Swamiji’s Thriving 26 Second Avenue Center
Swamiji developed 26 Second Avenue so that it operated three nights a week as a kirtana and lecture program. The original tiny white piece of paper in the window had been replaced by a restaurant-type sign containing the name of the establishment and times of the classes. (Later Swamiji would post the title of the lecture for the night, and it would be one of my first services to change it according to the title of the lecture. It took a long time for “Matchless Gifts” to be replaced by “Radha Krishna Temple.” In fact, I am not sure if it was ever done.)
The painting of the sankirtana group of Panca-tattva was done by Harvey Cohen, later initiated as Haridasa. On the other side of the painting, near the announcement sign, was the low-level shelf put there by the previous proprietor. When the room functioned as the temple the shelf became a space to put the smelly shoes of the congregation.
To the left of the storefront was a launderette. It said, “Open 24 hours,” but the metal shutter was usually closed shut. The red door in-between was the entrance to the apartment building in the back courtyard where Swamiji rented an apartment on the second floor. The courtyard was picturesque for the Lower East Side with a few weedy trees, plants and cement benches.
Prabhupada very much liked his setup of storefront and private rear apartment, although he could barely raise the rent each month. To have the phone installed one had to make a large down payment to Con Edison. But by Swamiji’s personal charm he went to Con Edison and convinced them to install the phone free of charge because he was a religious mendicant and was conducting an important mission. But he soon became so disturbed by people calling him on the phone in the night time that he had it removed.
He used to look out the window of his apartment at the view on First Street. He would repeatedly say about his stay at 26 Second Avenue (ISKCON kept it until 1968), “those were happy days.” On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays the hall would be half-filled with guests, and once he started Sunday Feasts it was filled to capacity, even overflowing into the courtyard.
Sometimes Bowery bums and dishevelled young hippies would wander into the storefront without a purpose of spirituality. Swamiji would allow them to sit if they did not make a disturbance. If they disturbed, he would ask one of his boys, like Brahmananda or Hayagriva, to remove them.
O Prabhupada, please let us think of you. You are everyone's friend; you are my friend. You addressed us with love from the lectern at 26 Second Avenue. Soon I will hear your lecture again on tape. Everything you wrote and said is infused with truth and can save us.
Prabhupada, where are you now? Am I being impertinent by asking that question? I am only asking you this because I want to be with you.
I know one answer to that question: you are in my heart. We are still together at 26 Second Avenue like in the old days of ISKCON. I have my duties assigned by you—garbage to empty and dishes to wash, guests to talk to and devotees to counsel. And I still have my writing and reading. My service to you is ongoing. You haven't cut me off. You are with us if we want you to be. There is no need to feel apart.
Prabhupada, I want to serve you with love, not just out of duty. Please teach me to give myself to you.[ meditations ]