Visakha: In early July, tens of thousands attended San Francisco's Rath-yatra parade and festival. Prabhupada addressed them in a sunny meadow in Golden Gate Park, saying that the Bhagavad-gita was the basis of the Krishna consciousness movement. And the Bhagavad-gita reminds us that we are integral parts of God, who is the chief of all living beings. It's God who maintains all living beings. It's He who is the predominator. We are maintained and predominated.
My heart gladdened to hear Prabhupada explain these basic points. He spoke with conviction, and what he said was based on the authority of scriptures and sages throughout the ages. It was also clear and logical and epically relevant. "Why didn't more people 'get' it?" I thought, completely ignoring the grim fact that only weeks before, for some unknown reason, I'd been missing it myself.
After his talk I started to climb the stage steps to photograph the event when a devotee blocked me, saying, "Women are not allowed on the stage." I explained that I was authorized by Prabhupada to take photos, but this man was adamant. Usually, I devised ways to circumvent such obstacles, but this time I found myself disheartened - after all, the fundamental Krishna conscious understanding was that we're not these male or female bodies but spiritual beings, and besides, this person was interfering with my service, and anyway, women as well as men should be on the stage, and so on.
Suddenly weary, I meandered to the middle of the field behind the audience and plopped down on an empty chair, thinking, "If I could think of something better to do than Krishna consciousness, I'd surely do it." I wondered what my life would have looked like if Prabhupada hadn't entered it. Through a lens of oversimplification, I suddenly saw myself caught in a web of competition, clambering for photographic assignments, climbing a ladder of prestige while trying to ignore a pervasive stench of phoniness and meaninglessness. Probably drinking more than wise. Hiding beneath a layer of competence and conviviality. Certainly confused. In summary, miserable.
After a short time the kirtan intensified. I looked up to see Prabhupada getting off his seat. He took a bunch of pink roses and threw them one by one into the huge crowd. Finally, he threw what was left of the bunch and, raising his arms, began to dance. I stood on the chair I'd been sitting on and realized I was in an ideal spot to take photographs: in the lower part of the frame were the audience's upraised hands - black and white, men's and women's, young and old - and in the center was an ecstatic Prabhupada surrounded by his blissful students. Behind him stood the Deities.
The experience left me humbled: how easily my consciousness had drooped. How much I needed help with my service, and how ignorant I was of the ways in which that help came. Clearly, awareness of Krishna, which was natural for Prabhupada, was superficial for me. Yet, also clearly, someone was trying to help me. I bowed my head in thanks.