My very first introduction to ISKCON was not particularly positive. I was in 9th grade, so 1978/79, and attended a government & law high school in downtown Dallas. A completely self-paced high school and we could skip class to go to city council meetings or the courthouse. I loved watching court cases, so I skipped a lot of afternoon classes.
Coming out of the court house one day there was a group of young men wearing jeans, t-shirts, and ski caps. The ski caps were odd because it was not winter. But the oddest part was that for some reason the jeans & t-shirts made them look like they were in costume. The guys just did not look comfortable. Anyway, one approached me.
He walks up and asks what kind of music I like. My favorite band at the time was the Beatles. So he smiles and hands me a record, saying that George Harrison produced this album. I do not remember the artwork, but kind of doubt that it was the Radha Krishna Temple Album (it could have been?). He then asks for a small donation.
I told him (truthfully) that all I had was $1 to catch the bus home. He looks at my wrist and says ‘how about your watch?’ I replied that I needed the watch to know what time to catch the bus. Truth was I simply was not giving him my watch. He says ‘ok, maybe next time’ and walks away. As he walked away the album very smoothly got pulled back into his bag.
Not a terrible meeting, but he gave off some really slimy vibes. When I talked to some devotees, years later about it, they said it was probably not locals, but some of the New Vrindaban devotees. Apparently they had been causing problems around the country in their collection methods. I knew nothing about it at the time.
My second encounter was meant to be negative but was more positive. I was working security at the State Fair of Texas. Perhaps 1981 or 82? The local temple is only 1 mile from the fairgrounds, so they were out daily doing kirtan and book distribution. The fair is all about making money, so the devotees could not perform or sell books inside the fairgrounds. They stayed out near the main gate on the sidewalk.
Big Tex, our 40 foot tall talking cowboy, would make regular announcements. This particular year he had a special announcement: “Howdy folks, this is Big Tex telling you not to donate to the Hairy Krishnuhs”. His pronunciation was very Texan.
I did not stop to talk to them, but I was working security there 3 or 4 days a week and never once saw or heard any complaint from anyone. They were just another church group trying to collect money and proselytize. A basic American right, and very common in Texas. I think it was the drums, dancing, and “wearing bedsheets” that confused people.
They looked like a friendly happy group. It was mostly young families with kids. They were just doing their own thing. I was fine with it, but not interested at the time.
3rd Meeting – I Buy Books
My high school sweetheart was vegetarian. Being the early 1980s in Texas, I had never met an vegetarian before. I figured I would never meet another one. We started dating after I graduated, and for our first date she wanted to go to a new vegetarian Indian restaurant she had heard about – Kalachandji’s.
I had no idea what Indian food was like, especially had no idea what vegetarian food was (you know… rabbit food). The place had an unpronounceable name (it really was not that hard). Then to top it off… she says it is run by the Hare Krishnas.
By this time I had heard about those crazy cults and wanted nothing to do with them. For all I knew they would snatch us up from the restaurant and brainwash us, right? Yeah, one of the many things from seminary I had to unlearn.
My brother in law, the closest thing to an adult I could talk to, said the Krishnas were cool. He said they were just raising families and running restaurants to support the church. Although he had not eaten there yet, he had heard the food was amazing. Ok, amazing food, and a super hot girl, alright I will go.
The restaurant had just opened and Sunanda was still cooking there. Any rock band that came to town would hire him to cater. He was an exceptional cook. The dinner was a fixed meal, no menu. They brought out like 10 prepes, then dessert. Samosas, pakoras, plain rice & fancy, puri and poppers, 2 or 3 subjis. For dessert sweet rice or halava with a fruit sauce (my favorite). It was all absolutely divine!
Somewhere along the way I picked up a couple books: the Bhagavad Gita, and Chant & Be Happy. I was reading them concurrently and realized I had not eaten meat in over 2 weeks. I guess I was a vegetarian? So I was. My wife could never really explain why she was vegetarian, but Prabhupada’s books did it for me. I do not think she was thrilled that I did it for Prabhupada, and not for her. Such is life.
We became regular customers and eventually took cooking lessons from Rama Shraddha, and started cooking at the restaurant. Well, we never got hired there, they just drafted us. My wife and I were eating at the restaurant and the waitress said Rama Shraddha needed us in the kitchen. The got busy and needed help. He put my wife to making pakora, and me to puris. It was actually quite fun.
The problem came in when we were there too often cooking. We were all heading to Oklahoma, to the farm, for a festival. My wife and I were helping cook and were sent for by Tamal Krishna Goswami. He was the zonal acharya, and was giving a class. He said if we were going to be there, we needed to go to class. My wife was not at all interested in class, she was there to cook.
As we entered the temple room, they separated us and said men sit up front, woman & kids in the back. From the look my wife gave… I knew our days at the temple were numbered. After that she would not go back except as a customer. No classes and no more cooking. I was still reading the books and she was not thrilled about it. We each had tulsi beads but she quit chanting. I chanted, but not regularly.
4th Meeting – I Get Initiated
After I got out of the Navy, we got divorced (1996/97?). As a single father I was struggling to make things work. As many people do in times of trouble I turned to church. I put the kids in the gurukula, for school. I worked an evening shift so I was able to go to the temple for noon arati and lunch everyday. I got back into chanting my rounds and eventually got initiated (1999/2000?).
Unfortunately my guru left his body in 2002. So with no guidance I drifted away from the the temple, around 2008. I still have no siksa guru, but have gone back to chanting regularly and working on getting better at the 4 regs. There is no temple anywhere near me, so this blog is my attempt at some association.
What a long strange trip it has been.