Interview with Goswami Kriyananda Part 5
Then you left to go to the army?
Yes, I was drafted out of the ashram, the monastery, and I appealed, so what I had to do was take a bus back from the Minnesota border to Chicago to appeal. And there were three people there, a Catholic priest, a rabbi and a Protestant minister. I sat down and they said they really had just one question for me. “What’s your religious foundation?”
I said I was a yogic priest studying in the seminary. They asked me what a yogic priest was, and I tried to explain to them what yoga was, that it was an offshoot of Hinduism, which was the oldest sustaining world religion.
And all three of them looked at each other and said “Nah, Christianity is the oldest world religion.” The Jewish rabbi kind of looked at them and one of them said, “Well, Judeo-Christianity is the oldest religion in the world.”
And that was it. They said okay. I came all that distance and it took five minutes.
A week later I got my induction notice. That was a tough thing because I really did not want to go in. I definitely did not want to carry a gun. I told them I wouldn’t do it.
They said, “We’ll put you in jail.”
I said, “That’s okay by me.”
They said, “Well you’re going to break your mother’s heart,”
I didn’t think they would be that cruel.
They said, “We’ll do you a favor because we like you, we’ll put you in a bomb factory, making bombs.”
I said, “You’re crazier than hell. That’s as bad as dropping them. Rather than killing a person with a rifle, which I’m opposed to, I’m going to kill a hundred at a time.
So then they said, “Well, we have no choice. We’re going to put you in a federal prison for life.” That means they could let you out in 20 years. He said, “Why don’t you go home and think about it.”
I said, “Okay, I’ll think about it, but my answer is no.”
But as I was going home, and as I meditated on it in the evening, I realized that although it’s the right thing to do, it would break my mother’s heart to have her son in federal prison. So I decided to bend my principles for her, at least what I believed to be for her, to save her some anguish. So I went back the next day and I said, “I’ll tell you what. I will go in as a conscientious objector in the medical corps.”
They said, “Fine. We need idiots like you there as well as anywhere else.” So I went in and basically they gave me a medic training. “This is a band-aid.” And of course I got into a lot of trouble. Ignorance is really bliss and protective. Because I was putting a band aid on and gave morphine to anyone who was injured. And they kept telling me, “Can’t you tell the difference between the uniforms?” And I guess I couldn’t, or didn’t want to and I was hesitating. And then he said, “Well can’t you see some are not white men?” And that really, really offended me. And finally he said, “The next time you give medical aid to someone who is not an American troop, you are in serious trouble. You’re going to be court-martial-ed.” So I had some problems like that, but we worked our way through them, I guess, with a lot of protection.
It was an unbelievable awakening from the couple years of peace and quiet, to men who really were--forgive me--monsters. It’s a harsh word. I wish I could think of a harsher word. If I can say it as clearly as I can say it, they were sex maniacs. They thought they were going to die, and therefore they were going to miss their sex. But all they had on their mind was sex.
Well, I’m sure it’s because they weren’t near women?
That’s what I thought. If I can deviate a little bit. They had sex on their minds and on their mouths--such filthy language! We say in English every other word is a French word. For them, every word was a French word. And I said, “Boy, when these people get on the battlefield, they’re going to change their ways. We’re getting closer and closer to the battlefield.”
There we are, we pull up into the battlefield. It was nighttime. I figured in the morning these guys are going to see the light and do a redemption or something and pay attention. Well, dawn came and we are all sleeping in sleeping bags on the ground there. And all of a sudden you hear this laughing and giggling and these sleeping bags are unzipped and these women would jump out. So they all had women all along. The Americans accused the Japanese of having comfort women. I don’t know what they call them, I guess just straight prostitutes. They never did change even the day that some of them died. All they had on their mind was anger and hatred and wanting to kill and destroy and have sex.
The contrast between the two, I think, woke me up into a new level of awareness that someone has to teach them because nobody seems to know. It wasn’t about teaching them not to have sex, but to teach them that there is a better way of life. So it did, I think by negative influence, I think it molded a lot of my character and my destiny.
When I came out the government paid for college. It wasn’t very much but it was enough to get a small room and a little food. And because I came from a poor family, I decided to go back to school, so I went back for four more years at the government’s expense. And that was pretty nice because I got a chance to get back into a quiet place, and again, the library was my friend. I think I made one acquaintance after the fourth year. Other than that, I was a lone wolf. If I had a course in chemistry, I was in the library reading about physics. If I had a course in physics, I was in the library reading a course on chemistry
They had at the University of Illinois in those days a classical library, which had Latin manuscripts. I really loved that. But you’d go in there and look at a book, and you’d see that the book hadn’t been used in ten years. I’d go down the shelves and see that hardly any of them were ever used. In those days I could read the Latin. And the Greek--I could Xerox and go to a dictionary and look it up. I was very interested, but unfortunately, as science took over they gave the library away and turned it into scientific chemistry, physics and mathematical library. They just got rid of it.
Just like the University of Chicago, they used to have a marvelous literary program, and there was no money in that. All the money was in medicine, so they just switched everything over.
So your major in college was chemistry?
I started off in chemistry, mathematics and physics. And as I went along, I went back and took a little more, and I realized this isn’t where it’s at. So I switched over to a philosophy major. And that was not very satisfying. It really honestly wasn’t. So from there I realized that something’s missing, and they had a couple of courses open up in terms of Eastern philosophy, Eastern religion. That really turned me on. That was what I had been looking for.
So I took everything there that they had to offer. I realized it made sense. I felt at home. After I went through that, I graduated. Because I had switched at the last minute, my degree was in philosophy, even though I has more subjects in physical sciences than philosophy.
So what did you do after college?
After college, I decided to go to India and study. And I decided to work to be able to stay for awhile. Obviously, the easiest job to get in the business world was in chemistry and physics. There were more needs in those days for chemists, so they hired me as a chemist. I worked for a number of years and started accumulating money to go to India.
Where did you go in India?
I traveled the length and breadth of India. I guess as far as the southern tip, Katchipurim all the way up to the Amritar, which is far north, and then Calcutta, all the way over to Bombay. So I made sort of a grand cross, as it used to be called, just traveling and trying to learn and study, that sort of thing. I didn’t pick up any gurus or any of this nature. I just tried to get information and was obviously looking for books, but there were not really books there. Most of them that I met were sanyasis, yogis on the road, Shiivites. They would talk to you and pass on communicative information.
When you came back, did you start giving lectures?
Yes, people started asking questions of me. There had to be some reason why that happened. I opened up my house, I believe it was on Thursdays. I had a house on South Woodlawn. And we had people come in. There were about a dozen or so. I’d give a lecture for 45 minutes or an hour and we’d talk for about 45 minutes, just questions and answers. And then for whatever reason, we switched over to Sunday afternoon. Maybe the Sunday afternoon came first. We talked and talked and I lectured and answered questions. But then I found it was very hard to get them out of the house. They wanted to stay and stay. So then we switched to a Thursday night after work.
We were up on the third floor where one of the rooms had a library. There were about 12 people there, and we ran that for some time. We’d run from about 7pm to 9:30pm. We did that for a couple of years. It was between 12 and 20 people. And then they started telling me, “You should open a center.” I don’t know why I listened to them, but I opened a center in the fine Arts Building on South Michigan Avenue and within six months the 12 people who encouraged me to start it were no longer there. Obviously it didn’t have the same flavor as being in a private home and talking intimately.