Sunday, September 16, 2007

Musings on John Lennon

Took another walk around the Upper West Side today. Autumn is approaching and the heat and humidity of summer have taken off, replaced by a pleasant coolness in the air. Autumn is a nice refreshing season in the north, if it weren’t so quickly overcome by bone-chilling cold. It is transitional, like everything in this world. There is an expression: “never a dull moment.” The truth is, in this world, there’s never a truly conscious moment. Things are changing, but they are dull, covered by various degrees of ignorance. I feel that dullness strongly today. No kirtan and no association with devotees.

I walked down Broadway to 72nd Street and then to Central Park West. On the corner of 72nd & Broadway is the Dakota, a super upscale apartment complex where John Lennon lived in the late 70’s. It’s also where he was killed. The building is rather depressing looking, with two large gas-light flame lamps at the entrance, in front of a black gated driveway (where Lennon was shot). On top of the building flies a large American flag.

John Lennon was more famous than the president of the U.S. when he was struck down by an assassin. “We're more famous than Jesus,” he once said, and had to apologize for that remark to the American Christians he offended. He had such fame, but that’s history now. No one knows where John Lennon went. His real sukriti came from a few meetings he had with Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada was a guest at his Tittenhurst estate in England during the summer of 1969. Prabhupada lived very simply in a guest cottage there during his stay. Yoko Ono noticed how austerely Prabhupada was living. She asked Lennon, “do you think it would be possible for us to live like this?"

I've heard one of their conversations where Prabhupada enthusiastically explained the importance of music in spiritual life. Prabhupada was sitting with Lennon, Ono and George Harrison. Prabhupada told them that Vedic knowledge was delivered via music. Then he started to sing a Vedic prayer for them. Singing a cappella an unusual melody, Prabhupada recited a long Sanskrit prayer. I always wondered how Prabhupada learned all the sutras he knew. He was like a Wikipedia of Vedic knowledge and prayers. When did he have the time to memorize all those sutras? And where did all those exquisite, far out melodies come from?

Prabhupada spoke with them for over an hour that day. George was clearly influenced by Prabhupada, as can be heard in the text of many of George’s songs and in his service on behalf of the devotees. John was less influenced, being preoccupied with Yoko and with his self made image as a cultural icon. He was both idealistic and cynical, according to the accounts i’ve read of his life. But he also was very fortunate, to have had personal contact with Srila Prabhupada. Prabhupada even had a dream about Lennon, where he said John had been a big businessman in Calcutta previous to his birth as the most famous Beatle. Who knows, he may be back on Park St. in Kolkatta now, selling pirated versions of his own cds. (That’s my cynicism. He’s probably doing much better than that.)

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