Letter to: Hanuman Prasad Poddar
5 February, 1970
My Dear Bhaiji Hanuman Prasad Poddar,
Please accept my obeisances. I hope by this time you have received my acknowledgement dated yesterday for your letter dated 26 January, 1970. As you want to publish a comprehensive article about my activities in the "Kalyana,'' I think it is proper to give you a short history of my coming to the western world.
Sometime in the year 1922, when I was acting as manager of Dr. Bose's Laboratory Ltd., I was fortunate enough to meet my Spiritual Master, His Divine Grace Om Visnupada Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya 108 Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Prabhupada. On the very first meeting with His Divine Grace, He asked me to preach the message of Lord Caitanya in the Western world.
At that time, I was a young man and a nationalist, admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and C.R. Dass. So I replied Him at that time, who would care for the message of Lord Caitanya while we are a subject nation? In this way, I had some argument with my Spiritual Master, and at the end I was defeated. But at that time, because I was already married, I could not take His words very seriously.
In this way, I passed on as a householder, but, by the causeless mercy of my Divine Master, that order of preaching was impressed on my heart. I was initiated regularly in 1933 at Allahabad, when Sir Malcolm Haley, the then Governor of U.P., opened our Gaudiya Math branch there. Then, in 1936, my Spiritual Master left this world leaving a message for me that it would be better for me to preach in English language.
So I was thinking very seriously, and then, as late as 1944 I started my paper, "Back to Godhead.'' Gradually, in 1954, I retired from my family life and began to live alone in Mathura Vrindaban. In 1959, I was awarded Sannyas by one of my Godbrothers, His Holiness B.P. Kesava Maharaja.
Then I began translating Srimad-Bhagavatam in 1960; and, perhaps in 1961, I was your guest in the Gita Bagicha. You were very kind to help me partially for publishing my first volume of Srimad-Bhagavatam through the Dalmia Charitable Trust. With great difficulty, I then published the second and third volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam until 1965, when I prepared myself to come to this country with some books.
With great difficulty, I was able to get the "P'' Form passed by the Controller of Foreign Exchange, and, someway or other, I reached Boston on 17th September, 1965. I was thinking, while on board the ship "Jaladuta,'' why Krishna had brought me to this country. I knew that Western people are too much addicted to so many forbidden things according to our Vedic conception of life. So out of sentiment I wrote a long poetry addressing Lord Krishna as to what was His purpose in bringing me to this country.
At that time, I was sponsored by a friend's son, Gopala Agarwal, who is settled up in this country by marrying an American girl, Sally. I was their guest, and I feel very much obliged to Gopala and his wife Sally for their nice treatment and reception. I was with them for three weeks in Butler, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then I came to New York. I was getting some money by selling my Srimad-Bhagavatam, thus I was maintaining myself in New York. After some time, I rented one apartment at number 100 71st Street West, but after a few months, all my things—typewriter, tape recorder, books—were stolen. Then for some time one of my students gave me shelter at Bowery Street.
I then rented one store-front and an apartment at 26 Second Avenue for $200 per month, but without any source of income. I started my classes and sometimes, on Sundays, I used to chant Hare Krishna Mantra in Tomkins Square Park from three to 5 P.M. During this time, all the young boys and girls used to gather around me, sometimes poet Ginsberg would come to see me, and sometimes a reporter from the New York Times came to see me. In this way, the Hare Krishna Mantra chanting became very popular on the Lower East Side.
In this way, the younger generation became attracted, and gradually many branches were opened one after another. After New York, the next branch was opened in San Francisco, then in Montreal, then in Boston, and in Los Angeles. We have now the following centers in the States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Australia: (see insert sheet A following page 2).
My activities in London were begun as early as September, 1968. I sent six of my disciples there, all of them young couples, husband and wife, and none of them more than 26 years old. These boys and girls first started Sankirtana Movement in London and there were very nice reports about them. Even the "Times of London'' printed one article with the caption "Hare Krishna Chant Startles London.''
In London there are many Indians, especially Gujaratis and Punjabis. All of them were astonished to see how American boys and girls were preaching Hare Krishna Mantra. They were invited to many centers both by the Indians and Europeans, but it was very difficult to find out a suitable house there in the midst of the city. My Guru Maharaja liked to start centers in the busiest part of a city. So, forty years ago, my Guru Maharaja attempted to start a Temple there, but someway or other it was not possible. Still, I cherished a strong desire to start a Temple in the heart of the city, and by Lord Krishna's grace these boys and girls rented a five storied house in the busiest quarter of central London, at 7 Bury Place, which is near to the British Museum, London University, Great Russell Street, and Bloomsbury Square. The British Museum is just a few stones on the left side of our Temple. Our activities are going on regularly in London. There are about 35 English and American boys and girls.
Regarding the number of asramas, our Temples are already listed above. The Deity worshiped in the Temples are Jagannatha Swami with Balarama and Subhadra, and Radha Krishna. When we first start a Temple, we start with Jagannatha Swami. My Guru Maharaja recommended Temples of Jagannatha in these countries, so I was inspired to establish first of all Jagannatha Swami because He is kind even to the mlecchas. Then, when there is opportunity, I establish Radha Krishna Murti. So generally in all our Temples, Jagannatha Swami and Lord Caitanya Sankirtana pictures are invariably there, and gradually we are installing Radha Krishna Murtis in each and every center.
The devotees take bath twice daily.
The Government of U.K. has passed a bill to hand over the redundant churches to other religious sects, but the Christian authorities want good amount of money for selling these properties. So none of the churches have we been able to acquire, on account of the exorbitant price, for which I have not got money to pay. But they are available. In London we saw a redundant church and also in Oxford. They are very nice for our purpose, but the negotiation is very slow. Some other churches are also available in other districts, but they can be purchased. The government has no such scheme to place these unused churches at our disposal.
How can we expect the government to give us any financial help, while our Indian government does not allow any money to be brought from India for this purpose? How can we expect financial help from another government? Our financial budget is managed by Krishna's Grace only. Undoubtedly we have huge expenditures—for example in our Los Angeles Temple we spend near about Rs 20,000 in our Indian exchange per month. But the devotees, boys and girls, somehow or other collect this huge amount, and by the Grace of Krishna, we have no difficulty.
In most of the centers our activities are in rented houses, only in Boston and Buffalo we have our own houses. In Boston we have got our own press, ISKCON Press, where our books and magazines are published partially. The major portion is printed outside our press especially in Japan.
The government is neither encouraging or discouraging. sometimes the police department prohibits our Sankirtana Party when they go out in the street. In the United States this hindrance by the police is not very much, but in London they have practically stopped us. In Hamburg and Tokyo they are also not very strict. In the beginning we have difficulty everywhere. By now, as people in general are appreciating our movement—that we are devotees of the Lord, boys and girls of nice behavior and character—they give us as far as possible all concessions. The government draft board has accepted our Society as religious, so they are kind upon us. But, we do not get any direct financial help either from the government or big foundations. Neither have we been able to contact the richer section of the people.
Our initiation system is as follows: In our general thrice weekly classes we chant Hare Krishna Mantra in the beginning and at the end, and in the middle we speak on Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam regularly. In this class we do not prohibit anyone to come within the Temple, everyone is welcome. The only thing we ask visitors to leave their shoes at a specified place and sit down in the Temple crosslegged. If somebody finds difficulty to sit down crosslegged, we offer him a chair. So out of the members of the audience who come regularly, when one becomes more interested he is invited to participate in the program of Krishna Consciousness daily life and study. After some time of appreciating our program and trying to understand our philosophy, when someone is very interested and recommended by the Temple Commander, for becoming initiated, I accept him and give him first initiation in the form of Harinama in a regular ceremony with fire sacrifice. I chant Hare Krishna Mantra on the 108 beads and then the beads are offered to the disciple with a change of name as Krishna das. He is advised to strictly follow the regulative principles of 1. no eating of meat, fish, or eggs; 2. no taking of intoxicants including coffee, tea, and tobacco; 3. no illicit sex-life; and 4. no gambling or mental speculation.
In this way, after six months at least, when he is found habituated to the Vaisnava principles, then he is initiated for the second time with the sacred thread. This sacred thread ceremony is recommended in the Hari Bhakti Vilas, or the Vaisnava Smriti, by Sanatana Goswami. Sanatana Goswami recommends that by the initiation process one is elevated to the position of a twice-born (Dvija). This is recommended under Pancaratrika Viddhi. Under Vedic Viddhi, a student is required to be a bona fide son of a Brahmin or twice-born, but according to Srimad-Bhagavatam, if there are no regular samskaras beginning from Garbhadhana one is considered as Sudra, but a Sudra can be elevated to a Brahmin's position by Pancaratrika Viddhi. This is instructed by Sage Narada to Yudhisthira in Seventh Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam as follows;
On this verse, Sridhara Swami has given His commentation that birth is not always the criterion of becoming a Brahmin, but the quality is most essential. In the Bhagavad-gita also the caste system is made by the Lord Himself according to qualities and engagements. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam also it is stated as follows:
kirata hunandhra pulinda pulkasa
abhira sumbha yavanah khasadayah
ye'nye c papa yadupasrayasrayah
sudhyanti tasmai prabhavisnave namah
So our initiation process is executed according to authorized regulative principles. This is the sum and substance of our initiation process. In the beginning, they are given Hare Nama and during sacred thread ceremony they are given Gayatris and eighteen letter Krishna Mantra. The disciple chants daily the Gayatri Mantras thrice—morning, noon, and evening. The beads are chanted a minimum of sixteen rounds daily, or in other words, 27,648 Names daily.
I am enclosing herewith some printed copies of the rules and regulations, ten kinds of offenses, etc. which are regularly observed by the students.
Hope this will meet you in good health.
Yours in the service of the Lord,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
P.S. So far the means of the books published are as follows:
1 paperback Bhagavad-gita As It Is Collier (MacMillan) $2.95
1 hardback Bhagavad-gita As It Is MacMillan $6.95
1 Teachings of Lord Caitanya ISKCON Press $5.95
1 Sri Isopanisad ISKCON Press $1.00
1 Nectar of Devotion ISKCON Press $5.95
1 Krishna ISKCON Press $10.00
1 Easy Journey to Other Planets League of Devotees $0.50
1 Two Essays ISKCON PRESS $ .50
Monthly magazine "Back to Godhead'' ISKCON Press $0.50
French ed. "Back to Godhead'' ISKCON Press
German ed. "Zuruck zur Gottheit'' ISKCON Press
Some of these are being enclosed herewith, and the balance will be dispatched from New York along with books.
The management of our different centers is made by three officers; namely a President, Treasurer, and a Secretary. They have got separate banking accounts in each center. The checks are signed by two officers out of three. Although in each banking account my name is there as Acarya, and when I am in a center sometimes I sign the checks, still, usually I do not. I try to keep myself aloof from business transactions; but as far publications is concerned, I manage the book fund personally.
So our centers are managed financially by selling the books and magazines and by accepting some voluntary contributions from the public. Sometimes we manufacture incense and the visitors gladly purchase it. In this way we manage the financial affairs of our society. In London, however, we get some income by sales of "Hare Krishna Mantra'' record and similarly in the U.S.A. we get some income by selling "Govinda'' records and other similar records. From London the "Hare Krishna Mantra'' record has worldwide sales. This is managed by Mr. George Harrison, the famous English musician, who is my uninitiated devotee. This boy has paid me recently $19,000 for publishing my Krishna book. The whole amount will be required for publishing the book in Japan.
The names of places where our centers are already established is given above. The photographs of our various daily activities—Kirtans, etc.—are also enclosed herewith.
I am very glad to learn that you want to publicize our activities for the young men in India, but I find that here the young men are very much inquisitive. I do not know why in India the young men are not so much inquisitive—maybe they are very much embarrassed to solve economic problems. Recently one Indian boy, he is a PhD at St. Louis University, has joined our St. Louis center, and the copies of his inquiries and answers by me are sent herewith for your perusal. So far European and American young boys and girls are concerned, they also send me many inquiries by letter and I answer them in the same way, generally giving reference from the Bhagavad-gita As It Is. These students are very nicely combating elements opposing Bhakti school. There are hundreds of letters from them; and if you are serious to make some agitation among Indian young men, then on hearing from you, I can some of the letters for publication.
On the whole, the Godless world situation is not very satisfactory. People in this part of the world are feeling for this vacancy, but they do not know how to solve this problem. They think that by making people Godless they will solve the question—this is a utopian hope which will never be fulfilled. The Godless leaders of the society are blind themselves and their followers are also blind. So blind men leading blind men has no meaning. But practically I have experienced that this Krishna Consciousness Movement or to present the philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita as it is can solve all problems of the world. It is specifically the responsibility of the Indians after realizing the philosophy themselves, and I think if such realized souls go to various parts of the world and preach this Krishna Consciousness Movement in every nook and corner of the world, there will be a great renaissance. I would therefore request you to give your serious attention to this Krishna Consciousness Movement and help me as far as possible.
I want to start a center in India at the birth-site of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu specially for accommodating non-Indian students for taking lessons in this great transcendental art. When Indian young men will see that foreign students from England, America, Canada, Australia, etc. are taking interest in the spiritual science left by the Acaryas headed by Lord Krishna, then naturally they will also take part. It will be a great expensive job, but still if one half the expense is borne by the Indians I shall manage to send the other half from America and Europe. As your good self has voluntarily offered some service on account of this Krishna Consciousness Movement, I shall be very much pleased if you kindly consider this proposal.
Thanking you in anticipation.
Yours in the service of the Lord,
A.C. B. S.
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