Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Travel Journal#9.19: New York City Harinamas

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 9, No. 19
By Krishna-kripa das
(October 2013, part one
New York City
(Sent from New York City on October 22, 2013)

Where I Went and What I Did

Niranjana Swami encouraged me to support Rama Raya Prabhu’s program of chanting for hours each day in New York’s Union Square, and so I decided to do it for two months this year, October and November. Devotees chant on the southwest corner of Union Square, right in front of the subway entrance, from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. every day, except Saturday when they try to begin at 10 a.m. and continue to 10 p.m.! On weekend evenings sometimes we would also have a walking chanting party in Times Square beginning at 8:30 p.m. Once we visited Tompkins Square Park. Also during the beginning of October, Karen, my sister, visited New York City for four days for a seminar, and I arranged she have three Krishna prasadam lunches.

The insights section includes quotes from my reading of Srila Prabhupada’s books and hearing his lectures, from reading Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami’s blog, and from hearing a recorded lecture by Niranjana Swami.

Harinama in Union Square

When I joined Rama Raya Prabhu’s harinama party in Union Square for a few days last April, the devotees would chant 4 hours a day and 6 hours on Saturday. Now they chant 6 hours a day and 12 hours on Saturday! That is an increase from 30 to 48 hours per week!

When we start at 2:00 p.m. we may have only 4 or 5 people chanting, playing the instruments, or dancing, but by 6:00 p.m. or so, we often have 20. 

On three occasions over the last two weeks I counted over 27 people altogether.

Sometimes we attracted quite a crowd.

Perhaps 6 or 7 people in our group do not do any other Hare Krishna practice. They are local people who have just become attached to regularly taking part in the sankirtana in Union Square by playing instruments, clapping, dancing, and/or sometimes chanting.

Sally, the eldest of the regularly attending locals, is 78 years old and still works as a clinical psychologist.

She comes out almost every day and sits in a chair the party has provided for her.

She chants for an hour or so, puts a donation in our box, and goes on her way. I met her in November 2012 when I spent several days on the party. One of those days she spontaneously exclaimed, “This is the best thing that has happened in Union Square since I moved here over 40 years ago!” During my visit this time she surprised me by coming out twice in the same day. I asked her about it, and she said she likes to come because the chanting has a good effect on her mind. She explained that it has the unusual ability to make you feel both relaxed and energized at the same time. She said when she comes to Union Square to chant with us, if she had problems on her mind, when she leaves, she cannot remember what the problems were. She was thankful about that.

Our chanting party sets up in Union Square directly across East 14th Street from a shop with a sign “FOREVER 21.”

The shop reminded me of a selection from Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is, verse 4.6, purport, where he describes the transcendental nature of Lord Krishna’s body:
And although His body does not deteriorate like a material body, it still appears that Lord Krishna grows from childhood to boyhood and from boyhood to youth. But astonishingly enough He never ages beyond youth. At the time of the Battle of Kurukṣetra, He had many grandchildren at home; or, in other words, He had sufficiently aged by material calculations. Still He looked just like a young man twenty or twenty-five years old. We never see a picture of Krishna in old age because He never grows old like us, although He is the oldest person in the whole creation — past, present, and future.”
In the spiritual world, which anyone can attain by pure chanting of the holy name of the Lord, all the residents have transcendental bodies like Krishna’s which are not subjected to aging, and it was wonderful to be reminded of that truth by seeing the shop sign.

I was discussing about “Forever 21” with our party leader Rama Raya Prabhu, in the presence of my sister, Karen, who was visiting. Having come on one harinama with me briefly in London in May during a stopover on her flight to South Africa, Karen pointed out that the Hare Krishnas also chant outside young adult clothing shops in the UK, a humorous similarity that I would have never noticed!

Our chanting set up includes an altar facing the singers for inspiration.

We have no dress code. Some devotees dress in dhotis and saris. Some were casual clothes. Some coming from or going to work, wear more formal Western clothes.

We bring lots of extra instruments for both the devotees and the onlookers to play.

Children especially like to play instruments.

Sometimes the parents get into it too.

Also the children would sometimes dance.

And adults would clap.

Guys often like to play the djembe, the one-headed African drum.

One guy plays that drum, while his daughter plays the shakers.

Some people bring their own instruments.
One man likes to drum with drum sticks on an inverted bucket.

Some people both play the instruments and dance.

One guy enjoyed dancing with us.

And then sat down to chant with us.

Srila Prabhupada’s books can attract even kids.

Often Lila Padma dd would make great cookies which Candra Mohini dd would distribute.

Sometimes locals would sweep before the party.

One danced and swept at the same time!

A local artist occasionally comes by
and makes a drawing of our party.

One evening on the Union Square harinama I had a wonderful experience. One couple stood watching us for over an hour, smiling, singing, clapping, dancing, and ultimately playing the shakers. The lady came up to me and asked if I was in Rishikesh in March of 2012. I had been there assisting Navina Nirada Prabhu with “The Bhakti Experience,” a two-week program of gathering each noon with lots of chanting, a little talk about bhakti (the yoga of devotion), and spiritualized vegetarian food. She said that time in Rishikesh was the second time she met the Hare Krishnas, but the nearly two hours of chanting made it especially profound. She showed me the chanting beads she bought from us then and said she chants on them every day. She has been to our temple in her home country of Kazakhstan and has met B. B. Govinda Swami, our leader there. She told me she has a 15-year-old son and wanted to know of an ashram in the west where he could spend the summer doing harinama every day. I told her about Rama Raya Prabhu and the program in New York City, and I will tell her about the programs with regular harinamas in Soho, Bhaktivedanta Manor, and Ann Arbor, as well.

The next day she came back to Union Square to talk with Rama Raya and stayed to chant for a few minutes before her flight home, playing the personal set of karatalas she was traveling with. We always wonder about the effect of our outreach programs, especially when we and those attending them are from different countries and may never meet again, and so it was very inspiring for me to hear her story.

Another day at Union Square, an older man who was photographing the harinama party told me that he used to sing with the Hare Krishnas and the Swami in Tompkins Square Park. He said later he did a photo article on Prabhupada’s Palace for Life magazine.

Sara was wandering around New York City in a depressed state of mind, until she encountered the Harinama NYC chanting party in Union Square, and then her fortune changed. She was amazed to see so many happy people. She listened for several minutes, got a pamphlet “On Chanting Hare Krishna,” talked for quite a while with Rama Raya Prabhu and a another devotee, who liberally gave her a Gita although she did not have the money. She was very grateful.

She told me her birthday was coming up on Wednesday, and she did not have any friends in New York City to celebrate it with. I invited her to celebrate it with us as we would be singing here at Union Square from 2 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, and I said I would try to bring her a special sweet. She liked the idea and said she would come. Satya dd, wife of Ramabhadra Prabhu, temple president in Brooklyn, kindly donated a Hare Krishna T-shirt and a couple cupcakes as a gift, and I obtained some Radha-Govinda maha-sweets, but unfortunately Sara did not remember her plan to return to see the devotees at Union Square on her birthday. We keep the T-shirt with us, for her next appearance.

Michael Collins from Gainesville is one of my favorite singers.

He played in a band and is really talented, and he just puts a lot of energy into the kirtana. He chooses lively tunes that are easy to sing, and the passersby are often attracted as you can see in these video clips (http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGerEnGdI0xLr23RqjCzrPXxcGe18SbR8):

A couple groups of friends all decided to dance with us, and Candra Mohini dd was their leader with Phalguni Radhika dd helping out later. You can see how happy they were.

Here is some video of it (http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGerEnGdI0xKmoh9hN8UzWNXBHmFnkT97):

Did you ever see a man with angel wings

dancing on harinama?

How about a guy in purple underwear?

What about a girl playing kalatalas

and eating an ice cream cone?

How about seeing all this in the same day?

That is Union Square!

When Rama Raya Prabhu was leading the chanting, the man with angel wings danced with the guy in purple underwear as you can see in this video (http://youtu.be/6vcoVRR2ltM):

One day when I was singing, Candra Mohini dd invited two girls to sit on the blanket next to her. She taught them to chant which they did for twenty minutes, and then they began to dance. After I finished I thanked them for dancing, and asked them about their experience with Hare Krishna. They said they had seen the chanting in Union Square many times but had never stopped before. That was the first time. They mentioned they were now thinking of going to the Sunday program at the Bhakti Center. They asked if there was early morning chanting in the park. I told them the Bhakti Center does chanting indoors at 6:30 a.m. The only outdoor morning chanting I know of is in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, near the pier at 7:00 a.m. on Sundays. They seemed very happy that they stopped and chanted and danced with the Hare Krishnas and got pamphlets and invitations, and I hope they come by again.

Two girls who are in a masters program in media studies had to record sound for a course project. One of the girls was born in Kolkata and attended our largest temple in Delhi, while getting her undergraduate degree there. As she regularly passed by the Union Square harinama, her school being nearby, there was no doubt about what sound she was going to record for her course! In addition to recording ten minutes of chanting with professional equipment, she and her American-looking friend got prasadam cookies, and her friend got the pamphlet “On Chanting Hare Krishna.”

Dustin, a new devotee from Canada, who comes twice a year to New York City to work with the Metropolitan Opera, joined us one day on the Union Square harinama. Although Dustin prefers to listen, considering kirtana to be another style of singing than his own, Rama Raya appreciating his booming, resonant voice, engaged him in leading a Hare Krishna tune, which turned out to be my favorite and I had a great time dancing to it. Many people were attracted to listen to his nice singing.

One girl in purple tights who came by, showing a little interest, explained that her dog was named Krishna.

One morning in our Brooklyn temple, I was surprised to encounter Citraratha dd, a Prabhupada disciple from Geneva, who I had once chanted Hare Krishna with on the Paris metro a few years ago. She is vacationing in New York City, desiring more association with Hare Krishna devotees than she gets in Geneva, where we do not have a temple. I told her about the Union Square harinama party, and she came out that very day. She sang the response and talked to people who appreciated the chanting. One lady she spoke with came from a Muslin background and then married a Christian man. As as result, neither had a spiritual practice for many years, and now they are on a spiritual search. Citraratha, after talking with the lady for several minutes, invited her to a Hare Krishna program in the local area and is hopeful that they will come.

Amazing enough, in the first half of October, we had only one rainy day. Then we chanted in a crowded, but very loud area of the Union Square subway station, just above the downtown 4, 5, and 6 trains.

I share below some more video clips showing the chanting and dancing at Union Square (http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGerEnGdI0xJ4mQKXgH5CZY9jA1DK69JU):

To see the rest of the pictures I took, but which I did not use to illustrate this journal, most of which are of harinama at Union Square, go to this link:

Times Square is so crowded in the evenings it is a great place to share the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra with people. Sunanda Prabhu, and his party from our Krishna Balarama temple in Queens, would join devotees from the Union Square harinama party, and chant from 8:30 p.m. onward.

Sometimes we would chant on the subway to Times Square.

Once Yadubara Prabhu, who produced the Following Prabhupada DVD series, as well as many other video and photographic Hare Krishna projects, came and sang with us at Times Square.

Some young people very much enjoyed clapping, dancing, and playing instruments with us.

Here is a short video clip of it (http://youtu.be/8g1MpbeS7k8):

Once in Times Square, one man exclaimed as the harinama party passed, “I thought they were extinct!”

Tompkins Square Park

Deva Madhava Prabhu, who comes from Michigan one week a month to chant in Union Square, describes an amazing experience he had at Tompkins Square Park, also in New York City, where Srila Prabhupada began outdoor chanting with his disciples back in 1966:

These children are standing around ‘the Hare Krishna Tree’ in Tompkins Square Park in New York City, famous as the place Swami Prabhupada began singing Hare Krishna. Their teacher Deborah asked me, ‘Is their a spirit in this tree?’ While I assured her all tree’s have souls, I did let her known about the saint who had began his teachings their over 40 years before. Deborah has for the last 11 years been bringing her classes to the tree to sing ‘The Tree Song.’ They sing to the tree, hug the tree, draw the tree and even kiss the tree. October 9 is the anniversary of Swami Prabhupada’s first time chanting under the great elm. I could feel him there last Friday when I asked the teacher if the children would like to learn the song the saint sang under the same tree years ago, and as they chanted Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare I remembered a miracle is not seeing that God has done one thing, but realizing that He does everything.”

On October 9, after finishing our chanting at Union Square, the harinama team came to celebrate the 47th anniversary of Srila Prabhupada and his followers first chanting in that park back on that day in 1966. Some of the devotees chanted in a procession there from Union Square.

We chanted as we circumambulated the park’s famous Hare Krishna tree, and then sat down and talked about spreading the chanting of the holy name and Srila Prabhupada’s mission.

My Sister Karen’s Prasadam Lunches

Karen, my sister, is a licensed mental health counselor living in Albany, and occasionally comes to New York City, as she did the second weekend in October, for a four-day seminar on counseling techniques for people working with refugees. The person giving the seminar was from India and incorporated ideas from different traditions in his course, including Ayur Veda and the conception of the subtle body.

Friday I met Karen and brought her salad, bread, koftas, and eggplant parmesan from Govinda’s Vegetarian Lunch, the restaurant run by Satya dd in the Radha Govinda temple in Brooklyn.

Saturday I saved some subji, rice, and dal from the temple breakfast for her lunch and she met me at the kirtana party at Union Square.

Sunday we went to the Doughnut Plant, a doughnut shop in Manhattan owned by Mark, a Hare Krishna devotee. Karen bought me a peanut butter and banana cream-filled doughnut as a belated birthday present and had a chocolate cake doughnut for herself. I also gave her some cheese cake that Satya dd gave me and a piece of pera and a tulasi leaf from Radha Govinda. All and all Karen did well taking lots of Krishna prasadam during her trip to New York!

Over meals, when discussing conflicts between those of different faiths, I happened to mention about the three levels of devotees mentioned in our Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition and their different qualities. The neophytes are those who recognize God and the saints only within their tradition but not beyond. The second level can identify God, the saints, the innocent, and the those averse to God by their qualities in whatever tradition or in whatever place they appear. People on this level serve the Lord with love, make friends with those devoted to Him, enlighten those open to spirituality, and avoid those antagonistic to spiritual life. Those on highest level see God in everything and in everyone, and so are very kind to every living being. My sister commented that it seemed practical that those on second level could make the distinctions needed to run the society so those on the highest level could be free to show kindness to everyone. That observation impressed me.

Living in New York City

I live in our Brooklyn temple where I have the incredibly good fortune of seeing Radha Govinda for mangala-arati every day, as well as honoring their maha-prasadam, and doing service for Their restaurant.

They were the first Radha Krishna deities I ever saw, and when I was a new devotee in Their temple on 55th Street, I would transfer Their mangala-arati sweets.

Although not a tourist, I saw the famed Statue of Liberty in the distance, both from the air while arriving in New York and from the subway daily enroute to Union Square from Brooklyn.


Srila Prabhupada:

from Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya 8.310, purport:

All Vedic literatures declare that transcendental subjects cannot be understood simply by argument or logic. Spiritual matters are far above experimental knowledge. Only by Krishna’s mercy can one who is interested in His transcendental loving affairs understand them. If one tries to understand these transcendental topics simply by using one’s material brain substance, the attempt will be futile. Whether one is a prakrita-sahajiya or a mundane opportunist or scholar, one’s labor to understand these topics by mundane means will ultimately be frustrated. One therefore has to give up all mundane attempts and try to become a pure devotee of Lord Vishnu. When a devotee follows the regulative principles, the truth of these talks will be revealed to him.”

from Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya 9.8, purport:

The holy names of Krishna and Hari, or the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, are so spiritually powerful that even today, as our preachers go to remote parts of the world, people immediately begin chanting Hare Krishna. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. There cannot be anyone who can compare to Him or His potencies. However, because we are following in His footsteps and are also chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, the effect is almost as potent as during the time of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Our preachers mainly belong to European and American countries, yet by the grace of Lord Caitanya they have tremendous success wherever they go to open branches. Indeed, everywhere people are very seriously chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

from a lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.14 on August 17, 1972, in Los Angeles:

Krishna consciousness is so nice even those who are incorrigible can be delivered. This is mentioned in Srimad-Bhagavatam [2.4.18]: Kirata hunandhra pulinda pulasa.

If you say why are you interested to save the human society—that is Krishna’s business. Krishna wants, God wants that all these living entities they should back home back to Godhead. Why are they suffering? Therefore Krishna comes personally. . . . He wants, “Come back home. Dance with Me. Eat with Me.” . . . Because we are Krishna conscious, we are servants of God, therefore, it is our duty to save this civilization.”

from Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.17.29, purport:

Those who are not narayana-para, pure devotees, must be disturbed by this duality of the material world, whereas devotees who are simply attached to the service of the Lord are not at all disturbed by it. For example, Haridasa Thakura was beaten with cane in twenty-two bazaars, but he was never disturbed; instead, he smilingly tolerated the beating. Despite the disturbing dualities of the material world, devotees are not disturbed at all. Because they fix their minds on the lotus feet of the Lord and concentrate on the holy name of the Lord, they do not feel the so-called pains and pleasures caused by the dualities of this material world.”

from Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.17.31, purport:

One who engages in unalloyed devotional service to Vasudeva, Krishna, automatically becomes aware of this material world, and therefore he is naturally detached. This detachment is possible because of his high standard of knowledge. The speculative philosopher tries to understand that this material world is false by cultivating knowledge, but this understanding is automatically manifested in the person of a devotee, without separate endeavor.”

Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami:

Sri Radha-rasa-suddha-nidhi (The Book of Radha) by Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja translated by Dasaratha Suta Prabhu

(257) A Prayer to Sri Govinda for Bestowing Maidservice to Sri Radha

O Sri Govinda!
That crown jewel among all Vraja
Her lotus feet’s sheer splendor and majesty
is supremely dear to You
even greater than millions upon millions of hearts
Please accept me in Her maidservice
full of the most unique fresh new
Again and again—every moment, O Lord of lords!
I beg this of You with all my heart and soul!”

(259) Krishna-bhajana as a Feature of Radha-dasya

Constantly meditating
on He who wears the peacock-feather crown
incessantly singing
nama-sankirtana [congregational chanting of His name]
worshipfully serving
His lotus feet
chanting quietly
His best of mantras . . .
holding in my heart only the supremely cherished
eternal service to the lotus feet of Sri Radha.
When, O when, by His grace
will I become a participant
in Their extremely astonishing festival of divine love?”

from “Poem for October 3 [2013]”in Viraha Bhavan:

Today’s drawing shows four bhaktas dancing and chanting
with upraised arms.
Where are they located?
Are they with Rama-raya’s 
harinama party in Union Square?
Are they at the campus of
the University of Florida in Gainesville?
Are they in some remote
countryside with no one in sight?
Use your imagination
and place them where you will.
It’s bound to be auspicious
wherever Hare Krishna is sung.”

[This poem was striking to me because I chanted at the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville in September, and I chanted with Rama-raya’s harinama party in Union Square in October, and my diksa-guru, Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, mentioned both places in this poem!]

Niranjana Swami:

Visvanatha Cakravati Thakura says that Krishna does not consider maintaining a devotee who is fully dependent on Him to be a burden just as a family man does not consider taking care of his family a burden or a man does not consider carrying his lover a burden.

In his copy of Bhagavad-gita, Arjunacarya changed the word vahami to the word karomi in verse 9.22, because he did not think that Krishna personally provides for His devotee.


krsir bhu-vacakah sabdo
naś ca nirvriti-vacakaḥ
tayor aikyaḿ paraḿ brahma
krishna ity abhidhiyate

The word krishis the attractive feature of the Lord’s existence, and ‘na means spiritual pleasure. When the verb ‘krish is added to the affix ‘na, it becomes ‘Krishna,’ which indicates the Absolute Truth.” (Mahabharata, Udyoga-parva 71.4, quoted in Śri Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya 9.30)