When I was 16, my mother died, followed by my father about a year later. I was left homeless, alone, and suffering, I now know with PTSD.
I hitched around the country, sleeping rough, or staying in Salvation Army hostels. They meant well, but the hollowness of the christian promise did nor sit well with me. My ‘christian’ family had done nothing to help me, and I was aware of the high level of cruelty perpetrated historically by christians.
I ended up in London, wandering in the day time, eating at St Martin’s in the Fields, wondering why they couldn’t just help people without trying to convert them, and going on and on about jesus all the time. At night, I climbed the fence around the little park in Soho Square, and slept on a bench, in a little hut at the centre of the park. It was winter. Snowing, I dreamt of a butterfly, dying, alone, the sky heavy with the silent weight of winter.
Around the corner, was a Hare Krishna Temple. I went there for some food one day, removing my holey, rotting boots, exposing my three month old socks, worn since I’d put them on at home, stinking, revolting. I couldn’t smell anything, so numbed had I become.
A black devotee, Krishna Tirtha, took me out of the temple. He didn’t throw me out, or ask me to leave, he took me upstairs, to a bathroom, let me shower, washed my clothes, and gave me something to wear while I ate.
This was true kindness, there was no attempt to convert me, just help me, and feed me.
I kept going back. I saw the kindness of the people, and I joined them.
At first, I was at Bhaktividanta Manor, near Watford. I shaved my head, and dressed in orange, first in Bhakta trousers, (a Bhakta is a devotee, in hindu terminology) as I took a while to master the tying of the dhoti.
Meditation by chanting is a great thing. after a few weeks, i could hear my own thoughts, objectively, a stream of continuous bullshit running alongside my repetitive chanting. I was neither of those things, the real me was something else, somewhere else.
The day started early, 3 or 4 am, shitting and shaving and showering. I learned to get up early, before the hot water was gone. Then chanting, for hours and hours, followed by a morning service, more chanting and devotional things directed to statues of Krishna and Radha, and a slightly creepy fibreglass moulding of Prabupada.
A huge breakfast, the main meal of the day, cleaning the temple, mop bucket water with eucalyptus oil. Then i used to try and slip off back to sleep for a bit. I earned the nickname Bhakta Bed, as thats where I could be found, if people were looking for me.
One morning, another devotee, Pete, was doing some physical yoga, frowned upon by those practicing devotional yoga. I asked him why. He had been accepted by a Zen monastery in Scotland, and needed to prepare his body for long hours of Zazen practice. I asked him why he would leave. His answer? “These people are lovely, simon, but God is not blue, and he doesn’t play a flute”.