Our previous posting on Allen and Krishna Consciousness can be found here
This weekend we focus on his visit to (and meeting with) A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in Columbus, Ohio, in May of 1969, both his public address and his private recorded conversations.
Prior to that, however, there’s this – an earlier encounter (from 1967) – “Poet Ginsberg said he was not yet ready to become a devotee, but that he chants the Maha mantra every day, and will do so until he leaves this Earth”
The legendary Columbus conversations have been published and can be read in their entirety here.
The editor explains: “The following conversations between his Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and poet Allen Ginsberg took place at the Radha Krishna Temple in Columbus, Ohio, May 11,12, and 14, just before and just after the meeting with the Ohio State student body. These conversations, packed with gems, anecdotes, theology, reminiscences, candid remarks, exhortations, Vedic allusions, wisdom, humor, prophecy and joy, are important because they contain succinct yet complete answers to questions many Westerners, and especially young Americans, find themselves asking either verbally or emotionally about Krishna Consciousness. They are also important because they reveal some of the major concerns of the most important ambassador of the Bhagavad Gita to ever come to the West and this century’s (20th century’s) most famous American poet. The conversations are directly transcribed from tape-recorder and are included in their entirety in two installments”.
Audio of the second of those installments – A Walk Through Kali Yuga – (beginning with Prabhupada on “the poet, the lover and the lunatic”, and the qualities required for true spiritual devotion) may be heard here (and a transcription of that particular section here)
Introductory Remarks by Allen Ginsberg on the occasion of a public meeting/presentation/gathering by A.C.. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Hitchcock Hall Auditorium, Columbus, Ohio, May 12, 1969:
AG: …The amazing thing was that everybody was able to shake their own ass and get up and dance after..a long time of not knowing what to do. When ancient rhythms were floating through, everybody thought, and certainly everybody desired, to dance and sing, rather than be frozen. But such is the nature of our condition, in this (epoch), which is called the Kali Yuga, according to Hindu fairy-tale, Hindu mythology, Hindu religion, Hindu belief, Hindu metaphysics, Hindu cosmography (probably corresponding to what, in our Western tradition, we know as the Gnostic tradition, through Paracelsus, Jacob Boehme and William Blake) – this is an Oriental version of what may be the same tradition, suppressed in the West when the CIA took over religion in 313 AD [audience bursts into applause and laughter], when Constantine, Caesar, made a deal with the church to suppress all alien thoughts and heresies and to formulate a square Western version of heaven and hell. The Kali Yuga concept is one that you can, in a sense, interpret ecologically. If you’ve been following the scientifical pronouncements of doom-possibility coming over television, radio, and slick magazines (as well as the underground press) you will notice that there’s increasing attention to the fact that our own fecal material, the waste products of our robots, have now so polluted (for example, locally) Lake Erie that it’s a great lake of green goo-slime, biologically dead, that our atmosphere, the planetary atmosphere, is increasingly polluted with carbon wastes, that we are so sunk in our attachment to automobile exhaust-fumes, to sulphur wastes from great steel factories producing metals that can be sent flying to explode on the other side of the planet, (with the collaboration of the science faculties in such universities as this) [Ohio State University – audience applauds] – so we find ourselves increasingly sunk into what is called a materialistic habit (like a junky, stuck on his junk). People are hooked on matter, and on their own identity in matter, taking their own identity from their faces, nose(s), bodies, and (the) immediate physical city-complex around them, and not realizing another sweeter, deeper but wilder, or “transcendental” identity than the identity of the “one-dimensional man” that (Herbert) Marcuse has talked about. So what we are proposing here is a modern-minded view, or some indications of a modern Western, i.e. Gnostic, Marcus(ian) view of Kali Yuga, as applying to our own situation rather than being an Oriental fairy-tale. As it stands.. I read in the paper today.. the prognosis for our.. According to U Thant, in today’s paper, according to the head of the United Nations, mankind has only ten years to reverse the political, social, moral, emotional, bhakti course of the planet and alter our technology, alter our consciousness radically enough to preserve human existence on the planet [audience applauds] – So, this is not only the official UN pronouncement, it’s also the pronouncement of most of the ecologists, biologists, and ecosystemic students of the planet that are presently considering the ecological disruption that we have caused through our greed and destructiveness. The Oriental tale, or analysis, has it, however, that we have a good deal more time. The Kali Yuga, or age of heavy-metal entanglement, (the) iron age, lasts 432,000 years and we’re only 5,000 years into it. So there is 428..427,000 years to go. In a conversation with Swami Bhaktivedanta today, I was enquiring more about the details of the mythology (which are found in a book called the Bhagavata Purana. He explained that, according to Hindu analysis, we are 5,000 years into the descent from a lighter age, the age of brass, the disappearance of Lord Krishna, (an aspect of the Hindu deity, Vishnu, (the) preserver, or perhaps the supreme form of the preserver aspect of the universe, of ourselves, or of Vishnu). The disappearance of Krishna, mythologically, or historically, is 5,000 years ago. We’re 5,000 years into the age of iron, and we have 10,000 years in which to chant Hare Krishna (which is to say, repeating the name of the aspect of preservation, hope, that particular vibration of dancing joy transcending our cosmopolitical words. We have 10,000 (years) for that play before there is a total descent into one-dimensional monsters who eat each other up for meat, because all the vegetables have disappeared, because DDT has completely geared out any biological life-form except mammals who go around eating each other, at that point. For.. I’ve known Swami Bhaktivedanta for about three years, since he settled in the Lower East Side in New York, which was my territory and my neighborhood [audience applauds]. It seemed to me like a stroke of great intelligence for him to come, not as an up-town swami [audience laughter] but a real down-home street swami and make it on the street on the Lower East Side (as, also, opening a branch on Frederick Street in San Francisco, right in the center of (the) Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, so that people who were tripping in Haight-Ashbury several years ago, coming down, wanting some – quote “permanent reassurance formula” – (unquote), ritual, magic, hope, feel, one truth, if you wish, zeroed in on the Frederick Street rugged, perfumed, incensed ashram, where chanting would be heard at dawn, as they were coming off a trip all night. A great many people who were hung on acid or other varieties of chemical psychedelics found it much more stable to practice a prolonged ritual, or sadhana, following the instructions of Swami Bhaktivedanta, which are old, classical Indian-style instructions for both ritual, daily living, diet, sexuality, consciousness, thought, apparel, hand-gestures (in other words, a very complicated ritualized yoga, a very ancient one also). I thought Swami Bhaktivedanta made a great move in coming to the Lower East Side and to Haight-Ashbury. And then, naturally, as people dig chanting, centers formed in other parts of the United States so there are small street-level houses or store-front centers in Vancouver, or in L.A, in Montreal, up in Buffalo, down in.. (there’s some Buffalo chanters here). And “chant” comes from the word “enchant”, which means “to make oneself into.. to make a magical spell about oneself”.. So there are Santa Fe centers also. In other words, the indigenous – the importation of a very strange Oriental form, almost a hard-shell Baptist, Oriental form (in the sense of its traditionality and fundamentalism, its reliance on ancient texts, and interpretation of ancient texts by long tradition of teachers) – it’s strange (that) so far-out and ritualized an Indian form should take root in the United States a little more naturally than the more Protestant Vedanta Society or the extremely rigorous Zen groups that have taken root. I think partly it’s due to the magnanimity, or generosity, or the old-age charm, wisdom, cheerfulness of Swami Bhaktivedanta, his openness of heart, his willingness to come down on to the street, and his sense of his own divinity, and of others around, that it’s been possible for the bhakti yoga cult of India to be planted very firmly here in America, so now there are communes, or ashrams, functioning on the basis of the Krishna rituals, which are, in some respect, a model for all those anarchists and political people who are interested in establishing indigenous American communes. The regulations on food, on sexual relations, (which generally cause much confusion in mutual-living health-pads), the regulations on sleep and thinking process, are, like, an interesting model to study for those who are interested in forming affinity groups or large family communes. I will have my turn at language tomorrow, because I’m giving a poetry reading at the [OSU] student union somewhere (I’m not sure where) which is my regular thing, which is why I was invited here by the Student Activities Committee. So I will cut myself off now and be brief and leave the rest of the evening to Swami Bhaktivedanta, who will give a language explanation, or whatever he wants to say, of the cultural, or metaphysical, or religious, roots in.. ..So the rest of the evening will be… Swami Bhaktivedanta will explain his divine self. Then we will continue chanting..