Today is Balaram Jayanti. My wishes to everyone. I want to be a sincere and serious devotee. Time will tell if I ever become serious or sincere.
Meanwhile…here is a true story or rather brief biography of a person that touched my heart. It is Jim Kohr…oh well…I am sure you will know him if you know his real name.
On this auspicious day, let us remember what it means to be sincere and serious thus pleasing Lord Balaram!
San Francisco January 16, 1967
The rest of San Francisco doesn't give it a second thought, however, except for a young man leafing through the evening paper. He's frustrated with his life simply driving a taxicab. Nothing seems fulfilling or satisfying. "A holy man from India opens temple." Maybe?
Back in June of '62, after accepting his degree in Mechanical Engineering at Ohio State University, Jim Kohr had immediately jumped into his MG and left for the West Coast. All he had room for was his stereo and a few clothes as he drove out to San Francisco to take up a job offer. This was years before the hippie scene arrived. But he didn't like the job and soon resigned, having no interest in joining the rat race of corporate life. Instead, he took to driving a cab -- even though he had an engineering degree -- to gain a little independence and time to think about his life.
Occasionally a passenger will ask, "Why don't you get a better paying job? You're an educated man. You could do far better than drive a cab."
"Oh, well, I just don't fit in with the upper-class crowd," is his reply.
He still feels hopeless and totally lost. Sometimes he opens a bottle to try and drown the loneliness. Out of despair, he once tried LSD to see what the fuss was all about. Years later he recalled, "It made me more aware that there were a lot of different levels of consciousness."
Mrs. Kohr: At the age of four he was taken to a service in what we call the big church in Dayton, Ohio. He was very restless, standing up in the sanctuary and looking around. His grandmother inquired, "Jimmy, what's wrong? What are you doing? What are you looking for?"
"Where's God?" he replied.
Born in 1939, he was raised in the mid-western town of Dayton. His sister was two years younger. The family was very close, but not regular church-goers. He had a lot of friends through his school years and took his first job working in the local grocery store while still in high school. As a high school senior he was hired as a part time mechanic in a garage and just loved it.
He couldn't get too involved in sports because he suffered from asthma. He had tried desperately to join the football team but just couldn't do it because of his difficulty in breathing. During his senior year the family moved to Cleveland and he had to leave all his friends. Leaving friends behind was devastating for him. According to his mother, "he closed up."
That year he suffered through a lot of disappointments. An asthma attack in the middle of an interview cost him a position at General Motors. At Ohio State he wanted to join the Peace Corps but his professors discouraged him, feeling it would be deadly if he was in some remote corner of the world with his asthmatic condition. In spite of the setbacks, he was very kind, caring, and friendly to everyone.
One time, while flying back to Cleveland from New York, he and his mother met a young man from Germany who was coming to America for the first time. They started talking and quickly struck up a friendship. After landing at Cleveland airport, Jim said, "We'll wait with you until your friends come to meet you." They waited a long time but nobody came. Finally Jim suggested, "I'll tell you what, you come home with us. You have the telephone number of the people who are supposed to meet you, so we'll call them from my house. I'm not going to leave you here alone." They bundled up the young man and took him home.
At Ohio State, he initially joined a fraternity, but it was too wild. He couldn't study with all the activity and noise, so he left and got a quiet place on his own. His one friend in college was Gurdeep Singh Chawla, a Sikh foreign exchange student from India, alone without any family in America. This was Jim's first exposure to Indian culture. Every year he brought his Sikh friend home for Christmas holidays.
Mr. Chawla: I had association with him at college when we roomed together. I always wondered, you see, he was more into spiritualism, not materialism. He always asked about the Indian culture, so he was looking for something beyond the meaning of the mundane, something to grasp the real meaning of life.
Now at 28, he stands six feet two inches tall with a strong build, but a gentle demeanor. He is neither a hippie nor into drugs. Rather he's a straight, clean-cut guy with short hair. After driving a cab for years, he worries, "Where is my life going? What am I doing? I'm miserable. Life has no purpose, no meaning. I need something else in my life." He can't understand what is wrong, why he can't enjoy life as other people do.
He gazes intently at the Swami's photograph in the newspaper. It brings to mind the face of a very ancient personality -- a wise man. "The Swami will be giving lectures on the science of God," the article states. Pondering the significance of the Swami's arrival he puts the paper aside and scoops another helping of ice cream into his bowl.
Jambavan: When he read that he felt a ray of hope. He said, "I felt a little ray of hope, and I remember a tear came from my eye. I thought, maybe this man can help me, because I wanted to find happiness." He wanted to be happy, but he was miserable. Jayananda felt like a misfit in the material world. He was a devotee and he was living with non-devotees. He didn't know what the problem was, but he knew he wasn't happy.
One of the few things he enjoys doing in the evening after driving the cab all day is to eat ice cream. He comes home and makes big ice cream sundaes with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, cherries, and different flavors of ice cream. This is his only pleasure -- to have his fancy ice cream sundaes.
Finishing up his ice cream, he makes a promise to attend the Swami's lecture on Frederick Street. He's been driving a taxi far too long, going nowhere down a dead-end street.
The following evening he arrives at the temple to find he is at least ten years older than the rest of the gathering, comprised mainly of hippies dressed to announce their rejection of establishment values. He appears conventional and immediately stands out, but he is also a seeker. His situation is more desperate than theirs.
Mukunda: The first time I saw him on Frederick Street, I asked who he was, and he said he was a taxi driver. We were all hippies and here was an older person, part of the establishment, short hair, just super straight. He'd wear a suit and tie sometimes, always neat and smart -- quite a contrast from everyone else.
He is instantly impressed at this first meeting with the Swami and purchases the three-volume set of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Prabhupada autographs them: "To Sriman Jim Kohr." With tremendous faith and anticipation, he pours over the books at home, unable to put them down. Never has he read anything like this before.
Taking up the serious study of this mature fruit of Vedic knowledge, he has a deep realization that this is what he had been searching for his whole life. The eternal truths enter into the core of his being. As revelation upon revelation fills his lonely heart, washing away years of emptiness and dissatisfaction with life, he is filled with joy.
Feeling enlivened, he becomes a regular at all the classes. He sees in Srila Prabhupada the embodiment of the Bhagavatam verses. He has another deep realization that this saintly person is actually the living truth, the personified Bhagavatam, to whom he should surrender and dedicate the rest of his life.
- From the "Radha-Damodara Vilasa" by HG Vaiyasaki dasa