of the Gītā”, which had also become my vision:


“What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.” (Bg. 2.69)


The Bhakti Center at last! Just as I was about to try to open the door, which was, in fact, still locked, a drunk appeared out of nowhere, like “poof”.  I hadn’t noticed him at all, but even if the door was unlocked, I still couldn’t have opened it from where he was standing without moving him aside. With glassy angst eyes, his drunken head tilted to the side a few inches from my face, as if sizing me up, he asked about my religion. The drunk was about thirty, swarthy complexion, bi-racial, with semi-braided long hair, and a kind of Fu Manchu facial hair. I think of a young Carlos Santana. I did, however, see a spark of sincerity in him. I answered clearly and lucidly with a universal answer that I was confident was communicative, satisfying and stimulating. I guess not. “You’re f’ing with me!” Not what I wanted to hear.


I had no choice but to try to engage in dialogue with this madman, a post-modern drunk, who I could see, even if sober, would not agree with my more traditional perspective. I tried to find a common ground despite his clouded mind and muddled view in order to reason with him, but he remained belligerent, projecting that I was rude and condescending even on my most accommodating replies. He took exception to my name—“Mahārāja”. “Why did you change it? What’s your real name? You’re Jewish aren’t you?” What? The situation remained volatile.


I had already been up for a few hours writing and reading and I was quite peaceful. I felt no enmity or anger towards him for troubling me. I had this confidence that if I could remain peaceful, it should influence him to be at least non-violent. I thought of my study of the Yoga Sutras where the mystic perfection of ahiṁsā is discussed. One fully accomplished in ahiṁsā projects an aura of peace so powerful that in such a person’s presence even the most mortal enemies, the mongoose and the cobra, would not war. I certainly haven’t perfected that, but I was convinced that by remaining focused and calm, his frustration wouldn’t boil over. I wasn’t really sure how this would end, but I did know soon someone from the harināma ashrama would arrive, as they do very every morning at that time.


Suddenly Bhakta Amrit Singh opened the door and apologized that it was locked. “Come in! Come in!” My drunken “friend” looked at him and demanded three more minutes. I tell Amrit it is OK. The drunk makes one more incoherent request. I then tell him it’s time for me to go. He turned, almost sheepishly, and headed towards 2nd Street.


Amrit is from a kṣatriya family, all of whom served the Indian military. I have noticed that he holds himself with a certain dignity and discipline. I thus meditated on another bhāva or internal mood, that of the noble warrior. I couldn’t help but think that by the way the drunk quickly walked away that he intuitively felt some of that bhāva from Amrit, which is probably a more effective way of dealing with these modern day Jagāi and Mādhāis[2] than my attempt at ahiṁsā.


As I finally entered the oasis of the Bhakti Center, I reflected on the faith that I have been gifted, one that gives happiness by changing the consciousness. I contrasted that faith with the conviction I saw outside, an illusory happiness based on fleeting pleasure ending in sadness and ultimately inebriation just to dull the consequent pain. I remember a saying I read that describes it all:


“Pleasure is the happiness of madman, and happiness is the pleasure of a sage.”[3]



[1] “Nam” is short for “nāma”, which means the holy name of Krishna.

[2] The infamous drunken and vicious brothers that tried to kill Lord Nityānanda but were ultimately delivered by him.

[3] A quote referenced in a book called Happiness by Matthieu Ricard. I don’t know offhand the origin of the quote he referenced.



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