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Greg F. grew up in the 1950s in a comfortable Queens household, an attractive and rather gifted boy who seemed destined, like his father, for a professional career—perhaps a career in songwriting, for which he showed a precocious talent. But he grew restive, started questioning things, when he was fifteen; started to hate the conventional life of his parents and neighbors, and the cynical, bellicose administration of the country. His need to rebel, but equally to find an ideal and a guide, to find a leader, crystallized in the “Summer of Love,” in 1967. He would go to the Village, and listen to Allen Ginsberg declaiming all night; he loved rock music, especially acid rock, and, above all, the Grateful Dead.
Increasingly he fell out with his parents and teachers—was truculent with the one, secretive with the other. In 1968, a time when Timothy Leary was urging American youth to “tune in, turn on, and drop out,” Greg grew his hair long and dropped out of school, where he had been a good student; he left home and went to live in the Village, where he dropped acid, and joined the East Village drug culture—searching, like others of his generation, for utopia, for inner freedom, and for “higher consciousness.”
But “turning on” did not satisfy Greg, who stood in need of a more codified philosophy, doctrine, and way of life. In 1969 he gravitated, as so many young acid heads did, to the Swami Bhaktivedanta, and his society for Krishna Consciousness, on Second Avenue. And under his influence, Greg, like so many others, stopped taking acid, finding his religious exaltation a replacement for his acid highs. “The only radical remedy for dipsomania,” as William James wrote, “is religiomania.” The philosophy, the fellowship, the chanting, the rituals, the austere and charismatic figure of the swami himself came like a revelation to Greg, and he became, almost immediately, a passionate devotee and convert.1 Now there was a center, a focus, to his life. In those first, exalted weeks of his conversion, he wandered around the East Village, dressed in saffron robes, chanting the Hare Krishna mantras; and early in 1970, he took up residence in the main temple in Brooklyn. His parents objected at first, then went along with this. “Perhaps it will help him,” his father said, philosophically. “Perhaps—who knows?—this is the path he needs to follow.”
Greg’s first year at the temple went well, he was obedient, ingenuous, devoted, and pious. He is a Holy One, said the swami, one of us. Early in 1971, now deeply committed, Greg was sent to the temple in New Orleans. His parents had seen him occasionally when he was in the Brooklyn temple, but now all communication from him virtually ceased.
One problem arose in Greg’s second year with the Krishnas—he complained that his vision was growing dim, but this was interpreted, by his swami and others, in a spiritual way: he was “an illuminate,” they told him; it was…
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