In my second year of college I took LSD. In my third year of college I read Whitman and Henry Miller, paused, and continued eating drugs. In my fourth year, one summer day by the seaside, I first read the Bhagavad Gita and learned that spiritual life meant not to take drugs but, as Krishna ordered, "Surrender unto Me." But, how do you surrender to God? What does "surrender" mean? And who is God?
So I read Ramakrishna, Lao Tzu, Buddha, and countless countless commentaries and interpretations and concluded that spiritual understanding was not a home-study course. I had to live it. I had to find a spiritual master.
I hung around the oriental bookstores, looking for my guru; thinking the old lady at Orientalia a sage; seeing people who passed me on the street and wondering, "Are you my guru? Are you my guru?" Uptown I wandered to the swamis who sat enthroned with harems of soggy old ladies fanning them with their talk. Still, they were swamis. I spoke to one who told me to either get married or stop fornicating. It seemed natural. I stopped searching for that ultimate satisfaction in sex, and immediately I felt liberated from having to play the "male" role. I stopped eating meat; it came naturally, but still I was feeling for my guru.
One evening an old drug friend came by with a leaflet, saying that he had just been to a storefront several blocks away where there was this swami who spoke bad English into a tape recorder, and Allen Ginsberg was there. The leaflet read, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Incorporated and offered ecstasy through transcendental sound vibrations. Right?
So I went. And I chanted HARE KRISHNA, not knowing what I was singing. It just sounded very pretty. And after the service I walked the streets, singing HARE KRISHNA; only I couldn't remember the tune or the proper order. So, I sat in Washington Square, while some guys near me were panting over a stick of pot, and I sang HARE KRISHNA to my own tune that was so wrong I had to eliminate the final HARE HARE. It was such a beautiful experience, so beautiful in fact that I actually did not want to realize I was enjoying it, because as soon as you examine it and say, "It's nice," you are thinking about it. This is something you just want to experience purely without any self-consciousness. It's called "bliss." I knew I would never be the same again.
I went back the next morning and learned the tune and the words properly, and it was even better. The next day my job as an elementary school teacher was to begin. How could I go to a job? I just wanted to sit in that bare storefront and sing HARE KRISHNA. So that morning I paced the streets thinking my parents had spent all this money for my education, and I was trying to be responsible, and it was to be my first real job. I wandered into a church. It was so quiet. I started humming HARE KRISHNA and then chanted softly so as not to disturb the handful of worshippers there, and at once the ties of family and responsibility snapped. How foolish of me to hesitate in giving up everything. I fancied myself so free and I was binding myself to what other people would think of me.
I walked straight back to that storefront and asked a Minerva-haired fellow if I could speak with the Swami. We crossed an open courtyard where a tall, thin boy with eyes that never seemed to blink sat typing in the summer morning sunshine, like a scribe in a Lower East Side monastery.
Upstairs A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami sat in faded saffron robes on a mat with a typewriter, stacks of papers, and a yellow tin box before him. He greeted me with a smile that was gigantic, like an ocean, and such jolly eyes, and I had the feeling he had been expecting me. I told him my desire to give everything up, my job, my family, my responsibilities, everything, and be his student. "It is not necessary to renounce your activities. Just change your consciousness! You keep your job and your responsibilities, but just chant HARE KRISHNA. This is Krishna Consciousness."
I agreed, declaring that all my wages were his. "Thank you very much," he said.
Later I feared I had been too hasty, but chanting burns away all doubts. I am no longer Bruce Scharf who went to college, read great books, took drugs, had sexual experiences, and wondered who he was and what he was doing here. Now I am Brahmananda das Brahmachary who is struggling to serve his Spiritual Master sincerely and submissively. It is so difficult yet so natural.