If you’re going to San Francisco. . .
One thing about working at Krishna.com, you never know who’s going to show up. I was going over the day’s accounting tasks one day recently, and came upon a name that sounded so familiar to me. It was the same name as the person who had first introduced me to Krishna consciousness in a serious way, over 40 years ago, in San Jose.
I had heard of Krishna before that; had heard and later sung along with the Hare Krishna mantra as it was incorporated in the rock musical, “Hair,” and had even bought and read a Back to Godhead magazine, all before my 21st birthday. But sometimes a person comes in touch with something without realizing its true value. Think of a child playing with a valuable gem.
The late 60s and early 70s were a turbulent time in America, and also in my own life. I had lost my mother, my father had remarried, my childhood home was no longer a shelter. I’d dropped out of college, moved from the east coast of the US to the west coast, singing all the appropriate songs of the day, and had taken up with other young people who were searching for meaning in what seemed such a meaningless world, trying all sorts of methods—not always pious, not always clean—and had by this time come to an extremely low point.
The first time I met Gilbert was in a 7-Eleven; I had on a long gown, and he said, “It’s nice to see girls in long dresses—it’s more God-conscious.” That sat well with me, as I’d been having some faith in Jesus after some awkward moments experimenting with drugs. But most of my current crowd was atheistic. So when I saw him again, and he invited me to his home, I had enough trust to go along. I was not to be disappointed.
There was no furniture in the house; just white walls and on nearly every wall, vibrantly colored posters of extraordinary scenes: a four-headed person atop a large swan, hovering above a lush picnic; a small boy, flute in hand, being bathed by water from the trunk of an elephant and by milk from the udder of a very white cow, while a grown person with a very large crown on his head bowed to the small boy. There was a poster of a four-armed person, surrounded by a deep pink glow (this, I later learned, was the Supersoul, the Lord who dwells in the heart of every living entity. I suppose the pink represented the inside of the heart). There were fragrant flowers, too.
Gilbert was of Mexican-American heritage, and had black hair down to his waist. He gave me books to read—KRSNA, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavad-gita As It Is—and sold me Spiritual Sky incense in wonderful scents like Watermelon and Pine Needles. Over the coming weeks he introduced me to so many new things, even taking me to San Francisco to visit the Krishna temple for the Sunday Love Feast. But that first day, he had me sing with him, the Hare Krishna mantra (that’s how I learned lead and response). He engaged me in service—cutting tomatoes—and gently admonished me not to eat while preparing the food, as it was meant to be offered to Krishna.
He also played for me a tape of Srila Prabhupada. I had a hard time understanding what he was saying, due to my lack of familiarity with his thick Bengali accent. But I clearly heard this one statement, the essence of which has stayed with me through the years: “Simple people, chanting and dancing and eating nice food: this is spiritual life.”
Though I can’t be sure that our recent customer was the same person I remembered, I was happy to be reminded of the person who had given me my first real introduction to Krishna consciousness, and who guided me through the first tenuous steps of what is proving to be a long and rewarding journey. I’m so very grateful to have met him that day.