To gain fame and recognition, he wanted to become a pop music star. But he thought his ultimate perfection would come by merging into the "Supreme Oneness."
I was born and raised in Syracuse, a city in central New York state known for, if anything, its university. With my two older brothers one two years older and the other thirteen years older I was brought up in a lower middle-class environment mostly by my mother, since our alcoholic father was practically always drunk and hardly ever at home. My mother would occasionally go to church on Sunday and sometimes insist that I go with her. But as a child I was disillusioned by religion, because I noticed so much hypocrisy in so-called religious people, including my mother.
As we were growing up, my brother who was closest to my age would enjoy harassing me and making me fight with him. Naturally, he would mostly win, being bigger and stronger than me, and I would sometimes get so frustrated that I would cry to my mother or my older brother, whom I respected almost as a father. I was always rather thin and generally shorter than most of my peers in school. I was shy and reclusive and had only a few close friends. I began stuttering in the first grade and never got over it. I envied those persons who were popular and attractive. I dreamed of winning popularity by becoming a popular music star.
While I was in high school, I joined the local drum and bugle corps, the Syracuse Marauders. I had an inclination toward percussion instruments, but since I'd never had any formal training in playing drums or reading music, I wasn't placed on the drum line but was put on the simpler cymbal line. I remember thinking how much fun it was being with the group, traveling with them to play in parades or competitions. It was exciting to show of my skill at twirling the twenty-inch cymbals. I began to feel like I already was a music star. Since I was one of only three cymbal players in our corps of about forty young people, everyone had to notice me!
After graduating from high school in June, 1972, I worked during the day and a took a couple of college courses in the evening. Two years later, looking for a basis for some kind of solid career, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. I worked in satellite communications.
In my time at the base I taught myself how to read and write music. Even as a child I had made up melodies and lyrics, dreaming of the day when I could cut a record. On one base where I was stationed overseas, a few of my friends and I formed a pop band, and we would perform in the base service club on weekends. I would sometimes sing lead while playing drums. After three and half years I decided not to make a career of the Air Force. I still wanted to be a big music star. In May, 1978, at the end of my four-year enlistment, I was honorably discharged.
Soon after my discharge I purchased a set of drums, thinking ahead to the time when I would use them professionally. I lived with my mother then, so I was somewhat restricted in my drum practicing. But she had an old upright piano, and I would practice my songs and write new ones using this piano. Occasionally a few friends would come over and we would play music together. I knew I wasn't a great drummer, and I'd had very little practical experience with playing piano and no formal voice training, but still I was sure I was destined to "make it" in my life and be something above the ordinary.
Besides playing music, I liked to read about unusual happenings, like UFO's, the Bermuda Triangle, ghosts, reincarnation, and so on. I had come across the word karma in my readings on reincarnation, and I came to the conclusion that my karma is OK. It didn't seem as bad as that of others I knew and admired, including pop stars. So, as I was gaining more and more confidence in myself as a singer and musician, I thought, "Why not take the big step and make a record?"
I neatly wrote down seven or eight of my best songs on professional-looking song paper and mailed them to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to have them copyrighted. Then I went to a local recording studio and recorded the songs for an album. The studio had the usual multi-track recording system, where one could record different instruments and voices on separate tape tracks and later blend them together. It took me a month and cost $1,000 to complete the recording.
I wasn't really satisfied with the results, but I went to New York City with some copies of my record in hopes of capturing the interest of some of the bigger record companies. The receptionists were generally rude and so busy that I couldn't even get in the door. I began to think, "There must be hundreds of guys like me in New York who are trying to do the same thing." I began to get discouraged, feeling insignificant. After a few days, I went back to Syracuse and to the student-run Syracuse University radio station to see if they would play my record. They played a couple of selections on the air, but I didn't get the recognition I was looking for.
Then I saw a music contest advertised in a popular music magazine. Among the prizes was a chance to record with a major recording company. I entered my album along with an entry fee and waited. I never got a reply, or even an acknowledgment. My pride was crushed.
I was still reading about things like karma and reincarnation, and I came to an understanding that this life wasn't the all-in-all, and that the perfection of my life was to some day, or in some future life, to merge with the "Supreme Oneness," from where we originated. I went to a meditation session where a svami was asking everyone to sit silently with eyes closed and meditate. I can't remember what we were supposed to "meditate" on, but I do remember that soon after attending the session I received an invitation to attend a weekend meditation session in the country with the same svami, but I would have to pay $200.00 to attend it. Thinking it was too much money, I decided not to go, although I retained my interest in merging in oneness.
Soon after this I met a couple of Hare Krsna devotees in a parking lot as I was going to my car. They were friendly young men, and I was immediately impressed with their honesty. I was also impressed with what they were explaining about the literature they were selling. I felt I needed some genuine enlightenment, as well as some encouragement in my quest for my ultimate goal of becoming one with the Supreme, so I gave a donation and took a Back to Godhead magazine and a book called Srimad-Bhagavatam. The devotees also invited me to their "Sunday Love Feast" in Manhattan.
Days after we parted I still remembered with relish and amazement my meeting with these two devotees. "Even in these modern times," I thought, "there are still people who live a God-centered life and who aren't hypocrites." I wrote a letter to their temple praising the devotees in hopes that they would get rewarded. I also expressed my sincere appreciation for the literature they had given me. I had learned from it that trying to become one with God was for less intelligent persons, because to become one with God was actually impossible anyway: we are eternally His subordinate parts.
A couple of weeks after sending the letter, I got a phone call from a devotee at the New York temple telling me that they were very happy to receive my letter and that the temple president had even read it to the assembled devotees during the morning announcements in the temple. Naturally I was very pleased to hear this news. But when my caller said that some devotees would like to visit me at my apartment in Syracuse, I was reluctant at first because I knew it would mean that I was committing myself more than I wanted to at that time. It would mean I would agree to be preached to. In other words, it would mean I was becoming one ofthem. Later I thought, "What harm could one visit do? I could always tell them not to come back if I wasn't really interested in what they were doing." So, when the devotee called back, I agreed that they could come.
Three devotees from the Manhattan temple arrived in their mobile home. Being shy, I was touched by their friendliness and boldness. I was thinking, "These people must really believe in what they teach, because they're walking around very casually with their traditional robes and shaved heads, as if it were a natural, normal thing."
On and off for a couple of years I had been trying to be a vegetarian, for health reasons only, but after tasting the vegetarian meal they cooked, I knew it was something special. They showed me how to prepare vegetarian meals and offer them to Krsna before I ate. I distinctly remember that afterwards, as I began to offer my food as they had suggested, everything I ate really tasted better than before. They also explained a little bit about the importance of chanting Krsna's holy names and gave me a strand of beads to chant on. They suggested that I chant the Hare Krsna mantra a fixed number of times every day for a while, gradually increasing the number, as I was able, up to the goal of chanting around the stand of 108 beads 16 times each day.
I enjoyed their company and looked forward to future visits. Shortly thereafter, I was visited on two occasions by different devotees from the same temple. Although they were still practically strangers, I nevertheless trusted them. I allowed them to spend the night, I went out on shopping errands for them, and when I went to work I allowed them to stay in my apartment. I could understand that these people didn't have the anxieties or the material desires that everyone else in the world has. They were satisfied with the simple things they had, and they were happy.
Of course, I was looking for happiness, but I wasn't convinced that I could taste the level of happiness and peace they had. I was thinking, "Are they happy because of some type of brainwashing, as the newspapers sometimes say? Is this really a genuine religious movement?"
Still, I was eager to tell others about what I'd learned from the devotees and their books. An acquaintance of mine at work was a member of a more popular religious organisation. He wanted me to come to their meetings and hear from them, but I felt more inclined toward associating with the Hare Krsna devotees because their teachings made more sense to me than the other group's teachings. The devotees' teachings seemed more rational. And, as fare as I could see, the devotees were actually trying to live what their scripture taught and were not hypocritical. My acquaintance finally suggested that I pray to the Lord to give me an indication as to who He is.
I followed his suggestion, and with as much sincerity as I could muster, I prayed. I promised the Lord that I would take up very seriously the process of religion indicated by Him for the rest of my life. I didn't receive any direct answer from a supernatural force, but I took it that God was giving me an indication by allowing me to come into contact with the Hare Krsna devotees, who seemed to be very dedicated to living a sinless life. I appreciated that they were not eating meat and justifying it in the name of religion. I had realised before that going back to God at the end of this life was not as easy as some were professing, and that one would have to actually become purified in all his heart before he would be accepted by the Lord.
As it turned out, it was only a few months from the time I met the devotees in the parking lot to when I moved into their temple in New York. I voluntarily gave practically everything I owned to the temple, including my car, my bank account, and my drums, without any regret whatsoever. I wanted to keep the promise I had made to the Lord. By this time, I had already been daily chanting sixteen rounds of the Hare Krsna mantraon my beads and following the four regulative religious principles: no meat-eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication, and no gambling.
I have no regrets in coming to Krsna consciousness, except that I didn't come sooner. Now I am able to sing and play percussion instruments every day, and the more I do these things, trying to do so with real love and devotion for Krsna, the more He takes notice of me. And as the Lord is merciful to me in this way, I come closer to Him and become something above the ordinary.