The Skeptic John Lennon

"I'm glad to see your record's doing well," John Lennon said to the devotees one day when they ran into each other in the Apple offices. "What are you going to do with the royalties?"

"Build a temple," they said. "We've found a nice five-tory building near the British Museum. The owners weren't real anxious to sell to us. But they changed their minds pretty fast when George wrote a letter saying Apple would guarantee the payments." "When you movin' in?" Lennon asked.

"That's the problem," the devotees said. "They say we don't have the proper permits to gut the place. Getting through the red tape is going to take months. And we've only got a few weeks ubtil Prabhupada gets here."

Going to do the work yourselves, are you?" Lennon asked.

"We are," they replied.

"You fellas good with your hands, are you?" "Yeah. We've got some real fine carpenters."

"Tell you what, then." Lennon said after pausing a moment. "I just bought a place near Ascot that needs plenty of work. You help me do a few things out there and you can stay with me and Yoko till the temple's ready."

"John, you just made yourself a great deal," the devotees said. "We'll work harder than anybody you could pay."

Tittenhurst, Lennon's new estate, had belonged to the Cadburys, the chocolate family, for generations. It was seventy-six acres of forest and English gardens with a huge manor, a half-dozen guest buildings and servants' quarters.

Prabhupada flew into Heathrow Airport on 9-11-69. After a short press conference, he was driven to Tittenhurst in Lennon's white Rolls-Royce. Surrounded by a huge stereo system, a television, and a fully stocked bar, the Krishna mendicant sat back, closed his eyes, and chanted Hare Krishna. When he arrived at the estate, he was taken to the servants' quarters.

The guru's first visitors were George, John, and Yoko. Prabhupada took off the garland of flowers he was wearing and gave it to a devotee, indicating that he should hang it around George's neck. George smiled, thanked the swami, and welcomed him to England.

"You are anxious to bring some peace to the world," Prabhupada said. He stated it as a fact. "Every saintly person should be anxious to bring peace to the world."

Prabhupada gave them a quick summary of the universe as presented in the Gita and asked what philosophy they were following.

"Following?" Yoko said. "We don't follow anything. We just live."

"We're still sifting -- sort of like looking through the sand to see who's got the best philosophy," John cut in, springing to Yoko's defence.

"I do meditation, mantra meditation," George added.

"Very nice," Prabhupada said, and went on with his lecture.

When John and Yoko left Prabhupada's little room a short time later, they were impressed.

"Look how simply he's living," John said to Yoko as they walked back to the manor, "Could you live like that?"

Harrison's reaction was much stronger. Prabhupada had captivated him. He returned to visit the guru often.

John and Yoko were polite, but kept their distance. John couldn't get over the disillusionment of his trip to meet the Maharishi and didn't want to risk another letdown. He had been so excited about going to India and had talked the three other Beatles into joining him. But when they arrived, they found the Maharishi had a woman. John was crushed.

"There are so many gurus, so many people going around saying they're it," John told Prabhupada several times. "How are we supposed to know who's for real?"

Prabhupada looked into John's eyes. He smiled, but did not answer.

He was working on the purports to his Gita late one night when John and Yoko knocked on his door, which was slightly ajar. Without waiting for a response, they peeked into the room and asked if Prabhupada had a moment to speak to them. The guru invited them in. They entered, sat on the floor, and held hands.

"We are very much in love," Yoko said, picking up the thread. "We want to know if there's any way you could fix it with Krishna for us to be be together always, even in the afterlife."

"Impossible!" Prabhupada blanched. "When you go back to godhead, you can be united with Krishna. But husband and wife -- that is simply a mundane relationship. It ends with the body at the time of death."

After that, Yoko wanted nothing to do with Prabhupada and his devotees. She avoided them and began badgering Lennon to send the Krishnas on their way.

A few evenings later, John walked into the kitchen, where several devotees were preparing the morning prasadam, and said hello. Without another word, he strolled over to an upright piano that had been stripped down to the wood and left unvarnished. Then he began banging out the Krishna mantra.

Lennon started it in rock and roll. Then he rolled into a blues rendition. The devotees stopped what they were doing and ran over to the piano to sing along. Eyes twinkling behind his granny glasses, John did a bluegrass version of the mantra; then a classical version. He was doing the mantra as a slow, sexy ballad when the spell was shattered by a scream.

"John!" Yoko yelled. She was standing in the doorway, wearing a nightgown. "I have a terrible headache! Stop all that and come upstairs with me."

Lennon left the piano without closing the key slip and climbed the stairs with Yoko.

A few days later, John and Yoko invited Prabhupada to the manor to hear a demo of "Cold Turkey," a song John had just finished recording. Prabhupada showed up with a two-bit portable tape recorder and a tape of himself singing one of the Krishna mantras.

Prabhupada sat down on a couch opposite a large fireplace. On a wall facing the spiritual master was the famous, lifesize, full-frontal nude photo of John and Yoko. Running down another wall were black -and-white silhouettes of couples making love in almost unbelivable positions.

Although he often preached that sex was "stool," Prabhupada did not react. He waited patiently while Lennon fiddled with his state-of-the-art tape player. John pressed every button and turned every knob but he couldn't get the "Cold Turkey" tape to play. Frustrated and embarrassed, he finally sat down next to Yoko.

Prabhupada grinned, pressed a button on his little tape recorder, and played his version of one of the Krishna mantras. When it was over, he thanked John and Yoko and went back to his little room. It was their last meeting. The paths of John, Yoko, and the Hare Krishnas would not cross again.

Before dawn the next morning, Prabhupada summoned his chief devotee.

"It's not good for us to be here," the swami said when the devotee entered the room. "It is time to go. We must open our temple."


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