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The Goal: 'To Shake Hands With God'

This article "The Goal: 'To Shake Hands With God'," was published in The Palm Beach Post, May 6, 1973, in West Palm Beach, Florida.

"All of the things I ever had have been disposed of," Welfeld said, "and by getting rid of everything. I'm now able to begin to purify my consciousness. I'm no longer contaminated.

Welfeld, now known as Bhakta H. has redecorated his van with large color photographs of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Godhead of Krishna Consciousness, whom the scriptures say appeared 5,000 years ago and remained on earth for 125 years, taking 16,108 Gopis (consorts) and fathering 10 children each.

Other posters show Lord Caitanya who is said to be an incarnation of God, and who "clarified" the Bhagavad-gita scriputure more than 500 years ago and whose teachings the society follows.

It's about 10 in the morning, and inside the old two-story building that has become the Temple, prashadum (food that is first offered to God) is being served. Hungry devotees pray for several minutes and then begin to eat the specially prepared food - sometimes without utensils. The large-portion meal is served twice daily. Usually, there is a salad, fruit and herbed potatoes or rice. The main course includes chopped and highly seasoned eggplant, a mixture of fruit and a dab of pasty sweet substance. Yogurt is a staple. 

Welfeld points out that meals contain no fish, meat, fowl or eggs. The destruction of living creatures - and eggs are considered embryonic life - is forbidden by God, he said. Other intoxicants, including coffee, tea and cola drinks are not permitted. 

The food is prepared and served by the few women devotees at the Temple who, according to Krishna leaders "have a propensity to cook. sew, bear children and be domestic." The women say they agree. 

Welfeld, 25, is candid about his Karmie life and frequently tells his story to those who will listen. He was raised in Baltimore's predominantly Jewish "Golden Ghetto." He spent four years in a pre-medical curriculum in college, where he had a C-plus academic average. 

"I used to be into drugs, music, the Revolution, nature - just about anything that was happening at the time," he said. 

Welfeld was a drummer with Mother Goose, a rock group, and appeared at clubs and lounges in South Florida before he became interested in Krishna Consciousness. There were several false starts, he said, before becoming a devotee, and usually he returned to "gratifying his senses.

"Finally I realized," he said. "that my true goal in life was to achieve perfection.

In January, Welfeld seriously began the attempt at spiritual development. He moved from a two-acre chicken farm in western Dade County to the society's temple on Kumquat Avenue. He shaved off his shoulder-length hair - except for a 3-inch Sikha, or piece of hair at the back of the head - and began wearing a robe.

At the Compound, the men, women and a few young children are continually involved in spiritual purification. They say they are making rapid progress toward an existence after physical death. 

The society, which was founded seven years ago by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in a Manhattan storefront, now claims more than 5,000 members. About 75 centers are located in major American and European cities, and expansion is what the society is most actively engaged in now.

Jon Sims, now known as Avi Rama, the 21-year-old president of the Miami Temple, is an articulate young man who has been in the movement for nearly five years. He is regarded with respect and is considered an old-timer among other Krishna devotees. Preaching and missionary work is the highest service a devotee can perform for Lord Krishna, An Rama said, and soon centers will open in Key West and perhaps Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

"Our idea is to create a small community," he said, "and within eight months we hope to begin construction of a Taj Mahal-like temple in Miami.

The proposed temple, he said, will he built from funds collected from incense sales and donations.

He explained that contributions account for about $10,000 a month and another $10,000 comes from sales of Spiritual Sky, the country's largest incense firm, which the society owns and operates.

The soft-spoken Krishna leader has just returned from Jamaica, where he spent five days meeting with persons interested in the movement there. The Miami center, he said, will become a nucleus for the region and will assist in the setting up of temples as they become needed. 

Avi Rama appeared on national television and said he plans to meet with Jamaican government officials. "Mainly, I went there to chant the name of Krishna," he said, explaining that by "chanting the holy name of God, the process of self liberation begins.

Twenty-five-year-old Stephen Bridge, now called Sankarshan, who was initiated at the St. Louis temple two years ago, describes himself as a "problem devotee.

He said he has thought about leaving the Compound several times because it has become overly strict. 

"I like to read and study the Bhagavad-gita, but I don't have enough time here to do my reading," he said. 

Sankarshan considers himself an "unsuccessful" devotee because he still has desires for sex. Women devotees at the temple arouse his desires and he thinks maybe it would be better for him to live elsewhere.

"I want to be celibate for the rest of my life," he said, "but I'm still a lusty person, I still want to gratify my senses.

During the daily discussion of the scriptures, Sankarshan engages other devotees to examine themselves to see if they are making spiritual progress.

We must constantly be aware of our lust, he said. It's going to take a physical lifetime to become a pure devotee.

Sankarshan usually makes at least one daily trip into maya, or the world beyond the compound. I know where the Karmies in maya are at, he said, and I don't care for it, maya is simply an illusion, everyone is playing God out there.

"They're suffering, those Karmies are suffering, but they don't know it because they cover themselves with material happiness, but material happiness is only temporary," he said. 

"They're eating meat; they're killing other animals and creating karma for themselves - karma that they will have to suffer for," he said.

Sankarshan's hope is for mukti, the liberation from a material consciousness. "Someday, I'll reach pure consciousness, and I will no longer be contaminated," he said. 

At 6 in the evening, Welfeld and four other devotees begin sankirtan, the "complete glorification of Krishna." They put on clean orange-tinted robes and begin public preaching at the Tropical Pool apartment complex in southwest Dade County. 

The evening preaching occurs daily, during which incense and Krishna literature is distributed. Devotees ask for donations to help support the movement and its mercy program in Bangladesh and the drug rehabilitation project that the Krishnas say is in operation in several major American cities.

The "No Solicitors" signs posted on the building do not deter the group from proceeding. Apartment complex managers are avoided, and devotees start canvassing from door-to-door.

"I was playing music, smoking joints and popping Sopors," Welfeld told an interested person. "What I was looking for was a cheap high ... and I admit it was nice, but it didn't last long enough. I was a lusty person, just trying to gratify my senses, but it was all momentary." he said.

Through Krishna Consciousness, he said he has found that his college degree, his musical career, sex relations and material goods are "garbage.

A young accounting student invited Welfeld into his apartment and questioned him further about sex.

"Sex ... why else would you do it except for sense gratification? We're not into that," he said simply.

"I've given up sex completely ... except for procreation," Welfeld said, "it's like any other gratification of the senses, and we don't do it for that reason.

At the Coventry Apartments, the manager confronted Welfeld about "soliciting." The manager was told of the work of Krishna devotees, how they are helping people in Bangladesh and about the drug rehabilitation programs, but the man remained firm. "You've got to leave here ... you are on private property," he said. 

At about 9 p.m., the devotees meet and discuss the evening's activities. Each person has something to discuss while tabulating the dollar bills and change. The total is nearly $50 - considered to be average for 3 hours work.

"One guy got uptight because we looked into his window," Welfeld said, "and another invited us into his place ... you never know about Karmies.

"Krishna looks after us ... He protects us," they agree, on the way back to the Compound. 

An earlier afternoon preaching mission took some of the devotees to the high rise canyon on East Flagler Street in downtown Miami. Startled afternoon shoppers, businessmen and tourists seemed confused at the chanting delegation. The devotees say that downtown is an inappropriate area for preaching because most persons are in such a hurry that they haven't the time for serious discussion.

The weekly Krishna feast, held in a park in Coconut Grove, is more conducive to communicating the society's message. Usually, a scattering of street people, students, housewives and tourists partake of the free food and sometimes join the chanting and singing.

Richard Richman, 25, a college graduate, has recently become a devotee. Until his initiation he is known as Bhakta Richard, and his sense of humor has remained intact.

"Beat the high cost of supermarket food," he exhorts. "Eat our prashadum ... it's free and you can have as much as you want." Mark Birenbaum, 24, who is now called Madana Mohan, became a devotee of Krishna in Los Angeles more than a year ago. He and his wife recently moved into a 25-foot screened in-boat that is drydocked on the Compound. He's outspoken about his motives for joining the movement: "I want to be able to shake hands with God.

He said that prior to Krishna Consciousness, he found "nothing could hold my interest very long ... not material goods, not sexual orgasm, not yoga ... I was always trying to get something for myself, but it never worked."

Madana Mohan's conversations are filled with references to the bliss that he says he now experiences. "It's happiness that doesn't stop, and through Krishna Consciousness I'm able to attain it. Everything is perfect, there is no hot or cold, there is no anxiety ... only perfection.

Madana Mohan, who described his bachelor's degree in psychology as "nonsense," said he doesn't consider himself fanatical or radical. "I'm a seeker of truth. and I know now that I've found it," he said. 

"Understanding Krishna Consciousness is a very difficult thing," he said, "especially if You are a meat eater." Eating cow meat - one of God's favorite animals - poisons the brain and the thought processes he said. 

"Meat eaters simply cannot understand the heaviness of this philosophy ... and only when you stop meat eating will your consciousness begin to be purified.

"I'm going back to Godhead after physical death. I know it; I'll be with God," he said. 


The Vocabulary of Hare Krishna 

Bhakta - A devotee, or one who practices devotion.

Caitanya - An incarnation of Krishna who appeared in the 1500s in Bengal, India. He was the inaugurator of the congregational chanting of the maha-mantra, Hare Krishna, and his life was the most perfect example of the practice of the teaching of the Bhagavad-gita.

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare - Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare - The maha-mantra, or great chant for deliverance. Krishna and Rama are names of the Lord, and Hare addresses the energy of the Lord. These names have been particularly recommended for chanting in this age.

Karma - 1) Material action performed according to scriptural regulations; 2) action pertaining to the development of the material body; 3) any material action which will incur a subsequent reaction; 4) the material reaction one incurs due to fruitive activities.

Karmie - A non-devotee, an outsider.

Krishna - The original name of the Supreme Lord in his original transcendental form; the Supreme Personality of Godhead, speaker of Bhagavad-gita

Mantra - (man - mind + tra - deliverance) A pure sound vibration to deliver the mind from its material inclinations.

Maya - (ma - not + ya - this) Illusion; an energy of Krishna's which deludes the living entity into forgetfulness of the Supreme Lord.

Mukti - liberation, freedom from material consciousness. 

Prashadum - food offered to Krishna, which becomes spiritual when offered and which can purify the living entities. 

Sanatana - eternal. 

Sankirtan - publicly preaching the glorification of Lord Krishna. 

A 5,000-Year-Old Movement 

Today's Krishna Consciousness movement started about 5,000 years ago in India when it is said that Lord Krishna appeared on earth and spoke the Bhagavad-gita (the Song of God). He instructed all living beings to surrender everything to God, and to do so would be the highest principle of religion.

More than 500 years ago, Lord Caitanya, said to be an incarnation of God, appeared in Bengal, and preached that the best way to revive the love of God in the modern age, was to chant the holy names of God: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare - Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Caitanya, a scholar, became well-known and began preaching the glories of chanting all over the subcontinent in his lifetime, the Krishna Consciousness movement became strong in India and Moslems, Hindus and Buddhists were converted into the non-sectarian movement. After his death in the 1500s, the movement faded, although a few persons continued to practice the philosophy.  

In 1900, Bhakti Siddanta Saraswaiti revived the movement and created a new following in India. One of his disciples was A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, an English-speaking  pharmaceutical executive. Prabhupada decided his mission was to preach Krishna Consciousness in English-speaking countries, and at the age of 50 he abandoned his business and family life and became a monk. 

In 1966, at the age of 70, Prabhupada came to Boston with $8 and later went to the East Village in New York and began preaching Krishna Consciousness to the hippies who lived there at the time. Today, seven years later, the movement claims more than 5,000 devotees and 75 temples. 

Photo 1: A Krishna Shaves His Head, Leaving a Sikha 
Photo 2: On a preaching mission in downtown Miami (left), afternoon shoppers seem confused by the chanting delegation. Devotees say that downtown is an inappropriate area for preaching because most persons are in too much of a hurry.
Photo 3 & 4: The food is prepared by women devotees (above and below), who, Krishna leaders say, 'have a propensity to cook, sew, bear children and be domestic.' The women say they agree.
Photo 5: The Marking on the Woman Above Is a Reminder That the Body Is Not To Be Used for Pleasure.

Reference: The Palm Beach Post, Miami, USA, 1973-05-06