Scriptures, nature, and Krishna’s devotees transform a wandering musician.
In the last issue…
Born in an opulent family, the author grew up to be an accomplished musician. He had all that the world could offer, yet he was dissatisfied. To seek fulfillment he began travelling around the world.
Many people come to Rainbow Gatherings to experience communal living in a natural environment. Usually the gatherings are conducted in a National Forest and people bring their tents, or even sleep under trees. No money is exchanged. People volunteer to take up different services for the community. There are kitchens, educational workshops, trading marketplace, and lots of music around the different campfires at night. Rules: no alcoholic drinks, no buying and selling, and no usage of electronic sound systems.
My last Rainbow Gathering was in Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University. There I welcomed people, helped them park their cars, which was tough due to all the rain, mud and cold. I picked wild flowers and herbs and made hot tea and played music for them. This was also ajnata-sukrti. Because of my helping to give people a good first impression at the front gate, they were more receptive to meeting the devotees down in the main part of the Rainbow Gathering. I served prasada to all the guests at the Krishna Camp.
The Saint at JFK
In 1990, while in transit from New York to Ireland, I met Revatinandana Dasa, disciple of His Holiness Bhakti Caru Swami, at the airport. He was distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books.
Tall and charismatic, smartly dressed in suit and tie, Revatinandana was a young African-American. Later, I found out that he had been a professional dancer before coming to Krishna consciousness.
I was travelling with my guitar, trumpet, and long hair. He approached me and asked, “Do you play with a band?”
I said, “Yeah! I play with the OM band.”
“Do you know what OM means?”
“No,” I replied.
He opened the Srimad-Bhagavatam, part 1. We spent around ten minutes together seeking references and quotes and unpacking the definition of the word. I was impressed. He was very nice, polite, gentlemanly and also scholarly. Somehow, I was inspired to give him a donation.
As I was taking out the money, I accidentally dropped twenty dollars on the floor. While I was walking away with the book in my hand, Revatinandana called out to me. “Hey! You dropped this!” He picked up the twenty-dollar bill and gave it back to me. His display of honesty, his character, and his qualities made a powerful impact on my heart. I was even more inclined to read the book.
I thought to myself: “I like these devotees, I like their music, I like their food, but I don’t know what they’re talking about. Let me read this book from cover to cover and try to understand everything.”
My plane was late, so I sat down in a restaurant in the airport and began to read. I was impressed by the introduction, which is the biography of Lord Caitanya. The climax of the biography was the text of eight prayers written personally by Lord Caitanya, called the Siksashtaka (Eight Intructions).
Of all the prayers, the one that struck a chord in my heart the most was the fourth prayer,
na dhanam na janam na sundarim
kavitam va jagad-isa kamaye
mama janmani janmanisvare
bhavatad bhaktir ahaituki tvayi
“O almighty Lord, I have no desire to accumulate wealth, nor do I desire beautiful women, nor do I want any number of followers. I only want Your causeless devotional service, birth after birth.”
I thought, “This is amazing. This personality does not want money, wealth, fame, followers, and he does not want to go to the heavenly planets. He just wants unmotivated devotional service.” As a teenager, I would desire these things. I had so much money, musical talent, fame, and now I was travelling the world. When you have these things, then naturally you are attracted to beautiful women.
I experienced all these things but did not get any satisfaction, nor any taste. I knew there must be something more to life than this. Lord Caitanya explains, mama janmani janmanisvare: “I only want Your unmotivated devotional service birth after birth.” It suddenly dawned on me that this is what I needed to understand. What is this unmotivated devotional service? This is what I should try to understand.
IN A FARM IN IRELAND
I moved to a farm in southern Ireland in the province of Dungarvan. On the farm there were cows and horses. Ireland is a very green and luscious country.
I had a job and worked one day in a week for only two hours I would perform music in a pub, two kilometres from the farmhouse. They would feed me, praise me, glorify my talent and give me enough money to last for a week. The rest of the week, I would sing, read, compose music, and take long walks in the countryside. I also learned to paint.
Who could ask for a better situation than that? I had attained what I thought would be the highest experience: most beautiful place, easiest lifestyle, do whatever I want, no boss. In spite of this seemingly ideal situation, I was still frustrated and unsatisfied, and I felt like I was going mad. I kept on thinking that there has got to be something more.
I then left the farmhouse. I took the Srimad-Bhagavatam, my tent and camping stove and decided to live in the forest. I went into a river valley and lived in the woods for one month. I picked plants growing in the forest like nettles. I cooked them along with the oats and clover.
I read the Bhagavatam and chanted OM and Hare Krishna. I understood that I was at a crossroads, a powerful transitional period in my life. Not knowing what to expect next, I sought clarity of mind and a healthy body. I ran long distances during the day with the aim to improve my health. I was seeking to acquire a very clear mind to best equip myself to understand what would be the next step in my life.
MEETING DEVOTEES AGAIN
One day, my supply of oats ran out. I left the woods for the first time in a month and hitchhiked three hours to Cork. When I reached the main city square, I took out my trumpet, and prepared to play to get some donations for oats.
I was surprised to see devotees distributing books. I went up to one of them and said, “I want to play my trumpet here. Will it disturb your book distribution?” He said, “No no, go ahead.” I played for some time, and collected some donations. I was getting ready to go. He came up to me, and introduced himself as Nitai Candra Dasa. He gave me a magazine and offered me an invitation. “We are having a Sunday Feast program. Please come.” I said, “No, no, it is very far, three hours from my woods.” He said, “Anyway please try to come.”
I hitchhiked back to the woods and started reading the magazine immediately. Srila Prabhupada explained in his article that eating, sleeping, mating, and defending are four animal propensities that humans engage in. However, the human being has an additional ability and that is to inquire about the Absolute Truth (athato brahma jijnasa). I said, “Yes, this fully makes sense. This is correct.”
Another article explained how to offer your food to Krishna so that it becomes karma-free, or spiritual. I started offering everything I made in the woods to Krishna. I also got a special plate to offer the food on.
I read my Srimad-Bhagavatam more and my chanting of Hare Krishna increased. I decided to hitchhike to Cork again to attend the Sunday Feast program. The normal way to travel is for one to be dropped and picked up several times with long gaps between successive rides. But on that Sunday rides came so easily and before I knew it I was in Cork. The Sunday program was wonderful. The prasada was fantastic. I stayed overnight with the devotees and bought some chanting beads. The next morning I chanted with the devotees. They told me to chant one or two rounds whatever is comfortable. I just kept chanting with them until I had completed sixteen rounds. This became my daily spiritual practice.
SADHANA IN THE WOODS
The next day, the devotees encouraged me to return the following week for a program at a local college. I went back to my woods and continued chanting sixteen rounds a day. Mystically, I began waking up early morning, before the rising of the sun, without an alarm clock.
One morning, I went for a long walk to the cliffs overlooking the ocean and just as I finished chanting my sixteenth round, the sun rose over the ocean. It was gorgeous. I felt that Lord Krishna was reciprocating with me, as the experience was beautiful and profound.
I decided to travel again to Cork to participate in the college program, and planned to move in with the devotees. I took all my extra possessions and I went to a nearby city, Dungarvan, where I posted all my unnecessary possessions, as well as some gifts for my family back to America.
I waited for a ride. It usually takes from ten to fifteen minutes to get a ride, but on this occasion, three hours had passed and all I had received from the passing cars were looks of suspicion. Darkness was falling, and I was starting to get uneasy.
All of a sudden an old Volkswagen Beatle stopped. The driver was a hippy with long hair.
He said, “Get in.”
The first thing that he said to me was, “Do you know anything about yoga?” I immediately started telling him everything I knew from reading the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Amazingly, I learned that he was also going to Cork. He was kind enough to take a detour and he drove me back to my woods, helped me pack my tent and my luggage into his car. He drove me all the way to Cork, dropped me right at the devotees’ front doorstep, assisted me with all my baggage and put my stuff in the devotees’ ashrama. He then left and I never saw him again. I reflected on the situation and knew that this was obviously Lord Krishna’s arrangement.
A SWAMI ARRIVES
The next day I attended the college program. On the third day that I had moved into the apartment with the devotees, His Holiness Trivikrama Swami, a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada, arrived. Maharaja took the time to explain to me, and the Chemistry student in whose flat we were staying, all about the Bhagavad-gita and the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. “The important thing is to hear the chanting carefully,” he said. “Focus on the sound vibrations.”
Being a musician, I took this instruction to heart and began trying to hear attentively. Immediately, I could sense a difference in my chanting. My experience was deepening and intensifying.
Maharaja stayed with us for three weeks. During this time, there were many lessons learned, and new experiences had. I felt as if my consciousness was being cleansed and a new phase of my life was beginning.
At the end of the three weeks, Maharaja was preparing to travel to Poland to start a new ISKCON center there. The devotees I had moved in with were also getting ready to get back into their van, and continue driving through Ireland, distributing books. What would I do now?
Maharaja and the devotees suggested that I travel to Bhaktivedanta Manor, in UK.
I decided to think overnight about the prospects of travelling there. In the morning, I was convinced that this was the right decision. I shared the news with Maharaja and the devotees.
“Shave him up boys!” was Maharaja’s gleeful cry.
I was reluctant to relinquish my long curly locks of hair. I gave many arguments. It was a battle. Finally, I agreed to have a hair buzzer take off everything but a short stubble of hair.
I boarded a plane to London and journeyed to Bhaktivedanta Manor. I handed a letter of recommendation that Trivikrama Swami had given me to the temple authorities. My new life had begun. (Concluded)
Ekalavya Dasa serves is a GBC deputy, and co-coordinator of the World Holy Name Week, a global project. His devotional music group, “Inspiration Explosion,” performs at festivals throughout the world.
Facebook: Ekalavya Dasa