A Dream Come True
On Friday, December 16, as I
stood in the altar room with Prabhupada and a few other devotees,
I had an unusual feeling. It seemed that I had known him always,
yet simultaneously it seemed like we had just met. Although
I had only known him for eight weeks, somehow, practically every
time I spoke with him felt like a first-time meeting.
Prabhupada began describing a dream he had the previous night.
In the dream all his disciples were in Tompkins Square Park,
surrounded by thousands of people who were chanting and dancing
to the Hare Krsna mantra. He asked me to recreate this dream
in a painting.
Of course I agreed, happy that he was being so personal with
me, and happy to have any connection with him. I did not even
consider how I would begin such an epic painting. The next day,
before I had time to figure it out, Prabhupada’s dream
turned into reality. The managers of Tompkins Square Park had
a festival planned for Sunday, and they wanted the devotees
to chant on the stage.
Prabhupada asked me to forego painting his dream, and paint
instead a large Hare Krsna mantra sign that we could carry on
stage with us. I immediately went to the art store on 8th Street,
this time purchasing a six -foot by threefoot piece of glossy
As was usual for Sunday mornings, the altar room was crowded.
Although on weekdays one or two devotees did the cooking for
everyone in the tiny but well-equipped kitchen in Prabhupada’s
apartment, on Sundays, almost all the devotees became cooks
in order to prepare prasadam for seventy to one hundred guests.
Now Brahmananda, Satsvarupa, Kirtanananda, Hayagriva, Gargamuni,
Acyutananda, Rupanuga and others were there—cutting vegetables,
rolling samosas, mixing salads and making sweetballs.
I was also there, sprawled across the parquet floor as I painted
the mantra on the oak tag sign. I couldn’t figure out
how to reach the top section of this huge sign without lying
over the holy names. Although I tried just stretching my arms,
they would not reach. The only way seemed to be if I stretched
practically my whole body over the words. I felt slightly uncomfortable,
as though I was doing something wrong.
I remembered my recent reading from the Srimad Bhagavatam: “The
name Krsna and the Personality of Godhead Krsna are identical.
There is no difference in the absolute realm between the name,
form or person of the Absolute Truth because in the absolute
realm everything is transcendental bliss. His name, fame, form
and pastimes are all one and the same transcendental identity,
and they are not knowable by the exercise of the material senses.”
I felt uncomfortable, but I had no solution and so I continued.
Absorbed in my work, I didn’t notice when Prabhupada came
in to inspect the progress of our various services. Seeing his
feet, I stopped my painting and looked up at him. From my position
on the ground he looked like an ancient, and yet soft, Indian
sculpture. “O Swamiji, I didn’t see you,”
I said. “Am I being offensive to the sign by doing this?”
Prabhupada smiled. “Once,” he said, “Krsna
had a headache. He asked His servant, Narada Muni, to get dust
from the feet of any of His devotees. He said that only such
dust could cure Him.
“Narada went everywhere, but no one cooperated. They all
asked, ‘How can we put the dust of our feet on Krsna’s
head? We will go to hell for such an offense!’
“Finally he went to Vrndavana where the gopis live. Since
they are Krsna’s most surrendered devotees, they all agreed
to help.” Prabhupada dramatized the scene using his own
hands, feet and facial expressions to show the gopis taking
dust from their feet and offering it to Narada.
“Narada asked, ‘Do you not fear going to hell for
such an offense?’
“So they replied, ‘Never mind. We shall go to hell,
but let Krsna be cured.’
“This is the kind of selfless devotion that Lord Caitanya
has come to teach. This is love. For loving service, you can
take all risks.”
I smiled, and now with authorization, continued to lean over
* * * *
That afternoon the maha-mantra resounded all over the park.
There were thousands of people, and Prabhupada chanted for almost
two hours while the crowd blissfully joined in the chanting
and dancing. Although most of the devotees planned to stay another
hour, Prabhupada decided to leave before the end—and I
also wanted to get back and paint.
I walked the nine blocks back to the temple with Prabhupada
and Rayarama. In my enthusiasm to serve, I offered to carry
the heavy harmonium. On Avenue A and 9th Street we turned west
towards 2nd Avenue. Just as we were about to cross the street,
I began to feel the weight of the instrument and I began to
regret having offered to carry it.
Prabhupada must have read my thoughts, for almost immediately
he turned to Rayarama and said, “You can carry the harmonium
As soon as we returned to the temple I went to work on my painting,
and some minutes later Prabhupada called to me from his room.
As I walked in, he motioned to the stainless steel pitcher on
the floor to his right.
“You see the slight reflection of light on this pitcher?”
Though surprised at the question, I nodded.
“It comes from the wall outside the window,” he
I looked outside the window, and nodded again.
“The wall’s light is reflected from the sun. The
sun is so powerful that even at midnight the sky is never completely
black. There is always some light. But the sun’s light
is also reflected. Where from?”
I shrugged—science was not one of my best subjects.
“From beyond the universe,” he answered. “The
universe is how big?” He paused for a moment, raising
his eyebrows as though waiting for me to say something.
When I did not answer he continued, “It has a diameter
of four and a half billion miles. Surrounding the universal
atmosphere is a layer of earth.” He rested his elbows
on a pillow on his lap, opening his palms and extending his
fingers as if to emphasize his point. “It is ten times
as thick as the diameter of the universe. Around that is a layer
of water. And that is ten times as thick as the layer of earth.
Then fire, air, like that. And each layer is ten times thicker
than the previous layer.”
I leaned forward. This was a dramatically different picture
of the universe than what I had learned in school.
“Then there is a layer of mind, of intelligence and of
false ego,” Prabhupada continued. “Each ten times
thicker than the previous one. And beyond that?”
I still didn’t know what to say.
“Beyond that is the brahmajyoti, the undifferentiated
spiritual sky. That brahmajyoti is so much powerful that it
is reflected through those all layers of matter onto the sun—making
it shine. And what is the brahmajyoti a reflection of? Krsna’s
body. His body is so brilliant.” Prabhupada smiled. “Just
like when we go out during daytime into the sunshine and see
the bright blue sky, we feel, ‘Oh, very good.’ So
similarly, when the devotees on Krsna’s planet see Him
every day, we cannot imagine how good they must feel.”
I remembered Hayagriva's explaining about the blue sky to the
guest just a few days before.
Then Prabhupada said simply, “All right, that is all I
wanted to say. You may go now.”
I offered my obeisances and went back to painting, the conversation
continuing to boggle my imagination for hours. It stimulated
my understanding of Krsna’s relationship with the universe,
and that increased my desire to relate to Him through service.
* * * *
That evening as Prabhupada gave class, he sat back, relaxed
on his dais. Looking at the wall toward the beautiful Indian
print of young Krsna sitting on a rock with an enchanting smile
and playing His flute, a mystical lush landscape in the background,
he said, “We are not interested in going to Vaikuntha.
We are interested in going to Goloka Vrndavana, where Krsna
is sitting on the rock.”
I knew that Vaikuntha was another name for the spiritual planets.
In Sanskrit vai meant without and kuntha meant anxiety, so Vaikuntha
was that eternal place which is always free from anxiety. “We
want to go to Krsna to get the nectar,” Prabhupada said,
looking at another print nearby—a close-up of young Krsna
holding a tray of sweets and feeding one to a lovely white calf.
“Just like the calf. He is walking up to Krsna like this
. . .” Then Prabhupada closed his eyes, smiled slightly
and raised his nose and chin a bit, slowly shaking his head
back and forth as a calf would do. Then he said dramatically,
“And Krsna is pleased to give him nectar.”
It seemed so intimate. I could hardly contain the happiness
I felt. Not only was Prabhupada and his scriptures giving a
more complete exposition of the mighty Godhead than anyone else
I’d ever heard, but he was also giving this other, more
confidential, side of the Lord, a view other philosophies could
not even begin to conceive.