This is more or less a continuation of my previous post, Hopi Adventures Remain. Actually, there will be three more yet to be written, AA Adventures Remain, Christian Adventures Remain, and Activist Adventures Remain, so, five all together. Let me cut to the straight and say that these “stories” I call them, are mostly about what the field of psychology might call ‘Schizotypal personality disorder’. Now, I wouldn’t disagree much with what Wikipedia says there about this disorder, at present I still have what I’d call a mild to medium version of it, acute maybe, but not chronic. In my twenties and early thirties it was chronic.
In any case, and perhaps a rare case, I believe my remedy has also been my ecstasy, and not in pill form. In other words, I learned that by knowing my grandiosities could be originating from a soc-called disorder, at least in my case, I evolved a way to detach from the disorder aspect of it. By not taking the fantasies too serious, I found it made them more real by the experience alone, staying just distant enough to realize my experiences generated by my disorder, were genuine in themselves and to be honored and remembered. But also realized they did not make me anything more special than anyone else, or that some higher power was making me a messenger of sorts. At the same time, the disorder was relieving me of order, allowing me to explore these fantasies by taking the leaps out of normal culture to make them somewhat real, literally changing my environment to reflect the fantasy, i.e. I made it physical.
OK, first the stories, then I’ll get back to this just a bit when those are completed.
In 1981, a woman, who later became my second wife, and I set out on an adventure to take (for me personally) my greatest dive from normal culture to that date. I’ll have to intertwine the AA story with this one just a bit as this one came in the midst of it.
Getting tired of being a wanna-be-alcoholic in AA, I decided to take a break from it to become a wanna-be-Hindu. I met with this gal, Susan, who had been involved with Yogi Bhajan, meditating, praying, chanting, that stuff. Anyway, she had changed course while in jail and attuned herself to the Hari Krishna religion. We met up and she began telling me all the wonders of Hinduism. Well me having little or no identity, which by the way is a better description of my disorder than Schizotypal personality disorder, I took it in like syrup to pancakes. Next thing I know we take off from Topeka KS on a big drunk to St. Louis MO and found our way to the Hari Krishna temple. It took us 4 days to get there, obviously we stayed drunk the whole way there and needed to get motels each day to keep from crashing my 1965 Chevy half ton pickup. I could only go about 35 to 40 miles per hour in this thing otherwise the front fenders would start to lift up making it an airplane; we took two-lane highways all the way there.
Of course now we were going to be holistic Hari Krishna’s so the drinking stopped abruptly. The temple president, Sura Das, was a charismatic, Hari Krishna hardcore who I was immediately struck by. Singing and playing the harmonium, a small organ like instrument that you pump to make it work, his Jewish sounding singing voice mesmerized me. And the fact that he was in personal service to A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder and head guru of the Hari Krishna movement, added to my infatuation.
I took it serious. Having been in AA and coming to understand the concept of “God as You Understand Him” (try to forget that ‘Him’ thing) I liked even more that Krishna was all the gods in one, that he was an incarnation of all the gods of the earth, just disclosing himself to different cultures and using different faces. What a guy, ya know? I mean he was Jesus, yeah, Jesus. I mean how understanding for the god of all gods to humble himself and disguise his identity so that each culture had their desirable god. Now that’s a god.
After a few conversations with Sura Das, I willfully became what they call a Bhakti, the first stage to becoming a true “devotee” of Krishna…I was proud. I’d get up in the morning, 4am, and go down to the temple room and do the morning arti, a ritual where devotees and bhakti’s would chant, sing, play the Manjira, small hand held symbols, and mridangams, drums you play by slinging them with strap over your shoulder and play at both ends. Actually, there are many instruments in Hinduism, but with the Hari Krishna’s these are the most common, oh, jingle bells also. I always played the symbols, I’s pretty good with‘em. Man, you could really get going at these morning rituals. Jumping is a common form of dancing with the Hari Krishna’s, jumping strait up to the beat of the music more or less. I sometimes would see guys who played the drums jump so high that the bottom of their feet were level with my eye, no shit. And they weren’t bending their knees either. The power of spiritual music is amazing.
The Hari Krishna’s music is beautiful and can send you to trance like states. Always the song is the famous mantra: Hari Krishna, Hari Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hari Hari–Hari Roma, Hari Roma, Roma, Roma, Hari, Hari. I think I’m remembering it right. I ought to, even though it’s been over 30 years since I chanted the mantra. A daily task is to chant the mantra while pinching your index finger and thumb on a bead set in a string of beads, 108 beads per string, sort of rubbing the bead as you chant the mantra and then go to the next bead and chant it again. You repeat this 16 times to get one round. That’s 1728 chants of the mantra for one round. Devotees may do up to 10 to 20 rounds in a day. The string of beads are in a cloth sack with a cloth handle that you put your hand through and into the sack and then pinch the first bead and head off chanting. You’d see the devotees with their hand in that sack from morning to night. They learned to chant and not move their mouth or make sound and would be chanting in their head while they talked to you. Hey, the Catholics do their rosary stuff, so…The most rounds I ever made in a day was four, damn near killed me.
Back to the music as I want to tell you about an experience, I had. Remember, I had a pretty good case of Schizotypal personality disorder at the time so, go figure when you read this. The rituals were not always just the morning arti, there was always some special occasion, actually, many of them, one a week at least it seemed; some bigger than others. Well one time we had one of the Guru’s come to St. Louis, there were thirteen of them world wide at the time. Of course the music and dancing began, it was a powerful event, it’s a big deal when a guru comes to your town and so the dancing matches the occasion. I got to dancing and about twenty minutes into it I started to get in a trance like state. These dances could go as much a an hour or two sometimes, especially when Sura as was leading. I was facing the alter while dancing, staring at the deities. Man I got to going, I’s jumping so high I thought I’d hit the ceiling, didn’t care if I did, I’s trippn’. All of the sudden I began to see the face of Krishna fading into view. His face was covering the entire alter area. I’m thinking, ‘wow, Krishna loves “ME”’. Bout that time the image began to fade away as slow as it came and then finally was gone.
OK well I gotta qualify this experience. Times of ecstasy like this, and it truly was ecstatic, and especially if you have Schizotypal personality disorder, can turn around and become depressing when they pass. When the dancing stopped, I began to feel almost sick, like I wanted to throw up, I had to leave the temple room and go be alone as I was beginning to fall into a deep depression. See, though now I’ve learned to use my disorder to my advantage, I wasn’t so keen on that while being a Bhakti with the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON. But still now, and even then, I truly appreciate the experience, conjured up or not. And like my wanna-be-Indian trip, I have no shame for my shenanigans with the Hari Krishna’s. I would not trade that experience away for nothing. One reason I suppose is that eventually one can learn that life’s experiences do not always have to be real and genuine for them to be worth having; enjoy them while they last.
I lived in the temple with the men for about a month. Susan lived with the women in an apartment across the ally from the temple. Susan and I were in love and so to be together we got Sura Das to marry us and so we moved into an adjacent apartment next to the ISKCON women. Actually, all he did was sign the marriage license, there was no ceremony. I don’t think he approved but obliged us with the signing just the same. Susan and I were notorious drunks when together, you’ll get more of that in my AA story. Sure enough, after about a week we began drinking, and getting very drunk; for about 16 hours of the 24 hour day. So one time I got all lit up and decided to go over to see Sura Das and give him shit about whatever. By this time we had fallen out the with ISKCON group, and were more or less shunned by them. They didn’t need drunk Bhakti’s hanging around, rightly so I suppose. Sura’s room was on the 3rd floor of the temple, it was a big place. I don’t remember what took place in the heat of the ordeal, but I do remember that I was suddenly lifted up by Sura himself, he was kind of a bull, and taken to the balcony to be thrown off onto the parking lot below. Being powerless at the time I was fortunate that two or three devotes were there and just about the time Sura was to flip me over the balcony, the devotees interceded and pulled me back.
Yeah well, my ISKCON days kinda ended then. But later on and after I got sober in AA…again, Sura and I made up somewhat and I continued going to the temple on Sundays for their weekly feast. I did that for the next three years. And hey, the food, my god it’s like heaven food, or Krishna Loka food, all vegan. Sometimes, about once a year, they have a 108 course feast, yeah, 108 different kinds of food, half of them deserts. You literally eat all day at these things. Many temples have a restaurant, they are now called Govinda’s since they more or less made it a chain, sadly, cuz now the food is shipped in frozen and nothing like the homemade versions all temples used to have. Sura Das and a lady named Govinda (coincidence I think) were the cooks at the St. Louis temple, and perhaps two of the best cooks in all of ISKCON, they were famous in the movement for their cooking. Govinda was also famous for her Hindu art, she was taught by Prabhupada himself, many of the images you’ll see in temples are prints or originals of her paintings. She use me as a model once for a painting of Krishna, I was so honored. Not that I looked like Krishna or anything, she just needed me to hold this horribly uncomfortable pose for nearly half the day, but I gladly obliged. Yeah, the food and the art of ISKCON are, or were anyway, an experience in itself.
There’s much more to divulge about my ISKCON days, but one thing I will say is that though ISKCON is considered a cult, I would rather think of it as a religion. Oh sure, people there get really fucked up, much like those in cults do, but hell, you can see that in any Christian church on any Sunday. Some of the devotees at the St. Louis temple have been in the movement since 1968, Sura one of them. I was last there about ten years ago for a visit talking to an old friend there name Divinonda (sp?), at that time he’d been there 35 years, always dressed in his chiffon robes, called sari’s for women, and of coursed the shaved head and pony tail. I have deep respect for the Hari Krishna’s, they are gutsy people, I like gutsy people. I thought of myself as gutsy to dress in these same robes and dance down the streets of St. Louis banging my symbols and singing the mantra. I’d do it now for kicks, just to be anti-cultured. See, I ain’t all well yet, thankfully.