In the past Off the Grid has taken a look at some of the architecture surrounding Tompkins Square Park, including St. Brigid’s Church, the Tompkins Square Lodging House for Boys, the Charlie Parker House, and the Tompkins Square Branch of the New York Public Library. Today we thought we would take a look inside the park at one of the natural ‘landmarks’ found within.
The large American Elm tree near the curved row of benches close to the center of the park was the site of the birth of the Hare Krishna movement in the United States in 1966.
As the New York Times reported, “In 1965, after a difficult month on a steamship, a spiritual leader named Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada arrived in New York convinced that if Americans would embrace his conception of Krishna consciousness, the other countries in the world would follow. In 1966 he founded the International Society of Krishna Consciousness at 26 Second Avenue, near 2nd Street. On October 9, 1966, Swami Prabhupada led a group of followers to the nearby Tompkins Square Park. Under the leafy canopy of an American elm tree they began to chant a distinctive 16-word mantra: ”Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” It was Swami Prabhupada’s first outdoor chanting ceremony outside of India and it was the birth of the Hare Krishna religion.’
Among those in attendance was poet and East Villager Allan Ginsberg. He later noted, ”The ecstasy of chant or mantra has replaced LSD and other drugs for many of the swami’s followers.”
The New York City Parks Department has recognized the significance of the tree, and Krishna adherents still return to the spot to acknowledge what took place there. The building on Second Avenue is still in use, and according to the Hare Krishna temple there, is planning to undergo a renovation to bring the space back to its 1960s look.
And here’s some more of Allen Ginsberg — expanding William F. Buckley’s consciousness with some chanting on Buckley’s Firing Line in 1968.