How I Came to Krishna Consciousness
Many of my friends thought life was just a huge meaningless game. But I always felt there was something more and I had to find it
I was born near Boston in 1958. My father had a Masters in architecture from Harvard, my mother a B.A. in literature from Smith. They were well-to-do, yet they instilled in me the understanding that money wasn’t the ultimate cause of happiness. Before I was born they had moved out of Boston to the country, to bring up their family in a place where they felt moral values could flourish.
My parents would often host large gatherings of well-known writers and artists from the neighboring McDowell Colony. (Margaret Mead, a good friend of the family, was often there.) I would listen as they went on hour after hour, throwing ideas about life and art back and forth.
At seventeen I graduated from the Cambridge School of Weston, Massachusetts (a prestigious prep school), but I decided not to go on to college right away. Growing up in a hyperintellectual atmosphere had given me the desire to find out the meaning of life, but I wasn’t learning that at school, nor at the endless parties where my friends and I would go from one pill or joint to the next, rapping aimlessly far into the night. To put it mildly, my perception of truth and reality was becoming duller, not more vivid.
So I decided to take a year off instead of plunging into college. My parents encouraged me to look around for the most fulfilling answers to my questions. They bought me a plane ticket to Europe, and I brashly promised them I wouldn’t return until I’d found the meaning of life.
I traveled first to England, then down to France, over to Holland and Germany, then through Scandinavia, Yugoslavia, and Italy. I had some money, but mostly I hitched rides and stayed at youth hostels. Yet through all these travels I didn’t find what I was looking for. Sure, I saw people of many nationalities, heard many languages, ate many different kinds of food. But behind all the differences, I saw that people were doing the same thing everywhere: trying to earn money and enjoy themselves. I felt there had to be some higher purpose to life than this.
Then I heard that a lot of young people in search of spiritual values were heading toward the Greek island of Mykonos. I decided to find a cave there and seclude myself until I was free of all desire, at peace with myself and the world around me. Then I would be able to realize my true nature. I would fully understand myself and know just what to do next if a self-realized person does anything.
On Mykonos I found hundreds of young people like myself, each with his own philosophy and his own method of reaching “self-realization.” Some, like me, had just arrived on the island. Others had been practicing some austerity (such as drinking only fruit juice and sun-bathing all day) but were now heading back to their families or schools, or looking for work.
I found a cave, sat down, and started listening intently to my boggled mind. After a few days of this, it became clear that I had to find some guidance. I needed a teacher. But who? Although some of the seekers on Mykonos claimed to have found The Answer, everyone I met was indulging in sensual pleasure in the name of meditation, yoga, self-realization, and so on. Superficially they might have appeared more peaceful and satisfied than ordinary people, but their philosophy was always full of flaws, and their actions proved how empty their so-called spiritual life really was.
I felt completely helpless. I had found no one who could really give me a clue about the purpose of life. Was life just a huge meaningless game, as many of my fellow seekers thought? If so, I didn’t want to play. But I still felt there was something more to life. I had to do something to find it but what?
In deep distress I prayed out loud: “If there is someone behind all this, I want to know You. Please guide me so I may come to know You. I will be obedient to Your will.” I prayed from my heart, with every bit of sincerity I could muster. At the time, I thought that if there actually was a God, a controller who directs everything, He must have heard me.
A short time later I was impelled by a strange desire to travel. I say “strange” because I had already traveled all over Europe and had now come to Mykonos, which seemed the most likely place to find self-realization. Still, I left by boat for the heel of Italy, took a train north, and then hitchhiked through the Swiss Alps. As I stood looking down at smog-filled Zurich, with cars zooming back and forth, I wondered, “What did I come here for? This is exactly what I’ve been trying to get away from.” Yet something was spurring me on.
I arrived in Zurich late at night. After searching everywhere for a place to stay, I finally found a youth hostel just before it closed. I got the last vacant space. In the room next to mine were a group of Hare Krishna devotees dressed in traditional Indian robes.
One devotee introduced himself as Jaya Gurudeva and then frankly told me I looked like I was really suffering in the material world. Another, named Rohini-suta, was very eager to talk to me about Krishna consciousness but he barely spoke English, and I barely spoke German. He gave me a German BACK TO GODHEAD. A third devotee gave me an English edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Then the devotees said they had to get to sleep, since they were all going out early the next day to sell books.
When I woke the next morning I looked at the Bhagavad-gita and thought, “Oh, here’s another one of the millions of books people have told me I should read.” But then I thought how happy the devotees had looked, how enthusiastic and confident they had been about what they were doing. I decided to read the Bhagavad-gita, and having nothing else to do, I sat down all day and read the whole book. I found answers to many questions I’d been struggling with for years. By the time the devotees arrived back at the hostel late that night, I felt I’d found a real guru: Srila Prabhupada.
Still, it all seemed too good to be true, and I began firing away with questions, trying to pick out some flaw in the Krishna conscious philosophy.
“It says here that we are all spirit souls, not these material bodies, and that we were all originally with Krishna in the spiritual world. If it was really so nice there, why did we leave and come to this place of birth, old age, disease, and death?”
“Because we have minute independence,” the devotees answered. “The spiritual world is for those who love God. But without free will there is no question of love. Because we misused our free will and chose not to love God, we have been put here in this material world, which is like a prison for everyone who chooses to forget Krishna.”
“So because we wouldn’t love Him, God has just left us here to suffer. Sounds pretty cruel to me.”
“No, Krishna is our eternal loving father, so He wants us to return to Him in the spiritual world. Therefore He comes here Himself to teach us Krishna consciousness (as in the Bhagavad-gita), or He sends His representative, the spiritual master. In this way Krishna gives us all the chance to reawaken our loving relationship with Him.”
“This sounds a lot like Christianity.”
“Yes, the purpose of every true religion is to develop your original loving relationship with God.”
“Well, a lot of people say they love God.”
“Then they have to prove it by their actions. If you really love a person, you will try to please him by serving him. God is also a person the Supreme Person and if we truly love Him we must find out what He wants and try to satisfy Him. Only if we serve God according to His desires will He choose to reveal Himself to us.”
“So . . . I’m doing what I think God wants me to do.”
“No, you can’t concoct your own process; you have to accept His process. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says, ‘Always think of Me. Become My devotee.’ And when Krishna appeared more recently as Lord Caitanya, He taught that the best way to think of Him and develop devotion to Him is to chant His name. That’s why we are chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna,’ Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The Sanskrit word Krishna is a name for God that means ‘the all-attractive Supreme Person.’ Because Krishna is absolute, His name and He Himself are nondifferent. So by chanting Hare Krishna we are coming in touch with Krishna personally. From this contact our consciousness becomes purified more and more, until one day we will realize God’s presence in our heart and reawaken our loving relationship with Him. This is the goal of human life. Why don’t you try the chanting? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
I decided to give the chanting a try. I had tried almost everything else, so what did I have to lose? After chanting Hare Krishna and living with the devotees for a few days, I thought, “This is really a nice life.” But the devotees were pressuring me to become more serious about spiritual life. They wanted me to live in a temple and practice Krishna consciousness full time. But I had become accustomed to resisting all pressure, so I decided to leave. As I packed my things, Jaya Gurudeva asked me where I was going. I said I was taking a break. “Do whatever you want,” he said casually.
It was then that I understood that Krishna consciousness was completely voluntary. Sure there were austerities, but they were for the highest purpose becoming God conscious. I knew from experience that it was impossible to avoid austerity and difficulty in any case. So why not undergo some trouble for a worthwhile goal? I decided to give Krishna consciousness an honest try.
A year went by in the Hare Krishna temple in Amsterdam. After my father and I had exchanged many letters back and forth, he came to visit me for two weeks at the temple, and later my mother stayed at the temple in southern France while I was there. By getting the inside story of my life as a devotee, my parents gradually began to appreciate Krishna consciousness more and more. And when I left Europe and came to live at the temple in Boston, my brothers and sisters also began to discover Krishna consciousness. Now my whole family is well acquainted with the Hare Krishna movement, and they feel they have benefited in many ways.
As for me, one thing I can say to my family with all humility is that I kept the promise I made so naively some seven years ago: I’ve returned home to Boston, but not before finding the ultimate meaning of life developing love for God.