Is Prabhupada Mr. Tambourine Man?

By Patita Pavana dasa Adhikary

OK I know it sounds crazy, but the question is a serious one. But let’s go back a bit … By ‘63 Bob Dylan was a teen idol turned hippest-of-the-hip. His vast talents combining new melodies (and old ones), accompanied by his freight train harmonica and songs of the road struck a nerve. Musically, his talents were at the top of their game since he could speak with his music as well as his words. Like some unspoken and unseen mass hypnosis from ’66 tens of thousands of young persons simply walked out of their homes, destination San Francisco. He was the pied piper with his perfect meter, rhyming sequences and multi-layered depths of meaning. Many agree that his early masterpieces could only be explained as divine gifts. No singer-songwriter had ever matched the likes of early Dylan. Like some gravel-voiced Gandharva from the chorus of Chitraratha, the singer-songwriter who had appeared in the Midwest made it all seem so easy. Even so, his work has never been duplicated except in the mind of a million posers. His gifts were special, very special.

After Dylan appeared in Manhattan a shaktyavesha avatara who was destined to change the entire world’s concept of religion and understanding arrived in the midst of all this 1960’s cacophony. Thus, by the time the world acharya Shrila Prabhupada boldly sauntered off the Jaladuta in September 1965, an inspired minstrel had already announced the coming of the leader of Krishna consciousness through his anthem of a generation “Mr. Tambourine Man.” For as it is said, “Krishna—God—works in ways that appear strange to us.”

It is well-known among his millions of followers that Shrila Prabhupada is none other than the divinely inspired representative of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is none other than Lord Krishna Himself. All devotees understand that His Divine Grace was spiritually empowered by the Supreme Absolute Truth Personified to inaugurate this mini-Satya Yuga now becoming manifest even in this Kali Yuga. Therefore, does it not sound reasonable that some singers would take to their instruments by the will of Saraswati, the goddess of poesy, in preparation for such an historical arrival? It is our understanding that the entire 1960’s was arranged by Lord Krishna as a part of His plan for the coming westward of the Gaudiya sampradaya and sankirtana. Therefore, during an unprecedented era in history, it is not strange at all that He would empower certain voices here and there to announce it. Quite simply, it is our conjecture that Dylan was one of those voices.

Human society in Kali Yuga is about as organized as a fistful of iron filings thrown to the wind and scattered here and there. At the time of Prabhupada’s advent in America, many of society’s so-called leaders were basically drug-addicted mad men. Kali Yuga was going into extreme spin and Prabhupada had arrived to single-handedly reverse the entire downward trend. Specifically in the sixties, the beatnik movement of NY’s Lower East Side was just now giving way to the era of the hippies prevalent in San Francisco. Dylan spoke to both sides of the equation as did Shrila Prabhupada. The Jagat Guru was like a powerful magnet that passes above the iron filings. Just as the invisible power of the magnet straightens out the iron particles and points them into a single direction, so the call of the acharya made sense out of the chaos of Kali Yuga.

Mahaksha dasa Prabhu, himself a 60’s musician, was mystically drawn to Vrindavana and Prabhupada in the early 70’s. He says, “Dylan is a writer with amazing channeling powers—which he seemed to have until his motorcycle accident (if that’s what it was). This means Dylan was drawing down lyrics from the ‘akashic records’ as some people call it. It’s the Universal language where we are all connected. Dylan was affected by Prabhupada’s presence whether knowingly or not. There was an all pervading bliss permeating the atmosphere at that time mainly on account of the coming to the west of Vedic wisdom headed up by the Tambourine Man.

“Dylan must have seen or heard Prabhupada in all likelihood but I doubt he’d admit it. He is very private about where his lyrics come from. Even he does not know where his lyrics came from—he admits it in his Chronicles. His work is definitely not meaningless drivel … Dylan did a deal with (who he calls) the Great Chief to receive all his empowered songs. They helped change and prepare a generation. Dylan is no way an ordinary man. He is a super power Archangel come to assist Universal redemption.”

Sankarshan Das Adhikari, an initiating spiritual master in ISKCON has posted on FB: “Dylan’s lyrics in ‘All Along the Watchtower:’ ‘There must be some way out of here—said the joker to the thief. There’s too much confusion here, I can’t get no relief …’ gave me faith that there was something beyond this material world and helped me come to Krishna consciousness. So I am indebted to Bob Dylan for that.”

So we have set out to analyze if Dylan’s song “Mr. Tambourine Man” was actually prophecy speaking of a coming Indian pure devotee armed with a pair of caratals (though we used to carry tambourines on sankirtana in the early days).

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me,

Here the singer calls upon another singer. He will explain that his own song has not been sufficient. Now he surrenders his song and seeks the highest song (which will come along soon enough as Hare Krishna).


I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to.

This is the disciple’s surrender. Prabhupada often emphasized the ability to conquer sleep and taught us to revere Arjuna as Gudakesha. Shrila Prabhupada set this example in his own life and slept but little, so important were his many projects, especially his literary ones. By “no place I’m going to” Dylan displays the disciple’s surrender. “Where Shri Guru Maharaja leads me, and to that place I gladly follow …”

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me,
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you.

The key is following, since the genuine disciple is a follower and he follows every example in the lotus footprints of the acharya as best he can.

Though I know that evening’s empire has returned into sand,

This is an example of Dylan’s lovely poesy—ornate but not flowery. Here his expression equals Vedic analogies from the pens of great Sanskrit masters. Now the poet observes the passing of night to day—the opposing ends of Nature. It is as though the darkness of night has melted onto the water-touched beach revealing the glorious rays of brightness. It is a time to greet the sunrise as brahmanas do half-submerged in holy waters singing to the sun god Surya.


Vanished from my hand,

This is a joke that refers to the living entity who thinks that he can control Nature—which is in control ultimately by Lord Shri Krishna. It is also an ironic ecstatic expression of the poet’s understanding of Who is Supreme and an acknowledgement of the Higher Powers of Nature.


Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping.

Blind yet not asleep.” The poet cracks the whip and makes a sudden shift in the anthem’s tone (for this song would become an important anthem of a generation). When the guru decrees to the disciple, “you are blind” at that time the disciple must awaken himself. For as any sincere follower of his spiritual master knows, our perfection lies in becoming the blind follower of the previous acharya. And that means to accept as shastra everything that the spiritual master says unconditionally. We kneel before Shri Guru for it is he who has taken us out of the dark well of illusion. Thus we pray: om ajnana timirandasaya …


My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet,

He expresses weariness, i.e., dissatisfaction, with the material situation, though he is “branded on his feet” or entrenched in samsara and the bodily concept of life. The seeker expresses his desire for release ….


I have no one to meet,

Let me now exchange the useless association of materialistic sense gratifiers for the association of Shri Guru and his acolytes … which is today is a world wide devotional organization called ISKCON”


And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming.

This is a very pointed look at the “eighth house” aspects of life: the mysteries of forever dead past lives marked by ancient streets once trod in previous lifetimes. Here and now let me move beyond this dilemma of samsara, the cycle of birth and death, once and for all. Let me go to that place of eternal light and love.

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to.
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me,
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you.

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship.

Another semi-prophetic song of the early 60’s was “Train to Jordan” by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fsS4rFMrKc ). Through his train analogy, he defined the era’s distinct sense of a great deliverance that would come in the form of a massive vahana with room for everybody. This would prove to be Shrila Prabhupada’s Back to Godhead Express. Movies like On the Waterfront, Wild One and The Misfits carried hauntingly prophetic ideas neatly buried in words signaling social change.

My senses have been stripped,
My hands can’t feel to grip,

My toes too numb to step,
Wait only for my boot heels to be wandering.

Again, the poet expresses dissatisfaction with the places he has been to, and a desire to discover a new destination that only Mr. Tambourine Man can show him. He allegorically has gripped whatever karma has placed before him, he is tired of it and numb and wishes to proceed to the next plane.


I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade,

This is an expression of obedience and submission to Shri Guru whose instruction is equal to that of the order of the Supreme Lord.

Into my own parade,

He seeks to understand his own karma and to transcend it. He seeks to discover his own self—that is the eternal individuality of the atomic jivatma as opposed to the “parade” of materialistic association and values that seek to identify the body with the self.


Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it.

This can be nothing other than a direct reference to the great dance of sankirtana yagna of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is a spell that Shrila Prabhupada and no one else has cast upon the world. And since Dylan sang these prophetic words, that dancing spell has spread to every town and village of the earth, with millions blissfully having fallen under it.

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me,
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to.
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me,
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you.

Though you might hear laughing, spinning, swinging madly across the sun,

Here Dylan describes the dancing of group sankirtana. He invokes the worshipful Sun god who is a representative of Lord Krishna and is the symbol of enlightenment.


It’s not aimed at anyone,

Who shall we blame for our problems but we ourselves, who are the creators of our own karmic reactions?

It’s just a escaping on the run,

Dylan describes the great escape from the jaws of Kali and the stringent laws of material nature.

And but for the sky there are no fences facing.

The poet describes liberation by recognizing that even the material sky can pose limitations. (Therefore the devotee’s destiny is the transcendental spiritual sky.)

And if you hear vague traces of skipping reels of rhyme,
To your tambourine in time,
It’s just a ragged clown behind,
I wouldn’t pay it any mind,
It’s just a shadow you’re seeing that he’s chasing.

As a proper disciple, the poet describes himself in humble terms as a ragged clown following the Guru. He admits that he has been chasing the non-real or shadowy world of illusion thinking that is has some permanent substance.

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me,
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to.
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me,
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you.

And take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind,

Samsara, like a ring of smoke, is an endless but illusory cycle. And although it is called an illusory cycle it is also very real for it encompasses endless birth and death here in this material world. One remains trapped in this smoke ring of samsara eternally even though life here is but mere smoke and mirrors. As smoke is to the fire or shadow is to light, so are the smoke rings of Maya to the fire of Krishna consciousness. Therefore, here poet alludes to the real conundrum at hand, that of escaping from samsara—which is only possible through the grace of Shri Guru.

Down the foggy ruins of time,
Far past the frozen leaves,
The haunted frightened trees,
Out to the windy beach,
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.

These are more poetic descriptions of the world of samsara from which we must extricate ourselves in this lifetime. Since the spiritual kingdom of Lord Krishna is replete with sat-chit-ananda, it is “far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.” And indeed it is very true that feeling constant sorrow is crazy when the eternal nature of the soul is actually blissful.


Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky

Looking beyond this world to the eternally effulgent “diamond sky” of Vaikuntha.

With one hand waving free,

Dancing in kirtan, the other playing the tambourine or drum …

Silhouetted by the sea,

Shrila Prabhupada brought Shri Jagannatha Rathayatra to the West by taking the Deities of Shri Shri Jagannatha-Baladeva-Subhadra to Ocean Beach in San Francisco where They could watch the waters of the Pacific.


Circled by the circus sands,

The poet is on the beach, but he is comparing the sands of the beach to a circus, as though the world is a circus of mere sands, always something happening, but never very significant in its constant rounds. Circus also means circle, the vortex of samsara of circling life and death. It is a meaningless whirligig of a staged show, one that is repeated ad infinitum as sands pour through the hourglass of samsara.

With all memory of fate,
Driven deep beneath the waves.

Here Dylan speaks of disassociating himself from past karmas. Let past karmas here in the world of meaningless names drown in the whirlpool of samsara.


Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

I shall submerge myself in the Holy Names of the Lord for now under the spell of your tambourine. But then I will also be realistic about my position and vow to face my own flaws and karmic dilemmas honestly.

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me,
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to.
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me,
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you.

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