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Paul Auerbach’s Story
Former Private Secretary of Swami Bhaktivedanta (ISKCON)

My involvement with the Hare Krishna movement began in early 1966. I was attending Queens College at night, and as a result of a flyer I saw hanging in a window in Greenwich Village, I stopped at their Second Avenue temple for a “kirtan” (chanting service). The very moment that the chanting began was one of the significant moments of my life. In one instant—amazingly—I realized that I believed in God! I had been taught to be an agnostic, but at the very first moment of hearing the chant, I realized fully that there was a God. For this, I will always consider the Hare Krishna movement to be a significant part of my spiritual journey.

In a matter of a couple of months, I had dropped out of school and was living in the temple as an uninitiated devotee. I was taught that Swami Bhaktivedanta was one of the few realized souls on this planet, that he was a direct link to Krishna, and that with the empowering of his blessings, I could one day receive full God-consciousness. For the six months prior to the swami’s return to New York, I was being prepared to meet this “savior” whose organization had freed me from my prior, deeply troubled life.

It seemed like a great time for me and for the other devotees living at the temple. I was provided with astounding books of Hindu scriptures translated by the swami for our daily study. And the chanting did seem to be changing the state of my consciousness. I was becoming more relaxed and was finding my new lifestyle to be a great relief from my past. I believed that I had found something that was truer and more satisfying that anything the Western world had come up with.

I met the swami in person about six months after discovering the temple, when he came to visit his New York devotees. I and some other prospective disciples were prepared for the crucial first meeting with him. We all had freshly shaved heads, immaculate robes and facial paint markings. More importantly, I wanted my soul to be presentable to him. I suspected that the swami could see all the truth about me, and I wanted to be fully “chanted-up” so that my spiritual impurities would appear minimized before him.

Finally, Swami Bhaktivedanta arrived in the temple. I and the other new initiates were upstairs in the apartment where he would be staying. It was time to descend and meet the one whom I thought would be the most significant being the universe could bring into my life. I opened the door to the temple and sitting on an uplifted throne upon the temple altar was one who appeared to me like a glowing angel. It was the swami—the 72-year-old gentleman I had seen in so many photographs, whose voice I had heard on so many teaching tapes. The unearthly beauty I beheld in that moment I would never see again, even when I tried and struggled in the following two- and one-half years to recapture the faith and belief of that moment.

After my initiation, I was very active in the New York temple. In addition to participating in street chanting, I was a printer for the group’s “Back to Godhead” magazine and was one of the managers of the “Krishna Store,” which sold Indian goods and imports on 8th Street in Greenwich Village. But after two years in the New York temple, I found myself having certain doubts about the validity of the Krishna philosophy. Was it really true that God is a blue cowherd’s boy, that the swami was truly a perfectly realized soul with the power to bring his disciples to God? I remember sitting alone in the temple one afternoon, getting ready to ask God if I was involved in the right or wrong path. I began my prayer with the word “Father,” and a great feeling of comfort came upon me. I realized instantly that this was the first time in several years that I had really spoken to God (whom I somehow knew deep in my heart). I suspected at that moment that all of the chanting I had done was not really reaching God as was the simple word “Father” which I had just spoken. I then made a promise to my Heavenly Father that if He would let me know that I was on the right path, that I would devote myself wholeheartedly to the Hare Krishna movement; otherwise, I promised, I would seek for Him elsewhere.

Unfortunately, I mistakenly took what happened next to be a direct answer to my prayer to the Father (indirectly, it may have been). Swami Bhaktivedanta sent me a letter from the Los Angeles temple, asking me to join him and travel with him as his private secretary. I saw this as a great chance to gain first-hand information regarding my questions about the swami. For almost the entirety of 1969, I traveled with him, typing his letters, transcribing his manuscripts, helping with travel arrangements and doing editing work on some of his books.

After a year, I realized that I had to leave the movement as soon as possible. There was no question that I did not feel worship for him, that I could not in good conscience be telling people that following him was the way to God. In fact, there were things that I had heard and sensed that I found intolerable. For example, once, in Los Angeles, the swami told a few of us who were in his room, “One day this movement will have enough power that we will be able to say to people ‘ACCEPT KRISHNA OR DIE!’” My decision to leave was finalized in my mind while we were in London. After we returned to the U.S., landing in Boston, I informed the swami that I was leaving the movement and that I was going back home to New York. He requested that I remain with him for a couple of days more until he departed from the Boston airport on a flight to California. During the wait of those two days, I almost saw the hand of my Heavenly Father in the sky, waving me onward and beckoning me to follow His leading to a new path that He was promising to show me.

The swami had often said that Jesus Christ was a bona fide messenger from God. Somehow, I understood perfectly that this was where my search must lead me. Every day during the first week after I returned home with my family, I went to a church and prayed to God to lead me to Christians who could tell me more about Jesus. The following week, I walked in Greenwich Village and saw a small group of young people hanging out inside a storefront. Interested in finding company, I entered and encountered a warm welcome. I was offered a cup of coffee by a couple of people and after I sat down for some conversation, a young lady said to me, “You know, this is a Christian coffeehouse.” I did a near double-take right then! “I’ve been praying all week to meet Christians,” I exclaimed. I told them briefly of my story, and then for the first time in my life I heard the glorious GOSPEL OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, how He died for the sins of mankind and how I could become a Christian by asking Him to forgive me and to come into my heart. I was asked if I wanted to become a Christian right then and there. I replied that this was the first time I had ever heard about this and that I wanted to think about it. But there was no doubt in my mind that God was honoring my search for Him. I remember returning home that night rejoicing, thanking God for His faithfulness to me. I returned to the coffee shop the following evening and, of course, asked Jesus to save me and to come into my life.

That night brought to me a quantum leap of learning about God and finding a correct relationship with Him. Following Jesus and the message of the Bible is clearly my life’s path to God. I believe that I made a great gain toward this path when—while still in the Hare Krishna movement—I first spoke to God and called Him “Father.” Somehow, He was able to reach me at that moment. My recommendation to anyone who is in spiritual confusion, is that they humbly pray to the Heavenly Father, asking Him to reveal the correct path of Truth.

 

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Written by Mike Shreve