Chapter 4: Summer of Love

Summer of Love

Volume 15, Chapter 4

July 22, 2019

During my teenage years, I was living in San Francisco during 1967’s “Summer of Love” when hippies were trying to establish the brotherhood of mankind without any positive lifestyle alternative or anyone to guide them. History shows that the young people of my generation fell hopelessly short of the goal of universal peace and love, for true love and peace can only be experienced on the spiritual platform.

The summer of 2019 is momentous, for it is a milestone in the devotees’ distribution of spiritual love: this year marks the thirtieth annual summer festival tour along Poland’s Baltic Sea coast. As my flight landed in Poland, I realized that I was the only original member of the tour that started three decades ago. In fact, several of this year’s participants are the teenage children of the devotees who were part of the inaugural festival tours during the early 90s. I thought how fortunate those teenagers were to be spending their summer vacation chanting, dancing and sharing Krsna consciousness with others, just as their parents had.

I had just flown in from Macedonia wearing non-devotee dress, but as soon as I landed, I changed into my devotional attire. Many devotees feel more comfortable in Western dress, but I still favor the traditional dhoti, kurta and shaved head. As I changed, I remembered a story my godbrother Bhavananda das had shared with me. He told me that when he first joined the movement in Los Angeles in 1969, he didn’t immediately shave his head. Srila Prabhupada noticed but didn’t say anything; he was away on the morning Bhavananda finally did shave his head clean. When Srila Prabhupada arrived back in Los Angeles the next day, Bhavananda gave him a garland and paid his obeisances. When he stood up Srila Prabhupada looked at him, rubbed his head with his hand and said with a big smile “Thank you very much!”

Although Srila Prabhupada preferred his disciples to dress in traditional clothing, he was not against them wearing Western dress. However, he made several conditions about this in a letter to Brahmananda das:

“The next point is that you should dress just like perfect American gentlemen, but the sikha and tilak must be very prominent. Coat, pants, necktie and everything – brahmacari and grhasthas, they can put on because you are not Sannyasi. In the temple, you can dress as brahmacari, but in order not to become ridiculous in the eyes of others, outside you can dress just like a very nice perfect aristocratic American. So there is no objection. But we must have always our tilak and sikha and there is no compromise for this purpose.”

[Srila Prabhupada letter to Brahmananda, October 6, 1968]

In other words, Srila Prabhupada expressed his desire that we retain the important symbols of our tradition—the sikha and tilak marking.

Guru Kripa das was waiting for me in a van outside the terminal.

“Welcome home!” he greeted me.

“Thank-you,” I said. “Actually, you’re right. This is my home, because home is where the heart is. I have been waiting for this moment all year!”

The 300 tour devotees had already set up the first festival of the summer in the nearby town of Pobierowo. The festival was in progress when we arrived. Driving in, I was overwhelmed with emotion at seeing hundreds of people walking through the festival grounds enjoying various activities in our numerous colorful tents. Some guests were immersed in the cooking demonstration, others were listening attentively to a seminar called “The Art of Happiness”, and still others were reading information in the exhibits on reincarnation and vegetarianism. Several young girls were in line to get gopi-dot face paint. The restaurant was jam-packed with customers. And to my greatest satisfaction, the book tent was full of people browsing through Srila Prabhupada’s books.

Guru Kripa looked at his watch and said, “Your stage lecture is in 10 minutes. We have to hurry!”

“This seems to happen every year,” I said with a laugh. “I arrive at the first festival just in time to lecture!”

Within minutes I was waiting in the stage wings as Krsna Karsani dasi, our Master of Ceremonies, was introducing me. I gathered my thoughts; it had been a year since I had given my usual introductory lecture on Krsna consciousness to a summer crowd.

“It’s a simple talk, but it must contain all the basic tenants of our philosophy,” I thought. “It must be presented in an informal, interesting and captivating way.”

The stage manager gave me a thumbs-up sign.

“You’re on,” he said.

I walked onto the stage to a crowd of several hundred people. “This is a most serious responsibility,” I thought as I faced them. “It may be the one and only chance these people get to hear the unique message of Krsna consciousness as it has been handed down through millennia. My presentation has the potential to awaken people’s interest or not.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” I began, “it is such a pleasure to be here today. I’ve stood before the people of Poland sharing the wisdom of Bhagavad-Gita for 30 years now. Please allow me to share with all of you today its message while our actors are preparing for the next theater performance.”

I ended my talk by offering to sign any Bhagavad Gitas people purchased, and to write them a dedication. I wasn’t prepared for the reaction to this offer. I saw people running towards the book tent and by the time I descended the stage there was already a line of people jostling to have me sign their books.

“It’s my second one,” a lady said as she handed me a Bhagavad Gita.

“Where’s your first one?” I asked.

“Oh, I bought it some years ago at your festival in Rewal,” she said. “To tell you the truth I wasn’t really interested. It was my husband who insisted we get it. When we got home, we put it on the bookshelf and basically just forgot about it. Then nine months ago my husband passed away from cancer. I was devasted. I was ready to take my own life. Then I remembered the book we’d bought together at your festival. I remembered you saying in your lecture that the book could prepare one for death. So I went to our library and searched for the book until I found it. That night I sat down and read it until I fell asleep at 2:00 am. When I woke in the chair later that morning I just kept reading. That book, the Bhagavad Gita, gave me the solace I needed. It explained everything so clearly. Especially how the soul is eternal. I was so grateful.”

“I’m happy that it helped you,” I said.

“But that’s not all,” she said. “Three months ago my only daughter was getting married. I was so attached to her that I was envious of her fiancé. I knew it wasn’t right, so I picked up the Bhagavad Gita and went through it again. It helped me deal with that issue too by teaching me that a wise person sees everyone equally and treats them as God’s children.

“The day before the wedding I was frantically going from shop to shop looking for an appropriate wedding present for them. I was in a big store looking at kitchen equipment when it suddenly dawned on me that the very best thing I could give them was the Bhagavad Gita! All I bought in that shop was some wrapping paper and ribbon, and the next day I proudly gave them the Bhagavad Gita with a note about how dear it was to me. That night I was a little despondent because I felt like I’d lost a friend—I mean the Bhagavad Gita. I turned my attention to planning my vacation to Pobierowo, and I saw your summer festival advertised on the town’s website! I jumped for joy knowing I could get another copy of the book. Now that I have it, I’m confident I can face any challenge that comes my way. And I can also share its knowledge with others. Thank-you. From the bottom of my heart, thank-you.”

Her eyes welled up with tears, and so did mine. It felt good to be home again with the people I had come to love. As the festival ended, I watched people walking away with Bhagavad Gitas under their arms.

“This will be the summer of love my generation hoped for so many years ago,” I thought.

“Out of Lord Caitanya’s spontaneous compassion He restored all people back to their original consciousness and through the means of His holy names, He enabled them to pass beyond the impassable ocean of the age of quarrel. Thus through the golden moons of Lord Hari and the Vaisnavas the news of the names of Krsna was told from person to person.”

[Susloka-Satakam, text 46, by Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya]