Skip to comments.Alfred Ford: The billionaire bhakt
Posted on 03/06/2005 12:16:45 AM PST by Arjun
Alfred Ford: The billionaire bhakt
The Ford legacy doesn't really weigh him down as he can see beyond material trappings. In fact, he has found his religion, his God, his very reason to be. Alfred B Ford , the great grandson of the legendary Henry Ford, in an exclusive interview.
He was born into one of America's richest families, the great grandson of Henry Ford, the tycoon who gave the world the motorcar and the assembly line.
"I had a normal upbringing," Alfred B Ford says, "My parents lived simply." But behind that statement lies generations of staggering wealth and privilege - mothers who collected Renoirs and Van Goghs, jet-setting aunts who married Greek shipping tycoons, Sunday school and baseball games, and the great tumult of the '60s.
By the time he got to college, he was somewhat of an anti-establishment person. "The Vietnam War had started, it was the era of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, we had a Presidential assassination, and we had his brother and Martin Luther King assassinated."
Says Ford, "We began to experiment and look at different ways of living. I wanted to know what God looked like. I was looking for a personal connection with God, a relationship with him."
Though it seemed to be a '60s kind of thing to do, in families such as his, it was nothing new to search for higher meaning. "My great grandfather Henry Ford," he says, "had always wondered how he had acquired the ability to know so much about mechanics. He had very little formal training, and yet, at the age of nine he could take a watch apart and put it back together. One explanation was that he had acquired this in some other lifetime. Though not very religious, he was very interested in spirituality. He believed in reincarnation. A Sufi mystic came to visit him from India, and he was pretty much of a vegetarian."
Blame it on the Beatles George Harrison actually. "Everything Indian was very popular back in those days," he recalls, "I remember, in my college I had a big picture of a mandala and we used to try and meditate in front of it. I had my hair long and a beard, and then George Harrison, who had become involved in the Krishna Consciousness, produced an album for the Radhe Krishna temple, which I bought when I was in college."
It was a life-defining moment. As soon as the first bhajan began, he says, he found himself crying. "It touched something very very deep in my heart. It was a very profound experience. I realised that this was the concept of God I was looking for - Govinda, the most attractive... the protector of cows... the most beautiful... always youthful... eyes like blooming lotus flowers..."
After college, Ford wanted to become a recluse, so he moved to the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming, where he lived in a little cabin, and skied every day. But Krishna came looking for him in the form of a close friend who had been a hippy along with him in college, and who had become an initiated disciple in the Krishna Consciousness movement.
"He came over with some books, and preached to me," he says. "He had brought me Prabhupad's translation of the Bhagvad Gita , and soon, I started to change my lifestyle. I had turned vegetarian in college and I had stopped drinking, and then I started cooking vegetarian food and offering it to Krishna as prasadam . I started chanting on my japa mala and studying Prabhupad's books."
Soon a guru-disciple relationship began to develop between the 20-something heir to one of America's biggest fortunes, and the 80-something pontiff of one of Hinduism's largest movements. To please his guru, he bought a $ 6,00,000 mansion in Honolulu to house a temple and learning centre.
Finally, they met. "I was very nervous as I knew this was a great personality. So, I bowed to him and as I was coming up, he said to me, 'So you are Henry Ford's great grandson. Where is he now?'
"And that question immediately made me realise that life is so temporary. Krishna Consciousness teaches you that the only eternal relationship and identity you have is with Krishna. I learnt when I was growing up that though I belonged to a family which had everything, still, there was unhappiness and frustration," says the man, who has come as close as any to having it all materially.
But soon, there was trouble in paradise. "People definitely thought I had joined a cult," he says, "but it did not bother me, in the least. I was happy." And soon his family came round. "I helped set up a centre in Detroit in 1983. And for the opening, my parents came, they saw Radha Krishna, the deities there, they took prasadam ."
Perhaps their feelings were assuaged because they realised that he was not about to abdicate his responsibilities. He still attended to the family business and had made quite a reputation for himself as one of the foremost dealers of Indian art.
"I used to come to India and buy art from the Maharajahs," he says, "In those days, we were allowed to take antiques out of the country."
With so much India on his mind and on his sleeve, you didn't need an astrologer to predict the next step: he married an Indian girl. A Sharmilla Bhattacharya, PhD, from Bengal via Jaipur and Australia.
"In the early '80s, I became friends with one of the Hare Krishna leaders in Australia. There was this beautiful, brilliant Bengali girl, a devotee who was being married off to a doctor against her wishes, and her spiritual guru was worrying about her. Why don't I marry her, I found myself saying."
You can bet Krishna smiled. They were married in less than a year, and by the time she got her degree, they were already the proud parents of an American-Bengali-Brahmin-Wasp girl by the name of Amrita!
Life, more or less, settled into a routine now. There was the chanting, the worship at the temple that began at 4 am and lasted till about 9 am, and then there was office to attend to, where he worked as a trustee of the Ford Motor Company Fund, in charge of the company's charitable work, oversaw an IT company that he had invested into in California, and other investments to attend to.
"All this was pure business," he says. "Krishna's message to Arjuna was not to give up his position as a warrior and go meditate in the woods, but to fulfil his purpose here in the material world. Go ahead and achieve what you have to, be the best of what you can be, but at the same time, don't neglect your spiritual life," he says simply.
He's ruffled a few feathers with his passion for setting up Krishna Consciousness centres all over the world. In Russia, the Orthodox Church saw red when he wanted to build a domed building large enough to hold 8,000 Hindus, a few miles from the Red Square.
Now, he's going to play footsie with the Indian government over a $250 million ski resort he wants to start in Himachal Pradesh. But for him, it's all par for the course. Business and spirituality are not strange bedfellows.
"My cousin Bill is more or less vegetarian, eats no red meat, just a little bit of fish, is a Buddhist, studies Eastern religions and is chairman of the Ford Motor Company," he says, "I send him books on Krishna Consciousness."
Waiting for usual suspects to show.
Being a recluse is easier when you inherit a few billion.
Money often turns people away from Jesus. Sad.
I bet his great grand-dad loved the Lord.
"I started chanting on my japa mala and studying Prabhupad's books."
Similar history here. Except I started exposing my japa mala and studying the Kamasutra books.
Well, it was sort of a similar history, but I do feel enlightened.
Yes, as a Christian, I have always felt that our concept of God was weak, because of the lack of specificity regarding God's protection of cows...
"I bet his great grand-dad loved the Lord."
From what little I've read about his faith (and I hope someone proves me wrong) Henry Ford was pretty much an agnostic. He did invest in a lot of manufacturing infrastructure in Germany, see this FR thread:
Ford and GM Scrutinized for Alleged Nazi Collaboration (1998)
Henry Ford was an anti-Semite bigot,who put "THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION" into the glove compartments of his cars.
Jesus wasn't speaking in hazy allegory. It really is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven. I think the reason that celebrities and the very wealthy are attracted to exotic eastern religions is that these faiths ask very little of their faithful, at least their well-to-do, celebrity faithful. Richard Gere, Brad Pitt, and (God help us) Steven Segal and others hang around with guys whose title is 'His Holiness' in hopes, I think, of some of that holiness rubbing off as if by osmosis. 'Don't eat meat' is an easier spiritual task than 'give it all to the poor and follow me.'
I'ld love a link to that one.
I'ld love a link to that one.
I'd give you a link,but have NO HTML skills whatsoever,don't have the foggiest how to do one.
Since I don't even know how to CCP and am on a laptop, not to mention the fact that I really don't care about learning how to do this stuff,I don't know if the working link will do much good.But I promise to give it a try. :-)
Go to the webmonkey link and find the links section. The first one requires you to paste a URL twice. Once where it says URL (replace that), then put the url in between the endTHE PROTOCOLS OF THE LEARNED ELDERS OF ZION Creates a hyperlink, or something else can be written to be cute or precise...
And if someone is THAT interested in what I've posted,but disbelieves it,they should go look it up and prove me wrong, or not.After all, there is an archive on FR and Goggle.
But many thanks for your links and help. I really DO appreciate it! :-)
I have to disagree with you. Actually "dont eat meat " is very difficult if you live in the western world where most food consists of some sort of meat. Living as a vegetarian is quite difficult. I know because I am one. In fact it would have been easier for richard gere to simply go to the church. Remember that the rich people that DO attend church services do not necessarily end up donating a lot. Maybe a little.
On the other hand there is certainly a lot of philosophy in eastern religion that is more open to interpretation and so maybe more appealing to people who find christianity too well defined for their comfort. Also practices like meditation and yoga are getting more popular which leads people to eastern philosophies.
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