Evolution of a Circumstance

By Srila Jiva Goswami dasa

Has anyone ever deliberately spit in your face? In early 1967, I was a twenty-one year old African American in my home town of New York City. Having just spent four years in the military, I’d never heard of the Hare Krsna Movement. I was heading across 23rd Street for the 8th Avenue Subway. I’d just been informed by doctors at the VA’s Regional Office on 9th Avenue that my vision acuity was below the level which marked legal blindness (20/200) and would continue to decline.

In a doorway ahead, I saw a solitary black woman. She was very slight. Her hands were up over her face. We thousands milled all about her. I supposed it was the New York way: “Don’t ask for trouble.” I was concerned though. I saw a cop, up on the corner ahead. Someone would attract the cop’s attention and bring him down to assist this lady, I thought. Then I considered that someone might as well be me. I’d find out what was wrong and go tell the cop and then get on the train and contemplate my own situation: Blind and getting blinder.

I stopped in front of the lady, who did not lower her hands. I reached out and touched her lightly. “Are you OK?” I asked. Fellow New Yorkers continued to swirl about us.

The woman slowly brought down her hands and then suddenly spit at me. She caught me full flush in the face. I could smell her spit; it was vaguely like metal or rust. I pivoted and stepped quickly away. I heard someone in the crowds all over gasp out loud. I did not move to wipe away the spit, as if by ignoring it, I thought subconsciously, that it had never happened.

Fast forward 10 years. Now, I’m a Bhakta in Columbus Ohio where New Vrindabana supported a satellite temple. I’m walking up the west side of High Street with Vahna Prabhu, who has introduced me to Krsna Consciousness. Vahna was wearing jeans and a shirt, but I am wearing a dhoti. I am chanting on beads, “Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.”

My vision is now far worse; yet, my attitude is permeated with the light of the things I have learned via Srila Prabhupada’s Books: I understand that I am not my body. I am free of the Western Concept with regard to the romance of material vision. That is, I have heard and I believe that the tongue is the most voracious of the senses. I have heard of people who in history have deliberately blinded themselves in the spirit of some combination of austerity penance or service. I understand that hearing is the most powerful of the senses, not sight. In fact, it is questionable to me if I could get along at all without the hearing. In short, I am feeling pretty dandy and fortunate, chanting the Maha Mantra on a sunny day in Columbus, about one decade after first learning that I was blind and was slated to get blinder.

Vahna and I passed under the windows of one of the many apartments occupied by students at Ohio State University. I saw a girl, sitting in one of the openings above. I kept chanting and taking it all in. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. I hadn’t yet hit upon what is the winning thought process for me when chanting, which is to pray to get each syllable right. Instead, I was trying to keep thinking, “I’m not my body …” “I want to serve the Devotees.” “Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.”

Suddenly, the girl above leaned out, pursed her lips and spat; deliberately, full down on my upturned face. Her aim and the circumstances were accurate. I recognized that peculiar dead electric sensation. Again I heard the same kind of “Oh!” cry out among passers by.

This time however I went straight at my assailant. I stormed upstairs to the apartment and pounded on the door. When there was no answer, I tried it and it was not locked. I boldly took it upon myself to enter. I stepped in. The girl was still in the window, and she was quaking in fear. Vahna had come up beside me. “How dare you spit on me?” I roared.

“I…I didn’t,” the girl responded weakly. Of course she had.

“It isn’t me I’m talking about,” I informed the girl. I let anger show in my voice and demeanor. I was thinking of the Devotees. The girl wasn’t targeting me personally, but as the only guy around at the moment who was wearing a dhoti and chanting The Maha Mantra, I felt that the Devotees were being targeted.

“It is who I represent,” I thundered. I leaned in the girl’s direction and rattled my beads at her. Correctly saying “whom,” it seemed to me, would have diluted the force of my assault. “Who do you think you are … to spit on people?” I demanded.

“I … I’m s s sorry,” the girl said at last.

As we came back down the steps, Vahna was happy. “I’ve never seen you angry like that,” he chortled. In fact, inside, I hadn’t been actually angry, but coming from a military background, I could at will manifest the DI flavor, in your face, dressing down, chewing out, posture and rhetoric. Never, however, in my opinion had that DI demeanor been so righteously deployed.

A couple of days later, I was walking and chanting on the same sidewalk. I heard a group of campus kids come up loudly behind me, in my dhoti. They were following and laughing. The same girl I had chastised came running across the street and joined the group.

I kept chanting.

“Look,” one of the kids said. I felt that they were pointing and laughing at me.

“Don’t,” the girl who had spit on me told them. “You don’t know who he represents.”

They all quieted down. I kept chanting. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

Although materially I was far worse off than I’d been under the first attack, in this case, as Bhakta, ten years later, under very similar circumstances, I had unlimited access to direction, reason, purpose, and motivation. Spitting on me had turned out to be a deed with ramifications totally dependent on the perception of the beholder. I was learning how to act just like the Devotees.

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Reader Comments

I enjoyed your story.I am wondering if you know that this is a way of curing blindness? I believe I read somewhere that Jesus spat on the eye’s of a blind man and he regained his sight. Whether that is true or not I found it interesting in connection with your story.

Hare Krishna.
Very inspiring story. All Glories to street preachers of ISKCON.