Feasting with the Family Dog

BY: SUN STAFF - 7.11 2017

1969 San Francisco Ratha Yatra Poster

ISKCON's early Ratha Yatra history.

While Srila Prabhupada often referred to eating like dogs, on one occasion in 1969, the 'family dog' was actually enjoying Krsna prasadam.

Pictured above is a rare poster from July 27, 1969, advertising the San Francisco Ratha Yatra festival:

"Here they come from every community, chanting and dancing, from Haight & Ashbury at 12 pm; ecstasy through the park till 3:30 pm, then FEASTING with the Family Dog on the Great Highway in their ocean auditorium." …

"His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami leads the sublime chanting …"

It seems that the date of the event advertised on this poster is misstated as being 1970 in the official poster collector's guidebook, Art of Rock. But we can be sure that Srila Prabhupada was not in San Francisco on July 27, 1970 -- he was in Boston, as evidenced by his letter to Satsvarup and Uddhava on that day. We also know that the Ratha Yatra in San Francisco in 1970 was held on July 5th, as Srila Prabhupada's Ratha address was given to the devotees on that day.

ISKCON's very first Ratha Yatra was held in San Francisco on July 9, 1967, with subsequent Ratha dates as follows:

June 30, 1968
July 27, 1969
July 5, 1970
June 27, 1971
July 18, 1972

1969 San Francisco Ratha Yatra Poster

As the poster indicates, on July 27th, 1969, the devotees chanted and danced their way from the Haight Ashbury Panhandle down to the Family Dog auditorium on the Great Highway. There, Srila Prabhupada delivered a super-excellent address after which everyone enjoyed prasadam.

The title of this article is "Feasting with the Family Dog" rather than 'at the Family Dog', because Family Dog was actually more a moveable tribe than an immoveable venue. Throughout 1960's counter-culture literature we find references to the Family Dog that refer not to one of the concert venues operating under that name, but to the ever-changing crowd of hippies and others who associated together as the Family Dog. Here's an interesting description of the Family Dog scene in the late 1960's, from America's Communal Religions (Miller and Bates, Syracuse Univ. Press, 1995):

"In 1966, a young assistant professor at San Francisco State College began scheduling classes to talk about what was happening outside his window. The classes grew too large for the college halls, so the class moved to a church, a theater, and then, in 1969, to the Family Dog, Chet Helms' rock hall on the coast. Monday Night Class became a weekly pilgrimage of throngs of hippies from up and down the coast, from high schools and university campuses, from army bases and police academies, from mountain communes and Haight Street crash pads. Thousands of people, in various states of consciousness, came with tamborines and diaphanous gowns, love beads and bangles, Dr. Strange cloaks and top hats with feathers. The open-ended discussions ventured into Hermeneutic geometry, Masonic-Rosicrucian mysticism, Ekenkar and the Rolling Stones, but opened with a long, silent meditation and closed with a sense of purpose."

Srila Prabhupada's lecture and the distribution of Krsna prasada that day actually took place sometime after the Ratha itself had concluded. The Ratha Yatra parade began in Haight Ashbury (marker #1 on the map) and ended at the festival grounds in Golden Gate Park (marker #2). There are many wonderful photographs of the crowds in the park on that day. From there, the devotees and guests traveled to the Family Dog's ocean auditorium at 660 Great Highway (marker #3). As we can see, the park is mid-way between the Haight and the Family Dog. Srila Prabhupada quite likely traveled to the auditorium by car.

The building known as the Family Dog Auditorium dates back to 1889. It was originally known as the Ocean Beach Pavilion, and operated as a combination tavern-rental hall-retreat complex. It also served as a training site for turn-of-the-century boxers. (Interestingly enough, we have another rare event poster featuring boxing great, Muhammad Ali and Srila Prabhupada, together on the same bill at an anti-war fund-raiser Ali put on.)

Family Dog on Great Highway - 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA 94121 
(Here, the building was Topsy's Roost, c. 1920's)
[Photo courtesy Santanamigos ]

The interior of the Family Dog was like a barn, with rough wood and overhanging balconies. The venue was used for many types of entertainment over the years, until June 1969, when Chet Helms took over and named the building the 'Family Dog'. He operated only a short time, until August 1970, when he ran out of cash. The building was demolished sometime around 1972.

Event at the Family Dog on Great Highway, Sep 25, 1969 
[Photo courtesy Santanamigos ]

Following is the Ratha Yatra Lecture given by HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada at the Family Dog Auditorium in San Francisco on July 27, 1969:

Prabhupada: My dear boys and girls, I thank you very much for joining us on this Rathayātrā ceremony. I am going to sing now an Indian song, and then I shall explain it. Even if you don't understand the language of the song, still, if you kindly hear patiently, the sound vibration will act. The song is (sings)

śrī-kṛṣṇa caitanya prabhu doyā koro more
tomā binā ke doyālu jagat-saṁsāre (etc.)

The author's name is Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura. He is singing. He had many songs. We are gradually translating them into English, and we will have them in our paper, Back to Godhead. The purport of this song is, śrī-kṛṣṇa-caitanya prabhu, doyā koro more: "My dear Lord Caitanya, please be merciful upon me."

śrī-kṛṣṇa caitanya prabhu doyā koro more
tomā binā ke doyālu jagat-saṁsāre

"I do not find anyone as merciful as You are." Yes. Śrī Caitanya Prabhu... You have seen the picture of Lord Caitanya. Yes, it is on the altar, Lord Caitanya dancing. He, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appeared as a devotee. You have heard the name of Bhagavad-gītā. In that Bhagavad-gītā the last instruction is Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He is asking everyone, "My dear sons, God is higher." That is accepted in every religion. Especially in your Christian religion, God is the supreme father. In the Vedas also it is said,

nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām
eko bahūnāṁ (yo) vidadhāti kāmān
(Kaṭha Upaniṣad 2.2.13)

The Supreme Absolute, He is also a living entity like us, just like your father, this material father from whom you have got this body, he is also a person, and you are also a person. You are son of your father. Similarly, although you cannot see God, we can understand from the version of the Vedas and authoritative scriptures if God is father, then He must be a person. He must be a person because I am person. We have to study by analogy, by our reason, our intelligence. Just like you have got experience in this life that "My father is a person. I am also a person." Although the relation is "I am his son; he is my father," but both of us are persons. None of us is imperson. That is nonsense. How my father can become imperson if I am person? This is nonsense.

Therefore those who are impersonalists, their knowledge is not yet perfect. They do not know actually what is the situation of their father. The supreme father is a person. It is confirmed in the Vedas, nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām: (Kaṭha Upaniṣad 2.2.13) "He is the supreme eternal of all eternals." We are all eternal. Each living entity, they are all eternal. Death means the end of this body. We are dying at every moment as our bodies change. So this death means death of this body, not of the spirit soul. Spirit soul is eternal. God is eternal, and I am His son, you are His son. You are also eternal. But just like particle of gold is still gold, similarly, the part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, he is also God. It is said that we are partly God, and He is the Supreme God. That is stated in the Vedas, nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām: "He is the supreme eternal amongst all the eternal, and He is the supreme living creature amongst all living creatures." Supreme, that is the difference. The quality of God, the quality of me and you, is the same. Just like a small portion of the ocean water—if you analyze chemically you will find the same chemical composition. Similarly, as living entity you have got all the qualities of God in minute portion. Therefore He is Supreme. Because we have got all the qualities of God in very minute portions. So He is Supreme. We are subordinate.

Therefore in the Vedas it is said that the living entities are maintained by the Supreme Lord. That you can understand by your practical experience. There are millions and trillions of living creatures. The human society is only a small portion of this. If you take a portion of a drop of the Pacific Ocean, how many aquatics are there? There are 900,000 species of aquatics. So there are 8,400,000 species of living creatures, and all of them are being maintained by God, the Supreme Lord. We are also being maintained, but because we have become advanced in knowledge, therefore the result is we have forgotten God. This is the result of our education. The more we become advanced in so-called knowledge, you forget your relationship with God. Actually, that is not knowledge. In the Bhagavad-gītā it is said, "Those who are atheists, those who are godless, their knowledge is already taken away by māyā. They are so-called men of knowledge, wise men. Actually they are fools, rascals, those who are atheistic." This is the statement of Bhagavad-gītā. "Those who are lowest of the mankind..." Nara means man and adhama means lowest. The lowest grade of man denies the existence of God. So as we are forgetting our eternal relationship with God, so we are gradually degraded to the lowest position of living creatures. Our knowledge has no value. Anyone who is atheist, who has no knowledge of God, he has no good qualifications. These are the statements from the scriptures.

Śrī-kṛṣṇa-caitanya prabhu, doyā koro more. So in this age we ask the mercy of Lord Caitanya because we have all forgotten what is our relationship with God. But we have got the dormant love for God. Just like a son and father—the son may forget, he may become a crazy fellow and go out of home, but that does not mean that his relationship with the father is broken. No. That is not possible. Even if I am a crazy fellow, when the father dies the sons have still the right to inherit the property of the father. The relationship is so strong. Similarly, we may try to forget God due to our craziness, but the relationship cannot be broken, and still God is so kind, He comes Himself, He sends His bona fide servants, He sends his son. In so many ways He is always canvassing, "My dear sons, do not suffer in this abominable condition of material existence. Come back to Me. Come back to home. You enjoy life, eternal life, and blissful life, and life of knowledge." That is God's business. Therefore He is all-merciful. In spite of our being disobedient, in spite of our forgetting, he does not forget. He says, "Whenever there is discrepancy in religious processes, and when there is predominance of irreligiosity..." What is religion and what is irreligion? That is stated in the Bhagavad-gītā. Kṛṣṇa says, "I come to establish religion," and again He says, "Give up all sorts of irreligion." That means surrendering to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Any other religion is not religion. That is bogus. We have concocted so many religious principles, but real religion is which teaches to surrender to God, to love God. That is real religion. And we are teaching that. Our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is no sectarian movement. We don't say that this is Christian religion or Hindu religion or Mohammedan religion or Buddhist religion. These religions develop in different parts of the world under different conditions. That is simply giving some idea of our relationship with God. But real religion is which teaches how to love God. That is real religion. The first-class religion is that if by following such religious principles you develop your dormant love of God. Then it is first class. And what kind of development? Without any reason. It is not that you go to love God because He supplies bread: "O God, give us our daily bread." No. No exchange. There is no reason why I should ask. "God is great; I am His part and parcel; it is my duty to love Him." When you develop this consciousness, this is called Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

So try to understand this philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It is not a new thing. This Kṛṣṇa consciousness philosophy was taught five thousand years ago. Not only five thousand years—Bhagavad-gītā is the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and although it was five thousand years ago in our memorable history, but in the Bhagavad-gītā it is stated that it was spoken some millions of years ago to the sun-god. So apart from that reference, Bhagavad-gītā is eternal because it teaches what is your relationship with God, what is your eternal duty to God, and what is the ultimate end of life. That is stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, and the last instruction of the Bhagavad-gītā is that one has to give up all sorts of rascaldom or concocted religion. Simply one has to surrender to God. That is religion. We have developed this human form of life after passing through many millions of lower grades of life, and similarly we have to now develop this Kṛṣṇa consciousness, love of God. If you will take this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement very seriously, then we have volumes of books to convince you what is your relationship with God, what is your duty, what is your ultimate goal of life—these things are all very nicely explained in the Bhagavad-gītā. But unfortunately, so-called scholars and so-called wise men misinterpret the whole thing. That is why the Lord appeared as Lord Caitanya five hundred years ago to establish the correct principles of Bhagavad-gītā, and He showed that even if you do not understand the processes of religion, you simply chant

Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare
Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare

And it is practical. Just like when we were chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, all the members who were assembled here were joining in, but when I am now talking about philosophy, some are leaving. It is very practical to see. The Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra is so enchanting that anyone can take part in any condition. And if he continues to chant, gradually he develops his dormant love of God. His heart will be cleansed of all dirty things, and gradually he will be freed from the material concept of life, and he will be joyful, and he will see everyone as sons of God, and then he will begin his loving transcendental service to Kṛṣṇa.

So our only request is that you try to understand this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. It is very simple. We are requesting everyone to chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra and take prasādam. When you are tired of chanting, the prasādam is ready. Immediately you can take prasādam. And if you dance, then all of the bodily exercise is Kṛṣṇized, and all of the attempts of the yoga processes are attained by this simple process. So chant, dance, take prasādam. Even if you do not hear at first this philosophy, it will act, and you will be elevated to the highest platform of perfection.

Thank you very much. (end)