Saturday, November 09, 2013

Travel Journal#9.20: New York City Harinama Adventures

Diary of a Traveling Sadhaka, Vol. 9, No. 20
By Krishna-kripa das
(October 2013, part two
New York City Harinama Adventures
(Sent from New York City on November 9, 2013)

Where I Went and What I Did

I continued chanting on harinama six hours a day at Union Square in New York City with Rama Raya Prabhu’s party, and living in Radha Govinda Mandir in Brooklyn, cutting vegetables for their lunch program and Sunday feast. I also gave two evening lectures, one at Sunanda Prabhu’s Krishna Balarama temple Sunday program in Queens, and another at Atmanivedana Prabhu’s Saturday program at 26 Second Avenue.

I share insights from a Prabhupada lecture I heard, excerpts from Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami’s blog, mostly about the public chanting of the holy name, and notes I took on Yogesvara Prabhu’s (Joshua M. Greene’s) weekly Bhagavad-gita class at Jivamukti Yoga School in Manhattan. I also share a couple of interesting points from conversations.

Harinamas at Union Square

Lilah, a student at NYU, frequently walked past our chanting party at Union Square. Her mother remembered seeing the devotees chanting in the 1970s. Lilah decided to do a video story on the return of Hare Krishna chanting to the streets for a school project. Her friend Ronan was her cameraman. For hours she interviewed devotees involved in the harinama party and in the Brooklyn temple and produced this brief video (

Film majors taking video clips of our party is not uncommon,
 but for journalism students to do a whole little documentary is rare.
Thanks so much to Lilah and Ronan for their nice service.

Some days we had many chanters at Union Square.

Sometimes many people were in the audience.

Tarun Prabhu, a Prabhupada disciple,
sometimes plays trumpet.

Once a young man, strolling with his friends, took time out to play his trumpet with us.

Sometimes people danced with us.

Often their faces show their joy.

Here an older lady, dressed colorfully like a hippie, dances with Janette.

Janette was so enthusiastic she even danced with this old Chinese lady who was not really the dancing type.

Here a lady dances while kids play instruments.

Here a lady dances while a guy plays a instrument.

Chandra Mohini dd would invite people to sit and play with us,
like the guy above, and the two girls below.

Here a guy played his guitar.

Here a kids holds five shakers at once.

Here a young lady reads a Krishna pamphlet while two guys play the shakers.

Sometimes when you see something far out,
you think “Only New York!”

Some days people brought so much prasadam for the harinama devotees, we could even distribute some to onlookers as well.

On the subway back to Brooklyn, a young adult asked if I was with the Hare Krishna people singing in Union Square. I said yes and explained we chant there from 2 to 8 p.m. each day. We conversed, and I learned the person was called Dustin and had gotten Science of Self-Realization and read almost all of it. Dustin personally believed that there is one God with many names, and hearing that, I gestured with the “thumbs up” of approval. Dustin does practices he has found from different traditions. Because the Brooklyn temple is closest, I gave Dustin an invitation card for its Sunday and Wednesday programs with free vegetarian meals, and gave my business card as well, saying, “If you go, let me know how you like.” We parted wishing each other well.

It is awesome spending Karttika in New York City. You can sing “Damodarastakam” and offer lamps at Union Square at 7:00 p.m. (or 6:00 p.m., now that daylight saving time has ended), at the Krishna-Balarama temple in Queens at 8:00 p.m., at the Bhakti Center in Manhattan at 8:15 p.m., or at the Radha Govinda temple in Brooklyn at 8:30 p.m. So many choices!

At Union Square, not only did the devotees offer lamps to Damodara, but Rama Raya Prabhu decided to allow anyone to, and Janette enthusiastically would invite anyone who walked by. She was hard to refuse.

This new girl is offering a lamp to Damodara for the first time.

This boy, who was just passing by, offered a lamp to Damodara and then joined the kirtana party, playing the shakers and begging from me a card with the words to the Hare Krishna mantra on it.

This girl did not know it is not proper etiquette to use your lamp to light your cigarette before offering the lamp to Lord Damodara. Phalguni Radhika dd is both amused by her behavior and amazed at the extent of the mercy of the Lord. It reminded me of the people at the Polish Woodstock that hold their beer cars in one hand and pull Lord Jagannatha with the other.

After that girl offered the lamp to Damodara, she did a nice dance before the altar for a few seconds, but I was not fast enough to photograph it.

We would invite people to pray when they offered a lamp, and some took it very seriously.

Michael Collins continuing leading lively kirtanas that attracted a lot of attention.

Here one friendly young yoga lady does a dance by swirling multicolored flags in time with the music.

You can see her in action in this video (

You can see from this video, that attracted a lot of attention (

I have a couple additional videos of Michael Collins singing, one with several people playing instruments and a couple chanting and dancing (, and the other with some lively dancers (

On October 23, due to rain we chanted “Damodarastakam” in the subway station. Thanks to Zina for the photo.

It was a first for many of us. Unfortunately, due to regulations we could not offer the candles there, but Chandra Mohini dd and I did that later in Brooklyn.

On October 24, it was really cold, probably the low 50s F (11–13ยบ C). On the Union Square harinama, Sofia, a Russian-speaking young devotee lady who is a regular, was mentioning how cold it was. I smiled and said, “But you must be used to cold. Where exactly are you from?” To my great surprise. She replied, “Siberia!” Then she explained that she had become conditioned to the warmer temperatures of New York.

Despite the cold, I had so many wonderful experiences:

I do not recall seeing an entire family of five onlookers participate in a harinama by playing instruments and dancing. It was incredible (

Later we had six children from several different families playing instruments at once!

Apparently the cold temperatures did not dampen the public response to our chanting!

That day a French couple came up to me and asked if I was ever in Croatia. “Three times,” I replied, “2009, 2010, and 2011.” Then they asked if I was in Zadar in 2011, and it was true. I was there with the devotees who called their group, “Mediterranean Meets India"—two hours of harinama each morning and evening. I tell about it here:
It should be like this, wherever people go on vacation in the world they meet Hare Krishnas! Maybe they will even try chanting Hare Krishna some day!

Also the same day I met a 59-year old lady who remembered when we had a restaurant in the basement of our temple on 55th Street 33 years ago. She recalled liking the stuffed zucchini. I told her about our Radha Krishna Temple, and Govinda’s Vegetarian Lunch in Brooklyn.

One little girl tried playing almost every instrument we had.

A man who has sat behind our chanting party for hours over the last few days described our singing as beautiful and even fantastic. He told me also that he felt my dancing added something to the singing. Later I was distracted from the dancing, giving “On Chanting Hare Krishna” pamphlets to all those who offered lamps to our Damodara picture in Union Square. Seeing this, the man told me to dance more, which I did, until I got talking with those offering lamps. When he left, he said he would have stayed longer had I kept dancing. I think Krishna is teaching me through this that my service of dancing is more important than I generally think it is.

One day a girl enjoyed dancing to our chanting, and I offered her an “On Chanting Hare Krishna” pamphlet as she passed by and told her we sing from 2 to 8 p.m. each day, inviting her to come by when she was in a dancing mood. She said she was visiting from London, and I told her about our afternoon harinama there on Oxford Street, which leaves at 3:00 p.m. from in front of our restaurant at 10 Soho Street, which she copied the address of.

One day in Union Square, during the beginning of our chanting session when we had just five or six devotees participating, a young lady came by and asked if I knew where the “Hare Krishna” was. I had to restraint myself from laughing. We were singing Hare Krishna and had a sign with the Hare Krishna mantra written on it, and I was personally dressed in traditional Hare Krishna robes. I explained that we were the Hare Krishnas. Then she asked, “Where is everybody?” I explained that usually around 6:00 p.m. we have twenty people, but that we had just started and had only a few. Then she replied, “No, I mean where are all my friends?” Apparently her friends had all agreed to meet in Union Square at “the Hare Krishna,” and she did not have a clue about what the Hare Krishnas were! It was striking for me to learn from this that the Hare Krishnas are such a permanent fixture in Union Square that people plan to meet their friends at “the Hare Krishna.”

Another day a man who was watching our chanting at Union Square seemed so pleased I went to give him a pamphlet, but he said he already had one. In fact, he said he already had the Bhagavad-gita. He told me he just likes to stand and listen for awhile whenever he passes by. He said that now, in talking with his family and friends, he does not even call it Union Square anymore, but Hare Krishna Square instead!

One guy who lived in Dallas for part of his life, went to a festival there at which the devotees catered the vegan/vegatarian food. He played music with them and loved their food. Later he became a Christian, seeing that different prophecies in their scripture came to pass, but he had nice memories of being with the Hare Krishnas, and so he sat down in the middle of our chanting party and played the drum for half an hour.

One girl named Nicole from New Jersey, who works in Manhattan, was fascinated to see our chanting party. She knew of Hare Krishna because her father was a devotee and liked to watch Prabhupada videos, but she never saw the singing in public before. Her mom was a Catholic, but she felt closer to the Hindu views as she saw a broader description of the divinity—a God who could appear in many incarnations, and therefore, could appear to those in different traditions. Originally, being a skeptical New Yorker, she refused the cookie I offered her, but after our conversation she happily accepted it. She said she would tell her father about her encounter with us.

The two sisters playing the karatalas in these pictures are not the children of Hare Krishna devotees as I originally thought.

They have have just seen the devotees chant for almost two years in Union Square, and stopped by enough times to learn how to play the kalatalas and to do an impressive job of it.

One kid who played the shakers with us, was transporting a pumpkin in a stroller, a new sight for me.

As we were setting up our book display on Halloween, one young lady wearing a special robe for Halloween came up and noticing the Bhagavad-gita, asked its price. I said they were five dollars, and she immediately purchased one. I explain that we were setting up, and would be singing in a few minutes, continuing to 8:00 p.m., if she wanted to come back and hear. She made some comment like “if it is on my path,” and I just assumed we would never see her again. I was wrong. Later I saw her sitting in the center of our party and meditating on the sound of the kirtana, and afterward taking some prasadam.

Although Sad-hari Das has a turban like a Sikh, he has Vaishnava initiation from Bhakti Sundar Govinda Swami, successor of Srila Prabhupada’s godbrother, Sridhara Maharaja. He has many ISKCON devotee friends and comes several times a month to listen to the Union Square kirtana.

Alex, who calls himself Alex Vaisnava on Facebook, comes almost every evening for an hour or two, and often takes very beautiful pictures. Here he is taking pictures on Halloween.

Some costumed people danced in the kirtana.

Some played instruments.

Tarun’s instrument made him easy to recognize despite his mask.

Others offered lamps to Lord Damodara.
Thanks to Alex Vaisnava for the first photo.

One older devotee couple from South America comes to New York every year to visit their relatives, and each year they spend a few hours on the Union Square harinama.

One young lady offered a candle to Damodara and then seemed to really get into dancing to the kirtana. She teaches gardening at an alternative school in Harlem, but was very familiar with seeing the devotees as her boyfriend sells crystals at Union Square.

She must have danced at least half an hour with a very blissful, meditative mood!

To see the additional pictures I took but did not include in this blog, click on this link:
The pictures I did not use appear at the end of the album.


Srila Prabhupada:

from a lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.16, on August 19, 1972, in Los Angeles:

Just like small children, a baby, he’s also appreciating, trying to stand up with his cymbal. Appreciating. From the very beginning of life, appreciating, ‘It is nice.’ He knows or does not know, it doesn’t matter. Simply appreciation is giving him a touch of spiritual life. It is so nice. Sraddha [faith]. If they do not go against, simply appreciate, ‘Oh, they are doing nice . . .’ So development of spiritual life means development of this appreciation, that’s all.”

Whatever you want, especially in this human form of life, whatever you desire, Krishna will give you chance. It may be very unpalatable, but this is a fact. We have heard from authorities. That is why in Vrindavana there are so many hogs and monkeys and dogs. This is very mysterious thing. . . . Those who are executing devotional service, but at the same time cheating . . . Cheating means outwardly very devotional, inwardly doing all sinful activities. Such living entity is given the chance to become a hog and dog in Vrindavana so that the reaction of the sinful activities, they get this body; at the same time, due to their touch with the dust of Vrindavana, they become eliminated of all sinful activities and liberated. So these hogs and dogs, theyre also very important. They are not ordinary thing. But this is the explanation. . . . Therefore a devotee, when hes punished in that way for the short time, theyll be liberated. Undoubtedly.”

Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami:

from The Waves at Jagannatha Puri and Other Poems:

[a description of the Indian vacationers]

I like their innocent do
nothingness, the no-ghetto-blaster mood,
the no fighting, no bikinis, no strutting,
and even though their visit is a karmis [materialist’s] vacation,
they go for darsana of
Lord Jagannatha.”

Todays drawing shows three
tilaked devotees dancing and chanting
with upraised arms.
Each is a unique individual:
The man on the right has
a pink head and an elongated neck.
The girl in the center is
brown-faced and the boy on the left
is bright-faced with a big smile. Devotees
come from different
cultural and ethnic backgrounds
with different psychophysical natures.
Prabhupada spoke of seeing ‘the
unity within the diversity and the
diversity within unity.
There is no attempt to
squelch a persons individuality
but all come forward
to cooperate in the
sacrifice of harinama sankirtana.

Todays drawing shows four bhaktas dancing and chanting
with upraised arms.
I drew with only a black pen
as a variety from the
multicolored sports clothes.
They are just as happy
as the colorful version
and vigorously dancing.
These men of mine compensate
for the fact that I no longer
can go out and
dance and chant. I
advocate that those
devotees who are fit and healthy should
go out in public and
chant and dance.

My disciple Krishna-kripa
always dances on
because I asked him
to do it. It purifies
the atmosphere and
shows the people that
the Hare Krishna movement is alive and flourishing.”

Krishnahnika Kaumudi by Kavi-karnapura Gosvami
Second Ray of Light
Morning Pastimes (
Pratah-lila) 6:00–8:36 A.M.

Thus Radha cooks innumerable preparations
with enticing aromas for the pleasure of Krishna,
Balarama, Nanda and Yasoda.”
[It was striking to me that even Radha, Krishna’s most beloved, cooks for Krishnas devotees, in addition to Krishna Himself.]

used to say the devotees were
not doing ordinary ‘ballroom
It is a symptom of
transcendental ecstasy that when one
is chanting in
kirtana he
spontaneously rises and starts
to dance. Prabhupada
was very pleased when the
first devotee got up to
dance. Soon we
were all doing it.
He taught us the ‘Swami Step
in his room. Later
devotees began improvising
their own
wild styles. Prabhupada
usually encouraged all kinds
of dancing because
he saw it as a sign of their enthusiasm.”

Todays drawing shows three
devotees dancing and
chanting with upraised arms.
This style of harinama
was introduced by Lord Caitanya
and His associates in
Navadvipa and Jagannatha Puri
over five hundred years ago.
The upraised arms
are a sign of surrender
to Krishna and an expression
of joy. The dancing
feet are a physical
response to an
inner feeling.
These three devotees,
a woman and two
men, are all smiling
out of natural happiness.
It is not a staged or
professional performance but
a pure movement of the soul.”

Todays drawing shows four
bhaktas dancing and chanting
with upraised arms.
Four men is a good enough
number to attract the
attention of passersby. They
may be startled or think
them crazy fellows. But
if they continue to pass by
daily they will be impressed by
the determination of the chanters. They may
begin to make out the words
of the mantra and even
find themselves repeating
it during the day.
A steadily appearing
harinama group
has the potency to
transform peoples
lives. It is pleasing
to guru and Gauranga,
and it certainly
purifies the hearts of the chanters.”

Yogesvara Prabhu:

[Yogesvara Prabhu (Joshua M. Greene) gives Bhagavad-gita class each Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Jivamukti Yoga School NYC, 841 Broadway 2nd Floor, New York, near Union Square]

I asked my teacher, Srila Prabhupada, “Why would some people want Krishna as a friend, some as a child, and some as a lover?”
He replied, “It is question of personal taste.”

It is good to have an altar. It is important to acknowledge the foundation.

Arati is offering the elements of God’s creation back to God.

The Gita is a dialog which scholars later divided into chapters.

Krishna and Arjuna are lifelong friends.

Srila Prabhupada said, “If you are going to do something for Krishna, it is worth doing it right.”

Bhakti-yoga or what Srila Prabhupada called “Krishna consciousness” is that yoga that transforms every moment and act of your life into devotion to God.

Srimad-Bhagavatam gives the most knowledge about bhakti of the eighteen Puranas.

Anxiety is the result of thinking something is outside the will or control of God.

The first result of bhakti is freedom from anxiety because you know you are in good hands with Krishna.

The foundational understanding of Bhagavad-gita is: I am not the body. I am the soul. I am part of God. I can be satisfied only by connecting to God through the practice of devotion.

In a conversation with Professor Kotofsky, the professor made the point that there is always revolution in the world, thesis, antithesis, etc. Srila Prabhupada explained that when one comes to Krishna, that is the final revolution.

comment by Sharon Gannon, cofounder of Jivamukti: “Vallabhacarya says, ‘Spend one, or at most three, hours each day maintaining your existence in the world, but do not forget the Lord in that pursuit.’”

Two things you can learn from the Gita: The story is deeper than it seems, and you can do more than you think.

If we think in each situation “How can I serve here?”, that will greatly improve our experience of life.

One religious writer says ritual can be empty or it can be everything, all depending one’s mentality.

Whatever you have learned from your spiritual practice, find someone to share it with.

The book Bhagavad-gita is worshipable as the literary embodiment of the divinity. Just like in a Jewish synagogue there is an altar with the Torah on it that people bow to.

Karma is so complicated it is like untangling a large ball of twine. Krishna advises Arjuna not to try to unravel it, but to take the sword of knowledge and cut it.

I rather get one thing clear in these Tuesday Gita sessions rather than go prattling on about many things.

Sattva, goodness, is the doorway to transcendence, yet it is still material.

As you are reading Bhagavad-gita, read a few verses before and after to place a verse in its context.

The longer we reside in this material world, the more we come to believe that we are actually the body.

One you have desired something, you cannot make the material nature act in a certain way.

Don’t blame God for the results of your desires.

There are lot of Bhagavad-gita ideas in Plato.

The power of bhakti is that it elevates you above all actions and reactions of the material world.

When we are attracted to someone, our combination of the gunas (material qualities) is attracted to their combination of the gunas. A transcendentalist does not act on that attraction, and in particular, avoids the tendency toward exploitation, desiring to render service to the person instead.

I know many people who are miserable because they partnered with someone that their senses were attracted to, and not someone their intelligence selected.

In the transcendental position you engage your natural qualities in God’s service. You do not develop a completely different personality. You are also conscious of your weaknesses, and you understand what you are unable to engage in the Lord’s service and therefore must avoid altogether.

Donavan, a famous singer of the 1970s, met Srila Prabhupada. For a while Donavan just looked at Srila Prabhupada, not knowing exactly what to say. Srila Prabhupada quoted a verse from the Vedas that glorified music as the perfection of education, and that immediately put Donavan at ease. Then Srila Prabhupada explained how he had given George Harrison spiritual ideas to express through his songs, and he offered to do the same for Donavan.

Nanda-nandana Prabhu:

from a conversation:

I spent a whole month preaching with Srila Prabhupada’s godbrother, Krishna dasa Babaji. Krishna dasa Babaji would be chanting Hare Krishna practically all the time. He carried one bag with him that was just filled with slips of paper with “kirtaniya sada harih” [always chant Hari (a name of the Lord)] written on it in both Bengali and English. He would give these to everyone he met. Thus all he did was chant always and advise others to always chant.

Muslim man at a fragrance and oils shop in Brooklyn:

from a conversation:

Allah originally told Moses that he wanted His followers to offer prayers fifty times a day. Moses explained to the Lord that it was too much, and Allah reduced it to forty times a day. Moses said that it was still too much. Allah reduced it again. This continued until Allah reduced it down to offering prayers five times a day. When Moses said that it was still too much, Allah said that He was tired of changing it, and that if they would just offer prayers five times a day, it would count as if they had offered prayers fifty times a day.


The living entities ears are sacrifical openings. The tongue is a sacrifical ladle. The sound of Lord Krishna’s glories is charming sacrifical ghee. When the ladle of the tongue pours that ghee into the openings of the ears, the ghee enters the heart. In the heart the ghee adds fuel to the fire of ecstatic love. It makes that fire burn with great flames. The flames of that fire make the body tremble. They make the body’s hairs stand erect. Freed from sin in this way, the living entities dance. Salokya [attaining the same planet as the Lord] and the other kinds of liberation follow behind them. However, the living entities will not cast even a sidelong glance at liberation. Instead, tasting the sweet nectar of Lord Krishna’s glories, they joyfully dance. The Vaishnava acaryas [spiritual teachers] all perform this yajna [sacrifices]. Please know that sankirtana-yajna [the sacrifice of congregational chanting of the holy name] is the best of all yajnas.
(Caitanya Mangala, “Mahaprabhur Vividhavese Prema-vitarana [Lord Mahaprabhu's Manifestation of Various Divine Forms and His Distribution Then of Ecstatic Spiritual Love],” verses 81–85)