Yugavatara Dasa travels to a special place in USA…
Most Indians dream of a trip to the USA. I too had developed such an intense desire when I was studying medicine. Devotees from ISKCON would visit our hostel regularly and one day they showed me a booklet that contained information about various ISKCON temples in the USA. Of all those places, two places fascinated me: the Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan and the Matchless Giftshop. Tompkins Square Park was the place where Srila Prabhupada used to perform kirtana of the holy name. Hippies would dance around him. I had read in the booklet that this tree still existed in the Park. It had officially been named the “Hare Krsna Tree.” Close to the park is 26, Second Avenue the Matchless Giftshop, the first temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Preparing For The Trip
As I started preparing for my maiden US trip I started to understand the divinity of Srila Prabhupada. The very thought of going to a foreign land was causing me so much anxiety in spite of the fact that I had enough money with me, and enough relatives in the US to take care of me. Srila Prabhupada had neither. Yet he was not anxious due to his strong faith in his Guru Maharaja and Lord Krsna. Srila Prabhupada did not have many to see him off but still he had faith that Krsna was with him. I had a bunch of relatives to drop me to the airport but still I was feeling lonely due to forgetfulness of the Supersoul. Before boarding, I called Gitanjali Devi, my cousin in the USA, a member of the New Jersey congregation. I expressed to her my wish to visit New York City. She thought that I was eager to see The Statue of Liberty and The Empire State Building, but I was more interested in the Tompkins Square Park than the Times Square. She said she had read about the park in ISKCON books but had never been there herself. She found more details about the exact location through the New York devotees.
AT TOMPKINS SQUARE
When we reached New York we first took onsciou of Sri Sri Radha-Govinda in Brooklyn and then proceeded to Second Avenue, where we saw the Matchless Giftshop, the first Hare Krsna Temple where Srila Prabhupada would give discourses and do kirtana. We peeped into the closed shop and got a glimpse of the early days of ISKCON. Discourses are still held there on weekends. From there we proceeded to the Tompkins Square Park. Upon reaching the park, we inquired about the Hare Krsna Tree and quickly found it. Many Hare Krsnas still come and worship the tree, which belongs to a rare species and so is preserved by the government. In tribute to the “Hare Krsna Explosion” that took place under its branches, it was named “Hare Krsna Tree.”
EMBRACING THE TREE
As soon as I saw the tree, I first offered obeisances from a distance and then ran to embrace it, probably with the same intensity with which devotees embrace the neem tree at Yoga-piöha (Lord Caitanya’s birthplace) or the Siddha-Bakula tree at Jagannatha Puri (under which namacarya Haridasa Öhakura would chant). The Hare Krsna Tree is equally important. As Lord Caitanya was born under the neem Tree, ISKCON was born under this Hare Krsna Tree. As Haridasa Öhakura would chant below the Siddha-Bakula tree, Srila Prabhupada would chant the holy names under this tree.
As I embraced the tree, oblivious to people in the park, I intensely prayed, “O Hare Krsna tree, you have witnessed the miracle of the transformation of hippies into ‘happies.’ You have seen Srila Prabhupada chanting the holy names; most of us have not. O tree, if in a future yuga Srila Prabhupada again comes and chants here, I don’t mind being born as a hippie to get that golden opportunity to witness the ‘Hare Krsna Explosion.’”
Most people in the park failed to comprehend why my sister and I were embracing that tree again and again. It was a holy place for us. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.13.10) it is said that a pure devotee is a personified holy place. Wherever he goes, he turns it into a holy place. Our modern holy places are the temples built by Srila Prabhupada and all the places where Srila Prabhupada lived and preached.
The experience was heart-touching. After a few days of visiting other holy places, it was time to head back home. As I was about to board my flight back to India, I called my sister and thanked her. I said to her, “Although I have not seen or heard Srila Prabhupada personally, I have seen and heard his disciples, who have seen and heard from Srila Prabhupada. Now I can proudly proclaim that I have even seen the tree that has seen Srila Prabhupada and heard Srila Prabhupada.”
Yugavatara Dasa is a lecturer in Anatomy in a medical college in Mumbai. He is a regular contributor to BTG.